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Title: The Well of Loneliness (1928)
Author: Radclyff Hall
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609021.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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Title: The Well of Loneliness (1928)
Author: Radclyff Hall






To Our Three Selves




AUTHOR'S NOTE

All the characters in this book are purely imaginary, and if the author
has used names that may suggest a reference to living persons, she has
done so inadvertently.

A motor ambulance unit of British women drivers did very fine service
upon the Allied Front in France during the later months of the war, but
although the unit mentioned in this book, of which Stephen Gordon becomes
a member, operates in much the same area, it has never had any existence
save in the author's imagination.




BOOK ONE



Chapter One


1


Not very far from Up ton-on-Severn--between it, in fact, and the Malvern
Hills--stands the country seat of the Gordons of Bramley; well-timbered,
well-cottaged, well-fenced and well-watered, having, in this latter
respect, a stream that forks in exactly the right position to feed two
large lakes in the grounds.

The house itself is of Georgian red brick, with charming circular windows
near the roof. It has dignity and pride without ostentation,
self-assurance without arrogance, repose without inertia; and a gentle
aloofness that, to those who know its spirit, but adds to its value as a
home. It is indeed like certain lovely women who, now old, belong to a
bygone generation--women who in youth were passionate but seemly;
difficult to win but when won, all-fulfilling. They are passing away, but
their homesteads remain, and such an homestead is Morton.

To Morton Hall came the Lady Anna Gordon as a bride of just over twenty.
She was lovely as only an Irish woman can be, having that in her bearing
that betokened quiet pride, having that in her eyes that betokened great
longing, having that in her body that betokened happy promise--the
archetype of the very perfect woman, whom creating God has found good.
Sir Philip had met her away in County Clare--Anna Molloy, the slim virgin
thing, all chastity, and his weariness had flown to her bosom as a spent
bird will fly to its nest--as indeed such a bird had once flown to her,
she told him, taking refuge from the perils of a storm.

Sir Philip was a tall man and exceedingly well-favoured, but his charm
lay less in feature than in a certain wide expression, a tolerant
expression that might almost be called noble, and in something sad yet
gallant in his deep-set hazel eyes. His chin, which was firm, was very
slightly cleft, his forehead intellectual, his hair tinged with auburn.
His wide-nostrilled nose was indicative of temper, but his lips were
well-modelled and sensitive and ardent--they revealed him as a dreamer
and a lover.

Twenty-nine when they had married, he had sown no few wild oats, yet
Anna's true instinct made her trust him completely: Her guardian had
disliked him, opposing the engagement, but in the end she had had her own
way. And as things turned out her choice had been happy, for seldom had
two people loved more than they did; they loved with an ardour
undiminished by time; as they ripened, so their love ripened with them.

Sir Philip never knew how much he longed for a son until, some ten years
after marriage, his wife conceived a child; then he knew that this thing
meant complete fulfilment, the fulfilment for which they had both been
waiting. When she told him, he could not find words for expression, and
must just turn and weep on her shoulder. It never seemed to cross his
mind for a moment that Anna might very well give him a daughter; he saw
her only as a mother of sons, nor could her warnings disturb him. He
christened the unborn infant Stephen, because he admired the pluck of
that Saint. He was not a religious man by instinct, being perhaps too
much of a student, but he read the Bible for its fine literature, and
Stephen had gripped his imagination. Thus he often discussed the future
of their child: 'I think I shall put Stephen down for Harrow', or: 'I'd
rather like Stephen to finish off abroad, it widens one's outlook on
life'.

And listening to him, Anna also grew convinced; his certainty wore down
her vague misgivings, and she saw herself playing with this little
Stephen, in the nursery, in the garden, in the sweet-smelling meadows.
'And himself the lovely young man,' she would say, thinking of the soft
Irish speech of her peasants; 'And himself with the light of the stars in
his eyes, and the courage of a lion in his heart!'

When the child stirred within her she would think it stirred strongly
because of the gallant male creature she was hiding; then her spirit grew
large with a mighty new courage, because a man-child would be born. She
would sit with her needle-work dropped on her knees, while her eyes
turned away to the long line of hills that stretched beyond the Severn
valley. From her favourite seat underneath an old cedar, she would see
these Malvern Hills in their beauty, and their swelling slopes seemed to
hold a new meaning. They were like pregnant women, full-bosomed,
courageous, great green-girdled mothers of splendid sons! thus through all
those summer months she sat and watched the hills, and Sir Philip would
sit with her--they would sit hand in hand. And because she felt grateful
she gave much to the poor, and Sir Philip went to church, which was
seldom his custom, and the Vicar came to dinner, and just towards the end
many matrons called to give good advice to Anna.

But: 'Man proposes--God disposes', and so it happened that on Christmas
Eve, Anna Gordon was delivered of a daughter; a narrow-hipped,
wide-shouldered little tadpole of a baby, that yelled and yelled for
three hours without ceasing, as though outraged to find itself ejected
into life.


2


Anna Gordon held her child to her breast, but she grieved while it drank,
because of her man who had longed so much for a son. And seeing her
grief, Sir Philip hid his chagrin, and he fondled the baby and examined
its fingers.

'What a hand!' he would say. 'Why it's actually got nails on all its ten
fingers: little, perfect, pink nails!'

Then Anna would dry her eyes and caress it, kissing the tiny hand.

He insisted on calling the infant Stephen, nay more, he would have it
baptized by that name. 'We've called her Stephen so long,' he told Anna,
'that I really can't see why we shouldn't go on--'

Anna felt doubtful, but Sir Philip was stubborn, as he could be at times
over whims.

The Vicar said that it was rather unusual, so to mollify him they must
add female names. The child was baptized in the village church as Stephen
Mary Olivia Gertrude--and she throve, seeming strong, and when her hair
grew it was seen to be auburn like Sir Philip's. There was also a tiny
cleft in her chin, so small just at first that it looked like a shadow;
and after a while when her eyes lost the blueness that is proper to
puppies and other young things, Anna saw that her eyes were going to be
hazel--and thought that their expression was her father's. On the whole
she was quite a well-behaved baby, owing, no doubt, to a fine
constitution. Beyond that first energetic protest at birth she had done
very little howling.

It was happy to have a baby at Morton, and the old house seemed to become
more mellow as the child, growing fast now and learning to walk,
staggered or stumbled or sprawled on the floors that had long known the
ways of children. Sir Philip would come home all muddy from hunting and
would rush into the nursery before pulling off his boots, then down he
would go on his hands and knees while Stephen clambered on to his back.
Sir Philip would pretend to be well corned up, bucking and jumping and
kicking wildly, so that Stephen must cling to his hair or his collar, and
thump him with hard little arrogant fists. Anna, attracted by the
outlandish hubbub, would find them, and would point to the mud on the
carpet.

She would say: 'Now, Philip, now, Stephen, that's enough! It's time for
your tea', as though both of them were children. Then Sir Philip would
reach up and disentangle Stephen, after which he would kiss Stephen's
mother.


3


The son that they waited for seemed long a-coming; he had not arrived
when Stephen was seven. Nor had Anna produced other female offspring.
thus Stephen remained cock of the roost. It is doubtful if any only child
is to be envied, for the only child is bound to become introspective;
having no one of its own ilk in whom to confide, it is apt to confide in
itself. It cannot be said that at seven years old the mind is beset by
serious problems, but nevertheless it is already groping, may already be
subject to small fits of dejection, may already be struggling to get a
grip on life--on the limited life of its surroundings. At seven there are
miniature loves and hatreds, which, however, loom large and are extremely
disconcerting. There may even be present a dim sense of frustration, and
Stephen was often conscious of this sense, though she could not have put
it into words. To cope with it, however, she would give way at times to
sudden fits of hot temper, working herself up over everyday trifles that
usually left her cold. It relieved her to stamp and then burst into tears
at the first sign of opposition. After such outbursts she would feel much
more cheerful, would find it almost easy to be docile and obedient. In
some vague, childish way she had hit back at life, and this fact had
restored her self-respect.

Anna would send for her turbulent offspring and would say: 'Stephen
darling, Mother's not really cross--tell Mother what makes you give way
to these tempers; she'll promise to try and understand if you'll tell
her--'

But her eyes would look cold, though her voice might be gentle, and her
hand when it fondled would be tentative, unwilling. The hand would be
making an effort to fondle, and Stephen would be conscious of that
effort. Then looking up at the calm, lovely face, Stephen would be filled
with a sudden contrition, with a sudden deep sense of her own
shortcomings; she would long to blurt all this out to her mother, yet
would stand there tongue-tied, saying nothing at all. For these two were
strangely shy with each other--it was almost grotesque, this shyness of
theirs, as existing between mother and child. Anna would feel it, and
through her Stephen, young as she was, would become conscious of it; so
that they held a little aloof when they should have been drawing
together.

Stephen, acutely responsive to beauty, would be dimly longing to find
expression for a feeling almost amounting to worship, that her mother's
face had awakened. But Anna, looking gravely at her daughter, noting the
plentiful auburn hair, the brave hazel eyes that were so like her
father's, as indeed were the child's whole expression and bearing, would
be filled with a sudden antagonism that came very near to anger.

She would awake at night and ponder this thing, scourging herself in an
access of contrition; accusing herself of hardness of spirit, of being an
unnatural mother. Sometimes she would shed slow, miserable tears,
remembering the inarticulate Stephen.

She would think: I ought to be proud of the likeness, proud and happy and
glad when I sec it! then back would come flooding that queer antagonism
that amounted almost to anger.

It would seem to Anna that she must be going mad, for this likeness to
her husband would strike her as an outrage--as though the poor, innocent
seven-year-old Stephen were in some way a caricature of Sir Philip; a
blemished, unworthy, maimed reproduction--yet she knew that the child was
handsome. But now there were times when the child's soft flesh would be
almost distasteful to her; when she hated the way Stephen moved or stood
still, hated a certain largeness about her, a certain crude lack of grace
in her movements, a certain unconscious defiance. Then the mother's mind
would slip back to the days when this creature had clung to her breast,
forcing her to love it by its own utter weakness; and at this thought her
eyes must fill again, for she came of a race of devoted mothers. The
thing had crept on her like a foe in the dark--it had been slow,
insidious, deadly, it had waxed strong as Stephen herself had waxed
strong, being part, in some way, of Stephen.

Restlessly tossing from side to side, Anna Gordon would pray for
enlightenment and guidance; would pray that her husband might never
suspect her feelings towards his child. All that she was and had been he
knew; in all the world she had no other secret save this one most
unnatural and monstrous injustice that was stronger than her will to
destroy it. And Sir Philip loved Stephen, he idolized her; it was almost
as though he divined by instinct that his daughter was being secretly
defrauded, was bearing some unmerited burden. He never spoke to his wife
of these things, yet watching them together, she grew daily more certain
that his love for the child held an element in it that was closely akin
to pity.



Chapter Two


1


At about this time Stephen first became conscious of an urgent necessity
to love. She adored her father, but that was quite different; he was part
of herself, he had always been there, she could not envisage the world
without him--it was other with Collins, the housemaid. Collins was what
was called 'second of three'; she might one day hope for promotion.
Meanwhile she was florid, full-lipped and full-bosomed, rather ample
indeed for a young girl of twenty, but her eyes were unusually blue and
arresting, very pretty inquisitive eyes. Stephen had seen Collins
sweeping the stairs for two years, and had passed her by quite unnoticed;
but one morning, when Stephen was just over seven, Collins looked up and
suddenly smiled, then all in a moment Stephen knew that she loved her--a
staggering revelation!

Collins said politely: 'Good morning, Miss Stephen.'

She had always said: 'Good morning, Miss Stephen,' but on this occasion
it sounded alluring--so alluring that Stephen wanted to touch her, and
extending a rather uncertain hand she started to stroke her sleeve.

Collins picked up the hand and stared at it. 'Oh, my!' she exclaimed,
'what very dirty nails!' Whereupon their owner flushed painfully crimson
and dashed upstairs to repair them.

'Put them scissors down this minute, Miss Stephen!' came the nurse's
peremptory voice, while her charge was still busily engaged on her
toilet.

But Stephen said firmly: 'I'm cleaning my nails 'cause Collins doesn't
like them--she says they're dirty!'

'What impudence!' snapped the nurse, thoroughly annoyed. 'I'll thank her
to mind her own business!'

Having finally secured the large cutting-out scissors, Mrs. Bingham went
forth in search of the offender; she was not one to tolerate any
interference with the dignity of her status. She found Collins still on
the top flight of stairs, and forthwith she started to upbraid her:
'putting her back in her place,' the nurse called it; and she did it so
thoroughly that in less than five minutes 'the second-of-three' had been
told of every fault that was likely to preclude promotion.

Stephen stood still in the nursery doorway. She could feel her heart
thumping against her side, thumping with anger and pity for Collins who
was answering never a word. There she knelt mute, with her brush
suspended, with her mouth slightly open and her eyes rather scared; and
when at long last she did manage to speak, her voice sounded humble and
frightened. She was timid by nature, and the nurse's sharp tongue was a
byword throughout the household.

Collins was saying: 'Interfere with your child? Oh, no, Mrs. Bingham,
never! I hope I knows my place better than that--Miss Stephen herself
showed me them dirty nails; she said: "Collins, just look, aren't my
nails awful dirty!" And I said: "You must ask Nanny about that, Miss
Stephen." Is it likely that I'd interfere with your work? I'm not that
sort, Mrs. Bingham.'

Oh, Collins, Collins, with those pretty blue eyes and that funny alluring
smile! Stephen's own eyes grew wide with amazement, then they clouded with
sudden and disillusioned tears, for far worse than Collins' poorness of
spirit was the dreadful injustice of those lies--yet this very injustice
seemed to draw her to Collins, since despising, she could still love her.

For the rest of that day Stephen brooded darkly over Collins'
unworthiness; and yet all through that day she still wanted Collins, and
whenever she saw her she caught herself smiling, quite unable, in her
turn, to muster the courage to frown her innate disapproval. And Collins
smiled too, if the nurse was not looking, and she held up her plump red
fingers, pointing to her nails and making a grimace at the nurse's
retreating figure. Watching her, Stephen felt unhappy and embarrassed,
not so much for herself as for Collins; and this feeling increased, so
that thinking about her made Stephen go hot down her spine.

In the evening, when Collins was laying the tea, Stephen managed to get
her alone. 'Collins,' she whispered, 'you told an untruth--I never showed
you my dirty nails!'

'Course not!' murmured Collins, 'but I had to say something--you didn't
mind, Miss Stephen, did you?' And as Stephen looked doubtfully up into
her face, Collins suddenly stooped and kissed her.

Stephen stood speechless from a sheer sense of joy, all her doubts swept
completely away. At that moment she knew nothing but beauty and Collins,
and the two were as one, and the one was Stephen--and yet not Stephen
either, but something more vast, that the mind of seven years found no
name for.

The nurse came in grumbling: 'Now then, hurry up, Miss Stephen! Don't
stand there as though you were daft! Go and wash your face and hands
before tea--how many times must I tell you the same thing?'

'I don't know--' muttered Stephen. And indeed she did not; she knew
nothing of such trifles at that moment.


2


From now on Stephen entered a completely new world, that turned on an
axis of Collins. A world full of constant exciting adventures; of
elation, of joy, of incredible sadness, but withal a fine place to be
dashing about in like a moth who is courting a candle. Up and down went
the days; they resembled a swing that soared high above the tree-tops,
then dropped to the depths, but seldom if ever hung midway. And with them
went Stephen, clinging to the swing, waking up in the mornings with a
thrill of vague excitement--the sort of excitement that belonged by
rights to birthdays, and Christmas, and a visit to the pantomime at
Malvern. She would open her eyes and jump out of bed quickly, still too
sleepy to remember why she felt so elated; but then would come
memory--she would know that this day she was actually going to sec
Collins. The thought would set her splashing in her sitz-bath, and
tearing the buttons off her clothes in her haste, and cleaning her nails
with such ruthlessness and vigour that she made them quite sore in the
process.

She began to be very inattentive at her lessons, sucking her pencil,
staring out of the window, or what was far worse, not listening at all,
except for Collins' footsteps. The nurse slapped her hands, and stood her
in the corner, and deprived her of jam, but all to no purpose; for
Stephen would smile, hugging closer her secret--it was worth being
punished for Collins.

She grew restless and could not be induced to sit still even when her
nurse read aloud. At one time she had very much liked being read to,
especially from books that were all about heroes, but now such stories
so stirred her ambition that she longed intensely to live them. She,
Stephen, now longed to be William tell, or Nelson, or the whole Charge of
Balaclava; and this led to much foraging in the nursery ragbag, much
hunting up of garments once used for charades, much swagger and noise,
much strutting and posing, and much staring into the mirror. There ensued
a period of general confusion when the nursery looked as though smitten
by an earthquake; when the chairs and the floor would be littered with
oddments that Stephen had dug out but discarded. Once dressed, she would
walk away grandly, waving the nurse peremptorily aside, going, as always,
in search of Collins, who might have to be stalked to the basement.

Sometimes Collins would play up, especially to Nelson. 'My, but you do
look fine!' she would exclaim. And then to the cook: 'Do come here, Mrs.
Wilson! Doesn't Miss Stephen look exactly like a boy? I believe she must
be a boy with them shoulders, and them funny gawky legs she's got on
her!'

And Stephen would say gravely: 'Yes, of course I'm a boy. I'm young
Nelson, and I'm saying: "What is fear?" you know, Collins--I must be a
boy, 'cause I feel exactly like one, I feel like young Nelson in the
picture upstairs.'

Collins would laugh and so would Mrs. Wilson, and after Stephen had gone
they would get talking, and Collins might say: 'She is a queer kid,
always dressing herself up and play-acting--it's funny.'

But Mrs. Wilson might show disapproval: 'I don't hold with such nonsense,
not for a young lady. Miss Stephen's quite different from other young
ladies--she's got none of their pretty little ways--it's a pity!'

There were times, however, when Collins seemed sulky, when Stephen could
dress up as Nelson in vain. 'Now, don't bother me, Miss, I've got my work
to see to!' or: 'You go and show Nurse--yes, I know you're a boy, but
I've got my work to get on with. Run away.'

And Stephen must slink upstairs thoroughly deflated, strangely unhappy
and exceedingly humble, and must tear off the clothes she so dearly loved
donning, to replace them by the garments she hated. How she hated soft
dresses and sashes, and ribbons, and small coral beads, and openwork
stockings! Her legs felt so free and comfortable in breeches; she adored
pockets, too, and these were forbidden--at least really adequate pockets.
She would gloom about the nursery because Collins had snubbed her,
because she was conscious of feeling all wrong, because she so longed to
be someone quite real, instead of just Stephen pretending to be Nelson.
In a quick fit of anger she would go to the cupboard, and getting out her
dolls would begin to torment them. She had always despised the idiotic
creatures which, however, arrived with each Christmas and birthday.

'I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!' she would mutter, thumping their
innocuous faces.

But one day, when Collins had been crosser than usual, she seemed to be
filled with a sudden contrition. 'It's me housemaid's knee,' she confided
to Stephen. 'It's not you, it's me, housemaid's knee, dearie.'

'Is that dangerous?' demanded the child, looking frightened.

Then Collins, true to her class, said: 'It may be--it may mean an
'orrible operation, and I don't want no operation.'

'What's that?' inquired Stephen.

'Why, they'd cut me,' moaned Collins; 'they'd 'ave to cut me to let out
the water.'

'Oh, Collins! What water?'

'The water in me kneecap--you can see if you press it, Miss Stephen.'

They were standing alone in the spacious night-nursery, where Collins was
limply making the bed. It was one of those rare and delicious occasions
when Stephen could converse with her goddess undisturbed, for the nurse
had gone out to post a letter. Collins rolled down a coarse woollen
stocking and displayed the afflicted member; it was blotchy and swollen
and far from attractive, but Stephen's eyes filled with quick, anxious
tears as she touched the knee with her finger.

'There now!' exclaimed Collins. 'See that dent? That's the water!' And
she added: 'It's so painful it fair makes me sick. It all comes from
polishing them floors, Miss Stephen; I didn't ought to polish them
floors.'

Stephen said gravely: 'I do wish I'd got it--I wish I'd got your
housemaid's knee, Collins, 'cause that way I could bear it instead of
you. I'd like to be awfully hurt for you, Collins, the way Jesus was hurt
for sinners. Suppose I pray hard, don't you think I might catch it? Or
supposing I rub my knee against yours?'

'Lord bless you!' laughed Collins, 'it's not like the measles; no, Miss
Stephen, it's caught from them floors.'

That evening Stephen became rather pensive, and she turned to the Child's
Book of Scripture Stories and she studied the picture of the Lord on His
Cross, and she felt that she understood Him. She had often been rather
puzzled about Him, since she herself was fearful of pain--when she barked
her shins on the gravel in the garden, it was not always easy to keep
back her tears--and yet Jesus had chosen to bear pain for sinners, when
He might have called up all those angels! Oh, yes, she had wondered a
great deal about Him, but now she no longer wondered.

At bedtime, when her mother came to hear her say her prayers--as custom
demanded--Stephen's prayers lacked conviction. But when Anna kissed her
and had turned out the light, then it was that Stephen prayed in good
earnest--with such fervour, indeed, that she dripped perspiration in a
veritable orgy of prayer.

'Please, Jesus, give me a housemaid's knee instead of Collins--do, do,
Lord Jesus. Please Jesus, I would like to bear all Collins' pain the way
You did, and I don't want any angels! I would like to wash Collins in my
blood, Lord Jesus--I would like very much to be a Saviour to Collins--I
love her, and I want to be hurt like You were; please, dear Lord Jesus,
do let me. Please give me a knee that's all full of water, so that I can
have Collins' operation. I want to have it instead of her, 'cause she's
frightened--I'm not a bit frightened!'

This petition she repeated until she fell asleep, to dream that in some
queer way she was Jesus, and that Collins was kneeling and kissing her
hand, because she, Stephen, had managed to cure her by cutting off her
knee with a bone paper-knife and grafting it on to her own. The dream was
a mixture of rapture and discomfort, and it stayed quite a long time with
Stephen.

The next morning she awoke with the feeling of elation that comes only in
moments of perfect faith. But a close examination of her knees in the
bath revealed them to be flawless except for old scars and a crisp, brown
scab from a recent tumble--this, of course, was very disappointing. She
picked off the scab, and that hurt her a little, but not, she felt sure,
like a real housemaid's knee. However, she decided to continue in prayer,
and not to be too easily downhearted.

For more than three weeks she sweated and prayed, and pestered poor
Collins with endless daily questions: 'Is your knee better yet?' 'Don't
you think my knee's swollen?' 'Have you faith? 'Cause I have--' 'Does it
hurt you less, Collins?'

But Collins would always reply in the same way: 'It's no better, thank
you, Miss Stephen.'

At the end of the fourth week, Stephen suddenly stopped praying, and she
said to Our Lord: 'You don't love Collins, Jesus, but I do, and I'm going
to get housemaid's knee. You see if I don't!' Then she felt rather
frightened, and added more humbly: 'I mean, I do want to--You don't mind,
do You, Lord Jesus?'

The nursery floor was covered with carpet, which was obviously rather
unfortunate for Stephen; had it only been parquet like the drawing-room
and study, she felt it would better have served her purpose. All the same
it was hard if she knelt long enough--it was so hard, indeed, that she
had to grit her teeth if she stayed on her knees for more than twenty
minutes. This was much worse than barking one's shins in the garden; it
was much worse even than picking off a scab! Nelson helped her a little.
She would think: 'Now I'm Nelson. I'm in the middle of thee Battle of
Trafalgar--I've got shots in my knees.' But then she would remember that
Nelson had been spared such torment. However, it was really rather fine
to be suffering--it certainly seemed to bring Collins much nearer; it
seemed to make Stephen feel that she owned her by right of this diligent
pain.

There were endless spots on the old nursery carpet, and these spots
Stephen could pretend to be cleaning; always careful to copy. Collins'
movements, rubbing backwards and forwards while groaning a little. When
she got up at last, she must hold her left leg and limp, still groaning a
little. Enormous new holes appeared in her stockings, through which she
could examine her aching knees, and this led to rebuke: 'Stop your
nonsense, Miss Stephen! It's scandalous the way you're tearing your
stockings!' But Stephen smiled grimly and went on with the nonsense,
spurred by love to an open defiance. On the eighth day, however, it
dawned upon Stephen that Collins should be shown the proof of her
devotion. Her knees were particularly scarified that morning, so she
limped off in search of the unsuspecting housemaid.

Collins stared: 'Good gracious, whatever's the matter? Whatever have you
been doing, Miss Stephen?'

Then Stephen said, not without pardonable pride: 'I've been getting a
housemaid's knee, like you, Collins!' And as Collins looked stupid and
rather bewildered--'You see, I wanted to share your suffering. I've
prayed quite a lot, but Jesus won't listen, so I've got to get
housemaid's knee my own way--I can't wait any longer for Jesus!'

'Oh, hush!' murmured Collins, thoroughly shocked. 'You mustn't say such
things: it's wicked, Miss Stephen.' But she smiled a little in spite of
herself, then she suddenly hugged the child warmly.

All the same, Collins plucked up her courage that evening and spoke to
the nurse about Stephen. 'Her knees was all red and swollen, Mrs.
Bingham. Did you ever know such a queer fish as she is? Praying about my
knee, too. She's a caution! And now if she isn't trying to get one! Well,
if that's not real loving then I don't know nothing.' And Collins began
to laugh weakly.

After this Mrs. Bingham rose in her might, and the self-imposed torture
was forcibly stopped. Collins, on her part, was ordered to lie, if
Stephen continued to question. So Collins lied nobly: 'It's better, Miss
Stephen, it must be your praying--you see Jesus heard you. I expect He
was sorry to see your poor knees--I know as I was when I saw them!'

'Are you telling me the truth?' Stephen asked her, still doubting, still
mindful of that first day of Love's young dream.

'Why, of course I'm telling you the truth, Miss Stephen.' And with this
Stephen had to be content.


3


Collins became more affectionate after the incident of the housemaid's
knee; she could not but feel a new interest in the child whom she and the
cook had now labelled as 'queer', and Stephen basked in much
surreptitious petting, and her love for Collins grew daily.

It was spring, the season of gentle emotions, and Stephen, for the first
time, became aware of spring. In a dumb, childish way she was conscious
of its fragrance, and the house irked her sorely, and she longed for the
meadows, and the hills that were white with thorn-trees. Her active young
body was for ever on the fidget, but her mind was bathed in a kind of
soft haze, and this she could never quite put into words, though she
tried to tell Collins about it. It was all part of Collins, yet somehow
quite different--it had nothing to do with Collins' wide smile, nor her
hands which were red, nor even her eyes which were blue, and very
arresting. Yet all that was Collins, Stephen's Collins, was also a part
of these long, warm days, apart of the twilights that came in and
lingered for hours after Stephen had been put to bed; a part too, could
Stephen have only known it, of her own quickening childish perceptions.
this spring, for the first time, she thrilled to the cuckoo, standing
quite still to listen, with her head on one side; and the lure of that
far-away call was destined to remain with her all her life.

There were times when she wanted to get away from Collins, yet at others
she longed intensely to be near her, longed to force the response that
her loving craved for, but quite wisely was very seldom granted.

She would say: 'I do love you awfully, Collins. I love you so much that
it makes me want to cry.'

And Collins would answer: 'Don't be silly, Miss Stephen,' which was not
satisfactory--not at all satisfactory.

Then Stephen might suddenly push her, in anger: 'You're a beast! How I
hate you, Collins!'

And now Stephen had taken to keeping awake every night, in order to build
up pictures: pictures of herself companioned by Collins in all sorts of
happy situations. Perhaps they would be walking in the garden, hand in
hand, or pausing on a hillside to listen to the cuckoo; or perhaps they
would be skimming over miles of blue ocean in a queer little ship with a
leg-of-mutton sail, like the one in the fairy story. Sometimes Stephen
pictured them living alone in a low thatched cottage by the side of a
mill stream--she had seen such a cottage not very far from Upton--and the
water flowed quickly and made talking noises; there were sometimes dead
leaves on the water. This last was a very intimate picture, full of
detail, even to the red china dogs that stood one at each end of the high
mantelpiece, and the grandfather clock that ticked loudly. Collins would
sit by the fire with her shoes off. 'Me feet's that swollen and painful,'
she would say. Then Stephen would go and cut rich bread and butter--the
drawing-room kind, little bread and much butter--and would put on the
kettle and brew tea for Collins, who liked it very strong and practically
boiling, so that she could sip it from her saucer. In this picture it was
Collins who talked about loving, and Stephen who gently but firmly
rebuked her: 'There, there, Collins, don't be silly, you are a queer
fish!' And yet all the while she would be longing to tell her how
wonderful it was, like honeysuckle blossom--something very sweet like
that--or like fields smelling strongly of new-mown hay, in the sunshine.
And perhaps she would tell her, just at the very end--just before the
last picture faded.


4


In these days Stephen clung more closely to her father, and this in a way
was because of Collins. She could not have told you why it was so,
she only felt that it was. Sir Philip and his daughter would walk on
the hill-sides, in and out of the black-thorn and young green bracken;
they would walk hand in hand with a deep sense of friendship, with a deep
sense of mutual understanding.

Sir Philip, knew all about wild flowers and berries, and the ways of
young foxes and rabbits and such people. There were many rare birds, too,
on the hills near Malvern, and these he would point out to Stephen. He
taught her the simpler laws of nature, which, though simple, had always
filled him with wonder: the law of the sap as it flowed through the
branches, the law of the wind that came stirring the sap, the law of bird
life and the building of nests, the law of the cuckoo's varying call,
which in June changed to Cuckoo-kook!' He taught out of love for both
subject and pupil, and while he thus taught he watched Stephen.

Sometimes, when the child's heart would feel full past bearing, she must
tell him her problems in small, stumbling phrases. Tell him how much she
longed to be different, longed to be someone like Nelson.

She would say: 'Do you think that I could be a man, supposing I thought
very hard--or prayed, Father?'

Then Sir Philip would smile and tease her a little, and would tell her
that one day she would want pretty frocks, and his teasing was always
excessively gentle, so that it hurt not at all.

But at times he would study his daughter gravely, with his strong, cleft
chin tightly cupped in his hand. He would watch her at play with the dogs
in the garden, watch the curious suggestion of strength in her movements,
the long line of her limbs--she was tall for her age--and the poise of
her head on her over-broad shoulders. Then perhaps he would frown and
become lost in thought, or perhaps he might suddenly call her:

'Stephen, come here!'

She would go to him gladly, waiting expectant for what he should say; but
as likely as not he would just hold her to him for a moment, and then let
go of her abruptly. Getting up he would turn to the house and his study,
to spend all the rest of that day with his books.

A queer mixture, Sir Philip, part sportsman, part student. He had one of
the finest libraries in England, and just lately he had taken to reading
half the night, which had not hitherto been his custom. Alone in that
grave-looking, quiet study, he would unlock a drawer in his ample desk,
and would get out a slim volume recently acquired, and would read and
re-read it in the silence. The author was a German, Karl Heinrich
Ulrichs, and reading, Sir Philip's eyes would grow puzzled; then groping
for a pencil he would make little notes all along the immaculate margins.
Sometimes he would jump up and pace the room quickly, pausing now and
again to stare at a picture--the portrait of Stephen painted with her
mother, by Millais, the previous year. He would notice the gracious
beauty of Anna, so perfect a thing, so completely reassuring; and then
that indefinable quality in Stephen that made her look wrong in the
clothes she was wearing, as though she and they had no right to each
other, but above all no right to Anna. After a while he would steal up to
bed, being painfully careful to tread very softly, fearful of waking his
wife who might question: 'Philip, darling, it's so late--what have you
been reading?' He would not want to answer, he would not want to tell
her; that was why he must tread very softly.

The next morning, he would be very tender to Anna--but even more tender
to Stephen.


5


As the spring waxed more lusty and strode into summer, Stephen grew
conscious that Collins was changing. The change was almost intangible at
first, but the instinct of children is not mocked. Came a day when
Collins turned on her quite sharply, nor did she explain it by a
reference to her knee.

'Don't always be under my feet now, Miss Stephen. Don't follow me about
and don't be always staring. I 'ates being watched--you run up to the
nursery, the basement's no place for young ladies.' After which such
rebuffs were of frequent occurrence, if Stephen went anywhere near her.

Miserable enigma! Stephen's mind groped about it like a little blind mole
that is always in darkness. She was utterly confounded, while her love
grew the stronger for so much hard pruning, and she tried to woo Collins
by offerings of bull's-eyes and chocolate drops, which the maid took
because she liked them. Nor was Collins so blameworthy as she appeared,
for she, in her turn, was the puppet of emotion. The new footman was tall
and exceedingly handsome. He had looked upon Collins with eyes of
approval. He had said: Stop that damned kid hanging around you; if you
don't she'll go blabbing about us.'

And now Stephen knew very deep desolation because there was no one in
whom to confide. She shrank from telling even her father--he might not
understand, he might smile, he might tease her--if he teased her, however
gently, she knew that she could not keep back her tears. Even Nelson had
suddenly become quite remote. What was the good of trying to be Nelson?
What was the good of dressing up any more--what was the good of
pretending? She turned from her food, growing pasty and languid; until,
thoroughly alarmed, Anna sent for the doctor. He arrived, and prescribed
a dose of Gregory powder, finding nothing much wrong with the patient.
Stephen tossed off the foul brew without a murmur--it was almost as
though she liked it!

The end came abruptly as is often the way, and it came when the child was
alone in the garden, still miserably puzzling over Collins, who had been
avoiding her for days. Stephen had wandered to an old potting-shed, and
there, whom should she see but Collins and the footman; they appeared to
be talking very earnestly together, so earnestly that they failed to hear
her. Then a really catastrophic thing happened, for Henry caught Collins
roughly by the wrists, and dragged her towards him, still handling her
roughly, and he kissed her full on the lips. Stephen's head suddenly felt
hot and dizzy, she was filled with a blind, uncomprehending rage; she
wanted to cry out, but her voice failed completely, so that all she could
do was to splutter. But the very next moment she had seized a broken
flower-pot and had hurled it hard and straight at the footman. It struck
him in the face, cutting open his cheek, down which the blood trickled
slowly. He stood as though stunned, gently mopping the cut, while Collins
stared dumbly at Stephen. Neither of them spoke, they were feeling too
guilty--they were also too much astonished.

Then Stephen turned and fled from them wildly. Away and away, anyhow,
anywhere, so long as she need not see them! She sobbed as she ran and
covered her eyes, tearing her clothes on the shrubs in passing, tearing
her stockings and the skin of her legs as she lunged against intercepting
branches. But suddenly the child was caught in strong arms, and her face
was pressing against her father, and Sir Philip was carrying her back to
the house, and along the wide passage to his study. He held her on his
knee, forbearing to question, and at first she crouched there like a
little dumb creature that had somehow got itself wounded. But her heart
was too young to contain this new trouble--too heavy it felt, too much
over-burdened, so the trouble came bubbling up from her heart and was
told on Sir Philip's shoulder.

He listened very gravely, just stroking her hair. 'Yes--yes--' he said
softly; and then: go on, Stephen.' And when she had finished he was
silent for some moments, while he went on stroking her hair. Then he
said: 'I think I understand, Stephen--this thing seems more dreadful than
anything else that has ever happened, more utterly dreadful--but you'll
find that it will pass and be completely forgotten--you must try to
believe me, Stephen. And now I'm going to treat you like a boy, and a boy
must always be brave, remember. I'm not going to pretend as though you
were a coward; why should I when I know that you're brave? I'm going to
send Collins away to-morrow; do you understand, Stephen? I shall send her
away. I shan't be unkind, but she'll go away to-morrow, and meanwhile I
don't want you to see her again. You'll miss her at first, that will only
be natural, but in time you'll find that you'll forget all about her;
this trouble will just seem like nothing at all. I am telling you the
truth, dear, I swear it. If you need me, remember that I'm always near
you--you can come to my study whenever you like. You can talk to me about
it whenever you're unhappy, and you want a companion to talk to.' He
paused, then finished rather abruptly: 'Don't worry your mother, just
come to, me, Stephen.'

And Stephen, still catching her breath, looked straight at him. She
nodded, and Sir Philip saw his own mournful eyes gazing back from his
daughter's tear-stained face. But her lips set more firmly, and the cleft
in her chin grew more marked with a new, childish will to courage.

Bending down, he kissed her in absolute silence--it was like the sealing
of a sorrowful pact.


6


Anna, who had been out at the time of the disaster, returned to find her
husband waiting for her in the hall.

'Stephen's been naughty, she's up in the nursery; she's had one of her
fits of temper,' he remarked.

In spite of the fact that he had obviously been waiting to intercept
Anna, he now spoke quite lightly. Collins and the footman must go, he
told her. As for Stephen, he had had a long talk with her already--Anna
had better just let the thing drop, it had only been childish temper.

Anna hurried upstairs to her daughter. She, herself, had not been a
turbulent child, and Stephen's outbursts always made her feel helpless;
however, she was fully prepared for the worst. But she found Stephen
sitting with her chin on her hand, and calmly staring out of the window;
her eyes were still swollen and her face very pale, otherwise she showed
no great signs of emotion; indeed she actually smiled up at Anna--it was
rather a stiff little smile. Anna talked kindly and Stephen listened,
nodding her head from time to time in acquiescence. But Anna felt
awkward, and as though for some reason the child was anxious to reassure
her; that smile had meant to be reassuring--it had been such a very
unchildish smile. The mother was doing all the talking she found. Stephen
would not discuss her affection for Collins; on this point she was
firmly, obdurately silent. She neither excused nor upheld her action in
throwing a broken flower-pot at the footman.

'She's trying to keep something back,' thought Anna, feeling more
nonplussed every moment.

In the end Stephen took her mother's hand gravely and proceeded to stroke
it, as though she were consoling. She said: 'Don't feel worried, 'cause
that worries Father--I promise I'll try not to get into tempers, but you
promise that you won't go on feeling worried.'

And absurd though it seemed, Anna heard herself saying: 'Very well
then--I do promise, Stephen.'



Chapter Three


1


Stephen never went to her father's study in order to talk of her grief
over Collins. A reticence strange in so young a child, together with a
new, stubborn pride, held her tongue-tied, so that she fought out her
battle alone, and Sir Philip allowed her to do so. Collins disappeared
and with her the footman, and in Collins' stead came a new second
housemaid, a niece of Mrs. Bingham's, who was even more timid than her
predecessor, and who talked not at all. She was ugly, having small, round
black eyes like currants--not inquisitive blue eyes like Collins.

With set lips and tight throat Stephen watched this intruder as she
scuttled to and fro doing Collins' duties. She would sit and scowl at
poor Winefred darkly, devising small torments to add to her labours--such
as stepping on dustpans and upsetting their contents, or hiding away
brooms and brushes and slop-cloths--until Winefred, distracted, would
finally unearth them from the most inappropriate places.

''Owever did them slop-cloths get in 'ere!' she would mutter, discovering
them under a nursery cushion. And her face would grow blotchy with
anxiety and fear as she glanced towards Mrs. Bingham.

But at night, when the child lay lonely and wakeful, these acts that had
proved a consolation in the morning, having sprung from a desperate kind
of loyalty to Collins--these acts would seem trivial and silly and
useless, since Collins could neither know of them nor see them, and the
tears that had been held in check through the day would well under
Stephen's eyelids. Nor could she, in those lonely watches of the
night-time, pluck up courage enough to reproach the Lord Jesus, Who, she
felt, could have helped her quite well had He chosen to accord her a
housemaid's knee.

She would think; 'He loves neither me nor Collins--He wants all the pain
for Himself; He won't share it!'

And then she would feel contrite: 'Oh, I'm sorry, Lord Jesus, 'cause I do
know You love all miserable sinners!' And the thought that perhaps she
had been unjust to Jesus would reduce her to still further tears.

Very dreadful indeed were those nights spent in weeping, spent in
doubting the Lord and His servant Collins. The hours would drag by in
intolerable blackness, that in passing seemed to envelop Stephen's body,
making her feel now hot and now cold. The grandfather clock on the stairs
ticked so loudly that her head ached to hear its unnatural ticking--when
it chimed, which it did at the hours and half-hours, its voice seemed to
shake the whole house with terror, until Stephen would creep down under
the bed-clothes to hide from she knew not what. But presently, huddled
beneath the blankets, the child would be soothed by a warm sense of
safety, and her nerves would relax, while her body grew limp with the
drowsy softness of bed. Then suddenly a big and comforting yawn, and
another, and another, until darkness and Collins and tall clocks that
menaced, and Stephen herself; were all blended and merged into something
quite friendly, a harmonious whole, neither fearful nor doubting--the
blessed illusion we call sleep.


2


In the weeks that followed on Collins' departure, Anna tried to be very
gentle with her daughter, having the child more frequently with her, more
diligently fondling Stephen. Mother and daughter would walk in the
garden, or wander about together through the meadows, and Anna would
remember the son of her dreams, who had played with her in those meadows.
A great sadness would cloud her eyes for a moment, an infinite regret as
she looked down at Stephen; and Stephen, quick to discern that sadness,
would press Anna's hand with small, anxious fingers; she would long to
inquire what troubled her mother, but would be held speechless through
shyness.

The scents of the meadows would move those two strangely--the queer,
pungent smell from the hearts of dog-daisies; the buttercup smell,
faintly green like the grass; and then meadow-sweet that grew close by
the hedges. Sometimes Stephen must tug at her mother's sleeve
sharply--intolerable to bear that thick fragrance alone!

One day she had said: Stand still or you'll hurt it--it's all round
us--it's a white smell, it reminds me of you!' And then she had flushed,
and had glanced up quickly, rather frightened in case she should find
Anna laughing.

But her mother had looked at her curiously, gravely, puzzled by this
creature who seemed all contradictions--at one moment so hard, at another
so gentle, gentle to tenderness, even. Anna had been stirred, as her
child had been stirred, by the breath of the meadow-sweet under the
hedges; for in this they were one, the mother and daughter, having each
in her veins the warm Celtic blood that takes note of such things--could
they only have divined it, such simple things might have formed a link
between them.

A great will to loving had suddenly possessed Anna Gordon, there in that
sunlit meadow--had possessed them both as they stood together, bridging
the gulf between maturity and childhood. They had gazed at each other as
though asking for something, as though seeking for something, the one
from the other; then the moment had passed--they had walked on in
silence, no nearer in spirit than before.


3


Sometimes Anna would drive Stephen into Great Malvern, to the shops, with
lunch at the Abbey Hotel on cold beef and wholesome rice pudding. Stephen
loathed these excursions, which meant dressing up, but she bore them
because of the honour which she felt to be hers when escorting her mother
through the streets, especially Church Street with its long, busy hill,
because everyone saw you in Church Street. Hats would be lifted with
obvious respect, while a humbler finger might fly to a forelock; women
would bow, and a few even curtsy to the lady of Morton--women in from the
country with speckled sunbonnets that looked like their hens, and kind
faces like brown, wrinkled apples. Then Anna must stop to inquire about
calves and babies and foals, indeed all such creatures as prosper on
farms, and her voice would be gentle because she loved such young
creatures.

Stephen would stand just a little behind her, thinking how gracious and
lovely she was; comparing her slim and elegant shoulders with the
toil-thickened back of old Mrs. Bennett, with the ugly, bent spine of
young Mrs. Thompson, who coughed when she spoke and then said: 'I beg
pardon!' as though she were conscious that one did not cough in front of
a goddess like Anna.

Presently Anna would look round for Stephen: 'Oh, there you are, darling!
We must go into Jackson's and change mother's books'; or, 'Nanny wants
some more saucers; let's walk on and get them at Langley's.'

Stephen would suddenly spring to attention, especially if they were
crossing the street. She would look right and left for imaginary traffic,
slipping a hand under Anna's elbow.

'Come with me,' she would order; 'and take care of the puddles, 'cause
you might get your feet wet--hold on by me, Mother!'

Anna would feel the small hand at her elbow, and would think that the
fingers were curiously strong; strong and efficient they would feel like
Sir Philip's and this always vaguely displeased her. Nevertheless she
would smile at Stephen while she let the child guide her in and out
between the puddles.

She would say: thank you, dear; you're as strong as a lion!' trying to
keep that displeasure from her voice.

Very protective and careful was Stephen when she and her mother were out
alone together. Not all her queer shyness could prevent her protecting,
nor could Anna's own shyness save her from protection, She was forced to
submit to a quiet supervision that was painstaking, gentle but extremely
persistent. And yet was this love? Anna often wondered. It was not, she
felt sure, the trusting devotion that Stephen had always felt for her
father; it was more like a sort of instinctive admiration, coupled with a
large, patient kindness.

'If she'd only talk to me as she talks to Philip, I might get to
understand her,' Anna would muse. 'It's so odd not to know what she's
feeling and thinking, to suspect that something's always being kept in
the background.'

Their drives home from Malvern were usually silent, for Stephen would
feel that her task was accomplished, her mother no longer needing her
protection now that the coachman had the care of them both--he, and the
arrogant-looking grey cobs that were yet so mannerly and gentle. As for
Anna, she would sigh and lean back in her corner, weary of trying to make
conversation. She would wonder if Stephen were tired or just sulky, or
if, after all, the child might be stupid. Ought she, perhaps, to feel
sorry for the child? She could never quite make up her mind.

Meanwhile, Stephen, enjoying the comfortable brougham, would begin to
indulge in kaleidoscopic musings, those musings that belong to the end of
the day, and occasionally visit children. Mrs. Thompson's bent spine, it
looked like a bow--not a rainbow but one of the archery kind; if you
stretched a tight string from her feet to her head, could you shoot
straight with Mrs. Thompson? China dogs--they had nice china dogs at
Langley's--that made you think of someone; oh, yes, of course,
Collins--Collins and a cottage with red china dogs. But you tried not to
think about Collins! there was such a queer light slanting over the
hills, a kind of gold glory, and it made you feel sorry--why should a
gold glory make you feel sorry when it shone that way on the hills? Rice
pudding, almost as bad as tapioca--not quite though, because it was not
so slimy--tapioca evaded your efforts to chew it, it felt horrid, like
biting down on your own gum. The lanes smelt of wetness, a wonderful
smell! Yet when Nanny washed things they only smelt soapy--but then, of
course, God washed the world without soap: being God, perhaps He didn't
need any--you needed a lot, especially for hands--did God wash His hands
without soap? Mother, talking about calves and babies, and looking like
the Virgin Mary in church, the one in the stained-glass window with
Jesus, which reminded you of Church Street, not a bad place after all;
Church Street was really rather exciting--what fun it must be for men to
have hats that they could take off, instead of just smiling--a bowler
must be much more fun than a Leghorn--you couldn't take that off to
Mother--

The brougham would roll smoothly along the white road, between stout
leafy hedges starred with dog-roses; blackbirds and thrushes would be
singing loudly, so loudly that Stephen could hear their voices above the
quick clip, clip of the cobs and the muffled sounds of the carriage. Then
from under her brows she must glance across at Anna, who she knew loved
the songs of blackbirds and thrushes; but Anna's face would be hidden in
shadow, while her hands lay placidly folded.

And now the horses, nearing their stables, would redouble their efforts
as they swung through the gates, the tall, iron gates of the parklands of
Morton, faithful gates that had always meant home. Old trees would fly
past, then the paddocks with their cattle--Worcestershire cattle with
uncanny white faces; then the two quiet lakes where the swans reared
their cygnets; then the lawns, and at last the wide curve in the drive,
near the house, that would lead to the massive entrance.

The child was too young to know why the beauty of Morton would bring a
lump to her throat when seen thus in the gold haze of late afternoon,
with its thoughts of evening upon it. She would want to cry out in a kind
of protest that was very near tears: 'Stop it--stop it, you're hurting!'
But instead she would blink hard and shut her lips tightly, unhappy yet
happy. It was a queer feeling; it was too big for Stephen, who was still
rather little when it came to affairs of the spirit. For the spirit of
Morton would be part of her then, and would always remain somewhere deep
down within her, aloof and untouched by the years that must follow, by
the stress and the ugliness of life. In those after-years certain scents
would evoke it--the scent of damp rushes growing by water; the kind,
slightly milky odour of cattle; the smell of dried rose-leaves and
orris-root and violets, that together with a vague suggestion of bees-wax
always hung about Anna's rooms. Then that part of Stephen that she still
shared with Morton would know what it was to feel terribly lonely, like a
soul that wakes up to find itself wandering, unwanted, between the
spheres.


4


Anna and Stephen would take off their coats, and go to the study in
search of Sir Philip who would usually be there waiting.

'Hallo, Stephen!' he would say in his pleasant, deep voice, but his eyes
would be resting on Anna.

Stephen's eyes invariably followed her father's, so that she too would
stand looking at Anna, and sometimes she must catch her breath in
surprise at the fullness of that calm beauty. She never got used to her
mother's beauty, it always surprised her each time she saw it; it was one
of those queerly unbearable things, like the fragrance of meadow-sweet
under the hedges.

Anna might say: 'What's the matter, Stephen? For goodness' sake darling,
do stop staring!' And Stephen would feel hot with shame and confusion
because Anna had caught her staring.

Sir Philip usually came to her rescue: 'Stephen, here's that new
picture-book about hunting'; or, 'I know of a really nice print of young
Nelson; if you're good I'll order it for you tomorrow'.

But after a little he and Anna must get talking, amusing themselves
irrespective of Stephen, inventing absurd little games, like two
children, which games did not always include the real child. Stephen
would sit there silently watching, but her heart would be a prey to the
strangest emotions--emotions that seven-years-old could not cope with,
and for which it could find no adequate names. All she would know was
that seeing her parents together in this mood, would fill her with
longings for something that she wanted yet could not define--a something
that would make her as happy as they were. And this something would
always be mixed up with Morton, with grave, stately rooms like her
father's study, with wide views from windows that let in much sunshine,
and the scents of a spacious garden. Her mind would go groping about for
a reason, and would find no reason--unless it were Collins--but Collins
would refuse to fit into these pictures; even love must admit that she
did not belong there any more than the brushes and buckets and
slop-cloths belonged in that dignified study.

Presently Stephen must go off to her tea, leaving the two grown-up
children together; secretly divining that neither of them would miss
her--not even her father.

Arrived in the nursery she would probably be cross, because her heart
felt very empty and tearful; or because, having looked at herself in the
glass, she had decided that she loathed her abundant long hair. Snatching
at a slice of thick bread and butter, she would upset the milk jug, or
break a new tea-cup, or smear the front of her dress with her fingers, to
the fury of Mrs. Bingham. If she spoke at such times it was usually to
threaten: 'I shall cut all my hair off, you see if I don't!' or, 'I hate
this white dress and I'm going to bum it--it makes me feel idiotic!' But
once launched she would dig up the grievances of months, going back to
the time of the would-be young Nelson, loudly complaining that being a
girl spoilt everything--even Nelson. The rest of the evening would be
spent in grumbling, because one does grumble when one is unhappy--at
least one does grumble when one is seven--later on it may seem rather
useless.

At last the hour of the bath would arrive, and still grumbling, Stephen
must submit to Mrs. Bingham, fidgeting under the nurse's rough fingers
like a dog in the hands of a trimmer. There she would stand pretending to
shiver, a strong little figure, narrow-hipped and wide-shouldered; her
flanks as wiry and thin as a greyhound's and even more ceaselessly
restless.

'God doesn't use soap!' she might suddenly remark.

At which Mrs. Bingham must smile, none too kindly: 'Maybe not, Miss
Stephen--He don't 'ave to wash you; if He did He'd need plenty of soap,
I'll be bound!'

The bath over, and Stephen garbed in her nightgown, a long pause would
ensue, known as: 'Waiting for Mother', and if mother, for some reason,
did not happen to arrive, the pause could be spun out for quite twenty
minutes, or for half an hour even, if luck was with Stephen, and the
nursery clock not too precise and old-maidish.

'Now come on, say your prayers,' Mrs. Bingham would order, 'and you'd
better ask the dear Lord to forgive you--impious I calls it, and you a
young lady! Carrying on because you can't be a boy!'

Stephen would kneel by the side of the bed, but in such moods as these
her prayers would sound angry. The nurse would protest: 'Not so loud,
Miss Stephen! Pray slower, and don't shout at the Lord, He won't like
it!'

But Stephen would continue to shout at the Lord in a kind of impotent
defiance.



Chapter Four


1


The sorrows of childhood are mercifully passing, for it is only when
maturity has rendered soil mellow that grief will root very deeply.
Stephen's grief for Collins, in spite of its violence, or perhaps because
of that very violence, wore itself out like a passing tempest and was all
but spent by the autumn. By Christmas, the gusts when they came were
quite gentle, rousing nothing more disturbing than a faint melancholy--by
Christmas it required quite an effort to recapture the charm of Collins.

Stephen was nonplussed and rather uneasy; to have loved so greatly and
now to forget! It made her feel childish and horribly silly, as though
she had cried over cutting her finger. As on all grave occasions, she
considered the Lord, remembering His love for miserable sinners:

Teach me to love Collins Your way,' prayed Stephen, trying hard to
squeeze out some tears in the process, 'teach me to love her 'cause she's
mean and unkind and won't be a proper sinner that repenteth.' But the
tears would not come, nor was prayer what it had been; it lacked
something--she no longer sweated when she prayed.

Then an awful thing happened, the maid's image was fading, and try as she
would Stephen could not recall certain passing expressions that had
erstwhile allured her. Now she could not see Collins' face at all dearly
even if she willed very hard in the dark. Thoroughly disgruntled, she
bethought her of books, books of fairy tales, hitherto not much in
favour, especially of those that treated of spells, incantations and
other unlawful proceedings. She even requested the surprised Mrs. Bingham
to read from the Bible:

'You know where,' coaxed Stephen, 'it's the place they were reading in
church last Sunday, about Saul and a witch with a name like Edna--the
place where she makes some person come up, 'cause the king had forgotten
what he looked like.'

But if prayer bad failed Stephen, her spells also failed her; indeed they
behaved as spells do when said backwards, making her see, not the person
she wished to, but a creature entirely different. For Collins now had a
most serious rival, one who had lately appeared at the stables. He was
not possessed of a real housemaid's knee, but instead, of four deeply
thrilling brown legs--he was two up on legs and one up on a tail, which
was rather unfair on Collins! that Christmas, when Stephen was eight
years old, Sir Philip had bought her a hefty bay pony; she was learning
to ride him, could ride him already, being naturally skilful and
fearless. There had been quite a heated discussion with Anna, because
Stephen had insisted on riding astride. In this she had shown herself
very refractory, falling off every time she tried the side-saddle--quite
obvious, of course, this falling-off process, but enough to subjugate
Anna.

And now Stephen would spend long hours at the stables, swaggering largely
in corduroy breeches, hobnobbing with Williams, the old stud groom, who
had a soft place in his heart for the child.

She would say: 'Come up, horse!' in the same tone as Williams; or,
pretending to a knowledge she was far from possessing: 'Is that fetlock a
bit puffy? It looks to me puffy; supposing we put on a nice wet bandage.'

Then Williams would rub his rough chin as though thinking: 'Maybe
yes--maybe no--' he would temporize, wisely.

She grew to adore the smell of the stables; it was far more enticing than
Collins' perfume--the Erasmic she had used on her afternoons out, and
which had once smelt so delicious. And the pony! So strong, so entirely
fulfilling, with his round, gentle eyes, and his heart big with
courage--he was surely more worthy of worship than Collins, who had
treated you badly because of the footman! And yet--and yet--you owed
something to Collins, just because you had loved her, though you couldn't
any more. It was dreadfully worrying, all this hard thinking, when you
wished to enjoy a new pony! Stephen would stand there rubbing her chin in
an almost exact imitation of Williams. She could not produce the same
scrabby sound, but in spite of this drawback, the movement would soothe
her.

Then one morning she had a bright inspiration: 'Come up, horse!' she
commanded, slapping the pony. 'Come up, horse, and let me get close to
your ear, 'cause I'm going to whisper something dreadfully important.'
Laying her cheek against his firm neck, she said softly: 'You're not you
any more, you're Collins!'

So Collins was comfortably transmigrated. It was Stephen's last effort to
remember.


2


Came the day when Stephen rode out with her father to a meet, a glorious
and memorable day. Side by side the two of them jogged through the gates,
and the lodgekeeper's wife must smile to see Stephen sitting her smart
bay pony astride, and looking so comically like Sir Philip.

'It do be a pity as her isn't a boy, our young lady,' she told her
husband.

It was one of those still, slightly frosty mornings when the landing is
tricky on the north side of the hedges; when the smoke from farm chimneys
rises straight as a ramrod; when the scent of log fires or of burning
brushwood, though left far behind, still persists in the nostrils. A
crystal clear morning, like a draught of spring water, and such mornings
are good when one is young.

The pony tugged hard and fought at his bridle; he was trembling with
pleasure, for he was no novice; he knew all about signs and wonders in
stables, such as large feeds of corn administered early, and extra long
groomings, and pink coats, with brass buttons, like the hunt coat Sir
Philip was wearing. He frisked down the road, a mass of affectation,
demanding some skill on the part of his rider; but the child's hands were
strong yet exceedingly gentle--she possessed that rare gift, perfect
hands on a horse.

'This is better than being young Nelson,' thought Stephen, ''cause this
way I'm happy just being myself.'

Sir Philip looked down at his daughter with contentment; she was good to
look upon, he decided. And yet his contentment was not quite complete, so
that he looked away again quickly, sighing a little, because, somehow
these days, he had taken to sighing over Stephen.

The meet was a large one. People noticed the child; Colonel Antrim, the
Master, rode up and spoke kindly: 'You've a fine pony there, but he'll
need a bit of holding!' And then to her father: 'Is she safe astride,
Philip? Violet's learning to ride, but side-saddle, I prefer it--I never
think girl children get the grip astride; they aren't built for it,
haven't the necessary muscle; still, no doubt she'll stick on by
balance.'

Stephen flushed: 'No doubt she'll stick on by balance!' the words
rankled, oh, very deeply they rankled. Violet was learning to ride
side-saddle, that small, flabby lump who squealed if you pinched her;
that terrified creature of muslins and ribbons and hair that curled over
the nurse's finger! Why, Violet could never come to tea without crying,
could never play a game without getting herself hurt! She had fat, wobbly
legs too, just like a rag doll--and you, Stephen, had been compared to
Violet! Ridiculous of course, and yet all of a sudden you felt less
impressive in your fine riding breeches. You felt--well, not foolish
exactly, but self-conscious--not quite at your ease, a little bit wrong.
It was almost as though you were playing at young Nelson again, were only
pretending.

But you said: 'I've got muscles, haven't I, Father? Williams says I've
got riding muscles already!' then you dug your heels sharply into the
pony, so that he whisked round, bucking and rearing. As for you, you
stuck to his back like a limpet. Wasn't that enough to convince them?

'Steady on, Stephen!' came Sir Philip's voice, warning. Then the
Master's: 'She's got a fine seat, I'll admit it--Violet's a little bit
scared on a horse, but I think she'll get confidence later; I hope so.'

And now hounds were moving away towards cover, tails waving--they looked
like an army with banners. 'Hi, Starbright--Fancy! Get in, little bitch!
Hi, Frolic, get on with it, Frolic!'

The long lashes shot out with amazing precision, stinging a flank or
stroking a shoulder, while the four-legged Amazons closed up their ranks
for the serious business ahead. 'Hi, Starbright!' Whips cracked and
horses grew restless; Stephen's mount required undivided attention. She
had no time to think of her muscles or her grievance, but only of the
creature between her small knees.

'All right, Stephen?'

'Yes, Father.'

Well, go steady at your fences; it may be a little bit slippery this
morning.' But Sir Philip's voice did not sound at all anxious; indeed
there was a note of deep pride in his voice.

'He knows that I'm not just a rag doll, like Violet; he knows that I'm
different to her!' thought Stephen.


3


The strange, implacable heart-broken music of hounds giving tongue as
they break from cover; the cry of the huntsman as he stands in his
stirrups; the thud of hooves pounding ruthlessly forward over long,
green, undulating meadows. The meadows flying back as though seen from a
train, the meadows streaming away behind you; the acrid smell of horse
sweat caught in passing; the smell of damp leather, of earth and bruised
herbage--all sudden, all passing--then the smell of wide spaces, the air
smell, cool yet as potent as wine.

Sir Philip was looking back over his shoulder: 'All right, Stephen?' Oh,
yes--' Stephen's voice sounded breathless.

Steady on! Steady on!'

They were coming to a fence, and Stephen's grip tightened a little. The
pony took the fence in his stride very gaily; for an instant he seemed to
stay poised in mid-air as though he had wings, then he touched earth
again, and away without even pausing.

'All right, Stephen?'

'Yes, yes!'

Sir Philip's broad back was bent forward over the shoulder of his hunter;
the crisp auburn hair in the nape of his neck showed bright where the
winter sunshine touched it; and as the child followed that purposeful
back, she felt that she loved it utterly, entirely. At that moment it
seemed to embody all kindness, all strength, and all understanding.


4


They killed not so very far from Worcester; it had been a stiff run, the
best of the season. Colonel Antrim came jogging along to Stephen, whose
prowess had amused and surprised him.

'Well, well,' he said, grinning, 'so here you are, madam, still with a
leg on each side of your horse--I'm going to tell Violet she'll have to
buck up. By the way, Philip, can Stephen come to tea on Monday, before
Roger goes back to school? She can? Oh, splendid! And now where's that
brush? I think our young Stephen here takes it.'

Strange it is, but unforgettable moments are often connected with very
small happenings, happenings that assume fictitious proportions,
especially when we are children. If Colonel Antrim had offered Stephen
the crown of England on a red velvet cushion, it is doubtful whether her
pride would have equalled the pride that she felt when the huntsman came
forward and presented her with her first hunting trophy--the rather
pathetic, bedraggled little brush, that had weathered so many hard miles.
Just for an instant the child's heart misgave her, as she looked at the
soft, furry thing in her hand; but the joy of attainment was still hot
upon her, and that incomparable feeling of elation that comes from the
knowledge of personal courage, so that she forgot the woes of the fox in
remembering the prowess of Stephen.

Sir Philip fastened the brush to her saddle. 'You rode well,' he said
briefly, then turned to the Master.

But she knew that that day she had not failed him, for his eyes had been
bright when they rested on hers; she had seen great love in those
melancholy eyes, together with a curiously wistful expression of which
her youth lacked understanding. And now many people smiled broadly at
Stephen, patting her pony and calling him a flier.

One old farmer remarked: ''E do be a good plucked un, and so be 'is
rider--beggin' your pardon.'

At which Stephen must blush and grow slightly mendacious, pretending to
give all the credit to the pony, pretending to feel very humble of
spirit, which she knew she was far from feeling.

'Come along!' called Sir Philip. 'No more to-day, Stephen, your poor
little fellow's had enough for one day.' Which was true, since Collins
was all of a tremble, what with excitement and straining short legs to
keep up with vainglorious hunters.

Whips touched hats: 'Good-bye, Stephen, come out soon again--See you on
Tuesday, Sir Philip, with the Croome.' And the field settled down to the
changing of horses, before drawing yet one more cover.


5


Father and daughter rode home through the twilight, and now there were no
dog-roses in the hedges, the hedges stood leafless and grey with frost
rime, a network of delicate branches. The earth smelt as clean as a newly
washed garment--it smelt of 'God's washing', as Stephen called it--while
away to the left, from a distant farm-house, came the sound of a
yard-dog, barking. Small lights were glowing in cottage windows as yet
uncurtained, as yet very friendly; and beyond, where the great hills of
Malvern showed blue against the pale sky, many small lights were
burning--lights of home newly lit on the altar of the hills to the God of
both hills and homesteads. No birds were singing in the trees by the
roadside, but a silence prevailed, more lovely than bird song; the
thoughtful and holy silence of winter, the silence of trustfully waiting
furrows. For the soil is the greatest saint of all ages, knowing neither
impatience, nor fear, nor doubting; knowing only faith, from which spring
all blessings that are needful to nurture man.

Sir Philip said: 'Are you happy, my Stephen?'

And she answered: 'I'm dreadfully happy, Father. I'm so dreadfully happy
that it makes me feel frightened, 'cause I mayn't always last happy--not
this way.'

He did not ask why she might not last happy; he just nodded, as though he
admitted a reason; but he laid his hand over hers on the bridle for a
moment, a large, and comforting hand. Then the peace of the evening took
possession of Stephen, that and the peace of a healthy body tired out
with fresh air and much vigorous movement, so that she swayed a little in
her saddle and came near to falling asleep. The pony, even more tired
than his rider, jogged along with neck drooping and reins hanging
slackly, too weary to shy at the ogreish shadows that were crouching
ready to scare him. His small mind was doubtless concentrated on fodder;
on the bucket of water nicely seasoned with gruel; on the groom's
soothing hiss as he rubbed down and bandaged; on the warm blanket
clothing, so pleasant in winter, and above all on that golden bed of deep
straw that was sure to be waiting in his stable.

And now a great moon had swung up very slowly; and the moon seemed to
pause, staring hard at Stephen, while the frost rime turned white with
the whiteness of diamonds, and the shadows turned black and lay folded
like velvet round the feet of the drowsy hedges. But the meadows beyond
the hedges turned silver, and so did the road to Morton.


* * *


It was late when they reached the stables at last, and old Williams was
waiting in the yard with a lantern.

'Did you kill?' he inquired, according to custom; then he saw Stephen's
trophy and chuckled.

Stephen tried to spring easily out of the saddle as her father had done,
but her legs seemed to fail her. To her horror and chagrin her legs hung
down stiffly as though made of wood; she could not control them; and to
make matters worse, Collins now grew impatient and began to walk off to
his loose-box. Then Sir Philip put two strong arms around Stephen, and he
lifted her bodily as though she were a baby, and he carried her, only
faintly protesting, right up to the door of the house and beyond
it--right up indeed, to the warm pleasant nursery where a steaming hot
bath was waiting. Her head fell back and lay on his shoulder, while her
eyelids drooped, heavy with well-earned sleep; she had to blink very hard
several times over in order to get the better of that sleep.

'Happy, darling?' he whispered, and his grave face bent nearer. She could
feel his cheek, rough at the end of the day, pressed against her
forehead, and she loved that kind roughness, so that she put up her hand
and stroked it.

So dreadfully, dreadfully happy, Father,' she murmured, 'so--dreadfully
happy--'



Chapter Five


1


On the Monday that followed Stephen's first day out hunting she woke with
something very like a weight on her chest; in less than two minutes she
knew why this was--she was going to tea with the Antrims. Her relations
with other children were peculiar, she thought so herself and so did the
children; they could not define it and neither could Stephen, but there
it was all the same. A high-spirited child she should have been popular,
and yet she was not, a fact which she divined, and this made her feel ill
at ease with her playmates, who in their turn felt ill at ease. She would
think that the children were whispering about her, whispering and
laughing for no apparent reason; but although this had happened on one
occasion, it was not always happening as Stephen imagined. She was
painfully hyper-sensitive at times, and she suffered accordingly.

Of all the children that Stephen most dreaded, Violet and Roger Antrim
took precedence; especially Roger, who was ten years old, and already
full to the neck of male arrogance--he had just been promoted to Etons
that winter, which added to his overbearing pride. Roger Antrim had
round, brown eyes like his mother, and a short, straight nose that might
one day be handsome; he was rather a thick-set, plump little boy, whose
buttocks looked too large in a short Eton jacket, especially when he
stuck his hands in his pockets and strutted, which he did very often.

Roger was a bully; he bullied his sister, and would dearly have loved to
bully Stephen; but Stephen nonplussed him, her arms were so strong, he
could never wrench Stephen's arms backwards like Violet's; he could never
make her cry or show any emotion when he pinched her, or tugged roughly
at her new hair ribbon, and then Stephen would often beat him at games, a
fact which he deeply resented. She could bowl at cricket much straighter
than he could; she climbed trees with astonishing skill and prowess, and
even if she did tear her skirts in the process it was obviously cheek for
a girl to climb at all. Violet never climbed trees; she stood at the
bottom admiring the courage of Roger. He grew to hate Stephen as a kind
of rival, a kind of intruder into his especial province; he was always
longing to take her down a peg, but being slow-witted he was foolish in
his methods--no good daring Stephen, she responded at once, and usually
went one better. As for Stephen, she loathed him, and her loathing was
increased by a most humiliating consciousness of envy. Yes, despite his
shortcomings she envied young Roger with his thick, clumping boots, his
cropped hair and his Etons; envied his school and his masculine
companions of whom he would speak grandly as: 'all the other fellows!';
envied his right to climb trees and play cricket and football--his right
to be perfectly natural; above all she envied his splendid conviction
that being a boy constituted a privilege in life; she could well
understand that conviction, but this only increased her envy.

Stephen found Violet intolerably silly, she cried quite as loudly when
she bumped her own head as when Roger applied his most strenuous
torments. But what irritated Stephen, was the fact that she suspected
that Violet almost enjoyed those torments.

'He's so dreadfully strong!' she had confided in Stephen, with something
like pride in her voice.

Stephen had longed to shake her for that: 'I can pinch quite as hard as
he can!' she had threatened. 'If you think he's stronger than I am, I'll
show you!' At which Violet had rushed away screaming.

Violet was already full of feminine poses; she loved dolls, but not quite
so much as she pretended. People said: 'Look at Violet, she's like a
little mother; it's so touching to see that instinct in a child!' then
Violet would become still more touching. She was always thrusting her
dolls upon Stephen, making her undress them and put them to bed. 'Now
you're Nanny, Stephen, and I'm Gertrude's mother, or you can be mother
this time if you'd rather--Oh, be careful, you'll break her! Now you've
pulled off a button! I do think you might play more like I do!' And then
Violet knitted, or said that she knitted--Stephen had never seen anything
but knots. 'Can't you knit?' she would say, looking scornfully at
Stephen, 'I can--Mother called me a dear little housewife!' then Stephen
would lose her temper and speak rudely: 'You're a dear little sop, that's
what you are!' For hours she must play stupid doll-games with Violet,
because Roger would not always play real games in the garden. He hated to
be beaten, yet how could she help it? Could she help throwing straighter
than Roger?

They had nothing whatever in common, these children, but the Antrims were
neighbours, and even Sir Philip; indulgent though he was, insisted that
Stephen should have friends of her own age to play with. He had spoken
quite sharply on several occasions when the child had pleaded to be
allowed to stay at home. Indeed he spoke sharply that very day at
luncheon:

'Eat your pudding please, Stephen; come now, finish it quickly! If all
this fuss is about the little Antrims, then Father won't have it, it's
ridiculous, darling.'

So Stephen had hastily swallowed her pudding and escaped upstairs to the
nursery.


2


The Antrims lived half a mile from Ledbury, on the other side of the
hills. It was quite a long drive to their house from Morton--Stephen was
driven over in the dog-cart. She sat beside Williams in gloomy silence,
with the collar of her coat turned up to her ears. She was filled with a
sense of bitter injustice; why should they insist on this stupid
expedition? Even her father had been cross at luncheon because she
preferred to stay at home with him. Why should she be forced to know
other children? they didn't want her nor she them. And above all the
Antrims! that idiotic Violet--Violet who was learning to ride
side-saddle--and Roger strutting about in his Etons, and bragging, always
bragging because he was a boy--and their mother who was quite sure to
patronize Stephen because being grown-up made her put on a manner.
Stephen could hear her infuriating voice, the voice she reserved for
children: Ah, here you are, Stephen! Now then, little people, run along
and have a good feed in the schoolroom. There's plenty of cake; I knew
Stephen was coining; we all know Stephen's capacity for cake!'

Stephen could hear Violet's timorous giggle and Roger's guffaw as they
greeted this sally. She could feel his fat fingers pinching her arm;
pinching cruelly, slyly, as he strutted beside her. Then his whisper:
'You're a pig! You eat much more than I do, mother said so today, and
boys need more than girls!' then Violet: 'I'm not very fond of plum cake,
it makes me feel sicky--mother says it's indigestion. I could never eat
big bits of plum cake like Stephen. Nanny says I'm a dainty feeder.' then
Stephen herself, saying nothing at all, but glaring sideways at Roger.

The dog-cart was slowly climbing British Camp, that long, steep hill out
of Little Malvern. The cold air grew colder, but marvellously pure it
was, up there above the valleys. The peak of the Camp stood out clearly
defined by snow that had fallen lightly that morning, and as they
breasted the crest of the hill, the sun shone out on the snow. Away to
the right lay the valley of the Wye, a long, lovely valley of deep blue
shadows; a valley of small homesteads and mothering trees, of soft
undulations and wide, restful spaces leading away to a line of dim
mountains--leading away to the mountains of Wales, that lay just over the
border. And because she loved this kind of English valley, Stephen's
sulky eyes must turn and rest upon it; not all her apprehension and sense
of injustice could take from her eyes the joy of that seeing. She must
gaze and gaze, she must let it possess her, the peace, the wonder that
lay in such beauty; while the unwilling tears welled up under her
lids--she not knowing why they had come there.

And now they were trotting swiftly downhill; the valley had vanished, but
the woods of Eastnor stood naked and lovely, and the forms of their trees
were more perfect than forms that are made with hands--unless with the
hands of God. Stephen's eyes turned again; she could not stay sulky, for
these were the woods where she drove with her father. Twice every spring
they drove up to these woods and through them to the stretching parkland
beyond. There were deer in the park--they would sometimes get out of the
dog-cart so that Stephen could feed the does.

She began to whistle softly through her teeth, an accomplishment in which
she took a great pride. Impossible to go on feeling resentful when the
sun was shining between the bare branches, when the air was as clear and
as bright as crystal, when the cob was literally flying through the air,
taking all Williams' strength to hold him.

Steady boy--steady on! He be feeling the weather--gets into his blood and
makes him that skittish--Now go quiet, you young blight! Just look at
him, will you, he's got himself all of a lather!'

'Let me drive,' pleaded. Stephen. 'Oh, please, please, Williams!'

But Williams shook his head as he grinned at her broadly: 'I've got old
bones, Miss Stephen, and old bones breaks quick when it's frosty, so I've
heard tell.'


3


Mrs. Antrim was waiting for Stephen in the lounge--she was always waiting
to waylay her in the lounge, or so it appeared to Stephen. The lounge was
a much overdressed apartment, full of small, useless tables and large,
clumsy chairs. You bumped into the chairs and tripped over the tables; at
least you did if you were Stephen. There was one deadly pitfall you never
could avoid, a huge polar bear skin that lay on the floor. Its stuffed
head protruded at a most awkward angle; you invariably stubbed your big
toe on that head. Stephen, true to tradition, stubbed her toe rather
badly as she blundered towards Mrs. Antrim.

'Dear me,' remarked her hostess, 'you are a great girl; why your feet
must be double the size of Violet's! Come here and let me have a look at
your feet.' then she laughed as though something amused her.

Stephen was longing to rub her big toe, but she thought better of it,
enduring in silence.

'Children!' called Mrs. Antrim, 'Here's Stephen, I'm sure she's as hungry
as a hunter!'

Violet was wearing a pale blue silk frock; even at seven she was vain of
her appearance. She had cried until she had got permission to wear that
particular pale blue frock, which was usually reserved for parties. Her
brown hair was curled into careful ringlets, and tied with a very large
bow of blue ribbon. Mrs. Antrim glanced quickly from Stephen to Violet
with a look of maternal pride.

Roger was bulging inside his Etons; his round cheeks were puffed, very
pink and aggressive. He eyed Stephen coldly from above a white collar
that was obviously fresh from the laundry. On their way upstairs he
pinched Stephen's leg, and Stephen kicked backwards, swiftly and neatly.

'I suppose you think you can kick!' grunted Roger, who was suffering
acutely at that moment from his shin. You've not got the strength of a
flea; I don't feel it!'

At Violet's request they were left alone for tea; she liked playing the
hostess, and her mother spoilt her. A special small teapot had had to be
unearthed, in order that Violet could lift it.

'Sugar?' she inquired with tongs poised in mid air, 'And milk?' she
added, imitating her mother. Mrs. Antrim always said: And milk,' in that
tone--it made you feel that you must be rather greedy.

'Oh, chuck it!' growled Roger, whose shin was still aching. You know I
want milk and four lumps of sugar.'

Violet's underlip began to tremble, but she held her ground with
unexpected firmness. 'May I give you a little more milk, Stephen dear? Or
would you prefer no milk, only lemon?'

There isn't any lemon and you know it!' bawled Roger. 'Here, give me my
tea or I'll spoil your hair ribbon.' He grabbed at his cup and nearly
upset it.

'Oh, oh!' shrilled Violet. 'My dress!'

They settled down to the meal at last, but Stephen observed that Roger
was watching; every mouthful she ate she could feel him watching, so that
she grew self-conscious. She was hungry, not having eaten much luncheon,
but now she could not enjoy her cake; Roger himself was stuffing like a
grampus, but his eyes never left her face. Then Roger, the slow-witted in
his dealings with Stephen, all but choked in the throes of a great
inspiration.

'I say, you,' he began, with his mouth very full, 'what about a certain
young lady out hunting? What about a fat leg on each side of her horse
like a monkey on a stick, and everybody laughing!'

'They were not!' exclaimed Stephen, growing suddenly red. 'Oh, yes, but
they were, though!' mocked Roger.

Now had Stephen been wise she would have let the thing drop, for no fun
is derived from a one-sided contest, but at eight years old one is not
always wise, and moreover her pride had been stung to the quick.

She said: 'I'd like to see you get the brush; why you can't stick on just
riding round the paddock! I've seen you fall off, jumping nothing but a
hurdle; I'd like to see you out hunting!'

Roger swallowed some more cake; there was now no great hurry; he had
thrown his sprat and had landed his mackerel. He had very much feared
that she might not be drawn--it was not always easy to draw Stephen.

'Well now, listen,' he drawled, 'and I'll tell you something. You thought
they admired you squatting on your pony; you thought you were being very
grand, I'll bet, with your new riding breeches and your black velvet cap;
you thought they'd suppose that you looked like a boy, just because you
were trying to be one. As a matter of fact, if you really want to know,
they were busting their sides; why, my father said so. He was laughing
all the time at your looking so funny on that rotten old pony that's as
fat as a porpoise. Why, he only gave you the brush for fun, because you
were such a small kid--he said so. He said: "I gave Stephen Gordon the
brush because I thought she might cry if I didn't."'

'You're a liar,' breathed Stephen, who had turned very pale.

'Oh, am I? Well, you ask father.'

'Do stop--' whimpered Violet, beginning to cry; 'you're horrid, you're
spoiling my party.'

But Roger was launched on his first perfect triumph; he had seen the
expression in Stephen's eyes: 'And my mother said,' he continued more
loudly, that your mother must be funny to allow you to do it; she said it
was horrid to let girls ride that way; she said she was awfully surprised
at your mother; she said that she'd have thought that your mother had
more sense; she said that it wasn't modest; she said--'

Stephen had suddenly sprung to her feet: 'How dare you! How dare you--my
mother!' she spluttered. And now she was almost beside herself with rage,
conscious only of one overwhelming impulse, and that to belabour Roger.

A plate crashed to the ground and Violet screamed faintly. Roger, in his
turn, had pushed back his chair; his round eyes were staring and rather
frightened; he had never seen Stephen quite like this before. She was
actually rolling up the sleeves of her smock.

'You cad!' she shouted, 'I'll fight you for this!' And she doubled her
fist and shook it at Roger while he edged away from the table.

She stood there an enraged and ridiculous figure in her Liberty smock,
with her hard, boyish forearms. Her long hair had partly escaped from its
ribbon, and the bow sagged down limply, crooked and foolish. All that was
heavy in her face sprang into view, the strong line of the jaw, the
square, massive brow, the eyebrows, too thick and too wide for beauty.
And yet there was a kind of large splendour about her--absurd though she
was, she was splendid at that moment--grotesque and splendid, like some
primitive thing conceived in a turbulent age of transition.

'Are you going to fight me, you coward?' she demanded, as she stepped
round the table and faced her tormentor.

But Roger thrust his hands deep into his pockets: 'I don't fight with
girls!' he remarked very grandly. Then he sauntered out of the
schoolroom.

Stephen's own hands fell and hung at her sides; her head drooped, and she
stood staring down at the carpet. The whole of her suddenly drooped and
looked helpless, as she stood staring down at the carpet.

'How could you!' began Violet, who was plucking up courage. 'Little girls
don't have fights--I don't, I'd be frightened--'

But Stephen cut her short: 'I'm going,' she said thickly; 'I'm going home
to my father.'

She went heavily downstairs and out into the lobby, where she put on her
hat and coat; then made her way round the house to the stables, in search
of old Williams and the dog-cart.


4


'You're home very early, Stephen,' said Anna, but Sir Philip was staring
at his daughter's face.

'What's the matter?' he inquired, and his voice sounded anxious. 'Come
here and tell me about it.'

Then Stephen quite suddenly burst into tears, and she wept and she wept
as she stood there before them, and she poured out her shame and
humiliation, telling all that Roger had said about her mother, telling
all that she, Stephen, would have done to defend her, had it not been
that Roger would not fight with a girl. She wept and she wept without any
restraint, scarcely knowing what she said--at that moment not caring. And
Sir Philip listened with his head on his hand, and Anna listened
bewildered and dumbfounded. She tried to kiss Stephen, to hold her to
her, but Stephen, still sobbing, pushed her away; in this orgy of grief
she resented consolation, so that in the end Anna took her to the nursery
and delivered her over to the care of Mrs. Bingham, feeling that the
child did not want her.

When Anna went quietly back to the study, Sir Philip was still sitting
with his head on his hand. She said: 'It's time you realized, Philip,
that if you're Stephen's father, I'm her mother. So far you've managed
the child your own way, and I don't think it's been successful. You've
treated Stephen as though she were a boy--perhaps it's because I've not
given you a son--' Her voice trembled a little but she went on gravely:
'It's not good for Stephen; I know it's not good, and at times it
frightens me, Philip.'

'No, no!' he said, sharply.

But Anna persisted: 'Yes, Philip, at times it makes me afraid--I can't
tell you why, but it seems all wrong--it makes me feel--strange with the
child.'

He looked at her out of his melancholy eyes: 'Can't you trust me? Won't
you try to trust me, Anna?'

But Anna shook her head: 'I don't understand, why shouldn't you trust me,
Philip?'

And then in his terror for this well-beloved woman, Sir Philip committed
the first cowardly action of his life--he who would not have spared
himself pain, could not bear to inflict it on Anna. In his infinite pity
for Stephen's mother, he sinned very deeply and gravely against Stephen,
by withholding from that mother his own conviction that her child was not
as other children.

'There's nothing for you to understand,' he said firmly, 'but I like you
to trust me in all things.'

After this they sat talking about the child, Sir Philip very quiet and
reassuring.

'I've wanted her to have a healthy body,' he explained, 'that's why I've
let her run more or less wild; but perhaps we'd better have a governess
now, as you say; a French governess, my dear, if you'd prefer one--later
on I've always meant to engage a bluestocking, some woman who's been to
Oxford. I want Stephen to have the finest education that care and money
can give her.'

But once again Anna began to protest. 'What's the good of it all for a
girl?' she argued. 'Did you love me any less because I couldn't do
mathematics? Do you love me less now because I count on my fingers?'

He kissed her. 'That's different, you're you,' he said, smiling, but a
look that she knew well had come into his eyes, a cold, resolute
expression, which meant that all persuasion was likely to be unavailing.

Presently they went upstairs to the nursery, and Sir Philip shaded the
candle with his hand, while they stood together gazing down at
Stephen--the child was heavily asleep.

'Look, Philip,' whispered Anna, pitiful and shaken, 'look Philip--she's
got two big tears on her cheek!'

He nodded, slipping his arm around Anna: 'Come away,' he muttered, 'we
may wake her.'



Chapter Six


1


Mrs. Bingham departed unmourned and unmourning, and in her stead reigned
Mademoiselle Duphot, a youthful French governess with a long, pleasant
face that reminded Stephen of a horse. This equine resemblance was
fortunate in one way--Stephen took to Mademoiselle Duphot at once--but it
did not make for respectful obedience. On the contrary, Stephen felt very
familiar, kindly familiar and quite at her ease; she petted Mademoiselle
Duphot. Mademoiselle Duphot was lonely and homesick, and it must be
admitted that she liked being petted. Stephen would rush off to get her a
cushion, or a footstool or her glass of milk at eleven.

'Comme elle est gentille, cette drôle de petite fine, elle a si bon
coeur,' would think Mademoiselle Duphot, and somehow geography would not
seem to matter quite so much, or arithmetic either--in vain did
Mademoiselle try to be strict, her pupil could always beguile her.

Mademoiselle Duphot knew nothing about horses, in spite of the r fact
that she looked so much like one, and Stephen would complacently
entertain her with long conversation anent splints and spavins, cow hocks
and colic, all mixed up together in a kind of wild veterinary jumble. Had
Williams been listening, he might well have rubbed his chin, but Williams
was not there to listen.

As for Mademoiselle Duphot, she was genuinely impressed: 'Mais quel type,
quel type!' she was always exclaiming. 'Vous êtes déjà une vraie petite
Amazone, Stévenne.'

'N'est-ce pas?' agreed Stephen, who was picking up French.

The child showed real ability for French, and this delighted her teacher;
at the end of six months she could gabble quite freely, making quick
little gestures and shrugging her shoulders. She liked talking French,
it rather amused her, nor was she averse to mastering the grammar; what
she could not endure were the long, foolish dictées from the edifying
Bibliothèque Rose. Weak in all other respects with Stephen, Mademoiselle
Duphot clung to these dictées; the Bibliothèque Rose became her last
trench of authority, and she held it.

'"Les Petites Filles Modèles",' Mademoiselle would announce, while Stephen
yawned out her ineffable boredom; 'Maintenant nous allons retrouver
Sophie--Where to did we arrive? Ah, oui, I remember: "Cette preuve de
confiance toucha Sophie et augmenta encore son regret d'avoir été si
méchante.

'"Comment, se dit-elle, ai-je pu me livrer a une telle colère? Comment
ai-je été si méchante avec des amies aussi bonnes que celles que j'ai id,
et si hardie envers une personne aussi douce, aussi tendre que Mme. de
Fleurville!"'

From time to time the programme would be varied by extracts of an even
more edifying nature, and 'Les Bons Enfants' would be chosen for
dictation, to the scorn and derision of Stephen.

'La Maman, Donne-lui ton coeur, mon Henri; c'est ce que to pourras lui
dormer de plus agréable.

'--Mon coeur? Dit Henri en déboutonnant son habit et en ouvrant sa
chemise. Mais comment faire? il me faudrait un couteau.' At which Stephen
would giggle.

One day she had added a comment of her own in the margin: 'Little beast,
he was only shamming!' and Mademoiselle, coming on this unawares, had
been caught in the act of laughing by her pupil. After which there was
naturally less discipline than ever in the schoolroom, but considerably
more friendship.

However, Anna seemed quite contented, since Stephen was becoming so
proficient in French; and observing that his wife looked less anxious
these days, Sir Philip said nothing, biding his time. This frank, jaunty,
slacking on the part of his daughter should be checked later on he
decided. Meanwhile, Stephen grew fond of the mild-faced Frenchwoman, who
in her turn adored the unusual child. She would confide her troubles to
Stephen, those family troubles in which governesses abound--her Maman was
old and delicate and needy; her sister had a wicked and spendthrift
husband, and now her sister must make little bags for the grand shops in
Paris that paid very badly, her sister was gradually losing her eyesight
through making those little bead bags for the shops that cared nothing,
and paid very badly. Mademoiselle sent Maman a part of her earnings, and
sometimes, of course, she must help her sister. Her Maman must have her
chicken on Sundays: 'Bon Dieu, il faut vivre--il faut manger, au moins--'
And afterwards that chicken came in very nicely for Petite Marmite, which
was made from his carcass and a few leaves of cabbage--Maman loved Petite
Marmite, the warmth of it eased her old gums.

Stephen would listen to these long dissertations with patience and with
apparent understanding. She would nod her head wisely: 'Mais c'est dur,'
she would comment, 'c'est terriblement dur, la vie!'

But she never confided her own special troubles, and Mademoiselle Duphot
sometimes wondered about her: 'Est-elle heureuse, cet &range petit être?'
she would wonder. 'Sera-t-elle heureuse plus tard? Qui sait!'


2


Idleness and peace had reigned in the schoolroom for more than two years,
when ex-Sergeant Smylie sailed over the horizon and proceeded to announce
that he taught gymnastics and fencing. From that moment peace ceased to
reign in the schoolroom, or indeed anywhere in the house for that matter.
In vain did Mademoiselle Duphot protest that gymnastics and fencing
thickened the ankles, in vain did Anna express disapproval, Stephen
merely ignored them and consulted her father.

'I want to go in for Sandowing,' she informed him, as though they were
discussing a career.

He laughed: 'Sandowing? Well, and how will you start it?' Then Stephen
explained about ex-Sergeant Smylie.

'I see,' nodded Sir Philip, 'you want to learn fencing.'

And how to lift weights with my stomach,' she said quickly.

'Why not with your large front teeth?' he teased her. 'Oh, well,' he
added, there's no harm in fencing or gymnastics either--provided, of
course, that you don't try to wreck Morton Hall like a Samson wrecking
the house of the Philistines; I foresee that that might easily happen--'

Stephen grinned: 'But it mightn't if I cut off my hair! May I cut off my
hair? Oh, do let me, Father!'

'Certainly not, I prefer to risk it,' said Sir Philip, speaking quite
firmly.

Stephen went pounding back to the schoolroom. 'I'm going to those
classes!' she announced in triumph. 'I'm going to be driven over to
Malvern next week; I'm going to begin on Tuesday, and I'm going to learn
fencing so as I can kill your brother-in-law who's a beast to your
sister, I'm going to fight duels for wives in distress, like men do in
Paris, and I'm going to learn how to lift pianos on my stomach by
expanding something--the diapan muscles--and I'm going to cut my hair
off!' she mendaciously concluded, glancing sideways to observe the effect
of this bombshell.

'Bon Dieu, soyez clément!' breathed Mademoiselle Duphot, casting her eyes
to heaven.


3


It was not very long before ex-Sergeant Smylie discovered that in Stephen
he had a star pupil. Some day you ought to make a champion fencer, if you
work really hard at it, Miss,' he told her.

Stephen did not learn to lift pianos with her stomach, but as time went
on she did become quite an expert gymnast and fencer; and as Mademoiselle
Duphot confided to Anna, it was after all very charming to watch her, so
supple and young and quick in her movements.

'And she fence like an angel,' said Mademoiselle fondly, 'she fence now
almost as well as she ride.'

Anna nodded. She herself had seen Stephen fencing many times, and had
thought it a fine performance for so young a child, but the fencing
displeased her, so that she found it hard to praise Stephen.

'I hate all that sort of thing for girls,' she said slowly.

'But she fence like a man, with such power and such grace,' babbled
Mademoiselle Duphot, the tactless.

And now life was full of new interest for Stephen, an interest that
centred entirely in her body. She discovered her body for a thing to be
cherished, a thing of real value since its strength could rejoice her;
and young though she was she cared for her body with great diligence,
bathing it night and morning in dull, tepid water--cold baths were
forbidden, and hot baths, she had heard, sometimes weakened the muscles.
For gymnastics she wore her hair in a pigtail, and somehow that pigtail
began to intrude on other occasions. In spite of protests, she always
forgot and came down to breakfast with a neat, shining plait, so that
Anna gave in in the end and said, sighing:

'Have your pigtail do, child, if you feel that you must--but I can't say
it suits you, Stephen.'

And Mademoiselle Duphot was foolishly loving. Stephen would stop in the
middle of lessons to roll back her sleeves and examine her muscles; then
Mademoiselle Duphot, instead of protesting, would laugh and admire her
absurd little biceps. Stephen's craze for physical culture increased, and
now it began to invade the schoolroom. Dumbbells appeared in the
school-room bookcases, while half worn-out gym shoes skulked in the
corners. Everything went by the board but this passion of the child's for
training her body. And what must Sir Philip elect to do next, but to
write out to Ireland and purchase a hunter for his daughter to ride--a
real, thoroughbred hunter. And what must he say but: 'That's one for
young Roger!' So that Stephen found herself comfortably laughing at the
thought of young Roger; and that laugh went a long way towards healing
the wound that had rankled within her--perhaps this was why Sir Philip
had written out to Ireland for that thoroughbred hunter.

The hunter, when he came, was grey-coated and slender, and his eyes were
as soft as an Irish morning, and his courage was as bright as an Irish
sunrise, and his heart was as young as the wild heart of Ireland, but
devoted and loyal and eager for service, and his name was sweet on the
tongue as you spoke it--being Raftery, after the poet. Stephen loved
Raftery and Raftery loved Stephen. It was love at first sight, and they
talked to each other for hours in his loose box--not in Irish or English,
but in a quiet language having very few words but many small sounds and
many small movements, which to both of them meant more than words. And
Raftery said: 'I will carry you bravely, I will serve you all the days of
my life.' And she answered: 'I will care for you night and day,
Raftery--all the days of your life.' Thus Stephen and Raftery pledged
their devotion, alone in his fragrant, hay-scented stable. And Raftery
was five and Stephen was twelve when they solemnly pledged their
devotion.

Never was rider more proud or more happy than Stephen, when first she and
Raftery went a-hunting; and never was youngster more wise or courageous
than Raftery proved himself at his fences; and never can Bellerophon have
thrilled to more daring than did Stephen, astride of Raftery that day,
with the wind in her face and a fire in her heart that made life a thing
of glory. At the very beginning of the run the fox turned in the
direction of Morton, actually crossing the big north paddock before
turning once more and making for Upton. In the paddock was a mighty,
upstanding hedge, a formidable place concealing timber, and what must
they do, these two young creatures, but go straight at it and get safely
over--those who saw Raftery fly that hedge could never afterwards doubt
his valour. And when they got home there was Anna waiting to pat Raftery,
because she could not resist him. Because, being Irish, her hands loved
the feel of fine horseflesh under their delicate fingers--and because she
did very much want to be tender to Stephen, and understanding. But as
Stephen dismounted, bespattered and dishevelled, and yet with that
perversive look of her father, the words that Anna had been planning to
speak died away before they could get themselves spoken--she shrank back
from the child; but the child was too overjoyed at that moment to
perceive it.


4


Happy days, splendid days of childish achievements; but they passed all
too soon, giving place to the seasons, and there came the winter when
Stephen was fourteen.

On a January afternoon of bright sunshine, Mademoiselle Duphot sat
dabbing her eyes; for Mademoiselle Duphot must leave her loved Stévenne,
must give place to a rival who could teach Greek and Latin--she would go
back to Paris, the poor Mademoiselle Duphot, and take care of her ageing
Maman.

Meanwhile, Stephen, very angular and lanky at fourteen, was standing
before her father in his study. She stood still, but her glance kept
straying to the window, to the sunshine that seemed to be beckoning
through the window. She was dressed for riding in breeches and gaiters,
and her thoughts were with Raftery.

'Sit down,' said Sir Philip, and his voice was so grave that her thoughts
came back with a leap and a bound; 'you and I have got to talk this thing
out, Stephen.'

'What thing, Father?' she faltered, sitting down abruptly.

'Your idleness, my child. The time has now come when all play and no work
will make a dull Stephen, unless we pull ourselves together.'

She rested her large, shapely hands on her knees and bent forward,
searching his face intently. What she saw there was a quiet determination
that spread from his lips to his eyes. She grew suddenly uneasy, like a
youngster who objects to the rather unpleasant process of mouthing.

'I speak French,' she broke out, 'I speak French like a native; I can
read and write French as well as Mademoiselle does.'

'And beyond that you know very little,' he informed her; 'it's not
enough, Stephen, believe me.'

There ensued a long silence, she tapping her leg with her whip, he
speculating about her. Then he said, but quite gently: 'I've considered
this thing--I've considered this matter of your education. I want you to
have the same education, the same advantages as I'd give to my son--that
is as far as possible--' he added, looking away from Stephen.

'But I'm not your son, Father,' she said very slowly, and even as she
said it her heart felt heavy--heavy and sad as it bad not done for years,
not since she was quite a small child.

And at this he looked back at her with love in his eyes, love and
something that seemed like compassion; and their looks met and mingled
and held for a moment, speechless yet somehow expressing their hearts.
Her own eyes clouded and she stared at her boots, ashamed of the tears
that she felt might flow over. He saw this and went on speaking more
quickly, as though anxious to cover her confusion.

'You're all the son that I've got,' he told her. 'You're brave and
strong-limbed, but I want you to be wise--I want you to be wise for your
own sake, Stephen, because at the best life requires great wisdom. I want
you to learn to make friends of your books; some day you may need them,
because--' He hesitated, 'because you mayn't find life at all easy, we
none of us do, and books are good friends. I don't want you to give up
your fencing and gymnastics or your riding, but I want you to show
moderation. You've developed your body, now develop your mind; let your
mind and your muscles help, not hinder each other--it can be done,
Stephen, I've done it myself, and in many respects you're like me. I've
brought you up very differently from most girls, you must know that--look
at Violet Antrim. I've indulged you, I suppose, but I don't think I've
spoilt you, because I believe in you absolutely. I believe in myself,
too, where you're concerned; I believe in my own sound judgment. But
you've now got to prove that my judgment's been sound, we've both got to
prove it to ourselves and to your mother--she's been very patient with my
unusual methods--I'm going to stand trial now, and she'll be my judge.
Help me, I'm going to need all your help; if you fail then I fail, we
shall go down together. But we're not going to fail, you're going to work
hard when your new governess comes, and when you're older you're going to
become a fine woman; you must, dear--I love you so much that you can't
disappoint me.' His voice faltered a little, then he held out his hand:
'and Stephen, come here--look me straight in the eyes--what is honour, my
daughter?'

She looked into his anxious, questioning eyes: 'You are honour,' she said
quite simply.


5


When Stephen kissed Mademoiselle Duphot good-bye, she cried, for she felt
that something was going that would never come back--irresponsible
childhood. It was going, like Mademoiselle Duphot. Kind Mademoiselle
Duphot, so foolishly loving, so easily coerced, so glad to be persuaded;
so eager to believe that you were doing your best, in the face of the
most obvious slacking. Kind Mademoiselle Duphot who smiled when she
shouldn't, who laughed when she shouldn't, and now was weeping--but
weeping as only a Latin can weep, shedding rivers of tears and sobbing
quite loudly.

'Chérie--mon bébé, petit thou!' she was sobbing, as she clung to the
angular Stephen.

The tears ran down on to Mademoiselle's tippet, and they wet the poor fur
which already looked jaded, and the fur clogged together, turning black
with those tears, so that Mademoiselle tried to wipe it. But the more she
wiped it, the wetter it grew, since her handkerchief only augmented the
trouble; nor was Stephen's large handkerchief very dry either, as she
found when she started to help.

The old station fly that had come out from Malvern, drove up, and the
footman seized Mademoiselle's luggage. It was such meagre luggage that he
waved back assistance from the driver, and lifted the trunk
single-handed. Then Mademoiselle Duphot broke out into English--heaven
only knew why, perhaps from emotion.

'It's not farewell, it shall not be for ever--' she sobbed. 'You come,
but I feel it, to Paris. We meet once more, Stévenne, my poor little
baby, when you grow up bigger, we two meet once more--' And Stephen,
already taller than she was, longed to grow small again, just to please
Mademoiselle. Then, because the French are a practical people even in
moments of real emotion, Mademoiselle found her handbag, and groping in
its depths she produced a half sheet of paper.

'The address of my sister in Paris,' she said, snuffling; 'the address of
my sister who makes little bags--if you should hear of anyone,
Stévenne--any lady who would care to buy one little bag--'

'Yes, yes, I'll remember,' muttered Stephen.

At last she was gone; the fly rumbled away down the drive and finally
turned the corner. To the end a wet face had been thrust from the window,
a wet handkerchief waved despondently at Stephen. The rain must have
mingled with Mademoiselle's tears, for the weather had broken and now it
was raining. It was surely a desolate day for departure, with the mist
closing over the Severn Valley and beginning to creep up the
hill-sides...

Stephen made her way to the empty schoolroom, empty of all save a general
confusion; the confusion that stalks in some people's trail--it had
always stalked Mademoiselle Duphot. On the chairs, which stood crooked,
lay odds and ends meaning nothing--crumpled paper, a broken shoehorn, a
well-worn brown glove that had lost its fellow and likewise two of its
buttons. On the table lay a much abused pink blotting-pad, from which
Stephen had torn off the corners, unhidden--it was crossed and re-crossed
with elegant French script until its scarred face had turned purple. And
there stood the bottle of purple ink, half-empty, and green round its
neck with dribbles; and a pen with a nib as sharp as a pin point, a thin,
peevish nib that jabbed at the paper. Chock-a-block with the bottle of
purple ink lay a little piety card of St. Joseph that had evidently
slipped out of Mademoiselle's missal--St. Joseph looked very respectable
and kind--like the fishmonger in Great Malvern. Stephen picked up the
card and stared at St. Joseph; something was written across his corner;
looking closer she read the minute handwriting: 'Priez pour ma petite
Stévenne.'

She put the card away in her desk; the ink and the blotter she hid in the
cupboard together with the peevish steel nib that jabbed paper, and that
richly deserved cremation. Then she straightened the chairs and threw
away the litter, after which she went in search of a duster; one by one
she dusted the few remaining volumes in the bookcase, including the
Bibliothèque Rose. She arranged her dictation notebooks in a pile with
others that were far less accurately written--books of sums, mostly
careless and marked with a cross; books of English history, in one of
which Stephen had begun to write the history of the horse! Books of
geography with Mademoiselle's comments in strong purple ink: 'Grand
manque d'attention'. And lastly she collected the torn lesson books that
had lain on their backs, on their sides, on their bellies--anyhow,
anywhere in drawers or in cupboards, but not very often in the bookcase.
For the bookcase was harbouring quite other things, a motley and most
unstudious collection; dumb-bells, wooden and iron of various sizes--some
Indian clubs, one split off at the handle--cotton laces for gym shoes,
the belt of a tunic. And then stable keepsakes, including a headband that
Raftery had worn on some special occasion; a miniature horseshoe kicked
sky-high by Collins; a half-eaten carrot, now withered and mouldy, and
two hunting crops that had both lost their lashes and were waiting to
visit the saddler.

Stephen considered, rubbing her chin--a habit which by now had become
automatic--she finally decided on the ample box-sofa as a seemly
receptacle. Remained only the carrot, and she stood for a long time with
it clasped in her hand, disturbed and unhappy--this clearing of the decks
for stern mental action was certainly very depressing. But at last she
threw the thing into the fire, where it shifted distressfully, sizzling
and humming. Then she sat down and stared rather grimly at the flames
that were burning up Raftery's first carrot.



Chapter Seven


1


Soon after the departure of Mademoiselle Duphot, there occurred two
distinct innovations at Morton. Miss Puddleton arrived to take possession
of the schoolroom, and Sir Philip bought himself a motor-car. The motor
was a Panhard, and it caused much excitement in the neighbourhood of
Upton-on-Severn. Conservative, suspicious of all innovations, people had
abstained from motors in the Midlands, and, incredible as it now seems to
look back upon, Sir Philip was regarded as a kind of pioneer. The Panhard
was a high-shouldered, snub-nosed abortion with a loud, vulgar voice and
an uncertain temper. It suffered from frequent fits of dyspepsia, brought
about by an unhealthy spark-plug. Its seats were the very acme of
discomfort, its primitive gears unhandy and noisy, but nevertheless it
could manage to attain to a speed of about fifteen miles per hour--given
always that, by God's good grace and the chauffeur's, it was not in the
throes of indigestion.

Anna felt doubtful regarding this new purchase. She was one of those
women who, having passed forty, were content to go on placidly driving in
their broughams, or, in summer, in their charming little French
victorias. She detested the look of herself in large goggles, detested
being forced to tie on her hat, detested the heavy, mannish coat of rough
tweed that Sir Philip insisted she must wear when motoring. Such things
were not of her; they offended her sense of the seemly, her preference
for soft, clinging garments, her instinct for quiet, rather slow, gentle
movements, her love of the feminine and comely. For Anna at forty-four
was still slender, and her dark hair, as yet, was untouched with grey,
and her blue Irish eyes were as clear and candid as when she had come as
a bride to Morton. She was beautiful still, and this fact rejoiced her in
secret, because of her husband. Yet Anna did not ignore middle age; she
met it half-way with dignity and courage; and now her soft dresses were
of reticent colours, and her movements a little more careful than they
had been, and her mind more severely disciplined and guarded--too much
guarded these days, she was gradually growing less tolerant as her
interests narrowed. And the motor, an unimportant thing in itself, served
nevertheless to crystallize in Anna a certain tendency towards
retrogression, a certain instinctive dislike of the unusual, a certain
deep-rooted fear of the unknown.

Old Williams was openly disgusted and hostile; he considered the car to
be an outrage to his stables--those immaculate stables with their
spacious coach-houses, their wide plaits of straw neatly interwoven with
yards of red and blue saddler's tape, and their fine stable-yard hitherto
kept so spotless. Came the Panhard, and behold, pools of oil on the
flagstones, greenish, bad-smelling oil that defied even scouring; and a
medley of odd-looking tools in the coach-house, all greasy, all soiling
your hands when you touched them; and large tins of what looked like
black vaseline; and spare tyres for which nails had been knocked into the
woodwork; and a bench with a vice for the motor's insides which were
frequently being dissected. From this coach-house the dog-cart had been
ruthlessly expelled, and now it must stand chock-a-block with the
phaeton, so that room might be made for the garish intruder together with
its young body-servant. The young body-servant was known as a
chauffeur--he had come down from London and wore clothes made of leather.
He talked Cockney, and openly spat before Williams in the coach-house,
then rubbed his foot over the spittle.

'I'll have none of yer expectoration 'ere in me coach-house, I tell ee!'
bawled Williams, apoplectic with temper.

'Oh, come orf it, do, Grandpa; we're not in the ark!' was how the new
blood answered Williams.

There was war to the knife between Williams and Burton--Burton who
expressed large disdain of the horses.

'Yer time's up now, Grandpa,' he was constantly remarking; 'it's all up
with the gees--better learn to be a shovver!'

'Opes I'll die afore ever I demean meself that way, you young blight!'
bawled the outraged Williams. Very angry he grew, and his dinner
fermented, dilating his stomach and causing discomfort, so that his wife
became anxious about him.

'Now don't ee go worryin', Arth-thur,' she coaxed; 'us be old, me and
you, and the world be progressin'.'

'It be goin' to the devil, that's what it be doin'!' groaned Williams,
rubbing his stomach.

To make matters worse, Sir Philip's behaviour was that of a schoolboy
with some horrid new contraption. He was caught by his stud-groom lying
flat on his back with his feet sticking out beneath the bonnet of the
motor, and when he emerged there was soot on his cheek-bones, on his
hair, and even on the tip of his nose. He looked terribly sheepish, and
as Williams said later to his wife:

'It were somethin' aw-ful to see 'im all mucked up, and 'im such a neat
gentleman, and 'im in a filthy old coat of that Burton's, and that Burton
agrinnin' at me and just pointin', silent, because the master couldn't
see 'im, and the master a-callin' up familiar-like to Burton: "I say!
She's got somethin' all wrong with 'er exhaust pipe!" and Burton
a-contradictin' the master: "It's that piston," says 'e, as cool as yer
please.'

Nor was Stephen less thrilled by the car than was her father. Stephen
made friends with the execrable Burton, and Burton, who was only too
anxious to gain allies, soon started to teach her the parts of the
engine; he taught her to drive too, Sir Philip being willing, and off
they would go, the three of them together, leaving Williams to glare at
the disappearing motor.

'And 'er such a fine 'orse-woman and all!' he would grumble, rubbing a
disconsolate chin.

It is not too much to say that Williams felt heart-broken, he was like a
very unhappy old baby; quite infantile he was in his fits of bad temper,
in his mouthings and his grindings of toothless gums. And all about
nothing, for Sir Philip and his daughter had the lure of horseflesh in
their very bones--and then there was Raftery, and Raftery loved Stephen,
and Stephen loved Raftery.


2


The motoring, of course, was the most tremendous fun, but--and it was a
very large but indeed--when Stephen got home to Morton and the
schoolroom, a little grey figure would be sitting at the table correcting
an exercise book, or preparing some task for the following morning. The
little grey figure might look up and smile, and when it did this its face
would be charming; but if it refrained from smiling, then its face would
be ugly, too hard and too square in formation--except for the brow, which
was rounded and shiny like a bare intellectual knee. If the little grey
figure got up from the table, you were struck by the fact that it seemed
square all over--square shoulders, square hips, a flat, square line of
bosom; square tips to the fingers, square toes to the shoes, and all
tiny; it suggested a miniature box that was neatly spliced at the
corners. Of uncertain age, pale, with iron-grey hair, grey eyes, and
invariably dressed in dark grey. Miss Puddleton did not look very
inspiring--not at all as one having authority, in fact. But on close
observation it had to be admitted that her chin, though minute, was
extremely aggressive. Her mouth, too, was firm, except when its firmness
was melted by the warmth and humour of her smile--a smile that mocked,
pitied and questioned the world, and perhaps Miss Puddleton as well.

From the very first moment of Miss Puddleton's arrival, Stephen had had
an uncomfortable conviction that this queer little woman was going to
mean something, was going to become a fixture. And sure enough she had
settled down at once, so that in less than two months it seemed to
Stephen that Miss Puddleton must always have been at Morton, must always
have been sitting at the large walnut table, must always have been
saying in that dry, toneless voice with the Oxford accent: 'You've
forgotten something, Stephen,' and then, the books can't walk to the
bookcase, but you can, so suppose that you take them with you.'

It was truly amazing, the change in the schoolroom, not a book out of
place, not a shelf in disorder; even the box lounge had had to be opened
and its dumb-bells and clubs paired off nicely together--Miss Puddleton
always liked things to be paired, perhaps an unrecognized matrimonial
instinct. And now Stephen found herself put into harness for the first
time in her life, and she loathed the sensation. There were so many rules
that a very large time-sheet had had to be fastened to the blackboard in
the schoolroom.

'Because,' said Miss Puddleton as she pinned the thing up, 'even my brain
won't stand your complete lack of method, it's infectious; this
time-sheet is my anti-toxin, so please don't tear it to pieces!'

Mathematics and algebra, Latin and Greek, Roman history, Greek history,
geometry, botany, they reduced Stephen's mind to a species of beehive in
which every bee buzzed on the least provocation. She would gaze at Miss
Puddleton in a kind of amazement; that tiny, square box to hold all this
grim knowledge! And seeing that gaze Miss Puddleton would smile her most
warm, charming smile, and would say as she did so:

'Yes, I know--but it's only the first effort, Stephen; presently your
mind will get neat like the schoolroom, and then you'll be able to find
what you want without all this rummaging and bother.'

But her tasks being over, Stephen must often slip away to visit Raftery
in the stables; 'Oh, Raftery, I'm hating it so!' she would tell him. 'I
feel like you'd feel if I put you in harness--hard wooden shafts and a
kicking strap, Raftery--but my darling, I'd never put you into harness!'

And Raftery would hardly know what he should answer, since all human
creatures, so far as he knew them, must run between shafts...God-like though
they were, they undoubtedly had to run between shafts...

Nothing but Stephen's great love for her father helped her to endure the
first six months of learning--that and her own stubborn, arrogant will
that made her hate to be beaten. She would swing clubs and dumb-bells in
a kind of fury, consoling herself with the thought of her muscles, and,
finding her at it, Miss Puddleton had laughed.

'You must feel that your teacher's some sort of midge, Stephen--a
tiresome midge that you want to brush off!'

Then Stephen had laughed too: 'Well, you are little, Puddle--oh, I'm
sorry--'

'I don't mind,' Miss Puddleton had told her; 'call me Puddle if you like,
it's all one to me.' After which Miss Puddleton disappeared somehow, and
Puddle took her place in the household.

An insignificant creature this Puddle, yet at moments unmistakably
self-assertive. Always willing to help in domestic affairs, such as
balancing Anna's chaotic account books, or making out library lists for
Jackson's, she was nevertheless very guardful of her rights, very quick
to assert and maintain her position. Puddle knew what she wanted and saw
that she got it, both in and out of the schoolroom. Yet everyone liked
her; she took what she gave and she gave what she took, yes, but
sometimes she gave just a little bit more--and that little bit more is
the whole art of teaching, the whole art of living, in fact, and Miss
Puddleton knew it. Thus gradually, oh, very gradually at first, she wore
down her pupil's unconscious resistance. With small, dexterous fingers
she caught Stephen's brain, and she stroked it and modelled it after her
own fashion. She talked to that brain and showed it new pictures; she
gave it new thoughts, new hopes and ambitions; she made it feel certain
and proud of achievement. Nor did she belittle Stephen's muscles in the
process, never once did Puddle make game of the athlete, never once did
she show by so much as the twitch of an eyelid that she had her own
thoughts about her pupil. She appeared to take Stephen as a matter of
course, nothing surprised or even amused her it seemed, and Stephen grew
quite at ease with her.

'I can always be comfortable with you, Puddle,' Stephen would say in a
tone of satisfaction, 'you're like a nice chair; though you are so tiny
yet one's got room to stretch, I don't know how you do it.'

Then Puddle would smile, and that smile would warm Stephen while it
mocked her a little; but it also mocked Puddle--they would share that
warm smile with its fun and its kindness so that neither of them could
feel hurt or embarrassed. And their friendship took root, growing strong
and verdant, and it flourished like a green bay-tree in the school-room.

Came the time when Stephen began to realize that Puddle had genius--the
genius of teaching; the genius of compelling her pupil to share in her
own enthusiastic love of the Classics.

Oh, Stephen, if only you could read this in Greek!' she would say, and
her voice would sound full of excitement; 'the beauty, the splendid
dignity of it--it's like the sea, Stephen, rather terrible, but splendid;
that's the language, it's far more virile than Latin.' And Stephen would
catch that sudden excitement, and determine to work even harder at Greek.

But Puddle did not live by the ancients alone, she taught Stephen to
appreciate all literary beauty, observing in her pupil a really fine
judgment, a great feeling for balance in sentences and words. A vast
tract of new interest was thus opened up, and Stephen began to excel in
composition; to her own deep amazement she found herself able to write
many things that had long lain dormant in her heart--all the beauty of
nature, for instance, she could write it. Impressions of childhood--gold
light on the hills; the first cuckoo, mysterious, strangely alluring;
those rides home from hunting together with her father--bare furrows, the
meaning of those bare furrows. And later, how many queer hopes and queer
longings, queer joys and even more curious frustrations. Joy of strength,
splendid physical strength and courage; joy of health and sound sleep and
refreshed awakening; joy of Raftery leaping under the saddle, joy of wind
racing backward as Raftery leapt forward. And then, what? A sudden
impenetrable darkness, a sudden vast void all nothingness and darkness; a
sudden sense of acute apprehension: 'I'm lost, where am I? Where am I?
I'm nothing--yes I am, I'm Stephen--but that's being nothing--' then that
horrible sense of apprehension.

Writing, it was like a heavenly balm, it was like the flowing out of deep
waters, it was like the lifting of a load from the spirit; it brought
with it a sense of relief, of assuagement. One could say things in
writing without feeling self-conscious, without feeling shy and ashamed
and foolish--one could even write of the days of young Nelson, smiling a
very little as one did so.

Sometimes Puddle would sit alone in her bedroom reading and rereading
Stephen's strange compositions; frowning, or smiling a little in her
turn, at those turbulent, youthful outpourings.

She would think: 'Here's real talent, real red-hot talent--interesting to
find it in that great, athletic creature; but what is she likely to make
of her talent? She's up agin the world, if she only knew it!' Then Puddle
would shake her head and look doubtful, feeling sorry for Stephen and the
world in general.


3


This then was how Stephen conquered yet another kingdom, and at seventeen
was not only athlete but student. Three years under Puddle's ingenious
tuition, and the girl was as proud of her brains as of her muscles--a
trifle too proud, she was growing conceited, she was growing
self-satisfied, arrogant even, and Sir Philip must tease her: 'Ask
Stephen, she'll tell us. Stephen, what's that reference to Adeimantus,
something about a mind fixed on true being--doesn't it come in Euripides,
somewhere? Oh, no, I'm forgetting, of course it's Plato; really my Greek
is disgracefully rusty!' Then Stephen would know that Sir Philip was
laughing at her, but very kindly.

In spite of her newly acquired book learning, Stephen still talked quite
often to Raftery. He was now ten years old and had grown much in wisdom
himself, so he listened with care and attention.

'You see,' she would tell him, 'it's very important to develop the brain
as well as the muscles; I'm now doing both--stand still, will you,
Raftery! Never mind that old corn-bin, stop rolling your eye round--it's
very important to develop the brain because that gives you an advantage
over people, it makes you more able to do as you like in this world, to
conquer conditions, Raftery.'

And Raftery, who was not really thinking of the corn-bin, but rolling his
eye in an effort to answer, would want to say something too big for his
language, which at best must consist of small sounds and small movements;
would want to say something about a strong feeling he had that Stephen
was missing the truth. But how could he hope to make her understand the
age-old wisdom of all the dumb creatures? The wisdom of plains and
primeval forests, the wisdom come down from the youth of the world.



Chapter Eight


1


At seventeen Stephen was taller than Anna, who had used to be considered
quite tall for a woman, but Stephen was nearly as tall as her father--not
a beauty this, in the eyes of the neighbours.

Colonel Antrim would shake his head and remark: 'I like 'em plump and
compact, it's more taking.'

Then his wife, who was certainly plump and compact, so compact in her
stays that she felt rather breathless, would say: 'But then Stephen is
very unusual, almost--well, almost a wee bit unnatural--such a pity, poor
child, it's a terrible drawback; young men do hate that sort of thing,
don't they?'

But in spite of all this Stephen's figure was handsome in a flat,
broad-shouldered and slim flanked fashion; and her movements were
purposeful, having fine poise, she moved with the easy assurance of the
athlete. Her hands, although large for a woman, were slender and
meticulously tended; she was proud of her hands. In face she had changed
very little since childhood, still having Sir Philip's wide, tolerant
expression. What change there was only tended to strengthen the
extraordinary likeness between father and daughter, for now that the
bones of her face showed more clearly, as the childish fullness had
gradually diminished, the formation of the resolute jaw was Sir Philip's.
His too the strong chin with its shade of a cleft; the well modelled,
sensitive lips were his also. A fine face, very pleasing, yet with
something about it that went ill with the hats on which Anna
insisted--large hats trimmed with ribbons or roses or daisies, and
supposed to be softening to the features.

Staring at her own reflection in the glass, Stephen would feel just a
little uneasy: Am I queer looking or not?' she would wonder, Suppose I
wore my hair more like Mother's?' and then she would undo her splendid
thick hair, and would part it in the middle and draw it back loosely.

The result was always far from becoming, so that Stephen would hastily
plait it again. She now wore the plait screwed up very tightly in the
nape of her neck with a bow of black ribbon. Anna hated this fashion and
constantly said so, but Stephen was stubborn: 'I've tried your way,
Mother, and look like a scarecrow; you're beautiful, darling, but your
young daughter isn't, which is jolly hard on you.'

She makes no effort to improve her appearance,' Anna would reproach, very
gravely.

These days there was constant warfare between them on the subject of
clothes; quite a seemly warfare, for Stephen was learning to control her
hot temper, and Anna was seldom anything but gentle. Nevertheless it was
open warfare, the inevitable clash of two opposing natures who sought to
express themselves in apparel, since clothes, after all, are a form of
self-expression. The victory would now be on this side, now on that;
sometimes Stephen would appear in a thick woollen jersey, or a suit of
rough tweeds surreptitiously ordered from the excellent tailor in
Malvern. Sometimes Anna would triumph, having journeyed to London to
procure soft and very expensive dresses, which her daughter must wear in
order to please her, because she would come home quite tired by such
journeys. On the whole, Anna got her own way at this time, for Stephen
would suddenly give up the contest, reduced to submission by Anna's
disappointment, always more efficacious than mere disapproval.

'Here, give it to me!' she would say rather gruffly, grabbing the
delicate dress from her mother.

Then off she would rush and put it on all wrong, so that Anna would sigh
in a kind of desperation, and would pat, readjust, unfasten and fasten,
striving to make peace between wearer and model, whose inimical feelings
were evidently mutual.

Came a day when Stephen was suddenly outspoken: 'It's my face,' she
announced, 'something's wrong with my face.'

'Nonsense!' exclaimed Anna, and her cheeks flushed a little, as though
the girl's words had been an offence, then she turned away quickly to
hide her expression.

But Stephen had seen that fleeting expression, and she stood very still
when her mother had left her, her own face growing heavy and sombre with
anger, with a sense of some uncomprehended injustice. She wrenched off
the dress and hurled it from her, longing intensely to rend it, to hurt
it, longing to hurt herself in the process, yet filled all the while with
that sense of injustice. But this mood changed abruptly to one of self
pity; she wanted to sit down and weep over Stephen; on a sudden impulse
she wanted to pray over Stephen as though she were someone apart, yet
terribly personal too in her trouble. Going over to the dress she
smoothed it out slowly; it seemed to have acquired an enormous
importance; it seemed to have acquired the importance of prayer, the
poor, crumpled thing lying crushed and dejected. Yet Stephen, these days,
was not given to prayer, God had grown so unreal, so hard to believe in
since she had studied Comparative Religion; engrossed in her studies she
had somehow mislaid Him. But now, here she was, very wishful to pray,
while not knowing how to explain her dilemma: 'I'm terribly unhappy,
dear, improbable God--' would not be a very propitious beginning. And yet
at this moment she was wanting a God and a tangible one, very kind and
paternal; a God with a white flowing beard and wide forehead, a
benevolent parent--Who would lean out of Heaven and turn His face
sideways the better to listen from His cloud, upheld by cherubs and
angels. What she wanted was a wise old family God, surrounded by endless
heavenly relations. In spite of her troubles she began to laugh weakly,
and the laughing was good for it killed self pity; nor can it have
offended that Venerable Person whose image persists in the hearts of
small children.

She donned the new dress with infinite precaution, pulling out its bows
and arranging its ruffles. Her large hands were clumsy but now they were
willing, very penitent hands full of deep resignation. They fumbled and
paused, then continued to fumble with the endless small fastenings so
cunningly hidden. She sighed once or twice but the sighs were quite
patient, so perhaps in this Wise, after all, Stephen prayed.


2


Anna worried continually over her daughter; for one thing Stephen was a
social disaster, yet at seventeen many a girl was presented, but the bare
idea of this had terrified Stephen, and so it had had to be abandoned. At
garden parties she was always a failure, seemingly ill at ease and
ungracious. She shook hands much too hard, digging rings into fingers,
this from sheer automatic nervous reaction. She spoke not at all, or else
gabbled too freely, so that Anna grew vague in her own conversation; all
eyes and ears she would be as she listened--it was certainly terribly
hard on Anna. But if hard on Anna, it was harder on Stephen who dreaded
these festive gatherings intensely; indeed her dread of them lacked all
proportion, becoming a kind of unreasoning obsession. Every vestige of
self-confidence seemed to' desert her, so that Puddle, supposing she
happened to be present would find herself grimly comparing this Stephen
with the graceful, light-footed, proficient young athlete, with the
clever and somewhat opinionated student who was fast outstripping her own
powers as a teacher. Yes, Puddle would sit there grimly comparing, and
would feel not a little uneasy as she did so. Then something of her
pupil's distress would reach her, so that perforce she would have to
share it and as like as not she would want to shake Stephen.

Good Lord,' she would think, 'why can't she hit back? It's absurd, it's
outrageous to be so disgruntled by a handful of petty, half-educated
yokels--a girl with her brain too, it's simply outrageous! She'll have to
tackle life more forcibly than this, if she's not going to let herself go
under!'

But Stephen, completely oblivious of Puddle, would be deep in the throes
of her old suspicion, the suspicion that had haunted her ever since
childhood--she would fancy that people were laughing at her. So sensitive
was she, that a half-heard sentence, a word, a glance, made her inwardly
crumble. It might well be that people were not even thinking about her,
much less discussing her appearance--no good, she would always imagine
that the word, the glance, had some purely personal meaning. She would
twitch at her hat with inadequate fingers, or walk clumsily, slouching a
little as she did so, until Anna would whisper:

'Hold your back up, you're stooping.'

Or Puddle exclaim crossly: 'What on earth's the matter, Stephen!' All of
which only added to Stephen's tribulation by making her still more
self-conscious.

With other young girls she had nothing in common, while they, in their
turn, found her irritating. She was shy to primness regarding certain
subjects, and would actually blush if they happened to be mentioned. This
would strike her companions as queer and absurd--after all, between
girls--surely every one knew that at times one ought not to get one's
feet wet, that one didn't play games, not at certain times--there was
nothing to make all this fuss about surely! To see Stephen Gordon's
expression of horror if one so much as threw out a hint on the subject,
was to feel that the thing must in some way be shameful, a kind of
disgrace, a humiliation! And then she was odd about other things too;
there were so many things that she didn't like mentioned.

In the end, they completely lost patience with her, and they left her
alone with her fads and her fancies, disliking the check that her
presence imposed, disliking to feel that they dare not allude to even the
necessary functions of nature without being made to feel immodest.

But at times Stephen hated her own isolation, and then she would make
little awkward advances, while her eyes would grow rather apologetic,
like the eyes of a dog who has been out of favour. She would try to
appear quite at ease with her companions, as she joined in their
light-hearted conversation. Strolling up to a group of young girls at a
party, she would grin as though their small jokes amused her, or else
listen gravely while they talked about clothes or some popular actor who
had visited Malvern. As long as they refrained from too intimate details,
she would fondly imagine that her interest passed muster. There she would
stand with her strong arms folded, and her face somewhat strained in an
effort of attention. While despising these girls, she yet longed to be
like them--yes, indeed, at such moments she longed to be like them. It
would suddenly strike her that they seemed very happy, very sure of
themselves as they gossiped together. There was something so secure in
their feminine conclaves, a secure sense of oneness, of mutual
understanding; each in turn understood the other's ambitions. They might
have their jealousies, their quarrels even, but always she discerned
underneath, that sense of oneness.

Poor Stephen! She could never impose upon them; they always saw through
her as though she were a window. They knew well enough that she cared not
so much as a jot about clothes and popular actors. Conversation would
falter, then die down completely, her presence would dry up their springs
of inspiration. She spoilt things while trying to make herself agreeable;
they really liked her better when she was grumpy.

Could Stephen have met men on equal terms, she would always have chosen
them as her companions; she preferred them because of their blunt, open
outlook, and with men she had much in common--sport for instance. But men
found her too clever if she ventured to expand, and too dull if she
suddenly subsided into shyness. In addition to this there was something
about her that antagonized slightly, an unconscious presumption. Shy
though she might be, they sensed this presumption; it annoyed them, it
made them feel on the defensive. She was handsome but much too large and
unyielding both in body and mind, and they liked clinging women. They
were oak-trees, preferring the feminine ivy. It might cling rather close,
it might finally strangle, it frequently did, and yet they preferred it,
and this being so, they resented Stephen, suspecting something of the
acorn about her.


3


Stephen's worst ordeals at this time were the dinners given in turn by a
hospitable county. They were long, these dinners, overloaded with
courses; they were heavy, being weighted with polite conversation; they
were stately, by reason of the family silver; above all they were firmly
conservative in spirit, as conservative as the marriage service itself,
and almost as insistent upon sex distinction.

'Captain Ramsay, will you take Miss Gordon in to dinner?' A politely
crooked arm: 'Delighted, Miss Gordon.'

Then the solemn and very ridiculous procession, animals marching into
Noah's Ark two by two, very sure of divine protection--male and female
created He them! Stephen's skirt would be long and her foot might get
entangled, and she with but one free hand at her disposal--the procession
would stop and she would have stopped it! Intolerable thought, she had
stopped the procession!

'I'm so sorry, Captain Ramsay!'

'I say, can I help you?'

'No--it's really--all right, I think I can manage--'

But oh, the utter confusion of spirit, the humiliating feeling that
someone must be laughing, the resentment at having to cling to his arm
for support, while Captain Ramsay looked patient.

'Not much damage, I think you've just torn the frill, but I often wonder
how you women manage. Imagine a man in a dress like that, too awful to
think of--imagine me in it!' Then a laugh, not unkindly but a trifle
self-conscious, and rather more than a trifle complacent.

Safely steered to her seat at the long dinner-table, Stephen would
struggle to smile and talk brightly, while her partner would think:
'Lord, she's heavy in hand; I wish I had the mother; now there's a lovely
woman!'

And Stephen would think: 'I'm a bore, why is it?' Then, 'But if I were he
I wouldn't be a bore, I could just be myself; I'd feel perfectly
natural.'

Her face would grow splotched with resentment and worry; she would feel
her neck flush and her hands become awkward. Embarrassed, she would sit
staring down at her hands, which would seem to be growing more and more
awkward. No escape! No escape! Captain Ramsay was kind-hearted, he would
try very hard to be complimentary; his grey eyes would try to express
admiration, polite admiration as they rested on Stephen. His voice would
sound softer and more confidential, the voice that nice men reserve for
good women, protective, respectful, yet a little sex-conscious, a little
expectant of a tentative response. But Stephen would feel herself growing
more rigid with every kind word and gallant allusion. Openly hostile she
would be feeling, as poor Captain Ramsay or some other victim was
manfully trying to do his duty.

In such a mood as this she had once drunk champagne, one glass only, the
first she had ever tasted. She had gulped it all down in sheer
desperation--the result had not been Dutch courage but hiccups. Violent,
insistent, incorrigible hiccups had echoed along the whole length of the
table. One of those weird conversational lulls had been filled, as it
were, to the brim with her hiccups. Then Anna had started to talk very
loudly; Mrs. Antrim had smiled and so had their hostess. Their hostess
had finally beckoned to the butler: 'Give Miss Gordon a glass of water,'
she had whispered. After that, Stephen shunned champagne like the
plague--better hopeless depression, she decided, than hiccups!

It was strange how little her fine brain seemed able to help her when she
was trying to be social; in spite of her confident boasting to Raftery,
it did not seem able to help her at all. Perhaps it was the clothes, for
she lost all conceit the moment she was dressed as Anna would have her;
at this period clothes greatly influenced Stephen, giving her confidence
or the reverse. But be that as it might, people thought her peculiar, and
with them that was tantamount to disapproval.

And thus, it was being borne in upon Stephen, that for her there was no
real abiding city beyond the strong, friendly old gates of Morton, and
she clung more and more to her home and to her father. Perplexed and
unhappy she would seek out her father on all social occasions and would
sit down beside him. Like a very small child this large muscular creature
would sit down beside him because she felt lonely, and because youth most
rightly resents isolation, and because she had not yet learnt her hard
lesson--she had not yet learnt that the loneliest place in this world is
the no-man's-land of sex.



Chapter Nine


2


Sir Philip and his daughter had a new common interest; they could now
discuss books and the making of books and the feel and the smell and the
essence of books--a mighty bond this, and one full of enchantment. They
could talk of these things with mutual understanding; they did so for
hours in the father's study, and Sir Philip discovered a secret ambition
that had lain in the girl like a seed in deep soil; and he, the good
gardener of her body and spirit, hoed the soil and watered this seed of
ambition. Stephen would show him her queer compositions, and would wait
very breathless and still while he read them; then one evening he looked
up and saw her expression, and he smiled:

'So that's it, you want to be a writer. Well, why not? You've got plenty
of talent, Stephen; I should be a proud man if you were a writer.' After
which their discussions on the making of books held an even more vital
enchantment.

But Anna came less and less often to the study, and she would be sitting
alone and idle. Puddle, upstairs at work in the schoolroom, might be
swotting at her Greek to keep pace with Stephen, but Anna would be
sitting with her hands in her lap in the vast drawing-room so beautifully
proportioned, so restfully furnished in old polished walnut, so redolent
of beeswax and orris root and violets--all alone in its vastness would
Anna be sitting, with her white hands folded and idle.

A lovely and most comfortable woman she had been, and still was, in spite
of her gentle ageing, but not learned, oh, no, very far from
learned--that, indeed, was why Sir Philip had loved her, that was why he
had found her so infinitely restful, that was why he still loved her
after very many years; her simplicity was stronger to hold him than
learning. But now Anna went less and less often to the study.

It was not that they failed to make her feel welcome, but rather that
they could not conceal their deep interest in subjects of which she knew
little or nothing. What did she know of or care for the Classics? What
interest had she in the works of Erasmus? Her theology needed no erudite
discussion, her philosophy consisted of a home swept and garnished, and
as for the poets, she liked simple verses; for the rest her poetry lay in
her husband. All this she well knew and had no wish to alter, yet lately
there had come upon Anna an aching, a tormenting aching that she dared
give no name to. It nagged at her heart when she went to that study and
saw Sir Philip together with their daughter, and knew that her presence
contributed nothing to his happiness when he sat reading to Stephen.

Staring at the girl she would see the strange resemblance, the invidious
likeness of the child to the father, she would notice their movements so
grotesquely alike; their hands were alike, they made the same gestures,
and her mind would recoil with that nameless resentment, the while she
reproached herself; penitent and trembling. Yet penitent and trembling
though Anna might be, she would sometimes hear herself speaking to
Stephen in a way that would make her feel secretly ashamed. She would
hear herself covertly, cleverly gibing, with such skill that the girl
would look up at her bewildered; with such skill that even Sir Philip
himself could not well take exception to what she was saying; then, as
like as not, she would laugh it off lightly, as though all the time she
had only been jesting, and Stephen would laugh too, a big, friendly
laugh. But Sir Philip would not laugh, and his eyes would seek Anna's
questioning, amazed, incredulous and angry. That was why she now went so
seldom to the study when Sir Philip and his daughter were together.

But sometimes, when she was alone with her husband, Anna would suddenly
cling to him in silence. She would hide her face against his hard
shoulder clinging closer and closer, as though she were frightened, as
though she were afraid for this great love of theirs. He would stand very
still, forbearing to move, forbearing to question, for why should he
question? He knew already, and she knew that he knew. Yet neither of them
spoke it, this most unhappy thing, and their silence spread round them
like a poisonous miasma. The spectre that was Stephen would seem to be
watching, and Sir Philip would gently release himself from Anna, while
she, looking up, would see his tired eyes, not angry any more, only very
unhappy. She would think that those eyes were pleading, beseeching; she
would think: 'He's pleading with me for Stephen.' Then her own eyes would
fill with tears of contrition, and that night she would kneel long in
prayer to her Maker:

Give me peace,' she would entreat, 'and enlighten my spirit, so that I
may learn how to love my own child.'


2


Sir Philip looked older now than his age, and seeing this, Anna could
scarcely endure it. Everything in her cried out in rebellion so that she
wanted to thrust back the years, to hold them at bay with her own weak
body. Had the years been an army of naked swords she would gladly have
held them at bay with her body.

He would constantly now remain in his study right into the early hours of
the morning. This habit of his had been growing on him lately, and Anna,
waking to find herself alone, and feeling uneasy would steal down to
listen. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards! She would hear
his desolate sounding footsteps. Why was he pacing backwards and
forwards, and why was she always afraid to ask him? Why was the hand she
stretched out to the door always fearful when it came to turning the
handle? Oh, but it was strong, this thing that stood between them, strong
with the strength of their united bodies. It had drawn its own life from
their youth, their passion, from the splendid and purposeful meaning of
their passion--that was how it had leapt full of power into life, and now
it had thrust in between them. They were ageing, they had little left but
their loving--that gentler loving, perhaps the more perfect--and their
faith in each other, which was part of that loving, and their peace,
which was part of the peace of Morton. Backwards and forwards, backwards
and forwards! Those incessant and desolate sounding footsteps. Peace:
There was surely no peace in that study, but rather some affliction,
menacing, prophetic! Yet prophetic of what? She dared not ask him, she
dared not so much as turn the door-handle, a haunting premonition of
disaster would make her creep away with her question unasked.

Then something would draw her, not back to her bedroom, but on up the
stairs to the room of their daughter. She would open that door very
gently--by inches. She would hold her hand so that it shaded the candle,
and would stand looking down at the sleeping Stephen as she and her
husband had done long ago. But now there would be no little child to look
down on, no small helplessness to arouse mother-pity. Stephen would be
lying very straight, very large, very long, underneath the neatly drawn
covers. Quite often an arm would be outside the bedspread, the sleeve
having fallen away as it lay there, and that arm would look firm and
strong and possessive, and so would the face by the light of the candle.
She slept deeply. Her breathing would be even and placid. Her body would
be drinking in its fill of refreshment. It would rise up clean and
refreshed in the morning; it would eat, speak, move--it would move about
Morton. In the stables, in the gardens, in the neighbouring paddocks, in
the study--it would move about Morton. Intolerable dispensation of
nature. Anna would stare at that splendid young body, and would feel, as
she did so, that she looked on a stranger. She would scourge her heart
and her anxious spirit with memories drawn from this stranger's
beginnings: 'Little--you were so very little!' she would whisper, 'and
you sucked from my breast because you were hungry--little and always so
terribly hungry--a good baby though, a contented little baby--'

And Stephen would sometimes stir in her sleep as though she were vaguely
conscious of Anna. It would pass and she would lie quiet again, breathing
in those deep, placid draughts of refreshment. Then Anna, still
ruthlessly scourging her heart and her anxious spirit, would stoop and
kiss Stephen, but lightly and very quickly on the forehead, so that the
girl should not be awakened. So that the girl should not wake and kiss
back, she would kiss her lightly and quickly on the forehead.

3

The eye of youth is very observant. Youth has its moments of keen
intuition, even normal youth--but the intuition of those who stand
mid-way between the sexes, is so ruthless, so poignant, so accurate, so
deadly, as to be in the nature of an added scourge; and by such an
intuition did Stephen discover that all was not well with her parents.

Their outward existence seemed calm and unruffled; so far nothing had
disturbed the outward peace of Morton. But their child saw their hearts
with the eyes of the spirit; flesh of their flesh, she had sprung from
their hearts, and she knew that those hearts were heavy. They said
nothing, but she sensed that some deep, secret trouble was afflicting
them both; she could see it in their eyes. In the words that they left
unspoken she could hear it--it would be there, filling the small gaps of
silence. She thought that she discerned it in her father's slow
movements--surely his movements had grown slower of late? And his hair
was quite grey; it was quite grey all over. She realized this with a
slight shock one morning as he sat in the sunlight--it had used to look
auburn in the nape of his neck when the sun fell upon it--and now it was
dull grey all over.

But this mattered little. Even their trouble mattered little in
comparison with something more vital, with their love--that, she felt,
was the only thing that mattered, and that was the thing that now stood
most in danger. This love of theirs had been a great glory; all her life
she had lived with it side by side, but never until it appeared to be
threatened, did she feel that she had really grasped its true
meaning--the serene and beautiful spirit of Morton clothed in flesh, yes,
that had been its true meaning. Yet that had been only part of its
meaning for her, it had meant something greater than Morton, it had stood
for the symbol of perfect fulfilment--she remembered that even as a very
small child she had vaguely discerned that perfect fulfilment. This love
had been glowing like a great friendly beacon, a thing that was steadfast
and very reassuring. All unconscious, she must often have warmed herself
at it, must have thawed out her doubts and her vague misgivings. It had
always been their love, the one for the other; she knew this, and yet it
had been her beacon. But now those flames were no longer steadfast;
something had dared to blemish their brightness. She longed to leap up in
her youth and strength and cast this thing out of her holy of holies. The
fire must not die and leave her in darkness.

And yet she was utterly helpless, and she knew it. All that she did
seemed inadequate and childish: 'When I was a child I spake as a child, I
understood as a child, I thought as a child.' Remembering Saint Paul, she
decided grimly that surely she had remained as a child. She could sit and
stare at them--these poor, stricken lovers--with eyes that were scared
and deeply reproachful: 'You must not let anything spoil your loving, I
need it,' her eyes could send them that message. She could love them in
her turn, possessively, fiercely: 'You're mine, mine, mine, the one
perfect thing about me. You're one and you're mine. I'm frightened, I
need you!' Her thoughts could send them that message. She could start to
caress them, awkwardly, shyly, stroking their hands with her strong, bony
fingers--first his hand, then hers, then perhaps both together, so that
they smiled in spite of their trouble. But she dared not stand up before
them accusing, and say: 'I'm Stephen, I'm you, for you bred me. You shall
not fail me by failing yourselves. I've a right to demand that you shall
not fail me!' No, she dared not stand up and speak such words as
these--she had never demanded anything from them.

Sometimes she would think them quietly over as two fellow creatures whom
chance had made her parents. Her father, her mother--a man, a woman; and
then she would be amazed to discover how little she knew of this man and
this woman. They had once been babies, and later small children, ignorant
of life and utterly dependent. That seemed so curious, ignorant of
life--her father utterly weak and dependent. They had come to adolescence
even as she had, and perhaps at times they too had felt unhappy. What had
their thoughts been, those thoughts that lie hidden, those nebulous
misgivings that never get spoken? Had her mother shrunk back resentful,
protesting, when the seal of her womanhood had been stamped upon her?
Surely not for her mother was somehow so perfect, that all that befell
her must in its turn be perfect--her mother gathered nature into her arms
and embraced it as a friend, as a well-loved companion. But she, Stephen,
had never felt friendly like that, which must mean, she supposed, that
she lacked some fine instinct.

There had been those young years of her mother's in Ireland; she spoke of
them sometimes but only vaguely, as though they were now very far away,
as though they had never seriously counted. And yet she had been lovely,
lovely Anna Molloy, much admired, much loved and constantly courted--And
her father, he too had been in the world, in Rome, in Paris, and often in
London--he had not lived at Morton in those days; and how queer it
seemed, there had been a time when her father had actually not known her
mother. They had been completely unconscious of each other, he for
twenty-nine years, she for just over twenty, and yet all the while had
been drawing together, in spite of themselves, always nearer together.
Then had come that morning away in County Clare, when those two had
suddenly seen each other, and had known from that moment the meaning of
life, of love, just because they had seen each other. Her father spoke
very seldom of such things, but this much he had told her, it had all
grown quite clear--What had it felt like when they realized each other?
What did it feel like to see things quite clearly, to know the innermost
reason for things?

Morton--her mother had come home to Morton, to wonderful, gently
enfolding Morton. She had passed for the first time through the heavy
white doorway under the shining semicircular fanlight. She had walked
into the old square hall with its bear-skins, and its pictures of funny,
dressed-up looking Gordons--the hall with the whip-rack where Stephen
kept her whips--the hall with the beautiful iridescent window, that
looked over the lawns and herbaceous borders. Then, perhaps hand in hand,
they had passed beyond the hall, her father a man, her mother a woman,
with their destiny already upon them--and that destiny of theirs had been
Stephen.

Ten years. For ten years they had just had each other, each other and
Morton--surely wonderful years. But what had they been thinking about all
those years? Had they perhaps thought a little about Stephen? Oh, but
what could she hope to know of these things, their thoughts, their
feelings, their secret ambitions--she, who had not even been conceived,
she, who had not yet come into existence? They had lived in a world that
her eyes bad not looked on; days and nights had slipped into the weeks,
months and years. Time had existed, but she, Stephen, had not. They had
lived through that time; it had gone to their making; their present had
been the result of its travail, had sprung from its womb as she from her
mother's, only she had not been a part of that travail, as she had been a
part of her mother's. Hopeless! And yet she must try to know them, these
two, every inch of their hearts, of their minds; and knowing them, she
must then try to guard them--but him first, oh, him first--she did not
ask why, she only knew that because she loved him as she did, he would
always have to come first. Love was simply like that; it just followed
its impulse and asked no questions--it was beautifully simple. But for
his sake she must also love the thing that he loved, her mother, though
this love was somehow quite different; it was less hers than his, he had
thrust it upon her; it was not an integral part of her being.
Nevertheless it too must be served, for the happiness of one was that of
the other. They were indivisible, one flesh, one spirit, and whatever it
was that had crept in between them was trying to tear asunder this
oneness--that was why she, their child, must rise up and help them if she
could, for was she not the fruit of their oneness?


4


There were times when she would think that she must have been mistaken,
that no trouble was overshadowing her father; these would be when they
two were sitting in his study, for then he would seem contented.
Surrounded by his books, caressing their bindings, Sir Philip would look
care-free again and light-hearted.

'No friends in the world like books,' he would tell her. 'Look at this
fellow in his old leather jacket!'

There were times, too, out hunting when he seemed very young, as Raftery
had been that first season. But the ten-year-old Raftery was now wiser
than Sir Philip, who would often behave like a foolhardy schoolboy. He
would give Stephen leads over hair-raising places, and then, she safely
landed, turn round and grin at her. He liked her to ride the pick of his
hunters these days, and would slyly show off her prowess. The sport would
bring back the old light to his eyes, and his eyes would look happy as
they rested on his daughter.

She would think: must have been terribly mistaken,' and would feel a
great peace surge over her spirit.

He might say, as they slowly jogged home to Morton: 'Did you notice my
youngster here take that stiff timber? Not bad for a five-year-old, he'll
do nicely.' And perhaps he might add: 'Put a three on that five, and then
tell your old sire that he's not so bad either! I'm fifty-three, Stephen,
I'll be going in the wind if I don't knock off smoking quite soon, and
that's certain!'

Then Stephen would know that her father felt young, very young, and was
wanting her to flatter him a little.

But this mood would not last; it had often quite changed by the time
'that the two of them reached the stables. She would notice with a sudden
pain in her heart that he stooped when he walked, not much yet, but a
little. And she loved his broad back, she had always loved it--a kind,
reassuring protective back. Then the thought would come that perhaps its
great kindness had caused it to stoop as though bearing a burden; and the
thought would come: 'He is bearing a burden, not his own, it's someone
else's--but whose?'



Chapter Ten


1


Christmas came and with it the girl's eighteenth birthday, but the
shadows that clung round her home did not lessen; nor could Stephen,
groping about in those shadows, find a way to win through to the light.
Everyone tried to be cheerful and happy, as even sad people will do at
Christmas, while the gardeners brought in huge bundles of holly with
which to festoon the portraits of Gordons--rich, red-berried holly that
came from the hills, and that year after year would be sent down to
Morton. The courageous-eyed Gordons looked out from their wreaths
unsmiling, as though they were thinking of Stephen.

In the hall stood the Christmas-tree of her childhood, for Sir Philip
loved the old German custom which would seem to insist that even the aged
be as children and play with God on His birthday. At the top of the tree
swung the little wax Christ-child in His spangled nightgown with gold and
blue ribbons; and the little wax Christ-child bent downwards and sideways
because, although small, He was rather heavy--or, as Stephen had thought
when she too had been small, because He was trying to look for His
presents.

In the morning they all went to church in the village, and the church
smelt of coldness and freshly bruised green stuff--of the laurel and holly
and pungent pine branches, that wreathed the oak pulpit and framed the
altar; and the anxious-faced eagle who must carry the Scriptures on his
wings, he too was looking quite festive. Very redolent of England it was,
that small church, with its apple-cheeked choirboys in newly washed
garments; with its young Oxford parson who in summer played cricket to
the glory of God and the good of the county; with its trim congregation
of neighbouring gentry who had recently purchased an excellent organ, so
that now they could hear the opening bars of the hymns with a feeling of
self-satisfaction, but with something else too that came nearer to
Heaven, because of those lovely old songs of Christmas. The choir raised
their sexless untroubled voices: 'While shepherds watched their
flocks...' sang the choir; and Anna's soft mezzo mingled and blended with
her husband's deep boom and Puddle's soprano. Then Stephen sang too for
the sheer joy of singing, though her voice at best was inclined to be
husky: 'While shepherds watched their flocks by night,' carolled
Stephen--for some reason thinking of Raftery.

After church the habitual Christmas greetings: 'Merry Christmas,' 'Merry
Christmas.' Same to you, many of them!' Then home to Morton and the large
mid-day dinner--turkey, plum pudding with its crisp brandy butter, and
the mince-pies that invariably gave Puddle indigestion. Then dessert with
all sorts of sweet fruits out of boxes, crystallized fruits that made
your hands sticky, together with fruit from the Morton green-houses; and
from somewhere that no one could ever remember, the elegant miniature
Lady-apples that you ate skins and all in two bites if you were greedy.

A long afternoon spent in waiting for darkness when Anna could light the
Christmas-tree candles; and no ringing of bells to disturb the servants,
not until they must all file in for their presents which were piled up
high round the base of the tree on which Anna would light the small
candles. Dusk--draw the curtains, it was dark enough now, and someone
must go and fetch Anna the taper, but she must take care of the little
wax Christ-child, Who liked many lights even though they should melt Him.

'Stephen, climb up, will you, and tie back the Christ-child. His toe is
almost touching that candle!'

Then Anna applying the long lighted taper from branch to branch, very
slowly and gravely, as though she accomplished some ritual, as though she
herself were a ministering priestess--Anna very slender and tall in a
dress whose soft folds swept her limbs and lay round her ankles.

'Ring three times, will you, Philip? I think they're all lighted--no,
wait--all right now, I'd missed that top candle. Stephen, begin to sort
out the presents, please, dear, your father's just rung for the servants.
Oh, and Puddle, you might push over the table, I may need it--no, not
that one, the table by the window--'

A subdued sound of voices, a stifled giggle. The servants filing in
through the green baize door, and only the butler and footmen familiar in
appearance, the others all strangers in mufti. Mrs. Wilson, the cook, in
black silk with jet trimming, the scullery maid in electric blue
cashmere, one housemaid in mauve, another in green, and the upper of
three in dark terra-cotta, while Anna's own maid wore an old dress of
Anna's. Then the men from outside, from the gardens and stables--men
bare-headed who were usually seen in their caps--old Williams displaying
a widening bald patch, and wearing tight trousers instead of his
breeches; old Williams walking stiffly because his new suit felt like
cardboard, and because his white collar was too high, and because his
hard, made-up black bow would slip crooked. The grooms and the boys, all
exceedingly shiny from their neatly oiled heads to their well-polished
noses--the boys very awkward, short-sleeved and rough-handed, shuffling a
little because trying not to. And the gardeners led in by the grave Mr.
Hopkins, who wore black of a Sunday and carried a Church Service, and
whose knowledge of the ills that all grape-flesh is heir to, had given
his face a patient, pained expression. Men smelling of soil these, in
spite of much scrubbing; men whose necks and whose hands were crossed and
recrossed by a network of tiny and earth-clogged furrows--men whose backs
would bend early from tending the earth. There they stood in the wake of
the grave Mr. Hopkins, with their eyes on the big, lighted
Christmas-tree, while they never so much as glanced at the flowers that
had sprung from many long hours of their labour. No, instead they must
just stand and gape at the tree, as though with its candles and
Christ-child and all, it were some strange exotic plant in Kew Gardens.

Then Anna called her people by name, and to each one she gave the gifts
of that Christmas; and they thanked her, thanked Stephen and thanked Sir
Philip; and Sir Philip thanked them for their faithful service, as had
always been the good custom at Morton for more years than Sir Philip
himself could remember. Thus the day had passed by in accordance with
tradition, every one from the highest to the lowest remembered; nor had
Anna forgotten her gifts for the village--warm shawls, sacks of coal,
cough mixture and sweets. Sir Philip had sent a cheque to the vicar,
which would keep him for a long time in cricketing flannels; and Stephen
had carried a carrot to Raftery and two lumps of sugar to the fat, aged
Coffins, who because he was all but blind in one eye, had bitten her hand
in place of his sugar. And Puddle had written at great length to a sister
who lived down in Cornwall and whom she neglected, except on such
memory-jogging occasions as Christmas, when somehow we always remember.
And the servants had gorged themselves to repletion, and the hunters had
rested in their hay-scented stables; while out in the fields, seagulls,
come far inland, had feasted in their turn on humbler creatures--grubs
and slugs, and other unhappy small fry, much relished by birds and hated
by farmers.

Night closed down on the house, and out of the darkness came the anxious
young voices of village schoolchildren: 'Noel, Noel--' piped the anxious
young voices lubricated by sweets from the lady of Morton. Sir Philip
stirred the logs in the hall to a blaze, while Anna sank into a deep
chair and watched them. Her hands that were wearied by much ministration,
lay over the arms of the chair in the firelight, and the firelight sought
out the rings on her hands, and it played with the whiter flames in her
diamonds. Then Sir Philip stood up, and he gazed at his wife, while she
stared at the logs not appearing to notice him; but Stephen, watching in
silence from her corner, seemed to see a dark shadow that stole in
between them--beyond this her vision was mercifully dim, otherwise she
must surely have recognized that shadow.


2


On new year's eve Mrs. Antrim gave a dance in order, or so she said, to
please Violet, who was still rather young to attend the hunt balls, but
who dearly loved gaiety, especially dancing. Violet was plump, pert and
adolescent, and had lately insisted on putting her hair up. She liked
men, who in consequence always liked her, for like begets like when it
comes to the sexes, and Violet was full of what people call 'allure', or
in simpler language, of sexual attraction. Roger was home for Christmas
from Sandhurst, so that he would be there to assist his mother. He was
now nearly twenty, a good-looking youth with a tiny moustache which he
tentatively fingered. He assumed the grand air of the man of the world
who has actually weathered about nineteen summers. He was hoping to join
his regiment quite soon, which greatly augmented his self-importance.

Could Mrs. Antrim have ignored Stephen Gordon's existence, she would
almost certainly have done so. She disliked the girl; she had always
disliked her; what she called Stephen's 'queerness' aroused her
suspicion--she was never quite clear as to what she suspected, but felt
sure it must be something outlandish: 'A young woman of her age to ride
like a man, I call it preposterous!' declared Mrs. Antrim.

It can safely be said that Stephen at eighteen had in no way outgrown her
dread of the Antrim; there was only one member of that family who liked
her, she knew, and that was the small, hen-pecked Colonel. He liked her
because, a fine horseman himself, he admired her skill and her courage
out hunting.

'It's a pity she's so tall, of course--' he would grumble, 'but she does
know a horse and how to stick on one. Now my children might have been
brought up at Margate, they're just about fitted to ride the beach
donkeys!'

But Colonel Antrim would not count at the dance; indeed in his own house
he very seldom counted. Stephen would have to endure Mrs. Antrim and
Violet--and then Roger was home from Sandhurst. Their antagonism had
never quite died, perhaps because it was too fundamental. Now they
covered it up with a cloak of good manners, but these two were still
enemies at heart, and they knew it. No, Stephen did not want to go to
that dance, though she went in order to please her mother. Nervous,
awkward and apprehensive, Stephen arrived at the Antrims that night,
little thinking that Fate, the most expert of tricksters, was waiting to
catch her just round the corner. Yet so it was, for during that evening
Stephen met Martin and Martin met Stephen, and their meeting was great
with portent for them both, though neither of them could know it.

It all happened quite simply as such things will happen. It was Roger who
introduced Martin Hallam; it was Stephen who explained that she danced
very badly; it was Martin who suggested that they sit out their dances.
Then--how quickly it occurs if the thing is predestined--they suddenly
knew that they liked each other, that some chord had been struck to a
pleasant vibration; and this being so they sat out many dances, and they
talked for quite a long while that evening.

Martin lived in British Columbia, it seemed, where he owned several farms
and a number of orchards. He had gone out there after the death of his
mother, for six months, but had stayed on for love of the country. And
now he was having a holiday in England--that was how he had got to know
young Roger Antrim, they had met up in London and Roger had asked him to
come down for a week, and so here he was--but it felt almost strange to
be back again in England. Then he talked of the vastness of that new
country that was yet so old; of its snow-capped mountains, of its canyons
and gorges, of its deep, princely rivers, of its lakes, above all of its
mighty forests. And when Martin spoke of those mighty forests, his voice
changed, it became almost reverential; for this young man loved trees
with a primitive instinct, with a strange and inexplicable devotion.
Because he liked Stephen he could talk of his trees, and because she
liked him she could listen while he talked, feeling that she too would
love his great forests.

His face was very young, clean-shaven and bony; he had bony, brown hands
with spatulate fingers; for the rest, he was tall with a loosely knit
figure, and he slouched a little when he walked from much riding. But his
face had a charming quality about it, especially when he talked of his
trees; it glowed, it seemed to be inwardly kindled, and it asked for a
real and heart-felt understanding of the patience and the beauty and the
goodness of trees--it was eager for your understanding. Yet in spite of
this touch of romance in his make-up, which he could not keep out of his
voice at moments, he spoke simply, as one man will speak to another, very
simply, not trying to create an impression. He talked about trees as some
men talk of ships, because they love them and the element they stand for.
And Stephen, the awkward, the bashful, the tongue-tied, heard herself
talking in her turn, quite freely, heard herself asking him endless
questions about forestry, farming and the care of vast orchards;
thoughtful questions, unromantic but apt--such as one man will ask of
another.

Then Martin wished to learn about her, and they talked of her fencing,
her studies, her riding, and she told him about Raftery who was named for
the poet. And all the while she felt natural and happy because here was a
man who was taking her for granted, who appeared to find nothing
eccentric about her or her tastes, but who quite simply took her for
granted. Had you asked Martin Hallam to explain why it was that he
accepted the girl at her own valuation, he would surely have been unable
to tell you--it had happened, that was all, and there the thing ended.
But whatever the reason, he felt drawn to this friendship that had leapt
so suddenly into being.

Before Anna left the dance with her daughter, she invited the young man
to drive over and see them; and Stephen felt glad of that invitation,
because now she could share her new friend with Morton. She said to
Morton that night in her bedroom: 'I know you're going to like Martin
Hallam.'



Chapter Eleven


1


Martin went to Morton, he went very often, for Sir Philip liked him and
encouraged the friendship. Anna liked Martin too, and she made him feel
welcome because he was young and had lost his mother. She spoilt him a
little, as a woman will spoil who, having no son must adopt someone
else's, so to Anna he went with all his small troubles, and she doctored
him when he caught a bad chill out hunting. He instinctively turned to
her in such things, but never, in spite of their friendship, to Stephen.

Yet now he and Stephen were always together, he was staying on and on at
the hotel in Upton; ostensibly staying because of the hunting; in reality
staying because of Stephen who was filling a niche in his life long
empty, the niche reserved for the perfect companion. A queer, sensitive
fellow this Martin Hallam, with his strange love of trees and primitive
forests, not a man to make many intimate friends, and in consequence a
man to be lonely. He knew little about books and had been a slack
student, but Stephen and he had other things in common; he rode well, and
he cared for and understood horses; he fenced well and would quite often
now fence with Stephen; nor did he appear to resent it when she beat him;
indeed he seemed to accept it as natural, and would merely laugh at his
own lack of skill. Out hunting these two would keep close to each other,
and would ride home together as far as Upton; or perhaps he would go to
Morton with her, for Anna was always glad to see Martin. Sir Philip gave
him the freedom of the stables, and even old Williams forbore to grumble:

''E be trusty, that's what 'e be,' declared Williams, 'and the horses
knows it and acts accordin'.'

But sport was not all that drew Stephen to Martin, for his mind, like
hers, was responsive to beauty, and she taught him the countryside that
she loved, from Upton to Castle Morton common--the common that lies at
the foot of the hills. But far beyond Castle Morton she took him. They
would ride down the winding lane to Bromsberrow, then crossing the small
stream at Clincher's Mill, jog home through the bare winter woods of
Eastnor. And she taught him the hills whose plentiful bosoms had made
Anna think of green-girdled mothers, mothers of sons, as she sat and
watched them, great with the child who should have been her son. They
climbed the venerable Worcestershire Beacon that stands guardian of all
the seven Malverns, or wandered across the hills of the Wells to the old
British Camp above the Wye Valley. The Valley would lie half in light,
half in shadow, and beyond would be Wales and the dim Black Mountains.
Then Stephen's heart would tighten a little, as it always had done
because of that beauty, so that one day she said:

'When I was a child, this used to make me want to cry, Martin.'

And he answered: Some part of us always sheds tears when we see lovely
things--they make us regretful.' But when she asked him why this should
be, he shook his head slowly, unable to tell her.

Sometimes they walked through Hollybush woods, then on up Raggedstone, a
hill grim with legend--its shadow would bring misfortune or death to
those it fell on, according to legend. Martin would pause to examine the
thorn trees, ancient thorns that had weathered many a hard winter. He
would touch them with gentle, pitying fingers:

'Look, Stephen--the courage of these old fellows! They're all twisted and
crippled; it hurts me to see them, yet they go on patiently doing their
bit--have you ever thought about the enormous courage of trees? I have,
and it seems to me amazing. The Lord dumps them down and they've just got
to stick it, no matter what happens--that must need some courage!' And
one day he said: 'Don't think me quite mad, but if we survive death then
the trees will survive it; there must be some sort of a forest heaven for
all the faithful--the faithful of trees. I expect they take their birds
along with them; why not? "And in death they were not divided".' Then he
laughed, but she saw that his eyes were quite grave, so she asked him:

'Do you believe in God, Martin?'

And he answered: 'Yes, because of His trees. Don't you?' 'I'm not sure--'

Oh, my poor, blind Stephen! Look again, go on looking until you do
believe.'


They discussed many things quite simply together, for between these two
was no vestige of shyness. His youth met hers and walked hand in hand
with it, so that she knew how utterly lonely her own youth had been
before the coming of Martin.

She said: 'You're the only real friend I've ever had, except Father--our
friendship's so wonderful, somehow--we're like brothers, we enjoy all the
same sort of things.'

He nodded: 'I know, a wonderful friendship.'

The hills must let Stephen tell him their secrets, the secrets of
by-paths most cunningly hidden; the secrets of small, unsuspected green
hollows; the secrets of ferns that live only by hiding. She might even
reveal the secrets of birds, and show him the playground of shy, spring
cuckoos.

'They fly quite low up here, one can see them; last year a couple flew
right past me, calling. If you were not going away so soon, Martin, we'd
come later on--I'd love you to see them.'

'And I'd love you to see my huge forests,' he told her, 'why can't you
come back to Canada with me? What rot it is, all this damned convention;
we're such pals you and I, I'll be desperately lonely--Lord, what a fool
of a world we live in!'

And she said quite simply: 'I'd love to come with you.'

Then he started to tell her about his huge forests, so vast that their
greenness seemed almost eternal. Great trees he told of, erect, towering
firs, many centuries old and their girth that of giants. And then there
were all the humbler tree-folk whom he spoke of as friends that were dear
and familiar; the hemlocks that grow by the courses of rivers, in love
with adventure and clear running water; the slender white spruces that
border the lakes; the red pines, that glow like copper in the sunset.
Unfortunate trees these beautiful red pines, for their tough, manly wood
is coveted by builders.

'But I won't have my roof-tree hacked from their sides,' declared Martin,
'I'd feel like a positive assassin!'

Happy days spent between the hills and the stables, happy days for these
two who had always been lonely until now, and now this wonderful
friendship--there had never been anything like it for Stephen. Oh, but it
was good to have him beside her, so young, so strong and so
understanding. She liked his quiet voice with its careful accent, and his
thoughtful blue eyes that moved rather slowly, so that his glance when it
came, came slowly--sometimes she would meet his glance half-way, smiling.
She who had longed for the companionship of men, for their friendship,
their good-will, their toleration, she had it all now and much more in
Martin, because of his great understanding.

She said to Puddle one night in the schoolroom: 'I've grown fond of
Martin--isn't that queer after only a couple of months of friendship? But
he's different somehow--when he's gone I shall miss him!'

And her words had the strangest effect on Puddle who quite suddenly
beamed at Stephen and kissed her--Puddle, who never betrayed her
emotions, quite suddenly beamed at Stephen and kissed her.


2


People gossiped a little because of the freedom allowed Martin and
Stephen by her parents; but on the whole they gossiped quite kindly, with
a great deal of smiling and nodding of heads. After all the girl was just
like other girls--they almost ceased to resent her. Meanwhile Martin
continued to stay on in Upton, held fast by the charm and the strangeness
of Stephen--her very strangeness it was that allured him, yet all the
while he must think of their friendship, not even admitting that
strangeness. He deluded himself with these thoughts of friendship, but
Sir Philip and Anna were not deluded. They looked at each other almost
shyly at first, then Anna grew bold, and she said to her husband:

'Is it possible the child is falling in love with Martin? Of course he's
in love with her. Oh, my dear, it would make me so awfully happy--' And
her heart went out in affection to Stephen, as it had not done since the
girl was a baby.

Her hopes would go flying ahead of events; she would start making plans
for her daughter's future. Martin must give up his orchards and forests
and buy Tenley Court that was now in the market; it had several large
farms and some excellent pasture, quite enough to keep any man happy and
busy. Then Anna would suddenly grow very thoughtful; Tenley Court was
also possessed of fine nurseries, big, bright, sunny rooms facing south,
with their bathroom, there were bars to the windows--it was all there and
ready.

Sir Philip shook his head and warned Anna to go slowly, but he could not
quite keep the great joy from his eyes, nor the hope from his heart. Had
he been mistaken? Perhaps after all he had been mistaken--the hope
thudded ceaselessly now in his heart.


3


Came a day when winter must give place to spring, when the daffodils
marched across the whole country from Castle Morton Common to Ross and
beyond, pitching camps by the side of the river. When the hornbeam made
patches of green in the hedges, and the hawthorn broke out into small,
budding bundles; when the old cedar tree on the lawn at Morton grew
reddish-pink tips to its elegant fingers; when the wild cherry trees on
the sides of the hills were industriously putting forth both leaves and
blossoms; when Martin looked into his heart and saw Stephen--saw her
suddenly there as a woman.

Friendship! He marvelled now at his folly, at his blindness, his coldness
of body and spirit. He had offered this girl the cold husks of his
friendship, insulting her youth, her womanhood, her beauty--for he saw
her now with the eyes of a lover. To a man such as he was, sensitive,
restrained, love came as a blinding revelation. He knew little about
women, and the little he did know was restricted to episodes that he
thought best forgotten. On the whole he had led a fairly chaste
life--less from scruple than because he was fastidious by nature. But now
he was very deeply in love, and those years of restraint took their toll
of poor Martin, so that he trembled before his own passion, amazed at its
strength, not a little disconcerted. And being by habit a quiet, reserved
creature, he must quite lose his head and become the reverse. So
impatient was he that he rushed off to Morton very early one morning to
look for Stephen, tracking her down in the end at the stables, where he
found her talking to Williams and Raftery.

He said: 'Never mind about Raftery, Stephen--let's go into the garden,
I've got something to tell you.' And she thought that he must have had
bad news from home, because of his voice and his curious pallor.

She went with him and they walked on in silence for a while, then Martin
stood still, and began to talk quickly; he was saying amazing, incredible
things: Stephen, my dear--I do utterly love you.' He was holding out his
arms, while she shrank back bewildered: 'I love you, I'm deeply in love
with you, Stephen--look at me, don't you understand me, beloved? I want
you to marry me--you do love me, don't you?' And then, as though she had
suddenly struck him, he flinched: 'Good God! What's the matter, Stephen?'

She was staring at him in a kind of dumb horror, staring at his eyes that
were clouded by desire, while gradually over her colourless face there
was spreading an expression of the deepest repulsion--terror and
repulsion he saw on her face, and something else too, a look as of
outrage. He could not believe this thing that he saw, this insult to all
that he felt to be sacred; for a moment he in his turn, must stare, then
he came a step nearer, still unable to believe. But at that she wheeled
round and fled from him wildly, fled back to the house that had always
protected; without so much as a word she left him, nor did she once pause
in her flight to look back. Yet even in this moment of headlong panic,
the girl was conscious of something like amazement, amazement at herself;
and she gasped as she ran: 'It's Martin--Martin--' And again: 'It's
Martin!'

He stood perfectly still until the trees hid her. He felt stunned,
incapable of understanding. All that he knew was that he must get away,
away from Stephen, away from Morton, away from the thoughts that would
follow after. In less than two hours he was motoring to London; in less
than two weeks he was standing on the deck of the steamer that would
carry him back to his forests that lay somewhere beyond the horizon.



Chapter Twelve


1



No one questioned at Morton; they spoke very little. Even Anna forbore to
question her daughter, checked by something that she saw in the girl's
pale face.

But alone with her husband she gave way to her misgivings, to her deep
disappointment: 'It's heartbreaking, Philip. What's happened? They seemed
so devoted to each other. Will you ask the child? Surely one of us ought
to--'

Sir Philip said quietly: 'I think Stephen will tell me.' And with that
Anna had perforce to be content.

Very silently Stephen now went about Morton, and her eyes looked
bewildered and deeply unhappy. At night she would lie awake thinking of
Martin, missing him, mourning him as though he were dead. But she could
not accept this death without question, without feeling that she was in
some way blameworthy. What was she, what manner of curious creature, to
have been so repelled by a lover like Martin? Yet she had been repelled,
and even her pity for the man could not wipe out that stronger feeling.
She had driven him away because something within her was intolerant of
that new aspect of Martin.

Oh, but she mourned his good, honest friendship; he had taken that from
her, the thing she most needed--but perhaps after all it had never
existed except as a cloak for this other emotion. And then, lying there
in the thickening darkness, she would shrink from what might be waiting
in the future, for all that had just happened might happen again--there
were other men in the world beside Martin. Fool, never to have visualized
this thing before, never to have faced the possibility of it; now she
understood her resentment of men when their voices grew soft and
insinuating. Yes, and now she knew to the full the meaning of fear, and
Martin it was, who had taught her its meaning--her friend--the man she
had utterly trusted had pulled the scales from her eyes and revealed it.
Fear, stark fear, and the shame of such fear--that was the legacy left
her by Martin. And yet he had made her so happy at first, she had felt so
contented, so natural with him; but that was because they had been like
two men, companions, sharing each other's interests. And at this thought
her bitterness would all but flow over; it was cruel, it was cowardly of
him to have deceived her, when all the time he had only been waiting for
the chance to force this other thing on her.

But what was she?' Her thoughts slipping back to her childhood, would
find many things in her past that perplexed her. She had never been quite
like the other small children, she had always been lonely and
discontented, she had always been trying to be someone else--that was why
she had dressed herself up as young Nelson. Remembering those days she
would think of her father, and would wonder if now, as then, he could
help her. Supposing she should ask him to explain about Martin? Her
father was wise, and had infinite patience--yet somehow she instinctively
dreaded to ask him. Alone--it was terrible to feel so much alone--to feel
oneself different from other people. At one time she had rather enjoyed
this distinction--she had rather enjoyed dressing up as young Nelson. Yet
had she enjoyed it? Or had it been done as some sort of inadequate
childish protest a But if so against what had she been protesting when
she strutted about the house, masquerading? In those days she had wanted
to be a boy--had that been the meaning of the pitiful young Nelson? And
what about now? She had wanted Martin to treat her as a man, had expected
it of him...The questions to which she could find no answers, would pile
themselves up and up in the darkness; oppressing, stifling by sheer
weight of numbers, until she would feel them getting her under; 'I don't
know--oh, God, I don't know!' she would mutter, tossing as though to
fling off those questions.

Then one night towards dawn she could bear it no longer; her dread must
give place to her need of consolation. She would ask her father to
explain her to herself; she would tell him her deep desolation over
Martin. She would say: Is there anything strange about me, Father, that I
should have felt as I did about Martin?' And then she would try to
explain very calmly what it was she had felt, the intensity of it. She
would try to make him understand her suspicion that this feeling of hers
was a thing fundamental, much more than merely not being in love; much,
much more than not wanting to marry Martin. She would tell him why she
found herself so utterly bewildered; tell him how she had loved Martin's
strong, young body, and his honest brown face, and his slow thoughtful
eyes, and his careless walk--all these things she had loved. Then
suddenly terror and deep repugnance because of that unforeseen change in
Martin, the change that had turned the friend into the lover--in reality
it had been no more than that, the friend had turned lover and had wanted
from her what she could not give him, or indeed any man, because of that
deep repugnance. Yet there should have been nothing repugnant about
Martin, nor was she a child to have felt such terror. She had known
certain facts about life for some time and they had not repelled her in
other people--not until they had been brought home to herself had these
facts both terrified and repelled her.

She got up. No good in trying to sleep, those eternal questions kept
stifling, tormenting. Dressing quickly she stole down the wide, shallow
stairs to the garden door, then out into the garden. The garden looked
unfamiliar in the sunrise, like a well-known face that is suddenly
transfigured. There was something aloof and awesome about it, as though
it were lost in ecstatic devotion. She tried to tread softly for she felt
apologetic, she and her troubles were there as intruders; their presence
disturbed this strange hush of communion, this oneness with something
beyond their knowledge, that was yet known and loved by the soul of the
garden. A mysterious and wonderful thing this oneness, pregnant with
comfort could she know its true meaning--she felt this somewhere deep
down in herself; but try as she would her mind could not grasp it;
perhaps even the garden was shutting her out of its prayers, because she
had sent away Martin. Then a thrush began to sing in the cedar, and his
song was full of wild jubilation: Stephen, look at me, look at me!' sang
the thrush, 'I'm happy, happy, it's all very simple!' There was something
heartless about that singing which only served to remind her of Martin.
She walked on disconsolate, thinking deeply. He had gone, he would soon
be back in his forests--she had made no effort to keep him beside her
because he had wanted to be her lover...'Stephen, look at us, look at
us!' sang the birds, 'We're happy, happy, it's all very simple!' Martin
walking in dim, green places--she could picture his life away in the
forests, a man's life, good with the goodness of danger, a primitive,
strong, imperative thing--a man's life, the life that should have been
hers--And her eyes filled with heavy, regretful tears, yet she did not
quite know for what she was weeping. She only knew that some great sense
of loss, some great sense of incompleteness possessed her, and she let
the tears trickle down her face, wiping them off one by one with her
finger.

And now she was passing the old potting shed where Collins had lain in
the arms of the footman. Choking back her tears she paused by the shed,
and tried to remember the girl's appearance. Grey eyes--no, blue, and a
round-about figure--plump hands, with soft skin always puckered from
soap-suds--a housemaid's knee that had pained very badly: See that dent?
That's the water...It fair makes me sick.' Then a queer little girl
dressed up as young Nelson: 'I'd like to be awfully hurt for you,
Collins, the way that Jesus was hurt for sinners...' The potting shed
smelling of earth and dampness, sagging a little on one side,
lop-sided--Collins lying in the arms of the footman, Collins being kissed
by him, wantonly, crudely--a broken flower pot in the hand of a
child--rage, deep rage--a great anguish of spirit--blood on a face that
was pale with amazement, very bright red blood that kept trickling and
trickling--flight, wild, inarticulate flight, away and away, anyhow,
anywhere--the pain of torn skin, the rip of torn stockings--

She had not remembered these things for years, she had thought that all
this had been quite forgotten; there was nothing to remind her of Collins
these days but a fat, half-blind and pampered old pony. Strange how these
memories came back this morning; she had lain in bed lately trying to
recapture the childish emotions aroused in her by Collins and had failed,
yet this morning they came back quite clearly. But the garden was full of
a new memory now; it was full of sorrowful memory of Martin. She turned
abruptly, and leaving the shed walked towards the lakes that gleamed
faintly in the distance.

Down by the lakes there was a sense of great stillness which the songs of
the birds could in no way lessen, for this place had that curious
stillness of spirit that seems to interpenetrate sound. A swan paddled
about in front of his island, on guard, for his mate had a nest full of
cygnets; from time to time he glanced crossly at Stephen though he knew
her quite well, but now there were cygnets. He was proud in his splendid,
incredible whiteness, and paternity made him feel overbearing, so that he
refused to feed from Stephen's hand although she found a biscuit in her
pocket.

'Coup, c-o-u-p!' she called, but he swung his neck sideways as he
swam--it was like a disdainful negation. 'Perhaps he thinks I'm a freak,'
she mused grimly, feeling more lonely because of the swan.

The lakes were guarded by massive old beech trees, and the beech trees
stood ankle-deep in their foliage; a lovely and luminous carpet of leaves
they had spread on the homely brown earth of Morton. Each spring came new
little shuttles of greenness that in time added warp and woof to the
carpet, so that year by year it grew softer and deeper, and year by year
it glowed more resplendent. Stephen had loved this spot from her
childhood, and now she instinctively went to it for comfort, but its
beauty only added to her melancholy, for beauty can wound like a
two-edged sword. She could not respond to its stillness of spirit, since
she could not lull her own spirit to stillness.

She thought: 'I shall never be one with great peace any more, I shall
always stand outside this stillness--wherever there is absolute stillness
and peace in this world, I shall always stand just outside it.' And as
though these thoughts were in some way prophetic, she inwardly shivered a
little.

Then what must the swan do but start to hiss loudly, just to show her
that he was really a father: 'Peter,' she reproached him, 'I won't hurt
your babies--can't you trust me? I fed you the whole of last winter!'

But apparently Peter could not trust her at all, for he squawked to his
mate who came out through the bushes, and she hissed in her turn,
flapping strong angry wings, which meant in mere language: Get out of
this, Stephen, you clumsy, inadequate, ludicrous creature; you destroyer
of nests, you disturber of young, you great wingless blot on a beautiful
morning!' Then they both hissed together: Get out of this, Stephen!' So
Stephen left them to the care of their cygnets.

Remembering Raftery, she walked to the stables, where all was confusion
and purposeful bustle. Old Williams was ruthlessly out on the warpath;
he was scolding: 'Drat the boy, what be 'e a-doin'?? Come on, do! 'Urry
up, get them two horses bridled, and don't go forgettin' their knee-caps
this mornin'--and that bucket there don't belong where it's standin', nor
that broom! Did Jim take the roan to the blacksmith's? Gawd almighty,
why not? 'Er shoes is like paper! 'Ere, you Jim, don't you go on
ignorin' my orders, if you do--Come on, boy, got them two horses ready?
Right, well then, up you go! You don't want no saddle, like as not you'd
give 'im a gall if you 'ad one!'

The sleek, good-looking hunters were led out in clothing--for the early
spring mornings were still rather nippy--and among them came Raftery,
slender and skittish; he was wearing his hood, and his eyes peered out
bright as a falcon's from the two neatly braided eye-holes. From a couple
more holes in the top of his head-dress, shot his small, pointed ears,
which now worked with excitement.

'Old on!' bellowed Williams, 'What the 'ell be you doin'? Quick, shorten
'is bridle, yer not in a circus!' And then seeing Stephen: 'Beg pardon,
Miss Stephen, but it be a fair crime not to lead that horse close, and
'im all corned up until 'he's fair dancin'!'

They stood watching Raftery skip through the gates, then old Williams
said softly: ''E do be a wonder--more nor fifty odd years 'ave I worked in
the stables, and never no beast 'ave I loved like Raftery. But 'e's no
common horse, 'e be some sort of Christian, and a better one too than a
good few I knows on--'

And Stephen answered: 'Perhaps he's a poet like his namesake; I think if
he could write he'd write verses. They say all the Irish are poets at
heart, so perhaps they pass on the gift to their horses.'

Then the two of them smiled, each a little embarrassed, but their eyes
held great friendship the one for the other, a friendship of years now
cemented by Raftery whom they loved--and small wonder, for assuredly
never did more gallant or courteous horse step out of stable.

'Oh, well,' sighed Williams, 'I be gettin' that old--and Raftery, 'e do
be comin' eleven, but 'e don't feel it yet in 'is limbs the way I
does--me rheumatics 'as troubled me awful this winter.'

She stayed on a little while, comforting Williams, then made her way back
to the house, very slowly. 'Poor Williams,' she thought, 'he is getting
old, but thank the Lord nothing's the matter with Raftery.'

The house lay full in a great slant of sunshine; it looked as though it
was sunning its shoulders. Glancing up, she came eye to eye with the
house, and she fancied that Morton was thinking about her, for its
windows seemed to be beckoning, inviting: Come home, come home, come
inside quickly, Stephen!' And as though they had spoken, she answered:
'I'm coming,' and she quickened her lagging steps to a run, in response
to this most compassionate kindness. Yes, she actually ran through the
heavy white doorway under the semicircular fanlight, and on up the
staircase that led from the hall in which hung the funny old portraits of
Gordons--men long dead and gone but still wonderfully living, since their
thoughts had fashioned the comeliness of Morton; since their loves had
made children from father to son--from father to son until the advent of
Stephen.


2


That evening she went to her father's study, and when he looked up she
thought she was expected.

She said: 'I want to talk to you, Father.'

And he answered: 'I know--sit close to me, Stephen.'

He shaded his face with his long, thin hand, so that she could not see
his expression, yet it seemed to her that he knew quite well why she had
come to him in that study. Then she told him about Martin, told him all
that had happened, omitting no detail, sparing him nothing. She openly
mourned the friend who had failed her, and herself she mourned for
failing the lover--and Sir Philip listened in absolute silence.

After she had spoken for quite a long time, she at length found the
courage to ask her question: 'Is there anything strange about me, Father,
that I should have felt as I did about Martin?'

It had come. It fell on his heart like a blow. The hand that was shading
his pale face trembled, for he felt a great trembling take hold of his
spirit. His spirit shrank back and cowered in his body, so that it dared
not look out on Stephen.

She was waiting, and now she was asking again: 'Father, is there anything
strange about me? I remember when I was a little child--I was never quite
like all the other children--'

Her voice sounded apologetic, uncertain, and he knew that the tears were
not far from her eyes, knew that if he looked now he would see her lips
shaking, and the tears making ugly red stains on her eyelids. His loins
ached with pity for this fruit of his loins--an insufferable aching, an
intolerable pity. He was frightened, a coward because of his pity, as he
had been once long ago with her mother. Merciful God! How could a man
answer? What could he say, and that man a father? He sat there inwardly
grovelling before her: 'Oh, Stephen, my child, my little, little
Stephen.' For now in his pity she seemed to him little, little and
utterly helpless again--he remembered her hands as the hands of a baby,
very small, very pink, with minute perfect nails--he had played with her
hands, exclaiming about them, astonished because of their neat
perfection: 'Oh, Stephen, my little, little Stephen.' He wanted to cry
out against God for this thing; he wanted' to cry out: 'You have maimed
my Stephen! What had I done or my father before me, or my father's
father, or his father's father? Unto the third and fourth generations...'
And Stephen was waiting for his answer. Then Sir Philip set the lips of
his spirit to the cup, and his spirit must drink the gall of deception:
'I will not tell her. You cannot ask it--there are some things that even
God should not ask.'

And now he turned round and deliberately faced her; smiling right into
her eyes he lied glibly: 'My dear, don't be foolish, there's nothing
strange about you, some day you may meet a man you can love. And
supposing you don't, well, what of it, Stephen? Marriage isn't the only
career for a woman. I've been thinking about your writing just lately,
and I'm going to let you go up to Oxford; but meanwhile you mustn't get
foolish fancies, that won't do at all--it's not like you, Stephen.' She
was gazing at him and he turned away quickly: 'Darling, I'm busy, you
must leave me,' he faltered.

Thank you,' she said very quietly and simply, 'I felt that I had to ask
you about Martin--'


3


After she had gone he sat on alone, and the lie was still bitter to his
spirit as he sat there, and he covered his face for the shame that was in
him--but because of the love that was in him he wept.



Chapter Thirteen


1


There was gossip in plenty over Martin's disappearance, and to this Mrs.
Antrim contributed her share, even more than her share, looking wise and
mysterious whenever Stephen's name was mentioned. Everyone felt very
deeply aggrieved. They had been so eager to welcome the girl as one of
themselves, and now this strange happening--it made them feel foolish
which in turn made them angry. The spring meets were heavy with tacit
disapproval--nice men like young Hallam did not run away for nothing; and
then what a scandal if those two were not engaged; they had wandered all
over the country together. This tacit disapproval was extended to Sir
Philip, and via him to Anna for allowing too much freedom; a mother ought
to look after her daughter, but then Stephen had always been allowed too
much freedom. This, no doubt, was what came of her riding astride and
fencing and all the rest of the nonsense; when she did meet a man she
took the bit between her teeth and behaved in a most amazing manner. Of
course, had there been a proper engagement--but obviously that had never
existed. They marvelled, remembering their own toleration, they had
really been extremely broad-minded. An extraordinary girl, she had always
been odd, and now for some reason she seemed odder than ever. Not so much
as a word was said in her hearing that could possibly offend, and yet
Stephen well knew that her neighbours' good-will had been only fleeting,
a thing entirely dependent upon Martin. He it was who had raised her
status among them--he, the stranger, not even connected with their
county. They had all decided that she meant to marry Martin, and that
fact had at once made them welcoming and friendly; and suddenly Stephen
longed intensely to be welcomed, and she wished from her heart that she
could have married Martin.

The strange thing was that she understood her neighbours in a way, and
was therefore too just to condemn them; indeed had nature been less
daring with her, she might well have become very much what they were--a
breeder of children, an upholder of home, a careful and diligent steward
of pastures. There was little of the true pioneer about Stephen, in spite
of her erstwhile longing for the forests. She belonged to the soil and
the fruitfulness of Morton, to its pastures and paddocks, to its farms
and its cattle, to its quiet and gentlemanly ordered traditions, to the
dignity and pride of its old red-brick house, that was yet without
ostentation. To these things she belonged and would always belong by
right of those past generations of Gordons whose thoughts had fashioned
the comeliness of Morton, whose bodies had gone to the making of Stephen.
Yes, she was of them, those bygone people; they might spurn her--the
lusty breeders of sons that they had been--they might even look down from
Heaven with raised eyebrows, and say: 'We utterly refuse to acknowledge
this curious creature called Stephen.' But for all that they could not
drain her of blood, and her blood was theirs also, so that do what they
would they could never completely rid themselves of her nor she of
them--they were one in their blood.

But Sir Philip, that other descendant of theirs, found little excuse for
his critical neighbours. Because he loved much he must equally suffer,
consuming himself at times with resentment. And now when he and Stephen
were out hunting he would be on his guard, very anxious and watchful lest
any small incident should occur to distress her, lest at any time she
should find herself lonely. When hounds checked and the field collected
together, he would make little jokes to amuse his daughter, he would rack
his brain for these poor little jokes, in order that people should see
Stephen laughing.

Sometimes he would whisper: 'Let 'em have it hot, Stephen, that youngster
you're on loves a good bit of timber--don't mind me, I know you won't
damage his knees, just you give 'em a lead and let's see if they'll catch
you!' And because it was seldom indeed that they caught her, his sore
heart would know a fleeting contentment.

Yet people begrudged her even this triumph, pointing out that the girl
was magnificently mounted: 'Anyone could get there on that sort of
horse,' they would murmur, when Stephen was out of hearing.

But small Colonel Antrim, who was not always kind, would retort if he
heard them: 'Damn it, no, it's the riding. The girl rides, that's the
point; as for some of you others--' And then he would let loose a flood
of foul language. 'If some bloody fools that I know rode like Stephen,
we'd have bloody well less to pay to the farmers,' and much more he would
say to the same effect, with rich oaths interlarding his every
sentence--the foulest-mouthed master in the whole British Isles he was
said to be, this small Colonel Antrim.

Oh, but he dearly loved a fine rider, and he cursed and he swore his
appreciation. Even in the presence of a sporting bishop one day, he had
failed to control his language; indeed, he had sworn in the face of the
bishop with enthusiasm, as he pointed to Stephen. An ineffectual and
hen-pecked little fellow--in his home he was hardly allowed to say
'damn'. He was never permitted to smoke a cigar outside of his dark,
inhospitable study. He must not breed Norwich canaries, which he loved,
because they brought mice, declared Mrs. Antrim; he must not keep a pet
dog in the house, and the Pink 'Un was anathema because of Violet. His
taste in art was heavily censored, even on the walls of his own
water-closet, where nothing might hang but a family group taken sixteen
odd years ago with the children.

On Sundays he sat in an uncomfortable pew while his wife chanted psalms
in the voice of a peacock. 'Oh come, let us sing unto the Lord,' she
would chant, as she heartily rejoiced in the strength of her salvation.
All this and a great deal more he endured, indeed most of his life was
passed in endurance--had it not been for those red-letter days out
hunting, he might well have become melancholic from boredom. But those
days, when he actually found himself master, went far to restore his
anaemic manhood, and on them he would speak the good English language as
some deep-seated complex knew it ought to be spoken--ruddily, roundly,
explosively spoken, with elation, at times with total abandon--especially
if he should chance to remember Mrs. Antrim would he speak it with total
abandon.

But his oaths could not save Stephen now from her neighbours, nothing
could do that since the going of Martin--for quite unknown to themselves
they feared her; it was fear that aroused their antagonism. In her they
instinctively sensed an outlaw, and theirs was the task of policing
nature.


2


In her vast drawing-room so beautifully proportioned, Anna would sit with
her pride sorely wounded, dreading the thinly veiled questions of her
neighbours, dreading the ominous silence of her husband. And the old
aversion she had felt for her child would return upon her like the
unclean spirit who gathered to himself seven others more wicked, so that
her last state was worse than her first, and at times she must turn away
her eyes from Stephen.

Thus tormented, she grew less tactful with her husband, and now she was
always plying him with questions: 'But why can't you tell me what Stephen
said to you, Philip, that evening when she went to your study?'

And he, with a mighty effort to be patient, would answer: 'She said that
she couldn't love Martin--there was no crime in that. Leave the child
alone, Anna, she's unhappy enough; why not let her alone?' And then he
would hastily change the subject.

But Anna could not let Stephen alone, could never keep off the topic of
Martin. She would talk at the girl until she grew crimson; and seeing
this, Sir Philip would frown darkly, and when he and his wife were alone
in their bedroom he would often reproach her with violence.

'Cruel--it's abominably cruel of you, Anna. Why in God's name must you go
on nagging Stephen?'

Anna's taut nerves would tighten to breaking, so that she, when she
answered, must also speak with violence.

One night he said abruptly: Stephen won't marry--I don't want her to
marry; it would only mean disaster.'

And at this Anna broke out in angry protest. Why shouldn't Stephen marry?
She wished her to marry. Was he mad? And what did he mean by disaster? No
woman was ever complete without marriage--what on earth did he mean by
disaster He frowned and refused to answer her question. Stephen, he said,
must go up to Oxford. He had set his heart on a good education for the
child, who might some day become a fine writer. Marriage wasn't the only
career for a woman. Look at Puddle, for instance; she'd been at Oxford--a
most admirable, well-balanced, sensible creature. Next year he was going
to send Stephen to Oxford. Anna scoffed: 'Yes, indeed, he might well look
at Puddle! She was what came of this higher education--a lonely,
unfulfilled, middle-aged spinster. Anna didn't want that kind of life for
her daughter.

And then: It's a pity you can't be frank, Philip, about what was said
that night in your study. I feel that there's something you're keeping
back from me--it's so unlike Martin to behave as he has done; there must
have been something that you haven't told me, to have made him go off
without even a letter--'

He flared up at once because he felt guilty: 'I don't care a damn about
Martin!' he said hotly. 'All I care about is Stephen, and she's going to
Oxford next year; she's my child as well as yours, Anna!'

Then quite suddenly Anna's self-control left her, and she let him see
into her tormented spirit; all that had lain unspoken between them she
now put into crude, ugly words for his hearing: 'You care nothing for me
any more--you and Stephen are enleagued against me--you have been for
years.' Aghast at herself; she must yet go on speaking: 'You and
Stephen--oh, I've seen it for years--you and Stephen.' He looked at her,
and there was warning in his eyes, but she babbled on wildly: 'I've seen
it for years--the cruelty of it; she's taken you from me, my own
child--the unspeakable cruelty of it!'

Cruelty, yes, but not Stephen's, Anna--it's yours; for in all the child's
life you've never loved her.'

Ugly, degrading, rather terrible half-truths; and he knew the whole
truth, yet he dared not speak it. It is bad for the soul to know itself a
coward, it is apt to take refuge in mere wordy violence.

'Yes, you, her mother, you persecute Stephen, you torment her; I
sometimes think you hate her!'

'Philip--good God!'

'Yes, I think you hate her; but be careful, Anna, for hatred breeds
hatred, and remember I stand for the rights of my child--if you hate her
you've got to hate me; she's my child. I won't let her face your hatred
alone.'

Ugly, degrading, rather terrible half-truths. Their hearts ached while
their lips formed recriminations. Their hearts burst into tears while
their eyes remained dry and accusing, staring in hostility and anger. Far
into the night they accused each other, they who before had never
seriously quarrelled; and something very like the hatred he spoke of
leapt out like a flame that seared them at moments.

Stephen, my own child--she's come between us.'

'It's you who have thrust her between us, Anna.'

Mad, it was madness! They were such faithful lovers, and their love it
was that had fashioned their child. They knew that it was madness and yet
they persisted, while their anger dug out for itself a deep channel, so
that future angers might more easily follow. They could not forgive and
they could not sleep, for neither could sleep without the other's
forgiveness, and the hatred that leapt out at moments between them would
be drowned in the tears that their hearts were shedding.


3


Like some vile and prolific thing, this first quarrel bred others, and
the peace of Morton was shattered. The house seemed to mourn, and
withdraw into itself, so that Stephen went searching for its spirit in
vain. 'Morton,' she whispered, where are you, Morton? I must find you, I
need you so badly.'

For now Stephen knew the cause of their quarrels, and she recognized the
form of the shadow that had seemed to creep in between them at Christmas,
and knowing, she stretched out her arms to Morton for comfort: 'My
Morton, where are you? I need you.'

Grim and exceedingly angry grew Puddle, that little, grey box of a woman
in her schoolroom; angry with Anna for her treatment of Stephen, but even
more deeply angry with Sir Philip, who knew the whole truth, or so she
suspected, and who yet kept that truth back from Anna.

Stephen would sit with her head in her hands: Oh, Puddle, it's my fault;
I've come in between them, and they're all I've got--they're my one
perfect thing--I can't bear it--why have I come in between them?'

And Puddle would flush with reminiscent anger as her mind slipped back
and back over the years to old sorrows, old miseries, long decently
buried but now disinterred by this pitiful Stephen. She would live
through those years again, while her spirit would cry out, unregenerate
against their injustice.

Frowning at her pupil, she would speak to her sharply: 'Don't be a fool,
Stephen. Where's your brain, where's your backbone? Stop holding your
head and get on with your Latin. My God, child, you'll have worse things
than this to face later--life's not all beer and skittles, I do assure
you. Now come along, do, and get on with that Latin. Remember you'll soon
be going up to Oxford.' But after a while she might pat the girl's
shoulder and say rather gruffly: 'I'm not angry, Stephen--I do
understand, my dear, I do really--only somehow I've just got to make you
have backbone. You're too sensitive, child, and the sensitive
suffer--well, I don't want to see you suffer, that's all. Let's go out
for a walk--we've done enough Latin for today--let's walk over the
meadows to Upton.'

Stephen clung to this little, grey box of a woman as a drowning man will
cling to a spar. Puddle's very hardness was somehow consoling--it seemed
concrete, a thing you could trust, could rely on, and their friendship
that had flourished as a green bay-tree grew into something more stalwart
and much more enduring. And surely the two of them had need of their
friendship, for now there was little happiness at Morton; Sir Philip and
Anna were deeply unhappy--degraded they would feel by their ceaseless
quarrels.

Sir Philip would think: 'I must tell her the truth--I must tell her what
I believe to be the truth about Stephen.' He would go in search of his
wife, but having found her would stand there tongue-tied, with his eyes
full of pity.

And one day Anna suddenly burst out weeping, for no reason except that
she felt his great pity. Not knowing and not caring why he pitied, she
wept, so that all he could do was to console her.

They clung together like penitent children. 'Anna forgive me.'

'Forgive me, Philip--' For in between quarrels they were sometimes like
children, naively asking each other's forgiveness.

Sir Philip's resolution weakened and waned as he kissed the tears from
her poor, reddened eyelids. He thought: 'tomorrow--tomorrow I'll tell
her--I can't bear to make her more unhappy today.'

So the weeks drifted by and still he had not spoken; summer came and
went, giving place to the autumn. Yet one more Christmas visited Morton,
and still Sir Philip had not spoken.



Chapter Fourteen


1


February came bringing snowstorms with it, the heaviest known for many a
year. The hills lay folded in swathes of whiteness, and so did the
valleys at the foot of the hills, and so did the spacious gardens of
Morton--it was all one vast panorama of whiteness. The lakes froze, and
the beech trees had crystalline branches, while their luminous carpet of
leaves grew brittle so that it crackled now underfoot, the only sound in
the frozen stillness of that place that was always infinitely still.
Peter, the arrogant swan, turned friendly, and he and his family now
welcomed Stephen who fed them every morning and evening, and they glad
enough to partake of her bounty. On the lawn Anna set out a tray for the
birds, with chopped suet, seed, and small mounds of bread-crumbs; and
down at the stables old Williams spread straw in wide rings for
exercising the horses who could not be taken beyond the yard, so bad were
the roads around Morton.

The gardens lay placidly under the snow, in no way perturbed or
disconcerted. Only one inmate of theirs felt anxious, and that was the
ancient and wide-boughed cedar, for the weight of the snow made an ache
in its branches--its branches were brittle like an old man's bones; that
was why the cedar felt anxious. But it could not cry out or shake off its
torment; no, it could only endure with patience, hoping that Anna would
take note of its trouble, since she sat in its shade summer after
summer--since once long ago she had sat in its shade dreaming of the son
she would bear her husband. And one morning Anna did notice its plight,
and she called Sir Philip, who hurried from his study.

She said: 'Look, Philip! I'm afraid for my cedar--it's all weighted
down--I feel worried about it.'

Then Sir Philip sent in to Upton for chain, and for stout pads of felt to
support the branches; and he himself must direct the gardeners while they
climbed into the tree and pushed off the snow; and he himself must see to
the placing of the stout felt pads, lest the branches be galled. Because
he loved Anna who loved the cedar, he must stand underneath it directing
the gardeners.

A sudden and horrible sound of rending. 'Sir, look out! Sir Philip, look
out sir, it's giving!'

A crash and then silence--a horrible silence, far worse than that
horrible sound of rending.

'Sir Philip--oh, Gawd, it's over 'is chest! It's crushed in 'is
chest--it's the big branch wot's given! Some one go for the doctor--go
quick for Doctor Evans. Oh, Gawd, 'is mouth's bleedin'--it's crushed in
'is chest--Won't nobody go for the doctor?'

The grave, rather pompous voice of Mr. Hopkins: 'Steady, Thomas, it's no
good losin' your head. Robert, you'd best slip over to the stables and
tell Burton to go in the car for the doctor. You, Thomas, give me a hand
with this bough--steady on--ease it off a bit to the right, now lift!
Steady on, keep more to the right--now then, gently, gently, man--lift!'

Sir Philip lay very still on the snow, and the blood oozed slowly from
between his lips. He looked monstrously tall as he lay on that whiteness,
very straight, with his long legs stretched out to their fullest, so that
Thomas said foolishly: 'Don't 'e be big--I don't know as I ever noticed
before--'

And now someone came scuttling over the snow, panting, stumbling, hopping
grotesquely--old Williams, hatless and in his shirt sleeves--and as he
came on he kept calling out something: 'Master, oh, Master!' And he
hopped grotesquely as he came on over the slippery snow. 'Master,
Master--oh, Master!'

They found a hurdle, and with dreadful care they placed the master of
Morton upon it, and with dreadful slowness they carried the hurdle over
the lawn, and in through the door that Sir Philip himself had left
standing ajar.

Slowly they carried him into the hall, and even more slowly his tired
eyes opened, and he whispered: 'Where's Stephen: I want--the child.'

And old Williams muttered thickly: 'She's comin', Master--she be comin'
down the stairs; she's here, Sir Philip.'

Then Sir Philip tried to move, and he spoke quite loudly: 'Stephen!
Where are your I want you, child--'

She went to him, saying never a word, but she thought: 'He's dying--my
Father.'

And she took his large hand in hers and stroked it, but still without
speaking, because when one loves there is nothing left in the world to
say, when the best beloved lies dying. He looked at her with the pleading
eyes of a dog who is dumb, but who yet asks forgiveness. And she knew
that his eyes were asking forgiveness for something beyond her poor
comprehension; so she nodded, and just went on stroking his hand.

Mr. Hopkins asked quietly: 'Where shall we take him?' And as quietly
Stephen answered: 'To the study.'

Then she herself led the way to the study, walking steadily, just as
though nothing had happened, just as though when she got there she would
find her father lolling back in his arm-chair, reading. But she thought
all the while: 'He's dying--my Father--' Only the thought seemed unreal,
preposterous. It seemed like the thinking of somebody else, a thing so
unreal as to be preposterous. Yet when they had set him down in the
study, her own voice it was that she heard giving orders.

'Tell Miss Puddleton to go at once to my Mother and break the news
gently--I'll stay with Sir Philip. One of you please send a housemaid to
me with a sponge and some towels and a basin of cold water. Burton's gone
for Doctor Evans, you say? That's quite right. Now I'd like you to go up
and fetch down a mattress, the one from the blue room will do--get it
quickly. Bring some blankets as well and a couple of pillows--and I may
need a little brandy.'

They ran to obey, and before very long she had helped to lift him on to
the mattress. He groaned a little, then he actually smiled as he felt her
strong arms around him. She kept wiping the blood away from his mouth,
and her fingers were stained; she looked at her fingers, but without
comprehension--they could not be hers--like her thoughts, they must
surely be somebody else's. But now his eyes were growing more
restless--he was looking for someone, he was looking for her mother.

'Have you told Miss Puddleton, Williams?' she whispered. The man nodded.

Then she said: 'Mother's coming, darling; you lie still,' and her voice
was softly persuasive as though she were speaking to a small, suffering
child. 'Mother's coining; you lie quite still, darling.'

And she came--incredulous, yet wide-eyed with horror. 'Philip, oh,
Philip!' She sank down beside him and laid her white face against his on
the pillow. 'My dear, my dear--it's most terribly hurt you--try to tell
me where it hurts; try to tell me, beloved. The branch gave--it was the
snow--it fell on you, Philip--but try to tell me where it hurts most,
beloved.'

Stephen motioned to the servants and they went away slowly with bowed
heads, for Sir Philip had been a good friend; they loved him, each in his
or her way, each according to his or her capacity for loving.

And always that terrible voice went on speaking, terrible because it was
quite unlike Anna's--it was toneless, and it asked and re-asked the same
question: 'Try to tell me where it hurts most, beloved.'

But Sir Philip was fighting the battle of pain; of intense, irresistible,
unmanning pain. He lay silent, not answering Anna.

Then she coaxed him in words soft with memories of her country. 'And you
the loveliest man,' she whispered, 'and you with the light of God in your
eyes.' But he lay there unable to answer.

And now she seemed to forget Stephen's presence, for she spoke as one
lover will speak with another--foolishly, fondly, inventing small names,
as one lover will do for another. And watching them Stephen beheld a
great marvel, for he opened his eyes and his eyes met her mother's, and a
light seemed to shine over both their poor faces, transfiguring them with
something triumphant, with love--thus those two rekindled the beacon for
their child in the shadow of the valley of death.


2


It was late afternoon before the doctor arrived; he had been out all day
and the roads were heavy. He had come the moment he received the news,
come as fast as a car clogged with snow could bring him. He did what he
could, which was very little, for Sir Philip was conscious and wished to
remain so; he would not permit them to ease his pain by administering
drugs. He could speak very slowly.

'No--not that--something urgent--I want--to say. No drugs--I know
I'm--dying--Evans.'

The doctor adjusted the slipping pillows, then turning he whispered
carefully to Stephen. 'Look after your mother. He's going, I think--it
can't be long now. I'll wait in the next room. If you need me you've only
got to call me.'

'Thank you,' she answered' 'if I need you, I'll call you.'

Then Sir Philip paid even to the uttermost farthing, paid with stupendous
physical courage for the sin of his anxious and pitiful heart; and he
drove and he goaded his ebbing strength to the making of one great and
terrible effort: 'Anna--it's Stephen--listen.' They were holding his
hands. 'It's--Stephen--our child--she's, she's--it's Stephen--not like--'

His head fell back rather sharply, and then lay very still upon Anna's
bosom.

Stephen released the hand she was holding, for Anna had stopped and was
kissing his lips, desperately, passionately kissing his lips, as though
to breathe back the life into his body. And none might be there to
witness that thing, save God--the God of death and affliction, Who is
also the God of love. Turning away she stole out of their presence,
leaving them alone in the darkening study, leaving them alone with their
deathless devotion--hand in hand, the quick and the dead.




BOOK TWO



Chapter Fifteen


1

Sir Philip's death deprived his child of three things; of companionship
of mind born of real understanding, of a stalwart barrier between her and
the world, and above all of love--that faithful love that would gladly
have suffered all things for her sake, in order to spare her suffering.

Stephen, recovering from the merciful numbness of shock and facing her
first deep sorrow, stood utterly confounded, as a child will stand who is
lost in a crowd, having somehow let go of the hand that has always
guided. Thinking of her father, she realized how greatly she had leant on
that man of deep kindness, how sure she had felt of his constant
protection, how much she had taken that protection for granted. And so
together with her constant grieving, with the ache for his presence that
never left her, came the knowledge of what real loneliness felt like. She
would marvel, remembering how often in his lifetime she had thought
herself lonely, when by stretching out a finger she could touch him, when
by speaking she could hear his voice, when by raising her eyes she could
see him before her. And now also she knew the desolation of small things,
the power to give infinite pain that lies hidden in the little inanimate
objects that persist, in a book, in a well-worn garment, in a
half-finished letter, in a favourite armchair.

She thought: 'They go on--they mean nothing at all, and yet they go on,'
and the handling of them was anguish, and yet she must always touch them.
'How queer, this old arm-chair has out-lived him, an old chair--' And
feeling the creases in its leather, the dent in its back where her
father's head had lain, she would hate the inanimate thing for surviving,
or perhaps she would love it and find herself weeping.

Morton had become a place of remembering that closed round her and held
her in its grip of remembrance. It was pain, yet now more than ever she
adored it, every stone, every blade of grass in its meadows. She fancied
that it too grieved for her father and was turning to her for comfort.
Because of Morton the days must go on, all their trifling tasks must be
duly accomplished. At tunes she might wonder that this should be so,
might be filled with a fleeting sense of resentment, but then she would
think of her home as a creature dependent upon her and her mother for its
needs, and the sense of resentment would vanish.

Very gravely she listened to the lawyer from London. 'The place goes to
your mother for her lifetime,' he told her; 'on her death, of course, it
becomes yours, Miss Gordon. But your father made a separate provision;
when you're twenty-one, in about two years' time, you'll inherit quite a
considerable income.'

She said: 'Will that leave enough money for Morton?' 'More than enough,'
he reassured her, smiling.

In the quiet old house there was discipline and order, death had come and
gone, yet these things persisted. Like the well-worn garment and
favourite chair, discipline and order had survived the great change,
filling the emptiness of the rooms with a queer sense of unreality at
times, with a new and very bewildering doubt as to which was real, life
or death. The servants scoured and swept and dusted. From Malvern, once a
week, came a young clock-winder, and he set the clocks with much care and
precision so that when he had gone they all chimed together--rather
hurriedly they would all chime together, as though flustered by the great
importance of time. Puddle added up the books and made lists for the
cook. The tall under-footman polished the windows--the iridescent window
that looked out on the lawns and the semicircular fanlight he polished.
In the gardens work progressed just as usual. Gardeners pruned and hoed
and diligently planted. Spring gained in strength to the joy of the
cuckoos, trees blossomed, and outside Sir Philip's study glowed beds of
the old-fashioned single tulips he had loved above all the others.
According to custom the bulbs had been planted, and now, still according
to custom, there were tulips. At the stables the hunters were turned out
to grass, and the ceilings and walls had a fresh coat of whitewash.
Williams went into Upton to buy tape for the plaits which the grooms were
now engaged upon making; while beyond, in a paddock adjoining the beech
wood, a couple of mares gave birth to strong foals--thus were all things
accomplished in their season at Morton.

But Anna, whose word was now absolute law, had become one of those who
have done with smiling; a quiet, enduring, grief-stricken woman, in whose
eyes was a patient, waiting expression. She was gentle to Stephen, yet
terribly aloof; in their hour of great need they must still stand divided
these two, by the old, insidious barrier. Yet Stephen clung closer and
closer to Morton; she had definitely given up all idea of Oxford. In vain
did Puddle try to protest, in vain did she daily remind her pupil that
Sir Philip had set his heart on her going; no good, for Stephen would
always reply:

'Morton needs me; Father would want me to stay, because he taught me to
love it.'

And Puddle was helpless. What could she do, bound as she was by the
tyranny of silence? She dared not explain the girl to herself, dared not
say: 'For your own sake you must go to Oxford, you'll need every weapon
your brain can give you; being what you are you'll need every weapon,'
for then certainly Stephen would start to question, and her teacher's
very position of trust would forbid her to answer those questions.

Outrageous, Puddle would feel it to be, that wilfully selfish tyranny of
silence evolved by a crafty old ostrich of a world for its own wellbeing
and comfort. The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that
seeing nothing it might avoid Truth. It said to itself: 'If seeing's
believing, then I don't want to see--if silence is golden, it is also, in
this case, very expedient.' There were moments when Puddle would feel
sorely tempted to shout out loud at the world.

Sometimes she thought of giving up her post, so weary was she of fretting
over Stephen. She would think: What's the good of my worrying myself
sick? I can't help the girl, but I can help myself--seems to me it's a
matter of pure self-preservation.' Then all that was loyal and faithful
in her would protest: 'Better stick it, she'll probably need you one day
and you ought to be here to help her.' So Puddle decided to stick it.

They did very little work, for Stephen had grown idle with grief and no
longer cared for her studies. Nor could she find consolation in her
writing, for sorrow will often do one of two things--it will either
release the springs of inspiration, or else it will dry up those springs
completely, and in Stephen's case it had done the latter. She longed for
the comforting outlet of words, but now the words would always evade her.

'I can't write any more, it's gone from me, Puddle--he's taken it with
him.' And then would come tears, and the tears would go splashing down on
to the paper, blotting the poor inadequate lines that meant little or
nothing as their author well knew, to her own added desolation.

There she would sit like a woebegone child, and Puddle would think how
childish she seemed in this her first encounter with grief, and would
marvel because of the physical strength of the creature, that went so ill
with those tears. And because her own tears were vexing her eyes she must
often speak rather sharply to Stephen. Then Stephen would go off and
swing her large dumb-bells, seeking the relief of bodily movement,
seeking to wear out her muscular body because her mind was worn out by
sorrow.

August came and Williams got the hunters in from grass. Stephen would
sometimes get up very early and help with the exercising of the horses,
but in spite of this the old man's heart misgave him, she seemed
strangely averse to discussing the hunting.

He would think: 'Maybe it's 'er father's death, but the instinct be
pretty strong in 'er blood, she'll be all right after 'er's 'ad 'er first
gallop.' And perhaps he might craftily point to Raftery. 'Look, Miss
Stephen, did ever you see such quarters? 'E's a mighty fine doer, keeps
'imself fit on grass! I do believe as 'e does it on purpose; I believe
'e's afraid 'e'll miss a day's huntin'.'

But the autumn slipped by and the winter was passing. Hounds met at the
very gates of Morton, yet Stephen forbore to send those orders to the
stables for which Williams was anxiously waiting. Then one morning in
March he could bear it no longer, and he suddenly started reproaching
Stephen: 'Yer lettin' my 'orses go stale in their boxes. It's a scandal,
Miss Stephen, and you such a rider, and our stables the finest bar none
in the county, and yer father so almighty proud of yer ridin'!' And then:
'Miss Stephen--yer'll not give it up? Won't yer hunt Raftery day after to
morrow? The 'ounds is meetin' quite near by Upton--Miss Stephen, say yer
won't give it all up!'

There were actually tears in his worried old eyes, and so to console him
she answered briefly: 'Very well then, I'll hunt the day after tomorrow.'
But for some strange reason that she did not understand, this prospect
had quite ceased to give her pleasure.


2


On a morning of high scudding clouds and sunshine, Stephen rode Raftery
into Upton, then over the bridge that spans the river Severn, and on to
the Meet at a neighbouring village. Behind her came jogging her second
horseman on one of Sir Philip's favourite youngsters, a raw-boned,
upstanding, impetuous chestnut, now all eyes and ears for what might be
coming; but beside her rode only memory and heartache. Yet from time to
time she turned her head quickly as though someone must surely be there
at her side.

Her mind was a prey to the strangest fancies. She pictured her father
very grave and anxious, not gay and light-hearted as had been his wont
when they rode to a Meet in the old days. And because this day was so
vibrant with living it was difficult for Stephen to tolerate the idea of
death, even for a little red fox, and she caught herself thinking: 'If we
find, this morning, there'll be two of us who are utterly alone, with
every man's hand against us.'

At the Meet she was a prey to her self-conscious shyness, so that she
fancied people were whispering. There was no one now with bowed, patient
shoulders to stand between her and those unfriendly people.

Colonel Antrim came up. 'Glad to see you out, Stephen.' But his voice
sounded stiff because he was embarrassed--everyone felt just a little
embarrassed, as people will do in the face of bereavement.

And then there was something so awkward about her, so aloof that it
checked every impulse of kindness. They, in their turn, felt shy,
remembering Sir Philip, remembering what his death must have meant to his
daughter, so that more than one greeting remained unspoken.

And again she thought grimly: 'Two of us will be alone, with every man's
hand against us.'

They found their fox in the very first cover and went away over the wide,
bare meadows. As Raftery leapt forward her curious fancies gained
strength, and now they began to obsess her. She fancied that she was
being pursued, that the hounds were behind her instead of ahead, that the
flushed, bright-eyed people were hunting her down, ruthless, implacable,
untiring people--they were many and she was one solitary creature with
every man's hand against her. To escape them she suddenly took her own
line, putting Raftery over some perilous places; but he, nothing loath,
stretched his muscles to their utmost, landing safely--yet she always
imagined pursuit, and now it was the world that had turned against her.
The whole world was hunting her down with hatred, with a fierce,
remorseless will to destruction--the world against one insignificant
creature who had nowhere to turn for pity or protection. Her heart
tightened with fear, she was terribly afraid of those flushed,
bright-eyed people who were hard on her track. She who had never lacked
physical courage in her life, was now actually sweating with terror, and
Raftery, divining her terror, sped on, faster and always faster.

Then Stephen saw something just ahead, and it moved. Checking Raftery
sharply she stared at the thing. A crawling, bedraggled streak of red
fur, with tongue lolling, with agonized lungs filled to bursting, with
the desperate eyes of the hopelessly pursued, bright with terror and
glancing now this way, now that as though looking for something; and the
thought came to Stephen; 'It's looking for God Who made it.'

At that moment she felt an imperative need to believe that the stricken
beast had a Maker, and her own eyes grew bright, but with blinding tears
because of her mighty need to believe, a need that was sharper than
physical pain, being born of the pain of the spirit. The thing was
dragging its brush in the dust, it was limping, and Stephen sprang to the
ground. She held out her hands to the unhappy creature, filled with the
will to succour and protect it, but the fox mistrusted her merciful
hands, and it crept away into a little coppice. And now in a deathly and
awful silence the hounds swept past her, their muzzles to the ground.
After them galloped Colonel Antrim, crouching low in his saddle, avoiding
the branches, and after him came a couple of huntsmen with the few bold
riders who had stayed that stiff run. Then a savage clamour broke out in
the coppice as the hounds gave tongue in their wild jubilation, and
Stephen well knew that that sound meant death--very slowly she remounted
Raftery.

Riding home, she felt utterly spent and bewildered. Her thoughts were
full of her father again--he seemed very near, incredibly near her. For a
moment she thought that she heard his voice, but when she bent sideways
trying to listen, all was silence, except for the tired rhythm of
Raftery's hooves on the road. As her brain grew calmer, it seemed to
Stephen that her father had taught her all that she knew. He had taught
her courage and truth and honour in his life, and in death he had taught
her mercy--the mercy that he had lacked he had taught her through the
mighty adventure of death. With a sudden illumination of vision, she
perceived that all life is only one life, that all joy and all sorrow are
indeed only one, that all death is only one dying. And she knew that
because she had seen a man die in great suffering, yet with courage and
love that are deathless, she could never again inflict wanton destruction
or pain upon any poor, hapless creature. And so it was that by dying to
Stephen, Sir Philip would live on in the attribute of mercy that had come
that day to his child.

But the body is still very far from the spirit, and it clings to the
primitive joys of the earth--to the sun and the wind and the good rolling
grass-lands, to the swift elation of reckless movement, so that Stephen,
feeling Raftery between her strong knees, was suddenly filled with
regret. Yes, in this her moment of spiritual insight she was infinitely
sad, and she said to Raftery: 'We'll never hunt any more, we two,
Raftery--we'll never go out hunting together any more.'

And because in his own way he had understood her, she felt his sides
swell with a vast, resigned sigh; heard the creaking of damp girth
leather as he sighed because he had understood her. For the love of the
chase was still hot in Raftery, the love of splendid, unforeseen danger,
the love of crisp mornings and frost-bound evenings, and of long, dusky
roads that always led home. He was wise with the age-old wisdom of the
beasts, it is true, but that wisdom was not guiltless of slaying, and
deep in his gentle and faithful mind lurked a memory bequeathed him by
some wild forbear. A memory of vast and unpeopled spaces, of fierce open
nostrils and teeth bared in battle, of hooves that struck death with
every sure blow, of a great untamed mane that streamed out like a banner,
of the shrill and incredibly savage war-cry that accompanied that gallant
banner. So now he too felt infinitely sad, and he sighed until his strong
girths started creaking, after which he stood still and shook himself
largely, in an effort to shake off depression.

Stephen bent forward and patted his neck. 'I'm sorry, sorry, Raftery,'
she said gravely.



Chapter Sixteen


1


With the breaking up of the stables at Morton came the breaking up of
their faithful servant. Old age took its toll of Williams at last, and it
got him under completely. Sore at heart and gone in both wind and limb,
he retired with a pension to his comfortable cottage; there to cough and
grumble throughout the winter, or to smoke disconsolate pipes through the
summer, seated on a chair in his trim little garden with a rug wrapped
around his knees.

'It do be a scandal,' he was now for ever saying, 'and 'er such a
splendid woman to 'ounds!'

And then he would start remembering past glories, while his mind would
begin to grieve for Sir Philip. He would cry just a little because he
still loved him, so his wife must bring Williams a strong cup of tea.

'There, there, Arth-thur, you'll soon be meetin' the master; we be old me
and you--it can't be long now.'

At which Williams would glare: 'I'm not thinkin' of 'eaven--like as not
there won't be no 'orses in 'eaven--I wants the master down 'ere at me
stables. Gawd knows they be needin' a master!'

For now besides Anna's carriage horses, there were only four inmates of
those once fine stables: Raftery and Sir Philip's young upstanding
chestnut, a cob known as James, and the aged Collins who had taken to
vice in senile decay, and persisted in eating his bedding.

Anna had accepted this radical change quite calmly, as she now accepted
most things. She hardly ever opposed her daughter these days in matters
concerning Morton. But the burden of arranging the sale had been
Stephen's; one by one she had said good-bye to the hunters, one by one
she had watched them led out of the yard, with a lump in her throat that
had almost choked her, and when they were gone she had turned back to
Raftery for comfort.

'Oh, Raftery, I'm so unregenerate--I minded so terribly seeing them go!
Don't let's look at their empty boxes--'


2


Another year passed and Stephen was twenty-one, a rich, independent
woman. At any time now she could go where she chose, could do entirely as
she listed. Puddle remained at her post; she was waiting a little grimly
for something to happen. But nothing much happened, beyond the fact that
Stephen now dressed in tailor-made clothes to which Anna had perforce to
withdraw her opposition. Yet life was gradually reasserting its claims on
the girl, which was only natural, for the young may not be delivered over
to the dead, nor to grief that refuses consolation. She still mourned her
father, she would always mourn him, but at twenty-one with a healthful
body, there came a day when she noticed the sunshine, when she smelt the
good earth and was thankful for it, when she suddenly knew herself to be
alive and was glad, in despite of death.

On one such morning early that June, Stephen drove her car into Upton.
She was meaning to cash a cheque at the bank, she was meaning to call at
the local saddler's, she was meaning to buy a new pair of gloves--in the
end, however, she did none of these things.

It was outside the butcher's that the dog fight started. The butcher
owned an old rip of an Airedale, and the Airedale had taken up his post
in the doorway of the shop, as had long been his custom. Down the street,
on trim but belligerent tiptoes, came a very small, snow-white West
Highland terrier; perhaps he was looking for trouble, and if so he
certainly got it in less than two minutes. His yells were so loud that
Stephen stopped the car and turned round in her seat to see what was
happening. The butcher ran out to swell the confusion by shouting
commands that no one obeyed; he was trying to grasp his dog by the tail
which was short and not at all handy for grasping. And then, as it seemed
from nowhere at all there suddenly appeared a very desperate young woman;
she was carrying her parasol as though it were a lance with which she
intended to enter the battle. Her wails of despair rose above the dog's
yells:

'Tony! My Tony! Won't anyone stop them? My dog's being killed, won't any
of you stop them?' And she actually tried to stop them herself, though
the parasol broke at the first encounter.

But Tony, while yelling, was as game as a ferret, and, moreover, the
Airedale had him by the back, so Stephen got hastily out of the car--it
seemed only a matter of moments for Tony. She grabbed the old rip by the
scruff of the neck, while the butcher dashed off for a bucket of water.
The desperate young woman seized her dog by a leg; she pulled, Stephen
pulled, they both pulled together. Then Stephen gave a punishing twist
which distracted the Airedale, he wanted to bite her; having only one
mouth he must let go of Tony, who was instantly clasped to his owner's
bosom. The butcher arrived on the scene with his bucket while Stephen was
still clinging to the Airedale's collar.

'I'm so sorry, Miss Gordon, I do hope you're not hurt?'

'I'm all right. Here, take this grey devil and thrash him; he's no
business to eat up a dog half his size.'

Meanwhile, Tony was dripping all over with gore, and his mistress, it
seemed, had got herself bitten. She alternately struggled to staunch
Tony's wounds and to suck her own hand which was bleeding freely.

'Better give me your dog and come across to the chemist, your hand will
want dressing,' remarked Stephen.

Tony was instantly put into her arms, with a rather pale smile that
suggested a breakdown.

It's quite all right now,' said Stephen quickly, very much afraid the
young woman meant to cry.

'Will he live, do you think?' inquired a weak voice.

Yes, of course; but your hand--come along to the chemist.' 'Oh, never
mind that, I'm thinking of Tony!'

'He's all right. We'll take him straight off to the vet when your hand's
been seen to; there's quite a good one.'

The chemist applied fairly strong carbolic; the hand had been bitten on
two of the fingers, and Stephen was impressed by the pluck of this
stranger, who set her small teeth and endured in silence. The hand
bandaged they drove along to the vet, who was fortunately in and could
sew up poor Tony. Stephen held his front paws, while his mistress held
his head as best she could in her own maimed condition She kept pressing
his face against her shoulder, presumably so that he should not see the
needle.

'Don't look, darling--you mustn't look at it, honey!' Stephen heard her
whispering to Tony.

At last he too was carbolicked and bandaged, and Stephen had time to
examine her companion. It occurred to her that she had better introduce
herself, so she said: 'I'm Stephen Gordon.'

And I'm Angela Crossby,' came the reply; 'we've taken The Grange, just
the other side of Upton.'

Angela Crossby was amazingly blonde, her hair was not so much golden as
silver. She wore it cut short like a mediaeval page; it was straight, and
came just to the lobes of her ears, which at that time of pompadours and
much curling gave her an unusual appearance. Her skin was very white, and
Stephen decided that this woman would never have a great deal of colour,
nor would her rather wide mouth be red, it would always remain the tint
of pale coral. All the colour that she had seemed to lie in her eyes,
which were large and fringed with long fair lashes. Her eyes were of
rather an unusual blue that almost seemed to be tinted with purple, and
their candid expression was that of a child--very innocent it was, a
trustful expression. And Stephen as she looked at those eyes felt
indignant, remembering the gossip she had heard about the Crossby's.

The Crossby's, as she knew, were deeply resented. He had been an
important Birmingham magnate who had lately retired from some hardware
concern, on account of his health, or so ran the gossip. His wife, it was
rumoured, had been on the stage in New York, so that her antecedents were
doubtful--no one really knew anything at all about her, but her curious
hair gave grounds for suspicion. An American wife who had been an actress
was a very bad asset for Crossby. Nor was Crossby himself a prepossessing
person; when judged by the county's standards, lie bounded. Moreover he
showed signs of unpardonable meanness. His subscription to the Hunt had
been a paltry five guineas. He had written to say that his very poor
health would preclude his hunting, and had actually added that he hoped
the Hunt would keep clear of his coverts! And then everyone felt a
natural resentment that The Grange should have had to be sacrificed for
money--quite a small Tudor house it was yet very perfect. But Captain
Ramsay, its erstwhile owner, had died recently, leaving large debts
behind him, so his heir, a young cousin who lived in London, had promptly
sold to the first wealthy bidder--hence the advent of Mr. Crossby.

Stephen, looking at Angela, remembered these things, but they suddenly
seemed devoid of importance, for now those child-like eyes were upon her,
and Angela was saying: 'I don't know how to thank you for saving my Tony,
it was wonderful of you! If you hadn't been there they'd have let him get
killed, and I'm just devoted to Tony!'

Her voice had the soft, thick drawl of the South, an indolent voice, very
lazy and restful. It was quite new to Stephen, that soft Southern drawl,
and she found it unexpectedly pleasant. Then it dawned on the girl that
this woman was lovely--she was like some queer flower that had grown up
in darkness, like some rare, pale flower without blemish or stain, and
Stephen said flushing:

'I was glad to help you--I'll drive you back to The Grange, if you'll let
me?'

'Why, of course we'll let you,' came the prompt answer. 'Tony says he'll
be most grateful, don't you, Tony?' Tony wagged his tail rather faintly.

Stephen wrapped him up in a motor rug at the back of the car, where he
lay as though prostrate. Angela she placed in the seat beside herself,
helping her carefully as she did so.

Presently Angela said: 'Thanks to Tony I've met you at last; I've been
longing to meet you!' And she stared rather disconcertingly at Stephen,
then smiled as though something she saw had amused her.

Stephen wondered why anyone should have longed to meet her. Feeling
suddenly shy she became suspicious: 'Who told you about me?' she asked
abruptly.

'Mrs. Antrim, I think--yes, it was Mrs. Antrim. She said you were such a
wonderful rider but that now, for some reason, you'd given up hunting.
Oh, yes, and she said you fenced like a man. Do you fence like a man?'

'I don't know,' muttered Stephen.

'Well, I'll tell you whether you do when I've seen you; my father was
quite a well-known fencer at one time, so I learnt a lot about fencing in
the States--perhaps some day, Miss Gordon, you'll let me see you?'

By now Stephen's face was the colour of a beetroot, and she gripped the
wheel as though she meant to hurt it. She was longing to turn round and
look at her companion, the desire to look at her was almost overwhelming,
but even her eyes seemed too stiff to move, so she gazed at the long
dusty road in silence.

'Don't punish the poor, wooden thing that way,' murmured Angela, 'it
can't help being just wood!' Then she went on talking as though to
herself: 'What should I have done if that brute had killed Tony? He's a
real companion to me on my walks--I don't know what I'd do if it weren't
for Tony, he's such a devoted, cute little fellow, and these days I'm
kind of thrown back on my dog--it's a melancholy business walking alone,
yet I've always been fond of walking--'

Stephen wanted to say: 'But I like walking too; let me come with you
sometimes as well as Tony.' Then suddenly mustering up her courage, she
jerked round in the seat and looked at this woman. As their eyes met and
held each other for a moment, something vaguely disturbing stirred in
Stephen, so that the car made a dangerous swerve. 'I'm sorry,' she said
quickly, 'that was rotten bad driving.'

But Angela did not answer.


3


Ralph Crossby was standing at the open doorway as the car swung up and
came to a halt. Stephen noticed that he was immaculately dressed in a
grey tweed suit that by rights should have been shabby. But everything
about him looked aggressively new, his very hair had a quality of
newness--it was thin brown hair that shone as though polished.

'I wonder if he puts it out with his boots,' thought Stephen, surveying
him with interest.

He was one of those rather indefinite men, who are neither short nor
tall, fat nor thin, old nor young, good-looking nor actually ugly. As his
wife would have said, had anybody asked her, he was just 'plain man,'
which exactly described him, for his only distinctive features were his
newness and the peevish expression about his mouth--his mouth was
intensely peevish.

When he spoke his high-pitched voice sounded fretful. What on earth have
you been doing? It's past two o'clock. I've been waiting since one, the
lunch must be ruined; I do wish you'd try and be punctual, Angela!' He
appeared not to notice Stephen's existence, for he went on nagging as
though no one were present. 'Oh, I see that damn dog of yours has been
fighting again, I've a good mind to give him a thrashing; and what in
God's name's the matter with your hand--you don't mean to say that you've
got yourself bitten? Really, Angela, this is a bit too bad!' His whole
manner suggested a personal grievance.

'Well,' drawled Angela, extending the bandaged hand for inspection, 'I've
not been getting manicured, Ralph.' And her voice was distinctly if
gently provoking, so that he winced with quick irritation. Then she
seemed quite suddenly to remember Stephen: 'Miss Gordon, let me introduce
my husband.'

He bowed, and pulling himself together: 'Thank you for driving my wife
home, Miss Gordon, it was most kind, I'm sure.' But he did not seem
friendly, he kept glaring at Angela's dog-bitten hand, and his tone,
Stephen thought, was distinctly ungracious.

Getting out of the car she started her engine.

'Good-bye,' smiled Angela, holding out her hand, the left one, which
Stephen grasped much too firmly. Good-bye--perhaps one day you'll come to
tea. We're on the telephone, Upton 25, ring up and suggest yourself some
day quite soon.'

'Thanks awfully, I will,' said Stephen.


4


'Had a breakdown or something?' inquired Puddle brightly, as at three
o'clock Stephen slouched into the schoolroom.

'No--but Mrs. Crossby's dog had a fight. She got bitten, so I drove her
back to The Grange.'

Puddle pricked up her ears: 'What's she like? I've heard rumours--'
'Well, she's not at all like them,' snapped Stephen.

There ensued a long silence while Puddle considered, but consideration
does not always bring wise counsel, and now Puddle made a really bad
break: 'She's pretty impossible, isn't she, Stephen? They say he
unearthed her somewhere in New York; Mrs. Antrim says she was a
music-hall actress. I suppose you were obliged to give her a lift, but be
careful, I believe she's fearfully pushing.'

Stephen flared up like an emotional schoolgirl: 'I'm not going to discuss
her if that's your opinion; Mrs. Crossby is quite as much a lady as you
are, or any of the others round here, for that matter. I'm sick unto
death of your beastly gossip.' And turning abruptly she strode from the
room.

'Oh, Lord!' murmured Puddle, frowning.


5


That evening Stephen rang up The Grange. 'Is that Upton 25? It's Miss
Gordon speaking--no, no, Miss Gordon, speaking from Morton. How is Mrs.
Crossby and how is the dog? I hope Mrs. Crossby's hand isn't very
painful? Yes, of course I'll hold on while you go and inquire.' She felt
shy, yet unusually daring.

Presently the butler came back and said gravely that Mrs. Crossby had
just seen the doctor and had now gone to bed, as her hand was aching, but
that Tony felt better and sent his love. He added: 'Madam says would you
come to tea on Sunday? She'd be very glad indeed if you would.'

And Stephen answered: 'Will you thank Mrs. Crossby and tell her that I'll
certainly come on Sunday.' Then she gave the message all over again, very
slowly, with pauses. 'Will--you thank--Mrs. Crossby and tell her--I'll
certainly come--on Sunday. Do you quite understand? Have I made it quite
clear? Say I'm coming to tea on Sunday.'



Chapter Seventeen


1


It was only five days till Sunday, yet for Stephen those five days
seemed like as many years. Every evening now she rang up The Grange to
inquire about Angela's hand and Tony, so that she grew quite familiar
with the butler, with his quality of voice, with his habit of coughing,
with the way he hung up the receiver.

She did not stop to analyse her feelings, she only knew that she felt
exultant--for no reason at all she was feeling exultant, very much alive
and full of purpose, and she walked for miles alone on the hills, unable
to stay really quiet for a moment. She found herself becoming acutely
observant, and now she discovered all manner of wonders; the network of
veins on the leaves, for instance, and the delicate hearts of the wild
dog-roses, the uncertain shimmering flight of the larks as they fluttered
up singing, close to her feet. But above all she rediscovered the
cuckoo--it was June, so the cuckoo had changed his rhythm--she must often
stand breathlessly still to listen: Cuckoo-kook, cuckoo-kook,' all over
the hills; and at evening the songs of blackbirds and thrushes.

Her wanderings would sometimes lead her to the places that she and Martin
had visited together, only now she could think of him with affection,
with toleration, with tenderness even. In a curious way she now
understood him as never before, and in consequence condoned. It had just
been some rather ghastly mistake, his mistake, yet she understood what he
must have felt; and thinking of Martin she might grow rather
frightened--what if she should ever make such a mistake? But the fear
would be driven into the background by her sense of wellbeing, her fine
exultation. The very earth that she trod seemed exalted, and the green,
growing things that sprang out of the earth, and the birds, Cuckoo-kook,'
all over the hills--and at evening the songs of blackbirds and thrushes.

She became much more anxious about her appearance; for five mornings she
studied her face in the glass as she dressed--after all she was not so
bad looking. Her hair spoilt her a little, it was too thick and long, but
she noticed with pleasure that at least it was wavy--then she suddenly
admired the colour of her hair. Opening cupboard after cupboard she went
through her clothes. They were old, for the most part distinctly shabby.
She would go into Malvern that very afternoon and order a new flannel
suit at her tailor's. The suit should be grey with a little white pin
stripe, and the jacket, she decided, must have a breast pocket. She would
wear a black tie--no, better a grey one to match the new suit with the
little white pin stripe. She ordered not one new suit but three, and she
also ordered a pair of brown shoes; indeed she spent most of the
afternoon in ordering things for her personal adornment. She heard
herself being ridiculously fussy about details, disputing with her tailor
over buttons; disputing with her boot-maker over the shoes, their
thickness of sole, their amount of broguing; disputing regarding the
match of her ties with the young man who sold her handkerchiefs and
neckties--for such trifles had assumed an enormous importance; she had,
in fact, grown quite long-winded about them.

That evening she showed her smart neckties to Puddle, whose manner was
most unsatisfactory--she grunted.

And now someone seemed to be always near Stephen, someone for whom these
things were accomplished--the purchase of the three new suits, the brown
shoes, the six carefully chosen, expensive neckties. Her long walks on
the hills were a part of this person, as were also the hearts of the wild
dog-roses, the delicate network of veins on the leaves and the queer June
break in the cuckoo's rhythm. The night with its large summer stars and
its silence, was pregnant with a new and mysterious purpose, so that
lying at the mercy of that age-old purpose, Stephen would feel little
shivers of pleasure creeping out of the night and into her body. She
would get up and stand by the open window, thinking always of Angela
Crossby.


2


Sunday came and with it church in the morning; then two interminable
hours after lunch, during which Stephen changed her necktie three times,
and brushed back her thick chestnut hair with water, and examined her
shoes for imaginary dust, and finally gave a hard rub to her nails with a
nail pad snatched brusquely away from Puddle.

When the moment for departure arrived at last, she said rather
tentatively to Anna: 'Aren't you going to call on the Crossbys, Mother?'

Anna shook her head: 'No, I can't do that, Stephen--I go nowhere these
days; you know that, my dear.'

But her voice was quite gentle, so Stephen said quickly: 'Well, then, may
I invite Mrs. Crossby to Morton?'

Anna hesitated a moment, then she nodded: 'I suppose so--that is if you
really wish to.'

The drive only took about twenty minutes, for now Stephen was so nervous
that she positively flew. She who had been puffed up with elation and
self-satisfaction was crumbling completely--in spite of her careful new
necktie she was crumbling at the mere thought of Angela Crossby. Arrived
at The Grange she felt over life-size; her hands seemed enormous, all out
of proportion, and she thought that the butler stared at her hands.

'Miss Gordon?' he inquired.

'Yes,' she mumbled, 'Miss Gordon.' Then he coughed as he did on the
telephone, and quite suddenly Stephen felt foolish.

She was shown into a small oak-panelled parlour whose long, open
casements looked on to the herb-garden. A fire of apple-wood burnt on the
hearth, in spite of the act that the weather was warm, for Angela was
always inclined to feel chilly--the result, so she said, of the English
climate. The fire gave off rather a sweet, pungent odour--the odour of
slightly damp logs and dry ashes. By way of a really propitious
beginning, Tony barked until he nearly burst his stitches, so that
Angela, who was lying on the lounge, had perforce to get up in order to
soothe him. An extremely round bullfinch in an ornate brass cage was
piping a tune with his wings half extended. The tune sounded something
like 'Pop goes the weasel.' At all events it was an impudent tune, and
Stephen felt that she hated that bullfinch. It took all of five minutes
to calm down Tony, during which Stephen stood apologetic but tongue-tied.
She hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry at this very ridiculous
anti-climax.

Then Angela decided the matter by laughing: 'I'm so sorry, Miss Gordon,
he's feeling peevish. It's quite natural, poor lamb, he had a bad night,
he just hates being all sewn up like a bolster.'

Stephen went over and offered him her hand, which Tony now licked, so
that trouble was ended; but in getting up Angela had torn her dress, and
this seemed to distress her--she kept fingering the tear. 'Can I help?'
inquired Stephen, hoping she'd say no--which she did, quite firmly, after
one look at Stephen.

At last Angela settled down again on the lounge. 'Come and sit over
here,' she suggested, smiling. Then Stephen sat down on the edge of a
chair as though she were sitting in the Prickly Cradle.

She forgot to inquire about Angela's dog-bite, though the bandaged hand
was placed on a cushion; and she also forgot to adjust her new necktie,
which in her emotion had slipped slightly crooked. A thousand times in
the last few days had she carefully rehearsed this scene of their
meeting, making up long and elaborate speeches; assuming, in her mind,
many dignified poses; and yet there she sat on the edge of a chair as
though it were the Prickly Cradle.

And now Angela was speaking in her soft, Southern drawl: 'So you've found
your way here at last,' she was saying. And then, after a pause: 'I'm so
glad, Miss Gordon, do you know that your coming has given me real
pleasure?'

Stephen said: 'Yes--oh, yes--' Then fell silent again, apparently intent
on the carpet.

'Have I dropped my cigarette ash or something?' inquired her hostess,
whose mouth twitched a little.

'I don't think so,' murmured Stephen, pretending to look, then glancing
up sideways at the impudent bullfinch.

The bullfinch was now being sentimental; he piped very low and with great
expression. '0, Tannenbaum, 0, Tannenbaum, wie grün sind Deine Natter,'
he piped, hopping rather heavily from perch to perch, with one beady
black orb fixed on Stephen.

Then Angela said: 'It's a curious thing, but I feel as though I've known
you for ages. I don't want to behave as though we were strangers--do you
think that's very American of me? Ought I to be formal and stand-offish
and British? I will if you say so, but I don't feel British.' And her
voice, although quite steady and grave, was somehow distinctly suggestive
of laughter.

Stephen lifted troubled eyes to her face: 'I want very much to be your
friend if you'll have me,' she said; and then she flushed deeply.

Angela held out her undamaged hand which Stephen took, but in great
trepidation. Barely had it lain in her own for a moment, when she
clumsily gave it back to its owner. Then Angela looked at her hand.

Stephen thought: 'Have I done something rude or awkward?' And her heart
thumped thickly against her side. She wanted to retrieve the lost hand
and stroke it, but unfortunately it was now stroking Tony. She sighed,
and Angela, hearing that sigh, glanced up, as though in inquiry.

The butler arrived, bringing in the tea.

Sugar?' asked Angela.

'No, thanks,' said Stephen; then she suddenly changed her mind three
lumps, please,' she had always detested tea without sugar.

The tea was too hot; it burnt her mouth badly. She grew scarlet and her
eyes began to water. To cover her confusion she swallowed more tea, while
Angela looked tactfully out of the window. But when she considered it
safe to turn round, her expression, although still faintly amused, had
something about it that was tender.

And now she exerted all her subtlety and skill to make this queer guest
of hers talk more freely, and Angela's subtlety was no mean thing,
neither was her skill if she chose to exert it. Very gradually the girl
became more at her ease; it was uphill work but Angela triumphed, so that
in the end Stephen talked about Morton, and a very little about herself
also. And somehow, although Stephen appeared to be talking, she found
that she was learning many things about her hostess; for instance, she
learnt that Angela was lonely and very badly in need of her friendship.
Most of Angela's troubles seemed to centre round Ralph, who was not
always kind and seldom agreeable. Remembering Ralph she could well
believe this, and she said:

'I don't think your husband liked me.'

Angela sighed: Very probably not. Ralph never likes the people I do; he
objects to my friends on principle, I think.'

Then Angela talked more openly of Ralph. Just now he was staying away
with his mother, but next week he would be returning to The Grange, and
then he was certain to be disagreeable: 'Whenever he's been with his
mother he's that way--she puts him against me, I never know why--unless,
of course, it's because I'm not English. I'm the stranger within the
gates, it may be that.' And when Stephen protested, 'Oh, yes indeed, I'm
quite often made to feel like a stranger. Take the people round here, do
you think they like me?'

And Stephen, who had not yet learnt to dissemble, stared hard at her
shoes, in embarrassed silence.

Just outside the door a dock boomed seven. Stephen started; she had been
there nearly three hours. 'I must go,' she said, getting abruptly to her
feet, 'you look tired, I've been making a visitation.'

Her hostess made no effort to retain her: 'Well,' she smiled, 'come
again, please come very often--that is if you won't find it dull, Miss
Gordon; we're terribly quiet here at The Grange.'


3


Stephen drove home slowly, for now that it was over she felt like a
machine that had suddenly run down. Her nerves were relaxed, she was
thoroughly tired, yet she rather enjoyed this unusual sensation. The hot
June evening was heavy with thunder. From somewhere in the distance came
the bleating of sheep, and the melancholy sound seemed to blend and
mingle with her mood, which was now very gently depressed. A gentle but
persistent sense of depression enveloped her whole being like a soft,
grey cloak; and she did not wish to shake off this cloak, but rather to
fold it more closely around her.

At Morton she stopped the car by the lakes and sat staring through the
trees at the glint of water. For a long while she sat there without
knowing why, unless it was that she wished to remember. But she found
that she could not even be certain of the kind of dress that Angela had
worn--it had been of some soft stuff, that much she remembered, so soft
that it had easily torn, for the rest her memories of it were
vague--though she very much wanted to remember that dress.

A faint rumble of thunder came out of the west, where the clouds were
banking up ominously purple. Some uncertain and rather hysterical
swallows flew high and then low at the sound of the thunder. Her sense of
depression was now much less gentle, it increased every moment, turning
to sadness. She was sad in spirit and mind and body--her body felt
dejected, she was sad all over. And now someone was whistling down by the
stables, old Williams, she suspected, for the whistle was tuneless. The
loss of his teeth had disgruntled his whistle; yes, she was sure that
must be Williams. A horse whinnied as one bucket clanked against
another--sounds came dearly this evening; they were watering the horses.
Anna's young carriage horses would be pawing their straw, impatient
because they were feeling thirsty.

Then a gate slammed. That would be the gate of the meadow where the
heifers were pastured--it was yellow with king-cups. One of the men from
the home farm was going his rounds, securing all gates before sunset.
Something dropped on the bonnet of the car with a ping. Looking up she
met the eyes of a squirrel; he was leaning well forward on his tiny front
paws, peering crossly; he had dropped his nut on the bonnet. She got out
of the car and retrieved his supper, throwing it under his tree while he
waited. Like a flash he was down and then back on his tree, devouring the
nut with his legs well straddled.

All around were the homely activities of evening, the watering of horses,
the care of cattle--pleasant, peaceable things that preceded the peace
and repose of the coming nightfall. And suddenly Stephen longed to share
them, an immense need to share them leapt up within her, so that she
ached with this urgent longing that was somehow a part of her bodily
dejection.

She drove on and left the car at the stables, then walked round to the
house, and when she got there she opened the door of the study and went
in, feeling terribly lonely without her father. Sitting down in the old
arm-chair that had survived him, she let her head rest where his head had
rested; and her hands she laid on the arms of the chair where his hands,
as she knew, had lain times without number. Closing her eyes, she tried
to visualize his face, his kind face that had sometimes looked anxious;
but the picture came slowly and faded at once, for the dead must often
give place to the living. It was Angela Crossby's face that persisted as
Stephen sat in her father's old chair.


4


In the small panelled room that gave on to the herb-garden, Angela yawned
as she stared through the window; then she suddenly laughed out loud at
her thoughts; then she suddenly frowned and spoke crossly to Tony.

She could not get Stephen out of her mind, and this irritated while it
amused her. Stephen was so large to be tongue-tied and frightened--a
curious creature, not devoid of attraction. In a way--her own way--she
was almost handsome; no, quite handsome; she had fine eyes and beautiful
hair. And her body was supple like that of an athlete--narrow-hipped and
wide shouldered, she should fence very well. Angela was anxious to see
her fence; she must certainly try to arrange it somehow.

Mrs. Antrim had conveyed a number of things, while actually saying very
little; but Angela had no need of her hints, not now that she had come to
know Stephen Gordon. And because she was idle, discontented and bored,
and certainly not over-burdened with virtue, she must let her thoughts
dwell unduly on this girl, while her curiosity kept pace with her
thoughts.

Tony stretched and whimpered, so Angela kissed him, then she sat down and
wrote quite a short little letter: 'Do come over to lunch the day after
tomorrow and advise me about the garden,' ran the letter. And it
ended--after one or two casual remarks about gardens--with: 'Tony says
please come, Stephen!'



Chapter Eighteen


1


On a beautiful evening three weeks later, Stephen took Angela over
Morton. They had had tea with Anna and Puddle, and Anna had been coldly
polite to this friend of her daughter's, but Puddle's manner had been
rather resentful--she deeply mistrusted Angela Crossby. But now Stephen
was free to show Angela Morton, and this she did gravely, as though
something sacred were involved in this first introduction to her home, as
though Morton itself must feel that the coming of this small, fair-haired
woman was in some way momentous. Very gravely, then, they went over the
house--even into Sir Philip's old study.

From the house they made their way to the stables, and still grave,
Stephen told her friend about Raftery. Angela listened, assuming an
interest she was very far from feeling--she was timid of horses, but she
liked to hear the girl's rather gruff voice, such an earnest young voice,
it intrigued her. She was thoroughly frightened when Raftery sniffed her
and then blew through his nostrils as though disapproving, and she
started back with a sharp exclamation, so that Stephen slapped him on his
glossy grey shoulder: 'Stop it, Raftery, come up!' And Raftery,
disgusted, went and blew on his oats to express his hurt feelings.

They left him and wandered away through the gardens, and quite soon poor
Raftery was almost forgotten, for the gardens smelt softly of
night-scented stock, and of other pale flowers that smell sweetest at
evening, and Stephen was thinking that Angela Crossby resembled such
flowers--very fragrant and pale she was, so Stephen said to her gently:
'You seem to belong to Morton.'

Angela smiled a slow, questioning smile: 'You think so, Stephen?' And
Stephen answered: 'I do, because Morton and I are one,' and she scarcely
understood the portent of her words; but Angela, understanding, spoke
quickly:

'Oh, I belong nowhere--you forget I'm the stranger.'

'I know that you're you,' said Stephen.

They walked on in silence while the light changed and deepened, growing
always more golden and yet more elusive. And the birds, who loved that
strange light, sang singly and then all together: 'We're happy, Stephen!'

And turning to Angela, Stephen answered the birds: 'Your being here makes
me so happy.'

'If that's true, then why are you so shy of my name?'

'Angela--' mumbled Stephen.

Then Angela said: 'It's just over three weeks since we met--how quickly
our friendship's happened. I suppose it was meant, I believe in Kismet.
You were awfully scared that first day at The Grange; why were you so
scared?'

Stephen answered slowly: 'I'm frightened now--I'm frightened of you.'

'Yet you're stronger than I am--'

Yes, that's why I'm so frightened, you make me feel strong--do you want
to do that?'

Well--perhaps--you're so very unusual, Stephen.'

'Am I?'

'Of course, don't you know that you are? Why, you're altogether different
from other people.'

Stephen trembled a little: 'Do you mind?' she faltered.

'I know that you're you,' teased Angela, smiling again, but she reached
out and took Stephen's hand.

Something in the queer, vital strength of that hand stirred her deeply,
so that she tightened her fingers: What in the Lord's name are you?' she
murmured.

'I don't know. Go on holding like that to my hand--hold it tighter--I
like the feel of your fingers.'

Stephen, don't be absurd!'

'Go on holding my hand, I like the feel of your fingers.' 'Stephen,
you're hurting, you're crushing my rings!'

And now they were under the trees by the lakes, their feet falling softly
on the luminous carpet. Hand in hand they entered that place of deep
stillness, and only their breathing disturbed the stillness for a moment,
then it folded back over their breathing.

'Look,' said Stephen, and she pointed to the swan called Peter, who had
come drifting past on his own white reflection. 'Look,' she said, 'this
is Morton, all beauty and peace--it drifts like that swan does, on calm,
deep water. And all this beauty and peace is for you, because now you're
a part of Morton.'

Angela said: 'I've never known peace, it's not in me--I don't think I'd
find it here, Stephen.' And as she spoke she released her hand, moving a
little away from the girl.

But Stephen continued to talk on gently; her voice sounded almost like
that of a dreamer: 'Lovely, oh, lovely it is, our Morton. On evenings in
winter these lakes are quite frozen, and the ice looks like slabs of gold
in the sunset, when you and I come and stand here in the winter. And as
we walk back we can smell the log fires long before we can see them, and
we love that good smell because it means home, and our home is
Morton--and we're happy, happy--we're utterly contented and at peace,
we're filled with the peace of this place--'

'Stephen--don't!'

'We're both filled with the old peace of Morton, because we love each
other so deeply--and because we're perfect, a perfect thing, you and
I--not two separate people but one. And our love has lit a great,
comforting beacon, so that we need never be afraid of the dark any
more--we can warm ourselves at our love, we can lie down together, and my
arms will be round you--'

She broke off abruptly, and they stared at each other.

'Do you know what you're saying?' Angela whispered.

And Stephen answered: 'I know that I love you, and that nothing else
matters in the world.'

Then, perhaps because of that glamorous evening, with its spirit of
queer, unearthly adventure, with its urge to strange, unendurable
sweetness, Angela moved a step nearer to Stephen, then another, until
their hands were touching. And all that she was, and all that she had
been and would be again, perhaps even tomorrow, was fused at that moment
into one mighty impulse, one imperative need, and that need was Stephen.
Stephen's need was now hers, by sheer force of its blind and
uncomprehending will to appeasement.

Then Stephen took Angela into her arms, and she kissed her full on the
lips, as a lover.



Chapter Nineteen


1


Through the long years of life that followed after, bringing with them
their dreams and disillusions, their joys and sorrows, their fulfilments
and frustrations, Stephen was never to forget this summer when she fell
quite simply and naturally in love, in accordance with the dictates of
her nature.

To her there seemed nothing strange or unholy in the love that she felt
for Angela Crossby. To her it seemed an inevitable thing, as much a part
of herself as her breathing; and yet it appeared transcendent of self,
and she looked up and onwards towards her love--for the eyes of the young
are drawn to the stars, and the spirit of youth is seldom earth-bound.

She loved deeply, far more deeply than many a one who could fearlessly
proclaim himself a lover. Since this is a hard and sad truth for the
telling; those whom nature has sacrificed to her ends--her mysterious
ends that often lie hidden--are sometimes endowed with a vast will to
loving, with an endless capacity for suffering also, which must go hand
in hand with their love.

But at first Stephen's eyes were drawn to the stars, and she saw only
gleam upon gleam of glory. Her physical passion for Angela Crossby had
aroused a strange response in her spirit, so that side by side with every
hot impulse that led her at times beyond her own understanding, there
would come an impulse not of the body; a fine, selfless thing of great
beauty and courage--she would gladly have given her body over to torment,
have laid down her life if need be, for the sake of this woman whom she
loved. And so blinded was she by those gleams of glory which the stars
fling into the eyes of young lovers, that she saw perfection where none
existed; saw a patient endurance that was purely fictitious, and
conceived of a loyalty far beyond the limits of Angela's nature.

All that Angela gave seemed the gift of love; all that Angela withheld
seemed withheld out of honour: 'If only I were free,' she was always
saying, 'but I can't deceive Ralph, you know I can't, Stephen--he's ill.'
Then Stephen would feel abashed and ashamed before so much pity and
honour.

She would humble herself to the very dust, as one who was altogether
unworthy: 'I'm a beast, forgive me; I'm all, all wrong--I'm mad sometimes
these days--yes, of course, there's Ralph.'

But the thought of Ralph would be past all bearing, so that she must
reach out for Angela's hand. Then, as likely as not, they would draw
together and start kissing, and Stephen would be utterly undone by those
painful and terribly sterile kisses.

'God!' she would mutter, 'I want to get away!'

At which Angela might weep: 'Don't leave me, Stephen! I'm so lonely--why
can't you understand that I'm only trying to be decent to Ralph?' So
Stephen would stay on for an hour, for two hours, and the next day would
find her once more at The Grange, because Angela was feeling so lonely.

For Angela could never quite let the girl go. She herself would be rather
bewildered at moments--she did not love Stephen, she was quite sure of
that, and yet the very strangeness of it all was an attraction. Stephen
was becoming a kind of strong drug, a kind of anodyne against boredom.
And then Angela knew her own power to subdue; she could play with fire
yet remain unscathed by it. She had only to cry long and bitterly enough
for Stephen to grow pitiful and consequently gentle.

'Stephen, don't hurt me--I'm awfully frightened when you're like
this--you simply terrify me, Stephen! Is it my fault that I married Ralph
before I met you? Be good to me, Stephen!' And then would come tears, so
that Stephen must hold her as though she were a child, very tenderly,
rocking her backwards and forwards.

They took to driving as far as the hills, taking Tony with them; he liked
hunting the rabbits--and while he leapt wildly about in the air to land
on nothing more vital than herbage, they would sit very close to each
other and watch him. Stephen knew many places where lovers might sit like
this, unashamed, among those charitable hills. There were times when a
numbness descended upon her as they sat there, and if Angela kissed her
cheek lightly, she would not respond, would not even look round, but
would just go on staring at Tony. Yet at other times she felt queerly
uplifted, and turning to the woman who leant against her shoulder, she
said suddenly one day:

'Nothing matters up here. You and I are so small, we're smaller than
Tony--our love's nothing but a drop in some vast sea of love--it's rather
consoling--don't you think so, beloved?'

But Angela shook her head: 'No, my Stephen; I'm not fond of vast seas,
I'm of the earth earthy,' and then: 'Kiss me, Stephen.' So Stephen must
kiss her many times, for the hot blood of youth stirs quickly, and the
mystical sea became Angela's lips that so eagerly gave and took kisses.

But when they got back to The Grange that evening, Ralph was there--he
was hanging about in the hall. He said: 'Had a nice afternoon, you two
women? Been motoring Angela round the hills, Stephen, or what?'

He had taken to calling her Stephen, but his voice just now sounded sharp
with suspicion as his rather weak eyes peered at Angela, so that for her
sake Stephen must lie, and lie well--nor would this be the first time
either.

'Yes, thanks,' she lied calmly, 'we went over to Tewkesbury and had
another look at the abbey. We had tea in the town. I'm sorry we're so
late, the carburettor choked, I couldn't get it right at first, my car
needs a good overhauling.'

Lies, always lies! She was growing proficient at the glib kind of lying
that pacified Ralph, or at all events left him with nothing to say,
nonplussed and at a distinct disadvantage. She was suddenly seized with a
kind of horror, she felt physically sick at what she was doing, Her head
swam and she caught the jamb of the door for support--at that moment she
remembered her father.


2


Two days later as they sat alone in the garden at Morton, Stephen turned
to Angela abruptly: 'I can't go on like this, it's vile--it's beastly,
it's soiling us both--can't you see that?'

Angela was startled: 'What on earth do you mean?'

'You and me--and then Ralph. I tell you it's beastly--I want you to leave
him and come away with me.'

'Are you mad?'

'No, I'm sane. It's the only decent thing, it's the only clean thing;
we'll go anywhere you like, to Paris, to Egypt, or back to the States.
For your sake I'm ready to give up my home. Do you hear I'm ready to give
up even Morton. But I can't go on lying about you to Ralph, I want him to
know how much I adore you--I want the whole world to know how I adore
you. Ralph doesn't understand the first rudiments of loving, he's a
nagging, mean-minded cur of a man, but there's one thing that even he has
a right to, and that's the truth. I'm done with these lies--I shall tell
him the truth and so will you, Angela; and after we've told him we'll go
away, and we'll live quite openly together, you and I, which is what we
owe to ourselves and our love.'

Angela stared at her, white and aghast: 'You are mad,' she said slowly,
'you're raving mad. Tell him what? Have I let you become my lover? You
know that I've always been faithful to Ralph; you know perfectly well
that there's nothing to tell him, beyond a few rather schoolgirlish
kisses. Can I help it if you're--what you obviously are? Oh, no, my dear,
you're not going to tell Ralph. You're not going to let all hell loose
around me just because you want to save your own pride by pretending to
Ralph that you've been my lover. If you're willing to give up your home
I'm not willing to sacrifice mine, understand that, please. Ralph's not
much of a man, but he's better than nothing, and I've managed him so far
without any trouble. The great thing with him is to blaze a false trail,
that distracts his mind, it works like a charm. He'll follow any trail
that I want him to follow--you leave him to me, I know my own husband a
darned sight better than you do, Stephen, and I won't have you
interfering in my home.' She was terribly frightened, too frightened to
choose her words to consider their effect upon Stephen, to consider
anyone but Angela Crossby who stood in such dire and imminent peril. So
she said yet again, only now she spoke loudly: 'I won't have you
interfering in my home!'

Then Stephen turned on her, white with passion: 'You--you--' she
stuttered, 'you're unspeakably cruel. You know how you make me suffer and
suffer because I love you the way I do; and because you like the way I
love you, you drag the love out of me day after day--Can't you understand
that I love you so much that I'd give up Morton? Anything I'd give
up--I'd give up the whole world. Angela, listen; I'd take care of you
always. Angela, I'm rich--I'd take care of you always. Why won't you trust
me? Answer me--why? Don't you think me fit to be trusted?'

She spoke wildly, scarcely knowing what she said; she only knew that she
needed this woman with a need so intense, that worthy or unworthy, Angela
was all that counted at that moment. And now she stood up, very tall,
very strong, yet a little grotesque in her pitiful passion, so that
looking at her Angela trembled--there was something rather terrible about
her. All that was heavy in her face sprang into view, the strong line of
the jaw, the square massive brow, the eyebrows too thick and too wide for
beauty; she was like some curious, primitive thing conceived in a
turbulent age of transition.

'Angela, come very far away--anywhere, only come with me soon--tomorrow.'

Then Angela forced herself to think quickly, and she said just five
words: 'Could you marry me, Stephen?'

She did not look at the girl as she said it--that she could not do,
perhaps out of something that, for her, was the nearest she would ever
come to pity. There ensued a long, almost breathless silence, while
Angela waited with her eyes turned away. A leaf dropped, and she heard
its minute, soft falling, heard the creak of the branch that had let fall
its leaf as a breeze passed over the garden.

Then the silence was broken by a quiet, dull voice, that sounded to her
like the voice of a stranger: 'No--' it said very slowly, 'no--I couldn't
marry you, Angela.' And when Angela at last gained the courage to look
up, she found that she was sitting there alone.



Chapter Twenty


1


For three weeks they kept away from each other, neither writing nor
making any effort to meet. Angela's prudence forbade her to write:
'Littera scripta manet'--a good motto, and one to which it was wise to
adhere when dealing with a firebrand like Stephen. Stephen had given her
a pretty bad scare, she realized the necessity for caution; still,
thinking over that incredible scene, she found the memory rather
exciting. Deprived of her anodyne against boredom, she looked upon Ralph
with unfriendly eyes; while he, poor, inadequate, irritable devil, with
his vague suspicions and his chronic dyspepsia, did little enough to
divert his wife--his days and a fairly large part of his nights as well,
were now spent in nagging.

He nagged about Tony who, as ill luck would have it, had decided that the
garden was rampant with moles: 'If you can't keep that bloody dog in
order, he goes. I won't have him digging craters round my roses!' Then
would come a long list of Tony's misdeeds from the time he had left the
litter. He nagged about the large population of green-fly, deploring the
existence of their sexual organs: 'Nature's a fool! Fancy procreation
being extended to that sort of vermin!' And then he would grow somewhat
coarse as he dwelt on the frequent conjugal excesses of green-fly. But
most of all he nagged about Stephen, because this as he knew, irritated
his wife: 'How's your freak getting on? I haven't seen her just lately;
have you quarrelled or what? Damn good thing if you have. She's
appalling; never saw such a girl in my life; comes swaggering round here
with her legs in breeches. Why can't she ride like an ordinary woman?
Good Lord, it's enough to make any man see red; that sort of thing wants
putting down at birth, I'd like to institute state lethal chambers!'

Or perhaps he would take quite another tack and complain that recently he
had been neglected: 'Late for every damned meal--running round with that
girl--you don't care what happens to me any more. A lot you care about my
indigestion! I've got to eat any old thing these days from cow hide to
bricks. Well, you listen to me, that's not what I pay for; get that into
your head! I pay for good meals to be served on time; on time, do you
hear? And I expect my wife to be in her rightful place at my table to see
that the omelette's properly prepared. What's the matter with you that
you can't go along and make it yourself? When we were first married you
always made my omelettes yourself: I won't eat yellow froth with a few
strings of parsley in it--it reminds me of the dog when he's sick; it's
disgusting! And I won't go on talking about it either, the next time it
happens I'll sack the cook. Damn it all, you were glad enough of my help
when I found you practically starving in New York--but now you're for
ever racing off with that girl. It's all this damned animal's fault that
you met her!' He would kick out sideways at the terrified Tony, who had
lately been made to stand proxy for Stephen.

But worst of all was it when Ralph started weeping, because, as he said,
his wife did not love him any more, and because, as he did not always
say, he felt ill with his painful, chronic dyspepsia. One day he must
make feeble love through his tears: 'Angela, come here--put your arms
around me--come and sit on my knee the way you used to.' His wet eyes
looked dejected yet rather greedy: 'Put your arms around me, as though
you cared--' He was always insistent when most ineffectual.

That night he appeared in his best silk pyjamas--the pink ones that made
his complexion look sallow. He climbed into bed with the sly expression
that Angela hated--it was so pornographic. 'Well, old girl, don't forget
that you've got a man about the house; you haven't forgotten it, have
you?' After which followed one or two flaccid embraces together with much
arrogant masculine bragging; and Angela, sighing as she lay and endured,
quite suddenly thought of Stephen.


2


Pacing restlessly up and down her bedroom, Stephen would be thinking of
Angela Crossby--haunted, tormented by Angela's words that day in the
garden: 'Could you marry me, Stephen?' and then by those other pitiless
words: 'Can I help it if you're--what you obviously are?'

She would think with a kind of despair: What am I, in God's name--some
kind of abomination?' And this thought would fill her with a very great
anguish, because, loving much, her love seemed to her sacred. She could
not endure that the slur of those words should come anywhere near her
love. So now night after night she must pace up and down, beating her
mind against a blind problem, beating her spirit against a blank
wall--the impregnable wall of non-comprehension: 'Why am I as I am--and
what am I?' Her mind would recoil while her spirit grew faint. A great
darkness would seem to descend on her spirit--there would be no light
wherewith to lighten that darkness.

She would think of Martin, for now surely she loved just as he had
loved--it all seemed like madness. She would think of her father, of his
comfortable words: 'Don't be foolish, there's nothing strange about you.'
Oh, but he must have been pitifully mistaken--he had died still very
pitifully mistaken. She would think yet again of her curious childhood,
going over each detail in an effort to remember. But after a little her
thoughts must plunge forward once more, right into her grievous present.
With a shock she would realize how completely this coming of love had
blinded her vision; she had stared at the glory of it so long that not
until now had she seen its black shadow. Then would come the most
poignant suffering of all, the deepest, the final humiliation.
Protection--she could never offer protection to the creature she loved:
'Could you marry me, Stephen?' She could neither protect nor defend nor
honour by loving; her hands were completely empty. She who would gladly
have given her life, must go empty-handed to love, like a beggar. She
could only debase what she longed to exalt, defile what she longed to
keep pure and untarnished.

The night would gradually change to dawn; and the dawn would shine in at
the open windows, bringing with it the intolerable singing of birds:
'Stephen, look at us, look at us, we're happy!' Away in the distance
there would be a harsh crying, the wild, harsh crying of swans by the
lakes--the swan called Peter protecting, defending his mate against some
unwelcome intruder. From the chimneys of Williams' comfortable cottage
smoke would rise--very dark--the first smoke of the morning. Home, that
meant home and two people together, respected because of their honourable
living. Two people who had had the right to love in their youth, and whom
old age had not divided. Two poor and yet infinitely enviable people,
without stain, without shame in the eyes of their fellows. Proud people
who could face the world unafraid, having no need to fear the world's
execration.

Stephen would fling herself down on the bed, completely exhausted by the
night's bitter vigil.


3


There was someone who went every step of the way with Stephen during
those miserable weeks, and this was the faithful and anxious Puddle, who
could have given much wise advice had Stephen only confided in her. But
Stephen hid her trouble in her heart for the sake of Angela Crossby.

With an ever-increasing presage of disaster, Puddle now stuck to the girl
like a leech, getting little enough in return for her trouble--Stephen
deeply resented this close supervision: 'Can't you leave me alone? No, of
course I'm not ill!' she would say, with a quick spurt of temper.

But Puddle, divining her illness of spirit together with its cause,
seldom left her alone. She was frightened by something in Stephen's eyes;
an incredulous, questioning, wounded expression, as though she were
trying to understand why it was that she must be so grievously wounded.
Again and again Puddle cursed her own folly for having shown such open
resentment of Angela Crossby; the result was that now Stephen never
discussed her, never mentioned her name unless Puddle clumsily dragged it
in, and then Stephen would change the subject. And now more than ever
Puddle loathed and despised the conspiracy of silence that forbade her to
speak frankly. The conspiracy of silence that had sent the girl forth
unprotected, right into the arms of this woman. A vain, shallow woman in
search of excitement, and caring less than nothing for Stephen.

There were times when Puddle felt almost desperate, and one evening she
came to a great resolution. She would go to the girl and say: 'I know. I
know all about it, you can trust me, Stephen.' And then she would counsel
and try to give courage: 'You're neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor
mad; you're as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else;
only you're unexplained as yet--you've not got your niche in creation.
But some day that will come, and meanwhile don't shrink from yourself,
but just face yourself calmly and bravely. Have courage; do the best you
can with your burden. But above all be honourable. Cling to your honour
for the sake of those others who share the same burden. For their sakes
show the world that people like you and they can be quite as selfless and
fine as the rest of mankind. Let your life go to prove this--it would be
a really great life-work, Stephen.'

But the resolution waned because of Anna, who would surely join hands
with the conspiracy of silence. She would never condone such fearless
plain-speaking. If it came to her knowledge she would turn Puddle out bag
and baggage, and that would leave Stephen alone. No, she dared not speak
plainly because of the girl for whose sake she should now, above all, be
outspoken. But supposing the day should arrive when Stephen herself
thought fit to confide in her friend, then Puddle would take the bull by
the horns: 'Stephen, I know. You can trust me, Stephen.' If only that day
were not too long in coming--

For none knew better than this little grey woman, the agony of mind that
must be endured when a sensitive, highly organized nature is first
brought face to face with its own affliction. None knew better the
terrible nerves of the invert, nerves that are always lying in wait.
Super-nerves, whose response is only equalled by the strain that calls
that response into being. Puddle was well acquainted with these
things--that was why she was deeply concerned about Stephen.

But all she could do, at least for the present, was to be very gentle and
very patient: 'Drink this cocoa, Stephen, I made it myself--And then with
a smile, 'I put four lumps of sugar!'

Then Stephen was pretty sure to turn contrite: 'Puddle--I'm a
brute--you're so good to me always.'

'Rubbish! I know you like cocoa made sweet, that's why I put in those
four lumps of sugar. Let's go for a really long walk, shall we, dear?
I've been wanting a really long walk now for weeks.'

Liar--most kind and self-sacrificing liar! Puddle hated long walks,
especially with Stephen who strode as though wearing seven league boots
and whose only idea of a country walk was to take her own line across
ditches and hedges--yes, indeed, a most kind and self-sacrificing liar!
For Puddle was not quite so young as she had been; at times her feet
would trouble her a little, and at times she would get a sharp twinge in
her knee, which she shrewdly suspected to be rheumatism. Nevertheless she
must keep close to Stephen because of the fear that tightened her
heart--the fear of that questioning, wounded expression which now never
left the girl's eyes for a moment. So Puddle got out her most practical
shoes--her heaviest shoes which were said to be damp-proof--and limped
along bravely by the side of her charge, who as often as not ignored her
existence.

There was one thing in all this that Puddle found amazing, and that was
Anna's apparent blindness. Anna appeared to notice no change in Stephen,
to feel no anxiety about her. As always, these two were gravely polite to
each other, and as always they never intruded. Still, it did seem to
Puddle an incredible thing that the girl's own mother should have noticed
nothing. And yet so it was, for Anna had gradually been growing more
silent and more abstracted. She was letting the tide of life carry her
gently towards that haven on which her thoughts rested. And this
blindness of hers troubled Puddle sorely, so that anger must often give
way to pity.

She would think: 'God help her, the sorrowful woman; she knows
nothing--why didn't he tell her? It was cruel!' And then she would think:
'Yes, but God help Stephen if the day ever comes when her mother does
know--what will happen on that day to Stephen?'

Kind and loyal Puddle; she felt torn to shreds between those two, both so
worthy of pity. And now in addition she must be tormented by memories dug
out of their graves by Stephen--Stephen, whose pain had called up a dead
sorrow that for long had lain quietly and decently buried. Her youth
would come back and stare into her eyes reproachfully, so that her finest
virtues would seem little better than dust and ashes. She would sigh,
remembering the bitter sweetness, the valiant hopelessness of her
youth--and then she would look at Stephen.

But one morning Stephen announced abruptly: 'I'm going out. Don't wait
lunch for me, will you.' And her voice permitted of no argument or
question.

Puddle nodded in silence. She had no need to question, she knew only too
well where Stephen was going.


4


With head bowed by her mortification of spirit, Stephen rode once more to
The Grange. And from time to time as she rode she flushed deeply because
of the shame of what she was doing. But from time to time her eyes filled
with tears because of the pain of her longing.

She left the cob with a man at the stables, then made her way round to
the old herb-garden; and there she found Angela sitting alone in the
shade with a book which she was not reading.

Stephen said: 'I've come back.' And then without waiting: 'I'll do
anything you want, if you'll let me come back.' And even as she spoke
those words her eyes fell.

But Angela answered: 'You had to come back--because I've been wanting
you, Stephen.'

Then Stephen went and knelt down beside her, and she hid her face against
Angela's knee, and the tears that had never so much as once fallen during
all the hard weeks of their separation, gushed out of her eyes. She cried
like a child, with her face against Angela's knee.

Angela let her cry on for a while, then she lifted the tear-stained face
and kissed it: 'Oh, Stephen, Stephen, get used to the world--it's a
horrible place full of horrible people, but it's all there is, and we
live in it, don't wee So we've just got to do as the world does, my
Stephen.' And because it seemed strange and rather pathetic that this
creature should weep, Angela was stirred to something very like love for
a moment: 'Don't cry any more--don't cry, honey,' she whispered, 'we're
together; nothing else really matters.'

And so it began all over again.


5


Stephen stayed on to lunch, for Ralph was in Worcester. He came home a
good two hours before teatime to find them together among his roses; they
had followed the shade when it left the herb-garden.

'Oh, it's you!' he exclaimed as his eye lit on Stephen; and his voice was
naively disappointed, so full of dismay at her reappearance, that just
for a second she felt sorry for him.

'Yes, it's me--' she replied, not quite knowing what to say.

He grunted, and went off for his pruning knife, with which he was soon
amputating roses. But in spite of his mood he remained a good surgeon,
cutting dexterously, always above the leaf-bud, for the man was fond of
his roses. And knowing this, Stephen must play on that fondness, since
now it was her business to cajole him into friendship. A degrading
business, but it had to be done for Angela's sake, lest she suffer
through loving. Unthinkable that--'Could you marry me, Stephen?'

'Ralph, look here,' she called, 'Mrs. John Laing's got broken! We may be
in time if we bind her with bass.'

'Oh, dear, has she?' He came hurrying up as he spoke, 'Do go down to the
shed and get me some, will you?'

She got him the bass and together they bound her, the pink-cheeked
full-bosomed Mrs. John Laing.

'There,' he said, as he snipped off the ends of her bandage, 'that ought
to set your leg for you, madam!'

Near by grew a handsome Frau Karl Druschki, and Stephen praised her
luminous whiteness, remarking his obvious pleasure at the praise. He was
like a father of beautiful children, always eager to hear them admired by
a stranger, and she made a note of this in her mind: 'He likes one to
praise his roses.'

He wanted to talk about Frau Karl Druschki: 'She's a beauty! There's
something so wonderfully cool--as you say, it's the whiteness--' Then
before he could stop himself: 'She reminds me of Angela, somehow.' The
moment the words were out he was frowning, and Stephen stared hard at
Frau Karl Druschki.

But as they passed from border to border, his brow cleared: 'I've spent
over three hundred,' he said proudly, 'never saw such a mess as this
garden was in when I bought the place--had to dig in fresh soil for the
roses just here, these are all new plants; I motored half across England
to get them. See that hedge of York and Lancasters there? They didn't
cost much because they're out of fashion. But I like them, they're small
but rather distinguished I think--there's something so armorial about
them.'

She agreed: 'Yes, I'm awfully fond of them too,' and she listened quite
gravely while he explained that they dated as far back as the Wars of the
Roses.

'Historical, that's what I mean,' he explained. 'I like everything old,
you know, except women.'

She thought with an inward smile of his newness.

Presently he said in a tone of surprise: 'I never imagined that you'd
care about roses.'

'Yes, why not? We've got quite a number at Morton. Why don't you come
over tomorrow and see them?'

'Do your William Allen Richardsons do well?' he inquired.

'I think so.'

'Mine don't. I can't make it out. This year of course they've been
damaged by green-fly. Just come here and look at these standards, will
you? They're being devoured alive by the brutes!' And then as though he
were talking to a friend who would understand him: 'Roses seem good to
me--you know what I mean, there's virtue about them--the scent and the
feel and the way they grow. I always had some on the desk in my office,
they seemed to brighten up the whole place, no end.'

He started to ink in the names on the labels with a gold fountain-pen
which he took from his pocket. 'Yes,' he murmured, as he bent his face
over the labels, 'yes, I always had three or four on my desk. But
Birmingham's a foul sort of place for roses.'

And hearing him, Stephen found herself thinking that all men had
something simple about them; something that took pleasure in the things
that were blameless, that longed, as it were, to contact with Nature.
Martin had loved huge, primitive trees; and even this mean little man
loved his roses.

Angela came strolling across the lawn: 'Come, you two,' she called gaily,
'tea's waiting in the hall!'

Stephen flinched: 'Come, you two--' the words jarred on her; and she knew
that Angela was thoroughly happy, for when Ralph was out of earshot for a
moment she whispered:

'You were clever about his roses!'

At tea Ralph relapsed into sulky silence; he seemed to regret his
erstwhile good humour. And he ate quite a lot, which made Angela
nervous--she dreaded his attacks of indigestion, which were usually
accompanied by attacks of bad temper.

Long after they had all finished tea he lingered, until Angela said: 'Oh,
Ralph, that lawn mower. Pratt asked me to tell you that it won't work at
all; he thinks it had better go back to the makers. Will you write about
it now before the post goes?'

'I suppose so--' he muttered; but he left the room slowly.

Then they looked at each other, and drew close together, guiltily,
starting at every sound: 'Stephen--be careful for God's sake--Ralph--'

So Stephen's hands dropped from Angela's shoulders, and she set her lips
hard, for no protest must pass them any more; they had no right to
protest.



Chapter Twenty-one


1


That autumn the Crossbys went, up to Scotland, and Stephen went to
Cornwall with her mother. Anna was not well, she needed a change, and the
doctor had told them of Watergate Bay, that was why they had gone to
Cornwall. To Stephen it mattered very little where she went, since she
was not allowed to join Angela in Scotland. Angela had put her foot down
quite firmly: 'No, my dear, it wouldn't do. I know Ralph would make hell.
I can't let you follow us up to Scotland.' So that there, perforce, the
matter had ended.

And now Stephen could sit and gloom over her trouble while Anna read
placidly, asking no questions. She seldom worried her daughter with
questions, seldom even evinced any interest in her letters.

From time to time Puddle would write from Morton, and then Anna would
say, recognizing the writing: 'Is everything all right?'

And Stephen would answer: 'Yes, Mother, Puddle says everything's all
right.' As indeed it was--at Morton.

But from Scotland news seemed to come very slowly. Stephen's letters
would quite often go unanswered; and what answers she received were
unsatisfactory, for Angela's caution was a very strict censor. Stephen
herself must write with great care, she discovered, in order to pacify
that censor.

Twice daily she visited the hotel porter, a kind, red-faced man with a
sympathy for lovers.

'Any letters for me?' she would ask, trying hard to appear rather bored
at the mere thought of letters.

'No, miss.'

'There's another post in at seven?'

'Yes, miss.'

'Well--thank you.'

She would wander away, leaving the porter to think to himself: 'She don't
look like a girl as would have a young man, but you never can tell.
Anyhow she seems anxious--I do hope it's all right for the poor young
lady.' He grew to take a real interest in Stephen, and would sometimes
talk to his wife about her: 'Have you noticed her, Alice? A queer-looking
girl, very tall, wears a collar and tie--you know, mannish. And she seems
just to change her suit of an evening--puts on a dark one--never wears
evening dress. The mother's still a beautiful woman; but the girl--I
dunno, there's something about her--anyhow I'm surprised she's got a
young man; though she must have, the way she watches the posts, I
sometimes feel sorry for her.'

But her calls at his office were not always fruitless: 'Any letters for
me?'

'Yes, miss, there's just one.'

He would look at her with a paternal expression, glad enough to think
that her young man had written; and Stephen, divining his thoughts from
his face, would feel embarrassed and angry. Snatching her letters she
would hurry to the beach, where the rocks provided a merciful shelter,
and where no one seemed likely to look paternal, unless it should be an
occasional sea-gull.

But as she read, her heart would feel empty; something sharp like a
physical pain would go through her: 'Dear Stephen. I'm sorry I've not
written before, but Ralph and I have been fearfully busy. We're having a
positive social orgy up here, I'm so glad he took this large shoot...'
That was the sort of thing Angela wrote these days--perhaps because of
her caution.

However, one morning an unusually long letter arrived, telling all about
Angela's doings: 'By the way, we've met the Antrim boy, Roger. He's been
staying with some people that Ralph knows quite well, the Peacocks,
they've got a wonderful old castle; I think I must have told you about
them.' Here followed an elaborate description of the castle, together
with the ancestral tree of the Peacocks. Then: 'Roger has talked quite a
lot about you; he says he used to tease you when you were children. He
says that you wanted to fight him one day--that made me laugh awfully,
it's so like you, Stephen! He's a good-looking person and rather a nice
one. He tells me that his regiment's stationed at Worcester, so I've
asked him to come over to The Grange when he likes. It must be pretty
dreary, I imagine, in Worcester...

Stephen finished the letter and sat staring at the sea for a moment,
after which she got up abruptly. Slipping the letter into her pocket she
buttoned her jacket; she was feeling cold. What she needed was a walk, a
really long walk. She set out briskly in the direction of Newquay.


2


During those long, anxious weeks in Cornwall, it was borne in on Stephen
as never before how wide was the gulf between her and her mother, how
completely they two must always stand divided. Yet looking at Anna's
quiet ageing face, the girl would be struck afresh by its beauty, a
beauty that seemed to have mollified the years, to have risen triumphant
over time and grief. And now as in the days of her childhood, that beauty
would fill her with a kind of wonder; so calm it was, so assured, so
complete--then her mother's deep eyes, blue like distant mountains, and
now with that far-away look in their blueness, as though they were gazing
into the distance. Stephen's heart would suddenly tighten a little; a
sense of great loss would descend upon her, together with the sense of
not fully understanding just what she had lost or why she had lost
it--she would stare at Anna as a thirsty traveller in the desert will
stare at a mirage of water.

And one evening there came a preposterous impulse--the impulse to confide
in this woman within whose most gracious and perfect body her own anxious
body had lain and quickened. She wanted to speak to that motherhood, to
implore, nay, compel its understanding. To say, 'Mother, I need you. I've
lost my way--give me your hand to hold in the darkness.' But good God,
the folly, the madness of it! The base betrayal of such a confession!
Angela delivered over, betrayed--the unthinkable folly, the madness of
it.

Yet sometimes as Anna and she sat together looking out at the misty
Cornish coast-line, hearing the dull, heavy throb of the sea and the
calling of sea-gulls the one to the other--as they sat there together it
would seem to Stephen that her heart was so full of Angela Crossby, all
the bitterness, all the sweetness of her, that the mother-heart beating
close by her own must surely, in its turn, be stirred to beat faster, for
had she not once sheltered under that heart? And so extreme was her need
becoming, that now she must often find Anna's cool hand and hold it a
moment or two in her own, trying to draw from it some consolation.

But the touch of that cool, pure hand would distress her, causing her
spirit to ache with longing for the simple and upright and honourable
things that had served many simple and honourable people. Then all that
to some might appear uninspiring, would seem to her very fulfilling and
perfect. A pair of lovers walking by arm in arm just a quiet engaged
couple, neither comely nor clever nor burdened with riches; just a quiet,
engaged couple--would in her envious eyes be invested with a glory and
pride passing all understanding. For were Angela and she those fortunate
lovers, they could stand before Anna happy and triumphant. Anna, the
mother, would smile and speak gently, tolerant because of her own days of
loving. Wherever they went older folk would remember, and remembering
would smile on their love and speak gently. To know that the whole world
was glad of your gladness, must surely bring heaven very near to the
world.

One night Anna looked across at her daughter: 'Are you tired, my dear?
You seem a bit fagged.'

The question was unexpected, for Stephen was supposed not to know what it
meant to feel fagged, her physical health and strength were proverbial.
Was it possible then that her mother had divined at long last her utter
weariness of spirit? Quite suddenly Stephen felt shamelessly childish,
and she spoke as a child who wants comforting.

'Yes, I'm dreadfully tired.' Her voice shook a little; 'I'm tired
out--I'm dreadfully tired,' she repeated. With amazement she heard.
herself making this weak bid for pity, and yet she could not resist it.
Had Anna held out her arms at that moment, she might soon have learnt
about Angela Crossby.

But instead she yawned: 'It's this air, it's too woolly. I'll be very
glad when we get back to Morton. What's the time? I'm almost asleep
already--let's go up to our beds, don't you think so, Stephen?'

It was like a cold douche; and a good thing too for the girl's
self-respect. She pulled herself together: 'Yes, come on, it's past ten.
I detest this soft air.' And she flushed, remembering that weak bid for
pity.


3


Stephen left Cornwall without a regret; everything about it had seemed to
her depressing. Its rather grim beauty which at any other time would have
deeply appealed to her virile nature, had but added to the gloom of those
interminable weeks spent apart from Angela Crossby. For her perturbation
had been growing apace, she was constantly oppressed by doubts and vague
fears; bewildered, uncertain of her own power to hold; uncertain, too, of
Angela's will to be held by this dangerous yet bloodless loving. Her
defrauded body had been troubling her sorely, so that she had tramped
over beach and headland, cursing the strength of the youth that was in
her, trying to trample down her hot youth and only succeeding in
augmenting its vigour.

But now that the ordeal had come to an end at last, she began to feel
less despondent. In a week's time Angela would get back from Scotland;
then at least the hunger of the eyes could be appeased--a terrible thing
that hunger of the eyes for the sight of the well-loved being. And then
Angela's birthday was drawing near, which would surely provide an excuse
for a present. She had sternly forbidden the giving of presents, even
humble keepsakes, on account of Ralph--still, a birthday was different,
and in any case Stephen was quite determined to risk it. For the impulse
to give that is common to all lovers, was in her attaining enormous
proportions, so that she visualized Angela decked in diadems worthy of
Cleopatra; so that she sat and stared at her bank book with eyes that
grew angry when they lit on her balance. What was the good of plenty of
money if it could not be spent on the person one loved? Well, this time
it should be so spent, and spent largely; no limit was going to be set to
this present!

An unworthy and tiresome thing money, at best, but it can at least ease
the heart of the lover. When he lightens his purse he lightens his heart,
though this can hardly be accounted a virtue, for such giving is perhaps
the most insidious form of self-indulgence that is known to mankind.


4


Stephen had said quite casually to Anna: 'Suppose we stay three or four
days in London on our way back to Morton? You could do some shopping.'
Anna had agreed, thinking of her house linen which wanted renewing; but
Stephen had been thinking of the jewellers' shops in Bond Street.

And now here they actually were in London, established at a quiet and
expensive hotel; but the problem of Angela's birthday present had, it
seemed, only just begun for Stephen. She had not the least idea what she
wanted, or what Angela wanted, which was far more important; and she did
not know how to get rid of her mother, who appeared to dislike going out
unaccompanied. For three days of the four Stephen fretted and fumed;
never had Anna seemed so dependent. At Morton they now led quite separate
lives, yet here in London they were always together. Scheme as she might
she could find no excuse for a solitary visit to Bond Street. However, on
the morning of the fourth and last day, Anna succumbed to a devastating
headache.

Stephen said: 'I think I'll go and get some air, if you really don't need
me--I'm feeling energetic!'

'Yes, do--I don't want you to stay in,' groaned Anna, who was longing for
peace and an aspirin tablet.

Once out on the pavement Stephen hailed the first taxi she met; she was
quite absurdly elated. 'Drive to the Piccadilly end of Bond Street,' she
ordered, as she jumped in and slammed the door. Then she put her head
quickly out of the window: 'And when you get to the corner, please stop.
I don't want you to drive along Bond Street, I'll walk. I want you to
stop at the Piccadilly corner.'

But when she was actually standing on the corner--the left-hand
corner--she began to feel doubtful as to which side of Bond Street she
ought to tackle first. Should she try the right side or keep to the left?
She decided to try the right side. Crossing over, she started to walk
along slowly. At every jeweller's shop she stood still and gazed at the
wares displayed in the window. Now she was worried by quite a new
problem, the problem of stones, there were so many kinds. Emeralds or
rubies or perhaps just plain diamonds? Well, certainly neither emeralds
nor rubies--Angela's colouring demanded whiteness. Whiteness--she had it!
Pearls--no, one pearl, one flawless pearl and set as a ring. Angela had
once described such a ring with envy, but alas, it had been born in
Paris.

People stared at the masculine-looking girl who seemed so intent upon
feminine adornments. And someone, a man, laughed and nudged his
companion: 'Look at that! What is it?'

'My God! What indeed?'

She heard them and suddenly felt less elated as she made her way into the
shop.

She said rather loudly: 'I want a pearl ring.'

'A pearl ring? What kind, madam?'

She hesitated, unable now to describe what she did want: 'I don't quite
know--but it must be a large one.'

'For yourself?' And she thought that the man smiled a little.

Of course he did nothing of the kind; but she stammered: 'No--oh,
no--it's not for myself, it's for a friend. She's asked me to choose her
a large pearl ring: To her own ears the words sounded foolish and
flustered.

There was nothing in that shop that fulfilled her requirements, so once
more she must face the guns of Bond Street. Now she quickened her steps
and found herself striding; modifying her pace she found herself
dawdling; and always she was conscious of people who stared, or whom she
imagined were staring. She felt sure that the shop assistants looked
doubtful when she asked for a large and flawless pearl ring; and catching
a glimpse of her reflection in a glass, she decided that naturally they
would look doubtful--her appearance suggested neither pearls nor their
price. She slipped a surreptitious hand into her pocket, gaining courage
from the comforting feel of her cheque book.

When the east side of the thoroughfare had been exhausted, she crossed
over quickly and made her way back towards her original corner. By now
she was rather depressed and disgruntled. Supposing that she did not find
what she wanted in Bond Street? She had no idea where else to look--her
knowledge of London was far from extensive. But apparently the gods were
feeling propitious, for a little further on she paused in front of a
small, and as she thought, quite humble shop. As a matter of fact it was
anything but humble, hence the bars half-way up its unostentatious
window. Then she stared, for there on a white velvet cushion lay a pearl
that looked like a round gleaming marble, a marble attached to a slender
circlet of platinum--some sort of celestial marble! It was just such a
ring as Angela had seen in Paris, and had since never ceased to envy.

The person behind this counter was imposing. He was old, and wore glasses
with tortoiseshell rims: 'Yes, madam, it's a very fine specimen indeed.
The setting's French, just a thin band of platinum, there's nothing to
detract from the beauty of the pearl.'

He lifted it tenderly off its cushion, and as tenderly Stephen let it
rest on her palm. It shone whiter than white against her skin, which by
contrast looked sunburnt and weather-beaten.

Then the dignified old gentleman murmured the price, glancing curiously
at the girl as he did so, but she seemed to be quite unperturbed, so he
said: 'Will you try the effect of the ring on your finger?'

At this, however, his customer flushed: 'It wouldn't go anywhere near my
finger!'

'I can have it enlarged to any size you wish.'

'Thanks, but it's not for me--it's for a friend.'

'Have you any idea what size your friend takes, say in gloves? Is her
hand large or small do you think?'

Stephen answered promptly: 'It's a very small hand,' then immediately
looked and felt rather self-conscious.

And now the old gentleman was openly staring: 'Excuse me,' he murmured,
'an extraordinary likeness...' Then more boldly: 'Do you happen to be
related to Sir Philip Gordon of Morton Hall, who died--it must be about
two years ago--from some accident? I believe a tree fell--'

'Oh, yes, I'm his daughter,' said Stephen.

He nodded and smiled: 'Of course, of course, you couldn't be anything but
his daughter.'

'You knew my father?' she inquired, in surprise.

'Very well, Miss Gordon, when your father was young. In those days Sir
Philip was a customer of mine. I sold him his first pearl studs while he
was at Oxford, and at least four scarf pins--a bit of a dandy Sir Philip
was up at Oxford. But what may interest you is the fact that I nude your
mother's engagement ring for him; a large half-hoop of very fine
diamonds--'

'Did you make that ring?'

'I did, Miss Gordon. I remember quite well his showing me a miniature of
Lady Anna--I remember his words. He said: "She's so pure that only the
purest stones are fit to touch her finger." You see, he'd known me ever
since he was at Eton, that's why he spoke of your mother to me--I felt
deeply honoured. Ah, yes--dear, dear--your father was young then and very
much in love...'

She said suddenly: 'Is this pearl as pure as those diamonds?' And he
answered: 'It's without a blemish.'

Then she found her cheque book and he gave her his pen with which to
write out the very large cheque.

'Wouldn't you like some reference?' she inquired, as she glanced at the
sum for which he must trust her.

But at this he laughed: 'Your face is your reference, if I may be allowed
to say so, Miss Gordon.'

They shook hands because he had known her father, and she left the shop
with the ring in her pocket. As she walked down the street she was lost
in thought, so that if people stared she no longer noticed. In her ears
kept sounding those words from the past, those words of her father's when
long, long ago he too had been a young lover: She's so pure that only the
purest stones are fit to touch her finger.'


Chapter Twenty-two


1


When they got back to Morton there was Puddle in the hall, with that warm
smile of hers, always just a little mocking yet pitiful too, that queer
composite smile that made her face so arresting. And the sight of this
faithful little grey woman brought home to Stephen the fact that she had
missed her. She had missed her, she found, out of all proportion to the
size of the creature, which seemed to have diminished. Coming back to it
after those weeks of absence, Puddle's smallness seemed to be even
smaller, and Stephen could not help laughing as she hugged her. Then she
suddenly lifted her right off her feet with as much ease as though she
had been a baby.

Morton smelt good with its log fires burning, and Morton looked good with
the goodness of home. Stephen sighed with something very like
contentment: 'Lord! I'm so glad to be back again, Puddle. I must have
been a cat in my last incarnation; I hate strange places--especially
Cornwall.'

Puddle smiled grimly. She thought that she knew why Stephen had hated
Cornwall.

After tea Stephen wandered about the house, touching first this, then
that, with affectionate fingers. But presently she went off to the
stables with sugar for Collins and carrots for Raftery; and there in his
spacious, hay-scented loose box, Raftery was waiting for Stephen. He made
a queer little sound in his throat, and his soft Irish eyes said: 'You're
home, home, home. I've grown tired with waiting, and with wishing you
home.'

And she answered: 'Yes, I've come back to you, Raftery.'

Then she threw her strong arm around his neck, and they talked together
for quite a long while--not in Irish or English but in a quiet language
having very few words but many small sounds and many small movements,
that meant much more than words.

'Since you went I've discovered a wonderful thing,' he told her, 'I've
discovered that for me you are God. It's like that sometimes with us
humbler people, we may only know God through His human image.'

'Raftery,' she murmured, 'oh, Raftery, my dear--I was so young when you
came to Morton. Do you remember that first day out hunting when you
jumped the huge hedge in our big north paddock? What a jump! It ought to
go down to history. You were splendidly cool and collected about it.
Thank the Lord you were--I was only a kid, all the same it was very
foolish of us, Raftery.'

She gave him a carrot, which he took with contentment from the hand of
his God, and proceeded to munch. And she watched him munch it, contented
in her turn, hoping that the carrot was succulent and sweet; hoping that
his innocent cup of pleasure might be full to the brim and overflowing.
Like God indeed, she tended his needs, mixing the evening meal in his
manger, holding the water bucket to his lips while he sucked in the cool,
clear, health-giving water. A groom came along with fresh trusses of
straw which he opened and tossed among Raftery's bedding; then he took
off the smart blue and red day clothing, and buckled him up in a warm
night blanket. Beyond in the far loose box by the window, Sir Philip's
young chestnut kicked loudly for supper.

'Woa horse! Get up there! Stop kicking them boards!' And the groom
hurried off to attend to the chestnut.

Collins, who had spat out his two lumps of sugar, was now busy indulging
his morbid passion. His sides were swollen well night to bursting--blown
out like an air balloon was old Collins from the evil and dyspeptic
effects of the straw, plus his own woeful lack of molars. He stared at
Stephen with whitish-blue eyes that saw nothing, and when she touched him
he grunted--a discourteous sound which meant: 'Leave me alone!' So after
a mild reproof she left him to his sins and his indigestion.

Last but not least, she strolled down to the home of the two-legged
creature who had once reigned supreme in those princely but now depleted
stables. And the lamplight streamed out through uncurtained windows to
meet her, so that she walked on lamplight. A slim streak of gold led
right up to the porch of old Williams' comfortable cottage. She found him
sitting with the Bible on his knees, peering crossly down at the
Scriptures through his glasses. He had taken to reading the Scriptures
aloud to himself--a melancholy occupation. He was at this now. As Stephen
entered she could hear him mumbling from Revelation: 'And the heads of
the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued
fire and smoke and brimstone.'

He looked up, and hastily twitched off his glasses: 'Miss Stephen!'

'Sit still--stop where you are, Williams.'

But Williams had the arrogance of the humble. He was proud of the stern
traditions of his service, and his pride forbade him to sit in her
presence, in spite of their long and kind years of friendship. Yet when
he spoke he must grumble a little, as though she were still the very
small child who had swaggered round the stables rubbing her chin,
imitating his every expression and gesture.

'You didn't ought to have no 'orses, Miss Stephen, the way you runs off
and leaves them,' he grumbled. Raftery's been off 'is feed these last
days. I've been talkin' to that Jim what you sets such store by! Impudent
young blight, 'e answered me back like as though I'd no right to express
me opinion. But I says to 'im: "You just wait, lad," I says, "You wait
until I gets 'old of Miss Stephen!"'

For Williams could never keep clear of the stables, and could never
refrain from nagging when he got there. Deposed he might be, but not yet
defeated even by old age, as grooms knew to their cost. The tap of his
heavy oak stick in the yard was enough to send Jim and his underling
flying to hide curry-combs and brushes out of sight. Williams needed no
glasses when it came to disorder.

'Be this place 'ere a stable or be it a pigsty, I wonder e' was now his
habitual greeting.

His wife came bustling in from the kitchen: Sit down, Miss Stephen,' and
she dusted a chair.

Stephen sat down and glanced at the Bible where it lay, still open, on
the table.

'Yes,' said Williams, dourly, as though she had spoken, 'I'm reduced to
readin' about 'eavenly 'orses. A nice endin' that for a man like me,
what's been in the service of Sir Philip Gordon, what's 'ad 'is legs
across the best 'unters as ever was seen in this county or any! And I
don't believe in them lion-headed beasts breathin' fire and brimstone,
it's all agin nature. Whoever it was wrote them Revelations, can't never
have been inside of a stable. I don't believe in no 'eavenly 'orses
neither--there won't be no 'orses in 'eaven; and a good thing too,
judgin' by the description.'

'I'm surprised at you, Arth-thur, bein' so disrespectful to The Book!'
his wife reproached him gravely.

'Well, it ain't no encyclopaedee to the stable, and that's a sure thing,'
grinned Williams.

Stephen looked from one to the other. They were old, very old, fast
approaching completion. Quite soon, their circle would be complete, and
then Williams would be able to tackle Saint John on the points of those
heavenly horses.

Mrs. Williams glanced apologetically at her: 'Excuse 'im, Miss Stephen,
'e's gettin' rather childish. 'E won't read no pretty parts of the Book;
all e'll read is them parts about chariots and such-like. All what's to
do with 'orses 'e reads; and then 'e's so unbelievin'--it's aw-ful!' But
she looked at her mate with the eyes of a mother, very gentle and
tolerant eyes.

And Stephen, seeing those two together, could picture them as they must
once have been, in the halcyon days of their youthful vigour. For she
thought that she glimpsed through the dust of the years, a faint flicker
of the girl who had lingered in the lanes when the young man Williams and
she had been courting. And looking at Williams as he stood before her
twitching and bowed, she thought that she glimpsed a faint flicker of the
youth, very stalwart and comely, who had bent his head downwards and
sideways, as he walked and whispered and kissed in the lanes. And because
they were old yet undivided, her heart ached; not for them but rather for
Stephen. Her youth seemed as dross when compared to their honourable age;
because they were undivided.

She said: 'Make him sit down, I don't want him to stand.' And she got up
and pushed her own chair towards him.

But old Mrs. Williams shook her white head slowly: 'No, Miss Stephen, 'e
wouldn't sit down in your presence. Beggin' your pardon, it would 'urt
Arth-thur's feelin's to be made to sit down; it would make 'im feel as
'is days of service was really over.'

'I don't need to sit down,' declared Williams.

So Stephen wished them both a good night, promising to come again very
soon; and Williams hobbled out to the path which was now quite golden
from border to border, for the door of the cottage was standing wide open
and the glow from the lamp streamed over the path. Once more she found
herself walking on lamplight, while Williams, bareheaded, stood and
watched her departure. Then her feet were caught up and entangled in
shadows again, as she made her way under the trees.

But presently came a familiar fragrance--logs burning on the wide,
friendly hearths of Morton. Logs burning--quite soon the lakes would be
frozen--'and the ice looks like slabs of gold in the sunset, when you and
I come and stand here in the winter...and as we walk back we can smell
the log fires long before we can see them, and we love that good smell
because it means home, and our home is Morton...because it means home and
our home is Morton...

Oh, intolerable fragrance of log fires burning!



Chapter Twenty-three


1


Angela did not return in a week, she had decided to remain another
fortnight in Scotland. She was staying now with the Peacocks, it seemed,
and would not get back until after her birthday. Stephen looked at the
beautiful ring as it gleamed in its little white velvet box, and her
disappointment and chagrin were childish.

But Violet Antrim, who had also been staying with the Peacocks, had
arrived home full of importance. She walked in on Stephen one afternoon
to announce her engagement to young Alec Peacock. She was so much engaged
and so haughty about it that Stephen, whose nerves were already on edge,
was very soon literally itching to slap her. Violet was now able to look
down on Stephen from the height of her newly gained knowledge of
men--knowing Alec she felt that she knew the whole species.

'It's a terrible pity you dress as you do, my dear,' she remarked, with
the manner of sixty, 'a young girl's so much more attractive when she's
soft--don't you think you could soften your clothes just a little? I mean
you do want to get married, don't you! No woman's complete until she is
married. After all, no woman can really stand alone, she always needs a
man to protect her.'

Stephen said: 'I'm all right--getting on nicely, thank you!'

'Oh, no, but you can't be!' Violet insisted. 'I was talking to Alec and
Roger about you, and Roger was saying it's an awful mistake for women to
get false ideas into their heads. He thinks you've got rather a bee in
your bonnet; he told Alec that you'd be quite a womanly woman if you'd
only stop trying to ape what you're not.' Presently she said, staring
rather hard: 'That Mrs. Crossby--do you really like her? Of course I know
you're friends and all that--But why are you friends? You've got nothing
in common. She's what Roger calls a thorough man's woman. I think myself
she's a bit of a climber. Do you want to be used as a scaling ladder for
storming the fortifications of the county? The Peacocks have known old
Crossby for years, he's a wonderful shot for an ironmonger, but they
don't care for her very much I believe--Alec says she's man-mad, whatever
that means, anyhow she seems desperately keen about Roger.'

Stephen said: 'I'd rather we didn't discuss Mrs. Crossby, because, you
see, she's my friend.' And her voice was as icy cold as her hands.

'Oh, of course if you're feeling like that about it--' laughed Violet,
'no, but honest, she is keen on Roger.'

When Violet had gone, Stephen sprang to her feet, but her sense of
direction seemed to have left her, for she struck her head a pretty sharp
blow against the side of a heavy bookcase. She stood swaying with her
hands pressed against her temples. Angela and Roger Antrim--those
two--but it couldn't be, Violet had been purposely lying. She loved to
torment, she was like her brother, a bully, a devil who loved to
torment--it couldn't be--Violet had been lying.

She steadied herself and leaving the room and the house, went and fetched
her car from the stables. She drove to the telegraph office at Upton:
'Come back, I must see you at once,' she wired, taking great care to
prepay the reply, lest Angela should find an excuse for not answering.

The clerk counted the words with her stump of a pencil, then she looked
at Stephen rather strangely.


2


The next morning came Angela's frigid answer: 'Coming home Monday
fortnight not one day sooner please no more wires Ralph very much upset.'

Stephen tore the thing into a hundred fragments and then hurled it away.
She was suddenly shaking all over with uncontrollable anger.


3


Right up to the moment of Angela's return that hot anger supported
Stephen. It was like a flame that leapt through her veins, a flame that
consumed and yet stimulated, so that she purposely fanned the fire from a
sense of self-preservation.

Then came the actual day of arrival. Angela must be in London by now, she
would certainly have travelled by the night express. She would catch the
12.47 to Malvern and then motor to Upton--it was nearly twelve. It was
afternoon. At 3.17 Angela's train would arrive at Great Malvern--it had
arrived now--in about twenty minutes she would drive past the very gates
of Morton. Half-past four. Angela must have got home; she was probably
having tea in the parlour--in the little oak parlour with its piping
bullfinch whose cage always stood near the casement window. A long time
ago, a lifetime ago, Stephen had blundered into that parlour, and Tony
had barked, and the bullfinch had piped a sentimental old German tune--but
that was surely a lifetime ago. Five o'clock. Violet Antrim had obviously
lied; she had lied on purpose to torment Stephen--Angela and Roger--it
couldn't be; Violet had lied because she liked to torment. A quarter-past
five. What was Angela doing now? She was near, just a few miles
away--perhaps she was ill, as she had not written; yes, that must be it,
of course Angela was ill. The persistent, aching hunger of the eyes.
Anger, what was it? A folly, a delusion, a weakness that crumbled before
that hunger. And Angela was only a few miles away.

She went up to her room and unlocked a drawer from which she took the
little white case. Then she slipped the case into her jacket pocket.


4


Sim found Angela helping her maid to unpack; they appeared to be all but
snowed under by masses of soft, inadequate garments. The bedroom smelt
strongly of Angela's scent, which was heavy yet slightly pungent.

She glanced up from a tumbled heap of silk stockings: 'Hallo, Stephen!'
Her greeting was casually friendly.

Stephen said: 'Well, how are you after all these weeks? Did you have a
good journey down from Scotland?'

The maid said: 'Shall I wash your new crepe de Chine nightgowns, ma'am? Or
ought they to go to the cleaners?'

Then, somehow, they all fell silent.

To break this suggestive and awkward silence, Stephen inquired politely
after Ralph.

'He's in London on business for a couple of days; he's all right,
thanks,' Angela answered briefly, and she turned once more to sorting her
stockings.

Stephen studied her. Angela was not looking well, her mouth had a
childish droop at the corners; there were quite new shadows, too, under
her eyes, and these shadows accentuated her pallor. And as though that
earnest gaze made her nervous, she suddenly bundled the stockings
together with a little sound of impatience.

'Come on, let's go down to my room!' And turning to her maid: 'I'd rather
you washed the new nightgowns, please.'

They went down the wide oak stairs without speaking, and into the little
oak-panelled parlour. Stephen closed the door; then they faced each
other.

'Well, Angela?'

'Well, Stephen?' And after a pause: 'What on earth made you send that
absurd telegram? Ralph got hold of the thing and began to ask questions.
You are such an almighty fool sometimes--you knew perfectly well that I
couldn't come back. Why will you behave as though you were six, have you
no common sense? What's it all about? Your methods are not only
infantile--they're dangerous.'

Then taking Angela firmly by the shoulders, Stephen turned her so that
she faced the light. She put her question with youthful crudeness: 'Do
you find Roger Antrim physically attractive--do you find that he attracts
you that way more than I do?' She waited calmly, it seemed, for her
answer.

And because of that distinctly ominous calm, Angela was scared, so she
blustered a little: 'Of course I don't! I resent such questions; I won't
allow them even from you, Stephen. God knows where you get your fantastic
ideas! Have you been discussing me with that girl Violet? If you have, I
think it's simply outrageous! She's quite the most evil-minded prig in
the county. It was not very gentlemanly of you, my dear, to discuss my
affairs with our neighbours, was it?'

'I refused to discuss you with Violet Antrim,' Stephen told her, still
speaking quite calmly. But she clung to her point: 'Was it all a mistake?
Is there no one between us except your husband? Angela, look at me--I
will have the truth.'

For answer Angela kissed her.

Stephen's strong but unhappy arms went round her, and suddenly stretching
out her hand she switched off the little lamp on the table, so that the
room was lit only by firelight. They could not see each other's faces
very clearly any more, because there was only firelight. And Stephen
spoke such words as a lover will speak when his heart is burdened to
breaking; when his doubts must bow down and be swept away before the
unruly flood of his passion. There in that shadowy, firelit room, she
spoke such words as lovers have spoken ever since the divine, sweet
madness of God flung the thought of love into Creation.

But Angela suddenly pushed her away: 'Don't, don't--I can't bear it--it's
too much, Stephen. It hurts me--I can't bear this thing--for you. It's
all wrong, I'm not worth it, anyhow it's all wrong. Stephen, it's making
me--can't you understand? It's too much--' She could not, she dared not
explain. 'If you were a man--' She stopped abruptly, and burst into
uncontrollable weeping.

And somehow this weeping was different from any that had gone before, so
that Stephen trembled. There was something frightened and desolate about
it; it was like the sobbing of a terrified child. The girl forgot her own
desolation in her pity and the need that she felt to comfort. More
strongly than ever before she felt the need to protect this woman, and to
comfort.

She said, grown suddenly passionless and gentle: 'Tell me--try to tell me
what's wrong, beloved. Don't be afraid of making me angry--we love each
other, and that's all that matters. Try to tell me what's wrong, and then
let me help you; only don't cry like this--I can't endure it.'

But Angela hid her face in her hands: 'No, no, it's nothing; I'm only so
tired. It's been a fearful strain these last months. I'm just a weak,
human creature, Stephen--sometimes I think we've been worse than mad. I
must have been mad to have allowed you to love me like this--one day
you'll despise and hate me. It's my fault, but I was so terribly lonely
that I let you come into my life, and now--oh, I can't explain, you
wouldn't understand; how could you understand, Stephen?'

And so strangely complex is poor human nature, that Angela really
believed in her feelings. At that moment of sudden fear and remorse,
remembering those guilty weeks in Scotland, she believed that she felt
compassion and regret for this creature who loved her, and whose ardent
loving had paved the way for another. In her weakness she could not part
from the girl, not yet--there was something so strong about her. She
seemed to combine the strength of a man with the gentler and more subtle
strength of a woman. And thinking of the crude young animal Roger, with
his brusque, rather brutal appeal to the senses, she was filled with a
kind of regretful shame, and she hated herself for what she had done, and
for what she well knew she would do again, because of that urge to
passion.

Feeling humble, she groped for the girl's kind hand; then she tried to
speak lightly: 'Would you always forgive this very miserable sinner,
Stephen?'

Stephen said, not apprehending her meaning, 'If our love is a sin, then
heaven must be full of such tender and selfless sinning as ours.'

They sat down close together. They were weary unto death, and Angela
whispered: 'Put your arms around me again--but gently, because I'm so
tired. You're a kind lover, Stephen--sometimes I think you're almost too
kind.'

And Stephen answered: 'It's not kindness that makes me unwilling to force
you--I can't conceive of that sort of love.'

Angela Crossby was silent.

But now she was longing for the subtle easement of confession, so dear to
the soul of woman. Her self-pity was augmented by her sense of
wrong-doing--she was thoroughly unstrung, almost ill with self pity--so
that lacking the courage to confess the present, she let her thoughts
dwell on the past. Stephen had always forborne to question, and therefore
that past had never been discussed, but now Angela felt a great need to
discuss it. She did not analyse her feelings; she only knew that she
longed intensely to humble herself, to plead for compassion, to wring
from the queer, strong, sensitive being who loved her, some hope of
ultimate forgiveness. At that moment, as she lay there in Stephen's arms,
the girl assumed an enormous importance. It was strange, but the very
fact of betrayal appeared to have strengthened her will to hold her, and
Angela stirred, so that Stephen said softly:

'Lie still--I thought you were fast asleep.'

And Angela answered: 'No, I'm not asleep, dearest. I've been thinking.
There arc some things I ought to tell you. You've never asked me about my
past life--why haven't you, Stephen?'

'Because,' said Stephen, 'I knew that some day you'd tell me.' Then
Angela began at the very beginning. She described a Colonial home in
Virginia. A grave, grey house, with a columned entrance, and a garden
that looked down on deep, running water, and that water had rather a
beautiful name--it was called the Potomac River. Up the side of the house
grew magnolia blossoms, and many old trees gave their shade to its
garden. In summer the fire-flies lit lamps on those trees, shifting lamps
that moved swiftly among the branches. And the hot summer darkness was
splashed with lightning, and the hot summer air was heavy with sweetness.

She described her mother who had died when Angela was twelve--a pathetic,
inadequate creature; the descendant of women who had owned many slaves to
minister to their most trivial requirements: 'She could hardly put on her
own stockings and shoes,' smiled Angela, as she pictured that mother.

She described her father, George Benjamin Maxwell--a charming, but quite
incorrigible spendthrift. She said: 'He lived in past glories, Stephen.
Because he was a Maxwell--a Maxwell of Virginia--he wouldn't admit that
the Civil War had deprived us all of the right to spend money. God knows,
there was little enough of it left--the War practically ruined the old
Southern gentry! My grandma could remember those days quite well; she
scraped lint from her sheets for our wounded soldiers. If Grandma had
lived, my life might have been different--but she died a couple of months
after Mother.'

She described the eventual cataclysm, when the home had been sold up with
everything in it, and she and her father had set out for New York--she
just seventeen and he broken and ailing--to rebuild his dissipated
fortune. And because she was now painting a picture of real life,
untinged by imagination, her words lived, and her voice grew intensely
bitter.

'Hell--it was hell! We went under so quickly. There were days when I
hadn't enough to eat. Oh, Stephen, the filth, the unspeakable
squalor--the heat and the cold and the hunger and the squalor. God, how I
hate that great hideous city! It's a monster, it crushes you down, it
devours--even now I couldn't go back to New York without feeling a kind
of unreasoning terror. Stephen, that damnable city broke my nerve. Father
got calmly out of it all by dying one day--and that was so like him! He'd
had about enough, so he just lay down and died; but I couldn't do that
because I was young--and I didn't want to die, either. I hadn't the least
idea what I could do, but I knew that I was supposed to be pretty and
that good-looking girls had a chance on the stage, so I started out to
look for a job. My God! Shall I ever forget it!'

And now she described the long, angular streets, miles and miles of
streets; miles and miles of faces all strange and unfriendly--faces like
masks. Then the intimate faces of would-be employers, too intimate when
they peered into her own--faces that had suddenly thrown off their masks.

Stephen, are you listening? I put up a fight, I swear it! I swear I put
up a fight--I was only nineteen when I got my first job--nineteen's not
so awfully old, is it, Stephen?'

Stephen said: Go on,' and her voice sounded husky.

Oh, my dear--it's so dreadfully hard to tell you. The pay was rotten, not
enough to live on--I used to think that they did it on purpose, lots of
the girls used to think that way too--they never gave us quite enough to
live on. You see, I hadn't a vestige of talent, I could only dress up and
try to look pretty. I never got a real speaking part, I just danced, not
well, but I'd got a good figure.' She paused and tried to look up through
the gloom, but Stephen's face was hidden in shadow. Well then,
darling--Stephen, I want to feel your arms, hold me closer--well then
I--there was a man who wanted me--not as you want me, Stephen, to protect
and care for me; God no, not that way! And I was so poor and so tired and
so frightened; why sometimes my shoes would let in the slush because they
were old and I hadn't the money to buy myself new ones--try to think of
that, darling. And I'd cry when I washed my hands in the winter because
they'd be bleeding from broken chilblains. Well, I couldn't stay the
course any longer, that's all...

The little gilt dock on the desk ticked loudly. Tick, tick! Tick, tick!
An astonishing voice to come from so small and fragile a body. Somewhere
out in the garden a dog barked--Tony, chasing imaginary rabbits through
the darkness.

'Stephen!'

'Yes, my dear?'

'Have you understood me?'

'Yes--oh, yes, I've understood you. Go on.'

'Well then, after a while he turned round and left me, and I just had to
drag along as I had done, and I sort of crocked up--couldn't sleep at
night, couldn't smile and look happy when I went on to dance--that was
how Ralph found me--he saw me dance and came round to the back, the way
some men do. I remember thinking that Ralph didn't look like that sort of
man; he looked--well, just like Ralph, not a bit like that sort of man.
Then he started sending me flowers; never presents or anything like that,
just flowers with his card. And we had lunch together a good few times,
and he talked about that other man who'd left me. He said he'd like to go
out with a horse-whip--imagine Ralph trying to horse-whip a man! They
knew each other quite well, I discovered; you see, they were both in the
hardware business. Ralph was out after some big contract for his firm,
that was why he happened to be in New York--and one day he asked me to
marry him, Stephen. I suppose he was really in love with me then, anyhow
I thought it was wonderful of him--I thought he was very broadminded and
noble. Good God! He's had his pound of flesh since; it gave him the hold
over me that he wanted. We were married before we sailed for Europe. I
wasn't in love, but what could I do? I'd nowhere to turn and my health
was crocking; lots of our girls ended up in the hospital wards--I didn't
want to end up that way. Well, so you see why I've got to be careful how
I act; he's terribly and awfully suspicious. He thinks that because I
took a lover when I was literally down and out, I'm likely to do the same
thing now. He doesn't trust me, it's natural enough, but sometimes he
throws it all up in my face, and when he does that, my God, how I hate
him! But oh, Stephen, I could never go through it all again--I haven't
got an ounce of fight left in me. That's why, although Ralph's no cinch
as a husband, I'd be scared to death if he really turned nasty. He knows
that, I think, so he's not afraid to bully--he's bullied me many a time
over you--but of course you're a woman so he couldn't divorce me--I
expect that's really what makes him so angry. All the same, when you
asked me to leave him for you, I hadn't the courage to face that either.
I couldn't have faced the public scandal that Ralph would have made; he'd
have hounded us down to the ends of the earth, he'd have branded us,
Stephen. I know him, he's revengeful, he'd stop at nothing, that weak
sort of man is often that way. It's as though what Ralph lacks in
virility, he tries to make up for by being revengeful. My dear, I
couldn't go under again--I couldn't be one of those apologetic people who
must always exist just under the surface, only coming up for a moment,
like fish--I've been through that particular hell. I want life, and yet
I'm always afraid. Every time that Ralph looks at me I feel frightened,
because he knows that I hate him most when he tries to make love--' She
broke off abruptly.

And now she was crying a little to herself, letting the tears trickle
down unheeded. One of them splashed on to Stephen's coat sleeve and lay
there, a small, dark blot on the cloth, while the patient arms never
faltered.

'Stephen, say something--say you don't hate me!'

A log crashed, sending up a bright spurt of flame, and Stephen stared
down into Angela's face. It was marred by weeping; it looked almost ugly,
splotched and reddened as it was by her weeping. And because of that
pitiful, blemished face, with the pitiful weakness that lay behind it,
the unworthiness even, Stephen loved her so deeply at that moment, that
she found no adequate words.

'Say something--speak to me, Stephen!'

Then Stephen gently released her arms, and she found the little white box
in her pocket: 'Look, Angela, I got you this for your birthday--Ralph
can't bully you about it, it's a birthday present.'

'Stephen--my dear!'

'Yes--I want you to wear it always, so that you'll remember how much I
love you. I think you forgot that just now when you talked about
hating--Angela, give me your hand, the hand that used to bleed in the
winter.'

So the pearl that was pure as her mother's diamonds were pure, Stephen
slipped on to Angela's finger. Then she sat very still, while Angela
gazed at the pearl wide-eyed, because of its beauty. Presently she lifted
her wondering face, and now her lips were quite close to Stephen's, but
Stephen kissed her instead on the forehead. You must rest,' she said,
'you're simply worn out. Can't you sleep if I keep you safe in my arms?'

For at moments such is the blindness and folly, yet withal the redeeming
glory of love.



Chapter Twenty-four


1


Ralph said very little about the ring. What could he say? A present given
to his wife by the daughter of a neighbour--an unusually costly present
of course--still, after all, what could he say? He took refuge in sulky
silence. But Stephen would see him staring at the pearl, which Angela
wore on her right-hand third finger, and his weak little eyes would look
redder than usual, perhaps with anger--one could never quite tell from
his eyes whether he was tearful or angry.

And because of those eyes with their constant menace, Stephen must play
her conciliatory role; and this she must do in spite of his rudeness, for
now he was openly rude and hostile. And he bullied. It was almost as
though he took pleasure in bullying his wife when Stephen was present;
her presence seemed to arouse in the man everything that was ill-bred,
petty and cruel. He would make thinly-veiled allusions to the past,
glancing sideways at Stephen the while he did so; and one day when she
flushed to the roots of her hair with rage to see Angela humble and
fearful, he laughed loudly: 'I'm just a plain tradesman, you know; if you
don't like my ways then you'd better not come here.' Catching Angela's
eye, Stephen tried to laugh too.

A soul-sickening business. She would feel degraded; she would feel
herself gradually losing all sense of pride, of common decency even, so
that when she returned in the evening to Morton she would not want to
look the old house in the eyes. She would not want to face those pictures
of Gordons that hung in its hall, and must turn away, lest they by their
very silence rebuke this descendant of theirs who was so unworthy. Yet
sometimes it seemed to her that she loved more intensely because she had
lost so much--there was nothing left now but Angela Crossby.


2


Watching this deadly decay that threatened all that was fine in her
erstwhile pupil, Puddle must sometimes groan loudly in spirit; she must
even argue with God about it. Yes, she must actually argue with God like
Job; and remembering his words in affliction, she must speak those words
on behalf of Stephen: 'Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together
round about; yet Thou dost destroy me.' For now in addition to everything
else, she had learnt of the advent of Roger Antrim. Not that Stephen had
confided in her, far from it, but gossip has a way of travelling quickly.
Roger spent most of his leisure at The Grange. She had heard that he was
always going over from Worcester. So now. Puddle, who had not been much
given to prayer in the past, must argue with God, like Job. And perhaps,
since God probably listens to the heart rather than to the lips, He
forgave her.


3


Stupid with misery and growing more inept every day, Stephen found
herself no match for Roger. He was calm, self-assured, insolent and
triumphant, and his love of tormenting had not waned with his manhood.
Roger was no fool; he put two and two together and his masculine instinct
deeply resented this creature who might challenge his right of
possession. Moreover that masculine instinct was outraged. He would stare
at Stephen as though she were a horse whom he strongly suspected of
congenital unsoundness, and then he would let his eyes rest on Angela's
face. They would be the eyes of a lover, possessive, demanding, insistent
eyes--if Ralph did not happen to be present. And into Angela's eyes there
would come an expression that Stephen had seen many times. A mist would
slowly cloud over their blueness; they would dim, as though they were
hiding something. Then Stephen would be seized with a violent trembling,
so that she could not stand any more but must sit with her hands clasped
tightly together, lest those trembling hands betray her to Roger. But
Roger would have seen already, and would smile his slow, understanding,
masterful smile.

Sometimes he and Stephen would look at each other covertly, and their
youthful faces would be marred by a very abominable thing; the instinctive
repulsion of two human bodies, the one for the other, which neither could
help--not now that those bodies were stirred by a woman. Then into this
vortex of secret emotion would come Ralph. He would stare from Stephen to
Roger and then at his wife, and his eyes would be red--one never knew
whether from tears or from anger. They would form a grotesque triangle
for a moment, those three who must share a common desire. But after a
little the two male creatures who hated each other, would be shamefully
united in the bond of their deeper hatred of Stephen; and divining this,
she in turn would hate.


4


It could not go on without some sort of convulsion, and that Christmas
was a time of recriminations. Angela's infatuation was growing, and she
did not always hide this from Stephen. Letters would arrive in Roger's
handwriting, and Stephen, half-crazy with jealousy by now, would demand
to see them. She would be refused, and a scene would ensue.

'That man's your lover! Have I gone starving only for this--that you
should give yourself to Roger Antrim? Show me that letter!'

'How dare you suggest that Roger's my lover! But if he were it's no
business of yours.'

'Will you show me that letter?'

'I will not.'

'It's from Roger.'

'You're intolerable. You can think what you please.'

'What am I to think?' Then because of her longing. 'Angela, for God's
sake don't treat me like this--I can't bear it. When you loved me it was
easier to bear--I endured it for your sake, but now--listen, listen...'
Stark naked confessions dragged from lips that grew white the while they
confessed: 'Angela, listen...

And now the terrible nerves of the invert, those nerves that are always
lying in wait, gripped Stephen. They ran like live wires through her
body, causing a constant and ruthless torment, so that the sudden closing
of a door or the barking of Tony would fall like a blow on her shrinking
flesh. At night in her bed she must cover her ears from the ticking of
the clock, which would sound like thunder in the darkness.

Angela had taken to going up to London on some pretext or another--she
must see her dentist; she must fit a new dress. 'Well then, let me come
with you.'

'Good heavens, why? I'm only going to the dentist!'

'All right, I'll come too.'

'You'll do nothing of the kind.' Then Stephen would know why Angela was
going.

All that day she would be haunted by insufferable pictures. Whatever she
did, wherever she went, she would see them together, Angela and Roger...She
would think: 'I'm going mad! I can see them as clearly as though they
were here before me in the room.' And then she would cover her eyes with
her hands, but this would only strengthen the pictures.

Like some earth-bound spirit she would haunt The Grange on the pretext of
taking Tony for a walk. And there, as likely as not, would be Ralph
wandering about in his bare rose garden. He would glance up and see her
perhaps, and then--most profound shame of all--they would both look
guilty, for each would know the loneliness of the other, and that
loneliness would draw them together for the moment; they would be almost
friends in their hearts.

'Angela's gone up to London, Stephen.'

'Yes, I know. She's gone up to fit her new dress.'

Their eyes would drop. Then Ralph might say sharply: 'If you're after the
dog, he's in the kitchen,' and turning his back, he might make a pretence
of examining his standard rose-trees.

Calling Tony, Stephen would walk into Upton, then along the mist-swept
bank of the river. She would stand very still staring down at the water,
but the impulse would pass, and whistling the dog, she would turn and go
hurrying back to Upton.

Then one afternoon Roger came with his car to take Angela for a drive
through the hills. The New Year was slipping into the spring, and the air
smelt of sap and much diligent growing. A warm February had succeeded the
winter. Many birds would be astir on those hills where lovers might sit
unashamed--where Stephen had sat holding Angela clasped in her arms,
while she eagerly took and gave kisses. And remembering these things
Stephen turned and left them, unable just then to endure any longer.
Going home, she made her way to the lakes, and there she quite suddenly
started weeping. Her whole body seemed to dissolve itself in weeping; and
she flung herself down on the kind earth of Morton, shedding tears as of
blood. There was no one to witness those tears except the white swan
called Peter.


5


Terrible, heart-breaking months. She grew gaunt with her unappeased love
for Angela Crossby. And now she would sometimes turn in despair to the
thought of her useless and unspent money. Thoughts would come that were
altogether unworthy, but nevertheless those thoughts would persist. Roger
was not rich; she was rich already and some day she would be even richer.

She went up to London and chose new clothes at a West End tailor's; the
man in Malvern who had made for her father was getting old, she would
have her suits made in London in future. She ordered herself a rakish red
car; a long-bodied, sixty horsepower Métallurgique. It was one of the
fastest cars of its year, and it certainly cost her a great deal of
money. She bought twelve pairs of gloves, some heavy silk stockings, a
square sapphire scarf pin and a new umbrella. Nor could she resist the
lure of pyjamas made of white crêpe de Chine which she spotted in Bond
Street. The pyjamas led to a man's dressing-gown of brocade--an amazingly
ornate garment. Then she had her nails manicured but not polished and
from that shop she carried away toilet water and a box of soap that smelt
of carnations and some cuticle cream for the care of her nails. And last
but not least, she bought a gold bag with a clasp set in diamonds for
Angela.

All told she had spent a considerable sum, and this gave her a fleeting
satisfaction. But on her way back in the train to Malvern, she gazed out
of the window with renewed desolation. Money could not buy the one thing
that she needed in life; it could not buy Angela's love.


6


That night she stared at herself in the glass; and even as she did so she
hated her body with its muscular shoulders, its small compact breasts,
and its slender flanks of an athlete. All her life she must drag this
body of hers like a monstrous fetter imposed on her spirit. This
strangely ardent yet sterile body that must worship yet never be
worshipped in return by the creature of its adoration. She longed to maim
it, for it made her feel cruel; it was so white, so strong and so
self-sufficient; yet withal so poor and unhappy a thing that her eyes
filled with tears and her hate turned to pity. She began to grieve over
it, touching her breasts with pitiful fingers, stroking her shoulders,
letting her hands slip along her straight thighs--Oh, poor and most
desolate body!

Then she, for whom Puddle was actually praying at that moment, must now
pray also, but blindly; finding few words that seemed worthy of prayer,
few words that seemed to encompass her meaning--for she did not know the
meaning of herself: But she loved, and loving groped for the God who had
fashioned her, even unto this bitter loving.



Chapter Twenty-five


1


Stephen's troubles had begun to be aggravated by Violet, who was always
driving over to Morton, ostensibly to talk about Alec, in reality to
collect information as to what might be happening at The Grange. She
would stay for hours, very skilfully pumping while she dropped unwelcome
hints anent Roger.

'Father's going to cut down his allowance,' she declared, 'if he doesn't
stop hanging about that woman. Oh, I'm sorry! I always forget she's your
friend--' Then looking at Stephen with inquisitive eyes: 'But I can't
understand that friendship of yours; for one thing, how can you put up
with Crossby?' And Stephen knew that yet once again county gossip was
rife about her.

Violet was going to be married in September, they would then live in
London, for Alec was a barrister. Their house, it seemed, was already
bespoken: 'A perfect duck of a house in Belgravia,' where Violet intended
to entertain largely on the strength of the bountiful parent Peacock. She
was in the highest possible fettle these days, invested with an enormous
importance in her own eyes, as also in those of her neighbours. Oh, yes,
the whole world smiled broadly on Violet and her Alec: 'Such a charming
young couple,' said the world, and at once proceeded to shower them with
presents. Apostle tea-spoons arrived in their dozens, so did coffee-pots,
cream-jugs and large fish slices; to say nothing of a heavy silver bowl
from the Hunt, and a massive salver from the grateful Scottish tenants.

On the wedding day not a few eyes would be wet at the sight of so
youthful a man and maiden 'joined together in an honourable estate,
instituted of God in the time of man's innocency,' For such ancient
traditions--in spite of the fact that man's innocency could not even
survive one bite of an apple shared with a woman--are none the less apt
to be deeply moving. There they would kneel, the young newly wed, ardent
yet sanctified by a blessing, so that all, or at least nearly all, they
would do, must be considered both natural and pleasing to a God in the
image of man created. And the fact that this God, in a thoughtless
moment, had created in His turn those pitiful thousands who must stand
for ever outside His blessing, would in no way disturb the large
congregation or their white surpliced pastor, or the couple who knelt on
the gold-braided, red velvet cushions. And afterwards there would be
plentiful champagne to warm the cooling blood of the elders, and much
shaking of hands and congratulating, and many kind smiles for the bride
and her bridegroom. Some might even murmur a fleeting prayer in their
hearts, as the two departed: 'God bless them!'

So now Stephen must actually learn at first hand how straight can run the
path of true love, in direct contradiction to the time-honoured proverb.
Must realize more clearly than ever, that love is only permissible to
those who are cut in every respect to life's pattern; must feel like some
ill-conditioned pariah, hiding her sores under lies and pretences. And
after those visits of Violet Antrim's, her spirits would be at a very low
ebb, for she had not yet gained that steel-bright courage which can only
be forged in the furnace of affliction, and which takes many weary years
in the forging.


2


The splendid new motor arrived from London, to the great delight and
excitement of Burton. The new suits were completed and worn by their
owner, and Angela's costly gold bag was received with apparent delight,
which seemed rather surprising considering her erstwhile ban upon
presents. Yet could Stephen have known it, this was not so surprising
after all, for the bag infuriated Ralph, thereby distracting his facile
attention for the moment from something that was far more dangerous.

Filled with an ever-increasing need to believe, Stephen listened to
Angela Crossby: 'You know there's nothing between me and Roger--if you
don't, then you above all people ought to,' and her blue, childlike eyes
would look up at Stephen, who could never resist the appeal of their
blueness.

And as though to bear out the truth of her words, Roger now came to The
Grange much less often; and when he did come he was quietly friendly, not
at all lover-like if Stephen was present, so that gradually her need to
believe had begun to allay her worst fears. Yet she knew with the true
instinct of the lover, that Angela was secretly unhappy. She might try to
appear light-hearted and flippant, but her smiles and her jests could not
deceive Stephen.

'You're miserable. What is it?'

And Angela would answer: 'Ralph's been vile to me again--' But she would
not add that Ralph was daily becoming more suspicious and more intolerant
of Roger Antrim, so that now her deadly fear of her husband was always at
war with her passion.

Sometimes it seemed to the girl that Angela used her as a whip wherewith
to lash Ralph. She would lead Stephen on to show signs of affection which
would never have been permitted in the past. Ralph's little red eyes
would look deeply resentful, and getting up he would slouch from the
room. They would hear the front door being closed, and would know that he
had gone for a walk with Tony. Yet when they were alone and in
comparative safety, there would be something crude, almost cruel in their
kisses; a restless, dissatisfied, hungry thing--their lips would seem
bent on scourging their bodies. Neither of them would find deliverance
nor ease from the ache that was in them, for each would be kissing with a
well-nigh intolerable sense of loss, with a passionate knowledge of
separation. After a little they would sit with bent heads, not speaking
because of what might not be spoken; not daring to look each other in the
eyes nor to touch each other, lest they should cry out against this
preposterous lovemaking.

Completely confounded, Stephen racked her brains for anything that might
give them both a respite. She suggested that Angela should see her fence
with a celebrated London fencing master whom she had bribed to come down
to Morton. She tried to arouse an interest in the car, the splendid new
car that had cost so much money. She tried to find out if Angela had an
ungratified wish that money could fulfil.

'Only tell me what I can do,' she pleaded, but apparently there was
nothing.

Angela came several times to Morton and dutifully attended the fencing
lessons. But they did not go well, for Stephen would glimpse her staring
abstractedly out of the window; then the sly, agile foil with its
blunt-tipped nose, would slip in under Stephen's guard and shame her.

They would sometimes go far afield in the car, and one night they stopped
at an inn and had dinner--Angela ringing up her husband with the old and
now threadbare excuse of a breakdown. They dined in a quiet little room
by themselves; the scents of the garden came in through the window--warm,
significant scents, for now it was May and many flowers multiplied in
that garden. Never before had they done such a thing as this, they had
never dined all alone at a wayside inn miles away from their homes, just
they two, and Stephen stretched out her hand and covered Angela's where
it rested very white and still on the table. And Stephen's eyes held an
urgent question, for now it was May and the blood of youth leaps and
strains with the sap in early summer. The air seemed breathless, since
neither would speak, afraid of disturbing the thick, sweet silence--but
Angela shook her head very slowly. Then they could not eat, for each was
filled with the same and yet with a separate longing; so after a while
they must get up and go, both conscious of a sense of painful
frustration.

They drove back on a road that was paved with moonlight, and presently
Angela fell fast asleep like an unhappy child--she had taken her hat off
and her head lay limply against Stephen's shoulder. Seeing her thus, so
helpless in sleep, Stephen felt strangely moved, and she drove very
slowly, fearful of waking the woman who slept like a child with her fair
head against her shoulder. The car climbed the steep hill from Ledbury
town, and presently there lay the wide Wye valley whose beauty had
saddened a queer little girl long before she had learnt the pain of all
beauty. And now the valley was bathed in whiteness, while here and there
gleamed a roof or a window, but whitely, as though all the good valley
folk had extinguished their lamps and retired to their couches. Far away,
like dark clouds coming up out of Wales, rose range upon range of the old
Black Mountains, with the tip of Gadrfawr peering over the others, and
the ridge of Pen-cerrig-calch sharp against the skyline. A little wind
ruffled the bracken on the hillsides, and Angela's hair blew across her
closed eyes so that she stirred and sighed in her sleep. Stephen bent
down and began to soothe her.

Then from out of that still and unearthly night, there crept upon Stephen
an unearthly longing. A longing that was not any more of the body but
rather of the weary and home-sick spirit that endured the chains of that
body. And when she must drive past the gates of Morton, the longing
within her seemed beyond all bearing, for she wanted to lift the sleeping
woman in her arms and carry her in through those gates; and carry her in
through the heavy white door; and carry her up the wide, shallow
staircase, and lay her down on her own bed, still sleeping, but safe in
the good care of Morton.

Angela suddenly opened her eyes. Where am I?' she muttered, stupid with
sleep. Then after a moment her eyes filled with tears, and there she sat
all huddled up, crying.

Stephen said gently: 'It's all right, don't cry.'

But Angela went on crying.



Chapter Twenty-six


1


Like a river that has gradually risen to flood, until it sweeps
everything before it, so now events rose and gathered in strength towards
their inevitable conclusion. At the end of May Ralph must go to his
mother, who was said to be dying at her house in Brighton. With all his
faults he had been a good son, and the redness of his eyes was indeed
from real tears as he kissed his wife good-bye at the station on his way
to his dying mother. The next morning he wired that his mother was dead,
but that he could not get home for a couple of weeks. As it happened, he
gave the actual day and hour of his return, so that Angela knew it.

The relief of his unexpectedly long absence went to Stephen's head; she
grew much more exacting, suggesting all sorts of intimate plans.
Supposing they went for a few days to London? Supposing they motored to
Symond's Yat and stayed at the little hotel by the river? They might even
push on to Abergavenny and from there motor up and explore the Black
Mountains--why not? It was glorious weather.

'Angela, please come away with me, darling--just for a few days--we've
never done it, and I've longed to so often. You can't refuse, there's
nothing on earth to prevent your coming.'

But Angela would not make up her mind, she seemed suddenly anxious about
her husband: 'Poor devil, he was awfully fond of his mother. I oughtn't
to go, it would look so heartless with the old woman dead and Ralph so
unhappy--'

Stephen said bitterly: 'What about me? Do you think I'm never unhappy?'

So the time slipped by in heartaches and quarrels, for Stephen's taut
nerves were like spurs to her temper, and she stormed or reproached in
her dire disappointment:

'You pretend that you love me and yet you won't come--and I've waited so
long--oh, my God, how I've waited! But you're utterly cruel. And I ask
for so little, just to have you with me for a few days and nights just to
sleep with you in my arms; just to feel you beside me when I wake up in
the morning--I want to open my eyes and see your face, as though we
belonged to each other. Angela, I swear I wouldn't torment you--we'd be
just as we are now, if that's what you're afraid of. You must know, after
all these months, that you can trust me--'

But Angela set her lips and refused: 'No, Stephen, I'm sorry, but I'd
rather not come.'

Then Stephen would feel that life was past bearing, and sometimes she
must ride rather wildly for miles--now on Raftery, now on Sir Philip's
young chestnut. All alone she would ride in the early mornings, getting
up from a sleepless night unrefreshed, yet terribly alive because of
those nerves that tortured her luckless body. She would get back to
Morton still unable to rest, and a little later would order the motor and
drive herself across to The Grange, where Angela would usually be
dreading her coming.

Her reception would be cold: 'I'm fairly busy, Stephen--I must pay off
all these bills before Ralph gets home'; or: 'I've got a foul headache,
so don't scold me this morning; I think if you did that I just couldn't
bear it!' Stephen would flinch as though struck in the face; she might
even turn round and go back to Morton.

Came the last precious day before Ralph's return, and that day they did
spend quite peaceably together, for Angela seemed bent upon soothing. She
went out of her way to be gentle to Stephen, and Stephen, quick as always
to respond, was very gentle in her turn. But after they had dined in the
little herb garden--taking advantage of the hot, still weather--Angela
developed one of her headaches.

Oh, my Stephen--oh, darling, my head's too awful. It must be the
thunder--it's been coming on all day. What a perfectly damnable thing to
happen, on our last evening too--but I know this kind well; I'll just
have to give in and go to my bed. I'll take a cachet and then try to
sleep, so don't ring me up when you get back to Morton. Come
to-morrow--come early. I'm so miserable, darling, when I think that this
is our last peaceful evening--'

'I know. But are you all right to be left?'

'Yes, of course. All I need is to get some sleep. You won't worry, will
you? Promise, my Stephen!'

Stephen hesitated. Quite suddenly Angela was looking very ill, and her
hands were like ice. Swear you'll telephone to me if you can't get to
sleep, then I'll come back at once.'

'Yes, but don't do that, will you, unless I ring up--I should hear you,
of course, and that would wake me and start my head throbbing.' Then as
though impelled, in spite of herself by the girl's strange attraction,
she lifted her face: 'Kiss me...oh, God...Stephen!'

'I love you so much--so much--' whispered Stephen.


2


It was past ten o'clock when she got back to Morton: 'Has Angela Crossby
rung up?' she inquired of Puddle, who appeared to have been waiting in
the hall.

'No, she hasn't!' snapped Puddle, who was getting to the stage when she
hated the mere name of Angela Crossby. Then she added: 'You look like
nothing on earth; in your place I'd go to bed at once, Stephen.'

'You go to bed, Puddle, if you're tired--where's Mother?'

'In her bath. For heaven's sake do come to bed! I can't bear to see you
looking as you do these days.'

'I'm all right.'

'No, you're not, you're all wrong. Go and look at your face.'

'I don't very much want to, it doesn't attract me,' smiled Stephen.

So Puddle went angrily up to her room, leaving Stephen to sit with a book
in the hall near the telephone bell, in case Angela should ring. And
there, like the faithful creature she was, she must sit on all through
the night, patiently waiting. But when the first tinges of dawn greyed
the window and the panes of the semicircular fanlight, she left her chair
stiffly to pace up and down, filled with a longing to be near this woman,
if only to stand and keep watch in her garden--Snatching up a coat she
went out to her car.


3


She left the motor at the gates of The Grange, and walked up the drive,
taking cart to tread softly. The air had an indefinable smell of dew and
of very newly born morning. The tall, ornate Tudor chimneys of the house
stood out gauntly against a brightening sky, and as Stephen crept into
the small herb garden, one tentative bird had already begun singing--but
his voice was still rather husky from sleep. She stood there and shivered
in her heavy coat; the long night of vigil had devitalized her. She was
sometimes like this now--she would shiver at the least provocation, the
least sign of fatigue, for her splendid physical strength was giving,
worn out by its own insistence.

She dragged the coat more closely around her, and stared at the house
which was reddening with sunrise. Her heart beat anxiously, fearfully
even, as though in some painful anticipation of she knew not what--every
window was dark except one or two that were fired by the sunrise. How
long she stood there she never knew, it might have been moments, it might
have been a life-time; and then suddenly there was something that
moved--the little oak door that led into that garden. It moved
cautiously, opening inch by inch, until at last it was standing wide
open, and Stephen saw a man and a woman who turned to clasp as though
neither of them could endure to be parted from the arms of the other; and
as they clung there together and kissed, they swayed unsteadily--drunk
with loving.

Then, as sometimes happens in moments of great anguish, Stephen could
only remember the grotesque. She could only remember a plump-bosomed
housemaid in the arms of a coarsely amorous footman, and she laughed and
she laughed like a creature demented--laughed and laughed until she must
gasp for breath and spit blood from, her tongue, which had somehow got
bitten in her efforts to stop her hysterical laughing; and some of the
blood remained on her chin, jerked there by that agonized laughter.

Pale as death, Roger Antrim stared out into the garden, and his tiny
moustache looked quite black--like an ink stain smeared above his
tremulous mouth by some careless schoolboy finger.

And now Angela's voice came to Stephen, but faintly. She was saying
something--what was she saying? It soundly absurdly as though it were a
prayer--' Christ!' Then sharply--razor-sharp it sounded as it cut through
the air: 'You, Stephen!'

The laughter died abruptly away, as Stephen turned and walked out of the
garden and down the short drive that led to the gates of the Grange,
where the motor was waiting. Her face was a mask, quite without
expression. She moved stiffly, yet with a curious precision; and she
swung up the handle and started the powerful engine without any apparent
effort.

She drove at great speed but with accurate judgment, for now her mind
felt as clear as spring water, and yet there were strange little gaps in
her mind--she had not the least idea where she was going. Every road for
miles around Upton was familiar, yet she had not the least idea where she
was going. Nor did she know how long she drove, nor when she stopped to
procure fresh petrol. The sun rose high and hot in the heavens; it beat
down on her without warming her coldness, for always she had the sense of
a dead thing that lay close against her heart and oppressed it. A
corpse--she was carrying a corpse about with her. Was it the corpse of
her love for Angela? If so that love was more terrible dead--oh, far more
terrible dead than living.

The first stars were shining, but as yet very faintly, when she found
herself driving through the gates of Morton. Heard Puddle's voice
calling: 'Wait a minute. Stop. Stephen!' Saw Puddle barring her way in
the drive, a tiny yet dauntless figure.

She pulled up with a jerk: 'What's the matter What is it?' 'Where have
you been?'

'I--don't know, Puddle.'

But Puddle had clambered in beside her: 'Listen, Stephen,' and now she
was talking very fast, 'listen, Stephen--is it--is it Angela Crossby It
is. I can see the thing in your face. My God, what's that woman done to
you, Stephen?'

Then Stephen, in spite of the corpse against her heart, or perhaps
because of it, defended the woman: 'She's done nothing at all--it was all
my fault, but you wouldn't understand--I got very angry and then
I laughed and couldn't stop laughing--' Steady, go steady! She was
telling too much: 'No--it wasn't that exactly. Oh, you know my vile
temper, it always goes off at half cock for nothing. Well, then I just
drove round and round the country until I cooled down. I'm sorry, Puddle,
I ought to have rung up, of course you've been anxious.'

Puddle gripped her arm: 'Stephen, listen, it's your mother--she thinks
that you started quite early for Worcester, I lied--I've been nearly
distracted, child. If you hadn't come soon, I'd have had to tell her that
I didn't know where you were. You must never, never go off without a word
like this again--But I do understand, oh, I do indeed, Stephen.'

But Stephen shook her head: 'No, my dear, you couldn't--and I'd rather
not tell you, Puddle.'

'Some day you must tell me,' said Puddle, 'because--well, because I do
understand, Stephen.'


4


That night the weight against Stephen's heart, with its icy coldness,
melted; and it flowed out in such a torrent of grief that she could, not
stand up against that torrent, so that drowning though she was she found
pen and paper, and she wrote to Angela Crossby.

What a letter! All the pent-up passion of months, all the terrible,
rending, destructive frustrations must burst forth from her heart: 'Love
me, only love me the way I love you. Angela, for God's sake, try to love
me a little--don't throw me away, because if you do I'm utterly finished.
You know how I love you, with my soul and my body; if it's wrong,
grotesque, unholy--have pity. I'll be humble. Oh, my darling, I am humble
now; I'm just a poor, heart-broken freak of a creature who loves you and
needs you much more than its life, because life's worse than death, ten
times worse without you. I'm some awful mistake--God's mistake--I don't
know if there are any more like me, I pray not for their sakes, because
it's pure hell. But oh, my dear, whatever I am, I just love you and love
you. I thought it was dead, but it wasn't. It's alive--so terribly alive
tonight in my bedroom...' And so it went on for page after page.

But never a word about Roger Antrim and what she had seen that morning in
the garden. Some fine instinct of utterly selfless protection towards
this woman had managed to survive all the anguish and all the madness of
that day. The letter was a terrible indictment against Stephen, a
complete vindication of Angela Crossby.


5


Angela went to her husband's study, and she stood before him utterly
shaken, utterly appalled at what she would do, yet utterly and ruthlessly
determined to do it from a primitive instinct of self-preservation. In
her ears she could still hear that terrible laughter--that uncanny,
hysterical, agonized laughter. Stephen was mad, and God only knew what
she might do or say in a moment of madness, and then--but she dared not
look into the future. Cringing in spirit and trembling in body, she
forgot the girl's faithful and loyal devotion, her will to forgive, her
desire to protect, so clearly set forth in that pitiful letter.

She said: 'Ralph, I want to ask your advice. I'm in an awful mess--it's
Stephen Gordon. You think I've been carrying on with Roger--good Lord, if
you only knew what I've endured these past few months! I have seen a
great deal of Roger, I admit--quite innocently of course--still, all the
same, I've seen him--I thought it would show her that I'm not--that I'm
not--' For one moment her voice seemed about to fail her, then she went
on quite firmly: 'that I'm not a pervert; that I'm not that sort of
degenerate creature.'

He sprang up: 'What?' he bellowed.

'Yes, I know, it's too awful. I ought to have asked your advice about it,
but I really did like the girl just at first, and after that, well--I set
out to reform her. Oh, I know, I've been crazy, worse than crazy if you
like; it was hopeless right from the very beginning. If I'd only known
more about that sort of thing I'd have come to you at once, but I'd never
met it. She was our neighbour, too, which made it more awkward, and not
only that--her position in the county--oh, Ralph, you must help me, I'm
completely bewildered. How on earth does one answer this sort of thing?
It's quite mad--I believe the girl's half mad herself.'

And she handed him Stephen's letter.

He read it slowly, and as he did so his weak little eyes grew literally
scarlet--puffy and scarlet all over their lids, and when he had finished
reading that letter he turned and spat on the ground. Then Ralph's
language became a thing to forget; every filthy invective learnt in the
slums of his youth and later on in the workshops, he hurled against
Stephen and all her kind. He called down the wrath of the Lord upon them.
He deplored the non-existence of the stake, and racked his brains for
indecent tortures. And finally: 'I'll answer this letter, yes, by God I
will! You leave her to me, I know how I'm going to answer this letter!'

Angela asked him, and now her voice shook: 'Ralph, what will you do to
her--to Stephen?'

He laughed loudly: 'I'll hound her out of the county before I've
done--and with luck out of England; the same as I'd hound you out if I
thought that there'd ever been anything between you two women. It's
damned lucky for you that she wrote this letter, damned lucky, otherwise
I might have my suspicions. You've got off this time, but don't try your
reforming again--you're not cut out to be a reformer. If there's any of
that Lamb of God stuff wanted I'll see to it myself and don't you forget
it!' He slipped the letter into his pocket, 'I'll sec to it myself next
time--with an axe!'

Angela turned and went out of the study with bowed head. She was saved
through this great betrayal, yet most strangely bitter she found her
salvation, and most shameful the price she paid for her safety. So,
greatly daring, she went to her desk and with trembling fingers took a
sheet of paper. Then she wrote in her large, rather childish handwriting:
'Stephen--when you know what I've done, forgive me.'



Chapter Twenty-seven


1


Two days later Anna Gordon sent for her daughter. Stephen found her
sitting quite still in that vast drawing-room of hers, which as always
smelt faintly of orris-root, beeswax and violets. Her thin, white hands
were folded in her lap, closely folded over a couple of letters; and it
seemed to Stephen that all of a sudden she saw in her mother a very old
woman--a very old woman with terrible eyes, pitiless, hard and deeply
accusing, so that she could but shrink from their gaze, since they were
the eyes of her mother.

Anna said: 'Lock the door, then come and stand here.'

In absolute silence Stephen obeyed her. Thus it was that those two
confronted each other, flesh of flesh, blood of blood, they confronted
each other across the wide gulf set between them.

Then Anna handed her daughter a letter: 'Read this,' she said briefly.
And Stephen read:

DEAR LADY ANNA,

With deep repugnance I take up my pen, for certain things won't bear
thinking about, much less being written. But I feel that I owe you some
explanation of my reasons for having come to the decision that I cannot
permit your daughter to enter my house again, or my wife to visit Morton.
I enclose a copy of your daughter's letter to my wife, which I feel is
sufficiently dear to make it unnecessary for me to write further, except
to add that my wife is returning the two costly presents given her by
Miss Gordon.

I remain, Yours very truly,

RALPH CROSSBY.

Stephen stood as though turned to stone for a moment, not so much as a
muscle twitched; then she handed the letter back to her mother without
speaking, and in silence Anna received it. 'Stephen--when you know what
I've done, forgive me.' The childish scrawl seemed suddenly on fire, it
seemed to scorch Stephen's fingers as she touched it in her pocket--so
this was what Angela had done. In a blinding flash the girl saw it all;
the miserable weakness, the fear of betrayal, the terror of Ralph and of
what he would do should he learn of that guilty night with Roger. Oh, but
Angela might have spared her this, this last wound to her loyal and
faithful devotion; this last insult to all that was best and most sacred
in her love--Angela had feared betrayal at the hands of the creature who
loved her!

But now her mother was speaking again: 'And this--read this and tell me
if you wrote it, or if that man's lying.' And Stephen must read her own
misery jibing at her from those pages in Ralph Crossby's stiff and
clerical handwriting.

She looked up: 'Yes, Mother, I wrote it.'

Then Anna began to speak very slowly as though nothing of what she would
say must be lost; and that slow, quiet voice was more dreadful than
anger: All your life I've felt very strangely towards you', she was
saying, 'I've felt a kind of physical repulsion, a desire not to touch or
to be touched by you--a terrible thing for a mother to feel--it has often
made me deeply unhappy. I've often felt that I was being unjust,
unnatural--but now I know that my instinct was right; it is you who are
unnatural, not I...'

'Mother--stop!'

'It is you who are unnatural, not I. And this thing that you are is a sin
against creation. Above all is this thing a sin against the father who
bred you, the father whom you dare to resemble. You dare to look like
your father, and your face is a living insult to his memory, Stephen. I
shall never be able to look at you now without thinking of the deadly
insult of your face and your body to the memory of the father who bred
you. I can only thank God that your father died before he was asked to
endure this great shame. As for you, I would rather see you dead at my
feet than standing before me with this thing upon you--this unspeakable
outrage that you call love in that letter which you don't deny having
written. In that letter you say things that may only be said between man
and woman, and coming from you they are vile and filthy words of
corruption--against nature, against God who created nature. My gorge
rises; you have made me feel physically sick--'

'Mother--you don't know what you're saying--you're my mother--'

'Yes, I am your mother, but for all that, you seem to me like a scourge.
I ask myself what I have ever done to be dragged down into the depths by
my daughter. And your father--what had he ever done? And you have
presumed to use the word love in connection with this--with these lusts
of your body; these unnatural cravings of your unbalanced mind and
undisciplined body--you have used that word. I have loved--do you heart I
have loved your father, and your father loved me. That was love.'

Then, suddenly, Stephen knew that unless she could, indeed, drop dead at
the feet of this woman in whose womb she had quickened, there was one
thing that she dared not let pass unchallenged, and that was this
terrible slur upon her love. And all that was in her rose up to refute
it; to protect her love from such unbearable soiling. It was part of
herself, and unless she could save it, she could not save herself any
more. She must stand or fall by the courage of that love to proclaim its
right to toleration.

She held up her hand, commanding silence; commanding that slow, quiet
voice to cease speaking, and she said: 'As my father loved you, I loved.
As a man loves a woman, that was how I loved--protectively, like my
father. I wanted to give all I had in me to give. It made me feel
terribly strong...and gentle. It was good, good, good--I'd have laid down
my life a thousand times over for Angela Crossby. If I could have I'd
have married her and brought her home--I wanted to bring her home here to
Morton. If I loved her the way a man loves a woman, it's because I can't
feel that I am a woman. All my life I've never felt like a woman, and you
know it--you say you've always disliked me, that you've always felt a
strange physical repulsion...I don't know what I am; no one's ever told
me that I'm different and yet I know that I'm different--that's why, I
suppose, you've felt as you have done. And for that I forgive you, though
whatever it is, it was you and my father who made this body--but what I
will never forgive is your daring to try to make me ashamed of my love.
I'm not ashamed of it, there's no shame in me.' And now she was
stammering a little wildly, 'Good and--and fine it was,' she stammered,
'the best part of myself--I gave all and I asked nothing in return--I
just went on hopelessly loving--' she broke off, she was shaking from
head to foot, and Anna's cold voice fell like icy water on that angry and
sorely tormented spirit.

'You have spoken, Stephen. I don't think there's much more that needs to
be said between us except this, we two cannot live together at
Morton--not now, because I might grow to hate you. Yes, although you are
my child I might grow to hate you. The same roof mustn't shelter us both
any more; one of us must go--which of us shall it bet' And she looked at
Stephen and waited.

Morton! They could not both live at Morton. Something seemed to catch
hold of the girl's heart and twist it. She stared at her mother, aghast
for a moment, while Anna stared back--she was waiting for her answer.

But quite suddenly Stephen found her manhood and she said: 'I understand.
I'll leave Morton.'

Then Anna made her daughter sit down beside her, while she talked of how
this thing might be accomplished in a way that would cause the least
possible scandal: 'For the sake of your father's honourable name, I must
ask you to help me, Stephen.' It was better, she said, that Stephen
should take Puddle with her, if Puddle would consent to go. They might
live in London or somewhere abroad, on the pretext that Stephen wished to
study. From time to time Stephen would come back to Morton and visit her
mother, and during those visits they two would take care to be seen
together for appearances' sake, for the sake of her father. She could
take from Morton whatever she needed, the horses, and anything else she
wished. Certain of the rent-roll would be paid over to her, should her
own income prove insufficient. All things must be done in a way that was
seemly--no undue haste, no suspicion of a breach between mother and
daughter: 'For the sake of your father I ask this of you, not for your
sake or mine, but for his. Do you consent to this, Stephen?'

And Stephen answered: 'Yes, I consent.'

Then Anna said: 'I'd like you to leave me now--I feel tired and I want to
be alone for a little--but presently I shall send for Puddle to discuss
her living with you in the future.'

So Stephen got up, and she went away, leaving Anna Gordon alone.


2


As though drawn there by some strong natal instinct, Stephen went
straight to her father's study; and she sat in the old arm-chair that had
survived him; then she buried her face in her hands.

All the loneliness that had gone before was as nothing to this new
loneliness of spirit. An immense desolation swept down upon her, an
immense need to cry out and claim understanding for herself, an immense
need to find an answer to the riddle of her unwanted being. All around
her were grey and crumbling ruins, and under those ruins her love lay
bleeding; shamefully wounded by Angela Crossby, shamefully soiled and
defiled by her mother--a piteous, suffering, defenceless thing, it lay
bleeding under the ruins.

She felt blind when she tried to look into the future, stupefied when she
tried to look back on the past. She must go--she was going away from
Morton: 'From Morton--I'm going away from Morton,' the words thudded
drearily in her brain: 'I'm going away from Morton.'

The grave, comely house would not know her any more, nor the garden where
she had heard the cuckoo with the dawning understanding of a child, nor
the lakes where she had kissed Angela Crossby for the first time--full on
the lips as a lover. The good, sweet-smelling meadows with their placid
cattle, she was going to leave them; and the hills that protected poor,
unhappy lovers--the merciful hills; and the lanes with their sleepy
dog-roses at evening; and the little, old township of Upton-on-Severn
with its battle-scarred church and its yellowish river; that was where
she had first seen Angela Crossby...

The spring would come sweeping across Castle Morton, bringing strong,
clean winds to the open common. The spring would come sweeping across the
whole valley, from the Cotswold Hills right up to the Malverns; bringing
daffodils by their hundreds and thousands, bringing bluebells to the
beech wood down by the lakes, bringing cygnets for Peter the swan to
protect; bringing sunshine to warm the old bricks of the house--but she
would not be there any more in the spring. In summer the roses would not
be her roses, nor the luminous carpet of leaves in the autumn, nor the
beautiful winter forms of the beech trees: 'And on evenings in winter
these lakes are quite frozen, and the ice looks like slabs of gold in the
sunset, when, you and I come and stand here in the winter...' No, no, not
that memory, it was too much--'when you and I come and stand here in the
winter...

Getting up, she wandered about the room, touching its kind and familiar
objects; stroking the desk, examining a pen, grown rusty from long disuse
as it lay there; then she opened a little drawer in the desk and took out
the key of her father's locked book-case. Her mother had told her to take
what she pleased--she would take one or two of her father's books. She
had never examined this special book-case, and she could not have told
why she suddenly did so. As she slipped the key into the lock and turned
it, the action seemed curiously automatic. She began to take out the
volumes slowly and with listless fingers, scarcely glancing at their
titles. It gave her something to do, that was all--she thought that she
was trying to distract her attention. Then she noticed that on a shelf
near the bottom was a row of books standing behind the others; the next
moment she had one of these in her hand, and was looking at the name of
the author: Krafft Ebing--she had never heard of that author before. All
the same she opened the battered old book, then she looked more closely,
for there on its margins were notes in her father's small, scholarly hand
and she saw that her own name appeared in those notes--She began to read,
sitting down rather abruptly. For a long time she read; then went back to
the book-case and got out another of those volumes, and another...The sun
was now setting behind the hills; the garden was growing dusky with
shadows. In the study there was little light left to read by, so that she
must take her book to the window and must bend her face closer over the
page; but still she read on and on in the dusk.

Then suddenly she had got to her feet and was talking aloud--she was
talking to her father: 'You knew! All the time you knew this thing, but
because of your pity you wouldn't tell me. Oh, Father--and there are so
many of us--thousands of miserable, unwanted people, who have no right to
love, no right to compassion because they're maimed, hideously maimed and
ugly--God's cruel; He let us get flawed in the making.'

And then, before she knew what she was doing, she had found her father's
old, well-worn Bible. There she stood demanding a sign from
heaven--nothing less than a sign from heaven she demanded. The Bible fell
open near the beginning. She read: 'And the Lord set a mark upon Cain...

Then Stephen hurled the Bible away, and she sank down completely hopeless
and beaten, rocking her body backwards and forwards with a kind of abrupt
yet methodical rhythm: 'And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, upon Cain...'
she was rocking now in rhythm to those words, 'And the Lord set a mark
upon Cain--upon Cain--upon Cain. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain...'

That was how Puddle came in and found her, and Puddle said: 'Where you
go, I go, Stephen. All that you're suffering at this moment I've
suffered. It was when I was very young like you--but I still remember.'

Stephen looked up with bewildered eyes: 'Would you go with Cain whom God
marked?' she said slowly, for she had not understood Puddle's meaning, so
she asked her once more: 'Would you go with Caine?'

Puddle put an arm round Stephen's bowed shoulders, and she said: 'You've
got work to do--come and do it! Why, just because you are what you are,
you may actually find that you've got an advantage. You may write with a
curious double insight--write both men and women from a personal
knowledge. Nothing's completely misplaced or wasted, I'm sure of
that--and we're all part of nature. Some day the world will recognize
this, but meanwhile there's plenty of work that's waiting. For the sake
of all the others who are like you, but less strong and less gifted
perhaps, many of them, it's up to you to have the courage to make good,
and I'm here to help you to do it, Stephen.'




BOOK THREE



Chapter Twenty-eight


1


A pale glint of sunshine devoid of all warmth lay over the wide expanse
of the river, touching the funnel of a passing tug that tore at the water
like a clumsy harrow; but a field of water is not for the sowing and the
river closed back in the wake of the tug, deftly obliterating all traces
of its noisy and foolish passing. The trees along the Chelsea Embankment
bent and creaked in a sharp March wind. The wind was urging the sap in
their branches to flow with a more determined purpose, but the skin of
their bodies was blackened and soot-clogged so that when touched it left
soot on the fingers, and knowing this they were always disheartened and
therefore a little slow to respond to the urge of the wind--they were
city trees which are always somewhat disheartened. Away to the right
against a toneless sky stood the tall factory chimneys beloved of young
artists--especially those whose skill is not great, for few can go wrong
over factory chimneys--while across the stream Battersea Park still
looked misty as though barely convalescent from fog.

In her large, long, rather low-ceilinged study whose casement windows
looked over the river, sat Stephen with her feet stretched out to the
fire and her hands thrust in her jacket pockets. Her eyelids drooped, she
was all but asleep although it was early afternoon. She had worked
through the night, a deplorable habit and one of which Puddle quite
rightly disapproved, but when the spirit of work was on her it was
useless to argue with Stephen.

Puddle looked up from her embroidery frame and pushed her spectacles on
to her forehead the better to see the drowsy Stephen, for Puddle's eyes
had grown very long-sighted so that the room looked blurred through her
glasses.

She thought: 'Yes, she's changed a good deal in these two years--' then
she sighed half in sadness and half in contentment. 'All the same she is
making good,' thought Puddle, remembering with a quick thrill of pride
that the long-limbed creature who lounged by the fire had suddenly sprung
into something like fame thanks to a fine first novel.

Stephen yawned, and readjusting her spectacles Puddle resumed her
wool-work.

It was true that the two long years of exile had left their traces on
Stephen's face; it had grown much thinner and more determined, some might
have said that the face had hardened, for the mouth was less ardent and
much less gentle, and the lips now drooped at the corners. The strong
rather massive line of the jaw looked aggressive these days by reason of
its thinness. Faint furrows had come between the thick brows and faint
shadows showed at times under the eyes; the eyes themselves were the eyes
of a writer, always a little tired in expression. Her complexion was
paler than it had been in the past, it had lost the look of wind and
sunshine--the open-air look--and the fingers of the hand that slowly
emerged from her jacket pocket were heavily stained with nicotine--she
was now a voracious smoker. Her hair was quite short. In a mood of
defiance she had suddenly walked off to the barber's one morning and had
made him crop it dose like a man's. And mightily did the fashion become
her, for now the fine shape of her head was unmarred by the stiff clumpy
plait in the nape of her neck. Released from the torment imposed upon it
the thick auburn hair could breathe and wave freely, and Stephen had
grown fond and proud of her hair--a hundred strokes must it have with the
brush every night until it looked burnished. Sir Philip also had been
proud of his hair in the days of his youthful manhood.

Stephen's life in London had been one long endeavour, for work to her had
become a narcotic. Puddle it was who had found the flat with the casement
windows that looked on the river, and Puddle it was who now kept the
accounts, paid the rent, settled bills and managed the servants; all
these details Stephen calmly ignored and the faithful Puddle allowed her
to do so. Like an ageing and anxious Vestal Virgin she tended the holy
fire of inspiration, feeding the flame with suitable food--good grilled
meat, light puddings and much fresh fruit, varied by little painstaking
surprises from Jackson's or Fortnum & Mason. For Stephen's appetite was
not what it had been in the vigorous days of Morton; now there were times
when she could not eat, or if she must eat she did so protesting,
fidgeting to go back to her desk. At such times Puddle would steal into
the study with a tin of Brand's Essence--she had even been known to feed
the recalcitrant author piecemeal, until Stephen must laugh and gobble up
the jelly for the sake of getting on with her writing.

Only one duty apart from her work had Stephen never for a moment
neglected, and that was the care and the welfare of Raftery. The cob had
been sold, and her father's chestnut she had given away to Colonel
Antrim, who had sworn not to let the horse out of his hands for the sake
of his life-long friend, Sir Philip--but Raftery she had brought up to
London. She herself had found and rented his stable with comfortable
rooms above for Jim, the groom she had taken from Morton. Every morning
she rode very early in the Park, which seemed a futile and dreary
business, but now only thus could the horse and his owner contrive to be
together for a little. Sometimes she fancied that Raftery sighed as she
cantered him round and round the Row, and then she would stoop down and
speak to him softly:

'My Raftery, I know, it's not Castle Morton or the hills or the big,
green Severn Valley--but I love you.'

And because he had understood her he would throw up his head and begin to
prance sideways, pretending that he still felt very youthful, pretending
that he was wild with delight at the prospect of cantering round the Row.
But after a while these two sorry exiles would droop and move forward
without much spirit. Each in a separate way would divine the ache in the
other, the ache that was Morton, so that Stephen would cease to urge the
beast forward, and Raftery would cease to pretend to Stephen. But when
twice a year at her mother's request, Stephen must go back to visit her
home, then Raftery went too, and his joy was immense when he felt the
good springy turf beneath him, when he sighted the red brick stables of
Morton, when he rolled in the straw of his large, airy loose box. The
years would seem to slip from his shoulders, he grew sleeker, he would
look like a five-year-old--yet to Stephen these visits of theirs were
anguish because of her love for Morton. She would feel like a stranger
within the gates, an unwanted stranger there only on sufferance. It would
seem to her that the old house withdrew itself from her love very gravely
and sadly, that its windows no longer beckoned, invited: 'Come home, come
home, come inside quickly, Stephen!' And she would not dare to proffer
her love, which would burden her heart to breaking.

She must now pay many calls with her mother, must attend all the formal
social functions--this for the sake of appearances, lest the neighbours
should guess the breach between them. She must keep up the fiction that
she found in a city the stimulus necessary to her work, she who was
filled with a hungry longing for the green of the hills, for the air of
wide spaces, for the mornings and the noontides and the evenings of
Morton. All these things she must do for the sake of her father, aye, and
for the sake of Morton.

On her first visit home Anna had said very quietly one day: 'There's
something, Stephen, that I think I ought to tell you perhaps, though it's
painful to me to reopen the subject. There has been no scandal--that man
held his tongue--you'll be glad to know this because of your father. And
Stephen--the Crossbys have sold The Grange and gone to America, I
believe--' she had stopped abruptly, not looking at Stephen, who had
nodded, unable to answer.

So now there were quite different folk at The Grange, folk very much more
to the taste of the county--Admiral Carson and his apple-checked wife
who, childless herself, adored Mothers' Meetings. Stephen must sometimes
go to The Grange with Anna, who liked the Carsons. Very grave and aloof
had Stephen become; too reserved, too self-assured, thought her
neighbours. They supposed that success had gone to her head, for no one
was now allowed to divine the terrible shyness that made social
intercourse such a miserable torment. Life had already taught Stephen one
thing, and that was that never must human beings be allowed to suspect
that a creature fears them. The fear of the one is a spur to the many,
for the primitive hunting instinct dies hard--it is better to face a
hostile world than to turn one's back for a moment.

But at least she was spared meeting Roger Antrim, and for this she was
most profoundly thankful. Roger had gone with his regiment to Malta, so
that they two did not see each other. Violet was married and living in
London in the 'perfect duck of a house in Belgravia'. From time to time
she would blow in on Stephen, but not often, because she was very much
married with one baby already and another on the way. She was somewhat
subdued and much less maternal than she had been when first she met Alec.

If Anna was proud of her daughter's achievement she said nothing beyond
the very few words that must of necessity be spoken: 'I'm so glad your
book has succeeded, Stephen.'

'Thank you, mother--'

Then as always these two fell silent. Those long and eloquent silences of
theirs were now of almost daily occurrence when they found themselves
together. Nor could they look each other in the eyes any more, their eyes
were for ever shifting, and sometimes Anna's pale cheeks would flush very
slightly when she was alone with Stephen--perhaps at her thoughts.

And Stephen would think: 'It's because she can't help remembering.'

For the most part, however, they shunned all contact by common consent,
except when in public. And this studied avoidance tore at their nerves;
they were now wellnigh obsessed by each other, for ever secretly laying
their plans in order to avoid a meeting. Thus it was that these
obligatory visits to Morton were a pretty bad strain on Stephen. She
would go back to London unable to sleep, unable to eat, unable to write,
and with such a despairing and sickening heartache for the grave old
house the moment she had left it, that Puddle would have to be very
severe in order to pull her together.

'I'm ashamed of you, Stephen; what's happened to your courage? You don't
deserve your phenomenal success; if you go on like this, God help the new
book. I suppose you're going to be a one-book author!'

Scowling darkly, Stephen would go to her desk--she had no wish to be a
one-book author.


2


Yet as everything comes as grist to the mill of those who arc destined
from birth to be writers--poverty or riches, good or evil, gladness or
sorrow, all grist to the mill--so the pain of Morton burning down to the
spirit in Stephen had kindled a bright, hot flame, and all that she had
written she had written by its light, seeing exceedingly clearly. As
though in a kind of self-preservation, her mind had turned to quite
simple people, humble people sprung from the soil, from the same kind
soil that had nurtured Morton. None of her own strange emotions had
touched them, and yet they were part of her own emotions; a part of her
longing for simplicity and peace, a part of her curious craving for the
normal. And although at this time Stephen did not know it, their
happiness sprung from her moments of joy; their sorrows from the sorrow
she had known and still knew; their frustrations from her own bitter
emptiness; their fulfilments from her longing to be fulfilled. These
people had drawn life and strength from their creator. Like infants they
had sucked at her breasts of inspiration, and drawn from them blood,
waxing wonderfully strong; demanding, compelling thereby recognition. For
surely thus only are fine books written, they must somehow partake of the
miracle of blood--the strange and terrible miracle of blood, the giver of
life, the purifier, the great final expiation.


3


But one thing there was that Puddle still feared, and this was the girl's
desire for isolation. To her it appeared like a weakness in Stephen; she
divined the bruised humility of spirit that now underlay this desire for
isolation, and she did her best to frustrate it. It was Puddle who had
forced the embarrassed Stephen to let in the Press photographers, and
Puddle it was who had given the details for the captions that were to
appear with the pictures: 'If you choose to behave like a hermit crab I
shall use my own judgment about what I say!'

'I don't care a tinker's darn what you say! Now leave me in peace do,
Puddle.'

It was Puddle who answered the telephone calls: 'I'm afraid Miss Gordon
will be busy working--what name did you say? Oh, The Literary Monthly! I
see--well suppose you come on Wednesday.' And on Wednesday there was old
Puddle waiting to waylay the anxious young man who had been commanded to
dig up some copy about the new novelist, Stephen Gordon. Then Puddle had
smiled at the anxious young man and had shepherded him into her own
little sanctum, and had given him a comfortable chair, and had stirred
the fire the better to warm him. And the young man had noticed her
charming smile and had thought how kind was this ageing woman, and how
damned hard it was to go tramping the streets in quest of erratic,
unsociable authors.

Puddle had said, still smiling kindly: 'I'd hate you to go back without
your copy, but Miss Gordon's been working overtime lately, I dare not
disturb her, you don't mind, do you? Now if you could possibly make shift
with me--I really do know a great deal about her; as a matter of fact I'm
her ex-governess, so I really do know quite a lot about her.'

Out had come notebook and copying pencil; it was easy to talk to this
sympathetic woman: 'Well, if you could give me some interesting
details--say, her taste in books and her recreations, I'd be awfully
grateful. She hunts, I believe?'

'Oh, not now!'

'I see--well then, she did hunt. And wasn't her father Sir Philip Gordon
who had a place down in Worcestershire and was killed by a falling tree
or something? What kind of a pupil did you find Miss Gordon? I'll send
her my notes when I've worked them up, but I really would like to see
her, you know.' Then being a fairly sagacious young man: 'I've just read
The Furrow, it's a wonderful book!'

Puddle talked glibly while the young man scribbled, and when at last he
was just about going she let him out on to the balcony from which he
could look in Stephen's study.

'There she is at her desk! What more could you ask?' she said
triumphantly, pointing to Stephen whose hair was literally standing on
end, as is sometimes the way with youthful authors. She even managed
occasionally to make Stephen see the journalists herself:


4


Stephen got up, stretched, and went to the window. The sun had retreated
behind the clouds; a kind of brown twilight hung over the Embankment, for
the wind had now dropped and a fog was threatening. The discouragement
common to all fine writers was upon her, she was hating what she had
written. Last night's work seemed inadequate and unworthy; she decided to
put a blue pencil through it and to rewrite the chapter from start to
finish. She began to give way to a species of panic; her new book would
be a ludicrous failure, she felt it, she would never again write a novel
possessing the quality of The Furrow. The Furrow had been the result of
shock to which she had, strangely enough, reacted by a kind of unnatural
mental vigour. But now she could not react any more, her brain felt like
over-stretched elastic, it would not spring back, it was limp,
unresponsive. And then there was something else that distracted,
something she was longing to put into words yet that shamed her so that
it held her tongue-tied. She lit a cigarette and when it was finished
found another and kindled it at the stump.

'Stop embroidering that curtain, for God's sake, Puddle. I simply can't
stand the sound of your needle; it makes a booming noise like a drum
every time you prod that tightly stretched linen.'

Puddle looked up: 'You're smoking too much.'

'I dare say I am. I can't write any more.'

'Since when?'

'Ever since I began this new book.'

'Don't be such a fool!'

'But it's God's truth, I tell you--I feel flat, it's a kind of spiritual
dryness. This new book is going to be a failure, sometimes I think I'd
better destroy it.' She began to pace up and down the room, dull-eyed yet
tense as a tightly-drawn bow string.

'This comes of working all night,' Puddle murmured.

'I must work when the spirit moves me,' snapped Stephen.

Puddle put aside her wool work embroidery. She was not much moved by this
sudden depression, she had grown quite accustomed to these literary
moods, yet she looked a little more closely at Stephen and something that
she saw in her face disturbed her.

'You look tired to death; why not lie down and rest?'

'Rot! I want to work.'

'You're not fit to work. You look all on edge, somehow. What's the matter
with you?' And then very gently: Stephen, come here and sit down by me,
please, I must know what's the matter.'

Stephen obeyed as though once again they two were back in the old Morton
schoolroom, then she suddenly buried her face in her hands: 'I don't want
to tell you--why must I, Puddle?'

'Because,' said Puddle, 'I've a right to know; your career's very dear to
me, Stephen.'

Then suddenly Stephen could not resist the blessed relief of confiding in
Puddle once more, of taking this great new trouble to the faithful and
wise little grey-haired woman whose hand had been stretched out to save
in the past. Perhaps yet again that hand might find the strength that was
needful to save her.

Not looking at Puddle, she began to talk quickly: 'There's something I've
been wanting to tell you, Puddle--it's about my work, there's something
wrong with it. I mean that my work could be much more vital; I feel it, I
know it, I'm holding it back in some way, there's something I'm always
missing. Even in Time Furrow I feel I missed something--I know it was
fine, but it wasn't complete because I'm not complete and I never shall
be--can't you understand? I'm not complete...' She paused, unable to find
the words she wanted, then blundered on again blindly: 'There's a great
chunk of life that I've never known, and I want to know it, I ought to
know it if I'm to become a really fine writer. There's the greatest thing
perhaps in the world, and I've missed it--that's what's so awful, Puddle,
to know that it exists everywhere, all round me, to be constantly near it
yet always held back--to feel that the poorest people in the streets, the
most ignorant people, know more than I do. And I dare to take up my pen
and write, knowing less than these poor men and women in the street! Why
haven't I got a right to it, Puddle? Can't you understand that I'm strong
and young, so that sometimes this thing that I'm missing torments me, so
that I can't concentrate on my work any more? Puddle, help me--you were
young yourself once.'

'Yes, Stephen--a long time ago I was young...

'But can't you remember back for my sake?' And now her voice sounded
almost angry in her distress: 'It's unfair, it's unjust. Why should I
live in this great isolation of spirit and body--why should I, why? Why
have I been afflicted with a body that must never be indulged, that must
always be repressed until it grows much stronger than my spirit because
of this unnatural repression? What have I done to be so cursed? And now
it's attacking my holy of holies, my work--I shall never be a great
writer because of my maimed and insufferable body--' She fell silent,
suddenly shy and ashamed, too much ashamed to go on speaking.

And there sat Puddle as pale as death and as speechless, having no
comfort to offer--no comfort, that is, that she dared to offer--while all
her fine theories about making good for the sake of those others; being
noble, courageous, patient, honourable, physically pure, enduring because
it was right to endure, the terrible birthright of the invert--all
Puddle's fine theories lay strewn around her like the ruins of some false
and flimsy temple, and she saw at that moment but one thing clearly--true
genius in chains, in the chains of the flesh, a fine spirit subject to
physical bondage. And as once before she had argued with God on behalf of
this sorely afflicted creature, so now she inwardly cried yet again to
the Maker whose will had created Stephen: 'Thine hands have made me and
fashioned me together and round about; yet Thou dost destroy me.' Then
into her heart crept a bitterness very hard to endure: 'Yet Thou dost
destroy me--'

Stephen looked up and saw her face: 'Never mind,' she said sharply, 'it's
all right, Puddle--forget it!'

But Puddle's eyes filled with tears, and seeing this, Stephen went to her
desk. Sitting down she groped for her manuscript: 'I'm going to turn you
out now, I must work. Don't wait for me if I'm late for dinner.'

Very humbly Puddle crept out of the study.



Chapter Twenty-nine


1


Soon after the New Year, nine months later, Stephen's second novel was
published. It failed to create the sensation that the first had created,
there was something disappointing about it. One critic described this as:
'A lack of grip,' and his criticism, on the whole, was a fair one.
However, the Press was disposed to be kind, remembering the merits of The
Furrow.

But the heart of the Author knoweth its own sorrows and is seldom
responsive to false consolation, so that when Puddle said: 'Never mind,
Stephen, you can't expect every book to be The Furrow--and this one is
full of literary merit.' Stephen replied as she turned away: I was
writing a novel, my dear, not an essay.'

After this they did not discuss it any more, for what was the use of
fruitless discussion? Stephen knew well and Puddle knew also that this
book fell far short of its author's powers. Then suddenly, that spring,
Raftery went very lame, and everything else was forgotten.

Raftery was aged, he was now eighteen, so that lameness in him was not
easy of healing. His life in a city had tried him sorely, he had missed
the light, airy stables of Morton, and the cruel-hard bed that lay under
the tan of the Row had jarred his legs badly.

The vet shook his head and looked very grave: 'He's an aged horse, you
know, and of course in his youth you hunted him pretty freely--it all
counts. Everyone comes to the end of their tether, Miss Gordon. Yes, at
times I'm afraid it is painful.' Then, seeing Stephen's face: 'I'm
awfully sorry not to give a more cheerful diagnosis.'

Other experts arrived. Every good vet in London was consulted, including
Professor Hobday. No cure, no cure, it was always the same, and at times,
they told Stephen, the old horse suffered; but this she well knew--she
had seen the sweat break out darkly on Raftery's shoulders.

So one morning she went into Raftery's loosebox, and she sent the groom
Jim out of the stable, and she laid her check against the beast's neck,
while he turned his head and began to nuzzle. Then they looked at each
other very quietly and gravely, and in Raftery's eyes was a strange, new
expression--a kind of half-anxious, protesting wonder at this thing men
call pain: 'What is it, Stephen?'

She answered, forcing back her hot tears: 'Perhaps, for you, the
beginning, Raftery...'

After a while she went to his manger and let the fodder slip through her
fingers; but he would not eat, not even to please her, so she called the
groom back and ordered some gruel. Very gently she readjusted the
clothing that had slipped to one side, first the under-blanket, then the
smart blue rug that was braided in red--red and blue, the old stable
colours of Morton.

The groom Jim, now a thick-set stalwart young man, stared at her with
sorrowful understanding, but he did not speak; he was almost as dumb as
the beasts whom his life had been passed in tending--even dumber,
perhaps, for his language consisted of words, having no small sounds and
small movements such as Raftery used when he spoke with Stephen, and
which meant so much more than words.

She said: 'I'm going now to the station to order a horse-box for
to-morrow, I'll let you know the time we start, later. And wrap him up
well; put on plenty of clothing for the journey, please, he mustn't feel
cold.'

The man nodded. She had not told him their destination, but he knew it
already; it was Morton. Then the great clumsy fellow must pretend to be
busy with a truss of fresh straw for the horse's bedding, because his
face had turned a deep crimson, because his coarse lips were actually
trembling--and this was not really so very strange, for those who served
Raftery loved him.


2


Raftery stepped quietly into his horse-box and Jim with great deftness
secured the halter, then he touched his cap and hurried away to his
third-class compartment, for Stephen herself would travel with Raftery on
his last journey back to the fields of Morton. Sitting down on the seat
reserved for a groom she opened the little wooden window into the box,
whereupon Raftery's muzzle came up and his face looked out of the window.
She fondled the soft, grey plush of his muzzle. Presently she took a
carrot from her pocket, but the carrot was rather hard now for his teeth,
so she bit off small pieces and these she gave him in the palm of her
hand; then she watched him eat them uncomfortably, slowly, because he was
old, and this seemed so strange, for old age and Raftery went very ill
together.

Her mind slipped back and back over the years until it recaptured the
coming of Raftery--grey-coated and slender, and his eyes as soft as an
Irish morning, and his courage as bright as an Irish sunrise, and his
heart as young as the wild, eternally young heart of Ireland. She
remembered what they had said to each other. Raftery had said: 'I will
carry you bravely, I will serve you all the days of my life.' She had
answered: 'I will care for you night and day, Raftery--all the days of
your life.' She remembered their first run with the hounds together--she
a youngster of twelve, he a youngster of five. Great deeds they had done
on that day together, at least they had seemed like great deeds to
them--she had had a kind of fire in her heart as she galloped astride of
Raftery. She remembered her father, his protective look, so broad, so
kind, so patiently protective; and towards the end it had stooped a
little as though out of kindness it carried a burden. Now she knew whose
burden that back had been bearing so that it stooped a little. He had
been very proud of the fine Irish horse, very proud of his small and
courageous rider: 'Steady, Stephen!' but his eyes had been bright like
Raftery's. 'Steady on, Stephen, we're coming to a. stiff one!' but once
they were over he had turned round and smiled, as he had done in the days
when the impudent Collins had stretched his inadequate legs to their
utmost to keep up with the pace of the hunters.

Long ago, it all seemed a long time ago. A long road it seemed, leading
where? She wondered. Her father had gone away into its shadows, and now
after him, limping a little, went Raftery; Raftery with hollows above his
eyes and down his grey neck that had once been so firm; Raftery whose
splendid white teeth were now yellowed and too feeble to bite up his
carrot.

The train jogged and swayed so that once the horse stumbled. Springing
up, she stretched out her hand to soothe him. He seemed glad of her hand:
'Don't be frightened, Raftery. Did that hurt you Raftery acquainted with
pain on the road that led into the shadows.

Presently the hills showed over on the left, but a long way off, and when
they came nearer they were suddenly very near on the right, so near that
she saw the white houses on them. They looked dark; a kind of still,
thoughtful darkness brooded over the hills and their low white houses. It
was always so in the later afternoons, for the sun moved across to the
wide Wye Valley--it would set on the western side of the hills, over the
wide Wye Valley. The smoke from the chimney-stacks bent downwards after
rising a little and formed a blue haze, for the air was heavy with spring
and dampness. Leaning from the window she could smell the spring, the
time of mating, the time of fruition. When the train stopped a minute
outside the station she fancied that she heard the singing of birds; very
softly it came but the sound was persistent--yes, surely, that was the
singing of birds...


3


They took Raftery in an ambulance from Great Malvern in order to spare
him the jar of the roads. That night he slept in his own spacious
loosebox, and the faithful Jim would not leave him that night; he sat up
and watched while Raftery slept in so deep a bed of yellow-gold straw
that it all but reached his knees when standing. A last inarticulate
tribute this to the most gallant horse, the most courteous horse that
ever stepped out of stable.

But when the sun came up over Bredon, flooding the breadth of the Severn
Valley, touching the slopes of the Malvern Hills that stand opposite
Bredon across the valley, gilding the old red bricks of Morton and the
weather-vane on its quiet stables, Stephen went into her father's study
and she loaded his heavy revolver.

Then they led Raftery out and into the morning; they led him with care to
the big north paddock and stood him beside the mighty hedge that had set
the seal on his youthful valour. Very still he stood with the sun on his
flanks, the groom, Jim, holding the bridle.

Stephen said: 'I'm going to send you away, a long way away, and I've
never left you except for a little while since you came when I was a
child and you were quite young--but I'm going to send you a long way away
because of your pain. Raftery, this is death; and beyond, they say,
there's no more suffering.' She paused, then spoke in a voice so low that
the groom could not hear her: 'Forgive me, Raftery.'

And Raftery stood there looking at Stephen, and his eyes were as soft as
an Irish morning, yet as brave as the eyes that looked into his. Then it
seemed to Stephen that he had spoken, that Raftery had said: 'Since to me
you are God, what have I to forgive you, Stephen?'

She took a step forward and pressed the revolver high up against
Raftery's smooth, grey forehead. She fired, and he dropped to the ground
like a stone, lying perfectly still by the mighty hedge that had set the
seal on his youthful valour.

But now there broke out a great crying and wailing: 'Oh, me! Oh, me!
They've been murderin' Raftery! Shame, shame, I says, on the 'and what
done it, and 'im no common horse but a Christian...' Then loud sobbing as
though some very young child had fallen down and hurt itself badly. And
there in a small, creaky, wicker bath-chair sat Williams, being bumped
along over the paddock by a youthful niece, who had come to Morton to
take care of the old and now feeble couple; for Williams had had his
first stroke that Christmas, in addition to which he was almost childish.
God only knew who had told him this thing; the secret had been very
carefully guarded by Stephen, who, knowing his love for the horse, had
taken every precaution to spare him. Yet now here he was with his face
all twisted by the stroke and the sobs that kept on rising. He was trying
to lift his half-paralysed hand which kept dropping back on to the arm of
the bath-chair; he was trying to get out of the bath-chair and run to
where Raftery lay stretched out in the sunshine; he was trying to speak
again, but his voice had grown thick so that no one could understand him.
Stephen thought that his mind had begun to wander, for now he was surely
not screaming 'Raftery' any more, but something that sounded like:
'Master!' and again, 'Oh, Master, Master!'

She said: 'Take him home,' for he did not know her; 'take him home. You'd
no business to bring him here at all--it's against my orders, Who told
him about it?'

And the young girl answered: 'It seemed 'e just knowed--it was like as
though Raftery told 'im...

Williams looked up with his blurred, anxious eyes. 'Who be you?' he
inquired. Then he suddenly smiled through his tears. 'It be good to be
seein' you, Master--seems like a long while...' His voice was now clear
but exceedingly small, a small, far-away thing. If a doll had spoken, its
voice might have sounded very much as the old man's did at that moment.

Stephen bent over him. 'Williams, I'm Stephen--don't you know me? It's
Miss Stephen. You must go straight home and get back to bed--it's still
rather cold on these early spring mornings--to please me, Williams, you
must go straight home. Why, your hands are frozen!'

But Williams shook his head and began to remember. 'Raftery,' he mumbled,
'something's 'appened to Raftery.' And his sobs and his tears broke out
with fresh vigour, so that his niece, frightened, tried to stop him.

'Now uncle be qui-et I do be-seech 'e! It's so bad for 'e carryin' on in
this wise. What will auntie say when she sees 'e all mucked up with
weepin', and yer poor nose all red and dir-ty? I'll be takin' e' 'ome as
Miss Stephen 'ere says. Now, uncle dear, do be qui-et!'

She lugged the bath-chair round with a jolt and trundled it, lurching,
towards the cottage. All the way back down the big north paddock Williams
wept and wailed and tried to get out, but his niece put one hefty young
hand on his shoulder; with the other she guided the lurching bath-chair.

Stephen watched them go, then she turned to the groom. 'Bury him here,'
she said briefly.


4


Before she left Morton that same afternoon, she went once more into the
large, bare stables. The stables were now completely empty, for Anna had
moved her carriage horses to new quarters nearer the coachman's cottage.

Over one loosebox was a warped oak board bearing Collin's studbook title,
'Marcus,' in red and blue letters; but the paint was dulled to a ghostly
grey by encroaching mildew, while a spider had spun a large, purposeful
web across one side of Collins' manger. A cracked, sticky wine bottle lay
on the floor; no doubt used at some time for drenching Collins, who had
died in a fit of violent colic a few months after Stephen herself had
left Morton. On the window-sill of the farthest loosebox stood a curry
comb and couple of brushes; the comb was being eaten by rust, the brushes
had lost several clumps of bristles. A jam pot of hoof-polish, now hard
as stone, clung tenaciously to a short stick of firewood which time had
petrified into the polish. But Raftery's loosebox smelt fresh and
pleasant with the curious dry, clean smell of new straw. A deep
depression towards the middle showed where his body had lain in sleep,
and seeing this Stephen stooped down and touched it for a moment. Then
she whispered: 'Sleep peacefully, Raftery.'

She could not weep, for a great desolation too deep for tears lay over
her spirit--the great desolation of things that pass, of things that pass
away in our lifetime. And then of what good, after all, are our tears,
since they cannot hold back this passing away--no, not for so much as a
moment? She looked round her now at the empty stables, the unwanted,
uncared for stables of Morton. So proud they had been that were now so
humbled; and they had the feeling of all disused places that have once
teemed with life, they felt pitifully lonely. She closed her eyes so as
not to see them. Then the thought came to Stephen that this was the end,
the end of her courage and patient endurance--that this was somehow the
end of Morton. She must not see the place any more; she must, she would,
go a long way away. Raftery had gone a long way away--she had sent him
beyond all hope of recall--but she could not follow him over that
merciful frontier, for her God was more stern than Raftery's; and yet she
must fly from her love for Morton. Turning, she hurriedly left the
stables.


5


Anna was standing at the foot of the stairs. 'Are you leaving now,
Stephen?'

'Yes--I'm going, Mother.'

'A short visit!'

'Yes, I must get back to work.'

'I see...' Then after a long, awkward pause: 'Where would you like him
buried?'

'In the large north paddock where he died--I've told Jim.'

'Very well, I'll see that they carry out your orders.' She hesitated, as
though suddenly shy of Stephen again, as she had been in the past; but
after a moment she went on quickly: 'I thought--I wondered, would you
like a small stone with his name and some sort of inscription on it, just
to mark the place?'

'If you'd care to put one--I shan't need any stone to remember.'

The carriage was waiting to drive her to Malvern. 'Good-bye, Mother.'

Good-bye--I shall put up that stone.'

'Thanks, it's a very kind thought of yours.'

Anna said: 'I'm so sorry about this, Stephen.'

But Stephen had hurried into the brougham--the door dosed, and she did
not hear her mother.



Chapter Thirty



1


At an old-fashioned, Kensington luncheon party, not very long after
Raftery's death, Stephen met and renewed her acquaintance with Jonathan
Brockett, the playwright. Her mother had wished her to go to this
luncheon, for the Carringtons were old family friends, and Anna insisted
that from time to time her daughter should accept their invitations. At
their house it was that Stephen had first seen this young man, rather
over a year ago. Brockett was a connection of the Carringtons; had he not
been Stephen might never have met him, for such gatherings bored him
exceedingly, and therefore it was not his habit to attend them. But on
that occasion he had not been bored, for his sharp, grey eyes had lit
upon Stephen; and as soon as he well could, the meal being over, he had
made his way to her side and had remained there. She had found him
exceedingly easy to talk to, as indeed he had wished her to find him.

This first meeting had led to one or two rides in the Row together, since
they both rode early. Brockett had joined her quite casually one morning;
after which he had called, and had talked to Puddle as if he had come on
purpose to see her and her only--he had charming and thoughtful manners
towards all elderly people. Puddle had accepted him while disliking his
clothes, which were always just a trifle too careful; moreover she had
disapproved of his cuff-links--platinum links set with tiny diamonds. All
the same, she had made him feel very welcome, for to her it had been any
port in a storm just then--she would gladly have welcomed the devil
himself, had she thought that he might rouse Stephen.

But Stephen was never able to decide whether Jonathan Brockett attracted
or repelled her. Brilliant he could be at certain times, yet curiously
foolish and puerile at others; and his hands were as white and soft as a
woman's--she would feel a queer little sense of outrage creeping over her
when she looked at his hands. For those hands of his went so ill with him
somehow; he was tall, broad-shouldered, and of an extreme thinness. His
clean-shaven face was slightly sardonic and almost disconcertingly
clever; an inquisitive face too--one felt that it pried into everyone's
secrets without shame or mercy. It may have been genuine liking on his
part or mere curiosity that had made him persist in thrusting his
friendship on Stephen. But whatever it had been it had taken the form of
ringing her up almost daily at one time; of worrying her to lunch or dine
with him, of inviting himself to her flat in Chelsea, or what was still
worse, of dropping in on her whenever the spirit moved him. His work
never seemed to worry him at all, and Stephen often wondered when his
fine plays got written, for Brockett very seldom if ever discussed them
and apparently very seldom wrote them; yet they always appeared at the
'critical moment when their author had run short of money.

Once, for the sake of peace, she had dined with him in a species of
glorified cellar. He had just then discovered the queer little place down
in Seven Dials, and was very proud of it; indeed he was making it rather
the fashion among certain literary people. He had taken a great deal of
trouble that evening to make Stephen feel that she belonged to these
people by right of her talent, and had introduced her as 'Stephen Gordon,
the author of The Furrow.' But all the while he had secretly watched her
with his sharp and inquisitive eyes. She had felt very much at ease with
Brockett as they sat at their dimly-lit table, perhaps because her
instinct divined that this man would never require of her more than she
could give--that the most he would ask for at any time would be
friendship.

Then one day he had casually disappeared, and she heard that he had gone
to Paris for some months, as was often his custom when the climate of
London had begun to get on his nerves. He had drifted away like
thistledown, without so much as a word of warning. He had not said
good-bye nor had he written, so that Stephen felt that she had never
known him, so completely did he go out of her life during his sojourn in
Paris. Later on she was to learn, when she knew him better, that these
disconcerting lapses of interest, amounting as they did to a breach of
good manners, were highly characteristic of the man, and must of
necessity be accepted by all who accepted Jonathan Brockett.

And now here he was back again in England, and sitting next to Stephen at
the Carringtons' luncheon. And as though they had met but a few hours
ago, he took her up calmly just where he had left her.

'May I come in tomorrow?'

'Well--I'm awfully busy.'

'But I want to come, please; I can talk to Puddle.'

'I'm afraid she'll be out.'

'Then I'll just sit and wait until she comes in; I'll be quiet as a
mouse.'

Oh, no, Brockett, please don't; I should know you were there and that
would disturb me.'

'I see. A new book?'

'Well, no--I'm trying to write some short stories; I've got a commission
from The Good Housewife.'

Sounds thrifty. I hope you're getting well paid.' Then after a rather
long pause: 'How's Raftery?'

For a second she did not answer, and Brockett, with quick intuition,
regretted his question. 'Not...not...' he stammered.

Yes,' she said slowly, 'Raftery's dead--he went lame. I shot him.' He was
silent. Then he suddenly took her hand and, still without speaking,
pressed it. Glancing up, she was surprised by the look in his eyes, so
sorrowful it was, and so understanding. He had liked the old horse, for
he liked all dumb creatures. But Raftery's death could mean nothing to
him; yet his sharp, grey eyes had now softened with pity because she had
had to shoot Raftery.

She thought: 'What a curious fellow he is. At this moment I suppose he
actually feels something almost like grief--it's my grief he's
getting--and tomorrow, of course, he'll forget all about it.'

Which was true enough. Brockett could compress quite a lot of emotion
into an incredibly short space of time; could squeeze a kind of emotional
beef-tea from all those with whom life brought him into contact--a strong
brew, and one that served to sustain and revivify his inspiration.


2


For ten days Stephen heard nothing more, of Brockett; then he rang up to
announce that he was coming to dinner at her flat that very same evening.

You'll get awfully little to eat,' warned Stephen, who was tired to death
and did not want him.

'Oh, all right, I'll bring some dinner along,' he said blithely, and with
that he hung up the receiver.

At a quarter-past eight he arrived, late for dinner and loaded like a
pack-mule with brown paper parcels. He looked cross; he had spoilt his
new reindeer gloves with mayonnaise that had oozed through a box
containing the lobster salad.

He thrust the box into Stephen's hands. 'Here, you take it--it's
dripping. Can I have a wash rag?' But after a moment he forgot the new
gloves. 'I've raided Fortnum & Mason--such fun--I do love eating things
out of cardboard boxes. Hullo, Puddle darling! I sent you a plant. Did
you get it? A nice little plant with brown bobbles. It smells good, and
it's got a ridiculous name like an old Italian dowager or something. Wait
a minute--what's it called? Oh, yes, a baroniait's so humble to have such
a pompous name! Stephen, do be careful--don't rock the lobster about like
that. I told you the thing was dripping--

He dumped his parcels on to the hall table.

'I'll take them along to the kitchen,' smiled Puddle.

'No, I will,' said Brockett, collecting them again, 'I'll do the whole
thing; you leave it to me. I adore other people's kitchens.'

He was in his most foolish and tiresome mood--the mood when his white
hands made odd little gestures, when his laugh was too high and his
movements too small for the size of his broad-shouldered, rather gaunt
body. Stephen had grown to dread him in this mood; there was something
almost aggressive about it; it would seem to her that he thrust it upon
her, showing off like a child at a Christmas party.

She said sharply: 'If you'll wait, I'll ring for the maid.' But Brockett
bad already invaded the kitchen.

She followed, to find the cook looking offended.

'I want lots and lots of dishes,' he announced. Then unfortunately he
happened to notice the parlourmaid's washing, just back from the laundry.

'Brockett, what on earth are you doing?'

He had put on the girl's ornate frilled cap, and was busily tying on her
small apron. He paused for a moment. 'How do I look? What a perfect duck
of an apron!'

The parlourmaid giggled and Stephen laughed. That was the worst of
Jonathan Brockett, he could make you laugh in spite of yourself--when you
most disapproved you found yourself laughing.

The food he had brought was the oddest assortment; lobster, caramels,
pâté de foie gras, olives, a tin of rich-mixed biscuits and a Camembert
cheese that was smelling loudly. There was also a bottle of Rose's
lime-juice and another of ready-made cocktails. He began to unpack the
things one by one, clamouring for plates and entrée dishes. In the
process he made a great mess on the table by upsetting most of the
lobster salad.

He swore roundly. 'Damn the thing, it's too utterly bloody! It's ruined
my gloves, and now look at the table!' In grim silence the cook repaired
the damage.

This mishap appeared to have damped his ardour, for he sighed and removed
his cap and apron. 'Can anyone open this bottle of olives? And the
cocktails? Here, Stephen, you can tackle the cheese; it seems rather shy,
it won't leave its kennel.' In the end it was Stephen and the cook who
must do all the work, while Brockett sat down on the floor and gave them
ridiculous orders.


3


Brockett it was who ate most of the dinner, for Stephen was too overtired
to feel hungry; while Puddle, whose digestion was not what it had been,
was forced to content herself with a cutlet. But Brockett ate largely,
and as he did so he praised himself and his food between mouthfuls.

Clever of me to have discovered the pâté--I'm so sorry for the geese
though, aren't you, Stephen? The awful thing is that it's simply
delicious--I wish I knew the esoteric meaning of these mixed emotions!'
And he dug with a spoon at the side that appeared to contain the most
truffles.

From time to time he paused to inhale the gross little cigarettes he
affected. Their tobacco was black, their paper was yellow, and they came
from an unpropitious island where, as Brockett declared, the inhabitants
died in shoals every year of some tropical fever. He drank a good deal of
the Rose's lime-juice, for this strong, rough tobacco always made him
thirsty. Whisky went to his head and wine to his liver, so that on the
whole he was forced to be temperate; but when he got home he would brew
himself coffee as viciously black as his tobacco.

Presently he said with a sigh of repletion: 'Well, you two, I've
finished--let's go into the study.'

As they left the table he seized the mixed biscuits and the caramel
creams, for he dearly loved sweet things. He would often go out and buy
himself sweets in Bond Street, for solitary consumption.

In the study he sank down on to the divan. 'Puddle dear, do you mind if I
put my feet up? It's my new boot-maker, he's given me a corn on my right
little toe. It's too heart-breaking. It was such a beautiful toe,' he
murmured; 'quite perfect--the one toe without a blemish!'

After this he seemed disinclined to talk. He had made himself a nest with
the cushions, and was smoking, and nibbling rich-mixed biscuits, routing
about in the tin for his favourites. But his eyes kept straying across to
Stephen with a puzzled and rather anxious expression.

At last she said: 'What's the matter, Brockett? Is my necktie crooked?'

'No--it's not your necktie; it's something else.' He sat up abruptly. 'As
I came here to 'say it, I'll get the thing over!'

'Fire away, Brockett.'

'Do you think you'll hate me if I'm frank?'

'Of course not. Why should I hate you?'

'Very well then, listen.' And now his voice was so grave that Puddle put
down her embroidery. 'You listen to me, you, Stephen Gordon. Your last
book was inexcusably bad. It was no more like what we all expected, had a
right to expect of you after The Furrow, than that plant I sent Puddle is
like an oak tree--I won't even compare it to that little plant, for the
plant's alive; your book isn't. Oh, I don't mean to say that it's not
well written; it's well written because you're just a born writer--you
feel words, you've a perfect ear for balance, and a very good all-round
knowledge of English. But that's not enough, not nearly enough; all
that's a mere suitable dress for a body. And this time you've hung the
dress on a dummy--a dummy can't stir our emotions, Stephen. I was talking
to Ogilvy only last night. He gave you a good review, he told me, because
he's got such a respect for your talent that he didn't want to put on the
damper. He's like that--too merciful I always think--they've all been too
merciful to you, my dear. They ought to have literally skinned you
alive--that might have helped to show you your danger. My God! and you
wrote a thing like The Furrow! What's happened? What's undermining your
work? Because whatever it is, it's deadly! it must be some kind of horrid
dry rot. Ah, no, it's too bad and it mustn't go on--we've got to do
something, quickly.'

He paused, and she stared at him in amazement. Until now she had never
seen this side of Brockett, the side of the man that belonged to his art,
to all art--the one thing in life he respected.

She said: 'Do you really mean what you're saying?'

'I mean every word,' he told her.

Then she asked him quite humbly: 'What must I do to save my work?' for
she realized that he had been speaking the stark, bitter truth; that
indeed she had needed no one to tell her that her last book had been
altogether unworthy--a poor, lifeless thing, having no health in it.

He considered. 'It's a difficult question, Stephen. Your own temperament
is so much against you. You're so strong in some ways and yet so
timid--such a mixture--and you're terribly frightened of life. Now why?
You must try to stop being frightened, to stop hiding your head. You need
life, you need people. People are the food that we writers live on; get
out and devour them, squeeze them dry, Stephen!'

'My father once told me something like that--not quite in those
words--but something very like it.'

'Then your father must have been a sensible man,' smiled Brockett. 'Now I
had a perfect beast of a father. Well, Stephen, I'll give you my advice
for what it's worth--you want a real change. Why not go abroad somewhere?
Get right away for a bit from your England. You'll probably write it a
damned sight better when you're far enough off to see the perspective.
Start with Paris--it's an excellent jumping-off place. Then you might go
across to Italy or Spain--go anywhere, only do get a move on! No wonder
you're atrophied here in London. I can put you wise about people in
Paris. You ought to know Valérie Seymour, for instance. She's very good
fun and a perfect darling; I'm sure you'd like her, every one does. Her
parties are a kind of human bran-pie--you just plunge in your fist and
see what happens. You may draw a prize or you may draw blank, but it's
always worth while to go to her parties. Oh, but good Lord, there are so
many things that stimulate one in Paris.'

He talked on about Paris for a little while longer, then he got up to go.
'Well, good-bye, my dears, I'm off. I've given myself indigestion. And do
look at Puddle, she's blind with fury; I believe she's going to refuse to
shake hands! Don't be angry, Puddle--I'm very well-meaning.'

Yes, of course,' answered Puddle, but her voice sounded cold.


4


After he had gone they stared at each other, then Stephen said, What a
queer revelation. Who would have thought that Brockett could get so
worked up? His moods are kaleidoscopic.' She was purposefully forcing
herself to speak lightly.

But Puddle was angry, bitterly angry. Her pride was wounded to the quick
for Stephen. The man's a perfect fool!' she said gruffly. 'And I didn't
agree with one word he said. I expect he's jealous of your work, they all
are. They're a mean-minded lot, these writing people.'

And looking at her Stephen thought sadly, She's tired--I'm wearing her
out in my service. A few years ago she'd never have tried to deceive me
like this--she's losing courage.' Aloud she said: 'Don't be cross with
Brockett, he meant to be friendly, I'm quite sure of that. My work will
buck up--I've been feeling slack lately, and it's told on my writing--I
suppose it was bound to.' Then the merciful lie, 'But I'm not a bit
frightened!'


5


Stephen rested her head on her hand as she sat at her desk--it was well
past midnight. She was heartsick as only a writer can be whose day has
been spent in useless labour. All that she had written that day she would
destroy, and now it was well past midnight. She turned, looking wearily
round the study, and it came upon her with a slight sense of shock that
she was seeing this room for the very first time, and that everything in
it was abnormally ugly. The flat had been furnished when her mind had
been too much afflicted to care in the least what she bought, and now all
her possessions seemed clumsy or puerile, from the small, foolish chairs
to the large, roll-top desk there was nothing personal about any of them.
How had she endured this room for so long? Had she really written a fine
book in it? Had she sat in it evening after evening and come back to it
morning after morning t Then she must have been blind indeed--what a
place for any author to work in! She had taken nothing with her from
Morton but the hidden books found in her father's study; these she had
taken, as though in a way they were hers by some intolerable birthright;
for the rest she had shrunk from depriving the house of its ancient and
honoured possessions.

Morton--so quietly perfect a thing, yet the thing of all others that she
must fly from, that she must forget; but she could not forget it in these
surroundings; they reminded by contrast. Curious what Brockett had said
that evening about putting the sea between herself and England...In view
of her own half-formed plan to do so, his words had come as a kind of
echo of her thoughts; it was almost as though he had peeped through a
secret keyhole into her mind, had been spying upon her trouble. By what
right did this curious man spy upon her--this man with the soft, white
hands of a woman, with the movements befitting those soft, white hands,
yet so ill-befitting the rest of his body? By no right; and how much had
the creature found out when his eye had been pressed to that secret
keyhole? Clever--Brackett was fiendishly clever--all his whims and his
foibles could not disguise it. His face gave him away, a hard, clever
face with sharp eyes that were glued to other people's keyholes. That was
why Brockett wrote such fine plays, such cruel plays; he fed his genius
on live flesh and blood. Carnivorous genius. Moloch, fed upon live flesh
and blood! But she, Stephen, had tried to feed her inspiration upon
herbage, the kind, green herbage of Morton. For a little while such food
had sufficed, but now her talent had sickened, was dying perhaps--or had
she too fed it on blood, her heart's blood when she had written The
Furrow If so, her heart would not bleed any more--perhaps it could
not--perhaps it was dry. A dry, withered thing; for she did not feel love
these days when she thought of Angela Crossby--that must mean that her
heart had died within her. A gruesome companion to have, a dead heart.

Angela Crossby--and yet there were times when she longed intensely to see
this woman, to hear her speak, to stretch out her arms and clasp them
around the woman's body--not gently, not patiently as in the past, but
roughly, brutally even. Beastly--it was beastly! She felt degraded. She
had no love to offer Angela Crossby, not now, only something that, lay
like a stain on the beauty of what had once been love. Even this memory
was marred and defiled, by herself even more than by Angela Crossby.

Came the thought of that unforgettable scene with her mother. 'I would
rather see you dead at my feet.' Oh, yes--very easy to talk about death,
but not so easy to manage the dying. 'We two cannot live together at
Morton...One of us must go, which of us shall it be?' The subtlety, the
craftiness of that question which in common decency could have but one
answer! Oh, well she had gone and would go even farther. Raftery was
dead, there was nothing to hold her, she was free--what a terrible thing
could be freedom. Trees were free when they were uprooted by the wind;
ships were free when they were torn from their moorings; men were free
when they were cast out of their homes--free to starve, free to perish of
cold and hunger.

At Morton there lived an ageing woman with sorrowful eyes now a little
dim from gazing for so long into the distance. Only once, since her gaze
had been fixed on the dead, had this woman turned it full on her
daughter; and then her eyes had been changed into something accusing,
ruthless, abominably cruel. Through looking upon what had seemed
abominable to them, they themselves had become an abomination. Horrible!
And yet how dared they accuse? What right had a mother to abominate the
child that had sprung from her own secret moments of passion? She the
honoured, the fulfilled, the fruitful, the loving and loved, had despised
the fruit of her love. Its fruit? No, rather its victim.

She thought of her mother's protected life that had never had to face
this terrible freedom. Like a vine that clings to a warm southern wall it
had clung to her father--it still clung to Morton. In the spring had come
gentle and nurturing rains, in the summer the strong and health-giving
sunshine, in the winter a deep, soft covering of snow--cold yet
protecting the delicate tendrils. All, all she had had. She had never
gone empty of love in the days of her youthful ardour; had never known
longing, shame, degradation, but rather great joy and great pride in her
loving. Her love had been pure in the eyes of the world, for she had been
able to indulge in it with honour. Still with honour, she had borne a
child to her mate--but a child who, unlike her, must go unfulfilled all
her days, or else live in abject dishonour. Oh, but a hard and pitiless
woman this mother must be for all her soft beauty; shamelessly finding
shame in her offspring. 'I would rather see you dead at my feet...' 'Too
late, too late, your love gave me life. Here am I the creature you made
through your loving; by your passion you created the thing that I am. Who
are you to deny me the right to love? But for you I need never have known
existence.'

And now there crept into Stephen's brain the worst torment of all, a
doubt of her father. He had known and knowing he had not told her; he had
pitied and pitying had not protected; he had feared and fearing had saved
only himself. Had she had a coward for a father? She sprang up and began
to pace the room. Not this--she could not face this new torment. She had
stained her love, the love of a lover--she dared not stain this one thing
that remained, the love of the child for the father. If this light went
out the engulfing darkness would consume her, destroying her entirely.
Man could not live by darkness alone, one point of light he must have for
salvation--one point of light. The most perfect Being of all had cried
out for light in His darkness--even He, the most perfect Being of all.
And then as though in answer to prayer, to some prayer that her trembling
lips had not uttered, came the memory of a patient, protective back,
bowed as though bearing another's burden. Came the memory of horrible,
soul-sickening pain: 'No--not that--something urgent--I want--to say. No
drugs--I know I'm--dying--Evans.' And again a heroic and tortured effort:
'Anna--it's Stephen--listen.' Stephen suddenly held out her arms to this
man who, though dead, was still her father.

But even in this blessed moment of easement, her heart hardened again at
the thought of her mother. A fresh wave of bitterness flooded her soul so
that the light seemed all but extinguished; very faintly it gleamed like
the little lantern on a buoy that is tossed by tempest. Sitting down at
her desk she found pen and paper.

She wrote: 'Mother, I am going abroad quite soon, but I shall not see you
to say good-bye, because I don't want to come back to Morton. These
visits of mine have always been painful, and now my work is beginning to
suffer--that I cannot allow; I live only for my work and so I intend to
guard it in future. There can now be no question of gossip or scandal,
for everyone knows that I am a writer and as such may have occasion to
travel. But in any case I care very little these days for the gossip of
neighbours. For nearly three years I have borne your yoke--I have tried
to be patient and understanding. I have tried to think that your yoke was
a just one, a just punishment, perhaps, for my being what I am, the
creature whom you and my father created; but now I am going to bear it no
longer. If my father had lived he would have shown pity, whereas you
showed me none, and yet you were my mother. In my hour of great need you
utterly failed me; you turned me away like some unclean thing that was
unfit to live any longer at Morton. You insulted what to me seemed both
natural and sacred. I went, but now I shall not come back any more to you
or to Morton. Puddle will be with me because she loves me; if I'm saved
at all it is she who has saved me, and so for as long as she wishes to
throw in her lot with me I shall let her. Only one thing more; she will
send you our address from time to time, but don't write to me, Mother, I
am going away in order to forget, and your letters would only remind me
of 'Morton.'

She read over what she had written, three times, finding nothing at all
that she wished to add, no word of tenderness, or of regret. She felt
numb and then unbelievably lonely, but she wrote the address in her firm
handwriting: 'The Lady Anna Gordon,' she wrote, 'Morton Hall, Near
Upton-on-Severn.' And when she wept, as she presently must do, covering
her face with her large, brown hands, her spirit felt unrefreshed by this
weeping, for the hot, angry tears seemed to scorch her spirit. Thus was
Anna Gordon baptized through her child as by fire, unto the loss of their
mutual salvation.



Chapter Thirty-one


1


It was Jonathan Brockett who had recommended the little hotel in the Rue
St. Roch, and when Stephen and Puddle arrived one evening that June,
feeling rather tired and dejected, they found their sitting-room bright
with roses--roses for Puddle--and on the table two boxes of Turkish
cigarettes for Stephen. Brockett, they learnt, had ordered these things
by writing specially from London.

Barely had they been in Paris a week, when Jonathan Brockett turned up in
person: 'Hallo, my dears, I've come over to see you. Everything all
right? Are you being looked after?' He sat down in the only comfortable
chair and proceeded to make himself charming to Puddle. It seemed that
his flat in Paris being let, he had tried to get rooms at their hotel but
had failed, so had gone instead to the Meurice. 'But I'm not going to
take you to lunch there,' he told them, 'the weather's too fine, we'll go
to Versailles. Stephen, ring up and order your car, there's a darling! By
the way, how is Burton getting on? Does he remember to keep to the right
and to pass on the left?' His voice sounded anxious. Stephen reassured
him good-humouredly, she knew that he was apt to be nervous in motors.

They lunched at the Hôtel des Reservoirs, Brockett taking great pains to
order special dishes. The waiters were zealous, they evidently knew him:
Oui, monsieur, tout de suite--a l'instant, monsieur!' Other clients were
kept waiting while Brackett was served, and Stephen could see that this
pleased him. All through the meal he talked about Paris with ardour, as a
lover might talk of a mistress.

'Stephen, I'm not going back for ages. I'm going to make you simply adore
her. You'll see, I'll make you adore her so much that you'll find
yourself writing like a heaven-born genius. There's nothing so
stimulating as love--you've got to have an affair with Paris!' Then
looking at Stephen rather intently, 'I suppose you're capable of falling
in love?'

She shrugged her shoulders, ignoring his question, but she thought: 'He's
putting his eye to the keyhole. His curiosity's positively childish at
times,' for she saw that his face had fallen.

Oh, well, if you don't want to tell me--' he grumbled.

'Don't be silly! There's nothing to tell,' smiled Stephen. But she made a
mental note to be careful. Brockett's curiosity was always most dangerous
when apparently merely childish.

With quick tact he dropped the personal note. No good trying to force her
to confide, he decided, she was too damn clever to give herself away,
especially before the watchful old Puddle. He sent for the bill and when
it arrived, went over it item by item, frowning.

'Maitre d'hôtel!'

'Oui, monsieur?'

'You've made a mistake; only one liqueur brandy--and here's another
mistake, I ordered two portions of potatoes, not three; I do wish to God
you'd be careful!' When Brockett felt cross he always felt mean. 'Correct
this at once, it's disgusting!' he said rudely. Stephen sighed, and
hearing her Brockett looked up unabashed: 'Well, why pay for what we've
not ordered?' Then he suddenly found his temper again and left a very
large tip for the waiter.


2


There is nothing more difficult to attain to than the art of being a
perfect guide. Such an art, indeed, requires a real artist, one who has a
keen perception for contrasts, and an eye for the large effects rather
than for details, above all one possessed of imagination; and Brockett,
when he chose, could be such a guide.

Having waved the professional guides to one side, he himself took them
through a part of the palace, and his mind re-peopled the place for
Stephen so that she seemed to see the glory of the dancers led by the
youthful Roi Soleil; seemed to hear the rhythm of the throbbing violins,
and the throb of the rhythmic dancing feet as they beat down the length
of the Galerie des Glaces; seemed to see those other mysterious dancers
who followed step by step, in the long line of mirrors. But most
skilfully of all did he recreate for her the image of the luckless queen
who came after; as though for some reason this unhappy woman must appeal
in a personal way to Stephen. And true it was that the small, humble
rooms which the queen had chosen out of all that vast palace, moved
Stephen profoundly--so desolate they seemed, so full of unhappy thoughts
and emotions that were even now only half forgotten.

Brockett pointed to the simple garniture on the mantelpiece of the little
salon, then he looked at Stephen: 'Madame de Lamballe gave those to the
queen,' he murmured softly.

She nodded, only vaguely apprehending his meaning.

Presently they followed him out into the gardens and stood looking across
the Tapis Vert that stretches its quarter mile of greenness towards a
straight, lovely line of water.

Brockett said, very low, so that Puddle should not hear him: 'Those two
would often come here at sunset. Sometimes they were rowed along the
canal in the sunset--can't you imagine it, Stephen? They must often have
felt pretty miserable, poor souls; sick to death of the subterfuge and
pretences. Don't you ever get tired of that sort of thing? My God, I do!'
But she did not answer, for now there was no mistaking his meaning.

Last of all he took them to the Temple d'Amour, where it rests amid the
great silence of the years that have long lain upon the dead hearts of
its lovers; and from there to the Hameau, built by the queen for a
whim--the tactless and foolish whim of a tactless and foolish but loving
woman--by the queen who must play at being a peasant, at a time when her
downtrodden peasants were starving. The cottages were badly in need of
repair; a melancholy spot it looked, this Hameau, in spite of the birds
that sang in its trees and the golden glint of the afternoon sunshine.

On the drive back to Paris they were all very silent. Puddle was feeling
too tired to talk, and Stephen was oppressed by a sense of sadness--the
vast and rather beautiful sadness that may come to us when we have looked
upon beauty, the sadness that aches in the heart of Versailles. Brockett
was content to sit opposite Stephen on the hard little let-down seat of
her motor. He might have been comfortable next to the driver, but instead
he preferred to sit opposite Stephen, and he too was silent,
surreptitiously watching the expression of her face in the gathering
twilight.

When he left them he said with his cold little smile: 'Tomorrow, before
you've forgotten Versailles, I want you to come to the Conciergerie. It's
very enlightening--cause and effect.'

At that moment Stephen disliked him intensely. All the same he had
stirred her imagination.


3


In the weeks that followed, Brockett showed Stephen just as much of Paris
as he wished her to see, and this principally consisted of the tourist's
Paris. Into less simple pastures he would guide her later on, always
provided that his interest lasted. For the present, however, he
considered it wiser to tread delicately like Agag. The thought of this
girl had begun to obsess him to a very unusual extent. He who had prided
himself on his skill in ferreting out other people's secrets, was
completely baffled by this youthful abnormal. That she was abnormal he
had no doubt whatever, but what he was keenly anxious to find out was
just how her own abnormality struck her--he felt pretty sure that she
worried about it. And he genuinely liked her. Unscrupulous he might be in
his vivisection of men and women; cynical too when it came to his
pleasures, himself an invert, secretly hating the world which he knew
hated him in secret; and yet in his way he felt sorry for Stephen, and
this amazed him, for Jonathan Brockett had long ago, as he thought, done
with pity. But his pity was a very poor thing at best, it would never
defend and never protect her; it would always go down before any new
whim, and his whim at the moment was to keep her in Paris.

All unwittingly Stephen played into his hands, while having no illusions
about him. He represented a welcome distraction that helped her to keep
her thoughts off England. And because under Brockett's skilful guidance
she developed a fondness for the beautiful city, she felt tolerant of him
at moments, almost grateful she felt, grateful too towards Paris. And
Puddle also felt grateful.

The strain of the sudden complete rupture with Morton had told on the
faithful little grey woman. She would scarcely have known how to counsel
Stephen had the girl come to her and asked for her counsel. Sometimes she
would lie awake now at nights thinking of that ageing and unhappy mother
in the great silent house, and then would come pity, the old pity that
had come in the past for Anna--she would pity until she remembered
Stephen. Then Puddle would try to think very calmly, to keep the brave
heart that had never failed her, to keep her strong faith in Stephen's
future--only now there were days when she felt almost old, when she
realized that indeed she was ageing. When Anna would write her a calm,
friendly letter, but with never so much as a mention of Stephen, she
would feel afraid, yes, afraid of this woman, and at moments almost
afraid of Stephen. For none might know from those guarded letters what
emotions lay in the heart of their writer; and none might know from
Stephen's set face when she recognized the writing, what lay in her
heart. She would turn away, asking no questions about Morton.

Oh, yes, Puddle felt old and actually frightened, both of which
sensations she deeply resented; so being what she was, an indomitable
fighter, she thrust out her chin and ordered a tonic. She struggled along
through the labyrinths of Paris beside the untiring Stephen and Brockett;
through the galleries of the Luxembourg and the Louvre; up the Eiffel
Tower--in a lift, thank heaven; down the Rue de la Paix, up the hill to
Montmartre--sometimes in the car but quite often on foot, for Brockett
wished Stephen to learn her Paris--and as likely as not, ending up with
rich food that disagreed badly with the tired Puddle. In the restaurants
people would stare at Stephen, and although the girl would pretend not to
notice, Puddle would know that in spite of her calm, Stephen was inwardly
feeling resentful, was inwardly feeling embarrassed and awkward. And then
because she was tired, Puddle too would feel awkward when she noticed
those people staring.

Sometimes Puddle must really give up and rest, in spite of the aggressive
chin and the tonic. Then all alone in the Paris hotel, she would suddenly
grow very homesick for England--absurd of course, and yet there it was,
she would feel the sharp tug of England. At such moments she would long
for ridiculous things; a penny bun in the train at Dover; the good red
faces of English porters--the old ones with little stubby side-whiskers;
Harrods Stores; a properly upholstered armchair; bacon and eggs; the sea
front at Brighton. All alone and via these ridiculous things, Puddle
would feel the sharp tug of England.

And one evening her weary mind must switch back to the earliest days of
her friendship with Stephen. What a lifetime ago it seemed since the days
when a lanky colt of a girl of fourteen had been licked into shape in the
schoolroom at Morton. She could hear her own words: 'You've forgotten
something, Stephen; the books can't walk to the bookcase, but you can, so
suppose that you take them with you,' and then: 'Even my brain won't
stand your complete lack of method.' Stephen fourteen--that was twelve
years ago. In those years she, Puddle, had grown very tired, tired with
trying to see some way out, some way of escape, of fulfilment for
Stephen. And always they seemed to be toiling, they two, down an endless
road that had no turning; she an ageing woman herself unfulfilled;
Stephen still young and as yet still courageous--but the day would come
when her youth would fail, and her courage, because of that endless
toiling.

She thought of Brockett, Jonathan Brockett, surely an unworthy companion
for Stephen; a thoroughly vicious and cynical man, a dangerous one too
because he was brilliant. Yet she, Puddle, was actually grateful to this
man; so dire were their straits that she was grateful to Brockett. Then
came the remembrance of that other man, Martin Hallam--she had had such
high hopes. He had been very simple and honest and good--Puddle felt that
there was much to be said for goodness. But for such as Stephen men like
Martin Hallam could seldom exist; as friends they would fail her, while
she in her turn would fail them as lover. Then what remained? Jonathan
Brockett? Like to like. No, no, an intolerable thought! Such a thought as
that was an outrage on Stephen. Stephen was honourable and courageous;
she was steadfast in friendship and selfless in loving; intolerable to
think that her only companions must be men and women like Jonathan
Brockett--and yet--after all what else? What remained? Loneliness, or
worse still, far worse because it so deeply degraded the spirit, a life
of perpetual subterfuge, of guarded opinions and guarded actions, of lies
of omission if not of speech, of becoming an accomplice in the world's
injustice by maintaining at all times a judicious silence, making and
keeping the friends one respected, on false pretences, because if they
knew they would turn aside, even the friends one respected.

Puddle abruptly controlled her thoughts; this was no way to be helpful to
Stephen. Sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof. Getting up she
went into her bedroom where she bathed her face and tidied her hair.

'I look scarcely human,' she thought ruefully, as she stared at her own
reflection in the glass; and indeed at that moment she looked more than
her age.


4


It was not until nearly the middle of July that Brockett took Stephen to
Valérie Seymour's. Valérie had been away for some time, and was even now
only passing through Paris en route for her villa at St. Tropez.

As they drove to her apartment on the Quai Voltaire, Brockett began to
extol their hostess, praising her wit, her literary talent. She wrote
delicate satires and charming sketches of Greek maeurs--the latter were
very outspoken, but then Valérie's life was very outspoken--she was, said
Brockett, a kind of pioneer who would probably go down to history. Most
of her sketches were written in French, for among other things Valérie
was bilingual; she was also quite rich, an American uncle had had the
foresight to leave her his fortune; she was also quite young, being just
over thirty, and according to Brockett, good-looking. She lived her life
in great calmness of spirit, for nothing worried and few things
distressed her. She was firmly convinced that in this ugly age one should
strive to the top of one's bent after beauty. But Stephen might find her
a bit of a free-lance, she was libre penseuse when it came to the heart;
her love affairs would fill quite three volumes, even after they had been
expurgated. Great men had loved her, great writers had written about her,
one had died, it was said, because she refused him, but Valérie was not
attracted to men--yet as Stephen would see if she went to her parties,
she had many devoted friends among men. In this respect she was almost
unique, being what she was, for men did not resent her. But then of
course all intelligent people realized that she was a creature apart, as
would Stephen the moment she met her.

Brockett babbled away, and as he did so his voice took on the effeminate
timbre that Stephen always hated and dreaded: 'Oh, my dear!' he exclaimed
with a high little laugh. 'I'm so excited about this meeting of yours,
I've a feeling it may be momentous. What fun!' And his soft, white hands
grew restless making their foolish gestures.

She looked at him coldly, wondering the while how she could tolerate this
young man--why indeed, she chose to endure him.


5


The first thing that struck Stephen about Valérie's flat was its large
and rather splendid disorder. There was something blissfully unkempt
about it, as though its mistress were too much engrossed in other affairs
to control its behaviour. Nothing was quite where it ought to have been,
and much was where it ought not to have been, while over the whole lay a
faint layer of dust--even over the spacious salon. The odour of
somebody's Oriental scent was mingling with the odour of tuberoses in a
sixteenth-century chalice. On a divan, whose truly regal proportions
occupied the best part of a shadowy alcove, lay a box of Fuller's
peppermint creams and a lute, but the strings of the lute were broken.

Valérie came forward with a smile of welcome. She was not beautiful nor
was she imposing, but her limbs were very perfectly proportioned, which
gave her a fictitious look of tallness. She moved well, with the quiet
and unconscious grace that sprang from those perfect proportions. Her
face was humorous, placid and worldly; her eyes very kind, very blue,
very lustrous. She was dressed all in white, and a large white fox skin
was clasped round her slender and shapely shoulders. For the rest she had
masses of thick fair hair, which was busily ridding itself of its
hairpins; one could see at a glance that it hated restraint, like the
flat it was in rather splendid disorder.

She said: 'I'm so delighted to meet you at last, Miss Gordon, do come and
sit down. And please smoke if you want to,' she added quickly, glancing
at Stephen's tell-tale fingers.

Brockett said: 'Positively, this is too splendid! I feel that you're
going to be wonderful friends.'

Stephen thought: 'So this is Valérie Seymour.'

No sooner were they seated than Brockett began to ply their hostess with
personal questions. The mood that had incubated in the motor was now
become extremely aggressive, so that he fidgeted about on his chair,
making his little inadequate gestures. 'Darling, you're looking perfectly
lovely! But do tell me, what have you done with Polinska? Have you
drowned her in the blue grotto at Capri? I hope so, my dear, she was such
a bore and so dirty! Do tell me about Polinska. How did she behave when
you got her to Capri? Did she bite anybody before you drowned her? I
always felt frightened; I loathe being bitten!'

Valérie frowned: 'I believe she's quite well.'

'Then you have drowned her, darling!' shrilled Brockett.

And now he was launched on a torrent of gossip about people of whom
Stephen had never even heard: 'Pat's been deserted--have you heard that,
darling? Do you think she'll take the veil or cocaine or something One
never quite knows what may happen next with such an emotional
temperament, does one? Arabella's skipped off to the Lido with Jane
Grigg. The Grigg's just come into pots and pots of money, so I hope
they'll be deliriously happy and silly while it lasts--I mean the
money...Oh, and have you heard about Rachel Morris? They say...' He
flowed on and on like a brook in spring flood, while Valérie yawned and
looked bored, making monosyllabic answers.

And Stephen as she sat there and smoked in silence, thought grimly: 'This
is all being said because of me. Brockett wants to let me see that he
knows what I am, and he wants to let Valérie Seymour know too--I suppose
this is making me welcome.' She hardly knew whether to feel outraged or
relieved that here, at least, was no need for pretences.

But after a while she began to fancy that Valérie's eyes had become
appraising. They were weighing her up and secretly approving the result,
she fancied. A slow anger possessed her. Valérie Seymour was secretly
approving, not because her guest was a decent human being with a will to
work, with a well-trained brain, with what might some day become a fine
talent, but rather because she was seeing before her all the outward
stigmata of the abnormal--verily the wounds of One nailed to a
cross--that was why Valérie sat there approving.

And then, as though these bitter thoughts had reached her, Valérie
suddenly smiled at Stephen. Turning her back on the chattering Brockett,
she started to talk to her guest quite gravely about her work, about
books in general, about life in general; and as she did so Stephen began
to understand better the charm that many had found in this woman; a charm
that lay less in physical attraction than in a great courtesy and
understanding, a great will to please, a great impulse towards beauty in
all its forms--yes, therein lay her charm. And as they talked on it
dawned upon Stephen that here was no mere libertine in love's garden, but
rather a creature born out of her epoch, a pagan chained to an age that
was Christian, one who would surely say with Pierre Louys: 'Le monde
moderne succombe sous un envahissement de laideur.' And she thought that
she discerned in those luminous eyes, the pale yet ardent light of the
fanatic.

Presently Valérie Seymour asked her how long she would be remaining in
Paris.

And Stephen answered: 'I'm going to live here,' feeling surprised at the
words as she said them, for not until now had she made this decision.

Valérie seemed pleased: 'If you want a house, I know of one in the Rue
Jacob; it's a tumbledown place, but it's got a fine garden. Why not go
and see it? You might go tomorrow. Of course you'll have to live on this
side, the Rive Gauche is the only possible Paris.

'I should like to see the old house,' said Stephen.

So Valérie went to the telephone there and then and proceeded to call up
the landlord. The appointment was made for eleven the next morning. 'It's
rather a sad old house,' she warned, 'no one has troubled to make it a
home for some time, but you'll alter all that if you take it, because I
suppose you'll make it your home.'

Stephen flushed: 'My home's in England,' she said quickly, for her
thoughts had instantly flown back to Morton.

But Valérie answered: 'One may have two homes--many homes. Be courteous
to our lovely Paris and give it the privilege of being your second
home--it will feel very honoured, Miss Gordon.' She sometimes made little
ceremonious speeches like this, and coming from her, they sounded
strangely old-fashioned.

Brockett, rather subdued and distinctly pensive as sometimes happened if
Valérie had snubbed him, complained of a pain above his right eye: 'I
must take some phenacetin,' he said sadly, 'I'm always getting this
curious pain above my right eye--do you think it's the sinus?' He was
very intolerant of all pain.

His hostess sent for the phenacetin, and Brockett gulped down a couple of
tablets: 'Valérie doesn't love me any more,' he sighed, with a woebegone
look at Stephen. 'I do call it hard, but it's always what happens when I
introduce my best friends to each other--they forgather at once and leave
me in the cold; but then, thank heaven, I'm very forgiving.'

They laughed and Valérie made him get on to the divan where he promptly
lay down on the lute.

'Oh God!' he moaned, 'now I've injured my spine--I'm so badly
upholstered.' Then he started to strum on the one sound string of the
lute.

Valérie went over to her untidy desk and began to write out a list of
addresses: 'These may be useful to you, Miss Gordon.'

Stephen!' exclaimed Brockett. 'Call the poor woman Stephen!' 'May I?'

Stephen acquiesced: 'Yes, please do.'

Very well then, I'm Valérie. Is that a bargain?'

'The bargain is sealed,' announced Brockett. With extraordinary skill he
was managing to strum '0 Sole Mio' on the single string, when he suddenly
stopped: 'I knew there was something--your fencing Stephen, you've
forgotten your fencing. We meant to ask Valérie for Buisson's address;
they say he's the finest master in Europe.'

Valérie looked up: 'Does Stephen fence, then?'

'Does she fence! She's a marvellous, champion fencer.'

'He's never seen me fence,' explained Stephen, 'and I'm never likely to
be a champion.'

'Don't you believe her, she's trying to be modest. I've heard that she
fences quite as finely as she writes,' he insisted. And somehow Stephen
felt touched, Brockett was trying to show off her talents.

Presently she offered him a lift in the car, but he shook his head: 'No,
thank you, dear one, I'm staying.' So she wished them goodbye; but as she
left them she heard Brockett murmuring to Valérie Seymour, and she felt
pretty sure that she caught her own name.


6


Well what did you think of Miss Seymour?' inquired Puddle, when Stephen
got back about twenty minutes later.

Stephen hesitated: 'I'm not perfectly certain. She was very friendly, but
I couldn't help feeling that she liked me because she thought me--oh,
well, because she thought me what I am, Puddle. But I may have been
wrong--she was awfully friendly. Brockett was at his very worst though,
poor devil! His environment seems to go to his head.' She sank down
wearily on to a chair: Oh, Puddle, Puddle, it's a hell of a business.'

Puddle nodded.

Then Stephen said rather abruptly: 'All the same, we're going to live
here in Paris. We're going to look at a house tomorrow, an old house with
a garden in the Rue Jacob.'

For a moment Puddle hesitated, then she said: 'There's only one thing
against it. Do you think you'll ever be happy in a city? You're so fond
of the life that belongs to the country.'

Stephen shook her head: 'That's all past now, my dear; there's no country
for me away from Morton. But in Paris I might make some sort of a home, I
could work here--and then of course there are people...

Something started to hammer in Puddle's brain: 'Like to like! Like to
like! Like to like!' it hammered.



Chapter Thirty-two


1


Stephen bought the house in the Rue Jacob, because as she walked through
the dim, grey archway that led from the street to the cobbled courtyard,
and saw the deserted house standing before her, she knew at once that
there she would live. This will happen sometimes, we instinctively feel
in sympathy with certain dwellings.

The courtyard was sunny and surrounded by walls. On the right of this
courtyard some iron gates led into the spacious, untidy garden, and
woefully neglected though this garden had been, the trees that it still
possessed were fine ones. A marble fountain long since choked with weeds,
stood in the centre of what had been a lawn. In the farthest corner of
the garden some hand had erected a semicircular temple, but that had been
a long time ago, and now the temple was all but ruined.

The house itself would need endless repairs, but its rooms were of
careful and restful proportions. A fine room with a window that opened on
the garden would be Stephen's study; she could write there in quiet; on
the other side of the stone-paved hall was a smaller but comfortable
salle a manger; while past the stone staircase a little round room in a
turret would be Puddle's particular sanctum. Above there were bedrooms
enough and to spare: there was also the space for a couple of bathrooms.
The day after Stephen had seen this house, she had written agreeing to
purchase.

Valérie rang up before leaving Paris to inquire how Stephen had liked the
old house, and when she heard that she had actually bought it, she
expressed herself as being delighted.

We'll be quite close neighbours now,' she remarked, 'but I'm not going to
bother you until you evince, not even when I get back in the autumn. I
know you'll be literally snowed under with workmen for months, you poor
dear, I feel sorry for you. But when you can, do let me come and see
you--meanwhile if I can help you at all...' And she gave her address at
St. Tropez.

And now for the first time since leaving Morton, Stephen turned her mind
to the making of a home. Through Brockett she found a young architect who
seemed anxious to carry out all her instructions. He was one of those
very rare architects who refrain from thrusting their views on their
clients. So into the ancient, deserted house in the Rue Jacob streamed an
army of workmen, and they hammered and scraped and raised clouds of dust
from early morning, all day until evening--smoking harsh caporal as they
joked or quarrelled or idled or spat or hummed snatches of song. And
amazingly soon, wherever one trod one seemed to be treading on wet cement
or on dry, gritty heaps of brick dust and rubble, so that Puddle would
complain that she spoilt all her shoes, while Stephen would emerge with
her neat blue serge shoulders quite grey, and with even her hair thickly
powdered.

Sometimes the architect would come to the hotel in the evening and then
would ensue long discussions. Bending over the little mahogany table, he
and Stephen would study the plans intently, for she wished to preserve
the spirit of the place intact, despite alterations. She decided to have
an Empire study with grey walls and curtains of Empire green, for she
loved the great roomy writing tables that had come into being with the
first Napoleon. The walls of the salle à manger should be white and the
curtains brown, while Puddle's round sanctum in its turret should have
walls and paintwork of yellow, to give the illusion of sunshine. And so
absorbed did Stephen become in these things, that she scarcely had time
to notice Jonathan Brockett's abrupt departure for a mountain top in the
Austrian Tyrol. Having suddenly come to the end of his finances, he must
hasten to write a couple of plays that could be produced in London that
winter. He sent her three or four picture postcards of glaciers, after
which she heard nothing more from him.

At the end of August, when the work was well under way, she and Puddle
fared forth in the motor to visit divers villages and towns in quest of
old furniture, and Stephen was surprised to find how much she enjoyed it.
She would catch herself whistling as she drove her car, and when they got
back to some humble auberge in the evening, she would want to eat a large
supper. Every morning she diligently swung her dumb-bells; she was getting
into condition for fencing. She had not fenced at all since leaving
Morton, having been too much engrossed in her work while in London; but
now she was going to fence before Buisson, so she diligently swung her
dumb-bells. During these two months of holiday-making she grew fond of
the wide-eyed, fruitful French country, even as she had grown fond of
Paris. She would never love it as she loved the hills and the stretching
valleys surrounding Morton, for that love was somehow a part of her
being, but she gave to this France, that would give her a home, a quiet
and very sincere affection. Her heart grew more grateful with every mile,
for hers was above all a grateful nature.

They returned to Paris at the end of October. And now came the selecting
of carpets and curtains; of fascinating blankets from the Magasin de
Blanc--blankets craftily dyed to match any bedroom; of fine linen, and
other expensive things, including the copper batterie de cuisine, which
latter, however, was left to Puddle. At last the army of workmen
departed, its place being taken by a Breton menage--brown-faced folk,
strong-limbed and capable looking--a mother, father and daughter. Pierre,
the butler, had been a fisherman once, but the sea with its hardness had
prematurely aged him. He had now been in service for several years,
having contracted rheumatic fever which had weakened his heart and made
him unfit for the strenuous life of a fisher. Pauline his wife, was
considerably younger, and she it was who would reign in the kitchen,
while their daughter Adèle, a girl of eighteen, would help both her
parents and look after the housework.

Adèle was as happy as a blackbird in springtime; she would often seem
just on the verge of chirping. But Pauline had stood and watched the
great storms gather over the sea while her men were out fishing; her
father had lost his life through the sea as had also a brother, so
Pauline smiled seldom. Dour she was, with a predilection for dwelling in
detail on people's misfortunes. As for Pierre, he was stolid, kind and
pious, with the eyes of a man who has looked on vast spaces. His grey
stubbly hair was cut short to his head en brosse, and he had an ungainly
figure. When he walked he straddled a little as though he could never
believe in a house without motion. He liked Stephen at once, which was
very propitious, for one cannot buy the goodwill of a Breton.

Thus gradually chaos gave place to order, and on the morning of her
twenty-seventh birthday, on Christmas Eve, Stephen moved into her home in
the Rue Jacob on the old Rive Gauche, there to start her new life in
Paris.


2


All alone in the brown and white salle à manger, Stephen and Puddle ate
their Christmas dinner. And Puddle had bought a small Christmas tree and
had trimmed it, then hung it with coloured candles. A little wax
Christ-child bent downwards and sideways from His branch, as though He
were looking for His presents--only now there were not any presents.
Rather clumsily Stephen lit the candles as soon as the daylight had
almost faded. Then she and Puddle stood and stared at the tree, but in
silence, because they must both remember. But Pierre, who like all who
have known the sea, was a child at heart, broke into loud exclamations.
Oh, comme c'est beau, l'arbre de Noel!' he exclaimed, and he fetched the
dour Pauline along from the kitchen, and she too exclaimed; then they
both fetched Adèle and they all three exclaimed: 'Comme c'est beau,
l'arbre de Noel!' So, that after all the little wax Christ-child did not
very much miss His presents.

That evening Pauline's two brothers arrived--they were Poilus stationed
just outside Paris--and they brought along with them another young man,
one Jean, who was ardently courting Adèle. Very soon came the sound of
singing and laughter from the kitchen, and when Stephen went up to her
bedroom to look for a book, there was Adèle quite flushed and with very
bright eyes because of this Jean--in great haste she turned down the bed
and then flew on the wings of love back to the kitchen.

But Stephen went slowly downstairs to her study where Puddle was sitting
in front of the fire, and she thought that Puddle sat there as though
tired; her hands were quite idle, and after a moment Stephen noticed that
she was dozing. Very quietly Stephen opened her book, unwilling to rouse
the little grey woman who looked so small in the huge leather chair, and
whose head kept guiltily nodding. But the book seemed scarcely worth
troubling to read, so that presently Stephen laid it aside and sat
staring into the flickering logs that hummed and burnt blue because it
was frosty. On the Malvern Hills there would probably be snow; deep snow
might be capping the Worcestershire Beacon. The air up at British Camp
would be sweet with the smell of winter and open spaces--little lights
would be glinting far down in the valley. At Morton the lakes would be
still and frozen, so Peter the swan would be feeling friendly--in winter
he had always fed from her hand--he must be old now, the swan called
Peter. Coup! C-o-u-p! and Peter waddling towards her. He, who was all
gliding grace on the water, would come awkwardly waddling towards her
hand for the chunk of dry bread that she held in her fingers. Jean with
his Adèle along in the kitchen--a nice-looking boy he was, Stephen had
seen him--they were young, and both were exceedingly happy, for their
parents approved, so some day they would marry. Then children would come,
too many, no doubt, for Jean's slender purse, and yet in this life one
must pay for one's pleasures--they would pay with their children, and
this appeared perfectly fair to Stephen. She thought that it seemed a
long time ago since she herself had been a small child, romping about on
the floor with her father, bothering Williams down at the stables,
dressing up as young Nelson and posing for Collins who had sometimes been
cross to young Nelson. She was nearly thirty, and what had she done?
Written one good novel and one very bad one, with a few mediocre short
stories thrown in. Oh, well, she was going to start writing again quite
soon--she had an idea for a novel. But she sighed, and Puddle woke up
with a start.

'Is that you, my dear a Have I been asleep?'

Only for a very few minutes, Puddle.'

Puddle glanced at the new gold watch on her wrist; it had been a
Christmas present from Stephen. 'It's past ten o'clock--I think I'll turn
in.'

'Do. Why not? I hope Adèle's filled your hot-water bottle; she's rather
light-headed over her Jean.'

'Never mind, I can fill it myself,' smiled Puddle.

She went, and Stephen sat on by the fire with her eyes half dosed and her
lips set firmly. She must put away all these thoughts of the past and
compel herself to think of the future. This brooding over things that
were past was all wrong; it was futile, weak-kneed and morbid. She had
her work, work that cried out to be done, but no more unworthy books must
be written. She must show that being the thing she was, she could climb
to success over all opposition, could climb to success in spite of a
world that was trying its best to get her under. Her mouth grew hard; her
sensitive lips that belonged by rights to the dreamer, the lover, took on
a resentful and bitter line which changed her whole face and made it less
comely. At that moment the striking likeness to her father appeared to
have faded out of her face.

Yes, it was trying to get her under, this world with its mighty
self-satisfaction, with its smug rules of conduct, all made to be broken
by those who strutted and preened themselves on being what they
considered normal. They trod on the necks of those thousands of others
who, for God knew what reason, were not made as they were; they prided
themselves on their indignation, on what they proclaimed as their
righteous judgments. They sinned grossly; even vilely at times, like
lustful beasts--but yet they were normal! And the vilest of them could
point a finger of scorn at her, and be loudly applauded.

'God damn them to hell!' she muttered.

Along in the kitchen there was singing again. The young men's voices rose
tuneful and happy, and with them blended Adèle's young voice very sexless
as yet, like the voice of a choirboy. Stephen got up and opened the door,
then stood quite still and listened intently. The singing soothed her
overstrained nerves as it flowed from the hearts of these simple people.
For she did not begrudge them their happiness; she did not resent young
Jean with his Adèle, or Pierre who had done a man's work in his time, or
Pauline who was often aggressively female. Bitter she had grown in these
years since Morton, but not bitter enough to resent the simple. And then
as she listened they suddenly stopped for a little before they resumed
their singing, and when they resumed it the tune was sad with the sadness
that dwells in the souls of most men, above all in the patient soul of
the peasant.

'Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
                   Ma Doué?'

She could hear the soft Breton words quite clearly.

'Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
Pour nous dire la Messe
Quand la nuit sera bien tombée
Je tiendrai ma promesse.'

Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
                   Ma Doué,
Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
Sans nappe de fine toile?'
'Notre Doux Seigneur poserai
Sur un morceau de voile.'

'Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
                   Ma Doué,
Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
Sans chandelle et sans cierge?'
'Les astres seront allumés
Par Madame la Vierge.'

Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbe,
                   Ma Doué,
Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
Sans orgue résonnante?'
'Jesus touchera le clavier
Des vagues mugissantes.'

Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
                   Ma Doué,
Mais comment ferez vous, l'Abbé,
Si l'Ennemi nous trouble?'
Une seule fois je vous bénirai,
Les Bleus bénirai double!'

Closing the study door behind her, Stephen thoughtfully climbed the
stairs to her bedroom.



Chapter Thirty-three


1


With the New Year came flowers from Valérie Seymour, and a little letter
of New Year's greeting. Then she paid a rather ceremonious call and was
entertained by Puddle and Stephen. Before leaving she invited them both
to luncheon, but Stephen refused on the plea of her work.

'I'm hard at it again.'

At this Valérie smiled. Very well then, a bientôt. You know where to find
me, ring up when you're free, which I hope will be soon.' After which she
took her departure.

But Stephen was not to see her again for a very considerable time, as it
happened. Valérie was also a busy woman--there are other affairs beside
the writing of novels.

Brockett was in London on account of his plays. He wrote seldom, though
when he did so he was cordial, affectionate even; but now he was busy
with success, and with gathering in the shekels. He had not lost interest
in Stephen again, only just at the moment she did not fit in with his
brilliant and affluent scheme of existence.

So once more she and Puddle settled down together to a life that was
strangely devoid of people, a life of almost complete isolation, and
Puddle could not make up her mind whether she felt relieved or regretful.
For herself she cared nothing, her anxious thoughts were as always
centred in Stephen. However, Stephen appeared quite contented--she was
launched on her book and was pleased with her writing. Paris inspired her
to do good work, and as recreation she now had her fencing--twice every
week she now fenced with Buisson, that severe but incomparable master.

Buisson had been very rude at first: 'Hideous, affreux, horriblement
English!' he had shouted, quite outraged by Stephen's style. All the same
he took a great interest in her. 'You write books; what a pity! I could
make you a fine fencer. You have the man's muscles, and the long,
graceful lunge when you do not remember that you are a Briton and
become--what you say? ah, mais oui, self-conscious. I wish that I had
find you out sooner--however, your muscles are young still, pliant.' And
one day he said: 'Let me feel the muscles,' then proceeded to pass his
hands down her thighs and across her strong loins: Tiens, tiens!' he
murmured.

After this he would sometimes look at her gravely with a puzzled
expression; but she did not resent him, nor his rudeness, nor his
technical interest in her muscles. Indeed, she liked the cross little man
with his bristling black beard and his peppery temper, and when he
remarked a propos of nothing: 'We are all great imbeciles about nature.
We make our own rules and call them la nature; we say she do this, she do
that--imbeciles! She do what she please and then make the long nose.'
Stephen felt neither shy nor resentful.

These lessons were a great relaxation from work, and thanks to them her
health grew much better. Her body, accustomed to severe exercise, had
resented the sedentary life in London. Now, however, she began to take
care of her health, walking for a couple of hours in the Bois every day,
or exploring the tall, narrow streets that lay near her home in the
Quarter. The sky would look bright at the end of such streets by
contrast, as though it were seen through a tunnel. Sometimes she would
stand gazing into the shops of the wider and more prosperous Rue des
Saints Pères; the old furniture shops; the crucifix shop with its dozens
of crucified Christs in the window--so many crucified ivory Christs! She
would think that one must surely exist for every sin committed in Paris.
Or perhaps she would make her way over the river, crossing by the Pont
des Arts. And one morning, arrived at the Rue des Petits Champs, what
must she suddenly do but discover the Passage Choiseul, by just stepping
inside for shelter, because it had started raining.

Oh, the lure of the Passage Choiseul, the queer, rather gawky
attraction of it. Surely the most hideous place in all Paris, with its
roof of stark wooden ribs and glass panes--the roof that looks like the
vertebral column of some prehistoric monster. The chocolate smell of the
patisserie--the big one where people go who have money. The humbler,
student smell of Lavrut, where one's grey rubber bands are sold by the
gramme and are known as: 'Bracelets de caoutchouc.' Where one buys
première qualité blotting paper of a deep ruddy tint and the stiffness of
cardboard, and thin but inspiring manuscript books bound in black, with
mottled, shiny blue borders. Where pencils and pens are found in their
legions, of all makes, all shapes, all colours, all prices; while outside
on the trustful trays in the Passage, lives Gomme Onyx, masquerading as
marble, and as likely to rub a hole in your paper. For those who prefer
the reading of books to the writing of them there is always Lemerre with
his splendid display of yellow bindings. And for those undisturbed by
imagination, the taxidermist's shop is quite near the corner--they can
stare at a sad and moth-eaten flamingo, two squirrels, three parrots and
a dusty canary. Some are tempted by the cheap corduroy at the draper's,
where it stands in great rolls as though it were carpet. Some pass on to
the little stamp merchant, while a few dauntless souls even enter the
chemist's--that shamelessly anatomical chemist's, whose wares do not
figure in school manuals on the practical uses of rubber.

And up and down this Passage Choiseul, pass innumerable idle and busy
people, bringing in mud and rain in the winter, bringing in dust and heat
in the summer, bringing in God knows how many thoughts, some of which
cannot escape with their owners. The very air of the Passage seems heavy
with all these imprisoned thoughts.

Stephen's thoughts got themselves entrapped with the others, but hers, at
the moment, were those of a schoolgirl, for her eye had suddenly lit on
Lavrut, drawn thereto by the trays of ornate india-rubber. And once
inside, she could not resist the 'Bracelets de caoutchouc,' or the
blotting paper as red as a rose, or the manuscript books with the mottled
blue borders. Growing reckless, she gave an enormous order for the simple
reason that these things looked different. In the end she actually
carried away one of those inspiring manuscript books, and then got
herself driven home by a taxi, in order the sooner to fill it.


2


That spring, in the foyer of the Comédie Française, Stephen stumbled
across a link with the past in the person of a middle-aged woman. The
woman was stout and wore pince-nez; her sparse brown hair was already
greying; her face, which was long, had a double chin, and that face
seemed vaguely familiar to Stephen. Then suddenly Stephen's two hands
were seized and held fast in those of the middle-aged woman, while a
voice grown loud with delight and emotion was saying: 'Mais oui, c'est ma
petite Stévenne!'

Back came a picture of the schoolroom at Morton, with a battered red book
on its ink-stained table--the Bibliothéque Rose--'Les Petites Files
Modeles ', ' Les Bons Enfants', and Mademoiselle Duphot.

Stephen said: 'To think--after all these years!'

Ah, quelle joie! Quelle joie!' babbled Mademoiselle Duphot.

And now Stephen was being embraced on both cheeks, then held at arm's
length for a better inspection. 'But how tall, how strong you are, ma
petite Stévenne. You remember what I say, that we meet in Paris? I say
when I go, "But you come to Paris when you grow up bigger, my poor little
baby!" I keep looking and looking, but I knowed you at once. I say, "Oui
certainement, that is ma petite Stévenne, no one 'ave such another face
what I love, it could only belong to Stévenne," I say. And now voila! I
am correct and I find you.'

Stephen released herself firmly but gently, replying in French to calm
Mademoiselle, whose linguistic struggles increased every moment.

'I'm living in Paris altogether,' she told her; 'you must come and see
me--come to dinner tomorrow; 35, Rue Jacob.' Then she introduced Puddle
who had been an amused spectator.

The two ex-guardians of Stephen's young mind shook hands with each other
very politely, and they made such a strangely contrasted couple that
Stephen must smile to see them together. The one was so small, so quiet,
and so English; the other so portly, so tearful, so French in her
generous, if somewhat embarrassing emotion.

As Mademoiselle regained her composure, Stephen was able to observe her
more closely, and she saw that her face was excessively childish--a fact
which she, when a child, had not noticed. It was more the face of a foal
than a horse--an innocent, new-born foal.

Mademoiselle said rather wistfully: 'I will dine with much pleasure
tomorrow evening, but when will you come and see me in my home? It is in
the Avenue de la Grande Armée, a small apartment, very small but so
pretty--it is pleasant to have one's treasures around one. The bon Dieu
has been very good to me, Stévenne, for my Aunt Clothilde left me a
little money when she died; it has proved a great consolation.'

'I'll come very soon,' promised Stephen.

Then Mademoiselle spoke at great length of her aunt, and of Maman who had
also passed on into glory; Maman, who had had her chicken on Sunday right
up to the very last moment, Dieu merci! Even when her teeth had grown
loose in the gums, Maman had asked for her chicken on Sunday. But alas,
the poor sister who once made little bags out of beads for the shops in
the Rue de la Paix, and who had such a cruel and improvident husband--the
poor sister had now become totally blind, and therefore dependent on
Mademoiselle Duphot. So after all Mademoiselle Duphot still worked,
giving lessons in French to the resident English; and sometimes she
taught the American children who were visiting Paris with their parents.
But then it was really far better to work; one might grow too fat if one
remained idle.

She beamed at Stephen with her gentle brown eyes. 'They are not as you
were, ma chère petite Stévenne, not clever and full of intelligence, no;
and at times I almost despair of their accent. However, I am not at all
to be pitied, thanks to Aunt Clothilde and the good little saints who
surely inspired her to leave me that money.'

When Stephen and Puddle returned to their stalls, Mademoiselle climbed to
a humbler seat somewhere under the roof, and as she departed she waved
her plump hand at Stephen.

Stephen said: 'She's so changed that I didn't know her just at first, or
else perhaps I'd forgotten. I felt terribly guilty, because after you
came I don't think I ever answered her letters. It's thirteen years since
she left...

Puddle nodded. 'Yes, it's thirteen years since I took her place and
forced you to tidy that abominable schoolroom!' And she laughed. All the
same, I like her,' said Puddle.


3


Mademoiselle Duphot admired the house in the Rue Jacob and she ate very
largely of the rich and excellent dinner. Quite regardless of her
increasing proportions, she seemed drawn to all those things that were
fattening.

'I cannot resist,' she remarked with a smile, as she reached for her
fifth marron glace.

They talked a Paris, of its beauty, its charm. Then Mademoiselle spoke
yet again of her Maman and of Aunt Clothilde who had left them the money,
and of Julie, her blind sister.

But after the meal she quite suddenly blushed. 'Oh, Stévenne, I have
never inquired for your parents! What must you think of such great
impoliteness? I lose my head the moment I see you and grow selfish. I want
you to know about me and my Maman; I babble about my affairs. What must
you think of such great impoliteness? How is that kind and handsome Sir
Philip? And your mother, my dear, how is Lady Anna?'

And now it was Stephen's turn to grow red. 'My father died...She
hesitated, then finished abruptly, 'I don't live with my mother any more,
I don't live at Morton.'

Mademoiselle gasped. 'You no longer live...' she began, then something in
Stephen's face warned her kind but bewildered guest not to question. 'I
am deeply grieved to hear of your father's death, my dear,' she said very
gently.

Stephen answered: 'Yes--I shall always miss him.'

There ensued a long, rather painful silence, during which Mademoiselle
Duphot felt awkward. What had happened between the mother and daughter?
It was all very strange, very disconcerting. And Stephen, why was she
exiled from Morton? But Mademoiselle could not cope with these problems,
she knew only that she wanted Stephen to be happy, and her kind brown
eyes grew anxious, for she did not feel certain that Stephen was happy.
Yet she dared not ask for an explanation, so instead she clumsily
changed the subject.

'When will you both come to tea with me, Stévenne?'

'We'll come tomorrow if you like,' Stephen told her.

Mademoiselle Duphot left rather early; and all the way home to her
apartment her mind felt exercised about Stephen.

She thought: She was always a strange little child, but so dear. I
remember her when she was little, riding her pony astride like a boy; and
how proud he would seem, that handsome Sir Philip--they would look more
like father and son, those two. And now--is she not still a little bit
strange?'

But these thoughts led her nowhere for, Mademoiselle Duphot was quite
unacquainted with the bypaths of nature. Her innocent mind was untutored
and trustful; she believed in the legend of Adam and Eve, and no careless
mistakes had been made in their garden!


4


The apartment in the Avenue de la Grande Armée was as tidy as Valérie's
had been untidy. From the miniature kitchen to the miniature salon,
everything shone as though recently polished, for here in spite of
restricted finances, no dust was allowed to harbour.

Mademoiselle Duphot beamed on her guests as she herself opened the door
to admit them. 'For me this is very real joy,' she declared. Then she
introduced them to her sister Julie, whose eyes were hidden behind dark
glasses.

The salon was literally stuffed with what Mademoiselle had described as
her 'treasures'. On its tables were innumerable useless objects which
appeared for the most part to be mementoes. Coloured prints of
Bouguereaus hung on the walls, while the chairs were upholstered in a
species of velvet so hard as to be rather slippery to sit on, yet that
when it was touched felt rough to the fingers. The woodwork of these
inhospitable chairs had been coated with varnish until it looked sticky.
Over the little inadequate fireplace smiled a portrait of Maman when she
was quite young. Maman, dressed in tartan for some strange reason, but in
tartan that had never hob-nobbed with the Highlands--a present this
portrait had been from a cousin who had wished to become an artist.

Julie extended a white, groping hand. She was like her sister only very
much thinner, and her face had the closed rather blank expression that is
sometimes associated with blindness.

'Which is Stévenne?' she inquired in an anxious voice; 'I have heard so
much about Stévenne!'

Stephen said: 'Here I am,' and she grasped the hand, pitiful of this
woman's affliction.

But Julie smiled broadly. 'Yes, I know it is you from the feel,'--she had
started to stroke Stephen's coat-sleeve--'my eyes have gone into my
fingers these days. It is strange, but I seem to see through my forgers.'
Then she turned and found Puddle whom she also stroked. 'And now I know
both of you,' declared Julie.

The tea when it came was that straw-coloured liquid which may even now be
met with in Paris.

'English tea bought especially for you, my Stévenne,' remarked
Mademoiselle proudly. 'We drink only coffee, but I said to my sister,
Stévenne likes the good tea, and so, no doubt, does Mademoiselle Puddle.
At four o'clock they will not want coffee--you observe how well I
remember your England!'

However, the cakes proved worthy of France, and Mademoiselle ate them as
though she enjoyed them. Julie ate very little and did not talk much. She
just sat there and listened, quietly smiling; and while she listened she
crocheted lace as though, as she said, she could see through her fingers.
Then Mademoiselle Duphot explained how it was that those delicate hands
had becomes so skilful, replacing the eyes which their ceaseless labour
had robbed of the blessèd privilege of sight--explained so simply yet
with such conviction, that Stephen must marvel to hear her.

'It is all our little Therèse,' she told Stephen. 'You have heard of her?
Ah, but what a pity! Our Therèse was a nun at the Cannel at Lisieux, and
she said: "I will let fall a shower of roses when I die." She died not so
long ago, but already her Cause has been presented at Rome by the Very
Reverend Father Rodrigo! That is very wonderful, is it not, Stévenne? But
she does not wait to become a saint; ah, but no, she is young and
therefore impatient. She cannot wait, she has started already to do
miracles for all those who ask her. I asked that Julie should not be
unhappy through the loss of her eyes--for when she is idle she is always
unhappy--so our little Therèse has put a pair of new eyes in her
fingers.'

Julie nodded. 'It is true,' she said very gravely; 'before that I was
stupid because of my blindness. Everything felt very strange, and I
stumbled about like an old blind horse. I was terribly stupid, far more
so than many. Then one night Véronique asked Therèse to help me, and the
next day I could find my way round our room. From then on my fingers saw
what they touched, and now I can even make lace quite well because of
this sight in my fingers.' Then turning to the smiling Mademoiselle
Duphot: 'But why do you not show her picture to Stévenne?

So Mademoiselle Duphot went and fetched the small picture of Therèse,
which Stephen duly examined, and the face that she saw was ridiculously
youthful--round with youth it still was, and yet very determined. Seem
Therèse looked as though if she really intended to become a saint, the
devil himself would be hard put to it to stop her. Then Puddle must also
examine the picture, while Stephen was shown some relics, a piece of the
habit and other things such as collect in the wake of sainthood.

When they left, Julie asked them to come again; she said: 'Come often,
it will give us such pleasure.' Then she thrust on her guests twelve
yards of coarse lace which neither of them liked to offer to pay for.

Mademoiselle murmured: 'Our home is so humble for Stévenne; we have very
little to offer.' She was thinking of the house in the Rue Jacob, a grand
house, and then too she remembered Morton.

But Julie, with the strange insight of the blind, or perhaps because of
those eyes in her fingers, answered quickly: 'She will not care,
Véronique, I cannot feel that sort of pride in your Stévenne.'


5


After their first visit they went very often to Mademoiselle's modest
little apartment, Mademoiselle Duphot and her quiet blind sister were
indeed their only friends now in Paris, for Brockett was in America on
business, and Stephen had not rung up Valérie Seymour.

Sometimes when Stephen was busy with her work, Puddle would make her way
there all alone. Then she and Mademoiselle would get talking about
Stephen's childhood, about her future, but guardedly, for Puddle must be
careful to give nothing away to the kind, simple woman. As for
Mademoiselle, she too must be careful to accept all and ask no questions.
Yet in spite of the inevitable gaps and restraints, a real sympathy
sprang up between them, for each sensed in the other a valuable ally who
would fight a good fight on behalf of Stephen. And now Stephen would
quite often send her car to take the blind Julie for a drive beyond
Paris, Julie would sniff the air and tell Burton that through smelling
their greenness she could see the trees; he would listen to her broken
and halting English with a smile--they were a queer lot these French. Or
perhaps he would drive the other Mademoiselle up to Montmartre for early
Mass on a Sunday. She belonged to something to do with a heart; it all
seemed rather uncanny to Burton. He thought of the Vicar who had played
such fine cricket, and suddenly felt very homesick for Morton. Fruit
would find its way to the little apartment, together with cakes and large
marron glacés. Then Mademoiselle Duphot would become frankly greedy,
eating sweets in bed while she studied her booklets on the holy and very
austere Thérèse, who had certainly not eaten marrons glacés.

'Thus the spring, that gentle yet fateful spring of 1914, slipped into
the summer. With the budding of flowers and the singing of birds it
slipped quietly on towards great disaster; while Stephen, whose book was
now nearing completion, worked harder than ever in Paris.



Chapter Thirty-four


1


War. The incredible yet long predicted had come to pass. People woke in
the morning with a sense of disaster, but these were the old who, having
known war, remembered. The young men of France, of Germany, of Russia, of
the whole world, looked round them amazed and bewildered; yet with
something that stung as it leapt in their veins, filling them with a
strange excitement--the bitter and ruthless potion of war that spurred
and lashed at their manhood.

They hurried through the streets of Paris, these young men; they
collected in bars and cafes; they stood gaping at the ominous government
placards summoning their youth and strength to the colours.

They talked fast, very fast, they gesticulated: 'C'est la guerre! C'est
la guerre!' they kept repeating.

Then they answered each other: 'Oui, c'est la guerre.'

And true to her traditions the beautiful city sought to hide stark
ugliness under beauty, and she decked herself as though for a wedding;
her flags streamed out on the breeze in their thousands. With the
paraphernalia and pageantry of glory she sought to disguise the true
meaning of war.

But where children had been playing a few days before, troops were now
encamped along the Champs Elysées. Their horses nibbled the bark from the
trees and pawed at the earth, making little hollows; they neighed to each
other in the watches of the night, as though in some fearful
anticipation. In by-streets the unreasoning spirit of war broke loose in
angry and futile actions; shops were raided because of their German names
and their wares hurled out to lie in the gutters. Around every street
corner some imaginary spy must be lurking, until people tilted at
shadows.

'C'est la guerre,' murmured women, thinking of their sons.

Then they answered each other: 'Oui, c'est la guerre.'

Pierre said to Stephen: 'They will not take me because of my heart!' And
his voice shook with anger, and the anger brought tears which actually
splashed the jaunty stripes of his livery waistcoat.

Pauline said: 'I gave my father to the sea and my eldest brother. I have
still two young brothers, they alone are left and I give them to France.
Bon Dieu! It is terrible being a woman, one gives all!' But Stephen knew
from her voice that Pauline felt proud of being a woman.

Adèle said: 'Jean is certain to get promotion, he says so, he will not
long remain a Poilu. When he comes back he may be a captain--that will be
fine. I shall marry a captain! War, he says, is better than piano-tuning,
though I tell him he has a fine ear for music. But Mademoiselle should
just see him now in his uniform! We all think he looks splendid.'

Puddle said: 'Of course England was bound to come in, and thank God we
didn't take too long about it!'

Stephen said: 'All the young men from Morton will go--every decent man in
the country will go.' Then she put away her unfinished novel and sat
staring dumbly at Puddle.


2


England, the land of bountiful pastures, of peace, of mothering hills, of
home. England was fighting for her right to existence. Face to face with
dreadful reality at last, England was pouring her men into battle, her
army was even now marching across France. Tramp, tramp; tramp, tramp; the
tread of England whose men would defend her right to existence.

Anna wrote from Morton. She wrote to Puddle, but now Stephen took those
letters and read them. The agent had enlisted and so had the bailiff Old
Mr. Percival, agent in Sir Philip's lifetime, had come back to help with
Morton. Jim the groom, who had stayed on under the coachman after
Raftery's death, was now talking of going; he wanted to get into the
cavalry, of course, and Anna was using her influence for him. Six of the
gardeners had joined up already, but Hopkins was past the prescribed age
limit; he must do his small bit by looking after his grape vines--the
grapes would be sent to the wounded in London. There were now no
men-servants left in the house, and the home farm was short of a couple
of hands. Anna wrote that she was proud of her people, and intended to
pay those who had enlisted half wages. They would fight for England, but
she could not help feeling that in a way they would be fighting for
Morton. She had offered Morton to the Red Cross at once, and they had
promised to send her convalescent cases. It was rather isolated for a
hospital, it seemed, but would be just the place for convalescents. The
Vicar was going as an army chaplain; Violet's husband, Alec, had joined
the Flying Corps; Roger Antrim was somewhere in France already; Colonel
Antrim had a job at the barracks in Worcester.

Came an angry scrawl from Jonathan Brockett, who had rushed back to
England post-haste from the States: 'Did you ever know anything quite so
stupid as this war? It's upset my apple-cart completely--can't write
jingo plays about St. George and the dragon, and I'm sick to death of
"Business as usual!" Ain't going to be no business, my dear, except
killing, and blood always makes me feel faint.' Then the postscript:
'I've just been and gone and done it! Please send me tuck-boxes when I'm
sitting in a trench; I like caramel creams and of course mixed biscuits.'
Yes, even Jonathan Brockett would go--it was fine in a way that he should
have enlisted.

Morton was pouring out its young men, who in their turn might pour out
their life-blood for Morton. The agent, the bailiff; in training already.
Jim the groom, inarticulate, rather stupid, but wanting to join
the cavalry--Jim who had been at Morton since boyhood. The
gardeners, kindly men smelling of soil, men of peace with a peaceful
occupation; six of these gardeners had gone already, together with a
couple of lads from the home farm. There were no men servants left in the
house. It seemed that the old traditions still held, the traditions of
England, the traditions of Morton.

The Vicar would soon play a sterner game than cricket, while Alec must
put away his law books and take unto himself a pair of wings--funny to
associate wings with Alec. Colonel Antrim had hastily got into khaki, and
was cursing and swearing, no doubt, at the barracks. And Roger--Roger was
somewhere in France already, justifying his manhood. Roger Antrim, who
had been so intolerably proud of that manhood--well, now he would get a
chance to prove it!

But Jonathan Brockett, with the soft white hands, and the foolish
gestures, and the high little laugh--even he could justify his existence,
for they had not refused 'him when he went to enlist. Stephen had never
thought to feel envious of a man like Jonathan Brockett.

She sat smoking, with his letter spread out before her on the desk, his
absurd yet courageous letter, and somehow it humbled her pride to the
dust, for she could not so justify her existence. Every instinct handed
down by the men of her race, every decent instinct of courage, now rose
to mock her so that all that was male in her make-up seemed to grow more
aggressive, aggressive perhaps as never before, because of this new
frustration. She felt appalled at the realization of her own
grotesqueness; she was nothing but a freak abandoned on a kind of
no-man's-land at this moment of splendid national endeavour. England was
calling her men into battle, her women to the bedsides of the wounded and
dying, and between these two chivalrous, surging forces she, Stephen,
might well be crushed out of existence--of less use to her country, she
was, than Brockett. She stared at her bony masculine hands, they had
never been skilful when it came to illness; strong they might be, but
rather inept; not hands wherewith to succour the wounded. No, assuredly
her job, if job she could find, would not lie at the bedsides of the
wounded. And yet, good God, one must do something!

Going to the door she called in the servants: 'I'm leaving for England in
a few days,' she told them, 'and while I'm away you'll take care of this
house. I have absolute confidence in you.'

Pierre said: 'All things shall be done as you would wish, Mademoiselle.'
And she knew that it would be so.

That evening she told Puddle of her decision, and Puddle's face
brightened: 'I'm so glad, my dear, when war comes one ought to stand by
one's country.'

'I'm afraid they won't want my sort...' Stephen muttered.

Puddle put a firm little hand over hers: 'I wouldn't be too sure of that,
this war may give your sort of woman her chance. I think you may find
that they'll need you, Stephen.'


3


There were no farewells to be said in Paris except those to Buisson and
Mademoiselle Duphot.

Mademoiselle Duphot shed a few tears: 'I find you only to lose you,
Stévenne. Ah, but how many friends will be parted, perhaps for ever, by
this terrible war--and yet what else could we do? We are blameless!'

In Berlin people were also saying: 'What else could we do? We are
blameless.'

Julie's hand lingered on Stephen's arm: 'You feel so strong,' she said,
sighing a little, 'it is good to be strong and courageous these days, and
to have one's eyes--alas, I am quite useless.'

'No one is useless who can pray, my sister,' reproved Mademoiselle almost
sternly.

And indeed there were many who thought as she did, the churches were
crowded all over France. A great wave of piety swept through Paris,
filling the dark confessional boxes, so that the priests had now some ado
to cope with such shoals of penitent people--the more so as every priest
fit to fight had been summoned to join the army. Up at Montmartre the
church of the Sacré Coeur echoed and re-echoed with the prayers of the
faithful, while those prayers that were whispered with tears in secret,
hung like invisible clouds round its altars.

'Save us, most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Have pity upon us, have pity upon
France. Save us, 0 Heart of Jesus!'

So all day long must the priests sit and hear the time-honoured sins of
body and spirit; a monotonous hearing because of its sameness since
nothing is really new under the sun, least of all our manner of sinning.
Men who had not been to Mass for years, now began to remember their first
Communion; thus it was that many a hardy blasphemer, grown suddenly
tongue-tied and rather sheepish, clumped up to the altar in his new army
boots, having made an embarrassed confession.

Young clericals changed into uniform and marched side by side with the
roughest Poilus, to share in their hardships, their hopes, their terrors,
their deeds of supremest valour. Old men bowed their heads and gave of
the strength which no longer animated their bodies, gave of that strength
through the bodies of their sons who would charge into battle shouting
and singing. Women of all ages knelt down and prayed, since prayer has
long been the refuge of women. 'No one is useless who can pray, my
sister.' The women of France had spoken through the lips of the humble
Mademoiselle Duphot.

Stephen and Puddle said good-bye to the sisters, then went on to
Buisson's Academy of Fencing, where they found him engaged upon greasing
his foils.

He looked up, Ah, it's you. I must go on greasing. God knows when I shall
use these again, tomorrow I join my regiment.' But he wiped his hands on
a stained overall and sat down, after clearing a chair for Puddle. 'An
ungentlemanly war it will be,' he grumbled. Will I lead my men with a
sword? Ah, but no! I will lead my men with a dirty revolver in my hand.
Parbleu! Such is modern warfare! A machine could do the whole cursed
thing better--we shall all be nothing but machines in this war. However,
I pray that we may kill many Germans.'

Stephen lit a cigarette while the master glared, he was evidently in a
very vile temper: 'Go on, go on, smoke your heart to the devil, then come
here and ask me to teach you fencing! You smoke in lighting one from the
other, you remind me of your horrible Birmingham chimneys--but of course
a woman exaggerates always,' he concluded, with an evident wish to annoy
her.

Then he made a few really enlightening remarks about Germans in general,
their appearance, their morals, above all their personal habits--which
remarks were more seemly in French than they would be in English. For,
like Valérie Seymour, this man was filled with a loathing for the
ugliness of his epoch, an ugliness to which he felt the Germans were just
now doing their best to contribute. Buisson's heart was not buried in
Mitylene, but rather in the glories of a bygone Paris, where a gentleman
lived by the skill of his rapier and the graceful courage that lay behind
it.

'In the old days we killed very beautifully,' sighed Buisson, 'now we
merely slaughter or else do not kill at all, no matter how gross the
insult.'

However, when they got up to go, he relented: 'War is surely a very
necessary evil, it thins down the imbecile populations who have murdered
their most efficacious microbes. People will not die, very well, here
comes war to mow them down in their tens of thousands. At least for those
of us who survive, there will be more breathing-space, thanks to the
Germans--perhaps they too are a necessary evil.'

Arrived at the door Stephen turned to look back. Buisson was once more
greasing his foils, and his fingers moved slowly yet with great
precision--he might almost have been a beauty doctor engaged upon
massaging ladies' faces.

Preparations for departure did not take very long, and in less than a
week's time Stephen and Puddle had shaken hands with their Breton
servants and were driving at top speed en route for Havre, from whence
they would cross to England.


4


Puddle's prophecy proved to have been correct, work was very soon
forthcoming for Stephen. She joined The London Ambulance Column, which
was well under way by that autumn; and presently Puddle herself got a job
in one of the Government departments. She and Stephen had taken a small
service flat in Victoria, and here they would meet when released from
their hours of duty. But Stephen was obsessed by her one idea, which was,
willy-nilly, to get out to the front, and many and varied were the plans
and discussions that were listened to by the sympathetic Puddle. An
ambulance had managed to slip over to Belgium for a while and had done
some very fine service. Stephen had hit on a similar idea, but in her
case the influence required had been lacking. In vain did she offer to
form a Unit at her own expense; the reply was polite but always the same,
a monotonous reply: England did not send women to the front-line
trenches. She disliked the idea of joining the throng who tormented the
patient passport officials with demands to be sent to France at once, on
no matter how insufficient a pretext. What was the use of her going to
France unless she could find there the work that she wanted? She
preferred to stick to her job in England.

And now quite often while she waited at the stations for the wounded, she
would see unmistakable figures--unmistakable to her they would be at
first sight, she would single them out of the crowd as by instinct. For
as though gaining courage from the terror that is war, many a one who was
even as Stephen, had crept out of her hole and come into the daylight,
come into the daylight and faced her country: 'Well, here I am, will you
take me or leave me?' And England had taken her, asking no questions--she
was strong and efficient, she could fill a man's place, she could
organize too, given scope for her talent. England had said: 'Thank you
very much. You're just what we happen to want...at the moment.'

So, side by side with more fortunate women, worked Miss Smith who had
been breeding dogs in the country; or Miss Oliphant who had been breeding
nothing since birth but a litter of hefty complexes; or Miss Tring who
had lived with a very dear friend in the humbler purlieus of Chelsea. One
great weakness they all had, it must be admitted, and this was for
uniforms--yet why not? The good workman is worthy of his Sam Browne belt.
And then too, their nerves were not at all weak, their pulses beat
placidly through the worst air raids, for bombs do not trouble the nerves
of the invert, but rather that terrible silent bombardment from the
batteries of God's good people.

Yet now even really nice women with hairpins often found their less
orthodox sisters quite useful. It would be: 'Miss Smith, do just start up
my motor--the engine's so cold I can't get the thing going'; or: 'Miss
Oliphant, do glance through these accounts, I've got such a rotten bad
head for figures'; or 'Miss Tring, may I borrow your British Warm? The
office is simply arctic this morning!'

Not that those purely feminine women were less worthy of praise, perhaps
they were more so, giving as they did of their best without stint--for
they had no stigma to live down in the war, no need to defend their right
to respect. They rallied to the call of their country superbly, and may
it not be forgotten by England. But the others--since they too gave of
their best, may they also not be forgotten. They might look a bit odd,
indeed some of them did, and yet in the streets they were seldom stared
at, though they strode a little, perhaps from shyness, or perhaps from a
slightly self-conscious desire to show off, which is often the same thing
as shyness. They were part of the universal convulsion and were being
accepted as such, on their merits. And although their Sam Browne belts
remained swordless, their hats and their caps without regimental badges,
a battalion was formed in those terrible years that would never again be
completely disbanded. War and death had given them a right to life, and
life tasted sweet, very sweet to their palates. Later on would come
bitterness, disillusion, but never again would such women submit to being
driven back to their holes and corners. They had found themselves--thus
the whirligig of war brings in its abrupt revenges.


5


Time passed; the first year of hostilities became the second while
Stephen still hoped, though no nearer to her ambition. Try as she might
she could not get to the front; no work at the actual front seemed to be
forthcoming for women.

Brockett wrote wonderfully cheerful letters. In every letter was a neat
little list telling Stephen what he wished her to send him; but the
sweets he loved were getting quite scarce, they were no longer always so
easy to come by. And now he was asking for Houbigant soap to be included
in his tuck-box.

'Don't let it get near the coffee fondants or it may make them taste like
it smells,' he cautioned, 'and do try to send me two bottles of
hair-wash, "Eau Athénienne", I used to buy it at Truefitt's.' He was on a
perfectly damnable front, they had sent him to Mesopotamia.

Violet Peacock, who was now a V.A.D. with a very imposing Red Cross on
her apron, occasionally managed to catch Stephen at home, and then would
come reams of tiresome gossip. Sometimes she would bring her over-fed
children along, she was stuffing them up like capons. By fair means or
foul Violet always managed to obtain illicit cream for her nursery--she
was one of those mothers who reacted to the war by wishing to kill off
the useless aged.

'What's the good of them? Eating up the food of the nation!' she would
say, 'I'm going all out on the young, they'll be needed to breed from.'
She was very extreme, her perspective had been upset by the air raids.

Raids frightened her as did the thought of starvation, and when
frightened she was apt to grow rather sadistic, so that now she would
want to rush off and inspect every ruin left by the German marauders. She
had also been the first to applaud the dreadful descent of a burning
Zeppelin.

She bored Stephen intensely with her ceaseless prattle about Alec, who
was one of London's defenders, about Roger, who had got the Military
Cross and was just on the eve of becoming a major, about the wounded
whose faces she sponged every morning, and who seemed so pathetically
grateful.

From Morton came occasional letters for Puddle; they were more in the
nature of reports now these letters. Anna had such and such a number of
cases; the gardeners had been replaced by young women; Mr. Percival was
proving very devoted, he and Anna were holding the estate well together;
Williams had been seriously ill with pneumonia. Then a long list of
humble names from the farms, from among Anna's staff or from cottage
homesteads, together with those from such houses as Morton--for the rich
and the poor were in death united. Stephen would read that long list of
names, so many of which she had known since her childhood, and would
realize that the stark arm of war had struck deep at the quiet heart of
the Midlands.




BOOK FOUR



Chapter Thirty-five


1


A stump of candle in the neck of a bottle flickered once or twice and
threatened to go out. Getting up, Stephen found a fresh candle and lit
it, then she returned to her packing-case upon which had been placed the
remnants of a chair minus its legs and arms.

The room had once been the much prized salon of a large and prosperous
villa in Compiegne, but now the glass was gone from its windows; there
remained only battered and splintered shutters which creaked eerily in
the bitter wind of a March night in 1918. The walls of the salon had
fared little better than its windows, their brocade was detached and
hanging, while a recent rainstorm had lashed through the roof making ugly
splotches on the delicate fabric--a dark stain on the ceiling was
perpetually dripping. The remnants of what had once been a home, little
broken tables, an old photograph in a tarnished frame, a child's wooden
horse, added to the infinite desolation of this villa that now housed the
Breakspeare Unit--a Unit composed of Englishwomen, that had been serving
in France just over six months, attached to the French Army Ambulance
Corps.

The place seemed full of grotesquely large shadows cast by figures that
sat or sprawled on the floor. Miss Peel in her Jaeger sleeping-bag snored
loudly, then choked because of her cold. Miss Delmé-Howard was gravely
engaged upon making the best of a difficult toilet--she was brushing out
her magnificent hair which gleamed in the light of the candle. Miss Bless
was sewing a button on her tunic; Miss Thurloe was peering at a
half-finished letter; but most of the women who were herded together in
this, the safest place in the villa and none too safe at that be it said,
were apparently sleeping quite soundly. An uncanny stillness had
descended on the town; after many hours of intensive bombardment, the
Germans were having a breathing-space before training their batteries
once more upon Compiegne.

Stephen stared down at the girl who lay curled up at her feet in an army
blanket. The girl slept the sleep of complete exhaustion, breathing
heavily with her head on her arm; her pale and rather triangular face was
that of someone who was still very young, not much more than nineteen or
twenty. The pallor of her skin was accentuated by the short black lashes
which curled back abruptly, by the black arched eyebrows and dark brown
hair--sleek hair which grew to a peak on the forehead, and had recently
been bobbed for the sake of convenience. For the rest her nose was
slightly tip-tilted, and her mouth resolute considering her youth; the
lips were well-modelled and fine in texture, having deeply indented
corners. For more than a minute Stephen considered the immature figure of
Mary Llewellyn. This latest recruit to the Breakspeare Unit had joined it
only five weeks ago, replacing a member who was suffering from
shell-shock. Mrs. Breakspeare had shaken her head over Mary, but in these
harassed days of the German offensive she could not afford to remain
shorthanded, so in spite of many misgivings she had kept her.

Still shaking her head she had said to Stephen: 'Needs must when the
Bodies get busy, Miss Gordon! Have an eye to her, will your She may stick
it all right, but between you and me I very much doubt it. You might try
her out as your second driver.' And so far Mary Llewellyn had stuck it.

Stephen looked away again, dosing her eyes, and after a while forgot
about Mary. The events that had preceded her own coming to France began
to pass through her brain in procession. Her chief in The London
Ambulance Column, through whom she had first met Mrs. Claude
Breakspeare--a good sort, the chief, she had been a staunch friend. The
great news that she, Stephen, had been accepted and would go to the front
as an ambulance driver. Then Puddle's grave face: 'I must write to your
mother, this means that you will be in real danger.' Her mother's brief
letter: 'Before you leave I should very much like you to come and see
me,' the rest of the letter mere polite empty phrases. The impulse to
resist, the longing to go, culminating in that hurried visit to Morton.
Morton so changed and yet so changeless. Changed because of those
blue-clad figures, the lame, the halt and the partially blinded who had
sought its peace and its kindly protection. Changeless because that
protection and peace belonged to the very spirit of Morton. Mrs. Williams
a widow; her niece melancholic ever since the groom Jim had been wounded
and missing--they had married while he had been home on leave, and quite
soon the poor soul was expecting a baby. Williams now dead of his third
and last stroke, after having survived pneumonia. The swan called Peter
no longer gliding across the lake on his white reflection, and in his
stead an unmannerly offspring who struck out with his wings and tried to
bite Stephen. The family vault where her father lay buried--the vault was
in urgent need of repair--' No men left, Miss Stephen, we're that short
of stonemasons; her ladyship's bin complainin' already, but it don't be
no use complainin' these times.' Raftery's grave a slab of rough granite:
'In memory of a gentle and courageous friend, whose name was Raftery,
after the poet.' Moss on the granite half effacing the words; the thick
hedge growing wild for the want of clipping. And her mother--a woman with
snow-white hair and a face that was worn almost down to the spirit; a
woman of quiet but uncertain movements, with a new trick of twisting the
rings on her fingers. 'It was good of you to come.' 'You sent for me,
Mother.' Long silences filled with the realization that all they dared
hope for was peace between them--too late to go back--they could not
retrace their steps even though there was now peace between them. Then
those last poignant moments in the study together--memory, the old room
was haunted by it--a man dying with love in his eyes that was
deathless--a woman holding him in her arms, speaking the words such as
lovers will speak to each other. Memory--they're the one perfect thing
about me. Stephen, promise to write when you're out in France, I shall
want to hear from you.' 'I promise, Mother.' The return to London; Puddle's
anxious voice: 'Well, how was she?' 'Very frail, you must go to Morton.'
Puddle's sudden and almost fierce rebellion: 'I would rather not go, I've
made my choice, Stephen.' 'But I ask this for my sake. I'm worried about
her--even if I weren't going away, I couldn't go back now and live at
Morton--our living together would make us remember.' 'I remember, too,
Stephen, and what I remember is hard to forgive. It's hard to forgive an
injury done to someone one loves...' Puddle's face, very white, very
stern--strange to hear such words as these on the kind lips of Puddle. 'I
know, I know, but she's terribly alone, and I can't forget that my father
loved her.' A long silence, and then: 'I've never yet failed you--and
you're right--I must go to Morton.'


Stephen's thoughts stopped abruptly. Someone had come in and was stumping
down the room in squeaky trench boots. It was Blakeney holding the
time-sheet in her hand--funny old monosyllabic Blakeney, with her curly
white hair cropped as close as an Uhlan's, and her face that suggested a
sensitive monkey.

'Service, Gordon; wake the kid! Howard--Thurloe---ready?' They got up and
hustled into their trench coats, found their gas masks and finally put on
their helmets.

Then Stephen shook Mary Llewellyn very gently: 'It's time.' Mary opened
her clear, grey eyes: 'Who? What?' she stammered. 'It's time. Get up,
Mary.'

The girl staggered to her feet, still stupid with fatigue. Through the
cracks in the shutters the dawn showed faintly.


2


The grey of a bitter, starved-looking morning. The town like a mortally
wounded creature, torn by shells, gashed open by bombs. Dead
streets--streets of death--death in streets and their houses; yet people
still able to sleep and still sleeping.

'Stephen.'

'Yes, Mary?'

'How far is the Poste?'

'I think about thirty kilometres; why?'

'Oh, nothing--I only wondered.'

The long stretch of an open country road. On either side of the road wire
netting hung with pieces of crudely painted rag--a camouflage to
represent leaves. A road bordered by rag leaves on tall wire hedges.
Every few yards or so a deep shell-hole.

'Are they following, Mary? Is Howard all right?'

The girl glanced back: 'Yes, it's all right, she's coming.'

They drove on in silence for a couple of miles. The morning was
terribly cold; Mary shivered. 'What's that?' It was rather a foolish
question for she knew what it was, knew only too well!

'They're at it again,' Stephen muttered.

A shell burst in a paddock, uprooting some trees. 'All right, Mary?'

'Yes--look out! We're coming to a crater!' They skimmed it by less than
an inch and dashed on, Mary suddenly moving nearer to Stephen.

'Don't joggle my arm, for the Lord's sake, child!'

'Did I? I'm sorry.'

Yes--don't do it again,' and once more they drove forward in silence.
Farther down the road they were blocked by a farm cart: 'Militaires!
Militaires! Militaires!' Stephen shouted.

Rather languidly the farmer got down and went to the heads of his thin,
stumbling horses. 'Il faut vivre,' he explained, as he pointed to the
cart, which appeared to be full of potatoes.

In a field on the right worked three very old women; they were hoeing
with a diligent and fatalistic patience. At any moment a stray shell
might burst and then, presto! little left of the very old women. But what
will you? There is war--there has been war so long--one must eat, even
under the noses of the Germans; the bon Dieu knows this. He alone can
protect--so meanwhile one just goes on diligently hoeing. A blackbird was
singing to himself in a tree, the tree was horribly maimed and blasted;
all the same he had known it the previous spring and so now, in spite of
its wounds, he had found it. Came a sudden lull when they heard him
distinctly.

And Mary saw him: 'Look,' she said, 'there's a blackbird!' Just for a
moment she forgot about war.

Yet Stephen could now very seldom forget, and this was because of the
girl at her side. A queer, tight feeling would come round her heart, she
would know the fear that can go hand in hand with personal courage, the
fear for another.

But now she looked down for a moment and smiled: 'Bless that blackbird
for letting you see him, Mary.' She knew that Mary loved little wild
birds, that indeed she loved all the humbler creatures.

They turned into a lane and were comparatively safe, but the roar of the
guns had grown much more insistent. They must be nearing the Poste de
Secours, so they spoke very little because of those guns, and after a
while because of the wounded.


3


The Poste de Secours was a ruined auberge at the crossroads, about fifty
yards behind the trenches. From what had once been its spacious cellar,
they were hurriedly carrying up the wounded, maimed and mangled creatures
who, a few hours ago, had been young and vigorous men. None too gently
the stretchers were lowered to the ground beside the two waiting
ambulances--none too gently because there were so many of them, and
because there must come a time in all wars when custom stales even
compassion.

The wounded were patient and fatalistic, like the very old women back in
the field. The only difference between them being that the men had
themselves become as a field laid bare to a ruthless and bloody hoeing.
Some of them had not even a blanket to protect them from the biting cold
of the wind. A Poilu with a mighty wound in the belly, must lie with the
blood congealing on the bandage. Next to him lay a man with his face half
blown away, who, God alone knew why, remained conscious. The abdominal
case was the first to be handled, Stephen herself helped to lift his
stretcher. He was probably dying, but he did not complain inasmuch as he
wanted his mother. The voice that emerged from his coarse, bearded throat
was the voice of a child demanding its mother. The man with the terrible
face tried to speak, but when he did so the sound was not human. His
bandage had slipped a little to one side, so that Stephen must step
between him and Mary, and hastily readjust the bandage.

'Get back to the ambulance! I shall want you to drive.' In silence Mary
obeyed her.

And now began the first of those endless journeys from the Poste de
Secours to the Field Hospital. For twenty-four hours they would ply back
and forth with their light Ford ambulances. Driving quickly because the
lives of the wounded might depend on their speed, yet with every nerve
taut to avoid, as far as might be, the jarring of the hazardous roads
full of ruts and shell-holes.

The man with the shattered face started again, they could hear him above
the throb of the motor. For a moment they stopped while Stephen listened,
but his lips were not there...an intolerable sound.

'Faster, drive faster, Mary!'

Pale, but with firmly set, resolute mouth, Mary Llewellyn drove faster.

When at last they reached the Field Hospital, the bearded Poilu with the
wound in his belly was lying very placidly on his stretcher; his hairy
chin pointing slightly upward. He had ceased to speak as a little
child--perhaps, after all, he had found his mother.

The day went on and the sun shone out brightly, dazzling the tired eyes
of the drivers. Dusk fell, and the roads grew treacherous and vague.
Night came--they dared not risk having lights, so that they must just
stare and stare into the darkness. In the distance the sky turned
ominously red, some stray shells might well have set fire to a village,
that tall column of flame was probably the church; and the Roches were
punishing Compiegne again, to judge from the heavy sounds of bombardment.
Yet by now there was nothing real in the world but that thick and almost
impenetrable darkness, and the ache of the eyes that must stare and
stare, and the dreadful, patient pain of the wounded--there had never
been anything else in the world but black night shot through with the
pain of the wounded.


4


On the following morning the two ambulances crept back to their base at
the villa in Compiegne. It had been a tough job, long hours of strain,
and to make matters worse the reliefs had been late, one of them having
had a breakdown. Moving stiffly, and with red rimmed and watering eyes,
the four women swallowed large cups of coffee; then just as they were
they lay down on the floor, wrapped in their trench coats and army
blankets. In less than a quarter of an hour they slept. Though the villa
shook and rocked with the bombardment.



Chapter Thirty-six


1


There is something that mankind can never destroy in spite of an
unreasoning will to destruction, and this is its own idealism, that
integral part of its very being. The ageing and the cynical may make
wars, but the young and the idealistic must fight them, and thus there
are bound to come quick reactions, blind impulses not always
comprehended. Men will curse as they kill, yet accomplish deeds of
self-sacrifice, giving their lives for others; poets will write with
their pens dipped in blood, yet will write not of death but of life
eternal; strong and courteous friendships will be born, to endure in the
face of enmity and destruction. And so persistent is this urge to the
ideal, above all in the presence of great disaster, that mankind, the
wilful destroyer of beauty, must immediately strive to create new
beauties, lest it perish from a sense of its own desolation; and this
urge touched the Celtic soul of Mary.

For the Celtic soul is the stronghold of dreams, of longings come down
the dim paths of the ages; and within it there dwells a vague discontent,
so that it must for ever go questing. And now as though drawn by some
hidden attraction, as though stirred by some irresistible impulse, quite
beyond the realms of her own understanding, Mary turned in all faith and
all innocence to Stephen. Who can pretend to interpret fate, either his
own fate or that of another? Why should this girl have crossed Stephen's
path, or indeed Stephen hers, if it came to that matter? Was not the
world large enough for them both? Perhaps not--or perhaps the event of
their meeting had already been written upon tablets of stone by some wise
if relentless recording finger.

An orphan from the days of her earliest childhood, Mary had lived with a
married cousin in the wilds of Wales; an unwanted member of a none too
prosperous household. She had little education beyond that obtained from
a small private school in a neighbouring village. She knew nothing of
life or of men and women; and even less did she know of herself, of her
ardent, courageous, impulsive nature. Thanks to the fact that her cousin
was a doctor, forced to motor over a widely spread practice, she had
learnt to drive and look after his car by filling the post of an unpaid
chauffeur--she was, in her small way, a good mechanic. But the war had
made her much less contented with her narrow life, and although at its
outbreak Mary had been not quite eighteen, she had felt a great longing
to be independent, in which she had met with no opposition. However, a
Welsh village is no field for endeavour, and thus nothing had happened
until by a fluke she had suddenly heard of the Breakspeare Unit via the
local parson, an old friend of its founder--he himself had written to
recommend Mary. And so, straight from the quiet seclusion of Wales, this
girl had managed the complicated journey that had finally got her over to
France, then across a war-ravaged, dislocated country. Mary was neither
so frail nor so timid as Mrs. Breakspeare had thought her.

Stephen had felt rather bored just at first at the prospect of teaching
the new member her duties, but after a while it came to pass that she
missed the girl when she was not with her. And after a while she would
find herself observing the way Mary's hair grew, low on the forehead, the
wide setting of her slightly oblique grey eyes, the abrupt sweep back of
their heavy lashes; and these things would move Stephen, so that she must
touch the girl's hair for a moment with her fingers. Fate was throwing
them continually together, in moments of rest as in moments of danger;
they could not have escaped this even had they wished to, and indeed they
did not wish to escape it. They were pawns in the ruthless and
complicated game of existence, moved hither and thither on the board by
an unseen hand, yet moved side by side, so that they grew to expect each
other.

'Mary, are you there?'

A superfluous question--the reply would be always the same. 'I'm here,
Stephen.'

Sometimes Mary would talk of her plans for the future while Stephen
listened, smiling as she did so.

'I'll go into an office, I want to be free.'

'You're so little, you'd get mislaid in an office.'

'I'm five foot five!'

Are you really, Mary? You feel little somehow.'

That's because you're so tall. I do wish I could grow a bit!'

'No, don't wish that, you're all right as you are--it's you, Mary.'

Mary would want to be told about Morton, she was never tired of hearing
about Morton. She would make Stephen get out the photographs of her
father, of her mother whom Mary thought lovely, of Puddle, and above all
of Raftery. Then Stephen must tell her of the life in London, and
afterwards of the new house in Paris; must talk of her own career and
ambitions, though Mary had not read either of her novels--there had never
been a library subscription.

But at moments Stephen's face would grow clouded because of the things
that she could not tell her; because of the little untruths and evasions
that must fill up the gaps in her strange life-history. Looking down into
Mary's clear, grey eyes, she would suddenly flush through her tan, and
feel guilty; and that feeling would reach the girl and disturb her, so
that she must hold Stephen's hand for a moment.

One day she said suddenly: 'Are you unhappy?'

'Why on earth should I be unhappy?' smiled Stephen.

All the same there were nights now when Stephen lay awake even after her
arduous hours of service, hearing the guns that were coming nearer, yet
not thinking of them, but always of Mary. A great gentleness would
gradually engulf her like a soft sea mist, veiling reef and headland. She
would seem to be drifting quietly, serenely towards some blessed and
peaceful harbour. Stretching out a hand she would stroke the girl's
shoulder where she lay, but carefully in case she should wake her. Then
the mist would lift: 'Good God! What am I doing?' She would sit up
abruptly, disturbing the sleeper.

'Is that you, Stephen?'

Yes, my dear, go to sleep.'

Then a cross, aggrieved voice: 'Do shut up, you two. It's rotten of you,
I was just getting off! Why must you always persist in talking!'

Stephen would lie down again and would think: 'I'm a fool, I go out of my
way to find trouble. Of course I've grown fond of the child, she's so
plucky, almost anyone would grow fond of Mary. Why should I have
affection and friendship? Why should I have a real human interest? I can
help her to find her feet after the war if we both come through--I might
buy her a business.' That gentle mist, hiding both reef and headland; it
would gather again blurring all perception, robbing the past of its
crude, ugly outlines. 'After all, what harm can it do the child to be
fond of me?' It was so good a thing to have won the affection of this
young creature.


2


The Germans got perilously near to Compiegne, and the Breakspeare Unit
was ordered to retire. Its base was now at a ruined chateau on the
outskirts of an insignificant village, yet not so very insignificant
either--it was stuffed to the neck with ammunition. Nearly all the hours
that were spent off duty must be passed in the gloomy, damp-smelling
dug-outs which consisted of cellars, partly destroyed but protected by
sandbags on heavy timbers. Like foxes creeping out of their holes, the
members of the Unit would creep into the daylight, their uniforms covered
with mould and rubble, their eyes blinking, their hands cold and numb
from the dampness--so cold and so numb that the starting up of motors
would often present a real problem.

At this time there occurred one or two small mishaps; Bless broke her
wrist while cranking her engine; Blakeney and three others at a Poste de
Secours, were met by a truly terrific bombardment and took cover in what
had once been a brick-field, crawling into the disused furnace. There
they squatted for something over eight hours, while the German gunners
played hit as hit can with the tall and conspicuous chimney. When at last
they emerged, half stifled by brick-dust, Blakeney had got something into
her eye, which she rubbed; the result was acute inflammation.

Howard had begun to be irritating, with her passion for tending her
beautiful hair. She would sit in the corner of her dug-out as calmly as
though she were sitting at a Bond Street hairdresser's; and having
completed the ritual brushing, she would gaze at herself in a pocket
mirror. With a bandage over her unfortunate eye, Blakeney looked more
like a monkey than ever, a sick monkey, and her strictly curtailed
conversation was not calculated to enliven the Unit. She seemed almost
entirely bereft of speech these days, as though reverting to species. Her
one comment on life was: Oh, I dunno...' always said with a jaunty rising
inflexion. It meant everything or nothing as you chose to take it, and
had long been her panacea for the ills of what she considered a stupid
Creation. 'Oh, I dunno...' And indeed she did not; poor, old, sensitive,
monosyllabic Blakeney. The Poilu who served out the Unit's rations--cold
meat, sardines, bread and sour red Pinard--was discovered by Stephen in
the very act of attempting to unload an aerial bomb. He explained with a
smile that the Germans were sly in their methods of loading: 'I cannot
discover just how it is done.' Then he showed his left hand--it was minus
one of the fingers: 'That,' he told her, still smiling, 'was caused by a
shell, a quite little shell, which I was also unloading.' And when she
remonstrated none too gently, he sulked: 'But I wish to give this one to
Maman!'

Everyone had begun to feel the nerve strain, except perhaps Blakeney, who
had done with all feeling. Shorthanded by two, the remaining members of
the Unit must now work like veritable niggers--on one occasion Stephen
and Mary worked for seventy hours with scarcely a respite. Strained
nerves are invariably followed by strained tempers, and sudden, hot
quarrels would break out over nothing. Bless and Howard loathed each
other for two days, then palled up again, because of a grievance that had
recently been evolved against Stephen. For everyone knew that Stephen and
Blakeney were by far the best drivers in the Breakspeare Unit, and as
such should be shared by all the members in turn; but poor Blakeney was
nursing a very sore eye, while Stephen still continued to drive only with
Mary. They were splendidly courageous and great-hearted women, every one
of them, glad enough as a rule to help one another to shoulder burdens,
to be tolerant and kind when it came to friendships. They petted and
admired their youngest recruit, and most of them liked and respected
Stephen, all the same they had now grown childishly jealous, and this
jealousy reached the sharp ears of Mrs. Breakspeare.

Mrs. Breakspeare sent for Stephen one morning; she was sitting at a Louis
Quinze writing-table which had somehow survived the wreck of the château
and was now in her gloomy, official dug-out. Her right band reposed on an
ordnance, map, she looked like a very maternal general. The widow of an
officer killed in the war, and the mother of two large sons and three
daughters, she had led the narrow, conventional life that is common to
women in military stations. Yet all the while she must have been filling
her subconscious reservoir with knowledge, for she suddenly blossomed
forth as leader with a fine understanding of human nature. So now she
looked over her ample bosom not unkindly, but rather thoughtfully at
Stephen.

Sit down, Miss Gordon. It's about Llewellyn, whom I asked you to take on
as second driver. I think the time has now arrived when she ought to
stand more on her own in the Unit. She must take her chance like everyone
else, and not cling quite so close--don't misunderstand me, I'm most
grateful for all you've done for the girl--but of course you are one of
our finest drivers, and fine driving counts for a great deal these days,
it may mean life or death, as you yourself know. And--well--it seems
scarcely fair to the others that Mary should always go out with you. No,
it certainly is not quite fair to the others.'

Stephen said: 'Do you mean that she's to go out with every one in
turn--with Thurloe for instance?' And do what she would to appear
indifferent, she could not quite keep her voice from trembling.

Mrs. Breakspeare nodded: 'That's what I do mean.' Then she said rather
slowly: 'These are strenuous times, and such times are apt to breed many
emotions which are purely fictitious, purely mushroom growths that spring
up in a night and have no roots at all, except in our imaginations. But
I'm sure you'll agree with me, Miss Gordon, in thinking it our duty to
discourage anything in the nature of an emotional friendship, such as I
fancy Mary Llewellyn is on the verge of feeling for you. It's quite
natural of course, a kind of reaction, but not wise--no, I cannot think
it wise. It savours a little too much of the schoolroom and might lead to
ridicule in the Unit. Your position is far too important for that; I look
upon you as my second in command.'

Stephen said quietly: 'I quite understand. I'll go at once and speak to
Blakeney about altering Mary Llewellyn's time-sheet.'

'Yes, do, if you will,' agreed Mrs. Breakspeare; then she stooped and
studied her ordnance map, without looking again at Stephen.


3


If Stephen had been fearful for Mary's safety before, she was now ten
times more so. The front was in a condition of flux and the Postes de
Secours were continually shifting. An Allied ambulance driver had been
fired on by the Germans, after having arrived at the spot where his Poste
had been only the previous evening. There was very dose fighting on every
sector; it seemed truly amazing that no grave casualties had so far
occurred in the Unit. For now the Allies had begun to creep forward, yard
by yard, mile by mile, very slowly but surely; refreshed by a splendid
transfusion of blood from the youthful veins of a great child-nation.

Of all the anxieties on Mary's account that now beset Stephen, Thurloe
was the gravest; for Thurloe was one of those irritating drivers who
stake all on their own inadequate judgment. She was brave to a fault, but
inclined to show off when it came to a matter of actual danger. For long
hours Stephen would not know what had happened, and must often leave the
base before Mary had returned, still in doubt regarding her safety.

Grimly, yet with unfailing courage and devotion, Stephen now went about
her duties. Every day the risks that they all took grew graver, for the
enemy, nearing the verge of defeat, was less than ever a respecter of
persons. Stephen's only moments of comparative peace would be when she
herself drove Mary. And as though the girl missed some vitalizing force,
some strength that had been hitherto hers to draw on, she flagged and
Stephen would watch her flagging during their brief spell together off
duty, and would know that nothing but her Celtic pluck kept Mary
Llewellyn from a breakdown. And now, because they were so often parted,
even chance meetings became of importance. They might meet while
preparing their cars in the morning, and if this should happen they would
draw close together for a moment, as though finding comfort in nearness.

Letters from home would arrive for Stephen, and these she would want to
read to Mary. In addition to writing, Puddle sent food, even luxuries
sometimes of a pre-war nature. To obtain them she must have used bribery
and corruption, for food of all kinds had grown scarce in England.
Puddle, it seemed, had a mammoth war map into which she stuck pins with
gay little pennants. Every time the lines moved by so much as a yard, out
would come Puddle's pins to go in at fresh places; for since Stephen had
left her to go to the front, the war had become very personal to Puddle.

Anna also wrote, and from her Stephen learnt of the death of Roger
Antrim. He had been shot down while winning his V.C. Through saving the
life of a wounded captain. All alone he had gone over to no-man's-land
and had rescued his friend where he lay unconscious; receiving a bullet
through the head at the moment of flinging the wounded man into safety.
Roger--so lacking in understanding, so crude, so cruel and remorseless a
bully--Roger had been changed in the twinkling of an eye into something
superb because utterly selfless. Thus it was that the undying urge of
mankind towards the ideal had come upon Roger. And Stephen as she sat
there and read of his passing, suddenly knew that she wished him well,
that his courage had wiped one great bitterness out of her heart and her
life for ever. And so by dying as he had died, Roger, all unknowing, had
fulfilled the law that must be extended to enemy and friend alike--the
immutable law of service.


4


Events gathered momentum. By the June of that year 700,000 United States
soldiers, strong and comely men plucked from their native prairies, from
their fields of tall corn, from their farms and their cities, were giving
their lives in defence of freedom on the blood-soaked battlefields of
France. They had little to gain and much to lose; it was not their war,
yet they helped to fight it because they were young and their nation was
young, and the ideals of youth are eternally hopeful.

In July came the Allied counter-offensive, and now in her moment of
approaching triumph France knew to the full her great desolation, as it
lay revealed by the retreating armies. For not only had there been a
holocaust of homesteads, but the country was strewn with murdered trees,
cut down in their hour of most perfect leafing; orchards struck to the
ground, an orgy of destruction, as the mighty forces rolled back like a
tide, to recoil on themselves--incredulous, amazed, maddened by the
outrage of coming disaster. For mad they must surely have been, since no
man is a more faithful lover of trees than the German.

Stephen as she drove through that devastated country would find herself
thinking of Martin Hallam--Martin who had touched the old thorns on the
hills with such respectful and pitiful fingers: 'Have you ever thought
about the enormous courage of trees? I have and it seems to me amazing.
The Lord dumps them down and they've just got to stick it, no matter what
happens--that must need some courage.' Martin had believed in a heaven
for trees, a forest heaven for all the faithful; and looking at those
pitiful, leafy corpses, Stephen would want to believe in that heaven.
Until lately she had not thought of Martin for years, he belonged to a
past that was better forgotten, but now she would sometimes wonder about
him. Perhaps he was dead, smitten down where she stood, for many had
perished where they stood, like the orchards. It was strange to think
that he might have been here in France, have been fighting and have died
quite near her. But perhaps he had not been killed after all--she had
never told Mary about Martin Hallam.

All roads of thought seemed to lead back to Mary; and these days, in
addition to fears for her safety, came a growing distress at what she
must see--far more terrible sights than the patient wounded. For
everywhere now lay the wreckage of war, sea-wrack spewed up by a
poisonous ocean--putrefying, festering in the sun; breeding curruption to
man's seed of folly. Twice lately, while they had been driving together,
they had come upon sights that Stephen would have spared her. There had
been that shattered German gun-carriage with its stiff, dead horses and
its three dead gunners--horrible death, the men's faces had been black
like the faces of negroes, black and swollen from gas, or was it from
putrefaction? There had been the deserted and wounded charger with its
fore-leg hanging as though by a rag. Near by had been lying a dead young
Uhlan, and Stephen had shot the beast with his revolver, but Mary had
suddenly started sobbing: Oh, God! Oh, God! It was dumb--it couldn't
speak. It's so awful somehow to see a thing suffer when it can't ask you
why!' She had sobbed a long time, and Stephen had not known how to
console her.

And now the Unit was creeping forward in the wake of the steadily
advancing Allies. Billets would be changed as the base moved on slowly
from devastated village to village. There seldom seemed to be a house
left with a roof, or with anything much beyond its four walls, and quite
often they must lie staring up at the stars, which would stare back
again, aloof and untroubled. At about this time they grew very short of
water, for most of the wells were said to have been poisoned; and this
shortage of water was a very real torment, since it strictly curtailed
the luxury of washing. Then what must Bless do but get herself hit while
locating the position of a Poste de Secours which had most
inconsiderately vanished. Like the Allied ambulance driver she was shot
at, but in her case she happened to stop a bullet--it was only a flesh
wound high up in the arm, yet enough to render her useless for a moment.
She had had to be sent back to hospital, so once again the Unit was
short-handed.

It turned hot, and in place of the dampness and the cold, came days and
nights that seemed almost breathless; days when the wounded must lie out
in the sun, tormented by flies as they waited their turn to be lifted
into the ambulances. And as though misfortunes attracted each other, as
though indeed they were hunting in couples, Stephen's face was struck by
a splinter of shell, and her right cheek cut open rather badly. It was
neatly stitched up by the little French doctor at the Poste de Secours,
and when he had finished with his needle and dressings, he bowed very
gravely: 'Mademoiselle will carry an honourable scar as a mark of her
courage,' and he bowed yet again, so that in the end Stephen must also
bow gravely. Fortunately, however, she could still do her job, which was
all to the good for the short-handed Unit.


5


On an autumn afternoon of blue sky and sunshine, Stephen had the Croix de
Guerre pinned on her breast by a white-haired and white-moustached
general. First came the motherly Mrs. Claude Breakspeare, whose tunic
looked much too tight for her bosom, then Stephen and one or two other
members of that valiant and untiring Unit. The general kissed each one in
turn on both cheeks, while overhead hovered a fleet of Aces; troops
presented arms, veteran troops tried in battle, and having the set look
of war in their eyes--for the French have a very nice taste in such
matters. And presently Stephen's bronze Croix de Guerre would carry three
miniature stars on its ribbon and, each star would stand for a mention in
despatches.

That evening she and Mary walked over the fields to a little town not
very far from their billets. They paused for a moment to watch the
sunset, and Mary stroked the new Croix de Guerre; then she looked
straight up into Stephen's eyes, her mouth shook, and Stephen saw that
she was crying. After this they must walk hand in hand for a while. Why
not? There was no one just then to see them.

Mary said: 'All my life I've been waiting for something.'

'What was it, my dear?' Stephen asked her gently.

And Mary answered: 'I've been waiting for you, and it's seemed such a
dreadful long time, Stephen.'

The barely healed wound across Stephen's cheek flushed darlky, for what
could she find to answer?

'For me?' she stammered.

Mary nodded gravely: 'Yes, for you. I've always been waiting for you; and
after the war you'll send me away.' Then she suddenly caught hold of
Stephen's sleeve: 'Let me come with you--don't send me away, I want to be
near you...I can't explain...but I only want to be near you, Stephen.
Stephen--say you won't send me away...

Stephen's hand closed over the Croix de Guerre, but the metal of valour
felt cold to her fingers; dead and cold it felt at that moment, as the
courage that had set it upon her breast. She stared straight ahead of her
into the sunset, trembling because of what she would answer.

Then she said very slowly: 'After the war--no, I won't send you away from
me, Mary.'



Chapter Thirty-seven


1


The most stupendous and heartbreaking folly of our times drew towards its
abrupt conclusion. By November the Unit was stationed at St. Quentin in a
little hotel, which although very humble, seemed like paradise after the
dug-outs.

A morning came when a handful of the members were together in the
coffee-room, huddled round a fire that was principally composed of damp
brushwood. At one moment the guns could be heard distinctly, the next,
something almost unnatural had happened--there was silence, as though
death had turned on himself, smiting his own power of destruction. No one
spoke, they just sat and stared at each other with faces entirely devoid
of emotion; their faces looked blank, like so many masks from which had
been sponged every trace of expression--and they waited--listening to
that silence.

The door opened and in walked an untidy Poilu; his manner was casual, his
voice apathetic: 'Eh bien, mesdames, c'est l'Armistice.' But his shining
brown eyes were not at all apathetic. 'Oui, c'est l'Armistice,' he
repeated coolly; then he shrugged, as a man might do who would say: 'What
is all this to me?' After which he grinned broadly in spite of himself,
he was still very young, and turning on his heel he departed.

Stephen said: So it's over,' and she looked at Mary, who had jumped up,
and was looking in her turn at Stephen.

Mary said: This means...' but she stopped abruptly.

Bless said: 'Got a match, anyone? Oh, thanks!' And she groped for her
white-metal cigarette case.

Howard said: 'Well, the first thing I'm going to do is to get my hair
properly shampooed in Paris.'

Thurloe laughed shrilly, then she started to whistle, kicking the
recalcitrant fire as she did so.

But funny, old, monosyllabic Blakeney with her curly white hair cropped
as close as an Uhlan's--Blakeney who had long ago done with
emotions--quite suddenly laid her arms on the table and her head on her
arms, and she wept, and she wept.


2


Stephen stayed with the Unit right up to the eve of its departure for
Germany, then she left it, taking Mary Llewellyn with her. Their work was
over; remained only the honour of joining the army's triumphal progress,
but Mary Llewellyn was completely worn out, and Stephen had no thought
except for Mary.

They said farewell to Mrs. Claude Breakspeare, to Howard and Blakeney and
the rest of their comrades. And Stephen knew, as indeed did they also,
that a mighty event had slipped into the past, had gone from them into
the realms of history--something terrible yet splendid, a oneness with
life in its titanic struggle against death. Not a woman of them all but
felt vaguely regretful in spite of the infinite blessing of peace, for
none could know what the future might hold of trivial days filled with
trivial actions. Great wars will be followed by great discontents--the
pruning knife has been laid to the tree, and the urge to grow throbs
through its mutilated branches.


3


The house in the Rue Jacob was en fete in honour of Stephen's arrival.
Pierre had rigged up an imposing flagstaff', from which waved a brand new
tricolour commandeered by Pauline from the neighbouring baker; flowers
had been placed in the study vases, while Adèle had contrived to produce
the word 'welcome' in immortelles, as the piece de resistance, and had
hung it above the doorway.

Stephen shook hands with them all in turn, and she introduced Mary, who
also shook hands. Then Adèle must start to gabble about Jean, who was
quite safe although not a captain; and Pauline must interrupt her to tell
of the neighbouring baker who had lost his four sons, and of one of her
brothers who had lost his right leg--her face very dour and her voice
very cheerful, as was always the way when she told of misfortunes. And
presently she must also deplore the long straight scar upon Stephen's
cheek: 'Oh, la pauvre! Pour une dame c'est un vrai désastre!' But Pierre
must point to the green and red ribbon in Stephen's lapel: 'C'est la
Croix de Guerre!' so that in the end they all gathered round to admire
that half-inch of honour and glory.

Oh, yes, this home-coming was as friendly and happy as goodwill and warm
Breton hearts could make it. Yet Stephen was oppressed by a sense of
restraint when she took Mary up to the charming bedroom overlooking the
garden, and she spoke abruptly.

'This will be your room.'

'It's beautiful, Stephen.'

After that they were silent, perhaps because there was so much that might
not be spoken between them:

The dinner was served by a beaming Pierre, an excellent dinner, more than
worthy of Pauline; but neither of them managed to eat very much--they
were far too acutely conscious of each other. When the meal was over they
went into the study where, in spite of the abnormal shortage of fuel,
Adèle had managed to build a huge fire which blazed recklessly half up
the chimney. The room smelt slightly of hothouse flowers, of leather, of
old wood and vanished years, and after a while of cigarette smoke.

Then Stephen forced herself to speak lightly: 'Come and sit over here by
the fire,' she said, smiling.

So Mary obeyed, sitting down beside her, and she laid a hand upon
Stephen's knee; but Stephen appeared not to notice that hand, for she
just let it lie there and went on talking.

'I've been thinking, Mary, hatching all sorts of schemes. I'd like to get
you right away for a bit, the weather seems pretty awful in Paris. Puddle
once told me about Teneriffe, she went there ages ago with a pupil. She
stayed at a place called Orotava; it's lovely, I believe--do you think
you'd enjoy it? I might manage to hear of a villa with a garden, and then
you could just slack about in the sunshine.'

Mary said, very conscious of the unnoticed hand: 'Do you really want to
go away, Stephen? Wouldn't it interfere with your writing?' Her voice,
Stephen thought, sounded strained and unhappy.

Of course I want to go,' Stephen reassured her, 'I'll work all the better
for a holiday. Anyhow, I must see you looking more fit,' and she suddenly
laid her hand over Mary's.

The strange sympathy which sometimes exists between two human bodies, so
that a touch will stir many secret and perilous emotions, closed down on
them both at that moment of contact, and they sat unnaturally still by
the fire, feeling that in their stillness lay safety. But presently
Stephen went on talking, and now she talked of purely practical matters.
Mary must go for a fortnight to her cousins, she had better go almost at
once, and remain there while Stephen herself went to Morton. Eventually
they would meet in London and from there motor straight away to
Southampton, for Stephen would have taken their passages, and if possible
found a furnished villa, before she went down to Morton. She talked on
and on, and as she did so her fingers tightened and relaxed abruptly on
the hand that she had continued to hold, so that Mary imprisoned those
nervous fingers in her own, and Stephen made no resistance.

Then Mary, like many another before her, grew as happy as she had been
downhearted; for the merest trifles are often enough to change the trend
of mercurial emotions such as beset the heart in its youth; and she
looked at Stephen with gratitude in her eyes, and with something far more
fundamental of which she herself was unconscious. And now she began to
talk in her turn. She could type fairly well, was a very good speller;
she would type Stephen's books, take care of her papers, answer her
letters, look after the house, even beard the lugubrious Pauline in her
kitchen. Next autumn she would write to Holland for bulbs--they must have
lots of bulbs in their city garden, and in summer they ought to manage
some roses--Paris was less cruel to flowers than London. Oh, and might
she have pigeons with wide, white tails? They would go so well with the
old marble fountain.

Stephen listened, nodding from time to time. Yes, of course she could
have her white fan-tail pigeons, and her bulbs and her roses, could have
anything she pleased, if only she would get quite well and be happy.

At this Mary laughed: 'Oh, Stephen, my dear--don't you know that I'm
really terribly happy?'

Pierre came in with the evening letters; there was one from Anna and
another from Puddle. There was also a lengthy epistle from Brockett who
was praying, it seemed, for demobilization. Once released, he must go for
a few weeks to England, but after that he was coming to Paris.

He wrote: 'I'm longing to see you again and Valérie Seymour. By the way,
how goes it? Valérie writes that you never rang her up. It's a pity
you're so unsociable, Stephen; unwholesome, I call it, you'll be bagging
a shell like a hermit crab, or growing hairs on your chin, or a wart on
your nose, or worse still a complex. You might even take to a few nasty
habits towards middle life--better read Ferenczi! Why were you so beastly
to Valérie, I wonder. She is such a darling and she likes you so much,
only the other day she wrote: "When you see Stephen Gordon give her my
love, and tell her that nearly all streets in Paris lead sooner or later
to Valérie Seymour." You might write her a line, and you might write to
me--already I'm finding your silence suspicious. Are you in love? I'm
just crazy to know, so why deny me that innocent pleasure? After all,
we're told to rejoice with those who rejoice--may I send my
congratulations? Vague but exciting rumours have reached me. And by the
way, Valérie's very forgiving, so don't feel shy about telephoning to
her. She's one of those highly developed souls who bob up serenely after
a snubbing, as do I, your devoted Brockett.'

Stephen glanced at Mary as she folded the letter: 'Isn't it time you went
off to bed?'

'Don't send me away.'

'I must, you're so tired. Come on, there's a good child, you look tired
and sleepy.'

'I'm not a bit sleepy!'

'All the same it's high time.'

'Are you coming?'

'Not yet, I must answer some letters.'

Mary got up, and just for a moment their eyes met, then Stephen looked
away quickly: 'Good night, Mary.'

'Stephen...won't you kiss me good night? It's our first night together
here in your home. Stephen, do you know that you've never kissed me?'

The clock chimed ten, a rose on the desk fell apart, its overblown petals
disturbed by that almost imperceptible vibration. Stephen's heart brat
thickly.

'Do you want me to kiss you?'

'More than anything else in the world,' said Mary.

Then Stephen suddenly came to her senses, and she managed to smile:
'Very well, my dear,' She kissed the girl quietly on her cheek. 'And now
you really must go to bed, Mary.'

After Mary had gone she tried to write letters; a few lines to Anna,
announcing her visit; a few lines to Puddle and to Mademoiselle
Duphot--the latter she felt that she had shamefully neglected. But in
none of these letters did she mention Mary. Brockett's effusion she left
unanswered. Then she took her unfinished novel from its drawer, but it
seemed very dreary and unimportant, so she laid it aside again with a
sigh, and locking the drawer put the key in her pocket.

And now she could no longer keep it at bay, the great joy, the great pain
in her heart that was Mary. She had only to call and Mary would come,
bringing all her faith, her youth and her ardour. Yes, she had only to
call, and yet--would she ever be cruel enough to call Mary? Her mind
recoiled at that word; why cruel? She and Mary loved and needed each
other. She could give the girl luxury, make her secure so that she need
never fight for her living; she should have every comfort that money
could buy. Mary was not strong enough to fight for her living. And then
she, Stephen, was no longer a child to be frightened and humbled by this
situation. There was many another exactly like her in this very city, in
every city; and they did not all live out crucified lives, denying their
bodies, stultifying their brains, becoming the victims of their own
frustrations. On the contrary, they lived natural lives--lives that to
them were perfectly natural. They had their passions like everyone else,
and why not? They were surely entitled to their passions? They attracted
too, that was the irony of it, she herself had attracted Mary
Llewellyn--the girl was quite simply and openly in love. 'All my life
I've been waiting for something...' Mary had said that, she had said:
'All my' life I've been waiting for something...I've been waiting for
you.'

Men--they were selfish, arrogant, possessive. What could they do for Mary
Llewellyn? What could a man give that she could not? A child? But she
would give Mary such a love as would be complete in itself without
children. Mary would have no room in her heart, in her life, for a child,
if she came to Stephen. All things they would be the one to the other,
should they stand in that limitless relationship; father, mother, friend,
and lover, all things--the amazing completeness of it; and Mary, the
child, the friend, the beloved. With the terrible bonds of her dual
nature, she could bind Mary fast, and the pain would be sweetness, so
that the girl would cry out for that sweetness, hugging her chains always
closer to her. The world would condemn but they would rejoice; glorious
outcasts, unashamed, triumphant!

She began to pace restlessly up and down the room, as had ever been her
wont in moments of emotion. Her face grew ominous, heavy and brooding;
the fine line of her mouth was a little marred; her eyes were less clear,
less the servants of her spirit than the slaves of her anxious and
passionate body; the red scar on her cheek stood out like a wound. Then
quite suddenly she had opened the door, and was staring at the dimly
lighted staircase. She took a step forward and then stopped; appalled,
dumb-founded at herself, at this thing she was doing. And as she stood
there as though turned to stone, she remembered another and spacious
study, she remembered a lanky colt of a girl whose glance had kept
straying towards the windows; she remembered a man who had held out his
hand: Stephen, come here...What is honour, my daughter?'

Honour, good God! Was this her honour? Mary, whose nerves had been
strained to breaking! A dastardly thing it would be to drag her through
the maze of passion, with no word of warning. Was she to know nothing of
what lay before her, of the price she would have to pay for such love?
She was young and completely ignorant of life; she knew only that she
loved, and the young were ardent. She would give all that Stephen might
ask of her and more, for the young were not only ardent but generous. And
through giving all she would be left defenceless, neither forewarned nor
forearmed against a world that would turn like a merciless beast and rend
her. It was horrible. No, Mary must not give until she had counted the
cost of that gift, until she was restored in body and mind, and was able
to form a considered judgment.

Then Stephen must tell her the cruel truth, she must say: 'I am one of
those whom God marked on the forehead. Like Cain, I am marked and
blemished. If you come to me, Mary, the world will abhor you, will
persecute you, will call you unclean. Our love may be faithful even unto
death and beyond--yet the world will call it unclean. We may harm no
living creature by our love; we may grow more perfect in understanding
and in charity because of our loving; but all this will not save you from
the scourge of a world that will turn away its eyes from your noblest
actions, finding only corruption and vileness in you. You will see men
and women defiling each other, laying the burden of their sins upon their
children. You will see unfaithfulness, lies and deceit among those whom
the world views with approbation. You will find that many have grown hard
of heart, have grown greedy, selfish, cruel and lustful; and then you
will turn to me and will say: "You and I are more worthy of respect than
these people. Why does the world persecute us, Stephen?" And I shall
answer: "Because in this world there is only toleration for the so-called
normal." And when you come to me for protection, I shall say: "I cannot
protect you, Mary, the world has deprived me of my right to protect; I am
utterly helpless, I can only love you".'

And now Stephen was trembling. In spite of her strength and her splendid
physique, she must stand there and tremble. She felt deathly cold, her
teeth chattered with cold, and when she moved her steps were unsteady.
She must climb the wide stairs with infinite care, in case she should
inadvertently stumble; must lift her feet slowly, and with infinite care,
because if she stumbled she might wake Mary.


4


Ten days later Stephen was saying to her mother: 'I've been needing a
change for a very long time. It's rather lucky that girl I met in the
Unit is free and able to go with me. We've taken a villa at Orotava, it's
supposed to be furnished and they're leaving the servants, but heaven
only knows what the house will be like, it belongs to a Spaniard;
however, there'll be sunshine.'

'I believe Orotava's delightful,' said Anna.

But Puddle, who was looking at Stephen, said nothing.

That night Stephen knocked at Puddle's door: 'May I come in?'

'Yes, come in do, my dear. Come and sit by the fire--shall I make you
some cocoa?'

'No, thanks.'

A long pause while Puddle slipped into her dressing-gown of soft, grey
Viyella. Then she also drew a chair up to the fire, and after a little:
'It's good to see you--your old teacher's been missing you rather--'

'Not more than I've been missing her, Puddle.' Was that quite true?
Stephen suddenly flushed, and both of them grew very silent.

Puddle knew quite well that Stephen was unhappy. They had not lived side
by side all these years, for Puddle to fail now in intuition; she felt
certain that something grave had happened, and her instinct warned her of
what this might be, so that she secretly trembled a little. For no young
and inexperienced girl sat beside her, but a woman of nearly thirty-two,
who was far beyond the reach of her guidance. This woman would settle her
problems for herself and in her own way--had indeed always done so.
Puddle must try to be tactful in her questions.

She said gently: 'Tell me about your new friend. You met her in the
Unit?'

'Yes--we met in the Unit,' as I told you this evening--her name's Mary
Llewellyn.'

'How old is she, Stephen?'

'Not quite twenty-two.'

Puddle said: 'Very young--not yet twenty-two...' then she glanced at
Stephen, and fell silent.

But now Stephen went on talking more quickly: 'I'm glad you asked me
about her, Puddle, because I intend to give her a home. She's got no one
except some distant cousins, and as far as I can see they don't want her.
I shall let her have a try at typing my work, as she's asked to, it will
make her feel independent; otherwise, of course, she'll be perfectly
free--if it's not a success she can always leave me--but rather hope it
will be a success. She's companionable, we like the same things, anyhow
she'll give me an interest in life...

Puddle thought: 'She's not going to tell me.'

Stephen took out her cigarette case from which she produced a clear
little snapshot: 'It's not very good, it was done at the front.' But
Puddle was gazing at Mary Llewellyn. Then she looked up abruptly and saw
Stephen's eyes--without a word she handed back the snapshot.

Stephen said: 'Now I want to talk about you. Will you go to Paris at
once, or stay here until we come home from Orotava? It's just as you
like, the house is quite ready, you've only got to send Pauline a
postcard; they're expecting you at any moment.' And she waited for
Puddle's answer.

Then Puddle, that small but indomitable fighter, stood forth all alone to
do battle with herself, to strike down a sudden hot jealousy, a sudden and
almost fierce resentment. And she saw that self as a tired old woman, a
woman grown dull and tired with long service; a woman who had outlived
her reason for living, whose companionship was now useless to Stephen. A
woman who suffered from rheumatism in the winter and from lassitude in
the summer; a woman who when young had never known youth, except as a
scourge to a sensitive conscience. And now she was old and what had life
left her? Not even the privilege of guarding her friend--for Puddle knew
well that her presence in Paris would only embarrass while unable to
hinder. Nothing could stay fate if the hour had struck; and yet, from the
very bottom of her soul, she was fearing that hour for Stephen. And--who
shall presume to accuse or condemn?--she actually found it in her to pray
that Stephen might be granted some measure of fulfilment, some palliative
for the wound of existence: 'Not like me--don't let her grow old as I've
done.' Then she suddenly remembered that Stephen was waiting.

She said quietly: 'Listen, my dear, I've been thinking; I don't feel that
I ought to leave your mother, her heart's not very strong--nothing
serious, of course--still, she oughtn't to live all alone at Morton; and
quite apart from the question of health, living alone's a melancholy
business. There's another thing too. I've grown tired and lazy, and I
don't want to pull up my roots if I can help it. When one's getting on in
years, one gets set in one's ways, and my ways fit in very well with
Morton. I didn't want to come here, Stephen, as I told you, but I was all
wrong, for your mother needs me--she needs me more now than during the
war, because during the war she had occupation. Oh, but good heavens! I'm
a silly old woman--did you know that I used to get homesick for England?
I used to get homesick for penny buns. Imagine it, and I was living in
Paris! Only--' And now her voice broke a little: 'Only, if ever you
should feel that you need me, if ever you should feel that you want my
advice or my help, you'd send for me, wouldn't you, my dear? Because old
as I am, I'd be able to run if I thought that you really needed me,
Stephen.'

Stephen held out her hand and Puddle grasped it. 'There are some things I
can't express,' Stephen said slowly; 'I can't express my gratitude to you
for all you've done--I can't find any words. But--I want you to know that
I'm trying to play straight.'

'You'd always play straight in the end,' said Puddle.

And so, after nearly eighteen years of life together, these two staunch
friends and companions had now virtually parted.



Chapter Thirty-eight


1


The Villa del Ciprés at Orotava was built on a headland above the Puerto.
It had taken its name from its fine cypress trees, of which there were
many in the spacious garden. At the Puerto there were laughter, shouting
and singing as the oxen wagons with their crates of bananas came grating
and stumbling down to the wharf. At the Puerto one might almost have said
there was commerce, for beyond the pier waited the dirty fruit steamers;
but the Villa del Ciprés stood proudly aloof like a Spanish grandee who
had seen better days--one felt that it literally hated commerce.

The villa was older than the streets of the Puerto, though much grass
grew between their venerable cobbles. It was older than the oldest villas
on the hill, the hill that was known as old Orotava, though their green
latticed shutters were bleached by the sun of innumerable semitropical
summers. It was so old indeed, that no peasant could have told you
precisely when it had come into being; the records were lost, if they had
ever existed--for its history one had to apply to its owner. But then its
owner was always in Spain, and his agent who kept the place in repair,
was too lazy to bother himself over trifles. What could it matter when
the first stone was laid, or who laid it? The villa was always well
let--he would yawn, roll a cigarette in his fingers, lick the paper with
the thick, red tip of his tongue, and finally go to sleep in the sunshine
to dream only of satisfactory commissions.

The Villa del Ciprés was a low stone house that had once been, tinted a
lemon yellow. Its shutters were greener than those on the hill, for every
ten years or so they were painted. All its principal windows looked over
the sea that lay at the foot of the little headland. There were large,
dim rooms with rough mosaic floors and walls that were covered by ancient
frescoes. Some of these frescoes were primitive but holy, others were
primitive but distinctly less holy; however, they were all so badly
defaced, that the tenants were spared what might otherwise have been
rather a shock at the contrast. The furniture, although very good of its
kind, was sombre, and moreover it was terribly scanty, for its owner was
far too busy in Seville to attend to his villa at Orotava. But one glory
the old house did certainly possess; its garden, a veritable Eden of a
garden; obsessed by a kind of primitive urge towards all manner of
procreation. It was hot with sunshine and the flowing of sap, so that
even its shade held a warmth in its greenness, while the virile growth of
its flowers and its trees gave off a strangely disturbing fragrance.
These trees had long been a haven for birds, from the crested hoopoes to
the wild canaries who kept up a chorus of song in the branches.


2


Stephen and Mary arrived at the Villa del Ciprés, not very long after
Christmas. They had spent their Christmas Day aboard ship, and on landing
had stayed for a week at Santa Cruz before taking the long, rough drive
to Orotava. And as though the fates were being propitious, or
unpropitious perhaps--who shall say?--the garden was looking its
loveliest, almost melodramatic it looked in the sunset. Mary gazed round
her wide-eyed with pleasure; but after a while her eyes must turn, as
they always did now, to rest upon Stephen; while Stephen's uncertain and
melancholy eyes must look back with great love in their depths for Mary.

Together they made the tour of the villa, and when this was over Stephen
laughed a little: 'Not much of anything is there, Mary?' 'No, but quite
enough. Who wants tables and chairs?'

'Well, if you're contented. I am,' Stephen told her. And indeed, so far
as the Villa del Ciprés went, they were both very well contented.

They discovered that the indoor staff would consist of two peasants; a
plump, smiling woman called Concha, who adhered to the ancient tradition
of the island and tied her head up in a white linen kerchief, and a girl
whose black hair was elaborately dressed, and whose cheeks were very
obviously powdered--Concha's niece she was, by name Esmeralda. Esmeralda
looked cross, but this may have been because she squinted so badly.

In the garden worked a handsome person called Ramon, together with Pedro,
a youth of sixteen. Pedro was light-hearted, precocious and spotty. He
hated his simple work in the garden; what he liked was driving his
father's mules for the tourists, according to Ramon. Ramon spoke English
passably well; he had picked it up from the numerous tenants and was
proud of this fact, so while bringing in the luggage he paused now and
then to impart information. It was better to hire mules and donkeys from
the father of Pedro--he had very fine mules and donkeys. It was better to
take Pedro and none other as your guide, for thus would be saved any
little ill-feeling. It was better to let Concha do all the shopping--she
was honest and wise as the Blessed Virgin. It was better never to scold
Esmeralda, who was sensitive on account of her squint and therefore
inclined to be easily wounded. If you wounded the heart of Esmeralda, she
walked out of the house and Concha walked with her. The island women were
often like this; you upset them and per Dios, your dinner would burn!
They would not even wait to attend to your dinner.

'You come home,' smiled Ramon, 'and you say, "What burns? Is my villa on
fire?" Then you call and you call. No answer...all gone!' And he spread
out his hands with a wide and distressingly empty gesture.

Ramon said it was better to buy flowers from him: 'I cut fresh from the
garden when you want,' he coaxed gently. He spoke even his broken English
with the soft, rather sing-song drawl of the local peasants.

'But aren't they our flowers?' inquired Mary, surprised.

Ramon shook his head: 'Yours to see, yours to touch, but not yours to
take, only mine to take--I sell them as part of my little payment. But to
you I sell very cheap, Señorita, because you resemble the santa noche
that makes our gardens smell sweet at night. I will show you our
beautiful santa noche.' He was thin as a lath and as brown as a chestnut,
and his shirt was quite incredibly dirty; but when he walked he moved
like a king on his rough bare feet with their broken toenails. 'This
evening I make you a present of my flowers; I bring you a very big bunch
of tabachero,' he remarked.

Oh, you mustn't do that,' protested Mary, getting out her purse. But
Ramon looked offended: 'I have said it. I give you the tabachero.'


3


Their dinner consisted of a local fish fried in oil--the fish had a very
strange figure, and the oil, Stephen thought, tasted slightly rancid;
there was also a small though muscular chicken. But Concha had provided
large baskets of fruit; loquats still warm from the tree that bred them,
the full flavoured little indigenous bananas, oranges sweet as though
dripping honey, custard apples and guavas had Concha provided, together
with a bottle of the soft yellow wine so dearly beloved of the island
Spaniards.

Outside in the garden there was luminous darkness. The night had a
quality of glory about it, the blue glory peculiar to Africa and seen
seldom or never in our more placid climate. A warm breeze stirred the
eucalyptus trees and their crude, harsh smell was persistently mingled
with the thick scents of heliotrope and datura, with the sweet but
melancholy scent of jasmine, with the faint, unmistakable odour of
cypress. Stephen lit a cigarette: Shall we go out, Mary?'

They stood for a minute looking up at the stars, so much larger and
brighter than stars seen in England. From a pond on the farther side of
the villa, came the queer, hoarse chirping of innumerable frogs singing
their prehistoric love songs. A star fell, shooting swiftly earthward
through the darkness.

Then the sweetness that was Mary seemed to stir and mingle with the very
urgent sweetness of that garden; with the dim, blue glory of the African
night, and with all the stars in their endless courses, so that Stephen
could have wept aloud as she stood there, because of the words that must
not be spoken. For now that this girl was returning to health, her youth
was becoming even more apparent, and something in the quality of Mary's
youth, something terrible and ruthless as an unsheathed sword, would leap
out at such moments and stand between them.

Mary slipped a small, cool hand into Stephen's, and they walked on
towards the edge of the headland. For a long time they gazed out over the
sea, while their thoughts were always of one another. But Mary's thoughts
were not very coherent, and because she was filled with a vague
discontent, she sighed and moved even nearer to Stephen, who suddenly put
an arm round her shoulder.

Stephen said: 'Are you tired, you little child?' And her husky voice was
infinitely gentle, so that Mary's eyes filled with sudden tears.

She answered: 'I've waited a long, long time, all my life--and now that
I've found you at last, I can't get near you. Why is it? Tell me.'

'Aren't you near? It seems to me you're quite near!' And Stephen must
smile in spite of herself.

'Yes, but you feel such a long way away.'

'That's because you're not only tired out but foolish!'

Yet they lingered; for when they returned to the villa they would part,
and they dreaded these moments of parting. Sometimes they would suddenly
remember the night before it had fallen, and when this happened each
would be conscious of a very great sadness which their hearts would
divine, the one from the other.

But presently Stephen took Mary's arm: 'I believe that big star's moved
over more than six inches I It's late--we must have been out here for
ages.' And she led the girl slowly back to the villa.


4


The days slipped by, days of splendid sunshine that gave bodily health
and strength to Mary. Her pale skin was tanned to a healthful brown, and
her eyes no longer looked heavy with fatigue--only now their expression
was seldom happy.

She and Stephen would ride far afield on their mules; they would often
ride right up into the mountains, climbing the hill to old Orotava where
the women sat at their green postigos through the long, quiet hours of
their indolent day and right on into the evening. The walls of the town
would be covered with flowers, jasmine, plumbago and bougainvillea. But
they would not linger in old Orotava; pressing on they would climb always
up and up to the region of heath and trailing arbutus, and beyond that
again to the higher slopes that had once been the home of a mighty
forest. Now, only a few Spanish chestnut trees remained to mark the
decline of that forest.

Sometimes they took their luncheon along, and when they did this young
Pedro went with them, for he it was who must drive the mule that carried
Concha's ample lunch-basket. Pedro adored these impromptu excursions,
they made an excuse for neglecting the garden. He would saunter along
chewing blades of grass, or the stem of some flower he had torn from a
wall; or perhaps he would sing softly under his breath, for he knew many
songs of his native island. But if the mule Celestino should stumble, or
presume, in his turn, to tear flowers from the wall, then Pedro would
suddenly cease his soft singing and shout guttural remarks to old
Celestino: Vaya, burro! Celestino, arre! Arre--boo!' he would shout with
a slap, so that Celestino must swallow his flowers in one angry gulp,
before having a sly kick at Pedro.

The lunch would be eaten in the cool upland air, while the beasts stood
near at hand, placidly grazing. Against a sky of incredible blueness the
Peak would gleam as though powdered with crystal--Teide, mighty mountain
of snow with the heart of fire and the brow of crystal. Down the winding
tracks would come goats with their herds, the tinkle of goat-bells
breaking the stillness. And as all such things have seemed wonderful to
lovers throughout the ages, even so now they seemed very wonderful to
Mary and Stephen.

There were days when, leaving the uplands for the vale, they would ride
past the big banana plantations and the glowing acres of ripe tomatoes.
Geraniums and agaves would be growing side by side in the black volcanic
dust of the roadway. From the stretching Valley of Orotava they would see
the rugged line of the mountains. The mountains would look blue, like the
African nights, all save Teide, clothed in her crystalline whiteness.

And now while they sat together in the garden at evening, there would
sometimes come beggars, singing; ragged fellows who played deftly on
their guitars and sang songs whose old melodies hailed from Spain, but
whose words sprang straight from the heart of the island:

A-a-a-y! Before I saw thee I was at peace,

But now I am tormented because I have seen thee. Take away mine eyes, oh,
enemy! Oh, beloved!

Take away mine eyes, for they have turned me to fire. My blood is as the
fire in the heart of Teide.

A-a-a-y! Before I saw thee I was at peace.'

The strange minor music with its restless rhythms, possessed a very
potent enchantment, so that the heart beat faster to hear it, and the
mind grew mazed with forbidden thoughts, and the soul grew heavy with the
infinite sadness of fulfilled desire; but the body knew only the urge
towards a complete fulfilment...A-a-a-y! Before I saw thee I was at
peace.'

They would not understand the soft Spanish words, and yet as they sat
there they could but divine their meaning, for love is no slave of mere
language. Mary would want Stephen to take her in her arms, so must rest
her cheek against Stephen's shoulder, as though they two had a right to
such music, had a right to their share in the love songs of the world.
But Stephen would always move away quickly.

'Let's go in,' she would mutter; and her voice would sound rough, for
that bright sword of youth would have leapt out between them.


5


There came days when they purposely avoided each other, trying to find
peace in separation. Stephen would go for long rides alone, leaving Mary
to idle about the villa; and when she got back Mary would not speak, but
would wander away by herself to the garden. For Stephen had grown almost
harsh at times, possessed as she now was by something like terror, since
it seemed to her that what she must say to this creature she loved would
come as a death-blow, that all youth and all joy would be slain in Mary.

Tormented in body and mind and spirit, she would push the girl away from
her roughly: 'Leave me alone, I can't bear any more!' 'Stephen--I don't
understand. Do you hate me?'

'Hate your Of course you don't understand--only, I tell you I simply
can't bear it.'

They would stare at each other pale-faced and shaken.

The long nights became even harder to endure, for now they would feel so
terribly divided. Their days would be heavy with misunderstandings, their
nights filled with doubts, apprehensions and longings. They would often
have parted as enemies, and therein would lie the great loneliness of it.

As time went on they grew deeply despondent, their despondency robbing
the sun of its brightness, robbing the little goat-bells of their music,
robbing the dark of its luminous glory. The songs of the beggars who sang
in the garden at the hour when the santa noche smelt sweetest, those
songs would seem full of a cruel jibing: A-a-a-y! Before I saw thee I was
at peace, but now I am tormented because I have seen thee.'

Thus were all things becoming less good in their sight, less perfect
because of their own frustration.


6


But Mary Llewellyn was no coward and no weakling, and one night, at long
last, pride came to her rescue. She said: 'I want to speak to you,
Stephen.'

'Not now, it's so late--tomorrow morning.'

'No, now.' And she followed Stephen into her bedroom.

For a moment they avoided each other's eyes, then Mary began to talk
rather fast: 'I can't stay. It's all been a heart-breaking mistake. I
thought you wanted me because you cared. I thought--oh, I don't know what
I thought--but I won't accept your charity, Stephen, not now that you've
grown to hate me like this--I'm going back home to England. I forced
myself on you. I asked you to take me. I must have been mad; you just
took me out of pity; you thought that I was ill and you felt sorry for
me. Well, now I'm not ill and not mad any more, and I'm going. Every time
I come near you you shrink or push me away as though I repelled you. But
I want us to part quickly because...' Her voice broke: 'because it
torments me to be always with you and to feel that you've literally grown
to hate me. I can't stand it; I'd rather not see you, Stephen.'

Stephen stared at her, white and aghast. Then all in a moment the
restraint of years was shattered as though by some mighty convulsion. She
remembered nothing, was conscious of nothing except that the creature she
loved was going.

'You child,' she gasped, 'you don't understand, you can't understand--God
help me, I love you!' And now she had the girl in her arms and was
kissing her eyes and her mouth: 'Mary...Mary...They stood there lost to
all sense of time, to all sense of reason, to all things save each other,
in the grip of what can be one of the most relentless of all the human
emotions.

Then Stephen's arms suddenly fell to her side: 'Stop, stop for God's
sake--you've got to listen.'

Oh, but now she must pay to the uttermost farthing for the madness that
had left those words unspoken--even as her father had paid before her.
With Mary's kisses still hot on her lips, she must pay and pay unto the
uttermost farthing. And because of an anguish that seemed past endurance,
she spoke roughly; the words when they came were cruel. She spared
neither the girl who must listen to them, nor herself who must force her
to stand there and listen.

'Have you understood? Do you realize now what it's going to mean if you
give yourself to me?' Then she stopped abruptly...Mary was crying.

Stephen said, and her voice had grown quite toneless: 'It's too much to
ask--you're right; it's too much. I had to tell you--forgive me, Mary.'

But Mary turned on her with very bright eyes: 'You can say that--you, who
talk about loving! What do I care for all you've told me? What do I care
for the world's opinion? What do I care for anything but you, and you
just as you are--as you are, I love you! Do you think I'm crying because
of what you've told me? I'm crying because of your dear, scarred
face...the misery on it...Can't you understand that all that I am belongs
to you, Stephen?' Stephen bent down and kissed Mary's hands very humbly,
for now she could find no words any more...and that night they were not
divided.



Chapter Thirty-nine


1


A strange, though to them a very natural thing it seemed, this new and
ardent fulfilment; having something fine and urgent about it that lay
almost beyond the range of their wills. Something primitive and age-old
as Nature herself, did their love appear to Mary and Stephen. For now
they were in the grip of Creation, of Creation's terrific urge to create;
the urge that will sometimes sweep forward blindly alike into fruitful
and sterile channels. That wellnigh intolerable life force would grip
them, making them a part of its own existence; so that they who might
never create a new life, were yet one at such moments with the fountain
of living...Oh, great and incomprehensible unreason!

But beyond the bounds of this turbulent river would lie gentle and most
placid harbours of refuge; harbours in which the body could repose with
contentment, while the lips spoke low, indolent words, and the eyes
beheld a dim, golden haze that blinded the while it revealed all beauty.
Then Stephen would stretch out her hand and touch Mary where she lay,
happy only to feel her nearness. The hours would slip by towards dawn or
sunset; flowers would open and dose in the bountiful garden; and perhaps,
if it should chance to be evening, beggars would come to that garden,
singing; ragged fellows who played deftly on their guitars and sang songs
whose old melodies hailed from Spain, but whose words sprang straight
from the heart of the island:

'Oh, thou whom I love, thou art small and guileless;
Thy lips are as cool as the sea at moonrise.
But after the moon there cometh the sun;
After the evening there cometh the morning.
The sea is warmed by the kiss of the sun,
Even so shall my kisses bring warmth to thy lips,
Oh, thou whom I love, thou art small and guileless.'

And now Mary need no longer sigh with unrest, need no longer lay her
cheek against Stephen's shoulder; for her rightful place was in Stephen's
arms and there she would be, overwhelmed by the peace that conies at such
times to all happy lovers. They would sit together in a little arbour
that looked out over miles upon miles of ocean. The water would flush
with the after-glow, then change to a soft, indefinite purple; then,
fired anew by the African night, would gleam with that curious, deep blue
glory for a space before the swift rising of the moon. Thy lips are as
cool as the sea at moonrise; but after the moon there cometh the sun.'

And Stephen as she held the girl in her arms, would feel that indeed she
was all things to Mary; father, mother, friend and lover, all things; and
Mary all things to her--the child, the friend, the beloved, all things.
But Mary, because she was perfect woman, would rest without thought,
without exultation, without question; finding no need to question since
for her there was now only one thing--Stephen.


2


Time, that most ruthless enemy of lovers, strode callously forward into
the spring. It was March, so that down at the noisy Puerto the
bougainvilleas were in their full glory, while up in the old town of
Orotava bloomed great laden bushes of white camellias. In the garden of
the villa the orange trees flowered, and the little arbour that looked
over the sea was covered by an ancient wistaria vine whose mighty trunk
was as thick as three saplings. But in spite of a haunting shadow of
regret at the thought of leaving Orotava, Stephen was deeply and
thankfully happy. A happiness such as she had never conceived could be
hers now possessed her body and soul--and Mary also was happy.

Stephen would ask her: 'Do I content you? Tell me, is there anything you
want in the world?'

Mary's answer was always the same; she would say very gravely: 'Only you,
Stephen.'

Ramon had begun to speculate about them, these two Englishwomen who were
so devoted. He would shrug his shoulders--Dios! What did it matter? They
were courteous to him and exceedingly generous. If the elder one had an
ugly red scar down her cheek, the younger one seemed not to mind it. The
younger one was beautiful though, as beautiful as the santa noche...some
day she would get a real man to love her.

As for Concha and the cross-eyed Esmeralda, their tongues were muted by
their ill-gotten gains. They grew rich, thanks to Stephen's complete
indifference to the price of such trifles as sugar and candles.

Esmeralda's afflicted eyes were quite sharp, yet she said to Concha: 'I
see less than nothing.'

And Concha answered: 'I also see nothing; it is better to suppose that
there is nothing to see. They are wealthy and the big one is very
careless--she trusts me completely and I do my utmost. She is so taken up
with the amighita that I really believe I could easily rob her! Quien
saber They are certainly queer those two--however, I am blind, it is
better so; and in any case they are only the English!'

But Pedro was very sorely afflicted, for Pedro had fallen in love with
Mary, and now he must stay at home in the garden when she and Stephen
rode up to the mountains. Now they wished to be all alone it seemed, and
what food they took would be stuffed into a pocket. It was spring and
Pedro was deeply enamoured, so that he sighed as he tended the roses,
sighed and stubbed the hard earth with his toes, and made insolent faces
at the good-tempered Ramon, and killed flies with a kind of grim
desperation, and sang songs of longing under his breath: 'A-a-a-y! Thou
art to me as the mountain. Would I could melt thy virginal snows...

'Would I could kick thy behind!' grinned Ramon.

One evening Mary asked Pedro to sing, speaking to him in her halting
Spanish. So Pedro went off and got his guitar; but when he must stand
there and sing before Mary he could only stammer a childish old song
having in it nothing of passion and longing:

'I was born on a reef that is washed by the sea;
It is a part of Spain that is called Teneriffe.
I was born on a reef...

sang the unhappy Pedro.

Stephen felt sorry for the lanky boy with the lovesick eyes, and so to
console him she offered him money, ten pesetas--for she knew that these
people set much store by money. But Pedro seemed to have grown very tall
as he gently but firmly refused consolation. Then he suddenly burst into
tears and fled, leaving his little guitar behind him.


3


The days were too short, as were now the nights--those spring nights of
soft heat and incredible moonlight. And because they both felt that
something was passing, they would turn their minds to thoughts of the
future. The future was drawing very near to the present; in less than
three weeks they must start for Paris.

Mary would suddenly cling to Stephen: 'Say that you'll never leave me,
beloved!'

'How could I leave you and go on living?'

Thus their talk of the future would often drift into talk of love, that
is always timeless. On their lips, as in their hearts, would be words
such as countless other lovers had spoken, for love is the sweetest
monotony that was ever conceived of by the Creator.

'Promise you'll never stop loving me, Stephen.'

'Never. You know that I couldn't, Mary.'

Even to themselves their vows would sound foolish, because so inadequate
to compass their meaning. Language is surely too small to contain those
emotions of mind and body that have somehow awakened a response in the
spirit.

And now when they climbed the long hill to the town of old Orotava on
their way to the mountains, they would pause to examine certain flowers
minutely, or to stare down the narrow, shadowy by-streets. And when they
had reached the cool upland places, and their mules were loosed and
placidly grazing, they would sit hand in hand looking out at the Peak,
trying to impress such pictures on their minds, because all things pass
and they wished to remember. The goat-bells would break the lovely
stillness, together with the greater stillness of their dreaming. But the
sound of the bells would be lovely also, a part of their dreaming, a part
of the stillness; for all things would seem to be welded together, to be
one, even as they two were now one.

They no longer felt desolate, hungry outcasts; unloved and unwanted,
despised of the world. They were lovers who walked in the vineyard of
life, plucking the warm, sweet fruits of that vineyard. Love had lifted
them up as on wings of fire, had made them courageous, invincible,
enduring. Nothing could be lacking to those who loved--the very earth
gave of her fullest bounty. The earth seemed to come alive in response to
the touch of their healthful and eager bodies--nothing could be lacking
to those who loved.

And thus in a cloud of illusion and glory, sped the last enchanted days
at Orotava.




BOOK FIVE



Chapter Forty


1


Early in April Stephen and Mary returned to the house in Paris. This
second home-coming seemed wonderfully sweet by reason of its peaceful and
happy completeness, so that they turned to smile at each other as they
passed through the door, and Stephen said very softly:

'Welcome home, Mary.'

And now for the first time the old house was home. Mary went quickly from
room to room humming a little tune as she did so, feeling that she saw
with a new understanding the inanimate objects which filled those
rooms--were they not Stephen's? Every now and again she must pause to
touch them because they were Stephen's. Then she turned and went into
Stephen's bedroom; not timidly, dreading to be unwelcome, but quite
without fear or restraint or shyness, and this gave her a warm little
glow of pleasure.

Stephen was busily grooming her hair with a couple of brushes that had
been dipped in water. The water had darkened her hair in patches, but had
deepened the wide wave above her forehead. Seeing Mary in the glass she
did not turn round, but just smiled for a moment at their two
reflections. Mary sat down in an arm-chair and watched her, noticing the
strong, thin line of her thighs; noticing too the curve of her
breasts--slight and compact, of a certain beauty. She had taken off her
jacket and looked very tall in her soft silk shirt and her skirt of dark
serge.

Tired?' she inquired, glancing down at the girl.

'No, not a bit tired,' smiled Mary.

Stephen walked over to the stationary basin and proceeded to wash her
hands under the tap, spotting her white silk cuffs in the process. Going
to the cupboard she got out a clean shirt, slipped in a pair of simple
gold cuff-links, and changed; after which she put on a new necktie.

Mary said: 'Who's been looking after your clothes--sewing on buttons and
that sort of thing?'

'I don't know exactly--Puddle or Adèle. Why?'

'Because I'm going to do it in future. You'll find that I've got one very
real talent, and that's darning. When I darn the place looks like a
basket, criss-cross. And I know how to pick up a ladder as well as the
Invisible Mending people! It's very important that the darns should be
smooth, otherwise when you fence they might give you a blister.'

Stephen's lips twitched a little, but she said quite gravely: 'Thanks
awfully, darling, we'll go over my stockings.'

From the dressing-room next door came a series of thuds; Pierre was
depositing Stephen's luggage. Getting up, Mary opened the wardrobe,
revealing a long, neat line of suits hanging from heavy mahogany
shoulders--she examined each suit in turn with great interest. Presently
she made her way to the cupboard in the wall; it was fitted with sliding
shelves, and these she pulled out one by one with precaution. On the
shelves there were orderly piles of shirts, crêpe de Chine pyjamas--quite
a goodly assortment, and the heavy silk masculine underwear that for
several years now had been worn by Stephen. Finally she discovered the
stockings where they lay by themselves in the one long drawer, and these
she proceeded to unfurl deftly, with a quick and slightly important
movement. Thrusting a fist into toes and heels she looked for the holes
that were non-existent.

'You must have paid a lot for these stockings, they're hand-knitted
silk,' murmured Mary gravely.

'I forget what I paid--Puddle got them from England.'

Who did she order them from; do you know?'

'I can't remember; some woman or other.'

But Mary persisted: 'I shall want her address.'

Stephen smiled: 'Why? Are you going to order my stockings?' 'Darling! Do
you think I'll let you go barefoot? Of course I'm going to order your
stockings.'

Stephen rested her elbow on the mantelpiece and stood gazing at Mary with
her chin on her hand. As she did so she was struck once again by the look
of youth that was characteristic of Mary. She looked much less than her
twenty-two years in her simple dress with its leather belt--she looked
indeed little more than a schoolgirl. And yet there was something quite
new in her face, a soft, wise expression that Stephen had put there, so
that she suddenly felt pitiful to see her so young yet so full of this
wisdom; for sometimes the coming of passion to youth, in spite of its
glory, will be strangely pathetic.

Mary rolled up the stockings with a sigh of regret; alas, they would not
require darning. She was at the stage of being in love when she longed to
do womanly tasks for Stephen. But all Stephen's clothes were
discouragingly neat; Mary thought that she must be very well served,
which was true--she was served, as are certain men, with a great deal of
nicety and care by the servants.

And now Stephen was filling her cigarette case from the big box that
lived on her dressing-table; and now she was strapping on her gold wrist
watch; and now she was brushing some dust from her coat; and now she was
frowning at herself in the glass for a second as she twitched her
immaculate necktie. Mary had seen her do all this before, many times, but
to-day somehow it was different, for to-day they were in their own home
together, so that these little intimate things seemed more dear than they
had done in Orotava. The bedroom could only have belonged to Stephen; a
large, airy room, very simply furnished--white walls, old oak, and a
wide, bricked hearth on which some large, friendly logs were burning. The
bed could only have been Stephen's bed; it was heavy and rather austere
in pattern. It looked solemn as Mary had seen Stephen look, and was
covered by a bedspread of old blue brocade, otherwise it remained quite
guiltless of trimmings. The chairs could only have been Stephen's chairs;
a little reserved, not conducive to lounging. The dressing-table could
only have been hers, with its tall silver mirror and ivory brushes. And
all these things had drawn into themselves a species of life derived from
their owner, until they seemed to be thinking of Stephen with a dumbness
that made their thoughts more insistent, and their thoughts gathered
strength and mingled with Mary's so that she heard herself cry out:
'Stephen!' in a voice that was not very far from tears, because of the joy
she felt in that name.

And Stephen answered her: Mary--'

Then they stood very still, grown abruptly silent. And each of them felt
a little afraid, for the realization of great mutual love can at times be
so overwhelming a thing, that even the bravest of hearts may grow
fearful. And although they could not have put it into words, could not
have explained it to themselves or to each other, they seemed at that
moment to be looking beyond the turbulent flood of earthly passion; to be
looking straight into the eyes of a love that was changed--a love made
perfect, discarnate.

But the moment passed and they drew together...


2


The spring they had left behind in Orotava overtook them quite soon, and
one day there it was blowing softly along the old streets of the
Quarter--the Rue de Seine, the Rue des Saints Peres, the Rue Bonaparte
and their own Rue Jacob. And who can resist the first spring days in
Paris? Brighter than ever looked the patches of sky when glimpsed between
rows of tall, flat-bosomed houses. From the Pont des Arts could be seen a
river that was one wide, ingratiating smile of sunshine; while beyond in
the Rue des Petits Champs, spring ran up and down the Passage Choiseul,
striking gleams of gold from its dirty glass roof--the roof that looks
like the vertebral column of some prehistoric monster.

All over the Bois there was bursting of buds--a positive orgy of growth
and greenness. The miniature waterfall lifted its voice in an effort to
roar as loud as Niagara. Birds sang. Dogs yapped or barked or bayed
according to their size and the tastes of their owners. Children appeared
in the Champs Elysées with bright coloured balloons which tried to escape
and which, given the ghost of a chance, always did so. In the Tuileries
Gardens boys with brown legs and innocent socks were hiring toy boats
from the man who provided Bateaux de Location. The fountains tossed
clouds of spray into the air, and just for fun made an occasional
rainbow; then the Arc de Triomphe would be seen through an arc that was,
thanks to the sun, even more triumphal. As for the very old lady in her
kiosk--the one who sells bocks, groseille, limonade, and such simple
food-stuffs as brioches and croissants--as for her, she appeared in a new
frilled bonnet and a fine worsted shawl on one memorable Sunday. Smiling
she was too, from ear to ear, in spite of the fact that her mouth was
toothless, for this fact she only remembered in winter when the east wind
started her empty gums aching.

Under the quiet, grey wings of the MAdèleine the flower-stalls were
bright with the glory of God--anemones, jonquils, daffodils, tulips;
mimosa that left gold dust on the fingers, and the faintly perfumed
ascetic white lilac that had come in the train from the Riviera. There
were also hyacinths, pink, red and blue, and many small trees of sturdy
azalea.

Oh, but the spring was shouting through Paris! It was in the hearts and
the eyes of the people. The very dray-horses jangled their bells more
loudly because of the spring in their drivers. The debauched old taxis
tooted their horns and spun round the corners as though on a race track.
Even such glacial things as the diamonds in the Rue de la Paix, were
kindled to fire as the sun pierced their facets right through to their
entrails; while the sapphires glowed as those African nights had glowed
in the garden at Orotava.

Was it likely that Stephen could finish her book--she who had Paris in
springtime with Mary? Was it likely that Mary could urge her to do
so--she who had Paris in springtime with Stephen? There was so much to
see, so much to show Mary, so many new things to discover together. And
now Stephen felt grateful to Jonathan Brockett who had gone to such pains
to teach her her Paris.

Idle she was, let it not be denied, idle and happy and utterly carefree.
A lover, who, like many another before her, was under the spell of the
loved one's existence. She would wake in the mornings to find Mary beside
her, and all through the day she would keep beside Mary, and at night
they would lie in each other's arms--God alone knows who shall dare judge
of such matters; in any case Stephen was too much bewitched to be
troubled just then by hair-splitting problems.

Life had become a new revelation. The most mundane things were invested
with glory; shopping with Mary who needed quite a number of dresses. And
then there was food that was eaten together--the careful perusal of
wine-card and menu. They would lunch or have dinner at Lapérouse; surely
still the most epicurean restaurant in the whole of an epicurean city. So
humble it looks with its modest entrance on the Quai des Grands
Augustins; so humble that a stranger might well pass it by unnoticed, but
not so Stephen, who had been there with Brockett.

Mary loved Prunier's in the Rue Duphot, because of its galaxy of
sea-monsters. A whole counter there was of incredible creatures--Our sins,
black armoured and covered with prickles; Bigornaux, serpent-like
Anguilles Fumées; and many other exciting things that Stephen mistrusted
for English stomachs. They would sit at their own particular table, one
of the tables upstairs by the window, for the manager came very quickly
to know them and would smile and bow grandly: 'Bon jour, mesdames.' When
they left, the attendant who kept the flower-basket would give Mary a
neat little bouquet of roses: 'Au revoir, mesdames. Merci bien--à
bientôt!' For everyone had pretty manners at Prunier's.

A few people might stare at the tall, scarred woman in her well-tailored
clothes and black slouch hat. They would stare first at her and then at
her companion: 'Mais regardez moi ça! Elle est belle, la petite; comme
c'est rigolo There would be a few smiles, but on the whole they would
attract little notice--ils en ont vu bien d'autres--it was post-war
Paris.

Sometimes, having dined, they would saunter towards home through streets
that were crowded with others who sauntered--men and woman, a couple of
women together--always twos--the fine nights seemed prolific of couples.
In the air there would be the inconsequent feeling that belongs to the
night life of most great cities, above all to the careless night life of
Paris, where problems are apt to vanish with sunset. The lure of the
brightly lighted boulevards, the lure of the dim and mysterious
by-streets would grip them so that they would not turn homeward for quite
a long while, but would just go on walking. The moon, less clear than at
Orotava, less innocent doubtless, yet scarcely less lovely, would come
sailing over the Place de la Concorde, staring down at the dozens of
other white moons that had managed to get themselves caught by the
standards. In the cafés would be crowds of indolent people, for the
French who work hard know well how to idle; and these cafés would smell
of hot coffee and sawdust, of rough, strong tobacco, of men and women.
Beneath the arcades there would be the shop windows, illuminated and
bright with temptation. But Mary would usually stare into Sulka's,
picking out scarves or neckties for Stephen.

'That one! We'll come and buy it tomorrow. Oh, Stephen, do wait--look at
that dressing-gown!'

And Stephen might laugh and pretend to be bored, though she secretly
nurtured a weakness for Sulka's.

Down the Rue de Rivoli they would walk arm in arm, until turning at last,
they would pass the old church of St. Germain--the church from whose
Gothic tower had been rung the first call to a most bloody slaying. But
now that tower would be grim with silence, dreaming the composite dreams
of Paris--dreams that were heavy with blood and beauty, with innocence
and lust, with joy and despair, with life and death, with heaven and
hell; all the curious composite dreams of Paris.

Then crossing the river they would reach the Quarter and their house,
where Stephen would slip her latchkey into the door and would know the
warm feeling that can come of a union between door and latchkey. With a
sigh of contentment they would find themselves at home once again in the
quiet old Rue Jacob.


3


They went to see the kind Mademoiselle Duphot, and this visit seemed
momentous to Mary. She gazed with something almost like awe at the woman
who had had the teaching of Stephen.

'Oh, but yes,' smiled Mademoiselle Duphot, 'I teached her. She was
terribly naughty over her dictée; she would write remarks about the poor
Henri--très impertinente she would be about Henri! Stévenne was a queer
little child and naughty--but so dear, so dear--I could never scold her.
With me she done everything her own way.'

'Please tell me about that time,' coaxed Mary.

So Mademoiselle Duphot sat down beside Mary and patted her hand: 'Like
me, you love her. Well now, let me recall--She would sometimes get angry,
very angry, and then she would go to the stables and talk to her horse.
But when she fence it was marvellous--she fence like a man, and she only
a baby but extrêmement strong. And then...

The memories went on and on, such a store she possessed, the kind
Mademoiselle Duphot.

As she talked her heart went out to the girl, for she felt a great
tenderness towards young things: 'I am glad that you come to live with
our Stévenne now that Mademoiselle Puddle is at Morton. Stévenne would be
desolate in the big house. It is charming for both of you this new
arrangement. While she work you look after the ménage, is it not so? You
take care of Stévenne, she take care of you. Oui, oui, I am glad you have
come to Paris.'

Julie stroked Mary's smooth young cheek, then her arm, for she wished to
observe through her fingers. She smiled: 'Very young, also very kind. I
like so much the feel of your kindness--it gives me a warm and so happy
sensation, because with all kindness there must be much good.'

Was she quite blind after all, the poor Julie?

And hearing her Stephen flushed with pleasure, and her eyes that could
see turned and rested on Mary with a gentle and very profound expression
in their depths--at that moment they were calmly thoughtful, as though
brooding upon the mystery of life--one might almost have said the eyes of
a mother.

A happy and pleasant visit it had been; they talked about it all through
the evening.



Chapter Forty-one


1


Burton, who had enlisted in the Worcesters soon after Stephen had found
work in London, Burton was now back again in Paris, loudly demanding a
brand-new motor.

'The car looks awful! Snub-nosed she looks--peculiar--all tucked up in
the bonnet,' he declared.

So Stephen bought a touring Renault and a smart little landaulette for
Mary. The choosing of the cars was the greatest fun; Mary climbed in and
out of hers at least six times while it stood in the showroom.

'Is it comfortable?' Stephen must keep on asking. 'Do you want them to
pad it out more at the back? Are you perfectly sure you like the grey
whip-cord? Because if you don't it can be re-upholstered.'

Mary laughed: 'I'm climbing in and out from sheer swank, just to show
that it's mine. Will they send it soon?'

'Almost at once, I hope,' smiled Stephen.

Very splendid it seemed to her now to have money, because of what money
could do for Mary; in the shops they must sometimes behave like two
children, having endless things dragged out for inspection. They drove to
Versailles in the new touring car and wandered for hours through the
lovely gardens. The Hameau no longer seemed sad to Stephen, for Mary and
she brought love back to the Hameau. Then they drove to the forest of
Fontainebleau, and wherever they went there was singing of
birds--challenging, jubilant, provocative singing: 'Look at us, look at
us! We're happy, Stephen!' And Stephen's heart shouted back: 'So are we.
Look at us, look at us, look at us. We're happy!'

When they were not driving into the country, or amusing themselves by
ransacking Paris, Stephen would fence, to keep herself fit--would fence
as never before with Buisson, so that Buisson would sometimes say with a
grin:

'Mais voyons, voyons! I have done you no wrong, yet it almost appears
that you wish to kill me!'

The foils laid aside, he might turn to Mary, still grinning: 'She fence
very well, eh, your friend? She lunge like a man, so strong and so
graceful.' Which considering all things was generous of Buisson. But
suddenly Buisson would grow very angry: 'More than seventy francs have I
paid to my cook and for nothing! Bon Dieu! Is this winning the war? We
starve, we go short of our butter and chickens, and before it is better
it is surely much worse. We are all imbeciles, we kind-hearted French; we
starve ourselves to fatten the Germans. Are they grateful? Sacré Nom!
Mais oui, they are grateful--they love us so much that they spit in our
faces!' And quite often this mood would be vented on Stephen.

To Mary, however, he was usually polite: 'You like our Paris? I am
glad--that is good. You make the home with Mademoiselle Gordon; I hope
you prevent her injurious smoking.'

And in spite of his outbursts Mary adored him, because of his interest in
Stephen's fencing.


2


One evening towards the end of June, Jonathan Brockett walked in
serenely: 'Hallo, Stephen! Here I am, I've turned up again--not that I
love you, I positively hate you. I've been keeping away for weeks and
weeks. Why did you never answer my letters? Not so much as a line on a
picture postcard! There's something in this more than meets the eye. And
where's Puddle? She used to be kind to me once--I shall lay my head down
on her bosom and weep...' He stopped abruptly, seeing Mary Llewellyn, who
got up from her deep arm-chair in the corner.

Stephen said: 'Mary, this is Jonathan Brockett--an old friend of mine;
we're fellow writers. Brockett, this is Mary Llewellyn.' Brockett shot a
swift glance in Stephen's direction, then he bowed and gravely shook
hands with Mary.

And now Stephen was to see yet another side of this strange and
unexpected creature. With infinite courtesy and tact he went out of his
way to make himself charming. Never by so much as a word or a look did he
once allow it to be inferred that his quick mind had seized on the
situation. Brockett's manner suggested an innocence that he was very far
from possessing.

Stephen began to study him with interest; they two had not met since
before the war. He had thickened, his figure was more robust, there was
muscle and flesh on his wide, straight shoulders. And she thought that
his face had certainly aged; little bags were showing under his eyes, and
rather deep lines at the sides of his mouth--the war had left its mark
upon Brockett. Only his hands remained unchanged; those white and
soft-skinned hands of a woman.

He was saying: 'So you two were in the same Unit. That was a great stroke
of luck for Stephen; I mean she'd be feeling horribly lonely now that old
Puddle's gone back to England. Stephen's distinguished herself I see--the
Croix de Guerre and a very becoming scar. Don't protest, my dear Stephen,
you know it's becoming. All that happened to me was a badly sprained
ankle'; he laughed, 'fancy going out to Mesopotamia to slip on a bit of
orange peel! I might have done better than that here in Paris. By the
way, I'm in my own flat again now; I hope you'll bring Miss Llewellyn to
luncheon.'

He did not stay embarrassingly late, nor did he leave suggestively early;
he got up to go just at the right moment. But when Mary went out of the
room to call Pierre, he quite suddenly put his arm through Stephen's.

'Good luck, my dear, you deserve it,' he murmured, and his sharp grey
eyes had grown almost gentle: 'I hope you'll be very, very happy.'

Stephen quietly disengaged her arm with a look of surprise: 'Happy? Thank
you, Brockett,' she smiled, as she lighted a cigarette.


3


They could not tear themselves away from their home, and that summer they
remained in Paris. There were always so many things to do, Mary's bedroom
entirely to refurnish for instance--she had Puddle's old room overlooking
the garden. When the city seemed to be growing too airless, they motored
off happily into the country, spending a couple of nights at an auberge,
for France abounds in green, pleasant places. Once or twice they lunched
with Jonathan Brockett at his flat in the Avenue Victor Hugo, a beautiful
flat since his taste was perfect, and he dined with them before leaving
for Deauville--his manner continued to be studiously guarded. The Duphots
had gone for their holiday and Buisson was away in Spain for a month--but
what did they want that summer with people? On those evenings when they
did not go out, Stephen would now read aloud to Mary, leading the girl's
adaptable mind into new and hitherto unexplored channels; teaching her
the joy that can lie in books, even as Sir Philip had once taught his
daughter. Mary had read so little in her life that the choice of books
seemed practically endless, but Stephen must make a start by reading that
immortal classic of their own Paris, Peter Ibbetson, and Mary said:

'Stephen--if we were ever parted, do you think that you and I could dream
true?'

And Stephen answered: 'I often wonder whether we're not dreaming true all
the time--whether the only truth isn't in dreaming.' Then they talked for
a while of such nebulous things as dreams, which will seem very concrete
to lovers.

Sometimes Stephen would read aloud in French, for she wanted the girl to
grow better acquainted with the lure of that fascinating language. And
thus gradually, with infinite care, did she seek to fill the more obvious
gaps in Mary's none too complete education. And Mary, listening to
Stephen's voice, rather deep and always a little husky, would think that
words were more tuneful than music and more inspiring, when spoken by
Stephen.

At this time many gentle and friendly things began to bear witness to
Mary's presence. There were flowers in the quiet old garden for instance,
and some large red carp in the fountain's basin, and two married couples
of white fan-tail pigeons who lived in a house on a tall wooden leg and
kept up a convivial cooing. These pigeons lacked all respect for Stephen;
by August they were flying in at her window and landing with soft, heavy
thuds on her desk, where they strutted until she fed them with maize. And
because they were Mary's and Mary loved them, Stephen would laugh, as
unruffled as they were, and would patiently coax them back into the
garden with bribes for their plump little circular crops. In the turret
room that had been Puddle's sanctum, there were now three cagefuls of
Mary's rescues--tiny bright-coloured birds with dejected plumage, and
eyes that had filmed from a lack of sunshine. Mary was always bringing
them home from the terrible bird shops along the river, for her love of
such helpless and suffering things was so great that she in turn must
suffer. An ill-treated creature would haunt her for days, so that Stephen
would often exclaim half in earnest:

'Go and buy up all the animal shops in Paris...anything, darling, only
don't look unhappy!'

The tiny bright-coloured birds would revive to some extent thanks to
Mary's skilled treatment; but since she always bought the most ailing,
not a few of them left this disheartening world for what we must hope was
a warm, wild heaven--there were several small graves already in the
garden.

Then one morning, when Mary went out alone because Stephen had letters to
write to Morton, she chanced on yet one more desolate creature who
followed her home to the Rue Jacob, and right into Stephen's immaculate
study. It was large, ungainly and appallingly thin; it was coated with
mud which had dried on its nose, its back, its legs and all over its
stomach. Its paws were heavy, its ears were long, and its tail, like the
tail of a rat, looked hairless, but curved up to a point in a miniature
sickle. Its face was as smooth as though made out of plush, and its
luminous eyes were the colour of amber.

Mary said: 'Oh, Stephen--he wanted to come. He's got a sore paw; look at
him, he's limping!'

Then this tramp of a dog hobbled over to the table and stood there gazing
dumbly at Stephen, who must stroke his anxious, dishevelled head: 'I
suppose this means that we're going to keep him.'

'Darling, I'm dreadfully afraid it does--he says he's sorry to be such a
mongrel.'

'He needn't apologize,' Stephen smiled, 'he's all right, he's an Irish
water-spaniel, though what he's doing out here the Lord knows; I've never
seen one before in Paris.'

They fed him, and later that afternoon they gave him a bath in Stephen's
bathroom. The result of that bath, which was disconcerting as far as the
room went, they left to Adèle. The room was a bog, but Mary's rescue had
emerged a mass of chocolate ringlets, all save his charming plush-covered
face, and his curious tail, which was curved like a sickle. Then they
bound the sore pad and took him downstairs; after which Mary wanted to
know all about him, so Stephen unearthed an illustrated dog book from a
cupboard under the study book-case.

'Oh, look!' exclaimed Mary, reading over her shoulder, 'He's not Irish at
all, he's really a Welshman: "We find in the Welsh laws of Howell Dda
the first reference to this intelligent spaniel. The Iberians brought the
breed to Ireland..." Of course, that's why he followed me home; he knew I
was Welsh the moment he saw me!'

Stephen laughed: 'Yes, his hair grows up from a peak like yours--it must
be a national failing. Well, what shall we call him? His name's
important; it ought to be quite short.'

'David,' said Mary.

The dog looked gravely from one to the other for a moment, then he lay
down at Mary's feet, dropping his chin on his bandaged paw, and dosing
his eyes with a grunt of contentment. And so it had suddenly come to pass
that they who had lately been two, were now three. There were Stephen and
Mary--there was also David.



Chapter Forty-two


1


That October there arose the first dark cloud. It drifted over to Paris
from England, for Anna wrote, asking Stephen to Morton but with never a
mention of Mary Llewellyn. Not that she ever did mention their friendship
in her letters, indeed she completely ignored it; yet this invitation
which excluded the girl seemed to Stephen an intentional slight upon
Mary. A hot flush of anger spread up to her brow as she read and re-read
her mother's brief letter:

'I want to discuss some important points regarding the management of the
estate. As the place will eventually come to you, I think we should try
to keep more in touch...' Then a list of the points Anna wished to
discuss; they seemed very trifling indeed to Stephen.

She put the letter away in a drawer and sat staring darkly out of the
window. In the garden Mary was talking to David, persuading him not to
retrieve the pigeons.

'If my mother had invited her ten times over I'd never have taken her to
Morton,' Stephen muttered.

Oh, but she knew, and only too well, what it would mean should they be
there together; the lies, the despicable subterfuges, as though they were
little less than criminals. It would be: 'Mary, don't hang about my
bedroom--be careful...of course while we're here at Morton...it's my
mother, she can't understand these things; to her they would seem an
outrage, an insult...And then the guard set upon eyes and lips; the
feeling of guilt at so much as a hand-touch; the pretence of a careless,
quite usual friendship--'Mary, don't look at me as though you cared! you
did this evening--remember my mother.'

Intolerable quagmire of lies and deceit! The degrading of all that to
them was sacred--a very gross degrading of love, and through love a gross
degrading of Mary, Mary...so loyal and as yet so gallant, but so
pitifully untried in the war of existence. Warned only by words, the
words of a lover, and what were mere words when it came to actions? And
the ageing woman with the far-away eyes, eyes that could yet be so cruel,
so accusing--that they might turn and rest with repugnance on Mary, even
as once they had rested on Stephen: 'I would rather see you dead at my
feet...' A fearful saying, and yet she had meant it, that ageing woman
with the far-away eyes--she had uttered it knowing herself to be a
mother. But that at least should be hidden from Mary.

She began to consider the ageing woman who had scourged her but whom she
had so deeply wounded, and as she did so the depth of that wound made her
shrink in spite of her bitter anger, so that gradually the anger gave way
to a slow and almost reluctant pity. Poor, ignorant, blind, unreasoning
woman; herself a victim, having given her body for Nature's most
inexplicable whim. Yes, there had been two victims already--must there
now be a third--and that one Mary? She trembled. At that moment she could
not face it, she was weak, she was utterly undone by loving. Greedy she
had grown for happiness, for the joys and the peace that their union had
brought her. She would try to minimize the whole thing; she would say:
'It will only be for ten days; I must just run over about this business,'
then Mary would probably think it quite natural that she had not been
invited to Morton and would ask no questions--she never asked questions.
But would Mary think such a slight was quite natural? Fear possessed her;
she sat there terribly afraid of this cloud that had suddenly risen to
menace--afraid yet determined not to submit, not to let it gain power
through her own acquiescence.

There was only one weapon to keep it at bay. Getting up she opened the
window: 'Mary!'

All unconscious the girl hurried in with David: 'Did you call?'

'Yes--come close. Closer...closer, sweetheart...


2


Shaken and very greatly humbled, Mary had let Stephen go from her to
Morton. She had not been deceived by Stephen's glib words, and had now no
illusions regarding Anna Gordon. Lady Anna, suspecting the truth about
them, had not wished to meet her. It was all quite clear, cruelly clear
if it came to that matter--but these thoughts she had mercifully hidden
from Stephen.

She had seen Stephen off at the station with a smile: 'I'll write every
day. Do put on your coat, darling; you don't want to arrive at Morton
with a chill. And mind you wire when you get to Dover.'

Yet now as she sat in the empty study, she must bury her face and cry a
little because she was here and Stephen in England...and then of course,
this was their first real parting.

David sat watching with luminous eyes in which were reflected her secret
troubles; then he got up and planted a paw on the book, for he thought it
high time to have done with this reading. He lacked the language that
Raftery had known--the language of many small sounds and small
movements--a clumsy and inarticulate fellow he was, but unrestrainedly
loving. He nearly broke his own heart between love and the deep gratitude
which he felt for Mary. At the moment he wanted to lay back his ears and
howl with despair to see her unhappy. He wanted to make an enormous
noise, the kind of noise wild folk make in the jungle--lions and tigers
and other wild folk that David had heard about from his mother--his
mother had been in Africa once a long time ago, with an old French
colonel. But instead he abruptly licked Mary's cheek--it tasted peculiar,
he thought, like sea water.

'Do you want a walk, David?' she asked him gently.

And as well as he could, David nodded his head by wagging his tail which
was shaped like a sickle. Then he capered, thumping the ground with his
paws; after which he barked twice in an effort to amuse her, for such
things had seemed funny to her in the past, although now she appeared not
to notice his capers. However, she had put on her hat and coat; so, still
barking, he followed her through the courtyard.

They wandered along the Quai Voltaire, Mary pausing to look at the misty
river.

'Shall I dive in and bring you a rat?' inquired David by lunging wildly
backwards and forwards.

She shook her head. 'Do stop, David; be good!' Then she sighed again and
stared at the river; so David stared too, but he stared at Mary.

Quite suddenly Paris had lost its charm for her. After all, what was it?
Just a big, foreign city--a city that belonged to a stranger people who
cared nothing for Stephen and nothing for Mary. They were exiles. She
turned the word over in her mind--exiles; it sounded unwanted, lonely.
But why had Stephen become an exile? Why had she exiled herself from
Morton? Strange that she, Mary, had never asked her--had never wanted to
until this moment.

She walked on not caring very much where she went. It grew dusk, and the
dusk brought with it great longing--the longing to see, to hear, to
touch--almost a physical pain it was, this longing to feel the nearness
of Stephen. But Stephen had left her to go to Morton...Morton that was
surely Stephen's real home, and in that real home there was no place for
Mary.

She was not resentful. She did not condemn either the world, or herself,
or Stephen. Hers was no mind to wrestle with problems, to demand either
justice or explanation; she only knew that her heart felt bruised so that
all manner of little things hurt her. It hurt her to think of Stephen
surrounded by objects that she had never seen--tables, chairs, pictures,
all old friends of Stephen's, all dear and familiar, yet strangers to
Mary. It hurt her to think of the unknown bedroom in which Stephen had
slept since the days of her childhood; of the unknown schoolroom where
Stephen had worked; of the stables, the lakes and the gardens of Morton.
It hurt her to think of the two unknown women who must now be awaiting
Stephen's arrival--Puddle, whom Stephen loved and respected; Lady Anna,
of whom she spoke very seldom, and who, Mary felt, could never have loved
her. And it came upon Mary with a little shock that a long span of
Stephen's life was hidden; years and years of that life had come and gone
before they two had finally found each other. How could she hope to link
up with a past that belonged to a home which she might not enter? Then,
being a woman, she suddenly ached for the quiet, pleasant things that a
home will stand for--security, peace, respect and honour, the kindness of
parents, the goodwill of neighbours; happiness that can be shared with
friends, love that is proud to proclaim its existence. All that Stephen
most craved for the creature she loved, that creature must now quite
suddenly ache for.

And as though some mysterious cord stretched between them, Stephen's
heart was troubled at that very moment; intolerably troubled because of
Morton, the real home which might not be shared with Mary. Ashamed
because of shame laid on another, compassionate and suffering because of
her compassion, she was thinking of the girl left alone in Paris--the
girl who should have come with her to England, who should have been
welcomed and honoured at Morton. Then she suddenly remembered some words
from the past, very terrible words: 'Could you marry me, Stephen?'

Mary turned and walked back to the Rue Jacob. Disheartened and anxious,
David lagged beside her. He had done all he could to distract her mind
from whatever it was that lay heavy upon it. He had made a pretence of
chasing a pigeon, he had barked himself hoarse at a terrified beggar, he
had brought her a stick and implored her to throw it, he had caught at
her skirt and tugged it politely; in the end he had nearly got run over
by a taxi in his desperate efforts to gain her attention. This last
attempt had certainly roused her: she had put on his lead--poor,
misunderstood David.


3


Mary went into Stephen's study and sat down at the spacious
writing-table, for now all of a sudden she had only one ache, and that
was the ache of her love for Stephen. And because of her love she wished
to comfort, since in every fond woman there is much of the mother. That
letter was full of many things which a less privileged pen had best left
unwritten--loyalty, faith, consolation, devotion; all this and much more
she wrote to Stephen. As she sat there, her heart seemed to swell within
her as though in response to some mighty challenge.

Thus it was that Mary met and defeated the world's first tentative
onslaught upon them.



Chapter Forty-three


1


There comes a time in all passionate attachments when life, real life,
must be faced once again with its varied and endless obligations, when
the lover knows in his innermost heart that the halcyon days are over. He
may well regret this prosaic intrusion, yet to him it will usually seem
quite natural, so that while loving not one whit the less, he will bend
his neck to the yoke of existence. But the woman, for whom love is an end
in itself, finds it harder to submit thus calmly. To every devoted and
ardent woman there comes this moment of poignant regretting; and struggle
she must to hold it at bay. 'Not yet, not yet--just a little longer';
until Nature, abhorring her idleness, forces on her the labour of
procreation.

But in such relationships as Mary's and Stephen's, Nature must pay for
experimenting; she may even have to pay very dearly--it largely depends
on the sexual mixture. A drop too little of the male in the lover, and
mighty indeed will be the wastage. And yet there are cases--and Stephen's
was one--in which the male will emerge triumphant; in which passion
combined with real devotion will become a spur rather than a deterrent;
in which love and endeavour will fight side by side in a desperate
struggle to find some solution.

Thus it was that when Stephen returned from Morton, Mary divined, as it
were by instinct, that the time of dreaming was over and past; and she
clung very dose, kissing many times--

'Do you love me as much as before you went? Do you love me?' The woman's
eternal question.

And Stephen, who, if possible, loved her more, answered almost brusquely:
'Of course I love you.' For her thoughts were still heavy with the
bitterness that had come of that visit of hers to Morton, and which at
all costs must be hidden from Mary.

There had been no marked change in her mother's manner. Anna had been
very quiet and courteous. Together they had interviewed bailiff and
agent, scheming as always for the welfare of Morton; but one topic there
had been which Anna had ignored, had refused to discuss, and that topic
was Mary. With a suddenness born of exasperation, Stephen had spoken of
her one evening. 'I want Mary Llewellyn to know my real home; some day I
must bring her to Morton with me.' She had stopped, seeing Anna's warning
face--expressionless, closed; while as for her answer, it had been more
eloquent far than words--a disconcerting, unequivocal silence. And
Stephen, had she ever entertained any doubt, must have known at that
moment past all hope of doubting, that her mother's omission to invite
the girl had indeed been meant as a slight upon Mary. Getting up, she had
gone to her father's study.

Puddle, who had held her peace at the time, had spoken just before
Stephen's departure. 'My dear, I know it's all terribly hard about
Morton--about...' She had hesitated.

And Stephen had thought with renewed bitterness: 'Even she jibs, it
seems, at mentioning Mary.' She had answered: 'If you're speaking of Mary
Llewellyn, I shall certainly never bring her to Morton, that is as long
as my mother lives--I don't allow her to be insulted.'

Then Puddle had looked at Stephen gravely. You're not working, and yet
work's your only weapon. Make the world respect you, as you can do
through your work; it's the surest harbour of refuge for your friend, the
only harbour--remember that--and it's up to you to provide it, Stephen.'

Stephen had been too sore at heart to reply; but throughout the long
journey from Morton to Paris, Puddle's words had kept hammering in her
brain: 'You're not working, and yet work's your only weapon.'

So while Mary lay sleeping in Stephen's arms on that first blessed night
of their reunion, her lover lay wide-eyed with sleeplessness, planning
the work she must do on the morrow, cursing her own indolence and folly,
her illusion of safety where none existed.


2


They soon settled down to their more prosaic days very much as quite
ordinary people will do. Each of them now had her separate tasks--Stephen
her writing, and Mary the household, the paying of bills, the filing of
receipts, the answering of unimportant letters. But for her there were
long hours of idleness, since Pauline and Pierre were almost too
perfect--they would smile and manage the house in their own way, which it
must be admitted was better than Mary's. As for the letters, there were
not very many; and as for the bills, there was plenty of money--being
spared the struggle to make two ends meet, she was also deprived of the
innocent pleasure of scheming to provide little happy surprises, little
extra comforts for the person she loved, which in youth can add a real
zest to existence. Then Stephen had found her typing too slow, so was
sending the work to a woman in Passy; obsessed by a longing to finish her
book, she would tolerate neither let nor hindrance. And because of their
curious isolation, there were times when Mary would feel very lonely. For
whom did she know? She had no friends in Paris except the kind
Mademoiselle Duphot and Julie. Once a week, it is true, she could go and
see Buisson, for Stephen continued to keep up her fencing; and
occasionally Brockett would come strolling in, but his interest was
centred entirely in Stephen; if she should be working, as was often the
case, he would not waste very much time over Mary.

Stephen often called her into the study, comforted by the girl's loving
presence. 'Come and sit with me, sweetheart, I like you in here.' But
quite soon she would seem to forget all about her. 'What...what?' she
would mutter, frowning a little. 'Don't speak to me just for a minute,
Mary. Go and have your luncheon, there's a good child; I'll come when
I've finished this bit--you go on!' But Mary's meal might be eaten
alone; for meals had become an annoyance to Stephen.

Of course there was David, the grateful, the devoted. Mary could always
talk to David, but since he could never answer her back the conversation
was very one-sided. Then too, he was making it obvious that he, in his
turn, was missing Stephen; he would hang around looking discontented when
she failed to go out after frequent suggestions. For although his heart
was faithful to Mary, the gentle dispenser of all salvation, yet the
instinct that has dwelt in the soul of the male, perhaps ever since Adam
left the Garden of Eden, the instinct that displays itself in club
windows and in other such places of male segregation, would make him long
for the companionable walks that had sometimes been taken apart from
Mary. Above all would it make him long intensely for Stephen's strong
hands and purposeful ways; for that queer, intangible something about her
that appealed to the canine manhood in him. She always allowed him to
look after himself, without fussing; in a word, she seemed restful to
David.

Mary slipping noiselessly out of the study, might whisper: We'll go to
the Tuileries Gardens.'

But when they arrived there, what was there to do? For of course a dog
must not dive after goldfish--David understood this; there were goldfish
at home--he must not start splashing about in ponds that had tiresome
stone rims and ridiculous fountains. He and Mary would wander along
gravel paths, among people who stared at and made fun of David: 'Quel
drôle de chien, mais regardez sa queue!' They were like that, these
French; they had laughed at his mother. She had told him never so much as
to say: 'Wouf!' For what did they matter? Still, it was disconcerting.
And although he had lived in France all his life--having indeed known no
other country--as he walked in the stately Tuileries Gardens, the Celt in
his blood would conjure up visions: great beetling mountains with winding
courses down which the torrents went roaring in winter; the earth smell,
the dew smell, the smell of wild things which a dog might hunt and yet
remain lawful--for of all this and more had his old mother told him.
These visions it was that had led him astray, that had treacherously led
him half starving to Paris; and that, sometimes, even in these placid
days, would come back as he walked in the Tuileries Gardens. But now his
heart must thrust them aside--a captive he was now, through love of Mary.

But to Mary there would come one vision alone, that of a garden at
Orotava; a garden lighted by luminous darkness, and filled with the
restless rhythm of singing.


3


The autumn passed, giving place to the winter, with its short, dreary
days of mist and rain. There was now little beauty left in Paris. A grey
sky hung above the old streets of the Quarter, a sky which no longer
looked bright by contrast, as though seen at the end of a tunnel. Stephen
was working like someone possessed, entirely re-writing her pre-war
novel. Good it had been, but not good enough, for she now saw life from a
much wider angle; and, moreover, she was writing this book for Mary.
Remembering Mary, remembering Morton, her pen covered sheet after sheet
of paper; she wrote with the speed of true inspiration, and at times her
work brushed the hem of greatness. She did not entirely neglect the girl
for whose sake she was making this mighty effort--that she could not have
done even had she wished to, since love was the actual source of her
effort. But quite soon there were days when she would not go out, or if
she did go, when she seemed abstracted, so that Mary must ask her the
same question twice--then as likely as not get a nebulous answer. And
soon there were days when all that she did apart from her writing was
done with an effort, with an obvious effort to be considerate.

'Would you like to go to a play one night, Mary?'

If Mary said yes, and procured the tickets, they were usually late,
because of Stephen who had worked right up to the very last minute.

Sometimes there were poignant if small disappointments, when Stephen had
failed to keep a promise. 'Listen, Mary darling--will you ever forgive me
if I don't come with you about those furs? I've a bit of work here I
simply must finish. You do understand?'

'Yes, of course I do.' But Mary, left to choose her new furs alone, had
quite suddenly felt that she did not want them.

And this sort of thing happened fairly often.

If only Stephen had confided in her, had said: 'I'm trying to build you a
refuge; remember what I told you in Orotava!' But no, she shrank from
reminding the girl of the gloom that surrounded their small patch of
sunshine. If only she had shown a little more patience with Mary's
careful if rather slow typing, and so given her a real occupation--but
no, she must send the work off to Passy, because the sooner this book was
finished the better it would be for Mary's future. And thus, blinded by
love and her desire to protect the woman she loved, she erred towards
Mary.

When she had finished her writing for the day, she frequently read it
aloud in the evening. And although Mary knew that the writing was fine,
yet her thoughts would stray from the book to Stephen. The deep, husky
voice would read on and on, having in it something urgent, appealing, so
that Mary must suddenly kiss Stephen's hand, or the scar on her cheek,
because of that voice far more than because of what it was reading.

And now there were times when, serving two masters, her passion for this
girl and her will to protect her, Stephen would be torn by conflicting
desires, by opposing mental and physical emotions. She would want to save
herself for her work; she would want to give herself wholly to Mary.

Yet quite often she would work far into the night. 'I'm going to be
late--you go to bed, sweetheart.'

And when she herself had at last toiled upstairs, she would steal like a
thief past Mary's bedroom, although Mary would nearly always hear her.

'Is that you, Stephen?'

'Yes. Why aren't you asleep? Do you realize that it's three in the
morning?'

'Is it? You're not angry, are you, darling? I kept thinking of you alone
in the study. Come here and say you're not angry with me, even if it is
three o'clock in the morning!'

Then Stephen would slip off her old tweed coat and would fling herself
down on the bed beside Mary, too exhausted to do more than take the girl
in her arms, and let her lie there with her head on her shoulder.

But Mary would be thinking of all those things which she found so deeply
appealing in Stephen--the scar on her cheek, the expression in her eyes,
the strength and the queer, shy gentleness of her--the strength which at
moments could not be gentle. And as they lay there Stephen might sleep,
worn out by the strain of those long hours of writing. But Mary would not
sleep, or if she slept it would be when the dawn was paling the windows.


4


One morning Stephen looked at Mary intently. 'Come here. You're not well!
What's the matter? Tell me.' For she thought that the girl was unusually
pale, thought too that her lips drooped a little at the corners; and a
sudden fear contracted her heart. 'Tell me at once what's the matter with
you!' Her voice was rough with anxiety, and she laid an imperative hand
over Mary's.

Mary protested. 'Don't be absurd; there's nothing the matter, I'm
perfectly well--you're imagining things.' For what could be the matter?
Was she not here in Paris with Stephen? But her eyes filled with tears,
and she turned away quickly to hide them, ashamed of her own unreason.

Stephen stuck to her point. 'You don't look a bit well. We shouldn't have
stayed in Paris last summer.' Then because her own nerves were on edge
that day, she frowned. 'It's this business of your not eating whenever I
can't get in to a meal. I know you don't eat--Pierre's told me about it.
You mustn't behave like a baby, Mary! I shan't be able to write a line if
I feel you're ill because you're not eating.' Her fear was making her
lose her temper. 'I shall send for a doctor,' she finished brusquely.

Mary refused point-blank to see a doctor. What was she to tell him? She
hadn't any symptoms. Pierre exaggerated. She ate quite enough--she had
never been a very large eater. Stephen had better get on with her work
and stop upsetting herself over nothing.

But try as she might, Stephen could not get on--all the rest of the day
her work went badly.

After this she would often leave her desk and go wandering off in search
of Mary. 'Darling, where are you?'

'Upstairs in my bedroom!'

'Well, come down; I want you here in the study.' And when Mary had
settled herself by the fire: 'Now tell me exactly how you feel--all
right?'

And Mary would answer, smiling: 'Yes, I'm quite all right; I swear I am,
Stephen!'

It was not an ideal atmosphere for work, but the book was by now so well
advanced that nothing short of a disaster could have stopped it--it was
one of those books that intend to get born, and that go on maturing in
spite of their authors. Nor was there anything really alarming about the
condition of Mary's health. She did not look very well, that was all; and
at times she seemed a little downhearted, so that Stephen must snatch a
few hours from her work in order that they might go out together. Perhaps
they would lunch at a restaurant; or drive into the country, to the
rapture of David; or just wander about the streets arm in arm as they had
done when first they had returned to Paris. And Mary, because she would
be feeling happy, would revive for these few hours as though by magic.
Yet when she must once more find herself lonely, with nowhere to go and
no one to talk to, because Stephen was back again at her desk, why then
she would wilt, which was not unnatural considering her youth and her
situation.


5


On Christmas Eve Brockett arrived, bringing flowers. Mary had gone for a
walk with David, so Stephen must leave her desk with a sigh. 'Come in,
Brockett. I say! what wonderful lilac!'

He sat down, lighting a cigarette. 'Yes, isn't it fine? I brought it for
Mary. How is she?'

Stephen hesitated a moment. 'Not awfully well...I've been worried about
her.'

Brockett frowned, and stared thoughtfully into the fire. There was
something that he wanted to say to Stephen; a warning that he was longing
to give, but he did not feel certain how she would take it--no wonder
that wretched girl was not fit, forced to lead such a deadly dull
existence! If Stephen would let him he wanted to advise, to admonish, to
be brutally frank if need be. He had once been brutally frank about her
work, but that had been a less delicate matter.

He began to fidget with his soft, white hands, drumming on the arms of
the chair with his fingers. Stephen, I've been meaning to speak about
Mary. She struck me as looking thoroughly depressed the last time I saw
her--when was it? Monday. Yes, she struck me as looking thoroughly
depressed.'

'Oh, but surely you were wrong...' interrupted Stephen.

'No, I'm perfectly sure I was right,' he insisted. Then he said: 'I'm
going to take a big risk--I'm going to take the risk of losing your
friendship.'

His voice was so genuinely regretful, that Stephen must ask him:
'Well--what is it, Brockett?'

'You, my dear. You're not playing fair with that girl; the life she's
leading would depress a mother abbess. It's enough to give anybody the
hump, and it's going to give Mary neurasthenia!'

'What on earth do you mean?'

'Don't get ratty and I'll tell you. Look here, I'm not going to pretend
any more. Of course we all know that you two are lovers. You're gradually
becoming a kind of legend--all's well lost for love, and that sort of
thing...But Mary's too young to become a legend; and so are you, my dear,
for that matter. But you've got your work, whereas Mary's got
nothing--not a soul does that miserable kid know in Paris. Don't please
interrupt. I've not nearly finished; I positively must and will have my
say out! You and she have decided to make a ménage--as far as I can see
it's as bad as marriage! But if you were a man it would be rather
different; you'd have dozens of friends as a matter of course. Mary might
even be going to have an infant. Oh, for God's sake, Stephen, do stop
looking shocked. Mary's a perfectly normal young woman; she can't live by
love alone, that's all rot--especially as I shrewdly suspect that when
you're working the diet's pretty meagre. For heaven's sake let her go
about a bit! Why on earth don't you take her to Valérie Seymour's? At
Valérie's place she'd meet lots of people; and I ask you, what harm could
it possibly do? You shun your own ilk as though they were the devil! Mary
needs friends awfully badly, and she needs a certain amount of amusement.
But be a bit careful of the so-called normal.' And now Brockett's voice
grew aggressive and bitter. 'I wouldn't go trying to force them to be
friends--I'm not thinking so much of you now as of Mary; she's young and
the young are easily bruised...

He was perfectly sincere. He was trying to be helpful, spurred on by his
curious affection for Stephen. At the moment he felt very friendly and
anxious; there was nothing of the cynic left in him--at the moment. He
was honestly advising according to his lights--perhaps the only lights
that the world had left him.

And Stephen could find very little to say. She was sick of denials and
subterfuges, sick of tacit lies which outraged her own instincts and
which seemed like insults thrust upon Mary; so she left Brockett's bolder
statements unchallenged. As for the rest, she hedged a little, still
vaguely mistrustful of Valérie Seymour. Yet she knew quite well that
Brockett had been right--life these days must often be lonely for Mary.
Why had she never thought of this before? She cursed herself for her lack
of perception.

Then Brockett tactfully changed the subject; he was far too wise not to
know when to stop. So now he told her about his new play, which for him
was a very unusual proceeding. And as he talked on there came over
Stephen a queer sense of relief at the thought that he knew...Yes, she
actually felt a sense of relief because this man knew of her relations
with Mary; because there was no longer any need to behave as if those
relations were shameful--at all events in the presence of Brockett. The
world had at last found a chink in her armour.


6


'We must go and sce Valérie Seymour one day,' Stephen remarked quite
casually that evening. 'She's a very well-known woman in Paris. I believe
she gives rather jolly parties. I think it's about time you had a few
friends.'

'Oh, what fun! Yes, do let's--I'd love it!' exclaimed Mary.

Stephen thought that her voice sounded pleased and excited and in spite
of herself she sighed a little. But after all nothing really mattered
except that Mary should keep well and happy. She would certainly take her
to Valérie Seymour's--why not? She had probably been very foolish.
Selfish too, sacrificing the girl to her cranks--

'Darling, of course we'll go,' she aid quickly. 'I expect we'll find it
awfully amusing.'


7


Three days later, Valérie, having seen Brockett, wrote a short but
cordial invitation: 'Do come in on Wednesday if you possibly can--I mean
both of you, of course. Brockett's promised to come, and one or two other
interesting people. I'm so looking forward to renewing our acquaintance
after all this long time, and to meeting Miss Llewellyn. But why have you
never been to see me? I don't think that was very friendly of you!
However, you can make up for past neglect by coming to my little party on
Wednesday...

Stephen tossed the letter across to Mary. 'There you arc!' 'How
ripping--but will you go?'

'Do you want to?'

Yes, of course. Only what about your work?'

'It will keep all right for one afternoon.'

Are you sure?'

Stephen smiled. 'Yes, I'm quite sure, darling.'



Chapter Forty-four


1



Valérie's rooms were already crowded when Stephen and Mary arrived at her
reception, so crowded that at first they could not see their hostess and
must stand rather awkwardly near the door--they had not been announced;
one never was for some reason, when one went to Valérie Seymour's. People
looked at Stephen curiously; her height, her clothes, the scar on her
face, had immediately riveted their attention.

'Quel type!' murmured Dupont the sculptor to his neighbour, and promptly
decided that he wished to model Stephen. 'It's a wonderful head; I adore
the strong throat. And the mouth--is it chaste, is it ardent? I wonder.
How would one model that intriguing mouth?' Then being Dupont, to whom
all things were allowed for the sake of his art, he moved a step nearer
and stared with embarrassing admiration, combing his greyish beard with
his fingers.

His neighbour, who was also his latest mistress, a small fair-haired girl
of a doll-like beauty, shrugged her shoulders. 'I am not very pleased
with you, Dupont, your taste is becoming peculiar, mon ami--and yet you
arc still sufficiently virile...

"He laughed. 'Be tranquil, my little hen, I am not proposing to give you
a rival.' Then he started to tease. 'But what about you? I dislike the
small horns that are covered with moss, even although they are no bigger
than thimbles. They are irritating, those mossy horns, and exceedingly
painful when they start to grow--like wisdom teeth, only even more
foolish. Ah, yes, I too have my recollections. What is sauce for the
gander is sauce for the goose, as the English say--such a practical
people!'

'You are dreaming, mon pauvre bougre,' snapped the lady.

And now Valérie was making her way to the door. 'Miss Gordon! I'm most
awfully glad to see you and Miss Llewellyn. Have you had any tea? No, of
course not, I'm an abominable hostess! Come along to the table--where's
that useless Brockett? Oh, here he is. Brockett, please be a man and get
Miss Llewellyn and Miss Gordon some tea.'

Brockett sighed. 'You go first then, Stephen darling, you're so much more
efficient than I am.' And he laid a soft, white hand on her shoulder,
thrusting her gently but firmly forward. When they reached the buffet, he
calmly stood still. 'Do get me an ice--vanilla?' he murmured.

Everyone seemed to know everyone else, the atmosphere was familiar and
easy. People hailed each other like intimate friends, and quite soon they
were being charming to Stephen, and equally charming and kind to Mary.

Valérie was introducing her new guests with tactful allusions to
Stephen's talent: 'This is Stephen Gordon--you know, the author; and Miss
Llewellyn.'

Her manner was natural, and yet Stephen could not get rid of the feeling
that everyone knew about her and Mary, or that if they did not actually
know, they guessed, and were eager to show themselves friendly.

She thought: 'Well, why not? I'm sick of lying.'

The erstwhile resentment that she had felt towards Valérie Seymour was
fading completely. So pleasant it was to be made to feel welcome by all
these clever and interesting people--and clever they were there was no
denying; in Valérie's salon the percentage of brains was generally well
above the average. For together with those who themselves being normal,
had long put intellects above bodies, were writers, painters, musicians
and scholars, men and women who, set apart from their birth, had
determined to hack out a niche in existence. Many of them had already
arrived, while some were still rather painfully hacking; not a few would
fall by the way, it is true, but as they fell others would take their
places. Over the bodies of prostrate comrades those others must fall in
their turn or go on hacking--for them there was no compromise with life,
they were lashed by the whip of self-preservation. There was Pat who had
lost her Arabella to the golden charms of Grigg and the Lido. Pat, who,
originally hailing from Boston, still vaguely suggested a New England
schoolmarm. Pat, whose libido apart from the flesh, flowed into
entomological channels--one had to look twice to discern that her ankles
were too strong and too heavy for those of a female.

There was Jamie, very much more pronounced; Jamie who had come to Paris
from the Highlands; a trifle unhinged because of the music that besieged
her soul and fought for expression through her stiff and scholarly
compositions. Loose-limbed, raw-boned and shortsighted she was; and since
she could seldom afford new glasses, her eyes were red-rimmed and
strained in expression, and she poked her head badly, for ever peering.
Her tow-coloured mop was bobbed by her friend, the fringe being only too
often uneven.

There was Wanda, the struggling Polish painter; dark for a Pole with her
short, stiff black hair, and her dusky skin, and her colourless lips; yet
withal not unattractive, this Wanda. She had wonderful eyes that held
fire in their depths, hell-fire at times, if she had been drinking; but
at other times a more gentle flame, although never one that it was safe
to play with. Wanda saw largely. All that she envisaged was immense: her
pictures, her passions, her remorses. She craved with a wellnigh
insatiable craving, she feared with a wellnigh intolerable terror--not
the devil, she was brave with him when in her cups, but God in the person
of Christ the Redeemer. Like a whipped cur she crawled to the foot of the
Cross, without courage, without faith, without hope of mercy. Outraged by
her body she must ruthlessly scourge it--no good, the lust of the eye
would betray her. Seeing she desired and desiring she drank, seeking to
drown one lust in another. And then she would stand up before her tall
easel, swaying a little but with hand always steady. The brandy went into
her legs, not her hands; her hands would remain disconcertingly steady.
She would start some gigantic and heart-broken daub, struggling to lose
herself in her picture, struggling to ease the ache of her passion by
smearing the placid white face of the canvas with ungainly yet strangely
arresting forms--according to Dupont, Wanda had genius. Neither eating
nor sleeping she would grow very thin, so that everybody would know what
had happened. They had seen it before, oh, but many times, and therefore
for them the tragedy was lessened.

'Wanda's off again!' someone might say with a grin. 'She was tight this
morning; who is it this time?'

But Valérie, who hated drink like the plague, would grow angry; outraged
she would feel by this Wanda.

There was Hortense, Comtesse de Kerguelen; dignified and reserved, a very
great lady, of a calm and rather old-fashioned beauty. When Valérie
introduced her to Stephen, Stephen quite suddenly thought of Morton. And
yet she had left all for Valérie Seymour; husband, children and home had
she left; facing scandal, opprobrium, persecution. Greater than all these
most vital things had been this woman's love for Valérie Seymour. An
enigma she seemed, much in need of explaining. And now in the place of
that outlawed love had come friendship; they were close friends, these
one-time lovers.

There was Margaret Roland, the poetess, a woman whose work was alive with
talent. The staunchest of allies, the most fickle of lovers, she seemed
likely enough to end up in a workhouse, with her generous financial
apologies which at moments made pretty large holes in her savings. It was
almost impossible not to like her, since her only fault lay in being too
earnest; every fresh love affair was the last while it lasted, though of
course this was apt to be rather misleading. A costly business in money
and tears; she genuinely suffered in heart as in pocket. There was
nothing arresting in Margaret's appearance, sometimes she dressed well,
sometimes she dressed badly, according to the influence of the moment.
But she always wore ultra feminine shoes, and frequently bought model
gowns when in Paris: One might have said quite a womanly woman, unless
the trained ear had been rendered suspicious by her voice which had
something peculiar about it. It was like a boy's voice on the verge of
breaking.

And then there was Brockett with his soft white hands; and several others
there were, very like him. There was also Adolphe Blanc, the designer--a
master of colour whose primitive tints had practically revolutionized
taste, bringing back to the eye the joy of the simple. Blanc stood in a
little niche by himself, which at times must surely have been very
lonely. A quiet, tawny man with the eyes of the Hebrew, in his youth he
had been very deeply afflicted. He had spent his days going from doctor
to doctor: 'What am I?' They had told him, pocketing their fees; not a
few had unctuously set out to cure him. Cure him, good God! There was no
cure for Blanc, he was, of all men the most normal abnormal. He had known
revolt, renouncing his God; he had known despair, the despair of the
godless; he had known wild moments of dissipation; he had known long
months of acute self-abasement. And then he had suddenly found his soul,
and that finding had brought with it resignation, so that now he could
stand in a niche by himself, a pitiful spectator of what, to him, often
seemed a bewildering scheme of creation. For a living he designed many
beautiful things--furniture, costumes and scenery for ballets, even
women's gowns if the mood was upon him, but this he did for a physical
living. To keep life in his desolate, long-suffering soul, he had stored
his mind with much profound learning. So now many poor devils went to him
for advice, which he never refused though he gave it sadly. It was always
the same: 'Do the best you can, no man can do more--but never stop
fighting. For us there is no sin so great as despair, and perhaps no
virtue so vital as courage.' Yes, indeed, to this gentle and learned Jew
went many a poor baptized Christian devil.

And such people frequented Valérie Seymour's, men and women who must
carry God's mark on their foreheads. For Valérie, placid and
self-assured, created an atmosphere of courage, everyone felt very normal
and brave when they gathered together at Valérie Seymour's. There she
was, this charming and cultured woman, a kind of lighthouse in a
storm-swept ocean. The waves had lashed round her feet in vain; winds had
howled; clouds had spewed forth their hail and their lightning; torrents
had deluged but had not destroyed her. The storms, gathering force, broke
and drifted away, leaving behind them the shipwrecked, the drowning. But
when they looked up, the poor spluttering victims, why what should they
see but Valérie Seymour! Then a few would strike boldly out for the
shore, at the sight of this indestructible creature.

She did nothing, and at all times said very little, feeling no urge
towards philanthropy. But this much she gave to her brethren, the freedom
of her salon, the protection of her friendship; if it eased them to come
to her monthly gatherings they were always welcome provided they were
sober. Drink and drugs she abhorred because they were ugly--one drank
tea, iced coffee sirops and orangeade in that celebrated flat on the Quai
Voltaire.

Oh, yes, a very strange company indeed if one analysed it for this or
that stigma. Why, the grades were so numerous and so fine that they often
defied the most careful observation. The timbre of a voice, the build of
an ankle, the texture of a hand, a movement, a gesture--since few were as
pronounced as Stephen Gordon, unless it were Wanda, the Polish painter.
She, poor soul, never knew how to dress for the best. If she dressed like
a woman she looked like a man, if she dressed like a man she looked like
a woman!


2


And their love affairs, how strange, how bewildering--how difficult to
classify degrees of attraction. For not always would they attract their
own kind, very often they attracted quite ordinary people. Thus Pat's
Arabella had suddenly married, having wearied of Grigg as of her
predecessor. Rumour had it that she was now blatantly happy at the
prospect of shortly becoming a mother. And then there was Jamie's friend
Barbara, a wisp of a girl very faithful and loving, but all woman as far
as one could detect, with a woman's clinging dependence on Jamie.

These two had been lovers from the days of their childhood, from the days
when away in their Highland village the stronger child had protected the
weaker at school or at play with their boisterous companions. They had
grown up together like two wind-swept saplings on their bleak Scottish
hill-side so starved of sunshine. For warmth and protection they had
leaned to each other, until with the spring, at the time of mating, their
branches had quietly intertwined. That was how it had been, the
entwinings of saplings, very simple, and to them very dear, having
nothing mysterious or strange about it except inasmuch as all love is
mysterious.

To themselves they had seemed like the other lovers for whom dawns were
brighter and twilights more tender. Hand in hand they had strolled down
the village street, pausing to listen to the piper at evening. And
something in that sorrowful, outlandish music would arouse the musical
soul in Jamie, so that great chords would surge up through her brain,
very different indeed from the wails of the piper, yet born of the same
mystic Highland nature.

Happy days; happy evenings when the glow of the summer lingered for hours
above the grim hills, lingered on long after the flickering lamps had
been lit in the cottage windows of Beedles. The piper would at last
decide to go home, but they two would wander away to the moorland, there
to lie down for a space side by side among the short, springy turf and
the heather.

Children they had been, having small skill in words, or in life, or in
love itself for that matter. Barbara, fragile and barely nineteen; the
angular Jamie not yet quite twenty. They had talked because words will
ease the full spirit; talked in abrupt, rather shy broken phrases. They
had loved because love had come naturally to them up there on the soft,
springy turf and the heather. But after a while their dreams had been
shattered for such dreams as theirs had seemed strange to the village.
Daft, the folk had thought them, mouthing round by themselves for hours,
like a couple of lovers.

Barbara's grand-dame, an austere old woman with whom she had lived since
her earliest childhood--Barbara's grand-dame had mistrusted this
friendship. 'I dinna richtly unnerstan' it,' she had frowned; 'her and
that Jamie's unto throng. It's no richt for lass-bairns, an' it's no
proaper!'

And since she spoke with authority, having for years been the village
post-mistress, her neighbours had wagged their heads and agreed 'It's no
richt; ye hae said it, Mrs. MacDonald!'

The gossip had reached the minister, Jamie's white-haired and gentle old
father. He had looked at the girl with bewildered eyes--he had always
been bewildered by his daughter. A poor housewife she was, and very
untidy; if she cooked she mucked up the pots and the kitchen, and her
hands were strangely unskilled with the needle; this he knew, since his
heels suffered much from her darning. Remembering her mother he had
shaken his head and sighed many times as he looked at Jamie. For her
mother had been a soft, timorous woman, and he himself was very retiring,
but their Jamie loved striding over the hills in the teeth of a gale, an
uncouth, boyish creature. As a child she had gone rabbit stalking with
ferrets; had ridden a neighbour's farm-horse astride on a sack, without
stirrup, saddle or bridle; had done all manner of outlandish things. And
he, poor lonely, bewildered man, still mourning his wife, had been no
match for her.

Yet even as a child she had sat at the piano and picked out little tunes
of her own inventing. He had done his best; she had been taught to play
by Miss Morrison of the next-door village, since music alone seemed able
to tame her. And as Jamie had grown so her tunes had grown with her,
gathering purpose and strength with her body. She would improvise for
hours on the winter evenings, if Barbara would sit in their parlour and
listen. He had always made Barbara welcome at the manse; they had been so
inseparable, those two, since childhood--and now? He had frowned,
remembering the gossip.

Rather timidly he had spoken to Jamie. 'Listen, my dear, when you're
always together, the lads don't get a chance to come courting, and
Barbara's grandmother wants the lass married. Let her walk with a lad on
Sabbath afternoons--there's that young MacGregor, he's a fine, steady
fellow, and they say he's in love with the little lass...

Jamie had stared at him, scowling darkly. 'She doesn't want to walk out
with MacGregor!'

The minister had shaken his head yet again. In the hands of his child he
was utterly helpless.

Then Jamie had gone to Inverness in order the better to study music, but
every week-end she had spent at the manse, there had been no real break
in her friendship with Barbara; indeed they had seemed more devoted than
ever, no doubt because of these forced separations. Two years later the
minister had suddenly died, leaving his little all to Jamie. She had had
to turn out of the old, grey manse, and had taken a room in the village
near Barbara. But antagonism, no longer restrained through respect for
the gentle and childlike pastor, had made itself very acutely
felt--hostile they had been, those good people, to Jamie.

Barbara had wept. 'Jamie, let's go away...they hate us. Let's go where
nobody knows us. I'm twenty-one now, I can go where I like, they can't
stop me. Take me away from them, Jamie!' Miserable, angry, and sorely
bewildered, Jamie had put her arm round the girl. Where can I take you,
you poor little creature? You're not strong, and I'm terribly poor,
remember.'

But Barbara had continued to plead. 'I'll work, I'll scrub floors, I'll
do anything, Jamie, only let's get away where nobody knows us!' So Jamie
had turned to her music master in Inverness, and had begged him to help
her. What could she do to earn her living? And because this man believed
in her talent, he had helped her with advice and a small loan of money,
urging her to go to Paris and study to complete her training in
composition.

'You're really too good for me,' he had told her; 'and out there you
could live considerably cheaper. For one thing the exchange would be in
your favour. I'll write to the head of the Conservatoire this evening.'

That had been shortly after the Armistice, and now here they were
together in Paris.

As for Pat, she collected her moths and her beetles, and when fate was
propitious an occasional woman. But fate was so seldom propitious to
Pat--Arabella had put this down to the beetles. Poor Pat, having recently
grown rather gloomy, had taken to quoting American history, speaking
darkly of blood-tracks left in the snow by what she had christened 'The
miserable army.' Then, too, she seemed haunted by General Custer, that
gallant and very unfortunate hero. 'It's Custer's last ride, all the
time,' she would say. 'No good talking, the whole darned world's out to
scalp us!'

As for Margaret Roland, she was never attracted to anyone young and
whole-hearted and free--she was, in fact, a congenital poacher. While as
for Wanda, her loves were so varied that no rule could be discovered by
which to judge them. She loved wildly, without either chart or compass. A
rudderless barque it was, Wanda's emotion, beaten now this way, now that,
by the gale veering first to the normal, then to the abnormal; a thing of
torn sails and stricken masts, that never came within sight of a harbour.


3


These, then, were the people to whom Stephen turned at last in her fear
of isolation for Mary; to her own kind she turned and was made very
welcome, for no bond is more binding than that of affliction. But her
vision stretched beyond to the day when happier folk would also accept
her, and through her this girl for whose happiness she and she alone
would have to answer; to the day when through sheer force of tireless
endeavour she would have built that harbour of refuge for Mary.

So now they were launched upon the stream that flows silent and deep
through all great cities, gliding on between precipitous borders, away
and away into no-man's-land--the most desolate country in all creation.
Yet when they got home they felt no misgivings, even Stephen's doubts had
been drugged for the moment, since just at first this curious stream will
possess the balm of the waters of Lethe.

She said to Mary: 'It was quite a good party; don't you think so?'

And Mary answered naively: 'I loved it because they were so nice to you.
Brockett told me they think you're the coming writer. He said you were
Valérie Seymour's lion; I was bursting with pride--it made me so happy!'

For answer, Stephen stooped down and kissed her.



Chapter Forty-five


1


By February Stephen's book was rewritten and in the hands of her
publisher in England. This gave her the peaceful, yet exhilarated feeling
that comes when a writer has given of his best and knows that that best
is not unworthy. With a sigh of relief she metaphorically stretched,
rubbed her eyes and started to look about her. She was in the mood that
comes as a reaction from strain, and glad enough of amusement; moreover
the spring was again in the air, the year had turned, there were sudden
bright days when the sun brought a few hours of warmth to Paris.

They were now no longer devoid of friends, no longer solely dependent
upon Brockett on the one hand, and Mademoiselle Duphot on the other;
Stephen's telephone would ring pretty often. There was now always
somewhere for Mary to go; always people who were anxious to see her and
Stephen, people with whom one got intimate quickly and was thus saved a
lot of unnecessary trouble. Of them all, however, it was Barbara and
Jamie for whom Mary developed a real affection; she and Barbara had
formed a harmless alliance which at times was even a little pathetic. The
one talking of Jamie, the other of Stephen, they would put their young
heads together very gravely. 'Do you find Jamie goes off her food when
she's working?' 'Do you find that Stephen sleeps badly? Is she careless
of her health? Jamie's awfully worrying sometimes.'

Or perhaps they would be in a more flippant mood and would sit and
whisper together, laughing; making tender fun of the creatures they
loved, as women have been much inclined to do ever since that rib was
demanded of Adam. Then Jamie and Stephen would pretend to feel aggrieved,
would pretend that they also must hang together, must be on their guard
against feminine intrigues. Oh, yes, the whole business was rather
pathetic.

Jamie and her Barbara were starvation-poor, so poor that a square meal
came as a godsend. Stephen would feel ashamed to be rich, and, like Mary,
was always anxious to feed them. Being idle at the moment Stephen would
insist upon frequently taking them out to dinner, and then she would
order expensive viands--copper-green oysters straight from the Marennes,
caviare and other such costly things, to be followed by even more
sumptuous dishes--and since they went short on most days in the week,
these stomachic debauches would frequently upset them. Two glasses of
wine would cause Jamie to flush, for her head had never been of the
strongest, nor was it accustomed to such golden nectar. Her principal
beverage was creme-de-menthe because it kept out the cold in the winter,
and because, being pepperminty and sweet, it reminded her of the
bulls-eyes at Beedles.

They were not very easy to help, these two, for Jamie, pride-galled, was
exceedingly touchy. She would never accept gifts of money or clothes, and
was struggling to pay off the debt to her master. Even food gave offence
unless it was shared by the donors, which though very praiseworthy was
foolish. However, there it was, one just had to take her or leave her,
there was no compromising with Jamie.

After dinner they would drift back to Jamie's abode, a studio in the old
Rue Visconti. They would climb innumerable dirty stone stairs to the top
of what had once been a fine house but was now let off to such poor rats
as Jamie. The concierge, an unsympathetic woman, long soured by the empty
pockets of students, would peer out at them from her dark ground-floor
kennel, with sceptical eyes.

'Bon soir, Madame Lambert.'

'Bon soir, mesdames,' she would growl impolitely.

Jamie's studio was large, bare and swept by draughts. The stove was too
small and at times it smelt vilely. The distempered grey walls were a
mass of stains, for whenever it hailed or rained or snowed the windows
and skylight would always start dripping. The furniture consisted of a
few shaky chairs, a table, a divan and a hired grand piano. Nearly
everyone seated themselves on the floor, robbing the divan of its
moth-eaten cushions. From the studio there led off a tiny room with an
eye-shaped window that would not open. In this room had been placed a
narrow camp-bed to which Jamie retired when she felt extra sleepless. For
the rest, there was a sink with a leaky tap; a cupboard in which they
kept creme-de-menthe, what remnants of food they possessed at the moment,
Jamie's carpet-slippers and blue jean jacket--minus which she could never
compose a note--and the pail, cloths and brushes with which Barbara
endeavoured to keep down the accumulating dirt and confusion. For Jamie
with her tow-coloured head in the clouds, was not only short-sighted but
intensely untidy. Dust meant little to her since she seldom saw it, while
neatness was completely left out of her make-up; considering how limited
were her possessions, the chaos they produced was truly amazing. Barbara
would sigh and would quite often scold--when she scolded she reminded one
of a wren who was struggling to discipline a large cuckoo.

'Jamie, your dirty shirt, give it to me--leaving it there on the piano,
whatever!' Or, 'Jamie, come here and look at your hair-brush; if you
haven't gone and put it next-door to the butter!'

Then Jamie would peer with her strained, red-rimmed eyes and would
grumble: 'Oh, leave me in peace, do, lassie!'

And when Barbara laughed, as she must do quite often at the outrageous
habits of the great loose-limbed creature, why then these days she would
usually cough, and when Barbara started to cough she coughed badly. They
had seen a doctor who had spoken about lungs and had shaken his head; not
strong, he had told them. But neither of them had quite understood, for
their French had remained very embryonic, and they could not afford the
smart English doctor. All the same when Barbara coughed Jamie sweated,
and her fear would produce an acute irritation.

'Here, drink this water! Don't sit there doing nothing but rack yourself
to bits, it gets on my nerves. Go and order another bottle of that
mixture. God, how can I work if you will go on coughing!' She would
slouch co the piano and play mighty chords, pressing down the loud pedal
to drown that coughing. But when it had subsided she would feel deep
remorse. 'Oh, Barbara, you're so little--forgive me. It's all my fault
for bringing you out here, you're not strong enough for this damnable
life, you don't get the right food, or anything proper.'

In the end it would be Barbara who must console. 'We'll be rich some day
when you've finished your opera--anyhow my cough isn't dangerous, Jamie.'

Sometimes Jamie's music would go all wrong, the opera would blankly
refuse to get written. At the Conservatoire she would be very stupid, and
when she got home she would be very silent, pushing her supper away with
a frown, because coming upstairs she had heard that cough. Then Barbara
would fed even more tired and weak than before, but would hide he,
weakness from Jamie. After supper they would undress in front of the
stove if the weather was cold, would undress without speaking. Barbara
could get out of her clothes quite neatly in no time, but Jamie must
always dawdle, dropping first this then that on the floor, or pausing to
fill her little black pipe and to light it before putting on her pyjamas.

Barbara would fall on her knees by the divan and would start to say
prayers like a child, very simply. 'Our Father,' she would say, and other
prayers too, which always ended in: 'Please God, bless Jamie.' For
believing in Jamie she must needs believe in God, and because she loved
Jamie she must love God also--it had long been like this, ever since they
were children. But sometimes she would shiver in her prim cotton
nightgown, so that Jamie, grown anxious, would speak to her sharply:

'Oh, stop praying, do. You and all your prayers! Are you daft to kneel
there when the room's fairly freezing? That's how you catch cold; now
tonight you'll cough!'

But Barbara would not so much as turn round; she would calmly and
earnestly go on with her praying. Her neck would look thin against the
thick plait which hung neatly down between her bent shoulders; and the
hands that covered her face would look thin--thin and transparent like
the hands of a consumptive. Fuming inwardly, Jamie would stump off to bed
in the tiny room with its eye-shaped window, and there she herself must
mutter a prayer, especially if she heard Barbara coughing.

At times Jamie gave way to deep depression, hating the beautiful city of
her exile. Homesick unto death she would suddenly feel for the dour
little Highland village of Beedles. More even than for its dull bricks
and mortar would she long for its dull and respectable spirit, for the
sense of security common to Sabbaths, for the kirk with its dull and
respectable people. She would think with a tenderness bred by forced
absence of the greengrocer's shop that stood on the corner, where they
sold, side by side with cabbages and onions, little neatly tied bunches
of Scottish heather, little earthenware jars of opaque heather honey. She
would think of the vast, stretching, windy moorlands; of the smell of the
soil after rain in summer; of the piper with his weather-stained, agile
fingers, of the wail of his sorrowful, outlandish music; of Barbara as she
had been in the days when they strolled side by side down the narrow high
street. And then she would sit with her head in her hands, hating the
sound and the smell of Paris, hating the sceptical eyes of the concierge,
hating the bare and unhomely studio. Tears would well up from heaven
alone knew what abyss of half-understood desolation, and would go
splashing down upon her tweed skirt, or trickling back along her red
wrists until they had wetted her frayed flannel wrist-bands. Coming home
with their evening meal in a bag, this was how Barbara must sometimes
find her.


2


Jamie was not always so full of desolation; there were days when she
seemed to be in excellent spirits, and on one such occasion she rang
Stephen up, asking her to bring Mary round after dinner. Everyone was
coming, Wanda and Pat, Brockett, and even Valérie Seymour; for she,
Jamie, had persuaded a couple of negroes who were studying at the
Conservatoire to come in and sing for them that evening--they had
promised to sing Negro Spirituals, old slavery songs of the Southern
plantations. They were very nice negroes, their name was Jones--Lincoln
and Henry Jones, they were brothers. Lincoln and Jamie had become great
friends; he was very interested in her opera. And Wanda would bring her
mandolin--but the evening would be spoilt without Mary and Stephen.

Mary promptly put on her hat; she must go and order them in some supper.
As she and Stephen would be there to share it, Jamie's sensitive pride
would be appeased. She would send them a very great deal of food so that
they could go on eating and eating.

Stephen nodded: 'Yes, send them in tons of supper!'



3

At ten o'clock they arrived at the studio; at ten-thirty Wanda came in
with Brockett, then Blanc together with Valérie Seymour, then Pat wearing
serviceable goloshes over her house shoes because it was raining, then
three or four fellow students of Jamie's, and, finally the two negro
brothers.

They were very unlike each other, these negroes; Lincoln, the elder, was
paler in colour. He was short and inclined to be rather thick-set with a
heavy but intellectual face--a strong face, much lined for a man of
thirty. His eyes had the patient, questioning expression common to the
eyes of most animals and to those of all slowly evolving races. He shook
hands very quietly with Stephen and Mary. Henry was tall and as black as
a coal, a fine upstanding, but coarse-lipped young negro, with a roving
glance and a self-assured manner.

He remarked: Glad to meet you, Miss Gordon--Miss Llewellyn,' and plumped
himself down at Mary's side, where he started to make conversation, too
glibly.

Valérie Seymour was soon talking to Lincoln with a friendliness that put
him at his ease--just A first he had seemed a little self-conscious. But
Pat was much more reserved in her manner, having hailed from abolitionist
Boston.

Wanda said abruptly: 'Can I have a drink, Jamie!' Brockett poured her out
a stiff brandy and soda.

Adolphe Blanc sat on the floor hugging his knees; and presently Dupont
the sculptor strolled in--being minus his mistress he migrated to
Stephen.

Then Lincoln seated himself at the piano, touching the keys with firm,
expert fingers, while Henry stood beside him very straight and long and
lifted up his voice which was velvet smooth, yet as dear and insistent as
the call of a clarion:

'Deep river, my home is over Jordan.
Deep river--Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground,
Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground,
Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground,
Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground...

And all the hope of the utterly hopeless of this world, who must live by
their ultimate salvation, all the terrible, aching, homesick hope that is
born of the infinite pain of the spirit, seemed to break from this man
and shake those who listened, so that they sat with bent heads and clasped
hands--they who were also among the hopeless sat with bent heads and
clasped hands as they listened...Even Valérie Seymour forgot to be pagan.

He was not an exemplary young negro; indeed he could be the reverse very
often. A crude animal Henry could be at times, with a taste for liquor
and a lust for women--just a primitive force rendered dangerous by drink,
rendered offensive by civilization. Yet as he sang his sins seemed to
drop from him, leaving him pure, unashamed, triumphant. He sang to his
God, to the God of his soul. Who would some day blot out all the sins of
the world, and make vast reparation for every injustice: 'My home is over
Jordan, Lord, I want to cross over into camp ground.'

Lincoln's deep bass voice kept up a low sobbing. From time to time only
did he break into words; but as he played on he rocked his body: 'Lord, I
want to cross over into camp ground. Lord, I want to cross over into camp
ground.'

Once started they seemed unable to stop; carried away they were by their
music, drunk with that desperate hope of the hopeless--far drunker than
Henry would get on neat whisky. They went from one spiritual into
another, while their listeners sat motionless, scarcely breathing. While
Jamie's eyes ached from unshed tears quite as much as from her unsuitable
glasses; while Adolphe Blanc, the gentle, the learned, grasped his knees
and pondered many things deeply; while Pat remembered her Arabella and
found but small consolation in beetles; while Brockett thought of certain
brave deeds that he, even he had done out in Mespot--deeds that were not
recorded in dispatches, unless in those of the recording angel; while
Wanda evolved an enormous canvas depicting the wrongs of all mankind;
while Stephen suddenly found Mary's hand and held it in hers with a
painful pressure; while Barbara's tired and childish brown eyes turned to
rest rather anxiously on her Jamie. Not one of them all but was stirred
to the depths by that queer, half defiant, half supplicating music.

And now there rang out a kind of challenge; imperious, loud, almost
terrifying. They sang it together, those two black brethren, and their
voices suggested a multitude of shouting. They seemed to be shouting a
challenge to the world on behalf of themselves and of all the afflicted:

'Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel,
                Daniel, Daniel!
Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel,
Then why not every man?'

The eternal question, as yet unanswered for those who sat there
spellbound and listened...'Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel, then why not
every man?'

Why not?...Yes, but how long, 0 Lord, how long?

Lincoln got up from the piano abruptly, and he made a small bow which
seemed strangely foolish, murmuring some stilted words of thanks on
behalf of himself and his brother Henry: 'We are greatly obliged to you
for your patience; we trust that we have satisfied you,' he murmured.

It was over. They were just two men with black skins and foreheads beaded
with perspiration. Henry sidled away to the whisky, while Lincoln rubbed
his pinkish palms on an elegant white silk handkerchief. Everyone started
to talk at once, to light cigarettes, to move about the studio.

Jamie said: 'Come on, people, it's time for supper,' and she swallowed a
small glass of creme-de-menthe; but Wanda poured herself out some more
brandy.

Quite suddenly they had all become merry, laughing at nothing, teasing
each other; even Valérie unbent more than was her wont and did not look
bored when Brockett chaffed her. The air grew heavy and stinging with
smoke; the stove went out, but they scarcely noticed.

Henry Jones lost his head and pinched Pat's bony shoulder, then he rolled
his eyes: 'Oh, boy! What a gang! Say, folks, aren't we having the hell of
an evening? When any of you folk decide to come over to my little old New
York, why, I'll show you around. Some burg!' and he gulped a large
mouthful of whisky.

After supper Jamie played the overture to her opera, and they loudly
applauded the rather dull music--so scholarly, so dry, so painfully
stiff, so utterly inexpressive of Jamie. Then Wanda produced her mandolin
and insisted upon singing them Polish love songs; this she did in a heavy
contralto voice which was rendered distinctly unstable by brandy. She
handled the tinkling instrument with skill, evolving some quite
respectable chords, but her eyes were fierce as was also her touch, so
that presently a wire snapped with a ping, which appeared completely to
upset her balance. She fell back and lay sprawled out upon the floor to
be hauled up again by Dupont and Brockett.

Barbara had one of her bad fits of coughing: 'It's nothing...' she
gasped, 'I swallowed the wrong way; don't fuss, Jamie...darling...I tell
you it's...nothing.'

Jamie, flushed already, drank more creme-de-menthe. This time she poured
it into a tumbler, tossing it off with a dash of soda. But Adolphe Blanc
looked at Barbara gravely.

The party did not disperse until morning; not until four o'clock could
they decide to go home. Everybody had stayed to the very last moment,
everybody, that is, except Valérie Seymour--she had left immediately
after supper. Brockett, as usual, was cynically sober, but Jamie was
blinking her eyes like an owl, while Pat stumbled over her own goloshes.
As for Henry Jones, he started to sing at the top of his lungs in a high
falsetto:

'Oh, my, help, help, ain't I nobody's baby?
Oh, my, what a shame, I ain't nobody's baby.'

Shut your noise, you poor mutt!' commanded his brother, but Henry still
continued to bawl: 'Oh, my, what a shame, I ain't nobody's baby.'

They left Wanda asleep on a heap of cushions--she would probably not wake
up before midday.



Chapter Forty-six


1


Stephen's book, which made its appearance that May, met with a very
sensational success in England and in the United States, an even more
marked success than The Furrow. Its sales were unexpectedly large
considering its outstanding literary merit; the critics of two countries
were loud in their praises, and old photographs of Stephen could be seen
in the papers, together with very flattering captions. In a word, she
woke up in Paris one morning to find herself, for the moment, quite
famous.

Valérie, Brockett, indeed all her friends were whole-hearted in their
congratulations; and David's tail kept up a great wagging. He knew well
that something pleasant had happened: the whole atmosphere of the house
was enough to inform a sagacious person like David. Even Mary's little
bright-coloured birds seemed to take a firmer hold on existence; while
out in the garden there was much ado on the part of the proudly parental
pigeons--fledglings with huge heads and bleary eyes had arrived to
contribute to the general celebration. Adèle went singing about her work,
for Jean had recently been promised promotion, which meant that his
savings, perhaps in a year, might have grown large enough for them to
marry.

Pierre bragged to his friend, the neighbouring baker, anent Stephen's
great eminence as a writer, and even Pauline cheered up a little.

When Mary impressively ordered the meals, ordered this or that delicacy
for Stephen, Pauline would actually say with a smile: 'Mail oui, un grand
genie doit nourrir le cerveau!'

Mademoiselle Duphot gained a passing importance in the eyes of her pupils
through having taught Stephen. She would nod her head and remark very
wisely: 'I always declare she become a great author.' Then because she
was truthful she would hastily add: 'I mean that I knowed she was someone
unusual.'

Buisson admitted that perhaps, after all, it was well that Stephen had
stuck to her writing. The book had been bought for translation into
French, a fact which had deeply impressed Monsieur Buisson.

From Puddle came a long and triumphant letter: 'What did I tell you? I
knew you'd do it!...

Anna also wrote at some length to her daughter. And wonder of wonders,
from Violet Peacock there arrived an embarrassingly gushing epistle. She
would look Stephen up when next she was in Paris; she was longing, so she
said, to renew their old friendship--after all, they two had been
children together.

Gazing at Mary with very bright eyes, Stephen's thoughts must rush
forward into the future. Puddle had been right, it was work that
counted--clever, hard-headed, understanding old Puddle!

Then putting an arm round Mary's shoulder: 'Nothing shall ever hurt you,'
she would promise, feeling wonderfully self-sufficient and strong,
wonderfully capable of protecting.


2


That summer they drove into Italy with David sitting up proudly beside
Burton. David barked at the peasants and challenged the dogs and
generally assumed a grand air of importance. They decided to spend two
months on Lake Como, and went to the Hotel Florence at Bellagio. The
hotel gardens ran down to the lake--it was all very sunny and soothing
and peaceful. Their days were passed in making excursions, their evenings
in drifting about on the water in a little boat with a gaily striped
awning, which latter seemed a strange form of pleasure to David. Many of
the guests at the Florence were English, and not a few scraped an
acquaintance with Stephen, since nothing appears to succeed like success
in a world that is principally made up of failure. The sight of her book
left about in the lounge, or being devoured by some engrossed reader,
would make Stephen feel almost childishly happy; she would point the
phenomenon out to Mary.

'Look,' she would whisper, 'that man's reading my book!' For the child is
never far to seek in the author.

Some of their acquaintances were country folk and she found that she was
in sympathy with them. Their quiet and painstaking outlook on life, their
love of the soil, their care for their homes, their traditions were after
all a part of herself, bequeathed to her by the founders of Morton. It
gave her a very deep sense of pleasure to see Mary accepted and made to
feel welcome by these grey-haired women and gentlemanly men; very seemly
and fitting it appeared to Stephen.

And now, since to each of us come moments of respite when the mind
refuses to face its problems, she resolutely thrust aside her misgivings,
those misgivings that whispered: 'Supposing they knew--do you think
they'd be so friendly to Mary?'

Of all those who sought them out that summer, the most cordial were Lady
Massey and her daughter. Lady Massey was a delicate elderly woman who, in
spite of poor health and encroaching years, was untiring in her search
for amusement--it amused her to make friends with celebrated people. She
was restless, self-indulgent and not over sincere, a creature of whims
and ephemeral fancies; yet for Stephen and Mary she appeared to evince a
liking which was more than just on the surface. She would ask them up to
her sitting-room, would want them to sit with her in the garden, and
would sometimes insist upon communal meals, inviting them to dine at her
table. Agnes, the daughter, a jolly, red-haired girl, had taken an
immediate fancy to Mary, and their friendship ripened with celerity, as
is often the way during idle summers. As for Lady Massey she petted Mary,
and mothered her as though she were a child, and soon she was mothering
Stephen also.

She would say: 'I seem to have found two new children,' and Stephen, who
was in the mood to feel touched, grew quite attached to this ageing
woman. Agnes was engaged to a Colonel Fitzmaurice who would probably join
them that autumn in Paris. If he did so they must all forgather at once,
she insisted--he greatly admired Stephen's book and had written that he
was longing to meet her. But Lady Massey went further than this in her
enthusiastic proffers of friendship--Stephen and Mary must stay with her
in Cheshire; she was going to give a house party at Branscombe Court for
Christmas; they must certainly come to her for Christmas.

Mary, who seemed elated at the prospect, was for ever discussing this
visit with Stephen: 'What sort of clothes shall I need, do you think?
Agnes says it's going to be quite a big party. I suppose I'll want a few
new evening dresses?' And one day she inquired: 'Stephen, when you were
younger, did you ever go to Ascot or Goodwood?'

Ascot and Goodwood, just names to Stephen; names that she had despised in
her youth, yet which now seemed not devoid of importance since they stood
for something beyond themselves--something that ought to belong to Mary.
She would pick up a copy of The Taller or The Sketch, which Lady Massey
received from England, and turning the pages would stare at the pictures
of securely established, self-satisfied people--Miss this or that sitting
on a shooting-stick, and beside her the man she would shortly marry; Lady
so-and-so with her latest offspring; or perhaps some group at a country
house. And quite suddenly Stephen would feel less assured because in her
heart she must envy these people. Must envy these commonplace men and
women with their rather ridiculous shooting-sticks; their smiling
fiances; their husbands; their wives; their estates, and their
well-cared-for, placid children.

Mary would sometimes look over her shoulder with a new and perhaps rather
wistful interest. Then Stephen would close the paper abruptly: 'Let's go
for a row on the lake,' she might say, 'it's no good wasting this
glorious evening.'

But then she would remember the invitation to spend Christmas with Lady
Massey in Cheshire, and would suddenly start to build castles in the air;
supposing that she herself bought a small place near Branscombe
Court--near these kind new friends who seemed to have grown so fond of
Mary? Mary would also have her thoughts, would be thinking of girls like
Agnes Massey for whom life was tranquil, easy and secure; girls to whom
the world must seem blessedly friendly. And then, with a little stab of
pain, she would suddenly remember her own exile from Morton. After such
thoughts as these she must hold Stephen's hand, must always sit very
close to Stephen.


3


That autumn they saw a good deal of the Masseys, who had taken their
usual suite at the Ritz, and who often asked Mary and Stephen to
luncheon. Lady Massey, Agnes and Colonel Fitzmaurice, a pleasant enough
man, came and dined several times at the quiet old house in the Rue
Jacob, and those evenings were always exceedingly friendly, Stephen
talking of books with Colonel Fitzmaurice, while Lady Massey enlarged
upon Branscombe and her plans for the coming Christmas party. Sometimes
Stephen and Mary sent flowers to the Ritz, hot-house plants or a large
box of special roses--Lady Massey liked to have her rooms full of flowers
sent by friends, it increased her sense of importance. By return would
come loving letters of thanks; she would write: 'I do thank my two very
dear children.'

In November she and Agnes returned to England, but the friendship was
kept up by correspondence, for Lady Massey was prolific with her pen,
indeed she was never more happy than when writing. And now Mary bought
the new evening dresses, and she dragged Stephen off to choose some new
ties. As the visit to Branscombe Court drew near it was seldom out of
their thoughts for a moment--to Stephen it appeared like the first fruits
of toil; to Mary like the gateway into an existence that must be very
safe and reassuring.


4


Stephen never knew what enemy had prepared the blow that was struck by
Lady Massey. Perhaps it had been Colonel Fitzmaurice who might all the
time have been hiding his suspicions; he must certainly have known a good
deal about Stephen--he had friends who lived in the vicinity of Morton.
Perhaps it had merely been unkind gossip connected with Brockett or
Valérie Seymour, with the people whom Mary and Stephen knew, although, as
it happened, Lady Massey had not met them. But after all, it mattered so
little; what did it matter how the thing had come about? By comparison
with the insult itself, its origin seemed very unimportant.

It was in December that the letter arrived, just a week before they were
leaving for England. A long, rambling, pitifully tactless letter, full of
awkward and deeply wounding excuses:

'If I hadn't grown so fond of you both,' wrote Lady Massey, 'this would
be much less painful--as it is the whole thing has made me quite ill, but
I must consider my position in the county. You see, the county looks to
me for a lead--above all I must consider my daughter. The rumours that
have reached me about you and Mary--certain things that I don't want to
enter into--have simply forced me to break off our friendship and to say
that I must ask you not to come here for Christmas. Of course a woman of
my position with all eyes upon her has to be extra careful. It's too
terribly upsetting and sad for me; if I hadn't been so fond of you
both--but you know how attached I had grown to Mary...' and so it went
on; a kind of wail full of self-importance combined with self-pity.

As Stephen read she went white to the lips, and Mary sprang up. What's
that letter you're reading?'

'It's from Lady Massey. It's about...it's about...' Her voice failed.

Show it to me,' persisted Mary.

Stephen shook her head: No--I'd rather not.'

Then Mary asked: 'Is it about our visit?'

Stephen nodded: 'We're not going to spend Christmas at Branscombe.
Darling, it's all right--don't look like that...

'But I want to know why we're not going to Branscombe.' And Mary reached
out and snatched the letter.

She read it through to the very last word, then she sat down abruptly and
burst out crying. She cried with the long, doleful sobs of a child whom
someone has struck without rhyme or reason: Oh...and I thought they were
fond of us...' she sobbed, 'I thought that perhaps...they understood,
Stephen.'

Then it seemed to Stephen that all the pain that had so far been thrust
upon her by existence, was as nothing to the unendurable pain which she
must now bear to hear that sobbing, to see Mary thus wounded and utterly
crushed, thus shamed and humbled for the sake of her love, thus bereft of
all dignity and protection.

She felt strangely helpless: 'Don't--don't,' she implored; while tears of
pity blurred her own eyes and went trickling slowly down her scarred
face. She had lost for the moment all sense of proportion, of
perspective, seeing in a vain, tactless woman a kind of gigantic
destroying angel; a kind of scourge laid upon her and Mary. Surely never
before had Lady Massey loomed so large as she did in that hour to
Stephen.

Mary's sobs gradually died away. She lay back in her chair, a small,
desolate figure, catching her breath from time to time, until Stephen
went to her and found her hand which she stroked with cold and trembling
fingers--but she could not find words of consolation.


5


That night Stephen took the girl roughly in her arms.

'I love you--I love you so much...' she stammered; and she kissed Mary
many times on the mouth, but cruelly so that her kisses were pain--the
pain in her heart leapt out through her lips: 'God! It's too terrible to
love like this--it's hell--there are times when I can't endure it!'

She was in the grip of strong nervous excitation; nothing seemed able any
more to appease her. She seemed to be striving to obliterate, not only
herself, but the whole hostile world through some strange and agonized
merging with Mary. It was terrible indeed, very like unto death, and it
left them both completely exhausted.

The world had achieved its first real victory.



Chapter Forty-seven


1


Their Christmas was naturally overshadowed, and so, as it were by a
common impulse, they turned to such people as Barbara and Jamie, people
who would neither despise nor insult them. It was Mary who suggested that
Barbara and Jamie should be asked to share their Christmas dinner, while
Stephen who must suddenly pity Wanda for a misjudged and very unfortunate
genius, invited her also--after all why note Wanda was more sinned
against than sinning. She drank, oh, yes, Wanda drowned her sorrows;
everybody knew that, and like Valérie Seymour, Stephen hated drink like
the plague--but all the same she invited Wanda.

An ill wind it is that blows no one any good. Barbara and Jamie accepted
with rapture; but for Mary's most timely invitation, their funds being
low at the end of the year, they two must have gone without Christmas
dinner. Wanda also seemed glad enough to come, to leave her enormous,
turbulent canvas for the orderly peace of the well-warmed house with its
comfortable rooms and its friendly servants. All three of them arrived a
good hour before dinner, which on this occasion would be in the evening.

Wanda had been up to Midnight Mass at the Sacré Coeur, she informed them
gravely; and Stephen, reminded of Mademoiselle Duphot, regretted that she
had not offered her the motor. No doubt she too had gone up to Montmartre
for Midnight Mass--how queer, she and Wanda. Wanda was quiet, depressed
and quite sober; she was wearing a straight-cut, simple black dress that
somehow suggested a species of cassock. And as often happened when Wanda
was sober, she repeated herself more than when she was drunk.

'I have been to the Sacré Coeur,' she repeated, 'for the Messe de Minuit;
it was very lovely.'

But she did not reveal the tragic fact that her fear had suddenly laid
hold upon her at the moment of approaching the altar rails, so that she
had scuttled back to her seat, terrified of receiving the Christmas
Communion. Even a painfully detailed confession of intemperance, of the
lusts of the eyes and the mind, of the very occasional sins of the body;
even the absolution accorded by a white-haired old priest who had spoken
gently and pitifully to his penitent, directing her prayers to the Sacred
Heart from which his own heart had derived its compassion--even these
things failed to give Wanda courage when it came to the Christmas
Communion. And now as she sat at Stephen's table she ate little and drank
but three glasses of wine; nor did she ask for a cognac brandy when later
they went to the study for coffee, but must talk of the mighty temple of
her faith that watched day and night, night and day over Paris.

She said in her very perfect English: 'Is it not a great thing that
France has done? From every town and village in France has come money to
build that church at Montmartre. Many people have purchased the stones of
the church, and their names are carved on those stones for ever. I am
very much too hard up to do that--and yet I would like to own a small
stone. I would just say: "From Wanda", because of course one need not
bother about the surname; mine is so long and so difficult to spell--yes,
I would ask them to say: "From Wanda".'

Jamie and Barbara listened politely, yet without sympathy and without
comprehension; while Mary must even smile a little at what seemed to her
like mere superstition. But Stephen's imagination was touched, and she
questioned Wanda about her religion. Then Wanda turned grateful eyes upon
Stephen and suddenly wanted to win her friendship--she looked so
reassuring and cairn sitting there in her peaceful, book-lined study. A
great writer she was, did not everyone say so? And yet she was surely
even as Wanda...Oh, but Stephen had got the better of her fate, had
wrestled with her fate so that now it must serve her; that was fine, that
was surely true courage, true greatness! For that Christmas none save
Mary might know of the bitterness that was in Stephen's heart, least of
all the impulsive, erratic Wanda.

Wanda needed no second invitation to talk, and very soon her eyes were
aglow with the fire of the born religious fanatic as she told of the
little town in Poland, with its churches, its bells that were always
chiming--the Mass bells beginning at early dawn, the Angelus bells, the
Vesper bells--always calling, calling, they were, said Wanda. Through the
years of persecution and strife, of wars and the endless rumours of wars
that had ravaged her most unhappy country, her people had clung to their
ancient faith like true children of Mother Church, said Wanda. She
herself had three brothers, and all of them priests; her parents had been
pious people, they were both dead now, had been dead for some years; and
Wanda signed her breast with the Cross, having regard for the souls of
her parents. Then she tried to explain the meaning of her faith, but this
she did exceedingly badly, finding that words are not always easy when
they must encompass the things of the spirit, the things that she herself
knew by instinct; and then, too, these days her brain was not clear,
thanks to brandy, even when she was quite sober. The details of her
coming to Paris she omitted, but Stephen thought she could easily guess
them, for Wanda declared with a curious pride that her brothers were men
of stone and of iron. Saints they all were, according to Wanda,
uncompromising, fierce and relentless, seeing only the straight and
narrow path on each side of which yawned the fiery chasm.

'I was not as they were, ah, no!' she declared, 'Nor was I as my father
and mother; I was--I was...' She stopped speaking abruptly, gazing at
Stephen with her burning eyes which said quite plainly: 'You know what I
was, you understand.' And Stephen nodded, divining the reason of Wanda's
exile.

But suddenly Mary began to grow restless, putting an end to this
dissertation by starting the large, new gramophone which Stephen had
given her for Christmas. The gramophone blared out the latest foxtrot,
and jumping up, Barbara and Jamie started dancing, while Stephen and
Wanda moved chairs and tables, rolled back rugs and explained to the
barking David that he could not join in, but might, if he chose, sit and
watch them dance from the divan. Then Wanda slipped an arm around Mary
and they glided off; an incongruous couple, the one clad as sombrely as
any priest, the other in her soft evening dress of blue chiffon. Mary lay
gently against Wanda's arm, and she seemed to Stephen a very perfect
dancer--lighting a cigarette, she watched them. The dance over, Mary put
on a new record; she was flushed and her eyes were considerably brighter.

'Why did you never tell met' Stephen murmured.

'Tell you what?'

'Why, that you danced so well.'

Mary hesitated, then she murmured back: 'You didn't dance, so what was
the good?'

'Wanda, you must teach me to foxtrot,' smiled Stephen.

Jamie was blundering round the room with Barbara clasped to her untidy
bosom; then she and Barbara started to sing the harmless, but foolish
words of the foxtrot--if the servants were singing their old Breton hymns
along in the kitchen, no one troubled to listen. Growing hilarious, Jamie
sang louder spinning with Barbara, gyrating wildly, until Barbara,
between laughing and coughing, must implore her to stop, must beg for
mercy.

Wanda said: 'You might have a lesson now, Stephen.'

Putting her hands on Stephen's shoulders, she began to explain the more
simple steps, which did not appear at all hard to Stephen. The music
seemed to have got into her feet so that her feet must follow its rhythm.
She discovered to her own very great amazement that she liked this less
formal modern dancing, and after a while she was clasping Mary quite
firmly, and they moved away together while Wanda stood calling out her
instructions:

'Take much longer steps! Keep your knees straight--straighter! Don't get
so much to the side--look, it's this way--hold her this way; always stand
square to your partner.'

The lesson went on for a good two hours, until even Mary seemed somewhat
exhausted. She suddenly rang the bell for Pierre, who appeared with the
tray of simple supper. Then Mary did an unusual thing--she poured herself
out a whisky and soda.

'I'm tired,' she explained rather fretfully in answer to Stephen's look
of surprise; and she frowned as she turned her back abruptly. But Wanda
shied away from the brandy as a frightened horse will shy from fire; she
drank two large glasses of lemonade--an extremist she was in all things,
this Wanda. Quite soon she announced that she must go home to bed,
because of her latest picture which required every ounce of strength she
had in her; but before she went she said eagerly to Stephen:

'Do let me show you the Sacré Coeur. You have seen it of course, but only
as a tourist; that is not really seeing it at all, you must come there
with me.'

'All right,' agreed Stephen.

When Jamie and Barbara had departed in their turn, Stephen took Mary into
her arms: 'Dearest...has it been a fairly nice Christmas after all?' she
inquired almost timidly.

Mary kissed her: 'Of course it's been a nice Christmas.' Then her
youthful face suddenly changed in expression, the grey eyes growing hard,
the mouth resentful: 'Damn that woman for what she's done to us,
Stephen--the insolence of it! But I've learnt my lesson; we've got plenty
of friends without Lady Massey and Agnes, friends to whom we're not moral
lepers.' And she laughed, a queer, little joyless laugh.

Stephen flinched, remembering Brockett's warning.


2


Wanda's chastened and temperate mood persisted for several weeks, and
while it was on her she clung like a drowning man to Stephen, haunting
the house from morning until night, dreading to be alone for a moment. It
cannot be said that Stephen suffered her gladly, for now with the New
Year she was working hard on a series of articles and short stories;
unwilling to visualize defeat, she began once again to sharpen her
weapon. But something in Wanda's poor efforts to keep sober, in her very
dependence, was deeply appealing, so that Stephen would put aside her
work, feeling loath to desert the unfortunate creature.

Several times they made a long pilgrimage on foot to the church of the
Sacré Coeur; just they two, for Mary would never go with them; she was
prejudiced against Wanda's religion. They would climb the steep streets
with their flights of steps, grey streets, grey steps leading up from the
city. Wanda's eyes would always be fixed on their goal--pilgrim eyes they
would often seem to Stephen. Arrived at the church she and Wanda would
stand looking down between the tall, massive columns of the porch, on a
Paris of domes and mists, only half revealed by the fitful sunshine. The
air would seem pure up there on the height, pure and tenuous as a thing
of the spirit. And something in that mighty temple of faith, that amazing
thrust towards the sublime, that silent yet articulate cry of a nation to
its God, would awaken a response in Stephen, so that she would seem to be
brushing the hem of an age-old and rather terrible mystery--the eternal
mystery of good and evil.

Inside the church would be brooding shadows, save where the wide lakes of
amber fire spread out from the endless votive candles. Above the high
altar the monstranced Host would gleam curiously white in the light of
the candles. The sound of praying, monotonous, low, insistent, would come
from those who prayed with extended arms, with crucified arms, all day
and all night for the sins of Paris.

Wanda would make her way to the statue of the silver Christ with one hand
on His heart, and the other held out in supplication. Kneeling down she
would sign herself with His Cross, then cover her eyes and forget about
Stephen. Standing quietly behind her Stephen would wonder what Wanda was
saying to the silver Christ, what the silver Christ was saying to Wanda.
She would think that He looked very weary, this Christ Who must listen to
so many supplications. Queer, unbidden thoughts came to her at such
moments; this Man Who was God, a God Who waited, could He answer the
riddle of Wanda's existence, of her own existence? If she asked, could He
answer? What if she were suddenly to cry out loudly: 'Look at us, we are
two yet we stand for many. Our name is legion and we also are waiting, we
also are tired, oh, but terribly tired...Will You give us some hope of
ultimate release? Will You tell us the secret of our salvation?'

Wanda would rise from her prayers rather stiffly to purchase a couple of
votive candles, and when she had stuck them into the sconce she would
touch the foot of the silver Christ as she bade Him farewell--a
time-honoured custom. Then she and Stephen might turn again to the lake
of fire that flowed round the monstrance.

But one morning when they arrived at the church, the monstrance was not
above the high altar. The altar had just been garnished and swept, so the
Host was still in the Lady Chapel. And while they stood there and gazed
at the Host, came a priest and with him a grey-haired server; they would
bear their God back again to His home, to the costly shrine of His
endless vigil. The server must first light his little lantern suspended
from a pole, and must then grasp his bell. The priest must lift his Lord
from the monstrance and lay Him upon a silken cover, and carry Him as a
man carries a child--protectively, gently, yet strongly withal, as though
some frustrated paternal instinct were finding in this a divine
expression. The lantern swung rhythmically to and fro, the bell rang out
its imperative warning; then the careful priest followed after the server
who cleared his path to the great high altar. And even as once very long
ago, such a bell had been the herald of death in the putrefying hand of
the leper: 'Unclean! Unclean!' death and putrefaction--the warning bell
in the dreadful hand that might never again know the clasp of the
healthful--so now the bell rang out the approach of supreme purity, of
the Healer of lepers, earthbound through compassion; but compassion so
vast, so urgent, that the small, white disc of the Host must contain the
whole suffering universe. Thus the Prisoner of love Who could never break
free while one spiritual leper remained to be healed, passed by on His
patient way, heavy-laden.

Wanda suddenly fell to her knees, striking her lean and unfruitful
breast, for as always she very shamefully feared, and her fear was a
bitter and most deadly insult. With downcast eyes and trembling hands she
cowered at the sight of her own salvation. But Stephen stood upright and
curiously still, staring into the empty Lady Chapel.



Chapter Forty-eight


1


That spring they made their first real acquaintance with the garish and
tragic night life of Paris that lies open to such people as Stephen
Gordon.

Until now they had never gone out much at night except to occasional
studio parties, or occasional cafés of the milder sort for a cup of
coffee with Barbara and Jamie; but that spring Mary seemed fanatically
eager to proclaim her allegiance to Pat's miserable army. Deprived of the
social intercourse which to her would have been both natural and welcome,
she now strove to stand up to a hostile world by proving that she could
get on without it. The spirit of adventure that had taken her to France,
the pluck that had steadied her while in the Unit, the emotional,
hot-headed nature of the Celt, these things must now work together in
Mary to produce a state of great restlessness, a pitiful revolt against
life's injustice. The blow struck by a weak and thoughtless hand had been
even more deadly than Stephen had imagined; more deadly to them both, for
that glancing blow coming at a time of apparent success, had torn from
them every shred of illusion.

Stephen, who could see that the girl was fretting, would be seized with a
kind of sick apprehension, a sick misery at her own powerlessness to
provide a more normal and complete existence. So many innocent
recreations, so many harmless social pleasures must Mary forego for the
sake of their union--and she still young, still well under thirty. And
now Stephen came face to face with the gulf that lies between warning and
realization--all her painful warnings anent the world had not served to
lessen the blow when it fell, had not served to make it more tolerable to
Mary. Deeply humiliated Stephen would fed, when she thought of Mary's
exile from Morton, when she thought of the insults this girl must endure
because of her loyalty and her faith--all that Mary was losing that
belonged to her youth, would rise up at this time to accuse and scourge
Stephen. Her courage would flicker like a lamp in the wind, and would all
but go out; she would feel less steadfast, less capable of continuing the
war, that ceaseless war for the right to existence. Then the pen would
slip from her nerveless fingers, no longer a sharp and purposeful weapon.
Yes, that spring saw a weakening in Stephen herself--she felt tired, and
sometimes very old for her age, in spite of her vigorous mind and body.

Calling Mary, she would need to be reassured; and one day she asked her:
'How much do you love me?'

Mary answered: So much that I'm growing to hate...' Bitter words to hear
on such young lips as Mary's.

And now there were days when Stephen herself would long for some
palliative, some distraction; when her erstwhile success seemed like Dead
Sea fruit, her will to succeed a grotesque presumption. Who was she to
stand out against the whole world, against those ruthless, pursuing
millions bent upon the destruction of her and her kind? And she but one
poor, inadequate creature. She would start to pace up and down her study;
up and down, up and down, a most desolate pacing; even as years ago her
father had paced his quiet study at Morton. Then those treacherous nerves
of hers would betray her, so that when Mary came in with David--he a
little depressed, sensing something amiss--she would often turn on the
girl and speak sharply.

'Where on earth have you been e'

Only out for a walk. I walked round to Jamie's, Barbara's not well; I
sent her in a few tins of Brand's jelly.'

'You've no right to go off without letting me know where you're
going--I've told you before I won't have it!' Her voice would be harsh,
and Mary would flush, unaware of those nerves that were strained to
breaking.

As though grasping at something that remained secure, they would go to
see the kind Mademoiselle Duphot, but less often than they had done in
the past, for a feeling of guilt would come upon Stephen. Looking at the
gentle and foal-like face with its innocent eyes behind the strong
glasses, she would think: 'We're here under false pretences. If she knew
what we were, she'd have none of us, either. Brockett was right, we
should stick to our kind.' So they went less and less to see Mademoiselle
Duphot.

Mademoiselle said with mild resignation: 'It is natural for now our
Stévenne is famous. Why should she waste her time upon us? I am more than
content to have been her teacher.'

But the sightless Julie shook her head sadly: 'It is not like that; you
mistake, my sister. I can feel a great desolation in Stévenne--and some
of the youngness has gone from Mary. What can it be? My fingers grow
blind when I ask them the cause of that desolation.'

'I will pray for them both to the Sacred Heart which comprehends all
things,' said Mademoiselle Duphot.

And indeed her own heart would have tried to understand--but Stephen had
grown very bitterly mistrustful.

And so now, in good earnest they turned to their kind, for as Puddle had
truly divined in the past, it is 'like to like' for such people as
Stephen. Thus when Pat walked in unexpectedly one day to invite them to
join a party that night at the Ideal Bar, Stephen did not oppose Mary's
prompt and all too eager acceptance.

Pat said they were going to do the round. Wanda was coming and probably
Brockett. Dickie West the American aviator was in Paris, and she also had
promised to join them. Oh, yes, and then there was Valérie
Seymour--Valérie was being dug out of her hole by Jeanne Maurel, her most
recent conquest. Pat supposed that Valérie would drink lemon squash and
generally act as a douche of cold water, she was sure to grow sleepy or
disapproving, she was no acquisition to this sort of party. But could
they rely upon Stephen's car? In the cold, grey dawn of the morning
after, taxis were sometimes scarce up at Montmartre. Stephen nodded,
thinking how absurdly prim Pat looked to be talking of cold, grey dawns
and all that they stood for up at Montmartre. After she had left, Stephen
frowned a little.


2


The five women were seated at a table near the door when Mary and Stephen
eventually joined them. Pat, looking gloomy, was sipping light beer.
Wanda, with the fires of hell in her eyes, in the hell of a temper too,
drank brandy. She had started to drink pretty heavily again, and had
therefore been avoiding Stephen just lately. There were only two new
faces at the table, that of Jeanne Maurel, and of Dickie West, the
much-discussed woman aviator.

Dickie was short, plump and very young; she could not have been more than
twenty-one and she still looked considerably under twenty. She was
wearing a little dark blue beret; round her neck was knotted an Apache
scarf--for the rest she was dressed in a neat serge suit with a very well
cut double-breasted jacket. Her face was honest, her teeth rather large,
her lips chapped and her skin much weather-beaten. She looked like a
pleasant and nice-minded schoolboy well soaped and scrubbed for some gala
occasion. When she spoke her voice was a little too hearty. She belonged
to the younger, and therefore more reckless, more aggressive and
self-assured generation; a generation that was marching to battle with
much swagger, much sounding of drums and trumpets, a generation that had
come after war to wage a new war on a hostile creation. Being mentally
very well clothed and well shod, they had as yet left no blood-stained
foot-prints; they were hopeful as yet, refusing point-blank to believe in
the existence of a miserable army. They said: 'We are as we are; what
about it, We don't care a damn, in fact we're delighted!' And being what
they were they must go to extremes, must quite often outdo men in their
sinning; yet the sins that they had were the sins of youth, the sins of
defiance born of oppression. But Dickie was in no way exceptionally
vile--she lived her life much as a man would have lived it. And her heart
was so loyal, so trustful, so kind that it caused her much shame and much
secret blushing. Generous as a lover, she was even more so when there
could not be any question of loving. Like the horseleech's daughter, her
friends cried: 'Give! Give!' and Dickie gave lavishly, asking no
questions. An appeal never left her completely unmoved, and suspecting
this, most people went on appealing. She drank wine in moderation, smoked
Camel cigarettes till her fingers were brown, and admired stage beauties.
Her greatest defect was practical joking of the kind that passes all
seemly limits. Her jokes were dangerous, even cruel at times--in her
jokes Dickie quite lacked imagination.

Jeanne Maurel was tall, almost as tall as Stephen. An elegant person
wearing pearls round her throat above a low cut white satin waistcoat.
She was faultlessly tailed and faultlessly barbered; her dark, severe
Eton crop fitted neatly. Her profile was Greek, her eyes a bright
blue--altogether a very arresting young woman. So far she had had quite a
busy life doing nothing in particular and everything in general. But now
she was Valérie Seymour's lover, attaining at last to a certain
distinction.

And Valérie was sitting there calm and aloof, her glance roving casually
round the café, not too critically, yet as though she would say: 'Enfin,
the whole world has grown very ugly, but no doubt to some people this
represents pleasure.'

From the stained bar counter at the end of the room came the sound of
Monsieur Pujol's loud laughter. Monsieur Pujol was affable to his
clients, oh, but very, indeed he was almost paternal. Yet nothing escaped
his cold, black eyes--a great expert he was in his way, Monsieur Pujol.
There are many collections that a man may indulge in; old china, glass,
pictures, watches and bibelots; rare editions, tapestries, priceless
jewels. Monsieur Pujol snapped his fingers at such things, they lacked
life--Monsieur Pujol collected inverts. Amazingly morbid of Monsieur
Pujol, and he with the face of an ageing dragoon, and he just married en
secondes notes, and already with six legitimate children. A fine,
purposeful sire he had been and still was, with his young wife shortly
expecting a baby. Oh, yes, the most aggressively normal of men, as none
knew better than the poor Madame Pujol. Yet behind the bar was a small,
stuffy sanctum in which this strange man catalogued his collection. The
walls of the sanctum were thickly hung with signed photographs, and a
good few sketches. At the back of each frame was a neat little number
corresponding to that in a locked leather notebook--it had long been his
custom to write up his notes before going home with the milk in the
morning. People saw their own faces but not their numbers--no client
suspected that locked leather notebook.

To this room would come Monsieur Pujol's old cronies for a bock or a
petit verre before business; and sometimes, like many another collector,
Monsieur Pujol would permit himself to grow prosy. His friends knew most
of the pictures by heart; knew their histories too, almost as well as he
did; but in spite of this fact he would weary his guests by repeating
many a threadbare story.

'A fine lot, n'est-ce pas?' he would say with a grin. 'See that man e Ah,
yes--a really great poet. He drank himself to death. In those days it was
absinthe--they liked it because it gave them courage. That one would come
here like a scared white rat, but Crénom! when he left he would bellow
like a bull--the absinthe, of course--it gave them great courage.' Or:
'That woman over there, what a curious head! I remember her very well,
she was German. Else Weining, her name was--before the war she would come
here with a girl she'd picked up here in Paris, just a common whore, a
most curious business. They were deeply in love. They would sit at a
table in the corner--I can show you their actual table. They never talked
much and they drank very little; as far as the drink went those two were
bad clients, but so interesting that I did not much mind--I grew almost
attached to Else Weining. Sometimes she would come all alone, come early.
"Pu," she would say in her hideous French; "Pu, she must never go back to
that hell." Hell! Sacrénom--she to call it hell! Amazing they are, I tell
you, these people. Well, the girl went back, naturally she went back, and
Else drowned herself in the Srine. Amazing they are--ces invertis, I tell
you!'

But not all the histories were so tragic as this one; Monsieur Pujol
found some of them quite amusing. Quarrels galore he was able to relate,
and light infidelities by the dozen. He would mimic a manner of speech, a
gesture, a walk--he was really quite a good mimic--and when he did this
his friends were not bored; they would sit there and split their sides
with amusement.

And now Monsieur Pujol was laughing himself, cracking jokes as he
covertly watched his clients. From where she and Mary sat near the door,
Stephen could hear his loud, jovial laughter.

'Lord,' sighed Pat, unenlivened as yet by the beer; 'some people do seem
to feel real good this evening.'

Wanda, who disliked the ingratiating Pujol, and whose nerves were on
edge, had begun to grow angry. She had caught a particularly gross
blasphemy, gross even for this age of stupid blaspheming. 'Le salaud!'
she shouted, then, inflamed by drink, an epithet even less complimentary.

'Hush up, do!' exclaimed the scandalized Pat, hastily gripping Wanda's
shoulder.

But Wanda was out to defend her faith, and she did it in somewhat
peculiar language.

People had begun to turn round and stare; Wanda was causing quite a
diversion. Dickie grinned and skilfully egged her on, not perceiving the
tragedy that was Wanda. For in spite of her tender and generous heart,
Dickie was still but a crude young creature, one who had not yet learnt
how to shiver and shake, and had thus remained but a crude young
creature. Stephen glanced anxiously at Mary, half deciding to break up
this turbulent party; but Mary was sitting with her chin on her hand,
quite unruffled, it seemed, by Wanda's outburst. When her eyes met
Stephen's she actually smiled, then took the cigarette that Jeanne Maurel
was offering; and something in this placid, self-assured indifference
went so ill with her youth that it startled Stephen. She in her turn must
quickly light a cigarette, while Pat still endeavoured to silence Wanda.

Valérie said with her enigmatic smile: 'Shall we now go on to our next
entertainment?'

They paid the bill and persuaded Wanda to postpone her abuse of the
ingratiating Pujol. Stephen took one arm, Dickie West the other, and
between them they coaxed her into the motor; after which they all managed
to squeeze themselves in--that is, all except Dickie, who sat by the
driver in order to guide the innocent Burton.


3


At Le Narcisse they surprised what at first appeared to be the most
prosaic of family parties. It was late, yet the mean room was empty of
clients, for Le Narcisse seldom opened its eyes until midnight had chimed
from the church docks of Paris. Seated at a table with a red and white
cloth were the Patron and a lady with a courtesy tide. 'Madame,' she was
called. And with them was a girl, and a handsome young man with severely
plucked eyebrows. Their relationship to each other was...well...all the
same, they suggested a family party. As Stephen pushed open the shabby
swing door, they were placidly engaged upon playing belote.

The walls of the room were hung with mirrors thickly painted with cupids,
thickly sullied by flies. A faint blend of odours was wafted from the
kitchen which stood in proximity to the toilet. The host rose at once and
shook hands with his guests. Every bar had its social customs, it seemed.
At the Ideal one must share Monsieur Pujol's lewd jokes; at Le Narcisse
one must gravely shake hands with the Patron.

The Patron was tall and exceedingly thin--a clean-shaven man with the
mouth of an ascetic. His cheeks were delicately tinted with rouge, his
eyelids delicately shaded with kohl; but the eyes themselves were an
infantile blue, reproachful and rather surprised in expression.

For the good of the house, Dickie ordered champagne; it was warm and
sweet and unpleasantly heady. Only Jeanne and Mary and Dickie herself had
the courage to sample this curious beverage. Wanda stuck to her brandy
and Pat to her beer, while Stephen drank coffee; but Valérie Seymour
caused some confusion by gently insisting on a lemon squash--to be made
with fresh lemons. Presently the guests began to arrive in couples.
Having seated themselves at the tables, they quickly became oblivious to
the world, what with the sickly champagne and each other. From a hidden
recess there emerged a woman with a basket full of protesting roses. The
stout vendeuse wore a wide wedding ring--for was she not a most virtuous
persona But her glance was both calculating and shrewd as she pounced
upon the more obvious couples; and Stephen watching her progress through
the room, felt suddenly ashamed on behalf of the roses. And now at a nod
from the host there was music; and now at a bray from the band there was
dancing. Dickie and Wanda opened the ball--Dickie stodgy and firm, Wanda
rather unsteady. Others followed. Then Mary leant over the table and
whispered:

'Won't you dance with me, Stephen?'

Stephen hesitated, but only for a moment. Then she got up abruptly and
danced with Mary.

The handsome young man with the tortured eyebrows was bowing politely
before Valérie Seymour. Refused by her, he passed on to Pat, and to
Jeanne's great amusement was promptly accepted.

Brockett arrived and sat down at the table. He was in his most prying and
cynical humour. He watched Stephen with coldly observant eyes, watched
Dickie guiding the swaying Wanda, watched Pat in the arms of the handsome
young man, watched the whole bumping, jostling crowd of dancers.

The blended odours were becoming more active. Brockett lit a cigarette.
'Well, Valérie, darling? You look like an outraged Elgin marble. Be kind,
dear, be kind; you must live and let live, this is life...' And he waved
his soft, white hands. 'Observe it--it's very wonderful, darling. This is
life, love, defiance, emancipation!'

Said Valérie with her calm little smile: 'I think I preferred it when we
were all martyrs!'

The dancers drifted back to their seats and Brockett manoeuvred to sit
beside Stephen. 'You and Mary dance well together,' he murmured. 'Are you
happy? Are you enjoying yourselves?'

Stephen, who hated this inquisitive mood, this mood that would feed upon
her emotions, turned away as she answered him, rather coldly: 'Yes,
thanks--we're not having at all a bad evening.'

And now the Patron was standing by their table; bowing slightly to
Brockett he started singing. His voice was a high and sweet baritone; his
song was of love that must end too soon, of life that in death is
redeemed by ending. An extraordinary song to hear in such a
place--melancholy and very sentimental. Some of the couples had tears in
their eyes--tears that had probably sprung from champagne quite as much
as from that melancholy singing. Brockett ordered a fresh bottle to
console the Patron. Then he waved him away with a gesture of impatience.

There ensued more dancing, more ordering of drinks, more dalliance by the
amorous couples. The Patron's mood changed, and now he must sing songs
of the lowest boites in Paris. As he sang he skipped like a performing
dog, grimacing, beating time with his hands, conducting the chorus that
rose from the tables.

Brockett sighed as he shrugged his shoulders in disgust, and once again
Stephen glanced at Mary; but Mary, she saw, had not understood that song
with its inexcusable meaning. Valérie was talking to Jeanne Maurel,
talking about her villa at St. Tropez; talking of the garden, the sea,
the sky, the design she had drawn for a green marble fountain. Stephen
could hear her charming voice, so cultured, so cool--itself cool as a
fountain; and she marvelled at this woman's perfect poise, the genius she
possessed for complete detachment; Valérie had closed her ears to that
song, and not only her ears but her mind and spirit.

The place was becoming intolerably hot, the room too over-crowded for
dancing. Lids drooped, mouths sagged, heads lay upon shoulders--there was
kissing, much kissing at a table in the corner. The air was foetid with
drink and all the rest; unbreathable it appeared to Stephen. Dickie
yawned an enormous uncovered yawn; she was still young enough to feel
rather sleepy. But Wanda was being seduced by her eyes, the lust of the
eye was heavy upon her, so that Pat must shake a lugubrious head and
begin to murmur anent General Custer.

Brockett got up and paid the bill; he was sulky, it seemed, because
Stephen had snubbed him. He had not spoken for quite half an hour, and
refused point-blank to accompany them further. 'I'm going home to my bed,
thanks--good morning,' he said crossly, as they crowded into the motor.

They drove to a couple more bars, but at these they remained for only a
few minutes. Dickie said they were dull and Jeanne Maurel agreed--she
suggested that they should go on to Alec's.

Valérie lifted an eyebrow and groaned. She was terribly bored, she was
terribly hungry. 'I do wish I could get some cold chicken,' she murmured.


4


As long as she lived Stephen never forgot her first impressions of the
bar known as Alec's--that meeting-place of the most miserable of all
those who comprised the miserable army. That merciless, drug-dealing,
death-dealing haunt to which flocked the battered remnants of men whom
their fellow-men had at last stamped under; who, despised of the world,
must despise themselves beyond all hope, it seemed, of salvation. There
they sat, closely herded together at the tables, creatures shabby yet
tawdry, timid yet defiant--and their eyes, Stephen never forgot their
eyes, those haunted, tormented eyes of the invert.

Of all ages, all degrees of despondency, all grades of mental and
physical ill-being, they must yet laugh shrilly from time to time, must
yet tap their feet to the rhythm of music, must yet dance together in
response to the band--and that dance seemed the Dance of Death to
Stephen. On more than one hand was a large, ornate ring, on more than one
wrist a conspicuous bracelet; they wore jewellery that might only be worn
by these men when they thus gathered together. At Alec's they could dare
to give way to such tastes--what was left of themselves they became at
Alec's.

Bereft of all social dignity, of all social charts contrived for man's
guidance, of the fellowship that by right divine should belong to each
breathing, living creature; abhorred, spat upon, from their earliest days
the prey to a ceaseless persecution, they were now even lower than their
enemies knew, and more hopeless than the veriest dregs of creation. For
since all that to many of them had seemed fine, a fine selfless and at
times even noble emotion, had been covered with shame, called unholy and
vile, so gradually they themselves had sunk down to the level upon which
the world placed their emotions. And looking with abhorrence upon these
men, drink-sodden, doped as were only too many, Stephen yet felt that
some terrifying thing stalked abroad in that unhappy room at Alec's;
terrifying because if there were a God His anger must rise at such vast
injustice. More pitiful even than her lot was theirs, and because of them
mighty should be the world's reckoning.

Alec the tempter, the vendor of dreams, the dispenser of illusions whiter
than snow; Alec, who sold little packets of cocaine for large bundles of
notes, was now opening wine, with a smile and a flourish, at the
next-door table.

He set down the bottle: 'Et voilà, mes filles!'

Stephen looked at the men; they seemed quite complacent.

Against the wall sat a bald, flabby man whose fingers crept over an amber
chaplet. His lips moved; God alone knew to whom he prayed, and God alone
knew what prayers he was praying--horrible he was, sitting there all
alone with that infamous chaplet between his fingers.

The band struck up a one-step. Dickie still danced, but with Pat, for
Wanda was now beyond dancing. But Stephen would not dance, not among
these men, and she laid a restraining hand upon Mary. Despite her sense
of their terrible affliction, she could not dance in this place with
Mary.

A youth passed with a friend and the couple were blocked by the press of
dancers in front of her table. He bent forward, this youth, until his
face was almost on a level with Stephen's--a grey, drug-marred face with
a mouth that trembled incessantly.

'Ma soeur,' he whispered.

For a moment she wanted to strike that face with her naked fist, to
obliterate it. Then all of a sudden she perceived the eyes and the memory
came of a hapless creature, distracted, bleeding from bursting lungs,
hopelessly pursued, glancing this way, then that, as though looking for
something, some refuge, some hope--and the thought: 'It's looking for God
who made it.'

Stephen shivered and stared at her tightly clenched hands; the nails
whitened her flesh. 'Mon frère,' she muttered.

And now someone was making his way through the crowd, a quiet, tawny man
with the eyes of the Hebrew; Adolphe Blanc, the gentle and learned Jew,
sat down in Dickie's seat beside Stephen. And he patted her knee as
though she were young, very young and in great need of consolation.

'I have seen you for quite a long time, Miss Gordon. I've been sitting
just over there by the window.' Then he greeted the others, but the
greeting over he appeared to forget their very existence; he had come, it
seemed, only to talk to Stephen.

He said: 'This place--these poor men, they have shocked you. I've been
watching you in between the dances. They are terrible, Miss Gordon,
because they are those who have fallen but have not risen again--there is
surely no sin so great for them, so unpardonable as the sin of despair;
yet as surely you and I can forgive...

She was silent, not knowing what she should answer.

But he went on, in no way deterred by her silence. He spoke softly, as
though for her ears alone, and yet as a man might speak when consumed by
the flame of some urgent and desperate mission. 'I am glad that you have
come to this place, because those who have courage have also a duty.'

She nodded without comprehending his meaning.

'Yes, I am glad that you have come here,' he repeated. 'In this little
room, tonight, every night, there is so much misery, so much despair,
that the walls seem almost too narrow to contain it--many have grown
callous, many have grown vile, but these things in themselves are
despair, Miss Gordon. Yet outside there are happy people who sleep the
sleep of the so-called just and righteous. When they wake it will be to
persecute those who, through no fault of their own, have been set apart
from the day of their birth, deprived of all sympathy, all understanding.
They are thoughtless, these happy people who sleep--and who is there to
make them think, Miss Gordon?'

'They can read,' she stammered, 'there are many books...'

But he shook his head. 'Do you think they are students? Ah, but no, they
will not read medical books; what do such people care for the doctors?
And what doctor can know the entire truth? Many times they meet only the
neurasthenics, those of us for whom life has proved too bitter. They are
good, these doctors--some of them very good; they work hard trying to
solve our problem, but half the time they must work in the dark--the
whole truth is known only to the normal invert. The doctors cannot make
the ignorant think, cannot hope to bring home the sufferings of millions;
only one of ourselves can some day do that.... It will need great courage
but it will be done, because all things must work toward ultimate good;
there is no real wastage and no destruction.' He lit a cigarette and
stared thoughtfully at her for a moment or two. Then he touched her hand.
'Do you comprehend? There is no destruction.'

She said: 'When one comes to a place like this, one feels horribly sad
and humiliated. One feels that the odds are too heavily against any real
success, any real achievement. Where so many have failed who can hope to
succeed? Perhaps this is the end.'

Adolphe Blanc met her eyes. 'You are wrong, very wrong--this is only the
beginning. Many die, many kill their bodies and souls, but they cannot
kill the justice of God, even they cannot kill the eternal spirit. From
their very degradation that spirit will rise up to demand of the world
compassion and justice.'

Strange--this man was actually speaking her thoughts, yet again she fell
silent, unable to answer.

Dickie and Pat came back to the table, and Adolphe Blanc slipped quietly
away; when Stephen glanced round his place was empty, nor could she
perceive him crossing the room through the press and maze of those
terrible dancers.


5


Dickie went sound asleep in the car with her head against Pat's
inhospitable shoulder. When they got to her hotel she wriggled and
stretched. 'Is it...is it time to get up?' she murmured.

Next came Valérie Seymour and Jeanne Maurel to be dropped at the flat on
the Quai Voltaire; then Pat who lived a few streets away, and last but
not least the drunken Wanda. Stephen had to lift her out of the car and
then get her upstairs as best she could, assisted by Burton and followed
by Mary. It took quite a long time, and arrived at the door, Stephen must
hunt for a missing latchkey.

'When they finally got home, Stephen sank into a chair. 'Good Lord, what
a night--it was pretty awful.' She was filled with the deep depression
and disgust that are apt to result from such excursions.

But Mary pretended to a callousness that in truth she was very far from
feeling, for life had not yet dulled her finer instincts; so far it had
only aroused her anger. She yawned. 'Well, at least we could dance
together without being thought freaks; there was something in that.
Beggars can't be choosers in this world, Stephen!'



Chapter Forty-nine


1


On a fine June day Adèle married her Jean in the church of
Notre-Dame-des-Victoires--the shrine of innumerable candles and prayers,
of the bountiful Virgin who bestows many graces. From early dawn the
quiet old house in the Rue Jacob had been in a flutter--Pauline preparing
the déjeuner de noces, Pierre garnishing and sweeping their sitting-room,
and both of them pausing from time to time to embrace the flushed cheeks
of their happy daughter.

Stephen had given the wedding dress, the wedding breakfast and a sum of
money; Mary had given the bride her lace veil, her white satin shoes and
her white silk stockings; David had given a large gilt clock, purchased
for him in the Palais Royal; while Burton's part was to drive the bride
to the church, and the married pair to the station.

By nine o'clock the whole street was agog, for Pauline and Pierre were
liked by their neighbours; and besides, as the baker remarked to his
wife, from so grand a house it would be a fine business.

'They are after all generous, these English,' said he; 'and if
Mademoiselle Gordon is strange in appearance, one should not forget that
she served la France and must now wear a scar as well as ribbon.' Then
remembering his four sons slain in the war, he sighed--sons are sons to a
king or a baker.

David, growing excited, rushed up and downstairs with offers to help
which nobody wanted, least of all the flustered and anxious bride at the
moment of putting on tight satin slippers.

'Va donc! Tu ne peux pas m'aider, mon chou, veux to to taire, alors!'
implored Adèle.

In the end Mary had had to find collar and lead and tie David up to the
desk in the study, where he brooded and sucked his white satin bow,
deciding that only the four-legged were grateful. But at long last Adèle
was arrayed to be wed, and must show herself shyly to Mary and Stephen.
She looked very appealing with her good honest face; with her round,
bright eyes like those of a blackbird. Stephen wished her well from the
bottom of her heart, this girl who had waited so long for her mate--had
so patiently and so faithfully waited.


2


In the church were a number of friends and relations; together with those
who will journey for miles in order to attend a funeral or wedding. Poor
Jean looked his worst in a cheap dress suit, and Stephen could smell the
pomade on his hair; very greasy and warm it smelt, although scented. But
his hand was unsteady as he groped for the ring, because he was feeling
both proud and humble; because, loving much, he must love even more and
conceive of himself as entirely unworthy. And something in that fumbling,
unsteady hand, in that sleekly greased hair and those ill-fitting
garments, touched Stephen, so that she longed to reassure, to tell him
how great was the gift he offered--security, peace, and love with honour.

The young priest gravely repeated the prayers--ancient, primitive
prayers, yet softened through custom. In her mauve silk dress Pauline
wept as she knelt; but Pierre's handkerchief was spread out on the stool
to preserve the knees of his new grey trousers. Next to Stephen were
sitting Pauline's two brothers, one in uniform, the other retired and in
mufti, but both wearing medals upon their breasts and thus worthily
representing the army. The baker was there with his wife and three
daughters, and since the latter were still unmarried, their eyes were
more often fixed upon Jean in his shoddy dress suit than upon their
Missals. The greengrocer accompanied the lady whose chickens it was
Pauline's habit to prod on their breastbones; while the cobbler who
mended Pierre's boots and shoes sat ogling the buxom and comely young
laundress.

The Mass drew to its close. The priest asked that a blessing might be
accomplished upon the couple; asked that these two might live to behold,
not only their own but their children's children, even unto the third and
fourth generation. Then he spoke of their duty to God and to each other,
and finally moistened their bowed young heads with a generous sprinkling
of holy water. And so in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires--that
bountiful Virgin who bestows many graces--Jean and his Adèle were made
one flesh in the eyes of their church, in the eyes of their God, and as
one might confront the world without flinching.

Ann in arm they passed out through the heavy swing doors and into
Stephen's waiting motor. Burton smiled above the white favour in his
coat; the crowd, craning their necks, were also smiling. Arrived back at
the house, Stephen, Mary and Burton must drink the health of the bride
and bridegroom. Then Pierre thanked his employer for all she had done in
giving his daughter so splendid a wedding. But when that employer was no
longer present, when Mary had followed her into the study, the baker's
wife lifted quizzical eyebrows.

'Quel type! On dirait plutôt un homme; ce n'est pas celle-là qui trouvera
un mari!'

The guests laughed. 'Mais oui, elle est joliment bizarre'; and they
started to make little jokes about Stephen.

Pierre flushed as he leaped to Stephen's defence. 'She is good, she is
kind, and I greatly respect her and so does my wife--while as for our
daughter, Adèle here has very much cause to be grateful. Moreover she
gained the Croix de Guerre through serving our wounded men in the
trenches.'

The baker nodded. 'You are quite right, my friend--precisely what I
myself said this morning.'

But Stephen's appearance was quickly forgotten in the jollification of so
much fine feasting--a feasting for which her money had paid, for which
her thoughtfulness had provided. Jokes there were, but no longer directed
at her--they were harmless, well meant if slightly broad jokes made at
the expense of the bashful bridegroom. Then before even Pauline had
realized the time, there was Burton strolling into the kitchen, and Adèle
must rush off to change her dress, while Jean must change also, but in
the pantry.

Burton glanced at the clock. Faut dépêcher vous, 'urry, if you're going
to catch that chemin de fer,' he announced as one having authority. 'It's
a goodish way to the Guard de Lions.'


3


That evening the old house seemed curiously thoughtful and curiously sad
after all the merry-making. David's second white bow had come untied and
was hanging in two limp ends from his collar. Pauline had gone to church
to light candles; Pierre, together with Pauline's niece who would take
Adèle's place, was preparing dinner. And the sadness of the house flowed
out like a stream to mingle itself with the sadness in Stephen. Adèle and
Jean, the simplicity of it...they loved, they married, and after a while
they would care for each other all over again, renewing their youth and
their love in their children. So orderly, placid and safe it seemed, this
social scheme evolved from creation; this guarding of two young and
ardent lives for the sake of the lives that might follow after. A
fruitful and peaceful road it must be. The same road had been taken by
those founders of Morton who had raised up children from father to son,
from father to son until the advent of Stephen; and their blood was her
blood--what they had found good in their day seemed equally good to their
descendant. Surely never was outlaw more law-abiding at heart than this,
the last of the Gordons.

So now a great sadness took hold upon her, because she perceived both
dignity and beauty in the coming together of Adèle and Jean, very simply
and in accordance with custom. And this sadness mingling with that of the
house, widened into a flood that compassed Mary and through her David,
and they both went and sat very close to Stephen on the study divan. As
the twilight gradually merged into dusk, these three must huddle even
closer together--David with his head upon Mary's lap, Mary with her head
against Stephen's shoulder.



Chapter Fifty


1


Stephen ought to have gone to England that summer; at Morton there had
been a change of agent, and once again certain questions had arisen which
required her careful personal attention. But time had not softened Anna's
attitude to Mary, and time had not lessened Stephen's
exasperation--the more so as Mary no longer hid the bitterness that she
felt at this treatment. So Stephen tackled the business by writing a
number of long and wearisome letters, unwilling to set foot again in the
house where Mary Llewellyn would not be welcome. But as always the
thought of England wounded, bringing with it the old familiar
longing--homesick she would feel as she sat at her desk writing those
wearisome business letters. For even as Jamie must crave for the grey,
wind-swept street and the wind-swept uplands of Beedles, so Stephen must
crave for the curving hills, for the long green hedges and pastures of
Morton. Jamie openly wept when such moods were upon her, but the easement
of tears was denied to Stephen.

In August Jamie and Barbara joined them in a villa that Stephen had taken
at Houlgate. Mary hoped that the bathing would do Barbara good; she was
not at all well. Jamie worried about her. And indeed the girl had grown
very frail, so frail that the housework now tried her sorely; when alone
she must sit down and hold her side for the pain that was never mentioned
to Jamie. Then too, all was not well between them these days; poverty,
even hunger at times, the sense of being unwanted outcasts, the knowledge
that the people to whom they belonged--good and honest people--both
abhorred and despised them, such things as these had proved very bad
housemates for sensitive souls like Barbara and Jamie.

Large, helpless, untidy and intensely forlorn, Jamie would struggle to
finish her opera; but quite often these days she would tear up her work,
knowing that what she had written was unworthy. When this happened she
would sigh and peer round the studio, vaguely conscious that something
was not as it had been, vaguely distressed by the dirt of the place to
which she herself had helped to contribute--Jamie, who had never before
noticed dirt, would feel aggrieved by its noxious presence. Getting up
she would wipe the keys of the piano with Barbara's one clean towel
dipped in water.

'Can't play,' she would grumble, 'these keys are all sticky.' 'Oh,
Jamie--my towel--go and fetch the duster!'

The quarrel that ensued would start Barbara's cough, which in turn would
start Jamie's nerves vibrating. Then compassion, together with
unreasoning anger and a sudden uprush of sex-frustration, would make her
feel wellnigh beside herself--since owing to Barbara's failing health,
these two could be lovers now in name only. And this forced abstinence
told on Jamie's work as well as her nerves, destroying her music, for
those who maintain that the North is cold, might just as well tell us
that hell is freezing. Yet she did her best, the poor uncouth creature,
to subjugate the love of the flesh to the pure and more selfless love of
the spirit--the flesh did not have it all its own way with Jamie.

That summer she made a great effort to talk, to unburden herself when
alone with Stephen; and Stephen tried hard to console and advise, while
knowing that she could help very little. All her offers of money to ease
the strain were refused pointblank, sometimes almost with rudeness--she
felt very anxious indeed about Jamie.

Mary in her turn was deeply concerned; her affection for Barbara had
never wavered, and she sat for long hours in the garden with the girl who
seemed too weak to bathe, and whom walking exhausted.

'Let us help,' she pleaded, stroking Barbara's thin hand, 'after all,
we're much better off than you are. Aren't you two like ourselves? Then
why mayn't we help?'

Barbara slowly shook her head: 'I'm all right--please don't talk about
money to Jamie.'

But Mary could see that she was far from all tight; the warm weather was
proving of little avail, even care and good food and sunshine and rest
seemed unable to ease that incessant coughing.

'You ought to see a specialist at once,' she told Barbara rather sharply
one morning.

But Barbara shook her head yet again: 'Don't, Mary--don't please...you'll
be frightening Jamie.'


2


After their return to Paris in the autumn, Jamie sometimes joined the
nocturnal parties; going rather grimly from bar to bar, and drinking too
much of the crême-de-menthe that reminded her of the bull's-eyes at
Beedles. She had never cared for these parties before, but now she was
clumsily trying to escape, for a few hours at least, from the pain of
existence. Barbara usually stayed at home or spent the evening with
Stephen and Mary. But Stephen and Mary would not always be there, for now
they also went out fairly often; and where was there to go to except the
bars? Nowhere else could two women dance together without causing comment
and ridicule, without being looked upon as freaks, argued Mary. So rather
than let the girl go without her, Stephen would lay aside her work--she
had recently started to write her fourth novel.

Sometimes, it is true, their friends came to them, a less sordid and far
less exhausting business; but even at their own house the drink was too
free: 'We can't be the only couple to refuse to give people a brandy and
soda,' said Mary. 'Valérie's parties are awfully dull; that's because
she's allowed herself to grow cranky!'

And thus, very gradually just at first, Mary's finer perceptions began to
coarsen.


3


The months passed, and now more than a year had slipped by, yet Stephen's
novel remained unfinished; for Mary's face stood between her and her
work--surely the mouth and the eyes had hardened?

Still unwilling to let Mary go without her, she dragged wearily round to
the bars and cafés, observing with growing anxiety that Mary now drank as
did all the others--not too much perhaps, but quite enough to give her a
cheerful outlook on existence.

The next morning she was often deeply depressed, in the grip of a rather
tearful reaction: 'It's too beastly--why do we do it?' she would ask.

And Stephen would answer: 'God knows I don't want to, but I won't let you
go to such places without me. Can't we give it all up? It's appallingly
sordid!'

Then Mary would flare out with sudden anger, her mood changing as she
felt a slight tug on the bridle. Were they to have no friends? she would
ask. Were they to sit still and let the world crush them? If they were
reduced to the bars of Paris, whose fault was that? Not hers and not
Stephen's. Oh, no, it was the fault of the Lady Annas and the Lady
Masseys who had closed their doors, so afraid were they of contamination.

Stephen would sit with her head on her hand, searching her sorely
troubled mind for some ray of light, some adequate answer.


4


That winter Barbara fell very ill. Jamie rushed round to the house one
morning, hatless, and with deeply, tormented eyes: 'Mary, please
come--Barbara can't get up, it's a pain in her side. Oh, my God--we
quarrelled...' Her voice was shrill and she spoke very fast:
'Listen--last night--there was snow on the ground, it was cold--I was
angry...I can't remember...but I know I was angry--I get like that. She
went out--she stayed out for quite two hours, and when she came back she
was shivering so. Oh, my God, but why did we quarrel, whatever? She can't
move; it's an awful pain in her side...

Stephen said quietly: 'We'll come almost at once, but first I'm going to
ring up my own doctor.'


5


Barbara was lying in the tiny room with the eye-shaped window that would
not open. The stove had gone out in the studio, and the air was heavy
with cold and dampness. On the piano lay some remnants of manuscript
music torn up on the previous evening by Jamie.

Barbara opened her eyes: 'Is that you, my bairn?'

They had never heard Barbara call her that before--the great, lumbering,
big-boned, long-legged Jamie.

'Yes, it's me.'

'Come here close...' The voice drifted away.

'I'm here--oh, I'm here! I've got hold of your hand. Look at me, open
your eyes again--Barbara, listen, I'm here--don't you feel me?'

Stephen tried to restrain the shrill, agonized voice: 'Don't speak so
loud, Jamie, perhaps she's sleeping,' but she knew very well that this
was not so; the girl was not sleeping now, but unconscious.

Mary found some fuel and lighted the stove, then she started to tidy the
disordered studio. Flakes of flue lay here and there on the floor; thick
dust was filming the top of the piano. Barbara had been waging a losing
fight--strange that so mean a thing as this dust should, in the end, have
been able to conquer. Food there was none, and putting on her coat Mary
finally went forth in quest of milk and other things likely to come in
useful. At the foot of the stairs she was met by the concierge; the woman
looked glum, as though deeply aggrieved by this sudden and very
unreasonable illness. Mary thrust some money into her hand, then hurried
away intent on her shopping.

When she returned the doctor was there; he was talking very gravely to
Stephen: 'It's double pneumonia, a pretty bad case--the girl's heart's
so weak. I'll send in a nurse. What about the friend, will she be any
good?'

'I'll help with the nursing if she isn't,' said Mary.

Stephen said: 'You do understand about the bills--the nurse and all
that?'

The doctor nodded.

They forced Jamie to eat: 'For Barbara's sake...Jamie, we're with you,
you're not alone, Jamie.'

She peered with her red-rimmed, short-sighted eyes, only half
understanding, but she did as they told her. Then she got up without so
much as a word, and went back to the room with the eye-shaped window.
Still in silence she squatted on the floor by the bed, like a dumb,
faithful dog who endured without speaking. And they let her alone, let
her have her poor way, for this was not their Calvary but Jamie's.

The nurse arrived, a calm, practical woman: 'You'd better lie down for a
bit,' she told Jamie, and in silence Jamie lay down on the floor.

'No, my dear--please go and lie down in the studio.'

She got up slowly to obey this new voice, lying down, with her face to
the wall, on the divan.

The nurse turned to Stephen: 'Is she a relation?'

Stephen hesitated, then she shook her head.

'That's a pity, in a serious case like this I'd like to be in touch with
some relation, someone who has a right to decide things. You know what I
mean--it's double pneumonia.'

Stephen said dully: 'No--she's not a relation.'

'Just a friend?' the nurse queried.

'Just a friend,' muttered Stephen.


6


They went back that evening and stayed the night. Mary helped with the
nursing; Stephen looked after Jamie.

'Is she a little--I mean the friend--is she mental at all, do you know?'
The nurse whispered, 'I can't get her to speak--she's anxious, of course;
still, all the same, it doesn't seem natural.'

Stephen said: 'No--it doesn't seem natural to you.' And she suddenly
flushed to the roots of her hair. Dear God, the outrage of this for
Jamie!

But Jamie seemed quite unconscious of outrage. From time to time she
stood in the doorway peering over at Barbara's wasted face, listening to
Barbara's painful breathing, and then she would turn her bewildered eyes
on the nurse, on Mary, but above all on Stephen.

'Jamie--come back and sit down by the stove; Mary's there, it's all
right.'

Came a queer, halting voice that spoke with an effort:
'But...Stephen...we quarrelled.'

'Come and sit by the stove--Mary's with her, my dear.'

'Hush, please,' said the nurse, 'you're disturbing my patient.'


7


Barbara's fight against death was so brief that it hardly seemed in the
nature of a struggle. Life had left her no strength to repel this last
foe--or perhaps it was that to her he seemed friendly. Just before her
death she kissed Jamie's hand and tried to speak, but the words would not
come--those words of forgiveness and love for Jamie.

Then Jamie flung herself down by the bed, and she clung there, still in
that uncanny silence. Stephen never knew how they got her away while the
nurse performed the last merciful duties.

But when flowers had been placed in Barbara's hands, and Mary had lighted
a couple of candles, then Jamie went back and stared quietly down at the
small, waxen face that lay on the pillow; and she turned to the nurse:

'Thank you so much,' she said, 'I think you've done all that there is to
do--and now I suppose you'll want to be going?'

The nurse glanced at Stephen.

'It's all right, we'll stay. I think perhaps--if you don't mind, nurse ..

'Very well, it must be as you wish, Miss Gordon.'

When she had gone Jamie veered round abruptly and walked back into the
empty studio. Then all in a moment the floodgates gave way and she wept
and she wept like a creature demented. Bewailing the life of hardship and
exile that had sapped Barbara's strength and weakened her spirit;
bewailing the cruel dispensation of fate that had forced them to leave
their home in the Highlands; bewailing the terrible thing that is death
to those who, still loving, must look upon it. Yet all the exquisite pain
of this parting seemed as nothing to an anguish that was far more subtle:
'I can't mourn her without bringing shame on her name--I can't go back
home now and mourn her,' wailed Jamie; 'oh, and I want to go back to
Beedles, I want to be home among our own people--I want them to know how
much I loved her. Oh God, oh God! I can't even mourn her, and I want to
grieve for her home there in Beedles.'

What could they speak but inadequate words: 'Jamie, don't, don't! You
loved each other--isn't that something? Remember that, Jamie.' They could
only speak the inadequate words that are given to people on such
occasions.

But after a while the storm seemed to pass, Jamie seemed to grow suddenly
calm and collected: 'You two,' she said gravely, 'I want to thank you for
all you've been to Barbara and me.'

Mary started crying.

'Don't cry,' said Jamie.

The evening came. Stephen lighted the lamp, then she made up the stove
while Mary laid the supper. Jamie ate a little, and she actually smiled
when Stephen poured her out a weak whisky.

'Drink it, Jamie--it may help you to get some sleep.'

Jamie shook her head: 'I shall sleep without it--but I want to be left
alone tonight, Stephen.'

Mary protested but Jamie was firm: 'I want to be left alone with her,
please--you do understand that, Stephen, don't you?'

Stephen hesitated, then she saw Jamie's face; it was full of a new and
calm resolution: 'It's my right,' she was saying, 'I've a right to be
alone with the woman I love before they--take her.'

Jamie held the lamp to light them downstairs--her hand, Stephen thought,
seemed amazingly steady.


8


The next morning when they went to the studio quite early, they heard
voices coming from the topmost landing. The concierge was standing
outside Jamie's door, and with her was a young man, one of the tenants.
The concierge had tried the door; it was locked and no one made any
response to her knocking. She had brought Jamie up a cup of hot
coffee--Stephen saw it, the coffee had slopped into the saucer. Either
pity or the memory of Mary's large tips, had apparently touched the heart
of this woman.

Stephen hammered loudly: 'Jamie!' she called, and then again and again:
'Jamie! Jamie!'

The young man set his shoulder to a panel, and all the while he pushed he
was talking. He lived just underneath, but last night he was out, not
returning until nearly six this morning. He had heard that one of the
girls had died--the little one--she had always looked fragile.

Stephen added her strength to his; the woodwork was damp and rotten with
age, the lock suddenly gave and the door swung inwards.

Then Stephen saw: 'Don't come here--go back, Mary!' But Mary followed
them into the studio.

So neat, so amazingly neat it was for Jamie, she who had always been so
untidy, she who had always littered up the place with her large, awkward
person and shabby possessions, she who had always been Barbara's
despair...Just a drop or two of blood on the floor, just a neat little
hole low down in her left side. She must have fired upwards with great
foresight and skill--and they had not even known that she owned a
revolver!

And so Jamie who dared not go home to Beedles for fear of shaming the
woman she loved, Jamie who dared not openly mourn lest Barbara's name be
defiled through her mourning, Jamie had dared to go home to God--to trust
herself to His more perfect mercy, even as Barbara had gone home before
her.



Chapter Fifty


1


The tragic deaths of Barbara and Jamie cast a gloom over everyone who had
known them, but especially over Mary and Stephen. Again and again Stephen
blamed herself for having left Jamie on that fatal evening; if she had
only insisted upon staying, the tragedy might never have happened, she
might somehow have been able to impart to the girl the courage and
strength to go on living. But great as the shock undoubtedly was to
Stephen, to Mary it was even greater, for together with her very natural
grief, was a new and quite unexpected emotion, the emotion of fear. She
was suddenly afraid, and now this fear looked out of her eyes and crept
into her voice when she spoke of Jamie.

'To end in that way, to have killed herself; Stephen, it's so awful that
such things can happen--they were like you and me.' And then she would go
over every sorrowful detail of Barbara's last illness, every detail of
their finding of Jamie's body.

'Did it hurt, do you think, when she shot herself? When you shot that
wounded horse at the front, he twitched such a lot, I shall never forget
it--and Jamie was all alone that night, there was no one there to help in
her pain. It's all so ghastly; supposing it hurt her!'

Useless for Stephen to quote the doctor who had said that death had been
instantaneous; Mary was obsessed by the horror of the thing, and not only
its physical horror either, but by the mental and spiritual suffering
that must have strengthened the will to destruction.

Such despair,' she would say, 'such utter despair...and that was the end
of all their loving. I can't bear it!' And then she would hide her face
against Stephen's strong and protective shoulder.

Oh, yes, there was now little room for doubt, the whole business was
preying badly on Mary.

Sometimes strange, amorous moods would seize her, in which she must kiss
Stephen rather wildly: 'Don't let go of me, darling--never  let go. I'm
afraid; I think it's because of what's happened.'

Her kisses would awaken a swift response, and so in these days that were
shadowed by death, they dung very desperately to life with the passion
they had felt when first they were lovers, as though only by constantly
feeding the flame could they hope to ward off some unseen disaster.


2


At this time of shock, anxiety and strain, Stephen turned to Valérie
Seymour as many another had done before her. This woman's great calm in
the midst of storm was not only soothing but helpful to Stephen, so that
now she often went to the flat on the Quai Voltaire; often went there
alone, since Mary would seldom accompany her--for some reason she
resented Valérie Seymour. But in spite of this resentment Stephen must
go, for now an insistent urge was upon her, the urge to unburden her
weary mind of the many problems surrounding inversion. Like most inverts
she found a passing relief in discussing the intolerable situation; in
dissecting it ruthlessly bit by bit, even though she arrived at no
solution; but since Jamie's death it did not seem wise to dwell too much
on this subject with Mary. On the other hand, Valérie was now quite free,
having suddenly tired of Jeanne Maurel, and moreover she was always ready
to listen. Thus it was that between them a real friendship sprang up--a
friendship founded on mutual respect, if not always on mututal
understanding.

Stephen would again and again go over those last heart-rending days with
Barbara and Jamie, railing against the outrageous injustice that had led
to their tragic and miserable ending. She would clench her hands in a
kind of fury. How long was this persecution to continue? How long would
God sit still and endure this insult offered to His creation? How long
tolerate the preposterous statement that inversion was not a part of
nature? For since it existed what else could it be? All things that
existed were a part of nature!

But with equal bitterness she would speak of the wasted lives of such
creatures as Wanda, who, beaten down into the depths of the world, gave
the world the very excuse it was seeking for pointing at them an accusing
finger. Pretty bad examples they were, many of them, and yet--but for an
unforeseen accident of birth, Wanda might even now have been a great
painter.

And then she would discuss very different people whom she had been led to
believe existed; hard-working, honourable men and women, but a few of
them possessed of fine brains, yet lacking the courage to admit their
inversion. Honourable, it seemed, in all things save this that the world
had forced on them--this dishonourable lie whereby alone they could hope
to find peace, could hope to stake out a claim on existence. And always
these people must carry that lie like a poisonous asp pressed against
their bosoms; must unworthily hide and deny their love, which might well
be the finest thing about them.

And what of the women who had worked in the war--those quiet, gaunt women
she had seen about London? England had called them and they had come; for
once, unabashed, they had faced the daylight. And now because they were
not prepared to slink back and hide in their holes and corners, the very
public whom they had served was the first to turn round and spit upon
them; to cry: 'Away with this canker in our midst, this nest of
unrighteousness and corruption!' That was the gratitude they had received
for the work they had done out of love for England!

And what of that curious craving for religion which so often went hand in
hand with inversion? Many such people were deeply religious, and this
surely was one of their bitterest problems. They believed, and believing
they craved a blessing on what to some of them seemed very sacred--a
faithful and deeply devoted union. But the Church's blessing was not for
them. Faithful they might be, leading orderly lives, harming no one, and
yet the Church turned away; her blessings were strictly reserved for the
normal.

Then Stephen would come to the thing of all others that to her was the
most agonizing question. Youth, what of youth? Where could it turn for
its natural and harmless recreations? There was Dickie West and many more
like her, vigorous, courageous and kind-hearted youngsters; yet shut away
from so many of the pleasures that belonged by right to every young
creature--and more pitiful still was the lot of a girl who, herself being
normal, gave her love to an invert. The young had a right to their
innocent pleasures, a right to social companionship; had a right, indeed,
to resent isolation. But here, as in all the great cities of the world,
they were isolated until they went under; until, in their ignorance and
resentment, they turned to the only communal life that a world bent upon
their destruction had left them; turned to the worst elements of their
kind, to those who haunted the bars of Paris. Their lovers were helpless,
for what could they do? Empty-handed they were, having nothing to offer.
And even the tolerant normal were helpless--those who went to Valérie's
parties, for instance. If they had sons and daughters, they left them at
home; and considering all things, who could blame them While as for
themselves, they were far too old--only tolerant, no doubt because they
were ageing. They could not provide the frivolities for which youth had a
perfectly natural craving.

In spite of herself, Stephen's voice would tremble, and Valérie would
know that she was thinking of Mary.

Valérie would genuinely want to be helpful, but would find very little to
say that was consoling. It was hard on the young, she had thought so
herself, but some came through all right, though a few might go under.
Nature was trying to do her bit; inverts were being born in increasing
numbers, and after a while their numbers would tell, even with the fools
who still ignored Nature. They must just bide their time--recognition was
coming. But meanwhile they should all cultivate more pride, should learn
to be proud of their isolation. She found little excuse for poor fools
like Pat, and even less for drunkards like Wanda.

As for those who were ashamed to declare themselves, lying low for the
sake of a peaceful existence, she utterly despised such of them as had
brains; they were traitors to themselves and their fellows, she insisted.
For the sooner the world came to realize that fine brains very frequently
went with inversion, the sooner it would have to withdraw its ban, and
the sooner would cease this persecution. Persecution was always a hideous
thing, breeding hideous thoughts--and such thoughts were dangerous.

As for the women who had worked in the war, they had set an example to
the next generation, and that in itself should be a reward. She had heard
that in England many such women had taken to breeding dogs in the
country. Well, why not? Dogs were very nice people to breed. 'Plus je
commis les hommes, plus j'aime les chiens.' There were worse things than
breeding dogs in the country.

It was quite true that inverts were often religious, but churchgoing in
them was a form of weakness; they must be a religion unto themselves if
they felt that they really needed religion. As for blessings, they
profited the churches no doubt, apart from which they were just
superstition. But then of course she herself was a pagan, acknowledging
only the god of beauty; and since the whole world was so ugly these days,
she was only too thankful to let it ignore her. Perhaps that was
lazy--she was rather lazy. She had never achieved all she might have with
her writing. But humanity was divided into two separate classes, those
who did things and those who looked on at their doings. Stephen was one
of the kind that did things--under different conditions of environment
and birth she might very well have become a reformer.

They would argue for hours, these two curious friends whose points of
view were so widely divergent, and although they seldom if ever agreed,
they managed to remain both courteous and friendly.

Valérie seemed wellnigh inhuman at times, completely detached from all
personal interest. But one day she remarked to Stephen abruptly: 'I
really know very little about you, but this I do know--you're a bird of
passage, you don't belong to the life here in Paris.' Then as Stephen was
silent, she went on more gravely: 'You're rather a terrible combination;
you've the nerves of the abnormal with all that they stand for--you're
appallingly over-sensitive, Stephen--well, and then we get le revers de
la médaille; you've all the respectable county instincts of the man who
cultivates children and acres--any gaps in your fences would always
disturb you; one side of your mind is so aggressively tidy. I can't see
your future, but I feel you'll succeed; though I must say, of all the
improbable people...But supposing you could bring the two sides of your
nature into some sort of friendly amalgamation and compel them to serve
you and through you your work--well then I really don't see what's to
stop you. The question is can you ever bring them together?' She smiled.
'If you climb to the highest peak, Valérie Seymour won't be there to see
you. It's a charming friendship that we two have found, but it's passing,
like so many charming things; however, my dear, let's enjoy it while it
lasts, and...remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

Stephen said: 'When we first met I almost disliked you. I thought your
interest was purely scientific or purely morbid. I said so to Puddle--you
remember Puddle, I think you once met her. I want to apologize to you
now; to tell you how grateful I am for your kindness. You're so patient
when I come here and talk for hours, and it's such a relief: you'll never
know the relief it is to have someone to talk to.' She hesitated. You see
it's not fair to make Mary listen to all my worries--she's still pretty
young, and the road's damned hard...then there's been that horrible
business of Jamie.'

'Come as often as you feel like it,' Valérie told her; 'and if ever you
should want my help or advice, here I am. But do try to remember this:
even the world's not so black as it's painted.'



Chapter Fifty-two


1


One morning a very young cherry-tree that Mary herself had planted in the
garden was doing the must delightful things--it was pushing out leaves
and tight pink buds along the whole length of its childish branches.
Stephen made a note of it in her diary: 'Today Mary's cherry-tree started
to blossom.' This is why she never forgot the date on which she received
Martin Hallam's letter.

The letter had been redirected from Morton; she recognized Puddle's
scholastic handwriting. And the other writing--large, rather untidy but
with strong black down-strokes and firmly crossed t's--she stared at it
thoughtfully, puckering her brows, Surely that writing, too, was
familiar? Then she noticed a Paris postmark in the corner--that was
strange. She tore open the envelope.

Martin wrote very simply: Stephen, my dear. After all these years I am
sending you a letter, just in case you have not completely forgotten the
existence of a man called Martin Hallam.

'I've been in Paris for the past two months. I had to come across to have
my eye seen to; I stopped a bullet with my head here in France--it
affected the optic nerve rather badly. But the point is: if I Ely over to
England as I'm thinking of doing, may I come and see you? I'm a very poor
hand at expressing myself--can't do it at all when I put pen to paper--in
addition to which I'm feeling nervous because you've become such a
wonderful writer. But I do want to try and make you understand how
desperately I've regretted our friendship--that perfect early friendship
of ours seems to me now a thing well worth regretting. Believe me or not
I've thought of it for years; and the fault was all mine for not
understanding. I was just an ignorant cub in those days. Well, anyhow,
please will you see me, Stephen? I'm a lonely sort of fellow, so if
you're kind-hearted you'll invite me to motor down to Morton, supposing
you're there; and then if you like me, we'll take up our friendship just
where it left off. We'll pretend that we're very young again, walking
over the hills and jawing about life. Lord, what splendid companions we
were in those early days--like a couple of brothers!

'Do you think it's queer that I'm writing all this? It does seem queer,
yet I'd have written it before if I'd ever come over to stay in England;
but except when I rushed across to join up, I've pretty well stuck to
British Columbia. I don't even know exactly where you are, for I've not
met a soul who knows you for ages. I heard of your father's death of
course, and was terribly sorry--beyond that I've heard nothing; still, I
fancy I'm quite safe in sending this to Morton.

'I'm staying with my aunt, the Comtesse de Mirac; she's English, twice
married and once more a widow. She's been a perfect angel to me. I've
been staying with her ever since I came to Paris. Well, my dear, if
you've forgiven my mistake--and please say you have, we were both very
young--then write to me at Aunt Sarah's address, and if you write don't
forget to put "Passy". The posts are so erratic in France, and I'd hate
to think that they'd lost your letter. Your very sincere friend, MARTIN
HALLAM.'

Stephen glanced through the window. Mary was in the garden still admiring
her brave little cherry-tree; in a minute or two she would feed the
pigeons--yes, she was starting to cross the lawn to the shed in which she
kept pigeon-mixture--but presently she would be coming in. Stephen sat
down and began to think quickly.

Martin Hallam--he must be about thirty-nine. He had fought in the war and
been badly wounded--she had thought of him during that terrible advance,
the smitten trees had been a reminder...He must often have been very near
her then; he was very near now, just out at Passy, and he wanted to see
her; he offered his friendship.

She closed her eyes the better to consider, but now her mind must conjure
up pictures. A very young man at the Antrims' dance--oh, but very
young--with a bony face that glowed when he talked of the beauty of
trees, of their goodness...a tall, loose-limbed young man who slouched
when he walked, as though from much riding. The hills...winter hills
rust-coloured by bracken...Martin touching the ancient thorns with kind
fingers. 'Look, Stephen--the courage of these old fellows!' How clearly
she remembered his actual words after all these years, and her own she
remembered; 'You're the only real friend I've ever had except Father--our
friendship's so wonderful somehow...' And his answer: 'I know, a
wonderful friendship.' A great sense of companionship, of comfort--it had
been so good to have him beside her; she had liked his quiet and careful
voice, and his thoughtful blue eyes that moved rather slowly. He had
filled a real need that had always been hers and still was, a need for
the friendship of men--how very completely Martin had filled it,
until...But she resolutely closed her mind, refusing to visualize that
last picture. He knew now that it had been a ghastly mistake--he
understood--he practically said so. Could they take up their friendship
where they had left it? If only they could...

She got up abruptly and went to the telephone on her desk. Glancing at
his letter, she rang up a number.

'Hallo--yes?'

She recognized his voice at once.

'Is that you, Martin? It's Stephen speaking.'

Stephen...oh, I'm so glad! But where on earth are you?' 'At my house in
Paris-35, Rue Jacob.'

'But I don't understand, I thought...

'Yes, I know, but I've lived here for ages--since before the war. I've
just got your letter, sent back from England. Funny isn't it? Why not
come to dinner to-night if you're free--eight o'clock.'

'I say! May I really?'

'Of course...come and dine with my friend and me.' 'What number?'

'Thirty-five--3 5, Rue Jacob.'

'I'll be there on the actual stroke of eight!'

'That's right--good-bye, Martin.'

'Good-bye, and thanks, Stephen.'

She hung up the receiver and opened the window.

Mary saw her and called: 'Stephen, please speak to David. He's just
bitten off and swallowed a crocus! Oh, and do come here: the scyllas are
out, I never saw anything like their blueness. I think I shall go and
fetch my birds, it's quite warm in the sun over there by the wall. David,
stop it; will you get off that border!'

David wagged a bald but ingratiating tail. Then he thrust out his nose
and sniffed at the pigeons. Oh, hang it all, why should the coming of
spring be just one colossal smell of temptation! And why was there
nothing really exciting that a spaniel might do and yet remain lawful?

Sighing, he turned amber eyes of entreaty first on Stephen, and then on
his goddess, Mary.

She forgave him the crocus and patted his head. 'Darling, you get more
than a pound of raw meat for your dinner; you mustn't be so untruthful.
Of course you're not hungry--it was just pure mischief.'

He barked trying desperately hard to explain. 'It's the spring; it's got
into my blood, oh, Goddess! Oh, Gentle Purveyor of all Good Things, let
me dig till I've rooted up every damned crocus; just this once let me sin
for the joy of life, for the ancient and exquisite joy of sinning!'

But Mary shook her head. 'You must be a nice dog; and nice dogs never
look at white fantail pigeons, or walk on the borders, or bite off the
flowers--do they, Stephen?'

Stephen smiled. 'I'm afraid they don't, David.' Then she said: 'Mary,
listen--about this evening. I've just heard from a very old friend of
mine, a man called Hallam that I knew in England. He's in Paris; it's too
queer. He wrote to Morton and his letter has been sent back by Puddle.
I've rung him up, and he's coming to dinner. Better tell Pauline at once,
will you, darling?'

But Mary must naturally ask a few questions. What was he like? Where had
Stephen known him?--she had never mentioned a man called Hallam--where
had she known him, in London or at Morton?

And finally: 'How old were you when you knew him?'

'Let me think--I must have been just eighteen.'

'How old was he?'

'Twenty-two--very young--I only knew him for quite a short time; after
that he went back to British Columbia. But I liked him so much--we were
very great friends--so I'm hoping that you're going to like him too,
darling.'

'Stephen, you are strange. Why haven't you told me that you once had a
very great friend--a man? I've always thought that you didn't like men.'

'On the contrary, I like them very much. But I haven't seen Martin for
years and years. I've hardly ever thought about him until I got his
letter this morning. Now, sweetheart, we don't want the poor man to
starve--you really must go off and try to find Pauline.'

When she had gone Stephen rubbed her chin with thoughtful and rather
uncertain fingers.


2


He came. Amazing how little he had changed. He was just the same
clean-shaven, bony-faced Martin, with the slow blue eyes and the charming
expression, and the loose-limbed figure that slouched from much riding;
only now there were a few faint lines round his eyes, and the hair had
gone snow-white on his temples. Just beside the right temple was a deep
little scar--it must have been a near thing, that bullet.

He said: 'My dear, it is good to see you.' And he held Stephen's hand in
his own thin brown ones.

She felt the warm, friendly grip of his fingers, and the years dropped
away. 'I'm so glad you wrote, Martin.'

'So am I. I can't tell you how glad I am. And all the time we were both
in Paris, and we never knew. Well, now that I've found you, we'll cling
like grim death, if you don't mind, Stephen.'

As Mary came into the room they were laughing.

She looked less tired, Stephen thought with satisfaction, or perhaps it
was that her dress became her--she was always at her best in the evening.

Stephen said quite simply: 'This is Martin, Mary.'

They shook hands, and as they did so they smiled. Then they stared at
each other for a moment, almost gravely.

He proved to be wonderfully easy to talk to. He did not seem surprised
that Mary Llewellyn was installed as the mistress of Stephen's home; he
just accepted the thing as he found it. Yet he let it be tacitly
understood that he had grasped the exact situation.

After dinner Stephen inquired about his sight: was it badly injured? His
eyes looked so normal. Then he told them the history of the trouble at
full length, going into details with the confidence displayed by most
children and lonely people.

He had got his knock-out in 1918. The bullet had grazed the optic nerve.
At first he had gone to a base hospital, but as soon as he could he had
come to Paris to be treated by a very celebrated man. He had been in
danger of losing the sight of the right eye; it had scared him to death,
he told them. But after three months he had had to go home; things had
gone wrong on some of his farms owing to the mismanagement of a bailiff.
The oculist had warned him that the trouble might recur, that he ought to
have remained under observation. Well, it had recurred about four months
ago. He had got the wind up and rushed back to Paris. For three weeks he
had lain in a darkened room, not daring to think of the possible verdict.
Eyes were so tiresomely sympathetic: if the one went the other might
easily follow. But, thank God, it had proved to be less serious than the
oculist had feared. His sight was saved, but he had to go slow, and was
still under treatment. The eye would have to be watched for some time; so
here he was with Aunt Sarah at Passy.

'You must see my Aunt Sarah, you two; she's a darling. She's my father's
sister. I know you'll like her. She's become very French since her second
marriage, a little too Faubourg St. Germain perhaps, but so kind--I want
you to meet her at once. She's quite a well-known hostess at Passy.'

They talked on until well after twelve o'clock--very happy they were
together that evening, and he left with a promise to ring them up on the
following morning about lunch with Aunt Sarah. 'Well,' said Stephen,
'what do you think of my friend?'

'I think he's most awfully nice,' said Mary.


3


Aunt Sarah lived in the palatial house that a grateful second husband had
left her. For years she had borne with his peccadilloes, keeping her
temper and making no scandal. The result was that everything he possessed
apart from what had gone to her stepson--and the Comte de Mirac had been
very wealthy--had found its way to the patient Aunt Sarah. She was one of
those survivals who look upon men as a race of especially privileged
beings. Her judgment of women was more severe, influenced no doubt by the
ancien régime, for now she was even more French than the French whose
language she spoke like a born Parisian.

She was sixty-five, tall, had an aquiline nose, and her iron-grey hair
was dressed to perfection; for the rest she had Martin's slow blue eyes
and thin face, though she lacked his charming expression. She bred
Japanese spaniels, was kind to young girls who conformed in all things to
the will of their parents, was particularly gracious to good-looking men,
and adored her only surviving nephew. In her opinion he could do no
wrong, though she wished he would settle down in Paris. As Stephen and
Mary were her nephew's friends, she was pre-disposed to consider them
charming, the more so as the former's antecedents left little or nothing
to be desired, and her parents had shown great kindness to Martin. He had
told his aunt just what he wished her to know and not one word more about
the old days at Morton. She was therefore quite unprepared for Stephen.

Aunt Sarah was a very courteous old dame, and those who broke bread at
her table were sacred, at all events while they remained her guests. But
Stephen was miserably telepathic, and before the déjeuner was half-way
through she was conscious of the deep antagonism that she had aroused in
Martin's Aunt Sarah. Not by so much as a word or a look did the Comtesse
de Mirac betray her feelings; she was gravely polite, she discussed
literature as being a supposedly congenial subject, she praised Stephen's
books, and asked no questions as to why she was living apart from her
mother. Martin could have sworn that these two would be friends--but good
manners could not any more deceive Stephen.

And true it was that the Comtesse de Mirac saw in Stephen the type that
she most mistrusted, saw only an unsexed creature of pose, whose cropped
head and whose dress were pure affectation; a creature who aping the
prerogatives of men, had lost all the charm and grace of a woman. An
intelligent person in nearly all else, the Comtesse would never have
admitted of inversion as a fact in nature. She had heard things
whispered, it is true, but had scarcely grasped their full meaning. She
was innocent and stubborn; and this being so, it was not Stephen's morals
that she suspected, but her obvious desire to ape what she was not--in
the Comtesse's set, as at county dinners, there was firm insistence upon
sex-distinction.

On the other hand, she took a great fancy to Mary, whom she quickly
discovered to be an orphan. In a very short time she had learnt quite a
lot about Mary's life before the war and about her meeting with Stephen
in the Unit; had learnt also that she was quite penniless--since Mary was
eager that everyone should know that she owed her prosperity entirely to
Stephen.

Aunt Sarah secretly pitied the girl who must surely be living a dull
existence, bound, no doubt, by a false sense of gratitude to this
freakish and masterful-looking woman--pretty girls should find husbands
and homes of their own, and this one she considered excessively pretty.
Thus it was that while Mary in all loyalty and love was doing her best to
extol Stephen's virtues, to convey an impression of her own happiness, of
the privilege it was to serve so great a writer by caring for her house
and her personal needs, she was only succeeding in getting herself
pitied. But as good luck would have it, she was blissfully unconscious of
the sympathy that her words were arousing; indeed, she was finding it
very pleasant at Aunt Sarah's hospitable house in Passy.

As for Martin, he had never been very subtle, and just now he must
rejoice in a long-lost friendship--to him it appeared a delightful
luncheon. Even after the guests had said good-bye, he remained in the
very highest of spirits, for the Comtesse was capable of unexpected tact,
and while praising Mary's prettiness and charm, she was careful in no way
to disparage Stephen.

'Oh, yes, undoubtedly a brilliant writer, I agree with you, Martin.' And
so she did. But books were one thing and their scribes another; she saw
no reason to change her opinion with regard to this author's unpleasant
affectation, while she saw every reason to be tactful with her nephew.


4


On the drive home Mary held Stephen's hand. 'I enjoyed myself awfully,
didn't you? Only--' and she frowned; 'only will it last? I mean, we
mustn't forget Lady Massey. But he's so nice, and I liked the old
aunt...'

Stephen said firmly: Of course it will last.' Then she lied. 'I enjoyed
it very much too.'

And even as she lied she came to a resolve which seemed so strange that
she flinched a little, for never before since they had been lovers, had
she thought of this girl as apart from herself. Yet now she resolved that
Mary should go to Passy again--but should go without her. Sitting back in
the car she half closed her eyes; just at that moment she did not want to
speak lest her voice should betray that flinching to Mary.



Chapter Fifty-three


1

With Martin's return Stephen realized how very deeply she had missed him;
how much she still needed the thing he now offered, how long indeed she
had starved for just this--the friendship of a normal and sympathetic man
whose mentality being very much her own, was not only welcome but
reassuring. Yes, strange though it was, with this normal man she was far
more at ease than with Jonathan Brockett, far more at one with all his
ideas, and at times far less conscious of her own inversion; though it
seemed that Martin had not only read, but had thought a great deal about
the subject. He spoke very little of his studies, however, just accepting
her now for the thing that she was, without question, and accepting most
of her friends with a courtesy as innocent of patronage as of any
suspicion of morbid interest. And thus it was that in these first days
they appeared to have achieved a complete reunion. Only sometimes, when
Mary would talk to him freely as she did very often of such people as
Wanda, of the night life of the cafés and bars of Paris--most of which it
transpired he himself had been to--of the tragedy of Barbara and Jamie
that was never very far from her thoughts, even although a most perfect
spring was hurrying forwards towards the summer--when Mary would talk to
him of these things, Martin would look rather gravely at Stephen.

But now they seldom went to the bars, for Martin provided recreations
that were really much more to Mary's liking. Martin the kindly, the
thoroughly normal, seemed never at a loss as to what they should do or
where they should go when in search of pleasure. By now he knew Paris
extremely well, and the Paris he showed them during that spring came as a
complete revelation to Mary. He would often take them to dine in the
Bois. At the neighbouring tables would be men and women; neat, well
tailored men; pretty, smartly dressed women who laughed and talked very
conscious of sex and its vast importance--in a word, normal women. Or
perhaps they would go to Claridge's for tea or to Ciro's for dinner, and
then on to supper at an equally fashionable restaurant, of which Mary
discovered there were many in Paris. And although people still stared a
little at Stephen, Mary fancied that they did so much less, because of
the presence of Martin.

At such places of course, it was out of the question for a couple of
women to dance together, and yet everyone danced, so that in the end Mary
must get up and dance with Martin.

He had said: 'You don't mind, do you, Stephen?'

She had shaken her head: 'No, of course I don't mind.' And indeed she had
been very glad to know that Mary had a good partner to dance with.

But now when she sat alone at their table, lighting one cigarette after
another, uncomfortably conscious of the interest she aroused by reason of
her clothes and her isolation--when she glimpsed the girl in Martin's
arms, and heard her laugh for a moment in passing, Stephen would know a
queer tightening of her heart, as though a mailed fist had closed down
upon it. What was it? Good God, surely not resentment? Horrified she
would feel at this possible betrayal of friendship, of her fine, honest
friendship for Martin. And when they came back, Mary smiling and flushed,
Stephen would force herself to smile also.

She would say: 'I've been thinking how well you two dance--'

And when Mary once asked rather timidly: Are you sure you're not bored,
sitting there by yourself?'

Stephen answered: 'Don't be so silly, darling; of course I'm not
bored--go on dancing with Martin.'

But that night she took Mary in her arms--the relentless, compelling arms
of a lover.

On warm days they would all drive into the country, as Mary and she had
so frequently done during their first spring months in Paris. Very often
now it would be Barbizon, for Martin loved to walk in the forest. And
there he must start to talk about trees, his face glowing with its
curious inner light, while Mary listened half fascinated.

One evening she said: 'But these trees are so small--you make me long to
see real forests, Martin.'

David loved these excursions--he also loved Martin, not being exactly
disloyal to Stephen, but discerning in the man a more perfect thing, a
more entirely fulfilling companion. And this little betrayal, though
slight in it self; had the power to wound out of all proportion, so that
Stephen would feel very much as she had done when ignored years ago by
the swan called Peter. She had thought then: 'Perhaps he thinks I'm a
freak,' and now she must sometimes think the same thing as she watched
Martin hurling huge sticks for David--it was strange what a number of
ridiculous trifles had lately acquired the power to hurt her. And yet she
clung desperately to Martin's friendship, feeling herself to be all
unworthy if she harboured so much as a moment's doubt; indeed they both
loyally clung to their friendship.

He would beg her to accept his aunt's invitations, to accompany Mary when
she went to Passy:

'Don't you like the old thing? Mary likes her all right--why won't you
come? It's so mean of you, Stephen. It's not half as much fun when you're
not there.' He would honestly think that he was speaking the truth, that
the party or luncheon or whatever it might be, was not half as much fun
for him without Stephen.

But Stephen always made her work an excuse: 'My dear, I'm trying to
finish a novel. I seem to have been at it for years and years; it's
growing hoary like Rip Van Winkle.'


2


There were times when their friendship seemed well-nigh perfect, the
perfect thing that they would have it to be, and on such a day of
complete understanding, Stephen suddenly spoke to Martin about Morton.

They two were alone together in her study, and she said: There's
something I want to tell you--you must often have wondered why I left
home.'

He nodded: 'I've never quite liked to ask, because I know how you loved
the place, how you love it still...

'Yes, I love it,' she answered.

Then she let every barrier go down before him, blissfully conscious of
what she was doing. Not since Puddle had left her had she been able to
talk without restraint of her exile. And once launched she had not the
least wish to stop, but must tell him all, omitting no detail save one
that honour forbade her to give--she withheld the name of Angela Crossby.

'It's so terribly hard on Mary,' she finished; 'think of it, Mary's never
seen Morton; she's not even met Puddle in all these years! Of course
Puddle can't very well come here to stay--how can she and then go back to
Morton? And yet I want her to live with my mother...But the whole thing
seems so outrageous for Mary.' She went on to talk to him of her father:
'If my father had lived, I know he'd have helped me. He loved me so much,
and he understood--I found out that my father knew all about me, only--'
She hesitated, and then: 'Perhaps he loved me too much to tell me.'

Martin said nothing for quite a long time, and when he did speak it was
very gravely: 'Mary--how much does she know of all this?'

'As little as I could possibly tell her. She knows that I can't get on
with my mother, and that my mother won't ask her to Morton; but she
doesn't know that I had to leave home because of a woman, that I was
turned out--I've wanted to spare her all I could.'

'Do you think you were right?'

'Yes, a thousand times.'

'Well, only you can judge of that, Stephen.' He looked down at the
carpet, then he asked abruptly: 'Does she know about you and me, about ..

Stephen shook her head: 'No, she's no idea. She thinks you were just my
very good friend as you are to-day. I don't want her to know.'

'For my sake?' he demanded.

And she answered slowly: Well, yes, I suppose so...for your sake,
Martin.'

Then an unexpected, and to her very moving thing happened; his eyes
filled with pitiful tears: 'Lord,' he muttered, 'why need this have come
upon you--this incomprehensible dispensation? It's enough to make one
deny God's existence!'

She felt a great need to reassure him. At that moment he seemed so much
younger than she was as he stood there with his eyes full of pitiful
tears, doubting God, because of his human compassion: 'There are still
the trees. Don't forget the trees, Martin--because of them you used to
believe.'

'Have you come to believe in a God then?' he muttered.

'Yes,' she told him, 'it's strange, but I know now I must--lots of us
feel that way in the end. I'm not really religious like some of the
others, but I've got to acknowledge God's existence, though at times I
still think: "Can He really exist?" One can't help it, when one's seen
what I have here in Paris. But unless there's a God, where do some of us
find even the little courage we possess?'

Martin stared out of the window in silence.


3


Mary was growing gentle again; infinitely gentle she now was at times,
for happiness, makes for gentleness, and in these days Mary was strangely
happy. Reassured by the presence of Martin Hallam, reestablished in pride
and self-respect, she was able to contemplate the world without her
erstwhile sense of isolation, was able for the moment to sheathe her
sword, and this respite brought her a sense of well-being. She discovered
that at heart she was neither so courageous nor so defiant as she had
imagined, that like many another woman before her, she was well content
to feel herself protected; and gradually as the weeks went by, she began
to forget her bitter resentment.

One thing only distressed her, and this was Stephen's refusal to
accompany her when she went to Passy; she could not understand it, so
must put it down to the influence of Valérie Seymour who had met and
disliked Martin's aunt at one time, indeed the dislike, it seemed, had
been mutual. Thus the vague resentment that Valérie had inspired in the
girl, began to grow much less vague, until Stephen realized with a shock
of surprise that Mary was jealous of Valérie Seymour. But this seemed so
absurd and preposterous a thing, that Stephen decided it could only be
passing, nor did it loom very large in these days that were so fully
taken up by Martin. For now that his eyesight was quite restored he was
talking of going home in the autumn, and every free moment that he could
steal from his aunt, he wanted to spend with Stephen and Mary. When he
spoke of his departure, Stephen sometimes fancied that a shade of sadness
crept into Mary's face, and her heart misgave her, though she told
herself that naturally both of them would miss Martin. Then too, never
had Mary been more loyal and devoted, more obviously anxious to prove her
love by a thousand little acts of devotion. There would even be times
when by contrast her manner would appear abrupt and unfriendly to Martin,
when she argued with him over every trifle, backing up her opinion by
quoting Stephen--yes, in spite of her newly restored gentleness, these
were times when she would not be gentle with Martin. And these sudden and
unforeseen changes of mood would leave Stephen feeling uneasy and
bewildered, so that one night she spoke rather anxiously: 'Why were you
so beastly to Martin this evening?'

But Mary pretended not to understand her: 'How was I beastly? I was just
as usual.' And when Stephen persisted, Mary kissed her scar: 'Darling,
don't start working now, it's so late, and besides...

Stephen put away her work, then she suddenly caught the girl to her
roughly: 'How much do you love me? Tell me quickly, quickly!' Her voice
shook with something very like fear.

'Stephen, you're hurting me--don't, you're hurting! You know how I love
you--more than life.'

'You are my life...all my life,' muttered Stephen.



Chapter Fifty-four


1


FATE, which by now had them well in its grip, began to play the game out
more quickly. That summer they went to Pontresina since Mary had never
seen Switzerland; but the Comtesse must make a double cure, first at
Vichy and afterwards at Bagnoles de l'Orne, which fact left Martin quite
free to join them. Then it was that Stephen perceived for the first time
that all was not well with Martin Hallam.

Try as he might he could not deceive her, for this man was almost
painfully honest, and any deception became him so ill that it seemed to
stand out like a badly fitting garment. Yet now there were times when he
avoided her eyes, when he grew very silent and awkward with Stephen, as
though something inevitable and unhappy had obtruded itself upon their
friendship; something, moreover, that he feared to tell her. Then one day
in a blinding flash of insight she suddenly knew what this was--it was
Mary.

Like a blow that is struck full between the eyes, the thing stunned her,
so that at first she groped blindly. Martin, her friend...But what did it
mean? And Mary...The incredible misery of it if it were true. But was it
true that Martin Hallam had grown to love Mary? And the other thought,
more incredible still--had Mary in her turn grown to love Martin?

The mist gradually cleared; Stephen grew cold as steel, her perceptions
becoming as sharp as daggers--daggers that thrust themselves into her
soul, draining the blood from her innermost being. And she watched. To
herself she seemed all eyes and ears, a monstrous thing, a complete
degradation, yet endowed with an almost unbearable skill, with a subtlety
passing her own understanding.

And Martin was no match for this thing that was Stephen. He, the lover,
could not hide his betraying eyes from her eyes that were also those of a
lover; could not stifle the tone that crept into his voice at times when
he was talking to Mary. Since all that he felt was a part of herself, how
could he hope to hide it from Stephen? And he knew that she had
discovered the truth, while she in her turn perceived that he knew this,
yet neither of them spoke--in a deathly silence she watched, and in
silence he endured her watching.

It was rather a terrible summer for them all, the more so as they were
surrounded by beauty, and great peace when the evening came down on the
snows, turning the white, unfurrowed peaks to sapphire and then to a
purple darkness; hanging out large, incredible stars above the wide slope
of the Roseg Glacier. For their hearts were full of unspoken dread, of
clamorous passions, of bewilderment that went very ill with the quiet
fulfilments, with the placid and smiling contentment of nature--and not
the least bewildered was Mary. Her respite, it seemed, had been pitifully
fleeting; now she was torn by conflicting emotions; terrified and amazed
at her realization that Martin meant more to her than a friend, yet less,
oh, surely much less than Stephen. Like a barrier of fire her passion for
the woman flared up to forbid her love of the man; for as great as the
mystery of virginity itself, is sometimes the power of the one who has
destroyed it, and that power still remained in these days, with Stephen.

Alone in his little bare hotel bedroom, Martin would wrestle with his
soul-sickening problem, convinced in his heart that but for Stephen, Mary
Llewellyn would grow to love him, nay more, that she had grown to love
him already. Yet Stephen was his friend--he had sought her out, had all
but forced his friendship upon her; had forced his way into her life, her
home, her confidence; she had trusted his honour. And now he must either
utterly betray her or through loyalty to their friendship, betray Mary.

And he felt that he knew, and knew only too well, what life would do to
Mary Llewellyn, what it had done to her already; for had he not seen the
bitterness in her, the resentment that could only lead to despair, the
defiance that could only lead to disaster? She was setting her weakness
against the whole world, and slowly but surely the world would close in
until in the end it had utterly crushed her. In her very normality lay
her danger. Mary, all woman, was less of a match for life than if she had
been as was Stephen. Oh, most pitiful bond so strong yet so helpless; so
fruitful of passion yet so bitterly sterile; despairing, heart-breaking,
yet courageous bond that was even now holding them ruthlessly together.
But if he should break it by taking the girl away into peace and
security, by winning for her the world's approbation so that never again
need her back feel the scourge and her heart grow faint from the pain of
that scourging--if he, Martin Hallam, should do this thing, what would
happen, in that day of his victory, to Stephen? Would she still have the
courage to continue the fight? Or would she, in her turn, be forced to
surrender? God help him, he could not betray her like this, he could not
bring about Stephen's destruction--and yet if he spared her, he might
destroy Mary.

Night after night alone in his bedroom during the miserable weeks of that
summer, Martin struggled to discover some ray of hope in what seemed a
wellnigh hopeless situation. And night after night Stephen's masterful
arms would enfold the warm softness of Mary's body, the while she would
be shaken as though with great cold. Lying there she would shiver with
terror and love, and this torment of hers would envelop Mary so that
sometimes she wept for the pain of it all, yet neither would give a name
to that torment.

'Stephen, why are you shivering?'

'I don't know, my darling.'

'Mary, why are you crying?'

'I don't know, Stephen.'

Thus the bitter nights slipped into the days, and the anxious days
slipped back into the nights, bringing to that curious trinity neither
helpful counsel nor consolation.


2


It was after they had all returned to Paris that Martin found Stephen
alone one morning.

He said: 'I want to speak to you--I must.'

She put down her pen and looked into his eyes: Well, Martin, what is it?'
But she knew already.

He answered her very simply: 'It's Mary.' Then he said: 'I'm going
because I'm your friend and I love her...I must go because of our
friendship, and because I think Mary's grown to care for me.'

He thought Mary cared...Stephen got up slowly, and all of a sudden she
was no more herself but the whole of her kind out to combat this man, out
to vindicate their right to possess, out to prove that their courage was
unshakable, that they neither admitted of nor feared any rival.

She said coldly: 'If you're going because of me, because you imagine
that I'm frightened--then stay. I assure you I'm not in the least afraid;
here and now I defy you to take her from me!' And even as she said this
she marvelled at herself, for she was afraid, terribly afraid of Martin.

He flushed at the quiet contempt in her voice, which roused all the
combative manhood in him: 'You think that Mary doesn't love me, but
you're wrong.'

'Very well then, prove that I'm wrong!' she told him.

They stared at each other in bitter hostility for a moment, then Stephen
said more gently: 'You don't mean to insult me by what you propose, but I
won't consent to your going, Martin. You think that I can't hold the
woman I love against you, because you've got an advantage over me and
over the whole of my kind. I accept that challenge--I must accept it if
I'm to remain at all worthy of Mary.'

He bowed his head: 'It must be as you wish.' Then he suddenly began to
talk rather quickly: Stephen, listen, I hate what I'm going to say, but
by God, it's got to be said to you somehow! You're courageous and fine
and you mean to make good, but life with you is spiritually murdering
Mary. Can't you see it? Can't you realize that she needs all the things
that it's not in your power to give her? Children, protection, friends
whom she can respect and who'll respect her--don't you realize this,
Stephen? A few may survive such relationships as yours, but Mary
Llewellyn won't be among them. She's not strong enough to fight the whole
world, to stand up against persecution and insult; it will drive her
down, begun to already--already she's been forced to turn to people like
Wanda. I know what I'm saying, I've seen the thing--the bars, the
drinking, the pitiful defiance, the horrible, useless wastage of
lives--well, I tell you it's spiritual murder for Mary. I'd have gone
away because you're my friend, but before I went I'd have said all this
to you; I'd have begged and implored you to set Mary free if you love
her. I'd have gone on my knees to you, Stephen ..

He paused, and she heard herself saying quite calmly: 'You don't
understand, I have faith in my writing, great faith; some day I shall
climb to the top and that will compel the world to accept me for what I
am. It's a matter of time, but I mean to succeed for Mary's sake.'

'God pity you!' he suddenly blurted out. 'Your triumph, if it comes, will
come too late for Mary.'

She stared at him aghast: 'How dare you!' she stammered. 'How dare you
try to undermine my courage! You call yourself my friend and you say
things like that...

'It's your courage that I appeal to,' he answered. He began to speak very
quietly again: 'Stephen, if I stay I'm going to fight you. Do you
understand? We'll fight this thing out until one of us has to admit that
he's beaten. I'll do all in my power to take Mary from you--all that's
honourable, that is--for I mean to play straight, because whatever you
may think I'm your friend, only, you see--I love Mary Llewellyn.'

And now she struck back. She said rather slowly, watching his sensitive
face as she did so: 'You seem to have thought it all out very well, but
then of course, our friendship has given you time...

He flinched and she smiled, knowing how she could wound: 'Perhaps,' she
went on, 'you'll tell me your plans. Supposing you win, do I give the
wedding? Is Mary to marry you from my house, or would that be a grave
social disadvantage? And supposing she should want to leave me quite soon
for love of you--where would you take her, Martin? To your aunt's for
respectability's sake?'

'Don't Stephen!'

'But why not? I've a right to know because, you see, I also love Mary, I
also consider her reputation. Yes, I think on the whole we'll discuss
your plans.'

'She'd always be welcome at my aunt's,' he said firmly.

'And you'll take her there if she runs away to your One never knows what
may happen, does one? You say that she cares for you already ..

His eyes hardened: 'If Mary will have me, Stephen, I shall take her first
to my aunt's house in Passy.'

'And then?' she mocked.

'I shall marry her from there.'

'And then?'

'I shall take her back to my home.'

'To Canada--I see--a safe distance of course.'

He held out his hand: 'Oh, for God's sake, don't! It's so horrible
somehow--be merciful, Stephen.'

She laughed bitterly: 'Why should I be merciful to you? Isn't it enough
that I accept your challenge, that I offer you the freedom of my house,
that I don't turn you out and forbid you to come here? Come by all means,
whenever you like. You may even repeat our conversation to Mary; I shall
not do so, but don't let that stop you if you think you may possibly gain
some advantage.'

He shook his head: 'No. I shan't repeat it.'

'Oh, well, that must be as you think best, I propose to behave as though
nothing had happened--and now I must get along with my work.'

He hesitated: 'Won't you shake hands?'

'Of course,' she smiled; 'aren't you my very good friend? But you know,
you really must leave me now, Martin.'


3


After he had gone she lit a cigarette; the action was purely automatic.
She felt strangely excited yet strangely numb--a most curious synthesis
of sensations; then she suddenly felt deathly sick and giddy. Going up to
her bedroom she bathed her face, sat down on the bed and tried to think,
conscious that her mind was completely blank. She was thinking of
nothing--not even of Mary.



Chapter Fifty-five


1


A bitter and most curious warfare it was that must now be waged between
Martin and Stephen, but secretly waged, lest because of them the creature
they loved should be brought to suffer; not the least strange aspect
being that these two must quite often take care to protect each other,
setting a guard upon eyes and lips when they found themselves together
with Mary. For the sake of the girl whom they sought to protect, they
must actually often protect each other. Neither would stoop to detraction
or malice, though they fought in secret they did so with honour. And all
the while their hearts cried out loudly against this cruel and insidious
thing that had laid its hand upon their doomed friendship--verily a
bitter and most curious warfare.

And now Stephen, brought suddenly face to face with the menace of
infinite desolation, fell back upon her every available weapon in the
struggle to assert her right to possession. Every link that the years had
forged between her and Mary, every tender and passionate memory that
bound their past to their ardent present, every moment of joy--aye, and
even of sorrow, she used in sheer self-defence against Martin. And not
the least powerful of all her weapons was the perfect companionship and
understanding that constitutes the great strength of such unions. Well
armed she was, thanks to both present and past--but Martin's sole weapon
lay in the future.

With a new subtlety that was born of his love, he must lead the girl's
thoughts very gently forward towards a life of security and peace; such a
life as marriage with him would offer. In a thousand little ways must
redouble his efforts to make himself indispensable to her, to surround
her with the warm, happy cloak of protection that made even a hostile
world seem friendly. And although he forbore to speak openly as yet,
playing his hand with much skill and patience--although before speaking
he wished to be certain that Mary Llewellyn, of her own free will, would
come when he called her, because she loved him--yet nevertheless she
divined his love, for men cannot hide such knowledge from women.

Very pitiful Mary was in these days, torn between the two warring forces;
haunted by a sense of disloyalty if she thought with unhappiness of
losing Martin, hating herself for a treacherous coward if she sometimes
longed for the life he could offer, above all intensely afraid of this
man who was creeping in between her and Stephen. And the very fact of
this fear made her yield to the woman with a new and more desperate
ardour, so that the bond held as never before--the days might be
Martin's, but the nights were Stephen's. And yet, lying awake far into
the dawn, Stephen's victory would take on the semblance of defeat, turned
to ashes by the memory of Martin's words: Your triumph, if it comes will
come too late for Mary.' In the morning she would go to her desk and
write, working with something very like frenzy, as though it were now a
neck to neck race between the world and her ultimate achievement. Never
before had she worked like this; she would feel that her pen was dipped
in blood, that with every word she wrote, she was bleeding!


2


Christmas came and went, giving place to the New Year, and Martin fought
on but he fought more grimly. He was haunted these days by the spectre of
defeat, painfully conscious that do what he might, nearly every advantage
lay with Stephen. All that he loved and admired most in Mary, her
frankness, her tender and loyal spirit, her compassion towards suffering
of any kind, these very attributes told against him, serving as they did
to bind her more firmly to the creature to whom she had given devotion.
One thing only sustained the man at this time, and that was his
conviction that in spite of it all, Mary Llewellyn had grown to love him.

So careful she was when they were together, so guarded lest she should
betray her feelings, so pitifully insistent that all was yet well--that
life had in no way lessened her courage. But Martin was not deceived by
these protests, knowing how she clung to what he could offer, how gladly
she turned to the simple things that so easily come to those who are
normal. Under all her parade of gallantry he divined a great weariness of
spirit, a great longing to be at peace with the world, to be able to face
her fellow-men with the comforting knowledge that she need not fear them,
that their friendship would be hers for the asking, that their laws and
their codes would be her protection. All this Martin perceived; but
Stephen's perceptions were even more accurate and far-reaching, for to
her there had come the despairing knowledge that the women she loved was
deeply unhappy. At first she had blinded herself to this truth, sustained
by the passionate stress of the battle, by her power to hold in despite
of the man, by the eager response that she had awakened. Yet the day came
when she was no longer blind, when nothing counted in all the world
except this grievous unhappiness that was being silently borne by Mary.

Martin, if he had wished for revenge, might have taken his fill of it now
from Stephen. Little did he know how, one by one, Mary was weakening her
defences; gradually undermining her will, her fierce determination to
hold, the arrogance of the male that was in her. All this the man was
never to know; it was Stephen's secret, and she knew how to keep it. But
one night she suddenly pushed Mary away, blindly, scarcely knowing what
she was doing; conscious only that the weapon she thus laid aside had
become a thing altogether unworthy, an outrage upon her love for this
girl. And that night there followed the terrible thought that her love
itself was a kind of outrage.

And now she must pay very dearly indeed for that inherent respect of the
normal which nothing had ever been able to destroy, not even the long
years of persecution--an added burden it was, handed down by the silent
but watchful founders of Morton. She must pay for the instinct which, in
earliest childhood, had made her feel something akin to worship for the
perfect thing which she had divined in the love that existed between her
parents. Never before had she seen so clearly all that was lacking to
Mary Llewellyn, all that would pass from her faltering grasp, perhaps
never to return, with the passing of Martin--children, a home that the
world would respect, ties of affection that the world would hold sacred,
the blessèd security and the peace of being released from the world's
persecution. And suddenly Martin appeared to Stephen as a creature
endowed with incalculable bounty, having in his hands all those priceless
gifts which she, love's mendicant could never offer. Only one gift could
'she offer to love, to Mary, and that was the gift of Martin.

In a kind of dream she perceived these things. In a dream she now moved
and had her being; scarcely conscious of whither this dream would lead,
the while her every perception was quickened. And this dream of hers was
immensely compelling, so that all that she did seemed clearly
predestined; she could not have acted otherwise, nor could she have made
a false step, although dreaming. Like those who in sleep tread the edge
of a chasm unappalled, having lost all sense of danger, so now Stephen
walked on the brink of her fate, having only one fear; a nightmare fear
of what she must do to give Mary her freedom.

In obedience to the mighty but unseen will that had taken control of this
vivid dreaming, she ceased to respond to the girl's tenderness, nor would
she consent that they two should be lovers. Ruthless as the world itself
she became, and almost as cruel in this ceaseless wounding. For in spite
of Mary's obvious misgivings, she went more and more often to see Valérie
Seymour, so that gradually, as the days slipped by, Mary's mind became a
prey to suspicion. Yet Stephen struck at her again and again, desperately
wounding herself in the process, though scarcely feeling the pain of her
wounds for the misery of what she was doing to Mary. But even as she
struck the bonds seemed to tighten, with each fresh blow to bind more
securely. Mary now clung with every fibre of her sorely distressed and
outraged being; with every memory that Stephen had stirred; with every
passion that Stephen had fostered; with every instinct of loyalty that
Stephen had aroused to do battle with Martin. The hand that had loaded
Mary with chains was powerless, it seemed, to strike them from her.

Came the day when Mary refused to see Martin, when she turned upon
Stephen, pale and accusing: 'Can't you understand? Are you utterly
blind--have you only got eyes now for Valérie Seymour?'

And as though she were suddenly smitten dumb, Stephen's lips remained
closed and she answered nothing.

Then Mary wept and cried out against her: 'I won't let you go--I won't
let you, I tell you! It's your fault if I love you the way I do. I can't
do without you, you've taught me to need you, and now .. In half-shamed,
half-defiant words she must stand there and plead for what Stephen
withheld, and Stephen must listen to such pleading from Mary. Then before
the girl realized it she had said: 'But for you I could have loved Martin
Hallam!'

Stephen heard her own voice a long way away: But for me, you could have
loved Martin Hallam.'

Mary flung despairing arms round her neck: 'No, no! Not that, I don't
know what I'm saying.'


3


The first faint breath of spring was in the air, bringing daffodils to
the flower-stalls of Paris. Once again Mary's young cherry tree in the
garden was pushing out leaves and tiny pink buds along the whole length
of its childish branches.

Then Martin wrote: Stephen, where can I see you? It must be alone. Better
not at your house, I think, if you don't mind, because of Mary.'

She appointed the place. They would meet at the Auberge du Vieux Logis in
the Rue Lepic. They two would meet there on the following evening. When
she left the house without saying a word, Mary thought she was going to
Valerie Seymour.

Stephen sat down at a table in the corner to await Martin's coming--she
herself was early. The table was gay with a new check cloth--red and
white, white and red, she counted the squares, tracing them carefully out
with her finger. The woman behind the bar nudged her companion: 'En voila
une originals--et quelle cicatrice, bon Dieu!' The scar across Stephen's
pale face stood out livid.

Martin came and sat quietly down at her side, ordering some coffee for
appearances' sake. For appearances' sake, until it was brought, they
smiled at each other and made conversation. But when the waiter had
turned away, Martin said: 'It's all over--you've beaten me, Stephen...The
bond was too strong.'

Their unhappy eyes met as she answered: 'I tried to strengthen that
bond.'

He nodded: 'I know...Well, my dear, you succeeded.' Then he said: 'I'm
leaving Paris next week,' and in spite of his effort to be calm his voice
broke, 'Stephen...do what you can to take care of Mary.'

She found that she was holding his hand. Or was it someone else who sat
there beside him, who looked into his sensitive, troubled face, who spoke
such queer words?

'No, don't go--not yet.'

'But I don't understand...

'You must trust me, Martin.' And now she heard herself speaking very
gravely: 'Would you trust me enough to do anything I asked, even though
it seemed rather strange? Would you trust me if I said that I asked it
for Mary, for her happiness?'

His fingers tightened: 'Before God, yes. You know that I'd trust you!'

'Very well then, don't leave Paris--not now.'

'You really want me to stay on, Stephen?'

'Yes, I can't explain.'

He hesitated, then he suddenly seemed to come to a decision: All
right...I'll do whatever you ask me.'

They paid for their coffee and got up to leave: 'Let me come as far as
the house,' he pleaded.

But she shook her head: 'No, no, not now. I'll write to you...very
soon...Good-bye, Martin.'

She watched him hurrying down the street, and when he was finally lost in
its shadows, she turned slowly and made her own way up the hill, past the
garish lights of the Moulin de la Galette. Its pitiful sails revolved in
the wind, eternally grinding out petty sins--dry chaff blown in from the
gutters of Paris. And after a while, having breasted the hill, she must
climb a dusty flight of stone steps, and push open a heavy slow-moving
door; the door of the mighty temple of faith that keeps its anxious but
tireless vigil.

She had no idea why she was doing this thing, or what she would say to
the silver Christ with one hand on His heart and the other held out in a
patient gesture of supplication. The sound of praying, monotonous, low,
insistent, rose up from those who prayed with extended arms, with
crucified arms--like the tides of an ocean it swelled and receded and
swelled again, bathing the shores of heaven.

They were calling upon the Mother of God: 'Sainte Marie, Mere de Dieu,
priez pour nous, pauvres pêcheurs, maintenant et à l'heure de notre
mort.'

'Et à l'heure de notre mort,' Stephen heard herself repeating.

He looked terribly weary, the silver Christ: 'But then He always looks
tired,' she thought vaguely; and she stood there without finding anything
to say, embarrassed as one so frequently is in the presence of somebody
else's sorrow. For herself she felt nothing, neither pity nor regret; she
was curiously empty of all sensation, and after a little she left the
church, to walk on through the wind-swept streets of Montmartre.



Chapter Fifty-six


1


Valérie stared at Stephen in amazement: 'But...it's such an extraordinary
thing you're asking! Are you sure you're right to take such a step? For
myself I care nothing; why should I care: If you want to pretend that
you're my lover, well, my dear, to be quite frank, I wish it were true--I
feel certain you'd make a most charming lover. All the same,' and now her
voice sounded anxious, 'this is not a thing to be done lightly, Stephen.
Aren't you being absurdly self-sacrificing? You can give the girl a very
great deal.'

Stephen shook her head: 'I can't give her protection or happiness, and
yet she won't leave me. There's only one way...'

Then Valérie Seymour, who had always shunned tragedy like the plague,
flared out in something very like temper: 'Protection! Protection! I'm
sick of the word. Let her do without it; aren't you enough for her? Good
heavens, you're worth twenty Mary Llewellyns! Stephen, think it over
before you decide--it seems mad to me. For God's sake keep the girl, and
get what happiness you can out of life.'

'No, I can't do that,' said Stephen dully.

Valérie got up: 'Being what you are, I suppose you can't--you were made
for a martyr! Very well, I agree'; she finished abruptly, 'though of all
the curious situations that I've ever been in, this one beats the lot!'

That night Stephen wrote to Martin Hallam.


2


Two days later as she crossed the street to her house, Stephen saw Martin
in the shadow of the archway. He stepped out and they faced each other on
the pavement. He had kept his word; it was just ten o'clock.

He said: 'I've come. Why did you send for me, Stephen?' She answered
heavily: 'Because of Mary.'

And something in her face made him catch his breath, so that the
questions died on his lips: 'I'll do whatever you want,' he murmured.

'It's so simple,' she told him, 'it's all perfectly simple. I want you to
wait just under this arch just here where you can't be seen from the
house. I want you to wait until Mary needs you, as I think she will...it
may not be long...Can I count on your being here if she needs you?'

He nodded: 'Yes--yes!' He was utterly bewildered, scared too by the
curious look in her eyes; but he allowed her to pass him and enter the
courtyard.


3


She let herself into the house with her latchkey. The place seemed full
of articulate silence that leapt out shouting from every corner--a
jibing, grimacing, vindictive silence. She brushed it aside with a sweep
of her hand, as though it were some sort of physical presence.

But who was it who brushed that silence aside? Not Stephen Gordon...oh,
no, surely not...Stephen Gordon was dead; she had died last night: 'A
l'heure de notre mort...' Many people had spoken those prophetic words
quite a short time ago--perhaps they had been thinking of Stephen Gordon.

Yet now someone was slowly climbing the stairs, then pausing upon the
landing to listen, then opening the door of Mary's bedroom, then standing
quite still and staring at Mary. It was someone whom David knew and loved
well; he sprang forward with a sharp little bark of welcome. But Mary
shrank back as though she had been struck--Mary pale and red-eyed from
sleeplessness--or was it because of excessive weeping?

When she spoke her voice sounded unfamiliar: 'Where were you last night?'

'With Valérie Seymour. I thought you'd know somehow...It's better to be
frank...we both hate lies...'

Came that queer voice again: 'Good God--and I've tried so hard not to
believe it! Tell me you're lying to me now; say it, Stephen!'

Stephen--then she wasn't dead after all; or was she? But now Mary was
clinging--clinging.

'Stephen, I can't believe this thing--Valérie! Is that why you always
repulse me...why you never want to conic near me these days? Stephen,
answer me; are you her lover? Say something, for Christ's sake! Don't
stand there dumb...'

A mist dosing down, a thick black mist. Someone pushing the girl away,
without speaking. Mary's queer voice coming out of the gloom, muffled by
the folds of that thick black mist, only a word here and there getting
through: 'All my life I've given...you've killed...I loved you...Cruel,
oh, cruel! You're unspeakably cruel...'Then the sound of rough and
pitiful sobbing.

No, assuredly this was not Stephen Gordon who stood there unmoved by such
pitiful sobbing. But what was the figure doing in the mist? It was moving
about, distractedly, wildly. All the while it sobbed as it was moving
about: 'I'm going...'

Going? But where could it go Somewhere out of the mist, somewhere into
the light? Who was it that had said...wait, what were the words? 'To give
light to them that sit in darkness...'

No one was moving about any more--there was only a dog, a dog called
David. Something had to be done. Go into the bedroom, Stephen Gordon's
bedroom that faced on the courtyard...just a few short steps and then the
window. A girl hatless, with the sun falling full on her hair...she was
almost running...she stumbled a little. But now there were two people
down in the courtyard--a man had his hands on the girl's bowed shoulders.
He questioned her, yes, that was it, he questioned; and the girl was
telling him why she was there, why she had fled from that thick, awful
darkness. He was looking at the house, incredulous, amazed; hesitating as
though he were coming in; but the girl went on and the man turned to
follow...They were side by side, he was gripping her arm...They were
gone; they had passed out under the archway.

Then all in a moment the stillness was shattered: 'Mary, come back! Come
back to me, Mary!'

David crouched and trembled. He had crawled to the bed, and he lay there
watching with his eyes of amber; trembling because such an anguish as
this struck across him like the lash of a whip, and what could he do, the
poor beast, in his dumbness?

She turned and saw him, but only for a moment, for now the room seemed to
be thronging with people. Who were they, these strangers with the
miserable eyes? And yet, were they all strangers? Surely that was Wanda?
And someone with a neat little hole in her side--Jamie clasping Barbara
by the hand; Barbara with the white flowers of death on her bosom. Oh,
but they were many, these unbidden guests, and they called very softly at
first and then louder. They were calling her by name, saying: 'Stephen,
Stephen!' The quick, the dead, and the yet unborn--all calling her,
softly at first and then louder. Aye, and those lost and terrible
brothers from Alec's, they were here, and they also were calling:
'Stephen, Stephen, speak with your God and ask Him why He has left us
forsaken!' She could see their marred and reproachful faces with the
haunted, melancholy eyes of the invert--eyes that had looked too long on
a world that lacked all pity and all understanding: 'Stephen, Stephen,
speak with your God and ask Him why He has left us forsaken!' And these
terrible ones started pointing at her with their shaking, white-skinned,
effeminate fingers: 'You and your kind have stolen our birthright; you
have taken our strength and have given us your weakness!' They were
pointing at her with white shaking fingers.

Rockets of pain, burning rockets of pain--their pain, her pain, all
welded together into one great consuming agony. Rockets of pain that shot
up and burst, dropping scorching tears of fire on the spirit--her pain,
their pain...all the misery at Alec's. And the press and the clamour of
those countless others--they fought, they trampled, they were getting her
under. In their madness to become articulate through her, they were
tearing her to pieces, getting her under. They were everywhere now,
cutting off her retreat; neither bolts nor bars would avail to save her.
The walls fell down and crumbled before them; at the cry of their
suffering the walls fell and crumbled: 'We are coming, Stephen--we are
still coming on, and our name is legion--you dare not disown us!' She
raised her arms, trying to ward them off, but they closed in and in: 'You
dare not disown us!'

They possessed her. Her barren womb became fruitful--it ached with its
fearful and sterile burden. It ached with the fierce yet helpless
children who would clamour in vain for their right to salvation. They
would turn first to God, and then to the world, and then to her. They
would cry out accusing: 'We have asked for bread; will you give us a
stone? Answer us: will you give us a stone? You, God, in Whom we, the
outcast, believe; you, world, into which we are pitilessly born; you,
Stephen, who have drained our cup to the dregs--we have asked for bread;
will you give us a stone?'

And now there was only one voice, one demand; her own voice into which
those millions had entered. A voice like the awful, deep rolling of
thunder; a demand like the gathering together of great waters. A
terrifying voice that made her ears throb, that made her brain throb,
that shook her very entrails, until she must stagger and all but fall
beneath this appalling burden of sound that strangled her in its will to
be uttered.

'God,' she gasped, we believe; we have told You we believe...We have not
denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before
the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!'



THE END





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