Read CHAPTER XVII - "ADIEU — AU REVOIR" of Herb of Grace, free online book, by Rosa Nouchette Carey, on ReadCentral.com.

If there is power in me to help,
It goeth forth beyond the present will,
Clothing itself in very common deeds
Of any humble day’s necessity. 

                                                     MACDONALD.

The pleasantest part of the whole evening to Malcolm was the hour spent on the terrace when the last guests were gone.  The Brents had undertaken to drive Mr. Carlyon to the White Cottage, much to the chagrin of the Ross girls, whose homeward route took them through Rotherwood, and who also had a seat to spare.  Malcolm had a dim suspicion that Elizabeth had connived at this arrangement.

“You had better go with the Brents if they ask you,” she had said earlier in the evening, but he had not heard Mr. Carlyon’s reply.

“Well, what do you think of little Tina?” asked Elizabeth.  They were standing by the drawing-room window; Malcolm could see the mischievous look in her eyes, and refused to be drawn.

“Most people would admire her,” he returned coolly.

“But unfortunately you are the exception is that what you mean, Mr. Herrick?  What a shame not to admire our pretty little blue-eyed kitten!”

“Kittens can scratch,” he returned quietly; and then Elizabeth looked more amused than ever.

“What, has Tina shown her claws to you?  I thought she always wore her velvet gloves for strangers.  I fancied I was doing you a good turn to introduce you to the prettiest girl in Rotherwood.  She and Patty will be rich too, for there is no son, and Mr. Ross is very wealthy.”

“Made his fortune on the Stock Exchange,” explained Cedric.  “Clever old chap shouldn’t mind if he would give me the straight tip.  I tell you what, Die,” and here Cedric lit himself another cigarette, “if I come a cropper in the exam, the Stock Exchange would not be a bad place for me to make my little pile.”

It was impossible not to laugh at Dinah’s horrified face.

“Don’t believe him, Die,” observed Elizabeth calmly.  “Cedric has no vocation for a business man he is only teasing you.  Yes, Tina and Patty will have plenty of money,” but as Malcolm did not seem to warm up to any interest, Elizabeth with much tact changed the subject, and they were soon discussing the other guests.

When Malcolm woke the next morning his first feeling was regret that his visit was over.  He had accepted Cedric’s invitation with reluctance, and had put him off again and again.  He had a remorseful consciousness that he might have been a guest at the Wood House eighteen months ago.  By this time he would have been intimate with the sisters.  He might but here Malcolm leapt rather impatiently from his couch.  What was the good of thinking over past mistakes!  He had been a fool, and stood in his own light that was all.  During breakfast he was very cheerful, and seemed in such excellent spirits that the passing thought occurred to Elizabeth that Mr. Herrick was not sorry that his visit had ended.

“We are not clever enough for him,” she said to herself regretfully; but Malcolm’s next speech dispelled this idea.

Dinah had just expressed her regret at losing him.

“I have no wish to go, I assure you,” was his reply; “I have never spent a happier week in my life.  But you know in another two or three weeks I hope to be settled at the Crow’s Nest.  We shall be near neighbours then.”  He looked at Elizabeth as he spoke.  It struck him that she was a little embarrassed.  Her colour rose, and there was a slight pucker in her brow, as though something perplexed her; but the next minute it was gone.

“In that case we must fix the date for the Templeton Bean-feast,” she remarked briskly.  “Mr. Herrick,” her voice changing to earnestness, “will it be quite impossible for Miss Sheldon to come to our garden-party.  We could put her up easily and it is really rather a pretty sight.  We had two hundred people last year, and the Hungarian band.”

“It was rattling good sport,” chimed in Cedric.  “There were fifteen of our fellows sleeping at ‘The Plough,’ because we had a dance in the evening; not only our house, but Hazel Beach, the Ross’s house, and Brentwood Place, where Colonel Brent lives, were crammed with guests.  People talked about it for a month afterwards.”

“It cost a great deal of money,” observed Dinah, in rather an alarmed voice.  “We could not do that sort of thing again.  You see, Mr. Herrick, it was really to make up to Cedric because he had no party when he came of age.  I was ill just then, and we had to go away.”

“No, no, you are quite right, Die, we must keep our Bean-feast within limits,” returned Elizabeth soothingly.  “We thought of fixing the twentieth of August,” she continued, addressing Malcolm.  “That is nearly a month later than last year, I expect most of our inner circle friends will be away, but we shall have a good house-party; and with some of Cedric’s Oxford friends we shall be able to infuse sufficient new life into our country clique.  Well, Mr. Herrick, is that likely to suit Miss Sheldon?”

“I am afraid not,” he returned regretfully, for he was really quite touched at this thoughtfulness on her part.  And how Anna would have loved it!  “They will be at Whitby by that time.  But I will tell her of your kind thought for her.”  And then, as it was getting late, for they had lingered pleasantly over the meal, he went off to make his preparations, and half an hour afterwards the dog-cart was brought to the door.

“Good-bye, we shall miss you so much,” observed Dinah almost affectionately; “but we shall see plenty of you when you are at the Crow’s Nest.”

“I hope so.  Thank you, dear Miss Templeton, for all your kind hospitality,” and then it was Elizabeth’s turn.

Adieu ­au revoir, Mr. Herrick,” but she pressed his hand very kindly as she spoke, and her eyes had a friendly beam in them.

“Au revoir, and thanks to you too,” returned Malcolm; but the smile on his face was a little forced.

As the dog-cart turned the corner he looked back.  The sisters were still standing side by side.  Elizabeth waved her hand.  She was no longer the stately-looking woman in the Paris gown and picture hat, who had moved with such a queenly step among her guests.  This was a far homelier Elizabeth, in the old striped blouse and battered garden hat, only this morning Malcolm found no fault with it.  He was very silent for some time, but as he leant back in the dog-cart with folded arms and closely compressed lips, there was a glow in his dark eyes that somewhat contradicted his outward calmness.

“And you are going down to the Manor House on Thursday,” observed Cedric, as they came in sight of the station.  “What a pity my Henley visit is put off till the following week, or we might have had a good old time together.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” rather absently; “you will be too much taken up with your new friends to want an old stager like me.”

“You are wrong there,” returned the lad eagerly.  “I should be glad to have your opinion of” he hesitated, and then finished lamely, “of the Jacobis, I mean.  You are such a judge of character, and all that sort of thing.”

“Am I?” with a smile; but they had no time to say more, as the London train was signalled.

An hour and a half later Malcolm was in his chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, opening his letters and dashing off replies, to be posted in due time by the obsequious Malachi.  Malcolm found so much to occupy him that he decided not to go to Queen’s Gate until the following evening, and sent Anna a line to that effect.  He felt a quiet evening at Cheyne Walk would be more in harmony with his feelings.

As he crossed the broad space at the foot of the steps in Lincoln’s Inn, he overtook Caleb Martin wheeling the perambulator.  Kit had her new doll hugged in her thin little arms.

“Oh, dad, do stop,” she exclaimed eagerly; “it is the gentleman what gave me my baby;” and then Malcolm stepped up to the perambulator.

“Kit has been looking out for you the last week, sir,” observed Caleb in his humble, flurried way.  “She won’t even take notice of the pigeons; her heart is so set on thanking you for the doll.  It is my belief that she thinks it is alive the way she goes on with it.”

“My baby’s asleep should you like to see her open her eyes?” asked Kit with maternal pride.  “She has blue eyes, she has, like dad’s and mine only prettier.  She is just the beautifullest thing I ever saw, ain’t she, dad? and Ma’am says she must have cost a lot.”

Malcolm smiled, but there was a pitiful look in his eyes.  Even in these few days Kit’s face had grown thinner and more pinched, and the shrill voice was weaker.  There was no longer a stiff halo of curls under the sun-bonnet; they hung in limp wisps about her face.

“Has the child been ill?” he asked, and then Caleb looked at him in a dazed, nervous fashion.

“Not to call ill, sir, but just a bit piny and dwiny from the heat.  Our place is like the Black Hole of Calcutta for stuffiness.  She is that languid and fretty that we can’t get her to eat, so my wife made me take her out for an airing.”

Malcolm pondered for a moment.  Then a sudden inspiration came to him.  There was a fruiterer in the Strand, and he was just thinking of carrying a basket of fruit to Verity.  He bade Caleb follow him slowly, and a few minutes later a great bunch of roses and a paper bag of white-heart cherries and another of greengages were packed into the perambulator; some sponge-cakes and a crisp little brown loaf were also purchased for Kit’s tea, and then they went rejoicing on their way.  As Malcolm walked on he made up his mind that his first act when he arrived at the Crow’s Nest would be to take counsel with Elizabeth.  “The child will die if something is not done for her,” he said to himself; “perhaps she will be able to suggest something;” but it never occurred to him to confide in his mother.  “Individual cases do not appeal to her,” he had once said to Anna.  “She prefers to work on a more extended scale,” and though Anna contradicted this with unusual warmth, Malcolm had some grounds for his sweeping assertion.

Malcolm spent the evening very pleasantly discussing future arrangements with his friends.  To his satisfaction the room he coveted was at once allotted to him, with the title of “The Prophet’s Chamber;” and, as he professed himself quite content with the bedroom in the garden-house, matters were soon settled, and both Verity and Amias looked pleased when Malcolm announced his intention of spending most of his summer vacation at the Crow’s Nest.  They talked a good deal about the Wood House.  Malcolm gave graphic descriptions of the house and the garden and the Pool, and he also drew rather a charming picture of the elder Miss Templeton.

“She is lovely in my opinion,” he said in his enthusiastic way.  “I quite long for you to see her, Verity.  She is just a gray-haired girl.  She has the secret of perpetual youth.  She is as guileless and simple as a child any one could deceive her, and yet she is wise too.”

“And her sister?” asked Verity, as Malcolm paused.

“Oh, Miss Elizabeth Templeton is quite different,” returned Malcolm hurriedly, as he filled his pipe; “it is not easy to describe her you must judge of her yourself.”

“Then she is not as nice as this wonderful Dinah?” observed Verity in a disappointed tone.

“Oh, yes, she is quite as nice,” he returned briefly; “but the sisters are utterly dissimilar.”  And not another word could Verity, with all her teasing, extract from Malcolm.

“I should like you to be perfectly unbiassed in your opinion,” he remarked sententiously.  Verity made a naughty little face in the darkness.

“I wonder if it is the Crow’s Nest, our society, or Miss Elizabeth Templeton that is the attraction,” she thought.  But, being a loyal little soul, she never hinted at a certain suspicion that had taken possession of her mind, even to her husband.

Malcolm received a warm welcome from his mother and Anna the next evening.  He found them sitting by one of the open windows in the large drawing-room.  Mrs. Herrick was working, and Anna was reading to her.  The sun-blinds had just been raised, and the fresh evening air blew refreshingly through the wide room.  The tall green palms behind them made a pleasant background to Anna’s white dress.  It struck Malcolm that she looked paler and more tired, and her eyes had a heavy, languid look.  To his surprise Mrs. Herrick spoke of it at once.

“Anna is not looking her best this evening, Malcolm,” she said as he sat down between them; “this great heat tries her.  Dr. Armstrong thinks we ought to leave town as soon as possible, so we are going to Whitby a week earlier.”

“Mother has cancelled a lot of her engagements,” observed Anna, looking at her affectionately.  “I am so sorry to give her all this trouble.”  But Mrs. Herrick would not allow her to finish.

“Mothers are only too glad to take trouble for their children,” she said kindly.  “Anna has been behaving badly, Malcolm; she fainted at church on Sunday, and had one of her worst sick headaches afterwards.”

There was unmistakable anxiety in Malcolm’s eyes when he heard this, but Anna only laughed it off.  The church was hot, she said, any one might have fainted.  But the sea-breezes would soon set her up; they had beautiful rooms quite close to the sea, with a wide balcony where they could spend their evenings.

“I hope you will come down to us for a week or two,” observed his mother presently.  Malcolm felt rather a twinge of conscience as he replied that he feared this was impossible; he had some literary work on hand, which he intended to do at Staplegrove.  Mrs. Keston was able to spare him a nice room, which he could use as a study; and so he had made his arrangements.  And then he added rather regretfully that, as he was going to the Manor House the following afternoon, he feared that he should not see them again.  Mrs. Herrick said no more, she was not a woman to waste words unnecessarily; but she was undoubtedly much disappointed, and even a little hurt, and for the moment Anna looked grave.  At dinnertime she made an effort to recover her spirits, and questioned Malcolm about his new acquaintances at the Wood House; and on this occasion he was less reticent.

But it was not until his mother had left them alone together that he told Anna of Elizabeth’s kind invitation.

A surprised flush came to the girl’s face.

“Do you think you could possibly manage it, dear?” he asked with brotherly solicitude.  But he was sorry to see how her lips trembled.

“Oh no no, you must not tempt me,” very hurriedly; “it is quite quite impossible.  I must not think of it for a moment, Malcolm,” trying to speak calmly.  “I am so grateful to you for not speaking of this before mother; it would trouble her so, and quite spoil her pleasure; mother is so sharp, she always finds out things, and she would know at once that I should like to go to the Wood House.”

“Then I was right when I told Miss Elizabeth so,” returned Malcolm.  “It is just the place you would like, Anna; I know you would be happy with those kind women.”

“I do not doubt it for a moment,” and Anna’s voice was rather melancholy.  “I should so love to know your friends, Malcolm; it all sounds so lovely, and you would be near, and and it was so dear of Miss Elizabeth to think of it.  Will you thank her for me, Malcolm, and tell her that mother needs me so much, and that she has no one else.”

“Did you mean that for a hit at me, Anna dear?” and Malcolm’s voice was rather reproachful.

“For you,” looking at him tenderly, “oh no no, Malcolm;” and then to his dismay she suddenly burst into tears.

“Don’t mind me, I am silly to-night,” she said, struggling to regain her composure.  “Mother is right, and I am not quite well, and and things will go crooked in this world.”  But though Malcolm petted her, and called her a foolish child, and his dear little sister, Anna did not regain her former cheerfulness.  And when Mrs. Herrick joined them she said her head had begun aching again, and that she would go to bed.

Malcolm wished her good-night at the foot of the staircase, and watched her until she was out of sight.  His mother looked at him a little keenly when he rejoined her.

“What have you and Anna been talking about?” she asked rather abruptly; “the child does not look quite happy.”

“We were only talking about the ladies of the Wood House,” he returned quietly.  “Anna thinks she would like to make their acquaintance some day.”  But Mrs. Herrick made no reply to this; she was regarding her son thoughtfully, and her strong, sensible face wore an expression almost of sadness.  But she gave him no clue to her feelings, and when the time came for him to take his leave her manner was more affectionate than usual.

She was still on the balcony as he passed out, and a cheery “Good-night, my son,” floated down to him.  But as she stood listening to his departing footsteps she said to herself, “He is changed somehow, he is not quite himself, and Anna has noticed it.  I wonder” and here she sighed rather heavily “I wonder what sort of woman this Miss Elizabeth Templeton can be.”