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"I will speak to the Duchess presently and make it all right. You would rather go home than stay in London, then?"
"Oh, so very much rather! The only thing is that father may think I ought to have stayed here longer."
"Not unless he has changed his mind since he wrote to me last week. He described himself then as a forlorn and deserted old man and said he was longing for you to come back. If he hasn't said as much in writing to you, that was only because he was afraid of spoiling your holiday."
"But holidays are spent at home," Monica declared. "That is," she added, remembering bygone holidays, "when one has a home to go to. I always used to dream of Lannowe and wish myself back there in the summer, and it is just as delightful as I hoped it would be."
She described her home life, so far as it had gone, and although it did not sound particularly exciting or exhilarating, she declared that she asked for nothing better. There were upon the estate a certain number of poor people of her own faith and there was a certain amount of work to be done amongst them; besides which she had her household duties, for which it seemed that she possessed some aptitude. Incidentally she mentioned Nigel Scarth as a neighbour who promised to be interesting, and related the episode whereby she had been made acquainted with him. At this Gervase pricked up his ears.
"Ah, the unfrocked monk!" said he. "One has a sort of prejudice, somehow, against unfrocked monks."
"But he was never a monk," Monica protested rather eagerly, "and he would not have left the community if he had not been led to believe that it was his duty. He thinks, as I do, that the religious life is the happiest of
all lives; he would not have given it up unless he had been obliged."
"Probably his self-sacrifice will be rewarded," observed Gervase. Then, feeling a little ashamed of speaking in that tone about a man of whom he knew nothing, he added: "Free will, after all, is such a restricted gift that one may very well doubt whether it really exists at all.”
"I don't covet it," the girl said; "I would always rather be told what to do."
She was told what to do at that juncture by the Duke of Leith, who bustled up and said, in a complaining voice:
"I wish to goodness, Monica, you would go and look whether I have left my spectacles in the library or in the dining-room. What is the use of people coming and thrusting letters under my nose when I can't possibly read them?"
He spoke as if Monica had been to blame for his defective eyesight; but that was his usual method, and his colleagues, who were accustomed to it, recognised that for purposes of defence it was not without merits.
"Did you ever," he asked, as soon as the girl had obediently departed on her errand, "see anybody so unlike her sisters as that child?"
"She is not very much like them," Gervase agreed.
"Oh, I'm not reproaching her; I merely state a fact which must be apparent to everybody. And then Lord Lannowe expects us to make a great marriage for her!"
"Perhaps," said Gervase, "he is not so unreasonable as all that; perhaps he would be as glad to have her home again as she would be to return to him. I was talking about it to the Duchess just now, and she seemed to think that Miss Ferrand has been long enough in London."
"Oh, very well-very well!" grumbled the Duke; "settle it amongst you. Monica has made herself useful to me in many ways of late, and I shall be sorry to lose her; but my convenience is the last thing that is likely to be studied."
When the Duke of Leith represented any course of action in the light of a personal grievance it might safely be assumed that that course had his secret approval, and Gervase, on resuming his conversation with the Duchess, felt pretty confident of obtaining the desired release for his young friend. The Duchess, who had concealed herself behind a large fan in order to yawn unrestrainedly, said at once:
"I am so glad you agree with me! I have done my best-you can bear witness that I have done my best."
"I am sure you have."
"Yes; but I can't create a demand which doesn't exist, can I? And really the more I think of it the more I feel that that young Scarth is marked out for her by Providence."
"Well-if she thinks so."
"She doesn't think anything; that is the best of convents. One sees what the worst of them is, and it is some comfort to perceive that their system has at least a few advantages. I'll just mention it in writing to my father."
"If you will be advised by me," said Gervase, "you won't do that. According to you, Providence has taken the job in hand, and Providence stands in no need of being backed up. The most promising schemes are liable to be wrecked by premature or injudicious furtherance."
For some reason which he might have found it difficult to formulate, he did not consider that particular scheme a very promising one, nor was he anxious that
it should be pushed forward either by Providence or by less potent forces. What he did want-so he told himself was that poor little Monica should be granted some breathing space in which to enjoy her youth and her freedom. After all, women are not sent into this world simply and solely in order to get married. But the Duchess, being of a different opinion, said:
"It would be almost criminal to let such a chance escape us. The young man is tremendously well off, isn't he?"
Colonel Gervase, who was not acquainted with the provisions of the late Mr. Scarth's will, did not know, but supposed so. "Only," he observed, "that would make the young man all the more likely to choose for himself. I don't see what you can do beyond what circumstances are certain to do, without your help."
The Duchess nodded, yawned once more and agreed that there was something in that.
"If she isn't disposed of before the autumn, we must have her to stay with us in Scotland. More marriages are made in country houses than in London, I am sure. By the way, you are coming to us, aren't you?"
"Yes, if you want me," answered Gervase, rather wearily.
There were moments when he was very weary of the Duchess. Perhaps he was always weary of her, although he could not be such a traitor to the past as to admit it. Everything passes; happy are those amongst us who go down to their graves without having realised that inexorable truth.
URING his quarter of a century's sojourn in this world Nigel Scarth had formed intimacies with very few men and with no women. Of the latter monastic training and certain youthful experiences had made him timorously defiant; but he began to long for such companionship on the part of his own sex as could scarcely be provided by old Mr. Trenchard or by his uncle Robert, and he was therefore much pleased when the post brought him, one morning, an intimation that Cuthbert Gretton proposed to run down and spend a day or two with him. This was the reply to a diffident invitation which he had despatched, but from which he had not ventured to look for any immediate result. Although he had been fond of Cuthbert once upon a time, and although Cuthbert had seemed to have a liking for him, he could not expect his former friend's memory of old days to be as vivid as his own; so that the hurriedly written, but very cordial and hearty, letter which he read through several times brought a gratified smile to his lips.
After breakfast he went out for a ride, in accordance with what had become his daily custom, and was conscious of somewhat higher spirits than he had enjoyed of late. The estate and the cares connected with it had, in truth, been giving him rather more trouble than he had anticipated, notwithstanding the ever-ready advice