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- A Life's Morning - 5/80 -
course understand that; you don't take seriously all he says?'
'I think I can. distinguish between jest and earnest.'
'For all that, you speak of the recovery of my health as if I were still far from the wholly rational stand-point. So far from my being mentally unsound, this rest has been a growing-time with me. Before, I did nothing but heap my memory with knowledge of hooks; now I have had leisure to gather knowledge of a deeper kind. I was a one-sided academical monster; it needed this new sense to make me human. The old college life is no longer my ideal; I doubt if it will be possible. At any rate, I shall hurry over the rest of my course as speedily as may be, that I may begin really to live. You must credit what I am saying; I want you to give me distinct assurance that you do so. If I have the least doubt, it will trouble my mind in earnest.'
Miss Hood rose to her feet in that graceful effortless way of which girls have the secret.
'You attribute a meaning to my words that I never thought of,' she said, again in the distant respectful manner.
Wilfrid also rose.
'And you give me credit for understanding myself, for being as much master of my mind as I am of my actions?'
'Surely I do, Mr. Athel.'
'You are going to the house? It is nearly five o'clock your conscience tells you that a civilised being must drink tea. I think I shall walk over to Greenhaws; I may as well save Mrs. Winter the trouble of bringing back the children.'
He hesitated before moving away.
'How little that cloud has changed its form! I should like to stay here and watch it till sunset. In a week I suppose I shall be looking at some such cloud over Mont Blanc. And you, in Dunfield.'
'No, there we have only mill-smoke.'
She smiled, and passed from the hollow to the road.
Midway in breakfast next morning, at a moment when Mrs. Rossall was describing certain originalities of drawing-room decoration observed on the previous day at a house in town, the half-open door admitted a young lady who had time to glance round the assembled family before her presence was observed. In appearance she was very interesting. The tints of her fine complexion were warmed by exercise in the morning air, and her dark eyes brightened by pleasurable excitement; she carried her hat in her hand, and seemed to have been walking bare-headed, for there were signs of wind-play in her abundant black hair. But neither face nor attire suggested rusticity: the former was handsome, spirited, with a hint of uncommon things in its changeful radiance; the latter was the result of perfect taste choosing at will among the season's costumes. At her throat were fastened two blossoms of wild rose, with the dew still on them, and the hand which held her lace-trimmed sunshade carried also a spray of meadow-sweet.
Mr. Athel, looking up from the end of the table, was the first to perceive her.
'_Guardami ben: ben son, ben son Beatrice_!' he exclaimed, rising and moving from his place. 'But how in the world has she got here?'
'Beatrice!' cried Mrs. Rossall, following the general direction of eyes. 'Here already! But you surely haven't come from town this morning?'
'But indeed I have,' was the reply, in a joyous voice, whose full, rich quality took the ear captive. 'Will you let me sit down just as I am? Patty, here's a rose for you, and, Minnie, another for you.' She took them from her dress. 'How do you do, Mr. Wilfrid?'
The governess was mentioned to her by name; Beatrice looked at her steadfastly for a moment.
'But how have you got here?' inquired Mrs. Rossall. 'You must have left London at an unheard-of hour; and how have yen come from Dealing?'
'Clearly she has walked,' said Mr. Athel. 'Don't you see the spoils of her progress?'
'Oh yes, I have walked,' replied the girl. 'I suppose I'm in a dreadful state towards the end I almost ran. I was so afraid lest I should miss breakfast, and you can't imagine how hungry I am. Is that oatmeal porridge you are eating, Mr. Wilfrid? Oh, do let me have some; how delicious it will be!'
'Nonsense, Beatrice,' interposed Mrs. Rossall. 'Let Mr. Athel give you some of that pate, or will you have--'
'I've been a vegetarian for a month,' was the reply.
'You don't mean it?'
'Most strictly. No--eggs are not permitted; only the feebler school allows them. You can't think how much better I have been in body and mind since I adopted the new diet.'
'But Whatever train did you start by?' pressed Mrs. Rossall.
'Half-past six. I never can sleep these short summer nights. I was up about five o'clock, and just as I was going to read I saw the railway time-table. I looked for the first train and determined to come by it. I wrote a short note to let mother know what had become of me, then in a minute or two I got my things packed, and last of all stole out of the house to find a cab. Luckily, a policeman was just passing the door; he found one for me in no time. Not a soul was up, so I dragged the trunk out on to the landing, and then made the cabman creep upstairs like a, burglar to fetch it. Of course he thought I was running away; he enjoyed the joke wonderfully; you should have seen his smile when I paid him at the station. Perhaps you'll let them fetch my luggage before lunch?'
'But won't your mother be alarmed?' asked Mrs. Rossall.
'Why should she? She knows I am very capable of taking care of myself. I wouldn't have missed this walk for anything. I only lost my way once, and then, luckily, a farmer came driving along: he told me I had half a mile more. I trebled his distance, which made it about right.'
'It's a good four miles from the station,' remarked Mr. Athel.
'Is it? If I hadn't been so hungry I shouldn't have minded as much again. You're not angry with me, Mrs. Rossall, for coming before I was expected?'
A curious note of irresponsible childishness came out now and then in her talk, as in this last question; it was the more noticeable for the air of maturity and self-possession which on the whole characterised her. She continued to talk with much vivacity, making at the same time a hearty meal. Her place at the table was between Wilfrid and Patty; on the opposite side sat Miss Hood and Minnie. As often as her eyes fell upon the governess's face, they rested there for a moment, searchingly, as if with endeavour to recall some memory.
'Who is responsible for your vegetarianism?' Wilfrid asked. 'Is Mr. Cresset preaching the doctrine?'
'No, Mr. Cresset is not preaching the doctrine,' was the reply, in a tone which evidently contained reference to previous dissensions.
'Surely there is nothing offensive in the suggestion?' remarked the young man mildly.
'Yes, there is something offensive. Your references to Mr. Cresset are always offensive.'
'You do me injustice. Aunt, I take you to witness, didn't I praise ungrudgingly a sermon of his we heard last Christmas?'
'I remember quite well,' said Beatrice; 'you regarded it as extraordinary that anything good could come from that source, Mr. Athel, I take you to witness, wasn't that his tone?'
'Patty,' interposed Mrs. Rossall, 'do change your place and sit between those two; they never can be next each other without quarrelling.'
Breakfast drew out to unusual length. Miss Redwing was full of the season's news, and Mrs. Rossall's reviving interest in such vanities scarcely affected concealment. Mr. Athel, too, though he supported a jesting tone, clearly enjoyed listening to the girl's vivacious comments on the world which amuses itself. Wilfrid talked less than usual.
He and his father strolled together into the garden an hour later, and found Beatrice reclining in a hammock which had recently been suspended in a convenient spot. She had one hand beneath her head, the other held a large fan, with which she warded off stray flakes of sunlight falling between the leaves.
'Isn't this exquisite?' she cried. 'Let no one hint to me of stirring before lunch-time. I am going to enjoy absolute laziness.'
'I thought you would have preferred a gallop over the downs,' said Mr. Athel.
'Oh, we'll have that this afternoon; you may talk of it now, and I shall relish it in anticipation. Or, better still, sit down and tell us old stories about Egypt, and let us forget the age we live in.'
'What is amiss with the age?' inquired Mr. Athel, who stood smoking a cigar and was in his wonted state of satisfaction with himself and the universe.
'Everything is amiss. If you had been with me yesterday in a street I was visiting, not a quarter of a mile from home--But I'm going to forget all that now. How deliciously warm it is here in the shade! I must have a ham. mock in our garden at Cowes.'
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