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A Liberal Education
by [?]

“So you couldn’t wait!”

Mrs. Branscome turned full on the speaker as she answered deliberately: “You have evidently not been long in London, Mr. Hilton, or you would not ask that question.”

“I arrived yesterday evening.”

“Quite so. Then will you forgive me one tiny word of advice? You will learn the truth of it soon by yourself; but I want to convince you at once of the uselessness–to use no harder word–of trying to revive a flirtation–let me see! yes, quite two years old. You might as well galvanise a mummy and expect it to walk about. Besides,” she added inconsistently, “I had to marry and–and–you never came.”

“Then you sent the locket!”

The word sent a shiver through Mrs. Branscome with a remembrance of the desecration of a gift which she had cherished as a holy thing. She clung to flippancy as her defence.

“Oh, no! I never sent it. I lost it somewhere, I think. Must you go?” she continued, as Hilton moved silently to the door. “I expect my husband in just now. Won’t you wait and meet him?”

“How dare you?” Hilton burst out. “Is there nothing of your true self left?”

* * * * * David Hilton’s education was as yet in its infancy. This was not only his first visit to England, but, indeed, to any spot further afield than Interlaken. All of his six-and-twenty years that he could recollect had been passed in a chalet on the Scheidegg above Grindelwald, his only companion an elderly recluse who had deliberately cut himself off from communion with his fellows. The trouble which had driven Mr. Strange, an author at one time of some mark, into this seclusion, was now as completely forgotten as his name. Even David knew nothing of its cause. That Strange was his uncle and had adopted him when left an orphan at the age of six, was the sum of his information. For although the pair had lived together for twenty years, there had been little intercourse of thought between them, and none of sentiment. Strange had, indeed, throughout shut his nephew, not merely from his heart, but also from his confidence, at first out of sheer neglect, and afterwards, as the lad grew towards manhood, from deliberate intent. For, by continually brooding over his embittered life, he had at last impregnated his weak nature with the savage cynicism which embraced even his one comrade; and the child he had originally chosen as a solace for his loneliness, became in the end the victim of a heartless experiment. Strange’s plan was based upon a method of training. In the first place, he thoroughly isolated David from any actual experience of persons beyond the simple shepherd folk who attended to their needs and a few Alpine guides who accompanied him on mountain expeditions. He kept incessant guard over his own past life, letting no incidents or deductions escape, and fed the youth’s mind solely upon the ideal polities of the ancients, his object being to launch him suddenly upon the world with little knowledge of it beyond what had filtered through his books, and possessed of an intuitive hostility to existing modes. What kind of a career would ensue? Strange anticipated the solution of the problem with an approach to excitement. Two events, however, prevented the complete realisation of his scheme. One was a lingering illness which struck him down when David was twenty-four and about to enter on his ordeal. The second, occurring simultaneously, was the advent of Mrs. Branscome–then Kate Alden–to Grindelwald.

They met by chance on the snow slopes of the Wetterhorn early one August morning. Miss Alden was trying to disentangle some meaning from the patois of her guides, and gratefully accepted Hilton’s assistance. Half-an-hour after she had continued the ascent, David noticed a small gold locket glistening in her steps. It recalled him to himself, and he picked it up and went home with a strange trouble clutching at his heart. The next morning he carried the locket down into the valley, found its owner and–forgot to restore it. It became an excuse for further descents. Meanwhile, the theories were wooed with a certain coldness. In front of them stood perpetually the one real thing which had surged up through the quiet of his life, and, lover-like, he justified its presence to himself, by seeing in Kate Alden’s frank face the incarnation of the ideal patterns of his books. The visits to Grindelwald grew more frequent and more prolonged. The climax, however, came unexpectedly to both. David had commissioned a jeweller at Berne to fashion a fac-simile of the locket for his own wearing, and, meaning to restore the original, handed Kate Alden the copy the evening before she left. An explanation of the mistake led to mutual avowals and a betrothal. Hilton returned to nurse his adoptive father, and was to seek England as soon as he could obtain his release. Meanwhile, Kate pledged herself to wait for him. She kept the new locket, empty except for a sprig of edelweiss he had placed in it, and agreed that if she needed her lover’s presence, she should despatch it as an imperative summons.