When he told her that his mother would be greatly pleased if she would pay her a visit, her face became roseate. She hesitated before answering him. She had usually her wits about her, and rarely failed to see in a moment the end of a matter of which the beginning was suggested to her; but now everything before her was blurred. She could not utter even the merest commonplace word in response.

Three days before she had seen that sudden light come into his eyes when she had been trying—and not without success—to make him think better of himself than he had been disposed to think, and she had felt startled. She had gone home with that look impressed upon her. What did it mean? She knew very well what it meant That is to say, she knew very well that it meant that he was in love with her—for the moment, yes, for the moment; and that was by no means the same as knowing all that it meant. For instance, she could not tell if it meant that he would be in love with her the next day and the day after. She did not know if it meant that he would ask her to marry him, in the face of the opposition of his family—she assumed the opposition of his family, just as she assumed also that it was unnecessary for her to take into consideration the possibility of his being influenced by what the people of Framsby would say. He would of course snap his fingers at Framsby, but his family was a very different matter. She wondered if he would be strong enough to ask her in the face of his family. She was not quite sure of him in this respect. One sees the effect that her experience of men and their professions of love had upon her. She had been made thoughtful, guarded, determined to refrain from allowing a second man to make a fool of her—determined to do her best to repress all her own feelings in the matter before it would be too late to attempt to do so—before she had seen what his falling in love with her would lead to. That was why she had gone away so suddenly on the first day they had met on the tennis ground, and that was why she had taken the trouble to keep beside her friends on the other days: she wished to give herself every chance—to keep herself perfectly free in regard to him, so that, should nothing come of the little flame which she saw flicker up behind the look that he had given her, she would not have a lasting disappointment.

At first she patted herself on the back, so to speak, for her circumspection. She was behaving with wisdom and discretion, and with a due sense of self-respect. But on the second day, when she had had no more than half-a-dozen words with him, she returned to her home with her heart full of him, and feeling the meanness of her circumspection—hating her caution and abhorring her discretion. When she was combing out her hair that night, she caught sight of herself, as she had done before upon one occasion that has been noticed, in the tall glass, but this time she seemed to have a glimpse of a strange girl in whom she was greatly interested. She looked at herself curiously through that fine network of hair that flowed around her, covering the white draping of her white shoulders with a miraculous lacework of silk. And then, in the impulse of a thought that suggested an instinct, she unfastened the button of her drapery and allowed it to fall down about her feet so that she stood there a warm white figure of a bather ready for the plunge into the water, the foam of which was coiled about her ankles.

She looked at her reflection shyly as though she had surprised a strange girl. But the strange shyness gave way to a strange interest in that figure before her. She seemed to have acquired an interest in her body from her head to her feet such as she had never known before, and she found herself actually posing before the glass. Only for a minute, however; with a little laugh that had something of maidenly merriment in it and the rest of maidenly passion, she flung her hair away from her figure and rushed to her bed.

She did not go to sleep for a long time. The window of her room was open and she could hear faintly the notes of the nightingale that was singing in a plantation beyond the orchard.

And somehow the song of the nightingale also seemed quite new to her. She could not understand how it was that she had ever thought of it as sad.

She turned rosy when he asked her if she would pay his mother a visit, and she did not answer him at once.

“Did you tell your mother who I am—what I am?” she enquired, without looking at him.

“She knows all about you,” he replied.

“And are you sure that she wishes to see me?”

He did not answer at once. At last he said,

“I don’t think that she wants particularly to see you. She doesn’t care a great deal for seeing strangers. But I wish her to see you, and I wish you to see her.”

“In the ordinary course of life I should not pay your mother a visit,” she said. “I know my place.”

He laughed at the humour of her demureness, and she laughed because he was laughing; but only for a second.

“There’s nothing to laugh at,” she said. “I made a plain statement. In the ordinary course of life social visits are not exchanged between the ladies of the Manor and the girls of the farm; but in this case, and if you will save me the trouble of explaining how it is that I go... and yet I don’t know that you can explain it or that I can explain it... oh, you had better not try to explain anything.”

“Is there anything to explain?” he asked.

“There is a great deal to explain, but nothing that can be explained,” she replied. “I will be pleased to pay Mrs. Wingfield a visit. That’s all that need be said on the matter. I am sure that she will be very nice to me, and I know that I will be as nice to her as I can be to any one. Haven’t I always been nice to you?”

“Nice—nice?” he repeated. “That’s hardly the word. You have been nicer to me than any one I ever met What have you been to me? There’s a word that just describes it, if I could only find it. Guardian—no—no—some other word?”

“Pupil-teacher?” she suggested with some more demure humour.

He paid no attention to her. He was not in the humour for humour at all.

“I know the word, if I could only find it,” he said, musingly. “By George! I have it—good angel—that’s the word. You have been my good angel. You have indeed.”

“That was a word worth waiting for,” she said gravely. “I don’t think that there is any word that I should like better to hear any man apply to me than that word—good angel. It simply means, of course, good influence; and that is woman’s mission in the world of men; it is not so much to do things herself as to influence men in the doing of things. And when you come to think of it, woman has played a rather important part in the history of the world by adopting this line. She hasn’t actually done much herself, but she has been a tremendous power for good or evil in her influence upon man. That is the sort of woman I should like to be—an influence for good.”

“A good angel—you have been my good angel,” he said in a low voice. “You have plucked me by the hair of my head out of—out of—of—well, out of myself; and—if you knew what I think of you—if you knew what I hope—what my heart is set on—what——”

“What your heart is set on just now is that I should visit your mother,” she said quickly. She had no notion of leading him to fancy that she had spoken to him of what was in her heart in order to induce him to speak to her of what he fancied was in his heart. If he had confessed to her there and then that his heart was set on marrying her she would have refused to listen to him further, and all might be over between them. But she had no idea of allowing this to come about. She cared far too much for him for this. She had read the instructive Bible story—the finest story that was ever written in the world—of a man being handed over by God for Satan to try to make what he pleased of him. She thought that God might be very much better employed in handing over a man to a woman to try what she could make of him. She wondered which of the witty Frenchmen would have replied that God, being merciful, would only make the transfer to Satan. Anyhow, leaving theology aside for the moment, the longing in her heart was that she might be given an opportunity of standing by this man while he worked out his own salvation, and she knew that the salvation of a man is the recognition by himself of his own manhood.

That was why she stopped him so quickly when he was going to say something that would have spoilt his chance—and hers.

“Your heart is set on my visit to your mother—at least I hope so, for mine is,” she cried quickly, with a nod to him. “Now tell me how and when I am to come.” For a moment he felt angry that she had checked his all too rapid flow of words; he was not quite sure that the trend of their conversation, and that accidental introduction of a word or two that gives a man his opportunity, if only he is on the look out for it, would ever be so favourable to him again. But he quickly perceived that he had been too impetuous, and that if he had been allowed to go on he would have ruined every chance that he had.

“May I say Saturday?” he asked. “This business”—they were close to the tennis courts, and had just arisen from lunch—“will be over by Saturday.”

“And you’ll have carried home the cup—don’t forget that,” she said. “Yes, Saturday would suit me very well, and I hope it will suit your mother.”

“You may be sure that it will,” he said. “I have a very good chance of the cup, haven’t I? There are only two lives between me and it. If Donovan is killed by a thunderbolt to-night and if a brigand stabs Jeffares with a poisoned stiletto in the course of the evening, to-morrow I’ll carry off the cup. It will be plain sailing after that.”

“No, you must win it,” she said.

“Wish me good luck, and—I suppose you don’t happen to have about you that ring which you habitually wear—the one with the monogram of Lucrezia Borgia done on it in fine rubies, and the secret spring that releases the hollow needle-point with the deadly fluid? No? Ah, just my luck! you could put it on and then offer your hand to Donovan.”

“I have left it at the chemists to be renewed,” she said, turning halfway round in speaking, for they were in the act of separating. “Yes, I have used up a lot of the fluid of late; I really must be more economical. If I’m not I’ll not have enough money left to get it recharged for Miss Metcalfe, who lost you the M.D.s.” And so they parted with smiles and fun.

And it so happened that he carried off the silver cup, for he beat Mr. Donovan the next day, and Mr. Jeffares, the holder, found that he had strained a tendon on the Saturday morning, and so declined to contest it and also Mr. Wingfield’s offer to play for it when the tendon should be in working order. (There were some people who said that it was very sporting of Mr. Wingfield to make such an offer, and others that it was very sporting of Mr. Jeffares to decline entertaining it. But in the inner circle there were whispers that Mr. Jeffares’ tendon was a most accommodating one, for it had been known to strain itself upon two previous occasions when he had to meet an opponent who was likely to give him some trouble.)

She did not allow him to drive her up to the Manor House on Saturday—indeed, he did not make the suggestion that she should do so. She walked up to that fine old Georgian porch at the right visiting hour, and she had already been talking to Mrs. Wingfield for some time before Jack put in an appearance.

Again she was dressed in white, but her garments were not those of the tennis meeting. They were simpler and consequently more expensive, for there is nothing more expensive than simplicity in a woman’s toilette if it is to be the best; and second-class simplicity is in worse taste than abject display. Mrs. Wingfield knew all that was to be known about lace of all lands and of all periods, and she saw in a moment that the Mechlin which made a sort of pelerine for her dress was a specimen. But she felt that it was not a bit to be worn by a farmer’s daughter at any time—that was her first impression. A little later, when she found how graceful and natural and well-mannered was this particular daughter of the farm, she came to the conclusion (reluctantly, it must be confessed) that that piece of Mechlin not merely suited her extremely well, but that it was exactly the right thing for her to wear.

She was greatly impressed by Priscilla’s beauty; but more by her way of speaking, and most of all by her manners. Manners with Mrs. Wingfield meant an absence of mannerisms, just as distinction meant nothing that could be seen distinctly, and good taste something that was only known when a breach of it took place. Mrs. Wingfield did not find her deviating from the straight paths of good taste when she referred to her position in relation to the best set of Framsby. She did not boast of not being “received” by these ladies; nor did she sneer at their want of appreciation of her merits. She did not refer to Lady Gainsforth as “the dear Countess” or to Lady Cynthia by her Christian name, to impress upon Mrs. Wingfield the intimacy existing between her and Lady Gainsforth’s daughter. Indeed it was Mrs. Wingfield who introduced these noble names, and Priscilla knew that Mrs. Wingfield’s son must have mentioned them in connection with her own; so she merely said that the skating at Ullerfield Court, the Ullerfields’ place in Norfolk, had been very good indeed when she had stayed there with Lady Cynthia and Katie Ullerfield.

And then—also in response to Mrs. Wingfield’s enquiry—she went on to speak of her dairy experience. She thought that on the whole there could be no more interesting work than dairy work. They were in the middle of the dairy when Jack put in an appearance.

When they had had tea he took her round the greenhouses. She could talk freely with him on this tour; she had no sense of being restrained by the looming of a grave question ahead. She knew that although two days ago he had been at the point of blurting out something that it would have been impossible for her to reply to satisfactorily then, he would never regard such an incident as the flowering of a yucca in a hothouse as a legitimate excuse for asking her the question which she had restrained.

She had no fault to find with him upon this occasion. He talked about the patience of his mother alternately with the bother of orchids and the merits of the Phoenix Barbonica for indoors; and brought her safely back to the drawing-room, where she put a crown upon the good impression she had already produced upon Mrs. Wingfield by showing more than a mere working knowledge of Wedgwood. It so happened that Priscilla had worked up Wedgwood every year to beguile the tedium of her visits to her aunt Emily. The town where her aunt lived contained a museum of the products of the English Etruria, and she had a visiting acquaintance with every piece in the collection. Thus was the good impression which she produced upon Mrs. Wingfield sealed with a Wedgwood medallion. A girl who could wear without reproach a Mechlin lace collar of the best period and who could detect Hackwood’s handiwork on a tiny vase which was attributed to somebody else, could not be far wrong.

When she had gone away and his mother had come out from the drawing-room and was about to take a turn round the garden, he lit a cigar and gave her his arm. He was talking rapidly, not of Miss Wadhurst, but of his approaching struggle with Mr. Dunning. His mother knew, from the persistency with which he rushed away from every chance she offered him of touching upon Miss Wadhurst, that he was anxious to an extraordinary degree to get her own opinion of their visitor.

It was not until he had led her to her favourite seat in the curve of an Italian balustrade overlooking the stonework of a pond with a fountain in the centre that she said, “I don’t wonder that you are in love with her, Jack.”

“Great Gloriana! I—in love—with—whom?” he cried. “She is, I think, the nicest girl I ever met,” continued his mother. “She has elegance, and that is the rarest quality among the girls of nowadays—the elegance of a picture by Sir Joshua; and her dress—there was not a single jarring note. I thought at first that that piece of Mechlin round her neck was rather overdone—it is worth sixty or seventy pounds—ah, now you perceive how outrageous is my taste—appraising the value of a visitor’s dress. Dreadful!”

“Monstrous! But you think——”

“I think that she is the only girl who could carry off such a thing without self-consciousness. She is a girl of the greatest taste.”

He shook his head.

“That’s bad news,” he said.

“Bad news?”

“Bad. If she has any taste what chance should I have?” His mother smiled. She knew girls a good deal better than did her son. She had come to think of her son as the one who chooses and the girl as the one who is chosen. She never thought of the girl as having any choice in the matter. It was her metier to be chosen, and all the others stood by envying her.

It was no wonder that she smiled at his suggestion.

“I only wish—but it is too late now. After all, it is only people who have not seen her—who do not know her—that will sneer at her being only a farmer’s daughter,” she said.

“Only fools,” he cried. “Only—such fools—Framsby fools! Gloriana! What better can any one be than a farmer? I’m a farmer. Not that that settles the question once and for all,” he added, with a laugh. “Lord, how rotten is all this rot that one hears about family and trade and that! It’s a dreadful thing for a chap to have a shop, and, of course, society, as it’s called, shuns him; but if he multiplies his offence by a hundred he’s all right, and no matter what a bounder he may be, society opens its arms to him, and the bounder becomes a baronet. If a chap like me sets up a dairy and sells the milk, people say that it’s sporting; but if a real farmer—the right sort of man—runs a dairy of the highest order, he is called a dairyman, and is put on a level with gardeners and grooms. So far as family is concerned, the Wadhursts are as far above us and any of the rotters that control society at Framsby as our family is above the Gibman lot who are hand in glove with Royalty. The Wadhursts were in this neighbourhood at the time of the Heptarchy.”

“I think she is the nicest girl I ever met,” said his mother, when the smoke had time to clear away. “Poor girl! How could she have made such a fool of herself?”

“What do you mean? Who made a fool of herself?”

“You recalled the story—it was in all the papers. But I called her Miss Wadhurst.”

“There’s a difference between a girl making a fool of herself and being made a victim of, isn’t there?”

“But the notoriety—it is not her fault, I know, but still——”

“Still what?”

“I don’t know what. I don’t know anything. I only feel.” He looked at her for some time—at first with a frown creeping over his face, but it did not develop into a frown; on the contrary, it vanished in a smile. He took her hand and put his arm about her.

“Thank God that you can feel, mother, for it’s more than most women can do nowadays,” said he. “And what you should feel is that if that girl was a fool once she may be a fool again and marry me; and that if I have been a fool always I may be wise once and marry her, if I can. I tell you that she—she—by God! she has made a man of me, and that’s a big enough achievement for any girl. Thank God, my dear mother, that I’ve set my heart on a girl that can do this off her own bat.”

“I will, my son,” said she, quietly; and they walked back to the house without a word.

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