The sisters repaired to Edgware Road,
and after much searching finally ran to earth a desirable
hat for at least the odd farthing less than it would
have cost round the corner in Oxford Street.
This saving would have existed only in imagination
to the ordinary customer, who is presented with a
paper of nail-like pins, a rusty bodkin, or a highly-superfluous
button-hook as a substitute for lawful change; but
Margot took a mischievous delight in collecting farthings
and paying down the exact sum in establishments devoted
to eleven-threes, to the disgust of the young ladies
who supplied her demands.
The hat was carried home in true Bohemian
fashion, encased in a huge paper bag, and a happy
hour ensued, when the contents of the scrap-box were
scattered over the bed, and a dozen different effects
studied in turn. Edith sat on a chair before
the glass with the skeleton frame perched on her head
at the accepted fashionable angle, criticising fresh
draperies and arrangement of flowers, and from time
to time uttering sharp exclamations of pain as Margot’s
actions led to an injudicious use of the dagger-like
pins. Her delicate finely-cut face and misty
hair made her a delightful model, and she smiled back
at the face in the mirror, reflecting that if you
happened to be a pauper, it was at least satisfactory
to be a pretty one, and that to possess long, curling
eyelashes was a distinct compensation in life.
Margot draped an old lace veil over the hard brim,
caught it together at the back with a paste button,
and pinned a cluster of brown roses beneath the brim,
with just one pink one among the number, to give the
cachet to the whole.
“There’s Bond Street for
you!” she cried triumphantly; and Edith flushed
with pleasure, and wriggled round and round to admire
herself from different points of view.
“It is a tonic!”
she declared gratefully. “You are a born
milliner, Margot. It will be a pleasure to go
out in this hat, and I shall feel quite nice and conceited
again. It’s so long since I’ve felt
conceited! I’m ever and ever so much obliged.
Can you stay on a little longer, dear, or are you
in a hurry to get back?”
“No! I shall get a scolding
anyway, so I might as well have all the fling I can
get. I’ll have tea with you and the boys,
and a little private chat with Jack afterwards.
You won’t mind leaving us alone for a few minutes?
It’s something about Ron, but I won’t
promise not to get in a little flirtation on my own
Jack’s wife laughed happily.
“Flirt away-it will
cheer him up! I’ll put the boys to bed,
and give you a fine opportunity. Here they come,
back from their walk. I must hurry, dear, and
cut bread and butter. I’ll carry down the
hat, and put it on when Jack comes in.”
Aunt Margot’s appearance at
tea was hailed with a somewhat qualified approval.
“You must talk to us,
mother,” Jim said sternly; “talk properly,
not only, `Yes, dear,’ `No, dear,’ like
you do sometimes, and then go on speaking to her about
what we can’t understand. She’s had
you all afternoon!”
“So I have, Jim. It’s
your turn now. What do you want to say?”
Jim immediately lapsed into silence.
Having gained his point, he had no remark to offer,
but Pat lifted his curly head and asked eagerly-
“Muzzer, shall I ever grow up to be a king?”
“No, my son; little boys like you are never
“Not if I’m very good, and do what I’m
“No, dear, not even then.
No one can be a king unless his father is a king,
too, or some very, very great man. What has put
that in your head, I wonder? Why do you want
to be a king?”
Pat widened his clear grey eyes; the
afternoon sunshine shone on his ruffled head, turning
his curls to gold, until he looked like some exquisite
cherub, too good and beautiful for this wicked world.
“’Cause if I was a king
I could take people prisoners and cut off their heads,
and stick them upon posts,” he said sweetly;
his mother and aunt exchanged horrified glances.
Pat alternated between moods of angelic tenderness,
when every tiger was a “good, good tiger,”
and naughty children “never did it any more,”
and a condition of frank cannibalism, when he literally
wallowed in atrocities. His mother forbode to
lecture, but judiciously turned the conversation.
“Kings can do much nicer things
than that, Patsy boy. Our kind King Edward doesn’t
like cutting off heads a bit. He is always trying
to prevent men from fighting with each other.”
“Yes, he is. People call
him the Peace-maker, because he prevents so many wars.”
“Bother him!” cried Pat fervently.
Margot giggled helplessly. Mrs
Martin stared fixedly out of the window, and Jim in
his turn took up the ball of conversation.
“Mummie, will you die before me?”
“I can’t tell, dear; nobody knows.”
“Will daddy die before me?”
“Probably he will.”
“May I have his penknife when he’s dead?”
“I think it’s about time
to cut up that lovely new cake!” cried Margot,
saving the situation with admirable promptitude.
“We bought it for you this afternoon, and it
tastes of chocolate, and all sorts of good things.”
The bait was successful, and a silence
followed, eloquent of intense enjoyment; then the
table was cleared and various games were played, in
the midst of which Jack’s whistle sounded from
without, and his wife and sons rushed to meet him.
They looked a typical family group as they re-entered
the room, Edith happily hanging on to his arm, the
boys prancing round his feet, and the onlooker felt
a little pang of loneliness at the sight.
John Martin was a tall, well-made
man, with a clean-shaven face and deep-set grey eyes.
He was pale and lined, and a nervous twitching of
the eyelids testified to the strain through which he
had passed, but it was a strong face and a pleasant
face, and, when he looked at his wife, a face of indescribable
tenderness. At the moment he was smiling, for
it was always a pleasure to see his pretty sister-in-law,
and to-night Edith’s anxious looks had departed,
and she skipped by his side as eager and excited as
the boys themselves.
“Dad, dad, has there been any more ’splosions?”
“Hasn’t there been no fearful doings on
in the world, daddy?”
“Jack! Jack! I’ve
got a new tonic. It has done me such a lot of
Jack turned from one to the other.
“No, boys, no,-no
more accidents to-day! What is it, darling?
You look radiant. What is the joke?”
“Look out of the window for
a minute! Margot, you talk to him, and don’t
let him look round.”
Edith pinned on the new hat before
the mirror, carefully adjusting the angles, and pulling
out her cloudy hair to fill in the necessary spaces.
Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes sparkled; it was
no longer the worn white wife, but a pretty, coquettish
girl, who danced up to Jack’s side with saucy,
“There! What do you think of that?”
The answer of the glowing eyes was
more eloquent than words. Jack whistled softly
beneath his breath, walking slowly round and round
to take in the whole effect.
“I say, that is fetching!
That’s something like a hat you wore the summer
we were engaged. You don’t look a day older.
Where did you run that to earth, darling?”
“Can’t you see Bond Street
in every curve? I should have thought it was
self-evident. Margot said I was shabby, and that
a new hat would do me good, so we went out and bought
it. Do you think I am extravagant? It’s
better to spend on this than on medicine, and three
guineas isn’t expensive for real lace, is it?”
She peered in her husband’s
face with simulated anxiety, but his smile breathed
“I’m delighted that you
have bought something at last! You have not
spent a penny on yourself for goodness knows how long.”
“Goose!” cried Edith.
“He has swallowed it at a gulp. Three
guineas, indeed-as if I dare! Four
and eleven-pence three-farthings in Edgware Road,
and my old lace veil, and one of the paste buttons
you gave me at Christmas, and some roses off last
year’s hat, and Margot’s clever fingers,
and my-pretty face! Do you think I
am pretty still?”
“I should rather think I do!”
Jack framed his wife’s face in his hands, stooping
to kiss the soft flushed cheeks as fondly as he had
done in the time of that other lace-wreathed hat six
years before. Pat and Jim returned to their
dominoes, bored by such foolish proceedings on the
part of their parents, while Margot covered her face
with her hands, with ostentatious propriety.
“This is no place for me!
Consider my feelings, Jack. I’m like a
story I once read in an old volume of Good Words,
`Lovely yet Unloved!’ When you have quite finished
love-making, I want a private chat with you, while
Edie puts the boys to bed. They will hate me
for suggesting such a thing, but it is already past
their hour, and I must have ten minutes’ talk
on a point of life and death!”
“Come away, boys; we are not
wanted here. Daddy will come upstairs and see
you again before you go to sleep.”
Mother and sons departed together,
and Jack Martin sat down on the corner of the sofa
and leant his head on his hand. With his wife’s
departure the light went out of his face, but he smiled
at his sister-in-law with an air of affectionate
“You are a little brick, Margot!
You have done Edie a world of good. What can
I do for you in return? I am at your service.”
Margot pulled forward the chair that
her sister had chosen as the least lumpy which the
room afforded, and seated herself before him, returning
his glance with an odd mixture of mischief and embarrassment.
“It’s about Ron. The year of probation
is nearly over.”
“I know it.”
“Two months more will decide
whether he is to be a broker or a poet. It will
mean death to Ronald to be sent into the City.”
“You are wrong there.
If he is a poet, no amount of brokering will alter
the fact, any more than it will change the colour of
his eyes or hair. It is bound to come out sooner
or later. You will probably think me a brute,
if I suggest that a little discipline and knowledge
of the world might improve the value of his writings.”
“Yes, I will! What does
a poet want with a knowledge of the world, in the
common, sordid sense? Let him keep his mind unsullied,
and be an inspiration to others. When we were
children, we used to keep birds in the nursery, in
a very fine cage with golden bars, and we fed them
with every bird delicacy we could find. They
lived for a little time, and tried to sing, poor brave
things! We threw away the cage in a fury, after
finding one soft dead thing after another lying huddled
up in a corner. No one shall cage Ronald, if
I can prevent it! It’s no use pretending
to be cold-blooded and middle-aged, Jack, for I know
you are with us at heart. This means every bit
as much to Ron as your business troubles do to you.”
Jack drew in his breath with a wince of pain.
“Well, what is it you wish me
to do? I am afraid I have very little influence
in the literary world, and I have always heard that
introductions do more harm than good. An editor
would soon ruin his paper if he accepted all the manuscripts
pressed upon him by admiring relatives.”
“But you see I don’t ask
you for an introduction. It’s just a piece
of information I want, which I can’t get for
myself. You know the Loadstar Magazine?”
“Certainly I do.”
“Well, the Loadstar is-the
Loadstar! The summit of Ron’s ambition.
It’s the magazine of all others which he likes
and admires, and the editor is known to be a man of
great power and discernment. It is said that
if he has the will, he can do more than any man in
London to help on young writers. It is useless
sending manuscripts, for he refuses to consider unsolicited
poetical contributions. He shuts himself up in
a fastness in Fleet Street, and the door thereof is
guarded with dragons with lying tongues. I know!
I have made it my business to inquire, but I feel
convinced that if he once gave Ron a fair reading,
he would acknowledge his gifts. There is no
hope of approaching him direct, but I intend to get
hold of him all the same.”
Jack Martin looked up at that, his
thin face twitching into a smile.
“You little baggage! and you
expect me to help you. I must hear some more
about this before I involve myself any further.
What mischief are you up to now?”
“Dear Jack, what can I do; a
little girl like me?” cried Miss Margot, mightily
meek all of a sudden, as she realised that she had
ventured a step too far. “I wouldn’t
for the whole world get you into trouble. It’s
just a little, simple thing that I want you to find
out from some one in the office.”
“I don’t know any one in the office.”
“But you could find out some
one who did? For instance, you know that Mr
Oliver who illustrates? I’ve seen his things
in the Loadstar. You could ask him in
a casual, off-hand manner without ever mentioning
“What could I ask him?”
“Such a nice, simple little
question! Just the name of the place where the
editor proposes to spend this summer holiday, and the
date on which he will start.”
Jack stared in amazement, but the
meekest, most demure of maidens confronted him from
the opposite chair, with eyes so translucently candid,
lips so guilelessly sweet, that it seemed incredible
that any hidden mischief could lurk behind the innocent
question. Nevertheless seven years’ intimacy
with Miss Margot made Jack Martin suspicious of mischief.
“What do you know about this
editor man? Have you seen him anywhere?
He is handsome, I suppose, and a bachelor?”
“You’re a wretch!”
retorted Miss Margot. “I don’t know
the man from Adam, and he may be a Methuselah for
all I care; but if possible I want it to happen that
Ron and I chance to be staying in the same place, in
the same house, or hotel, or pension, whichever
it may be, when he goes away for his yearly rest.
We are going to the country in any case-why
should we not be guided by the choice of those older
and wiser than ourselves? Why should we not
meet the one of all others we are most anxious to
“Just so! and having done so,
you will confide in the editor that Ronald is an embryo
Poet Laureate, and try to enlist his kind sympathy
Margot smiled; a smile of lofty superiority.
“No, indeed! I know rather
better than that! He will be out on a holiday,
poor man, and won’t want to be troubled with
literary aspirants. He has enough of them all
the year round. We’ll never mention poetry,
but we will try to get to know him, and to make
him like us so much that he will want to see more
of us when we return to town. No one can live
in the same house with Ron, and have an opportunity
of talking to him day by day, without feeling that
he is different from other boys, and alone together
in the country one can never tell what may happen.
Opportunities may arise, too; opportunities for help
and service. We would be on the look-out for
them, and would try by every means in our power to
forge the first link in the chain. Don’t
look so solemn, old Jack, it’s all perfectly
innocent! You can trust me to do nothing you
“I believe I can. You
are a madcap, Margot, but you are a good girl.
I’m not afraid of you, but I imagine that the
editor will be a match for a dozen youngsters like
you and Ron, and will soon see through your little
scheme. However, I’ll do what I can.
In big offices holiday arrangements have to be made
a good while ahead, so it ought not to be difficult
to get the information you want. Now I must be
off upstairs to see the boys before they get into
bed. Shall I see you again when I come down?”
“No, indeed! I’ve
played truant since half-past eleven, so I shall have
to hang about the end of the terrace until father appears,
and go in under his wing, to escape a scolding from
Agnes. I had arranged to pay calls with her
this afternoon. I wonder how it is that my memory
is so dreadfully uncertain about things I don’t
want to do! Good-bye then, Jack, and a hundred
thanks. Posterity will thank you for your help.”
Jack Martin laughed and shrugged his
shoulders. He had a man’s typical disbelief
in the ability of his wife’s relatives.