The Aveshams always had coffee, when it was fine, under the
mulberry-tree, the fruits of which were destined to make the g–n, as
Mrs. Collingwood would have preferred to express it. During lunch on
this particular day Miss Fortescue had, in deference to Jeannie’s wish,
kept silence about the picture, though when the exhibition was mentioned
she had cast her eyes up to the ceiling with a gesture of passionate
despair. Arthur had mentioned casually that Jack Collingwood had
telegraphed to him to say that he would come to them next day for the
Sunday, at which news Jeannie had laughed in a loud and meaningless
manner, and Miss Fortescue’s eyes had been so glued to the ceiling that
it seemed doubtful if she would ever detach them.
“It is such good manners to telegraph,” said Arthur, “much more
business-like. Don’t you think so, Aunt Em?”
“Extraordinary lapses–” began Miss Fortescue.
“Aunt Em,” said Jeannie, “you said you wouldn’t.”
“Wouldn’t what?” asked Arthur.
“Nothing. I’m glad he is coming, Arthur; I’ve got several things to say
after lunch. Wroxton is waking up.”
“Is it?” asked he, dubiously.
“Yes. Aunt Em, do have some pâté.”
“Innocent birds,” said Miss Fortescue.
“Quite innocent. I’ll give you some.”
Miss Fortescue watched Jeannie helping her with an absent eye, which
suddenly became attentive.
“No truffles, Jeannie,” she said; “I can’t bear truffles. Why they put
them in pâté I can’t think. It entirely spoils it.”
“The plot thickens,” she said. “As soon as you’ve finished eating the
liver of diseased game, Aunt Em, we’ll go out.”
“Not diseased, dear,” said Miss Fortescue, earnestly, with her mouth
full, “only unwisely fed. They feed them on figs. How delicious! And
“How clever and how immoral!” said Jeannie, who had gone as a guest to
the Ladies’ Literary Union.
“That woman,” said Miss Fortescue, incisively, “thinks everything that
doesn’t live in a close is immoral.”
“I’ve got a letter from ‘that woman,’ which I shall read you after
lunch,” said Jeannie. “Poor Mrs. Collingwood is in a terrible state of
“She always is,” said Miss Fortescue. “She is always either deploring
something or condemning something. Which does she do in your letter,
Jeannie? A shade more pâté, please.”
“She does both,” said Jeannie.
“I would give a hundred pounds,” said Arthur, “if I had it, to see Mrs.
“It would do her a world of good,” said Miss Fortescue. “Her only chance
of learning to forgive any one for drinking lies in drinking too much
herself. I can not stand people who think that the miracle at Cana
consisted in water being turned into fruit syrup.”
“Don’t be profane, Aunt Em,” said Jeannie.
Aunt Em cast her eyes to the ceiling. She had finished her pâté.
“I don’t know whom we are waiting for,” she observed.
“No one, dear, if you have finished,” said Jeannie. “Come out, Arthur.
The revelations shall begin.”
Aunt Em had a horror of damp grass, even when only the soles of her
strong boots rested on it, and she always had a rug spread by her chair,
on which she could put her feet. Ripe mulberries from the tree not
infrequently fell on it, and when Aunt Em got up she usually trod on
them with her strong boots, and made an indelible stain. But her silence
had been so thundery when Jeannie suggested that a piece of matting
would do as well that no one had ventured again to propose any
substitute for her valuable Persian rug.
“Now, Arthur,” said Jeannie, as soon as coffee had come, “I’m going to
tell you and Aunt Em all that has happened. Aunt Em, dear, don’t toss
your head; you only know the less important piece of it.”
“Go on,” said Arthur.
“Well, it all began this morning. Aunt Em and I went to the Art
Exhibition, and saw there a picture of me and Toby by Mr. Collingwood.”
“I thought you had never seen him,” he said.
“I didn’t think I had. But, apparently, he had seen me. Oh, there was no
mistaking it. It was a picture of Toby shaking himself, and me keeping
him off with a parasol. I remember it happening perfectly. I had on a
new dress, as Aunt Em and I had been calling, and afterward we had tea
down by the mill.”
“That’s not so terrible,” said Arthur.
“I know it isn’t; but that is not all. On the way out of the exhibition
I met Miss Clifford carrying catalogues. When I told her I was surprised
at seeing the picture, she was filled with such dismay that she dropped
them all, and we picked them up together. But before she dropped them
she said, ‘But Colonel Raymond told me—-’”
Jeannie suddenly burst into a peal of laughter.
“I know that man,” remarked Arthur. “He is like a person out of a book
about the army by a lady. What did Colonel Raymond say?”
“You see, as I was picking up the catalogues,” continued Jeannie, “I
could not help concluding that Miss Clifford was surprised that I was
surprised because of something Colonel Raymond had said. So when we had
finished I asked her what it was. And she told me.”
“Well?” said Arthur.
“Oh, Arthur, how dull you are!” said Jeannie. “He had said or hinted
that I knew all about it–in fact, that I was engaged to Mr.
Collingwood. He was kind enough to add that it was to be kept private
for the present.”
There was silence for a moment. At last Miss Fortescue spoke.
“It was an ill day for the Aveshams,” she said, “when Colonel Raymond’s
wife’s sister’s husband’s sister married your mother’s brother’s
“So that is what that infernal man meant,” said Arthur. “Yesterday
evening, in the smoking-room of the club, I heard him say we were all
very much excited about it. Then he stopped, and said he had nearly let
“Well, then, there is some hope yet,” said Jeannie. “Arthur, I want you
to go there this afternoon, and tell him he is under a delusion. Mrs.
Raymond was with him, so Miss Clifford said, when he announced it.”
“And may I tell him exactly what I think about him?” asked Arthur.
“Tell him what I think,” said Miss Fortescue; “I feel more strongly than
“Oh, no,” said Jeannie. “What is the use of quarrelling with people?
Just say he is mistaken. Oh, you might ask who told him. Of course he
made it up.”
“Yes, that would be awkward,” said Arthur, appreciatively. “But read me
Mrs. Collingwood’s letter.”
Jeannie took it from her pocket, and read:
“THE CLOSE, WROXTON.
“DEAR MISS AVESHAM: I can not express to you how shocked and
horrified I am at what my son has done. I hurried home directly
after I saw that terrible picture in order to write to you and
assure you how entirely ignorant I was of the subject of the work
which I knew Jack was going to send to the exhibition, and how
entirely ignorant, I may add, I have been of him. I passed you and
Miss Fortescue, I know, in the gallery, but I could not speak–I
was too indignant. I am quite upset, and can neither think nor
“With much sympathy,
“P.S.–I have written to my son expressing my views.”
“I should like to see her letter to her son,” said Miss Fortescue,
grimly. “An awful woman. Why, you would think that he had committed an
assault with violence on Jeannie, or had been garroting her.”
Arthur took a telegram out of his pocket.
“He says he will be here before lunch,” he said, “as I want to play golf
with him in the afternoon. I hope he won’t get the letter before he
starts. Also I should like to see him open it.”
“I don’t suppose he would come if he got it first,” said Miss Fortescue.
“It would make matters rather simpler if he didn’t.”
“Why?” asked Jeannie.
“Won’t it be rather awkward when he meets you?” asked Aunt Em.
“Not in the least, unless he makes it so for himself. But men are so
stupid. Of course, if he stares like an owl, and then turns red in the
face, it will be. But if he has a grain of tact he will do neither. Now,
if he was a woman, he wouldn’t mind in the least.”
“Oh, he’s not a woman,” said Arthur, with conviction.
“Then he probably has no tact. In any case, it is his own doing if it is
awkward for him. He has done nothing wrong. He saw a strange girl and a
strange dog, and painted them. He painted them well, too; if he had
painted them badly it would have been different.”
Arthur got up.
“Well, I must get back to the brewery,” he said. “Afterward I shall go
to the club, and get there in time to catch the Colonel before his
whist. Oh, he told me he was a relation. Is that so?”
“He explained it to me at some length,” said Miss Fortescue. “I think
his wife is your mother’s sister’s husband’s wife’s brother’s sister’s
sister-in-law. I followed him so far, I know.”
“What a man!” said Arthur. “I must be off. Are you going to answer Mrs.
Collingwood’s note, Jeannie?”
“Yes; she will think I have no delicacy of feeling, but I shall answer
it. Also it would be better to let her know that Mr. Collingwood is
coming here to-morrow.”
“You’d better send her a quart of mulberry gin at once,” remarked Miss
“Yes, my character is gone,” said Jeannie. “Good-bye, Arthur. Be gentle
with our cousin, but be firm.”
“Be what you like, as long as you’re firm,” said Aunt Em. “It will end
in a duel in the asparagus-bed, I expect.”
“He and I, Jeannie and Mr. Collingwood,” said Arthur.
Miss Fortescue followed him indoors, leaving Jeannie alone under the
trees. She was much annoyed at all that had happened, but she was a
little amused, and had a sense of being somewhat ill-used. Though she
had defended him, she thought Mr. Collingwood had behaved rather badly,
the Colonel had behaved very badly indeed, and Mrs. Collingwood was
absurd. However, she was going to deal with that lady, and Arthur was
going to deal with the Colonel, and there only remained Mr. Collingwood
himself. Jeannie devoutly hoped he would have some glimmerings of tact
about him. If he looked awkward and uncomfortable, she would feel so,
too, and really there was nothing to be awkward about. If she had done
such a picture she would have snapped her fingers at any possible
consequences, for she had the greatest respect for achievement of any
kind. Certainly the picture was an achievement, and in her secret heart
she had a pang of exultation at the thought that she was like that.
Jeannie was singularly free from self-consciousness, and in her nature
there was hardly a touch of egotism. But she wondered whether her sight
of the picture had not given her some. In a way it had been a piece of
self-revelation to her. She had no idea that people saw her like that.
Very possibly they did not, but here was a man who did. How could she
see him, she wondered?
She had only given him one glance at their one meeting, and she
remembered nothing more than a straight, rather tall figure, and a
kindled eye. Very likely she would not have known him again if they had
met casually. He looked clean and alert, that is all she would have
sworn to. But she looked forward with a good deal of interest to his
coming next day.
Thus far had run her meditations when they were interrupted by the
butler. Miss Clifford was waiting outside to know if she could see
Jeannie for a moment, and only if she was disengaged. Jeannie sat up.
“Yes, ask her to come out here,” she said.
It would be hardly possible to conceive a more agonized and embarrassed
face than that which Miss Clifford turned to Jeannie, and the latter
could not conceive what was the matter.
“I am quite free,” she said, “and delighted to see you. Did you come
down on your bicycle?”
“No,” said Miss Clara, “I did not feel up to my bicycle,” and Jeannie
noticed that her hands were trembling.
“Do sit down,” she said, gently. “And there is no hurry. Have some
coffee? No? Tell me what it is then, just when you feel inclined.”
There was a bitter tension about the corners of poor Miss Clara’s mouth,
and twice she tried to speak, but was unable.
“Phœbe,” she began at length, “Phœbe has been very unkind to me, Miss
Avesham. And I felt–I felt I could not rest without telling you about
it. It was my fault, she said, that–Oh, dear me, dear me!”
And Miss Clifford gasped once or twice, like a person coming up after a
long dive, and burst into tears.
In a moment Jeannie was by her.
“Oh, my poor, dear thing!” she said; “please don’t cry. You are upset
about something, and speaking makes it worse. Let’s get up and walk
quietly to and fro a little, and then if you feel better and still want
to tell me, you shall, and if not–why, just don’t tell me. I am sure it
is nothing bad, and, whatever it is, remember I forgive you, if it in
any way concerns me.”
Miss Clifford tied her face into a series of hard knots, and put on a
series of expressions so widely different from each other that she could
have made her fortune as an impersonator at a music-hall if any of them
had resembled any one else, but they were all of them unique.
In a few minutes, however, she recovered.
“No, I want to tell you, dear Miss Avesham,” she said, “if you will
excuse the liberty of my calling you that, and Phœbe was so unkind that
I felt I should never be happy again, if she was right, and I never told
you. She said I drew Colonel Raymond on to say what he did.”
Jeannie’s companion struggled a moment with a wild spasm of internal
laughter at the thought of Miss Clara drawing Colonel Raymond on, and
“I don’t quite understand,” she said, “Tell me all about it from the
“Well, it was this way,” said Miss Clara, “that picture came to our
house, and of course Phœbe and I both recognised it, and Phœbe said it
would be very awkward if we exhibited it if it so happened that it had
been done without your knowledge. And she suggested–it was she who
suggested it–that there might be some understanding between you and Mr.
“I see,” said Jeannie. “Well?”
“At that moment there came a ring at the door, and it was Colonel and
Mrs. Raymond. And Phœbe said how lucky, because Colonel Raymond, being
your cousin, would be sure to know if there was anything. So in they
came, and I showed the picture to the Colonel. Then there came in what
Phœbe blames me for, and she was so unkind I hardly ate a bit of lunch.
I can hardly tell you about it.”
“There is no hurry,” said Jeannie again, seeing that Miss Clifford’s
face was growing contorted. But after a moment she went on.
“Colonel Raymond recognised it at once,” she said, “and looked up at me.
And Phœbe says I looked slyly at him, and prompted him to say what he
did. You know, Miss Avesham, Colonel Raymond is rather an odd man in
some ways. He can’t bear that any one should hear anything before he
knows it himself, and naturally he would feel it more if I knew
something about you particularly before he did. He did catch my eye, it
is true, and– Oh, yes, I must tell you all; Phœbe was right–I meant
that he should. And then he broke out with, ‘How news travels, but of
course you must say nothing about it!’ And, oh, dear me, Miss Avesham,
if it has all been my fault I shall never, never forgive myself.”
Jeannie got up from her chair, took both Miss Clara’s hands in hers, and
“You are a dear, good woman,” she said, “and I love you for telling me.
Now we won’t say a single word more about it, unless your sister is
unkind again, in which case I shall come flying to the rescue. There is
no harm done at all, and as Mr. Collingwood is coming to stay here
to-morrow every one will think it perfectly natural that he should have
done a picture of me. Give me a kiss.”
Miss Clara’s face had been a perfect study during this last speech of
Jeannie’s, and at the close she heaved herself out of her chair, and
raised her face to hers like a child, and the joy and honour of kissing
and being kissed by an Honourable was entirely submerged in her natural
and human affection for the beautiful girl.