I wonder if you will think our life here desperately dull,” said Agnes, when she had dined tête-à-tête with Clare that same night. “I wonder will you beg of me to turn you out after you have experienced a week of our country life.”

“I don't think it very likely,” said Clare. “I feel too deeply your kindness in taking me in. You see, I was not brought up to look upon much society as indispensable. We lived in many places on the Continent, my mother and I, but we never mingled with the English colony in any place. My mother seemed to shun her own countrypeople. We made only a few friends in Italy, and even fewer during the two years we were in Spain. Of course, when we went to Egypt we had to be more or less with the English there; but I suppose my mother had her own reasons for never becoming amalgamated with the regular colony. As a rule, we saw very little society; and, indeed, I don't feel as if I wanted much more now. I think I have become pretty independent of my fellow-creatures. If I am allowed to paint all day and to sing all night, I'll ask for nothing more.”

“You will sing for me to-night,” said Agnes, “and to-morrow you can begin your painting. I suppose you had many chances of studying both arts in Italy.”

“No one could have had more,” replied Clare. “I know that my education generally was neglected. I'm not sure of my spelling of English, and as for my sums, I know they are deplorable. But my dear mother was afraid that one day I might find myself compelled to earn money to live, and she said that no girl ever made money by spelling and working out sums.”

“I think she was right in that idea. Being a governess is not the same as making money. And so she gave you a chance of studying painting and music? But painting and music do not invariably mean making money either.”

Clare laughed.

“No one knows that better than I do, Miss Mowbray,” she cried.

“Please do not call me Miss Mowbray,” said Agnes. “Have I once called you Miss Tristram? My name is not a horrid one. It does not set one's teeth on edge to pronounce it. Now don't say that there's such a difference between our ages; there really is not, you know.”

“I shall never call you anything but Agnes again,” said the girl.

“That's right; and perhaps in time I shall come to think myself as young as you are. The story of your education interests me greatly. Pray continue it. Did you learn painting or singing first? I suppose that question is absurd; you must have found your voice when you were a child.”

“I found myself with a kind of voice, but no one seemed to think that it was worth considering. That was why I spent five years studying the technique of painting. It was only one day when I thought myself alone in a picture gallery and began singing a country song, that a little grey-haired man appeared from behind one of the pillars. I thought that he was one of the caretakers, and I did not pause until I found that he was looking at me, as I thought angrily. I then asked him if singing was prohibited in the gallery. I shall never forget the way he looked at me and laughed. 'Singing—singing?' he cried. 'Ah, my sweet signorina, even if singing is prohibited you could not be charged with having transgressed. Singing!' Then he shook his head. 'But it was I who sang just now,' I explained. 'Great god Bacchus! you do not flatter yourself that that sort of thing is singing,' he cried. 'Oh no; singing is an art—and an art in which you will excel rather than in the art of painting. Fling that execrable daub in which you caricature the blessed St. Sebastian into the place where the dust is thrown, and come with me. I shall make you a singer.'”

“How amusing! And you obeyed him?”

“I stared at the old man for a minute, thinking him the most impudent person! had ever met; but like a flash it came upon me that he was not a caretaker, but Signor Marini, the great maestro. I was so overcome with surprise that in an instant I had done exactly what he told me. I threw away the picture on which I was working—I really don't think it was so very bad—and I went away with him. He asked me where I lived, and he accompanied me there. He amazed my poor mother with what he said about mv voice, or rather about the possibilities he fancied he foresaw for my voice, and he taught me for two years for nothing.”

“And were his predictions regarding your voice fulfilled?”

“I am afraid he fancied that I should become much better than I am. But at any rate he made it possible for me to earn money by my singing. I hope, however, I may not have to support myself in that way. I do not like facing an audience. I had to do so twice in Italy, and I found it distasteful.”

“But you do not mind facing an audience of one, I hope.”

“Oh, I will sing to you all night. I sang almost every night aboard the Andalusian. I think Mr. Westwood liked me to do so. There was a bond between us—a bond of suffering. My dear mother had only been a month dead. I sang with my thoughts full of her.”

“And there is a bond between you and me also—a bond of suffering. You will sing to me, my Clare.”

Agnes had her hand in her own as they went to the drawing-room, and after a short time the girl sat down to the piano and sang song after song for more than an hour.

Her singing was the sweetest that Agnes had ever heard. She did not sing brilliantly at first, but tenderness and sympathy were in every note. No one could hear her without being affected by her. It seemed as if no one could be critical of her art: it is only when one ceases to feel that one becomes critical; but Clare made it pretty plain to Agnes when they talked together later on that Maestro Marini had never been quite so carried away by the singing of any of his pupils as to be unable to criticise it, and Agnes declared that he must be the most unfeeling man living.

Before leaving the piano the girl sang an operatic scena of the most brilliant character and amazed Agnes with the extent of her resources. She showed that her imagination was on a level with that of the great master who had built up the work to a point of sublimity that had aroused the enthusiasm of Europe. Agnes saw that Clare had at least the genius to know what the maestro meant when he had taught her how to treat the scena.

She kissed the girl, saying:

“Yes, you can always earn money by your singing; but you can always achieve much more by it: there is no one alive who could remain unmoved when you sing.”

“I will sing to you every night,” cried Clare. “You will tell me when I fail to do what I set out in the hope of doing in any of my songs. That, the maestro says, is the sure test of singing; if you make yourself intelligible you can sing, if you are unintelligible you are wrong. No composer who is truly great will write merely for the sake of showing what difficulties a vocalist can overcome by teaching and practice; he will not be intricate, only when he cannot express himself with simplicity. I think music is the most glorious of all the arts.”

She quoted from her master as they went upstairs to their bedrooms and then kissed and parted. But though Clare was asleep within a few minutes of lying down, Agnes was not so fortunate. She lay awake for an hour thinking her thoughts, and then she rose, and wrapping a fur-lined cloak about her, sat down in a chair in front of the fire, looking into its depths.

“I cannot send her away again,” she said. “I cannot send her out into the world. God has given me her life, and I have accepted the trust. I cannot send her away. He need never learn the truth, the terrible truth. Oh, if he had but some pity! If she could but impart some pity to him!”

Another hour had passed before she rose, saying once more, in a tone of decision:

“Yes, she shall stay. Whether it be for good or evil she shall stay. If I cannot win him back I shall still have her.”

Somehow, Agnes did not now feel so strongly as she had done a few days before that it was laid on her to win back Claude. The fact was that, after her last conversation with Sir Percival, she had been led to consider by what means she should endeavor to win him back to her. What were the arts which she should practise to compass this end? She had often read of the successful attempts made by young women to regain the affections of the men who had been cruel enough—in some cases wise enough—to forsake them. She could not, however, remember exactly what means they had adopted to effect their purpose. She had an idea that most of the men had been brought by force of circumstances to perceive how false-hearted the other girl was; she had a distinct recollection that the other girl played a very important part in the return of the lover to his first and only true love.

After giving some consideration to the matter she came to the conclusion that she, too, could only trust to time to lead Claude back to her. She thought of the lines:

“Having waited all my life, I can well wait

A little longer.”

She had spent her life in waiting for him to return to her, but he had not yet done so; the man who had gone forth loving her, and with her promise to love him, had not returned to her and her love. She would have to wait a little longer.

But somehow she did not now feel impatient to see him once again at her feet. The terrible sense of loneliness that had fallen on her when he had left her presence on the day after his arrival at the Court—that appalling consciousness of desertion—was no longer experienced by her. She awoke from her few hours' sleep on the morning after Clare had come to her, without her previous feeling of being alone in the world. Her first thought now was that in half an hour she would be seated at the breakfast-table opposite to that sweet girl who had been sent to her by a kind Fate, just at the moment when she needed her most.

Before the half hour had quite passed she was sitting opposite to Clare; and before another hour had passed she was sitting by the side of Clare in her phaeton, pointing out to her the various landmarks round that part of Brackenshire, as the ponies trotted along the road. Agnes felt as happy as though she had succeeded in solving the problem of how to win back an errant lover.

“It's not a bit like the England of my fancy,” cried Clare, when the phaeton had been driven on for some miles beyond the little town of Brackenhurst.

“Is it possible that this is the first glimpse you have had of England?” cried Agnes.

“It is practically my first glimpse of England. I could not have been more than a year old when I was taken abroad.”

“And yet I am sure that you had all an exile's longing to return to England—you learned to allude to it as home, did you not?” said Agnes.

“Oh, of course, I always thought of England as home, though I managed to live very happily wherever I found myself,” replied the girl. “Sometimes when I was suddenly brought face to face with a party of English men and women making a tour of Italy, my longing to be in England was easily repressed. Indeed I may safely say that at no time did I feel very patriotic. The greater number of the people whom I met painted such a picture of England as reconciled me to live abroad.”

“You do not recognize the country from their description?”

“Why, they talked of nothing but fogs—they made me believe that from August to May there was nothing but fog hanging over the whole of the country—fog and damp and rain and snow. Well, we haven't driven into a fog up to the present, and I find these furs that Mrs. Adrian advised me to buy in London, almost oppressive. The green of the meadows beside the little stream is brighter than the green of olive trees in winter. Yesterday the sky was blue, and to-day it is the same. Oh, I have become more English than the English themselves; I feel myself ready to refer to every one who is not English as a miserable foreigner.”

“That is the proper spirit to acquire: I hope you will be able to retain it all through the winter. We do not invariably have blue skies and dry roads during November and December in England. But we have at least comfortable houses, with capacious fireplaces.”

“That is something. I never saw a really good fire until I came to England. I have sat shivering in the house in which we lived at Siena. The little brazier of charcoal which was brought into the room for a few minutes only seemed to make us colder.”

Agnes laughed, and there was a considerable pause before she said:

“And your mother. I wonder if she was quite happy living abroad all her life?”

“Only during her last illness did she express a wish to see England once more,” said Clare. “Ah, I cannot speak of it—I could not tell you all she said in those last piteous days. After she had written that letter which I brought to you—she would not allow me to see a line of it, but sealed it and put it away under her pillow—all her thoughts seemed to return to her home. Every night as I sat up with her I could hear her murmur: 'If I could only see it again—if I could only see the meadows, and smell the English may!' Ah, I cannot speak of it.”

The girl turned her head away, and a little sob struggled in her throat.

“My poor child!” said Agnes. “You have all my sympathy. I can sympathise with you.”

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