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In the tiny garden, under the chestnut tree, her Harry lay asleep upon his chaise longue. Esther looked at him; and a slight frown wrinkled her forehead, bringing out the cruel lines which good food and kind words had almost but not quite smoothed away. The book he had been reading, a French novel by Loti, had slipped from his relaxed hand to the ground. His head, tilted backward, was slightly on one side: the mouth was open: the chin had retreated an inch or two. After an excellent déjeuner, in a warm, soporific air, he slumbered sweetly, as a plump, pink baby slumbers after its mid-day bottle.
She examined him attentively.
The lower lip, she decided, was too full; but the upper had been finely cut; the chin left something to be desired, a less rounded contour, a sharper angle. Time might turn it into a jowl. And his curls, a thought too luxuriant, masked a brow not cast in the heroic mould.
She realised, with a shock, that she was criticising him, and not too favourably, and that, unconsciously, she had been trying to see him as he might be ten years hence. How disloyal!
She touched his forehead with her hand, and he woke. 'Babette wishes to know if you will need her after November.' 'Bother Babette! What a drowsy afternoon!'
'You see, she must think of the winter.'
'Shall we walk, or go on the river, or sit here?'
Servants are so inconsiderate. I do not choose to give her
an answer at once.
'Oh, no. She would like, so she says, to cook for us for ever and ever.'
'Tell her not to play the fool.'
'Good heavens! Am I the sort of man to let a servant suffer?'
'No.' She sat down beside him, and took his hand.
'I may keep on this house,' he added.
What was she to infer from this? The colour flowed into her cheeks as she murmured:
'Harry, dear, you have said nothing to me of your plans.' 'Perhaps my plans are not quite in shape.'
Something in his tone, an inflection of reproach, of displeasure or disappointment, made her withdraw her hand. He saw shadows
on her face and frowned. When he spoke again his words had a distinctly sub-acid flavour.
'My dear girl, can't you trust me?'
'Without trust-er-where are we? Have I done anything to make you distrust me?'
She remained silent.
'Perfect friendship-and-er-perfect trust are about the same thing, eh ? '
He did not express himself well. What public-school man does? To talk like a book, in the opinion of his world, was to talk like a damned prig. He expressed himself better in French. This gives furiously to think, as our friends and allies
'Yes,' said Esther slowly, 'perfect friendship and perfect trust walk hand in hand. If they are not the same thing, they are twins.' 'Then why do you ask about my plans?'
She said no more.
How could she retort: 'I am to trust you, but you don't trust me. If you love me, if you think I love you, have I not the right to help in this shaping of plans? It is cruel, unjust, to leave me in the dark.'
Bitter experience had taught her that most men exact from women a trust which they are not willing to bestow in return. Her father had never trusted her. Had he done so, she might have stayed his hand when it reached for the pistol. Douglas Yorke had gambled away her future and his own, risking all upon a last throw. A word to her, and the catastrophe might have been averted. Her father had never really loved her, because that word was withheld.
From that instant, maybe, dated a reaction, against which she struggled helplessly. Sabrina had said years before-how long ago it seemed that Harry must not play the hero intermittently. Sabrina meant, of course, that he must not play the hero at all, being an amateur, and as such despised by the professional. But surely Sabrina would have admitted that what he had done during the past six weeks was heroic-the real thing? His chivalrous care of her had not been intermittent. Nevertheless, now he was weighing pros and cons, counting the cost, marking time. If he had been really adventurous, the true paladin of romance, how she could have adored him!
That afternoon he said abruptly: "I'm going to leave you for a few days. You won't mind ? '
'Oh, no.' The words slipped out naturally. She wanted to be alone for a few days, so as to adjust her view of him, now out of focus. For a week he had filled the world.
'You said that as if you wanted me to go.' 'Harry!'
'Your face brightened: I swear it did.' 'How absurd you are!'
'That is the one thing I am not, thank the Lord! Absurd? I detest absurd people. And I like to know exactly where I am. I have some business in town, but I feared you would miss me most awfully if I left you alone.'
Of course I shall miss you.'
'Do you know that when you were ill, you couldn't bear me to
stay away more than an hour at the most?
So the nurse told me. It was very funny.'
'What odd words you use! I don't see that it was funny.' 'And I sat on your knee, and embraced you, morning and evening, un bon bécot familial, and called you " Brownie.""
She laughed to hide a deeper feeling, but he could not perceive that.
'I'm glad you're amused,' he said stiffly.
Next day, at noon, he departed, and she was left alone with her thoughts. She passed the first few hours in a reverie, inhaling the delicious air, so sparkling and yet so soft, giving herself up to the enchanting present. The weather was perfect. Around her, Mother Earth seemed to be resting after the travail of harvest. The leaves were turning, but not quite ready to fall. After the first frost the ground would be strewn with them. There was no wind, but towards evening a breeze floated up the river bringing with it the sublimated note of a distant bell. Esther sat under the chestnut tree, gazing into the rose-coloured haze out of which soared the spires of Rouen, contrasting this sweet scene with the slum from which a paladin had hailed her, hearing the shrilling of the crickets and the croaking of the frogs in the water-meadows. In the fields behind the cottage some peasants were singing, and below a barefooted gardeuse de vaches was driving home her kine.
Beyond this paradise seethed and simmered the world that works and starves! Esther asked herself, with profound melancholy, whether she could go back to the crowd: the struggling myriads who had trampled her underfoot. Life, as she had VOL. XXVI.-NO. 154, N.S.
found it, appeared atrocious, intolerable, impossible! And then suddenly, out of the shadows of the past, with a faint smile upon her lips, came a mental vision of Sabrina. Her friend seemed to be very near her, clothed in the samite of a guardian angel. Sabrina had fought against wind and tide, and had gained-rest. And now to Esther had been vouchsafed rest. But between this rest and herself stood her friend, with uplifted finger, bidding her pause and consider. So Sabrina had stood, in the Southampton slum, between a weary, desperate woman and the oblivion to be achieved by a leap from a window or a plunge into the river.
Esther closed her eyes, knowing that a grim struggle confronted her, and that she must choose now between the conflicting claims of the flesh and the spirit.
(To be continued.)
AN OLD SERVANT.
BY S. G. TALLENTYRE.
SOME ninety years ago-before trains and steamboats, before telegrams and telephones, before omnibuses, lucifer matches, and the penny post, before everything, in fact, that makes life convenient and complicated-there was born at Shrewsbury, in one of those black-and-white striped houses of which some still stand to contribute to the picturesqueness of that charming old town, a perfectly obscure little girl.
Her father had been press-ganged in the days when BonyParty was the pet scare, not only of all the nurseries, but of most of the households of England. He occupied the humble, useful post of tailor on board the Victory at the time of the battle of Trafalgar, and it was characteristic, but unfortunate, that his daughter's recollections and interests were entirely concerned with his tailoring, as an art, and not in the slightest degree with his having practised it on Lord Nelson and the Victory.
Charlotte Child-the name of Child will be found on many a tombstone in Church Stretton churchyard, and it may be deduced therefrom that her ancestry was numerous and not ignoble-was early sent, an anxiously conscientious little girl, as she became hereafter an anxiously conscientious woman, to a dame school in the town. Whether the dame schools of Shrewsbury were generally superior to the other dame schools of that exceedingly dark educational epoch, or whether little Charlotte lighted on a Biddy or a Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt of quite peculiar talents, it is certainly a fact that she learnt how to write a letter which, both in handwriting and expression, would put many a County Council scholar to the blush, and that she had at least enough education to read the Times for recreation in the evenings of her old age.
Yet it was not that little Charlotte was clever-unless, indeed, she was clever according to that worst and falsest of all definitions of genius as an infinite capacity for taking pains. She certainly was, from first to last, eagerly and thoroughly diligent. She walked sedately to school in the plainest straw bonnet with a ribbon,