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Helena   By: (1851-1920)

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HELENA

BY MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

AUTHOR OF LADY ROSE'S DAUGHTER, MISSING, ELIZABETH'S CAMPAIGN, ETC.

1919

CHAPTER I

"I don't care a hang about the Middle Classes!" said Lord Buntingford, resting his head on his hand, and slowly drawing a pen over a printed sheet that lay before him. The sheet was headed "Middle Class Defence League," and was an appeal to whom it might concern to join the founders of the League in an attempt to curb the growing rapacity of the working classes. "Why should we be snuffed out without a struggle?" said the circular. "We are fewer, no doubt, but we are better educated. Our home traditions are infinitely superior. It is on the Middle Classes that the greatness of England depends."

"Does it?" thought Lord Buntingford irritably. "I wonder."

He rose and began to pace his library, a shabby comfortable room which he loved. The room however had distinction like its master. The distinction came, perhaps, from its few pictures, of no great value, but witnessing to a certain taste and knowledge on the part of the persons, long since dead, who hung them there; from one or two cases of old Nankin; from its old books; and from a faded but enchanting piece of tapestry behind the cases of china, which seemed to represent a forest. The tapestry, which covered the whole of the end wall of the room, was faded and out of repair, but Lord Buntingford, who was a person of artistic sensibilities, was very fond of it, and had never been able to make up his mind to spare it long enough to have it sent to the School of Art Needlework for mending. His cousin, Lady Cynthia Welwyn, scolded him periodically for his negligence in the matter. But after all it was he, and not Cynthia, who had to live in the room. She had something to do with the School, and of course wanted jobs for her workers.

"I hope that good woman's train will be punctual," he thought to himself, presently, as he went to a window and drew up a blind. "Otherwise I shall have no time to look at her before Helena arrives."

He stood awhile absently surveying the prospect outside. There was first of all a garden with some pleasant terraces, and flights of stone steps, planned originally in the grand style, but now rather dilapidated and ill kept, suggesting either a general shortage of pelf on the part of the owner or perhaps mere neglect and indifference.

Beyond the garden stretched a green rim of park, with a gleam of water in the middle distance which seemed to mean either a river or a pond, many fine scattered trees, and, girdling the whole, a line of wooded hill. Just such a view as any county almost in this beautiful England can produce. It was one of the first warm days of a belated spring. A fortnight before, park and hills and garden had been deep in snow. Now Nature, eager, and one might think ashamed, was rushing at her neglected work, determined to set the full spring going in a minimum of hours. The grass seemed to be growing, and the trees leafing under the spectator's eyes. There was already a din of cuckoos in the park, and the nesting birds were busy.

The scene was both familiar and unfamiliar to Lord Buntingford. He had been brought up in it as a child. But he had only inherited the Beechmark property from his uncle just before the war, and during almost the whole of the war he had been so hard at work, as a volunteer in the Admiralty, that he had never been able to do more than run down once or twice a year to see his agent, go over his home farm, and settle what timber was to be cut before the Government commandeered it. He was not yet demobilized, as his naval uniform showed. There was a good deal of work still to do in his particular office, and he was more than willing to do it. But in a few months' time at any rate he was just now taking a fortnight's leave he would be once more at a loose end. That condition of things must be altered as soon as possible... Continue reading book >>




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