The Glorious First of July
Evelyn Everett Green
"MANY happy returns of the day!" quoth Guy Dunstable. "How did you know?"
asked Barbara Musgrave, her face rippling over with mirthful wonder.
“Oh, my prophetic soul !” said Guy. “A fiddlestick for your prophetic soul ! But I am puzzled beyond words ! I told myself this morning that for once in my life I could get neither birthday letter nor birthday greeting from any living soul !”
They met upon the deck of the great ocean liner. The shores of old
England were more than in sight. They were entering the mouth of the Solent, and the radiance of an English summer’s morning was upon the lovely green world which lay before them. After the long monotony of the rolling waves, the two travelers from the Antipodes gazed about with indescribable sensations of delight.
“You will not reach your destination to-night, then?” he asked.
“No ; I must spend at least one night in London first. But oh, look, look! Was ever anything so love-
ly? That young green, the blue of the sky, those soft fleecy clouds.”
“The glorious first of July!” said Guy, with a laugh. “Quite the right day for a birthday. All nature is giving you a greeting!”
“But how did you know? You must tell me. I am simply consumed with curiosity.”
He teased her a little. They were quite friends now. They had been nearly six weeks at sea together, and this last week, after the boat had dropped the bulk of its first-class passengers at Marseilles, they had been thrown together more than ever. Then he told her.
“You lent me a book, do you remember? It had your name and a motto of greeting, and the date of July the first. Putting two and two together with an acumen worthy of Sherlock Holmes—”
She began to laugh. Her laugh was clear and sweet and very infectious. He had joined in it a hundred times before. He joined in it now.
It was early still. They had the deck almost to themselves. The stewards, going about their task with that air of brisk hurry which denoted approach to port, cast approving looks towards the handsome young couple, and some of them exchanged knowing glances. They had watched matches made before this during long voyages, and there could be no manner of doubt but that Barbara Musgrave and Guy Dunstable were well suited to one another in age, in kindred tastes, in good birth, and good looks.
At breakfast they sat together, and no one was very near. The sense of imminent parting had1 just begun to make itself felt. After many weeks of constant intercourse was the arrival in port to mean a final separation? Guy was asking himself this question as they chatted over their meal. The thing seemed incongruous and absurd, and yet how difficult to make any suggestions as to future meetings!
Out on the deck again he spoke— a little abruptly, as though he disdained to beat about the bush.
“May I come and see you—some •day ?”
She smiled. She.was glad he had asked it; but there was a doubt suggested in her answer.
“I should like it, but you know I shall not be at home. I have no home now. Australia kept my father alive for many years, but it did not save him. I told you I was going to his elder brother. My uncle and aunt are quite old people. They never had any children. They are very old-fashioned and quiet in their ways. I cannot tell at all what it will be like living with them.”
“If you do not like it, will you stay?”
“I think so; for I know that my aunt is frail as well as old. From their letters I gather that they are worried. I think it is about money matters. I have very little money myself to help them with ; but I am young and strong and I can turn my hands to almost anything ; that comes from having lived in the Colonies. I hope I shall be able to do things for them which may be a help and saving in other ways.”
“Do you know the place you are gong to ?”
“I was there once as a little kiddie —before we went to Australia; just a little after my mother’s death. An old ramshackle place, smothered in ivy and honeysuckle and clematis— fascinating to a child ; but I can see now that it was pretty dilapidated even then. Fathér loved it. It was ibis old home, you see. I am going to love it, too. The address? Oh, it is called the Grange, and the post town is Deepdean, Stillshire.”
Guy was looking over towards the sunny shore, his hands thrust into his pockets.
“I suppose—one day—it will be yours.”
“I doubt it. My hope is that my uncle and aunt may just be able to live out their lives there. They talk
pathetically as though even this were doubtful. . I expect — afterwards — everything will have to be sold.”
Side by side they stood in the sunshine, and Guy was aware of a sudden and almost overmastering desire to take this girl in his arms and vow to stand between her and all slings and arrows of adverse fortune.
“Now we have talked enough about me and my affairs,” said Barbara, brightly. “Let us think a little about yours. How soon will you know whether or not you are Sir Guy Dunstable, and the owner of broad lands and great fortunes?"
Her laugh invited him to join, but his words held a touch of grimness.
“T think it’s more likely than not that half a dozen aspirants with better claims than mine will appear. They would have me over, those worthy old fogies of Lincoln's Inn; but I'm half inclined to call myself a fool for coming.”
“Oh, you had to come and bring your papers.”
“Yes, I suppose I had; but as likely as not it will prove a wild goose chase. If I were the least sure of anything—” -
Guy pulled himself up short, and Barbara took up the word in her gay, eager fashion.
“Ah, but it's nicer not to know everything at once. A little uncertainty makes it so much more interesting and exciting. I suppose it will be in the papers when once the question of succession is settled?”
They looked at one another. He longed to ask her if he might write to her. She half hoped that he was going to do so. But some unprecedented diffidence had got him at this moment by the throat. The words stuck there and would not come. Before he could master himself sufficiently to speak them the chief steward had come hurrying up. The luggage was was being brought up from below ; passengers were asked to clear their cabins. All was hurry and confusion now on board, and the time for quiet confidences was over.
Only at the moment of parting Guy held her hand in a close clasp.
“May I come to see you—on your next birthday?”
Her eyes lighted radiantly as she answered, “Yes.”
“Barbara dear, you are very welome ! Ah, my dear child, but how handsome you have grown !”
“Do you think so, auntie? How nice of you. I was afraid I was too big; but girls do grow so tall now. We can't help it, can we?”
She had her hands upon the shoulders of the little old lady, whose small shrunken figure was in such contrast to her own young strength and vitality.
“Auntie dear, you look worried to death, and as for uncle, I should scarcely have known him ! He has grown so old and bent and—and—” Barbara had almost added “querulous,” but she stopped, the word unspoken.
“He is greatly harassed and troubled, Barbara. There is a mortgage on the property. Our neighbor at that new house you passed coming from the station has bought it up. Mr. Moselèy is buying a great deal of the land about here. He wants to become a large landed proprietor. He has been here about six years. At first we were glad of his coming, and your uncle found it easier to have one creditor to deal with than several. And if he ever wanted an advance, Mr. Moseley gave it him; or if the interest was not forthcoming in time, he granted what he called an accommodation. At first it all seemed so easy and pleasant. But now—”
“What is happening now?” asked Barbara, incipient indignation in her tones.
“Well, dear child. I do not understand business. I never did. I wish I had learned things when I was young, for perhaps I could have helped your uncle better. But it seems that we are always getting deeper and
deeper into Mr. Moseley’s debt, and now and then he just hints—only hints at present—that one day he may foreclose.”
“What is that, auntie?”
“I scarcely know myself, my dear, but if he did your uncle and I would have to leave the Grange, and I think we should have nothing to live on then except my own little pittance of two hundred a year. As it is, most of our housekeeping is done upon that; only now we have the house to live in and the farm produce for the household, though as much as possible is sold to meet the payments of interest which seem always to be coming round.”
“Oh, poor auntie! Auntie, I have a hundred and fifty a year myself, the lawyers tell me. I can’t use the capital—I wish I could. I’d pay off that mortgage as far as it would go.”
“No, no, dear, that would not be right. We could not rob our brother’s child.”
“Oh, but I am young and strong. I can work. I shall do a lot of things on the farm. You will see. I shall put a hundred pounds a year into the household purse, and we will try to help poor uncle to be happier again. How I should like to give that Moseley wretch a piece of my mind !”
“Ah, dearest Barbara, that would never do. The only hope with such a man is to keep friendly with him. If once he took offence—ah, it would be terrible ! He dines with us sometimes. He is coming on Thursday night. You must not show any aversion, Barbara dear. You don’t know what harm it might do.”
“What is his wife like? Is she any good? If I were to try and make friends with her now? How would that do for a scheme?”
“My dear, he has not got a wife ! I wish he had. They say he is looking out for one.”
“How old is he, auntie?”
“I don’t know, dear. He is stout, and stout men look older than thin ones. But his hair is black.”
“He is an oily little Jew, I suppose,” quoth Barbara, and there was a fine young scorn in her tones; but she caught the wistful gaze of the timid old lady fixed upon her, and suddenly a stabbing pain seemed to clutch at her heart. She read the unspoken thought in her aunt’s mind, and a thrill of horror and disgust ran through her young frame.
Two days later Mr. Moseley dined at the Grange, and he and Barbara were introduced. Apart from his rubicund stoutness and Hebraic nose, he was not an ill-looking man. He was affable and chatty, full of anecdote and amusing gossip; and as he talked his eyes dwelt again and yet again upon Barbara’s clear-cut features, sparkling hazel eyes, and the delicate contours of her neck and throat as they were half revealed beneath the tranparencies of her black evening gown.
In the drawing-room, afterwards, whenever she moved, he followed her with his eyes. The slender grace of her young figure, her buoyancy of walk, the swift accuracy and self-restraint of her actions and gestures, seemed to delight his eyes. He paid court to her with a certain empressement. He begged Mr. and Mrs. Musgrave to name a day when they would bring their niece to lunch at his house and look at some of his art treasures. He was so genial and cordial that his host began to throw off some of the anxious and timid expression of manner which had cut Barbara like a knife. She had asked herself if he was afraid of this creditor of his, and it hurt her to feel certain that /he was.
“If I could save him—save them— from all these haunting fears and pressure of anxiety,” she thought to herself that night as she reached her room. But then the picture of two types of manhood rose before her mental vision ; Guy Dunstable as she used to see him pacing the deck of the steamer, and the stout, red-faced Jew, sunk in the easiest chair of her aunt’s drawing-room. “But the price
—the price !” she breathed, half aloud, and leaning far out of the window into the moonlit night, she fell into a deep reverie.
Barbara's clear young eyes, together with the advantages of her Colonial training, soon showed to her in part the reason of her uncle’s difficulties. The mismanagement upon the home farm was enormous. Laborers came late to work and left early. Tasks were scamped, stock neglected. There was waste in every department. The fowls were too fat and lazy to lay. The wives of the farm hands came to the dairy and helped themselves to new milk almost at will. Everyone seemed to impose upon a kind and indulgent master, and Barbara’s young blood boiled in her veins.
In a few weeks’ time she was practically in command of the home farm, and a different regime was rapidly established. It was not precept alone with her ; it was the force of example, too. She was up with the lark. She checked the coming of the men. She skimmed cream with her own hands, and in the new churn which she had bought she made the butter—so firm and pure and well colored that soon it obtained top price in the market, and she had nearly twice as much to sell week by week as there had been before. Skim milk she gave away, but over the new she kept a firm hand. She superintended the poultry yard, and after a judicious diminution of food, eggs began to come in thick and fast.
“My dear, you are a witch !” her uncle often said to her, as she brought him the weekly accounts, and the money bag with the profits of such sales as had been effected. Then she would kiss the top of his bald head and answer:
“No witch—only just a wild Colonial girl, who has seen how things are done in countries where men have to work—or go under.”
It was to her a delightful task, only she knew she had come too late to
save the property to the family. That mortgage—there was no standing up against such a drain as that. Yet if she could save the situation during the lifetime of the old couple, nothing else would greatly matter. She hated to think of the family property which she wras beginning to love passing into the fat podgy hands of the Jew stockbroker (or pawnbroker, as she was wont to call him in her. heart) when the old people were gone. Still, that could be borne, if she could hold on during their lifetime. And she would work her fingers to the bone to that end !
Mr. Moseley had taken to pay visits to the Grange of late—surprise visits, catching Barbara at her self-appointed tasks in dairy or still-room, in the fields or the sheds. He would get Mr. Musgrave to “trot him round,” as he phrased it. Barbara was divided in mind whether these visits were made with a proprietary eye, to spy out the nakedness or the plenty of the land, or whether his object was to pay her a compliment, or to pick her brains for information useful to him with regard to his own farming affairs.
Barbara schooled herself to meet him with a friendly air. She knew hiw much depended upon his favor, and though it irked her sore to have to dissemble her inherent dislike of the man, in fairness she was forced to admit that he had given her no cause for offence. Moreover, she shrewdly gauged him as a man of violent temper if roused. She did not wish to rouse him, and accordingly the apparent friendship between the pair developed on favorable lines.
As for Mr. Moseley himself, he was vastly content with all he saw. He had never yet acted in a hurry in making a bargain, and he was not going to begin now, all the same, as the months rolled by he was more and more certain that this was to be the crowning bargain of his life. This was just such a wife as he would desire ; but in this country how hard to obtain ! A woman of elegant appearance, of cultivated mind, and full of
that elusive quality of charm which defies analysis, yet makes for supremacy and for power; yet with all this a woman of practical knowledge and usefulness, who hated waste and unthrift as he hated it himself, and would not only adorn a drawing-room arrayed in soft clothing and jewels, but would manage her household and her husband’s property in the style of the admirable landed proprietor's wives of old. This was indeed the wife for him !
And Barbara came to know it. He took care that she should do so. He began to talk to her more and more intimately of the affairs of the property, and more and more did she come to understand how hopeless was her uncle’s position—how absolutely at the mercy of this man. And, by degrees, he dropped significant hints.
He wanted to take over the property himself, but at her startled indignant look he smiled.
“Dear Miss Barbara, I desire above all things not to displease you. I have no words in which adequately to express my admiration for you. . . ”
That went on for a time, then more definite wooing began to be attempted, and Barbara was made to understand that upon her hinged the whole situation. If she would marry him the old people should live out their time unmolested. His wife’s next of kin would then be his, and no man desires to be hard upon his own flesh and blood. Barbara listened with calm face, but inward shudderings of shrinking horror. Each month brought the issue nearer and nearer. Her aunts’s eyes grew more wistful, her uncles’s words of veiled appeal more pathetic, the Jew’s wooing more open and defined. At last the words were spoken to which an answer must be given.
Barbara stood up before them all and spoke.
“Give me till my birthday,” she said. “I will give you my answer after the first of July.”
“The glorious first of July!”
Barbara sprang up from her bed with these words upon her lips, and was out long before the household was astir. The dew lay thick and white upon the meadows, and the glamor of the golden morning was everywhere. The girl had donned a white dress—a simple dress of white linen, fashioned by her own fingers. For the first time since her father’s death she had added a touch of color —a pink waistband, a pink sailor tie, and now there was a cluster of banksia roses at her throat.
And in her ears the question was hammering, with the hot young blood that coursed through her veins:
“Will he come? Will he come? Will he come?”
She saw again the white deck of the ocean liner, just one year ago today; the fair green shores, the smiling sky. And she saw more plainly still .the strong, handsome face of the strong, handsome man, whom those past six weeks had made her. friend. His had been her first and only birthday greeting a year ago, and his last words at parting had been the petition —to come and see her upon her next birthday. Would he come?
Not a word had she heard all through the past year ; not a sign had he made, nor had she ever seen mention of his name in any paper. This perhaps was not to be wondered at, since she had little leisure for reading the news of the day, nor any familiarity with English papers, and where such items of intelligence about persons and doubtful successions were to be found.
Scarcely knowing which way she took, she found herself in the hazel copse, a charming plantation of about ten acres, which bounded the property upon the eastern side, and completely hid the village, which lay rather near to the house. The wood was bisected by a winding path. Barbara trod that path with light, free step, a
lilting song upon her lips. She turned a corner quickly—and stopped short.
“Many happy returns of the day!”
A little cry broke from her lips—a cry of rapture. Her hands were clasped in his. His keen blue eyes scanned her face hungrily. Hers were full of the radiant brilliance of hope fulfilled. He lifted her hands to his lips, and having kissed them, held them still.
“Barbara—you have not forgotten me ?”
What came next neither could ever say. Did his lips or his eyes, or her eyes do the speaking? Or was it the heart alone that gave question and answer? But what did it matter? She was in his arms. His lips were pressed to hers.
“Barbara—my darling—my love!”
“Guy! Ah, I cannot believe it can be true!”
What they had known in secret before they parted last seemed now to be proclaimed aloud from the treetops by a chorus of enraptured birds ! It was a beautiful betrothal out there in the tender green woodlands, with the scents and sounds of the coming summer about them.
“The glorious first of July, Barbara! Do you remember, sweetheart —the glorious first of July!”
Slowly they walked onwards, and Guy sketched for her the happenings of the past year.
“Yes, I am Sir Guy Dunstable now, and a rich man to boot. But it took a long time to ascertain the fact. My papers were all right—proved who I was; but there was the intermediate branch to trace, and that was a long business. I had to go out to America with a lawyer about it, and it took us the best part of five months to follow up the clues. But in the end we got all the needful proofs. That branch of Dunstables had become extinct. On the homeward voyage he gave in my name to the purser as Sir Guy Dunstable—my lawyer companion, I mean. But even after we landed there was a
lot of business to go through, and I had to hustle the slow arm of the law all I knew to get all finished up by— my Barbara’s birthday. Sweetheart, tell me your story now!”
She told it him. She kept nothing back, and as she spoke of the courtship of Moseley, she felt, the tense pressure of the arm which was round her still.
“And you would have sacrificed yourself—sold yourself—to save the place for the old people?”
“Ah, Guy, how can I tell what I should have done ? I would not think, I would not decide, I would not even make up my own mind—not until after—the first of July!”
“Sweetheart, I will settle the matter with this man Moseley. It will be easy, for whilst I was in America an old cousin of the Dunstables died, and she left her property to the next baronet, whoever it chanced to be. ît was a snug little fortune, well invested. We will lie low till Moseley tries his little game and threatens to foreclose. Then my lawyers shall step in and clear the place of debt. Darling, it is all right; is it not my wife’s inheritance? What more right and proper than that I take an interest in its wellbeing? Whilst they live your uncle and aunt shall stay here undisturbed and in peace of mind and prosperity of circumstance. We will put in an active young managing bailiff to look after everything, for Ï cannot spare my Barbara any longer for that task.”
She looked up at him with swimming eyes—eyes that sparkled with happy tears.
“Oh, Guy—dear Guy ! It seems too good to be true. Are you sure—quite sure—that it is not all a dream?”
She brought him to the house and told all the tale; how they had fallen in love upon the steamer, yet how they had only plighted their troth that very morning in the hazel copse. Barbara, her arms about her aunt’s neck, whispered a long, eager story, which brought smiles to the old lady’s lips, and happy tears to her eyes. In the
study later on Guy had an interview with Mr. Musgrave, from which he emerged with an air of renewed youth and hope which made Barbara’s heart leap up.
Guy spent the day with them—he and Barbara together; and as they strolled through the gardens and up towards the house in the softened light of the approaching sunset, they saw that there was a guest with the old folks upon the lawn.
“It is Mr. Moseley,” spoke Barbara; “and oh, look at that monstrous bunch of flowers he has brought—for me !”
“Come along,” said Guy. “Let's put
the beggar out of his pain and into his place.”
The old people had not dared to tell; but the sight of the lovers told its own tale. The man’s face grew purple with mixed emotions. He gnt up and came forward to meet them. Barbara shuddered even to think of an awful thing which might have been.
“Miss Barbara—I understood you to say—that on or after the first of July I was to have—my answer.”
“Quite so, sir,” answered Guy, taking the word from Barbara’s lips; “this lady is my promised wife, and for any questions you may have in the future to ask, you may take me for the answer !”