SIDNEY

One morning in May Lady Brent unlocked the letter bag, which she never
did without anticipations of some news of Harry. It was at least a
month since there had been a letter from him, but there at last it was,
searched for among all the rest and making them of no value at all.

It was directed to Mrs. Brent, and the envelope bore the stamps and
marks of the field from which it had been written. All Harry’s previous
letters had been redirected from London.

She sat looking at it and turning it over. Once or twice she seemed to
be on the point of opening it, and she must have been under the
strongest temptation to do so. What could it mean but that he had
reached his goal, and the long time of half estrangement was over?
Perhaps it was to say that he was coming home.

She laid it down, and took up her other letters with a sigh, but before
she opened any of them, she went to her writing-table and enclosed it in
a note to Mrs. Brent. Then she rang the bell and gave orders that some
one was to ride over to Burport with it, and arrange for its immediate
transmission to London by train. By that means she might get the
telegram she had asked for from her daughter-in-law that evening. Then
she went calmly about her duties.

These included one that was quite unusual at Royd Castle. It was to see
that preparations were made for visitors. Her old friend Lady Avalon
had written to ask if she might come for a few days. After twelve or
thirteen years Poldaven Castle was to be occupied again for the summer.
Lady Avalon wanted to see what was necessary to be done there, but it
had been empty so long that she didn’t want to trust herself in it for a
night if Lady Brent could do with her at Royd and let her go over from
there..

Later on that morning she went again to her writing-table and wrote to
Lady Avalon, who was expected in a couple of days’ time. Would she care
to bring her daughter Sidney with her? It was no doubt very dull at
Royd, but there was just a chance of Harry coming home from Egypt. She
sat considering for a moment when she had written this, but closed her
letter without adding any more. Harry was extremely unlikely to be at
Royd in a few days’ time, but if Sidney had already been there when he
did come home it would be easier to ask her there again.

After this she went down to the village, taking Ben, Harry’s retriever,
with her.

She called at the Vicarage. The Grants were to be asked to dine when
Lady Avalon came. The maid who opened the door looked at her rather
curiously, but she did not notice it. Mrs. Grant was in the
drawing-room and sprang up to meet her. “Oh, I’m so glad!” she said,
and came forward, her hand held out and her face all alight with
pleasure.

Lady Brent was taken aback by the warmth of the greeting. She liked
Mrs. Grant and supposed that Mrs. Grant liked her, but she was not
accustomed to this kind of welcome.

“Thank you,” she said, a shade drily. “I came to ask if you and your
husband would dine with me on Thursday. Lady Avalon will be staying
with me, and possibly her daughter, Lady Sidney Pawle.”

“Oh, thank you, yes, we shall be very pleased,” said Mrs. Grant. “Will
Harry be home by then? He might, mightn’t he? Oh, I am so glad he’s
coming at last.”

Lady Brent understood now, but it took her a little time to recover
herself. “He has written to Jane, I suppose,” she said, speaking in as
natural a tone as possible. “There was a letter from him this morning,
but it was to his mother, and I was not expecting to get the news in it
until this evening.”

“Oh, I’ll go and get the letter at once,” said Mrs. Grant, and ran out
of the room, leaving Lady Brent alone. She sat quite still, and the
colour that had left her face returned to it again. When Mrs. Grant
came back, accompanied by Jane, with the precious letter in her hand,
she had quite recovered herself.

Jane was rather a favourite of Lady Brent’s. She was not in the least
afraid of her, as her elders were apt to be, and talked to her about
Harry in a way that nobody else did. She was often invited to the
Castle by herself, and was always ready to go, though it might have been
thought that her inclinations towards bodily activity would have made it
a doubtful pleasure to have to sit and talk to an elderly woman.
Probably she was the only person in the world of whom Lady Brent would
not feel jealous because she had received this news first.

“I thought I’d like to bring you the letter myself,” said Jane, and
stood by her side as she read it.

Jane was fourteen now. Probably no two years in her life could bring as
great a change as the last two had brought to her. She had grown tall
for her age, but was still slim and very upright. There was a good deal
of the child in her still, and even a little of the boy, for her figure
was not so rounded as with most girls of her age, and her taste for
boyish activities was still strong. But there was more of the budding
woman. She was gentler in speech and manner than of old, and her face,
if not yet her figure, was wholly feminine. Her early promise of beauty
was in course of being fulfilled. She was very pretty, with her fair
hair and wide grey eyes, and it was no longer an effort to make her tidy
in her dress. Her skirts were well below her knees, and in her more
active moments she took some pains to keep them there.

“My dear Jane,

“I shall be home almost as soon as you get this. I suppose you know
I’ve been serving as a trooper all this time, but now I’ve got a
commission. I shall be in London for a day or two to get my kit, and
then I shall come down to Royd with a month’s leave in front of me.
Hurrah! You and I and Pobbles will have lots of fun together. I hope
you’ve kept the cabin in good repair.

“Love from
“HARRY.”

Lady Brent took a long time to read it, while Jane stood and looked at
her. When she looked up at last, Jane said: “I wish I’d known that his
other letter hadn’t been written to you. I would have brought this up
at once.

“Thank you, dear,” said Lady Brent. “Of course he doesn’t know that his
mother is not at Royd. He would have thought that we should all get the
news at the same time. Perhaps he will have told her more exact dates,
if he knows them. At any rate it cannot be long now before we see him
again.”

She was completely herself now, and no one who had not known her would
have guessed that the news she had received meant very much to her. She
rose almost immediately and took her leave. She kissed Jane as she said
good-bye, which was an unusual attention, and perhaps meant that she
bore her no grudge for having received the news first.

“I think it’s rather horrid of Mrs. Brent to be away,” said Jane, when
she had gone. “Of course he would expect to find her waiting here for
him.”

Mrs. Grant was sometimes puzzled in her dealings with this growing
daughter of hers. She was becoming more of a companion to her, and now
Pobbles had gone to school could be treated less as a child. But it was
not always easy to decide how far she should be let into the confidences
of her elders. She seemed to have acquired a prejudice against Mrs.
Brent, which had hitherto been treated as something not to be
encouraged.

“It has made it difficult not to be able to tell Harry anything of what
has happened here,” Mrs. Grant said. “She went away to try to get some
nursing, and——”

“A fat lot of nursing she’s done!” interrupted Jane. “I don’t believe
she’s tried at all. She’s just enjoying herself in London. I don’t
suppose Lady Brent cares for her much, but it’s rather hard lines to
leave her all by herself.”

Mrs. Grant was much of the same opinion, since Mrs. Brent had taken no
steps, as far as was known, to embark upon the nursing career which she
had announced as her intention; but she was not quite ready to agree
with Jane’s criticism of her. “It isn’t only she that has left Lady
Brent,” she said.

“Mr. Wilbraham is doing some work,” said Jane, “and Harry had to go. If
he hadn’t gone when he did, he would have gone by this time.”

“I don’t want to criticize him,” said her mother. “It will be all over
now, but I think it has been hard lines, as you say, on Lady Brent that
she hasn’t been able to write to him.”

“She understands that,” said Jane. “We’ve talked about it.”

Mrs. Grant knew that Lady Brent had, surprisingly, made something of a
confidante of Jane. She was pleased that it was so, but did not like to
ask questions about her confidences.

Jane, however, seemed ready to give them. “We think,” she said, “that
until he was made an officer he wouldn’t want anybody to know that he
was Sir Harry Brent, or different from any other soldier. It would make
it difficult if he had letters from home. She’s proud of him for it.
So am I.”

Mrs. Grant was touched by the “we.” Evidently Jane was of some comfort
to the lonely self-contained lady, if they discussed matters in that
way. She kissed her. “I expect it’s something like that, darling,” she
said. “Anyhow, it’s all over now, and he’ll be just like any other
young man. You must go back to lessons now.”

“I don’t think he’s like other young men,” said Jane, as she reluctantly
prepared to leave. “I think it’s much finer to go through all the
hardships. It’s like pioneering. I expect what we used to talk about in
the log cabin had something to do with it.”

“Did you tell Lady Brent about that, darling?”

“Oh, yes. And she quite agreed with me. Lady Brent understands things.
I think Mrs. Brent is a rotter. Good-bye, mother dear.”

Mrs. Brent’s telegram came that evening, and she herself the next day.
According to his letter, Harry might be in England almost as soon as it
reached her. He would come down to Royd as soon as possible, but he must
be in London for a few days to get his kit. He would wire from there.
But he did not tell her where she could communicate with him.

She was all on edge, and Lady Brent must have exercised the strongest
control over herself to act with her accustomed calmness and suavity.
Suavity had not always been the note of her intercourse with her
daughter-in-law, but it was clear that this was not the time when
friction between them could be allowed to appear. If she did not
exercise restraint it was quite certain that Mrs. Brent wouldn’t. She
seemed to be anxious to show that she had thrown off anything like
submission. She was noticeably less well-mannered than she had been,
though she bore herself as if she had acquired more importance. She
brought with her a great many expensive clothes, and talked about them a
good deal. She dressed elaborately, and in a style to which no
objection could be made if elaborate clothes were accepted as suitable
for wear in the country and at this time; but they did not improve her.
Lady Brent ventured upon a hint that Harry might like better to see her
as she had been before, but she flared up in offence, and let it be
known that she had learnt a lot since she had been in London. Harry
also would have learnt something; the old days at Royd were over.

Underneath all her new independence, and almost aggressive spirit, her
longing for Harry was plain. She seemed to have resigned herself to his
absence, and to have gained some satisfaction out of her life in London,
of which she had remarkably little to tell. But now that he was coming
home again her maternal instinct arose to swamp everything else. At the
end of the twenty-four hours Lady Brent spent alone with her she was far
nearer to being what she had been before she had left Royd. She had to
have some sympathetic ear into which to pour her doubts and complaints
and disappointments. If only Harry had told her where he was to be in
London, she could have met him there. Oh, it was hard to think that he
might be there now and she could not go to him. When did Lady Brent
think they might expect him? She asked her this again and again, and
made innumerable confused calculations, based upon this or that idea
that came into her head. She was very trying, but she had to be put up
with. She was Harry’s mother, whatever she might have made of herself.

On the day after her arrival Lady Avalon came, with her daughter, but
still there was no word from Harry.

They came in time for tea, and the two older ladies retired to talk
together afterwards. Mrs. Brent was left to entertain the girl. In the
few minutes’ conversation Sidney had with her mother before dinner she
told her that unless she gained some relief from that companionship she
really couldn’t stay at Royd. “She’s a perfectly appalling woman,
mother,” she said. “How on earth she can have had a son like Harry, if
he’s anything like he used to be as a child, I can’t understand.”

“I don’t think she’s so bad as all that, dear,” said Lady Avalon. “From
what Lady Brent tells me, she’s been running with the people she comes
from, and of course they can’t be much. That’s admitted, though I don’t
know anything about them. She seemed a quiet enough little thing when I
was here last. She’ll settle down again.”

“I hope she will. But it’s a poor lookout for me if I’ve got to make a
bosom friend of her, while you and Lady Brent are putting your heads
together. Really, darling, I don’t think I can stand it.”

“Harry may be home any day, and until he does come we can spend most of
our time at Poldaven, though of course we mustn’t just make a
convenience of being here. The Vicarage people are dining to-night, so
you won’t have her on your hands entirely. The Vicar is David Grant,
the novelist. I haven’t read any of his novels, but I believe a lot of
people do. I expect he’s a clever man, and will cheer us up a bit.”

“I should think we shall have quite an hilarious evening—you and Lady
Brent talking together, and me and Mrs. Brent and the Vicarage people.”

“I thought you rather liked Vicarage people. Don’t make yourself
superior to your company, there’s a good girl. It’s the worst sort of
form—especially in the country.”

Whatever the allusion to Vicarage people may have meant, it sent Sidney
out of the room with a blush on her cheeks, and Lady Avalon rang for her
maid with a look on her face as of one who had been rather clever.

Sidney had grown into a pretty girl, though she was considered the ugly
duckling of the handsome family to which she belonged. She was tall,
and had not yet quite grown out of the youthful awkwardness of her
stature. But there was more character in her well-shaped features than
her sisters could boast of, though their widely known beauty had
descended upon them in early childhood and suffered no relapse through
the years of their growth. They inherited their good looks from both
sides of the family, but Sidney was the only one of the girls who
derived more from her father. Perhaps on that account she was his
favourite, and he was accustomed to prophesy that she would beat them
all in looks when she really grew up. She had kind eyes and a smiling
mouth, to which her decisively jutting chin gave character. Her skin
was very fair and clear, and her abundant brown hair had just a touch of
auburn in it. There were some to whom the hint of gaucherie in her
carriage gave her an added charm. It spoke of health and youth and
vigour, and went well with her free unafraid speech and her frequent
smile.

Grant, always on the lookout for new types of female beauty, but a
little inclined to make all his heroines alike, studied her closely that
evening at dinner and was enchanted with her. If he had known that she
had been looked upon as an ugly duckling in her family it would almost
have given him a novel ready made. Mrs. Grant liked her too, and as they
walked home across the park, cheered by the unaccustomed pleasures of
society, they made a match between her and Harry there and then, as the
Pawle and Brent nurses had done in their early childhood.

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” said Grant, “if Lady Brent had asked her
here with that idea in her mind. It’s the first time in the three years
we’ve been here that any young person has stayed at the Castle. I dare
say Lady Avalon is in it too. They’re old friends, and they seem to
have their heads together a good deal.”

“Lady Brent didn’t know Harry was coming home when she told us they were
coming,” said Mrs. Grant. “It’s a coincidence, but perhaps a fortunate
one. They played together as children—Harry and Lady Sidney. It would
be rather a pretty match—except that Harry is so young—not twenty yet.”

“You think he ought to wait a few years and marry somebody much younger,
eh? Somebody about the age of Jane.”

Mrs. Grant sighed. “I shouldn’t be a mother if I hadn’t thought of
that,” she said. “And Jane will be quite as pretty as Lady Sidney when
she grows up. But Harry is so sweet and natural with the children that
it would be a pity to spoil it by thinking of something that would make
it all quite different. He wouldn’t be what he is if he were to think
of Jane as anything but a child, for some years yet.”




“I think you’re right,” said her husband. “Of course I’ve built a few
castles in the air. I shouldn’t be a father if I hadn’t. But I expect
he’ll marry young; he seems to me that sort of boy, somehow. I don’t
think he could do better than marry Lady Sidney. She’s very interested
in the idea of him. She talked to me a lot about the time they used to
play together as children.”

“She said she’d come down to-morrow morning. I think she wants to get
away from Mrs. Brent, though I shouldn’t wonder if Mrs. Brent came with
her. I think she wants to show me as many of her new clothes as
possible. She hasn’t improved up in London. I don’t like her nearly as
much as I did.”

“I never cared for her much,” said Grant. “She’s a common little thing,
however she may dress herself up to disguise it. I’ve sometimes
wondered what Harry will think about her when he does come home.”

Lady Sidney came down to the Vicarage the next morning, and Mrs. Brent
came with her, as Mrs. Grant had anticipated. But apparently they each
wanted to get rid of the other, for directly Mrs. Brent had greeted Mrs.
Grant she said: “I want to have a long talk alone with you. I wonder if
you’d spare Jane from her lessons to show Lady Sidney the log cabin that
Harry built with the children. I’ve been telling her about it and she
said she’d like to see it.”

Sidney laughed. “I don’t want to be in the way,” she said, “and I’d
like to have a walk with Jane, if she can be spared.”

Jane was fetched. She received Mrs. Brent’s effusive greeting with
unsmiling coolness and looked Sidney over very critically when she was
introduced to her. The inspection was apparently satisfactory, for she
went off with some alacrity to change her shoes; but that may have been
because she was relieved at getting off the rest of the morning’s
lessons.

The two girls set out across the garden, where the Vicarage baby, now
getting on for three, was asleep under a tree, as before. They stopped
to look at it, and Sidney behaved in such a way as to give Jane a good
opinion of her. “She’s a darling,” she said, as they went on. “I do
hope she’ll be awake when we come back. I love to hear them talk at
that age, don’t you?”

Jane said she did, and recounted specimens of the Vicarage baby’s wit,
over which they both laughed freely. They were good friends by the time
they reached the log cabin.

Jane unlocked the door and waited for admiration, which was given.
“I’ve kept it very tidy and clean ever since Harry went away,” she said,
looking solemnly at Sidney. “I hope he won’t have got too old to like
it. He wrote to me, you know, to say he was coming back, and he
mentioned the log cabin. I expect he’ll be pleased to see it again.”

There was half an appeal in her voice. Sidney looked at her quickly.
“I’m quite sure he will,” she said. “He’s not so very old, after
all—just as old as I am, in fact, and I’m not a bit too old to
appreciate it.”

“Ah, but the war may have made a great difference in him.”

“It doesn’t make as much as you’d think.” She hesitated for a moment,
and said: “I know a man who has been through it all from the beginning.
He enlisted as Harry did, and had a rough time of it at first. He’s
been wounded too—rather badly. But he’s much the same as he was
before.”

Jane looked at her. “You knew Harry when he was little, didn’t you?”
she asked. “We only knew him first three years ago. He seemed old then
to me and my brother, but he was only sixteen.”

“Let’s sit down somewhere and I’ll tell you all about it,” said Sidney.
“I don’t think I want to walk any more, unless you do.”

They sat down on the bench under the eaves, and Sidney told her about
that summer when she and Harry had played together as children. Jane
kept her large eyes fixed upon her all the time, and they seemed to be
searching her and adding her up. By and by her solemnity relaxed and
she smiled when Sidney did, and asked her questions here and there.
When the story came to an end it was plain that she had made up her mind
about her, and that her opinion was favourable.

This was made more evident still when she said calmly: “I expect Harry
will fall in love with you, if you’re here when he comes home.”

Sidney looked at her in surprise, and then laughed. “What an
extraordinary girl you are!” she said. “You think of everything.”

Jane laughed too. She was feeling more and more at home with Sidney,
who did not treat her as a child. “Would you like him to?” she asked.

Sidney was unexpectedly silent and serious, and when she did speak, she
did not answer Jane’s question. “Would you like to be friends?” she
asked. “Real friends, I mean, so that we could tell each other things.”

“Of course I should,” said Jane. “But I expect you’ve got lots of
friends older than me, that you know much better. I’ve got hardly
anybody, because there aren’t many people about here, and we don’t go
away very often.”

“I always know at once if I’m going to like a person,” said Sidney, “and
I knew I should like you when I first saw you. We might see a good deal
of one another when we come down to Poldaven; and I shall want a friend.
I think it’s going to be rather difficult.”

Jane was enchanted at the offer of friendship. She admired Sidney
tremendously, and to be on equal terms with her gave her a most
gratifying sense of having left her childhood behind her. “Why do you
think it is going to be difficult?” she asked, concealing her
gratification.

“Oh, because, because! Well, because of what you said just now. If you
haven’t seen it already you will very soon. It’s what I’ve been brought
down here for. They don’t say so, of course, but it’s plain enough to
see. Of course I shall like Harry awfully, if he’s anything like he
used to be. But you see I’m in love with somebody else. That’s the
trouble.”

This was a confession worth having as an introduction to the proffered
friendship. Jane didn’t know whether to be glad or sorry to hear it.
She had accepted Sidney as a suitable person for Harry to fall in love
with, but perhaps it would be of some advantage if she didn’t fall in
love with him. There remained, however, the question of his falling in
love with her.

“Perhaps Harry ought to know that,” she said after a pause.

Sidney looked at her and laughed again. “You know Harry better than I
do now,” she said. “Do you think he’s likely to fall in love with me?”

Jane considered this carefully. “I don’t know; I think I should if I
was him,” she said.

“It’s very sweet of you to say that,” said Sidney, becoming serious
again. “Perhaps I will tell him; or perhaps you shall. Then we shall
all be happy and comfortable together. I should like to have Harry as a
friend, and I don’t in the least see why one shouldn’t have a man as a
friend when you’re in love with another man. Do you?”

Jane had not considered the subject, but was pleased to have her opinion
asked. It drew her to Sidney more than anything—this treatment of her
as if her opinion on a grown-up subject was worth having. “Not if it’s
quite understood,” she said, decisively. “I’m really rather glad that
you are in love with somebody else, because Harry is already my friend,
and if you are going to be, then I shall be very well off—much better
than I should be if you and Harry wanted to be together and to leave me
out of it. I don’t mind telling Harry, if you like. It might be rather
awkward for you to do it, as it would look as if you were giving him a
warning. Who shall I say you’re in love with?”

Sidney laughed merrily and gave her a sudden embrace. “I can’t help it,”
she said, “you’re such a darling. Well, he’s a Captain in the Grenadier
Guards, and his name is Noel Chancellor.”

“That’s the regiment that Harry was to have gone into,” said Jane. “His
father and grandfather belonged to it.”

“Did they?” said Sidney. “Some of Noel’s people were in it too. It
sounds all right, but as a matter of fact Noel was a schoolmaster when
the war broke out. He’s the son of our vicar at home. When the war is
over he is going to be a schoolmaster again. So you see how it is.”

In her general ignorance of the world outside the immediate parish of
Royd, Jane didn’t quite see how it was. She asked kindly after Noel
Chancellor and was given a pleasing impression of a handsome athletic
young man, who had played cricket for Marlborough and Oxford and Notts,
and had been happily engaged at a health resort on the East Coast of
Kent, when the war broke out, in teaching thirty or so delightful boys
under the age of fourteen to play cricket as it ought to be played, and
to wrestle with the elements of Greek and Latin in their spare time.

“Considering that all the people who think themselves somebody send
their children to be educated in schools like Noel was in,” said Sidney.
“I should have thought a person like me would have been just the touch
that was wanted to make it still more of a success. But of course
mother doesn’t see it in that light. It’s all very trying.”

Jane’s affectionate heart went out to this tale of crossed love, the
first that had ever come within her ken outside the pages of her
father’s novels, which she read dutifully but without much interest.
She thought it quite natural that Lady Avalon should want Sidney to
marry Harry, as both of them had titles, but did not say this for fear
of being laughed at. She wanted to be a real help and comfort to her
new friend.

“I am sure it will come all right in the end,” she said. “Perhaps when
we tell Harry he will be able to do something.”

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