Only a few hours before her son’s
unexpected arrival, Mrs Fanshawe had warmly pressed
Claire to extend her visit to a fortnight at least,
and Claire had happily agreed. Mrs Fanshawe
recalled the incident as she poured out tea, and rated
herself for her imprudence, but the deed was done;
there was the girl, looking pretty enough to turn any
young man’s head, and there, alas! was Erskine,
who should, by all the laws of what was right and
proper, be even now making love to Janet Willoughby
in Scotland! Janet was rich, Janet was well
born, Janet was amiable and easily led, for years
past Mrs Fanshawe had set her heart on Janet as a
daughter-in-law, and she was not easily turned from
her purpose. Throughout that first afternoon
her thoughts were busily engaged planning ahead, striving
to arrange the days to the hindrance of dangerous
tete-a-têtes, Erskine appeared to have returned
in ignorance of Miss Gifford’s presence.
Mrs Fanshawe had been careful to avoid all reference
to the girl in her letters, and was unable to think
how the information could have leaked out, nevertheless
the choice of Major Humphreys as a companion filled
her with suspicion. Never before had such an
invitation been given on Erskine’s initiative;
on more than one occasion, indeed, he had confessed
that he found the Major a bore, and had expressed
surprise at his mother’s liking for so dull a
Mrs Fanshawe had never found the Major
dull, since he shared with enthusiasm her own passion
for gardening, and was a most valuable adviser and
assistant. Together they had planned the flagged
path winding low between the high banks of the rock
garden, together they had planted the feathery white
arenaria calearica in the crevices of the steps
leading upward to the pergola, together they had planned
the effect of clusters of forget-me-not, and red tulips
among the long grasses in the orchard. There
was never any dearth of conversation between Major
Humphreys and Mrs Fanshawe, and a stroll round the
rose garden might easily prolong itself into a discussion
lasting a couple of hours. Hence came the suspicion,
or Erskine knew as much, and had deliberately invited
this man before any one of his own friends. Despite
all appearance to the contrary, Mrs Fanshawe felt convinced
that “the bore” had been brought down to
engage her own attention, and so leave her son free
to follow his own devices. She set her lips,
and determined on a counter move.
A partie carree was dangerous
under the circumstances; safety lay in a crowd.
That evening when Mrs Fanshawe retired to dress for
dinner, the telephone in her boudoir was used to ring
up all the big houses in the neighbourhood, invitations
were given galore for tennis, for dinner, for lunch;
and return invitations were accepted without consultation
with her son. At the end of half an hour she
hung up the receiver, satisfied that Erskine’s
opportunities for tete-a-têtes would be few.
Perhaps also time would suggest some excuse for shortening
the girl’s visit to the ten days originally
planned. She must think it out, put her wits
to work. Claire was a pretty creature and a
delightful companion, but a nobody, and poor into
the bargain. She could not be allowed to upset
a cherished plan!
During dinner Mrs Fanshawe alluded
casually to the coming gaieties, and mentally paid
a tribute of admiration to the aplomb with which
Claire listened, and smiled, betraying not a flicker
of surprise at the sudden change of programme.
The good lady was so pleased with the result of her
own scheming, that when later on the Major proposed
a game of patience, she accepted at once, and viewed
with equanimity the sight of the two young people
strolling down the garden path. It would be the
last night when such an escape would be possible!
It was an exquisite moonlight night,
clear enough to show the colour of the flowers in
the beds and borders. Claire’s white dress
took on a ghostly hue against the deep background
of the trees, her cheeks were pale, too, and the long
line of eyelash showed dark against her cheeks.
She felt very happy, very content, just the least little
bit in the world, afraid! Captain Fanshawe was
smoking a cigarette, and in the intervals drawing
deep sighs of enjoyment.
“There’s only one thing
that worries me-why didn’t I come
back last week? To think of rain, and mist,
and smoky fires, and then-This! I
feel like a man who has been transported into fairyland!”
Claire felt as if she also was in
fairyland, but she did not say so. There are
things that a girl does not say. They paced up
and down the winding paths, and came to the flight
of steps leading to the pergola, “The Flowery
Way” as Mrs Fanshawe loved to call it, where
the arenaria calearica shone starry white in
the moonlight. Erskine stopped short, and said
“Would you mind walking on alone
for a few yards? I’ll stand here ... while
you go up the steps. Please!”
Claire stared in surprise, but there
seemed no reason to deny so simple a request.
“And what am I to do when I get there?”
“Just stand still for a moment, and then walk
on... I’ll come after!”
Claire laughed, shrugged, and went
slowly forward along the flagged path, up the flower-sprinkled
stair, to pause beneath an arch of pink roses and
look back with an inquiring smile. Erskine was
standing where she had left him, but he did not smile
in response, while one might have counted twenty,
he remained motionless, his look grave and intent,
then he came quickly forward, leapt up the shallow
steps and stood by her side.
“Thank you!” he said tersely,
but that was all. Neither then or later came
any explanation of the strange request.
For a few moments there was silence,
then Erskine harked back to his former subject.
“Scottish scenery is very fine,
but for restful loveliness, Surrey is hard to beat.
You haven’t told me yet how you like our little
place, Miss Gifford! It’s on a very modest
scale, but I’m fond of it. There’s
a homey feeling about it that one misses in bigger
places, and the mater is a genius at gardening, and
gets the maximum of effect out of the space.
Are you fond of a garden?”
“I’ve never had one!”
Claire said, and sighed at the thought. “That’s
one of the Joys that does not go with a roving
life! I’ve never been able to have as
many flowers as I wanted, or to choose the right foliage
to go with them, or to pick them with the dew on their
leaves.” She paused, smitten with a sudden
recollection. “One day this year, a close,
smouldering oven-ey day, I came in from school and
found-a box full of roses! There
were dewdrops on the leaves, or what looked
like dewdrops. They were as fresh as if they
had been gathered an hour before. Dozens of
roses, with great long stems. They made my room
into a bower.”
“Really! Did they?
How very jolly,” was Erskine’s comment.
His voice sounded cool and unperturbed,
and Claire did not venture to look at his face.
She thought with a pang, that perhaps after all she
had been mistaken. Perhaps Mrs Willoughby had
been the real donor ... perhaps he had never thought...
She hurried on terrified lest her thoughts might
“Mrs Fanshawe has been so kind,
allowing me to send boxes of fruit and flowers to
a friend in hospital. One of our mistresses,
who is being treated for rheumatism.”
“Poor creature!” said
the Captain with careless sympathy. “Dull
work being in hospital in this weather. How
have you been getting on with my mother, Miss Gifford?
I’m awfully glad to find you down here, though
I should have enjoyed showing you round myself.
I’m a bit jealous of the mater there!
She’s a delightful companion, isn’t she?
So keen and alert. I don’t know any woman
of her age who is so young in spirit. It’s
a great gift, but-” he paused, drew
another cigarette from his case, and stared at it
reflectively, “it has its drawbacks!”
“Yes. I can understand
that. It must be hard to feel young, to be
young in heart and mind, and to be handicapped by a
body that persists in growing old. I’ve
often thought how trying it must be.”
“I suppose so. Yes.
I’m afraid I wasn’t thinking about it
in that light. I was not discussing the position
from my mother’s point of view, but from-her
son’s! It would be easier sometimes to
deal with a placid old lady who was content with her
knitting, and cherished an old-fashioned belief in
the superiority of man! Well! let us say the
equality. But the mater won’t even grant
that. By virtue of her superior years she is
under the impression that she can still manage my
affairs better than I can myself, which, of course,
is a profound delusion!”
Looking at the firmly cut profile
it seemed ridiculous to think of any one managing
this man if it were not his will to be managed.
Mother and son were alike in possessing an obstinate
self-will. A conflict between them would be
no light thing. Woman-like, Claire’s sympathies
leant to the woman’s side.
“It must be very difficult for
a mother to realise that her son is really past her
control. And when she does, it must be
a painful feeling. It isn’t painful for
the son; it’s only annoying. The mother
Captain Fanshawe laughed, and looked
down at the girl’s face with admiring eyes.
“What a faculty you have of
seeing the other side! Do you always take the
part of the person who isn’t here? If so,
all the better for me this last week, when the mater
has been spinning stories of my obstinacy, and pig-headedness,
and general contradictiveness. I thought I had
better hurry home at once, before you learnt to put
me down as a hopeless bad lot!”
Claire stood still, staring with widened eyes.
home before-” She stopped short, furious
with herself for having taken any notice of the slip,
and Erskine gave a short embarrassed laugh, and cried
“Oh, I knew; of course I knew!
The rain was only an excuse. The real reason
was that as soon as I knew you were staying here, I
hadn’t patience to stay on. I stood it
for exactly three hours, thinking of you in this garden,
imagining walking about as we are walking now, and
then-I bolted for the afternoon train!”
Claire felt her cheeks flame, and
affected dignity to hide her deep, uncontrollable
“If I had been your hostess-”
“But you weren’t, you
see... You weren’t! For goodness’
sake don’t put yourself in her place next.
Be Claire Gifford for once, and say you are glad
to see me!” His eyes met hers and twinkled with
humour as he added solemnly. “There’s
not a single solitary convention that could possibly
be broken by being civil to a man in his own home!
Even your ultra sensitive conscience-”
“Never mind my sensitive conscience.
What I want to know is, how did you know? Who
told you that I was here?”
It was significant that the possibility
that Mrs Fanshawe had written of her guest never occurred
to Claire’s mind; that Erskine like herself
discounted such a possibility. He replied with
a matter-of-fact simplicity which left Claire marvelling
at the obtuseness of mankind-
“Janet, of course. Janet
Willoughby. We were staying in the same house.
We were talking of you yesterday morning, and comparing
notes generally. She said you were-oh!
quite a number of agreeable things- and
I agreed with her, with just one exception. She
considered that you were responsive. I said
I had never found any one less so. She said
you were always so ready to meet her halfway.
I complained that you refused to meet me at all.
I ... er ... told her how I felt about it, and she
said my chance was waiting if I choose to take it-that
you were staying here keeping the mater company.
Claire said nothing. She was
thinking deeply. For how many days had Janet
been staying in the same house with Erskine?
Perhaps a week, certainly several days, yet it had
been only yesterday morning that she had given the
news. Yesterday morning; and in three hours he
had flown! How was Janet faring now, while Claire
was walking in fairyland?
“You are not angry? Why
do you look so serious? Tell me you are not
sorry that I came?” said a deep voice close to
her ear, but before she had time to answer, footsteps
approached, and Mrs Fanshawe’s voice was heard
calling in raised accents-
“Erskine! are you there?
Give me your arm, dear; I am so tired. It’s
such a perfect night, that it seemed a shame to stay
indoors. The Major has been admiring `The Flowery
Way.’ It certainly looks its best to-night.”
She turned towards Major Humphreys with her light,
cynical laugh. “My son declares that it
is profanation to allow ordinary, commonplace mortals
to walk up those steps! He always escorts my
visitors round by another way. He is ungallant
enough to say that he has never yet seen a girl whom
he would care to watch walk up those steps in the
moonlight. She would have to be quite ideal in
every respect to fit into the picture. We’ll
go round by the lily garden, Erskine, and then I think
Miss Gifford and I will be off to bed. You men
will enjoy a smoke.”
For the next ten minutes Mrs Fanshawe
kept tight hold of her son’s arm, and Claire
talked assiduously to Major Humphreys. She knew
now why Erskine had asked her to walk ahead up “The