The interview which was the consequence of Miss Trevelyan’s bet took place the following morning, in the presence of most of the family. As has been said, the Trevelyans had the privilege of the mess-room when the house was full; and as Anne was very much in earnest, she found her way there after breakfast, when she was sure Jocelyn and his brothers would be together. She was not disappointed. They were scattered about the big room when she came in, and the Colonel was writing a note at his little desk before the window.
Lionel guessed why she had come, and gave her a lead at once. He had the morning paper in his hand.
“Have you seen this?” he asked, looking at her directly. “There’s been another of those awful motor accidents. The thing ran away, and caught fire, and was smashed by an express train. Frightful, isn’t it!”
“Anybody we know?” asked Miss Anne, coming up to him.
“Nothing particular was found of the people,” he answered; “but there seems to be an idea that they were foreign tourists. It’s one to you, Miss Anne. No one ever seems to get killed in a balloon, unless they go to the North Pole.”
“Ballooning is no more dangerous than football,” answered Miss Trevelyan, turning her back to the fireplace and looking round the room. “You get rather bumped about sometimes, in coming down, but that’s all. Why don’t you try it?”
She looked about her vaguely.
“Is that meant for me?” inquired Lionel.
“It’s meant for anybody who will come with me next time.”
The brothers had dropped their newspapers and were listening, and the Colonel had turned in his seat, after finishing his note, and was looking at her.
“We can’t all go,” observed Claude.
“And as I have no time for that sort of thing,” said Lionel, “the choice is not large, for I don’t suppose the Governor is going in for aeronautics.”
“Why not?” asked the Colonel, perennially young.
“I wonder what the Lady would say?” laughed Claude.
“Of course my brother will go with us, so it will be quite proper,” said Miss Anne coolly.
“The Governor is welcome to my place,” said Claude. “I’ve promised to ride a steeplechase next month, and I’m not very keen about breaking any bones before it comes off.”
“That narrows the invitation to the Governor and Jocelyn,” observed Lionel, “and I’ll lay odds that the Governor will be the only one of the family who will accept.”
“What odds?” inquired Jocelyn, who had not spoken yet.
“Oh, anything,” laughed Lionel. “Five to one if you like.”
“Tens?” Jocelyn asked.
“Yes; I’ll go fifty against it.”
“Done!” answered Jocelyn promptly, for he was hard up, and Lionel knew it.
“Will you really come?” asked Anne, affecting cold surprise.
“Jocelyn was always a sordid beast,” observed Claude in a brotherly manner. “He’d sell his soul for fifty pounds.”
But Jocelyn remained unmoved. “I don’t know about my soul,” he answered, “but you may have the brown filly at the price.”
“That imp of Satan? Not much!”
Jocelyn made no answer to Claude’s disparaging remark about the filly, but turned to Miss Trevelyan in a businesslike manner.
“When is it to be, and where?” he asked.
“We’ll make the usual start,” Anne answered. “But we shall have to wait till Bob’s wrist is all right again.”
“He isn’t wearing it in a sling any more,” said Jocelyn, who, for reasons of his own, was in a hurry to win his brother’s money.
“Call it three weeks from Monday,” said Anne, after a moment’s thought, during which she had mentally run over the list of her numerous engagements. “I’ll let you know the hour. We’ll start no matter what the weather is, of course. We always do.”
So the matter was settled much more easily than she had anticipated, and she was proportionately grateful to Lionel for making her lose her own small bet.
“You’ll be forty-nine sovereigns to the bad,” she said with a pleasant smile as she paid it, “and it’s rather a shady transaction, I suppose. But I’ll make it up to you somehow.”
“That’s all right.”
Lionel reflected on human nature afterwards, and more particularly on the ways of young women; but it is due to him and to Anne Trevelyan to say that he did not like her any the less for what she had done. On the contrary, he would cheerfully have made a larger sacrifice to see her married to his brother, since that happy result would effectually put an end to his mother’s plans for his future bliss.
During the remaining three days of the Trevelyans’ visit, after the house-party had scattered, he already had reason to congratulate himself on his investment. The singular transaction which had taken place in the mess-room had broken the ice between Anne and Jocelyn, and for the first time in their acquaintance they were seen talking together apart from the others. At dinner, too, they exchanged remarks, and judging from what they said the rest of the party might have supposed that their conversation consisted chiefly in making satirical observations on each other’s personal tastes; but now and then, when Jocelyn said something particularly disagreeable, Anne laughed cheerfully, as though she liked it, and when she returned the thrust with interest Jocelyn’s large good-natured mouth twitched a little and then smiled. They acted like a couple of healthy terrier puppies, whose idea of a good game is to bite each other in the back of the neck and catch each other by the hind leg, and then to rush wildly off in opposite directions, only to turn back the next moment and go at each other again, with furious barking and showing of young teeth, which is all a part of the fun. It would be beneath their dignity as fighting dogs not to pretend to fight each other when no sworn enemy is about; but it would be against the laws of puppy honour to do each other any real harm.
Lionel saw and understood, and so did quiet little Mrs. Trevelyan; but the Colonel could not make out what was going on, for he was a mild man who had inherited the sentiments of the Victorian age, and only recognised that he was growing old because he felt that his own methods of being agreeable in the eyes of women were antiquated.
As for Lady Jane, she was not at all disturbed, for Lionel and Anne were as good friends as ever, and were, in fact, more intimate since they had entered into an offensive and defensive alliance. Besides, the presence of the undesirable governess had contributed greatly to her peace of mind. Her gratitude had already shown itself in the advice she had given Miss Scott as to arranging her hair, and the effect was so good that she contemplated some further improvements. What made the governess look like a housemaid, though it was clear that she was a lady, was her red nose and the blotch. A lady might limp and have a bad figure, and even be a little crooked, but a red nose was distinctly plebeian in Lady Jane’s code, and blotches were a somewhat repulsive disfigurement. She was really kind-hearted, but she knew that she was not always tactful, and it was with some trepidation that she approached the subject, having summoned Miss Scott to her morning room to ask whether the girls were doing well at their lessons.
“You are really quite wonderful,” said Lady Jane, when the governess assured her that Evelyn now really understood that Henry V. of England did not fight for the French crown on the ground that he was the son of Henry IV. of France, and that Gwendolen had remembered “nine times eight” for three whole days. “And are you quite sure,” Lady Jane asked, “that you wish to stay with us? Does the air here—er—quite agree with you?”
“Oh, yes, indeed!” answered Miss Scott, with alacrity; “besides, I should be perfectly well anywhere.”
“Because I sometimes think that, perhaps, your circulation is not as good as it might be.”
“Really?” cried Miss Scott, very much surprised, for she had not the faintest idea what Lady Jane was driving at. “I never thought of my circulation.”
Lady Jane hesitated, and looked at her, not without a certain motherly kindness. “I’ve noticed,” she said, looking away again, “that you sometimes have—er—in fact, always since I have known you, a slight—er—redness.”
“Oh, yes, I know,” answered Miss Scott, with a very slight tremor in her voice, which was really due to the fact that she felt the warning symptoms of coming laughter.
But Lady Jane was afraid that she had touched a sensitive spot, and had given pain. However, she was in for it now.
“Please don’t think me meddlesome,” she said gently; “but I really know that those little things generally come from a bad circulation, and can be very much improved, if not quite cured, by diet and by taking the right sort of exercise.”
“I’m afraid my nose isn’t that kind,” answered Miss Scott with difficulty, for she could scarcely speak.
“Perhaps not. But Sir Jasper Threlfall is coming next week, and he is such a great authority, you know. I am sure he would be willing—if you don’t mind too much——”
When Miss Scott understood she started in real fright. “Oh, please, please! I’ll do anything you like, but please don’t ask me to see a doctor!”
There was no mistaking her real distress now, and Lady Jane felt that it was impossible to insist.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but of course, if you feel so strongly about it, I won’t say anything more. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind very much trying some stuff I always use myself if I happen to get burnt by the wind when motoring. It’s not at all nasty, you know—in fact, it’s rather nice, and it’s very soothing. Will you let me send a bottle to your room? I always keep a supply.”
“It’s most kind of you, I am sure,” answered Ellen, immensely relieved. “I can’t tell you how I dread seeing a doctor! If you will only tell me just what to do, I shall be very grateful.”
Lady Jane’s lotion for the face was a marvellous compound. Judging from the short, but imposing, statement set forth on the neat Parisian label, it was the highest achievement of two famous French chemists in collaboration with an ancient and celebrated manufactory of perfumery in the Rue de Rivoli. Miss Scott, who was strictly truthful, said that she used it conscientiously, and so she did; but she did not add that she had another little bottle of her own, the contents of which she applied with equal regularity to her nose and her cheek during at least a week after her interview with Lady Jane. When the lotion was almost finished, however, a marked improvement was visible. Her nose was still as red as ever, but the disfiguring blotch grew rapidly smaller and paler. Lady Jane was delighted, but, with the exception of Lionel, the men of the family were so thoroughly convinced that poor Miss Scott was a dreadful sight, that they did not notice the change at all, while Lady Jane’s interest in the cure she was effecting steadily increased. It is well known that a red nose is even harder to cure than a bad complexion, but she did not lose heart. Bottle after bottle of the wonderful lotion was sent to the governess’s room, and Lady Jane was soon obliged to order a fresh supply from Paris. Her maid, who had been the first to discover that Ellen was a perfect lady, took a lively interest in the cure.
“It’s a wonderful change for the better, miss, if I may say so,” she said, “and it’s a mercy that her ladyship happens to use the lotion, for I must say she never needed it
in her life. But the Lord knoweth His own, miss, and Providence never meant that your sweet face should be spoilt by an ugly patch.”
The maid was pious, and had reached that age at which piety has some chance of being permanent.
“It’s very nice of you to take so much interest,” answered Ellen, in the tone which had won the humbler part of the household from the first.
“And pray who wouldn’t?” inquired the excellent woman. “Mark my words, miss,” she added, as she went out, “the Lord knoweth His own.”
Lionel was in the secret, of course, and watched the cure with secret delight and amusement. Evelyn and Gwendolen also noticed the change, and understood perfectly well that if the governess’s nose paled to a natural colour, she would be decidedly pretty, which was a consummation they devoutly wished. They were uncommonly good judges in those matters too, for they had long ago discovered that the amount of liberty they enjoyed was in direct proportion to the good looks of their governess for the time being, though the length of her stay with them was always inversely as her prettiness. Now Miss Scott had at first been terrible to them; but since she was going to be pretty, one of two things was sure to happen. If she stayed, their brothers would make claims upon her time out of school hours, which would leave them free to follow their own devices; but if she grew too pretty she would be sent away, and the two girls were quite sure that such another terror to their liberty could not be found in the three kingdoms, and that any change must be for the better.
At this stage in the cure of her complexion the governess’s lameness diminished perceptibly, and Lady Jane’s sympathetic maid was sure that the misshapen shoulder was less apparent than before.
“If this goes on,” said Evelyn to her sister in the privacy of their own room, “she won’t stay long.”
“She says the air’s good for her,” answered Gwendolen cheerfully. “I saw Claude staring at her yesterday. He had such a funny look.”
“I know,” answered Evelyn wisely. “That’s always what they call the beginning of the end. I hope we shall have as long a holiday as last time.”
“We’ll have some jolly fishing,” said Gwendolen. “I’ll bet there are heaps of worms in the old corner by the rose bush now, for we haven’t disturbed them for a long time.”
“There are heaps of things I want to do,” rejoined the elder girl in a musing tone. “The men are quite right, you know: fishing with worms isn’t at all sporting. The real thing is a fly.”
“But we’ve got no tackle for that,” objected the junior partner. “I don’t see what we can do.”
“We’ll cabbage it.”
This well-known method of obtaining supplies of all sorts was familiar to Gwendolen, and she nodded gravely.
“There’s another thing I must do,” she said.
“I know,” Evelyn said quickly: “it’s the brown filly Jocelyn bought last month. I want to ride her too. We’ll toss up for the first mount, as we always do.”
“I was thinking,” suggested the enterprising Gwendolen, “that if we could manage to get her and Charley’s Aunt out at the same time, when the men are at dinner, we could have a real steeplechase, straight across the park to the King’s Oak and back to the stables again.”
“That’s an idea. Wouldn’t they be horrified? They’d say it was awfully dangerous, in and out through the trees!”
“Oh, well,” answered Gwendolen philosophically, “you can only break your neck once, you know.”
It soon began to look as if these delightful dreams were to be realised, for Miss Scott’s appearance improved at an almost phenomenal rate. She was so much better that she was able to put another shoe on her right foot, and the sole was not really very much thicker than the other. She had confessed to Lady Jane that she had not always been lame. It had come upon her very suddenly one day, and she thought that the regular exercise with the girls had done her good; which was doubtless true, though it might be considered to be an independent proposition. Lady Jane was glad, because a lame governess always attracts attention, and that is just what a governess should not do. The good lady now conceived the idea of improving that poor Miss Scott’s looks still further, by suggesting that she should put a little stuffing on the shoulder that was lower than the other. Ellen said she could do it herself, and she produced the desired effect, not by the means suggested, but by reducing the hump itself a very little, and afterwards a little more. At the same time, by some art she had doubtless learned in amateur theatricals, her clothes began to fit her better, until one day the Colonel came upon her accidentally when she was getting a book in the library, standing on tiptoe and raising both her hands to reach a high shelf, a position which is usually trying to awkwardly made young women; and it suddenly occurred to the still susceptible father of all the Follitts that poor Miss Scott’s figure was not really so bad after all.
“Won’t you let me help you?” he asked, approaching her of his own accord for the first time since she had been in the house. “What book are you looking for?”
“Oh, thank you,” Ellen answered, dropping her hands and colouring slightly, though merely from surprise. “If you would—it’s the first volume of Macaulay’s History. I’m just too short to reach it.”
The Colonel was close to her now, and was looking at her curiously, but not without admiration. He had been vaguely aware for some time past that her complexion had improved, but with him the habit of not looking at a plain young woman was very strong. What he now saw was a complete surprise. Poor Miss Scott’s complexion was as clear and radiant as that of the girls themselves, her brown eyes were bright and soft, and though her thick hair was of no particular colour, it waved charmingly.
All this was so unexpected that Colonel Follitt positively stared at her, though quite unconsciously. But Ellen understood, and was not offended, though she turned to the books again to avoid his gaze. He was at once conscious of his own rudeness, and feared that he had made a bad impression, so he lost no time in getting down the volume that was just out of her reach.
By way of prolonging the interview, however, he made a great show of dusting it, debating meanwhile whether it would be safe and wise to offer a little apology.
“I really didn’t mean to be rude just now,” he said with much humility, as he handed her the history. “Our Yorkshire air is doing you a lot of good, isn’t it?”
Miss Scott smiled pleasantly, and might have made some answer, but at that moment Jocelyn entered through the open door, and saw the two standing close together in the bright light, directly before him. He suppressed an exclamation of surprise. It was not the first time that he had come upon his young-hearted parent in pleasant conversation with a pretty governess, but it was certainly the first time that he had thought Miss Scott in the least good-looking; for he had inherited his father’s knack of keeping his eyes off such unpleasing sights as red noses and blotched cheeks. Besides, he had in reality been too much occupied of late in admiring Anne Trevelyan to pay any attention to governesses. What he felt now was genuine surprise and nothing else, and he at once came nearer in order to inspect the phenomenon. His impassive face did not betray his thoughts. By the time he was close to the Colonel he had made sure that Miss Scott was really transformed from almost repulsive ugliness to undeniable prettiness, and he merely asked his father an unimportant question about the stables, and added that he had come to hunt up the pedigree of a certain Derby winner about which there had been a discussion in the mess-room after breakfast. For the library at King’s Follitt contained a noble collection of turf annals.
But the Colonel’s own mind was a perfect encyclopædia of such information, and
before his son moved to get the volume, he was already running off the pedigree in question as glibly as a quick schoolboy would say the multiplication table.
And now another thing happened; for coincidences, like misfortunes, do not often come singly. Lady Jane herself made her appearance; and though she considered Miss Scott’s cure to be due to her own kindly efforts, she had not fully realised the result until she saw the charming young face smiling in admiration at her husband’s marvellous memory, while Jocelyn stole another glance at Ellen to convince himself that the amazing change was real. Lady Jane had come in almost noiselessly.
“Where are the girls?” she inquired, in a frigid tone.
The Colonel started as if he had heard a runaway motor-car close behind him in the road, and even the impassive Jocelyn turned his face sharply towards his mother.
“The girls are in the schoolroom,” answered Miss Scott, with smiling calm. “I came to find Macaulay’s History for them, and the Colonel was good enough to get it down for me.”
With this simple and truthful explanation she left the group and went away, taking the book with her.
But from that moment Lady Jane’s peace of mind faded away like a pleasant dream, and the familiar spectre began to haunt her again with its green eyes and whispered suggestions. She was ashamed that her manner showed some change towards Miss Scott herself, but she could not help it. Only yesterday at luncheon she, too, had seen Claude looking steadily at the governess with that expression which the girls had at once recognised—the alert glance and expectant readiness of the sportsman when birds are about; and now she had found two others of her flock in close conversation with the new charmer. As if that were not enough, she realised in a flash that this pretty creature was the undesirable governess whom her eldest son had been treating with so much kindness and familiarity for the sake of the learned and useful Herbert Scott. Coming upon her all at once, it was too much for Lady Jane to bear.
“I really think you might employ your time better,” she said in icy tones, and thereupon she turned and went away, leaving the Colonel and Jocelyn together.
Ellen understood very well what had happened, and she regretted her readiness in submitting to the cure. Her life at King’s Follitt had been very delightful, and she foresaw that her stay was now to be limited. On the other hand, she had never intended that it should last very long, and she had meant from the first to leave as soon as she was sure of having made a good impression on Lady Jane. It looked as if the moment had now come, and she talked the matter over with Lionel. It was always easy enough to get rid of the girls for half an hour in the course of a walk; and two or three days after the little scene in the library, Lionel and Ellen were sitting together again, on the rock by the moorland road, while Evelyn and Gwendolen tickled trout in the pool below on the other side of the knoll.
“I must do one of two things,” Ellen said: “I must either redden my nose and go lame again, or I must go away, since I have ceased to be undesirable.”
Lionel looked at her, and then at the ground, and was silent. He meant to marry her before long, but he was inclined to put off the moment when he must tell his father and mother of his intention. The Follitts were not timid people, as a family, and, in spite of his mild ways, the Colonel had distinguished himself in active service; but they were not more remarkable for moral courage than average people usually are, which was one reason why everybody liked them. People with noble qualities are sometimes very hard to live with: the daily exhibition of self-control is both discouraging and fatiguing to ordinary people who have not much of it, and those superior individuals who have no moral timidity rarely hesitate to show us what poor creatures we really are. In this respect Lionel, as well as his father and brother, was very like ordinary people. But Lady Jane was not, and they knew it, and their genuine affection was tempered by a wholesome dread.
“Which shall it be?” Ellen asked, after a long time.
“Which would you rather do?” asked Lionel weakly.
This time it was she who glanced at Lionel and looked down; but she was not silent, as he had been. “I should like you to make up my mind for me,” she said, in a rather low voice.
He knew what that meant, but it no more occurred to him that she was pressing him to make a much more important decision than such a thought had crossed her own mind. The words had come quite naturally, and they were the right ones under the circumstances. Lionel knew that it was time to act if he was not a coward, and the moral timidity of the Follitts had never gone so far as that. They would all put off a difficult interview or a disagreeable scene as long as possible, but when it was positively necessary to stand up for their beliefs, or their likes or dislikes, they did not run away.
“We must be married in June,” Lionel said, after a moment’s thought. “In the meantime you had better go back to your father and leave me to settle matters with my mother. It has been an amusing little comedy, and no one need ever know the truth but you and I. To begin it over again would not be worthy of you, and I should be a brute if I allowed it. Besides, I am sure those girls would find you out.”
“That’s very likely,” answered Ellen.
“My mother has grown very fond of you, too, and though she is afraid that we shall all make love to you if you stay, the good impression will remain if you leave, and that’s something, after all.”
“She will never consent to your marrying a foundling,” Ellen said gravely. “That will be the real difficulty.”
“Why need she know that you are not really Herbert Scott’s daughter?”
“Because I won’t marry you unless she knows the whole truth,” answered Ellen with determination. “She will probably be very angry in any case, but she will forgive us in time. Don’t you see how dreadful it would be if there should be something more to tell after she has accepted the situation?”
Lionel saw that she was right, and made up his mind to face the whole difficulty at once. He said so.
“Then I’ll speak to Lady Jane to-morrow morning,” Ellen said. “She will probably be only too glad to let me go at once.”
“You may be sure of that!” laughed Lionel, for she had told him what had taken place in the library.
“Then this is going to be good-bye until you come to town again?” she said, rather sadly.
“I suppose so,” Lionel admitted disconsolately.
They looked at each other a moment.
“Are you quite—quite sure that you want it?” she asked presently.
“Quite sure,” he answered, without hesitation.
“Because men have done such things and have been sorry afterwards. Since I’ve been here I’ve understood that it’s not going to be nearly so easy for you as I had thought. I’ve not spoken about it, but I must before you take the final step. It’s all so different from what I had expected, or even dreamed of.”
“What is different?” Lionel asked.
“The way you live. You see, you never told me anything about it. You only said that your father was a country gentleman, decently well off, and that you could give yourself up to study because you would have enough to live on. You never gave me the least idea that you were very rich people, nor that it was a great old estate and entailed, and all that sort of thing. It makes a difference, you know.”
“I don’t see why,” Lionel objected.
“I do. It’s one thing for the son of a quiet, retired officer of no particular position to marry a foundling and a governess. It’s quite another, now that you turn out to be great country people, related to half the peerage, and perfectly frightfully rich. I wish you were not.”
Lionel laughed. “If I were not,” he answered, “I should not be able to do as I please without asking leave of any one. I should have to go to work to earn our living, and I have not the faintest idea how I should do that. As a matter of fact, I should not have had the right to ask you to marry me, just for the pleasure of starving together.”
“That would be better than nothing,” answered Ellen, without much reflection. “As it is, I am not sure that I have a right to marry you—though I will, if you’ll have me! Every one will call me a scheming adventuress.”
“I think not,” said Lionel, and his rather gentle and melancholy face grew suddenly obdurate and almost remorseless. “Of course there will be one row and a general exchange of pleasant family amenities. But there will never be another.”
“And what will happen if I change my mind, and tell you that it has all been a mistake, and that I think it would be very wrong of me to marry you, because I should ruin your life?”
“I don’t know what would happen,” Lionel answered, with a confident smile. “You had better ask a dramatist or a man who writes novels.”
He was right in that, for they were the least dramatic pair in the world, and Lionel’s courtship had been of the simplest and most conventional sort. Their affection for each other had begun quietly, and had grown the more steadily and strongly for having been quite undisturbed, until it had entirely absorbed their two existences into one growth. The idea of separation seemed as absurd to them now as that the law of gravity should be suddenly reversed, or that trees should grow upside down. They did not realise that such attachments really have in them the character of fate—the very kind which most surely ends in tragedy when it does not lead to perfect happiness.
Even now, when action was unavoidable and the first great moment seemed to be at hand, they parted without much show of feeling. Each felt perfectly sure of the other, and both were certain that there would not be many more partings.