Chapter VII. Kelmscott of Tilgate.
 

To both Elma and her mother this meeting between Colonel Kelmscott and Guy Waring was full of mystery. For the Kelmscotts, of Tilgate Park, were the oldest county family in all that part of Surrey; and Colonel Kelmscott himself passed as the proudest man of that haughtiest house in Southern England. What, therefore, could have made him give so curious and almost imperceptible a start the moment Guy Waring's name was mentioned in conversation? Not a word that he said, to be sure, implied to Guy himself the depth of his surprise; but Elma, with her marvellous insight, could see at once, for all that, by the very haze in his eyes, that he was fascinated by Guy's personality, somewhat as she herself had been fascinated the other day in the train by Sardanapalus. Nay, more; he seemed to wish, with all his heart, to leave the young man's presence, and yet to be glued to the spot, in spite of himself, by some strange compulsion.

It was with a dreamy, far-away tone in his voice that the Colonel uttered those seemingly simple words, "And is your brother here, too, this afternoon, Mr. Waring?"

"Yes, he's somewhere about," Guy answered carelessly. "He'll turn up by-and-by, no doubt. He's pretty sure to find out, sooner or later, Miss Clifford's here, and then he'll come round this way to speak to her."

For some time they stood talking in a little group by the bench, Colonel Kelmscott meanwhile thawing by degrees and growing gradually interested in what Guy had to say, while Elma looked on with a devouring curiosity.

"Your brother's a painter, you say," the Colonel murmured once under that heavy white moustache of his; "yes, I think I remember. A rising painter. Had a capital landscape in the Grosvenor last year, I recollect, and another in the Academy this spring, if I don't mistake--skied--skied, unfairly; yet a very pretty thing, too; 'At the Home of the Curlews.'"

"He's painting a sweet one now," Elma put in quickly, "down here, close by, in Chetwood Forest. He told me about it; it must be simply lovely--all fern and mosses, with, oh! such a beautiful big snake in the foreground."

"I should like to see it," Colonel Kelmscott said slowly, not without a pang. "If it's painted in the forest--and by your brother, Mr. Waring--that would give it, to me, a certain personal value." He paused a moment; then he added, in a little explanatory undertone, "I'm lord of the manor, you know, at Chetwood; and I shoot the forest."

"Cyril would be delighted to let you see the piece when it's finished," Guy answered lightly. "If you're ever up in town our way--we've rooms in Staple Inn. I dare say you know it--that quaint, old-fashioned looking place, with big lattice windows, that overhangs Holborn."

Colonel Kelmscott started, and drew himself up still taller and stiffer than before.

"I may have some opportunity of seeing it some day in one of the galleries," he answered coldly, as if not to commit himself. "To tell you the truth, I seldom have time to lounge about in studios. It was merely the coincidence of the picture being painted in Chetwood Forest that made me fancy for a moment I might like to see it. But I'm no connoisseur. Mrs. Clifford, may I take you to get a cup of tea? Tea, I think, is laid out in the tent behind the shrubbery."

It was said in a tone to dismiss Guy politely; and Guy, taking the hint, accepted it as such, and fell back a pace or two to his garrulous old lady. But before Colonel Kelmscott could walk off Mrs. Clifford and her daughter to the marquee for refreshments, Elma gave a sudden start, and blushed faintly pink through that olive-brown skin of hers.

"Why, there's my Mr. Waring!" she exclaimed, in a very pleased tone, holding out her hand, with a delicious smile; and as she said it, Cyril and Montague Nevitt strolled up from behind a great clump of lilacs beside them.

Two pairs of eyes watched those young folks closely as they shook hands once more--Guy's and Mrs. Clifford's. Guy observed that a little red spot rose on Cyril's cheek he had rarely seen there, and that his voice trembled slightly as he said, "How do you do?" to his pretty fellow-traveller of the famous adventure. Mrs. Clifford observed that the faint pink faded out of the olive-brown skin as Elma took Cyril Waring's hand in hers, and that her face grew pale for three minutes afterwards. And Colonel Kelmscott, looking on with a quietly observant eye, remarked to himself that Cyril Waring was a very creditable young man indeed, as handsome as Guy, and as like as two peas, but if anything perhaps even a trifle more pleasing.

For the rest of that afternoon, they six kept constantly together.

Elma noted that Colonel Kelmscott was evidently ill at ease; a thing most unusual with that proud, self-reliant aristocrat. He held himself, to be sure, as straight and erect as ever, and moved about the grounds with that same haughty air of perfect supremacy, as of one who was monarch of all he surveyed in the county of Surrey. But Elma could see, for all that, that he was absent-minded and self-contained; he answered all questions in a distant, unthinking way; some inner trouble was undoubtedly consuming him. His eyes were all for the two Warings. They glanced nervously right and left every minute in haste, but returned after each excursion straight to Guy and Cyril. The Colonel noted narrowly all they said and did; and Elma was sure he was very much pleased at least with her painter. How could he fail to be, indeed?--for Mr. Waring was charming. Elma wished she could have strolled off with him about the lawn alone, were it only ten paces in front of her mother. But somehow the fates that day were unpropitious. The party held together as by some magnetic bond, and Mrs. Clifford's eye never for one moment deserted her.

The Colonel glowered. The Colonel was moody. His speech was curt. He occupied himself mainly in listening to Guy and Cyril. A sort of mesmeric influence seemed to draw him towards the two young men.

He drew them out deliberately. Yet the start he had given as either young man came up towards his side was a start, not of mere neutral surprise, but of positive disinclination and regret at the meeting. Nay, even now he was angling hard, with all the skill of a strategist, to keep the Warings out of Lady Emily's way. But the more he talked to them, the more interested he seemed. It was clear he meant to make the most of this passing chance--and never again, if he could help it, Elma felt certain, to see them.

Once, and once only, Granville Kelmscott, his son, strolled casually up and joined the group by pure chance for a few short minutes. The heir of Tilgate Park was tall and handsome, though less so than his father; and Mrs. Clifford was not wholly indisposed to throw him and Elma together as much as possible. Younger by a full year than the two Warings, Granville Kelmscott was not wholly unlike them in face and manner. As a rule, his father was proud of him, with a passing great pride, as he was proud of every other Kelmscott possession. But to-day, Elma's keen eye observed that the Colonel's glance moved quickly in a rapid dart from Cyril and Guy to his son Granville, and back again from his son Granville to Guy and Cyril. What was odder still, the hasty comparison seemed to redound not altogether to Granville's credit. The Colonel paused, and stifled a sigh as he looked; then, in spite of Mrs. Clifford's profound attempts to retain the heir by her side, he sent the young man off at a moment's notice to hunt up Lady Emily. Now why on earth did he want to keep Granville and the Warings apart? Mrs. Clifford and Elina racked their brains in vain; they could make nothing of the mystery.

It was a long afternoon, and Elma enjoyed it, though she never got her tete-a-tete after all with Cyril Waring. Just a rapid look, a dart from the eyes, a faint pressure of her hand at parting--that was all the romance she was able to extract from it, so closely did Mrs. Clifford play her part as chaperon. But as the two young men and Montague Nevitt hurried off at last to catch their train back to town, the Colonel turned to Mrs. Clifford with a sigh of relief.

"Splendid young fellows, those," he exclaimed, looking after them. "I'm not sorry I met them. Ought to have gone into a cavalry regiment early in life; what fine leaders they'd have made, to be sure, in a dash for the guns or a charge against a battery! But they seem to have done well for themselves in their own way: carved out their own fortunes, each after his fashion. Very plucky young fellows. One of them's a painter, and one's a journalist; and both of them are making their mark in their own world. I really admire them."

And on the way to the station, that moment, Mr. Montague Nevitt, as he lit his cigarette, was saying to Cyril, with an approving smile, "Your Miss Clifford's pretty."

"Yes," Cyril answered drily, "she's not bad looking. She looked her best to-day. And she's capital company."

But Guy broke out unabashed into a sudden burst of speech.

"Not bad looking!" he cried contemptuously. "Is that all you have to say of her? And you a painter, too! Why, she's beautiful! She's charming! If Cyril was shut up in a tunnel with her---"

He broke off suddenly.

And for the rest of the way home he spoke but seldom. It was all too true. The two Warings were cast in the self-same mould. What attracted one, it was clear, no less surely and certainly attracted the other.

As they went to their separate rooms in Staple Inn that night, Guy paused for a moment, candle in hand, by his door, and looked straight at Cyril.

"You needn't fear me," he said, in a very low tone. "She's yours. You found her. I wouldn't be mean enough for a minute to interfere with your find. But I'm not surprised at you. I would do the same myself, if I could have seen her first. I won't see her again. I couldn't stand it. She's too beautiful to see and not to fall in love with."