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Title: The Refugees
Author: Edith Wharton
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Language:   English
Date first posted: February 2002
Date most recently updated: February 2002

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The Refugees
Edith Wharton


On the 8th of September, 1914, Charlie Durand stood hopelessly blinking
through his spectacles at the throng of fugitives which the Folkestone
train had just poured out upon the platform of Charing Cross.

He was aware of a faint haze on the spectacles which he usually kept
clear of the slightest smirch. It had been too prolonged, too abominable,
too soul-searching, the slow torture of his hours of travel with the
stricken multitude in which he had found himself entangled on the pier at

Charlie Durand, Professor of Romance Languages in a western University,
had been spending the first weeks of a hard-earned Sabbatical holiday in
wandering through Flanders and Belgium, and on the fatal second of August
had found himself at Louvain, whose University, a year or two previously,
had honoured him with a degree.

On the advice of the American consul he had left Belgium at once, and,
deeply disturbed by the dislocation of his plans, had carried his shaken
nerves to a lost corner of Normandy, where he had spent the ensuing weeks
in trying to think the war would soon be over.

It was not that he was naturally hard or aloof about it, or wanted to be;
but the whole business was so contrary to his conception of the universe,
and his fagged mind, at the moment, was so incapable of prompt
readjustment, that he needed time to steady himself. Besides, his
conscience told him that his first duty was to get back unimpaired to the
task which just enabled him to keep a mother and two sisters above want.
His few weeks on the continent had cost much more than he had expected,
and most of his remaining francs had gone to the various appeals for
funds that penetrated even to his lost corner; and he decided that the
prudent course (now that everybody said the war was certainly going to
last till November) would be to slip over to cheap lodgings in London,
and bury his nose in the British Museum.

This decision, as it chanced, had coincided with the annihilation of
Louvain and Malines. News of the rapid German advance had not reached
him; but at Boulogne he found himself caught in the central eddy of
fugitives, tossed about among them like one of themselves, pitched on the
boat with them, dealt with compassionately but firmly by the fagged
officials at Folkestone, jammed into a cranny of the endless train, had
chocolate and buns thrust on him by ministering angels with high heels
and powdered noses, and shyly passed these refreshments on to the fifteen
dazed fellow-travellers packed into his compartment.

His first impulse was to turn back and fly the sight at any cost. But his
luggage had already passed out of his keeping, and he had not the courage
to forsake it. Moreover, a slight congenital lameness made flight in such
circumstances almost impossible. So after a fugitive had come down
heavily on his lame foot he resigned himself to keeping in the main
current and letting it sweep him onto the boat.

Once on board, he had hastened to isolate himself behind a funnel, in an
airless corner reeking of oil and steam, while the refugees, abandoned to
unanimous seasickness, became for the time an indistinguishable animal
welter. But the run to London had brought him into closer contact with
them. It was impossible to sit for three mortal hours with an unclaimed
little boy on one's lap, opposite a stony-faced woman holding a baby that
never stopped crying, and not give them something more than what remained
of one's chocolate and buns. The woman with the child was bad enough;
though perhaps less perversely moving than the little blonde thing with
long soiled gloves who kept staring straight ahead and moaning: "My
furs--oh, my furs." But worst of all was the old man at the other end of
the compartment: the motionless old man in a frayed suit of professorial
black, with a face like a sallow bust on a bracket in a university

It was the face of Durand's own class and of his own profession, and it
struck him as something not to be contemplated without dire results to
his nervous system. He was glad the old man did not speak to him, but
only waved away with a silent bow the sandwich he offered; and glad that
he himself was protected by a slight stammer (which agitation always
increased) from any attempt at sustained conversation with the others.
But in spite of these safeguards the run to London was dreadful.

On the platform at Charing Cross he stood motionless, trying to protect
his lame leg and yet to take up as little room as possible, while he
waited for the tide to flow by and canalize itself. There was no way in
which he could help the doomed wretches: he kept repeating that without
its affording him the least relief. He had given away his last available
penny, keeping barely enough to pay for a few frugal weeks in certain
lodgings he knew of off Bedford Square; and he could do nothing for the
moment but take up as little space as possible till a break in the crowd
should let him hobble through to freedom. But that might not be for
another hour; and meanwhile, helplessly, he gazed at the scene through
misty spectacles.

The refugees were spread out about him in a stagnant mass, through which,
over which, almost, there squeezed, darted, skimmed and criss-crossed the
light battalions of the benevolent. People with badges were everywhere,
philanthropists of both sexes and all ages, sorting, directing,
exhorting, contradicting, saying "Wee wee," and "Oh, no" and "This way,
please--oh, dear, what IS 'this way' in French?", and "I beg your pardon,
but that bed-warmer belongs to MY old woman"; and industriously adding,
by all the means known to philanthropy, to the distress and bewilderment
of their victims.

Durand saw the old professor who had travelled with him slip by alone, as
if protected by his silent dignity. He saw other faces that held
benevolence at bay. One or two erect old women with smooth hair and neat
black bonnets gave him a sharper pang than the drooping and dishevelled;
and he watched, with positive anguish, a mother pausing to straighten her
little boy's collar. But what on earth could one do for any of them?

Suddenly he was aware of a frightened touch on his arm.

"Oh, Monsieur, je vous en prie, venez! DO come!"

The voice was a reedy pipe, the face that of a little elderly lady so dry
and diaphanous that she reminded him, in her limp dust-coloured garments,
of a last year's moth shaken out of the curtains of an empty room.

"Je vous en PRIE," she repeated, with a plaintive stress on the last
word. Her intonation was not exactly French; he supposed it was some
variety of provincial Belgian, and wondered why it sounded so unlike
anything he had been hearing. Her face was as wild as anything so small
and domesticated could be. Tears were running down her cheeks, and the
hand on his sleeve twitched in its cotton glove.

"Mais oui--mais oui," he found himself reassuring her. Her look of
anxiety disappeared, and as he drew the cotton glove through his arm the
tears seemed to be absorbed into her pale wrinkles.

"So many of them obviously want to be left alone; here's one who wants to
be looked after," he thought to himself, with a whimsical satisfaction in
the discovery, as he yielded to the pull on his arm.

He was of a retiring nature, and compassion, far from making him
expansive, usually contracted his faculties to the point of cowardice;
but the scenes he had traversed were so far beyond any former vision of
human wretchedness that all the defences of his gentle egotism had broken
down, and he found himself suddenly happy, and almost proud, at having
been singled out as a rescuer. He understood the passionate wish of all
the rescuers to secure a refugee and carry him or her away in triumph
against all competitors; and while his agile mind made a rapid sum in
division his grasp tightened on the little old lady's arm, and he
muttered to himself: "They shan't take her from me if I have to live on
dry bread."

With a victim on his arm--and one who looked the part so touchingly--it
was easier to insinuate his way through the crowd, and he fended off all
the attempts of fair highwaymen to snatch his prize from him with an
energy in which the prize ably seconded him.

"No, no, NO!" she repeated, in mild piping English, tightening her clutch
as he tightened his; and presently he discovered that she had noticed his
lameness, and with her free hand was making soft defensive dabs at the
backs and ribs that blocked their advance.

"You're lame, too--did THEY do it?" she whispered, falling into French
again; and he said, chivalrously: "Oh, yes--but it wasn't their fault..."

"The savages! I shall NEVER feel in that way about them--though it's
noble of you," she murmured; and the inconsequence of this ferocity
toward her fellow-sufferers struck him as refreshingly feminine. Like
most shy men he was dazzled by unreasonable women.

"Are you in very great pain?" she continued, as they reached the street.

"Oh no--not at all. I beg you won't... The trouble is--" he broke off,
confronted by an unforeseen difficulty.

"What IS your trouble?" she sighed, leaning her little head toward him.

"Why--I--the fact is, I don't know London...or England...jamais ete," he
confessed, merging the two languages in a vain effort at fluency.

"But of course--why should you? Only trust me..."

"Ah, you DO know it, then?" what luck to have found a refugee who could
take care of him! He vowed her half his worldly goods on the spot.

She was busy signalling a hansom, and did not answer.

"Is this all your luggage?" A porter had followed him with it. He felt
that he ought to have been asking her for hers, but dared not, fearing a
tragic answer. He supposed she had been able to bring away nothing but
her threadbare cloak, and the little knobby bag that had been prodding
his ribs ever since they had linked arms.

"How lucky to have been able to save so much!" she sighed, as his bags
and boxes were hoisted to the hansom.

"Yes--in such a fight," he agreed; and wondered if she were a little
flighty as she added: "I suppose you didn't bring your mattress? Not that
it matters in the very least. Quick, get in!" she shrieked out, pushing
him past her into the hansom, and adding, as she scrambled in and snapped
the doors shut: "My sister-in-law...she's so grasping... I don't want her
to see us..." She pushed up the lid, and cried out a name unfamiliar to
her companion, but to which horse and driver instantly responded.

Durand sank back without speaking. He was bewildered and disconcerted,
and her last words had shocked him. "My sister-in-law...she's so
grasping..." The refugees, then, poor souls, were torn by the same family
jealousies as more prosperous mortals. Affliction was supposed to soften,
but apparently in such monstrous doses it had the opposite effect. He had
noticed, on the journey, symptoms of this reciprocal distrust among the
herded creatures. It was no doubt natural...but he wished his little
refugee had not betrayed the weakness.

The thought of the victim they were deserting (perhaps as helpless and
destitute as his own waif) brought a protest to his stammering tongue.

"Ought--oughtn't we to take your sister-in-law with us? Hadn't we better
turn back?"

"For Caroline? Oh, no, non, NO!" She screamed it in every tongue. "Cher
monsieur, please! She's sure to have her own...such heaps of them..."

Ah--it was jealousy, then; jealousy of the more favoured sister-in-law,
who was no doubt younger and handsomer, and had been fought over by rival
rescuers, while she, poor pet, had had to single one out for herself.
Well, Durand felt he would not have exchanged her for a beauty--so frail,
fluttered, plaintive did she seem, so small a vessel to contain so great
a woe.

Suddenly it struck him that it was SHE who had given the order to the
driver. He was more and more bewildered, and ashamed of his visible

"Where are we going?" he faltered.

"For tea--there's plenty of time, I do assure you, and I'm fainting for a
little food."

"So am I," he admitted; adding to himself: "I'll feed the poor thing, and
then we'll see what's to be done."

How he wished he hadn't given away all but his last handful of shillings!
His poverty had never been so humiliating to him. What right had he to be
pretending to help a refugee? It was as much as he could do to pay the
hansom and give her her tea. And then--? A dampness of fear broke over
him, and he cursed his cowardice in not having told her at once to make
another choice.

"But supposing nobody else had taken her?" he thought, stealing a look at
her small pointed profile and the pale wisps of hair under her draggled
veil. Her insignificance was complete, and he decided that he had
probably been her last expedient.

It would be odd if it proved that she was also his. He remembered hearing
that some of the rich refugees had been able to bring their money with
them, and his mind strayed away to the whimsical possibility of being
offered a post with emoluments by the frightened creature who was so
determined not to let him go.

"If only I knew London," he thought regretfully, "I might be worth a good
salary to her. The queer thing is that she seems to know it herself..."

Both sat silent, absorbed in their emotions.

It was certainly an odd way to be seeing London for the first time; but
he was glad to be travelling at horse-pace, instead of whirling through
his thronged sensations in a taxi.

"Trafalgar Square--yes. How clever of you! Les lions de milord Nelsone!"
she explained.

They drove on past palaces and parks.

"Maison du grand Duc...Arc de triomphe de marbre," she successively
enlightened him, sounding like a gnat in a megaphone. He leaned and
gazed, forgetting her and himself in an ecstasy of assimilation. In the
golden autumn haze London loomed mightier and richer than his best dreams
of it...


The hansom stopped, and they entered a modest tea-room which was not too
densely crowded.

"I wanted to get away from that awful mob," she explained, pushing back
her veil as they seated themselves at a table with red and white napkins
and a britannia sugar-bowl.

"Crumpets--lots of crumpets and jam," she instructed a disdainful girl in
a butterfly cap, who languished away with the order to the back of the

Durand sat speechless, overwhelmed by his predicament. Tea and crumpets
were all very well--but afterward? He felt that his silence was becoming
boorish, and leaned forward over the metal tea-pot. At the same instant,
his protegee leaned too, and simultaneously they brought out the

"Where were YOU when it broke out?"
"Where were YOU when it broke out?"

"At Louvain," he answered; and she shuddered.

"Louvain--how terrible!"

"And you, Madame?"

"I? At Brussels..."

"How terrible!" he echoed.

"Yes." Her eyes filled with tears. "I had such kind friends there."

"Ah--of course. Naturally."

She poured the tea, and pushed his cup to him. The haughty girl
reappeared with sodden crumpets, which looked to him like manna steeped
in nectar. He tossed off his tea as if it had been champagne, and courage
began to flow through his veins. Never would he desert the simple
creature who had trusted him! Let no one tell him that an able-bodied man
with brains and education could not earn enough, in the greatest city in
the world, to support himself and this poor sparrow.

The sparrow had emptied her cup, too, and a soft pink suffused her
cheeks, effacing the wrinkles, which had perhaps been only lines of
worry. He began to wonder if, after all, she were much more than forty...
Rather absurd for a man of his age to have been calling a woman of forty
an "old lady"!

Suddenly he saw that the sense of security, combined with the hot tea and
the crumpets, was beginning to act on her famished system like a
dangerous intoxicant, and that she was going to tell him everything--or
nearly everything. She bent forward, her elbows on the table, the cotton
gloves drawn off her thin hands, which were nervously clenched under her
chin. He noticed a large sapphire on one of them.

"I can't tell you... I can't tell you how happy I am," she faltered with
swimming eyes.

He remained silent, through sheer embarrassment, and she went on: "You
see, I'd so completely lost hope--so completely. I thought no one would
ever want me... They all told me at home that no one would--my nieces
did, and everybody. They taunted me with it." She broke off, and glanced
at him appealingly. "You DO understand English, don't you?"

He assented, still more bewildered, and she went on: "Oh, then it's so
much easier--then we can really talk. (No--our train doesn't leave for
nearly two hours.) You don't mind me talking, do you? You'll let me make
a clean breast of it? I MUST!"

She touched with a claw-like finger the narrow interval between her
shoulders, and added: "For weeks I've been simply suffocating with

An uncomfortable redness rose to Charlie Durand's forehead. With these
foreign women you could never tell: his brief continental experiences had
taught him that. After all, he was not a monster, and several ladies had
already attempted to prove it to him. There had been one adventure--on
the way home to his hotel at Louvain, after dining with the curator of
Prehistoric Antiquities--one adventure of which he could not think even
now without feeling as if he were in a Turkish bath, with no marble slab
to cool off on.

But this poor lady--! Of course he was mistaken. He blushed anew at his

"They all laughed at me--jeered at me--Caroline and my nieces and all of
them. They said it was no use trying--they'd failed, and how was _I_
going to succeed? Even Caroline had failed hitherto--and she's so
dreadfully determined. And of course for a married woman it's always
easier, isn't it?"

She appealed to him with anxious eyes, and his own sank behind his
protecting spectacles. Easier for a married woman--! After all, perhaps
he hadn't been mistaken. He had heard, of course, that in the highest
society the laxity was even worse...

"It's true enough," (she seemed to be answering him), "that the young
good-looking women got everything away from us. There's nothing new in
that: they always have. I don't know how they manage it; but I'm told
they were on hand when the very first boat-load of refugees arrived. I
understand the young Duchess of Bolchester and Lady Ivy Trantham were
down at Folkestone with all the Trantham motors--and from that day to
this, though we've all had our names down on the government list, not one
of us--not one human being at Lingerfield--has had so much as an
application from the Committee. And when I couldn't stand it any longer,
and said I was going up to town myself, to wait at the station and seize
one of the poor things before any of those unscrupulous women had got
him, they said it was just like me to make a show of myself for
nothing... But, after all, you see Caroline sneaked off after me without
saying anything, and was making a show of herself, too. And when I saw
her she evidently hadn't succeeded, for she was running about all alone,
looking as wild as she does on sales days at Harrod's. Caroline is very
extravagant, and doesn't mind what she spends; but she never can make up
her mind between bargains, and rushes about like a madwoman till it's too
late.--But, oh, how humiliating for her to go back to the Hall without a
single refugee!" The speaker broke off with a laugh of triumph, and wiped
away her tears.

Charlie Durand sat speechless. The crumpet had fallen from his fork, and
his tea was turning grey; but he was unconscious of such minor

"I don't... I don't understand..." he began; but as he spoke he perceived
that he did.

It was as clear as daylight; he and his companion had reciprocally taken
each other for refugees, and she was pressing upon him the assistance he
had been wondering how on earth he should manage to offer her!

"Of course you don't... I explain so badly...they've always told me
that..." she went on eagerly. "Fancy my asking if you'd brought your
mattress, for instance--what you must have thought! But the fact is, I'd
made up my mind you were going to be one of those poor old women in caps,
who take snuff and spill things, and who have always come away with
nothing but their beds and a saucepan. They all said at Lingerfield: 'If
you get even a deaf old woman you're lucky'--and so I arranged to give
you--I mean her--one of the rooms in the postmistress's cottage, where
I've put an old bedstead that the vicar's coachman's mother died in, but
the mattress had to be burnt...whereas of course now you're coming to
ME--to the Cottage, I mean...and I haven't even told you where it is, or
who I am... Oh, dear, it's so stupid of me; but you see Kathleen and
Agatha and my sister-in-law all said: 'Of course poor Audrey'll never get
anybody'; and I've had the room standing ready for three weeks--all BUT
the mattress; till even the vicar's wife had begun to joke about it with
my brother--oh, my brother's Lord Beausedge--didn't I tell you?"

She paused breathless, and then added with embarrassment: "I don't think
I ever made such a long speech in my life."

He was sure she hadn't, for as she poured out her confession it had been
borne in on him that he was listening not to an habitual babbler, but to
the uncontrollable outburst of a shy woman grown inarticulate through
want of listeners. It was harrowing, the arrears of self-confession that
one guessed behind her torrent of broken phrases.

"I can't tell you," she began again, as if she had perceived his
sympathy, "the difference it's going to make for me at home: my bringing
back the first refugee, and it's being...well, some one like YOU..."

Her blushes deepened, and she lost herself again in the abasing sense of
her inability to explain.

"Well, my name at any rate," she burst out, "is Audrey Rushworth...and
I'm not married."

"Neither am I," said her guest, smiling. American-fashion, he was groping
to produce a card. It would really not be decent in him to keep up the
pretence a moment longer, and here was an easy way to let her know of her
mistake. He pushed the card toward her, and as he did so his eye fell on
it, and he saw, too late, that it was one of those he had rather
fatuously had engraved in French for his continental travels.



She scanned the inscription and raised a reverent glance to him.
"Monsieur le Professeur--? I'd no idea...though I suppose I ought to have
known at once... Oh, I do hope," she cried, "you won't find Lingerfield
too unbearably dull!" She added, as if it were wrung from her: "Some
people think my nieces rather clever."

The Professor of Romance Languages sat fascinated by the consequences of
his last blunder. That card seemed to have been dealt out by the finger
of fate. Supposing he went to Lingerfield with her--just to see what it
was like? He had always pined to see what an English country-seat was
like; and Lingerfield was apparently important. He shook off the mad
notion with an effort. "I'll drive with her to the station," he thought,
"and just lose myself in the crowd. That will be the easiest way."

"There are three of them--Agatha, Kathleen and Clio... But you'll find us
all hopelessly dull," he heard her repeating.

"I shall--I certainly shan't... I mean, of course, how could I?" he

It was so much like her own syntax that it appeared to satisfy her.

"No--_I_ pay!" she cried, darting between him and the advancing waitress.
"Shall we walk? It's only two steps--" and, seeing him look about for the
vanished hansom, "Oh, I sent the luggage on at once by the cab-driver.
You see, there's a good deal of it, and there's such a hideous rush at
the booking-office at this hour. He'll have given it to a porter--so
please don't worry!"

Firm and elastic as a girl she sprang through the doorway, while, limping
at her side, he stared at the decisive fact that his luggage was once
more out of his keeping.


Charlie Durand (his shaving glass told him) was forty-five, decidedly
bald, with an awkward limp, scant-lashed blue eyes blinking behind gold
spectacles, a brow that he believed to be thoughtful and a chin that he
knew to be weak.

His height was medium, his figure sedentary, with the hollows and
prominences in the wrong places; and he wore ready-made clothes in
protective colours, and square-toed boots with side-elastics, and
stammered whenever it was all-important to speak fluently.

But his sister Mabel, who knew him better than the others, had once taken
one of his cards and run a pen through the word "Languages," leaving
simply "Professor of Romance"; and in his secret soul Charlie Durand knew
that she was right.

He had, in truth, a dramatic imagination without the power of expression;
instead of writing novels, he read them; instead of living adventures, he
dreamed them. Being naturally modest he had long since discovered his
limitations, and decided that all his imagination would ever do for him
was to give him a greater freedom of judgment than his neighbours. Even
that was something to be thankful for; but now he began to ask himself if
it were enough...

Professor Durand had read "L'Abbesse de Jouarre", and knew that, in
moments of extreme social peril, superior persons often felt themselves
justified in casting conventional morality to the winds. He had no
thought of proceeding to such extremes; but he did wonder if, at the hour
when civilization was shaken to its base, he, Charlie Durand, might not
at last permit himself forty-eight hours of romance...

His audacity was fortified by the fact that his luggage was out of his
control, for he could hardly picture any situation more subversive than
that of being separated from his tooth-brush and his reading-glasses. But
the difficulty of explaining himself if he went any farther in the
adventure loomed larger as they approached the station; and as they
crossed its crowded threshold, and Miss Rushworth said: "Now we'll see
about your things", he saw a fresh possibility of escape, and cried out:
"No--no; please find places--I'll look for my luggage."

He felt on his arm the same inexorable grasp that had steered him through
the labyrinth of Charing Cross.

"You're quite right. We'll get our seats first; in such a crowd it's
safer!" she answered gaily, and guided him toward a second-class
compartment (he had always heard the aristocracy travelled second class
in England). "Besides," she continued, as she pounced on two corner
seats, "the luggage is sure to be in the van already. Or if it isn't,
you'd never find it. All the refugees in England seen to be travelling by
this train!"

They did indeed--and how to tell her that there was one less in the
number than she imagined? A new difficulty had only just occurred to him.
It was easy enough to explain to her that she had been mistaken; but if
he did, how justify the hours he had already spent in her company? Could
he tell the sister of Lord Beausedge that he had taken her for a refugee?

Desperation nerved him to unconsidered action. The train was not leaving
yet--there was still time for the confession.

He scrambled to the seat opposite his captor's and rashly spoke. "I ought
to tell you... I must apologize--apologize abjectly--for not explaining

Miss Rushworth turned pale, and leaning forward caught him by the wrist.

"Ah, don't go on--" she gasped.

He lost his last hold on self-possession.

"Not go on--?"

"Don't you suppose I know--didn't you guess that I knew all along?"

He paled too, and then crimsoned, all his old suspicions rushing back to

"How could I not," she pursued, "when I saw all those heaps of luggage?
Of course I knew at once that you were rich, and didn't need..." her
wistful eyes were wet... "need anything _I_ could do for you. But you
looked so lonely...and your lameness, and the moral anguish... I don't
see, after all, why we should open our houses ONLY to pauper refugees;
and it's not my fault, is it, if the Committee simply wouldn't send me

"But...but..." he desperately began; and then all at once his stammer
caught him, and an endless succession of b-b-b- issued from his helpless

With exquisite tact Miss Rushworth smiled away his confusion.

"I won't listen to another word...not one!--Oh, duck your head--QUICK!"
she shrieked in another voice, flattening herself back into her corner.

Durand recognized the same note of terror with which she had hailed her
sister-in-law's approach at Charing Cross. It was needless for her to add
faintly: "Caroline."

As she did so, a plumed and determined head surged up into the
window-frame, and an astonished voice exclaimed: "Audrey!"

A moment later four ladies, a maid laden with parcels, and two bushy Chow
dogs, had possessed themselves of all that remained of the compartment;
and Durand, as he squeezed himself into his corner, was feeling the
relief which comes with the cessation of virtuous effort. He had seen at
a glance that there was nothing more to be done.

The young ladies with Lady Beausedge were visibly her daughters. They
were of graduated heights, beginning with a very tall one, and were all
thin, conspicuous and queerly dressed, suggesting to the bewildered
Professor bad copies of originals he had never seen. None of them took
any notice of him, and the dogs, after smelling his ankles,
contemptuously followed their example.

It would indeed have been difficult, during the first moments, for any
personality less masterful than Lady Beausedge's to assert itself in her
presence. So prevalent was she that Durand found himself viewing her
daughters, dogs and attendant as her mere fringes and attributes, and
thinking with terror: "She's going to choose the seat next to me," when
in reality it was only the youngest and thinnest of the girls who was
settling herself at his side with a play of parcels as sharp as elbows.

Lady Beausedge was already assailing her sister-in-law.

"I'd no idea you were going up to town today, Audrey. You said nothing of
it when you dined with us last night."

Miss Rushworth's eyes fluttered apprehensively from Lady Beausedge's
awful countenance to the timorous face of the Professor of Romance
Languages, who had bought a newspaper and was deep in its inner pages.

"Neither did you, Caroline," Miss Rushworth began with unexpected energy;
and the thin girl next to Durand laughed.

"Neither did I what?--What are you laughing at Clio?"

"Neither did you say YOU were coming up to town, mother."

Lady Beausedge glared, and the other girls giggled. Even the maid stooped
over the dogs to conceal an appreciative smile. It was evident that
baiting Lady Beausedge was a popular if dangerous amusement.

"As it happens," said the lady of Lingerfield, "the Committee telephoned
only this morning..."

Miss Rushworth's eyes brightened. She grew almost arch. "Ah--then you
came up about refugees?"

"Naturally." Lady Beausedge shook out her boa and opened the "Pall Mall

"Such a fight!" groaned the tallest girl, who was also the largest,
vividest and most expensively dressed.

" was hardly worth while... Anything so grotesquely

The young lady called Clio remarked in a quiet undertone: "Five people
and two dogs to fetch down one old woman with a pipe..."

" HAVE got one?" murmured Miss Rushworth, with what seemed to
Durand a malicious simulation of envy.

"Yes," her sister-in-law grudgingly admitted. "But, as Clio says, it's
almost an insult to have dragged us all up to town... They'd promised us
a large family, with a prima donna from the Brussels Opera (so useful for
Agatha's music); and two orphans besides... I suppose Ivy Trantham got
them all, as usual..." She paused, and added more condescendingly: "After
all, Audrey, you were right not to try to do anything through the

"Yes; I think one does better without," Miss Rushworth replied with
extreme gentleness.

"One does better without refugees, you mean? I daresay we shall find it
so. I've no doubt the Bolchester set has taken all but the utterly
impossible ones."

"Not ALL," said Miss Rushworth.

Something in her tone caused her nieces to exchange a glance, and Lady
Beausedge to rear her head from the "Pall Mall Gazette".

"Not ALL," repeated Miss Rushworth.

The eldest girls broke into an excited laugh. "Aunt Audrey--you don't
mean YOU'VE got an old woman with a pipe too?"

"No. Not an old woman." She paused, and waved her hand in Durand's
direction. "Monsieur Le Professeur Durand, de l'Universite de Louvain...
My sister-in-law, my nieces... (HE SPEAKS ENGLISH)," she added in a


Charlie Durand's window was very low and wide, and quaintly trellised.
There was no mistaking it: it was a "lattice"--a real one, with old
bluish panes set in black mouldings, not the stage variety made of plate
glass and papier mache that he had seen in the sham "Cottage" of
aesthetic suburbs at home.

When he pushed the window open a branch of yellow roses brushed his face,
and a dewy clematis gazed in at him with purple eyes. Below lay a garden,
incredibly velvety, flower-filled, and enclosed in yew-hedges so high
that it seemed, under the low twilight sky, as intimate and shut in as
Miss Rushworth's low-ceilinged drawing-room, which, in its turn, was as
open to the air, and as full of flowers, as the garden.

But all England, that afternoon, as his train traversed it, had seemed
like some great rich garden roofed in from storm and dust and disorder.
What a wonderful place, and what a miracle to have been thus carried into
the very heart of it! All his scruples vanished in the enchantment of
this first encounter with the English country.

When he had bathed and dressed, and descended the black oak stairs, he
found his hostess waiting in the garden. She was hatless, with a pale
scarf over her head, and a pink spot of excitement on each faded cheek.

"I should have preferred a quiet evening here; but since Caroline made
such a point of our dining at the Hall--" she began.

"Of course, of's all so lovely..." said her guest recklessly.
He would have dined at Windsor Castle with composure. After the compact
and quintessential magic of the Cottage nothing could surprise or
overwhelm him.

They left the garden by a dark green door in a wall of old peach-coloured
brick, and walked in the deepening twilight across a field and over a
stile. A stile! He remembered pictures and ballads about helping girls
over stiles, and lowered his eyes respectfully as Miss Rushworth's hand
rested on his in the descent.

The next moment they were in the spacious shade of a sort of forest of
Arden, with great groups of bossy trees standing apart, and deer flashing
by at the end of ferny glades.

"Is it--are we--?"

"Oh, yes. This is Lingerfield. The Cottage is on the edge of the park.
It's not a long walk, if we go by the chapel and through the cloisters."

The very words oppressed him with their too-crowding suggestions. There
was a chapel in the park--there were cloisters! Lingerfield had an
ecclesiastical past--had been an abbey, no doubt. But even such
associations paled in the light of reality. As they came out of the
shadow of the trees they recovered a last glow of daylight. In it lay a
gray chapel, delicately laced and pinnacled; and beyond the chapel the
arcade of the cloister, a lawn with one domed cedar, and a long Tudor
house, its bricks still rosy in the dusk, and a gleam of sunset caught in
its windows.

"How--how long the daylight lasts in England!" said Professor Durand,
choking with emotion.

The drawing-room into which he had followed Miss Rushworth seemed full of
people and full of silence. Professor Durand had never had, on a social
occasion, such an impression of effortless quiet. The ladies about the
big stone chimney-piece and between the lamp-lit tables, if they had not
been so modern in dress and attitude, might have been a part of the
shadowy past.

Only Lady Beausedge, strongly corseted, many necklaced, her boa standing
out from her bare shoulders like an Elizabethan ruff, seemed to Durand
majestic enough for her background. She suggested a composite image of
Bloody Mary and the late Queen.

He was just recovering from the exchange of silences that had greeted his
entrance when he discovered another figure worthy of the scene. It was
Lord Beausedge, standing in the window, and glancing disgustedly over the
evening paper.

Lord Beausedge was as much in character as his wife; only he belonged to
a later period. He suggested stocks and nankeen trousers, a Lawrence
portrait, port wine, fox-hunting, the Peninsular campaign, the Indian
mutiny, every Englishman doing his duty, and resistance to the Reform
Bill. It was portentous that one person, in modern clothes and reading a
newspaper, should so epitomize a vanished age.

He made a step or two toward his guest, took him for granted, and
returned to the newspaper.

"Why--why do we all fidget so in America?" Professor Durand wondered.

"Gwen and Ivy are always late," said Lady Beausedge, as though answering
a silence.

Miss Rushworth looked agitated.

"Are they coming from Trantham?"

"Not him. Only Gwen and Ivy. Agatha telephoned, and Gwen asked if they

After that everyone sat silent again for a long time, without any air of
impatience or surprise. Durand had the feeling that they all--except
perhaps Lord Beausedge--had a great deal to say to him, but that it would
be very slow in coming to the surface. Well--so much the better; time was
no consideration, and he was glad not to crowd his sensations.

"Do you know the Duchess?" asked Lady Beausedge suddenly.

"The Duchess--?"

"Gwen Bolchester. She's coming. She wants to see you."

"To see ME?"

"When Agatha telephoned that you were here she chucked a dinner somewhere
else, and she's rushing over from Trantham with her sister-in-law."

Durand looked helplessly at Miss Rushworth and saw that her cheeks were
pink with triumph. The Duchess of Bolchester was coming to see her

"Do people here just chuck dinners like that?" he asked, with a faint

"When they want to," said Lady Beausedge simply. The conversation again
came to a natural end.

It revived with feverish vivacity on the entrance of two tall and
emaciated young women, who drifted in after Lord Beausedge had decided to
ring for dinner, and who wasted none of their volubility in excusing
their late arrival.

The newcomers, who had a kind of limp loveliness totally unknown to the
Professor of Romance Languages, he guessed to be the Duchess of
Bolchester and Lady Ivy Trantham, the most successful refugee-raiders of
the district. They were dressed in pale frail garments and hung with
barbaric beads and bangles, and as soon as he saw them he understood why
he had thought the daughters of the house looked like bad copies--all
except the youngest, whom he was beginning to single out from her

He was not sure if, during the murmur of talk that followed, some one
breathed his name to the newcomers; but certainly no one told him which
of the two ladies was which, or indeed made any effort to draw him into
the conversation. It was only when the slightly less tall addressed the
tallest as "Gwen" that he remembered this name was the Duchess's.

She had swept him with a smiling glance of her large sweet vacant eyes,
and he had the impression that she too had things to say to him, but that
the least strain on her attention was too great an effort, and that each
time she was about to remember who he was something else distracted her.

The thought that a Duchess had chucked a dinner to see him had made him
slightly giddy; and the humiliation of finding that, once they were
confronted, she had forgotten what she had come for, was painful even to
his disciplined humility.

But Professor Durand was not without his modest perspicacity, and little
by little he began to guess that this absence of concentration and
insistence was part of a sort of leisurely holiday spirit unlike anything
he had ever known. Under the low-voiced volubility and restless animation
of these young women (whom the daughters of the house intensely
imitated), he felt a great central inattention. Their strenuousness was
not fatiguing because it did not insist, but blew about like thistledown
from topic to topic. He saw that his safety lay in this, and reassurance
began to steal over him as he understood that the last danger he was
exposed to was that of being too closely scrutinized or interrogated.

"If I'm an impostor," he thought, "at least no one here will find it

And, then, just as he had drawn this sage conclusion, he felt the sudden
pounce of the Duchess's eye. Dinner was over, and the party had
re-grouped itself in a great book-panelled room, before the carved
chimney-piece of which she stood lighting her cigarette, like a Duchess
on the cover of a novel.

"You know I'm going to carry you off presently," she said.

Miss Audrey Rushworth was sitting in a sofa corner beside her youngest
niece, whom she evidently found less intimidating than the others.
Durand, instinctively glancing toward them, saw the elder lady turn pale,
while Miss Clio Rushworth's swinging foot seemed to twinkle with malice.

He bowed as he supposed one ought to bow when addressed by a Duchess.

"Off for a talk?" he hazarded playfully.

"Off to Trantham. Didn't they tell you? I'm giving a big garden-party for
the Refugee Relief Fund, and I'm looking for somebody to give us a
lecture on Atrocities. That's what I came for," she added ingenuously.

There was a profound silence, which Lord Beausedge, lifting his head from
the "Times", suddenly broke.

"Damned bad taste, all that sort of thing," he remarked, and continued
his reading.

"But, Gwen, dear," Miss Rushworth faltered, "your garden-party isn't till
the twentieth."

The Duchess looked surprised. She evidently had no head for dates. "Isn't
it, Aunt Audrey? Well, it doesn't matter, does it? I want him all the
same--we want him awfully, Ivy, don't we?" She shone on Durand. "You'll
see such lots of your own people at Trantham. The Belgian Minister and
the French Ambassador are coming down for the lecture. You'll feel less
lonely there."

Lady Beausedge intervened with authority. "I think I have a prior claim,
my dear Gwen. Of course Audrey was not expecting any one--any one like
Professor Durand; and at the Cottage he might...he might...but HERE, with
your uncle and the girls all speaking French..." She turned to Durand
with a hospitable smile.

"Your room's quite ready; and of course my husband will be delighted if
you like to use the library to prepare your lecture in. We'll send the
governess-cart for your traps tomorrow." She fixed her firm eyes on the
Duchess. "You see, dear, it was all quite settled before you came."

Lady Ivy Trantham spoke up.  "It's not a bit of use, Aunt Carry. Gwen
can't give him up." (Being apparently unable to master the Professor's
name, the sister-in-law continued to designate him by the personal
pronoun). "The Committee has given us a prima donna from the Brussels
Opera to sing the Marseillaise, and the what d'ye-call-it Belgian anthem,
but there are lots of people coming just for the Atrocities."

"Oh, we must have the Atrocities," the Duchess echoed. She looked
musingly at Durand's pink troubled face. "He'll do them awfully well,"
she concluded, talking about him as if he were deaf.

"We must have somebody who's accustomed to lecturing. People won't put up
with amateurs," Lady Ivy reinforced her.

Lady Beausedge's countenance was dark with rage.

"A prima donna from the Brussels Opera! But the Committee telephoned me
this morning to come up and meet a prima donna... It's all a mistake HER
being at Trantham, Gwen."

"Well," said the Duchess serenely, "I daresay it's all a mistake HIS
being here." She looked more and more tenderly on the Professor.

"But he's not here; he's with me at the Cottage!" cried Miss Rushworth,
springing up with sudden resolution. "It's too absurd and undignified,

"Yes; don't let's squabble. Come along," said the Duchess, slipping her
long arm through Durand's as Miss Rushworth's had been slipped through it
at Charing Cross.

The subject of this flattering but agitating discussion had been
struggling, ever since it began, with a nervous contraction of the
throat. When at length his lips opened only a torrent of consonants
rushed from them, finally followed by the cryptic monosyllables: "--I'm

"Not a professional? Oh, but you're a Professor--that'll do," cried Lady
Ivy Trantham briskly; while the Duchess, hugging his arm closer, added in
a voice of persuasion: "You see, we've got one at Trantham already, and
we're so awfully afraid of him that we want you to come and talk to him.
You MUST."

"I mean, n-n-not a r-r-ref--" gasped out the desperate Durand.

Suddenly he felt his other arm caught by Miss Clio Rushworth, who gave it
a deep and eloquent pinch. At the same time their eyes met, and he read
in hers entreaty, command, and the passionate injunction to follow her

"Poor Professor Durand--you'll take us for Red Indians on the war-trail!
Come to the dining-room with me and I'll give you a glass of Perrier. I
saw that the curry was too strong for you," this young lady insinuatingly

Durand, with one of his rare flashes of self-possession, had converted
his stammer into a strangling cough, and, released by the Duchess, made
haste to follow his rescuer out of the room. He kept up his cough while
they crossed the hall, and by the time they reached the dining-room tears
of congestion were running down behind his spectacles, and he sank into a
chair and rested his elbows despairingly on a corner of the great
mahogany table.

Miss Clio Rushworth disappeared behind a screen and returned with a glass
of Perrier. "Anything in it?" she enquired pleasantly, and smiled at his
doleful gesture of negation.

He emptied his glass and cleared his throat; but before he could speak
she held up a silencing hand.

"Don't--don't!" she said.

He was startled by this odd echo of her aunt's entreaty, and a little
tired of being hurled from one cryptic injunction to another.

"Don't what?" he asked sharply.

"Make a clean breast of it. Not yet. Pretend you ARE, just a little
longer, please."

"Pretend I am--?"

"A refugee." She sat down opposite him, her sharp chin supported on
crossed hands. "I'll tell you why--"

But Professor Durand was not listening. A momentary rapture of relief at
being found out had been succeeded by a sick dread of the consequences.
He tried to read the girl's thin ironic face, but her eyes and smile were

"Miss Rushworth, at least let me tell you--"

She shook her head kindly but firmly. "That you're not a German spy in
disguise? Bless you, don't you suppose I can guess what's happened. I saw
it the moment we got into the railway carriage. I suppose you came over
from Boulogne in the refugee train, and when poor dear Aunt Audrey
pounced on you, you began to stammer and couldn't explain..."

Oh, the blessed balm of her understanding!  He drew a deep breath of
gratitude, and faltered, smiling back at her smile: "It was worse than
that...much worse...I took HER for a refugee too: we rescued each other!"

A peal of youthful mirth shook the mighty rafters of the Lingerfield
dining-room. Miss Clio Rushworth buried her face and sobbed.

"Oh, I see--I see--I see it all!"

"No you don't--not quite--not yet--" he gurgled back at her.

"Tell me, then; tell me everything!"

And he told her; told her quietly, succinctly and without a stammer,
because under her cool kindly gaze he felt himself at last in an
atmosphere of boundless comprehension.

"You see...the adventure fascinated me... I won't deny that," he ended,
laying bare the last fold of his duplicity.

This, for the first time, seemed to stagger her.

"The adventure--an adventure with Aunt Audrey?"

They smiled at each other a little. "I meant, the adventure of
England--I've never been in England before--and of a baronial hall: it IS
baronial? In short, of just exactly what's been happening to me. The
novelty, you see--but how should you see?--was irresistible. The novelty,
and all the old historic associations. England's in our blood, after
all." He looked about him at the big dusky tapestried room. "Fancy having
seen this kind of thing only on the stage!... Yes, I was drawn on by
everything--by everything I saw and heard, from the moment I set foot in
London. Of course, if I hadn't been I should have found an opportunity of
explaining--or I could have bolted away from her at the station."

"I'm so glad you didn't. That's what I'm coming to," said the girl. "You
see, it's been--how shall I explain?--more than an adventure for Aunt
Audrey. It's literally the first thing that's ever happened to her."

Professor Durand blushed to the roots of his hair.

"I don't understand," he said feebly.

"No. Of course not. Any more, I suppose, than _I_ really understand what
Lingerfield represents to an American. And you would have had to live at
Lingerfield for generations and generations to understand Aunt Audrey.
You see, nothing much ever happened to the unmarried women of her time.
Most of them were just put away in cottages covered with clematis and
forgotten--even the Refugee Committee forgot her. And my father and
mother, and her other brothers and sisters, and my brothers and sisters
and I--I'm afraid we've always forgotten her too-"

"Not you," said Professor Durand with sudden temerity.

Miss Clio Rushworth smiled. "I'm very fond of her; and then I've been a
little bit forgotten myself." She paused a moment, and continued: "All
this would take too long to explain. But what I want to beg of you is
this--let her have her adventure, give her her innings, keep up the
pretence a little longer. None of the others have guessed, and I promise
to get you away safely before they do. Just let Aunt Audrey have her
refugee for a bit, and triumph over Lingerfield and Trantham.--The
Duchess? Oh, I'll arrange that too. Slip back to the Cottage now--this
way, across the lawn, by the chapel--and I'll say your cough was so
troublesome that you rushed off to put on a mustard plaster. I'll tell
Gwen you'll be delighted to give the lecture--"

Durand raised his hands in protest, but she went on: "Why, don't you see
that the more you hold out the more she'll want you? Whereas, if you
accept at once, and even let her think you're going over to stop at
Trantham as soon as your cold is better, she'll forget she's ever asked
you.--Insincere, you say? Yes, of course; a LITTLE. But have you
considered what would have happened if you hadn't choked just now, and
had succeeded in shouting out before everybody that you were an

A cold chill ran down Charlie Durand's spine as his masterful adviser set
forth this aspect of the case.

"Yes--I do see... I see it's for the best..." he stammered.

"Well--rather!" She pushed him toward a glass door opening on the lawn.
"Be off now--and do play up, won't you? I'll promise to stick by you and
see you out of it, if only you'll do as I ask."

Their hands met in a merry grasp of complicity, and as he fled away
through the moonlight he carried with him the vision of her ugly vivid
face, and wondered how such a girl could ever think she could be


A good many things had happened before he stood again on the pier at

It was in April 1918, and he was buttoned into a too-tight uniform, on
which he secretly hoped the Y.M.C.A. initials were not always the first
things to strike the eye of the admiring spectator.

It was not that he was ungrateful to the great organization which had
found a task for him in its ranks; but that he could never quite console
himself for the accident of being born a few years too soon to be wearing
the real uniform of his country. That would indeed have been Romance
beyond his dreams; but he had long ago discovered that he was never to
get beyond the second-best in such matters. None of his adventures would
ever be written with a capital.

Still, he was very content; and never more so than now that he was
actually in France again, in touch and in sound of the mighty struggle
that had once been more than his nerves could bear, but that they could
bear now with perfect serenity because he and his country, for all they
were individually worth, had a stake in the affair, and were no longer
mere sentimental spectators.

The scene, novel as it was because of the throngs of English and American
troops that animated it, was still, in some of its details, pathetically
familiar. For the German advance in the north had set in movement the
native populations of that region, and among the fugitives some forlorn
groups had reached Boulogne and were gathered on the pier, much as he had
seen them four years earlier. Only in this case, they were in dozens
instead of hundreds, and the sight of them was harrowing more because of
what they symbolized than from their actual numbers.

Professor Durand was no more in quest of refugees than he had been
formerly. He had been despatched to Boulogne to look after the library of
a Y.M.C.A. canteen, and was standing on the pier looking about him for a
guide with the familiar initials on his collar.

In the general confusion he could discover no one who took the least
interest in his problem, and he was waiting resignedly in the sheltered
angle formed by two stacks of packing-cases when he abruptly remembered
that he had always known the face he was looking at was not one to

It was that of a dark thin girl in khaki, with a slouch hat and leggings,
and her own unintelligible initials on her shoulder, who was giving firm
directions to a large orderly in a British army motor.

As Durand looked at her she looked at him. Their eyes met, and she burst
out laughing.

"Well, you do have the queerest looking tunics in your army!" she
exclaimed as their hands clasped.

"I know we do--and I'm too fat. But you knew me?" he cried triumphantly.

"Why, of course! I should know your spectacles anywhere," said Miss Clio
Rushworth gaily. She finished what she was saying to the orderly, and
then came back to the Professor.

"What a lark! What are you? Oh, Y.M.C.A., of course. With the British, I
suppose?" They perched on the boxes and exchanged confidences, while
Durand inwardly hoped that the man who ought to be looking for him was
otherwise engaged.

Apparently he was, for their talk continued to ramble on through a happy
labyrinth of reminiscences punctuated with laughter.

"And when your people found out--weren't they too awfully horrified?" he
asked at last, blushing at the mere remembrance.

She shook her head with a smile. "They never did--nobody found out but
father, and he laughed for a week. I wouldn't have had any one else know
for the world. It would have spoilt all Aunt Audrey's fun if Lingerfield
had known you weren't a refugee. To this day you're her great Adventure."

"But how did you manage it? I don't see yet."

"Come in to our canteen tonight and I'll tell you." She stood up and
shoved her cigarette case into the pocket of the tunic that fitted so
much better than his.

"I tell you what--as your man hasn't turned up, come over to the canteen
now, and see Aunt Audrey."

Professor Durand paled in an unmartial manner.

"Oh, is Miss Rushworth here?"

"Rather! She's my chief. Come along."

"Your chief--?" He wavered again, his heart failing him.

"Really--won't it be better for me not to? Suppose--suppose she should
remember me?"

Miss Rushworth's niece laughed. "I don't believe she will, she's so
blind. Besides, what if she did? She's seen a good many refugees since
your day. You see they've become rather a drug in the market, poor dears.
And Aunt Audrey's got her head full of other things now."

She had started off at her long swift stride and he was hurrying
obediently after her.

The big brown canteen was crowded with soldiers who were being variously
refreshed by young ladies in trig khaki. At the other end of the main
room, Miss Clio Rushworth turned a corner and entered an office. Durand
followed her.

At the office desk sat a lady with eye-glasses on a sharp nose.  She wore
a Colonel's uniform, with several decorations, and was bending over the
desk busily writing.

A young girl in a nurse's dress stood beside her, as if waiting for an
order, and flattened against the wall of the room sat a row of limp and
desolate beings--too evidently refugees.

The Colonel lifted her head quickly and glanced at her niece with a
resolute and almost forbidding eye.

"Not another refugee, Clio--not ONE! I absolutely refuse. We've not a
hole left to put them in, and the last family you sent me went off with
my mackintosh and my electric lamp."

She bent again sternly to her writing. As she looked up her glance
strayed carelessly over Professor Durand's congested countenance, and
then dropped to the desk without a sign of recognition.

"Oh, Aunt Audrey--not one, not just ONE?" the Colonel's niece pleaded.

"It's no use, my dear.--Now don't interrupt, please.--Here are the
bulletins, Nurse."

Colonel Audrey Rushworth shut her lips with a snap and her pen drove on
steadily over the sheets of official letter paper.

When Professor Durand and Clio Rushworth stood outside of the canteen
again in the spring sunshine they looked long at each other without
speaking. Charlie Durand, under his momentary sense of relief, was aware
of a distinct humiliation.

"I see I needn't have been afraid!" he said, forcing a laugh.

"I told you so. The fact is, Aunt Audrey has a lot of other things to
think about nowadays. There's no danger of HER being forgotten--it's she
who does the forgetting now." She laid a commiserating hand on his arm.
"I'm sorry--but you must excuse her. She's just been promoted again, and
she's going to marry the Bishop of the Macaroon Islands next month."


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