This was the case

The Avesham family manner of attending Cathedral was characteristic.
Miss Fortescue was always the first to start, and she reached her seat
in the choir five minutes before service began. She took with her a
Bible, a prayer-book, and a large tune hymn-book, and frowned
abstractedly at them all. Jeannie started about seven minutes after her,
and was almost invariably just late, so that she had to sit in the nave
close to the choir. Arthur considered it sufficient to arrive during the
first lesson, and he sat at the far end of the nave, where he could hear
nothing but the singing. It followed, therefore, as a corollary that he
left before the sermon. Jack on this particular morning proposed to stay
at home and go to the afternoon service. Thus, when Arthur came through
the garden on his way to the first lesson, he found him in a large
chair underneath the mulberry-tree. He paused a moment.

“Would it seem more hospitable if I didn’t go to Cathedral?” he asked.
“Remember, I rank hospitality very high among the cardinal virtues.”

“Be honest,” said Jack.

“Then perhaps I had better go to Cathedral,” he said. “But you might
have made it easier for me to stop. Well, good-bye; I shall come out
before the sermon.”

“I shall devote the time to silent meditation,” said Jack. “Where shall
I find cigarettes? I’ve run out.”

“In the smoking-room. But it’s distinctly bad manners to talk about
cigarettes to a fellow on his way to church. Have a novel and an iced
drink, too, won’t you? Don’t mind me.”

Arthur made his reluctant way across the lawn and disappeared. If Jack
had been obliged to be perfectly honest too he would have had to confess
that he bore the prospect of a solitary hour with perfect equanimity. He
had several things to think about, and he could do it best alone. In the
first place, he had received that morning a note from his mother asking
him to tear up the letter she had written him, when he received it,
unread. Also she would like to see him again before he left Wroxton.
This note occupied Jack’s thoughts not a little. When Jeannie had broken
in upon his meditations on the bridge the evening before he was doing
his best not to draw conclusions, not to formulate in his own mind what
his relations with his mother were. He had not known how their talk had
moved her, and it was only natural that he should not. For Mrs.
Collingwood’s deepest emotions were founded on the cardinal virtues, and
the more she was moved the more passionately she felt and expressed
horror of what was wrong, and to Jack, with his antipodal nature, this
had appeared like hardness. He had wronged her, but his mistake was
excusable. For with him, the more his emotions were touched the more
human and indulgent he became–a dangerous development, no doubt, but,
luckily for the kindliness of the world, a common one, and certainly one
that is lovable if we are not too censoriously moral. That Frank should
so have failed to act up to the proper reasonable code made him feel
the more tenderly toward him, though he regretted it. It was otherwise
with his mother. A lapse of this kind blotted tenderness from her mind;
had it happened to one she loved, the more complete would have been her
horror. The attitude of neither mother nor son is ideal, but the
resultant leaves nothing wanting.

This request, then, to tear up the letter unread seemed to him of good
omen. His mother, he knew, had felt strongly about this picture of
Jeannie, and her letter would not have been pleasant reading. But he did
her the justice not even to question whether it had not been written
with the most utter obedience to her notion of duty. She was never
unkind from carelessness or anger; or, rather, if she was unkind from
anger, the anger was never of a brutish or selfish sort. Thus he hoped
that their interview would develop her idea that the letter should be
unread.

But this was not the sum of the task of meditation. More intricate even
and more absorbing was the remainder. He assured himself, and believed
his own assurance, that he was not falling in love; but when a man has
to tell himself that it is doubtful whether he is any longer a fit
person to decide. That radiant presence he had first met on the plank
bridge was no longer a subject for sketches. She had stepped down (or
up) from the platform of “subjects,” and had taken him by the hand. She
had become, in fact, that ever agitating thing, a woman. Jack had been
often agitated before, and took it as a doubtful boon. He had never
indulged in those maudlin sentiments which place our human emotions on a
pedestal, as it were, in an otherwise empty room. To be married ideally
did not, according to him, mean an ideal life, if all else was to be
sacrificed for that; and the man who gave up the whole world for a woman
he loved was as incomplete as a man who gave up the woman he loved for
the whole world. Still less was love a plaything to him. If it was not
all-absorbing, it was not therefore nothing more than a pleasant
amusement. More hopeless still was the common case of men who seem to
regard it as a mere amusement, and yet devote their whole life to it.
Never did extremes meet more deplorably.

The truth lay beyond and between all these things. Every man had his
work to do in the world; Jack at any rate made no question about that.
To certain men and women came a great gift, a gift no less than the
completion of their nature by fusion with another. It did not come to
all, and whether it came or not there remained the stubborn fact that
one had still one’s work to do. It was no use saying that love is the
greatest thing in the world, or that it is stronger than death. For so,
if we look at it aright, is the steam-engine. It must not be supposed
that these chill reflections were rehearsed in Jack’s mind as he sat
under the mulberry-tree that morning. They are given here merely to show
the outcome of his previous thoughts on the subject, that the reader may
be enabled to realize the starting-point from which his meditations
began racing, the ground-colour of the piece on which perhaps the gold
thread would be traced, the nature of the soil from which the mysterious
seed would draw its nourishment. In intellectual and artistic matters he
was vivid, quick, fastidious, but sympathetic and, above all, almost
incapable of accepting a thing as proved unless he had practical
experience of it. And just as he would have denied with his utmost
cheerfulness the claim of Raphael to be a great painter, unless he so
considered him after looking at his pictures, so he would take no ideal
of love as his own because it had been the ideal of great and good men.

He got up from his chair and looked out over the shining garden. The
quiet peacefulness of a Sunday morning was in the air; hardly a breath
of wind swayed the tall single dahlias, and the heavy heads of the
sunflowers drooped. The great, quiet trees of the close, old but unaged,
seemed a guarantee for the safety of the world, and the gray Cathedral
numbered centuries to their decades. Yet, in spite of the suggestion of
secure tranquility which the whole view offered, Jack felt excited and
almost frightened.

“Who knows, who knows?” he said, half aloud. He paused a moment, and
then walked forward, half laughing at himself.

“Falling in love is a common enough experience,” he thought, “and it is
not to be treated as a tragedy. But I cannot think of it as a comedy.”

Miss Fortescue, it appeared at lunch, had thought deeply on questions of
ritual, or if she had not previously thought deeply, it apparently did
not stand in the way of her speaking strongly. A reredos, it seemed, was
a synonym for idolatry, and the absence of an extra candle on the altar
was the only plank, so to speak, which saved the English Church from
being immerged in the bottomless sea of Romanism. She proposed, as an
experiment, to make an offer to the chapter that she would present to
the Cathedral a small chapel in honour of St. Joseph, to be erected at
her expense, if they would build a corresponding one to the Virgin, and
felt no doubt that the thanks and acquiescence of the Cathedral body
would be accorded to her and her proposal. The ingenuity with which she
twisted the arguments of the other side to tell in her favour was truly
remarkable, and when, at the end of a hot half-hour, she raised her eyes
to the ceiling, she was not the only person present who was grateful for
a respite. She had already reduced Jack to such confusion of mind that
he had founded some theory on the seven veils of the Jewish sanctuary,
and though he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, Miss
Fortescue had, and convinced him out of his own mouth of being a friend
to the detestable enormities of the Pope of Rome.

“You say you are going to see your mother at tea-time,” she said. “Very
well, tell her what I have said.”

Jack was discreet, but not provident.

“I am sure she will agree with you,” he admitted, eagerly.

“In that case,” said Miss Fortescue, “it is her duty to use her
influence with your father to get these things remedied.”

Jeannie laughed.

“Give it up, Mr. Collingwood,” she advised. “It’s no use. We always give
it up when Aunt Em feels strongly at church on Sundays. You will, too,
when you know her better.”

There were several people at tea when Jack came into his mother’s
drawing-room, and when he entered he saw that they had been talking on
some point which concerned him, for there was a lull in the
conversation, and yet every one looked interested and rather eager,
which showed that the conversation had been suddenly broken off. Mrs.
Vernon, the gushing wife of another canon, more distinguished for a
vague æsthetic loquacity than for tact, appealed to him at once.

“We were talking about your picture of Miss Avesham,” she said. “I
maintain–and do agree with me, Mr. Collingwood–that it is not the
function of art to be photographic. You have seized, it is true, a
moment (oh, such a dear, delicious moment!), but you have given us, have
you not, what I called the story of the moment?”

Jack looked a little puzzled.

“I don’t quite understand,” he said.

“Oh, Mr. Collingwood, you are laughing at me!” she cried. (This was very
unjust, and not appreciative of Jack’s gravity, which was creditable to
him.) “You are laughing at me. You want me to involve myself. I mean
that you could never have given us such a wonderful moment if you had
not known the ancestry, if I may say so, of it. You must have studied
Miss Avesham’s face till it was your own. To know and to show us exactly
how she looked when that dear little puppy was shaking (In Danger,
too–what a delightful title!)–you must have made a thousand sketches
of her. For surely it is impossible to paint a portrait–a real
portrait, I mean–without knowing the face _and_ the character!”

Jack stirred his tea.

“Your theories are admirable, Mrs. Vernon,” he said, “and I agree with
them entirely. But I must confess that my portrait in this instance was
a rank contradiction of them. Until the moment that I saw Miss Avesham
standing as I represented her I never saw her before. And I finished the
sketch before I ever saw her again. I can only say that I am luckier
than I deserve in having done something which you are kind enough to
consider as being like her.”

Something of the interest died out of Mrs. Vernon’s face, and it
occurred to Jack for the moment that she had a theory at stake more
interesting to her than her theory about the true method of painting
portraits. He flushed a little, and was annoyed at himself for doing
so.

“I am afraid it may seem to you that I did a very rude thing,” he said;
“but the facts are these: I was walking down by the river, about three
weeks ago, and suddenly saw what I tried to paint. I had no idea that it
was Miss Avesham, for, as I have told you, I had never seen her before.
And without sufficiently considering, I confess, whether the girl,
whoever she was, would see the picture, and whether if she did she would
object to it, I painted it. I saw Miss Avesham again yesterday for the
second time. I am staying with her brother and her for the Sunday.”

“I am sure she would be charmed and flattered at your picture,” said
Mrs. Vernon.

“I don’t know about her being charmed and flattered,” said Jack. “But
certainly she was very kind about it, considering what a liberty I had
taken.”

“Rather what a compliment you had paid her,” exclaimed Mrs. Vernon,
effusively. “What a sweet girl she is! So simple and kindly. You are
staying there, are you not?”

“Yes, for the Sunday,” said Jack, with all his teeth on edge. “I knew
Arthur well at Oxford.”

“And did Miss Avesham talk to you about the portrait?” continued Mrs.
Vernon. “I am told she is so artistic.”

“Oh, yes, she spoke about it,” said Jack. “Indeed, it was a curious
coincidence, for just as I arrived she was out in the garden, and again
the puppy was shaking himself, having fallen into the fountain.”

Mrs. Vernon gave a titter of laughter, like a chromatic scale.

“There seems to be a fate in such things,” she exclaimed. “How exciting,
and how romantic! Thank you, _one_ more cup of this delicious tea.”

Before long the others left, and shortly after Canon Collingwood retired
to the garden. Jack and his mother spoke of indifferent things till the
tea-table was cleared; and after the servant had gone:

“I wanted to talk to you, Jack, before you went. You received my
letter?”

“Yes, this morning. I tore it up, as you asked me to, without reading
it.”

Mrs. Collingwood was silent a moment.

“Thank you,” she said at length, simply. “My reason was this–I wrote
hastily. I could not but think that Miss Avesham would consider your
painting of that portrait as a great liberty. It appears she did not,
and that you are excellent friends. So I was wrong about her attitude.”

Mrs. Collingwood took a chair closer to Jack.

“Jack, you were right in what you said yesterday,” she went on. “You and
I are made very differently. We must accept it. I have been too much
given to judging you, to disapproving, and disapproval does no good. But
you must not judge me either. You have your own life to live. You can
not grasp my point of view, and if I am tempted to disapprove of you, I
will be careful in the future not to do that, but to simply say that I
do not understand.”

Jack looked up; his mother’s voice was trembling.

“Ah, my dear,” she went on, “in the Father’s house are many mansions,
and it is likely there are many mansions of His on earth. And if the
windows of some look out on to beautiful things and others on to
austere surroundings, suffering perhaps, and sin, those in the different
chambers must not judge each other. That is what I wanted to say to you.
But I have to go on in my own way. We can only do what we think right.
There, that is all. But tell me, what do you intend to do about this
baby?”

“I shall have it to live with me, I think,” said Jack; “that is, unless
something else turns up. Mother, you don’t know how you have touched me,
and how glad you have made me that you have spoken, and how ashamed.”

“No, Jack, not ashamed,” she said. “But I had to talk to you about it. I
have thought of nothing else since I saw you yesterday. You go back
to-morrow, do you not?”

“Yes.”

“Then say good-bye to your father before you go. I must leave you; I
have an evening class. Good-bye, my dear.”

She kissed him with a tenderness that was new to her, and left him.

But it is not in the nature of those who have lived in a groove lightly
to get out of it. Habit becomes nature, and to look permanently at one
view would, no doubt, if continued for forty years, tend to make the
observer believe that the world contained no other.

This was the case with Mrs. Collingwood. Her humanized interview with
Jack had jolted her as a stone on the line may jolt a train for a moment
without causing it to leave the metals. The direction in which it had
been running, its speed, and its weight have all to be overcome, and
with her long-continued convictions had given her great momentum, and an
address she delivered three days afterward at a Mothers’ Union showed no
speck of apostasy.

Jeannie threw herself into the life of the place with amazing energy,
and she had her hands very full. In the first place, the house in Bolton
Street had a new inhabitant–none other than the baby of Frank Bennett.
It had occurred to Arthur when Jack was telling him about it that here
was a possible situation, at any rate for the present, and before a week
had elapsed he had written to Jack to say that if he wished they would
give the child a home as long as the present _régime_ of Bolton Street
continued. Jack had accepted the offer with the most thankful alacrity:
to live there was much better for the child; also (this he hardly
admitted to himself) he could run down with reasonable frequency to see
how it throve.

Jeannie had wanted no persuading, and Miss Fortescue hardly more. She
had opposed the scheme at first on the same grounds as she opposed
everything, in order to see how the thing looked from the other side.
That such a plan was somewhat out of the way, and that it would give
Wroxton a good deal to talk about, she did not consider at all a
disadvantage to them, and a distinct benefit to Wroxton.

“We shall hear less of the S. P. C. K.,” she remarked.

The baby was to Jeannie of absorbing interest. The same instinct which
had led her when a child to make dramatic the lives of her dolls, and to
watch over them with an anxious benignity of which saw-dust and wax were
really not worthy, had here a sort of fruition. A doll had come to life,
the inventions of her childhood were being played over again in the
theatre of living, her play was become true. Arthur, who was the
youngest of them, was only a year younger than herself; she had thus
never known a baby in the house, and she found an ineffable charm in it.

But the baby, in being at least, was only a relaxation to be enjoyed in
odds and ends of time, for the solid hours were full. She seemed to
have taken on her shoulders the responsibility for the whole of Wroxton.
She had already written a paper for the Literary Ladies, which had
caused a kind of revolution in that gentle society, and Mrs. Collingwood
had left the room in a marked manner in the middle. It is true that she
came back again, and spoke venomously about it, but that was an
after-thought, for by going away she expressed her silent disapproval,
which she repeated not at all silently in the discussion that followed.
Indeed, she might well be horror-struck, for Jeannie, taking as her text
that notorious and scandalous novel, The Sheltered Life, had made
remarks about “realism” and artistic treatment which made Mrs.
Collingwood not exactly blush, but bristle. In the first place, the hero
of the work was a professed unbeliever, and though, if we are to believe
the author, he sought for light, and lived a sober and innocent life,
there was no doubt about his religious opinions. It is unnecessary to go
into details of the rest of the story; that one fact was enough for Mrs.
Collingwood. But Jeannie seemed hardly to have noticed it. Instead, she
spoke of the admirable development of his characters, of the sobriety
and reticence of the narrative; of the skilled surgical dissection of
the man’s actions, and the exhibition of the real forces that swayed
them, partly the result of heredity, partly of early training and
circumstance, and the one thing that, according to Mrs. Collingwood,
condemned the book, even had it been written by Shakespeare and
corrected by Milton, she passed over with the remark that the
description of the struggle of the reason against a faith his reason
could not accept was wonderfully rendered.

Dead silence followed her reading; and the Literary Ladies, who for the
most part had followed her with great interest, saw Mrs. Collingwood
enter again (she came in so punctually as Jeannie sat down that it
seemed almost as if she had been listening at the door) and cowered.
Most of them looked guilty, but it was noticed that Miss Clara, in her
place as president, sat bolt upright, and looked as brave as a lion.
Indeed, several times during the lecture she had applauded with her
silver pencil-case on the table. Miss Fortescue, who sat next Jeannie,
also appeared unterrified, but, as her niece sat down, she said in a
whisper to her:

“You’ve done it now, dear. There’s war in that woman’s eye. But I’ll see
you through.”

Miss Fortescue was right. There was war in Mrs. Collingwood’s eye; there
was crusade in her eye, and she marched out to attack the hosts of the
infidel like Cœur de Lion. She made no parleying with the enemy, and
though she alluded to Jeannie’s speech as “most suggestive and clever,”
it was only to point out to her hearers how dangerous cleverness was.
She hurled texts at their heads: the house built on sand, the kings who
did evil, the captivity, the fall of Babylon, the mark of the beast, the
seven foolish virgins, the man who put his hand to the plough and looked
back, the seed on the dry ground, the pitcher broken at the well, the
woman of Samaria–all these, if rightly understood, proclaimed how
abhorrent was The Sheltered Life! Jeannie as she listened was first
angry, and ended by being amused. There had been a seven days’ storm;
Mrs. Collingwood had sent in her resignation, and Jeannie, hearing of
it, sent in hers, provided that Mrs. Collingwood would remain. It ended
in Jeannie’s calling on Mrs. Collingwood, in answer to the almost
tearful request of Miss Clifford, and talking it out with her. She
explained that she had not been criticising the data of the book, but
the treatment of certain data, and made her points with such sweetness
of temper and apparent inability to take offence that Mrs. Collingwood
was charmed in spite of herself.

“But these things are the most serious in the world, Miss Avesham,” she
had said at parting. “You do not, I now believe, take them lightly, but
that was the impression your very clever speech made on me. I was wrong,
I am willing to confess that.”

Then Jeannie started a musical society, at the meetings of which the
Miss Cliffords quavered an uncertain alto, and Colonel Raymond thundered
an approximate bass. They met originally once a week at Bolton Street,
to sing glees for an hour, under the severe guidance of Miss Fortescue,
who taught them by degrees not so much what good part singing was, as
what it was not. Then they won their way to the passable. Her teaching
seemed almost hair-splitting at first, especially when she insisted on
the middle of a note being sung, and allowed nothing which to the
ordinary mind was allowable enough, and insisted on the existence of
notes intermediate between semitones.

“Because a piano has black notes and white notes,” she observed once,
“you think that there is no interval between. If you think you are lower
than A flat, and higher than G sharp, you must be singing A. The chances
are strongly against it. The basses again, please.”

But in spite of, or perhaps because of, this severity the club
prospered. The instinct for perfection is commoner than one thinks, even
among those who never attain more than mediocrity, and those new facts
about intervals were as fascinating as X-rays. Mrs. Collingwood even
joined, for she valued music among the higher relaxations. The apostles
of this art she held were Mendelssohn and Handel–these were the moons.
And the greater stars were Barnby, Stainer, and the Rev. P. Henley,
whose chant in E flat she ranked among the noblest productions of the
world of art. A memorable evening indeed came, when Mrs. Collingwood
sang also in a drinking-song, without turning a hair. She professed her
willingness in a spuriously fugal passage “to drink a bowl wi’ thee”
fortissimo, though there was no foot-note stating specifically that the
bowl contained a non-alcoholic beverage. A charity performance was to be
given at Christmas, in which the drinking-song would be performed, and
Mrs. Collingwood knew it. But she made no protest, and practised
“drinking her bowl” every Tuesday evening with gusto.

And Jeannie had classes of all sorts. She interested herself in the
girls of the soap manufactory at Wroxton, and taught them that there
were more things in the world than factory and followers. Some showed
botanical tendencies, and she would bury herself in Sowerby’s Plants in
order to be able to take them further in their hobby. Two others had
violins, and Jeannie made night hideous by bringing them to Bolton
Street two evenings in the week and accompanying their vagrant strains.
There was another who sang, and a fifth who had a mania for
wood-carving. Jeannie weaned her from the reproduction of imagining
ferns tied together by amorphous ribbons, and persuaded her to copy the
lines of real leaves and flowers. All these various elements were
amalgamated on Sunday afternoon, when a large room over the stables,
which she had appropriated for her purposes, was thronged with the
wood-carvers, the musicians, and the botanists. On these occasions she
read to them and gave them tea. The readings were not strictly
Sabbatical, and Arthur, spying out the land one Sunday after they had
gone, found a large number of perfectly secular books with markers in
them. Jeannie, when confronted with them, only laughed.

“The point is to interest them in something,” she said. “Look what lives
they live. But the dreadful difficulty is that two of Mrs. Collingwood’s
Sunday afternoon class seceded to me. I didn’t know what to do.”

Arthur laughed.

“You should have tried to interest them in Mrs. Collingwood,” he said.

Jeannie frowned.

“I know. But it is so difficult,” she said. “I read them a story out of
Plain Tales from the Hills instead.”

The girls’ class led on to a boys’ class, and Wroxton was again
convulsed. For it was known that Jeannie allowed her boys, if they were
allowed to smoke at home, to smoke when they came to her class, and her
rule that not more than four might smoke simultaneously, for the sake of
the atmosphere, was clearly not directed against smoking in general.
This class was held on Saturday evening, in order to keep them out of
the public-houses, for “the boys” were for the most part grown men, and
several fathers of families had tried to steal surreptitiously into it.
This Jeannie had stopped with good-humoured firmness.

“Go and sit with your wives,” she said, “and help to amuse the
children.”

But the smoking was the root of offence, and Mrs. Collingwood stumbled
heavily over it. She and her husband were dining at the Aveshams one
Saturday evening, and Jeannie, who had dressed before the class in order
not to break it up sooner than usual, came in, and, Mrs. Collingwood
said, “reeking of the pot-house.” But even Mrs. Collingwood, who had
been accustomed all her life to express things strongly, felt that her
expression fully met the enormities of the case.

The ramifications of the boys’ class and the girls’ class were
innumerable. There was the case of the girl who played the violin, and
the boy who professed to do the same. It was natural that they should be
taken together. But when it appeared that the boy in question was a
follower of the girl in question, Jeannie’s indignation knew no bounds.
“I would not play gooseberry to the Czar of Russia,” she exclaimed.

Then it happened that between the Literary Ladies and the glee club, the
boys’ class and the girls’ class, the violins, botany, and singing
lessons, Jeannie had not any hour of her own. There were also, as Miss
Fortescue said, several hours a week to be devoted to the suppression of
scandal. An instance of this occurred when Mrs. Vernon overheard an
animated conversation between Jeannie and a draper’s assistant in the
High Street. Jeannie’s voice carried, and the tones were audible to
passers-by.

“Do come round this evening about nine,” she said, “because the others
are dining out, and I shall be alone. Mind you come.”

He came.

One evening, about the end of October, Jeannie had had an unexpected
respite. The policeman who was learning botany had to go on unexpected
duty, owing to the illness of one of the staff, and she had an evening
free. It would be false to say that she was relieved, for the patient
was another of her boys, and she was anxious about him; but she
certainly ran up the stairs, two at a time, to the nursery, where the
evening toilet of the baby was going on. The baby was in his bath,
worshipping his toes. He crowed with delight when he saw Jeannie, and
when the bath was over the warm, wet body was blanketed and hoisted into
her lap. Jeannie was long ago initiated into the mysteries of the
evening meal, and the nurse, having mixed the patent food, went by
Jeannie’s request to her own supper, without any sense of shifting
responsibility on to untrustworthy shoulders.

It was a brisk, frosty evening, and the fire prospered in the grate.
Jeannie drew the nurse’s rocking-chair close to the fender and adjusted
the bottle. The baby was warm and hungry, and her thoughts turned
inward, soothed and driven there by the dear, helpless presence, and she
meditated nonsensically, so she told herself, as if she had been talking
alone to the baby.

“What do you know,” she thought, “of to-morrow and to-morrow and
to-morrow? Boys’ class to-morrow, and girls’ class the day after.
Somebody will play the violin a little less villainously, and some one
will perhaps not cut his finger at all. Oh, baby, it is a world where
things go slow. First the seed, and then the stalk, and who knows about
the corn? Supposing a storm comes in June? Ah, when will June come? How
I long for June!

“Poor little fatherless mite, are we so much better off than you? Oh,
baby, Heaven prevent us from getting morbid! Yes, those toes are quite
beautiful, and all your own. Nobody has any more toes than you, and
what a consolation that ought to be. But nobody has any less. There is
always that. We are all very average, and we have no right to expect
extraordinary happiness. Yet I do, and so do you; you think that you
will always have some one to hold you like this, and have a fire to look
at. But what if the fire goes out, and somebody drops you?”

Jeannie’s face had got quite grave over these unconsidered
possibilities. But her brow unclouded quickly.

“You tell me that there is the other side of the question,” she went on,
“and that somebody else whom you like better may come and sit here,
ready to take you when the first person is tired. So they may, so they
may. And if ever you prefer anybody else to me I will bite you.”

She closed her lips gently on a little pink shell ear that peeped out
from the blanket.

“I will bite you,” she went on, “and I will not hurt you. How should I
hurt you? You would have your avengers if I did. Many of them, many of
them, and myself among the first. Others also, one other particularly.
Oh, baby, I assure you that you are not in bad hands. That is a very
good man who comes to see you sometimes, that man whom I think you
recognise. He is clever, too, and once he painted a picture of a girl
and a puppy dog, which was quite extraordinarily like.”

Jeannie paused a moment, and adjusted the bottle again.

“What an impertinence, was it not? And I was very angry. You should have
seen us meet! He walked into the garden one day not long after, and I
told him what I thought. I said he was a cad; I troubled him not to do
that sort of thing again. I said it stamped a man, and he would have
done better to take example by his blessed mother, and write tracts for
the G. F. S., instead of spoiling good canvas and wasting his time in
trying to paint. He had no idea of line, I told him, and less of colour.
Did I really say all these things? I can not be quite sure: it is so
long ago.”

There was a step on the stairs, and the moment after the door opened
gently.

“May I come in?” said a voice.

Jeannie turned round quickly.

“Yes, come in, Mr. Collingwood,” she said. “I didn’t expect you till the
later train. Baby and I are having a talk, and I can’t get in a word
edgeways.”

“I caught the earlier train,” he said. “But I, too, didn’t expect to
find you here. Isn’t it the policeman’s night?”

Jeannie laughed.

“What an awful memory you have!” she said. “Isn’t it a great
responsibility? How did you think, to begin with, that it was the
policeman’s night?”

“I came a fortnight ago, you remember,” he said, “and you were late for
dinner because of the policeman.”

“Yes, that is quite true,” said Jeannie; “but poor Williams has a bad
headache and a touch of fever, and so Rankin is on duty.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jack. “But baby and I are the gainers.”

Jeannie pointed to the little pink face.

“Fast asleep, do you see,” she said, “two minutes after a heavy meal. He
always does that. Fancy falling fast asleep over dessert, and sleeping
on till eight next morning over the dinner-table. I must put him to
bed.”

Jack stood by the fire watching Jeannie tuck the baby into its cot with
deft fingers. All her movements were sharp and decided; her fingers
seemed to have an intelligence of their own.

“I must sit here till nurse comes up from her supper,” she said. “Look
at that seraph!”

“I think he has his share of luck, after all,” said Jack.

Jeannie sat down again in the rocking-chair.

“Oh, but the responsibility!” she sighed. “We all share it. I believe so
much of the happiness of one’s life depends on the happiness of one’s
babyhood. The first glimpses of consciousness are what make the
temperament.”

“He has a good chance, then.”

“It is a crying shame if he doesn’t,” said Jeannie. “It is the easiest
thing in the world to make that child crow with delight. If you laugh,
he laughs. Oh, we mustn’t talk so loud. We’ve awoke him.”

Jeannie slipped softly to the side of the cot and began crooning a
little baby-song:

“Black grow the blackberries,
Cherries are red,
But golden are the curls
That grow on baby’s head.

“All the ladies in the land
Come to see the show,
But baby went on sleeping
And baby did not know.”

Jack watched her intently, and a sudden thrill of passion throbbed in
him. There was something in the sight of the girl bending over the baby
and crooning in that low voice that stirred all his nature. Her
exquisite fitness there, her absorbing joy in the young thing was a
flash of revelation to him. Her dormant potential motherhood suddenly
became divine and real to him. Every vein in his body seemed to have
sent all the blood it contained in one great bound to his heart, and it
stood still on the top of its beat. A long-drawn breath hung suspended
in his lungs, and it was as if every particle of the warm, brisk air of
the nursery was bubbling intoxicating fire. The next moment all that
was within him bowed and fell and worshipped.

That moment of incorporeal existence must have been short, for Jeannie
had not got to the end of the second silly little verse when he was
aware of himself again, like a man who has come round after an
anæsthetic, feeling as if he had travelled swiftly from very far away.
But he did not come back to his normal consciousness; the world he awoke
to was different, and Jeannie filled it.

Almost simultaneously the nurse came softly in, and Jeannie got up
quietly.

“He is sleeping again now,” she said; “step gently, Mr. Collingwood.”

It was long past dressing time, and they went straight to their rooms.
During dinner Miss Fortescue was unusually vitriolic, and afterward they
played a game called Adverbs. Jack had only a confused recollection of
going out of the room, and being totally unable to guess what was
required of him on his return. Soon after this Jeannie and her aunt went
upstairs. Jack must have been really idiotic about the game, for Miss
Fortescue looked at him anxiously as she shook hands.

“I think you must have overworked yourself,” she said. “Be careful.”

She took several turns up and down her bed-room before ringing for her
maid. As she pulled the bell:

“Head over ears,” she remarked.

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