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- Peg O' My Heart - 60/72 -
By the time he reached Scarboro he had arranged everything in his mind. It was to be a short and exceedingly satisfactory interview and he would be able to catch the afternoon express back to London.
He pictured Miss O'Connell as being marvellously improved by her gentle surroundings and eager to continue in them. He was sure he would have a most satisfactory report to make to the Chief Executor.
As he walked up the beach-walk he was humming gaily an air from "Girofle-Girofla." He was entirely free from care and annoyance. He was thinking what a fortunate young lady Miss O'Connell was to live amid such delightful surroundings. It would be many a long day before she would ever think of leaving her aunt.
All of which points to the obvious fact that even gentlemen with perfectly-balanced legal brains, occasionally mis-read the result of force of character over circumstances.
He was shown into the music-room and was admiring a genuine Greuze when Mrs. Chichester came in.
She greeted him tragically and motioned him to a seat beside her.
"Well?" he smiled cheerfully. "And how is our little protegee?"
"Sit down," replied Mrs. Chichester, sombrely.
He sat beside her, waited a moment, then, with some sense of misgiving, asked: "Everything going well, I hope?"
"Far from it." And Mrs. Chichester shook her head sadly.
"Indeed?" His misgivings deepened.
"I want you to understand one thing, Mr. Hawkes," and tears welled up into the old lady's eyes: "I have done my best."
"I am sure of that, Mrs. Chichester," assured the lawyer, growing more and more apprehensive.
"But she wants to leave us to-day. She has ordered cab. She is packing now."
"Dear, dear!" ejaculated the bewildered solicitor. "Where is she going?"
"Back to her father."
"How perfectly ridiculous. WHY?"
"I had occasion to speak to her severely--last night. She grew very angry and indignant--and--now she has ordered a cab."
"Oh!" and Hawkes laughed easily. "A little childish temper. Leave her to me. I have a method with the young. Now--tell me--what is her character? How has she behaved?"
"At times ADMIRABLY. At others--" Mrs. Chichester raised her hands and her eyes in shocked disapproval.
"Not quite--?" suggested Mr. Hawkes.
"Not AT ALL!" concluded Mrs. Chichester.
"How are her studies?"
"Well, we must not expect too much," said the lawyer reassuringly. "Remember everything is foreign to her."
"Then you are not disappointed, Mr. Hawkes?"
"Not in the least. We can't expect to form a character in a month. Does she see many people?"
"Very few. We try to keep her entirely amongst ourselves."
"I wouldn't do that. Let her mix with people. The more the better. The value of contrast. Take her visiting with you. Let her talk to others--listen to them--exchange opinions with them. Nothing is better for sharp-minded, intelligent and IGNORANT people than to meet others cleverer than themselves. The moment they recognise their own inferiority, they feel the desire for improvement."
Mrs. Chichester listened indignantly to this, somewhat platitudinous, sermon on how to develop character. And indignation was in her tone when she replied:
"Surely, she has sufficient example here, sir?"
Hawkes was on one of his dearest hobbies--"Characters and Dispositions." He had once read a lecture on the subject. He smiled almost pityingly at Mrs. Chichester, as he shook his head and answered her.
"No, Mrs. Chichester, pardon me--but NO! She has NOT sufficient example here. Much as I appreciate a HOME atmosphere, it is only when the young get AWAY from it that they really develop. It is the contact with the world, and its huge and marvellous interests, that strengthens character and solidifies disposition. It is only--" he stopped.
Mrs. Chichester was evidently either not listening, or was entirely unimpressed. She was tapping her left hand with a lorgnette she held in her right, and was waiting for an opportunity to speak. Consequently, Mr. Hawkes stopped politely.
"If you can persuade her to remain with us, I will do anything you wish in regard to her character and its development."
"Don't be uneasy," he replied easily, "she will stay. May I see her?"
Mrs. Chichester, rose crossed over to the bell and rang it. She wanted to prepare the solicitor for the possibility of a match between her son and her niece. She would do it NOW and do it tactfully.
"There is one thing you must know, Mr. Hawkes. My son is in love with her," she said, as though in a burst of confidence.
Hawkes rose, visibly perturbed.
"What? Your son?"
"Yes," she sighed. "Of course she is hardly a suitable match for Alaric--as YET. But by the time she is of age--"
"By that time, much may be done."
Jarvis came in noiselessly and was despatched by Mrs. Chichester to bring her niece to her.
Hawkes was moving restlessly about the room. He stopped in front of Mrs. Chichester as Jarvis disappeared.
"I am afraid, madam, that such a marriage would be out of the question."
"What do you mean?" demanded the old lady. "As one of the executors of the late Mr. Kingsnorth's will, in my opinion, it would be defeating the object of the dead man's legacy."
Mrs. Chichester retorted, heatedly: "He desires her to be TRAINED. What training is better than MARRIAGE?"
"Almost any," replied Mr. Hawkes. "Marriage should be the union of two formed characters. Marriage between the young is one of my pet objections. It is a condition of life essentially for those who have reached maturity in nature and in character. I am preparing a paper on it for the Croydon Ethical Society and--"
Whatever else Mr. Hawkes might have said in continuation of another of his pet subjects was cut abruptly short by the appearance of Peg. She was still dressed in one of Mrs. Chichester's gifts. She had not had an opportunity to change into her little travelling suit.
Hawkes looked at her in delighted surprise. She had completely changed. What a metamorphosis from the forlorn little creature of a month ago! He took her by the hand and pressed it warmly, at the same time saying heartily:
"Well, well! WHAT an improvement."
Peg gazed at him with real pleasure. She was genuinely glad to see him. She returned the pressure of his hand and welcomed him:
"I'm glad you've come, Mr. Hawkes."
"Why, you're a young lady!" cried the astonished solicitor.
"Am I? Ask me aunt about that!" replied Peg, somewhat bitterly.
"Mr. Hawkes wishes to talk to you, dear," broke in Mrs. Chichester, and there was a melancholy pathos in her voice and, in her eyes.
If neither Alaric nor Mr. Hawkes could deter her, what would become of them?
"And I want to talk to Mr. Hawkes, too," replied Peg. "But ye must hurry," she went on. "I've only, a few minutes."
Mrs. Chichester went pathetically to the door, and, telling Mr. Hawkes she would see him again when he had interviewed her niece, she left them.
"Now, my dear Miss Margaret O'Connell--" began the lawyer.
"Will ye let me have twenty pounds?" suddenly asked Peg.
"Certainly. NOW?" and he took out his pocket-book.
"This minnit," replied Peg positively.
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