THERE were two subjects which irritated the mind of Margaret Belman as the Southern Express carried her towards Selford Junction and the branch-line train which crawled from the junction to Siltbury. The first of these was, not unnaturally, the drastic changes she now contemplated, and the effect they already had had upon Mr. J. G. Reeder, that mild and middle-aged man.
When she had announced that she was seeking a post in the country, he might at least have shown some evidence of regret: a certain glumness would have been appropriate at any rate. Instead he had brightened visibly at the prospect.
"I am afraid I shan't be able to come to London very often," she had said.
"That is good news," said Mr. Reeder, and added some banality about the value of periodical changes of air and the beauty of getting near to nature. In fact, he had been more cheerful than he had been for a week, which was rather exasperating.
Margaret Belman's pretty face puckered as she recalled her disappointment and chagrin. All thoughts of dropping this application of hers disappeared. Not that she imagined for one moment that a six-hundred-a-year secretaryship was going to fall into her lap for the mere asking. She was wholly unsuited for the job, she had no experience of hotel work, and the chances of her being accepted were remote.
As to the Italian man who had made so many attempts to make her acquaintance, he was one of the unpleasant commonplaces so familiar to a girl who worked for her living that in ordinary circumstances she would not have given him a second thought.
But that morning he had followed her to the station, and she was certain that he had heard her tell the girl who came with her that she was returning by the 6.15. A policeman would deal effectively with him-if she cared to risk the publicity. But a girl, however sane, shrinks from such an ordeal, and she must deal with him in her own way.
That was not a happy prospect, and the two matters in combination were sufficient to spoil what otherwise might have been a very happy or interesting afternoon. As to Mr. Reeder...
Margaret Belman frowned. She was twenty-three, an age when youngish men are rather tiresome. On the other hand, men in the region of fifty are not especially attractive; and she loathed Mr. Reeder's side-whiskers, that made him look rather like a Scottish butler. Of course, he was a dear... .
Here the train reached the junction. She found herself at the surprisingly small station of Siltbury before she had quite made up her mind whether she was in love with Mr. Reeder or merely annoyed with him.
The driver of the station cab stopped his unhappy-looking horse before the small gateway and pointed with his whip.
"This is the best way in for you, miss," he said. "Mr. Daver's office is at the end of the path."
He was a shrewd old man, who had driven many applicants for the post of secretary to Larmes Keep, and he guessed that this, the prettiest of all, did not come as a guest. In the first place, she brought no baggage, and then too the ticket-collector had come running after her to hand back the return half of the railway ticket which she had absent-mindedly surrendered.
"I'd better wait for you, miss... ?"
"Oh, yes, please," said Margaret Belman hastily as she got down from the dilapidated victoria.
"You got an appointment?"
The cabman was a local character, and local characters assume privileges.
"I ast you," he explained carefully, "because lots of young wimmin have come up to Larmes without appointments, and Mr. Daver wouldn't see 'em. They just cut out the advertisement and come along, but the ad. says write. I suppose I've made a dozen journeys with young wimmin who ain't got appointments. I'm telling you for your own good."
The girl smiled.