His mother, though not an invalid, had need to be very careful as to her health. Undoubtedly she had been better since she had come to the Manor than she had been for years; but it so happened that she had not felt well enough to go with her son Jack to the opening day of the Lawn Tennis meeting. She easily submitted to his injunction to remain in her chair on the terrace. The great magnolia that would make the whole side of the house so glorious in another month, was not yet in bloom, but a couple of old-fashioned climbing roses had worked their way round the angle of the wall and laid out fantastic arms heavy with blooms over the trellis, and Mrs. Wingfield loved roses of all sorts, and nightingales and all the other old-fashioned things of the English garden. She was quite content with her surroundings and her canopy and her pavement on this J une day, and felt confident that her son’s assurance that she would enjoy her day very much more as he arranged it for her, than if she were to join the giddy throng in watching him knock the balls about, was well founded. He had settled her in her chair and exclaimed:

“Why was I such an idiot as to enter for the two events? The chances are that I’ll scratch when I get on the ground and come straight back to you.”

“You must do nothing of the sort, my dear,” she said. “Play all your games; it will make a good impression upon the people.”

“My aim in life is to impress Framsby,” said he. “It strikes me that the only impression my play will produce upon the privileged beholders will be that whatever I may be in other respects I’m a thundering duffer at tennis.”

“You can’t tell what their form maybe. You may have to play a second or third class man who is worse even than you,” said his mother, in the tone of the invalid who has been told by her doctor to be cheerful.

He laughed. “Bless you, my dear mother, for your kind intentions; but I feel that you are a sad flatterer,” he said, going off, having lighted his pipe.

She watched him as the mother of an only son watches him; and when he had disappeared and she heard him start the engine of his motor, she laid down her magazine and sighed. She knew very well why she did so. She knew how large her hopes had been that his entering into possession of his property would mean a settling down for him. In the days of their poverty—comparative poverty—the settling up every now and again was what she had good reason to dread, and now that they were wealthy—comparatively wealthy—the settling down occupied her thoughts quite as painfully.

She had seen, with a sinking of the heart, that he was beginning to lose a sense of the novelty of his position. He had become weary of it already. He had not fallen properly into the place which his grandfather had occupied; his grandfather had thought it the highest place to which a human being could aspire—the position of an English country gentleman. Jack Wingfield was beginning to be bored by it already, she could see. It was a life of pottering, she knew, and pottering, as a profession, must either be begun very early or very late in life if one is to attain to eminence in its practice. Jack had set about it too late for a young man and too early for an old one. He had had nearly six years of wandering—a little in Africa and a great deal in South America. They had been busy years, and certainly they had been restless years; but they had been years of life, not of vegetating. The rolling stone does not become associated with even so humble a form of vegetation as moss; but when it has done its rolling and finds itself in a position for such an accumulation, it is rather a pitiable object.

For more than a week Mrs. Wingfield had noted the approach of that cloud of ennui which she had always dreaded when she had thought of him as entering upon a career of pottering. She had made several suggestions to him with a view to its dispersal before it settled down upon him. She thought of the hounds—might it not be possible for him to take the hounds? Was the present master not tired of them yet? And then she thought of the pheasants—the pheasants had never been properly looked after, she knew, though she was quite unaware of how handy the gamekeeper’s wife at the lodge had found their eggs when she had to make an omelette in a hurry.

Only when she had thought of these ways of anchoring a man to the county, the bower anchor of the hounds and the kedge anchor of the pheasant, did she think of the third way—The Girl. She had been thinking a great deal about the girl during the previous week; and already she was wondering if she might not pencil in some dates in her diary for mothers with nice—really nice, girls—they were getting scarcer and scarcer, she thought—to pay a visit to the Manor and so give Providence a chance of doing something for her son and incidentally for the girl: for would she not be a fortunate girl who should attract the attention of so eligible a man?

She had dreams of cosy house parties; and now, instead of making herself familiar with the stores of wisdom in the magazines on the table beside her, she was looking wistfully out from the terrace across the lawn to the water garden with its old stonework and its shrubberies and its many fascinating and secluded nooks. How happy she would be if she could but see her boy emerge from one of those romantic places with a charming roseate girl—if he would lead that girl to her side with a word or two to ask her to welcome a daughter!

And it was just when such a picture was presenting itself to her that the postbag arrived and was brought to her by a footman. She unlocked it, and found within half-a-dozen letters for herself, a large number of the inevitable tradesmen’s circulars, offering coal at the lowest summer prices and a fine choice of grates in which to consume it. She threw them to one side; but she did not so treat the two long envelopes with evidently bulky enclosures which remained among the contents of the mail. One had its origin printed right across it—“The East Indian Steam Ship Company”; the other was floridly embossed with a tropical scene, and the strap that enclosed it was stamped “The Madagascar Direct Route.” A sort of guide-book pamphlet entitled “Try Patagonia” had also come, addressed to her son, and a small volume purporting to be on “Tarpon, and How to Catch Them.”

She looked at each of them a second time, and read all the reading there was on the covers. Then she laid them on her table, and kept her hand on the topmost as though she were anxious to hide it from every eye.

It had come—she had seen it coming—she had seen the restlessness in his eyes that told her that the call had come to him out of the distance of dreams—those dreams which had always been his—dreams of a sea that he had never sailed on—a land that his feet had never trodden. The end of their life together at this house which she hoped would be their home, had come before it had well begun.

The poor woman lay back on her chair and closed her eyes, thinking her thoughts—asking herself how it was that she, a woman who cared about nothing in the world so much as a home, should be denied one, just when she fancied that the gift for which she had always yearned had been given to her. She knew all that a home meant—that it was not merely a well-appointed dwelling, but a place the tenure of which should be secure to her so long as she lived. Such had been denied to her all her life; for her husband had been a wanderer with no certainty in his wanderings except of their continuance; and now, when she fancied that the desire of her life had been given to her, it was snatched away before she had taken more than a sip of its sweetness. He was preparing to go away from her once more. He could not help it; the travel lust had taken possession of him, and once more she would be left alone.

She sat there asking herself if she had failed in her duty toward her son. Had she too easily yielded to him, letting him have his own way in the matter of travel? What had she left undone that might have prepared him for the “settling down” which was bound to come, she thought, when he really had a home to return to? Even now it might not be too late to do something that would make him not merely endure the home that he had inherited, but enjoy it as well.

She could think of nothing that had not been in her thoughts long ago; and so the day wore on, but the pain which she had at her heart was not outworn.

Oh, who could leave this place that was meant for that repose which is the sweetest part of life—this gracious land of woodland and park and meadow and paddock—the songs of the blackbird and the thrush—the glimpse of the quick swallows athwart the lawn—the melodious murmur of innumerable bees—the scent of the roses: who would choose to leave such a place for the dread uncertainties of other lands? She knew something of Jack’s travels; they had not been under the control of a personal conductor. He had slept with a rifle by his side and a revolver under his pillow, and when he was not suffering from a plague of mosquitoes he was having his toes cut open to expel the enterprising “jigger” that had made a burrow for itself and its progeny beneath his flesh.

That was a very fair synopsis of his travels, she thought—at any rate, those were the points that appealed most powerfully to her imagination; and yet she had imagination enough to perceive how, having once tasted of the excitement of living that wild life, he should feel the tameness of his new inheritance to be unendurable.

She had her invalid’s lunch brought to her where she sat, and she was still in her chair when she heard the sound of his motor returning. He strolled round to her on the terrace at once, still wearing his flannels.

“Well, what sort of a day had you—rollicking, eh?” he cried. “I got away in good time to have tea with you. They had no use for me any more.”

“Did you not play after all?” she asked; she felt sure that he had not troubled himself to play, or if he had played it was only one set. She knew his ways.

“Oh, yes, I played,” he replied.

“But you did nothing? How could you expect to do anything? You left here not caring whether you played or not. I wish you wouldn’t take it all so pleasantly. Why don’t you rail against your luck?”

“I don’t see why the mischief I should; I’ve nothing to complain of in the way of luck,” said he.

“That’s the way with you, Jack—it has always been the way with you; you will blame no one and nothing—only yourself.”

“That shows how strongly developed is my sense of justice, dear mother. I should make a first-class judge, if I hadn’t to debase myself by being a lawyer to start with. But you see I am just enough not to blame my luck.”

“You had no luck, I suppose, all the same?”

“Not a scrap. I did it all by sheer good play, and a straight upper lip.”

“You beat anybody?”

“I beat Paisley first and Glenister second.”

“Glenister? But he is one of the best men! You never beat Glenister.”

“Six—two. Poor Glenny never got the better of his surprise when I stole my first game from him. He tried to think that it was a dream; I don’t believe that he has recovered yet. Nairne was my last man. He got a pain in his in’ards when the game stood four—love; and by the advice of an old prescription of the family doctor, he retired into the shade. Poor chap! he played very well in the M.D.s five minutes later. A splendid recovery! I know that there’s nothing like taking a thing in time—especially the advice of the family medico.”

“I can’t understand how you did so well, considering that you have had no practice.”

He was silent. He had picked up his post and was glancing at the covers. She watched him nervously. He read the steamship company’s imprint on each, and then smiled queerly. She fancied that he was smiling at the thought of being once again away from such absurdities of civilization as lawn tennis. But suddenly his smile ceased. He allowed his eyes to stray in the direction that hers had taken a few hours earlier—over the green of the lawns, and the ballooning foliage on the outskirts of the park. He continued so for a long time, siffling an air between his lips, and tapping the large envelopes fitfully on his palm.

She watched him, waiting for what was to come—he was going to say something to her, she felt—something in the way of breaking the news of his departure to her.

She watched him.

Suddenly his soft whistling ceased. He drew a long breath, and smiled still more queerly than before.

At that instant he caught her eye. He gave a little start, saying with something of surprise in his voice:

“What’s the matter? Why are you looking at me in that way?”

She continued gazing at him in silence. And then he saw that her eyes had filled with tears even while they were on his face.

“My dear girl, what’s the matter? Who has been saying what to you, and why?” he asked.

She pointed to the envelopes in his hand. He glanced down at them, saying:

“What—what’s the matter here?”

She shook her head and then turned away, and he knew that her tears had begun to fall.

In a moment he perceived all.

She heard him laugh, and raised her head, trying to disguise her tears.

She saw the smile that was on his face as he tore in two each unopened cover, and then tore the two in four, and the four into eight, tossing the fragments over the balustrade of the terrace on to the roof of a great pyramid bay below. The act was one of great untidiness, but she easily forgave him, garden worshipper and all though she was. She stretched a white hand across the table to him eagerly, and once again her eyes were moist.

“My dear boy! My dear boy! You mean to stay?” she whispered.

“Yes, I mean to stay,” he replied.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook