Lionel had first known Ellen Scott while she was still a student at the college and was at home during the vacation. It happened in this way. Old Herbert Scott was one of the many learned and industrious, but quite obscure men whose ceaseless industry under the direction of half a dozen distinguished personages makes the British Museum the greatest institution of its kind. He was not a scholar in the ordinary sense of the word, for he had no degree, and had never been at a University. The son of an English officer in the native Indian army, who had been killed at the siege of Kabul, he had obtained a post in the Customs of Bombay. Though he possessed little or no knowledge of the Classics at that time, he soon became known for his extraordinary proficiency in Mahratta and the kindred dialects. He was, in fact, a natural philologian, and soon advanced himself to the study of Sanskrit. His misfortune was that the subject interested him far more than any material advantage which he might have obtained by mastering it. There is plenty of lucrative employment in India for men who know Sanskrit and have a dozen modern dialects thoroughly well, and who can be trusted; but Herbert Scott cared for nothing but study, and at the age of thirty-two he was as inefficient in the performance of his professional duties as he was learned in the Vedas and the lore of the Brahmans; in fact, he was in danger of losing his means of livelihood, since the Customs were not included in the “covenanted” Indian Civil Service. Happily for him, he was discovered at this time by one of the lights of English learning, who instantly recognised in him the talents and qualities of one who would always be far more useful to others than to himself. He gladly accepted the honourable though modestly paid situation which was offered him in the British Museum—for the twenty-four-year rule had not been invented then; he returned to England, installed himself economically in the cheapest part of Kensington, and went to work.
A good many years passed before Lionel Follitt made his acquaintance in the Museum, and became indebted to him for invaluable assistance. The extraordinary extent and variety of his learning attracted and interested the young man, who at first had him to dinner at a Club, and soon afterwards proposed to go and see him in Kensington on a Sunday. Mr. Scott seemed pleased. Lionel kept the appointment he had made, and was considerably surprised to find his learned friend in conversation with a pretty and charming young girl.
“My daughter Ellen,” Herbert Scott had said, introducing his visitor.
Ellen had made them tea, had seen that they had everything they wanted, and had then discreetly withdrawn, leaving them to the discussion of Sanskrit literature.
The rest needs little explanation. The girl was vastly more to Lionel’s taste than any of those he met in his own set: she was modest without being shy, she was clever without ostentation, she could appreciate without flattering, and she could understand without being vain of her wits. Moreover, though she was not more than pretty so far as features went, she had a lovely complexion, nice brown eyes that sparkled when she was amused, soft wavy hair of no particular colour, and a figure which Lionel thought the most beautiful he had ever seen.
After this first meeting his visits to the British Museum were more frequent, and though his own industry did not relax and his learning profited considerably by them, he often found time to go with Mr. Herbert Scott to Kensington after hours, and even to stay to tea and spend the evening with the father and daughter.
The old Indian knew nothing of Lionel’s position in the world, beyond the fact that he was a quiet young gentleman who lived in the country with his parents, and he would have been a good deal surprised to learn that his studious friend was heir to a noble old estate in Yorkshire. It was soon apparent that the two young people liked each other very much, but Lionel inspired confidence, and the young girl had plenty of common sense; and if the young gentleman from the country took it into his head to marry the daughter of the penniless old student, so much the better. If anything happened to her father she would have to support herself, and as he could not hope to provide for her he had given her the best education that could be had in England. If she did not marry and was left alone in the world, she was at least fit for any employment that might offer.
Herbert Scott had no great knowledge of human nature, but as months went by, and visits followed visits, he became convinced that there was an understanding between the two, and his hopes increased; yet it was not until Ellen informed him of her intention to accept the position of governess in Lionel’s family that her father ventured to ask her a direct question.
“Yes,” she said, “I have promised to marry him if his people do not object to me. That will be the difficulty, especially with his mother, who wishes him to marry well. He has not spoken of me at home yet. My plan is to make his mother like me before she has any idea of the truth. Do you think there is anything wrong in that?”
“No,” answered Herbert Scott, to whose Anglo-Indian mind anything appealed that had a touch of adventure in it. “But does he know everything? Have you told him?”
“Yes, I have told him.”
But when Mr. Scott had gone with Ellen to the station, she had been quite herself in appearance, and he would have been much surprised if he had seen her when she walked into Lady Jane’s morning room. The disguise was a part of her little plan which she had not confided to him, any more than she had shown him the singularly uninviting advertisement she had answered. She had timed her journey so as to spend the night in York; she had arrived at the hotel in a long cloak and wearing a veil, and had gone to her room at once, and no one had been surprised at the appearance she presented when she came down for breakfast in the morning. As a matter of fact, she had got the idea of making the change in that way from the account of a celebrated robbery committed by a woman, which she had read in a newspaper.
On the evening after Lionel’s memorable walk with Miss Scott, Anne Trevelyan asked him whether he had found the new governess a pleasant companion, whereat the Colonel smiled pleasantly, and Lady Jane and the others laughed; but Lionel was not in the least disturbed.
“I was very much surprised when I saw her this morning,” he replied, truthful to the letter, if not in the spirit—for his amazement had been great. “I know her. She is the daughter of old Herbert Scott of the British Museum, who has helped me a great deal with my work. So I went to walk with her, and we renewed our acquaintance.”
Every one seemed disappointed, for the chance of chaffing the least chaffable member of the family had seemed unique. But now everything was explained in the dullest possible manner.
“Oh!” ejaculated Anne Trevelyan.
“Fault!” cried the Colonel, who was fond of tennis.
“Punctured!” observed Lady Jane, who motored.
“Crab!” was Jocelyn’s observation, as he looked across the table at Miss Trevelyan, for he was the oarsman of the family.
“Hit to leg for six,” remarked Claude, who was the cricketer.
After this no one thought it strange that Lionel should treat the governess with great friendliness, and as the Follitts were all kind-hearted people, no allusions were made to her undesirable appearance.
On the contrary, it occurred to Lady Jane before long that the poor girl might really make some improvement in her looks without endangering her ladyship’s peace of mind. Miss Scott was turning out to be so thoroughly satisfactory, and “knew her place so well,” that Lady Jane’s heart was softened. “I am sure you won’t mind my speaking of a rather delicate matter,” she said one morning, when she chanced to be alone with Miss Scott for a few moments. “I should certainly not mention it if I did not hope that you will stay till the girls are grown up.”
“I will stay as long as I can,” answered Miss Scott demurely. “You are all very kind to me, and I am very happy here.”
“That’s very nice, and I am sure you won’t be offended if a much older woman gives you a little piece of advice.”
“Oh, not at all! I should be most grateful.”
“The truth is,” answered Lady Jane, “it’s about your hair. Are you sure you don’t mind? Don’t you think that perhaps, if you did not draw it back so very tight, it might look—er—a little less—er—unprepossessing?”
“It’s so easy to do it in this way,” answered Miss Scott, and she made her right eye wander rather wildly, for that was one of the tricks she had learnt in amateur theatricals. “But I shall be only too happy to try something else, if you do not think it would seem ridiculous.”
“I’m sure you needn’t be afraid of that,” said Lady Jane; “and besides, no one else will notice it, you know. I mean,” she added, not wishing to seem unkind, “I mean that no one will care, you know, except me, and I should like you to look—er—a little more like other people.”
“I quite understand,” answered Miss Scott; “I’ll do my best. But I ought to tell you that when my hair isn’t pulled straight back, it’s wavy.”
“All the better,” answered Lady Jane, with satisfaction. “That will be very nice.”
She had really felt that, in spite of Miss Scott’s admirable qualities, she was almost too hideous to be seen in town with two very smart girls. She might perhaps be taken for a maid.
As I have said, Ellen had nice wavy hair, though it was of no particular colour, and when she came down to breakfast the next morning, having arranged it as she did at home, the change in her appearance was surprising. She still had a red nose, a blotched cheek, and a bump on her shoulder, and she limped; but she no longer looked like a skinned rabbit. Evelyn and Gwendolen exchanged glances, and said in their evil hearts that the change was a step in the right direction, since it must be intended to please Lionel. Lady Jane smiled at her and nodded approvingly, but her prediction proved to be well founded, for neither the Colonel, nor Jocelyn, nor Claude, nor any one of the three Trevelyans, even glanced at the governess. And she had managed to tell Lionel of the advice his mother had given her, so that he showed no surprise.
On that day and the next, a large party of people came for the week-end, and when the house was full the governess and the girls had all their meals apart in the regions of the schoolroom, visited only by Lady Jane and occasionally by Lionel.
But he was obliged to be a good deal with the others, and incidentally with Miss Trevelyan. He was the last man in the world to fancy that a woman was falling in love with him merely because she always seemed glad to talk with him, and he was inclined to resent the way in which his mother did her best to bring him and Anne together at all times; but when there was a large party he preferred the society of the few whom he knew more or less intimately to the conversation of those whom he rarely met more than three or four times in a year, and had sometimes never met at all—for in London he avoided the crowd as much as he could. The consequence was that, on the present occasion, Anne saw much more of him than when the Trevelyans had been the only people stopping at the house.
If he had been wise in the ways of the world he would have known that when a woman has a fancy for a man she talks to him about herself, or himself, and has little to say about any one else; and he would have observed before now that Miss Trevelyan asked questions and led the conversation from general subjects to people. She seemed more interested in his brothers than in him, and particularly in Jocelyn—though she actually treated the latter with more coldness, or less cordiality, than the others.
“He has no ambition,” she said to Lionel. “I wish he would go in for ballooning!”
Lionel smiled a little. They were strolling along a path on the outskirts of the park, near the Malton road.
“I hadn’t associated ballooning with ambition before,” he answered, “but I daresay that if you suggested it as a career, he might take a fancy to it.”
“Not much!” answered Miss Anne, in a tone of conviction. “That would be just the way to make him do the opposite.”
“I doubt that. But do you mind telling me what the opposite of ballooning would be? Diving, I suppose, wouldn’t it?”
“Don’t be horrid! You know what I mean.”
Lionel did not know, but she had never before shown so clearly what she thought about Jocelyn’s opinion of her. Lionel was interested, and thought he knew her well enough to ask a direct question.
“You like Jocelyn, don’t you?” He looked at her quietly.
“Do you mind?” inquired Anne, with a short laugh.
“Not a bit. But, as a matter of fact, my mother has got it into her head that it’s your duty to like me.” He laughed too.
“You’re a very calm person.”
“I didn’t mean to be cheeky,” answered Lionel. “But as we are very good friends, and seem to be expected to fall in love with each other, though we never shall, it’s just as well to be frank, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I was only chaffing. You’re quite right.”
“Very well. Then you won’t mind if I tell you just what I think. You like Jocelyn, and you are quite sure he does not care for you. Is that it?”
Anne Trevelyan did not answer for a moment, and there was a little more colour in her handsome face. “Yes,” she said, after a few seconds. “That’s it. Rather humiliating, isn’t it? All the same, I would rather that you should know.”
“Thank you. But you don’t give him much encouragement to be nice to you, do you?”
“Well, hardly!” answered Anne, holding up her head. “I don’t think it would be very nice if I did, considering that he evidently dislikes me.”
“You’re quite mistaken,” said Lionel in a tone of certainty. “If you did not pretend to ignore him half the time, as you do, you would soon find it out.”
“Nonsense! You might as well say that he likes that dreadful governess!”
“I don’t think Miss Scott at all dreadful,” answered Lionel, in a tone that made his companion look at him quickly. “Her looks are against her, I admit, but I assure you she is a very nice girl.”
“I was only thinking of her looks, of course. And I forgot that you knew her father. What did you say he was?”
She asked the question in a tone of real interest, which was intended as a sort of
apology for having said anything against the governess.
“He’s in the British Museum; but he is not really her father. He adopted her and brought her up, that’s all. She was left on his doorstep, I believe.”
“Really! How interesting! Do tell me all about it.”
“There’s not very much to tell,” said Lionel. “Herbert Scott has been in the Museum five-and-twenty years, I believe, and has always lived in the same little house in Kensington. He began life in India, and I fancy he must be almost sixty. One morning, about twenty-two years ago, he was lying awake at dawn, when he heard a child crying just under his window. At first he paid no attention to the sound, but as it went on persistently, he went down and opened the door. He found a little girl baby, nicely dressed and quite clean, lying on the doorstep, kicking and screaming. He thought the baby might be about a year old. That’s the story.”
“Except the rest of it,” observed Miss Trevelyan. “The interesting thing would be to know what he did with it—a man living alone, and who had probably never touched a baby in his life!”
“He went to the police and made inquiries, and advertised, but as he could not get any information, and the woman servant he had was a respectable middle-aged widow who was fond of children, they kept it and brought it up. That’s all I know.”
“I have heard of such things before,” said Anne Trevelyan thoughtfully. “The child must have been kidnapped by thieves who tried to get a ransom and failed.”
“Or gipsies,” suggested Lionel.
“No, not gipsies. They hardly ever give up a child they have stolen, unless they are in danger of being caught; and if that had been the case in your story, the child’s parents would probably have claimed it, for they would have been employing detectives, and the police would have been informed. I should think the baby Mr. Scott found must have been an orphan in charge of some relations who were glad to get rid of it.”
“That certainly sounds likely,” answered Lionel. “I think it will be better not to speak about it to my mother or the others. I’m not quite sure why I’ve told you.”
“You told me because I called Miss Scott dreadful. I am sorry I did. I won’t do it again.”
“That’s all right—you didn’t mean it. We were talking about Jocelyn, I remember. I never understand how women do their thinking, and I suppose that I am not curious enough to study them.”
“What has that to do with anything?” asked Miss Trevelyan quickly.
“I was only wondering why, since you like Jocelyn, you are always as disagreeable as possible to him and as nice as possible to me.”
Miss Trevelyan laughed and looked away from him. “Of course you don’t understand!” she said. “Men never do.”
“I’ll give you a piece of advice, Miss Anne. The next time you make an ascent, make Jocelyn go with you, and see what happens.”
“Nothing would induce him to go, I am sure.”
“I think I could manage it, if you will only ask him.”
“I’ll take odds that you can’t,” declared Miss Anne emphatically.
“Six to four,” offered Lionel, who was not a Follitt for nothing.
“Two to one would be more like it,” proposed the young lady. “I only mean sovereigns, of course. I’m not on the make.”
“Done!” answered Lionel promptly. “I wish it were thousands!”
“Well, it’s in your stable!” laughed Miss Anne, who seemed pleased, “and I suppose you know what you can do.”
“There’s only one condition. You must ask him before me.”