The old sailor was too transported with sympathy to say a word. He could only shake her broad muscular hand. She was half-way down the garden path before she heard him calling her, and saw his grizzled head and weather-stained face looking out from behind the curtains.
“You may put me down for the platform,” he cried, and vanished abashed behind the curtain of his Times, where his wife found him at lunch time.
“I hear that you have had quite a long chat with Mrs. Westmacott,” said she.
“Yes, and I think that she is one of the most sensible women that I ever knew.”
“Except on the woman’s rights question, of course.”
“Oh, I don’t know. She had a good deal to say for herself on that also. In fact, mother, I have taken a platform ticket for her meeting.”
AN OLD STORY.
But this was not to be the only eventful conversation which Mrs. Westmacott held that day, nor was the Admiral the only person in the Wilderness who was destined to find his opinions considerably changed. Two neighboring families, the Winslows from Anerley, and the Cumberbatches from Gipsy Hill, had been invited to tennis by Mrs. Westmacott, and the lawn was gay in the evening with the blazers of the young men and the bright dresses of the girls. To the older people, sitting round in their wicker-work garden chairs, the darting, stooping, springing white figures, the sweep of skirts, and twinkle of canvas shoes, the click of the rackets and sharp whiz of the balls, with the continual “fifteen love—fifteen all!” of the marker, made up a merry and exhilarating scene. To see their sons and daughters so flushed and healthy and happy, gave them also a reflected glow, and it was hard to say who had most pleasure from the game, those who played or those who watched.
Mrs. Westmacott had just finished a set when she caught a glimpse of Clara Walker sitting alone at the farther end of the ground. She ran down the court, cleared the net to the amazement of the visitors, and seated herself beside her. Clara’s reserved and refined nature shrank somewhat from the boisterous frankness and strange manners of the widow, and yet her feminine instinct told her that beneath all her peculiarities there lay much that was good and noble. She smiled up at her, therefore, and nodded a greeting.
“Why aren’t you playing, then? Don’t, for goodness’ sake, begin to be languid and young ladyish! When you give up active sports you give up youth.”
“I have played a set, Mrs. Westmacott.”
“That’s right, my dear.” She sat down beside her, and tapped her upon the arm with her tennis racket. “I like you, my dear, and I am going to call you Clara. You are not as aggressive as I should wish, Clara, but still I like you very much. Self-sacrifice is all very well, you know, but we have had rather too much of it on our side, and should like to see a little on the other. What do you think of my nephew Charles?”