On a Saturday afternoon in late October Edward Coe, a satisfactory average successful man of thirty-five, was walking slowly along the King's Road, Brighton. A native and inhabitant of the Five Towns in the Midlands, he had the brusque and energetic mien of the Midlands. It could be seen that he was a stranger to the south; and, in fact, he was now viewing for the first time the vast and glittering spectacle of the southern pleasure city in the unique glory of her autumn season. A spectacle to enliven any man by its mere splendour! And yet Edward Coe was gloomy. One reason for his gloom was that he had just left a bicycle, with a deflated back tyre, to be repaired at a shop in Preston Street. Not perhaps an adequate reason for gloom!... Well, that depends. He had been informed by the blue-clad repairer, after due inspection, that the trouble was not a common puncture, but a malady of the valve mysterious.
And the deflation was not the sole cause of his gloom. There was another. He was on his honeymoon. Understand me--not a honeymoon of romance, but a real honeymoon. Who that has ever been on a real honeymoon can look back upon the adventure and faithfully say that it was an unmixed ecstasy of joy? A honeymoon is in its nature and consequences so solemn, so dangerous, and so pitted with startling surprises, that the most irresponsible bridegroom, the most light-hearted, the least in love, must have moments of grave anxiety. And Edward Coe was far from irresponsible. Nor was he only a little in love. Moreover, the circumstances of his marriage were peculiar, and he had married a dark, brooding, passionate girl.
Mrs Coe was the younger of two sisters named Olive Wardle, well known in the most desirable circles in the Five Towns. I mean those circles where intellectual and artistic tastes are united with sound incomes and excellent food delicately served. It will certainly be asked why two sisters should be named Olive. The answer is that though Olive One and Olive Two were treated as sisters, and even treated themselves as sisters, they were not sisters. They were not even half-sisters. They had first met at the age of nine. The father of Olive One, a widower, had married the mother of Olive Two, a widow. Olive One was the elder by a few months. Olive Two gradually allowed herself to be called Wardle because it saved trouble. They got on with one another very well indeed, especially after the death of both parents, when they became joint mistresses, each with a separate income, of a nice house at Sneyd, the fashionable residential village on the rim of the Five Towns. Like all persons who live long together, they grew in many respects alike. Both were dark, brooding and passionate, and to this deep similarity a superficial similarity of habits and demeanour was added. Only, whereas Olive One was rather more inclined to be the woman of the world, Olive Two was rather more inclined to study and was particularly interested in the theory of music.
They were sought after, naturally. And yet they had reached the age of twenty-five before the world perceived that either of them was not sought after in vain. The fact, obvious enough, that Pierre Emile Vaillac had become an object of profound human interest to Olive One--this fact excited the world, and the world would have been still more excited had it been aware of another fact that was not at all obvious: namely, that Pierre Emile Vaillac was the cause of a secret and terrible breach between the two sisters. Vaillac, a widower with two young children, Mimi and Jean, was a Frenchman, and a great authority on the decoration of egg-shell china, who had settled in the Five Towns as expert partner in one of the classic china firms at Longshaw. He was undoubtedly a very attractive man.
Olive One, when the relations between herself and Vaillac were developing into something unmistakable, had suddenly, and without warning, accused Olive Two of poaching. It was a frightful accusation, and a frightful scene followed it, one of those scenes that are seldom forgiven and never forgotten. It altered their lives; but as they were women of considerable common sense and of good breeding, each did her best to behave afterwards as though nothing had happened.
Olive Two did not convince Olive One of her innocence, because she did not bring forward the supreme proof of it. She was too proud--in her brooding and her mystery--to do so. The supreme proof was that at this time she herself was secretly engaged to be married to Edward Coe, who had conquered her heart with unimaginable swiftness a few weeks before she was about to sit for a musical examination at Manchester. "Let us say nothing till after my exam," she had suggested to her betrothed. "There will be an enormous fuss, and it will put me off, and I shall fail, and I don't want to fail, and you don't want me to fail." He agreed rapturously. Of course she did fail, nevertheless. But being obstinate she said she would go in again, and they continued to make a secret of the engagement. They found the secret delicious. Then followed the devastating episode of Vaillac. Shortly afterwards Olive One and Vaillac were married, and then Olive Two was alone in the nice house. The examination was forgotten, and she hated the house. She wanted to be married; Coe also. But nothing had been said. Difficult to announce her engagement just then! The world would say that she had married out of imitation, and her sister would think that she had married out of pique. Besides, there would be the fuss, which Olive Two hated. Already the fuss of her sister's marriage, and the effort at the wedding of pretending that nothing had happened between them, had fatigued the nerves of Olive Two.
Then Edward Coe had had the brilliant and seductive idea of marrying in secret. To slip away, and then to return, saying, "We are married. That's all!" ... Why not? No fuss! No ceremonial! The accomplished fact, which simplifies everything!
It was, therefore, a secret honeymoon that Edward Coe was on; delightful--but surreptitious, furtive! His mental condition may be best described by stating that, though he was conscious of rectitude, he somehow could not look a policeman in the face. After all, plain people do not usually run off on secret honeymoons. Had he acted wisely? Perhaps this question, presenting itself now and then, was the chief cause of his improper gloom.
However, the spectacle of Brighton on a fine Saturday afternoon in October had its effect on Edward Coe--the effect which it has on everybody. Little by little it inspired him with the joy of life, and straightened his back, and put a sparkle into his eyes. And he was filled with the consciousness of the fact that it is a fine thing to be well-dressed and to have loose gold in your pocket, and to eat, drink, and smoke well; and to be among crowds of people who are well-dressed and have loose gold in their pockets, and eat and drink and smoke well; and to know that a magnificent woman will be waiting for you at a certain place at a certain hour, and that upon catching sight of you her dark orbs will take on an enchanting expression reserved for you alone, and that she is utterly yours. In a word, he looked on the bright side of things again. It could not ultimately matter a bilberry whether his marriage was public or private.
He lit a cigarette gaily. He could not guess that untoward destiny was waiting for him close by the newspaper kiosque.
A little girl was leaning against the palisade there, and gazing somewhat restlessly about her. A quite little girl, aged, perhaps, eleven, dressed in blue serge, with a short frock and long legs, and a sailor hat (H.M.S. Formidable), and long hair down her back, and a mild, twinkling, trustful glance. Somewhat untidy, but nevertheless the image of grace.
She saw him first. Otherwise he might have fled. But he was right upon her before he saw her. Indeed, he heard her before he saw her.
"Good afternoon, Mr Coe."
The Vaillacs were in Brighton! He had chosen practically the other end of the world for his honeymoon, and lo! by some awful clumsiness of fate the Vaillacs were at the same end! The very people from whom he wished to conceal his honeymoon until it was over would know all about it at the very start! Relations between the two Olives would be still more strained and difficult! In brief, from optimism he swung violently back to darkest pessimism. What could be worse than to be caught red-handed in a surreptitious honeymoon?
She noticed his confusion, and he knew that she noticed it. She was a little girl. But she was also a little woman, a little Frenchwoman, who spoke English perfectly--and yet with a difference! They had flirted together, she and Mr Coe. She had a new mother now, but for years she had been without a mother, and she would receive callers at her father's house (if he happened to be out) with a delicious imitation of a practised hostess.
He raised his hat and shook hands and tried to play the game.
"What are you doing here, Mimi?" he asked.
"What are you doing here?" she parried, laughing. And then, perceiving his increased trouble, and that she was failing in tact, she went on rapidly, with a screwing up of the childish shoulders and something between a laugh and a grin: "It's my back. It seems it's not strong. And so we've taken an ever so jolly little house for the autumn, because of the air, you know. Didn't you know?"
No, he did not know. That was the worst of strained relations. You were not informed of events in advance.
"Where?" he asked.
"Oh!" she said, pointing. "That way. On the road to Rottingdean. Near the big girls' school. We came in on that lovely electric railway--along the beach. Have you been on it, Mr Coe?"
Terrible! Rottingdean was precisely the scene of his honeymoon. The hazard of fate was truly appalling. He and his wife might have walked one day straight into the arms of her sister! He went hot and cold.
"And where are the others?" he asked nervously.
"Mamma"--she coloured as she used this word, so strange on her lips--"mamma's at home. Father may come to-night. And Ada has brought us here so that Jean can have his hair cut. He didn't want to come without me."
"Ada's a new servant. She's just gone in there again to see how long the barber will be." Mimi indicated a barber's shop opposite. "And I'm waiting here," she added.
"Mimi," he said, in a confidential tone, "can you keep a secret?"
She grew solemn. "Yes." She smiled seriously. "What?"
"About meeting me. Don't tell anybody you've met me to-day. See?"
"No, not Jean. But later on you can tell--when I give you the tip. I don't want anybody to know just now."
It was a shame. He knew it was a shame. He deliberately flattered her by appealing to her as to a grown woman. He deliberately put a cajoling tone into his voice. He would not have done it if Mimi had not been Mimi--if she had been an ordinary sort of English girl. But she was Mimi. And the temptation was very strong. She promised, gravely. He knew that he could rely on her.
Hurrying away lest Jean and the servant might emerge from the barber's, he remembered with compunction that he had omitted to show any curiosity about Mimi's back.
The magnificent woman was to be waiting for him in the lounge of the Royal York Hotel at a quarter to four. She was coming in to Brighton by the Rottingdean omnibus, which function, unless the driver changes his mind, occurs once in every two or three hours. He, being under the necessity of telephoning to London on urgent business, had hired a bicycle and ridden in. Despite the accident to this prehistoric machine, he arrived at the Royal York half a minute before the Rottingdean omnibus passed through the Old Steine and set down the magnificent woman his wife. The sight of her stepping off the omnibus really did thrill him. They entered the hotel together, and, accustomed though the Royal York is to the reception of magnificent women, Olive made a sensation therein. As for him, he could not help feeling just as though he had eloped with her. He could not help fancying that all the brilliant company in the lounge was murmuring under the strains of the band: "That johnny there has certainly eloped with that splendid creature!"
"Ed," she asked, fixing her dark eyes upon him, "is anything the matter?"
They were having tea at a little Moorish table in the huge bay window of the lounge.
"No," he said. This was the first lie of his career as a husband. But truly he could not bring himself to give her the awful shock of telling her that the Vaillacs were close at hand, that their secret was discovered, and that their peace and security depended entirely upon the discretion of little Mimi and upon their not meeting other Vaillacs.
"Then it's having that puncture that has upset you," his wife insisted. You see her feelings towards him were so passionate that she could not leave him alone. She was utterly preoccupied by him.
"No," he said guiltily.
"I'm afraid you don't very much care for this place," she went on, because she knew now that he was not telling her the truth, and that something, indeed, was the matter.
"On the contrary," he replied, "I was informed that the finest tea and the most perfect toast in Brighton were to be had in this lounge, and upon my soul I feel as if I could keep on having tea here for ever and ever amen!"
He was trying to be gay, but not very successfully.
"I don't mean just here," she said. "I mean all this south coast."
"Well--" he began judicially.
"Oh! Ed!" she implored him. "Do say you don't like it!"
"Why!" he exclaimed. "Don't you?"
She shook her head. "I much prefer the north," she remarked.
"Well," he said, "let's go. Say Scarborough."
"You're joking," she murmured. "You adore this south coast."
"Never!" he asserted positively.
"Well, darling," she said, "if you hadn't said first that you didn't care for it, of course I shouldn't have breathed a word--"
"Let's go to-morrow," he suggested.
"Yes." Her eyes shone.
"First train! We should have to leave Rottingdean at six o'clock a.m."
"How lovely!" she exclaimed. She was enchanted by this idea of a capricious change of programme. It gave such a sense of freedom, of irresponsibility, of romance!
"More toast, please," he said to the waiter, joyously.
It cost him no effort to be gay now. He could not have been sad. The world was suddenly transformed into the best of all possible worlds. He was saved! They were saved! Yes, he could trust Mimi. By no chance would they be caught. They would stick in their rooms all the evening, and on the morrow they would be away long before the Vaillacs were up. Papa and "mamma" Vaillac were terrible for late rising. And when he had got his magnificent Olive safe in Scarborough, or wherever their noses might lead them, then he would tell her of the risk they had run.
They both laughed from mere irrational glee, and Edward Coe nearly forgot to pay the bill. However, he did pay it. They departed from the Royal York. He put his Olive into the returning Rottingdean omnibus, and then hurried to get his repaired bicycle. He had momentarily quaked lest Mimi and company might be in the omnibus. But they were not. They must have left earlier, fortunately, or walked.
When he was still about a mile away from Rottingdean, and the hour was dusk, and he was walking up a hill, he caught sight of a girl leaning on a gate that led by a long path to a house near the cliffs. It was Mimi. She gave a cry of recognition. He did not care now--he was at ease now--but really, with that house so close to the road and so close to Rottingdean, he and his Olive had practically begun their honeymoon on the summit of a volcano!
Mimi was pensive. He felt remorse at having bound her to secrecy. She was so pensive, and so wistful, and her eyes were so loyal, that he felt he owed her a more complete confidence.
"I'm on my honeymoon, Mimi," he said. It gave him pleasure to tell her.
"Yes," she said simply, "I saw Auntie Olive go by in the omnibus."
That was all she said. He was thunderstruck, as much by her calm simplicity as by anything else. Children were astounding creatures.
"Did Jean see her, or anyone?" he asked.
Mimi shook her head.
Then he told her they were leaving the next morning at six.
"Shall you be in a carriage?" she inquired.
"Oh! Do let me come out and see you go past," she pleaded. "Nobody else in our house will be up till hours afterwards!... Do!"
He was about to say "No," for it would mean revealing the whole affair to his wife at once. But after an instant he said "Yes." He would not refuse that exquisite, appealing gesture. Besides, why keep anything whatever from Olive, even for a day?
At dinner he told his wife, and was glad to learn that she also thought highly of Mimi and had confidence in her.
Mimi lay in bed in the nursery of the hired house on the way to Rottingdean, which, considering that it was not "home," was a fairly comfortable sort of abode. The nursery was immense, though an attic. The white blinds of the two windows were drawn, and a fire burned in the grate, lighting it pleasantly and behaving in a very friendly manner. At the other end of the room, in the deep shadow, was Jean's bed.
The door opened quietly and someone came into the room and pushed the door to without quite shutting it.
"Is that you, mamma?" Jean demanded in his shrill voice, from the distance of the bed in the corner. His age was exactly eight.
"Yes, dear," said the new stepmother.
The menial Ada had arranged the children for the night, and now the stepmother had come up to kiss them and be kind. She was a conscientious young woman, full of a desire to do right, and she had determined not to be like the traditional stepmother.
She kissed Jean, who had taken quite a fancy to her, and tickled him agreeably, and tucked him up anew, and then moved silently across the room to Mimi. Mimi could see her face in the twilight of the fire. A handsome, good-natured face; yet very determined, and perhaps a little too full of common sense. It had a responsible, somewhat grave look. After all, these two young children were a responsibility, especially Mimi with her back; and, moreover, Pierre Emile Vaillac had disappointed both her and her step-children by telegraphing that he could not arrive that night. Olive One, the bride of three months, had put on fine raiment for nothing.
"Well, Mimi," she said in her low, vibrating voice, as she stood over the bed, "I do hope you didn't overtire yourself this afternoon." Then she kissed Mimi.
"Oh no, mamma!" The little girl smiled.
"It seems you waited outside the barber's while Jeannot was having his hair cut."
"Yes, mamma. I didn't like to go in."
"Ada didn't stay with you all the time?"
"No, mamma. First of all she took Jeannot in, and then she came out to me, and then she went in again to see how long he would be."
"I'm sorry she left you alone in the street. She ought not to have done so, and I've told her.... The King's Road, with all kinds of people about!"
Mimi said nothing. The new Madame Vaillac moved a little towards the fire.
"Of course," the latter went on, "I know you're a regular little woman, and perhaps I needn't tell you but you must never speak to anyone in the street."
"Particularly in Brighton.... You never do, do you?"
The stepmother left the room. Mimi could feel her heart beating. Then Jean called out:
She made no reply. The fact was she was too disturbed to be able to reply.
Jean called again and then got out of bed and thudded across the room to her bedside.
"I say, Mimi," he screeched in his insistent treble, "who was it you were talking to?"
Mimi's heart did not beat, it jumped.
"This afternoon, when I was having my hair cut."
"How do you know I was talking to anybody?"
"Ada saw you through the window of the barber's."
"When did she tell you?"
"She didn't. I heard her telling mamma."
There was a silence. Then Mimi hid her face, and Jean could hear sobbing.
"You might tell me!" Jean insisted. He was too absorbed by his own curiosity, and too upset by the full realization of the fact that she had kept something from him, to be touched by her tears.
"It's a secret," she muttered into the pillow.
"You might tell me!"
"Go away, Jeannot!" she burst out hysterically.
He gave an angry lunge against the bed.
"I tell you everything; and it's not fair. C'est pas juste!" he said savagely, but there were tears in his voice too. He was a creature at once sensitive and violent, passionately attached to Mimi.
He thudded back to his bed. But even before he had reached his bed Mimi could hear him weeping.
She gradually stilled her own sobs, and after a time Jean's ceased. And then she guessed that Jean had gone to sleep. But Mimi did not go to sleep. She knew that chance, and Mr Coe, and that odious new servant, Ada, had combined to ruin her life. She saw the whole affair clearly. Ada was officious and fussy, also secretive and given to plotting. Ada's leading idea was that children had to be circumvented. Imagine the detestable woman spying on her from the window, and then saying nothing to her, but sneaking off to tell tales to her mamma! Imagine it! Mimi's strict sense of justice could not blame her mamma. She was sure that the new stepmother meant well by her. Her mamma had given her every opportunity to confess, to admit of her own accord that she had been talking to somebody in the street, and she had not confessed. On the contrary, she had lied. Her mamma would probably say nothing more on the matter, for she had a considerable sense of honour with children, and would not take an unfair advantage. Having tried to obtain a confession from Mimi by pretending that she knew nothing, and having failed, she was not the woman to turn round and say, "Now I know all about it. So just confess at once!" Her mamma would accept the situation, would try to behave as if nothing had happened, and would probably even say nothing to her father.
But Mimi knew that she was ruined for ever in her stepmother's esteem.
And she had quarrelled with Jean, which was exceedingly hateful and exceedingly rare. And there was also the private worry of her mysterious back. And there was another thing. The mere fact that her friend, Mr Coe, had gone and married somebody. For long she had had a weakness for Mr Coe. They had been intimate at times. Once, last year, in the stern of a large sailing-boat at Morecambe, while her friends were laughing and shouting at the prow, she and Mr Coe had had a most beautiful quiet conversation about her thoughts on the world in general; she had stroked his hand.... No! She had no dream whatever of growing up into a woman and then marrying Mr Coe! Certainly not. But still, that he should have gone and married, like that ... it was....
The fire died out into blackness, thus ceasing to be a friend. Still she did not sleep. Was it likely that she should sleep, with the tragedy and woe of the entire universe crushing her?
Mr Edward Coe and Olive Two arose from their bed the next morning in great spirits. Mr Coe had told both his wife and Mimi that the hour of departure from Rottingdean would be six o'clock. But this was an exaggeration. So far as his wife was concerned he had already found it well to exaggerate on such matters. A little judicious exaggeration lessened the risk of missing trains and other phenomena which cannot be missed without confusion and disappointment.
As a fact it was already six o'clock when Edward Coe looked forth from the bedroom window. He was completely dressed. His wife also was completely dressed. He therefore felt quite safe about the train. The window, which was fairly high up in the world, gave on the south-east, so that he had a view, not only of the vast naked downs billowing away towards Newhaven, but also of the Channel, which was calm, and upon which little parcels of fog rested. The sky was clear overhead, of a greenish sapphire colour, and the autumnal air bit and gnawed on the skin like some friendly domestic animal, and invigorated like an expensive tonic. On the dying foliage of a tree near the window millions of precious stones hung. Cocks were boasting. Cows were expressing a justifiable anxiety. And in the distance a small steamer was making a great deal of smoke about nothing, as it puffed out of Newhaven harbour.
"Olive," he said.
"What is it?"
She was putting hats into the top of her trunk. She had a special hat-box, but the hats were too large for it, and she packed minor trifles in the hat-box, such as skirts. This was one of the details which first indicated to an astounded Edward Coe that a woman is never less like a man than when travelling.
"Come here," he commanded her.
"Look at that," he commanded her, pointing to the scene of which the window was the frame.
She obeyed. She also looked at him with her dark, passionate, and yet half-mocking eyes.
"Yes," she said, "and who's going to make that trunk lock?"
She snapped her fingers at the sweet morning influences of Nature, to which he was peculiarly sensitive. And yet he was delighted. He found it entirely delicious that she should say, when called upon to admire Nature: "Who's going to make that trunk lock?"
He stroked her hair.
"It's no use trying to keep your hair decent at the seaside," she remarked, pouting exquisitely.
He explained that his hand was offering no criticism of her hair. And then there was a knock at the bedroom door, and Olive Two jumped a little away from her husband.
"Come in," he cried, pretending to be as bold as a lion.
However, he had forgotten that the door was locked, and he had to go and open it.
A tray with coffee and milk and sugar and slices of bread-and-butter was in the doorway, and behind the tray the little parlour-maid of the little hotel. He greeted the girl and instructed her to carry the tray to the table by the window.
"You are prompt," said Olive Two, kindly. She had got up so miraculously early herself that she was startled to see any other woman up quite as early. And also she was a little surprised that the parlour-maid showed no surprise at these very unusual hours.
"Yes'm," replied the parlour-maid, wondering why Olive Two was so excited. The parlour-maid arose at five-thirty every morning of her life, except on special occasions, when she arose at four-thirty to assist in pastoral affairs.
"All right, this coffee, eh?" murmured Edward Coe as he put down the steaming cup after his first sip. They were alone again, seated opposite each other at the small table by the window.
Olive Two nodded.
It must not be supposed that this was the one unique dreamed-of hotel in England where the coffee is good of its own accord. No! In the matter of coffee this hotel was just like all other hotels. Only Olive Two had taken special precautions about that coffee. She had been into the hotel kitchen on the previous evening about that coffee.
"By the way," she asked, "where's the sun?"
"The sun doesn't happen to be up yet," said Edward. He looked at his diary and then at his watch. "Unless something goes wrong, you'll be seeing it inside of three minutes."
"Do you mean to say we shall see the sun rise?" she exclaimed.
"Well!" cried she, absurdly gleeful, "I never heard of such a thing!"
She watched the sunrise like a child who sees for the first time the inside of a watch. And when the sun had risen she glanced anxiously round the disordered room.
"For heaven's sake," she muttered, "don't let's forget these tooth-brushes!"
"You are so ridiculous," said he, "that I must kiss you."
The truth is that they were no better than two children out on an adventure.
It was the same when down in the hotel-yard they got into the small and decrepit victoria which was destined to take them and their luggage to Brighton. It was the same, but more so. They were both so pleased with themselves that their joy was bubbling continually out in manifestations that could only be described as infantile. The mere drive through the village, with the pony whisking his tail round corners, and the driver steadying the perilous hat-box with his left hand, was so funny that somehow they could not help laughing.
Then they had left the village and were climbing the exposed highroad, with the wavy blue-green downs on the right, and the immense glittering flat floor of the Channel on the left. And the mere sensation of being alive almost overwhelmed them.
And further on they passed a house that stood by itself away from the road towards the cliffs. It had a sloping garden and a small greenhouse. The gate leading to the road was ajar, but the blinds of all the windows were drawn, and there was no sign of life anywhere.
"That's the house," said Edward Coe, briefly.
"I might have known it," Olive Two replied. "Olive One is certainly the worst getter-up that I ever had anything to do with, and I believe Pierre Emile isn't much better."
"Well," said Edward, "it's no absolute proof of sluggardliness not to be up and about at six forty-five of a morning, you know."
"I was forgetting how early it was!" said Olive Two, and yawned. The yawn escaped her before she was aware of it. She pulled herself together and kissed her hands mockingly, quizzically, to the house. "Good-bye, house! Good-bye, house!"
They were saved now. They could not be caught now on their surreptitious honeymoon. And their spirits went even higher.
"I thought you said Mimi would be waiting for us?" Olive Two remarked.
Edward Coe shrugged his shoulders. "Probably overslept herself! Or she may have got tired of waiting. I told her six o'clock."
On the whole Olive Two was relieved that Mimi was invisible.
"It wouldn't really matter if she did split on us, would it?" said the bride.
"Not a bit," the bridegroom agreed. Now that they had safely left the house behind them, they were both very valiant. It was as if they were both saying: "Who cares?" The bridegroom's mood was entirely different from his sombre apprehensiveness of the previous evening. And the early sunshine on the dew-drops was magnificent.
But a couple of hundred yards further on, at a bend of the road, they saw a little girl shading her eyes with her hand and gazing towards the sun. She wore a short blue serge frock, and she had long restless legs, and the word Formidable was on her forehead, and her eyes were all screwed up in the strong sunshine. And in her hand were flowers.
"There she is, after all!" said Edward, quickly.
Olive Two nodded. Olive Two also blushed, for Mimi was the first person acquainted with her to see her after her marriage. She blushed because she was now a married woman.
Mimi, who with much prudence had managed so that the meeting should not occur exactly in front of the house, came towards the carriage. The pony was walking up a slope. She bounded forward with her childish grace and with the awkwardness of her long legs, and her hair loose in the breeze, and she laughed nervously.
"Good morning, good morning," she cried. "Shall I jump on the step? Then the horse won't have to stop."
And she jumped lightly on to the step and giggled, still nervously, looking first at the bridegroom and then at the bride. The bridegroom held her securely by the shoulder.
"Well, Mimi," said Olive Two, whose shyness vanished in an instant before the shyness of the child. "This is nice of you."
The two women kissed. But Mimi did not offer her cheek to the bridegroom. He and she simply shook hands as well as they could with a due regard for Mimi's firmness on the step.
"And who woke you up, eh?" Edward Coe demanded.
"Nobody," said Mimi; "I got up by myself, and," turning to Olive Two, "I've made this bouquet for you, auntie. There aren't any flowers in the fields. But I got the chrysanthemum out of the greenhouse, and put some bits of ferns and things round it. You must excuse it being tied up with darning wool."
She offered the bouquet diffidently, and Olive Two accepted it with a warm smile.
"Well," said Mimi, "I don't think I'd better go any further, had I?"
There was another kiss and hand-shaking, and the next moment Mimi was standing in the road and waving a little crumpled handkerchief to the receding victoria, and the bride and bridegroom were cricking their necks to respond. She waved until the carriage was out of sight, and then she stood moveless, a blue and white spot on the green landscape, with the morning sun and the sea behind her.
"Exactly like a little woman, isn't she?" said Edward Coe, enchanted by the vision.
"Exactly!" Olive Two agreed. "Nice little thing! But how tired and unwell she looks! They did well to bring her away."
"Oh!" said Edward Coe, "she probably didn't sleep well because she was afraid of oversleeping herself. She looked perfectly all right yesterday."