Read CHAPTER XXX of April's Lady A Novel , free online book, by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, on ReadCentral.com.

“Oh, there’s stony a leaf in Atholl wood,
And mony a bird in its breast,
And mony a pain may the heart sustain
Ere it sab itsel’ to rest.”

Barbara meets her on the threshold and draws her with loving arms into the dining-room.

“I knew you would be here at this hour. Lady Baltimore wrote me word about it. And I have sent the chicks away to play in the garden, as I thought you would like to have a comfortable chat just at first.”

“Lady Baltimore wrote?”

“Yes, dear. Just to say you were distressed about that unfortunate affairthat drive, you knowand that you felt you wanted to come back to me. I was glad you wanted that, darling.”

“You are not angry with me, Barbara?” asks the girl, loosening her sister’s arms the better to see her face.

“Angry! No, how could I be angry?” says Mrs. Monkton, the more vehemently in that she knows she had been very angry just at first. “It was the merest chance. It might have happened to anybody. One can’t control storms!”

“Nothat’s what Mrs. Connolly said, only she called it ‘the ilimints,’” says Joyce, with quite a little ghost of a smile.

“Well, now you are home again, and it’s all behind you. And there is really nothing in it. And you must not think so much about it,” says Barbara, fondling her hand. “Lady Baltimore said you were too unhappy about it.”

“Did she say that? What else did she say?” asks the girl, regarding her sister with searching, eyes. What had Lady Baltimore told her? That impulsive admission to the latter last night had been troubling Joyce ever since, and now to have to lay bare her heart again, to acknowledge her seeming fickleness, to receive Barbara’s congratulation on it, only to declare that this second lover has, too, been placed by Fate outside her life, seems too bitter to her. Oh, noshe cannot tell Barbara.

“Why nothing,” says Mrs. Monkton, who is now busying herself removing the girl’s hat and furs. “What was there to tell, after all?” She is plainly determined to treat the matter lightly.

“Ohthere is a good deal,” says Joyce, bitterly. “Why don’t you tell me,” turning suddenly upon her sister, “that you knew how it would be all along? That you distrusted that Mr. Beauclerk from the very first, and that Felix Dysart was always worth a thousand of him?” There is something that is almost defiant in her manner.

“Because, for one thing, I very seldom call him Felix,” says Mrs. Monkton, with a smile, alluding to the last accusation. “And because, too, I can’t bear the ‘I told you so’ persons.You mustn’t class me with them, Joyce, whatever you do.”

“I shan’t be able to do much more, at all events,” says Joyce presently. “That’s one comfort, not only for myself but for my family. I expect I have excelled myself this time. Well,” with a dull little laugh, “it will have to last, so ”

“Joyce,” says her sister, quickly, “tell me one small thing. Mr. Beauclerkhe ”

“Yes?” stonily, as Barbara goes on a rock.

“Youyou are not engaged to him?”

Joyce breaks into an angry laugh.

“That is what you all ask,” says she. “There is no variety; none. No, no, no; I am engaged to nobody. Nobody wants me, and I ’I care for nobody, not I, for nobody cares for me.’ Mark the heavy emphasis on the ‘for,’ I beg you, Barbara!”

She breaks entirely from her sister’s hold and springs to her feet.

“You are tired,” says Mrs. Monkton, anxiously, rising too.

“Why don’t you say what you really mean?” says Joyce, turning almost fiercely to her. “Why pretend you think I am fatigued when you honestly think I am miserable, because Mr. Beauclerk has not asked me to marry him. No! I don’t care what you think. I am miserable! And though I were to tell you over and over again it was not because of him, you would not believe me, so I will say nothing.”

“Here is Freddy,” says Mrs. Monkton, nervously, who has just seen her husband’s head pass the window. He enters the room almost as she speaks.

“Well, Joyce, back again,” says he, affectionately. He kisses the girl warmly. “Horrid drive you must have had through that storm.”

“You, too, blame the storm, then, and not me,” says Joyce, with a smile. “Everybody doesn’t take your view of it. It appears I should have returned, in all that rain and wind and ”

“Pshaw! Never listen to extremists,” says Mr. Monkton, sinking lazily into a chair. “They will land you on all sorts of barren coasts if you give ear to them. For my part I never could see why two people of opposite sexes, if overcome by nature’s artillery, should not spend a night under a wayside inn without calling down upon them the social artillery of gossip. There is only one thing in the whole affair,” says Mr. Monkton, seriously, “that has given me a moment’s uneasiness.”

“And that?” says Joyce, nervously.

“Is how I can possibly be second to both of them. Dysart, I confess, has my sympathies, but if Beauclerk were to appear first upon the field and implore my assistance I feel I should have a delicacy about refusing him.”

“Freddy,” says his wife, reprovingly.

“Oh, as for that,” says Joyce, with a frown, “I do think men are the most troublesome things on earth.” She burst out presently. “When one isn’t loving them, one is hating them.”

“How many of them at a time?” asks her brother-in-law with deep interest. “Not more than two, Joyce, please. I couldn’t grasp any more. My intellect is of a very limited order.”

“So is mine, I think,” says Joyce, with a tired little sigh.

Monkton, although determined to treat the matter lightly, looks very sorry for her. Evidently she is out of joint with the whole world at present.

“How did Lady Baltimore take it?” asks he, with all the careless air of one asking a question on some unimportant subject.

“She was angry with Mr. Beauclerk for not leaving me at the inn, and coming home himself.”

“Unsisterly woman!”

“She was quite right, after all,” says Mrs. Monkton, who had defended Beauclerk herself, but cannot bear to hear another take his part.

“And, Dysarthow did he take it?” asks Monkton, smiling.

“I don’t see how he should take it, anyway,” says Joyce, coldly.

“Not even with soda water?” says her brother-in-law. “Of course, it would be too much to expect him to take it neat. You broke it gently to him I hope.”

“Ah, you don’t understand Mr. Dysart,” says the girl, rising abruptly. “I did not understand him until yesterday.”

“Is he so very abstruse?”

“He is very insolent,” says Miss Kavanagh, with a sudden touch of fire, that makes her sister look at her with some uneasiness.

“I see,” says Mr. Monkton, slowly. He still, unfortunately, looks amused. “One never does know anybody until he or she gives way to a towering passion. So he gave you a right good scolding for being caught in the rain with Beauclerk. A little unreasonable, surely; but lovers never yet were famous for their common sense. That little ingredient was forgotten in their composition. And so he gave you a lecture?”

“Well, he is not likely to do it again,” says she slowly.

“No? Then it is more than likely that I shall be the one to be scolded presently. He won’t be able to content himself with silence. He will want to air his grievances, to revenge them on some one, and if you refuse to see him, I shall be that one. There is really only one small remark to be made about this whole matter,” says Mr. Monkton, with a rueful smile, “and it remains for me to make it. If you will encourage two suitors at the same time, my good child, the least you may expect is trouble. You are bound to look out for ‘breakers ahead,’ but (and this is the remark) it is very hard lines for a fourth and most innocent person to have those suitors dropped straight on him without a second’s notice. I’m not a born warrior; the brunt of the battle is a sort of gayety that I confess myself unsuited for. I haven’t been educated up to it. I ”

“There will be no battle,” says Joyce, in a strange tone, “because there will be no combatants. For a battle there must be something to fight for, and here there is nothing. You are all wrong, Freddy. You will find out that after awhile. I have a headache, Barbara. I think,” raising her lovely but pained eyes to her sister, “I should like to go into the garden for a little bit. The air there is always so sweet.”

“Go, darling,” says Barbara, whose own eyes have filled with tears. “Oh, Freddy,” turning reproachfully to her husband as the door closes on Joyce, “how could you so have taken her? You must have seen how unhappy she was. And all about that horrid Beauclerk.”

Monkton stares at her.

“So that is how you read it,” says he at last.

“There is no difficulty about the reading. Could it be in larger print?”

“Large enough, certainly, as to the unhappiness, but for ‘Beauclerk’ I should advise the printer to insert Dysart.’”

“Dysart? Felix?”

“Unless, indeed, you could suggest a third.”

“Nonsense!” says Mrs. Monkton, contemptuously. “She has never cared for poor Felix. How I wish she had. He is worth a thousand of the other; but girls are so perverse.”

“They are. That is just my point,” says her husband. “Joyce is so perverse that she won’t allow herself to see that it is Dysart she preferred. However, there is one comfort, she is paying for her perversity.”

“Freddy,” says his wife, after a long pause, “do you really think that?”

“What? That girls are perverse?”

“No, no! That she likes Felix best?”

“That is indeed my fixed belief.”

“Oh, Freddy!” cries his wife, throwing herself into his arms. “How beautiful of you, I’ve always wanted to think that, but never could until nownow that ”

“My clear judgment has been brought to bear upon it. Quite right, my dear, always regard your husband as a sort of demi-god, who ”

“Pouf!” says she. “Do you think I was born without a grain of sense? But really, Freddy Oh! if it might be! Poor, poor darling! how sad she looked. If they have had a serious quarrel over her drive with that detestable BeauclerkwhyI ” Here she bursts into tears, and with her face buried on Monkton’s waistcoat, makes little wild dabs at the air with a right hand that is only to be appeased by having Monkton’s handkerchief thrust into it.

“What a baby you are!” says he, giving her a loving little shake. “I declare, you were well named. The swift transitions from the tremendous ‘Barbara’ to the inconsequent ‘Baby’ takes but an instant, and exactly expresses you. A moment ago you were bent on withering me: now, I am going to wither you.”

“Oh, no! don’t,” says she, half laughing, half crying. “And besides, it is you who are inconsequent. You never keep to one point for a second.”

“Why should I?” says he, “when it is such a disagreeable one. There let us give up for the day. We can write ‘To be continued’ after it, and begin a fresh chapter to-morrow.”

Meantime, Joyce, making her way to the garden with a hope of finding there, at all events, silence, and opportunity for thought, seats herself upon a garden chair, and gives herself up a willing prey to melancholy. She had desired to struggle against this evil, but it had conquered her, and tears rising beneath her lids are falling on her cheeks, when two small creatures emerging from the summer house on her left catch sight of her.

They had been preparing for a rush, a real Redshank, painted and feathered, descent upon her, when something in her sorrowful attitude becomes known to them.

Fun dies within their kind little hearts. Their Joyce has come home to themthat is a matter for joy, but their Joyce has come home unhappythat is a matter for grief. Step by step, hand in hand, they approach her, and even at the very last, with their little breasts overflowing with the delight of getting her back, it is with a very gentle precipitation that they throw themselves upon her.

And it never occurs to them, either, to trouble her for an explanation; no probing questions issue from their lips. She is sorry, that is all. It is enough for their sympathies. Too much.

Joyce herself is hardly aware of the advent of the little comforters, until two small arms steal around her neck, and she finds Mabel’s face pressed close against her own.

“Let me kiss her, too,” says Tommy, trying to push his sister away, and resenting openly the fact of her having secured the first attempt at consolation.

“You mustn’t tease her, she’s sorry. She’s very sorry about something,” says Mabel, turning up Joyce’s face with her pink palm. “Aren’t you, Joyce? There’s droppies in your eyes?”

“A little, darling,” says Joyce, brokenly.

“Then I’ll be sorry with you,” says the child, with all childhood’s divine intuition that to sorrow alone is to know a double sorrow. She hugs Joyce more closely with her tender arms, and Joyce, after a battle with her braver self, gives way, and breaks into bitter tears.

“There now! you’ve made her cry right out! You’re a naughty girl,” says Tommy, to his sister in a raging tone, meant to hide the fact that he too, himself is on the point of giving way; in fact, another moment sees him dissolved in tears.

“Never mind, Joycie. Never mind. We love you!” sobs he, getting up on the back of the seat behind her, and making a very excellent attempt at strangulation.

“Do you? There doesn’t seem to be any one else, then, but you!” says poor Joyce, dropping Mabel into her lap, and Tommy more to the front, and clasping them both to her with a little convulsive movement.

Perhaps the good cry she has on top of those two loving little heads does her more good than anything else could possibly have done.