THE PURSUIT CONTINUED

“For beauty draws us by a single hair.” POPE.

Jane-Anne waited at dinner that night, and the stranger with the dark,
vivacious eyes looked at her curiously more than once. When she had set
the port in front of Mr. Wycherly and left the room finally, this guest,
whom he called “Curly,” leant forward, saying:

“So that is the new ward?”

“If you like to call her so.”

“She is not an ordinary girl.”

“I fear not.”

“Why fear?”

“Because she will be very hard to place safely.”

“My own impression is,” Curly said slowly, “that she will need no
placing at all, she will arrange matters for herself.”

“You mean she will marry while quite young.”

“Not at all. I should say she is quite unlikely to marry very young,
but she will find a niche for herself, and she won’t follow any beaten
track either.”

“When she came first of all,” said Mr. Wycherly, “it was understood that
she was to be trained for a servant; the doctor vetoed that—said she
would never be strong enough. Then a charming lady here suggested having
her trained as some very superior sort of nurse—children’s nurse, but I
question whether her genius lies in that direction. Personally, I can
think of nothing very suitable for Jane-Anne except to delight me and
get strong; but of course one must be practical. She is extraordinarily
receptive. She takes pleasure in every kind of beauty, and she is quite
singularly susceptible to beautiful verse. You should hear her recite
Byron’s ’Isles of Greece.’”

“Why shouldn’t I hear her? Get her in and ask her to do it, then,
perhaps, I can throw some light on this dark question.”

“I can’t say that I think she would be shy,” Mr. Wycherly said
dubiously, “for shyness and Jane-Anne seem quite foreign to one another;
but—whether it would be good for her——”

“I’d like to hear her awfully,” said Curly persuasively. “A
housekeeper’s niece, not thirteen, and steeped in Byron sounds such a
delightful anachronism. Moreover, a little girl brought up by you.
Please let me.”

There was something very wheedling about Curly as he rose and went to
the bell.

Mr. Wycherly nodded, and he rang.

Mrs. Dew thought it was for coffee, and that they were in a great hurry.
However, she made it quickly and sent Jane-Anne in with it.

“This gentleman,” said Mr. Wycherly, as she set down the coffee in front
of him, “is fond of poetry, and I wonder if you would repeat to him your
favourite verses about Marathon?”

Jane-Anne looked quickly from one to the other. She stepped back a
little from the table and held up one slender brown hand as if adjuring
them to listen.

Curly leant his elbow on the table and his head on his hand, and sat
still as a statue, his brilliant eyes fixed on Jane-Anne.

She had a musical voice and a singularly clear enunciation. She no
longer mispronounced any words, for Mr. Wycherly had heard her say the
poem many times and took care of that. There was, withal, a curious
little foreign distinctness in the way she separated one word from
another that was undoubtedly a reminiscence of her father. She was
never monotonous and she never ranted; best of all, she was utterly
unconscious of herself and absolutely wholehearted in her lament for her
country, and there was real passion in her young voice as she declaimed:

“A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine—
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!”

No one spoke for a minute, then very gravely and courteously Curly said,
“Thank you.”

Jane-Anne turned to go, and Mr. Wycherly rose and opened the door for
her. She looked up at him as she went out, with timid questioning eyes.

“It was beautiful, my child, quite beautiful,” he said.

Jane-Anne went back to the kitchen to wash dishes, perfectly happy.

Curly waited till Mr. Wycherly sat down again.

“And so you wonder what that child will be?” he asked.

“I do, indeed,” sighed Mr. Wycherly.

“And she, with those great eyes set so wide apart?”

“That,” said Mr. Wycherly, “is the Greek type.”

“Every great actress,” Curly said sententiously, “has her eyes set wide
apart. There has never been a ferrety-faced actress worth anything.”

“But what has that got to do with Jane-Anne,” Mr. Wycherly said in a
puzzled voice.

Curly laughed. “I shan’t tell you,” he said. “Only I know what she will
be, and you needn’t worry or try to stop it, for you can’t.”

“I hope she will be nothing of the kind,” Mr. Wycherly said hotly.
“Poor little nymph, so sensitive, so loving-hearted, so wise, and at
times, so amazingly silly.”

“They are like that,” said Curly.

* * * * *

Next morning, Mr. Wycherly told Jane-Anne that the friend who had dined
with him the night before was an actor, and that the company he was in
was performing “As you Like It” that afternoon in a ducal garden not
very far from Oxford; and finally that he was going to take her to see
it.

That day was one long _festa_ for Jane-Anne. First of all came the
drive, sitting side by side with Mr. Wycherly in a hired victoria. She
wore her best summer frock and hat, beautiful white garments chosen by
Mrs. Methuen, that filled her soul with rapture every time she put them
on; white cotton gloves that Mrs. Dew had washed that morning, thin
black stockings, and the light shoes Mr. Wycherly had insisted upon
after he had seen her dance under the apple-tree.

Mrs. Dew watched them drive away with great pride.

“I will say this,” she said to her friend, Miss Morecraft, that
afternoon, “that when Jane-Anne’s dressed you couldn’t tell her from one
of the gentry. She’s got something about her, my sister had it, and her
father—not as I ever cared for him—had it, too. I think if my sister
could have seen her this afternoon she’d be set up, that I do. He’s a
fine-looking old gentleman, too; handsome he is, and no mistake.”

A good many people regarded the quaint pair with pleasure. They were so
manifestly proud and fond of each other, and the child was so radiantly
happy. The crowds of well-dressed people delighted her. The garden was
beautiful, the weather perfect, and with thrills of the wildest
excitement she recognised Curly as Orlando.

When it was over, her first criticism was characteristic. “I’d have
made a better boy than that if I’d been Rosalind; she wasn’t a bit like
a boy really, was she? If ever I pretended to be a boy I’d try to
behave like Master Edmund, then I don’t believe anyone would rekkernise
me.”

“I don’t think Shakespeare meant Rosalind to be a finished actress. She
is a supremely lovable girl. I don’t think we would care so much for
her if we didn’t realise the girl all the way through,” Mr. Wycherly
said thoughtfully.

“Perhaps that pretty lady was right then,” said Jane-Anne; “but somehow
I _think_ Rosalind would have tried to behave more like a boy.”

“When you play Rosalind you shall give us a new reading of the part,”
Mr. Wycherly remarked carelessly.

Jane-Anne cuddled closely against him. “When I’m grown up,” she said, “I
shall ask that Mr. Curly to take me about acting, too. How did he
begin?”

“That,” Mr. Wycherly answered dreamily, “is a long story, and rather
sad. No one wanted him to be anything of the kind——”

“But he _had_ to!” exclaimed Jane-Anne. “He just had to, something drove
him——”

“I suppose so; even yet I think it a pity.”

“I don’t,” Jane-Anne said decidedly. “I’d rather go about being people
than anything—one could never be dull.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said Mr. Wycherly.

For several nights now, both Bruey and “She walks in beauty like the
night” were forgotten. Jane-Anne arose, after her aunt had taken away
the candle, to impersonate Rosalind. She rolled her thick plait round
her head and pinned it up with hairpins stolen from her aunt’s store.
She achieved doublet and hose by means of two towels, several safety
pins, and her long stockings. And the moon looked in at the window and
was doubtless well amused.

The moon waxed and waned and the end of July was at hand.

Mr. Wycherly was plainly stirred out of his usual scholarly calm. His
boys were coming home. Jane-Anne shared his excitement, and even Mrs.
Dew felt it necessary to make a large cake and “to get in” quantities of
stores of every description.

Jane-Anne was strung up to the highest pitch of expectation. Although
she had seen comparatively little of the “young gentlemen” when she
first came to Holywell, she had heard about them so much and so
constantly from the master, that she felt she, too, owned them. There
was, moreover, the delightful sense of an “understanding” with Montagu.
He had asked her to look after his guardian and she had done her best.
Moreover, quick and sympathetic always, she early realised that not even
the Greek Myths were so entrancing a subject to Mr. Wycherly as these
two boys of his, and during their walks together she invariably led the
conversation in their direction, and found it an easy and fascinating
path.

At last the great day came. The boys were to meet in London and come
down together to Oxford by a train getting in just before tea.

At the last moment Mr. Wycherly bade Jane-Anne come with him to the
station.

She was pale with excitement and could hardly speak.

When at last the train came in and the boys, brown and jolly and full of
rejoicing at getting home, jumped on to the platform, and the first
exciting greetings had passed, Jane-Anne suddenly flung her arms round
Edmund’s neck and burst into tears upon his shoulder.

Edmund looked across the weeping damsel at his guardian in comical
dismay. “I say,” he exclaimed. “If she does this when she meets me,
whatever will she do when we go away?”

“I beg your pardon, Master Edmund,” sobbed Jane-Anne, hastily
withdrawing her arms, “but we have wanted it so, and now it’s come.”

“Well, that’s nothing to cry for,” Montagu said, patting her back
consolingly. “Cheer up.”

Jane-Anne dried her eyes, and the four went home in a cab laden with
luggage.

The next few days drove Mrs. Dew almost to desperation. It was
impossible to make Jane-Anne “keep herself to herself,” as that good
woman considered decorous and desirable.

Wherever the young gentlemen were, there was Jane-Anne, and it wasn’t
altogether her own fault. They sought her out. She fielded at
impromptu cricket matches, and discussed high subjects with Montagu.
She proudly displayed her knowledge of the Greek alphabet, and assisted
to stick in stamps in a long-neglected album. She even confided to the
boys her misfortune with the “Magnolia Bloom,” nor was she wholly
crushed by their scorn for her silliness. _Apropos_ of this, one day,
she said:

“I wouldn’t mind so much being brown if only I had curly hair.”

“The Greeks always had curly hair,” Montagu announced authoritatively.
“I can’t think why you’ve been left out, ’ribbed and rippled like the
wet sea-sand,’” he quoted.

“I wonder,” Edmund remarked, with a gravity that would have warned a
wiser person, “that you never wash it in beer, then it would curl like
anything.”

“_Would_ it?” exclaimed Jane-Anne, in great excitement. “Is that why
yours is so curly?”

Edmund winked at Montagu, who grinned appreciatively. “Of course it
is,” he cried; “all our chaps wash their heads in beer every Saturday,
that’s why we’ve all got such ripping hair. Look at it.” And Edmund
thrust his head under Jane-Anne’s nose.

She ran her hand gently over the short, fair hair that was indeed
“ribbed and rippled like the wet sea-sand,” then she sniffed delicately,
remarking: “I wonder it doesn’t smell of it.”

“Oh, the smell soon goes off,” Edmund answered airily.

“Why don’t you do it?” she asked Montagu. “Your hair’s as straight as
mine.”

“He’s too slack,” Edmund remarked.

“Oh, I can’t be bothered,” Montagu said carelessly; “I don’t want curly
hair. If I did I should wash it in beer.”

At that moment Mr. Wycherly called the boys to go out with him, and they
rushed off leaving Jane-Anne to digest this seemingly simple specific
for curly hair.

Reflection unfollowed by action was impossible to Jane-Anne.

The beds were made. Her share of the dusting was done. The boys and
Mr. Wycherly would be out until luncheon, and her aunt was busy in the
kitchen where she strongly objected to have Jane-Anne, as she described
it, “clutterin’ round.”

There was a large cask of beer in the cellar, and the key was in the
door. The cellar was to the front of the house under the dining-room,
and was consequently some distance from the kitchen.

Jane-Anne rushed upstairs, seized her large bedroom jug, emptied it, and
descended with it to the cellar.

The cask was near the steps, and, with the door at the top left open,
she could see quite well. She turned the tap and the good brown ale
foamed gaily into the jug.

Just as, by its weight, she judged it to be about half full, she heard a
sound as though her aunt were coming.

She seized her jug and rushed up the steps, forgetting to shut the door
at the top, and hid in the parlour. No, she was wrong, Mrs. Dew was
still busy in the kitchen.

As quietly as she could, she crept back to her room, and, once there,
bolted the door.

Her heart was thumping in her ears, and she panted with excitement.

She had a good large basin in her room and a foot-bath. She chose the
foot-bath and what was in the jug filled it half full of the strong
brown ale of Oxford.

What a smell it had!

Jane-Anne knelt down, unplaited her hair and shook it forward over her
face. She held her nose tightly with one hand and with the other
plunged her heavy mane into the foaming beer. The smell was
overpowering. She was obliged to let go of her nose for she was
choking, and as she did so the beer, forced higher in the foot-bath by
the mass of hair, splashed her in the face.

Gasping and choking, she persevered; she laved her head with beer, she
rubbed it in with both hands, rejoicing that it made a beautiful lather,
and she spat out vigorously what had been forced into her open mouth
while she held her nose.

It was a horrible experience, but the blood of the Spartans ran in
Jane-Anne’s veins, and she endured till every hair and a large
proportion of her upper garments was thoroughly saturated with beer.

At last she felt the treatment had had full justice, and she drew out
what appeared to be yards of sticky, sodden pulp that had once been
human hair.

“Of course it won’t curl till it’s dry,” she said to herself, and
proceeded to sprinkle more beer about her bedroom in her efforts to free
her hair from that nourishing beverage.

But it wouldn’t dry.

Her bedroom already smelt like ten public-houses rolled into one, and
brown stains were everywhere.

Not a ripple nor a rib appeared on her matted and bedraggled head.

Her towels were already saturated with beer, and only seemed to make
matters worse.

Her eyes smarted and her nose was scarlet. The strong smell made her
feel quite faint.

She began to cry bitterly; her hair was stickier than ever and showed no
signs of even waving.

In her ardent pursuit of beauty she had forgotten that explanation would
be necessary, and what explanation would be possible in the face of all
these stains and this terrific smell? She hung her head out of the
window and it dripped into the stone-cutter’s yard.

A man passed underneath, sniffed, and looked up; all he saw was a wet
mass of something that dripped beer. “Waste o’ good liquor,” he
muttered, and passed on.

Jane-Anne was getting desperate when there came a rattling of the handle
of her door, a hasty push against it, then a tremendous knocking and
Edmund’s voice:

“Are you there, Jane-Anne?”

“Yes,” in a muffled sniff.

“What are you doing? Come out.”

“I can’t.”

“Well, let me in, then. I want to speak to you.”

“I daren’t.”

“Oh, nonsense, let me in quick, I say, I’ve something important to tell
you.”

Curiosity was too strong in her to resist this. She opened the door,
hiding herself behind it as she did so.

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Edmund. “It’s here, too.”

Then, as he saw the foot-bath on the floor, the beery stains everywhere,
and lastly, the distracted figure behind the door shrouded in sticky
locks that still dripped beer, he subsided upon the bed in fits of
laughter.

Jane-Anne banged the door, bolted it, and faced him indignantly.

“Why are you laughing?” she demanded.

“You’ve never gone and done it really—well, you _are_ the simplest
juggins.”

“D’you mean,” Jane-Anne demanded sternly, “that it _doesn’t_ make hair
curl?”

“Not that I know of,” gurgled the perjured boy; “it may,” and relapsing
into howls of mirth he buried his face in her pillow to stifle them.

Jane-Anne clasped her beery hands and wrung them. “And I’ve endured all
this for nothing,” she cried indignantly.

“And wasted a whole cask of beer,” Edmund continued. “You left it
running, and the cellar’s flooded and you can smell us half-way down the
street; there’s quite a little crowd outside,” he announced gleefully.

“I wish I was dead,” she moaned.

“I’d have a bath if I were you, quick,” said Edmund. “If you’re safe in
there, locked in, no one can get at you. Mrs. Dew and Montagu and
Guardie are all at the cellar. Montagu’s wading about in it, scooping
it up, and I want to go too, only I thought it would be mean not to
fetch you——”

“You can’t be meaner than you’ve been already,” she cried angrily. “Why
did you tell me such a lie?”

“Nonsense like that isn’t lies,” Edmund answered, angry in his turn.
“It’s chaff. I never dreamt you’d be such a fool as to go and do it.”

“Is it really no use?” she pleaded, still clinging fondly even yet to
the hope that all might not have been in vain.

Edmund looked at her and began to laugh again.