The Forest of Ys
Horace Anne sley Vachell
A Sketch from Arcadia
MY DEAR," said Mrs. Mifflin, "you are getting prettier every day."
Loveday exhibited pleasure and surprise.
Ever since the child came out at the Puddenhurst Hunt Ball, which takes place in April, Mrs. Mifflin had regarded her with sorrowful and sympathetic eyes. The superfluity of women over men in the United Kingdom was a crown of thorns to the good lady, still on the sunny side of sixty and young for her years inasmuch as she kept in touch with ebullient youth. Boys and girls confided in Mrs. Mifflin—particularly girls.
At tl\e ball, Loveday Thorburn, daughter of Captain Thorburn, R. N., had been conspicuous as a “backseater.” Why? The right young men seemed to be attracted to the wrong young women. Loveday happened to be what Mrs. Mifflin regarded, almost reverentially, as “just right.”
A maid’s pleasure and surprise were expressed— according to Mrs. Mifflin—the more prettily because, she said nothing. A dimple played hide-and-seek with a smile—nothing more. Mrs. Mifflin lowered her voice:
“Has any young fellow told you so?”
“Not—not when I was wide awake.”
“That is most exasperating,” murmured the elder lady.
She eyed her guest critically. They were alone, drinking tea in Mrs. Mifflin’s garden upon a fine June afternoon. Not a hundred yards away, Captain Thorburn was working in his garden, to which he gave undivided energies, and there we will leave him.
“I hate compliments,” said Loveday.
“Rubbish!” exclaimed Mrs. Mifflin. “However, you are only eighteen.”
“Nearer nineteen,” amended Loveday.
“And—and you have never been in love?”
Mrs. Mifflin adored romance. Every tale whispered into her Victorian ear became transmuted into romance. If it were told crudely, Mrs. Mifflin added a gloss. Under other conditions she might have made a mark as a writer of fiction.
CTARING at Loveday, and frowning slightly, Mrs.
Mifflin decided that the child was too prim. Mothers with marriageable daughters, living in and about the noble Forest of Ys, were kind to Loveday because they regarded her as negligible. She lacked the “comehither” expression so alluring to young men. She suffered from shyness. She hid her feelings and her legs under pre-war skirts of convention., She never smoked cigar-
The fourth story located in that romantic, alluring Forest of Ys
ettes. She blushed at the strong language of “flappers.” In a word, she was labelled, before she was out of her ’teens, as a putative old maid of the lavender-scented variety soon to be extinct in Great Britain. For the moment such demure damsels are under eclipse.
Loveday remained silent. But her too pale cheeks were tinged with rose-colour.
“Tell me,” murmured Mrs. Mifflin.
“Nonsense, child; you can tell me anything—anything! Whatever I may be I’m not a sieve, and I’m very fond of you.”
“Perhaps I have been in love.”
“Only in my dreams.”
“Only in your dreams?”
“Yes; I should like to tell you about it, but I don’t know how to begin.”
“Begin—at the beginning,” commanded Mrs. Mifflin.
Loveday sighed, smiled, and lay back in her garden chair, half-closing her eyes. She was wearing a becoming frock of her own making. Mrs. Mifflin noted with approval well-brushed brown hair with a wave in it, delicate features, and the tender curves of a slender figure. Why did men pass Loveday by? Because, of course, the bashful goose turned aside from them. Was it the duty of a motherless old woman to play nurse to such an artless child?
“It was not a dream at the beginning........I had wan-
dered into the Forest, down the grass ride which leads to the Enclosure behind our garden.”
“There is a very old oak just inside the enclosure, with a sign on it: ‘Sugaring of trees strictly forbidden.’........”
Mrs. Mifflin nodded. She loved corroborative detail. She had a more than passing acquaintance with this old oak. She had sat under it, the hoary sentinel of an enchanted glade.
"I was sketching under the oak when HE appeared.”
“Can you describe him?”
Loveday betrayed uneasiness.
“I hope,” said Mrs. Mifflin trenchantly, “that he had straight legs and an open countenance.”
' “I didn’t notice his legs,” said Loveday pensively. “But I think they must have been all right, because,” she added ingenuously, “I’m sure I should have noticed them if they weren’t. His face was nice and brown, an open-air face, and his eyes were blue— •really blue, not a compromise between grey and green and blue.”
lV/fRS. MIFFLIN sighed. She detected in Loveday’s -*-*-*■ soft voice a faint inflection of sadness. It is possible that forget-me-not blue eyes had tinged memories of her own. Anyway she spoke with a certain sharpness:
“My dear, that brand of eyes is a greater asset than moral rectitude; but, according to my experience, the men who have them are dreamers rather than doers.”
“He carried a butterfly-net.”
Mrs. Mifflin pursed a sensitive mouth. Wrinkled interrogation sat upon her placid brow. We may guess that she was endeavouring to “place” this young man who carried a butterfly-net. No sprig of gentility, in or about Pudderhurst, pursued butterflies. But unerring instinct told her that this lepidopterist with forget-me-not blue eyes was no creature of a girl’s fancy, but a personality.
Loveday went on, still dreamily:
“He was a stranger to the Forest. And he had lost his way. He—began by telling me that.”
“Ah! I wonder now if he started acquaintance with you by—by fibbing.”
Loveday replied indignantly:
“Most certainly not.”
Mrs. Mifflin said hastily:
“I shouldn’t blame him too severely if he had. If he fibbed, he fibbed like a gentleman. And then—?”
“And then he marched off towards Brackenford.”
“Is that all, child?”
“No. It was hot, and I suppose I fell asleep. He stole back in my dream. Perhaps young men are unconventional in dreams. But I liked it. I know that I ought to have snubbed him when be became—”
She hesitated, blushing. Mrs. Mifflin adroitly suggested a word:
“Yes, you can call it that.”
“What did he do, my dear?”
“He held my hand. I—I let him do it—in my dream—
and presently he kissed it. I wonder I didn’t wake up then.”
“Perhaps you did.”
LOVEDAY smiled almost roguishly into her friend’s 'kind eyes. By this time the good lady was convinced that this innocent narrative was founded on fact. Very wisely she didn’t say so. Moreover, she was beholding a new Loveday, radiating the greatest thing in the world— first love. This new Loveday asked irrelevantly:
“Do you think, Mrs. Mifflin, that the real self, the inmost me in us, peeps out of our dreams?”
“It may be so, Loveday.
Simple hearts, I fancy, do surrender almost unconditionally at the first genuine assault.”
“The word may be too harsh. However, you admit that you responded to the advances of your dream Prince?”
“Yes; I did.”
"Which did not discourage him?”
“You shy girls are most
astonishing on occasion........!”
“We talked quite freely about love. I suppose anything may happen in a dream.”
Mrs. Mifflin replied austerely:
“I put limits to what may happen in dreams, child. But tell me frankly—what did happen?”
“Something quite incredible. Perhaps I had better say no more. Yes; I should hate to shock you.”
To be fair to a constant churchgoer and communicant, we must admit that Mrs.
Mifflin didn’t wish to beshocked by Loveday, but already she was conscious of shock. And curiosity had a strangle-hold on discretion.
“Having said so much, dear, you may as well finish.”
“He kissed me and I kissed him. I—I enjoyed it. It has been on my conscience ever since that I enjoyed this wicked, wicked kissing—tremendously.”
“Oh, my dear! You take my breath away.”
“He took my breath away.”
“And he was a gentleman?”
Mrs. Mifflin pulled herself together.
“Kissing, in dreams,” she said tentatively, “can hardly be stigmatized as—wicked.”
“But it was wicked, very wicked, under the circumstances. Before he kissed me I knew that he was engaged to be married.”
“Good gracious me!”
“Even in dreams, I suppose, one holds hard on to the rags of self-respect. But he told me all about her, because—because—”
“Because, as he put it, I was Miss Right and she was Miss Wrong. I felt so sorry for him.”
“And for yourself.......?”
“Yes; and for myself—that I cried. He began by kissing away my tears. I ought to have resisted. I—I didn’t. We were so sorry for each other that nothing else seemed to matter. If he had asked me to follow him to the ends of the earth I should have obeyed.”
“But he didn’t?”
“No—he didn’t. I mean I woke up before he did, and — and found myself in an empty world.”
SHE spoke forlornly, with such unconscious pathos that Mrs. Mifflin had to suppress a sniff. Nevertheless her voice became acidulous as she murmured:
“I’m glad you woke up, child. This is a remarkable dream.”
“I told you, because the dream has haunted me a little. I feel better now that it is off my chest.” Her voice brightened. “But the queer question remains: Why do we do things in our dreams that we would never do in real life? And yet the dream was so vivid—so delightful that ......”
“You hoped you would dream it again, did you?” "Ye-es.”
Mrs. Mifflin paused before she put her last question. She noticed that Loveday had become prim and demure, that the subtle charm of the teller qf dreams had vanished.
“Tell me, child. Odd things have happened to me in dreams, and often, indeed usually, they have been connecter! with real people. I have dreamed, for instance, that I had to appear in the presence of "my sovereign with practically nothing on. And in this dream, which I have not dreamt since our gracious Queen died, I was naked
but unashamed—unashamed. And always I saw the Queen, in her robes of State, as vividly as I saw myself. Did you recognize in your Fairy Prince any young fellow of my acquaintance?”
“I told you he was a stranger,” said Loveday.
TT IS likely that Mrs. Mifflin would have pursued the even tenor of her way without bestowing further thought upon Loveday’s dream had it not been brought back to mind in a challenging fashion. Within fortyeight hours she happened to meet her friend Mrs. Merrytree, the wife of the vicar of Medbery-Hawthorne, who, if not a confirmed gossip, might be termed a “bonne gazette du pays.” Mrs. Merrytree was agog with excitement over an approaching marriage between a certain Major Hopetoun, D.S.O., and Azalea Bright, the eldest daughter of Sir Godfrey Bright, the famous horticulturist, who, haying made a fortune out of flowers, named his four blooming daughters after them. Happily we are only concerned with Azalea.
No Canadian writer knows animals more intimately than W. A. Fraser. A series of his articles—stories of wild and domestic animals— will begin shortly in MacLean s Magazine.
Sir Godfrey was regarded both by Mrs. Mifflin and Mrs. Merrytree as a carpet-bagger. He had taken, upon a long lease, a castellated mansion near Brackenford, and at the same time, knowing the nature of the Foresters, he had engaged a French chef. It was almost a duty to call upon herbaceous borders, which really justified a knighthood“ and if you were asked to luncheon, well, you went away believing that a baronetcy might have been bestowed upon a less deserving host.
The Misses Bright— from Azalea to Petunia— held their own in the huntihg field and elsewhere. Admittedly they were “thrusters.” The Master of the Buck Hounds complained that they “threw their tongues” at inopportune moments, when, perhaps, on a windy day he was listening for hounds, and wishing that he had a strain of Bright blood in his kennels. It was whispered, with or without reason, that Azalea had “captured” a canny Scot, not quite so canny when out of Scotland. The capture had been affected at the Hunt Ball of which mention has been made, when little Loveday sat neglected with her back against the wall.
“He will find her a handful,” observed Mrs. Merrytree.
“She rides a good twelve stone,” sighed Mrs. Mifflin. “It’s such a pity, because he might have chosen one of our own dear girls.”
“He has a way with him;—and a dangerous pair of forget-me-not blue eyes.”
Mrs. Merrytree repeated the descriptive phrase, adding regretfully; “To my mind forget-me-nots bark at azaleas.”
“And of course she is mad about hunting, and he chases butterflies.”
“Bless my soul!”
“My dear husband, as you know, collects moths. Major Hopetoun called to see his collection. I was immensely taken with him. Surely you noticed him at the Hunt Ball?”
\/TRS. MIFFLIN nodded. Out of some zone of subconsciousness emerged a gallant figure. Yes; she had noticed, most particularly, Major Hopetoun. And he had danced attendance upon Azalea Bright unremittingly.
At this rending of the veil which separates things clearly perceived from those mysteries which are discerned but dimly Mrs. Mifflin ought to have held her tongue. But she was swept into a whirlpool of conjecture. A resistless current bore her away, twisted her round and round, till she became vocal. In moments of stress we invoke Omnipotence.
“Heaven help us!” ejaculated Mrs. Mifflin.
“What do you mean, Helen?”
“I—I mean,” stammered Mrs. Mifflin, turning congested eyes upon the placid orbs of her friend, “that this marriage ought not to take place.”
“And you,” said Mrs. Merrytree solemnly, “are the last person in the world to make such a statement without justification.”
“I have good reason to believe, my dear, that the young man is head over heels in love with one of our
nicest girls, the exact opposite, thank God, of Azalea Bright.”
She had no good reason, but our supermen are ever the victims of super-imaginations. Unfortunately, too, for Mrs. Mifflin, she was alone with a friend of many years’ standing and understanding. With a casual acquaintance she might have dissembled. More, she spoke with such conviction that this old friend was immensely impressed. If Mrs. Mifflin said so, it was so. The wife of the vicar of Medberv-Hawthorne, a daughter of a solicitor who had been the confidential adviser to the Dean and Chapter of Melchester Cathedral, held up her hands in horror. Nevertheless, true to type, distrusting the daughter of a carpet-bagger, she said austerely:
“I am not surprised.”
“We can put all these misfits down to the War.”
“You say that this young man is in love with somebody else?”
“I say, Annabella, that he has met a Miss Right who has opened his forget-me-not blue eyes wide to the fact that he is engaged to Miss Wrong. Unhappily, men with such eyes are dreamers rather than doers. He chases butterflies. There is a butterfly, I am told, which is called the Painted Lady. At the Hunt Ball, Azalea Bright powdered her nose in the presence of three Masters of Hounds:”
“She would,” groaned Mrs. Merrytree. “Do I know Miss Right?”
Mrs. Mifflin stiffened. Too late, alas! she realized that she had been indiscreet.
“You do know the poor girl, Annabella, but you mustn’t ask her name.”
“We are not sieves.”
“Emphatically we are not.”
lV/TRS. MERRYTREE, left alone with active and prehensile thoughts, leapt to conviction. She knew personally every young woman under five-and-twenty who belonged to the privileged classes of the Forest of Ys. She was well aware that Mrs. Mifflin had not left the Forest since the War. The poor girl, therefore, must live in the Forest, and it might be premised, with equal logic, that she was on confidential terms with Mrs. Mifflin. From her experience of the miscalled bolder sex it was likely that such a young man as Major Hopetoun, having been pursued and captured, would in turn pursue and capture a maid unlike the flaunting Azalea. She envisaged instantly a “naiad-like lily of the vale.” And as instantly she beheld Loveday Thorburn. Bounding on and on with the stride of a Seeker after Truth, she assured herself that butterfly-hunters in the Forest of Ys were certain, sooner or later, to meet a young lady who drew nicely in water-colour and always worked en plein air.
Upon the apex of these conclusions she alighted and preened her wings.
Next day, she met Mrs. Apperton, the round, rosy wife of the Squire of Sloden-Pauncefort. Mrs. Apperton, with marriage-ripe daughters, born and bred Foresters all of them, gazed with half-averted eyes at the flowers in Sir Godfrey Bright’s parterre. If she said nothing unkind about them, she looked down her nose when their names happened to be mentioned. And the news of Azalea’s engagement to Major Hopetoun was not received at Apperton Old Manor with acclamation.
After tea, Mrs. Apperton shewed Mrs. Merrytree her rose-garden. They strolled leisurely down privet walks, softly mossy, that exhaled a fragrance of thyme and camomile. It was inevitable that Mrs. Apperton should say presently:
“And what do you think of this approaching marriage, my dear?”
Mrs. Merrytree, who had thought of little else for twenty-four hours, replied with asperity:
“Like to like is my motto.”
Mrs. Apperton smiled.
“I quite agree.”
“Major Hopetoun,” continued Mrs. Merrytree, “impressed me as being thorough-bred. I think we can say, without offence, that Azalea Bright is in the Hackney class.”
Mrs. Apperton inclined her head.
“She steps high,” she murmured. “ ‘Flashy’ describes her not too unkindly.”
“Strictly between ourselves,” murmured Mrs. Merrytree, “and it is such a satisfaction to reflect that our little confidential talks never go further.... ...”
“Never,” interpolated Mrs. Apperton.
“The progress of this ill-matched pair must, humanly speaking, be erratic.”
“As you say, Annabella, strictly between ourselves......”
“I am grieved—grieved.”
And here the matter might have rested. But the imps of comedy decreed otherwise. Mrs. Merrytree asked a fateful question: the rivulet which swelled into a bum in full spate before the hay in the Squire’s meadows was carried.
Î Have you heard any gossip about him?”
Mrs. Apperton pricked up her ears and distended a ■ensitive nostril.
“No, no; I—I never listen to gossip.”
“Neither do I.”
THEY strolled on. Presently they sat down, with nothing to disturb their solitude except the warblers. The gardeners, no longer helots of the hours, were on their way to the ale-house to slake a thirst not too inordinate after a minimum day’s work at a maximum wage. But Mrs. Apperton glanced furtively about her before she whispered;
“If you have heard anything, Annabella, tell me.”
The vicar’s wife paused before she replied. And it was characteristic that, beneath the prickings of conscience, she moved delicately.
“I have heard something—very little, but trifles, a mere auggestion, may mean so much.”
“Ah! Yes, indeed!”
“I ought, perhaps, to hold my tongue.”
“You are always discreet, dear Annabella. I need hardly assure you that anything you might care to tell me would be regarded as a sacred confidence.”
Mrs. Merrytree nodded.
“I will put the case hypothetically. If—if, I say—
there should be another girl........”
“I have reason to believe there is another girl, a very •weet creature, too, whom we have, perhaps, overlooked.”
“I beg you not to ask me her name. She has been, in a ■ense, neglected. And, upon my word, the more I think of the child, the more I am astonished that we should have been so—so shortsighted.”
“You say ‘we’. Then I know the young lady?”
Mrs. Merrytree held up a protesting finger.
“No questions, please. Of course you know her. It’s a fact that she has come on amazingly since the Hunt Ball. I’m inclined to think that the mischief must have been done at the Hunt Ball. He never danced with her, to be sure, but she, poor dear, sitting out most of the time, must have had opportunities for gazing at him, because he was the nicest-looking young man in the room. At the ball, and certainly after supper, he ïuceumbed to Azalea Bright. I can imagine what a reaction there must have been the next morning.”
Mrs. Apperton opened eyes and mouth in astonishment.
“You sweep me off my feet,
“Now, if—if—for I am not absolutely sure of my facts—if this unhappy young man rushed for fresh air into the Forest, and found there a nymph—”
“I can hardly follow you.
“Before the War,” said Mrs.
Merrytree, “the word ‘nymph’ tuggested to me a modest English girl.”
“I quite agree.”
“They are still dear to memory though lost to sight. If, I repeat, Major Hopetoun found unexpectedly a pre-war maid, quietly sketching, what would he do?”
“He would hardly presume to address her, if he didn’t know her.”
Mrs. Merrytree laughed.
“We mustn’t assume too rashly that he is a pre-war young man. In such a case, I feel justified in thinking the worst.”
“The worst, Annabella?”
“I think that such a pair would fall desperately in love with each other at sight.”
“But—do you suggest that this hashappened?”
“I suggest nothing. I am training myself to take post-war life as I find it. From information that reached me—a—fortuitously”—she paused at the happy word—“I am convinced, convinced, that Azalea Bright’s path to the altar may not be too smooth, Let us leave it at that.”
Mrs. Apperton looked perturbed. Presently, she said slowly:
“I ask no questions, Annabella, except this: Ought we to leave it at that?”
\/í RS. APPERTON might have left it at that, being of a lymphatic disposition, but the same evening, before turning in, the Squire of Sloden-Pauncefort said unexpectedly:
“My dear, what sort of a wedding-present should we send to that much-too Bright girl?”
A wife upon whom post-war economies had been imposed answered without reflection:
“We had better wait, George. There may be no marriage.”
The Squire was astounded; he asked questions; he exacted answers. We record neither. It is enough to say that he, in his turn, before he composed himself to sleep, was quite convinced that Major Hopetoun, D.S.O., had behaved after a fashion quite unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman. He was positively snorting with indignation, when his wife admonished him:
“This must go no further, George. Mrs. Merrytree spoke to me in strictest confidence; but I have never withheld confidence from you. The girl, of course, is Loveday Thorburn. She sketches; and she sat out many dances at the Hunt Ball.”
“Am I a sieve?” growled the Squire. “All the same........”
He went on growling till he fell asleep.
The next day happened to be Wednesday. Both the Squire and Colonel Somervell were ornaments of the Puddenhurst Bench of Magistrates. They lunched together at the Bell Inn. It was Colonel Somervell, however, who first mentioned Major Hopetoun, speaking handsomely of him and his family.
“Um!” ejaculated the Squire. “A gay Lothario, if you ask me!”
More questions, more answers, and, on this occasion, an attentive waiter was hovering about the luncheontable!
What followed may be left to the imagination. Within a week, the nouvelle had assumed the proportions of a three-volume novel. Everybody—except the persons
intimately concerned—thought the “worst.”
We approach, reluctantly, the castellated mansion of Sir Godfrey Bright. We dare to intrude into the bedroom of Azalea herself. We find the young lady dressing for dinner, slightly cross, because she had lost three sets of tennis, and in the hands and at the mercy of a chattering maid.
Azalea descended to the drawing-room to find herself noticeably late. Sir Godfrey scowled; Major Hopetoun smiled; Azalea presented an impassive mask to each. It was remarked afterwards that she looked flushed. Major Hopetoun, indeed, observed this, and drew some obvious inferences which, being a Scot, he kept to himself. He decided that Azalea “had the wind up.” He had been her partner at tennis; each had played badly. Azalea, he reflected, was not a good loser, and, as a partner when luck went against her, somewhat peevish. He ventured a mild joke, after the soup, which was received chillingly. Being a philosopher, he turned from the cold Azalea to the more vivacious Petunia, who sat on his right. Petunia and he between them made merry, quite unconscious of the gathering storm.
As the ladies sailed out of the dining-room, Azalea whispered to Hopetoun:
“You will find me in the Italian Garden.”
And she spoke menacingly!
Scots have uncanny premonitions. Hopetoun returned to his port uneasily conscious that trouble awaited him in the Italian Garden. Can we blame him for lingering over Sir Godfrey’s Cockburn 1890, sipping his coffee and old brandy, and smoking slowly the best cigar in the Forest of Ys?
Azalea, meanwhile, pranced impatiently round a fountain where Amorini grinned at her.
“Why have you kept me waiting like this?”
Her voice was hard as the marble upon which she stood, cold and distant as the stars twinkling behind the cypresses.
“I’m very sorry, Azalea. As your father’s guest, you know.. ” “What damned tosh!”
“You seem to be upset about something.”
His pleasant voice irritated her. Really, she did not believe half the tale told by her maid. But half was enough to provoke expostulation. And whether the story were true or false, the lacerating fact remained that she and her fiance had become the talk of the taverns.
“Upset!” she echoed. “I’m furious.”
“You have been making an idiot of yourself and me. Everybody is yapping. Our own servants— !”
Hopetoun dropped his cigar and shrugged his shoulders. He had shewn quality in France. He shewed it now. But quality is wasted on quantity.
“My dearest girl, I’m absolutely in the dark. Do, please, enlighten me.”
“I know all about these butterfly-hunting expeditions!” “Really? I couldn’t persuade you to go with me.”
“You didn’t want me.”
Again he shrugged his shoulders. Azalea,, his to have and to hold till death us do part, wai glaring at him. The prospect was not alluring to a man born north of Tweed.
“Kindly tell me what I have done or left undone.”
“You have been making love to that insignificant, sly little cat, Loveday Thorburn.”
Irony is a dangerous weapon to use with Anglo-Saxons. Hopetoun said quietly:
“Sounds exciting. Anything: else?”
“You have met her repeatedly
Continued on page 46
The Forest of Ys
Continued from page 21
you have been seen kissing her—seen! Butterfly-catching—! I congratulate you upon adding this Common or Garden White to your collection.”
He stared at her amazedly, and laughed. “How dare you laugh!”
“I beg your pardon, Azalea. Perhaps my imagination is even livelier than yours. I could give you half-a-dozen reasons which might serve to disprove this ridiculous assertion, but one will suffice: I don't know Miss Thorburn.” “You expect me to believe that?”
He replied stiffly:
"I hardly know what to expect from you. I have not met Miss Thorburn.” “You say you have never met her. She sketches in the Forest. Some people are fools enough to buy her daubs.” “Sketches in the Forest?”
HE REPEATED the words. And, suddenly, he remembered a slim girl under a big umbrella, a nice shy little girl to whom he had spoken a fortnight before. He had asked her to indicate a short cut to Brackenford—nothing more. “You have met her?”
“Yes; I may have met her.” Unconsciously his voice softened. He looked distressed. It seemed an atrocious, horrible thing that scandal should assail an innocent maid, who had impressed him at the time as being unassailable by evil tongues. He said abruptly:
“This is perfectly beastly for her.”
“You have spoken to her?”
“I spoke to a girl I found sketching in a glade. It may, of course, have been Miss Thorburn.”
“Loveday Thorburn—! Did you ask her to take off her hat?”
“It happened to be lying on the ground.” “That is all?”
“That is all.”
“I—I don’t believe you.”
Hopetoun remained silent. He realized the fatuity of argument with an angry woman. He realized miserably that she was not what he had deemed her to be. Each had attracted the other physically. Spiritually and mentally they were poles apart.
He bowed and turned his back.
Azalea said shrilly:
She held out her engagement-ring. Hopetoun took it, glanced at it, dropped it into the fountain, and disappeared behind the cypresses.
WE FIND him, the following day, at The Bell Inn, Puddenhurst. A night’s vigil had torn scales from forgetme-not blue eyes. Your dreamer may become a rare doer when he wakes from his dreams. Wide-awake to the disqualifications of Miss Azalea Bright as a life’s partner, Major Hopetoun confronted a future without her with equanimity.
Nevertheless he was sorely troubled when he thought of Loveday Thorburn. Did she know? Was she writhing helplessly in this spider’s web of cumulative gossip? More—was it his duty as a preux chevalier, to stifle gossip by marrying Azalea. Probably she would consent to a reconciliation if he pressed her.
He didn’t want to press her—in any sense of the word.
That illuminating conviction saved the situation for him, hut not for Loveday Thorburn. Sooner or later she would learn that she, poor innocent, had been the cause of a broken engagement.
To think things out thoroughly, Major Hopetoun strode into the Forest, and it is significant that an ardent lepidopterist left his butterfly net behind him.
Of course he met Loveday. To suggest coincidence as playing the pranks of a Goddess out of a Machine would be profanity. It may be that a distracted young man sought and found the very glade which the imps of comedy had selected as the right stage-setting. As he approached the ancient oak, he perceived Eoveday’s white umbrella.
He stood still in the high green bracken beneath stainless skies. Oddly enough, his first articulate thought concerned itself with the difficulty of painting the Forest in midsummer splendour. Only a brave little girl could essay such a task. He had the keen eyesight of the practised stalker, and obviously Loveday was intent upon her work. If she knew the horrid story,
could she sit quietly down under it and go on working? She might. If so, further evidence of pluck.
He smoked a cigarette.
Loveday—? The name suited her.
Was she one of those rare creatures who can enjoy the passing hour? Did a day of small things suffice her? Had he ever met her before that morning when he asked her the way to Brackenford? Through the tall ferns he examined her face. She reminded him of somebody. Yes—he had seen her at the Hunt Ball, the Wall Flower watching with a smile the Azaleas
and Petunias and Delphineas.......And it
had struck him, poignantly, that she looked happy, although nobody, apparently, was trying to make her so.
HE WONDERED whether she knew.
To settle this insistent question, he decided to stalk her, to appear from behind the oak. If she exhibited confusion, if she blushed and stammered, only one inference was possible. And then, together, in a friendly spirit, they might make the situation less abominable by frankly discussing it.
Five minutes later he was raising his cap.
“I hope I didn’t startle you?”
She replied calmly:
“Oh, not at all.”
She didn't know.
And yet, faintly but unmistakably, she was blushing.
The faint blush perplexed him. It vanished as she asked demurely:
“Have you lost your way again?”
“I’m lost in a maze of thoughts. I must find my own way out of them. You are Miss Thorburn?” She nodded. “I’m Major Hopetoun.”
“Yes; I know.”
“You appear to like this glade?”
“I love it. I’ve painted it a dozen times. What I do is just pot-boiling. Trippers buy my drawings, not people
who really know. Still........”
“You mean, perhaps, that you see something here which, well, which the trippers don’t see?”
“Yes; I do.”
“Tell me what you see.”
“Because you don’t know me?”
She remained silent.
“Knowledge of others is a queer thing,” he continued. “Do any of us really know anybody?”
She quoted softly:
“ ‘Not even the tenderest heart, and next our own, knows half the reasons why we smile and sigh.’ ”
“You read Keble, Miss Thorburn?” “Why not?”
“I may be singularly unfortunate—I’m beginning to believe I am—but I have never met a woman younger than my mother who reads Keble.”
She considered this.
“I am; but don’t rub it in.”
Shadows flitted across her clear eyes. Obviously, she was startled. And he could read her thoughts easily. He, the accepted lover of a beauty and an heiress, had just declared himself to be unfortunate. She said hurriedly:
“I only meant that you were unfortunate in not knowing people who love Keble.” “I meant that, too, and more.”
They looked at each other. Then Hopetoun said slowly:
“You have heard, possibly, of my engagement?”
“It was broken last night.”
“Broken last night........?”
TO HIS utter confounding, she quivered from head to foot; the pale face upturned to his became piteous. As instantly Hopetoun cursed himself for a blundering fool. She had heard the gossip. And he had just made up his mind to tell her of it, to assure her that good came out of evil, and then, with her, to laugh the tale out of court.
“Í am frightened.”
“Because —because of what I have told you?”
“Oh, no. I am terribly sorry, of course. I—I understand why you said you were lost; hut it’s not that. It’s—it’s something deeper; something too strange and bewildering for words.”
"Try to find the words,” he suggested. With still trembling fingers she laid down the box of colors and clasped hands upon her working apron. Their eyes met again. Possibly the stronger will prevailed. After a long pause, she said in a whisper:
“I—I dreamed it—dreamed it here in this glade—under this tree.”
“You dreamed what?”
Had a note of incredulity informed his voice she might have been stricken dumb. But Celtic blood flowed in his veins. And when she spoke his eyes had clouded like her own.
“I dreamed that you came to me, you, a stranger, and told me you were in trouble.”
“Did I tell you anything else?”
She hesitated, lost herself in the blue mists of his eyes, and went on:
“You told me, in my dream, that she was the wrong woman for you.”
A hard, grim voice broke the spell.
Each was back to earth again. Haltingly, he attempted an explanation to which she paid scant attention. He could see that she was drifting back to her dreams. And he wondered what power stronger than a woman’s curiosity lured her there. When he finished, she_said mechanically,
“She broke it off?”
“Because of some silly gossip.” “Gossip?”
For the third time he had to amend illconsidered conclusions. She had not heard the gossip. No matter! Let her hear it from him.
He said gravely:
“This is the strangest part of the story. The gossip, quite contemptible, not worth repeating, was about you and me.” Again she looked piteous.
“We must laugh at it. Some busybody spread the story that I had met you in the Forest and—”
SHE was sitting bolt upright, listening attentively, and the colour was creeping back into her cheeks, the light and sparkle into her eyes. No woman,
certainly not Azalea, had ever gazed at him like this. His pulses thrilled, his muscles contracted.
“And made love to you,” he murmured. She said nothing. Her bosom rose and fell.
And then something in her brooding eyes provoked a whispered question: “You didn’t dream that?”
‘‘You did? Quick! I’m on fire with excitement. Some power beyond our poor selves has saved me from perdition. I must know everything—everything. Did I kiss you in your dream? I am accused by Dame Gossip of kissing you. Did I?” “Yes.”
“Ah! The end of the dream must have been a sort of nightmare. I—I, a stranger, as you say, appear out of nowhere, and I have the impudence to talk about myself, and then I kiss you. What did you do?” Only a lover could have heard her reply,
“You mustn’t ask me.”
“Did you kiss me?”
He had pressed the point too far. Her eyes fell from his; white lids hid them, but he saw that her fingers were trembling. A tear trickled down her check.
“You saw me at the Hunt Ball?”
“And I saw you. But I didn’t dream of you. I hate myself because I didn’t. All the same, out of sight, back to memory, in a tiny shrine of its own, was your sweet face.”
She looked up at him.
“From now on,” he continued, “your face will remain with me. I shall carry it to the end. You may think me an impulsive sort of ass. I am. I rushed into an engagement with the wrong woman, and, maybe, I had to serve apprenticeship to her so that next time I should be wiser. I feel wiser at this minute than I ever felt before. Wiser and—humbler. So I kissed you in the dream-life! Many times? Stand up! Look me square in the eyes, Loveday. Did I kiss you and go on kissing you?” Could a shy maid answer such a question?
She stood up. Her lips parted deliciously. No sound came from them. He closed them with his own.