She declared that it gave her scope

For five terms, in fact ever since Miss Foster had been housekeeper at
B. House, she had never left that house during term time for a single
night. And on her arrival at Hamchester station on Tuesday afternoon,
having been away from the previous Friday, she almost ran down the long
platform to collect her luggage, hustled her porter, nor rested a moment
till she had seized upon the first available cab to take to her
After years of generally unsuccessful ventures in various directions,
Miss Foster had at last found a post entirely after her own heart, and
the whole of her by no means inconsiderable energy was absorbed by B.
House. She declared that it gave her scope. She was convinced that
she, and she alone, “ran” B. House. She regarded Tony merely as an
amiable figure-head. She liked him; she knew him to be honourable and
well-meaning, and had found him generous in his business relations, and
of course he was necessary, as otherwise she, herself, might not have
been there; nevertheless, in her heart of hearts she was convinced that
she, and she alone, kept the machinery of B. House in working order.
Tony was far too easy-going, far too easily imposed upon. She
distrusted the matron, and for Mr. Johns she felt an irritated sort of
contempt, which she was at small pains to conceal: did not this
misguided young man dare to entertain the incredibly conceited notion
that he ran B. House? This in itself was more than enough to condemn
him in Miss Foster’s eyes.
A handsome woman, tall, plump, fresh-coloured, she made no attempt to
look younger than her forty-nine years. She wore her plentiful grey
hair dressed high over a cushion, well waved and beautifully arranged;
no one ever saw Miss Foster with an untidy head. Her hats were always
large and imposing, and occasionally becoming; her dresses rich,
rustling, sober in colour, and thoroughly well made.
“All must have gone smoothly in my absence,” she thought complacently as
she sat in the jolting cab. “Mr. Bevan faithfully promised that if
there was illness of any kind he would telegraph at once. Cripps can’t
have got the mumps. He probably won’t get it, and if he does it can’t
spread as he was quarantined at once. I hope Matron has been strict
about the quarantine. I always mistrust these hospital-trained people
when left to themselves; one has to be ever on the watch. Ah, here we
Before Miss Foster could descend from the cab Ford appeared to help her
with her smaller baggage. Ford looked particularly trim and smiling
that afternoon in a nice new muslin apron and cap.
“All well, Ford?” Miss Foster remarked genially, without waiting for an
answer. “You may bring tea at once to the drawing-room; I’ll have it
before I go upstairs.”
She crossed the hall and opened the drawing-room door, but she did not
enter the room. Instead she stood transfixed upon the threshold and
sniffed dubiously.
The windows were open according to her instructions whenever the room
was untenanted. Notwithstanding this, there was a very strong smell of
violets. To most people this is an agreeable odour, but Miss Foster
mistrusted the presence of violets at all. Why should there be violets
in her drawing-room during her absence?
A few steps farther revealed to her astonished gaze that the room was
not as she had left it. The furniture had been changed as to position,
disarranged, increased!
Miss Foster was not fond of music, and she beheld with positive dismay
that a grand piano, open, with long lid slanted upwards, was placed
athwart the inner wall. A huge harp stood just behind it, and an
unfamiliar bulging green silk bag was flung on the Chesterfield, where
it sprawled in flagrant publicity. The overpowering scent of violets
was easily traceable to a large china bowl, full of that modest flower,
which stood on a little table, moved from its accustomed place against
the wall close to a big chair by the fireplace. Moreover, on that table,
cheek by jowl with the violets, lay a tin of “Player’s Navy Cut,” a
common box of kitchen matches, an ash-tray, and a very brown meershaum
pipe. Miss Foster passed her hand over her eyes to make sure that these
things were not an hallucination, and at that moment Ford came in,
bearing tea.
“What on earth is the meaning of all this, Ford?” poor Miss Foster
exclaimed, waving her hand in the direction of the piano.
“It’s been got for Miss Clonmell, ’m. This morning the men brought the
piano; she brought ’er ’arp with her.”
“_Who_ brought a harp?” Miss Foster cried irritably, as though she could
hardly believe her ears. “Ford, what are you talking about?”
“Miss Clonmell, miss–the young lady as have come to live here.”
“A young lady! To live here! But who is she, and when did she come,
and why have I been told nothing about it?”
“She’s sister to the Mr. Clonmell what was here last term, ’m, and she
came unexpected like on Friday evening, while Mr. Bevan was at dinner.
He didn’t expect her any more than you, miss.”
“But what in the world has she come for? She can’t stay here. Where is
“I don’t exactly know ’m,” Ford answered, with demure enjoyment of the
situation. “Mrs. Wentworth came directly after luncheon, ’m, and took
her out. Miss Clonmell said as I was to ask you not to wait tea if you
came before she got back, as she’ll probably have hers with Mrs.

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“Wait tea!” Miss Foster repeated, in tones that expressed volumes of
determination to do nothing of the kind. “This is the most
extraordinary thing I ever heard of. What is she like?”
“Oh, a very nice young lady, ’m. No one could _’elp_ liking ’er. The
’ouse seems a different place since she come, so much livelier; and she
sings and plays something beautiful—-”
“I should think it does seem a different place,” Miss Foster remarked
grimly; “that horrible harp makes my drawing-room look like the deck of
a penny steamer. It can’t stay here, that’s certain. However, I’ll
have tea now–I need it. Whenever Mr. Bevan comes in, Ford, ask him to
be good enough to speak to me at once.”
Miss Foster sat in her accustomed chair and made tea. The tea was good
and refreshing, but although she had purposely turned her back to the
obnoxious musical instruments she felt uncomfortably conscious of their
presence. There they were like a draught blowing down her back. A harp,
too! In Miss Foster’s mind harps were associated mainly with mendicity
and the bars of public-houses. Not that she had the smallest personal
knowledge of such objectionable places; but she was certain that the
horrid people who frequented them played and listened to the harp. It
was probably their favourite instrument, and it was more likely that
during their disreputable orgies they even danced to its throbbing
Miss Foster, who had never been out of her own country, was one of those
persons who inevitably associate Scotland with plaids and porridge, and
Ireland with pigs and shillelaghs.
“An unsatisfactory, ungrateful, untrustworthy race, the Irish,” she
reflected; “and if the sister is half as troublesome as the brother–and
being a girl she is certain to be ten times more so; I detest girls–the
prospect is far from pleasing. What I cannot understand is the
underhand behaviour of Mr. Bevan. This girl can’t have dropped from the
clouds, and I consider it most ungentlemanly of him not to have given me
some warning. He might at least have written to tell me of her arrival,
and I would have come back yesterday. However, I don’t fancy her visit
will be a very long one now that I have come back.”
She took a vigorous bite out of her piece of bread and butter, and
stirred her tea with a determination that boded ill for the interloper.
Yet, resolute woman as she was, she still smelt the violets and was
aware of the grand piano in the background.
She had just finished her second cup of tea when Tony came in.
“Ah, Miss Foster, it’s nice to see you back again. I hope the wedding
went off well–you had a lovely day. I’m just in time to beg for a cup
of tea. I suppose Ford has told you of the addition to our party; I
didn’t write, as you were away for such a brief holiday; it seemed too
bad to bother you.”
Somehow Miss Foster found it impossible to say all the bitter things to
Tony that she had been preparing. He was so friendly, so kind, so
interested in all her doings. Besides, he explained at once how
Lallie’s sudden appearance had been as great a surprise to him as to
Miss Foster, and she was fain to believe him; but none the less did she
determine that the said visit should be brief as unexpected.
Tony took it for granted she would do her best for the girl. So she
would. It would certainly be best for the girl and for B. House that
the girl’s visit should not be unduly prolonged. When Tony left the
drawing-room that afternoon Miss Foster was more than ever persuaded
that he badly needed some one to stand between him and those who took
advantage of his good nature, and she there and then valiantly resolved
that, so far as in her lay, she would act as that buffer. She was still
glowing at the prospect of the friction such fortitude on her part would
assuredly entail when Tony came back into the room. He might almost be
said to have crept back, so shamefaced was his appearance.
“I fear that I have left some of my belongings in here,” he mumbled
apologetically. “I must have put them down when I came in to speak to
Lallie, after lunch–and forgotten them.”
Oh, mendacious Tony! when he knew perfectly well that those “belongings”
had been left on that table ever since Lallie’s second evening in B.
House, and he had smoked there ruthlessly every evening since.
“It doesn’t matter in the least,” Miss Ford said graciously; “one
couldn’t smell even tobacco with these overpowering flowers. I really
must ask Ford to throw them out; they are enough to give us all
Tony fled.