As has already appeared, there were two families of Trevelyans among the Follitts’ friends. The Lincolnshire branch was usually described as the mad lot, because at least two members of the family had disappeared suddenly from society, and as it had never been said that they were dead, it was quite easy to say that they were insane. There were numerous more or less idle tales about these two and concerning their property, of which the sane members were supposed to be enjoying the income.
The ballooning branch, which Lionel thought rather the madder of the two, was represented by old Major Trevelyan, who had invented an airship that would not move, his married son, and his daughter Anne, who were enthusiastic aëronauts, but had no belief at all in the old gentleman’s invention; on the other hand, their confidence in their own methods was boundless, and several rather serious accidents had left it quite undiminished.
Young Mrs. Trevelyan sided with her father-in-law, for in her heart she was a dreadful coward in the air, though she feared nothing on land or water; and she found that the best way to be left at home was to quarrel with her husband and sister-in-law about ripping-lines, safety-valves, detachable cars, and other gear. When an ascent was not far off, and her husband, as usual, showed signs of wishing her to accompany him, the wise little lady would get the old gentleman to coach her thoroughly in his own views, which she then proceeded to air and defend till her husband lost his temper and flatly refused to take her with him, which was precisely the end she desired to gain.
There had lately been one of those ascents which, in the ordinary course of things, had been followed by a descent with some of those results that are frequent in ballooning, if not inevitable. When the three younger members of the family appeared, Anne Trevelyan’s handsome nose was decorated with a fine strip of court plaster and her brother had a sprained wrist, which obliged him to carry his arm in a sling. But they all seemed very happy and united, for young Mrs. Trevelyan was the last person in the world to say “I told you so.”
Lady Jane approved of ballooning, in principle, because it was distinctly “sporting,” but she thought it dangerous compared with motoring.
“It’s all very well,” retorted Anne Trevelyan, “but you could count on your fingers the people you have ever heard of who have been killed by balloons, whereas every one I know has either killed or been killed by motors.”
“I am quite sure I never killed a human being,” answered Lady Jane; “and I’m quite alive myself.”
“Yes, but how long will it last?” inquired Miss Anne cheerfully.
“And as for danger,” answered Lady Jane, “whenever I see you, you have just escaped with your life! It’s quite needless to ask why you have a large piece of court plaster on your beautiful nose, my dear, isn’t it?”
As no new ascent was being talked of, Mrs. Trevelyan did not take Lady Jane’s side, and the subject was soon dropped. Moreover, in the course of the afternoon a thing so new and surprising happened that it drove all other questions out of the field of interest in the Follitt family. Lionel actually went for a walk with his sisters and the new governess. He made no secret of it, and his start with the girls and Miss Scott was witnessed by the assembled party soon after luncheon. They were all in a large room which was neither a hall, nor a library, nor a drawing-room, nor anything else directly definable. In the days when the children had been much smaller, but not quite small enough to be kept out of the way, it had been their general place of meeting, and the Colonel had christened it the “mess-room,” because, as he explained, it was always in such a mess. Each member of the family had a place in it which was regarded as his or her own—a particular chair, a particular table or a corner of a table, with a place for books and newspapers. Lady Jane often wrote her letters there instead of in her morning room, and the Colonel had a small desk before a window, which he preferred to the much more luxurious arrangements in his study; the three young men often lounged there on rainy days, and even the girls kept what they called their work in an old-fashioned work-basket-table before a small sofa which was their coign of vantage; for by keeping very quiet they sometimes made their elders forget their presence, and they heard many interesting things.
Ordinary acquaintances were never asked into the mess-room, and were not likely to find their way to it uninvited, as it was not in direct communication with the other large rooms on the ground floor, and could only be reached by a small dark passage which was entered from the hall by a half-concealed door. But the Trevelyans had lately been promoted out of acquaintanceship to the rank of friends—partly, perhaps, because Lady Jane hoped that Lionel might take it into his head to fall in love with Anne, who had always shown, or pretended to show, an unaccountable preference for him. His mother could not imagine why in the world a handsome and rather dashing sort of girl, who was almost too fond of society, should be attracted by that one of the brothers whom almost every one thought the least attractive; but since it was so, and since Anne was a thoroughly nice young woman, and since it was evidently the eldest son’s duty to marry, Lady Jane did all she could to bring the two together; and she was not at all pleased when she heard her husband’s exclamation of surprise on seeing that Lionel was actually going for a walk with his sisters and the governess.
“Upon my word, my dear, I never expected to see that.”
Lady Jane was near him, and looked out; the others heard, and went to different windows to see what was the matter.
“In a long and misspent life,” said Claude, who was not twenty-two, “I have never seen anything more extraordinary.”
“I say, governor,” asked Jocelyn, “there’s no insanity in our family, is there?”
“I’m not sure,” answered the Colonel. “I believe I once paid your debts, my boy. That’s always a bad sign.”
Jocelyn did not smile. “Taken in connection with the fact that I never made any more,” he answered, “it certainly looks as if we were threatened with softening of the brain.”
“And this settles it,” put in Claude, watching the fast disappearing figures of Lionel and Miss Scott, who were already walking side by side behind the two girls.
“It’s a safe and harmless madness, at all events,” laughed Anne Trevelyan, who was close behind Jocelyn and looking over his shoulder.
But the surprise of the party in the mess-room was nothing to the amazement of Evelyn and Gwendolen, who could not believe their eyes and ears. Their taste for forbidden amusements and sports, and their intimate alliance and mutual trust during a long career of domestic crime, had given them an almost superhuman power of concealing their emotions at the most exciting moments. When they saw that Lionel was coming with them, they behaved as naturally as if it were an everyday occurrence; but as soon as they were half a dozen paces in front of the other two they exchanged glances of intelligence and suspicion, though Evelyn only said in an unnecessarily loud tone that it was “a capital day for a walk,” and Gwendolen answered that it was “ripping.” They remembered that they had more than once derived great advantage from not altogether dissimilar circumstances; for although none of their brothers had exhibited such barefaced effrontery as to go to walk with them and the governess of the moment, nevertheless it had often happened that their former tormentors had disappeared from the schoolroom, or during the afternoon, for as much as an hour at a time, during which the girls left undone those things which they ought to have done and did a variety of other things instead.
On the present occasion they were surprised, but they never lost their nerve, and by the time they were six paces in front they were both already intent on devising means for increasing the distance to a quarter of a mile. Having been allowed to lead the way, it was natural that they should take the direction of the moor, where escape would be easy and pursuit difficult; besides, once there, it was easy to pretend that there was a cat in sight, and a cat on a grouse moor is anathema maranatha, with a price on its head, and to chivvy it is a worthy action in the eyes of all sportsmen. Cats were scarce, it was true, but Lionel and Miss Scott would be talking together, and how could either of them swear that there was no cat? As a preliminary measure, the two increased their speed at the first hill, and Lionel, who was in extreme haste to ask questions of his companion, refused to walk any faster than before. In a few moments, Evelyn and Gwendolen, though well in sight, were out of earshot.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you had had an accident?” asked Lionel in a low tone.
“Because it would not have been true,” answered Miss Scott, limping along beside him.
“But you are lame,” objected Lionel.
“And you’ve got one shoulder higher than the other.”
“It’s quite noticeable, isn’t it?”
“And your figure and your complexion——”
“Awful, aren’t they? I suppose I’m absolutely repulsive, am I not?”
The girls were forging steadily ahead.
“No, dear, you never could be that to me,” answered Lionel earnestly. “I’m very anxious about you, that’s all.”
“There’s really no cause for anxiety, I assure you.”
“But if you have not had an accident you must at least have been very ill?”
“Oh, no,” answered Miss Scott in an indifferent tone; “only a little influenza since I saw you two months ago. I don’t call that an illness, you know.”
“I’m not sure,” answered Lionel very gravely. “I’ve often heard that the influenza may have very serious consequences. I call being lame quite serious enough.”
“I daresay it will get better,” said Miss Scott cheerfully. “I am quite sure that this kind of lameness can be cured. I’m sorry to have given you such an unpleasant impression.”
“Painful would be a better word,” said Lionel. “I never had such a shock in my life as when you came into the breakfast-room this morning.”
“Yes, I saw. I suppose I had not realised how changed I am.”
“If you would only do your hair as you used to,” Lionel said, “it would be better. Why in the world have you taken to drawing it back in that way?”
“Did you see your mother’s advertisement?” asked Miss Scott.
“No. What had that to do with the way you do your hair?”
Instead of answering, Miss Scott produced a small newspaper cutting, which she had carried inside her glove with the evident intention of showing it to him. He took it, read it, and slipped it into his pocket with a rather harsh little laugh. “That was ingenious,” he said; “but the idea that you, of all people, could ever fulfil such outrageous conditions!”
“I’m perfectly satisfactory, you see. I fill the place very well, and Lady Jane is kindness itself.”
“I suppose that hideous frock is also meant to enhance the effect?”
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, indeed it does! Most decidedly! But I should have thought that what has happened to you would have been quite enough to satisfy my mother, without making it so much worse.”
By this time they were up on the moor, which began not more than half a mile from the great house. As Lionel spoke the last words he looked sadly at Miss Scott’s blotched face; but it hurt him to see it, and he looked away at once, following his sisters’ movements with his eyes. At that very moment he saw them both stoop suddenly to pick up stones from the rough moorland road; having armed themselves, they dashed away like greyhounds from the leash, straight across the moor, in a direction which would soon take them out of sight in the hollow beyond. Miss Scott was watching them too, and showed signs of wishing to give chase at once, but Lionel stopped her.
“They’ve probably seen a cat,” he said quietly.
Miss Scott, who knew nothing about moors, did not understand.
“Cats kill the young birds,” Lionel explained. “The best thing we can do is to sit down and wait. It won’t hurt them to have a good run.”
As Miss Scott sat down on a boulder by the roadside, he caught sight of the thick sole of her right shoe for the first time. He had often seen cripples wearing just such a shoe on one foot, and he started a little and drew his breath sharply between his teeth as one does at a painful sight. She understood, but was silent for a moment, though she instantly drew back her foot under the edge of her tweed skirt.
“I was afraid it would make a dreadful difference to you,” she said, “and I suppose I should never have let you see me like this.” He made a quick movement. “No, dear,” she continued quietly, “I quite understand; but I couldn’t resist the temptation to be near you.”
“Besides,” he answered, anxious to destroy the painful impression he must have made on her, “you had written that you meant to come, if only on trial. I thought it was a mad idea, but I found it just as impossible to resist as you did, and I should have been awfully disappointed if you had not come. Of course it would have been easier for me if I had known—or if you had not done all you could to make it worse.”
She looked at him so steadily while he was speaking that he turned and met her eyes; they seemed to be laughing, though her face was grave.
“I really couldn’t paint my cheek, could I?” she asked.
“Oh, no! I did not mean that.”
“But I have,” said Miss Scott with great gravity.
“What do you mean?” asked Lionel in amazement.
“I wash it off at night,” she answered. “It comes off quite easily.”
“What?” Lionel almost sprang to his feet. “Do you mean to say——”
“Yes,” answered Miss Scott, smiling. “I’ve made up for the part. It’s well done, isn’t it? You know I belonged to the dramatic club at the college, and they thought I was rather good at it. I always did the ugly housemaids with colds in their heads and red noses.”
“Your nose too!”
“Yes, my nose too. The paint comes off my face; and this comes off.” She stuck out the thick-soled shoe as she spoke. “And this comes off,” she added, laying her hand on her shoulder and laughing. “And my figure is just what it always was. Only my teeth and hair are real.”
At first Lionel stared at her with some alarm, as if he thought she might be going out of her mind. But she only smiled and looked at him quite quietly; and, now that he knew the truth, he saw the familiar face that was dear to him as if it were not disfigured, and the sudden understanding wrought such a quick revulsion in his feeling and so greatly delighted his natural sense of humour, that he began to laugh silently, as he sat leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, for he had the grave disposition of a thoughtful scholar. But instead of subsiding, his mirth grew by quick degrees, his shoulders shook, and his face twisted till he felt as if his whole being were turning into one vast joke; then, quite suddenly, he stuck out his feet in front of him, leaned back, threw up his head, and broke into a peal of such ringing laughter as the silent moor had never heard before. And Ellen Scott, who had been dying to laugh for ten days, could not help joining him now, though in a much more musical and pretty fashion; so there the lovers sat on the boulder, side by side, laughing like a pair of lunatics.
The air was bright and still, as it can be in the North of England when the winter is just over and the earth is beginning to wake again, and to dream of her returning loveliness, as a beautiful woman may who has long lain ill in a darkened room. The clear laughter of the two echoed far and wide, even down to the stream in the hollow, where the girls were poking sticks under the big stones at one end of the pool to drive the speckled trout out of their quiet lurking-places; and they were talking in low tones and plotting to hide some fishing-tackle
out of sight near by, on the mere chance that they might before long get an hour’s fishing while Lionel would be talking to Miss Scott. But the instant they heard the far-off sound of mirth overhead, they ran up the slope again, and dropped to the ground just behind a long familiar bunch of gorse, whence they could watch the road unobserved. The manœuvre was executed with a skill that would have done credit to a head stalker.
Lionel and Miss Scott were still laughing, but had reached the milder stage of mirth which is like the after-taste of very dry champagne. They were looking at each other, and it was quite evident to the experienced eyes that watched them through the gorse that they were holding hands, though the hands that were joined were not visible, but were held low down between them, pressing the boulder on which they sat.
The two girls saw, understood, and rejoiced. They had firmly believed that never, under any conceivable circumstances, could any male being even think of holding Miss Scott’s hand; but the impossibility was an accomplished fact before their eyes, and as they could not have any reason for supposing that the two had ever met before, they both instantly concluded that it was a case of love at first sight. Then they looked at each other and they also laughed long and heartily, though not a sound disturbed the air. When the fit was over, they whispered together.
“I think it’s going to be all right,” said Evelyn, keeping her eye on the couple.
“I’m jolly glad,” whispered Gwendolen. “I thought we were in for it this time.”
“The last ten days have been awful,” said Evelyn, “haven’t they?”
“She’s a perfect demon,” replied the other. “I wish I knew some nice bad words for her, that it wouldn’t be wrong or low-down form to say!”
“I’ve seen things in Shakespeare,” said Evelyn thoughtfully, “but I’m not quite sure what they mean.”
“You can think them anyway,” suggested Gwendolen—“that’s better than nothing; and you’ll show them to me when we get home, and I can think them too. There can’t be anything wrong about that, can there?”
“I don’t think so,” answered Evelyn; “and we’ll never ask anybody, so we can always think that the words are all right.”
“Do you suppose he’ll kiss her?” asked Gwendolen.
“Not to-day,” answered Evelyn, with the superior wisdom of an elder sister. “They never do the first day; and besides, he’s sitting on the side that has the blotch.”
“Well, then,” said Gwendolen, who had a more practical mind, “if there’s not going to be anything more to see, and as we can’t hear what they are saying, let’s go back and tickle the trout!”
Evelyn at once recognised that this was sound counsel, and with the unanimity which characterised all their actions, the two crept backwards till they were below the brow of the knoll, and then rose to their feet and trotted down to the pool again in great gladness of heart.
“How long do you think you can keep it up?” Lionel asked at last. “It’s utterly amusing and delightful, but I think it is just a little dangerous for you.”
“At the first sight of danger I shall disappear into space,” answered Miss Scott. “But I have a little plan of my own,” she added, “which I mean to carry out if I can.”
“What is it?”
“It will succeed better if I keep you in the dark,” she answered. “In the meantime give me some work to do for you in the evenings—copying or looking up things. That will account for your talking to me sometimes, don’t you see?”