Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts

By

Arthur Moore

I

As the clock struck eight Sir Geoffrey Vincent cast aside the
dull society journal with which he had been beguiling the
solitude of his after-dinner coffee and cigar, and abandoned, with
an alacrity eloquent of long boredom, his possession of one of the
capacious chairs which invited repose in the dingy smoking-room
of an old-fashioned club. It had been reserved for him, after
twenty monotonous years of almost unbroken exile, spent, for the
most part, amid the jungles and swamps of Lower Burma, to
realise that a friendless man, alone in the most populous city of the
world, may encounter among thousands of his peers a desolation
more supreme than the solitude of the most ultimate wilderness ;
and he found himself wondering, a little savagely, why, after all,
he had expected his home-coming to be so different from the
reality that now confronted him. When he landed at Brindisi, a
short ten days ago, misgivings had already assailed him vaguely ;
the fact that he was practically homeless, that, although not
altogether bereft of kith and kin, he had no family circle to
welcome him as an addition to its circumference, had made it
inevitable that his rapid passage across the Continent should be

haunted

By Arthur Moore 113

haunted by forebodings to which he had not cared to assign a
shape too definite ; phantoms which he exorcised hopefully, with
a tacit reliance on a trick of falling on his feet which had seldom
failed his need. He consoled himself with the thought that
London was home, England was home ; he would meet old
comrades in the streets perhaps, assuredly at his club, and such
encounters would be so much the more delightful if they were
fortuitous, unexpected. The plans which he had laid so carefully
pacing the long deck of the P. and O. boat in the starlight, or,
more remotely, lying awake through the hot night hours under a
whining punkah in his lonely bungalow, had all implied, however
vaguely and impersonally, a certain companionship. He was dimly
conscious that he had cousins somewhere in the background ; he
had long since lost touch with them, but he would look them up.
He had two nieces, still in their teens, the children of his only
sister who had died ten years ago ; he had never seen them, but
their photographs were charming—they should be overwhelmed
with such benefactions as a bachelor uncle with a well-lined purse
may pleasantly bestow. His friends—the dim legion that was to
rise about his path—should take him to see Sarah Bernhardt (a
mere name to him as yet) at the Gaiety, to the new Gilbert and
Sullivan opera at the Savoy ; they should enlighten him as to the
latent merits of the pictures at Burlington House ; they should
dine with him, shoot with him, be introduced to his Indian
falcons ; in a word, he would keep open house, in town and
country too, for all good fellows and their pretty wives. It had
even occurred to him, as a possibility neither remote nor unattrac-
tive, that he might himself one day possess a pretty wife to
welcome them.

His sanguine expectations encountered their first rebuff when
he found the Piccadilly Club, which had figured so often in the

dreams

114 Second Thoughts

dreams of its exiled member, abandoned to a horde of workmen,
a mere wilderness of paint and whitewash ; and it was with a
touch of resentment that he accepted the direction of an indifferent
hall-porter to an unfamiliar edifice in Pall Mall as its temporary
substitute. Entering the smoking-room, a little diffidently, on
the evening of his arrival in London, he found himself eyed, at
first with faint curiosity, by two or three of the men upon whom
his gaze rested expectantly, but in no case was this curiosity—
prompted doubtless by that touch of the exotic which sometimes
clings to dwellers in the East—the precursor of the kindly
recognition, the surprised, incredulous greeting which he had
hoped for. After a few days he was simply ignored ; his face,
rather stern, with its distinctive Indian tan through which the
grey eyes looked almost blue, his erect figure, and dark hair
sparsely flecked with a frosty white, had become familiar ; he had
visited his tailor, and his garments no longer betrayed him to the
curious by their fashion of Rangoon.

The Blue-book, which he had been quick to interrogate,
informed him that his old friend Hibbert lived in Portman Square,
and that the old lady who was the guardian of his nieces had a
house at Hampstead : further inquiry at the addresses thus
obtained left him baffled by the intelligence that Colonel
Hibbert was in Norway, his nieces at school in Switzerland.
Mackinnon, late of the Woods and Forests, whom he met at
Burlington House, raised his hopes for an instant by a greeting
which sounded precisely the note of cordiality that he yearned for,
only to dash them by expressing a hope that he should see more
of his old friend in the autumn ; he was off to Southampton to
join a friend's yacht on the morrow, and after his cruise he had
designs on Scotland and the grouse.

Sir Geoffrey, chained to the neighbourhood of London by legal

business

By Arthur Moore 115

business, already too long deferred, connected with the succession
which had made him a rich man and brought him home, could
only rebel mutely against the ill-fortune which left him solitary
at a time when he most longed for fellowship, acknowledging the
while, with a touch of self-reproach, that the position which he
resented was very largely due to his own shortcomings ; he had
always figured as a lamentably bad correspondent, and his invete-
rate aversion to letter-writing had allowed the links of many old
friendships to fall asunder, had operated to leave such friends as
were still in touch with him in ignorance of his home-coming.

Now, as he paused in the hall of his club to light a cigarette
before passing out into the pleasant July twilight, he told himself
that for the present he had done with London ; he would shake
the dust of the inhospitable city from off his feet, and go down to
the place in Wiltshire which was learning to call him master, to
await better days in company with his beloved falcons. He even
found himself taking comfort from this prospect while a hansom
bore him swiftly to the Savoy Theatre, and when he was safely
ensconced in his stall he beguiled the interval before the rising of
the curtain—a period which his impatience to escape from the club
rather than any undue passion for punctuality had made somewhat
lengthy—by considering, speculatively, the chances of society
which the Willescombe neighbourhood seemed to afford. He
enjoyed the first act of the extravaganza with the zest of a man to
whom the work of the famous collaborators was an entire novelty,
his pleasure unalloyed by the fact, of which he was blissfully uncon-
scious, that one of the principal parts was played by an understudy.
His ennui returning with the fall of the curtain, he prepared to
spend the entr'acte in contemplation of the people who composed
the house, rather than to incur the resentment of the placid
dowagers who were his neighbours, by passing and repassing, like

the

116 Second Thoughts

the majority of his fellow-men, in search of the distant haven where
cigarettes and drinks, obtained with difficulty, could be hastily
appreciated. More than once his wandering eyes returned to a
box next the stage on a dress-circle tier, and finally they rested
rather wistfully on its occupants, or, to be more accurate, on the
younger of the two ladies who were seated in front. It was not
simply because the girl was pretty, though her beauty, the flower-
like charm of a young Englishwoman fresh from the schoolroom,
a fine example of a type not particularly rare, would have furnished
a sufficient pretext : he was struck by a resemblance, a haunting
reminiscence, which at first exercised his curiosity, and ended by
baffling and tantalising him. There was something vaguely
familiar, he thought, in the manner of her smile, the inclination of
her head as she turned now and then to address a remark to her
companion, the lady in grey, whose face was hidden from him by
the drapery at the side of the box. When she laughed, furling a
feathery fan, and throwing a bright glance back at the gentleman
whose white shirt-front was dimly visible in the background, Sir
Geoffrey felt himself on the verge of solving his riddle, but at this
point, while a name seemed to tremble on his lips, the lights of the
auditorium were lowered, and the rising of the curtain on the
fairyland of the second scene diverted his attention to the stage.
Later, when he had passed into the crowded lobby, and was making
his way slowly through a jungle of pretty dresses towards the
door, he recognised in front of him the amber-coloured hair and
dainty, pale-blue opera cloak of the damsel who had puzzled him.
The two ladies (her companion of the grey dress was close at
hand) halted near the door while their cavalier passed out in search
of their carriage ; the elder lady turned, adjusting a cloud of soft
lace about her shoulders, and Sir Geoffrey was struck on the instant
by a swift thrill. Here, at last, was an old friend—that face could

belong

By Arthur Moore 117

belong to no one else than Margaret Addison. It was natural that
her maiden name should first occur to him, but he remembered, as
he edged his way laboriously towards her, that she had married just
after he sailed for Burma ; yes, she had married that amiable scape-
grace Dick Vandeleur, who had met his death in the hunting-field
nearly fifteen years ago.

As he drew near, Mrs. Vandeleur's gaze fell upon him for a
brief instant ; he thought that she had not recognised him, but
before his spirits had time to suffer any consequent depression, her
eyes returned to him, and as he smiled in answer to the surprise
which he read in them, he saw her face flush, and then grow a little
pale, before a responsive light of recognition dawned upon it. She
took his hand silently when he offered it, eyeing him with the
same faint smile, an expression in which welcome seemed to be
gleaming through a cloud of apprehension.

"I'm not a ghost," he said, laughing ; "I'm Geoffrey Vincent.
Don't be ashamed of owning that you had quite forgotten me !"

"I knew you at once," she said simply. "So you are home at
last : you must come and see me as soon as you can. This is my
daughter Dorothy, and here is my brother—of course you re-
member Philip ?—coming to tell us that the carriage is waiting.
You will come, to-morrow—to prove that you are not a ghost ?
We shall expect you."

II

A fortnight later Sir Geoffrey was sitting in a punt, beguiling
the afternoon of a rainy day by luring unwary roach to their de-
struction with a hair-line and pellets of paste, delicately kneaded
by the taper fingers of Miss Dorothy Vandeleur. He was the

guest

118 Second Thoughts

guest of Mrs. Vandeleur's brother, his school friend, Philip Addison
the Q.C., and Mrs. Vandeleur and her daughter were also staying
at the delighful old Elizabethan house which nestled, with such an
air of immemorial occupation, halfway down the wooded side of
one of the Streatley hills, its spotless lawn sloping steeply to the
margin of the fairest river in the world. Miss Vandeleur had
enshrined herself among a pile of rugs and cushions at the stern of
the punt, where the roof of her uncle's boat-house afforded shelter
from the persistent rain. She was arrayed in the blue serge dear
to the modern water-nymph ; and at intervals she relieved her feel-
ings by shaking a small fist at the leaden vault of sky. For the
rest, her attention was divided impartially between her novel, with
which she did not seem to make much progress, her fox-terrier
Sancho, and the slowly decreasing lump of paste, artfully compounded
with cotton-wool for consistency, with which, as occasion arose, she
ministered to her companion's predatory needs. The capture of a
fish was followed inevitably by a disarrangement of her nest of
cushions, and a pathetic petition for its instant release and restora-
tion to the element from which it had been untimely inveigled.
Occasionally, the rain varied the monotony of the dolorous drizzle
by a vehement and spirited downpour, lasting for some minutes,
prompting one of the occupants of the punt to remark, with mis-
placed confidence, that it must clear up soon, after that. Then
Sir Geoffrey would abandon his rod, and beat a retreat to the stern
of the punt ; and during these interludes, much desultory conver-
sation ensued. Once, Miss Vandeleur startled her companion by
asking, suddenly, how it was that he seemed so absurdly young ?

"I hope I am not rude ?" she added, "but really you do strike
me as almost the youngest person I know. You are much younger
than Jack—Mr. Wilgress—for instance, and it's only about three
years since he left Eton."

Sir

By Arthur Moore 119

Sir Geoffrey smiled, wondering a little whether the girl was
laughing at him ; for though a man of forty-seven, who has for
twenty years successfully resisted a trying climate, may consider
himself as very far from the burden of old age, it was conceivable
that the views of a maiden in her teens might be very different.

"It's because I am having such a good time," he hazarded.
"You and your mother are responsible, you know ; before I met
you at the Savoy, on that memorable evening, I was feeling as
blue as—as the sky ought to be if it had any decency, and at least
as old as the river. I suppose it's true that youth and good spirits
are contagious."

Dorothy gazed at him for a moment reflectively."How lucky
it was that Uncle Philip took us to the theatre on that evening !
It was just a chance. And we might never have met you."

"It was lucky for me!" declared the other simply. "But
would you have cared ?"

"Of course!" said the girl promptly, but lowering her blue
eyes. "You see, I have never known a real live hero before.
Do tell me about your fight in the hill-fort, or how you caught
the Dacoits ! Uncle Philip says that you ought to have had the
V.C."

Sir Geoffrey replied by a little disparaging murmur. "Oh, it
was quite a commonplace affair—all in the day's work. Any one
else would have done the same."

Dorothy settled herself back among her cushions resentfully,
clasping her hands, rather sunburned, across her knees.

"I should like to see them !" she declared contemptuously.
"That's just what that Jack Wilgress said—at least he implied
it. It is true, he apologised afterwards. How I despise Oxford
boys !"

"I thought he was a very good fellow," said Sir Geoffrey,

diplomatically

120 Second Thoughts

diplomatically turning the subject from his own achievements,
"I suppose it might improve him to have something to do ; but he
strikes me as a very good specimen of the ornamental young
man."

"Ornamental !" echoed Dorothy sarcastically. " It would do
him good to have to work for his living."

"Poor beggar, he couldn't help being born with a silver spoon
in his mouth—it isn't his fault."

"Spoon!" exclaimed Miss Vandeleur. "A whole dinner
service I should think. A soup-ladle at the very least. It's quite
big enough : perhaps that accounts for it !"

The girl laughed, swaying back, with the grace of her years,
against her cushions ; then, observing that her companion's grave
grey eyes were fixed upon her, she grew suddenlv demure, sighing
with a little air of penitence.

"I am very wicked to-day," she confessed. "It's the rain, I
suppose, and want of exercise. Do you ever feel like that, Sir
Geoffrey ? Do you ever get into an omnibus and simply loathe
and detest every single person in it ? Do you long to swear—
real swears, like our army in Flanders—at everybody you meet,
just because it's rainy or foggy, and because they are all so ugly
and horrid ? I do, frequently."

"I know, I know," said the other sympathetically, while he
reeled in his line and deftly untied the tiny hook. "Only, the
omnibus has not figured very often in my case ; it has generally
been a hot court-house, or a dusty dak-bungalow full of com-
mercial travellers. But I don't feel like that now, at all. I hope
I am not responsible for your frame of mind ?"

"Oh," protested Dorothy, "don't make me feel such an
abandoned wretch ! I should have been much worse if you had
not been here. I should have quarrelled with Uncle Phil, or

been

By Arthur Moore 121

been rude to my mother, or something dreadful. I'm perfectly
horrid to her sometimes. And as it is, I have let her go up to
town all alone—to see my dressmaker."

Sir Geoffrey stood up and began to take his rod to pieces.
"And are you quite sure that you haven't been 'loathing and
detesting' me all the afternoon ?"

Dorothy picked up her novel and smoothed its leaves reflectively.

"I—— But no. I won't make you too conceited. Look, the
sun is actually coming out ! Don't you think we might take the
Canadian up to the weir ? You really ought to be introduced to
the big chub under the bridge."

The rain had almost ceased, and when they had transferred
themselves into the dainty canoe, a few strokes of the paddle
which Miss Vandeleur wielded with such effective grace swept
them out into a full flood of delicate evening sunlight. The sky
smiled blue through rapidly increasing breaks in the clouds ; the
sunbeams, slanting from the west, touched with pale gold the
quivering trees, which seemed to lift their wet branches and
spread their leaves to court the warm caress. A new radiance of
colour crept into the landscape, as if it had been a picture from
which a smoky glass was withdrawn ; the water grew very still—
this too was in the manner of a picture—with the peace of a
summer evening, brimming with an unbroken surface luminously
from bank to bank. Strange guttural cries of water-birds
sounded from the reed-beds ; from the next reach came the
rhythmic pulse of oars, faint splashes, and the brisk rattle of row-
locks ; voices and laughter floated down from the lock, travelling
far beyond belief in the hushed stillness of the evening. The
wake of the light canoe trailed unbroken to the shadows of the
boathouse, and the wet paddle gleamed as it slid through the
water. Presently Dorothy stayed her hand.

"What

122 Second Thoughts

"What an enchanting world it is !" she murmured, with wide eyes
full of the glamour of the setting sun. "Beautiful, beautiful——!
How soon one forgets the fogs, and rain, and cold ! I feel as if I
had lived in this fairyland always."

Her lips trembled a little as she spoke, and Sir Geoffrey found
something in the pathos of her youth which held him silent.
When they broke the spell of silence, their words were trivial,
perhaps, but the language was that of old friends, simple and
direct. Sir Geoffrey at least, for whom the charm of the occasion
was a gift so rare that he scarcely dared to desecrate it by mental
criticism, was far from welcoming the interruption which presently
occurred, in the shape of a youth, arrayed in immaculate flannels and
the colours of a popular rowing club, who hailed them cheerfully
from a light skiff, resting on his sculls and drifting alongside while
he rolled a cigarette.

III

Dorothy sank down, rather wearily, in the low basket-chair
which stood near the open window of her mother's bedroom—
a tall French window, with a wide balcony overrun by climbing
roses, and a view of the river, and waited for Mrs. Vandeleur to
dismiss her maid. As she lay there, adjusting absently the loose
tresses of her hair, she could feel the breath of the faint breeze as
it wandered, gathering a light burden of fragrance, through the
dusky roses ; she could see the river, dimly, where the moonbeams
touched its ripples, and once or twice the sound of voices reached
her from the distant smoking-room. The closing of the door as
the maid went out disturbed her reverie, and turning a little in her
chair she found her mother regarding her thoughtfully.

"No,"

By Arthur Moore 123

"No," said Dorothy, swiftly interpreting her mother's glance.
"You mustn't send me away, my pretty little mother. I'll promise
not to catch cold. I haven't been able to talk to you all day."

Mrs. Vandeleur half closed the window, and then seated herself
with an expression of resignation on the arm of her daughter's
chair. In the dim light shed by the two candles on the dressing-
table, one would have thought them two sisters, plotting innocently
the discomfiture of man. The occasion did not prove so stimu-
lating to conversation as might have been expected. For a few
minutes both were silent ; Dorothy began to hum an air from the
Savoy opera, rather recklessly ; she kicked off one of her slippers,
and it fell on the polished oak floor with a little clatter.

"Little donkey !" murmured her mother sweetly. "So much
for your talking. I'm going to bed at once." Then she added,
carelessly, "Did you see Jack to-day ?"

The humming paused abruptly ; then it went on for a second,
and paused again.

"Oh yes, the inevitable Mr. Wilgress was on the river, as
usual. He nearly ran us down in that idiotic skiff of his."

Mrs. Vandeleur raised her eyebrows, gazing at her unconscious
daughter reflectively.

"You didn't see him alone, then ?" she inquired presently.

"Who ? Mr. Wilgress ? Ye-es, I think so. When we got
back to the boathouse he insisted on taking me out again in the
canoe, to show me the correct Indian stroke. Much he knows
about it ! That's why I was so late for dinner. Oh, please
don't talk about Mr. Wilgress."

"Mr. Wilgress again?" murmured Mrs. Vandeleur. "I
thought it always used to be 'Jack.'"

"Only, only by accident, said the girl weakly. "And when
he wasn't there."

"Well,

124 Second Thoughts

"Well, he isn't here now. At least I hope not. You—you
haven't quarrelled, have you Dolly ?"

"No—yes. I don't know. He—he asked me—oh, he was
ridiculous. How I hate boys—and jealousy."

Mrs. Vandeleur shivered, then rose abruptly and closed the
window against which she leaned, gazing down at the formless
mass of the shrubs which cowered over their shadows on the lawn.
Her mind, vaguely troubled for some days past, and now keenly on
the alert, travelled swiftly back, bridging a space of nearly twenty
years, to a scene strangely like this, in which she and her mother
had held the stage. She too, a girl then of Dorothy's eighteen
years, had brought the halting story of her doubts and scruples to
her natural counsellor : she could remember still how the instinct
of reticence had struggled with the yearning for sympathy, for the
comfort of the confessional. She could recall now and appreciate
her mother's tact and patient questioning, her own perversity, the
dumbness which seemed independent of her own volition. A
commonplace page of life. Two men at her feet, and the girl
unskilled to read her heart : one had spoken—that was Dick
Vandeleur, careless, brilliant, the heir to half a county ; the other
— her old friend ; she could not bear to think of him now.
Knowledge had come too late, and the light which made her
wonder scornfully at her blindness. And her mother—she of
course had played the worldly part ; but her counsel had been
honest, without bias : it were cruel to blame her now. Loyal
though she was, Margaret Vandeleur had asked herself an hundred
times, yielding to that love of threading a labyrinth which rules
most women, what would have been the story of her life if she had
steeled herself to stand or fall by her own judgment, if she had
refused to allow her mother to drop into the wavering scale the
words which had turned it, ever so slightly, in favour of the

richer

By Arthur Moore 125

richer man, the man whom she had married, whose name she
bore.

It seemed plain enough, to a woman's keen vision—what sense
so subtle, yet so easily beguiled—that Dorothy's choice was
embarrassed, just as her own had been. The girl and her two
admirers—how the old story repeated itself !—one, Jack Wilgress,
the good-natured, good-looking idler, whose devotion to the river
threatened to make him amphibious, and whose passion for
scribbling verse bade fair to launch him adrift among the cockle-
shell fleet of Minor Poets ; the other—Geoffrey Vincent ! To
call upon Margaret Vandeleur to guide her daughter's choice
between two men of whom Geoffrey Vincent was one—surely
here was the end and crown of Fate's relentless irony. She felt
herself blushing as she pressed her forehead against the cool
window-pane, put to shame by the thoughts which the comparison
suggested, which would not be stifled. Right or wrong, at least
her mother had been impartial : there was a sting in this, a
failure of her precedent. She sighed, concluding mutely that silence
was her only course ; even if she would, she could not follow in her
mother's footsteps—the girl must abide by her own judgment.

When she turned, smiling faintly, the light of the flickering
candles fell upon her face, betraying a pallor which startled
Dorothy from her reverie. She sprang from her chair, reproaching
her selfishness.

"You poor, tired, little mother," she murmured penitently, with
a hasty kiss. "How could I be so cruel as to keep you up after
your journey ! I'm a wretch, but I'm really going now. Good-
night."

"Good-night," said her mother, caressing the vagrant coils of the
girl's amber-coloured hair. "Don't worry yourself; everything
will come right if—if you listen to your own heart."

Dorothy's

126 Second Thoughts

Dorothy's answer was precluded by another kiss. "It's so full
of you that it can't be bothered to think of any one else," she
declared plaintively, as she turned towards the door. Then she
paused, fingering nervously a little heap of books which lay upon
a table. "He—he isn't so very old, you know," she murmured
softly before she made her escape.

When she was alone Mrs. Vandeleur sank into the chair which
her daughter had just quitted, nestling among the cushions and
knitting her brows in thought. The clock on the mantelpiece
had struck twelve before she rose, and then she paused for an
instant in front of the looking-glass, gazing into it half timidly
before she extinguished the candles. The face which she saw
there was manifestly pretty, in spite of the trouble which lurked in
the tired eyes, and when she turned away, a hovering smile was
struggling with the depression at the corners of the delicate,
mobile lips.

IV

When Sir Geoffrey returned to Riverside, three days later,
after a brief sojourn in London, spent for the most part at the
office of his solicitor in Lincoln's Inn, he found Mrs. Vandeleur
presiding over a solitary tea-table in a shady corner of the garden.
A few chairs sociably disposed under the gnarled walnut-tree, and
a corresponding number of empty tea-cups, suggested that her
solitude had not been of long duration, and this impression was
confirmed when Mrs. Vandeleur told her guest that if he had
presented himself a short quarter of an hour earlier he would have
been welcomed in a manner more worthy of his deserts.

Sir Geoffrey drew one of the low basket chairs up to the table,

protesting,

By Arthur Moore 127

protesting, as he accepted a cup of tea, that he could not have
wished for better fortune.

"This is very delightful," he declared. "I don't regret the
tardiness of my train in the least. The other charming people are
on the river, I suppose ?"

Mrs. Vandeleur nodded. "Yes, the Patersons have just taken
up their quarters in that house-boat, which you must have noticed,
near the lock, and my brother and Dorothy have gone with Jack
Wilgress and his sisters to call upon them. You ought to have
seen Daisy Wilgress ; she is very pretty."

Sir Geoffrey smiled gravely, sipping his tea.

"If she is prettier than your daughter, Miss Wilgress must be
very dangerous. But I must see her with my own eyes before I
believe that."

"Oh, she is !" declared Mrs. Vandeleur, laughing lightly, but
throwing a quick glance at him. "Ask Philip; he is more
wrapped up in her than he has been in anything since his first
brief."

"Poor Philip !" said the other quietly, stooping to pick a fallen
leaf from the grass at his feet. "I—I have a fellow-feeling for
him."

"You know you may smoke if you want to," interposed Mrs.
Vandeleur, rather hurriedly. "And perhaps—if you really won't
have any more tea—you might like to go in pursuit of the other
people ; I don't think they have taken all the boats. But I
daresay you are tired ? London is so fatiguing—and business."

Sir Geoffrey smiled, his white teeth showing pleasantly against
the tan of his lean, good-humoured face.

"I am rather tired, I believe," he owned. "I have been
spending a great deal of time in my solicitor's waiting-room,
pretending to read The Times. And I have been thinking—that is

The Yellow Book—Vol. III. H

always

128 Second Thoughts

always fatiguing. If I am not in your way, I should like to stay
here."

Mrs. Vandeleur professed her satisfaction by a polite little
murmur, leaning forward in her chair to marshal the scattered
tea-cups on the tray, while Sir Geoffrey watched her askance,
rather timidly, with a keen appreciation of the subtle charm of her
personality ; her face, like a perfect cameo, or some rare pale flower,
seeming to have gained rather in beauty by the deliberate passage
from youth ; winning, just as some pictures do, an added grace of
refinement, a delicacy, which the slight modification of contours
served only to intensify.

"I told you just now that I had been thinking," he said
presently, when she had resumed her task of embroidering initials
in the corner of a handkerchief : "would it surprise you if I said
that I had been thinking of you ?"

Mrs. Vandeleur raised her eyebrows slightly, her gaze still intent
upon her patient needle.

"Perhaps it was natural that you should think of us," she
hazarded.

"But I meant you," he continued ; "you, the Margaret of the
old days, before I went away. For I used to call you 'Margaret'
then. We were great friends, you know."

"I have always thought of you as a friend," she said simply.
"Yes, we were great friends before—before you went away."

"It doesn't seem so long ago to me," he declared, almost plain-
tively, struck by something in the tone of her voice. Mrs.
Vandeleur smiled tolerantly, scrutinising her embroidery, with
her head poised on one side, a little after the manner of a
bird.

"And now that I have found you again," he added with inten-
tion, dropping his eyes till they rested on the river, rippling past

the

By Arthur Moore 129

the wooden landing-stage below in the sunshine, "I—I don't
want to lose you, Margaret !"

Mrs. Vandeleur met this declaration with a smile, which was
courteous rather than cordial, merely acknowledging, as of right,
the propriety of the aspiration, treating it as quite conventional.
The simplicity of the gesture testified eloquently of the discipline
of twenty years ; only a woman would have detected the shadow
of apprehension in her eyes, the trembling of the hands which
seemed so placidly occupied. Her mind was already anxiously on the
alert, racing rapidly over the now familiar ground which she had
quartered of late so heedfully. For her, his words were ominous ;
it was of Dorothy surely that he wished to speak, and yet——!
In the stress of expectation her thoughts took strange flights,
following vague clues fantastically. The inveterate habit of retro-
spection carried her back, in spite of her scruples; her honest desire
to think singly of Dorothy, regarding the fortune of her own
life as irrevocably settled, impelled her irresistibly to call to the
stage of her imagination a scene which she had often set upon it,
a duologue, entirely fictive, which might, but for her perversity,
have been enacted—twenty years ago.

Sir Geoffrey rose, and stood leaning with one hand on the back
of his chair. This interruption—or perhaps it was the sound of
oars and voices which floated in growing volume from the river—
served to recall his companion to the present. The silence, of
brief duration actually, seemed intolerable. She must break it,
and when she spoke it was to name her daughter, aimlessly.

"Dorothy ?" repeated Sir Geoffrey, as she paused. "She is
extraordinarily like you were before I went away. Not that you
are changed—it is delightful to come back and find you the same.
It's only when she is with you that I can realise that there is a
difference, a——"

"I was

130 Second Thoughts

"I was never so good as Dorothy," put in Mrs. Vandeleur
quickly ; "she will never have the same reason to blame her-
self—— I don't think you could imagine what she has been
to me."

"I think I can," said Sir Geoffrey simply. Then he added,
rather shyly : "Really, we seem to be very good friends already :
it's very nice of her—it would be so natural for her to—to resent
the intrusion of an old fellow like me."

"You need not be afraid of that ; she looks upon you as—as a
friend already."

"Thank you !" murmured the other. "And you think she
might grow to—to like me, in time ?"

Mrs. Vandeleur nodded mutely. Sir Geoffrey followed for a
moment the deliberate entry and re-entry of her needle, reflect-
ively ; then, as his eyes wandered, he realised vaguely that a boat
had reached the landing-stage, and that people were there : he
recognised young Wilgress and Miss Vandeleur.

"You said just now that you always thought of me as a friend,"
he began. "I wonder—— Oh ! it's no good," he added quickly,
with a nervous movement of his hands, "I can't make pretty
speeches ! After all, it's simple ; why should I play the coward ?
I can take 'no' for answer, if the worst comes to the worst,
and—— Margaret, I know it's asking a great deal, but—I
want you to marry me."

She cast a swift, startled glance at him, turning in her chair,
and then dropped her eyes, asking herself bewilderedly whether this
was still some fantasy. The words which he murmured now,
pleading incoherently with her silence, confirmed the hopes which,
in spite of her scrupulous devotion, refused to be gainsaid, thrusting
themselves shamelessly into the foreground of her troubled thoughts.
An inward voice, condemned by her wavering resolution as a

whisper

By Arthur Moore 131

whisper from the lips of treachery, suggested plausibly that after
all Dorothy might have made a mistake ; she repelled it fiercely,
taking a savage pleasure in her pain, accusing herself, with vehe-
ment blame, as one who would fain stand in the way of her
daughter's happiness. Even if she had deserved these fruits of late
harvest which seemed to dangle within her grasp, even if her
right to garner them had not been forfeited long ago by her
folly of the past, how could she endure to figure as a rival,
triumphing in her own daughter's discomfiture ? Womanly
pride and a thousand scruples barred the way.

"I love you," she heard him say again ; "I believe I have
always loved you since—— But you know how it was in the
old days."

"Don't remind me of that !" she pleaded, almost fiercely ; "I
was—I can't bear to think of what I did ! You ought not to
forgive me ; I don't deserve it."

"Forgive ?" he echoed, blankly.

"Oh, you are generous—but it is impossible, impossible ; it is
all a mistake ; let us forget it."

"I don't understand ! Is it that—that you don't care for me ?"

Margaret gave a despairing little sigh, dropping her hands on
the sides of her chair.

"You don't know," she murmured. "It isn't right. No—
oh, it must be No !"

Sir Geoffrey echoed her sigh. As he watched her silently, the
instinct of long reticence making his forbearance natural, he saw
a new expression dawn into her troubled face. Her eyes were
fixed intently on the river ; that they should be fixed was not
strange, but there was a light of interest in them which induced
Sir Geoffrey, half involuntarily, to bend his gaze in the same
direction. He saw that Dorothy had now disembarked, and was

standing,

132 Second Thoughts

standing, a solitary figure, close to the edge of the landing-stage.
Something in her pose seemed to imply that she was talking, and
just at this moment she moved to one side, revealing the head and
shoulders of Jack Wilgress, which overtopped the river-bank in
such a manner as to suggest that he was standing in the punt, of
which the bamboo pole rose like a slender mast above his head.
The group was certainly pictorial : the silhouette of Dorothy's
pretty figure telling well against the silvery river, and the young
man's pose, too, lending itself to an effective bit of composition ;
but Sir Geoffrey felt puzzled, and even a little hurt, by the interest
that Margaret displayed at a moment which he at least had found
sufficiently strenuous. He turned, stooping to pick up his hat ;
then he paused, and was about to speak, when Mrs. Vandeleur
interrupted him, mutely, with a glance, followed swiftly by the
return of her eyes to the river. Acquiescing patiently, Sir
Geoffrey perceived that a change had occurred in the grouping of
the two young people. Wilgress had drawn nearer to the girl ;
his figure stood higher against the watery background, apparently
he had one foot on the step of the landing-stage. Dorothy
extended a hand, which he clasped and held longer than one would
have reckoned for in the ordinary farewell. The girl shook her
head ; another movement, and the punt began to glide reluctantly
from the shore ; then it turned slowly, swinging round and
heading down-stream. Dorothy raised one hand to the bosom of
her dress, and before she dropped it to her side threw something
maladroitly towards her departing companion. Wilgress caught
the flower—it was evidently a flower—making a dash which
involved the loss of his punt-pole ; a ripple of laughter, and
Dorothy, unconscious of the four eyes which watched her from
the shadows of the walnut tree, turned slowly, and began to climb
the grassy slope.

Mrs. Vandeleur's

By Arthur Moore 133

Mrs. Vandeleur's eyelids drooped, and her lips, which had been
parted for an instant in a pensive smile, trembled a little ; she
sighed, tapping the ground lightly with her foot, then sank back in
her chair and seemed lost in contemplation of the needlework that
lay upon her lap. Sir Geoffrey began to move away, but turned
suddenly, and stooping, took one of her hands reverently in his
own, clasping it as it lay upon the arm of her chair.

"Margaret," he said, "forgive me; but must it be good-bye,
after all these years, or is there a chance for me ?"

Mrs. Vandeleur's reply was inaudible ; but her hand, though it
fluttered for a moment, was not withdrawn.





MLA citation: Moore, Arthur. "Second Thoughts." The Yellow Book 3 (Oct. 1894): 112-33. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV3_moore_second.html