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The Road to Love

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The Road to Love

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times I hate him. Don't you think he is a so- lemn, tiresome old creature? I don't believe he <vas ever a boy." She swept to another sub- ject. "You'll never stay here," she said, "it's a hateful place. Sometimes I wish I could set fire to the whole lot of it and burn it down and burn all the people in it, too—brutes! I loathe them That woman that I sent out just now, she's my maid, Crewe. She's the most hateful cat you can imagine, always spying round to eo down and tell stones about me in the kitchen. I know! She is always coming after me with 'Won't you let me do this, my lady. and won't you let me do that, and won't you let me order you some new gowns,. my lady,' and all the time she knows I know she 's just getting nt me." "I don't think you are nght to keep a wo- man about you who annoys you," said Ellen. "Oh, they all annoy me," said Lady Nor- chester, gloomily. "Look here, you'd better know the truth before we start together I'm no better than they are, that's why they hate me. When Harry married me I was just a common girl in the village, and they're not go- ing to put up with taking orders from me." Qmckly Ellen answered her "Oh! You are wrong! No matter whether you were born in a village or a castle you have your own dignity, and more than that you have the dignity of your husband to consider." "My husband," said Lady Norchester, with a bitter little laugh, a lot Harry cares." She had crouched herself up in an arm-chair, and sat with her elbows on her knees. "Do you think had he cared," she said, "he'd have gone away and left me—left me to be insulted and treated like a fool by all the brutes in this old house?" Suddenly (Ellen had quickly found that she was given to these sudden movements) she sprang to her feet. "You are tired, and you want something," she said, "have some champagne. I always keep (<hampagne up- stairs; it helps to drive away the blues some- times. Ellen caught her breath. "If I might have some tea, I—I am so fond of tea," she said, "and it always refreshes me "I think tea's dull stuff," said Lady Nor- chester; "but you shall have what you want, only I hope you're not going to be. a namby- pamby Sunday-school kind of person," she re- marked frankly, "because I hate and detest al] goody-goody people. We'd better know what we are to start with, then we'll save a lot of bother." "I hope you are not going to turn me away," said Ellen, with a brave smile, "you don't know how glad I was to come here; it is rather a hopeless businoM trying to find work. because rm not clever enough for most things which women have to do nowadays 1 and I love the country; it is so beautiful round here." "Oh! I'm not going to turn you away," said Lady Norchester, carelessly "Now, you've come, yon can stop. The house is big enough- we needn't see one another if we don't want." At that moment a tap came at. the door, and Varley's voice was heard out8ide. "Won't you come downstairs, and give me some tea? I must be off directly." Lady Norchester frowned; then she went across the room. "You can give Miss Milner tea," she said. "I'm not coming down. I'm not dressed. I suppose you'll be here again in a few days, just so that you can write and give an ac- count to Harry of all that's going on. You're left in charge, aren't you?" "I shall come down when you want me to come," Varley answered, quietly, "and if you don't want me I won't come." "Oh Come or don't come," Lady Norches- ter replied, "it is all the same to me. But. of course, you'll come," she added the next mo- ment, "because you've got to report how I'm behaving myself. I know that quite well!" Varley laughed. He was not hurt, by her rude words "Look here," be said, "be sociable; change your dress and come downstairs, there are several things I want to say to you, and then you ought to show Miss Milner some of the castle before it gets dark." Ellen had advanced across the room, and now stood close by the door. "Do come," she said, eagerly. Lady Norchester hesitated an instant, and then saId; "All right, you go down with Dick. I'll come." Ellen walked in silence beside Richard Var- ley along the corridor and down that magnifi- cent staircase once again. She dreaded he might ask her questions, but he did nothing of the sort; instead he talked all the time about Wynche; there was so much of interest. In the late Earl's time there had been a rather disastrous fire in a certain part of the building, and Varley showed Eller. where the renovation had been done, and how spendidly the old lines had been retained, and the old atmoa- phero treasured. Tea was prepared in a, very beautiful room on the entrance floor. "I hardly know why," Varley said, with a faint smile, the servants here always re- gard this room as my particular apartment; perhaps it is h nse there are so many books here. I don't it is ever used except when I come. I ho -• care to use it occasion- ally." Ellen smil "It will sci i," she said, "to choose w To this he "I want you i absolutely at home here I- have not had the best, start, Mir I beg of you not to be discourse f am not too sanguine, but I feel fs,cl!t good will come of your being here. You are young, but you have strength you have a great deal of character; there is much that you can do." "There is much that I should like to do," Ellen answered him in the same quiet way. "Time alone will show whether I have the power to be useful." "I am a great believer in the force of ex- ample," Varley said, and then he added hur- riedly, "you are the first person to be in in- timate contact with her, whose influence can really be of value to her. Later on I will give you the whole story. If there is much that shocks you. there is much that calls for your pity." After that they walked round the room, and Ellen looked at the wonderful old prints and the almost priceless books which were stacked in the various bookcases. Lady Norchester came in whilst they were engaged in this fashion. She looked less dis- hevelled indeed, as she drew nearer Ellen noticed that she had on a very handsome velvet gown. She noted, too, the beauty of the lines of Lady Norchester's figure. "Haven't you had your tea?" she exclaimed, and then she laughed. There was always a little bitter tone in her laughter. "Oh I see, Dick's been showing off the things as usual, he wanted to do that with me, but I wasn't go- ing to be bothered. Who wants a lot of silly old books. You're not going to drink tea. are you, Dick ? Why don't you have something stronger ? Varley answered her pleasantly, and officiat- ed for her at the tea-table with so much tact that he won Ellen's admiration. Her heart sank a little when she realised that he was going away. Although, of course, she had not for an instant supposed that he would be stay- ing at Wynche, his presence was so comforting, he made things so possible and even easy, that she heard of his departure with regret. It was evi- dent, however, that Lady Norchester was dis- posed to be very kind to her new companion. She made Ellen take off her hat and her coat, and she insisted on Varley plying the girl with cakes. The tea was not the best in the world, it was cold, and the arrangements of the tea- table were a little slovenly. The silver looked as if it would be all the better for a good hard rub. All those little details Ellen noted, and wondered with some trepidation if it would be possible for her to work an improvement here as well as in other ways. When the butler announced at the door that the motor was waiting to take Varley to tbe station, Lady Norchester gave him her hand with a fair show of cordiality. "Well, I suppose you must go," she said, "but you can come down again soon; there, that's on my invitation, and it's got nothing to do with Hafry. and his orders." "If I come," said Richard Varley, pressing her hand before he released it, "I shall cer- tainly come on your invitation." Then he laughed in his pleasant way. "The idea of Harry giving me orders you know is a little funny! It has generally been the other way about." "Well," said Lady Norchester, "if it was you that has had the bringing up of him I wonder you didn't do it better. Harry's no swell at manners." Varley and Ellen avoided looking at one an- other but the man felt as surely as though he had watched her that the girl winced, and as he said "good-bye" to her and looked at her delicate, wistful, charming face he had a pang of remorse. Had be done wisely in bring- ing this girl into this atmosphere of jarring elements, even of vulgarity? Would not her contact witth this turbulent spirit meant harm to herself? After all she was so young; there was about her that exquisiteness which is the heritage of such birth and breeding as hers. Inevitably she would be exposed to much that would be trying to her; she would have to know aqd realise things which should have had no place in her life. It was, however, too late to change matters now, or take her away." "Write to me," he .said under his breath. And he held her hand in his in a tight gTip just for an instant, and then he was gone. CHAPTER VIII. On his return to town Varley found a little note waiting for him. It had' been left by hand he quickly recognised the writing. Lady Evelyn Wynche was in the habit of sending him little notes every now and then. She wrote now to aSk him to dine with her mother and herself that night. It will be charitable of you if you will come, Dick (the little note said). Mother is fretting herself terribly about Harry. I don't know what she does not imagine is going to hap- pen. I can't console her. I do hope you are not engaged. Varley sent a message on the telephone to "v that he would be with the Dowager Lady Norchester at half-past eight. He would gladly have avoided this visit if it had been possible, but the affecttion he felt for Lord Norchester was shared fully by Lady Evelyn; moreover he was always eager to attempt to induce the mother to look upon matters a little less terri- bly if possible. His sympathies were neverthe- less very much with Norchester's mother; cer- tainly, Harry's marriage had been a bio- a r staggering blow It had fallen upon himself in a wholly unexpected manner. Somehow the thought of marriage and young- Norchester had never dawned in his mind. The boy was so young, it was almost impossible to picture him with a wife When the news had come of the irrevocable step which had been taken, Nor. chester's mother had not spared herself, and yet, poor lady, she had very little to reproach herself with, save perhaps a. lack of prudence and practical common sense. Had she smiled instead of storming at her boy's suddenly de- dared passion for Miriam Cottri<;Jge, the in- fatuation might have burnt itself out in a. natu- ral manner, but she had gone to work in just tho very way to fan the flame to its fiercest height, 8J1d to drive an impetuous boy into a most determined and independent position. Richard Varley had tenderly refrained from letting the mother know how unwise she had been; indeed, he had been almost ready to 8bed tears with her. His love for, and his pride in his young kinsman was such, that the reali- sation of this most disastrous marriage was to him something in the nature of a tragedy. He had been unfortunately abroad at the most vital moment; in truth, he had to rack his memory to call to mind this girl whom Norchester had married. Vaguely he remembered hearing of a school of lace-making which Lady Norchester had started in the village (an attempt to re- vive an old industry); and he also remember- ed hearing about a certain girl called Cott- ridge who had been more or less adopted by Lady Norchester. taken from a very miserable and undesirable home, and given a very fair, amount of education, finally being installed in this school of lace-making where her talents were profitably employed. It had been Lady Evelyn's chatter which had given him so much information. Once, too, when he had been down for a week-end at Wynche. he remembered that he had met an extraordinarily handsome girl when he had been walking with Lady Evelyn in the grounds, and she had told him thai this girl was Miriam Cottridge. The matter was of so little moment. however, at once, that Norchester had been Richard Varley's mind, therefore when he heard on his return to England that Lord Nor- chester had run away with this girl, Cottridge, and that he had married her, he was a.<;tounded, and his indignation and regret were every whit as keen as that which the mother felt. He realised, however, at once that Norchester had been driven into a comer, and he never ceased to be sorry that he bad not been on the spot himself to have brought the power of his coun- sel to bear on a. very delicate and dangerous situation. He found himself immediately plung- ed into the Iomestic war. Lady Norchester, the elder, withdrew from Wynche Castle, and declared passionately that she would never see her son ijgain. There were many others to whom Lord Nor- chester could have turoed, but he only wanted Richard Varley. Perhaps even then in the very first moment of his triumph of indepen- dence. he felt what a mistake he had made. At any rate, he turned to Varley spontaneously, and the elder man did not disappoint him. He had answered that summons at once. The young couple were in London staying at an hotel. The meeting between Varley and Lord Norchester had been commonplace enough. They had merely shaken one another bv the hand and uttered a few conventionali- ties. But the meeting with Lady Norchester had been unconventional. It must truly be said that when he saw her for the first time Varley had been amazed at her beauty; in an instant Norchester's folly was explained. When he had passed her in the country roads he had been dimly conscious of an unusual per- sonality but that cursory glance had not re- vealed to him the really extraordinary physi- cal attractions of Miriam and the thing which drew Varley more surely to her than anything else was the fact that she was wretched It was visible to him in the sullen restraint of her expression, in the hard curl of her proud lips; he was convinced that all the accusa- tions of intrigue, of common manoeuvres which the other Lady Norchester bad perhaps very naturally ascribed to this girl, had had no place with Miriam. She had married her husband, not with any mercenary intention, not for any other reason, indeed, save that she loved him passionately. His rank, his place in the world, his possessions would not have urged her to do that, which she had done. She had run away at his bidding because she adored him; and the knowledge which had been swift in coming, that she had done him an injury by becoming his wife was little less than agony to her In that very first interview Varley had been given the key note of the woman's character, and in conse- quence after events, however deplorable, had been to him so comprehensible, so natural, Richard Varley alone, out of all the many Nor- chester connections and relations, showed sym- pathy to the now Lady Norchester, and was the only one who went to Wynche, and was per- mitted friendship with her. The many painful scenes which passed be- tween Lord Norchester and his mother were matters which Varley only heard about, al- though in her turn the dowager Lady Nor- chester flung herself heavily upon him for sym- pathy. All that a. tactful man, could do, Varley did, to try and smooth out the terrible tangle, but be had to deal with not only the stubborn proud resistance of Lord Norchester's mother, he had to deal with an equally proud nature in Lord Norchester's wife. The attempt to bring these two women together was absolutely im- possible, and Varley relinquished it almost im- mediately. Lord Norchester would not give in so quickly, with the result tbat he mwe tbe breach even wider than it had been. Some- times Richard Varley had tried to preach pa- tience and wisdom to the young roan. "You must give your mother a little time," he had said. "Put yourself into her place; remember what you nave been to her—how proud she is of you. Try and realise the dreams that she must have had for your future, "I "I think mother and her class talk an awful lot of rot!" Norchester had answered, pas- sionately. "After all, what has she to say against Miriam, except that her birth is sup- posed oot to be as good as hers? Birth! Well you know, Dick, we Norchesters are descended from a lot of marauders and thieves. I don't think there is a pin to choose between some of my axicestors and Miriam's father, poacher and drunkard as he is! We think an awful lot of our very long pedigree, but if you work the thing down to a practical basis, I don', see what we have got to be proud of. If Miriam had been adopted by someone, and had been introduced to mother conventionally, she wouldn't have inquired who the girl's father was, or what he 1 dia." "Circumstances alter cases," Varley had re- plied to this; "and. moreover, I think you are a little hard on your ancestors, Harry. Some of them, and we needn't go back very far, were a long way removed from the class of individual you describe. My dear boy, you have to face the truth—your marriage, though it may be, please God, a happy one, has come as a great shock to your mother. Bear with her; my advice to you is not to go and see her till things have settled down." That's all very well," Norchester had said to this; and his tone had been gloomy: "but I am in a jolly difficult position. I don't want Miriam to fret her heart out because my mother chooses to be so cruel. I must try and make an effort for my wife's sake." And as he dressed on this evening on his re- turn from W yncbe, Richard Varley pondered on all the efforts which his young kinsman had made, and how finally Norchester had realised that the task he bad undertaken was a wholly impossible one. The story of the marriage was now an old one. Three years had elapsed since Norchester's family in particular and society in general had been startled by the news that be had chosen a wife. His mother had never set foot in Wynche Castle since that day; tind the life lived by e young couple was one which made Varley 8 heart ache. And yet, despite the fact that everything seemed against them, Varley could not help cherishing a hope that some day they might settle down into a better groove. There were so many good qualities in Nor- chester; there wAs equally fine stuff in Miri- am. He knew that she had shown evidence of possessing unusual intelligence, and she had eagerly desired to be educated. Her record as a girl was one of which she could justly be proud. It would be hard, indeed, if such a wo- man could not rise superior to the difficulties of her position, great as they undoubtedly were. "She had deliberately flung herself against all the better inclinations of her nature," Var- ley said to himself as he drove to his dinner. "Who knows if with such an influence as this girl's constantly about her she will not awaken to a sense of the wrong she has been doing to herself, and turn gradually to those things which she has abandoned. I must talk freely to Evelyn to-night. For Harry's sake his sister would do almost everything, and if only it could be possible for Evelyn to show some friendship to that poor lonely creature, the future might be altogether different. At any rate, the fact that Sir Patrick Milner's daugh- ter is now staying at Wynche as Miriam's chosen companion must make an impression on Harry's mother, as being evidence indeed that Miriam is anxious to imrpove herself and so take up her duties in proper fashion. Lady Evelyn was alone in the big gloomy drawing-room when Mr. Varley was announc- ed. "You are so good, Dick," she said, as she came forward to greet him. "I am half afraid you had other engagements which you have put on one side to come here." "As a matter of fact I was going to dine at the club. And you know I am always glad to come when you want me." Lady Evelyn sighed a little. She was extremely pretty very tall, almost too tall, and bore a marked resemblance to her brother. She was quite young, and had onlv left the schoolroom tbe year before. so dreadfully dull with us," she said, "mother is too upset to go anywhere or have anybody here." "A little rough on vou, eh?" queried Varley with his pleasant smile. Lady Evelyn confessed frankly she was a lit- tle sorry for herself "It's all very well for Harry to rush away and forget all the trouble he has made, but he might think of poor me!" She sighed a little ruefully. "Dear Harry. I was so sorry for him when he came to say 'good-bye.' J sup- pose life must have been too terrible at, Wynche lately, and he simply had to go." "1 am just up from Wynche," snid Vat ley, "and my sympathies are very much with Har- r ry's wife. Evelyn, you ought to be sorry for Miriam. She i« so unhappy" t Lady Evelyn flung out her pretty white hands. "What can I do, Dick? Perhaps I am a little sorry for Miriam. I never hated her as mother did and does. But I am no use; I can't do anything" "Yau can do your share." Varley spoke almost curtly, and Lady Evelyn looked at him wistfully. She had been Almost too young to grasp the full significance of the mistake her brother had made in his marriage, but she suffered very greatly because Harry had been the idol of her childhood, and it was very terrible to her to be separated from him. Again, the up- heaval of alt those things which had been about her ever since she could remember had depress- cd the She wept bitterly at leaving Wynche, but Lady Evelyn very quickly had to learn the lesson of self-repression and sacrifice. Her own feelings had to be subordinated to her mother's, and Lady Norchester scarcely realised what demands she made upon her daughter. Richard Varley was more than sorry for Lady Evelyn; he regretted the depressing atmosphere in which she lived. To him she was always the lovely child who had danced like a spirit at Wynche, and had been the joy and inspiration of her father's life. It was for her sake that he came so often to see Elizabeth, Lady Norchester. He was always trying to bring about some change for Lady Evelyn. Her mother had practically retired from social life; nursing her resentful grief over her boy's marriage she forgot, the claims of her daugh- ter. And Lady Evelyn never put forward those claims. She was not very worldly and could find happiness in small things. It would, perhaps, have astonished Varley very con- siderably i r he could have realised that his visits const.ituted the greatest of all thes* small things. (To be continued.)