'And the World Went Very Well Then'
"AND THE WORLD WENT VERY WELL THEN"
By MARJORIE BOWEN
Author of "The Presence and the Power" "Stinging Nettles," etc.
AUSTIN BROGRAVE settled himself in the corner of his railway carriage with a very comfortable sensation of well-being. After a prosperous year of successful work, it was most pleasant to be going on a long holiday to his own people attended by every circumstance that makes for happiness.
The delightful little house-party at Raynham Place would consist, he knew, of all the old friends his parents could gather together, and a round of Christmas festivities was eagerly looked forward to by the clever young barrister who had worked so hard and fortunately for the last six months. Nor did his secret anticipations lack the tinge and colour of romance, that word which, however much abused by the writers of newspaper reports, really does still mean something potent once at least in the lives of everyone but the most humdrum. And Brograve was by no means humdrum, but quite a spirited and talented young man, rather exceptionally good-looking in just that dark, authoritative style likely to be of use to him in his profession, and it was with a genuine thrill that he thought of pretty Mary Garnett, and finally decided, with a sense of satisfaction and perhaps a trace of self-complacency, that he would propose to her this Christmas, and add another sparkle to the pleasure of the holidays by the news of a happy engagement.
For quite a long time he had decided to marry Mary, but his affection was grounded in a prudence that was not dishonourable, and he had not declared himself while the only alternative to a reckless marriage had been a vexatiously long engagement, for Mary was portionless, and Brograve, brought up in ease, had a wholesome dread of even the milder shifts of poverty.
But now there was no longer any excuse for delay; he was doing very well indeed, and it would be much more comfortable and much more advantageous to him in his career to have a house of his own and a graceful wife like Mary in it, instead of living in chambers that were really incommodious and expensive.
All these thoughts were pleasantly mingled in Brograve's mind as he arranged his neat valise on the rack and arranged himself in the corner with a generous supply of illustrated papers.
Before he looked at any of these he took from the pocket of his inner coat a gleaming blue leather case and, smiling, snapped it open.
The unshaded electric light in the carriage glittered on a little necklace of seed pearls that, was to be Mary's Christmas present, and a handsome diamond that was to be her engagement ring.
Brograve's smile deepened. It was quite delightful to think of Mary's pleasure and gratitude, and how pretty the milky beads would look round the girl's white throat, and how brightly the ring would sparkle on her slender finger; he had been generous, and it was a stone of which neither of them need be ashamed.
Having carefully returned his treasures to an inner pocket, Brograve took out a letter-case and, selecting from the papers therein a rubbed engraving, looked at it intently.
This represented another romance in the life of the prosperous young man, something so remote and intangible as to be kept a dark secret almost, as it were, from himself, for Brograve had all the Englishman's horror of the queer and fantastical.
The engraving he had bought several years ago in the Charing Cross Road. It had cost sixpence, and represented a laughing woman, in a plumed hat, holding a globe between delicate fingers. Underneath was written "The World Went Very Well Then," which Brograve had always assumed to he the title of some old play in which this woman had acted.
He made no efforts to find out the origin of this print, which appeared to have been torn from a small book, for the truth was that he was far too shy and self-conscious to do so, for he had in the most unaccountable and really foolish fashion become fascinated by, even in love with, the pictured face, which was of a piquant, uncommon type of beauty and of an appealing gaiety.
Of course this feeling was very different from the reasonable affection he felt for pretty Mary Garnett—it belonged altogether to that region of fancy, fantasy and imagination which the practical young lawyer was so shy of entering—and now, as he gazed at the sparkling loveliness of the engraving, he smiled rather ruefully and told himself that now, on the eve of his engagement, was time to give up this foolishness. So he thrust back the pocket-book, and decided to destroy the picture at the first opportunity.
Glancing at his watch, he saw that the train was about due to start, and he was congratulating himself on having the roomy first-class carriage to himself, when the door was flung hastily open, and a lady was handed in by the guard and a porter.
There was a moment of confusion, of stowing away of packages on the top rack, of breathless tipping and thanks, and the lady sank down in the far corner from Brograve, and the train started.
Natural curiosity succeeded to natural vexation at the intrusion in Brograve's mind, and he glanced with professional keenness at his companion.
The first glance showed him that she was tall, wearing a very rich fur coat, a black hat with a feather and a veil. At his second glance she had thrown back the veil and revealed a face the exact counterpart to that in the engraving in his pocket-book.
Brograve was so startled that he could not for the moment command himself. There was a look of inquiry on the stranger's face, and Brograve, rallying desperately, handed her a bundle of magazines with some mumbled courtesies.
"Thank you," said the lady, with some amusement at his confusion, "but I am only going to Raynham."
"Why, so am I!" exclaimed Brograve, with such eagerness that the stranger smiled with a gaiety that completed her resemblance to the engraving. "I'm going home for the holidays," added the dazzled man inanely, with an awkwardness different indeed from his usual pleasant assurance.
"Then I dare say we are neighbours," replied the lady graciously, "for my home is also at Raynham, though I have not lived there very long."
"My people are at Raynham Place," said the delighted Brograve. "I am sure that you must have met them."
"Mrs. Brograve? Oh, yes. This is quite an introduction, isn't it? I am Rosabel Aubrey, and it is just possible that your mother or your sister has mentioned me, for I am sure," continued the vivacious girl, "that you are that much-admired son who is so successful that he has no time to come home!"
"I was at home six months ago," replied Brograve, "and heard of you, but you were away."
"Oh, yes, I am often away," said Miss Aubrey, "but, like you, I find it delightful to come home for Christmas. I believe your mother is giving some charming parties, and I am invited to all of them."
In this way a delightful acquaintance was begun, and before the train had steamed into Raynham Station Brograve felt as if he had known this fascinating creature for years.
Indeed, it was impossible for him to regard as a stranger one so like the portrait he had so long cherished in secret and every trait of which he knew by heart.
The likeness was really remarkable, the more so as it was an unusual type of face. The firm curves of the contours, the extreme delicacy of the features, the straight nose, full lips and brilliant complexion, the quantities of very dark hair crisply waving, above all, the large, lustrous, and appealing eyes composed a beauty truly more often seen in pictures than in real life.
While he was enthralled in this gay conversation, Brograve was racking his brain for all he had heard his mother say about the Aubreys. He had taken so little notice of these details at the time that he now could recall nothing save the fact that they were rich people who had recently bought a large house near Raynham. "Such nice people," kind Mrs. Brograve had called them, and her son, who was used to her generous opinion of everyone, had taken no further notice.
A happy accident furthered Brograve's acquaintance with Miss Aubrey.
When they alighted at Raynham Station, there was, through some neglect or oversight, no one to meet the girl, while the comfortable Brograve car, with the cheerful, competent driver, stood waiting in the bleak, sleety darkness.
Miss Aubrey, of course, gratefully accepted the offered car, and Brograve, with a sensation as if he was in a delicious dream, found himself gliding through the winter's night with this entrancing creature who was to him like the embodiment of a vision. Chilworth, where she lived, was but too soon reached, but the keen regrets that Brograve felt on parting with his companion were soothed by the fact that for the next few weeks he would have every opportunity of meeting her under the most auspicious of circumstances.
Thrilling with these gratifying thoughts, Brograve, after exhaustive farewells, was returning to his car, when he saw in the corner of the seat a small dark-blue case that he knew belonged to Rosabel Aubrey. Overcoming his first instinct to return to the house, he ordered the chauffeur to drive home. He had instantly decided that the case would be the most charming excuse for an early call on Miss Aubrey. Even to-night, after dinner, it might be allowable to go round with it, or, if not, then early in the morning; in any case, he would speak to her on the telephone to-night and hear her voice at least.
So absorbed was Brograve in these fascinating reveries that his greetings to his jolly family were quite distracted, and it was with a real shock that he saw Mary Garnett among the bright party gathered in the hall, radiant from the log fire.
He had really forgotten her until this moment, and to see her here now gave him a detestable sensation. He was greatly relieved when his mother drew him aside in the dining-room and began to say, in her voluble, good-humoured fashion—
"My dear, I must tell you at once that there has been some dreadful news about the Garnetts! I dare say you noticed how pale poor Mary looked."
"No, I didn't," said Brograve truthfully.
"Well, it is all very unfortunate, and she just came over to say that they couldn't come over. They don't feel like meeting people. And I thought, Austin," continued the amiable woman, "that if you had a little present for Mary—I know you generally bring her something—I thought it might cheer her up if you were to give it to her now."
"Good Heavens, mother, whatever has happened?" asked Brograve, feigning the interest that alas! he no longer felt in the Garnetts.
"I can't tell you now, dear; it is really very unpleasant, so do be as nice as you can to poor dear Mary."
Not without a feeling of considerable guilt did Brograve take the diamond ring from the case containing the seed pearl necklace, and it is a commentary on the lightning change in his feelings that the diamond that had appeared to him almost too resplendent for Mary now looked utterly paltry in view of the hand on which he now hoped to press such a gage.
It was with trepidation that he endeavoured to greet Mary in the old terms of easy fellowship and to present her with the trifling present which had been purchased with such different thoughts.
Mary, too, was subdued and agitated, and appeared touched with the gift; but she took a hurried departure, and Brograve could not forbear a horrid, selfish relief at her absence from his mother's gatherings, even though he knew that this absence was caused by misfortune.
His mind was running entirely on the beautiful Miss Aubrey, and though he longed to turn the conversation on her, he was far too self-conscious to be able to do so.
Amid the chatter and laughter of the evening, in which Brograve, sustained by inner excitement, fully joined, Miss Aubrey's name was, however, forcibly, as it were, introduced by the Garnett maid bringing round a sealed packet with a note from Mary.
On opening this, Brograve was exceedingly mortified to find that he had, in a moment of confusion, sent the wrong blue case, which error Mary had speedily discovered by the initials on the cover.
The young man steadily scribbled a note of apology and despatched it with the seed pearls that he was now beginning to heartily dislike, for they were as the silent witnesses of a secret infidelity. Half chagrined and half exultant, he was now forced to disclose his meeting with Miss Aubrey.
"Isn't she a dear?" said Mrs. Brograve comfortably. "They are all very nice people, and I am sure, Austin, that you will like them very much. But it was very careless of you," added the kind woman, "not to telephone about the case. She is sure to be worrying about it, and we had better send it round at once."
"I thought of running round myself. I should like the walk," said the conscious Brograve.
"Well, I'm sure it is a nice sharp night," replied Mrs. Brograve, who had the delightful habit of never opposing anyone. But Sheila, her youngest daughter, cried out in a teasing way—
"Oh, Austin, you haven't fallen in love with Rosabel, have you? She has all the men in Raynham behind her already!"
Brograve was surprised to find how irritated he was by this harmless bit of chaff. At the same time there was a certain pleasure in finding Sheila considered him free to "fall in love" with anyone; he had rather believed that the whole family had considered him bound to Mary Garnett.
"Well, I'll take the case round," he said casually. "It is early yet."
He was about to start when Mrs. Brograve came fussing out and joined him by the door.
"I thought I had better tell you about Mary," she whispered uneasily. "Mr. Garnett has failed—the business, you know," she explained with feminine vagueness, "and of course I don't understand these things, but I believe it is something disgraceful. And that isn't the worst," continued the perturbed woman. "It seems there is something shady about all of them, and they lived a queer kind of life before they came here. After all," she finished helplessly, "what do we know about them?"
Brograve considered rapidly. No, they didn't know much about the Garnetts, only that they seemed quiet, inoffensive, people, with a large family, who had lived in Raynham ten years or so with nothing against them, Mr. Garnett, as junior partner in a small business, going up to Town every day in the orthodox fashion. And Brograve knew, from his training and professional experience, that these were just the people who were very often mixed up in "shady" or "queer" affairs.
"It is very dreadful, of course, mother," he said, "but you must not let yourself be worried, for I dare say there is nothing in it."
"Well, I dare say there isn't," replied Mrs. Brograve dubiously. "And I'm glad that you take it so well, Austin. I was afraid that you would have been upset." He knew that she referred to his attentions to Mary, and he thought with a pang, half remorse, half relief, of the diamond ring upstairs. The sleet had ceased and the stars glittered crystal clear in the dark sky as Brograve walked briskly along towards Chilworth, thinking very little of the misfortunes of the Garnetts, that would, only a few hours before, have been such a vast misfortune to him, and very much of Rosabel Aubrey, whose existence had only been known to him for just those same few hours.
Miss Aubrey received him at once.
In the beautiful room panelled in sea-green watered satin, adorned with exotic flowers and lit by the softest of lights in opal shades, Rosabel Aubrey, in a flimsy black gown, low cut and glittering in the folds with diamanté, looked even more entrancing than the siren of the railway carriage.
"How good of you to bring my case!" she said, taking it. "I was sure that I had left it with you. It is the one thing I ought to look after, for my pearls are in it. I ought to have telephoned to you about it, but I have been rather distracted."
"And so have I," said Brograve, meaning "thinking of you," which, indeed, was true, "for I, of course, should have telephoned."
"Oh, it is about the same thing, perhaps?" cried the beautiful young woman eagerly. "You, too, have heard this ugly gossip?"
"About the Garnetts?" asked Brograve, reluctant to introduce that name, yet glad of any excuse to prolong his visit. "Do you know them, Miss Aubrey?"
"I feel that they are my greatest friends, though I have known them such a short time," replied Rosabel Aubrey with great animation. "You see, mother and I came here very sad indeed after father's death, and it meant so much to find friends like these."
"Oh, yes, delightful people," admitted Brograve
"Mother is out, with poor Mrs. Garnett," said the girl. "But perhaps you'll sit down and have a cigarette and coffee. Have you had coffee?"
"No. To tell the truth, I was in such a hurry to bring the case round," murmured Brograve, dazzled and delighted. Surely, even in these unconventional days, he could flatter himself that she was showing him exceptional favour?
He sank into one of the soft, billowy chairs, enjoying the luxurious room, the warmth, the light, the scent of the tuberoses in the puce-coloured bowl, the intoxicating company of the lovely creature who really was his secret vision come to life.
He remembered the title of the picture he had at this moment in his breast-pocket. It applied now. Oh, yes, "the world went very well then!"
Miss Aubrey rang the bell and ordered coffee and cigarettes and liqueurs. When the footman had brought these aids to conversation, she supplied Brograve with a dainty solicitude that further turned his head, already giddy with delight. Then she said—
"As soon as mother told me, I wanted to rush over to the Garnetts, but she thought I had better wait till the morning. But you," she added, "I suppose you went on your way here, or are going on your way back?"
"Well," said Brograve, "I don't think it necessary. I saw Mary for a moment—"
"But only for a moment, Mr. Brograve!" exclaimed Miss Aubrey. "Aren't you a great friend of theirs—of Mary's?"
Brograve, with that wretched diamond ring leaping to his mind, could hardly deny this.
"We all know them pretty well," he admitted with an ill grace that all his effort—and he did make a considerable effort—could not conceal.
"I understood," said Miss Aubrey, "from what I have heard-—from everybody—that it was rather more than pretty well. You see," she finished with a lovely smile, "I am Mary's great chum; she tells me everything!"
Brograve felt a glacial shiver down his spine. Was it possible that Mary had hinted that he was her suitor, at any minute to be declared? He gulped his liqueur, really speechless.
"You see, they are in great trouble," added the generous girl softly, "and they will need all their friends."
Bitter disappointment dashed the young man's too rosy dreams.
So this was why she had flattered and enticed him with her sweet allurements—merely that she might plead the cause of Mary Garnett!
"Of course," he said stiffly, "I shall show them my sympathy. But, of course, one has got to know the facts of the case. I rather understood that it was very ugly."
"Oh, there has been the most shocking gossip! You know what these little places are, and the less they know about anyone, the more they make up. But anyone like yourself, Mr. Brograve, would never be influenced by that."
"Oh, no, oh, no," answered Brograve, with the best smile he could muster. "Naturally—naturally."
"I'm so sure," said Miss Aubrey deliberately, "that Mary is relying on you."
Brograve rose. "I really must be going."
How flat it had all fallen! How soon the Dead Sea fruit had split to discover the ashes at the core!
Miss Aubrey, who seemed embarrassed, was fidgeting with her case.
"Why," she exclaimed, "I never locked it!"
She had it open in her hand and was staring down at an empty tray. "The pearls are gone!" she added.
The moment that followed Brograve always remembered as one of the most unpleasant of his life. All sorts of protestations rushed to his lips as to the safe custody of the case and the care he had taken with it, but they ended in mere stammerings, for he remembered that the case had left the house and been to that of the Garnetts.
"I think I did lock it," said Miss Aubrey, "and it has been broken open. See, the lock is smashed."
"I am utterly confounded," murmured Brograve. "I don't know what to think or say. Of course the police must be told at once," he added, with a wretched feeling that perhaps the necklace might be worth a hundred or two.
But Miss Aubrey had marvellously recovered her poise. With complete good breeding she held out her hand.
"Oh, no, please don't trouble—it is nothing at all. It must have happened before I got into the train."
But Brograve knew that it hadn't.
"I am very, very careless," added Miss Aubrey. "I deserve to lose things."
"I don't think that you are careless at all," returned Brograve earnestly. "It is all my fault, and I am determined to get the pearls back."
"I hope I shall find them somewhere else," said Miss Aubrey. "It may be that I was mistaken, and that they were not in the case at all. I must find out."
A gloom had fallen over the interview; it was quite clear, despite the girl's efforts at indifference, that she was very much affected by the loss of the pearls.
"I hope," said Brograve wretchedly, "that the necklace was not very valuable, but I am afraid it was."
"It was worth," replied Miss Aubrey quietly, "about five thousand pounds."
Brograve could scarcely conceal his dismay. He thought of the little seed pearl necklace for which he had given fifteen; it had seemed to him quite a large sum.
Five thousand pounds!
And he remembered, with an indescribable pang, what his mother had told him of the Garnetts.
What a detestable coincidence it was that there should have been this stupid incident of the pearls, and how most unfortunate that Mary Garnett should be in trouble, so that Miss Aubrey should feel obliged to champion her, and he—Brograve—must either stand by her, giving rise to false construction, or incur the imputation of cowardice and disloyalty by leaving her alone!
As to the matter of the pearls, Brograve admitted himself completely at a loss. Some instinct had prevented him from telling Miss Aubrey that the case had been out of his possession and in that of Mary Garnett. And he could not help thinking, while he tried in vain to sleep that Christmas night, that Mary Garnett, desperate and already perhaps disgraced, might have found such valuable jewels a severe temptation. She might easily, in a sort of womanish cunning, have considered that neither Brograve nor Miss Aubrey was likely to press the loss of the pearls if they suspected her, and five thousand pounds was a large sum.
Of course, when the Christmas bells finally roused him from an unsatisfactory doze, such reflections as these became a nightmare of the dark; to be dismissed as fantasy. But there was a great deal that could not be dismissed, and many problems that were not fantasy before Austin Brograve.
The sight of Rosabel Aubrey in church, radiant from the frosty air of the sunny Christmas morning, further troubled his repose; and he resolved to go and see her on the first opportunity, under the excuse of the necklace, about which he had not as yet been able to come to any conclusion or make any decision. As the Aubreys were coming to tea, to seek them out before seemed rather forced. Kind Mrs. Brograve disappeared for the greater part of the morning, and when she returned admitted that she had been visiting the "poor Garnetts."
"Only think, Austin," said the good-natured woman, "Mary is going to sell her jewels. She has quite a good pearl necklace, given her by a godmother, worth quite a lot of money."
"I've never seen it," replied Brograve rather faintly.
"No, no one has ever seen it. They thought that it was too valuable to wear. And now the poor girl has to sell it! But Mrs. Garnett says the money will be a blessing. They haven't a penny."
Brograve felt as if the visionary horrors of the night before had become concrete facts. Scarcely able to conceal his agitation, he took the first excuse to leave the house and escape into the woods that surrounded Raynham.
He went in the direction of Chilworth, for it gave him a certain pleasure to feel that he was approaching Rosabel Aubrey; but he did not intend to see her, conscious that he had very little excuse for doing so, and almost ashamed to meet her face to face.
It was a glorious morning; the sky showed the colour of an early violet behind the tracery of the myriad branches of the beeches and oaks, under which the untouched snow glistened.
It was the first time in a life that had been, perhaps, rather too easy and comfortable and prosperous that Brograve had ever been shaken by strong emotion.
A deep, overwhelming and sudden love had come to him at the same time as this distressing trouble concerning a woman he admired and until yesterday had been prepared to make his wife.
An air of grotesqueness clung to his suspicions about Mary, yet still he did not care to think of putting insurance company or police or detectives on the scent. He knew only too well, from professional experience, what foolish things girls would do when pressed or excited.
It was all very difficult for Brograve, in whom the instincts of the trained lawyer struggled with the instincts of the primitive human being. He walked rapidly over the hard ground, the crisp snow flying under his feet.
And suddenly found himself almost face to face with Rosabel Aubrey. She was coming down a side alley in the woods, flecked with the winter sunshine, in silvery furs, wearing a wide hat with gauzy plumes.
And then Brograve forgot about the necklace that was worth five thousand pounds, and would have forgotten it if it had been worth five millions, and forgot about the misfortunes of Mary Garnett, and would have forgotten them had they been ten times more desperate.
Nor did Miss Aubrey make any allusion to either of these detestable matters. She was gracious and sweet as the pale, fragrant sunshine, and greeted Brograve as if he was an old friend.
And Brograve, as he held the warm hand slipped from the big muff for a delicious second, realised the old truth that time counts for nothing in human relationships. Had he known this woman all her life, he could not have loved her more deeply, more eternally.
Naturally they fell into step beneath the high arches of the bare trees, the vault of faint blue upper air over the frozen ground, where the drifts of glittering snow sparkled.
"Do you know," said Brograve, "that I have had a picture of you for years, and always carry it about with me?"
Miss Aubrey looked at him intently, but without surprise.
"I bought it," continued Brograve, as they swung out through the woods, "in the Charing Cross Road, and I have it in my pocket now."
"Do you think so much of it?" asked Miss Aubrey.
"I think everything of it. When you stepped into the train last night, I felt as if a miracle had happened," replied the rapt young man.
"Some things are like miracles," said Miss Aubrey drowsily.
Brograve took out the cherished print and showed it to her; the winter sunshine flicked over the discoloured sheet as he held it between them.
"It is not beautiful enough," he remarked, in a tone so sincere as to be void of all possible offence, "but it is very like you, isn't it?"
"It is my great-grandmother," said Miss Aubrey quietly. "I can show you the original picture at home. She wrote little stories, and one was called 'The World Went Very Well Then,' and this portrait was painted and engraved for the frontispiece. How strange that you should have found it, Mr. Brograve!"
"Do you think it strange?" replied the young man earnestly. "It seems to me one of those things that are bound to happen."
They were silent for a second, each being drawn to the other in a vortex of emotion from which presently there would be no escape, each a little dazzled as well as bewildered and infinitely joyful.
How lovely was the winter's morning, how exquisite the translucent sky, how rapturous the robin's song, how touched by the rainbow hues of glorious fancy every dry twig and withered leaf across their path!
"I wonder," said Brograve, "that I have been able to wait so long."
Indeed, it did seem marvellous to him that his soul had been so long able to endure the flat monotony of an arid plain, choked by the daily dust of common things, when there were such crystal heights as these, watered by such pure freshets, illuminated by such celestial rays.
Rosabel Aubrey had slackened her pace; they walked slowly, slowly over the glittering snow, untouched save by the print of their feet, and under the leafless trees that yet seemed to throb with the first pulse of spring. The girl looked up; her face was colourless under the floating plumes, the waving dark hair, her large soft eyes wistful and appealing. It seemed to Brograve as if her spirit held out hands to his and would presently fall into his eternal embrace.
But what she said was, and her voice sounded very far away—
"I am quite sure, Mr. Brograve, that Mary Garnett is relying on you."
Brograve paled too, now; his soul, hurled down from these magic heights, cringed for pity at her feet.
"Nothing," continued the merciless girl steadily, "would please me more than to see poor Mary comforted now."
Brograve could muster no reply; their lingering footsteps quickened—out of paradise into everyday. A little cloud passed over the pale sun, and the white wood was shadowed.
Miss Aubrey stopped suddenly, and so brought the young man to a halt by her side.
"Will you tell your mother that I don't think that I can come this afternoon? I feel I would rather go to Mary. I hope that I shall find you there, or that you have been."
Something big and strong seemed to lift Brograve out of his mist of anguish and dismay, and he knew that this something came from Miss Aubrey.
It was as if something held him up.
For a second they stood looking at each other; it was absolutely clear to Brograve that she was saying to him—
"You love me, and I am glad, for I love you. But you are morally pledged to another woman who is in trouble, and I challenge you to behave honourably."
And in that moment much that was petty, complacent, selfish, lazy in Brograve, the results of an untroubled life, were cast away; in the moment that he had found how divine existence could be he had found how full of anguish it was.
And he rose to the level of the experience. "I shall certainly go and see the Garnetts this afternoon," he said.
"Good-bye," said Miss Aubrey.
She did not offer him her hand, and turned away quickly; nor did she look back, though Brograve watched her out of sight.
"So I have found and lost my darling in a flash!" thought the anguished young man.
It was not until he was nearly home that he remembered with another throb of pain the pearl necklace.
He smiled bitterly to think how utterly he had forgotten it; but he felt that, even if he had recalled it and asked about it, little good would have been done, for he was sure that it had not been found.
It was now clearly his duty to extricate Mary from any desperate folly she might have been tempted into.
Brograve, with that flash of insight—almost terrible insight—that had come to him when Rosabel Aubrey had told him to go to Mary, now saw, with desperate clearness, how his unspoken pledge to Mary was rendered strong as triple steel by the shadow of trouble and disgrace that lay over her.
In his cheerful bedroom Brograve tore to tatters and then burnt in the wood fire his cherished print.
"The world went very well then!" he muttered, as the orange flames devoured the lovely smiling face. "Ah, did it, did it?"
Early afternoon found him dutifully at the Garnetts' house.
A smiling Mary greeted him.
"It is very dear of you to come, but then I knew you would," she said confidently. "Do you know," she added, as she dragged the big easy-chair to the fire, "that a lot of people have really kept away because of the trouble we have been in?"
"It's been horrible for you," replied Brograve, with a guilty pang.
"Dear old Austin! But you have come to hear good news. Christmas Day, and real Christmas news!"
"Good news, Mary?"
"My cousin Murray," cried the delighted girl, "came down this morning—he has been so good to us through it all—and he has found the money that is needed for the business. You never met Murray, did you? But we have seen a great deal of him since he came back from Australia."
"So—you are all right?" asked Brograve rather blankly.
"Yes, it is really settled. Murray is very rich. Anyhow"—a glorious colour flooded her eager face—"thank you for the necklace, Austin," she continued breathlessly. "But perhaps I ought not to keep it. You see, I'm going to marry Murray!"
Half an hour later, when Brograve, quite uproariously joyful, was having tea with the Garnetts and the exemplary Murray, prefatory to sweeping them all off to the Brograve festivities, he asked—
"By the way, did you hear any more of Miss Aubrey's necklace?"
"Oh, yes. She telephoned to us last night, because I'd told Mrs. Aubrey the case had come here. Of course, it had been empty all along! Rosabel is so careless! Her maid brought the real jewel case with the other things, and this was some box waiting to be mended that she picked up. She always will travel with a lot of odds and ends."
"And there she comes," said Mrs. Garnett, looking out of the window.
"I'll go and meet her," remarked Brograve, regardless of convention. "Her hands are so full of flowers she can't open the gate."
Full of flowers—azaleas, sheaves of hot-house lilies, and roses and exotic blooms—were the fair girl's arms as she paused for Brograve to unlatch the gate.
"Didn't you know that Mary was going to marry Murray?" he asked.
"Well, why, then, did you send me along here?"
"Oh, hush!" smiled Miss Aubrey. "You thought you were expected, didn't you? How I should have hated you if you had stayed away!"
Lingeringly he opened the gate, leaning towards the flowers that were not so lovely or so radiant as she was herself.
"You gave me a fright about the pearls, too," he said.
"Did I? Oh, yes. I am careless about some things!"
As they walked up the path Brograve began to sing—
"The world went very well then!"
"Does it, do you think?" she smiled above her pale blossoms.
"I don't know, but I'm sure it does—now!" he answered boldly. "Yes, I'm sure the world goes very well now!"
On the doorstep Miss Aubrey paused. "I'm careless with things," she said, sparkling, "but, Mr. Brograve, I don't mislay—hearts!"
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1952, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.