this was not to be the only eventful
conversation which Mrs. Westmacott
held that day, nor was the Admiral
the only person in the Wilderness
who was destined to find his
opinions considerably changed.
Two neighboring families, the
Winslows from Anerley, and the
Cumberbatches from Gipsy Hill,
had been invited to tennis by
Mrs. Westmacott, and the lawn
was gay in the evening with the
blazers of the young men and
the bright dresses of the girls.
To the older people, sitting
round in their wicker-work garden
chairs, the darting, stooping,
springing white figures, the
sweep of skirts, and twinkle
of canvas shoes, the click of
the rackets and sharp whiz of
the balls, with the continual "fifteen
all!" of the marker, made up a merry and exhilarating scene. To see their sons
and daughters so flushed and healthy and happy, gave them also a reflected glow,
and it was hard to say who had most pleasure from the game, those who played
or those who watched.
Mrs. Westmacott had just finished
a set when she caught a glimpse
of Clara Walker sitting alone
at the farther end of the ground.
She ran down the court, cleared
the net to the amazement of the
visitors, and seated herself
beside her. Clara's reserved
and refined nature shrank somewhat
from the boisterous frankness
and strange manners of the widow,
and yet her feminine instinct
told her that beneath all her
peculiarities there lay much
that was good and noble. She
smiled up at her, therefore,
and nodded a greeting.
Don't, for goodness' sake, begin
to be languid and young ladyish!
When you give up active sports
you give up youth."
a set, Mrs.
"That's right, my dear." She
sat down beside her, and tapped
her upon the arm with her tennis
racket. "I like you, my dear,
and I am going to call you Clara.
You are not as aggressive as
I should wish, Clara, but still
I like you very much. Self-sacrifice
is all very well, you know, but
we have had rather too much of
it on our side, and should like
to see a little on the other.
What do you think of my nephew
so sudden and
quite a jump in her chair. "I--I--I
hardly ever have thought of your
Oh, you must
think him well
over, for I
want to speak
to you about him."
me? But why?"
seemed to me
You see, Clara, the matter stands
in this way. It is quite possible
that I may soon find myself in
a completely new sphere of life,
which will involve fresh duties
and make it impossible for me
to keep up a household which
Charles can share."
Clara stared. Did this mean
that she was about to marry again?
What else could it point to?
have a household
of his own.
is obvious. Now, I don't approve
of bachelor establishments. Do
I have never
sly puss! Was
there ever a girl who never thought
of the matter? I think that a
young man of six-and-twenty ought
to be married."
Clara felt very uncomfortable.
The awful thought had come upon
her that this ambassadress had
come to her as a proxy with a
proposal of marriage. But how
could that be? She had not spoken
more than three or four times
with her nephew, and knew nothing
more of him than he had told
her on the evening before. It
was impossible, then. And yet
what could his aunt mean by this
discussion of his private affairs?
"Do you not think yourself," she
persisted, "that a young man
of six-and-twenty is better married?"
that he is
to decide for
yes. He has
done so. But
just a little
shy, just a little slow in expressing
himself. I thought that I would
pave the way for him. Two women
can arrange these things so much
better. Men sometimes have a
difficulty in making themselves
"I really hardly follow you,
Mrs. Westmacott," cried Clara
has no profession.
But he has
Browning every night. And he
is most amazingly strong. When
he was younger we used to put
on the gloves together, but I
cannot persuade him to now, for
he says he cannot play light
enough. I should allow him five
hundred, which should be enough
"My dear Mrs. Westmacott," cried
Clara, "I assure you that I have
not the least idea what it is
that you are talking of."
you think your
my nephew Charles?"
Her sister Ida? Quite a little
thrill of relief and of pleasure
ran through her at the thought.
Ida and Charles Westmacott. She
had never thought of it. And
yet they had been a good deal
together. They had played tennis.
They had shared the tandem tricycle.
Again came the thrill of joy,
and close at its heels the cold
questionings of conscience. Why
this joy? What was the real source
of it? Was it that deep down,
somewhere pushed back in the
black recesses of the soul, there
was the thought lurking that
if Charles prospered in his wooing
then Harold Denver would still
be free? How mean, how unmaidenly,
how unsisterly the thought! She
crushed it down and thrust it
aside, but still it would push
up its wicked little head. She
crimsoned with shame at her own
baseness, as she turned once
more to her companion.
"I really do not know," she
is not engaged?"
that I know
I am not sure.
But he may
ask. She cannot
so. I tell
him that it
is the most
which a man can pay to a woman.
He is a little shy, but when
he sets himself to do it he will
do it. He is very much in love
with her, I assure you. These
little lively people always do
attract the slow and heavy ones,
which is nature's device for
the neutralizing of bores. But
they are all going in. I think
if you will allow me that I will
just take the opportunity to
tell him that, as far as you
know, there is no positive obstacle
in the way."
"As far as I know, "Clara
the widow moved
away to where
the players were grouped round
the net, or sauntering slowly
towards the house. She rose to
follow her, but her head was
in a whirl with new thoughts,
and she sat down again. Which
would be best for Ida, Harold
or Charles? She thought it over
with as much solicitude as a
mother who plans for her only
child. Harold had seemed to her
to be in many ways the noblest
and the best young man whom she
had known. If ever she was to
love a man it would be such a
man as that. But she must not
think of herself. She had reason
to believe that both these men
loved her sister. Which would
be the best for her? But perhaps
the matter was already decided.
She could not forget the scrap
of conversation which she had
heard the night before, nor the
secret which her sister had refused
to confide to her. If Ida would
not tell her, there was but one
person who could. She raised
her eyes and there was Harold
Denver standing before her.
"You were lost in your thoughts," said
he, smiling. "I hope that they
were pleasant ones."
"Oh, I was planning," said
she, rising. "It seems rather
a waste of time as a rule, for
things have a way of working
themselves out just as you least
were you planning,
my own and
was I included
in your joint
hope all our
"Don't go in," said he, as
she began to move slowly towards
the house. "I wanted to have
a word. Let us stroll up and
down the lawn. Perhaps you are
cold. If you are, I could bring
you out a shawl."
no, I am not
"I was speaking to your sister
Ida last night." She noticed
that there was a slight quiver
in his voice, and, glancing up
at his dark, clear-cut face,
she saw that he was very grave.
She felt that it was settled,
that he had come to ask her for
her sister's hand.
"She is a charming girl," said
he, after a pause.
"Indeed she is," cried Clara
warmly. "And no one who has not
lived with her and known her
intimately can tell how charming
and good she is. She is like
a sunbeam in the house."
one who was
not good could
be so absolutely happy as she
seems to be. Heaven's last gift,
I think, is a mind so pure and
a spirit so high that it is unable
even to see what is impure and
evil in the world around us.
For as long as we can see it,
how can we be truly happy?"
has a deeper
She does not
turn it to
and it is not natural that she
should, for she is very young.
But she thinks, and has aspirations
of her own."
her more than
I do. Indeed,
I only ask to be brought into
nearer relationship with her,
and to feel that there is a permanent
bond between us."
It had come at last. For a
moment her heart was numbed within
her, and then a flood of sisterly
love carried all before it. Down
with that dark thought which
would still try to raise its
unhallowed head! She turned to
Harold with sparkling eyes and
words of pleasure upon her lips.
"I should wish to be near and
dear to both of you," said he,
as he took her hand. "I should
wish Ida to be my sister, and
you my wife."
She said nothing. She only
stood looking at him with parted
lips and great, dark, questioning
eyes. The lawn had vanished away,
the sloping gardens, the brick
villas, the darkening sky with
half a pale moon beginning to
show over the chimney-tops. All
was gone, and she was only conscious
of a dark, earnest, pleading
face, and of a voice, far away,
disconnected from herself, the
voice of a man telling a woman
how he loved her. He was unhappy,
said the voice, his life was
a void; there was but one thing
that could save him; he had come
to the parting of the ways, here
lay happiness and honor, and
all that was high and noble;
there lay the soul-killing round,
the lonely life, the base pursuit
of money, the sordid, selfish
aims. He needed but the hand
of the woman that he loved to
lead him into the better path.
And how he loved her his life
would show. He loved her for
her sweetness, for her womanliness,
for her strength. He had need
of her. Would she not come to
him? And then of a sudden as
she listened it came home to
her that the man was Harold Denver,
and that she was the woman, and
that all God's work was very
beautiful--the green sward beneath
her feet, the rustling leaves,
the long orange slashes in the
western sky. She spoke; she scarce
knew what the broken words were,
but she saw the light of joy
shine out on his face, and her
hand was still in his as they
wandered amid the twilight. They
said no more now, but only wandered
and felt each other's presence.
All was fresh around them, familiar
and yet new, tinged with the
beauty of their new-found happiness.
"Did you not know it before?" he
asked. "I did not dare to think
a mask of ice
I must wear!
How could a
man feel as
I have done without showing it?
Your sister at least knew."
was last night.
She began to
I said what
felt, and then in an instant
it was all out."
"But what could you--what could
you see in me? Oh, I do pray
that you may not repent it!" The
gentle heart was ruffled amid
its joy by the thought of its
it! I feel
that I am a
You do not
how degrading this city life
is, how debasing, and yet how
absorbing. Money for ever clinks
in your ear. You can think of
nothing else. From the bottom
of my heart I hate it, and yet
how can I draw back without bringing
grief to my dear old father?
There was but one way in which
I could defy the taint, and that
was by having a home influence
so pure and so high that it may
brace me up against all that
draws me down. I have felt that
influence already. I know that
when I am talking to you I am
a better man. It is you who,
must go with me through life,
or I must walk for ever alone."
"Oh, Harold, I am so happy!" Still
they wandered amid the darkening
shadows, while one by one the
stars peeped out in the blue
black sky above them. At last
a chill night wind blew up from
the east, and brought them back
to the realities of life.
must go in.
You will be
I am. Shall I say anything to
you like, my
I will in the morning. I must
tell my mother to-night. I know
how delighted she will be."
do hope so."
me take you
up the garden
path. It is so dark. Your lamp
is not lit yet. There is the
window. Till to-morrow, then,
"My own darling!" He
met for the
time. Then, as she pushed open
the folding windows she heard
his quick, firm step as it passed
down the graveled path. A lamp
was lit as she entered the room,
and there was Ida, dancing about
like a mischievous little fairy
in front of her.
"And have you anything to tell
me?" she asked, with a solemn
face. Then, suddenly throwing
her arms round her sister's neck, "Oh,
you dear, dear old Clara! I am
so pleased. I am so pleased."