In a few minutes they were alone together, Lady Cynthia having hurried to the court which was now vacant. They were alone, with something like two hundred people about them.

“I have not seen her for two years,” said she. “Funny, isn’t it, that girls may be the closest of chums at school and yet never see each other again in life? Of course it is less funny in regard to Lady Cynthia and myself, because we move in what’s called different spheres.”

“Of course,” he assented with a laugh. “I never thought of that. Yes, to be sure; you are the daughter of a farmer and her sire is an earl. Her grandfather was a working navvy, and no human being knows who his father was. Your grandfather and great-grandfather and great-great-great-grand-grand-grandfather was a Wad-hurst of Athalsdean on back to the time of William the Conqueror, a noted robber who flourished in the year ten hundred and something, and brought over a crowd of gaolbirds to England to turn out the Saxons. They didn’t turn out the Wadhurst of the time, and so here you are moving in a different sphere from Lady Cynthia. And that brings us up to the present moment. Now maybe you’ll tell me in what particular sphere you’ve been moving since I saw you last. That’s ten days ago. I hoped to have the chance of coming across you at some place.”

“I have not been very far beyond the boundaries of the farm,” she said. “I have been fully occupied. You see, I’m very fond of two things—music and milk, and both are absorbing all my time.”

“I could understand music absorbing you, but surely it’s you who absorb the milk, if you like it,” said he.

“It wasn’t that sort of absorption,” she said. “No one knows anything about milk by drinking it.”

“And what on earth do you do with it?”

“Test it—analyse it; so that at a moment’s notice you can say what it is.”

“It’s never anything but milk, is it—before it’s wheeled off to the railway stations and sent up to the retailers who mix it with things—water and boracic acid?”

“That’s the haphazard way in which a dairy was run until recently. My father used actually to run his on the same want of principle. It was I who got the laboratory built, and now he works it on a proper system. We got rid of over fifty cows in a fortnight—some of them were believed by the dairy manager to be the best on the farm. It was only after a number of tests that I found out that their milk contained only the most miserable proportion of the true component parts of good milk.”

“And was it worth your while, may I ask?”

She looked at him in surprise.

“Worth our while? Why, the milk question is the most important that exists in England or anywhere else at the present moment. It is not going too far to say that the whole future of England depends upon the milk consumed by the people. Milk is the most marvellous thing in the world. It seems to me that it should be given a place in Nature all to itself. There is nothing so marvellous as milk, believe me.”

“It’s not so popular as beer in most localities. But now that I come to think of it, I fancy that you are right about it. It certainly is worth your while keeping your eye on it.”

“Oh, everything is worth one’s while if one does it properly.”

“Everything—except farming, it would appear. Dunning, my agent, has a very bad account to give of our farms—three of them without tenants—the largest has had no tenant for over three years. That’s not encouraging.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What can I do?”

“Why is the largest farm unlet?”

“Bad times; the chap who had it last threw it up in despair. He wanted to get it rent free for a year and half-rent for the next two so that he might carry out some wild-cat scheme of market gardening on the French principle.”

“And why didn’t Mr. Dunning let him have it on his own terms?”

“I suppose Dunning knows. He saw that the market garden notion was all tommy rot.”

“Did he go into the matter thoroughly—scientifically? Did he show you the basis of his calculations, and did you verify them?”

“Is it I? Great Gloriana! Where should I be by the side of Dunning?”

“You would be there—by the side of Dunning, and you would make Dunning look silly. Why should you accept any man’s judgment without figures? Make him give you figures.”

“He said it would be madness to give him the place rent free for a year.”

“But you have given it over to Nature, rent free, for three years. The figures that Mr. Dunning has given you are £2,000 with a minus sign in front.”

“That’s a fact. You are beginning to wake me up, Miss Wadhurst. I wish I wasn’t so lazy. But that market garden scheme—Dunning says the chap had been reading up a lot of stuff that was written about the French system, and that turned his head.”

“It turned his head—yes, it turned it in the right direction, Mr. Wingfield; that farm would make a fortune for any one setting to work it solely for market produce.”

“God bless my soul!” Jack Wingfield stopped dead when Priscilla had spoken—they had gone beyond the green limits of the furthest of the nets and were walking under the group of trees that had been allowed to remain standing when the ground had been deforested in order to make the tennis courts. “God bless my soul!” he repeated, in quite a reverent voice, which he assumed to counteract the suggested levity of his first utterance of the exclamation.

“Have I startled you?” she asked. “I meant to startle you. I used every art that I could think of to startle you. I should be horribly disappointed if you had remained unmoved.”

“Unmoved,” he said, in a slow way, moving from one syllable to the other. “Unmoved. I say, there’s a seat in a reasonable place under those trees. Let us make for it. I want to hear more.”

“I can’t quite see that you are justified in practically leaving the courts when you may be called on at any moment to play your game.”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter; I’ve got no chance of anything. The people here are too good for me. I don’t bother myself working up my game until the week before.”

“You never will do anything in the world on that principle.”

“I don’t suppose I shall; but what’s the odds? You can’t turn out a Derby winner if you have only a humdrum roadster to go upon.”

“And you are content to live the life of a humdrum roadster?”

“The roadster that looks to win the Derby is an ass—a fool! Now isn’t he?”

“I’m not sure of that. He may become the fastes roadster of his day, and that’s something. No, I’ll not’ encourage you to sit on that lazy man’s seat under the trees. I want you to play every ounce you have in you in your game. I don’t want the strangers to go away at the end of the week saying that there isn’t a player in this neighbourhood.”

“Oh, let the game go hang! I want you to tell me what you meant by startling me as you did just now. What did you mean when you said that about the market garden? Was it merely a ruse to draw me out?”

They were now standing on the low natural terrace with the trees at their back. She lowered her sunshade.

“I meant to startle you, but not at the sacrifice of the truth,” she replied firmly. “We know all about that farm. My father, who is the best judge of land in the county, and who has made more by this knowledge than any man in the county, went over every inch of the farm, and he is absolutely certain that it would make the fortune of any man working it as a market garden.”

“If I was startled a minute ago, I’m amazed just now,” said he. “Does your father not believe in Dunning?”

“I can tell you nothing about that,” she replied, shaking her head. “I can’t say what his opinion of Mr. Dunning may be, but he knows something about men and farms and—cats and mice.”

“If he has a working knowledge of parables he beats me,” said Wingfield. “Cats and mice—what have cats and—Oh, Lord! maybe I do see it after all. When the cat’s away—-”

“Exactly. And you told me that you hadn’t brains!”

“Your father thinks that Dunning is no exception to the rule that applies to cats and mice?”

“I’m sure he thinks that he could convince you in a day or two that that farm could be worked at a profit if the worker turned it into a market garden, and showed the railway that it would be greatly to their advantage to give him siding and a wagon all to himself. You could do that, Mr. Wingfield. What have you on your hands just now?”

“Time,” he said mournfully. “I’ve time on my hands, and by the Lord Harry it hangs pretty heavy there. I was just thinking how on earth I was going to put in the summer in this place.”

“And you haven’t been here more than a month?”

“Even so. What is a chap to do when he has pottered about the place with a couple of fat dogs at his heels? I love summer and I love the place, but what is a chap to do to keep himself from dying by sheer boredom?”

“Good gracious!” she cried, lifting up her beautifully-fitting gloves so that he was as much impressed by the movement as he would have been if her arms had been bare. “Good gracious! You can talk of being bored at a place so full of possibilities as yours!”

“Possibilities? You see possibilities in the place as well as in me? You look through the eyes of an incorrigible optimist. Your generosity runs away with you. Possibilities? Should I learn how to test the quality of milk, for example? I believe there is a pretty good lot of beasts at the home farm. I wonder, by the way, what becomes of all the milk.”

“Look into that. I don’t want to be the means of depriving any deserving or undeserving family of their perquisites; but you take the first opportunity of placing the transaction—the benefaction—on a proper basis. And take the advice of one who knows, and get rid of that nice lot of beasts which you have heard are on the home farm.”

“You mean to say that they are not a nice lot?”

“They were a nice lot ten years ago, my father told me; but instead of being kept up to the highest level, they have been allowed to degenerate to a frightful extent.”


“The same way as any first-class stock degenerates—by marrying beneath them. Now the matrimonial alliances among the beasts on that farm would make any matchmaking mother weep. There’s not one in the family that did not make a mesalliance at some time of her life. And your grandfather was so careful in this respect. If you have any respect for his memory you will get rid of the lot.”

He was greatly interested in her revelations, and said so, adding,

“What a juggins you must all think me! But I suppose that was because you worked on the same principle as Adam did when he was asked to give the fox a name. ‘I’ll call it a fox,’ said he, ‘and a better name you’ll not get for it, because it’s a fox, if I know anything about animals.’ You couldn’t find a better name for me than a juggins, because I am one.”

“That’s nonsense,” she said. “There’s nothing of the juggins about you if I know what a juggins is. If you were one would you be talking here to me on the most important topics that an owner of property can talk about, when you might be criticizing some of the play at the nets? And if I thought you a juggins would I talk to you for five minutes—for one single minute? I’m mistress of myself. I’m independent of the opinion of any of the people here. I see no reason to be bored for the sake of being polite. I told you the last time we met just what I thought of you, and since then I’ve thought more on precisely the same lines. Of course I feel flattered at your listening to all that I have to say; but I’m not so eager for flattery that I should bother myself talking to you for the pure joy of seeing you listen to me with one ear while I knew that all the time everything I said was trickling out by the other. Now the next word you say depreciating yourself will make me consider that you are trying to depreciate me, so I’ll get up and walk away, or else say something about the weather.”

He had turned his eyes slowly upon her in the course of her long speech—she had spoken her words so rapidly and with such animation it did not seem so very long—and by the time she had ended, which she had with a little flush, he was gazing at her with an expression that was bordering upon wonderment. In the pause that followed, his expression had become lighted up with admiration. Then he looked away from her, and rubbed the tip of his chin with the tip of one forefinger. He became very thoughtful, and the break in their conversation was so long as to assume the proportions of an irreparable rupture. It was, however, nothing of the sort. It was long only because he found it necessary to review and to revise some of the most highly cherished beliefs of his life, and the young woman beside him was fully aware that this was so. She had no mind to obtrude upon his course of thought.

At last he spoke.

“I wonder if you could tell me if I really did think myself a juggins,” he said.

“Why do you ask me such a question, Mr. Wingfield?”

“Because you have opened my eyes to so many things. You have shown that you can read me like a book.”

“Before I talk to you about reading you like a book, I will try to answer your question. I believe that from the first you have been in contact with very foolish people—as foolish as the people at Framsby—it has been called ‘foolish Framsby’ before now.”

“If not, we’ll call it so now. Go on.”

“These people, I have an impression, assumed that because your grandfather so arranged things that you should not take over the property until you were twenty-seven, you were bound to be the sort of person your grandfather believed you would be, and they treated you accordingly, and you were content to accept yourself at their valuation.”

He almost sprang out of his chair, making in the excitement of the moment a downward smash with his racket which, if it had taken place in the course of a set, would never have had a chance of being returned by an opponent.

“Great Gloriana! you have hit the nail on the head!” he said. “I don’t know how you’ve come to know it, but you have come to know it; and now you’ve let me into the secret, and I’m hanged if it isn’t the most important secret of my life—it’s a revelation—that’s what it is! I’ve been now and again at the point of finding it out, but I never got so far. I don’t know how you came to make the discovery, but you have done it, and by the Lord Harry Augustus it has made a new man of me!”

Suddenly he appeared to recover himself. He had spoken so excitedly that he had not only startled her, he had also drawn the attention of some one who was standing by the nearest of the courts, and that person—a stranger—was smiling.

He dropped into his seat at once, saying, “I beg your pardon; I’m making rather a fool of myself; but—well, it can’t be helped.”

“Don’t trouble yourself about him,” she said—she saw that he had noticed that the stranger had noticed him. “He’ll only fancy that we are quarrelling; but we’re not, so it doesn’t matter.”

“Not a tinker’s curse,” he replied, with more than necessary emphasis. Then he turned to her and spoke, leaning forward, swinging his racket between his knees, so as to convince the observant stranger that he was not so excited after all. “I tell you that you have hit upon the mistake that I have made all my life and that everybody about me has made,” he said. “From the first it was taken for granted that because my poor father was a fool I must be one too. I tell you that I took it for granted myself. Now, when a chap starts life in that way what chance has he, I should like to know? When a poor devil is told by every one around him that he has in him the seeds of an incurable disease—consumption, or cancer, or something—what chance has he? I never had a chance. That was why I made an ass of myself at Oxford. Oh, those blessed trustees! They told me when they were sending me to Oxford that they were perfectly certain I should make an ass of myself, and they somehow made me feel that it was inevitable that I should, and so I rode for a fall. I see it now. And it was the same when I went on my travels. They believed that I wanted to paint every place sealing-wax red that I came to, as I had painted the college oak navy blue, and they made that an excuse for cutting down my allowance to bedrock—they didn’t let me have enough to buy turpentine even at wholesale price to mix my paint.”

“And you didn’t buy a can or two of distemper—distemper is what young dogs suffer from, and you were a sad young dog, you know,” said she, laughing under her breath.

“I never did any painting at all after Oxford,” he said. “I had really only now and again an inclination for it. I give you my word that I began to feel ashamed—actually ashamed—at my own tameness, and it was really because I did so that I now and again nerved myself to go on a bust. Gloriana! what poor busts they were. I never came in touch with the police but once, and nothing came of it; the judge—every magistrate is a judge out there—began to laugh at the business—it had something to do with a mule, of course—and then the polis began to laugh, and so the bust bust up, with every one grinning, and making me feel that I was pretty bit of a mug that couldn’t even get up a row that would be taken seriously.”

“What did you do to the poor mule?” she asked, for she had detected the note of despondency in his voice as he told her the story of his failure, and she wanted to cheer him up.

“Oh, it was some rot or other,” he replied. “There was the old mule, with his ears going like the fans of a screw propeller, and his tail whisking mosquitoes into eternity by the thousand, and there was the basket with the eggs, and when the mule man went into the wineshop with the woman that had laid down the basket, what was there to be done?”

“You needn’t ask me; you saw for yourself. But after all you only got the length of painting the pavement a nice yellow—not vermilion. It’s no wonder that the judge laughed.”

“I suppose it isn’t. But you needn’t. I’m sorry I said anything about the mule. You may begin to think that I’m not serious in all that I say.”

“Are you serious?” she cried very seriously.

“I give you my word that I am. The scales have fallen from my eyes. I’ll never think of myself as a juggins again. Oh, confound this fellow! He’s looking for me. I think I’ll scratch for the rest of the day. I’ve no chance against Glenister. Yes, I’ll tell him——”

“Now’s your chance,” she said earnestly. “If you have made up your mind not to treat yourself in future as your trustees and the rest treated you in the past, you’ll play every ounce that’s in you in this tournament and ever afterwards.”

He looked at her.

“What’s a set or two—knocking a ball backwards and forwards across a net, when we’re talking together on a vital matter?” he said peevishly. “I want to have my talk out with you and—here he comes, I’ll tell him to go to——”

“To the court and wait for you,” she said, rising. “Now’s your chance. If there’s anything in what I’ve said to you or you’ve said to me, you’ll play as you never played before. Now just try the experiment.”

He looked at her again—steadily—in a way that he had never looked at her before.

“By God I will!” he said, and marched off to meet the man who had come in search of him for the second of the singles.

The man was cross and confounded him properly for a dam skulker. He was, of course, a particular friend of Jack Wingfield’s, or he would have frozen him with politeness.

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