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"You're both clean daft together," said the old lady, with dancing eyes. "Well, I'll stop in one of your crying bedrooms--on conditions.
We'll talk about that later on. Where's the rest of the island, and how do you get to it?"
"Old ladies and luggage ride. We youngsters walk. There's Charles waiting for you at the carriage. There you are! Au revoir!"
As the young people breasted the steep, Pixley--forgetting entirely his vow never to do it on foot again--unfolded to them Lady Elspeth's idea, which simply was, that if the Red House could hold them all,--of which she had her doubts, in spite of his a.s.sertions,--they should all share expenses and such household duties as so large a party would involve.
"You see--if you don't mind it, Mrs. Graeme,"--with an apologetic look at Margaret,--"it will give the two old ladies something to do and will leave us young folks freer to get about."
"It's a capital arrangement if the old ladies don't mind. Mrs. Carre can get in another girl. It will keep them all busy seeing that we have enough to eat. But they'll soon get used to looking forward two or three days and ordering Friday's dinner on Tuesday."
"How long can you stop, old man?" asked Graeme.
"A fortnight--all being well," and there was a touch of soberness in it as he said that. "There's really nothing doing, and Ormerod's a good fellow and insisted on it."
"We can do heaps in a fortnight," said Miss Penny jubilantly. "However did you manage to catch Lady Elspeth?"
"She's a grand old lady. I found her with my mother when I got there.
She'd been with her ever since--since the trouble. And when I proposed bringing my mother she said at once that she was coming too. She had crows to pick with you two, and so on. I expect she thought my mother would feel things less if she was with her."
"She's an old dear," said Margaret. "They shall both have the very best time we can give them."
"I shall take them conger-eeling," said Graeme,--"and to Venus's Bath"
"And down the Boutiques and the Gouliots"--suggested Margaret.
"And ormering in Grande Greve," laughed Miss Penny, who had spent a day there on that alluring pursuit and had come home bruised and wet and dirty.
"Oh, there's lots of fun in store for them," said Graeme, laughing like a schoolboy out for a holiday. "And, as Hennie Penny says, we can do heaps in a fortnight."
Having made up their minds that there was no earthly reason why Charles Pixley and Hennie Penny should not be as happy as they were themselves, Margaret and Graeme saw to it that nothing should be awanting in the way of opportunity.
Miss Penny's natural goodness of heart impelled her to the most delicate consideration towards Mrs. Pixley. Hennie Penny, you see, had come bravely through dire troubles of her own, and tribulation softens the heart as it does the ormer. She antic.i.p.ated the nervous old lady's every want, soothed her bruised susceptibilities in a thousand hidden ways, tended her as lovingly as an only daughter might have done,--and all out of the sheer necessity of her heart, and with never a thought of reward other than the satisfaction of her own desire for the happiness of all about her.
Not that the others were one whit less considerate, but, in the natural course of things, Miss Penny's heart and time were, perhaps, a little more at liberty for outside service, and in Mrs. Pixley the opportunity met her half-way.
It is safe to say that the old lady had never in her life been so much made of. Margaret had always been gentle and sweet with her; but the cold white light of Mr. Pixley's unco' guidness had always cast a shadow upon the household, and Margaret had got from under it whenever the chance offered.
"You are very good to me, my dear," Charles heard his mother say to Hennie Penny, one day when they two were alone together and did not know anyone was near. "If I had ever had a daughter I would have liked her to be like you. How did you learn to be so thoughtful of other people?"
"I think it must have been through having come through lots of troubles of my own," said Hennie Penny simply.
"Troubles abound," said the tremulous old lady. "You have drawn the sting of yours and kept only the honey," which saying astonished Charles greatly. He had no idea his mother could say things like that.
She had had time to think plenty of them, indeed, but there had never been room for more than one shining light in the household and that had cast strong shadows.
Charles had gone quietly away smiling to himself, and had been in cheerful spirits for the rest of the day.
The first night, when the ladies had gone chattering upstairs to make sure that all the arrangements were in order, Graeme and Pixley sat out on the verandah smoking a final pipe.
The ladies' voices floated through the open windows as they pa.s.sed from room to room, and Graeme laughed softly. "What's up?" asked Pixley, gazing at him soberly.
"I was thinking of the changes here since the first night I slept in this house all by myself, and heard ghosts creeping about and all kinds of noises."
"Much jollier to hear _them_," said Charles, as Miss Penny's and Margaret's laughter came floating down the softness of the night.
"Ay, indeed! Very much jollier," and they smoked and listened.
No word had so far pa.s.sed between them as to the troubles that lay behind. There had, indeed, been no opportunity until now, and Graeme had no mind to broach the matter.
But Pixley had only been waiting till they could discuss things alone, and the time had come.
"It will take them months to get to the bottom of things over there,"
he said quietly. "I saw the accountants, and they say everything's in a dreadful mess. He must have been involved for years. It makes me absolutely sick to think of it all, Graeme, and him--"
"I'm sure it must, old chap. Why think of it? It's done, and it can't be undone, and everyone knows you had nothing to do with it."
"I know. Everyone is very kind, but I can't get rid of it. It's with me all the time like a dirty shadow."
"We'll chase it away. No place like Sark for getting rid of bogeys and worries."
"How things will come out it's impossible to say. I made special enquiries into Margaret's affairs, and it's quite certain he's tampered with her money, but they could not say yet to what extent. On the other hand, certain of her securities are intact, so everything is not gone. But what I wanted to say was this. I am determined that Margaret shall not suffer, whatever may have happened. Any deficiency I shall make good myself."
"My dear fellow, she would never hear of it."
"That's why I'm talking to you."
"Well, I won't hear of it either. As I told you before, it was a trouble to me when I heard she had any money. Whatever she had I settled on herself, and we can get on very well without it."
"All the same I'm not going to have her lose anything through my--through him. Neither you nor she can stop me doing what I like with my own money."
"We can refuse to touch it."
"That would be nonsense."
"Not half as bad as you crippling yourself for life to make good what you'd never made away with."
"It wouldn't do that," said Charles quietly. "Ormerod's a long-headed fellow, and we made some pretty good hits before the bottom dropped out of things. You must let me have my own way in this matter, Graeme, if it's only for my own peace of mind. I'm going to ask Miss Penny to be my wife. Do you think--"
"My dear fellow," said Graeme, jumping up and shaking him heartily by the hand, "that's the best bit of news I've heard since Meg said 'I will' in the church there. She's an absolutely splendid girl, is Hennie. Except Meg herself, I don't know any girl I admire so much.
She's as good and sweet as they make 'em, and for sound common-sense she's a perfect gold mine."
"And you don't think--?"
"I've never heard a hint of anyone else. Like me to ask Meg? She'd be sure to know. Girls talk of these things, you know."
"I don't know. Would it be quite--"