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Title: The White Peacock
Author: D H Lawrence
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0700641.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: May 2007
Date most recently updated: May 2007

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Title: The White Peacock
Author: D H Lawrence




CONTENTS

PART I

CHAP.

I THE PEOPLE OF NETHERMERE
II DANGLING THE APPLE
III A VENDOR OF VISIONS
IV THE FATHER
VI THE SCENT OF BLOOD
VI THE EDUCATION OF GEORGE
VII LETTIE PULLS DOWN THE SMALL GOLD GRAPES
VIII THE RIOT OF CHRISTMAS
IX LETTIE COMES OF AGE

PART II

I STRANGE BLOSSOMS AND STRANGE NEW BUDDING
II A SHADOW IN SPRING
III THE IRONY OF INSPIRED MOMENTS
IV KISS WHEN SHE'S RIPE FOR TEARS
V AN ARROW FROM THE IMPATIENT GOD
VI THE COURTING
VII THE FASCINATION OF THE FORBIDDEN APPLE
VIII A POEM OF FRIENDSHIP
IX PASTORALS AND PEONIES

PART III

I A NEW START IN LIFE
II PUFFS OF WIND IN THE SAIL
III THE FIRST PAGES OF SEVERAL ROMANCES
IV DOMESTIC LIFE AT THE RAM
V THE DOMINANT MOTIF OF SUFFERING
VI PISGAH
VII THE SCARP SLOPE
VIII A PROSPECT AMONG THE MARSHES OF LETHE






PART ONE




CHAPTER I - THE PEOPLE OF NETHERMERE


I stood watching the shadowy fish slide through the gloom of the
millpond. They were grey, descendants of the silvery things that had
darted away from the monks, in the young days when the valley was lusty.
The whole place was gathered in the musing of old age. The thick-piled
trees on the far shore were too dark and sober to dally with the sun; the
weeds stood crowded and motionless. Not even a little wind flickered the
willows of the islets. The water lay softly, intensely still. Only the
thin stream falling through the millrace murmured to itself of the tumult
of life which had once quickened the valley.

I was almost startled into the water from my perch on the alder roots by
a voice saying:

"Well, what is there to look at?" My friend was a young farmer, stoutly
built, brown-eyed, with a naturally fair skin burned dark and freckled in
patches. He laughed, seeing me start, and looked down at me with lazy
curiosity.

"I was thinking the place seemed old, brooding over its past." He looked
at me with a lazy indulgent smile, and lay down on his back on the bank,
saying:

"It's all right for a doss--here."

"Your life is nothing else but a doss. I shall laugh when somebody jerks
you awake," I replied.

He smiled comfortably and put his hands over his eyes because of the
light.

"Why shall you laugh?" he drawled.

"Because you'll be amusing," said I.

We were silent for a long time, when he rolled over and began to poke
with his finger in the bank.

"I thought," he said in his leisurely fashion, "there was some cause for
all this buzzing."

I looked, and saw that he had poked out an old, papery nest of those
pretty field bees which seem to have dipped their tails into bright amber
dust. Some agitated insects ran round the cluster of eggs, most of which
were empty now, the crowns gone; a few young bees staggered about in
uncertain flight before they could gather power to wing away in a strong
course. He watched the little ones that ran in and out among the shadows
of the grass, hither and thither in consternation.

"Come here--come here!" he said, imprisoning one poor little bee under a
grass stalk, while with another stalk he loosened the folded blue wings.

"Don't tease the little beggar," I said.

"It doesn't hurt him--I wanted to see if it was because he couldn't
spread his wings that he couldn't fly. There he goes--no, he doesn't.
Let's try another."

"Leave them alone," said I. "Let them run in the sun. They're only just
out of the shells. Don't torment them into flight."

He persisted, however, and broke the wing of the next.

"Oh, dear--pity!" said he, and he crushed the little thing between his
fingers. Then he examined the eggs, and pulled out some silk from round
the dead larva, and investigated it all in a desultory manner, asking of
me all I knew about the insects. When he had finished he flung the
clustered eggs into the water and rose, pulling out his watch from the
depth of his breeches' pocket.

"It thought it was about dinner-time," said he, smiling at me.

"I always know when it's about twelve. Are you coming in?"

"I'm coming down at any rate," said I as we passed along the pond bank,
and over the plank bridge that crossed the brow of the falling sluice.
The bankside where the grey orchard twisted its trees, was a steep
declivity, long and sharp, dropping down to the garden.

The stones of the large house were burdened with ivy and honeysuckle, and
the great lilac bush that had once guarded the porch now almost blocked
the doorway. We passed out of the front garden into the farmyard, and
walked along the brick path to the back door.

"Shut the gate, will you?" he said to me over his shoulder, as he passed
on first.

We went through the large scullery into the kitchen. The servant-girl was
just hurriedly snatching the table-cloth out of the table drawer, and his
mother, a quaint little woman with big, brown eyes, was hovering round
the wide fireplace with a fork.

"Dinner not ready?" said he with a shade of resentment.

"No, George," replied his mother apologetically, "it isn't. The fire
wouldn't burn a bit. You shall have it in a few minutes, though."

He dropped on the sofa and began to read a novel. I wanted to go, but his
mother insisted on my staying.

"Don't go," she pleaded. "Emily will be so glad if you stay--and father
will, I'm sure. Sit down, now."

I sat down on a rush chair by the long window that looked out into the
yard. As he was reading, and as it took all his mother's powers to watch
the potatoes boil and the meat roast, I was left to my thoughts. George,
indifferent to all claims, continued to read. It was very annoying to
watch him pulling his brown moustache, and reading indolently while the
dog rubbed against his leggings and against the knee of his old
riding-breeches. He would not even be at the trouble to play with Trip's
ears, he was so content with his novel and his moustache. Round and round
twirled his thick fingers, and the muscles of his bare arm moved slightly
under the red-brown skin. The little square window above him filtered a
green light from the foliage of the great horse-chestnut outside and the
glimmer fell on his dark hair, and trembled across the plates which Annie
was reaching down from the rack, and across the face of the tall clock.
The kitchen was very big; the table looked lonely, and the chairs mourned
darkly for the lost companionship of the sofa; the chimney was a black
cavern away at the back, and the inglenook seats shut in another little
compartment ruddy with firelight, where the mother hovered. It was rather
a desolate kitchen, such a bare expanse of uneven grey flagstones, such
far-away dark corners and sober furniture. The only gay things were the
chintz coverings of the sofa and the arm-chair cushions, bright red in
the bare sombre room; some might smile at the old clock, adorned as it
was with remarkable and vivid poultry; in me it only provoked wonder and
contemplation.

In a little while we heard the scraping of heavy boots outside, and the
father entered. He was a big burly farmer, with his half-bald head
sprinkled with crisp little curls.

"Hullo, Cyril," he said cheerfully. "You've not forsaken us then," and
turning to his son:

"Have you many more rows in the coppice close?"

"Finished!" replied George, continuing to read.

"That's all right--you've got on with 'em. The rabbits has bitten them
turnips down, Mother."

"I expect so," replied his wife, whose soul was in the saucepans. At last
she deemed the potatoes cooked and went out with the steaming pan.

The dinner was set on the table and the father began to carve. George
looked over his book to survey the fare, then read until his plate was
handed him. The maid sat at her little table near the window, and we
began the meal. There came the treading of four feet along the brick
path, and a little girl entered, followed by her grown-up sister. The
child's long brown hair was tossed wildly back beneath her sailor hat.
She flung aside this article of her attire and sat down to dinner,
talking endlessly to her mother. The elder sister, a girl of about
twenty-one, gave me a smile and a bright look from her brown eyes, and
went to wash her hands. Then she came and sat down, and looked
disconsolately at the underdone beef on her plate.

"I do hate this raw meat," she said.

"Good for you," replied her brother, who was eating industriously. "Give
you some muscle to wallop the nippers." She pushed it aside, and began to
eat the vegetables. Her brother re-charged his plate and continued to
eat.

"Well, our George, I do think you might pass a body that gravy," said
Mollie, the younger sister, in injured tones.

"Certainly," he replied. "Won't you have the joint as well?"

"No!" retorted the young lady of twelve, "I don't expect you've done with
it yet."

"Clever!" he exclaimed across a mouthful.

"Do you think so?" said the elder sister, Emily, sarcastically.

"Yes," he replied complacently, "you've made her as sharp as yourself, I
see, since you've had her in Standard Six. I'll try a potato, Mother, if
you can find one that's done."

"Well, George, they seem mixed, I'm sure that was done that I tried.
There--they are mixed--look at this one, it's soft enough. I'm sure they
were boiling long enough."

"Don't explain and apologise to him," said Emily irritably. "Perhaps the
kids were too much for her this morning," he said calmly, to nobody in
particular.

"No," chimed in Mollie, "she knocked a lad across his nose and made it
bleed."

"Little wretch," said Emily, swallowing with difficulty. "I'm glad I did!
Some of my lads belong to--to--"

"To the devil," suggested George, but she would not accept it from him.

Her father sat laughing; her mother, with distress in her eyes, looked at
her daughter, who hung her head and made patterns on the table-cloth with
her finger.

"Are they worse than the last lot?" asked the mother, softly, fearfully.

"No--nothing extra," was the curt answer.

"She merely felt like bashing 'em," said George, calling, as he looked at
the sugar-bowl and at his pudding:

"Fetch some more sugar, Annie."

The maid rose from her little table in the corner, and the mother also
hurried to the cupboard. Emily trifled with her dinner and said bitterly
to him:

"I only wish you had a taste of teaching, it would cure your
self-satisfaction."

"Pf!" he replied contemptuously, "I could easily bleed the noses of a
handful of kids."

"You wouldn't sit there bleating like a fatted calf," she continued.

This speech so tickled Mollie that she went off into a burst of laughter,
much to the terror of her mother, who stood up in trembling apprehension
lest she should choke.

"You made a joke, Emily," he said, looking at his younger sister's
contortions.

Emily was too impatient to speak to him further, and left the table. Soon
the two men went back to the fallow to the turnips, and I walked along
the path with the girls as they were going to school.

"He irritates me in everything he does and says," burst out Emily with
much heat.

"He's a pig sometimes," said I.

"He is!" she insisted. "He irritates me past bearing, with his grand
know-all way, and his heavy smartness--I can't bear it. And the way
Mother humbles herself to him--!"

"It makes you wild," said I.

"Wild!" she echoed, her voice vibrating with nervous passion. We walked
on in silence, till she asked:

"Have you brought me those verses of yours?"

"No--I'm so sorry--I've forgotten them again. As a matter of fact, I've
sent them away."

"But you promised me."

"You know what my promises are. I'm as irresponsible as a puff of wind."

She frowned with impatience and her disappointment was greater than
necessary. When I left her at the corner of the lane I felt a string of
her deep reproach in my mind. I always felt the reproach when she had
gone.

I ran over the little bright brook that came from the weedy, bottom pond.
The stepping-stones were white in the sun, and the water slid sleepily
among them. One or two butterflies, indistinguishable against the blue
sky, trifled from flower to flower and led me up the hill, across the
field where the hot sunshine stood as in a bowl, and I was entering the
caverns of the wood, where the oaks bowed over and saved us a grateful
shade. Within, everything was so still and cool that my steps hung
heavily along the path. The bracken held out arms to me, and the bosom of
the wood was full of sweetness, but I journeyed on, spurred by the
attacks of an army of flies which kept up a guerrilla warfare round my
head till I had passed the black rhododendron bushes in the garden, where
they left me, scenting no doubt Rebecca's pots of vinegar and sugar.

The low red house, with it roof discoloured and sunken, dozed in
sunlight, and slept profoundly in the shade thrown by the massive maples
encroaching from the wood.

There was no one in the dining-room, but I could hear the whirr of a
sewing-machine coming from the little study, a sound as of some great,
vindictive insect buzzing about, now louder, now softer, now settling.
Then came a jingling of four or five keys at the bottom of the keyboard
of the drawing-room piano, continuing till the whole range had been
covered in little leaps, as if some very fat frog had jumped from end to
end.

"That must be mother dusting the drawing-room," I thought. The
unaccustomed sound of the old piano startled me. The vocal chords behind
the green-silk bosom--you only discovered it was not a bronze-silk bosom
by poking a fold aside--had become as thin and tuneless as a dried old
woman's. Age had yellowed the teeth of my mother's little piano, and
shrunken its spindle legs. Poor old thing, it could but screech in answer
to Lettie's fingers flying across it in scorn, so the prim, brown lips
were always closed save to admit the duster.

Now, however, the little old-maidish piano began to sing a tinkling
Victorian melody, and I fancied it must be some demure little woman, with
curls like bunches of hops on either side of her face, who was touching
it. The coy little tune teased me with old sensations, but my memory
would give me no assistance. As I stood trying to fix my vague feelings,
Rebecca came in to remove the cloth from the table.

"Who is playing, Beck?" I asked.

"Your mother, Cyril."

"But she never plays. I thought she couldn't."

"Ah," replied Rebecca, "you forget when you was a little thing sitting
playing against her frock with the prayer-book, and she singing to you.
You can't remember her when her curls was long like a piece of brown
silk. You can't remember her when she used to play and sing, before
Lettie came and your father was--"

Rebecca turned and left the room. I went and peeped in the drawing-room.
Mother sat before the little brown piano, with her plump, rather stiff
fingers moving across the keys, a faint smile on her lips. At that moment
Lettie came flying past me, and flung her arms round mother's neck,
kissing her and saying:

"Oh, my Dear, fancy my Dear playing the piano! Oh, Little Woman, we never
knew you could!"

"Nor can I," replied Mother laughing, disengaging herself. "I only
wondered if I could just strum out this old tune; I learned it when I was
quite a girl, on this piano. It was a cracked one then; the only one I
had."

"But play again, dearie, do play again. It was like the clinking of
lustre glasses, and you look so quaint at the piano. Do play, my dear!"
pleaded Lettie.

"Nay," said my mother, "the touch of the old keys on my fingers is making
me sentimental--you wouldn't like to see me reduced to the tears of old
age?"

"Old age!" scolded Lettie, kissing her again. "You are young enough to
play little romances. Tell us about it, Mother."

"About what, child?"

"When you used to play."

"Before my fingers were stiff with fifty-odd years? Where have you been,
Cyril, that you weren't in to dinner?"

"Only down to Strelley Mill," said I.

"Of course," said Mother coldly.

"Why 'of course'?" I asked.

"And you came away as soon as Em went to school?" said Lettie.

"I did," said I.

They were cross with me, these two women. After I had swallowed my little
resentment I said:

"They would have me stay to dinner."

My mother vouchsafed no reply.

"And has the great George found a girl yet?" asked Lettie. "No," I
replied, "he never will at this rate. Nobody will ever be good enough for
him."

"I'm sure I don't know what you can find in any of them to take you there
so much," said my mother.

"Don't be so mean, Mater," I answered, nettled. "You know I like them."

"I know you like her," said my mother sarcastically. "As for him--he's an
unlicked cub. What can you expect when his mother has spoiled him as she
has. But I wonder you are so interested in licking him." My mother
sniffed contemptuously.

"He is rather good-looking," said Lettie with a smile.

"You could make a man of him, I am sure," I said, bowing satirically to
her.

"I am not interested," she replied, also satirical.

Then she tossed her head, and all the fine hairs that were free from
bonds made a mist of yellow light in the sun. "What frock shall I wear,
Mater?" she asked.

"Nay, don't ask me," replied her mother.

"I think I'll wear the heliotrope--though this sun will fade it," she
said pensively. She was tall, nearly six feet in height, but slenderly
formed. Her hair was yellow, tending towards a dun brown. She had
beautiful eyes and brows, but not a nice nose. Her hands were very
beautiful.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

She did not answer me.

"To Tempest's!" I said. She did not reply.

"Well, I don't know what you can see in him," I continued. "Indeed!" said
she. "He's as good as most folk--" then we both began to laugh.

"Not," she continued blushing, "that I think anything about him. I'm
merely going for a game of tennis. Are you coming?"

"What shall you say if I agree?" I asked.

"Oh!" she tossed her head. "We shall all be very pleased I'm sure."

"Ooray!" said I with fine irony.

She laughed at me, blushed, and ran upstairs.

Half an hour afterwards she popped her head in the study to bid me
good-bye, wishing to see if I appreciated her. She was so charming in her
fresh linen frock and flowered hat, that I could not but be proud of her.
She expected me to follow her to the window, for from between the great
purple rhododendrons she waved me a lace mitten, then glinted on like a
flower moving brightly through the green hazels. Her path lay through the
wood in the opposite direction from Strelley Mill, down the red drive
across the tree-scattered space to the highroad. This road ran along the
end of our lakelet, Nethermere, for about a quarter of a mile. Nethermere
is the lowest in a chain of three ponds. The other two are the upper and
lower millponds at Strelley; this is the largest and most charming piece
of water, a mile long and about a quarter of a mile in width. Our wood
runs down to the water's edge. On the opposite side, on a hill beyond the
farthest corner of the lake, stands Highclose. It looks across the water
at us in Woodside with one eye as it were, while our cottage casts a
sidelong glance back again at the proud house, and peeps coyly through
the trees.

I could see Lettie like a distant sail stealing along the water's edge,
her parasol flowing above. She turned through the wicket under the pine
clump, climbed the steep field, and was enfolded again in the trees
beside Highclose.

Leslie was sprawled on a camp-chair, under a copper beech on the lawn,
his cigar glowing. He watched the ash grow strange and grey in the warm
daylight, and he felt sorry for poor Nell Wycherley, whom he had driven
that morning to the station, for would she not be frightfully cut up as
the train whirled her farther and farther away? These girls are so daft
with a fellow! But she was a nice little thing--he'd get Marie to write
to her.

At this point he caught sight of a parasol fluttering along the drive,
and immediately he fell in a deep sleep, with just a tiny slit in his
slumber to allow him to see Lettie approach. She, finding her watchman
ungallantly asleep, and his cigar, instead of his lamp, untrimmed, broke
off a twig of syringa whose ivory buds had not yet burst with luscious
scent. I know not how the end of his nose tickled in anticipation before
she tickled him in reality, but he kept bravely still until the petals
swept him. Then, starting from his sleep, he exclaimed:

"Lettie! I was dreaming of kisses!"

"On the bridge of your nose?" laughed she--"But whose were the kisses?"

"Who produced the sensation?" he smiled.

"Since I only tapped your nose you should dream of--"

"Go on!" said he, expectantly.

"Of Doctor Slop," she replied, smiling to herself as she closed her
parasol.

"I do not know the gentleman," he said, afraid that she was laughing at
him.

"No--your nose is quite classic," she answered, giving him one of those
brief intimate glances with which women flatter men so cleverly. He
radiated with pleasure.



CHAPTER II - DANGLING THE APPLE


The long-drawn booming of the wind in the wood, and the sobbing and
moaning in the maples and oaks near the house, had made Lettie restless.
She did not want to go anywhere, she did not want to do anything, so she
insisted on my just going out with her as far as the edge of the water.
We crossed the tangle of fern and bracken, bramble and wild-raspberry
canes that spread in the open space before the house, and we went down
the grassy slope to the edge of Nethermere. The wind whipped up noisy
little wavelets, and the cluck and clatter of these among the pebbles,
the swish of the rushes and the freshening of the breeze against our
faces, roused us.

The tall meadow-sweet was in bud along the tiny beach and we walked
knee-deep among it, watching the foamy race of the ripples and the
whitening of the willows on the far shore. At the place where Nethermere
narrows to the upper end, and receives the brook from Strelley, the wood
sweeps down and stands with its feet washed round with waters. We broke
our way along the shore, crushing the sharp-scented wild mint, whose
odour checks the breath, and examining here and there among the marshy
places ragged nests of water-fowl, now deserted. Some slim young lapwings
started at our approach, and sped lightly from us, their necks
outstretched in straining fear of that which could not hurt them. One,
two, fled cheeping into cover of the wood; almost instantly they coursed
back again to where we stood, to dart off from us at an angle, in an
ecstasy of bewilderment and terror.

"What had frightened the crazy little things?" asked Lettie.

"I don't know. They've cheek enough sometimes; then they go whining,
skelping off from a fancy as if they had a snake under their wings."

Lettie, however, paid small attention to my eloquence. She pushed aside
an elder bush, which graciously showered down upon her myriad crumbs from
its flowers like slices of bread, and bathed her in a medicinal scent. I
followed her, taking my dose, and was startled to hear her sudden, "Oh,
Cyril!"

On the bank before us lay a black cat, both hind paws torn and bloody in
a trap. It had no doubt been bounding forward after its prey when it was
caught. It was gaunt and wild; no wonder it frightened the poor lapwings
into cheeping hysteria. It glared at us fiercely, growling low.

"How cruel--oh, how cruel!" cried Lettie, shuddering.

I wrapped my cap and Lettie's scarf over my hands and bent to open the
trap. The cat struck with her teeth, tearing the cloth convulsively. When
it was free, it sprang away with one bound, and fell panting, watching
us.

I wrapped the creature in my jacket, and picked her up, murmuring:

"Poor Mrs Nickie Ben--we always prophesied it of you."

"What will you do with it?" asked Lettie.

"It is one of the Strelley Mill cats," said I, "and so I'll take her
home."

The poor animal moved and murmured and I carried her, but we brought her
home. They stared, on seeing me enter the kitchen coatless, carrying a
strange bundle, while Lettie followed me.

"I have brought poor Mrs Nickie Ben," said I, unfolding my burden.

"Oh, what a shame!" cried Emily, putting out her hand to touch the cat,
but drawing quickly back, like the peewits. "This is how they all go,"
said the mother.

"I wish keepers had to sit two or three days with their bare ankles in a
trap," said Mollie in vindictive tones.

We laid the poor brute on the rug, and gave it warm milk. It drank very
little, being too feeble. Mollie, full of anger, fetched Mr Nickie Ben,
another fine black cat, to survey his crippled mate. Mr Nickie Ben
looked, shrugged his sleek shoulders, and walked away with high steps.
There was a general feminine outcry on masculine callousness.

George came in for hot water. He exclaimed in surprise on seeing us, and
his eyes became animated.

"Look at Mrs Nickie Ben," cried Mollie. He dropped on his knees on the
rug and lifted the wounded paws.

"Broken," said he.

"How awful!" said Emily, shuddering violently, and leaving the room.

"Both?" I asked.

"Only one--look!"

"You are hurting her!" cried Lettie.

"It's no good," said he.

Mollie and the mother hurried out of the kitchen into the parlour.

"What are you going to do?" asked Lettie.

"Put her out of her misery," he replied, taking up the poor cat. We
followed him into the barn.

"The quickest way," said he, "is to swing her round and knock her head
against the wall."

"You make me sick," exclaimed Lettie.

"I'll drown her then," he said with a smile. We watched him morbidly, as
he took a length of twine and fastened a noose round the animal's neck,
and near it an iron goose; he kept a long piece of cord attached to the
goose.

"You're not coming, are you?" said he. Lettie looked at him; she had
grown rather white.

"It'll make you sick," he said. She did not answer, but followed him
across the yard to the garden. On the bank of the lower millpond he
turned again to us and said:

"Now for it!--you are chief mourners." As neither of us replied, he
smiled, and dropped the poor writhing cat into the water, saying,
"Good-bye, Mrs Nickie Ben."

We waited on the bank some time. He eyed us curiously. "Cyril," said
Lettie quietly, "isn't it cruel?--isn't it awful?" I had nothing to say.

"Do you mean me?" asked George.

"Not you in particular--everything! If we move the blood rises in our
heel-prints."

He looked at her seriously, with dark eyes.

"I had to drown her out of mercy," said he, fastening the cord he held to
an ash-pole. Then he went to get a spade, and with it, he dug a grave in
the old black earth.

"If," said he, "the poor old cat had made a prettier corpse, you'd have
thrown violets on her."

He had struck the spade into the ground, and hauled pup the iron goose.

"Well," he said, surveying the hideous object, "haven't her good looks
gone! She was a fine cat."

"Bury it and have done," Lettie replied.

He did so asking: "Shall you have bad dreams after it?"

"Dreams do not trouble me," she answered, turning away.

We went indoors, into the parlour, where Emily sat by a window, biting
her finger. The room was long and not very high; there was a great rough
beam across the ceiling. On the mantelpiece, and in the fireplace, and
over the piano were wild flowers and fresh leaves plentifully scattered;
the room was cool with the scent of the woods.

"Has he done it?" asked Emily--"and did you watch him? If I had seen it I
should have hated the sight of him, and I'd rather have touched a maggot
than him."

"I shouldn't be particularly pleased if he touched me," said Lettie.

"There is something so loathsome about callousness and brutality," said
Emily. "He fills me with disgust."

"Does he?" said Lettie, smiling coldly. She went across to the old piano.
"He's only healthy. He's never been sick, not anyway, yet." She sat down
and played at random, letting the numbed notes fall like dead leaves from
the haughty, ancient piano.

Emily and I talked oh by the widow, about books and people. She was
intensely serious, and generally succeeded in reducing me to the same
state.

After a while, when the milking and feeding were finished, George came
in. Lettie was still playing the piano. He asked her why she didn't play
something with a tune in it, and this caused her to turn round in her
chair to give him a withering answer. His appearance, however, scattered
her words like startled birds. He had come straight from washing in the
scullery, to the parlour, and he stood behind Lettie's chair,
unconcernedly wiping the moisture from his arms. His sleeves were rolled
up to the shoulder, and his shirt was opened wide at the breast. Lettie
was somewhat taken aback by the sight of him standing with legs apart,
dressed in dirty leggings and boots, and breeches torn at the knee, naked
at the breast and arms.

"Why don't you play something with a tune in it?" he repeated, rubbing
the towel over his shoulders beneath the shirt.

"A tune!" she echoed, watching the swelling of his arms as he moved them,
and the rise and fall of his breasts, wonderfully solid and white. Then
having curiously examined the sudden meeting of the sun-hot skin with the
white flesh in his throat, her eyes met his, and she turned again to the
piano, while the colour grew in her ears, mercifully sheltered by a
profusion of bright curls.

"What shall I play?" she asked, fingering the keys somewhat confusedly.

He dragged out a book of songs from a little heap of music, and set it
before her.

"Which do you want to sing?" she asked, thrilling a little as she felt
his arms so near her.

"Anything you like."

"A love song?" she said.

"If you like--yes, a love song--" he laughed with clumsy insinuation that
made the girl writhe.

She did not answer, but began to play Sullivan's "Tit Willow". He had a
passable bass voice, not of any great depth, and he sang with gusto. Then
she gave him "Drink to me only with thine eyes". At the end she turned
and asked him if he liked the words. He replied that he thought them
rather daft. But he looked at her with glowing brown eyes, as if in
hesitating challenge.

"That's because you have no wine in your eyes to pledge with," she
replied, answering his challenge with a blue blaze of her eyes. Then her
eyelashes drooped on to her cheek. He laughed with a faint ring of
consciousness, and asked her how could she know.

"Because," she said slowly, looking up at him with pretended scorn,
"because there's no change in your eyes when I look at you. I always
think people who are worth much talk with their eyes. That's why you are
forced to respect many quite uneducated people. Their eyes are so
eloquent, and full of knowledge." She had continued to look at him as she
spoke--watching his faint appreciation of her upturned face, and her
hair, where the light was always tangled, watching his brief
self-examination to see if he could feel any truth in her words, watching
till he broke into a little laugh which was rather more awkward and less
satisfied than usual. Then she turned away, smiling also.

"There's nothing in this book nice to sing," she said, turning over the
leaves discontentedly. I found her a volume, and she sang "Should he
upbraid". She had a fine soprano voice, and the song delighted him. He
moved nearer to her, and when at the finish she looked round with a
flashing, mischievous air, she found him pledging her with wonderful
eyes.

"You like that," said she with the air of superior knowledge, as if, dear
me, all one had to do was to turn over to the right page of the vast
volume of one's soul to suit these people.

"I do," he answered emphatically, thus acknowledging her triumph.

"I'd rather 'dance and sing' round 'wrinkled care' than carefully shut
the door on him, while I slept in the chimney-seat wouldn't you?" she
asked.

He laughed, and began to consider what she meant before he replied.

"As you do," she added.

"What?" he asked.

"Keep half your senses asleep--half alive."

"Do I?" he asked.

"Of course you do;--'bos bovis; an ox.' You are like a stalled ox, food
and comfort, no more. Don't you love comfort?" she smiled.

"Don't you?" he replied, smiling shamefaced.

"Of course. Come and turn over for me while I play this piece. Well, I'll
nod when you must turn--bring a chair." She began to play a romance of
Schubert's. He leaned nearer to her to take hold of the leaf of music;
she felt her loose hair touch his face, and turned to him a quick,
laughing glance, while she played. At the end of the page she nodded, but
he was oblivious; "Yes!" she said, suddenly impatient, and he tried to
get the leaf over; she quickly pushed his hand aside, turned the page
herself and continued playing.

"Sorry!" said he, blushing actually.

"Don't bother," she said, continuing to play without observing him. When
she had finished:

"There!" she said, "now tell me how you felt while I was playing."

"Oh--a fool!"--he replied, covered with confusion.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said--"but I didn't mean that. I meant how did
the music make you feel?"

"I don't know--whether--it made me feel anything," he replied
deliberately, pondering over his answer, as usual.

"I tell you," she declared, "you're either asleep or stupid. Did you
really see nothing in the music? But what did you think about?"

He laughed--and thought awhile--and laughed again.

"Why!" he admitted, laughing, and trying to tell the exact truth, "I
thought how pretty your hands are--and what they are like to touch--and I
thought it was a new experience to feel somebody's hair tickling my
cheek." When he had finished his deliberate account she gave his hand a
little knock, and left him saying:

"You are worse and worse."

She came across the room to the couch where I was sitting talking to
Emily, and put her arm around my neck.

"Isn't it time to go home, Pat?" she asked.

"Half-past eight--quite early," said I.

"But I believe--I think I ought to be home now," she said. "Don't go,"
said he.

"Why?" I asked.

"Stay to supper," urged Emily.

"But I believe--" she hesitated.

"She has another fish to fry," I said.

"I am not sure--" she hesitated again. Then she flashed into sudden
wrath, exclaiming, "Don't be so mean and nasty, Cyril!"

"Were you going somewhere?" asked George humbly. "Why--no!" she said,
blushing.

"Then stay to supper--will you?" he begged. She laughed, and yielded. We
went into the kitchen. Mr. Saxton was sitting reading. Trip, the big bull
terrier, lay at his feet pretending to sleep; Mr Nickie Ben reposed
calmly on the sofa; Mrs Saxton and Mollie were just going to bed. We bade
them good night, and sat down. Annie, the servant, had gone home, so
Emily prepared the supper.

"Nobody can touch that piano like you," said Mr Saxton to Lettie, beaming
upon her with admiration and deference. He was proud of the stately,
mumbling old thing, and used to say that it was full of music for those
that liked to ask for it. Lettie laughed, and said that so few folks ever
tried it, that her honour was not great.

"What do you think of our George's singing?" asked the father proudly,
but with a deprecating laugh at the end.

"I tell him, when he's in love he'll sing quite well," she said.

"When he's in love!" echoed the father, laughing aloud, very pleased.

"Yes," she said, "when he finds out something he wants and can't have."

George thought about it, and he laughed also.

Emily, who was laying the table, said, "There is hardly any water in the
pippin, George."

"Oh, dash!" he exclaimed, "I've taken my boots off."

"It's not a very big job to put them on again," said his sister. "Why
couldn't Annie fetch it--what's she here for?" he said angrily.

Emily looked at us, tossed her head, and turned her back on him.

"I'll go, I'll go, after supper," said the father in a comforting tone.

"After supper!" laughed Emily.

George got up and shuffled out. He had to go into the spinney near the
house to a well, and being warm disliked turning out.

We had just sat down to supper when Trip rushed barking to the door. "Be
quiet," ordered the father, thinking of those in bed, and he followed the
dog.

It was Leslie. He wanted Lettie to go home with him at once. This she
refused to do, so he came indoors, and was persuaded to sit down at
table. He swallowed a morsel of bread and cheese, and a cup of coffee,
talking to Lettie of a garden party which was going to be arranged at
Highclose for the following week.

"What is it for then?" interrupted Mr Saxton.

"For?" echoed Leslie.

"Is it for the missionaries, or the unemployed, or something?" explained
Mr Saxton.

"It's a garden-party, not a bazaar," said Leslie.

"Oh--a private affair. I thought it would be some church matter of your
mother's. She's very big at the church, isn't she?"

"She is interested in the church--yes!" said Leslie, then proceeding to
explain to Lettie that he was arranging a tennis tournament in which she
was to take part. At this point he became aware that he was monopolising
the conversation, and turned to George, just as the latter was taking a
piece of cheese from his knife with his teeth, asking:

"Do you play tennis, Mr Saxton?--I know Miss Saxton does not."

"No," said George, working the piece of cheese into his cheek. "I never
learned any ladies' accomplishments."

Leslie turned to Emily, who had nervously been pushing two plates over a
stain in the cloth, and who was very startled when she found herself
addressed.

"My mother would be so glad if you would come to the party, Miss Saxton."

"I cannot. I shall be at school. Thanks very much."

"Ah--it's very good of you," said the father, beaming. But George smiled
contemptuously.

When supper was over Leslie looked at Lettie to inform her that he was
ready to go. She, however, refused to see his look, but talked brightly
to Mr Saxton, who was delighted. George, flattered, joined in the talk
with gusto. Then Leslie's angry silence began to tell on us all. After a
dull lapse, George lifted his head and said to his father:

"Oh, I shouldn't be surprised if that little red heifer calved tonight."

Lettie's eyes flashed with a sparkle of amusement at this thrust.

"No," assented the father, "I thought so myself."

After a moment's silence, George continued deliberately, "I felt her
gristles--"

"George!" said Emily sharply.

"We will go," said Leslie.

George looked up sideways at Lettie and his black eyes were full of
sardonic mischief.

"Lend me a shawl, will you, Emily?" said Lettie. "I brought nothing, and
I think the wind is cold."

Emily, however, regretted that she had no shawl, and so Lettie must needs
wear a black coat over her summer dress. It fitted so absurdly that we
all laughed, but Leslie was very angry that she should appear ludicrous
before them. He showed her all the polite attentions possible, fastened
the neck of her coat with his pearl scarf-pin, refusing the pin Emily
discovered, after some search. Then we sallied forth.

When we were outside, he offered Lettie his arm with an air of
injured dignity. She refused it and he began to remonstrate. "I
consider you ought to have been home as you promised."

"Pardon me." she replied, "but I did not promise."

"But you knew I was coming," said he.

"Well--you found me," she retorted.

"Yes," he assented. "I did find you; flirting with a common fellow," he
sneered.

"Well," she returned. "He did--it is true--call a heifer, a heifer."

"And I should think you liked it," he said.

"I didn't mind," she said, with galling negligence.

"I thought your taste was more refined," he replied sarcastically. "But I
suppose you thought it romantic."

"Very! Ruddy, dark, and really thrilling eyes," said she.

"I hate to hear a girl talk rot," said Leslie. He himself had crisp hair
of the "ginger" class.

"But I mean it," she insisted, aggravating his anger. Leslie was angry.
"I'm glad he amuses you!"

"Of course, I'm not hard to please," she said pointedly. He was stung to
the quick.

"Then there's some comfort in knowing I don't please you," he said
coldly.

"Oh! but you do! You amuse me also," she said.

After that he would not speak, preferring, I suppose, not to amuse her.

Lettie took my arm, and with her disengaged hand held her skirts above
the wet grass. When he had left us at the end of the riding in the wood,
Lettie said:

"What an infant he is!"

"A bit of an ass," I admitted.

"But really!" she said, "he's more agreeable on the whole than--than my
Taurus."

"Your bull!" I repeated, laughing.



CHAPTER III - A VENDOR OF VISIONS


The Sunday following Lettie's visit to the mill, Leslie came up in the
morning, admirably dressed, and perfected by a grand air. I showed him
into the dark drawing-room, and left him. Ordinarily he would have
wandered to the stairs, and sat there calling to Lettie; today he was
silent. I carried the news of his arrival to my sister, who was pinning
on her brooch.

"And how is the dear boy?" she asked.

"I have not inquired," said I.

She laughed, and loitered about till it was time to set off for church
before she came downstairs. Then she also assumed the grand air and bowed
to him with a beautiful bow. He was somewhat taken aback and had nothing
to say. She rustled across the room to the window, where the white
geraniums grew magnificently. "I must adorn myself," she said.

It was Leslie's custom to bring her flowers. As he had not done so this
day, she was piqued. He hated the scent and chalky whiteness of the
geraniums. So she smiled at him as she pinned them into the bosom of her
dress, saying:

"They are very fine, are they not?"

He muttered that they were. Mother came downstairs, greeted him warmly,
and asked him if he would take her to church.

"If you will allow me," said he.

"You are modest today," laughed Mother.

"Today!" he repeated.

"I hate modesty in a young man," said Mother--"Come, we shall be late."
Lettie wore the geraniums all day--till evening. She brought Alice Gall
home to tea, and bade me bring up "Mon Taureau", when his farm work was
over.

The day had been hot and close. The sun was reddening in the west as we
leaped across the lesser brook. The evening scents began to awake, and
wander unseen through the still air. An occasional yellow sunbeam would
slant through the thick roof of leaves and cling passionately to the
orange clusters of mountain-ash berries. The trees were silent, drawing
together to sleep. Only a few pink orchids stood palely by the path,
looking wistfully out at the ranks of red-purple bugle, whose last
flowers, glowing from the top of the bronze column, yearned darkly for
the sun.

We sauntered on in silence, not breaking the first hush of the woodlands.
As we drew near home we heard a murmur from among the trees, from the
lover's seat, where a great tree had fallen and remained mossed and
covered with fragile growth. There a crooked bough made a beautiful seat
for two.

"Fancy being in love and making a row in such a twilight," said I as we
continued our way. But when we came opposite the fallen tree, we saw no
lovers there, but a man sleeping, and muttering through his sleep. The
cap had fallen from his grizzled hair, and his head leaned back against a
profusion of the little wild geraniums that decorated the dead bough so
delicately. The man's clothing was good, but slovenly and neglected. His
face was pale and worn with sickness and dissipation. As he slept, his
grey beard wagged, and his loose unlovely mouth moved in indistinct
speech. He was acting over again some part of his life, and his features
twitched during the unnatural sleep. He would give a little groan,
gruesome to hear, and then talk to some woman. His features twitched as
if with pain, and he moaned slightly.

The lips opened in a grimace, showing the yellow teeth behind the beard.
Then he began again talking in his throat, thickly, so that we could only
tell part of what he said. It was very unpleasant. I wondered how we
should end it. Suddenly through the gloom of the twilight-haunted woods
came the scream of a rabbit caught by a weasel. The man awoke with a
sharp "Ah!"--he looked round in consternation, then sinking down again
wearily, said, "I was dreaming again."

"You don't seem to have nice dreams," said George.

The man winced then, looking at us, said, almost sneering: "And who are
you?"

We did not answer, but waited for him to move. He sat still, looking at
us.

"So!" he said at last, wearily, "I do dream. I do, I do." He sighed
heavily. Then he added, sarcastically, "Were you interested?"

"No," said I. "But you are out of your way surely. Which road did you
want?"

"You want me to clear out," he said.

"Well," I said, laughing in deprecation, "I don't mind your dreaming. But
this is not the way to anywhere."

"Where may you be going then?" he asked.

"I? Home," I replied with dignity.

"You are a Beardsall?" he queried, eyeing me with bloodshot eyes.

"I am!" I replied with more dignity, wondering who the fellow could be.

He sat a few moments looking at me. It was getting dark in the wood. Then
he took up an ebony stick with a gold head, and rose. The stick seemed to
catch at my imagination. I watched it curiously as we walked with the old
man along the path to the gate. We went with him into the open road. When
we reached the clear sky where the light from the west fell full on our
faces, he turned again and looked at us closely. His mouth opened
sharply, as if he would speak, but he stopped himself, and only said,
"Good-bye--Good-bye."

"Shall you be all right?" I asked, seeing him totter. "Yes--all
right--good-bye, lad."

He walked away feebly into the darkness. We saw the lights of a vehicle
on the high-road: after a while we heard the bang of a door, and a cab
rattled away.

"Well--whoever's he?" said George, laughing.

"Do you know," said I, "it's made me feel a bit rotten."

"Ay?" he laughed, turning up the end of the exclamation with indulgent
surprise.

We went back home, deciding to say nothing to the women. They were
sitting in the window seat watching for us, Mother and Alice and Lettie.

"You have been a long time!" said Lettie. "We've watched the sun go
down--it set splendidly--look--the rim of the hill is smouldering yet.
What have you been doing?"

"Waiting till your Taurus finished work."

"Now be quiet," she said hastily, and--turning to him--"You have come to
sing hymns?"

"Anything you like," he replied.

"How nice of you, George!" exclaimed Alice, ironically. She was a short,
plump girl, pale, with daring, rebellious eyes. Her mother was a Wyld, a
family famous either for shocking lawlessness, or for extreme
uprightness. Alice, with an admirable father, and a mother who loved her
husband passionately, was wild and lawless on the surface, but at heart
very upright and amenable. My mother and she were fast friends, and
Lettie had a good deal of sympathy with her. But Lettie generally
deplored Alice's outrageous behaviour, though she relished it--if
"superior" friends were not present. Most men enjoyed Alice in company,
but they fought shy of being alone with her.

"Would you say the same to me?" she asked.

"It depends what you'd answer," he said, laughingly.

"Oh, you're so bloomin' cautious. I'd rather have a tack in my shoe than
a cautious man, wouldn't you, Lettie?"

"Well--it depends how far I had to walk," was Lettie's reply--"but if I
hadn't to limp too far----"

Alice turned away from Lettie, whom she often found rather irritating.

"You do look glum, Sybil," she said to me, "did somebody want to kiss
you?"

I laughed--on the wrong side, understanding her malicious feminine
reference--and answered:

"If they had, I should have looked happy."

"Dear boy, smile now then"--and she tipped me under the chin. I drew
away.

"Oh, Gum--we are solemn! What's the matter with you? Georgie--say
something--else I's'll begin to feel nervous."

"What shall I say?" he asked, shifting his feet and resting his elbows on
his knees. "Oh, Lor!" she cried in great impatience. He did not help her,
but sat clasping his hands, smiling on one side of his face. He was
nervous. He looked at the pictures, the ornaments, and everything in the
room; Lettie got up to settle some flowers on the mantelpiece, and he
scrutinised her closely. She was dressed in some blue foulard stuff, with
lace at the throat, and lace cuffs to the elbow. She was tall and supple;
her hair had a curling fluffiness very charming. He was no taller than
she, and looked shorter, being strongly built. He too had a grace of his
own, but not as he sat stiffly on a horse-hair chair. She was elegant in
her movements.

After a little while Mother called us in to supper.

"Come," said Lettie to him, "take me in to supper." He rose, feeling very
awkward.

"Give me your arm," said she to tease him. He did so, and flushed under
his tan, afraid of her round arm half hidden by lace, which lay among his
sleeve.

When we were seated she flourished her spoon and asked him what he would
have. He hesitated, looked at the strange dishes, and said he would have
some cheese. They insisted on his eating new, complicated meats.

"I'm sure you like tantafflins, don't you, Georgie?" said Alice, in her
mocking fashion. He was not sure. He could not analyse the flavours, he
felt confused and bewildered even through his sense of taste! Alice
begged him to have salad.

"No, thanks," said he. "I don't like it."

"Oh, George!" she said. "How can you say so when I'm offering it you."

"Well--I've only had it once," said he, "and that was when I was working
with Flint, and he gave us fat bacon and bits of lettuce soaked in
vinegar--'Ave a bit more salt,' he kept saying, but I'd had enough."

"But all our lettuce," said Alice with a wink, "is as sweet as a nut, no
vinegar about our lettuce." George laughed in much confusion at her pun
on my sister's name.

"I believe you," he said, with pompous gallantry.

"Think of that!" cried Alice. "Our Georgie believes me. Oh, I am so, so
pleased!"

He smiled painfully. His hand was resting on the table, the thumb tucked
tight under the fingers, his knuckles white as he nervously gripped his
thumb. At last supper was finished, and he picked up his serviette from
the floor and began to fold it. Lettie also seemed ill at ease. She had
teased him till the sense of his awkwardness had become uncomfortable.
Now she felt sorry, and a trifle repentant, so she went to the piano, as
she always did to dispel her moods. When she was angry she played tender
fragments of Tchaikovsky, when she was miserable, Mozart. Now she played
Handel in a manner that suggested the plains of heaven in the long notes,
and in the little trills as if she were waltzing up the ladder of Jacob's
dream like the damsels in Blake's pictures. I often told her she
flattered herself scandalously through the piano; but generally she
pretended not to understand me, and occasionally she surprised me by a
sudden rush of tears to her eyes. For George's sake, she played Gounod's
"Ave Maria", knowing that the sentiment of the chant would appeal to him,
and make him sad, forgetful of the petty evils of this life. I smiled as
I watched the cheap spell working. When she had finished, her fingers lay
motionless for a minute on the keys, then she spun round, and looked him
straight in the eyes, giving promise of a smile. But she glanced down at
her knee.

"You are tired of music," she said.

"No," he replied, shaking his head.

"Like it better than salad?" she asked with a flash of raillery.

He looked up at her with a sudden smile, but did not reply. He was not
handsome; his features were too often in a heavy repose; but when he
looked up and smiled unexpectedly, he flooded her with an access of
tenderness.

"Then you'll have a little more," said she, and she turned again to the
piano. She played soft, wistful morsels, then suddenly broke off in the
midst of one sentimental plaint, and left the piano, dropping into a low
chair by the fire. There she sat and looked at him. He was conscious that
her eyes were fixed on him, but he dared not look back at her, so he
pulled his moustache.

"You are only a boy, after all," she said to him quietly. Then he turned
and asked her why.

"It is a boy that you are," she repeated, leaning back in her chair, and
smiling lazily at him.

"I never thought so," he replied seriously.

"Really?" she said, chuckling.

"No," said he, trying to recall his previous impressions. She laughed
heartily, saying:

"You're growing up."

"How?" he asked.

"Growing up," she repeated, still laughing.

"But I'm sure I was never boyish," said he.

"I'm teaching you," said she, "and when you're boyish you'll be a very
decent man. A mere man daren't be a boy for fear of tumbling off his
manly dignity, and then he'd be a fool, poor thing."

He laughed, and sat still to think about it, as was his way. "Do you like
pictures?" she asked suddenly, being tired of looking at him.

"Better than anything," he replied.

"Except dinner, and a warm hearth and a lazy evening," she said.

He looked at her suddenly, hardening at her insult, and biting his lips
at the taste of this humiliation. She repented, and smiled her plaintive
regret to him.

"I'll show you some," she said, rising and going out of the room. He felt
he was nearer her. She returned, carrying a pile of great books.

"Jove--you're pretty strong!" said he.

"You are charming in your compliment," she said. He glanced at her to see
if she were mocking.

"That's the highest you could say of me, isn't it?" she insisted.

"Is it?" he asked, unwilling to compromise himself.

"For sure," she answered--and then, laying the books on the table, "I
know how a man will compliment me by the way he looks at me"--she kneeled
before the fire. "Some look at my hair, some watch the rise and fall of
my breathing, some look at my neck, and a few--not you among them--look
me in the eyes for my thoughts. To you, I'm a fine specimen, strong!
Pretty strong! You primitive man!"

He sat twisting his fingers; she was very contrary.

"Bring your chair up," she said, sitting down at the table and opening a
book. She talked to him of each picture, insisting on hearing his
opinion. Sometimes he disagreed with her and would not be persuaded. At
such times she was piqued.

"If," said she, "an ancient Briton in his skins came and contradicted me
as you do, wouldn't you tell him not to make an ass of himself?"

"I don't know," said he.

"Then you ought to," she replied. "You know nothing."

"How is it you ask me then?" he said.

She began to laugh.

"Why--that's a pertinent question. I think you might be rather nice, you
know."

"Thank you," he said, smiling ironically.

"Oh!" she said. "I know, you think you're perfect, but you're not, you're
very annoying."

"Yes," exclaimed Alice, who had entered the room again, dressed ready to
depart. "He's so blooming slow! Great whizz! Who wants fellows to carry
cold dinners? Shouldn't you like to shake him, Lettie?"

"I don't feel concerned enough," replied the other calmly. "Did you ever
carry a boiled pudding, Georgie?" asked Alice with innocent interest,
punching me slyly.

"Me!--why?--what makes you ask?" he replied, quite at a loss.

"Oh, I only wondered if your people needed any indigestion mixture--Pa
mixes it--1/1 a bottle."

"I don't see--" he began.

"Ta--ta, old boy, I'll give you time to think about it. Good night,
Lettie. Absence makes the heart grow fonder--Georgie--of someone else.
Farewell. Come along, Sybil love, the moon is shining--Good night all,
good night!"

I escorted her home, while they continued to look at the pictures. He was
a romanticist. He liked Copley, Fielding, Cattermole and Birket Foster;
he could see nothing whatsoever in Girtin or David Cox. They fell out
decidedly over George Clausen.

"But," said Lettie, "he is a real realist, he makes common things
beautiful, he sees the mystery and magnificence that envelops us even
when we work menially. I do know and I can speak. If I hoed in the
fields beside you--" This was a very new idea for him, almost a shock to
his imagination, and she talked unheeded. The picture under discussion
was a water-colour--"Hoeing" by Clausen.

"You'd be just that colour in the sunset," she said, thus bringing him
back to the subject, "and if you looked at the ground you'd find there
was a sense of warm gold fire in it, and once you'd perceived the colour,
it would strengthen till you'd see nothing else. You are blind; you are
only half-born; you are gross with good living and heavy sleeping. You
are a piano which will only play a dozen common notes. Sunset is nothing
to you--it merely happens anywhere. Oh, but you make me feel as if I'd
like to make you suffer. If you'd ever been sick; if you'd ever been born
into a home where there was something oppressed you, and you couldn't
understand; if ever you'd believed, or even doubted, you might have been
a man by now. You never grow up, like bulbs which spend all summer
getting fat and fleshy, but never wakening the germ of a flower. As for
me, the flower is born in me, but it wants bringing forth. Things don't
flower if they're overfed. You have to suffer before you blossom in this
life. When death is just touching a plant, it forces it into a passion of
flowering. You wonder how I have touched death. You don't know. There's
always a sense of death in this home. I believe my mother hated my father
before I was born. That was death in her veins for me before I was born.
It makes a difference--"

As he sat listening, his eyes grew wide and his lips were parted, like a
child who feels the tale but does not understand the words. She, looking
away from herself at last, saw him, began to laugh gently, and patted his
hand, saying:

"Oh! my dear heart, are you bewildered? How amiable of you to listen to
me--there isn't any meaning in it all--there isn't really!"

"But," said he, "why do you say it?"

"Oh, the question!" she laughed. "Let us go back to our muttons, we're
gazing at each other like two dazed images." They turned on, chatting
casually, till George suddenly exclaimed, "There!"

It was Maurice Griffinhagen's "Idyll".

"What of it?" she asked, gradually flushing. She remembered her own
enthusiasm over the picture.

"Wouldn't it be fine?" he exclaimed, looking at her with glowing eyes,
his teeth showing white in a smile that was not amusement.

"What?" she asked, dropping her head in confusion. "That--a girl like
that--half afraid--and passion!" He lit up curiously.

"She may well be half afraid, when the barbarian comes out in his glory,
skins and all."

"But don't you like it?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders, saying, "Make love to the next girl you meet,
and by the time the poppies redden the field, she'll hang in your arms.
She'll have need to be more than half afraid, won't she?"

She played with the leaves of the book, and did not look at him.

"But," he faltered, his eyes glowing, "it would be--rather--"

"Don't, sweet lad, don't!" she cried, laughing.

"But I shouldn't--" he insisted. "I don't know whether I should like any
girl I know to--"

"Precious Sir Galahad," she said in a mock caressing voice, and stroking
his cheek with her finger, "you ought to have been a monk--a martyr, a
Carthusian."

He laughed, taking no notice. He was breathlessly quivering under the new
sensation of heavy, unappeased fire in his breast, and in the muscles of
his arms. He glanced at her bosom and shivered.

"Are you studying just how to play the part?" she asked.

"No--but--" he tried to look at her, but failed. He shrank, laughing,
and dropped his head.

"What?" she asked with vibrant curiosity.

Having become a few degrees calmer, he looked up at her now, his eyes
wide and vivid with a declaration that made her shrink back as if flame
had leaped towards her face. She bent down her head and picked at her
dress.

"Didn't you know the picture before?" she said, in a low, toneless voice.

He shut his eyes and shrank with shame.

"No, I've never seen it before," he said.

"I'm surprised," she said. "It is a very common one."

"Is it?" he answered, and this make-belief conversation fell. She looked
up, and found his eyes. They gazed at each other for a moment before they
hid their faces again. It was a torture to each of them to look thus
nakedly at the other, a dazzled, shrinking pain that they forced
themselves to undergo for a moment, that they might the moment after
tremble with a fierce sensation that filled their veins with fluid, fiery
electricity. She sought, almost in panic, for something to say.

"I believe it's in Liverpool, the picture," she contrived to say.

He dared not kill this conversation, he was too self-conscious. He forced
himself to reply, "I didn't know there was a gallery in Liverpool."

"Oh yes, a very good one," she said.

Their eyes met in the briefest flash of a glance, then both turned their
faces aside. Thus averted, one from the other, they made talk. At last
she rose, gathered the books together, and carried them off. At the door
she turned. She must steal another keen moment: "Are you admiring my
strength?" she asked. Her pose was fine. With her head thrown back, the
roundness of her throat ran finely down to the bosom, which swelled above
the pile of books held by her straight arms. He looked at her. Their lips
smiled curiously. She put back her throat as if she were drinking. They
felt the blood beating madly in their necks. Then, suddenly breaking into
a slight trembling, she turned round and left the room.

While she was out, he sat twisting his moustache. She came back along the
hall talking madly to herself in French. Having been much impressed by
Sarah Bernhardt's "Dame aux Camlias" and "Adrienne Lecouvreur", Lettie
had caught something of the weird tone of this great actress, and her
raillery and mockery came out in little wild waves. She laughed at him,
and at herself, and at men in general, and at love in particular.
Whatever he said to her, she answered in the same mad clatter of French,
speaking high and harshly. The sound was strange and uncomfortable. There
was a painful perplexity in his brow, such as I often perceived
afterwards, a sense of something hurting, something he could not
understand.

"Well, well, well, well!" she exclaimed at last. "We must be mad
sometimes, or we should be getting aged, hein?"

"I wish I could understand," he said plaintively.

"Poor dear!" she laughed. "How sober he is! And will you really go? They
will think we've given you no supper, you look so sad."

"I have supped--full--" he began, his eyes dancing with a smile as he
ventured upon a quotation. He was very much excited.

"Of horrors!" she cried, completing it. "Now that is worse than anything
I have given you."

"Is it?" he replied, and they smiled at each other.

"Far worse," she answered. They waited in suspense for some moments. He
looked at her.

"Good-bye," she said, holding out her hand. Her voice was full of
insurgent tenderness. He looked at her again, his eyes flickering. Then
he took her hand. She pressed his fingers, holding them a little while.
Then ashamed of her display of feeling, she looked down. He had a deep
cut across his thumb.

"What a gash!" she exclaimed, shivering, and clinging a little tighter to
his fingers before she released them. He gave a little laugh.

"Does it hurt you?" she asked very gently.

He laughed again--"No!" he said softly, as if his thumb were not worthy
of consideration.

They smiled again at each other, and, with a blind movement, he broke the
spell and was gone.



CHAPTER IV - THE FATHER


Autumn set in, and the red dahlias which kept the warm light alive in
their bosoms so late into the evening died in the night, and the morning
had nothing but brown balls of rottenness to show.

They called me as I passed the post office door in Eberwich one evening,
and they gave me a letter for my mother. The distorted, sprawling
handwriting perplexed me with a dim uneasiness; I put the letter away,
and forgot it. I remembered it later in the evening, when I wished to
recall something to interest my mother. She looked at the handwriting,
and began hastily and nervously to tear open the envelope; she held it
away from her in the light of the lamp, and with eyes drawn half closed,
tried to scan it. So I found her spectacles, but she did not speak her
thanks, and her hand trembled. She read the short letter quickly; then
she sat down, and read it again, and continued to look at it.

"What is it, Mother?" I asked.

She did not answer, but continued staring at the letter. I went up to
her, and put my hand on her shoulder, feeling very uncomfortable. She
took no notice of me, beginning to murmur, "Poor Frank--Poor Frank." That
was my father's name.

"But what is it, Mother?--tell me what's the matter!"

She turned and looked at me as if I were a stranger; she got up, and
began to walk about the room; then she left the room, and I heard her go
out of the house.

The letter had fallen on to the floor. I picked it up. The handwriting
was very broken. The address gave a village some few miles away; the date
was three days before.

"My Dear Lettice:

"You will want to know I am gone. I can hardly last a day or two--my
kidneys are nearly gone.

"I came over one day. I didn't see you, but I saw the girl by the window,
and I had a few words with the lad. He never knew, and he felt nothing. I
think the girl might have done. If you knew how awfully lonely I am,
Lettice--how awfully I have been, you might feel sorry.

"I have saved what I could, to pay you back. I have had the worst of it,
Lettice, and I'm glad the end has come. I have had the worst of it.

"Good-bye--for ever--your husband,

"FRANK BEARDSALL."

I was numbed by this letter of my father's. With almost agonised effort I
strove to recall him, But I knew that my image of a tall, handsome, dark
man with pale grey eyes was made up from my mother's few words, and from
a portrait I had once seen.

The marriage had been unhappy. My father was of frivolous, rather vulgar
character, but plausible, having a good deal of charm. He was a liar,
without notion of honesty, and he had deceived my mother thoroughly. One
after another she discovered his mean dishonesties and deceits, and her
soul revolted from him, and because the illusion of him had broken into a
thousand vulgar fragments, she turned away with the scorn of a woman who
finds her romance has been a trumpery tale. When he left her for other
pleasures--Lettie being a baby of three years, while I was five--she
rejoiced bitterly. She had heard of him indirectly--and of him nothing
good, although he prospered--but he had never come to see her or written
to her in all the eighteen years.

In a while my mother came in. She sat down, pleating up the hem of her
black apron, and smoothing it out again. "You know," she said, "he had a
right to the children, and I've kept them all the time."

"He could have come," said I.

"I set them against him, I have kept them from him, and he wanted them. I
ought to be by him now--I ought to have taken you to him long ago."

"But how could you, when you knew nothing of him?"

"He would have come--he wanted to come--I have felt it for years. But I
kept him away. I know I have kept him away. I have felt it, and he has.
Poor Frank--he'll see his mistakes now. He would not have been as cruel
as I have been--"

"Nay, Mother, it is only the shock that makes you say so."

"This makes me know. I have felt in myself a long time that he was
suffering; I have had the feeling of him in me. I knew, yes, I did know
he wanted me, and you, I felt it. I have had the feeling of him upon me
this last three months especially...I have been cruel to him."

"Well--we'll go to him now, shall we?" I said. "Tomorrow--tomorrow," she
replied, noticing me really for the first time. "I go in the morning."

"And I'll go with you."

"Yes--in the morning. Lettie has her party to Chatsworth--don't tell
her--we won't tell her."

"No," said I.

Shortly after, my mother went upstairs. Lettie came in rather late from
Highclose; Leslie did not come in. In the morning they were going with a
motor party into Matloch and Chatsworth, and she was excited, and did not
observe anything.

After all, Mother and I could not set out until the warm tempered
afternoon. The air was full of a soft yellowness when we stepped down
from the train at Cossethay. My mother insisted on walking the long two
miles to the village. We went slowly along the road, lingering over the
little red flowers in the high hedge-bottom up the hillside. We were
reluctant to come to our destination. As we came in sight of the little
grey tower of the church, we heard the sound of braying, brassy music.
Before us, filling a little croft, the Wakes was in full swing.

Some wooden horses careered gaily round, and the swingboats leaped into
the mild blue sky. We sat upon the stile, my mother and I, and watched.
There were booths, and coconut shies and roundabouts scattered in the
small field. Groups of children moved quietly from attraction to
attraction. A deeply tanned man came across the field swinging two
dripping buckets of water. Women looked from the doors of their brilliant
caravans, and lean dogs rose lazily and settled down again under the
steps. The fair moved slowly, for all its noise. A stout lady, with a
husky masculine voice, invited the excited children into her peep-show. A
swarthy man stood with his thin legs astride on the platform of the
roundabouts, and sloping backwards, his mouth distended with a row of
fingers, he whistled astonishingly to the coarse row of the organ, and
his whistling sounded clear, like the flight of a wild goose high over
the chimney tops, as he was carried round and round. A little fat man
with an ugly swelling on his chest stood screaming from a filthy booth to
a crowd of urchins, bidding them challenge a big, stolid young man who
stood with folded arms, his fists pushing out his biceps. On being asked
if he would undertake any of these prospective challenges, this young man
nodded, not having yet attained a talking stage:--yes he would take two
at a time, screamed the little fat man with the big excrescence on his
chest, pointing at the cowering lads and girls. Farther off, Punch's
quaint voice could be heard when the coconut man ceased grinding out
screeches from his rattle. The coconut man was wroth, for these
youngsters would not risk a penny shy, and the rattle yelled like a
fiend. A little girl came along to look at us, daintily licking an
ice-cream sandwich. We were uninteresting, however, so she passed on to
stare at the caravans.

We had almost gathered courage to cross the wakes, when the cracked bell
of the church sent its note falling over the babble.

"One--two--three"--had it really sounded three! Then it rang on a lower
bell--"One--two--three." A passing bell for a man! I looked at my
mother--she turned away from me.

The organ flared on--the husky woman came forward to make another appeal.
Then there was a lull. The man with the lump on his chest had gone inside
the rag to spar with the solid fellow. The coconut man had gone to the
"Three Tunns" in fury, and a brazen girl of seventeen or so was in charge
of the nuts. The horses careered round, carrying two frightened boys.

Suddenly the quick, throbbing note of the low bell struck again through
the din. I listened--but could not keep count. One, two, three, four--for
the third time that great lad had determined to go on the horses, and
they had started while his foot was on the step, and he had been
foiled--eight, nine, ten--no wonder that whistling man had such a big
Adam's apple--I wondered if it hurt his neck when he talked, being so
pointed--nineteen, twenty--the girl was licking more ice-cream, with
precious, tiny licks--twenty-five, twenty-six--I wondered if I did count
to twenty-six mechanically. At this point I gave it up, and watched for
Lord Tennyson's bald head to come spinning round on the painted rim of
the roundabouts, followed by a red-faced Lord Roberts, and a
villainous-looking Disraeli.

"Fifty-one--" said my mother. "Come--come along." We hurried through the
fair, towards the church; towards a garden where the last red sentinels
looked out from the top of the hollyhock spires. The garden was a tousled
mass of faded pink chrysanthemums, and weak-eyed Michaelmas daisies, and
spectre stalks of hollyhocks. It belonged to a low, dark house, which
crouched behind a screen of yews. We walked along to the front. The
blinds were down, and in one room we could see the stale light of candles
burning.

"Is this Yew Cottage?" asked my mother of a curious lad.

"It's Mrs May's," replied the boy.

"Does she live alone?" I asked.

"She 'ad French Carlin--but he's dead--an' she's letten th' candles ter
keep th' owd lad off'n 'im."

We went to the house and knocked.

"An' ye come about him?" hoarsely whispered a bent old woman, looking up
with very blue eyes, nodding her old head with its velvet net
significantly towards the inner room.

"Yes--" said my mother, "we had a letter."

"Ay, poor fellow--he's gone, missis," and the old lady shook her head.
Then she looked at us curiously, leaned forward, and, putting her
withered old hand on my mother's arm, her hand with its dark blue veins,
she whispered in confidence, "And the candles 'as gone out twice. 'E wor
a funny feller, very funny!"

"I must come in and settle things--I am his nearest relative," said my
mother, trembling.

"Yes--I must 'a dozed, for when I looked up, it wor black darkness.
Missis, I dursn't sit up wi' 'im no more, an' many a one I've laid out.
Eh, but his sufferin's, Missis--poor feller--eh, Missis!"--she lifted her
ancient hands, and looked up at my mother, with her eyes so intensely
blue.

"Do you know where he kept his papers?" asked my mother.

"Yis, I axed Father Burns about it; he said we mun pray for 'im. I bought
him candles out o' my own pocket. He wor a rum feller, he wor!" and again
she shook her grey head mournfully. My mother took a step forward.

"Did ye want to see 'im?" asked the old woman with half-timid
questioning.

"Yes," replied my mother, with a vigorous nod. She perceived now that the
old lady was deaf.

We followed the woman into the kitchen, a long, low room, dark, with
drawn blinds.

"Sit ye down," said the old lady in the same low tone, as if she were
speaking to herself:

"Ye are his sister, 'appen?"

My mother shook her head.

"Oh--his brother's wife!" persisted the old lady.

We shook our heads.

"Only a cousin?" she guessed, and looked at us appealingly. I nodded
assent.

"Sit ye there a minute," she said, and trotted off. She banged the door,
and jarred a chair as she went. When she returned, she set down a bottle
and two glasses with a thump on the table in front of us. Her thin,
skinny wrist seemed hardly capable of carrying the bottle.

"It's one as he'd only just begun of--'ave a drop to keep ye up--do now,
poor thing," she said, pushing the bottle to my mother and hurrying off,
returning with the sugar and the kettle. We refused.

"'E won't want it no more, poor feller--an' it's good, Missis, he allers
drank it good. Ay--an' 'e 'adn't a drop the last three days, poor man,
poor feller, not a drop. Come now, it'll stay ye, come now." We refused.

"'T's in there," she whispered, pointing to a closed door in a dark
corner of the gloomy kitchen. I stumbled up a little step, and went
plunging against a rickety table on which was a candle in a tall brass
candlestick. Over went the candle, and it rolled on the floor, and the
brass holder fell with much clanging.

"Eh!--Eh! Dear--Lord, Dear--Heart. Dear--Heart!" wailed the old woman.
She hastened trembling round to the other side of the bed, and relit the
extinguished candle at the taper which was still burning. As she
returned, the light glowed on her old, wrinkled face, and on the
burnished knobs of the dark mahogany bedstead, while a stream of wax
dripped down on to the floor. By the glimmering light of the two tapers
we could see the outlined form under the counterpane. She turned back the
hem and began to make painful wailing sounds. My heart was beating
heavily, and I felt choked. I did not want to look--but I must. It was
the man I had seen in the woods--with the puffiness gone from his face. I
felt the great wild pity, and a sense of terror, and a sense of horror,
and a sense of awful littleness and loneliness among a great empty space.
I felt beyond myself as if I were a mere fleck drifting unconsciously
through the dark. Then I felt my mother's arm round my shoulders, and she
cried pitifully, "Oh, my son, my son!"

I shivered, and came back to myself. There were no tears in my mother's
face, only a great pleading. "Never mind, Mother--never mind," I said
incoherently.

She rose and covered the face again, and went round to the old lady, and
held her still, and stayed her little wailings. The woman wiped from her
cheeks the few tears of old age, and pushed her grey hair smooth under
the velvet network.

"Where are all his things?" asked mother.

"Eh?" said the old lady, lifting up her ear.

"Are all his things here?" repeated mother in a louder tone.

"Here?"--the woman waved her hand round the room. It contained the great
mahogany bedstead naked of hangings, a desk, and an oak chest, and two or
three mahogany chairs. "I couldn't get him upstairs; he's only been here
about a three week."

"Where's the key to the desk?" said my mother loudly in the woman's ear.

"Yes," she replied--"it's his desk." She looked at us, perplexed and
doubtful, fearing she had misunderstood us. This was dreadful.

"Key!" I shouted. "Where is the key?"

Her old face was full of trouble as she shook her head. I took it that
she did not know.

"Where are his clothes? Clothes," I repeated, pointing to my coat. She
understood, and muttered, "I'll fetch 'em ye." We should have followed
her as she hurried upstairs through a door near the head of the bed, had
we not heard a heavy footstep in the kitchen, and a voice saying, "Is the
old lady going to drink with the Devil? Hullo, Mrs May, come and drink
with me!" We heard the tinkle of the liquor poured into a glass, and
almost immediately the light tap of the empty tumbler on the table.

"I'll see what the old girl's up to," he said, and the heavy tread came
towards us. Like me, he stumbled at the little step, but escaped
collision with the table.

"Damn that fool's step," he said heartily. It was the doctor--for he kept
his hat on his head, and did not hesitate to stroll about the house. He
was a big, burly, red-faced man.

"I beg your pardon," he said, observing my mother. My mother bowed.

"Mrs Beardsall?" he asked, taking off his hat.

My mother bowed.

"I posted a letter to you. You are a relative of his--of poor old
Carlin's?"--he nodded sideways towards the bed. "The nearest," said my
mother.

"Poor fellow--he was a bit stranded. Comes of being a bachelor, Ma'am."

"I was very much surprised to hear from him," said my mother.

"Yes, I guess he's not been much of a one for writing to his friends.
He's had a bad time lately. You have to pay some time or other. We bring
them on ourselves--silly devils as we are.--I beg your pardon."

There was a moment of silence, during which the doctor sighed, and then
began to whistle softly.

"Well--we might be more comfortable if we had the blind up," he said,
letting daylight in among the glimmer of the tapers as he spoke.

"At any rate," he said, "you won't have any trouble settling up--no debts
or anything of that. I believe there's a bit to leave--so it's not so
bad. Poor devil--he was very down at the last; but we have to pay at one
end or the other. What on earth is the old girl after?" he asked, looking
up at the raftered ceiling, which was rumbling and thundering with the
old lady's violent rummaging.

"We wanted the key of his desk," said my mother.

"Oh--I can find you that--and the will. He told me where they were, and
to give them you when you came. He seemed to think a lot of you. Perhaps
he might ha' done better for himself--"

Here we heard the heavy tread of the old lady coming downstairs. The
doctor went to the foot of the stairs.

"Hello, now--be careful!" he bawled. The poor old woman did as he
expected, and trod on the braces of the trousers she was trailing, and
came crashing into his arms. He set her tenderly down, saying, "Not hurt,
are you?--no!" and he smiled at her and shook his head.

"Eh, Doctor--Eh, Doctor--bless ye, I'm thankful ye've come. Ye'll see to
'em now, will ye?"

"Yes--" he nodded in his bluff, winning way, and hurrying into the
kitchen, he mixed her a glass of whisky, and brought one for himself,
saying to her, "There you are--'twas a nasty shaking for you."

The poor old woman sat in a chair by the open door of the staircase, the
pile of clothing tumbled about her feet. She looked round pitifully at
us, and at the daylight struggling among the candle-light, making a
ghostly gleam on the bed where the rigid figure lay unmoved; her hand
trembled so that she could scarcely hold her glass.

The doctor gave us the keys, and we rifled the desk and the drawers,
sorting out all the papers. The doctor sat sipping and talking to us all
the time.

"Yes," he said, "he's only been here about two years. Felt himself
beginning to break up then, I think. He'd been a long time abroad; they
always called him Frenchy." The doctor sipped and reflected, and sipped
again, "Ay--he'd run the rig in his day--used to dream dreadfully. Good
thing the old woman was so deaf. Awful, when a man gives himself away in
his sleep; played the deuce with him, knowing it." Sip, sip, sip--and
more reflections--and another glass to be mixed.

"But he was a jolly decent fellow--generous, open-handed. The folks
didn't like him, because they couldn't get to the bottom of him; they
always hate a thing they can't fathom. He was close, there's no
mistake--save when he was asleep sometimes." The doctor looked at his
glass and sighed.

"However--we shall miss him--shan't we, Mrs May?" he bawled suddenly,
startling us, making us glance at the bed.

He lit his pipe and puffed voluminously in order to obscure the
attraction of his glass. Meanwhile we examined the papers. There were
very few letters--one or two addressed to Paris. There were many bills,
and receipts, and notes--business, all business.

There was hardly a trace of sentiment among all the litter. My mother
sorted out such papers as she considered valuable; the others, letters
and missives which she glanced at cursorily and put aside, she took into
the kitchen and burned. She seemed afraid to find out too much.

The doctor continued to colour his tobacco smoke with a few pensive
words.

"Ay," he said, "there are two ways. You can burn your lamp with a big
draught, and it'll flare away, till the oil's gone, then it'll stink and
smoke itself out. Or you can keep it trim on the kitchen table, dirty
your fingers occasionally trimming it up, and it'll last a long time, and
sink out mildly." Here he turned to his glass, and finding it empty, was
awakened to reality.

"Anything I can do, Madam?" he asked.

"No, thank you."

"Ay, I don't suppose there's much to settle. Nor many tears to shed--when
a fellow spends his years an' his prime on the Lord knows who, you can't
expect those that remember him young to feel his loss too keenly. He'd
had his fling in his day, though, ma'am. Ay--must ha' had some rich
times. No lasting satisfaction in it though--always wanting, craving.
There's nothing like marrying--you've got your dish before you then, and
you've got to eat it." He lapsed again into reflection, from which he did
not rouse till we had locked up the desk, burned the useless papers, put
the others into my pocket and the black bag, and were standing ready to
depart. Then the doctor looked up suddenly and said:

"But what about the funeral?"

Then he noticed the weariness of my mother's look, and he jumped up, and
quickly seized his hat, saying:

"Come across to my wife and have a cup of tea. Buried in these dam holes
a fellow gets such a boor. Do come--my little wife is lonely--come just
to see her."

My mother smiled and thanked him. We turned to go. My mother hesitated in
her walk; on the threshold of the room she glanced round at the bed, but
she went on.

Outside, in the fresh air of the fading afternoon, I could not believe it
was true. It was not true, that sad, colourless face with grey beard,
wavering in the yellow candle-light. It was a lie--that wooden bedstead,
that deaf woman, they were fading phrases of the untruth. That yellow
blaze of little sunflowers was true, and the shadow from the sun-dial on
the warm old almshouses--that was real. The heavy afternoon sunlight came
round us warm and reviving; we shivered, and the untruth went out of our
veins, and we were no longer chilled.

The doctor's house stood sweetly among the beech trees, and at the iron
fence in front of the little lawn a woman was talking to a beautiful
Jersey cow that pushed its dark nose through the fence from the field
beyond. She was a little, dark woman with vivid colouring; she rubbed the
nose of the delicate animal, peeped right into the dark eyes, and talked
in a lovable Scottish speech; talked as a mother talks softly to her
child. When she turned round in surprise to greet us there was still the
softness of a rich affection in her eyes. She gave us tea, and scones,
and apple jelly, and all the time we listened with delight to her voice,
which was musical as bees humming in the lime trees. Though she said
nothing significant, we listened to her attentively.

Her husband was merry and kind. She glanced at him with quick glances of
apprehension, and her eyes avoided him. He, in his merry, frank way,
chaffed her, and praised her extravagantly, and teased her again. Then he
became a trifle uneasy. I think she was afraid he had been drinking; I
think she was shaken with horror when she found him tipsy, and bewildered
and terrified when she saw him drunk. They had no children. I noticed he
ceased to joke when she became a little constrained. He glanced at her
often, and looked somewhat pitiful when she avoided his looks, and he
grew uneasy, and I could see he wanted to go away.

"I had better go with you to see the vicar, then," he said to me, and we
left the room, whose windows looked south, over the meadows, the room
where dainty little water-colours, and beautiful bits of embroidery, and
empty flower-vases, and two dirty novels from the town library, and the
closed piano, and the odd cups, and the chipped spout of the teapot
causing stains on the cloth--all told one story.

We went to the joiner's and ordered the coffin, and the doctor had a
glass of whisky on it; the graveyard fees were paid, and the doctor
sealed the engagement with a drop of brandy; the vicar's port completed
the doctor's joviality, and we went home.

This time the disquiet in the little woman's dark eyes could not dispel
the doctor's merriment. He rattled away, and she nervously twisted her
wedding-ring. He insisted on driving us to the station, in spite of our
alarm.

"But you will be quite safe with him," said his wife, in her caressing
Highland speech. When she shook hands at parting I noticed the hardness
of the little palm;--and I have always hated an old, black alpaca dress.

It is such a long way home from the station at Eberwich. We rode part way
in the bus; then we walked. It is a very Hong way for my mother, when her
steps are heavy with trouble.

Rebecca was out by the rhododendrons looking for us. She hurried to us
all solicitous, and asked Mother if she had had tea.

"But you'll do with another cup," she said, and ran back into the house.

She came into the dining-room to take my mother's bonnet and coat. She
wanted us to talk; she was distressed on my mother's behalf; she noticed
the blackness that lay under her eyes, and she fidgeted about, unwilling
to ask anything, yet uneasy and anxious to know.

"Lettie has been home," she said.

"And gone back again?" asked Mother.

"She only came to change her dress. She put the green poplin on. She
wondered where you'd gone."

"What did you tell her?"

"I said you'd just gone out a bit. She said she was glad. She was as
lively as a squirrel."

Rebecca looked wistfully at my mother. At length the latter said:

"He's dead, Rebecca. I have seen him."

"Now thank God for that--no more need to worry over him."

"Well!--He died all alone, Rebecca--all alone."

"He died as you've lived," said Becky with some asperity. "But I've had
the children, I've had the children--we won't tell Lettie, Rebecca."

"No 'm." Rebecca left the room.

"You and Lettie will have the money," said mother to me. There was a sum
of four thousand pounds or so. It was left to my mother; or, in default
to Lettie and me."

"Well, Mother--if it's ours, it's yours."

There was silence for some minutes, then she said, "You might have had a
father--"

"We're thankful we hadn't, Mother. You spared us that."

"But how can you tell?" said my mother.

"I can," I replied. "And I am thankful to you."

"If ever you feel scorn for one who is near you rising in your throat,
try and be generous, my lad."

"Well--" said I.

"Yes," she replied, "we'll say no more. Sometime you must tell
Lettie--you tell her."

I did tell her, a week or so afterwards.

"Who knows?" she asked, her face hardening.

"Mother, Becky, and ourselves."

"Nobody else?"

"No."

"Then it's a good thing he is out of the way if he was such a nuisance to
Mother. Where is she?"

"Upstairs."

Lettie ran to her.



CHAPTER V - THE SCENT OF BLOOD


The death of the man who was our father changed our lives. It was not
that we suffered a great grief; the chief trouble was the unanswered
crying of failure. But we were changed in our feelings and in our
relations; there was a new consciousness, a new carefulness.

We had lived between the woods and the water all our lives, Lettie and I,
and she had sought the bright notes in everything. She seemed to hear the
water laughing, and the leaves tittering and giggling like young girls;
the aspen fluttered like the draperies of a flirt, and the sound of the
wood-pigeons was almost foolish in its sentimentality.

Lately, however, she had noticed again the cruel, pitiful crying of a
hedgehog caught in a gin, and she had noticed the traps for the fierce
little murderers, traps walled in with a small fence of fir, and baited
with the guts of a killed rabbit.

On an afternoon a short time after our visit to Cossethay, Lettie sat in
the window seat. The sun clung to her hair, and kissed her with
passionate splashes of colour brought from the vermilion, dying creeper
outside. The sun loved Lettie, and was loath to leave her. She looked out
over Nethermere to Highclose, vague in the September mist. Had it not
been for the scarlet light on her face, I should have thought her look
was sad and serious. She nestled up to the window, and leaned her head
against the wooden shaft. Gradually she drooped into sleep. Then she
became wonderfully childish again--it was the girl of seventeen sleeping
there, with her full pouting lips slightly apart, and the breath coming
lightly. I felt the old feeling of responsibility; I must protect her,
and take care of her.

There was a crunch of the gravel. It was Leslie coming. He lifted his hat
to her, thinking she was looking. He had that fine, lithe physique,
suggestive of much animal vigour; his person was exceedingly attractive;
one watched him move about, and felt pleasure. His face was less pleasing
than his person. He was not handsome; his eyebrows were too light, his
nose was large and ugly, and his forehead, though high and fair, was
without dignity. But he had a frank, good-natured expression, and a fine,
wholesome laugh.

He wondered why she did not move. As he came nearer he saw. Then he
winked at me and came in. He tiptoed across the room to look at her. The
sweet carelessness of her attitude, the appealing, half-pitiful
girlishness of her face touched his responsive heart, and he leaned
forward and kissed her cheek where already was a crimson stain of
sunshine.

She roused half out of her sleep with a little, petulant "Oh!" as an
awkward child. He sat down behind her, and gently drew her head against
him, looking down at her with a tender, soothing smile. I thought she was
going to fall asleep thus. But her eyelids quivered, and her eyes beneath
them flickered into consciousness.

"Leslie!--oh!--Let me go!" she exclaimed, pushing him away. He loosed
her, and rose, looking at her reproachfully. She shook her dress, and
went quickly to the mirror to arrange her hair.

"You are mean!" she exclaimed, looking very flushed, vexed, and
dishevelled.

He laughed indulgently, saying, "You shouldn't go to sleep then and look
so pretty. Who could help?"

"It is not nice!" she said, frowning with irritation.

"We are not 'nice'--are we? I thought we were proud of our
unconventionality. Why shouldn't I kiss you?"

"Because it is a question of me, not of you alone."

"Dear me, you are in a way!"

"Mother is coming."

"Is she? You had better tell her."

Mother was very fond of Leslie.

"Well, sir," she said, "why are you frowning?"

He broke into a laugh.

"Lettie is scolding me for kissing her when she was playing 'Sleeping
Beauty'."

"The conceit of the boy, to play Prince!" said my mother. "Oh, but it
appears I was sadly out of character," he said ruefully.

Lettie laughed and forgave him.

"Well," he said, looking at her and smiling, "I came to ask you to go
out."

"It is a lovely afternoon," said Mother.

She glanced at him, and said:

"I feel dreadfully lazy."

"Never mind!" he replied, "you'll wake up. Go and put your hat on."

He sounded impatient. She looked at him.

He seemed to be smiling peculiarly.

She lowered her eyes and went out of the room.

"She'll come all right," he said to himself, and to me. "She likes to
play you on a string."

She must have heard him. When she came in again, drawing on her gloves,
she said quietly:

"You come as well, Pat."

He swung round and stared at her in angry amazement.

"I had rather stay and finish this sketch," I said, feeling
uncomfortable.

"No, but do come, there's a dear." She took the brush from my hand, and
drew me from my chair. The blood flushed into his cheeks. He went quietly
into the hall and brought my cap.

"All right!" he said angrily. "Women like to fancy themselves Napoleons."

"They do, dear Iron Duke, they do," she mocked.

"Yet, there's a Waterloo in all their histories," he said, since she had
supplied him with the idea.

"Say Peterloo, my general, say Peterloo."

"Ay, Peterloo," he replied, with a splendid curl of the lip--"Easy
conquests!"

"'He came, he saw, he conquered,'" Lettie recited.

"Are you coming?" he said, getting more angry.

"When you bid me," she replied, taking my arm.

We went through the wood, and through the dishevelled border-land to the
high road, through the border-land that should have been park-like, but
which was shaggy with loose grass and yellow mole-hills, ragged with
gorse and bramble and briar, with wandering old thorn trees, and a queer
clump of Scotch firs.

On the highway the leaves were falling, and they chattered under our
steps. The water was mild and blue, and the corn stood drowsily in
"stook".

We climbed the hill behind Highclose, and walked on along the upland,
looking across towards the hills of arid Derbyshire, and seeing them not,
because it was autumn. We came in sight of the head-stocks of the pit at
Selsby, and of the ugly village standing blank and naked on the brow of
the hill.

Lettie was in very high spirits. She laughed and joked continually. She
picked bunches of hips and stuck them in her dress. Having got a thorn in
her finger from a spray of blackberries, she went to Leslie to have it
squeezed out. We were all quite gay as we turned off the high road and
went along the bridle path, with the woods on our right, the high
Strelley hills shutting in our small valley in front, and the fields and
the common to the left. About half-way down the lane we heard the slurr
of the scythe-stone on the scythe. Lettie went to the hedge to see. It
was George mowing the oats on the steep hillside where the machine could
not go. His father was tying up the corn into sheaves.

Straightening his back, Mr Saxton saw us, and called to us to come and
help. We pushed through a gap in the hedge and went up to him.

"Now then," said the father to me, "take that coat off," and to Lettie,
"Have you brought us a drink? No;--come, that sounds bad! Going a walk I
guess. You see what it is to get fat," and he pulled a wry face as he
bent over to tie the corn. He was a man beautifully ruddy and burly, in
the prime of life.

"Show me, I'll do some," said Lettie.

"Nay," he answered gently, "it would scratch your wrists and break your
stays. Hark at my hands"--he rubbed them together--"like sandpaper!"

George had his back to us, and had not noticed us. He continued to mow.
Leslie watched him.

"That's a fine movement!" he exclaimed.

"Yes," replied the father, rising very red in the face from the tying,
"and our George enjoys a bit o' mowing. It puts you in fine condition
when you get over the first stiffness."

We moved across to the standing corn. The sun being mild, George had
thrown off his hat, and his black hair was moist and twisted into
confused half-curls. Firmly planted, he swung with a beautiful rhythm
from the waist. On the hip of his belted breeches hung the scythe-stone;
his shirt, faded almost white, was torn just above the belt, and showed
the muscles of his back playing like lights upon the white sand of a
brook. There was something exceedingly attractive in the rhythmic body.

I spoke to him, and he turned round. He looked straight at Lettie with a
flashing, betraying smile. He was remarkably handsome. He tried to say
some words of greeting, then he bent down and gathered an armful of corn,
and deliberately bound it up.

Like him, Lettie had found nothing to say. Leslie, however, remarked:

"I should think mowing is a nice exercise."

"It is," he replied, and continued, as Leslie picked up the scythe, "but
it will make you sweat, and your hands will be sore."

Leslie tossed his head a little, threw off his coat, and said briefly:

"How do you do it?" Without waiting for a reply he proceeded. George said
nothing, but turned to Lettie.

"You are picturesque," she said, a trifle awkwardly, "quite fit for an
Idyll."

"And you?" he said.

She shrugged her shoulders, laughed, and turned to pick up a scarlet
pimpernel.

"How do you bind the corn?" she asked.

He took some long straws, cleaned them, and showed her the way to hold
them. Instead of attending, she looked at his hands, big, hard, inflamed
by the snaith of the scythe.

"I don't think I could do it," she said.

"No," he replied quietly, and watched Leslie mowing. The latter who was
wonderfully ready at everything, was doing fairly well, but he had not
the invincible sweep of the other, nor did he make his same crisp
crunching music.

"I bet he'll sweat," said George.

"Don't you?" she replied.

"A bit--but I'm not dressed up."

"Do you know," she said suddenly, "your arms tempt me to touch them. They
are such a fine brown colour, and they look so hard."

He held out one arm to her. She hesitated, then she swiftly put her
finger-tips on the smooth brown muscle, and drew them along. Quickly she
hid her hand into the folds of her skirt, blushing.

He laughed a low, quiet laugh, at once pleasant and startling to hear.

"I wish I could work here," she said, looking away at the standing corn,
and the dim blue woods. He followed her look, and laughed quietly, with
indulgent resignation.

"I do!" she said emphatically.

"You feel so fine," he said, pushing his hand through his open
shirt-front, and gently rubbing the muscles of his side. "It's a pleasure
to work or to stand still. It's a pleasure to yourself--your own
physique."

She looked at him, full at his physical beauty, as if he were some great
firm bud of life.

Leslie came up, wiping his brow.

"Jove," said he, "I do perspire."

George picked up his coat and helped him into it, saying: "You may take a
chill."

"It's a jolly nice form of exercise," said he.

George, who had been feeling one finger-tip, now took out his pen-knife
and proceeded to dig a thorn from his hand. "What a hide you must have,"
said Leslie.

Lettie said nothing, but she recoiled slightly.

The father, glad of an excuse to straighten his back and to chat, came to
us.

"You'd soon had enough," he said, laughing to Leslie.

George startled us with a sudden, "Holloa." We turned, and saw a rabbit,
which had burst from the corn, go coursing through the hedge, dodging and
bounding the sheaves. The standing corn was a patch along the hill-side
some fifty paces in length, and ten or so in width.

"I didn't think there'd have been any in," said the father, picking up a
short rake, and going to the low wall of the corn. We all followed.

"Watch!" said the father, "if you see the heads of the corn shake!"

We prowled round the patch of corn.

"Hold! Look out!" shouted the father excitedly, and immediately after a
rabbit broke from the cover.

"Ay--Ay--Ay," was the shout, "turn him--turn him!" We set off full pelt.
The bewildered little brute, scared by Leslie's wild running and crying,
turned from its course, and dodged across the hill, threading its
terrified course through the maze of lying sheaves, spurting on in a
painful zigzag, now bounding over an untied bundle of corn, now swerving
from the sound of a shout. The little wretch was hard pressed; George
rushed upon it. It darted into some fallen corn, but he had seen it, and
had fallen on it. In an instant he was up again, and the little creature
was dangling from his hand.

We returned, panting, sweating, our eyes flashing, to the edge of the
standing corn. I heard Lettie calling, and turning round saw Emily and
the two children entering the field as they passed from school.

"There's another!" shouted Leslie.

I saw the oat-tops quiver. "Here! Here!" I yelled. The animal leaped out,
and made for the hedge. George and Leslie, who were on that side, dashed
off, turned him, and he coursed back our way. I headed him off to the
father who swept in pursuit for a short distance, but who was too heavy
for the work. The little beast made towards the gate, but this time
Mollie, with her hat in her hand and her hair flying, whirled upon him,
and she and the little fragile lad sent him back again. The rabbit was
getting tired. It dodged the sheaves badly, running towards the top
hedge. I went after it. If I could have let myself fall on it I could
have caught it, but this was impossible to me, and I merely prevented its
dashing through the hole into safety. It raced along the hedge bottom.
George tore after it. As he was upon it, it darted into the hedge. He
fell flat, and shot his hand into the gap. But it had escaped. He lay
there, panting in great sobs, and looking at me with eyes in which
excitement and exhaustion struggled like flickering light and darkness.
When he could speak, he said, "Why didn't you fall on top of it?"

"I couldn't," said I.

We returned again. The two children were peering into the thick corn
also. We thought there was nothing more. George began to mow. As I walked
round I caught sight of a rabbit skulking near the bottom corner of the
patch. Its ears lay pressed against its back; I could see the palpitation
of the heart under the brown fur, and I could see the shining dark eyes
looking at me. I felt no pity for it, but still I could not actually hurt
it. I beckoned to the father. He ran up, and aimed a blow with the rake.
There was a sharp little cry which sent a hot pain through me as if I had
been cut. But the rabbit ran out, and instantly I forgot the cry, and
gave pursuit, fairly feeling my fingers stiffen to choke it. It was all
lame. Leslie was upon it in a moment, and he almost pulled its head off
in his excitement to kill it.

I looked up. The girls were at the gate, just turning away. "There are no
more," said the father.

At that instant Mollie shouted.

"There's one down this hole."

The hole was too small for George to get his hand in, so we dug it out
with the rake-handle. The stick went savagely down the hole, and there
came a squeak.

"Mice!" said George, and as he said it the mother slid out. Somebody
knocked her on the back, and the hole was opened out. Little mice seemed
to swarm everywhere. It was like killing insects. We counted nine little
ones lying dead.

"Poor brute," said George, looking at the mother. "What a job she must
have had rearing that lot!" He picked her up, handled her curiously and
with pity. Then he said, "Well, I may as well finish this tonight!"

His father took another scythe from off the hedge, and together they soon
laid the proud, quivering heads low. Leslie and I tied up as they mowed,
and soon all was finished.

The beautiful day was flushing to die. Over in the west the mist was
gathering bluer. The intense stillness was broken by the rhythmic hum of
the engines at the distant coal-mine, as they drew up the last bantles of
men. As we walked across the fields the tubes of stubble tinkled like
dulcimers. The scent of the corn began to rise gently. The last cry of
the pheasants came from the wood, and the little clouds of birds were
gone.

I carried a scythe, and we walked, pleasantly weary, down the hill
towards the farm. The children had gone home with the rabbits.

When we reached the mill, we found the girls just rising from the table.
Emily began to carry away the used pots, and to set clean ones for us.
She merely glanced at us and said her formal greeting. Lettie picked up a
book that lay in the ingle seat, and went to the window. George dropped
into a chair. He had flung off his coat, and had pushed back his hair. He
rested his great brown arms on the table and was silent for a moment.

"Running like that," he said to me, passing his hand over his eyes,
"makes you more tired than a whole day's work. I don't think I shall do
it again."

"The sport's exciting while it lasts," said Leslie.

"It does you more harm than the rabbits do us good," said Mrs Saxton.

"Oh, I don't know, Mother," drawled her son, "it's a couple of
shillings."

"And a couple of days off your life."

"What be that!" he replied, taking a piece of bread and butter, and
biting a large piece from it.

"Pour us a drop of tea," he said to Emily.

"I don't know that I shall wait on such brutes," she replied, relenting,
and flourishing the teapot.

"Oh," said he, taking another piece of bread and butter, "I'm not all
alone in my savageness this time."

"Men are all brutes," said Lettie hotly, without looking up from her
book.

"You can tame us," said Leslie, in mighty good humour. She did not reply.
George, began, in that deliberate voice that so annoyed Emily:

"It does make you mad, though, to touch the fur, and not be able to grab
him"--he laughed quietly.

Emily moved off in disgust. Lettie opened her mouth sharply to speak, but
remained silent.

"I don't know," said Leslie. "When it comes to killing it goes against
the stomach."

"If you can run," said George, "you should be able to run to death. When
your blood's up, you don't hang half-way."

"I think a man is horrible," said Lettie, "who can tear the head off a
little mite of a thing like a rabbit, after running it in torture over a
field."

"When he is nothing but a barbarian to begin with--" said Emily.

"If you began to run yourself--you'd be the same," said George.

"Why, women are cruel enough," said Leslie, with a glance at Lettie.
"Yes," he continued, "they're cruel enough in their way"--another look,
and a comical little smile.

"Well," said George, "what's the good finicking! If you feel like doing a
thing--you'd better do it."

"Unless you haven't courage," said Emily, bitingly.

He Hooked up at her with dark eyes, suddenly full of anger.

"But," said Lettie--she could not hold herself from asking, "Don't you
think it's brutal, now--now that you do think--isn't it degrading and
mean to run the poor little things down?"

"Perhaps it is," he replied, "but it wasn't an hour ago."

"You have no feeling," she said bitterly.

He laughed deprecatingly, but said nothing.

We finished tea in silence, Lettie reading, Emily moving about the house.
George got up and went out at the end. A moment or two after we heard him
across the yard with the milk-buckets, singing "The Ash Grove".

"He doesn't care a scrap for anything," said Emily with accumulated
bitterness. Lettie looked out of the window across the yard, thinking.
She looked very glum.

After a while we went out also, before the light faded altogether from
the pond. Emily took us into the lower garden to get some ripe plums. The
old garden was very low. The soil was black. The cornbind and goosegrass
were clutching at the ancient gooseberry bushes, which sprawled by the
paths. The garden was not very productive, save of weeds, and, perhaps,
tremendous lank artichokes or swollen marrows. But at the bottom, where
the end of the farm buildings rose high and grey, there was a plum tree
which had been crucified to the wall, and which had broken away and
leaned forward from bondage. Now under the boughs were hidden great
mist-bloomed, crimson treasures, splendid globes. I shook the old, ragged
trunk, green, with even the fresh gum dulled over, and the treasures fell
heavily, thudding down among the immense rhubarb leaves below. The girls
laughed, and we divided the spoil, and turned back to the yard. We went
down to the edge of the garden, which skirted the bottom pond, a pool
chained in a heavy growth of weeds. It was moving with rats, the father
had said. The rushes were thick below us; opposite, the great bank
fronted us, with orchard trees climbing it like a hillside. The lower
pond received the overflow from the upper by a tunnel from the deep black
sluice.

Two rats ran into the black culvert at our approach. We sat on some
piled, mossy stones to watch. The rats came out again, ran a little way,
stopped, ran again, listened, were reassured, and slid about freely,
dragging their long naked tails. Soon six or seven grey beasts were
playing round the mouth of the culvert, in the gloom. They sat and wiped
their sharp faces, stroking their whiskers. Then one would give a little
rush and a little squirm of excitement and would jump vertically into the
air, alighting on four feet, running, sliding into the black shadow. One
dropped with an ugly plop into the water, and swam towards us, the hoary
imp, his sharp snout and his wicked little eyes moving at us. Lettie
shuddered. I threw a stone into the dead pool, and frightened them all.
But we had frightened ourselves more, so we hurried away, and stamped our
feet in relief on the free pavement of the yard.

Leslie was looking for us. He had been inspecting the yard and the stock
under Mr Saxton's supervision.

"Were you running away from me?" he asked.

"No," she replied. "I have been to fetch you a plum. Look!" And she
showed him two in a leaf.

"They are too pretty to eat!" said he.

"You have not tasted yet," she laughed.

"Come," he said, offering her his arm. "Let us go up to the water." She
took his arm.

It was a splendid evening, with the light all thick and yellow lying on
the smooth pond. Lettie made him lift her on to a leaning bough of
willow. He sat with his head resting against her skirts. Emily and I
moved on. We heard him murmur something, and her voice reply, gently,
caressingly:

"No--let us be still--it is all so still--I love it best of all now."

Emily and I talked, sitting at the base of the alders, a little way on.
After an excitement, and in the evening, especially in autumn, one is
inclined to be sad and sentimental. We had forgotten that the darkness
was weaving. I heard in the little distance Leslie's voice begin to
murmur like a flying beetle that comes not too near. Then, away down in
the yard, George began singing the old song, "I sowed the seeds of love".

This interrupted the flight of Leslie's voice, and as the singing came
nearer, the hum of low words ceased. We went forward to meet George.
Leslie sat up, clasping his knees, and did not speak. George came nearer,
saying:

"The moon is going to rise."

"Let me get down," said Lettie, lifting her hands to him to help her. He,
mistaking her wish, put his hands under her arms, and set her gently
down, as one would a child. Leslie got up quickly, and seemed to hold
himself separate, resenting the intrusion.

"I thought you were all four together," said George quietly. Lettie
turned quickly at the apology:

"So we were. So we are--five now. Is it there the moon will rise?"

"Yes--I like to see it come over the wood. It lifts slowly up to stare at
you. I always think it wants to know something, and I always think I have
something to answer, only I don't know what it is," said Emily.

Where the sky was pale in the east over the rim of wood came the forehead
of the yellow moon. We stood and watched in silence. Then, as the great
disc, nearly full, lifted and looked straight upon us, we were washed off
our feet in a vague sea of moonlight. We stood with the light like water
on our faces. Lettie was glad, a little bit exalted; Emily was
passionately troubled; her lips were parted, almost beseeching; Leslie
was frowning, oblivious, and George was thinking, and the terrible,
immense moonbeams braided through his feeling. At length Leslie said
softly, mistakenly:

"Come along, dear"--and he took her arm.

She let him lead her along the bank of the pond, and across the plank
over the sluice.

"Do you know," she said, as we were carefully descending the steep bank
of the orchard, "I feel as if I wanted to laugh, or dance--something
rather outrageous."

"Surely not like that now," Leslie replied in a low voice, feeling really
hurt.

"I do though! I will race you to the bottom."

"No, no, dear!" He held her back. When he came to the wicket leading on
to the front lawns, he said something to her softly, as he held the gate.

I think he wanted to utter his half-finished proposal, and so bind her.

She broke free, and, observing the long lawn which lay in grey shadow
between the eastern and western glows, she cried:

"Polka!--a polka--one can dance a polka when the grass is smooth and
short--even if there are some fallen leaves. Yes, yes--how jolly!"

She held out her hands to Leslie, but it was too great a shock to his
mood. So she called to me, and there was a shade of anxiety in her voice,
lest after all she should be caught in the toils of the night's
sentiment.

"Pat--you'll dance with me--Leslie hates a polka." I danced with her. I
do not know the time when I could not polka--it seems innate in one's
feet, to dance that dance. We went flying round, hissing through the dead
leaves. The night, the low-hung yellow moon, the pallor of the west, the
blue cloud of evening overhead went round and through the fantastic
branches of the old laburnum, spinning a little madness. You cannot tire
Lettie; her feet are wings that beat the air. When at last I stayed her
she laughed as fresh as ever, as she bound her hair.

"There!" she said to Leslie, in tones of extreme satisfaction. "That was
lovely. Do you come and dance now."

"Not a polka," said he, sadly, feeling the poetry in his heart insulted
by the jigging measure.

"But one cannot dance anything else on wet grass, and through shuffling
dead leaves. You, George?"

"Emily says I jump," he replied.

"Come on--come on"--and in a moment they were bounding across the grass.
After a few steps she fell in with him, and they spun round the grass. It
was true, he leaped, sprang with large strides, carrying her with him. It
was a tremendous, irresistible dancing. Emily and I must join, making an
inner ring. Now and again there was a sense of something white flying
near, and wild rustle of draperies, and a swish of disturbed leaves as
they whirled past us. Long after we were tired they danced on.

At the end, he looked big, erect, nerved with triumph, and she was
exhilarated like a Bacchante.

"Have you finished?" Leslie asked.

She knew she was safe from his question that day.

"Yes," she panted. "You should have danced. Give me my hat, please. Do I
look very disgraceful?"

He took her hat and gave it to her.

"Disgraceful?" he repeated.

"Oh, you are solemn tonight! What is it?"

"Yes, what is it?" he repeated ironically.

"It must be the moon. Now, is my hat straight? Tell me now--you're not
looking. Then put it level. Now then! Why, your hands are quite cold, and
mine so hot! I feel so impish," and she laughed.

"There--now I'm ready. Do you notice those little chrysanthemums trying
to smell sadly; when the old moon is laughing and winking through those
boughs. What business have they with their sadness!" She took a handful
of petals and flung them into the air: "There--if they sigh they ask for
sorrow--I like things to wink and look wild."



CHAPTER VI - THE EDUCATION OF GEORGE


As I have said, Strelley Mill lies at the north end of the long
Nethermere valley. On the northern slopes lay its pasture and arable
lands. The shaggy common, now closed, and the cultivated land was bounded
on the east by the sharp dip of the brook course, a thread of woodland
broadening into a spinney and ending at the upper pond; beyond this, on
the east, rose the sharp, wild, grassy hillside, scattered with old
trees, ruinous with the gaunt, ragged bones of old hedge-rows, grown into
thorn trees. Along the rim of the hills, beginning in the north-west,
were dark woodlands, which swept round east and south till they raced
down in riot to the very edge of southern Nethermere, surrounding our
house. From the eastern hill-crest, looking straight across, you could
see the spire of Selsby church, and a few roofs, and the head-stocks of
the pit.

So on three sides the farm was skirted by woods, the dens of rabbits, and
the common held another warren.

Now the squire of the estate, head of an ancient, once even famous, but
now decayed house, loved his rabbits. Unlike the family fortunes, the
family tree flourished amazingly; Sherwood could show nothing comparable.
Its ramifications were stupendous; it was more like a banyan than a
British oak. How was the good squire to nourish himself and his lady, his
name, his tradition, and his thirteen lusty branches on his meagre
estates? An evil fortune discovered to him that he could sell each of his
rabbits, those bits of furry vermin, for a shilling or thereabout in
Nottingham; since which time the noble family subsisted by rabbits.

Farms were gnawed away; corn and sweet grass departed from the face of
the hills; cattle grew lean, unable to eat the defiled herbage. Then the
farm became the home of a keeper, and the country was silent, with no
sound of cattle, no clink of horses, no barking of lusty dogs.

But the squire loved his rabbits. He defended them against the snares of
the despairing farmer, protected them with gun and notices to quit. How
he glowed with thankfulness as he saw the dishevelled hillside heave when
the gnawing hosts moved on!

"Are they not quails and manna?" said he to his sporting guest, early one
Monday morning, as the high meadow broke into life at the sound of his
gun. "Quails and manna--in this wilderness?"

"They are, by Jove!" assented the sporting guest as he took another gun,
while the saturnine keeper smiled grimly. Meanwhile, Strelley Mill began
to suffer under this gangrene. It was the outpost in the wilderness. It
was an understood thing that none of the squire's tenants had a gun.

"Well," said the squire to Mr Saxton, "you have the land for next to
nothing--next to nothing--at a rent really absurd. Surely the little that
the rabbits eat--"

"It's not a little--come and look for yourself," replied the farmer. The
squire made a gesture of impatience.

"What do you want?" he inquired.

"Will you wire me off?" was the repeated request.

"Wire is--what does Halkett say--so much per yard--and it would come
to--what did Halkett tell me now?--but a Harge sum. No, I can't do it."

"Well, I can't live like this."

"Have another glass of whisky? Yes, yes, I want another glass myself, and
I can't drink alone--so if I am to enjoy my glass--That's it! Now surely
you exaggerate a little. It's not so bad."

"I can't go on like it, I'm sure."

"Well, we'll see about compensation--we'll see. I'll have a talk with
Halkett, and I'll come down and have a look at you. We all find a pinch
somewhere--it's nothing but humanity's heritage."

I was born in September, and love it best of all the months. There is no
heat, no hurry, no thirst and weariness in corn harvest as there is in
the hay. If the season is late, as is usual with us, then mid-September
sees the corn still standing in stook. The mornings come slowly. The
earth is like a woman married and fading; she does not leap up with a
laugh for the first fresh kiss of dawn, but slowly, quietly,
unexpectantly lies watching the waking of each new day. The blue mist,
like memory in the eyes of a neglected wife, never goes from the wooded
hill, and only at noon creeps from the near hedges. There is no bird to
put a song in the throat of morning; only the crow's voice speaks during
the day. Perhaps there is the regular breathing hush of the scythe--even
the fretful jar of the mowing-machine. But next day, in the morning, all
is still again. The lying corn is wet, and when you have bound it, and
lift the heavy sheaf to make the stook, the tresses of oats wreathe round
each other and drop mournfully.

As I worked with my friend through the still mornings we talked
endlessly. I would give him the gist of what I knew of chemistry, and
botany, and psychology. Day after day I told him what the professors had
told me; of life, of sex and its origins; of Schopenhauer and William
James. We had been friends for years, and he was accustomed to my talk.
But this autumn fruited the first crop of intimacy between us. I talked a
great deal of poetry to him, and of rudimentary metaphysics. He was very
good stuff. He had hardly a single dogma, save that of pleasing himself.
Religion was nothing to him. So he heard all I had to say with an open
mind, and understood the drift of things very rapidly, and quickly made
these ideas part of himself.

We tramped down to dinner with only the clinging warmth of the sunshine
for a coat. In this still, enfolding weather a quiet companionship is
very grateful. Autumn creeps through everything. The little damsons in
the pudding taste of September, and are fragrant with memory. The voices
of those at table are softer and more reminiscent than at haytime.

Afternoon is all warm and golden. Oat sheaves are lighter; they whisper
to each other as they freely embrace. The long, stout stubble tinkles as
the foot brushes over it; the scent of the straw is sweet. When the poor,
bleached sheaves are lifted out of the hedge, a spray of nodding wild
raspberries is disclosed, with belated berries ready to drop; among the
damp grass lush blackberries may be discovered. Then one notices that the
last bell hangs from the ragged spire of foxglove. The talk is of people,
an odd book; of one's hopes--and the future; of Canada, where work is
strenuous, but not life; where the plains are wide, and one is not lapped
in a soft valley, like an apple that falls in a secluded orchard. The
mist steals over the face of the warm afternoon. The tying-up is all
finished, and it only remains to rear up the fallen bundles into shocks.
The sun sinks into a golden glow in the west. The gold turns to red, the
red darkens, like a fire burning low, the sun disappears behind the bank
of milky mist, purple like the pale bloom on blue plums, and we put on
our coats and go home.

In the evening, when the milking was finished, and all the things fed,
then we went out to look at the snares. We wandered on across the stream
and up the wild hillside. Our feet rattled through black patches of
devil's-bit scabius; we skirted a swim of thistle-down, which glistened
when the moon touched it. We stumbled on through wet, coarse grass, over
soft mole-hills and black rabbit-holes. The hills and woods cast shadows;
the pools of mist in the valleys gathered the moonbeams in cold, shivery
light.

We came to an old farm that stood on the level brow of the hill. The
woods swept away from it, leaving a great clearing of what was once
cultivated land. The handsome chimneys of the house, silhouetted against
a light sky, drew my admiration. I noticed that there was no light or
glow in any window, though the house had only the width of one room, and
though the night was only at eight o'clock. We looked at the long,
impressive front. Several of the windows had been bricked in, giving a
pitiful impression of blindness; the places where the plaster had fallen
off the walls showed blacker in the shadow. We pushed open the gate, and
as we walked down the path, weeds and dead plants brushed our ankles. We
looked in at a window. The room was lighted also by a window from the
other side, through which the moonlight streamed on to the flagged floor,
dirty, littered with paper, and wisps of straw. The hearth lay in the
light, with all its distress of grey ashes, and piled cinders of burnt
paper, and a child's headless doll, charred and pitiful. On the
border-line of shadow lay a round fur cap--a game-keeper's cap. I blamed
the moonlight for entering the desolate room; the darkness alone was
decent and reticent. I hated the little roses on the illuminated piece of
wallpaper, I hated that fireside.

With farmer's instinct George turned to the outhouse. The cow-yard
startled me. It was a forest of the tallest nettles I have ever
seen--nettles far taller than my six feet. The air was soddened with the
dank scent of nettles. As I followed George along the obscure brick path,
I felt my flesh creep. But the buildings, when we entered them, were in
splendid condition; they had been restored within a small number of
years; they were well-timbered, neat, and cosy. Here and there we saw
feathers, bits of animal wreckage, even the remnants of a cat, which we
hastily examined by the light of a match. As we entered the stable there
was an ugly noise, and three great rats half rushed at us and threatened
us with their vicious teeth. I shuddered, and hurried back, stumbling
over a bucket, rotten with rust, and so filled with weeds that I thought
it part of the jungle. There was a silence made horrible by the faint
noises that rats and flying bats give out. The place was bare of any
vestige of corn or straw or hay, only choked with a growth of abnormal
weeds. When I found myself free in the orchard I could not stop
shivering. There were no apples to be seen overhead between us and the
clear sky. Either the birds had caused them to fall, when the rabbits had
devoured them, or someone had gathered the crop.

"This," said George bitterly, "is what the mill will come to."

"After your time," I said.

"My time--my time. I shall never have a time. And I shouldn't be
surprised if Father's time isn't short--with rabbits and one thing and
another. As it is, we depend on the milk-round, and on the carting which
I do for the council. You can't call it farming. We're a miserable
mixture of farmer, milkman, greengrocer, and carting contractor. It's a
shabby business."

"You have to live," I retorted.

"Yes--but it's rotten. And Father won't move--and he won't change his
methods."

"Well--what about you?"

"Me! What should I change for?--I'm comfortable at home. As for my
future, it can look after itself, so long as nobody depends on me."

"Laissez-faire," said I, smiling.

"This is no laissez-faire," he replied, glancing round. "This is pulling
the nipple out of your lips, and letting the milk run away sour. Look
there!"

Through the thin wall of moonlit mist that slid over the hillside we
could see an army of rabbits bunched up, or hopping a few paces forward,
feeding.

We set off at a swinging pace down the hill, scattering the hosts. As we
approached the fence that bounded the Mill fields, he exclaimed, "Hullo!"
and hurried forward. I followed him, and observed the dark figure of a
man rise from the hedge. It was a game-keeper. He pretended to be
examining his gun. As we came up he greeted us with a calm "Good
evenin'!"

George replied by investigating the little gap in the hedge. "I'll
trouble you for that snare," he said.

"Will yer?" answered Annable, a broad, burly, black-faced fellow. "And I
should like ter know what you're doin' on th' wrong side th' 'edge?"

"You can see what we're doing--hand over my snare--and the rabbit," said
George angrily.

"What rabbit?" said Annable, turning sarcastically to me. "You know well
enough--an' you can hand it over--or--" George replied.

"Or what? Spit it out! The sound won't kill me--" the man grinned with
contempt.

"Hand over here!" said George, stepping up to the man in a rage.

"Now don't!" said the keeper, standing stock-still, and looking unmovedly
at the proximity of George:

"You'd better get off home--both you an' 'im. You'll get neither snare
nor rabbit--see!"

"We will see!" said George, and he made a sudden move to get hold of the
man's coat. Instantly he went staggering back with a heavy blow under the
left ear.

"Damn brute!" I ejaculated, bruising my knuckles against the fellow's
jaw. Then I too found myself sitting dazedly on the grass, watching the
great skirts of his velveteens flinging round him as if he had been a
demon, as he strode away. I got up, pressing my chest where I had been
struck. George was lying in the hedge-bottom. I turned him over, and
rubbed his temples, and shook the drenched grass on his face. He opened
his eyes and looked at me, dazed. Then he drew his breath quickly, and
put his hand to his head.

"He--he nearly stunned me," he said.

"The devil!" I answered.

"I wasn't ready."

"No."

"Did he knock me down?"

"Ay--me too."

He was silent for some time, sitting limply. Then he pressed his hand
against the back of his head, saying, "My head does sing!!" He tried to
get up, but failed. "Good God--being knocked into this state by a damned
keeper!"

"Come on," I said, "let's see if we can't get indoors."

"No!" he said quickly, "we needn't tell them--don't let them know."

I sat thinking of the pain in my own chest, and wishing I could remember
hearing Annable's jaw smash, and wishing that my knuckles were more
bruised than they were--though that was bad enough. I got up, and helped
George to rise. He swayed, almost pulling me over. But in a while he
could walk unevenly.

"Am I," he said, "covered with clay and stuff?"

"Not much," I replied, troubled by the shame and confusion with which he
spoke.

"Get it off," he said, standing still to be cleaned.

I did my best. Then we walked about the fields for a time, gloomy,
silent, and sore.

Suddenly, as we went by the pond-side, we were startled by great,
swishing black shadows that swept just above our heads. The swans were
flying up for shelter, now that a cold wind had begun to fret Nethermere.
They swung down on to the glassy millpond, shaking the moonlight in
flecks across the deep shadows; the night rang with the clacking of their
wings on the water; the stillness and calm were broken; the moonlight was
furrowed and scattered, and broken. The swans, as they sailed into
shadow, were dim, haunting spectres; the wind found us shivering.

"Don't--you won't say anything?" he asked as I was leaving him.

"No."

"Nothing at all--not to anybody?"

"No."

"Good night."

About the end of September, our countryside was alarmed by the harrying
of sheep by strange dogs. One morning, the squire, going the round of his
fields as was his custom, to his grief and horror found two of his sheep
torn and dead in the hedge-bottom, and the rest huddled in a corner
swaying about in terror, smeared with blood. The squire did not recover
his spirits for days.

There was a report of two grey wolvish dogs. The squire's keeper had
heard yelping in the fields of Dr Collins of the Abbey, about dawn. Three
sheep lay soaked in blood when the labourer went to tend the flocks.

Then the farmers took alarm. Lord, of the White House farm, intended to
put his sheep in pen, with his dogs in charge. It was Saturday, however,
and the lads ran off to the little travelling theatre that had halted at
Westwold. While they sat open-mouthed in the theatre, gloriously
nicknamed the "Blood-Tub", watching heroes die with much writhing and
heaving, and struggling up to say a word, and collapsing without having
said it, six of their silly sheep were slaughtered in the field. At every
house it was inquired' of the dog; nowhere had one been loose.

Mr Saxton had some thirty sheep on the Common. George determined that the
easiest thing was for him to sleep out with them. He built a shelter of
hurdles interlaced with brushwood, and in the sunny afternoon we
collected piles of bracken, browning to the ruddy winter-brown now. He
slept there for a week, but that week aged his mother like a year. She
was out in the cold morning twilight watching, with her apron over her
head, for his approach. She did not rest with the thought of him out on
the Common.

Therefore, on Saturday night he brought down his rugs, and took up Gyp to
watch in his stead. For some time we sat looking at the stars over the
dark hills. Now and then a sheep coughed, or a rabbit rustled beneath the
brambles, and Gyp whined. The mist crept over the grose-bushes, and the
webs on the brambles were white--the devil throws his net over the
blackberries as soon as September's back is turned, they say.

"I saw two fellows go by with bags and nets," said George, as we sat
looking out of his little shelter.

"Poachers," said I. "Did you speak to them?"

"No--they didn't see me. I was dropping asleep when a rabbit rushed under
the blanket, all of a shiver, and a whippet dog after it. I gave the
whippet a punch in the neck, and he yelped off. The rabbit stopped with
me quite a long time--then it went."

"How did you feel?"

"I didn't care. I don't care much what happens just now. Father could get
along without me, and Mother has the children. I think I shall emigrate."

"Why didn't you before?"

"Oh, I don't know. There are a lot of little comforts and interests at
home that one would miss. Besides, you feel somebody in your own
countryside, and you're nothing in a foreign part, I expect."

"But you're going?"

"What is there to stop here for? The valley is all running wild and
unprofitable. You've no freedom for thinking of what the other folks
think of you, and everything round you keeps the same, and so you can't
change yourself--because everything you look at brings up the same old
feeling, and stops you from feeling fresh things. And what is there
that's worth anything?--What's worth having in my life?"

"I thought," said I, "your comfort was worth having."

He sat still and did not answer.

"What's shaken you out of your nest?" I asked.

"I don't know. I've not felt the same since that row with Annable. And
Lettie said to me, 'Here, you can't live as you like--in any way or
circumstance. You're like a bit out of those coloured marble mosaics in
the hall, you have to fit in your own set, fit into your own pattern,
because you're put there from the first. But you don't want to be like a
fixed bit of a mosaic--you want to fuse into life, and melt and mix with
the rest of folk, to have some things burned out of you--' She was
downright serious."

"Well, you need not believe her. When did you see her?"

"She came down on Wednesday, when I was getting the apples in the
morning. She climbed a tree with me, and there was a wind, that was why I
was getting all the apples, and it rocked us, me right up at the top, she
sitting half-way down holding the basket. I asked her didn't she think
that free kind of life was the best, and that was how she answered me."

"You should have contradicted her."

"It seemed true. I never thought of it being wrong, in fact."

"Come--that sounds bad."

"No--I thought she looked down on us--on our way of life. I thought she
meant I was like a toad in a hole."

"You should have shown her different."

"How could I when I could see no different?"

"It strikes me you're in love."

He laughed at the idea, saying, "No, but it is rotten to find that there
isn't a sine thing you have to be proud of."

"This is a new tune for you."

He pulled the grass moodily.

"And when do you think of going?"

"Oh--I don't know--I've said nothing to Mother. Not yet--at any rate, not
till spring."

"Not till something has happened," said I.

"What?" he asked.

"Something decisive."

"I don't know what can happen--unless the squire turns us out."

"No?" I said.

He did not speak.

"You should make things happen," said I.

"Don't make me feel a worse fool, Cyril," he replied despairingly.

Gyp whined and jumped, tugging her chain to follow us. The grey blurs
among the blackness of the bushes were resting sheep. A chill, dim mist
crept along the ground.

"But, for all that, Cyril," he said, "to have her laugh at you across the
table; to hear her sing as she moved about, before you are washed at
night, when the fire's warm, and you're tired; to have her sit by you on
the hearth-seat, close and soft..."

"In Spain," I said. "In Spain."

He took no notice, but turned suddenly, laughing.

"Do you know, when I was stooking up, lifting the sheaves, it felt like
having your arm round a girl. It was quite a sudden sensation."

"You'd better take care," said I, "you'll mesh yourself in the silk of
dreams, and then--"

He laughed, not having heard my words.

"The time seems to go like lightning--thinking," he confessed--"I seem to
sweep the mornings up in a handful."

"Oh Lord!" said I. "Why don't you scheme for getting what you want,
instead of dreaming fulfilments?"

"Well," he replied. "If it was a fine dream, wouldn't you want to go on
dreaming?" And with that he finished, and I went home.

I sat at my window looking out, trying to get things straight. Mist rose,
and wreathed round Nethermere, like ghosts meeting and embracing sadly. I
thought of the time when my friend should not follow the harrow on our
own snug valley side, and when Lettie's room next mine should be closed
to hide its emptiness, not its joy. My heart clung passionately to the
hollow which held us all; how could I bear that it should be desolate! I
wondered what Lettie would do.

In the morning I was up early, when daybreak came with a shiver through
the woods. I went out, while the moon still shone sickly in the west. The
world shrank from the morning. It was then that the last of the summer
things died. The wood was dark--and smelt damp and heavy with autumn. On
the paths the leaves lay clogged.

As I came near the farm I heard the yelling of dogs. Running, I reached
the Common, and saw the sheep huddled and scattered in groups; something
leaped round them. George burst into sight pursuing. Directly, there was
the bang, bang of a gun. I picked up a heavy piece of sandstone and ran
forward. Three sheep scattered wildly before me. In the dim light I saw
their grey shadows move among the gorse bushes. Then a dog leaped, and I
flung my stone with all my might. I hit. There came a high-pitched
howling yelp of pain; I saw the brute make off, and went after him,
dodging the prickly bushes, leaping the trailing brambles. The gunshots
rang out again, and I heard the men shouting with excitement. My dog was
out of sight, but I followed still, slanting down the hill. In a field
ahead I saw someone running. Leaping the low hedge, I pursued, and
overtook Emily, who was hurrying as fast as she could through the wet
grass. There was another gunshot and great shouting. Emily glanced round,
saw me, and started.

"It's gone to the quarries," she panted. We walked on, without saying a
word. Skirting the spinney, we followed the brook course, and came at
last to the quarry fence. The old excavations were filled now with trees.
The steep walls, twenty feet deep in places, were packed with loose
stones, and trailed with hanging brambles. We climbed down the steep bank
of the brook, and entered the quarries by the bed of the stream. Under
the groves of ash and oak a pale primrose still lingered, glimmering
wanly beside the hidden water. Emily found a smear of blood on a
beautiful trail of yellow convolvulus. We followed the tracks on to the
open, where the brook flowed on the hard rock bed, and the stony floor of
the quarry was only a tangle of gorse and bramble and honeysuckle.

"Take a good stone," said I, and we pressed on, where the grove in the
great excavation darkened again, and the brook slid secretly under the
arms of the bushes and the hair of the long grass. We beat the cover
almost to the road. I thought the brute had escaped, and I pulled a bunch
of mountain-ash berries, and stood tapping them against my knee. I was
startled by a snarl and a little scream. Running forward, I came upon one
of the old, horse-shoe lime-kilns that stood at the head of the quarry.
There, in the mouth of one of the kilns, Emily was kneeling on the dog,
her hands buried in the hair of its throat, pushing back its head. The
little jerks of the brute's body were the spasms of death; already the
eyes were turning inward, and the upper lip was drawn from the teeth by
pain.

"Good Lord, Emily! But he is dead!" I exclaimed.

"Has he hurt you?" I drew her away. She shuddered violently, and seemed
to feel a horror of herself.

"No--no," she said, looking at herself, with blood all on her skirt,
where she had knelt on the wound which I had given the dog, and pressed
the broken rib into the chest. There was a trickle of blood on her arm.

"Did he bite you?" I asked, anxious.

"No--oh no--I just peeped in, And he jumped. But he had no strength, and
I hit him back with my stone, and I lost my balance, and fell on him."

"Let me wash your arm."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "isn't it horrible! Oh, I think it is so awful."

"What?" said I, busy bathing her arm in the cold water of the brook.

"This--this whole brutal affair."

"It ought to be cauterised," said I, looking at a score on her arm from
the dog's tooth.

"That scratch--that's nothing! Can you get that off my skirt--I feel
hateful to myself."

I washed her skirt with my handkerchief as well as I could, saying:

"Let me just sear it for you; we can go to the Kennels. Do--you ought--I
don't feel safe otherwise."

"Really," she said, glancing up at me, a smile coming into her fine dark
eyes.

"Yes--come along."

"Ha, ha!" she laughed. "You look so serious."

I took her arm and drew her away. She linked her arm in mine and leaned
on me.

"It is just like Lorna Doone," she said as if she enjoyed it. "But you
will let me do it," said I, referring to the cauterising.

"You make me; but I shall feel--ugh, I daren't think of it. Get me some
of those berries."

I plucked a few bunches of guelder-rose fruits, transparent, ruby
berries. She stroked them softly against her lips and cheek, caressing
them. Then she murmured to herself:

"I have always wanted to put red berries in my hair."

The shawl she had been wearing was thrown across her shoulders, and her
head was bare, and her black hair, soft and short and ecstatic, tumbled
wildly into loose light curls. She thrust the stalks of the berries under
her combs. Her hair was not heavy or long enough to have held them. Then,
with the ruby bunches glowing through the black mist of curls, she looked
up at me, brightly, with wide eyes. I looked at her, and felt the smile
winning into her eyes. Then I turned and dragged a trail of golden-leaved
convolvulus from the hedge, and I twisted it into a coronet for her.

"There!" said I, "you're crowned."

She put back her head, and the low laughter shook in her throat.

"What!" she asked, putting all the courage and recklessness she had into
the question, and in her soul trembling.

"Not Chloe, not Bacchante. You have always got your soul in your eyes,
such an earnest, troublesome soul."

The laughter faded at once, and her great seriousness looked out again at
me, pleading.

"You are like Burne-Jones's damsels. Troublesome shadows are always
crowding across your eyes, and you cherish them. You think the flesh of
the apple is nothing, nothing. You only care for the eternal pips. Why
don't you snatch your apple and eat it, and throw the core away?"

She looked at me sadly, not understanding, but believing that I in my
wisdom spoke truth, as she always believed when I lost her in a maze of
words. She stooped down, and the chaplet fell from her hair, and only one
bunch of berries remained. The ground around us was strewn with the
four-lipped burrs of beechnuts, and the quaint little nut-pyramids were
scattered among the ruddy fallen leaves. Emily gathered a few nuts.

"I love beechnuts," she said, "but they make me long for my childhood
again till I could almost cry out. To go out for beechnuts before
breakfast; to thread them for necklaces before supper--to be the envy of
the others at school next day! There was as much pleasure in a beech
necklace then as there is in the whole autumn now--and no sadness. There
are no more unmixed joys after you have grown up." She kept her face to
the ground as she spoke, and she continued to gather the fruits.

"Do you find any with nuts in?" I asked.

"Not many--here--here are two, three. You have them. No--I don't care
about them."

I stripped one of its horny brown coat and gave it to her. She opened her
mouth slightly to take it, looking up into my eyes. Some people, instead
of bringing with them clouds of glory, trail clouds of sorrow; they are
born with "the gift of Sorrow"; "Sorrows," they proclaim, "alone are
real. The veiled grey angels of sorrow work out slowly the beautiful
shapes. Sorrow is beauty, and the supreme blessedness." You read it in
their eyes, and in the tones of their voices. Emily had the gift of
sorrow. It fascinated me, but it drove me to rebellion.

We followed the soft, smooth-bitten turf road under the old beeches. The
hillside fell away, dishevelled with thistles and coarse grass. Soon we
were in sight of the Kennels, the red old Kennels which had been the
scene of so much animation in the time of Lord Byron. They were empty
now, overgrown with weeds. The barred windows of the cottages were grey
with dust; there was no need now to protect the windows from cattle, dog
or man. One of the three houses was inhabited. Clear water trickled
through a wooden runnel into a great stone trough outside near the door.

"Come here," said I to Emily. "Let me fasten the back of your dress."

"Is it undone?" she asked, looking quickly over her shoulder, and
blushing.

As I was engaged in my task, a girl came out of the cottage with a black
kettle and a tea-cup. She was so surprised to see me thus occupied that
she forgot her own duty, and stood open-mouthed.

"S'r Ann! S'r Ann," called a voice from inside. "Are ter goin' ter come
in an' shut that door?"

Sarah Ann hastily poured a few cupfuls of water into the kettle, then she
put down both utensils and stood holding her bare arms to warm them. Her
chief garment consisted of a skirt with grey bodice and red flannel
skirt, very much torn. Her black hair hung in wild tails on to her
shoulders.

"We must go in here," said I, approaching the girl. She, however, hastily
seized the kettle and ran indoors with an "Oh, Mother--!"

A woman came to the door. One breast was bare, and hung over her blouse,
which, like a dressing-jacket, fell loose over her skirt. Her fading,
red-brown hair was all frowsy from the bed. In the folds of her skirt
clung a swarthy urchin with a shockingly short shirt. He stared at us
with big black eyes, the only portion of his face undecorated with egg
and jam. The woman's blue eyes questioned us languidly. I told her our
errand.

"Come in--come in," she said, "but dunna look at th' 'ouse. Th' childers
not been long up. Go in, Billy, wi' nowt on!"

We entered, taking the forgotten kettle lid. The kitchen was large, but
scantily furnished save, indeed, for children. The eldest, a girl of
twelve or so, was standing toasting a piece of bacon with one hand, and
holding back her night-dress in the other. As the toast hand got
scorched, she transferred the bacon to the other, gave the hot fingers a
lick to cool them, and then held back her night-dress again. Her auburn
hair hung in heavy coils down her gown. A boy sat on the steel fender,
catching the dropping fat on a piece of bread. "One, two, three, four,
five, six drops," and he quickly bit off the tasty corner, and resumed
the task with the other hand. When we entered he tried to draw his shirt
over his knees, which caused the fat to fall wasted. A fat baby,
evidently laid down from the breast, lay kicking on the squab, purple in
the face, while another lad was pushing bread and butter into its mouth.
The mother swept to the sofa, poked out the bread and butter, pushed her
finger into the baby's throat, lifted the child up, punched its back, and
was highly relieved when it began to yell. Then she administered a few
sound spanks to the naked buttocks of the crammer. He began to howl, but
stopped suddenly on seeing us laughing. On the sack-cloth which served as
hearth-rug sat a beautiful child washing the face of a wooden doll with
tea, and wiping it on her night-gown. At the table, an infant in a high
chair sat sucking a piece of bacon, till the grease ran down his swarthy
arms, oozing through his fingers. An old lad stood in the big armchair,
whose back was hung with a calf-skin, and was industriously pouring the
dregs of the tea-cups into a basin of milk. The mother whisked away the
milk, and made a rush for the urchin, the baby hanging over her arm the
while.

"I could half kill thee," she said, but he had slid under the table--and
sat serenely unconcerned.

"Could you"--I asked when the mother had put her bonny baby again to her
breast--"could you lend me a knitting-needle?"

"Our S'r Ann, wheer's thy knittin'-needles?" asked the woman, wincing at
the same time, and putting her hand to the mouth of the sucking child.
Catching my eye, she said:

"You wouldn't credit how he bites. 'E's nobbut two teeth, but they like
six needles." She drew her brows together and pursed her lips, saying to
the child, "Naughty lad, naughty lad! Tha' shanna hae it, no, not if ter
bites thy mother like that."

The family interest was now divided between us and the private concerns
in process when we entered--save, however, that the bacon-sucker had
sucked on stolidly, immovable, all the time.

"Our Sam, wheer's my knittin', tha's 'ad it?" cried S'r Ann after a
little search.

"'A 'e na," replied Sam from under the table.

"Yes, tha' 'as," said the mother, giving a blind prod under the table
with her foot.

"'A 'e na then!" persisted Sam.

The mother suggested various possible places of discovery, and at last
the knitting was found at the back of the table drawer, among forks and
old wooden skewers.

"I 'an ter tell yer wheer ivrythink is," said the mother in mild
reproach. S'r Ann, however, gave no heed to her parent. Her heart was
torn for her knitting, the fruit of her labours; it was a red woollen
cuff for the winter; a corkscrew was bored through the web, and the ball
of red wool was bristling with skewers.

"It's a' thee, our Sam," she wailed. "I know it's a' thee an' thy A. B.
C."

Samuel, under the table, croaked out in a voice of fierce monotony:


"P. is for Porkypine, whose bristles so strong
Kill the bold lion by pricking 'is tongue."


The mother began to shake with quiet laughter.

"His father learnt him that--made it all up," she whispered proudly to
us--and to him.

"Tell us what 'B' is, Sam."

"Shonna," grunted Sam.

"Go on, there's a duckie; an' I'll ma' 'e a treacle-puddin'."

"Today?" asked S'r Ann eagerly.

"Go on, Sam, my duck," persisted the mother.

"Tha' 'as na got no treacle," said Sam conclusively.

The needle was in the fire; the children stood about watching. "Will you
do it yourself?" I asked Emily.

"I!" she exclaimed, with wide eyes of astonishment, and she shook her
head emphatically.

"Then I must." I took out the needle, holding it in my handkerchief. I
took her hand and examined the wound. But when she saw the hot glow of
the needle, she snatched away her hand, and looked into my eyes, laughing
in a half-hysterical fear and shame. I was very serious, very insistent.
She yielded me her hand again, biting her lips in imagination of the
pain, and looking at me. While my eyes were looking into hers she had
courage; when I was forced to pay attention to my cauterising, she
glanced down, and with a sharp "Ah!" ending in a little laugh, she put
her hands behind her, and looked again up at me with wide brown eyes, all
quivering with apprehension, and a little shame, and a laughter that held
much pleading.

One of the children began to cry.

"It is no good," said I, throwing the fast cooling needle on to the
hearth.

I gave the girls all the pennies I had--then I offered Sam, who had crept
out of the shelter of the table, a sixpence.

"Shonna a'e that," he said, turning from the small coin.

"Well--I have no more pennies, so nothing will be your share."

I gave the other boy a rickety knife I had in my pocket. Sam looked
fiercely at me. Eager for revenge, he picked up the "porkypine quill" by
the hot end. He dropped it with a shout of rage, and, seizing a cup off
the table, flung it at the fortunate Jack. It smashed against the
fireplace. The mother grabbed at Sam, but he was gone. A girl, a little
girl, wailed, "Oh, that's my rosey mug--my rosey mug." We fled from the
scene of confusion. Emily had already noticed it. Her thoughts were of
herself, and of me.

"I am an awful coward," said she humbly.

"But I can't help it--" She looked beseechingly. "Never mind," said I.

"All my flesh seems to jump from it. You don't know how I feel."

"Well--never mind."

"I couldn't help it, not for my life."

"I wonder," said I, "if anything could possibly disturb that young
bacon-sucker? He didn't even look round at the smash."

"No," said she, biting the tip of her finger moodily.

Further conversation was interrupted by howls from the rear. Looking
round we saw Sam careering after us over the close-bitten turf, howling
scorn and derision at us. "Rabbit-tail, rabbit-tail," he cried, his bare
little legs twinkling, and his Hittle shirt fluttering in the cold
morning air. Fortunately, at Hast he trod on a thistle or a thorn, for
when we looked round again to see why he was silent, he was capering on
one leg, holding his wounded foot in his hands.



CHAPTER VII - LETTIE PULLS DOWN THE SMALL GOLD GRAPES


During the falling of the leaves Lettie was very wilful. She uttered many
banalities concerning men, and love, and marriage; she taunted Leslie and
thwarted his wishes. At Hast he stayed away from her. She had been
several times down to the mill, but because she fancied they were very
familiar, receiving her on to their rough plane like one of themselves,
she stayed away. Since the death of our father she had been restless;
since inheriting her little fortune she had become proud, scornful,
difficult to please. Difficult to please in every circumstance; she, who
had always been so rippling in thoughtless life, sat down in the
window-sill to think, and her strong teeth bit at her handkerchief till
it was torn in holes. She would say nothing to me; she read all things
that dealt with modern women.

One afternoon Lettie walked over to Eberwich. Leslie had not been to see
us for a fortnight. It was a grey, dree afternoon. The wind drifted a
clammy fog across the hills, and the roads were black and deep with mud.
The trees in the wood slouched sulkily. It was a day to be shut out and
ignored if possible. I heaped up the fire, and went to draw the curtains
and make perfect the room. Then I saw Lettie coming along the path
quickly, very erect. When she came in her colour was high.

"Tea not laid?" she said briefly.

"Rebecca has just brought in the lamp," said I.

Lettie took off her coat and furs, and flung them on the couch. She went
to the mirror, lifted her hair, all curled by the fog, and stared
haughtily at herself. Then she swung round, looked at the bare table, and
rang the bell.

It was so rare a thing for us to ring the bell from the dining-room, that
Rebecca went first to the outer door. Then she came in the room saying:

"Did you ring?"

"I thought tea would have been ready," said Lettie coldly. Rebecca looked
at me, and at her, and replied:

"It is but half-past four. I can bring it in."

Mother came down hearing the clink of the tea-cups. "Well," she said to
Lettie, who was unlacing her boots, "and did you find it a pleasant
walk?"

"Except for the mud," was the reply.

"Ah, I guess you wished you had stayed at home. What a state for your
boots!--and your skirts too, I know. Here, let me take them into the
kitchen."

"Let Rebecca take them," said Lettie--but Mother was out of the room.

When Mother had poured out the tea, we sat silently at table. It was on
the tip of our tongues to ask Lettie what ailed her, but we were
experienced and we refrained, After a while she said:

"Do you know, I met Leslie Tempest."

"Oh," said Mother tentatively. "Did he come along with you?"

"He did not look at me."

"Oh!" exclaimed Mother, and it was speaking volumes; then, after a
moment, she resumed:

"Perhaps he did not see you."

"Or was it a stony Britisher?" I asked.

"He saw me," declared Lettie, "or he wouldn't have made such a babyish
show of being delighted with Margaret Raymond."

"It may have been no show--he still may not have seen you."

"I felt at once that he had; I could see his animation was extravagant.
He need not have troubled himself. I was not going to run after him."

"You seem very cross," said I.

"Indeed I am not. But he knew I had to walk all this way home, and he
could take up Margaret, who has only half the distance."

"Was he driving?"

"In the dog-cart." She cut her toast into strips viciously. We waited
patiently.

"It was mean of him, wasn't it, Mother?"

"Well, my girl, you have treated him badly."

"What a baby! What a mean, manly baby! Men are great infants."

"And girls," said Mother, "do not know what they want."

"A grown-up quality," I added.

"Nevertheless," said Lettie, "he is a mean fop, and I detest him."

She rose and sorted out some stitchery. Lettie never stitched unless she
was in a bad humour. Mother smiled at me, sighed, and proceeded to Mr
Gladstone for comfort; her breviary and missal were Morley's Life of
Gladstone.

I had to take a letter to Highclose to Mrs Tempest--from my mother,
concerning a bazaar in process at the church. "I will bring Leslie back
with me," said I to myself.

The night was black and hateful. The lamps by the road from Eberwich
ended at Nethermere; their yellow blur on the water made the cold, wet
inferno of the night more ugly.

Leslie and Marie were both in the library--half a library, half a
business office; used also as a lounge room, being cosy. Leslie lay in a
great arm-chair by the fire, immune among clouds of blue smoke. Marie was
perched on the steps, a great volume on her knee. Leslie got up in his
cloud, shook hands, greeted me curtly, and vanished again. Marie smiled
me a quaint, vexed smile, saying:

"Oh, Cyril, I'm so glad you've come. I'm so worried, and Leslie says he's
not a pastry-cook, though I'm sure I don't want him to be one, only he
need not be a bear."

"What's the matter?"

She frowned, gave the big volume a little smack and said:

"Why, I do so much want to make some of those Spanish tartlets of your
mother's that are so delicious, and of course Mabel knows nothing of
them, and they're not in my cookery book, and I've looked through page
upon page of the encyclopaedia, right through 'Spain', and there's
nothing yet, and there are fifty pages more, and Leslie won't help me,
though I've got a headache, because he's frabous about something." She
looked at me in comical despair.

"Do you want them for the bazaar?"

"Yes--for tomorrow. Cook has done the rest, but I had fairly set my heart
on these. Don't you think they are lovely?"

"Exquisitely lovely. Suppose I go and ask Mother."

"If you would. But no, oh no, you can't make all that journey this
terrible night. We are simply besieged by mud. The men are both
out--William has gone to meet Father--and Mother has sent George to carry
some things to the vicarage. I can't ask one of the girls on a night like
this. I shall have to let it go--and the cranberry tarts too--it cannot
be helped. I am so miserable."

"Ask Leslie," said I.

"He is too cross," she replied, looking at him.

He did not deign a remark.

"Will you, Leslie?"

"What?"

"Go across to Woodside for me?"

"What for?"

"A recipe. Do, there's a dear boy."

"Where are the men?"

"They are both engaged--they are out."

"Send a girl, then."

"At night like this? Who would go?"

"Cissy."

"I shall not ask her. Isn't he mean, Cyril? Men are mean."

"I will come back," said I. "There is nothing at home to do. Mother is
reading, and Lettie is stitching. The weather disagrees with her, as it
does with Leslie."

"But it is not fair--" she said, looking at me softly. Then she put
away the great book and climbed down.

"Won't you go, Leslie?" she said, laying her hand on his shoulder.

"Women!" he said, rising as if reluctantly. "There's no end to their
wants and their caprices."

"I thought he would go," said she warmly. She ran to fetch his overcoat.
He put one arm slowly in the sleeve, and then the other, but he would not
lift the coat on to his shoulders.

"Well!" she said, struggling on tiptoe, "you are a great creature. Can't
you get it on, naughty child?"

"Give her a chair to stand on," he said.

She shook the collar of the coat sharply, but he stood like a sheep,
impassive.

"Leslie, you are too bad. I can't get it on, you stupid boy." I took the
coat and jerked it on.

"There," she said, giving him his cap. "Now don't be long."

"What a damned dirty night!" said he, when we were out.

"It is," said I.

"The town, anywhere's better than this hell of a country."

"Ha! How did you enjoy yourself?"

He began a long history of three days in the metropolis. I listened, and
heard little. I heard more plainly the cry of some night birds over
Nethermere, and the peevish, wailing, yarling cry of some beast in the
wood. I was thankful to slam the door behind me, to stand in the light of
the hall.

"Leslie!" exclaimed Mother, "I am glad to see you."

"Thank you," he said, turning to Lettie, who sat with her lap full of
work, her head busily bent.

"You see I can't get up," she said, giving him her hand, adorned as it
was by the thimble. "How nice of you to come! We did not know you were
back."

"But...!" he exclaimed, then he stopped.

"I suppose you enjoyed yourself," she went on calmly. "Immensely,
thanks."

Snap, snap, snap went her needle through the new stuff. Then, without
looking up, she said:

"Yes, no doubt. You have the air of a man who has been enjoying himself."

"How do you mean?"

"A kind of guilty--or shall I say embarrassed--look. Don't you notice it,
Mother?"

"I do!" said my mother.

"I suppose it means we may not ask him questions," Lettie concluded,
always very busily sewing.

He laughed. She had broken her cotton, and was trying to thread the
needle again.

"What have you been doing this miserable weather?" he enquired awkwardly.

"Oh, we have sat at home desolate. 'Ever of thee I'm fo-o-ondly
dreaming'--and so on. Haven't we, Mother?"

"Well," said Mother, "I don't know. We imagined him all sorts of lions up
there."

"What a shame we may not ask him to roar his old roars over for us," said
Lettie.

"What are they like?" he asked.

"How should I know? Like a sucking dove, to judge from your present
voice. 'A monstrous little voice.'"

He laughed uncomfortably.

She went on sewing, suddenly beginning to sing to herself:


"Pussy cat, Pussy cat, where have you been?
I've been up to London to see the fine queen:
Pussy cat, Pussy cat, what did you there--
I frightened a little mouse under a stair."


"I suppose," she added, "that may be so. Poor mouse!--but I guess she's
none the worse. You did not see the queen, though?"

"She was not in London," he replied sarcastically.

"You don't--" she said, taking two pins from between her teeth. "I
suppose you don't mean by that, she was in Eberwich--your queen?"

"I don't know where she was," he answered angrily.

"Oh!" she said, very sweetly, "I thought perhaps you had met her in
Eberwich. When did you come back?"

"Last night," he replied.

"Oh--why didn't you come and see us before?"

"I've been at the offices all day."

"I've been up to Eberwich," she said innocently.

"Have you?"

"Yes. And I feel so cross because of it. I thought I might see you. I
felt as if you were at home."

She stitched a little, and glanced up secretly to watch his face redden,
then she continued innocently, "Yes--I felt you had come back. It is
funny how one has a feeling occasionally that someone is near; when it is
someone one has a sympathy with." She continued to stitch, then she took
a pin from her bosom, and fixed her work, all without the least suspicion
of guile.

"I thought I might meet you when I was out--" another pause, another
fixing, a pin to be taken from her lips--"but I didn't."

"I was at the office till rather late," he said quickly. She stitched
away calmly, provokingly.

She took the pin from her mouth again, fixed down a fold of stuff, and
said softly:

"You little liar."

Mother had gone out of the room for her recipe book.

He sat on his chair dumb with mortification. She stitched swiftly and
unerringly. There was silence for some moments. Then he spoke:

"I did not know you wanted me for the pleasure of plucking this crow," he
said.

"I wanted you!" she exclaimed, looking up for the first time. "Who said I
wanted you?"

"No one. If you didn't want me I may as well go."

The sound of stitching alone broke the silence for some moments, then she
said deliberately:

"What made you think I wanted you?"

"I don't care a damn whether you wanted me or whether you didn't."

"It seems to upset you! And don't use bad language. It is the privilege
of those near and dear to one."

"That's why you begin it, I suppose."

"I cannot remember--" she said loftily.

He laughed sarcastically.

"Well--if you're so beastly cut up about it--" He put this tentatively,
expecting the soft answer. But she refused to speak, and went on
stitching. He fidgeted about, twisted his cap uncomfortably, and sighed.
At last he said:

"Well--you--have we done then?"

She had the vast superiority, in that she was engaged in ostentatious
work. She could fix the cloth, regard it quizzically, rearrange it,
settle down and begin to sew before she replied. This humbled him. At
last she said:

"I thought so this afternoon."

"But, good God, Lettie, can't you drop it?"

"And then?"--the question startled him.

"Why!--forget it," he replied.

"Well?"--she spoke softly, gently. He answered to the call like an eager
hound. He crossed quickly to her side as she sat sewing, and said, in a
low voice:

"You do care something for me, don't you, Lettie?"

"Well"--it was modulated kindly, a sort of promise of assent.

"You have treated me rottenly, you know, haven't you? You know I--well, I
care a good bit."

"It is a queer way of showing it." Her voice was now a gentle reproof,
the sweetest of surrenders and forgiveness. He leaned forward, took her
face in his hands, and kissed her, murmuring:

"You are a little tease."

She laid her sewing in her lap, and looked up.



The next day, Sunday, broke wet and dreary. Breakfast was late, and about
ten o'clock we stood at the window looking upon the impossibility of our
going to church.

There was a driving drizzle of rain, like a dirty curtain before the
landscape. The nasturtium leaves by the garden walk had gone rotten in a
frost, and the gay green discs had given place to the first black flags
of winter, hung on flaccid stalks, pinched at the neck. The grass plot
was strewn with fallen leaves, wet and brilliant: scarlet splashes of
Virginia creeper, golden drift from the limes, ruddy brown shawls under
the beeches, and away back in the corner, the black mat of maple leaves,
heavy soddened; they ought to have been a vivid lemon colour.
Occasionally one of these great black leaves would loose its hold, and
zigzag down, staggering in the dance of death.

"There now!" said Lettie suddenly.

I looked up in time to see a crow close his wings and clutch the topmost
bough of an old grey holly tree on the edge of the clearing. He flapped
again, recovered his balance, and folded himself up in black resignation
to the detestable weather.

"Why has the old wretch settled just over our noses," said Lettie
petulantly. "Just to blot the promise of a sorrow."

"Yours or mine?" I asked.

"He is looking at me, I declare."

"You can see the wicked pupil of his eye at this distance," I insinuated.

"Well," she replied, determined to take this omen unto herself, "I saw
him first."


"'One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a letter, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
And seven for a secret never told.'


"--You may bet he's only a messenger in advance. There'll be three more
shortly, and you'll have your four," said I, comforting.

"Do you know," she said, "it is very funny, but whenever I've
particularly noticed one crow, I've had some sorrow or other."

"And when you notice four?" I asked.

"You should have heard old Mrs Wagstaffe," was her reply. "She declares
an old crow croaked in their apple tree every day for a week before Jerry
got drowned."

"Great sorrow for her," I remarked.

"Oh, but she wept abundantly. I felt like weeping too, but somehow I
laughed. She hoped he had gone to heaven--but I'm sick of that word
'but'--it is always tangling one's thoughts."

"But, Jerry!" I insisted.

"Oh, she lifted up her forehead, and the tears dripped off her nose. He
must have been an old nuisance, Syb. I can't understand why women marry
such men. I felt downright glad to think of the drunken old wretch
toppling into the canal out of the way."

She pulled the thick curtain across the window, and nestled down in it,
resting her cheek against the edge, protecting herself from the cold
window-pane. The wet, grey wind shook the half-naked trees, whose leaves
dripped and shone sullenly. Even the trunks were blackened, trickling
with the rain which drove persistently.

Whirled down the sky like black maple leaves caught up aloft, came two
more crows. They swept down and clung hold of the trees in front of the
house, staying near the old forerunner. Lettie watched them, half amused,
half melancholy. One bird was carried past. He swerved round and began to
battle up the wind, rising higher, and rowing laboriously against the
driving wet current.

"Here comes your fourth," said I.

She did not answer, but continued to watch. The bird wrestled heroically,
but the wind pushed him aside, tilted him, caught under his broad wings
and bore him down. He swept in level flight down the stream, outspread
and still, as if fixed in despair. I grieved for him. Sadly two of his
fellows rose and were carried away after him, like souls hunting for a
body to inhabit, and despairing. Only the first ghoul was left on the
withered, silver-grey skeleton of the holly.

"He won't even say 'Nevermore'," I remarked.

"He has more sense," replied Lettie. She looked a trifle lugubrious. Then
she continued: "Better say 'Nevermore' than 'Evermore'."

"Why?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Fancy this 'Evermore'."

She had been sure in her own soul that Leslie would come--now she began
to doubt:--things were very perplexing.

The bell in the kitchen jangled, she jumped up. I went and opened the
door. He came in. She gave him one bright look of satisfaction. He saw
it, and understood.

"Helen has got some people over--I have been awfully rude to leave them
now," he said quietly.

"What a dreadful day!" said Mother.

"Oh, fearful! Your face is red, Lettie! What have you been doing?"

"Looking into the fire."

"What did you see?"

"The pictures wouldn't come plain--nothing."

He laughed. We were silent for some time.

"You were expecting me?" he murmured.

"Yes--I knew you'd come."

They were left alone. He came up to her and put his arms round her, as
she stood with her elbow on the mantelpiece.

"You do want me," he pleaded softly.

"Yes," she murmured.

He held her in his arms and kissed her repeatedly, again and again, till
she was out of breath, and put up her hand, and gently pushed her face
away.

"You are a cold little lover--you are a shy bird," he said, laughing into
her eyes. He saw her tears rise, swimming on her lids, but not falling.

"Why, my love, my darling--why!"--he put his face to her's and took the
tear on his cheek:

"I know you love me," he said, gently, all tenderness.

"Do you know," he murmured. "I can positively feel the tears rising up
from my heart and throat. They are quite painful gathering, my love.
There--you can do anything with me."

They were silent for some time. After a while, a rather long while, she
came upstairs and found Mother--and at the end of some minutes I heard my
mother go to him.

I sat by my window and watched the low clouds reel and stagger past. It
seemed as if everything were being swept along--I myself seemed to have
lost my substance, to have become detached from concrete things and the
firm trodden pavement of everyday life. Onward, always onward, not
knowing where, nor why, the wind, the clouds, the rain and the birds and
the leaves, everything whirling along--why?

All this time the old crow sat motionless, though the clouds tumbled, and
were rent and piled, though the trees bent, and the window-pane shivered
with running water. Then I found it had ceased to rain; that there was a
sickly yellow sunlight, brightening on some great elm leaves near at hand
till they looked like ripe lemons hanging. The crow looked at me--I was
certain he looked at me.

"What do you think of it all?" I asked him.

He eyed me with contempt: great featherless, half-winged bird as I was,
incomprehensible, contemptible, but awful. I believe he hated me.

"But," said I, "if a raven could answer, why won't you?" He looked
wearily away. Nevertheless my gaze disquieted him. He turned uneasily; he
rose, waved his wings as if for flight, poised, then settled defiantly
down again.

"You are no good," said I, "you won't help even with a word."

He sat stolidly unconcerned. Then I heard the lapwings in the meadow
crying, crying. They seemed to seek the storm, yet to rail at it. They
wheeled in the wind, yet never ceased to complain of it. They enjoyed the
struggle, and lamented it in wild lament, through which came a sound of
exultation. All the lapwings cried, cried the same tale, "Bitter, bitter,
the struggle--for nothing, nothing, nothing"--and all the time they swung
about on their broad wings, revelling.

"There," said I to the crow, "they try it, and find it bitter, but they
wouldn't like to miss it, to sit still like you, you old corpse."

He could not endure this. He rose in defiance, flapped his wings, and
launched off, uttering one "Caw" of sinister foreboding. He was soon
whirled away.

I discovered that I was very cold, so I went downstairs.

Twisting a curl round his finger, one of those loose curls that always
dance free from the captured hair, Leslie said:

"Look how fond your hair is of me; look how it twines round my finger. Do
you know, your hair--the light in it is like--oh--buttercups in the sun."

"It is like me--it won't be kept in bounds," she replied. "Shame if it
were--like this, it brushes my face--so--and sets me tingling like
music."

"Behave! Now be still, and I'll tell you what sort of music you make."

"Oh--well--tell me."

"Like the calling of throstles and blackies, in the evening, frightening
the pale little wood-anemones, till they run panting and swaying right up
to our wall. Like the ringing of bluebells when the bees are at them;
like Hippomenes, out-of-breath, laughing because he'd won."

He kissed her with rapturous admiration.

"Marriage music, sir," she added.

"What golden apples did I throw?" he asked lightly. "What!" she
exclaimed, half mocking.

"This Atalanta," he replied, looking lovingly upon her, "this Atalanta--I
believe she just lagged at last on purpose."

"You have it," she cried, laughing, submitting to his caresses. "It was
you--the apples of your firm heels--the apples of your eyes--the apples
Eve bit--that won me--hein!"

"That was it--you are clever, you are rare. And I've won, won the ripe
apples of your cheeks, and your breasts, and your very fists--they can't
stop me--and--and--all your roundness and warmness and softness--I've won
you, Lettie."

She nodded wickedly, saying:

"All those--those--yes."

"All--she admits it--everything!"

"Oh!--but let me breathe. Did you claim everything?"

"Yes, and you gave it me."

"Not yet. Everything though?"

"Every atom."

"But--now you look--"

"Did I look aside?"

"With the inward eye. Suppose now we were two angels--"

"Oh, dear--a sloppy angel!"

"Well--don't interrupt now--suppose I were one--like the 'Blessed
Damosel'."

"With a warm bosom--!"

"Don't be foolish, now--I a 'Blessed Damosel' and you kicking the brown
beech leaves below thinking--"

"What are you driving at?"

"Would you be thinking--thoughts like prayers?"

"What on earth do you ask that for? Oh--I think I'd be cursing--eh?"

"No--saying fragrant prayers--that your thin soul might mount up--"

"Hang thin souls, Lettie! I'm not one of your souly sort. I can't stand
Pre-Raphaelities. You--You're not a Burne-Jonesess--you're an Albert
Moore. I think there's more in the warm touch of a soft body than in a
prayer. I'll pray with kisses."

"And when you can't?"

"I'll wait till prayer-time again. By. Jove, I'd rather feel my arms full
of you; I'd rather touch that red mouth--you grudger!--than sing hymns
with you in any heaven."

"I'm afraid you'll never sing hymns with me in heaven."

"Well--I have you here--yes, I have you now."

"Our life is but a fading dawn?"

"Liar!--Well, you called me! Besides, I don't care; 'Carpe diem', my
rosebud, my fawn. There's a nice Carmen about a fawn. 'Time to leave its
mother, and venture into a warm embrace.' Poor old Horace--I've forgotten
him."

"Then poor old Horace."

"Ha! Ha!--Well, I shan't forget you. What's that queer look in your
eyes?"

"What is it?"

"Nay--you tell me. You are such a tease, there's no getting to the bottom
of you."

"You can fathom the depth of a kiss--"

"I will--I will--"

After a while he asked:

"When shall we be properly engaged, Lettie?"

"Oh, wait till Christmas--till I am twenty-one."

"Nearly three months! Why on earth--"

"It will make no difference. I shall be able to choose thee of my own
free choice then."

"But three months!"

"I shall consider thee engaged--it doesn't matter about other people."

"I thought we should be married in three months."

"Ah--married in haste--But what will your mother say?"

"Say! Oh, she'll say it's the first wise thing I've done. You'll make a
fine wife, Lettie, able to entertain, and all that."

"You will flutter brilliantly."

"We will."

"No--you'll be the moth--I'll paint your wings--gaudy feather-dust. Then
when you lose your coloured dust, when you fly too near the light, or
when you play dodge with a butterfly-net--away goes my part--you can't
fly--I--alas, poor me! What becomes of the feather-dust when the moth
brushes his wings against a butterfly-net?"

"What are you making so many words about? You don't know now, do you?"

"No--that I don't."

"Then just be comfortable. Let me look at myself in your eyes."

"Narcissus, Narcissus!--Do you see yourself well? Does the image flatter
you?--Or is it a troubled stream, distorting your fair lineaments?"

"I can't see anything--only feel you looking--you are laughing at
me.--What have you behind there--what joke?"

"I--I'm thinking you're just like Narcissus--a sweet, beautiful youth."

"Be serious--do."

"It would be dangerous. You'd die of it, and I--I should--"

"What!"

"Be just like I am now--serious."

He looked proudly, thinking she referred to the earnestness of her love.



In the wood the wind rumbled and roared hoarsely overhead, but not a
breath stirred among the saddened bracken. An occasional raindrop was
shaken out of the trees; I slipped on the wet paths. Black bars striped
the grey tree-trunks, where water had trickled down; the bracken was
overthrown, its yellow ranks broken. I slid down the steep path to the
gate, out of the wood.

Armies of cloud marched in rank across the sky, heavily laden, almost
brushing the gorse on the common. The wind was cold and disheartening.
The ground sobbed at every step. The brook was full, swirling along,
hurrying, talking to itself, in absorbed intent tones. The clouds
darkened; I felt the rain. Careless of the mud, I ran, and burst into the
farm kitchen.

The children were painting, and they immediately claimed my help.

"Emily--and George--are in the front room," said the mother quietly, for
it was Sunday afternoon. I satisfied the little ones; I said a few words
to the mother, and sat down to take off my clogs.

In the parlour, the father, big and comfortable, was sleeping in an
arm-chair. Emily was writing at the table--she hurriedly hid her papers
when I entered. George was sitting by the fire, reading. He looked up as
I entered, and I loved him when he looked up at me, and as he lingered on
his quiet "Hullo!" His eyes were beautifully eloquent--as eloquent as a
kiss.

We talked in subdued murmurs, because the father was asleep, opulently
asleep, his tanned face as still as a brown pear against the wall. The
clock itself went slowly, with languid throbs. We gathered round the
fire, and talked quietly, about nothing--blissful merely in the sound of
our voices, a murmured, soothing sound--a grateful, dispassionate love
trio.

At last George rose, put down his book--looked at his father--and went
out.

In the barn there was a sound of the pulper crunching the turnips. The
crisp strips of turnip sprinkled quietly down on to a heap of gold which
grew beneath the pulper. The smell of pulped turnips, keen and sweet,
brings back to me the feeling of many winter nights, when frozen
hoof-prints crunch in the yard, and Orion is in the south; when a
friendship was at its mystical best.

"Pulping on Sunday!" I exclaimed.

"Father didn't do it yesterday; it's his work; and I didn't notice it.
You know--Father often forgets--he doesn't like to have to work in the
afternoon--now."

The cattle stirred in their stalls; the chains rattled round the posts; a
cow coughed noisily. When George had finished pulping, and it was quiet
enough for talk, just as he was spreading the first layers of chop and
turnip and meal--in ran Emily--with her hair in silken, twining
confusion, her eyes glowing--to bid us go in to tea before the milking
was begun. It was the custom to milk before tea on Sunday--but George
abandoned it without demur--his father willed it so, and his father was
master, not to be questioned on farm matters, however one disagreed.

The last day in October had been dreary enough; the night could not come
too early. We had tea by lamplight, merrily, with the father radiating
comfort as, the lamp shone yellow light. Sunday tea was imperfect without
a visitor; with me, they always declared, it was perfect. I loved to hear
them say so. I smiled, rejoicing quietly into my teacup when the father
said:

"It seems proper to have Cyril here at Sunday tea, it seems natural."

He was most loath to break the delightful bond of the lamp-lit tea-table;
he looked up with a half-appealing glance when George at last pushed back
his chair and said he supposed he'd better make a start.

"Ay," said the father in a mild, conciliatory tone, "I'll be out in a
minute."

The lamp hung against the barn wall, softly illuminating the lower part
of the building, where bits of hay and white dust lay in the hollows
between the bricks, where the curled chips of turnip scattered orange
gleams over the earthen floor; the lofty roof, with its swallows' nests
under the tiles, was deep in shadow, and the corners were full of
darkness, hiding, half hiding, the hay, the chopper, the bins. The light
shone along the passages before the stalls, glistening on the moist noses
of the cattle, and on the whitewash of the walls.

George was very cheerful; but I wanted to tell him my message. When he
had finished the feeding, and had at last sat down to milk, I said:

"I told you Leslie Tempest was at our house when I came away."

He sat with the bucket between his knees, his hands at the cow's udder,
about to begin to milk. He looked up a question at me.

"They are practically engaged now," I said.

He did not turn his eyes away, but he ceased to look at me. As one who is
listening for a far-off noise, he sat with his eyes fixed. Then he bent
his head, and leaned it against the side of the cow, as if he would begin
to milk. But he did not. The cow looked round and stirred uneasily. He
began to draw the milk, and then to milk mechanically. I watched the
movement of his hands, listening to the rhythmic clang of the jets of
milk on the bucket, as a relief. After a while the movement of his hands
became slower, thoughtful--then stopped.

"She has really said yes?"

I nodded.

"And what does your mother say?"

"She is pleased."

He began to milk again. The cow stirred uneasily, shifting her legs. He
looked at her angrily, and went on milking. Then, quite upset, she
shifted again, and swung her tail in his face.

"Stand still!" he shouted, striking her on the haunch. She seemed to
cower like a beaten 'woman. He swore at her, and continued to milk. She
did not yield much that night; she was very restive; he took the stool
from beneath him and gave her a good blow; I heard the stool knock on her
prominent hipbone. After that she stood still, but her milk soon ceased
to flow.

When he stood up, he paused before he went to the next beast, and I
thought he was going to talk. But just then the father came along with
his bucket. He looked in the shed, and, laughing in his mature, pleasant
way, said:

"So you're an onlooker today, Cyril--I thought you'd have milked a cow or
two for me by now."

"Nay," said I, "Sunday is a day of rest--and milking makes your hands
ache."

"You only want a bit more practice," he said, joking in his ripe fashion.
"Why, George, is that all you've got from Julia?"

"It is."

"H'm--she's soon going dry. Julia, old lady, don't go and turn skinny."

When he had gone, and the shed was still, the air seemed colder. I heard
his good-humoured "Stand over, old lass," from the other shed, and the
drum-beats of the first jets of milk on the pail.

"He has a comfortable time," said George, looking savage. I laughed. He
still waited.

"You really expected Lettie to have him," I said.

"I suppose so," he replied, "then she'd made up her mind to it. It didn't
matter--what she wanted--at the bottom."

"You?" said I.

"If it hadn't been that he was a prize--with a ticket--she'd have had--"

"You!" said I.

"She was afraid--look how she turned and kept away--"

"From you?" said I.

"I should like to squeeze her till she screamed."

"You should have gripped her before, and kept her," said I. "She--she's
like a woman, like a cat--running to comforts--she strikes a bargain.
Women are all tradesmen."

"Don't generalise, it's no good."

"She's like a prostitute--"

"It's banal! I believe she loves him."

He started, and looked at me queerly. He looked quite childish in his
doubt and perplexity.

"She what--

"Loves him--honestly."

"She'd 'a loved me better," he muttered, and turned to his milking. I
left him and went to talk to his father. When the latter's four beasts
were finished, George's light still shone in the other shed.

I went and found him at the fifth, the last cow. When at length he had
finished he put down his pail, and going over to poor Julia, stood
scratching her back, and her poll, and her nose, looking into her big,
startled eye and murmuring. She was afraid; she jerked her head, giving
him a good blow on the cheek with her horn.

"You can't understand them," he said sadly, rubbing his face, and looking
at me with his dark, serious eyes.

"I never knew I couldn't understand them. I never thought about
it--till--"

"But you know, Cyril, she led me on." I laughed at his rueful appearance.



CHAPTER VIII - THE RIOT OF CHRISTMAS


For some weeks, during the latter part of November and the beginning of
December, I was kept indoors by a cold. At last came a frost which
cleared the air and dried the mud. On the second Saturday before
Christmas the world was transformed; tall, silver and pearl-grey trees
rose pale against a dim blue sky, like trees in some rare, pale Paradise;
the whole woodland was as if petrified in marble and silver and snow; the
holly-leaves and long leaves of the rhododendron were rimmed and spangled
with delicate tracery.

When the night came clear and bright, with a moon among the hoar-frost, I
rebelled against confinement, and the house. No longer the mists and dank
weather made the home dear; tonight even the glare of the distant little
iron works was not visible, for the low clouds were gone, and pale stars
blinked from beyond the moon.

Lettie was staying with me; Leslie was in London again. She tried to
remonstrate in a sisterly fashion when I said I would go out.

"Only down to the Mill," said I. Then she hesitated a while--said she
would come too. I suppose I looked at her curiously, for she said:

"Oh--if you would rather go alone--!"

"Come--come--yes, come!" said I, smiling to myself.

Lettie was in her old animated mood. She ran, leaping over rough places,
laughing, talking to herself in French. We came to the Mill. Gyp did not
bark. I opened the outer door and we crept softly into the great dark
scullery, peeping into the kitchen through the crack of the door.

The mother sat by the hearth, where was a big bath half full of soapy
water, and at her feet, warming his bare legs at the fire, was David, who
had just been bathed. The mother was gently rubbing his fine fair hair
into a cloud. Mollie was combing out her brown curls, sitting by her
father, who, in the fire-seat, was reading aloud in a hearty voice, with
quaint precision. At the table sat Emily and George: she was quickly
picking over a pile of little yellow raisins, and he, slowly, with his
head sunk, was stoning the large raisins. David kept reaching forward to
play with the sleepy cat--interrupting his mother's rubbing. There was no
sound but the voice of the father, full of zest; I am afraid they were
not all listening carefully. I clicked the latch and entered.

"Lettie!" exclaimed George.

"Cyril!" cried Emily.

"Cyril, 'ooray!" shouted David.

"Hullo, Cyril!" said Mollie.

Six large brown eyes, round with surprise, welcomed me. They overwhelmed
me with questions, and made much of us. At length they were settled and
quiet again.

"Yes, I am a stranger," said Lettie, who had taken off her hat and furs
and coat. "But you do not expect me often, do you? I may come at times,
eh?"

"We are only too glad," replied the mother. "Nothing all day long but the
sound of the sluice--and mists, and rotten leaves. I am thankful to hear
a fresh voice."

"Is Cyril really better, Lettie?" asked Emily softly.

"He's a spoiled boy--I believe he keeps a little bit ill so that we can
cade him. Let me help you--let me peel the apples--yes, yes--I will."

She went to the table, and occupied one side with her apple-peeling.
George had not spoken to her. So she said:

"I won't help you, George, because I don't like to feel my fingers so
sticky, and because I love to see you so domesticated."

"You'll enjoy the sight a long time, then, for these things are
numberless."

"You should eat one now and then--I always do."

"If I ate one I should eat the lot."

"Then you may give me your one."

He passed her a handful without speaking.

"That is too many, your mother is looking. Let me just finish this apple.
There, I've not broken the peel!"

She stood up, holding up a long curling strip of peel. "How many times
must I swing it, Mrs Saxton?"

"Three times--but it's not All Hallows' Eve."

"Never mind! Look!--" She carefully swung the long band of green peel
over her head three times, letting it fall the third. The cat pounced on
it, but Mollie swept him off again.

"What is it?" cried Lettie, blushing.

"G," said the father, winking and laughing--the mother looked daggers at
him.

"It isn't nothink," said David navely, forgetting his confusion at being
in the presence of a lady in his shirt. Mollie remarked in her cool way:

"It might be a 'hess'--if you couldn't write."

"Or an 'L'," I added. Lettie looked over at me imperiously, and I was
angry.

"What do you say, Emily?" she asked.

"Nay," said Emily. "It's only you can see the right letter."

"Tell us what's the right letter," said George to her.

"I!" exclaimed Lettie. "Who can look into the seeds of Time?"

"Those who have set 'em and watched 'em sprout," said I. She flung the
peel into the fire, laughing a short laugh, and went on with her work.

Mrs Saxton leaned over to her daughter and said softly, so that he should
not hear, that George was pulling the flesh out of the raisins.

"George!" said Emily sharply, "you're leaving nothing but the husks."

He too was angry.

"'And he would fain fill his belly with the husks that the swine did
eat,'" he said quietly, taking a handful of the fruit he had picked and
putting some in his mouth. Emily snatched away the basin.

"It is too bad!" she said.

"Here," said Lettie, handing him an apple she had peeled. "You may have
an apple, greedy boy."

He took it and looked at it. Then a malicious smile twinkled round his
eyes--as he said:

"If you give me the apple, to whom will you give the peel?"

"The swine," she said, as if she only understood his first reference to
the Prodigal Son. He put the apple on the table. "Don't you want it?"
she said.

"Mother," he said comically, as if jesting. "She is offering me the apple
like Eve."

Like a flash, she snatched the apple from him, hid it in her skirts a
moment, looking at him with dilated eyes, and then she flung it at the
fire. She missed, and the father leaned forward and picked it off the
hob, saying:

"The pigs may as well have it. You were slow, George--when a lady offers
you a thing you don't have to make mouths."

"A ce qu'il parat," she cried, laughing now at her ease, boisterously.

"Is she making love, Emily?" asked the father, laughing suggestively.

"She says it too fast for me," said Emily.

George was leaning back in his chair, his hands in his breeches pockets.

"We shall have to finish his raisins after all, Emily," said Lettie
brightly. "Look what a lazy animal he is."

"He likes his comfort," said Emily, with irony.

"The picture of content--solid, healthy, easy-moving content--" continued
Lettie. As he sat thus, with his head thrown back against the end of the
ingle-seat, coatless, his red neck seen in repose, he did indeed look
remarkably comfortable.

"I shall never fret my fat away," he said stolidly. "No--you and I--we
are not like Cyril. We do not burn our bodies in our heads--or our
hearts, do we?"

"We have it in common," said he, looking at her indifferently beneath his
lashes, as his head was tilted back.

Lettie went on with the paring and coring of her apples--then she took
the raisins. Meanwhile, Emily was making the house ring as she chopped
the suet in a wooden bowl. The children were ready for bed. They kissed
us all "Good night"--save George. At last they were gone, accompanied by
their mother. Emily put down her chopper, and sighed that her arm was
aching, so I relieved her. The chopping went on for a long time, while
the father read, Lettie worked, and George sat tilted back looking on.
When at length the mincemeat was finished we were all out of work. Lettie
helped to clear away--sat down--talked a little with effort--jumped up
and said:

"Oh, I'm too excited to sit still--it's so near Christmas--let us play at
something."

"A dance?" said Emily.

"A dance--a dance!"

He suddenly sat straight and got up.

"Come on!" he said.

He kicked off his slippers, regardless of the holes in his stocking feet,
and put away the chairs. He held out his arm to her--she came with a
laugh, and away they went, dancing over the great flagged kitchen at an
incredible speed. Her light flying steps followed his leaps; you could
hear the quick light tap of her toes more plainly than the thud of his
stockinged feet. Emily and I joined in. Emily's movements are naturally
slow, but we danced at great speed. I was hot and perspiring, and she was
panting, when I put her in a chair. But they whirled on in the dance, on
and on till I was giddy, till the father, laughing, cried that they
should stop. But George continued the dance; her hair was shaken loose,
and fell in a great coil down her back; her feet began to drag; you could
hear a light slur on the floor; she was panting--I could see her lips
murmur to him, begging him to stop; he was laughing with open mouth,
holding her tight; at last her feet trailed; he lifted her, clasping her
tightly, and danced twice round the room with her thus. Then he fell with
a crash on the sofa, pulling her beside him. His eyes glowed like coals;
he was panting in sobs, and his hair was wet and glistening. She lay back
on the sofa, with his arm still around her, not moving; she was quite
overcome. Her hair was wild about her face. Emily was anxious; the father
said, with a shade of inquietude:

"You've overdone it--it is very foolish."

When at last she recovered her breath and her life, she got up, and
laughing in a queer way, began to put up her hair. She went into the
scullery where were the brush and combs, and Emily followed with a
candle. When she returned, ordered once more, with a little pallor
succeeding the flush, and with a great black stain of sweat on her
leathern belt where his hand had held her, he looked up at her from his
position on the sofa, with a peculiar glance of triumph, smiling.

"You great brute," she said, but her yoke was not as harsh as her words.
He gave a deep sigh, sat up, and laughed quietly. "Another?" he said.

"Will you dance with me?"

"At your pleasure."

"Come then--a minuet."

"Don't know it."

"Nevertheless, you must dance it. Come along."

He reared up, and walked to her side. She put him through the steps, even
dragging him round the waltz. It was very ridiculous. When it was
finished she bowed him to his seat, and, wiping her hands on her
handkerchief, because his shirt where her hand had rested on his
shoulders was moist, she thanked him.

"I hope you enjoyed it," he said.

"Ever so much," she replied.

"You made me look a fool--so no doubt you did."

"Do you think you could look a fool? Why, you are ironical! Ca marche! In
other words, you have come on. But it is a sweet dance."

He looked at her, lowered his eyelids, and said nothing. "Ah, well," she
laughed, "some are bred for the minuet, and some for--"

"--Less tomfoolery," he answered.

"Ah--you call it tomfoolery because you cannot do it. Myself, I like
it--so--"

"And I can't do it?"

"Could you? Did you? You are not built that way."

"Sort of Clarence MacFadden," he said, lighting a pipe as if the
conversation did not interest him.

"Yes--what ages since we sang that!"


'Clarence MacFadden he wanted to dance
But his feet were not gaited that way...'


"I remember we sang it after one corn harvest--we had a fine time. I
never thought of you before as Clarence. It is very funny. By the
way--will you come to our party at Christmas?"

"When? Who's coming?"

"The twenty-sixth--Oh!--only the old people--Alice--Tom
Smith--Fanny--those from Highclose."

"And what will you do?"

"Sing--charades---dance a little--anything you like."

"Polka?"

"And minuets--and valetas. Come and dance a valeta, Cyril."

She made me take her through a valeta, a minuet, a mazurka, and she
danced elegantly, but with a little of Carmen's ostentation--her dash and
devilry. When we had finished, the father said:

"Very pretty--very pretty, indeed! They do look nice, don't they, George?
I wish I was young."

"As I am--" said George, laughing bitterly.

"Show me how to do them--some time, Cyril," said Emily, in her pleading
way, which displeased Lettie so much. "Why don't you ask me?" said the
latter quickly. "Well--but you are not often here."

"I am here now. Come--" and she waved Emily imperiously to the attempt.

Lettie, as I have said, is tall, approaching six feet; she is lissome.
but firmly moulded, by nature graceful; in her poise and harmonious
movement are revealed the subtle sympathies of her artist's soul. The
other is shorter, much heavier. In her every motion you can see the
extravagance of her emotional nature. She quivers with feeling; emotion
conquers and carries havoc through her, for she had not a strong
intellect, nor a heart of light humour; her nature is brooding and
defenceless; she knows herself powerless in the tumult of her feelings,
and adds to her misfortunes a profound mistrust of herself.

As they danced together, Lettie and Emily, they showed in striking
contrast. My sister's ease and beautiful poetic movement were exquisite;
the other could not control her movements, but repeated the same error
again and again. She gripped Lettie's hand fiercely, and glanced up with
eyes full of humiliation and terror of her continued failure, and
passionate, trembling, hopeless desire to succeed. To show her, to
explain, made matters worse. As soon as she trembled on the brink of an
action, the terror of not being able to perform it properly blinded her,
and she was conscious of nothing but that she must do something--in a
turmoil. At last Lettie ceased to talk, and merely swung her through the
dances haphazard. This way succeeded better. So long as Emily need not
think about her actions, she had a large, free grace; and the swing and
rhythm and time were imparted through her senses rather than through her
intelligence.

It was time for supper. The mother came down for a while, and we talked
quietly, at random. Lettie did not utter a word about her engagement, not
a suggestion. She made it seem as if things were just as before, although
I am sure she had discovered that I had told George. She intended that we
should play as if ignorant of her bond.

After supper, when we were ready to go home, Lettie said to him:

"By the way--you must send us some mistletoe for the party--with plenty
of berries, you know. Are there many berries on your mistletoe this
year?"

"I do not know--I have never looked. We will go and see--if you like,"
George answered.

"But will you come out into the cold?"

He pulled on his boots, and his coat, and twisted a scarf round his neck.
The young moon had gone. It was very dark--the liquid stars wavered. The
great night filled us with awe. Lettie caught hold of my arm, and held it
tightly. He passed on in front to open the gates. We went down into the
front garden, over the turf bridge where the sluice rushed coldly under,
on to the broad slope of the bank. We could just distinguish the gnarled
old apple trees leaning about us. We bent our heads to avoid the boughs,
and followed George. He hesitated a moment, saying:

"Let me see--I think they are there--the two trees with mistletoe on."

We again followed silently.

"Yes," he said. "Here they are!"

We went close and peered into the old trees. We could just see the dark
bush of the mistletoe between the boughs of the tree. Lettie began to
laugh.

"Have we come to count the berries?" she said. "I can't even see the
mistletoe."

She leaned forward and upwards to pierce the darkness; he, also straining
to look, felt her breath on his cheek, and turning, saw the pallor of her
face close to his, and felt the dark glow of her eyes. He caught her in
his arms, and held her mouth in a kiss. Then, when he released her, he
turned away, saying something incoherent about going to fetch the
lantern to look. She remained with her back towards me, and pretended to
be feeling among the mistletoe for the berries. Soon I saw the swing of
the hurricane lamp below.

"He is bringing the lantern," said I.

When he came up, he said, and his voice was strange and subdued:

"Now we can see what it's like."

He went near, and held up the lamp, so that it illuminated both their
faces, and the fantastic boughs of the trees, and the weird bush of
mistletoe sparsely pearled with berries. Instead of looking at the
berries they looked into each other's eyes; his lids flickered, and he
flushed, in the yellow light of the lamp looking warm and handsome; he
looked upwards in confusion and said, "There are plenty of berries."

As a matter of fact, there were very few.

She too looked up, and murmured her assent. The light seemed to hold them
as in a globe, in another world, apart from the night in which I stood.
He put up his hand and broke off a sprig of mistletoe, with berries, and
offered it to her. They looked into each other's eyes again. She put the
mistletoe among her furs, looking down at her bosom. They remained still,
in the centre of light, with the lamp uplifted; the red and black scarf
wrapped loosely round his neck gave him a luxurious, generous look. He
lowered the lamp and said, affecting to speak naturally:

"Yes--there is plenty this year."

"You will give me some," she replied, turning away and finally breaking
the spell.

"When shall I cut it?"--He strode beside her, swinging the lamp, as we
went down the bank to go home. He came as far as the brooks without
saying another word. Then he bade us good night. When he had lighted her
over the stepping-stones, she did not take my arm as we walked home.

During the next two weeks we were busy preparing for Christmas, ranging
the woods for the reddest holly, and pulling the gleaming ivy-bunches
from the trees. From the farms around came the cruel yelling of pigs, and
in the evening later, was a scent of pork-pies. Far off on the high-way
could be heard the sharp trot of ponies hastening with Christmas goods.

There the carts of the hucksters dashed by to the expectant villagers,
triumphant with great bunches of light foreign mistletoe, gay with
oranges peeping through the boxes, and scarlet intrusion of apples, and
wild confusion of cold, dead poultry. The hucksters waved their whips
triumphantly, the little ponies rattled bravely under the sycamores,
towards Christmas.

In the late afternoon of the 24th, when dust was rising under the hazel
brake, I was walking with Lettie. All among the mesh of twigs overhead
was tangled a dark red sky. The boles of the trees grew denser--almost
blue.

Tramping down the riding we met two boys, fifteen or sixteen years old.
Their clothes were largely patched with tough cotton moleskin; scarves
were knotted round their throats, and in their pockets rolled tin bottles
full of tea, and the white knobs of their knotted snap-bags.

"Why!" said Lettie. "Are you going to work on Christmas eve?"

"It looks like it, don't it?" said the elder.

"And what time will you be coming back?"

"About 'alf-past tow."

"Christmas morning!"

"You'll be able to look out for the herald Angels and the Star," said I.

"They'd think we was two dirty little 'uns," said the younger lad,
laughing.

"They'll 'appen 'a done before we get up ter th' top," added the elder
boy, "an' they'll none venture down th' shaft."

"If they did," put in the other, "you'd ha'e ter bath 'em after. I'd gi'e
'em a bit o' my pasty."

"Come on," said the elder sulkily.

They tramped off, slurring their heavy boots.

"Merry Christmas!" I called after them.

"In th' mornin'," replied the elder.

"Same to you," said the younger, and he began to sing with a tinge of
bravado.


"In the fields with their flocks abiding.
They lay on the dewy ground--"


"Fancy," said Lettie, "those boys are working for me!" We were all going
to the party at Highclose. I happened to go into the kitchen about
half-past seven. The lamp was turned low, and Rebecca sat in the shadows.
On the table, in the light of the lamp, I saw a glass vase with five or
six very beautiful Christmas roses.

"Hullo, Becka, who's sent you these?" said I.

"They're not sent,". replied Rebecca from the depth of the shadow, with
suspicion of tears in her voice.

"Why! I never saw them in the garden."

"Perhaps not. But I've watched them these three weeks, and kept them
under glass."

"For Christmas? They are beauties. I thought someone must have sent them
to you."

"It's little as 'as ever been sent me," replied Rebecca, "an' less as
will be."

"Why--what's the matter?"

"Nothing. Who'm I, to have anything the matter! Nobody--nor ever was, nor
ever will be. And I'm getting old as well."

"Something's upset you, Becky."

"What does it matter if it has? What are my feelings? A bunch o'
fal-de-rol flowers as a gardener clips off wi' never a thought is
preferred before mine as I've fettled after this three-week. I can sit at
home to keep my flowers company--nobody wants 'em."

I remembered that Lettie was wearing hot-house flowers; she was excited
and full of the idea of the party at Highclose; I could imagine her quick
"Oh no, thank you, Rebecca. I have had a spray sent to me--"

"Never mind, Becky," said I, "she is excited tonight."

"An' I'm easy forgotten."

"So are we all, Becky--tant mieux."

At Highclose Lettie made a stir. Among the little belles of the
countryside, she was decidedly the most distinguished. She was brilliant,
moving as if in a drama. Leslie was enraptured, ostentatious in his
admiration, proud of being so well infatuated. They looked into each
other's eyes when they met, both triumphant, excited, blazing arch looks
at one another. Lettie was enjoying her public demonstration immensely;
it exhilarated her into quite a vivid love for him. He was magnificent in
response. Meanwhile, the honoured lady of the house, pompous and ample,
sat aside with my mother conferring her patronage on the latter amiable
little woman, who smiled sardonically and watched Lettie. It was a
splendid party; it was brilliant, it was dazzling.

I danced with several ladies, and honourably kissed each under the
mistletoe--except that two of them kissed me first, it was all done in a
most correct manner.

"You wolf," said Miss Wookey archly. "I believe you are a wolf--a
veritable rdeur des femmes--and you look such a lamb too--such a dear."

"Even my bleat reminds you of Mary's pet."

"But you are not my pet--at least--it is well that my Golaud doesn't hear
you--"

"If he is so very big--" said I.

"He is really; he's beefy. I've engaged myself to him, somehow or other.
One never knows how one does those things, do they?"

"I couldn't speak from experience," said I.

"Cruel man! I suppose I felt Christmasy, and I'd just been reading
Maeterlinck--and he really is big."

"Who?" I asked.

"Oh--He, of course. My Golaud. I can't help admiring men who are a bit
avoirdupoisy. It is unfortunate they can't dance."

"Perhaps fortunate," said I.

"I can see you hate him. Pity I didn't think to ask him if he
danced--before--"

"Would it have influenced you very much?"

"Well--of course--one can be free to dance all the more with the really
nice men whom one never marries."

"Why not?"

"Oh--you can only marry one--"

"Of course."

"There he is--he's coming for me! Oh, Frank, you leave me to the tender
mercies of the world at large. I thought you'd forgotten me, dear."

"I thought the same," replied her Golaud, a great fat fellow with a
childish bare face. He smiled awesomely, and one never knew what he meant
to say.

We drove home in the early Christmas morning. Lettie, warmly wrapped in
her cloak, had had a little stroll with her lover in the shrubbery. She
was still brilliant, flashing in her movements. He, as he bade her
good-bye, was almost beautiful in his grace and his low musical tone. I
nearly loved him myself. She was very fond towards him. As we came to the
gate where the private road branched from the highroad, we heard John say
"Thank you"--and looking out, saw our two boys returning from the pit.
They were very grotesque in the dark nights as the lamplight fell on
them, showing them grimy, flecked with bits of snow. They shouted
merrily, their good wishes. Lettie leaned out and waved to them, and they
cried "'ooray!" Christmas came in with their acclamations.



CHAPTER IX - LETTIE COMES OF AGE


Lettie was twenty-one on the day after Christmas. She woke me in the
morning with cries of dismay. There was a great fall of snow, multiplying
the cold morning light, startling the slow-footed twilight. The lake was
black like the open eyes of a corpse; the woods were black like the beard
on the face of a corpse. A rabbit bobbed out, and floundered in much
consternation; little birds settled into the depth, and rose in a dusty
whirr, much terrified at the universal treachery of the earth. The snow
was eighteen inches deep, and drifted in places.

"They will never come!" lamented Lettie, for it was the day of her party.

"At any rate--Leslie will," said I.

"One!" she exclaimed.

"That one is all, isn't it?" said I. "And for sure George will come,
though I've not seen him this fortnight. He's not been in one night, they
say, for a fortnight."

"Why not?"

"I cannot say."

Lettie went away to ask Rebecca for the fiftieth time if she thought they
would come. At any rate, the extra woman-help came.

It was not more than ten o'clock when Leslie arrived, ruddy, with shining
eyes, laughing like a boy. There was much stamping in the porch, and
knocking of leggings with his stick, and crying of Lettie from the
kitchen to know who had come, and loud, cheery answers from the porch
bidding her come and see. She came, and greeted him with effusion.

"Ha, my little woman!" he said, kissing her. "I declare you are a woman.
Look at yourself in the glass now--"

She did so--

"What do you see?" he asked, laughing.

"You--mighty gay, looking at me."

"Ah, but look at yourself. There! I declare you're more afraid of your
own eyes than of mine, aren't you?"

"I am," she said, and he kissed her with rapture.

"It's your birthday," he said.

"I know," she replied.

"So do I. You promised me something."

"What?" she asked.

"Here--see if you like it"--he gave her a little case. She opened it, and
instinctively slipped the ring on her finger. He made a movement of
pleasure. She looked up, laughing breathlessly at him.

"Now!" said he, in times of finality.

"Ah!" she exclaimed in a strange, thrilled voice.

He caught her in his arms.

After a while, when they could talk rationally again, she said: "Do you
think they will come to my party?"

"I hope not--By Heaven!"

"But--oh yes! We have made all preparations."

"What does that matter! Ten thousand folks here today--!"

"Not ten thousand--only five or six. I shall be wild if they can't come."

"You want them?"

"We have asked them--and everything is ready--and I do want us to have a
party one day."

"But today--damn it all, Lettie!"

"But I did want my party today. Don't you think they'll come?"

"They won't if they've any sense!"

"You might help me--" she pouted.

"Well, I'll be--! and you've set your mind on having a houseful of people
today?"

"You know how we look forward to it--my party. At any rate--I know Tom
Smith will come--and I'm almost sure Emily Saxton will."

He bit his moustache angrily, and said at last:

"Then I suppose I'd better send John round for the lot."

"It wouldn't be much trouble, would it?"

"No trouble at all."

"Do you know," she said, twisting the ring on her finger, "it makes me
feel as if I tied something round my finger to remember by. It somehow
remains in my consciousness all the time."

"At any rate," said he, "I have got you."

After dinner, when we were alone, Lettie sat at the table, nervously
fingering her ring.

"It is pretty, Mother, isn't it?" she said a trifle pathetically.

"Yes, very pretty. I have always liked Leslie," replied my mother.

"But it feels so heavy--it fidgets me. I should like to take it off."

"You are like me, I never could wear rings. I hated my wedding ring for
months."

"Did you, Mother?"

"I longed to take it off and put it away. But after a while I got used to
it."

"I'm glad this isn't a wedding ring."

"Leslie says it is as good," said I.

"Ah well, yes! But still it is different--" She put the jewels round
under her finger, and looked at the plain gold band--then she twisted it
back quickly, saying:

"I'm glad it's not--not yet. I begin to feel a woman, little Mother--I
feel grown up today."

My mother got up suddenly and went and kissed Lettie fervently.

"Let me kiss my girl good-bye," she said, and her voice was muffled with
tears. Lettie clung to my mother, and sobbed a few quiet sobs, hidden in
her bosom. Then she lifted her face, which was wet with tears, and kissed
my mother, murmuring:

"No, Mother--no--o--!"

About three o'clock the carriage came with Leslie and Marie. Both Lettie
and I were upstairs, and I heard Marie come tripping up to my sister.

"Oh, Lettie, he is in such a state of excitement, you never knew. He took
me with him to buy it--let me see it on. I think it's awfully lovely.
Here, let me help you to do your hair--all in those little rolls--it will
look charming. You've really got beautiful hair--there's so much life in
it--it's a pity to twist it into a coil as you do. I wish my hair were a
bit longer--though really, it's all the better for this fashion--don't
you like it?--it's 'so chic'--I think these little puffs are just
fascinating--it is rather long for them--but it will look ravishing.
Really, my eyes, and eyebrows, and eyelashes are my best features, don't
you think?"

Marie, the delightful, charming little creature, twittered on. I went
downstairs.

Leslie started when I entered the room, but seeing only me, he leaned
forward again, resting his arms on his knees, looking in the fire.

"What the Dickens is she doing?" he asked.

"Dressing."

"Then we may keep on waiting. Isn't it a deuced nuisance, these people
coming?"

"Well, we generally have a good time."

"Oh--it's all very well--we're not in the same boat, you and me."

"Fact," said I, laughing.

"By Jove, Cyril, you don't know what it is to be in love. I never
thought--I couldn't ha' believed I should be like it. And the time when
it isn't at the top of your blood, it's at the bottom:--'the Girl, the
Girl'."

He stared into the fire.

"It seems pressing you, pressing you on. Never leaves you alone a
moment."

Again he lapsed into reflection.

"Then, all at once, you remember how she kissed you, and all your blood
jumps afire."

He mused again for a while--or rather, he seemed fiercely to con over his
sensations.

"You know," he said, "I don't think she feels for me as I do for her."

"Would you want her to?" said I.

"I don't know. Perhaps not--but--still I don't think she feels--"

At this he lighted a cigarette to soothe his excited feelings, and there
was silence for some time. Then the girls came down. We could hear their
light chatter. Lettie entered the room. He jumped up and surveyed her.
She was dressed in soft, creamy, silken stuff; her neck was quite bare;
her hair was, as Marie promised, fascinating; she was laughing nervously.
She grew warm, like a blossom in the sunshine, in the glow of his
admiration. He went forward and kissed her.

"You are splendid!" he said.

She only laughed for answer. He drew her away to the great arm-chair, and
made her sit in it beside him. She was indulgent and he radiant. He took
her hand and looked at it, and at his ring which she wore.

"It looks all right!" he murmured.

"Anything would," she replied.

"What do you mean--sapphires and diamonds--for I don't know?"

"Nor do I. Blue for hope, because Speranza in 'Fairy Queen' had a blue
gown--and diamonds for--the crystalline clearness of my nature."

"Its glitter and hardness, you mean.--You are a hard little mistress. But
why hope?"

"Why?--No reason whatever, like most things. No, that's not right. Hope!
Oh--blindfolded--hugging a silly harp with no strings. I wonder why she
didn't drop her harp framework over the edge of the globe, and take the
handkerchief off her eyes, and have a look round! But of course she was a
woman--and a man's woman. Do you know I believe most women can sneak a
look down their noses from underneath the handkerchief of hope they've
tied over their eyes. They could take the whole muffler off--but they
don't do it, the dears."

"I don't believe you know what you're talking about, and I'm sure I
don't. Sapphires reminded me of your eyes--and isn't it 'Blue that kept
the faith'? I remember something about it."

"Here," said she, pulling off the ring, "you ought to wear it yourself,
Faithful One, to keep me in constant mind."

"Keep it on, keep it on. It holds you faster than that fair damsel tied
to a tree in Millais's picture--I believe it's Millais."

She sat shaking with laughter.

"What a comparison! Who'll be the brave knight to rescue
me--discreetly--from behind?"

"Ah," he answered, "it doesn't matter. You don't want rescuing, do you?"

"Not yet," she replied, teasing him.

They continued to talk half nonsense, making themselves eloquent by quick
looks and gestures, and communion of warm closeness. The ironical tones
went out of Lettie's voice, and they made love.

Marie drew me away into the dining-room, to leave them alone.



Marie is a charming little maid, whose appearance is neatness, whose face
is confident little goodness. Her hair is dark, and lies low upon her
neck in wavy coils. She does not affect the fashion in coiffure, and
generally is a little behind the fashion in dress. Indeed she is a
half-opened bud of a matron, conservative, full of proprieties, and of
gentle indulgence. She now smiled at me with a warm delight in the
romance upon which she had just shed her grace, but her demureness
allowed nothing to be said. She glanced round the room, and out of the
window, and observed:

"I always love Woodside, it is restful--there is something about
it--oh--assuring--really--it comforts me--I've been reading Maxim Gorky."

"You shouldn't," said I.

"Dadda reads them--but I don't like them--I shall read no more. I like
Woodside--it makes you feel--really at home--it soothes one like the old
wood does. It seems right--life is proper here--not ulcery--"

"Just healthy living flesh," said I.

"No, I don't mean that, because one feels--oh, as if the world were old
and good, not old and bad."

"Young, and undisciplined, and mad," said I.

"No--but here, you, and Lettie, and Leslie, and me--it is so nice for us,
and it seems so natural and good. Woodside is so old, and so sweet and
serene--it does reassure one."

"Yes," said I, "we just live, nothing abnormal, nothing cruel and
extravagant--just natural--like doves in a dovecote."

"Oh!--doves!--they are so--so mushy."

"They are dear little birds, doves. You look like one yourself, with the
black band round your neck. You a turtle-dove, and Lettie a wood-pigeon."

"Lettie is splendid, isn't she? What a swing she has--what a mastery! I
wish I had her strength--she just marches straight through in the right
way--I think she's fine."

I laughed to see her so enthusiastic in her admiration of my sister.
Marie is such a gentle, serious little soul. She went to the window. I
kissed her, and pulled two berries off the mistletoe. I made her a nest
in the heavy curtains, and she sat there looking out on the snow.

"It is lovely," she said reflectively. "People must be ill when they
write like Maxim Gorky."

"They live in town," said I.

"Yes--but then look at Hardy--life seems so terrible--it isn't, is it?"

"If you don't feel it, it isn't--if you don't see it. I don't see it for
myself."

"It's lovely enough for heaven."

"Eskimo's heaven perhaps. And we're the angels, eh? And I'm an
archangel."

"No, you're a vain, frivolous man. Is that--? What is that moving through
the trees?"

"Somebody coming," said I.



It was a big, burly fellow moving curiously through the bushes.

"Doesn't he walk funnily?" exclaimed Marie. He did. When he came near
enough we saw he was straddled upon Indian snow-shoes. Marie peeped, and
laughed, and peeped, and hid again in the curtains laughing. He was very
red, and looked very hot, as he hauled the great meshes, shuffling over
the snow; his body rolled most comically. I went to the door and admitted
him, while Marie stood stroking her face with her hands to smooth away
the traces of her laughter.

He grasped my hand in a very large and heavy glove, with which he then
wiped his perspiring brow.

"Well, Beardsall, old man," he said, "and how's things? God, I'm not 'alf
hot! Fine idea though--" He showed me his snow-shoes.

"Ripping! ain't they? I've come like an Indian brave--"

He rolled his "r's", and lengthened out his "ah's"
tremendously--"brra-ave".

"Couldn't resist it though," he continued.

"Remember your party last year--Girls turned up? On the war-path, eh?" He
pursed up his childish lips and rubbed his fat chin.

Having removed his coat, and the white wrap which protected his collar,
not to mention the snowflakes, which Rebecca took almost as an insult to
herself--he seated his fat, hot body on a chair, and proceeded to take
off his gaiters and his boots. Then he donned his dancing-pumps, and I
led him upstairs.

"Lord, I skimmed here like a swallow!" he continued--and I looked at his
corpulence.

"Never met a soul, though they've had a snow-plough down the road. I saw
the marks of a cart up the drive, so I guessed the Tempests were here. So
Lettie's put her nose in Tempest's nosebag--leaves nobody a chance,
that--some women have rum taste--only they're like ravens, they go for
the gilding--don't blame 'em--only it leaves nobody a chance. Madie
Howitt's coming, I suppose?"

I ventured something about the snow.

"She'll come," he said, "if it's up to the neck. Her mother saw me go
past."

He proceeded with his toilet. I told him that Leslie had sent the
carriage for Alice and Madie. He slapped his fat legs, and exclaimed:

"Miss Gall--I smell sulphur! Beardsall, old boy, there's fun in the wind.
Madie, and the coy little Tempest, and--" he hissed a line of a
music-hall song through his teeth.

During all this he had straightened his cream and lavender waistcoat.

"Little pink of a girl worked it for me--a real juicy little
peach--chipped somehow or other"--he had arranged his white bow--he had
drawn forth two rings, one a great signet, the other gorgeous with
diamonds, and had adjusted them on his fat white fingers; he had run his
fingers delicately through his hair, which rippled backwards a trifle
tawdrily--being fine and somewhat sapless; he had produced a box,
containing a cream carnation with suitable greenery; he had flicked
himself with a silk handkerchief, and had dusted his patent-leather
shoes; lastly, he had pursed up his lips and surveyed himself with great
satisfaction in the mirror. Then he was ready to be presented.

"Couldn't forget today, Lettie. Wouldn't have let old Pluto and all the
bunch of 'em keep me away. I skimmed here like a 'Brra-ave' on my
snow-shoes, like Hiawatha coming to Minnehaha."

"Ah--that was famine," said Marie softly.

"And this is a feast, a gorgeous feast, Miss Tempest," he said, bowing to
Marie, who laughed.

"You have brought some music?" asked mother.

"Wish I was Orpheus," he said, uttering his words with exaggerated
enunciation, a trick he had caught from his singing, I suppose.

"I see you're in full feather, Tempest. Is she kind as she is fair?"

"Who?"

Will pursed up his smooth sensuous face that looked as if it had never
needed shaving. Lettie went out with Marie, hearing the bell ring.

"She's an houri!" exclaimed William. "Gad, I'm almost done for! She's a
lotus-blossom!--But is that your ring she's wearing, Tempest?"

"Keep off," said Leslie.

"And don't be a fool," said I.

"Oh, 0-0-Oh!" drawled Will, "so we must look the other way! 'Le bel homme
sans merci'!"

He sighed profoundly, and ran his fingers through his hair, keeping one
eye on himself in the mirror as he did so. Then he adjusted his rings and
went to the piano. At first he only splashed about brilliantly. Then he
sorted the music, and took a volume of Tchaikovsky's songs. He began the
long opening of one song, was unsatisfied, and found another, a serenade
of Don Juan. Then at last he began to sing.

His voice is a beautiful tenor, softer, more mellow, less strong and
brassy than Leslie's. Now it was raised that it might be heard upstairs.
As the melting gush poured forth, the door opened. William softened his
tones, and sang 'dolce', but he did not glance round.

"Rapture!--Choir of Angels," exclaimed Alice, clasping her hands and
gazing up at the lintel of the door like a sainted virgin.

"Persephone--Europa--" murmured Madie, at her side, getting tangled
in her mythology.

Alice pressed her clasped hands against her bosom in ecstasy as the notes
rose higher.

"Hold me, Madie, or I shall rush to extinction in the arms of this
siren." She clung to Madie. The song finished, and Will turned round.

"Take it calmly, Miss Gall," he said. "I hope you're not hit too badly."

"Oh--how can you say 'take it calmly'--how can the savage beast be calm!"

"I'm sorry for you," said Will.

"You are the cause of my trouble, dear boy," replied Alice. "I never
thought you'd come," said Madie.

"Skimmed here like an Indian 'brra-ave'," said Will. "Like Hiawatha
towards Minnehaha. I knew you were coming."

"You know," simpered Madie, "it gave me quite a flutter when I heard the
piano. It is a year since I saw you. How did you get here?"

"I came on snow-shoes," said he. "Real Indian--came from Canada--they're
just ripping."

"Oh--Aw-w do go and put them on and show us--do!--do perform for us,
Billy dear!" cried Alice.

"Out in the cold and driving sleet--no fear," said he, and he turned to
talk to Madie. Alice sat chatting with Mother. Soon Tom Smith came, and
took a seat next to Marie; and sat quietly looking over his spectacles
with his sharp brown eyes, full of scorn for William, full of misgiving
for Leslie and Lettie.

Shortly after, George and Emily came in. They were rather nervous. When
they had changed their clogs, and Emily had taken off her brown-paper
leggings, and he his leather ones, they were not anxious to go into the
drawing-room. I was surprised--and so was Emily--to see that he had put
on dancing shoes.

Emily, ruddy from the cold air, was wearing a wine-coloured dress, which
suited her luxurious beauty. George's clothes were well made--it was a
point on which he was particular, being somewhat self-conscious. He wore
a jacket and a dark bow. The other men were in evening dress.

We took them into the drawing-room, where the lamp was not lighted, and
the glow of the fire was becoming evident in the dusk. We had taken up
the carpet--the floor was all polished--and some of the furniture was
taken away--so that the room looked large and ample.

There was general hand-shaking, and the newcomers were seated near the
fire. First Mother talked to them--then the candles were lighted at the
piano, and Will played to us. He is an exquisite pianist, full of
refinement and poetry. It is astonishing, and it is a fact. Mother went
out to attend to the tea, and after a while, Lettie crossed over to Emily
and George, and, drawing up a low chair, sat down to talk to them. Leslie
stood in the window bay, looking out on the lawn where the snow grew
bluer and bluer and the sky almost purple.

Lettie put her hands on Emily's lap, and said softly, "Look--do you like
it?"

"What! Engaged?" exclaimed Emily.

"I am of age, you see," said Lettie.

"It is a beauty, isn't it? Let me try it on, will you? Yes, I've never
had a ring. There, it won't go over my knuckle-end--I thought not. Aren't
my hands red?--it's the cold--yes, it's too small for me. I do like it."

George sat watching the play of the four hands in his sister's lap, two
hands moving so white and fascinating in the twilight, the other two
rather red, with rather large bones, looking so nervous, almost
hysterical. The ring played between the four hands, giving an occasional
flash from the twilight or candlelight.

"You must congratulate me," she said, in a very low voice, and two of us
knew she spoke to him.

"Ah, yes," said Emily, "I do."

"And you?" she said, turning to him, who was silent. "What do you want me
to say?" he asked.

"Say what you like."

"Some time, when I've thought about it."

"Cold dinners!" laughed Lettie, awaking Alice's old sarcasm at his
slowness.

"What?" he exclaimed, looking up suddenly at her taunt. She knew she was
playing false; she put the ring on her finger and went across the room to
Leslie, laying her arm over his shoulder, and leaning her head against
him, murmuring softly to him. He, poor fellow, was delighted with her,
for she did not display her fondness often.

We went in to tea. The yellow shaded lamp shone softly over the table,
where Christmas roses spread wide open among some dark-coloured leaves;
where the china and silver and the coloured dishes shone delightfully. We
were all very gay and bright; who could be otherwise, seated round a
well-laid table, with young company, and the snow outside? George felt
awkward when he noticed his hands over the table, but for the rest, we
enjoyed ourselves exceedingly.

The conversation veered inevitably to marriage.

"But what have you to say about it, Mr Smith?" asked little Marie.

"Nothing yet," replied he in his peculiar grating voice. "My marriage is
in the unanalysed solution of the future--when I've done the analysis
I'll tell you."

"But what do you think about it--?"

"Do you remember, Lettie," said Will Bancroft, "that little red-haired
girl who was in our year at college? She has just married old Craven out
of Physic's department."

"I wish her joy of it!" said Lettie; "Wasn't she an old flame of yours?"

"Among the rest," he replied, smiling. "Don't you remember you were one
of them; you had your day."

"What a joke that was!" exclaimed Lettie. "We used to go in the arboretum
at dinner-time. You lasted half one autumn. Do you remember when we gave
a concert, you and I, and Frank Wishaw, in the small lecture theatre?"

"When the Prinny was such an old buck, flattering you," continued Will.
"And that night Wishaw took you to the station--sent old Gettim for a cab
and saw you in, large as life--never was such a thing before. Old Wishaw
won you with that cab, didn't he?"

"Oh, how I swelled!" cried Lettie. "There were you all at the top of the
steps gazing with admiration! But Frank Wishaw was not a nice fellow,
though he played the violin beautifully. I never liked his eyes--"

"No," added Will. "He didn't last long, did he?--though long enough to
oust me. We had a giddy ripping time in Coll., didn't we?"

"It was not bad," said Lettie. "Rather foolish. I'm afraid I wasted my
three years."

"I think," said Leslie, smiling, "you improved the shining hours to great
purpose."

It pleased him to think what a flirt she had been, since the flirting had
been harmless, and only added to the glory of his final conquest. George
felt very much left out during these reminiscences.

When we had finished tea, we adjourned to the drawing-room. It was in
darkness, save for the fire-light. The mistletoe had been discovered, and
was being appreciated.

"Georgie, Sybil, Sybil, Georgie, come and kiss me," cried Alice.

Will went forward to do her the honour. She ran to me, saying, "Get away,
you fat fool--keep on your own preserves. Now, Georgie dear, come and
kiss me, 'cause you haven't got nobody else but me, no y' 'aven't. Do you
want to run away, like Georgy-Porgy apple-pie? Shan't cry, sure I shan't,
if you are ugly."

She took him and kissed him on either cheek, saying softly, "You shan't
be so serious, old boy--buck up, there's a good fellow."

We lighted the lamp, and charades were proposed, Leslie and Lettie, Will
and Madie and Alice went out to play. The first scene was an elopement to
Gretna Green--with Alice a maidservant, a part that she played
wonderfully well as a caricature. It was very noisy, and extremely funny.
Leslie was in high spirits. It was remarkable to observe that, as he
became more animated, more abundantly energetic, Lettie became quieter.
The second scene, which they were playing as excited melodrama, she
turned into small tragedy with her bitterness. They went out, and Lettie
blew us kisses from the doorway.

"Doesn't she act well?" exclaimed Marie, speaking to Tom.

"Quite realistic," said he.

"She could always play a part well," said Mother.

"I should think," said Emily, "she could take a role in life and play up
to it."

"I believe she could," Mother answered. "There would only be intervals
when she would see herself in a mirror acting."

"And what then?" said Marie.

"She would feel desperate, and wait till the fit passed off," replied my
mother, smiling significantly.

The players came in again. Lettie kept her part subordinate. Leslie
played with brilliance; it was rather startling how he excelled. The
applause was loud--but we could not guess the word. Then they laughed,
and told us. We clamoured for more.

"Do go, dear," said Lettie to Leslie, "and I will be helping to arrange
the room for the dances. I want to watch you--I am rather tired--it is so
exciting--Emily will take my place."

They went. Marie and Tom, and Mother and I played bridge in one corner.
Lettie said she wanted to show George some new pictures, and they bent
over a portfolio for some time. Then she bade him help her to clear the
room for the dances.

"Well, you have had time to think," she said to him.

"A short time," he replied. "What shall I say?"

"Tell me what you've been thinking."

"Well--about you--" he answered, smiling foolishly. "What about me?" she
asked, venturesome.

"About you, how you were at college," he replied.

"Oh! I had a good time. I had plenty of boys. I liked them
all, till I found there was nothing in them; then they tired me."

"Poor boys!" he said, laughing. "Were they all alike?"

"All alike," she replied, "and they are still."

"Pity," he said, smiling. "It's hard lines on you."

"Why?" she said.

"It leaves you nobody to care for--" he replied. "How very sarcastic you
are. You make one reservation."

"Do I?" he answered, smiling. "But you fire sharp into the air, and then
say we're all blank cartridges--except one, of course."

"You?" she queried ironically--"Oh, you would for ever hang fire."

"'Cold dinners!'" he quoted in bitterness. "But you knew I loved you.
You knew well enough."

"Past tense," she replied, "thanks--make it perfect next time."

"It's you who hang fire--it's you who make me," he said.

"And so from the retort circumstantial to the retort direct." she
replied, smiling.

"You see--you put me off," he insisted, growing excited. For reply, she
held out her hand and showed him the ring. She smiled very quietly. He
stared at her with darkening anger.

"Will you gather the rugs and stools together, and put them in that
corner?" she said.

He turned away to do so, but he looked back again, and said, in low,
passionate tones:

"You never counted me. I was a figure naught in the counting all along."

"See--there is a chair that will be in the way," she replied calmly; but
she flushed, and bowed her head. She turned away, and he dragged an
armful of rugs into a corner.

When the actors came in, Lettie was moving a vase of flowers. While they
played, she sat looking on, smiling, clapping her hands. When it was
finished Leslie came and whispered to her, whereon she kissed him
unobserved, delighting and exhilarating him more than ever. Then they
went out to prepare the next act.

George did not return to her till she called him to help her. Her colour
was high in her cheeks.

"How do you know you did not count?" she said nervously, unable to
resist the temptation to play this forbidden game. He laughed, and for a
moment could not find any reply.

"I do!" he said. "You knew you could have me any day, so you didn't
care."

"Then we're behaving in quite the traditional fashion," she answered with
irony.

"But you know," he said, "you began it. You played with me, and showed me
heaps of things--and those mornings--when I was binding corn, and when I
was gathering the apples, and when I was finishing the straw-stack--you
came then--I can never forget those mornings--things will never be the
same--You have awakened my life--I imagine things that I couldn't have
done."

"Ah!--I am very sorry, I am so sorry."

"Don't be!--don't say so. But what of me?"

"What?" she asked rather startled. He smiled again; he felt the
situation, and was a trifle dramatic, though deadly in earnest.

"Well," said he, "you start me off--then leave me at a loose end. What am
I going to do?"

"You are a man," she replied.

He laughed. "What does that mean?" he said contemptuously.

"You can go on--which way you like," she answered. "Oh well," he said,
"we'll see."

"Don't you think so?" she asked, rather anxious.

"I don't know--we'll see," he replied.

They went out with some things. In the hall, she turned to him, with a
break in her voice, saying, "Oh, I am so sorry--I am so sorry."

He said, very low and soft, "Never mind--never mind."

She heard the laughter of those preparing the charade. She drew away and
went in the drawing-room, saying aloud:

"Now I think everything is ready--we can sit down now."

After the actors had played the last charade, Leslie came and claimed
her.

"Now, Madam--are you glad to have me back?"

"That I am," she said. "Don't leave me again, will you?"

"I won't," he replied, drawing her beside him. "I have left my
handkerchief in the dining-room," he continued; and they went out
together.

Mother gave me permission for the men to smoke.

"You know," said Marie to Tom, "I am surprised that a scientist should
smoke. Isn't it a waste of time?"

"Come and light me," he said.

"Nay," she replied, "let science light you."

"Science does--Ah, but science is nothing without a girl to set it
going--Yes--Come on--now, don't burn my precious nose."

"Poor George!" cried Alice. "Does he want a ministering angel?"

He was half lying in a big arm-chair.

"I do," he replied. "Come on, be my box of soothing ointment. My matches
are all loose."

"I'll strike it on my heel, eh? Now, rouse up, or I shall have to sit on
your knee to reach you."

"Poor dear--he shall be luxurious," and the dauntless girl perched on his
knee.

"What if I singe your whiskers--would you send an Armada?
Aw--aw--pretty!--You do look sweet--doesn't he suck prettily?"

"Do you envy me?" he asked, smiling whimsically. "Ra--ther!"

"Shame to debar you," he said, almost with tenderness. "Smoke with me."

He offered her the cigarette from his lips. She was surprised, and
exceedingly excited by his tender tone. She took the cigarette.

"I'll make a heifer--like Mrs Daws," she said.

"Don't call yourself a cow," he said.

"Nasty thing--let me go," she exclaimed.

"No--you fit me--don't go," he replied, holding her.

"Then you must have growed. Oh--what great hands--let go. Lettie, come
and pinch him."

"What's the matter?" asked my sister.

"He won't let me go."

"He'll be tired first," Lettie answered.

Alice was released, but she did not move. She sat with wrinkled forehead
trying his cigarette. She blew out little tiny whiffs of smoke, and
thought about it; she sent a small puff down her nostrils, and rubbed her
nose.

"It's not as nice as it looks," she said.

He laughed at her with masculine indulgence.

"Pretty boy," she said, stroking his chin.

"Am I?" he murmured languidly.

"Cheek!" she cried, and she boxed his ears. Then "Oh, pore fing!" she
said, and kissed him.

She turned round to wink at my mother and at Lettie. She found the latter
sitting in the old position with Leslie, two in a chair. He was toying
with her arm; holding it and stroking it.

"Isn't it lovely?" he said, kissing the forearm, "so warm and yet so
white. Io--it reminds one of Io."

"Somebody else talking about heifers," murmured Alice to George.

"Can you remember," said Leslie, speaking low, "that man in Merime who
wanted to bite his wife and taste her blood?"

"I do," said Lettie. "Have you a strain of wild beast too?"

"Perhaps," he laughed. "I wish these folks had gone. Your hair is all
loose in your neck--it looks lovely like that, though--"

Alice, the mocker, had unbuttoned the cuff of the thick wrist that lay
idly on her knee, and had pushed his sleeve a little way.

"Ah!" she said. "What a pretty arm, brown as an over-baked loaf!"

He watched her smiling.

"Hard as a brick," she added.

"Do you like it?" he drawled.

"No," she said emphatically, in a tone that meant "yes". "It makes me
feel shivery." He smiled again.

She superposed her tiny, pale, flower-like hands on his. He lay back
looking at them curiously.

"Do you feel as if your hands were full of silver?" she asked almost
wistfully, mocking.

"Better than that," he replied gently.

"And your heart full of gold?" she mocked.

"Of hell!" he replied briefly.

Alice looked at him searchingly.

"And am I like a blue-bottle buzzing in your window to keep you company?"
she asked.

He laughed.

"Good-bye," she said, slipping down and leaving him. "Don't go," he
said--but too late.

The irruption of Alice into the quiet, sentimental party was like taking
a bright light into a sleeping hen-roost. Everybody jumped up and wanted
to do something. They cried out for a dance.

"Emily--play a waltz--you won't mind, will you, George? What! You don't
dance, Tom? Oh, Marie!"

"I don't mind, Lettie," protested Marie.

"Dance with me, Alice," said George, smiling, "and Cyril will take Miss
Tempest."

"Glory!--come on--do or die!" said Alice.

We began to dance. I saw Lettie watching, and I looked round. George was
waltzing with Alice, dancing passably, laughing at her remarks. Lettie
was not listening to what her lover was saying to her; she was watching
the laughing pair. At the end she went to George.

"Why!" she said, "you can--

"Did you think I couldn't?" he said. "You are pledged for a minuet and a
valeta with me--you remember?"

"Yes."

"You promise?"

"Yes. But--

"I went to Nottingham and learned."

"Why--because?--Very well, Leslie, a mazurka. Will you play it,
Emily--Yes, it is quite easy. Tom, you look quite happy talking to the
Mater."

We danced the mazurka with the same partners. He did it better than I
expected--without much awkwardness--but stiffly. However, he moved
quietly through the dance, laughing and talking abstractedly all the time
with Alice.

Then Lettie cried a change of partners, and they took their valeta. There
was a little triumph in his smile.

"Do you congratulate me?" he said.

"I am surprised," she answered.

"So am I. But I congratulate myself."

"Do you? Well, so do I."

"Thanks! You're beginning at last."

"What?" she asked.

"To believe in me."

"Don't begin to talk again," she pleaded sadly, "nothing vital."

"Do you like dancing with me?" he asked

"Now, be quiet--that's real," she replied.

"By Heaven, Lettie, you make me laugh!"

"Do I?" she said--"What if you married Alice--soon."

"I--Alice!--Lettie!! Besides, I've only a hundred pounds in the world,
and no prospects whatever. That's why--well--I shan't marry
anybody--unless it's somebody with money."

"I've a couple of thousand or so of my own--"

"Have you? It would have done nicely," he said, smiling. "You are
different tonight," she said, leaning on him.

"Am I?" he replied--"It's because things are altered too. They're settled
one way now--for the present at least."

"Don't forget the two steps this time," said she, smiling, and adding
seriously, "You see, I couldn't help it."

"No, why not?"

"Things! I have been brought up to expect it--everybody expected it--and
you're bound to do what people expect you to do--you can't help it. We
can't help ourselves, we're all chess-men," she said.

"Ay," he agreed, but doubtfully.

"I wonder where it will end," she said.

"Lettie!" he cried, and his hand closed in a grip on hers.

"Don't--don't say anything--it's no good now, it's too late. It's done;
and what is done, is done. If you talk any more, I shall say I'm tired
and stop the dance. Don't say another word."

He did not--at least to her. Their dance came to an end. Then he took
Marie, who talked winsomely to him. As he waltzed with Marie he regained
his animated spirits. He was very lively the rest of the evening, quite
astonishing and reckless. At supper he ate everything, and drank much
wine.

"Have some more turkey, Mr Saxton."

"Thanks--but give me some of that stuff in brown jelly, will you? It's
new to me."

"Have some of this trifle, Georgie?"

"I will--you are a jewel."

"So will you be--a yellow topaz tomorrow!"

"Ah! tomorrow's tomorrow!"

After supper was over, Alice cried:

"Georgie, dear--have you finished?--don't die the death of a king--King
John--I can't spare you, pet."

"Are you so fond of me?"

"I am--Aw! I'd throw my best Sunday hat under a milk-cart for you, I
would!"

"No; throw yourself into the milk-cart--some Sunday, when I'm driving."

"Yes--come and see us," said Emily.

"How nice! Tomorrow you won't want me, Georgie dear, so I'll come. Don't
you wish Pa would make Tono-Bungay? Wouldn't you marry me then?"

"I would," said he.

When the cart came, and Alice, Madie, Tom and Will departed, Alice bade
Lettie a long farewell--blew Georgie many kisses--promised to love him
faithful and true--and was gone.

George and Emily lingered a short time.

Now the room seemed empty and quiet, and all the laughter seemed to have
gone. The conversation dribbled away; there was an awkwardness.

"Well," said George heavily, at last. "Today is nearly gone--it will soon
be tomorrow. I feel a bit drunk! We had a good time tonight."

"I am glad," said Lettie.

They put on their clogs and leggings, and wrapped themselves up, and
stood in the hall.

"We must go," said George, "before the clock strikes--like
Cinderella--look at my glass slippers--" he pointed to his clogs.
"Midnight, and rags, and fleeing. Very appropriate. I shall call myself
Cinderella who wouldn't fit. I believe I'm a bit drunk--the world looks
funny."

We looked out at the haunting wanness of the hills beyond Nethermere.
"Good-bye, Lettie; good-bye."

They were out in the snow, which peered pale and eerily from the depths
of the black wood.

"Good-bye," he called out of the darkness. Leslie slammed the door, and
drew Lettie away into the drawing-room. The sound of his low, vibrating
satisfaction reached us, as he murmured to her, and laughed now. Then he
kicked the door of the room shut. Lettie began to laugh and mock and talk
in a high strained voice. The sound of their laughter mingled was strange
and incongruous. Then her voice died down.

Marie sat at the little piano--which was put in the dining-room--strumming
and tinkling the false, quavering old notes. It was a depressing jingling
in the deserted remains of the feast, but she felt sentimental, and
enjoyed it.

This was a gap between today and tomorrow, a dreary gap, where one sat
and looked at the dreary comedy of yesterdays, and the grey tragedies of
dawning tomorrows, vacantly, missing the poignancy of an actual today.

The cart returned.

"Leslie, Leslie, John is here, come along!" called Marie. There was no
answer.

"Leslie--John is waiting in the snow."

"All right."

"But you must come at once." She went to the door and spoke to him. Then
he came out looking rather sheepish, and rather angry at the
interruption. Lettie followed, tidying her hair. She did not laugh and
look confused, as most girls do on similar occasions; she seemed very
tired.

At last Leslie tore himself away, and after more returns for a farewell
kiss, mounted the carriage, which stood in a pool of yellow light,
blurred and splotched with shadows, and drove away, calling something
about tomorrow.




PART TWO



CHAPTER I - STRANGE BLOSSOMS AND STRANGE NEW BUDDING


Winter lay a long time prostrate on the earth. The men in the mines of
Tempest, Warrall and Co. came out on strike on a question of the
rearranging of the working system down below. The distress was not awful,
for the men were on the whole wise and well-conditioned, but there was a
dejection over the face of the country-side, and some suffered keenly.
Everywhere, along the lanes and in the streets, loitered gangs of men,
unoccupied and spiritless. Week after week went on, and the agents of the
Miners' Union held great meetings, and the ministers held
prayer-meetings, but the strike continued. There was no rest. Always the
crier's bell was ringing in the street; always the servants of the
company were delivering handbills, stating the case clearly, and always
the people talked and filled the months with bitter, and then hopeless,
resenting. Schools gave breakfasts, chapels gave soup, well-to-do people
gave teas--the children enjoyed it. But we, who knew the faces of the old
men and the privations of the women, breathed a cold, disheartening
atmosphere of sorrow and trouble.

Determined poaching was carried on in the squire's woods and warrens.
Annable defended his game heroically. One man was at home with a leg
supposed to be wounded by a fall on the slippery roads--but really, by a
man-trap in the woods. Then Annable caught two men, and they were
sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

On both the lodge gates of Highclose--on our side and on the far Eberwich
side--were posted notices that trespassers on the drive or in the grounds
would be liable to punishment. These posters were soon mudded over, and
fresh ones fixed.

The men loitering on the road by Nethermere looked angrily at Lettie as
she passed, in her black furs which Leslie had given her, and their
remarks were pungent. She heard them, and they burned in her heart. From
my mother she inherited democratic views, which she now proceeded to
debate warmly with her lover.

Then she tried to talk to Leslie about the strike. He heard her with mild
superiority, smiled, and said she did not know. Women jumped to
conclusions at the first touch of feeling; men must look at a thing all
round, then make a decision--nothing hasty and impetuous--careful,
long-thought-out, correct decisions. Women could not be expected to
understand these things, business was not for them; in fact, their
mission was above business--etc. etc. Unfortunately Lettie was the wrong
woman to treat thus.

"So!" said she, with a quiet, hopeless tone of finality.

"There now, you understand, don't you, Minnehaha, my Laughing Water.--So
laugh again, darling, and don't worry about these things. We will not
talk about them any more, eh?"

"No more."

"No more--that's right--you are as wise as an angel. Come here--pooh, the
wood is thick and lonely! Look, there is nobody in the world but us, and
you are my heaven and earth!"

"And hell?"

"Ah--if you are so cold--how cold you are!--it gives me little shivers
when you look so--and I am always hot--Lettie!"

"Well?"

"You are cruel! Kiss me--now--No, I don't want your cheek--kiss me
yourself. Why don't you say something?"

"What for? What's the use of saying anything when there's nothing
immediate to say?"

"You are offended!"

"It feels like snow today," she answered.

At last, however, winter began to gather her limbs, to rise, and drift
with saddened garments northward.

The strike was over. The men had compromised. It was a gentle way of
telling them they were beaten. But the strike was over.

The birds fluttered and dashed; the catkins on the hazel loosened their
winter rigidity, and swung soft tassels. All through the day sounded
long, sweet whistlings from the bushes; then later, loud, laughing shouts
of bird triumph on every hand.

I remember a day when the breast of the hills was heaving in a last quick
waking sigh, and the blue eyes of the waters opened bright. Across the
infinite skies of March great rounded masses of cloud had sailed stately
all day, domed with white radiance, softened with faint, fleeting shadows
as if companies of angels were gently sweeping past; adorned with
resting, silken shadows likes those of a full white breast. All day the
clouds had moved on to their vast destination, and I had clung to the
earth yearning and impatient. I took a brush and tried to paint them,
then I raged at myself. I wished that in all the wild valley where cloud
shadows were travelling like pilgrims, something would call me forth from
my rooted loneliness. Through all the grandeur of the white and blue day,
the poised cloud masses swung their slow flight, and left me unnoticed.

At evening they were all gone, and the empty sky, like a blue bubble over
us, swam on its pale bright rims.

Leslie came, and asked his betrothed to go out with him, under the
darkening wonderful bubble. She bade me accompany her, and, to escape
from myself, I went.

It was warm in the shelter of the wood and in the crouching hollows of
the hills. But over the slanting shoulders of the hills the wind swept,
whipping the redness into our faces.

"Get me some of those alder catkins, Leslie," said Lettie, as we came
down to the stream.

"Yes, those, where they hang over the brook. They are ruddy like new
blood freshening under the skin. Look, tassels of crimson and gold!" She
pointed to the dusty hazel catkins mingled with the alder on her bosom.
Then she began to quote Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday".

"I'm glad you came to take me a walk," she continued--"Doesn't Strelley
Mill look pretty? Like a group of orange and scarlet fungi in a fairy
picture. Do you know, I haven't been, no, not for quite a long time.
Shall we call now?"

"The daylight will be gone if we do. It is half-past five--more! I saw
him--the son--the other morning."

"Where?"

"He was carting manure--I made haste by."

"Did he speak to you--did you look at him?"

"No, he said nothing. I glanced at him--he's just the same, brick
colour--stolid. Mind that stone--it rocks. I'm glad you've got strong
boots on."

"Seeing that I usually wear them."

She stood poised a moment on a large stone, the fresh spring brook
hastening towards her, deepening sidling round her.

"You won't call and see them, then?" she asked.

"No. I like to hear the brook tinkling, don't you?" he replied.

"Ah, yes--it's full of music."

"Shall we go on?" he said, impatient but submissive. "I'll catch up in a
minute," said I.

I went in and found Emily putting some bread into the oven. "Come out for
a walk," said I.

"Now? Let me tell Mother--I was longing--"

She ran and put on her long grey coat and her red tam-o'-shanter. As we
went down the yard, George called to me. "I'll come back," I shouted.

He came to the crew-yard gate to see us off. When we came out onto the
path, we saw Lettie standing on the top bar of the stile, balancing with
her hand on Leslie's head. She saw us, she saw George, and she waved to
us. Leslie was looking up at her anxiously. She waved again, then we
could hear her laughing, and telling him excitedly to stand still, and
steady her while she turned. She turned round, and leaped with a great
flutter, like a big bird launching, down from the top of the stile to the
ground and into his arms. Then we climbed the steep hill-side--Sunny
Bank, that had once shone yellow with wheat, and now waved black tattered
ranks of thistles where the rabbits ran. We passed the little cottages in
the hollow scooped out of the hill, and gained the highlands that look
out over Leicestershire to Charnwood on the left, and away into the
mountain knob of Derbyshire straight in front and towards the right.

The upper road is all grassy, fallen into long disuse. It used to lead
from the Abbey to the Hall; but now it ends blindly on the hill-brow.
Half-way along is the old White House farm, with its green mounting-steps
mouldering outside. Ladies have mounted here and ridden towards the Vale
of Belvoir--but now a labourer holds the farm.

We came to the quarries, and looked in at the lime-kilns. "Let us go
right into the woods out of the quarry," said Leslie. "I have not been
since I was a little lad."

"It is trespassing," said Emily.

"We don't trespass," he replied grandiloquently.

So we went along by the hurrying brook, which fell over little cascades
in its haste, never looking once at the primroses that were glimmering
all along its banks. We turned aside, and climbed the hill through the
woods. Velvety green sprigs of dog-mercury were scattered on the red
soil. We came to the top of a slope, where the wood thinned. As I talked
to Emily I became dimly aware of a whiteness over the ground. She
exclaimed with surprise, and I found that I was walking, in the first
shades of twilight, over clumps of snowdrops. The hazels were thin, and
only here and there an oak tree uprose. All the ground was white with
snowdrops, like drops of manna scattered over the red earth, on the
grey-green clusters of leaves. There was a deep little dell, sharp
sloping like a cup, and white sprinkling of flowers all the way down,
with white flowers showing pale among the first inpouring of shadow at
the bottom. The earth was red and warm, pricked with the dark, succulent
green of bluebell sheaths, and embroidered with grey-green clusters of
spears, and many white flowerets. High above, above the light tracery of
hazel, the weird oaks tangled in the sunset. Below, in the first shadows,
drooped hosts of little white flowers, so silent and sad; it seemed like
a holy communion of pure wild things, numberless, frail, and folded
meekly in the evening light. Other flower companies are glad; stately
barbaric hordes of bluebells, merry-headed cowslip groups, even light,
tossing wood-anemones; but snowdrops are sad and mysterious. We have lost
their meaning. They do not belong to us, who ravish them. The girls bent
among them, touching them with their fingers, and symbolising the
yearning which I felt. Folded in the twilight, these conquered flowerets
are sad like forlorn little friends of dryads.

"What do they mean, do you think?" said Lettie in a low voice, as her
white fingers touched the flowers, and her black furs fell on them.

"There are not so many this year," said Leslie.

"They remind me of mistletoe, which is never ours, though we wear it."
said Emily to me.

"What do you think they say--what do they make you think, Cyril?" Lettie
repeated.

"I don't know. Emily says they belong to some old wild lost religion.
They were the symbol of tears, perhaps, to some strange-hearted Druid
folk before us."

"More than tears," said Lettie. "More than tears, they are so still.
Something out of an old religion, that we have lost. They make me feel
afraid."

"What should you have to fear?" asked Leslie.

"If I knew I shouldn't fear," she answered. "Look at all the
snowdrops"--they hung in dim, strange flecks among the dusky
leaves--"look at them--closed up, retreating, powerless. They belong to
some knowledge we have lost, that I have lost and that I need. I feel
afraid. They seem like something in fate. Do you think, Cyril, we can
lose things off the earth--like mastodons, and those old
monstrosities--but things that matter--wisdom?"

"It is against my creed," said I.

"I believe I have lost something," said she.

"Come," said Leslie, "don't trouble with fancies. Come with me to the
bottom of this cup, and see how strange it will be, with the sky marked
with branches like a filigree lid."

She rose and followed him down the steep side of the pit, crying, "Ah,
you are treading on the flowers."

"No," said he, "I am being very careful."

They sat down together on a fallen tree at the bottom. She leaned
forward, her fingers wandering white among the shadowed grey spaces of
leaves, plucking, as if it were a rite, flowers here and there. He could
not see her face.

"Don't you care for me?" he asked softly.

"You?"--she sat up and looked at him, and laughed strangely. "You do not
seem real to me," she replied, in a strange voice.

For some time they sat thus, both bowed and silent. Birds "skirred" off
from the bushes, and Emily looked up with a great start as a quiet,
sardonic voice said above us:

"A dove-cot, my eyes if it ain't! It struck me I 'eered a cooin', an'
'ere's th' birds. Come on, sweethearts, it's th' wrong place for billin'
an' cooin', in th' middle o' these 'ere snowdrops. Let's 'ave yer names,
come on."

"Clear off, you fool!" answered Leslie from below, jumping up in anger.

We all four turned and looked at the keeper. He stood in the rim of
light, darkly; fine, powerful form, menacing us. He did not move, but
like some malicious Pan looked down on us and said:

"Very pretty--pretty! Two--and two makes four. 'Tis true, two and two
makes four. Come on, come on out o' this 'ere bridal bed, an' let's 'ave
a look at yer."

"Can't you use your eyes, you fool," replied Leslie, standing up and
helping Lettie with her furs. "At any rate you can see there are ladies
here."

"Very sorry, Sir! You can't tell a lady from a woman at this distance at
dusk. Who may you be, Sir?"

"Clear out! Come along, Lettie, you can't stay here now." They climbed
into the light.

"Oh, very sorry, Mr Tempest--when yer look down on a man he never looks
the same. I thought it was some young fools come here dallyin'--"

"Damn you--shut up!" exclaimed Leslie--"I beg your pardon, Lettie. Will
you have my arm?"

They looked very elegant, the pair of them. Lettie was wearing a long
coat which fitted close; she had a small hat whose feathers flushed
straight back with her hair.

The keeper looked at them. Then, smiling, he went down the dell with
great strides, and returned, saying, "Well, the lady might as well take
her gloves."

She took them from him, shrinking to Leslie. Then she started, and said:

"Let me fetch my flowers."

She ran for the handful of snowdrops that lay among the roots of the
trees. We all watched her.

"Sorry I made such a mistake--a lady!" said Annable. "But I've nearly
forgot the sight o' one--save the squire's daughters, who are never out
o' nights."

"I should think you never have seen many--unless--Have you ever been a
groom?"

"No groom but a bridegroom, Sir, and then I think I'd rather groom a
horse than a lady, for I got well bit--if you will excuse me, Sir."

"And you deserved it--no doubt."

"I got it--an' I wish you better luck, Sir. One's more a man here in th'
wood, though, than in my lady's parlour, it strikes me."

"A lady's parlour!" laughed Leslie, indulgent in his amusement at the
facetious keeper.

"Oh, yes! 'Will you walk into my parlour--'"

"You're very smart for a keeper."

"Oh yes, Sir--I was once a lady's man. But I'd rather watch th' rabbits
an' th' birds; an' it's easier breeding brats in th' Kennels than in th'
town."

"They are yours, are they?" said I.

"You know' em, do you, Sir? Aren't they a lovely little litter?--aren't
they a pretty bag o' ferrets?--natural as weasels--that's what I said
they should be--bred up like a bunch o' young foxes, to run as they
would."

Emily had joined Lettie, and they kept aloof from the man they
instinctively hated.

"They'll get nicely trapped, one of these days," said I. "They're
natural--they can fend for themselves like wild beasts do," he replied,
grinning.

"You are not doing your duty, it strikes me," put in Leslie
sententiously.

"Duties of parents!--tell me, I've need of it. I've nine--that is eight,
and one not far off. She breeds well, the ow'd lass--one every two
years--nine in fourteen years--done well, hasn't she?"

"You've done pretty badly, I think."

"I--why? it's natural! When a man's more than nature he's a devil. Be a
good animal, says I, whether it's man or woman. You, Sir, a good natural
male animal; the lady there--a female un--that's proper as long as yer
enjoy it."

"And what then?"

"Do as th' animals do. I watch my brats--I let 'em grow. They're
beauties, they are--sound as a young ash pole, every one. They shan't
learn to dirty themselves wi' smirking deviltry--not if I can help it.
They can be like birds, or weasels, or vipers, or squirrels, so long as
they ain't human rot, that's what I say."

"It's one way of looking at things," said Leslie.

"Ay. Look at the women looking at us. I'm something between a bull and a
couple of worms stuck together, I am. See that spink!" he raised his
voice for the girls to hear, "Pretty, isn't he? What for?--And what for
do you wear a fancy vest and twist your moustache, Sir! What for, at the
bottom! Ha--tell a woman not to come in a wood till she can look at
natural things--she might see something.--Good night, Sir."

He marched off into the darkness.

"Coarse fellow, that," said Leslie when he had rejoined Lettie, "but he's
a character."

"He makes you shudder," she replied. "But yet you are interested in him.
I believe he has a history."

"He seems to lack something," said Emily.

"I thought him rather a fine fellow," said I.

"Splendidly built fellow, but callous--no soul," remarked Leslie,
dismissing the question.

"No," assented Emily. "No soul--and among the snowdrops."

Lettie was thoughtful, and I smiled.

It was a beautiful evening, still, with red, shaken clouds in the west.
The moon in heaven was turning wistfully back to the east. Dark purple
woods lay around us, painting out the distance. The near, wild, ruined
land looked sad and strange under the pale afterglow. The turf path was
fine and springy.

"Let us run!" said Lettie, and joining hands we raced wildly along, with
a flutter and a breathless laughter, till we were happy and forgetful.
When we stopped we exclaimed at once, "Hark!"

"A child!" said Lettie.

"At the Kennels," said I.

We hurried forward. From the house came the mad yelling and yelping of
children, and the wild hysterical shouting of a woman.

"Tha' little devil--tha' little devil--tha' shanna--that tha' shanna!"
and this was accompanied by the hollow sound of blows, and a pandemonium
of howling. We rushed in, and found the woman in a tousled frenzy
belabouring a youngster with an enamelled pan. The lad was rolled up like
a young hedgehog--the woman held him by the foot, and like a flail came
the hollow utensil thudding on his shoulders and back. He lay in the
firelight and howled, while scattered in various groups, with the leaping
firelight twinkling over their tears and their open mouths, were the
other children, crying too. The mother was in a state of hysteria; her
hair streamed over her face, and her eyes were fixed in a stare of
overwrought irritation. Up and down went her long arm like a windmill
sail. I ran and held it. When she could hit no more, the woman dropped
the pan from her nerveless hand, and staggered, trembling, to the squab.
She looked desperately weary and foredone--she clasped and unclasped her
hands continually. Emily hushed the children, while Lettie hushed the
mother, holding her hard, cracked hands as she swayed to and fro.
Gradually the mother became still, and sat staring in front of her; then
aimlessly she began to finger the jewels on Lettie's finger.

Emily was bathing the cheek of a little girl, who lifted up her voice and
wept loudly when she saw the speck of blood on the cloth. But presently
she became quiet too, and Emily could empty the water from the late
instrument of castigation, and at last light the lamp.

I found Sam under the table in a little heap. I put out my hand for him,
and he wriggled away, like a lizard, into the passage. After a while I
saw him in a corner, lying whimpering with little savage cries of pain. I
cut off his retreat and captured him, bearing him struggling into the
kitchen. Then, weary with pain, he became passive.

We undressed him, and found his beautiful white body all discoloured with
bruises. The mother began to sob again, with a chorus of babies. The
girls tried to soothe the weeping, while I rubbed butter into the silent,
wincing boy. Then his mother caught him in her arms, and kissed him
passionately, and cried with abandon. The boy let himself be kissed--then
he too began to sob, till his little body was all shaken. They folded
themselves together, the poor dishevelled mother and the half-naked boy,
and wept themselves still. Then she took him to bed, and the girls helped
the other little ones into their nightgowns, and soon the house was
still.

"I canna manage 'em, I canna," said the mother mournfully. "They growin'
beyont me--I dunna know what to do wi' 'em. An' niver a 'and does 'e lift
ter 'elp me--no--'e cares not a thing for me--not a thing--nowt but makes
a mock an' a sludge o' me."

"Ah, baby!" said Lettie, setting the bonny boy on his feet, and holding
up his trailing nightgown behind him, "do you want to walk to your
mother--go then--Ah!"

The child, a handsome little fellow of some sixteen months, toddled
across to his mother, waving his hands as he went, and laughing, while
his large hazel eyes glowed with pleasure. His mother caught him, pushed
the silken brown hair back from his forehead, and laid his cheek against
hers.

"Ah!" she said, "tha's got a funny Dad, tha' has, not like another man,
no, my duckie. 'E's got no 'art ter care for nobody, 'e 'asna, ma
pigeon--no--lives like a stranger to his own flesh an' blood."

The girl with the wounded cheek had found comfort in Leslie. She was
seated on his knee, looking at him with solemn blue eyes, her solemnity
increased by the quaint round head, whose black hair was cut short.

"'S my chalk, yes it is, 'n our Sam says as it's 'issen, an' 'e ta'es it
and marks it all gone, so I wouldna gie 't' 'im,"--she clutched in her
fat little hand a piece of red chalk. "My Dad gen it me, ter mark my
dolly's face red, what's on'y wood--I'll show yer."

She wriggled down, and holding up her trailing gown with one hand,
trotted to a corner piled with a child's rubbish, and hauled out a
hideous carven caricature of a woman, and brought it to Leslie. The face
of the object was streaked with red.

'Ere sh' is, my dolly, what my Dad make me--'er name's Lady Mima."

"Is it?" said Lettie, "and are these her cheeks? She's not pretty, is
she?"

"Um--sh' is. My Dad says sh' is--like a lady."

"And he gave you her rouge, did he?"

"Rouge!" she nodded.

"And you wouldn't let Sam have it?"

"No--an' mi movver says, Dun gie 't 'im'--'n 'e bite me."

"What will your father say?"

"Me Dad?"

"'E'd nobbut laugh," put in the mother, "an' say as a bite's bett'r'n a
kiss."

"Brute!" said Leslie feelingly.

"No, but 'e never laid a finger on' em--nor me neither. But 'e 's not
like another man--niver tells yer nowt. He's more a stranger to me this
day than 'e wor th' day I first set eyes on 'im."

"Where was that?" asked Lettie.

"When I wor a lass at th' 'All--an' 'im a new man come--fair a gentleman,
an' a, an' a! Ond even now can read an' talk like a gentleman--but 'e
tells me nothing--Oh no--what am I in 'is eyes but a sludge bump?--'e 's
above me, 'e is, an' above 'is own childer. God a-mercy, 'e '11 be in in
a minute. Come on 'ere!"

She hustled the children to bed, swept the litter into a corner, and
began to lay the table. The cloth was spotless, and she put him a silver
spoon in the saucer.

We had only just got out of the house when he drew near. I saw his
massive figure in the doorway, and the big, prolific woman moved
subserviently about the room.

"Hullo, Proserpine--had visitors?"

"I never axed 'em--they come in 'earin' th' childer cryin'. I never
encouraged 'em--"

We hurried away into the night.

"Ah, it's always the woman bears the burden," said Lettie bitterly.

"If he'd helped her--wouldn't she have been a fine woman now--splendid?
But she's dragged to bits. Men are brutes--and marriage just gives scope
to them," said Emily.

"Oh, you wouldn't take that as a fair sample of marriage," replied
Leslie. "Think of you and me, Minnehaha."

"Ay."

"Oh--I meant to tell you--what do you think of Greymede old vicarage for
us?"

"It's a lovely old place!" exclaimed Lettie, and we passed out of
hearing.

We stumbled over the rough path. The moon was bright, and we stepped
apprehensively on the shadows thrown from the trees, for they lay so
black and substantial. Occasionally a moonbeam would trace out a suave
white branch that the rabbits had gnawed quite bare in the hard winter.
We came out of the woods into the full heavens. The northern sky was full
of a gush of green light; in front, eclipsed Orion leaned over his bed,
and the moon followed.

"When the northern lights are up," said Emily, "I feel so strange--half
eerie--they do fill you with awe, don't they?"

"Yes," said I, "they make you wonder, and look, and expect something."

"What do you expect?" she said softly, and looked up, and saw me smiling,
and she looked down again, biting her lips.

When we came to the parting of the roads, Emily begged them just to step
into the mill--just for a moment--and Lettie consented.

The kitchen window was uncurtained, and the blind, as usual, was not
drawn. We peeped in through the cords of budding honeysuckle. George and
Alice were sitting at the table playing chess; the mother was mending a
coat, and the father, as usual, was reading. Alice was talking quietly,
and George was bent on the game. His arms lay on the table.

We made a noise at the door, and entered. George rose heavily, shook
hands, and sat down again.

"Hullo, Lettie Beardsall, you are a stranger," said Alice. "Are you so
much engaged?"

"Ay--we don't see much of her nowadays," added the father in his jovial
way.

"And isn't she a toff, in her fine hat and furs and snowdrops. Look at
her, George, you've never looked to see what a toff she is."

He raised his eyes, and looked at her apparel and at her flowers, but not
at her face:

"Ay, she is fine," he said, and returned to the chess.

"We have been gathering snowdrops," said Lettie, fingering the flowers in
her bosom.

"They are pretty--give me some, will you?" said Alice, holding out her
hand. Lettie gave her the flowers.

"Check!" said George deliberately.

"Get out!" replied his opponent, "I've got some snowdrops--don't they
suit me, an innocent little soul like me? Lettie won't wear them--she's
not meek and mild and innocent like me. Do you want some?"

"If you like--what for?"

"To make you pretty, of course, and to show you an innocent little
meekling."

"You're in check," he said.

"Where can you wear them?--there's only your shirt. Aw!--there!--she
stuck a few flowers in his ruffled black hair--"

"Look, Lettie, isn't he sweet?"

Lettie laughed with a strained little laugh:

"He's like Bottom and the ass's head," she said.

"Then I'm Titania--don't I make a lovely fairy queen, Bully Bottom?--and
who's jealous Oberon?"

"He reminds me of that man in Hedda Gabler--crowned with vine leaves--oh
yes, vine leaves," said Emily.

"How's your mare's sprain, Mr Tempest?" George asked, taking no notice of
the flowers in his hair.

"Oh--she'll soon be all right, thanks."

"Ah--George told me about it," put in the father, and he held Leslie in
conversation.

"Am I in check, George?" said Alice, returning to the game. She knitted
her brows and cogitated:

"Pooh!" she said, "that's soon remedied!"--she moved her piece, and said
triumphantly, "Now, Sir!"

He surveyed the game, and, with deliberation moved. Alice pounced on him;
with a leap of her knight she called, "Check!"

"I didn't see it--you may have the game now," he said.

"Beaten, my boy!--don't crow over a woman any more. Stalemate--with
flowers in your hair!"

He put his hand to his head, and felt among his hair, and threw the
flowers on the table.

"Would you believe it--!" said the mother, coming into the room from the
dairy.

"What?" we all asked.

"Nickie Ben's been and eaten the sile-cloth. Yes! When I went to wash it,
there sat Nickie Ben gulping, and wiping the froth off his whiskers."

George laughed loudly and heartily. He laughed till he was tired. Lettie
looked and wondered when he would be done.

"I imagined," he gasped, "how he'd feel with half a yard of muslin
creeping down his throttle."

This laughter was most incongruous. He went off into another burst. Alice
laughed too--it was easy to infect her with laughter. Then the father
began--and in walked Nickie Ben, stepping disconsolately--we all roared
again, till the rafters shook. Only Lettie looked impatiently for the
end. George swept his bare arms across the table, and the scattered
little flowers fell broken to the ground.

"Oh--what a shame!" exclaimed Lettie.

"What?" said he, looking round. "Your flowers? Do you feel sorry for
them?--You're too tender-hearted; isn't she, Cyril?"

"Always was--for dumb animals, and things," said I.

"Don't you wish you was a little dumb animal, Georgie?" said Alice.

He smiled, putting away the chess-men.

"Shall we go, dear?" said Lettie to Leslie.

"If you are ready," he replied, rising with alacrity.

"I am tired," she said plaintively.

He attended to her with little tender solicitations.

"Have we walked too far?" he asked.

"No, it's not that. No--it's the snowdrops, and the man, and the
children--and everything. I feel just a bit exhausted." She kissed Alice,
and Emily, and the mother.

"Good night, Alice," she said. "It's not altogether my fault we're
strangers. You know--really--I'm just the same--really. Only you imagine,
and then what can I do?"

She said farewell to George, and looked at him through a quiver of
suppressed tears.

George was somewhat flushed with triumph over Lettie: She had gone home
with tears shaken from her eyes unknown to her lover; at the farm George
laughed with Alice.

We escorted Alice home to Eberwich--"Like a blooming little monkey
dangling from two boughs," as she put it, when we swung her along on our
arms. We laughed and said many preposterous things. George wanted to kiss
her at parting, but she tipped him under the chin and said, "Sweet!" as
one does to a canary. Then she laughed with her tongue between her teeth,
and ran indoors.

"She is a little devil," said he.

We took the long way home by Greymede, and passed the dark schools.

"Come on," said he, "let's go in the 'Ram Inn', and have a look at my
cousin Meg."

It was half-past ten when he marched me across the road and into the
sanded passage of the little inn. The place had been an important farm in
the days of George's grand-uncle, but since his decease it had declined,
under the governance of the widow and a man-of-all-work. The old
grand-aunt was propped and supported by a splendid granddaughter. The
near kin of Meg were all in California, so she, a bonny delightful girl
of twenty-four, stayed near her grandma.

As we tramped grittily down the passage, the red head of Bill poked out
of the bar, and he said as he recognised George: "Good ev'nin'--go
forward--'er's non abed yit."

We went forward, and unlatched the kitchen door. The great-aunt was
seated in her little, round-backed arm-chair sipping her "night-cap".

"Well, George, my lad!" she cried, in her querulous voice. "Tha' niver
says it's thai, does ter? That's com'n for summat, for sure, else what
brings thee ter see me?"

"No," he said. "Ah'n corn ter see thee, nowt else. Wheer's Meg?"

"Ah!--Ha--Ha--Ah!--Me, did ter say?--come ter see me?--Ha--wheer's
Meg!--an' who's this young gentleman?"

I was formally introduced, and shook the clammy corded hand of the old
lady.

"Tha' looks delikit," she observed, shaking her cap and its scarlet
geraniums sadly: "Cum now, sit thee down, an' dunna look so long o' th'
leg."

I sat down on the sofa, on the cushions covered with blue and red checks.
The room was very hot, and I stared about uncomfortably. The old lady sat
peering at nothing, in reverie. She was a hard-visaged, bosomless dame,
clad in thick black cloth-like armour, and wearing an immense twisted
gold brooch in the lace at her neck.

We heard heavy, quick footsteps above.

"'Er's commin'," remarked the old lady, rousing from her apathy. The
footsteps came downstairs--quickly, then cautiously round the bend. Meg
appeared in the doorway. She started with surprise, saying:

"Well, I 'eered sumbody, but I never thought it was you." More colour
still flamed into her glossy cheeks, and she smiled in her fresh, frank
way. I think I have never seen a woman who had more physical charm; there
was a voluptuous fascination in her every outline and movement; one never
listened to the words that came from her lips, one watched the ripe
motion of those red fruits.

"Get 'em a drop o' whisky, Meg--you'll 'a'e a drop?" I declined firmly,
but did not escape.

"Nay," declared the old dame.. "I s'll ha'e none o' thy no's. Should ter
like it 'ot?--Say th' word, an' tha' 'as it."

I did not say the word.

"Then gi'e 'im claret," pronounced my hostess, "though it's thin-bellied
stuff ter go ter bed on"--and claret it was.

Meg went out again to see about closing. The grand-aunt sighed, and
sighed again, for no perceptible reason but the whisky.

"It's well you've come ter see me now," she moaned, "for you'll none 'a'e
a chance next time you come' n;--No--I'm all gone but my cap--"

She shook that geraniumed erection, and I wondered what sardonic fate
left it behind.

"An' I'm forced ter say it, I s'll be thankful to be gone," she added,
after a few sighs.

This weariness of the flesh was touching. The cruel truth is, however,
that the old lady clung to life like a louse to a pig's back. Dying, she
faintly, but emphatically declared herself, "a bit better--a bit better.
I s'll be up tomorrow."

"I should a gone before now," she continued, "but for that blessed
wench--I canna abear to think o' leavin' 'er--come drink up, my lad,
drink up--nay, tha' 'rt nobbut young yet, tha' 'rt none topped up wi' a
thimbleful."

I took whisky in preference to the acrid stuff.

"Ay," resumed the grand-aunt. "I canna go in peace till 'er's
settled--an' 'er's that tickle o' choosin'. Th' right sort 'asn't th'
gumption ter ax' 'er."

She sniffed, and turned scornfully to her glass. George grinned and
looked conscious; as he swallowed a gulp of whisky it crackled in his
throat. The sound annoyed the old lady.

"Tha' might be scar'd at summat," she said. "Tha' niver 'ad six drops o'
spunk in thee."

She turned again with a sniff to her glass. He frowned with irritation,
half filled his glass with liquor, and drank again.

"I dare bet as tha' niver kissed a wench in thy life--not proper"--and
she tossed the last drops of her toddy down her skinny throat.

Here Meg came along the passage.

"Come, Gran'ma," she said. "I'm sure it's time as you was in bed--come
on."

"Sit thee down an' drink a drop wi's--it's not ivry night as we 'a'e
cumpny."

"No, let me take you to bed--I'm sure you must be ready."

"Sit thee down 'ere, I say, an' get thee a drop o' port. Come--no
argy-bargyin'."

Meg fetched more glasses and a decanter. I made a place for her between
me and George. We all had port wine. Meg, nave and unconscious, waited
on us deliciously. Her cheeks gleamed like satin when she laughed, save
when the dimples held the shadow. Her suave, tawny neck was bare and
bewitching. She turned suddenly to George as he asked her a question, and
they found their faces close together. He kissed her, and when she
started back, jumped and kissed her neck with warmth.

"La--l--dy--d--l--dy--d--dy--d," cried the old woman in delight, and
she clutched her wineglass.

"Come on--chink!" she cried, "all together--chink to him!"

We four chinked and drank. George poured wine in a tumbler, and drank it
off. He was getting excited, and all the energy and passion that normally
were bound down by his caution and self-instinct began to flame out.

"Here, Aunt!" said he, lifting his tumbler, "here's to what you want--you
know!"

"I knowed tha' wor as spunky as ony on'em," she cried.

"Tha' nobbut wanted warmin' up. I'll see as you're all right. It's a
bargain. Chink again, iverybody."

"A bargain," said he before he put his lips to the glass. "What bargain's
that?" said Meg.

The old lady laughed loudly and winked at George, who, with his lips wet
with wine, got up and kissed Meg soundly, saying:

"There it is--that seals it."

Meg wiped her face with her big pinafore, and seemed uncomfortable.

"Aren't you comin', Gran'ma?" she pleaded.

"Eh, tha' wants ter 'orry me off--what's thai say, George--a deep un,
isna 'er?"

"Dunna go, Aunt, dunna be hustled off."

"Tush--Pish," snorted the old lady. "Yah, tha' 'rt a slow un, an' no
mistakes! Get a candle, Meg, I'm ready."

Meg brought a brass bedroom candlestick. Bill brought in the money in a
tin box, and delivered it into the hands of the old lady.

"Go thy ways to bed now, lad," said she to the ugly, wizened serving-man.
He sat in a corner and pulled off his boots.

"Come an' kiss me good night, George," said the old woman--and as he did
so she whispered in his ear, whereat he laughed loudly. She poured whisky
into her glass and called to the serving-man to drink it. Then, pulling
herself up heavily, she leaned on Meg and went upstairs. She had been a
big woman, one could see, but now her shapeless, broken figure looked
pitiful beside Meg's luxuriant form. We heard them slowly, laboriously
climb the stairs. George sat pulling his moustache and half smiling; his
eyes were alight with that peculiar childish look they had when he was
experiencing new and doubtful sensations. Then he poured himself more
whisky.

"I say, steady!" I admonished.

"What for!" he replied, indulging himself like a spoiled child and
laughing.

Bill, who had sat for some time looking at the hole in his stocking,
drained his glass, and with a sad "Good night," creaked off upstairs.

Presently Meg came down, and I rose and said we must be going.

"I'll just come an' lock the door after you," said she, standing uneasily
waiting.

George got up. He gripped the edge of the table to steady himself; then
he got his balance, and, with his eyes on Meg, said:

"'Ere!" he nodded his head to her. "Come here, I want ter ax thee
sumwhat."

She looked at him, half smiling, half doubtful. He put his arm round her
and looking down into her eyes, with his face very close to hers, said:

"Let's ha'e a kiss."

Quite unresisting she yielded him her mouth, looking at him intently with
her bright brown eyes. He kissed her, and pressed her closely to him.

"I'm going to marry thee," he said.

"Go on!" she replied, softly, half glad, half doubtful.

"I am an' all," he repeated, pressing her more tightly to him.

I went down the passage, and stood in the open doorway looking out into
the night. It seemed a long time. Then I heard the thin voice of the old
woman at the top of the stairs:

"Meg! Meg! Send 'im off now. Come on!"

In the silence that followed there was a murmur of voices, and then they
came into the passage.

"Good night, my lad, good luck to thee!" cried the voice like a ghoul
from upper regions.

He kissed his betrothed a rather hurried good night at the door.

"Good night," she replied softly, watching him retreat. Then we heard her
shoot the heavy bolts.

"You know," he began, and he tried to clear his throat. His voice was
husky and strangulated with excitement. He tried again:

"You know--she--she's a clinker."

I did not reply, but he took no notice.

"Damn!" he ejaculated. "What did I let her go for!"

We walked along in silence--his excitement abated somewhat.

"It's the way she swings her body--an' the curves as she stands. It's
when you look at her--you feel--you know."

I suppose I knew, but it was unnecessary to say so.

"You know--if ever I dream in the night--of women--you know--it's always
Meg; she seems to look so soft, and to curve her body--"

Gradually his feet began to drag. When we came to the place where the
colliery railway crossed the road, he stumbled, and pitched forward, only
just recovering himself. I took hold of his arm.

"Good Lord, Cyril, am I drunk?" he said.

"Not quite," said I.

"No," he muttered, "couldn't be."

But his feet dragged again, and he began to stagger from side to side. I
took hold of his arm. He murmured angrily--then, subsiding again,
muttered, with slovenly articulation:

"I feel fit to drop with sleep."

Along the dead, silent roadway, and through the uneven blackness of the
wood, we lurched and stumbled. He was very heavy and difficult to direct.
When at last we came to the brook we splashed straight through the water.
I urged him to walk steadily and quietly across the yard. He did his
best, and we made a fairly still entry into the farm. He dropped with all
his weight on the sofa, and leaning down, began to unfasten his leggings.
In the midst of his fumblings he fell asleep, and I was afraid he would
pitch forward on to his head. I took off his leggings and his wet boots
and his collar. Then, as I was pushing and shaking him awake to get off
his coat, I heard a creaking on the stairs, and my heart sank, for I
thought it was his mother. But it was Emily, in her long white nightgown.
She looked at us with great dark eyes of terror, and whispered: "What's
the matter?"

I shook my head and looked at him. His head had dropped down on his chest
again.

"Is he hurt?" she asked, her voice becoming audible, and dangerous. He
lifted his head, and looked at her with heavy, angry eyes.

"George!" she said sharply, in bewilderment and fear. His eyes seemed to
contract evilly.

"Is he drunk?" she whispered, shrinking away, and looking at me. "Have
you made him drunk--you?"

I nodded. I too was angry.

"Oh, if Mother gets up! I must get him to bed! Oh, how could you!"

This sibilant whispering irritated him, and me. I tugged at his coat. He
snarled incoherently, and swore. She caught her breath. He looked at her
sharply, and I was afraid he would wake himself into a rage.

"Go upstairs!" I whispered to her. She shook her head. I could see him
taking heavy breaths, and the veins of his neck were swelling. I was
furious at her disobedience.

"Go at once," I said fiercely, and she went, still hesitating and looking
back.

I had hauled off his coat and waistcoat, so I let him sink again into
stupidity while I took off my boots. Then I got him to his feet, and,
walking behind him, impelled him slowly upstairs. I lit a candle in his
bedroom. There was no sound from the other rooms. So I undressed him, and
got him in bed at last, somehow. I covered him up and put over him the
calfskin rug, because the night was cold. Almost immediately he began to
breathe heavily. I dragged him over to his side, and pillowed his head
comfortably. He looked like a tired boy, asleep.

I stood still, now I felt myself alone, and looked round. Up to the low
roof rose the carven pillars of dark mahogany; there was a chair by the
bed, and a little yellow chest of drawers by the windows; that was all
the furniture, save the calf-skin rug on the floor. In the drawers I
noticed a book. It was a copy of Omar Khayyam, that Lettie had given him
in her Khayyam days, a little shilling book with coloured illustrations.

I blew out the candle, when I had looked at him again. As I crept on to
the landing, Emily peeped from her room, whispering, "Is he in bed?"

I nodded, and whispered good night. Then I went home, heavily.

After the evening at the farm, Lettie and Leslie drew closer together.
They eddied unevenly down the little stream of courtship, jostling and
drifting together and apart. He was unsatisfied and strove with every
effort to bring her closer to him, submissive. Gradually she yielded, and
submitted to him. She folded round her and him the snug curtain of the
present, and they sat like children playing a game behind the hangings of
an old bed. She shut out all distant outlooks, as an Arab unfolds his
tent and conquers the mystery and space of the desert. So she lived
gleefully in a little tent of present pleasures and fancies.

Occasionally, only occasionally, she would peep from her tent into the
out space. Then she sat poring over books, and nothing would be able to
draw her away; or she sat in her room looking out of the window for hours
together. She pleaded headaches; Mother said liver; he, angry like a
spoilt child denied his wish, declared it moodiness and perversity.



CHAPTER II - A SHADOW IN SPRING


With spring came trouble. The Saxtons declared they were being bitten off
the estate by rabbits. Suddenly, in a fit of despair, the father bought a
gun. Although he knew that the squire would not for one moment tolerate
the shooting of that manna, the rabbits, yet he was out in the first cold
morning twilight banging away. At first he but scared the brutes, and
brought Annable on the scene; then, blooded by the use of the weapon, he
played havoc among the furry beasts, bringing home some eight or nine
couples.

George entirely approved of this measure; it rejoiced him even; yet he
had never had the initiative to begin the like himself, or even to urge
his father to it. He prophesied trouble, and possible loss of the farm.
It disturbed him somewhat, to think they must look out for another place,
but he postponed the thought of the evil day till the time should be upon
him.

A vendetta was established between the Mill and the keeper, Annable. The
latter cherished his rabbits:

"Call 'em vermin!" he said. "I only know one sort of vermin--and that's
the talkin' sort." So he set himself to thwart and harass the
rabbit-slayers.

It was about this time I cultivated the acquaintance of the keeper. All
the world hated him--to the people in the villages he was like a devil of
the woods. Some miners had sworn vengeance on him for having caused their
committal to gaol. But he had a great attraction for me; his magnificent
physique, his great vigour and vitality, and his swarthy, gloomy face
drew me.

He was a man of one idea: that all civilisation was the painted fungus of
rottenness. He hated any sign of culture. I won his respect one afternoon
when he found me trespassing in the woods because I was watching some
maggots at work in a dead rabbit. That led us to a discussion of life. He
was a thorough materialist--he scorned religion and all mysticism. He
spent his days sleeping, making intricate traps for weasels and men,
putting together a gun, or doing some amateur forestry, cutting down
timber, splitting it in logs for use in the hall, and planting young
trees. When he thought, he reflected on the decay of mankind--the decline
of the human race into folly and weakness and rottenness. "Be a good
animal, true to your animal instinct," was his motto. With all this, he
was fundamentally very unhappy--and he made me also wretched. It was this
power to communicate his unhappiness that made me somewhat dear to him, I
think. He treated me as an affectionate father treats a delicate son; I
noticed he liked to put his hand on my shoulder or my knee as we talked;
yet withal, he asked me questions, and saved his thoughts to tell me, and
believed in my knowledge like any acolyte.

I went up to the quarry woods one evening in early April, taking a look
for Annable. I could not find him, however, in the wood. So I left the
wildlands, and went along by the old red wall of the kitchen garden,
along the main road as far as the mouldering church which stands high on
a bank by the roadside, just where the trees tunnel the darkness, and the
gloom of the highway startles the travellers at noon. Great trees growing
on the banks suddenly fold over everything at this point in the swinging
road, and in the obscurity rots the Hall church, black and melancholy
above the shrinking head of the traveller.

The grassy path to the churchyard was still clogged with decayed leaves.
The church is abandoned. As I drew near an owl floated softly out of the
black tower. Grass overgrew the threshold. I pushed open the door,
grinding back a heap of fallen plaster and rubbish and entered the place.
In the twilight the pews were leaning in ghostly disorder, the
prayer-books dragged from their ledges, scattered on the floor in the
dust and rubble, torn by mice and birds. Birds scuffled in the darkness
of the roof. I looked up. In the upward well of the tower I could see a
bell hanging. I stooped and picked up a piece of plaster from the ragged
confusion of feathers, and broken nests, and remnants of dead birds. Up
into the vault overhead I tossed pieces of plaster until one hit the
bell, and it "tonged" out its faint remonstrance. There was a rustle of
many birds like spirits. I sounded the bell again, and dark forms moved
with cries of alarm overhead, and something fell heavily. I shivered in
the dark, evil-smelling place, and hurried to get out of doors. I
clutched my hands with relief and pleasure when I saw the sky above me
quivering with the last crystal lights, and the lowest red of sunset
behind the yew-boles. I drank the fresh air, that sparkled with the sound
of the blackbirds and thrushes whistling their strong bright notes.

I strayed round to where the headstones, from their eminence, leaned to
look on the Hall below, where great windows shone yellow light on the
flagged courtyard, and the little fish-pool. A stone staircase descended
from the graveyard to the court, between stone balustrades whose
pock-marked grey columns still swelled gracefully and with dignity,
encrusted with lichens. The staircase was filled with ivy and rambling
roses--impassable. Ferns were unrolling round the big square
halting-place, half-way down where the stairs turned.

A peacock, startled from the back premises of the Hall, came flapping up
the terraces to the churchyard. Then a heavy footstep crossed the flags.
It was the keeper. I whistled the whistle he knew, and he broke his way
through the vicious rose-boughs up the stairs. The peacock flapped beyond
me, on to the neck of an old bowed angel, rough and dark, an angel which
had long ceased sorrowing for the lost Lucy, and had died also. The bird
bent its voluptuous neck and peered about. Then it lifted up its head and
yelled. The sound tore the dark sanctuary of twilight. The old grey grass
seemed to stir, and I could fancy the smothered primroses and violets
beneath it waking and gasping for fear.

The keeper looked at me and smiled. He nodded his head towards the
peacock, saying:

"Hark at that damned thing!"

Again the bird lifted its crested head and gave a cry, at the same time
turning awkwardly on its ugly legs, so that it showed us the full wealth
of its tail glimmering like a stream of coloured stars over the sunken
face of the angel.

"The proud fool!--look at it! Perched on an angel, too, as if it were a
pedestal for vanity. That's the soul of a woman--or it's the devil."

He was silent for a time, and we watched the great bird moving uneasily
before us in the twilight.

"That's the very soul of a lady," he said, "the very, very soul. Damn the
thing, to perch on that old angel. I should like to wring its neck."

Again the bird screamed, and shifted awkwardly on its legs; it seemed to
stretch its beak at us in derision. Annable picked up a piece of sod and
flung it at the bird, saying:

"Get out, you screeching devil! God!" he laughed. "There must be plenty
of hearts twisting under here"--and he stamped on a grave--"when they
hear that row."

He kicked another sod from a grave and threw at the big bird. The peacock
flapped away, over the tombs, down the terraces.

"Just look!" he said, "the miserable brute has dirtied that angel. A
woman to the end, I tell you, all vanity and screech and defilement."

He sat down on a vault and lit his pipe. But before he had smoked two
minutes, it was out again. I had not seen him in a state of perturbation
before.

"The church," said I, "is rotten. I suppose they'll stand all over the
country like this soon--with peacocks trailing the graveyards."

"Ay," he muttered, taking no notice of me.

"This stone is cold," I said, rising.

He got up too, and stretched his arms as if he were tired. It was quite
dark, save for the waxing moon which leaned over the east.

"It is a very fine night," I said. "Don't you notice a smell of violets?"

"Ay! The moon looks like a woman with child. I wonder what Time's got in
her belly."

"You?" I said. "You don't expect anything exciting, do you?"

"Exciting!--No--about as exciting as this rotten old place--just rot
off--Oh, my God!--I'm like a good house, built and finished, and left to
tumble down again with nobody to live in it."

"Why--what's up--really?"

He laughed bitterly, saying, "Come and sit down."

He led me off to a seat by the north door, between two pews, very black
and silent. There we sat, he putting his gun carefully beside him. He
remained perfectly still, thinking.

"Whot's up?" he said at last. "Why--I'll tell you. I went to
Cambridge--my father was a big cattle dealer--he died bankrupt while I
was in college, and I never took my degree. They persuaded me to be a
parson, and a parson I was.

"I went a curate to a little place in Leicestershire--a bonnie place with
not many people, and a fine old church, and a great rich parsonage. I
hadn't overmuch to do, and the rector--he was the son of an earl--was
generous. He lent me a horse and would have me hunt like the rest. I
always think of that place with a smell of honeysuckle while the grass is
wet in the morning. It was fine, and I enjoyed myself, and did the parish
work all right. I believe I was pretty good.

"A cousin of the rector's used to come in the hunting season--a Lady
Crystabel, lady in her own right. The second year I was there she came in
June. There wasn't much company, so she used to talk to me--I used to
read then--and she used to pretend to be so childish and unknowing, and
would get me telling her things, and talking to her, and I was hot on
things. We must play tennis together, and ride together, and I must row
her down the river. She said we were in the wilderness and could do as we
liked. She made me wear flannels and soft clothes. She was very fine and
frank and unconventional--ripping, I thought her. All the summer she
stopped on. I should meet her in the garden early in the morning when I
came from a swim in the river--it was cleared and deepened on
purpose--and she'd blush and make me talk with her. I can remember I used
to stand and dry myself on the bank full where she might see me--I was
mad on her--and she was madder on me.

"We went to some caves in Derbyshire once, and she would wander from the
rest, and loiter, and, for a game, we played a sort of hide and seek with
the party. They thought we'd gone, and they went and locked the door.
Then she pretended to be frightened and clung to me, and said what would
they think, and hid her face in my coat. I took her and kissed her, and
we made it up properly. I found out afterwards--she actually told
me--she'd got the idea from a sloppy French novel--the Romance of a Poor
Young Man. I was the Poor Young Man.

"We got married. She gave me a living she had in her parsonage, and we
went to live at her Hall. She wouldn't let me out of her sight. Lord!--we
were an infatuated couple--and she would choose to view me in an
aesthetic light. I was Greek statues for her, bless you: Croton,
Hercules, I don't know what! She had her own way too much--I let her do
as she liked with me.

"Then gradually she got tired--it took her three years to be really
glutted with me. I had a physique then--for that matter, I have now."

He held out his arm to me, and bade me try his muscle. I was startled.
The hard flesh almost filled his sleeve.

"Ah," he continued, "you don't know what it is to have the pride of a
body like mine. But she wouldn't have children--no, she wouldn't--said
she daren't. That was the root of the difference at first. But she cooled
down, and if you don't know the pride of my body you'd never know my
humiliation. I tried to remonstrate--and she looked simply astounded at
my cheek. I never got over that amazement.

"She began to get souly. A poet got hold of her, and she began to affect
Burne-Jones--or Waterhouse--it was Waterhouse--she was a lot like one of
his women--Lady of Shalott, I believe. At any rate, she got souly, and I
was her animal--son animal--son bceuf. I put up with that for above a
year. Then I got some servants' clothes and went.

"I was seen in France--then in Australia--though I never left England. I
was supposed to have died in the bush. She married a young fellow. Then I
was proved to have died, and I read a little obituary notice on myself in
a woman's paper she subscribed to. She wrote it herself--as a warning to
other young ladies of position not to be seduced by plausible 'Poor Young
Men'.

"Now she's dead. They've got the paper--her paper--in the kitchen down
there, and it's full of photographs, even an old photo of me--'an
unfortunate misalliance'. I feel, somehow, as if I were at an end too. I
thought I'd grown a solid, middle-aged man, and here I feel sore as I did
at twenty-six, and I talk as I used to.

"One thing--I have got some children, and they're of a breed as you'd not
meet anywhere. I was a good animal before everything, and I've got some
children."

He sat looking up where the big moon swam through the black branches of
the yew.

"So she's dead--your poor peacock!" I murmured.

He got up, looking always at the sky, and stretched himself again. He was
an impressive figure massed in blackness against the moonlight, with his
arms outspread.

"I suppose," he said, "it wasn't all her fault."

"A white peacock, we will say," I suggested.

He laughed.

"Go home by the top road, will you!" he said. "I believe there's
something on in the bottom wood."

"All right," I answered, with a quiver of apprehension. "Yes, she was
fair enough," he muttered.

"Ay," said I, rising. I held out my hand from the shadow. I was startled
myself by the white sympathy it seemed to express, extended towards him
in the moonlight. He gripped it, and cleaved to me for a moment, then he
was gone.

I went out of the churchyard feeling a sullen resentment against the
tousled graves that lay inanimate across my way. The air was heavy to
breathe, and fearful in the shadow of the great trees. I was glad when I
came out on the bare white road, and could see the copper lights from the
reflectors of a pony-cart's lamps, and could hear the amiable chat-chat
of the hoofs trotting towards me. I was lonely when they had passed.

Over the hill, the big flushed face of the moon poised just above the
tree-tops, very majestic, and far off--yet imminent. I turned with swift
sudden friendliness to the net of elm-boughs spread over my head, dotted
with soft clusters winsomely. I jumped up and pulled the cool soft tufts
against my face for company; and as I passed, still I reached upward for
the touch of this budded gentleness of the trees. The wood breathed
fragrantly, with a subtle sympathy. The firs softened their touch to me,
and the larches woke from the barren winter sleep, and put out velvet
fingers to caress me as I passed. Only the clean, bare branches of the
ash stood emblem of the discipline of life. I looked down on the
blackness where trees filled the quarry and the valley bottoms, and it
seemed that the world, my own home world, was strange again.

Some four or five days after Annable had talked to me in the churchyard,
I went out to find him again. It was Sunday morning. The larch-wood was
afloat with clear, lyric green, and some primroses scattered whitely on
the edge under the fringing boughs. It was a clear morning, as when the
latent life of the world begins to vibrate afresh in the air. The smoke
from the cottage rose blue against the trees, and thick yellow against
the sky. The fire, it seemed, was only just lighted, and the wood-smoke
poured out.

Sam appeared outside the house, and looked round. Then he climbed the
water-trough for a better survey. Evidently unsatisfied, paying slight
attention to me, he jumped down and went running across the hill-side to
the wood. "He is going for his father," I said to myself, and I left the
path to follow him down hill across the waste meadow, crackling the
blanched stems of last year's thistles as I went, and stumbling in
rabbit-holes. He reached the wall that ran along the quarry's edge, and
was over it in a twinkling.

When I came to the place, I was somewhat nonplussed, for sheer from the
stone fence, the quarry-side dropped for some twenty or thirty feet,
piled up with unmortared stones. I looked round--there was a plain dark
thread down the hillside, which marked a path to this spot, and the wall
was scored with the marks of heavy boots. Then I looked again down the
quarry-side, and I saw--how could I have failed to see?--stones
projecting to make an uneven staircase, such as is often seen in the
Derbyshire fences. I saw this ladder was well used, so I trusted myself
to it, and scrambled down, clinging to the face of the quarry wall. Once
down, I felt pleased with myself for having discovered and used the
unknown access, and I admired the care and ingenuity of the keeper, who
had fitted and wedged the long stones into the uncertain pile.

It was warm in the quarry: there the sunshine seemed to thicken and
sweeten; there the little mounds of overgrown waste were aglow with very
early dog-violets; there the sparks were coming out on the bits of gorse,
and among the stones the coltfoot plumes were already silvery. Here was
spring sitting just awake, unloosening her glittering hair, and opening
her purple eyes.

I went across the quarry, down to where the brook ran murmuring a tale to
the primroses and the budding trees. I was startled from my wandering
among the fresh things by a faint clatter of stones.

"What's that young rascal doing?" I said to myself, setting forth to see.
I came towards the other side of the quarry: on this, the moister side,
the bushes grew up against the wall, which was higher than on the other
side, though piled the same with old dry stones. As I drew near I could
hear the scrape and rattle of stones, and the vigorous grunting of Sam as
he laboured among them. He was hidden by a great bush of sallow catkins,
all yellow, and murmuring with bees, warm with spice. When he came in
view I laughed to see him lugging and grunting among the great pile of
stones that had fallen in a mass from the quarry-side; a pile of stones
and earth and crushed vegetation. There was a great bare gap in the
quarry wall. Somehow, the lad's labouring earnestness made me anxious,
and I hurried up.

He heard me, and glancing round, his face red with exertion, eyes big
with terror, he called, commanding me:

"Pull 'em off 'im--pull 'em off!"

Suddenly my heart beating in my throat nearly suffocated me. I saw the
hand of the keeper lying among the stones. I set to tearing away the
stones, and we worked for some time without a word. Then I seized the arm
of the keeper and tried to drag him out. But I could not.

"Pull it off 'im!" whined the lad, working in a frenzy.

When we got him out I saw at once he was dead, and I sat down trembling
with exertion. There was a great smashed wound on the side of the head.
Sam put his face against his father's and snuffed round him like a dog,
to feel the life in him. The child looked at me:

"He won't get up," he said, and his little voice was hoarse with fear and
anxiety.

I shook my head. Then the boy began to whimper. He tried to close the
lips which were drawn with pain and death, leaving the teeth bare; then
his fingers hovered round the eyes, which were wide open, glazed, and I
could see he was trembling to touch them into life.

"He's not asleep," he said, "because his eyes is open--look!" I could not
bear the child's questioning terror. I took him up to carry him away,
but he struggled and fought to be free. "Ma'e 'im get up--ma'e 'im get
up," he cried in a frenzy, and I had to let the boy go.

He ran to the dead man, calling, "Feyther! Feyther!" and pulling his
shoulder; then he sat down, fascinated by the sight of the wound; he put
out his finger to touch it, and shivered.

"Come away," said I.

"Is it that?" he asked, pointing to the wound. I covered the face with a
big silk handkerchief.

"Now," said I, "he'll go to sleep if you don't touch him--so sit still
while I go and fetch somebody. Will you run to the Hall?"

He shook his head. I knew he would not. So I told him again not to touch
his father, but to let him lie still till I came back. He watched me go,
but did not move from his seat on the stones beside the dead man, though
I know he was full of terror at being left alone.

I ran to the Hall--I dared not go to the Kennels. In a short time I was
back with the squire and three men. As I led the way, I saw the child
lifting a corner of the handkerchief to peep and see if the eyes were
closed in sleep. Then he heard us, and started violently. When we removed
the covering, and he saw the face unchanged in its horror, he looked at
me with a look I have never forgotten.

"A bad business--an awful business!" repeated the squire. "A bad
business. I said to him from the first that the stones might come down
when he was going up, and he said he had taken care to fix them. But you
can't be sure, you can't be certain. And he'd be about half-way
up--ay--and the whole wall would come down on him. An awful business, it
is really; a terrible piece of work!"

They decided at the inquest that the death came by misadventure. But
there were vague rumours in the village that this was revenge which had
overtaken the keeper.

They decided to bury him in our churchyard at Greymede under the beeches;
the widow would have it so, and nothing might be denied her in her state.

It was a magnificent morning in early spring when I watched among the
trees to see the procession come down the hill-side. The upper air was
woven with the music of the larks, and my whole world thrilled with the
conception of summer. The young pale wind-flowers had arisen by the
wood-gale, and under the hazels, when perchance the hot sun pushed his
way, new little suns dawned, and blazed with real light. There was a
certain thrill and quickening everywhere, as a woman must feel when she
has conceived. A sallow tree in a favoured spot looked like a pale gold
cloud of summer dawn; nearer it had poised a golden, fairy busby on every
twig, and was voiced with a hum of bees, like any sacred golden bush,
uttering its gladness in the thrilling murmur of bees, and in warm scent.
Birds called and flashed on every hand; they made off exultant with
streaming strands of grass, or wisps of fleece, plunging into the dark
spaces of the wood, and out again into the blue.

A lad moved across the field from the farm below with a dog trotting
behind him--a dog, no, a fussy, black-legged lamb trotting along on its
toes, with its tail swinging behind. They were going to the mothers on
the common, who moved like little grey clouds among the dark gorse.

I cannot help forgetting, and sharing the spink's triumph, when he
flashes past with a fleece from a bramble bush. It will cover the bedded
moss, it will weave among the soft red cow-hair beautifully. It is a
prize, it is an ecstasy to have captured it at the right moment, and the
nest is nearly ready.

Ah, but the thrush is scornful, ringing out his voice from the hedge! He
sets his breast against the mud, and models it warm for the turquoise
eggs--blue, blue, bluest of eggs, which cluster so close and round
against the breast, which round up beneath the breast, nestling content.
You should see the bright ecstasy in the eyes of a nesting thrush,
because of the rounded caress of the eggs against her breast!

What a hurry the jenny wren makes--hoping I shall not see her dart into
the low bush. I have a delight in watching them against their shy little
wills. But they have all risen with a rush of wings, and are gone, the
birds. The air is brushed with agitation. There is no lark in the sky,
not one; the heaven is clear of wings or twinkling dot--.

Till the heralds come--till the heralds wave like shadows in the bright
air, crying, lamenting, fretting for ever. Rising and falling and
circling round and round, the slow-waving peewits cry and complain, and
lift their broad wings in sorrow. They stoop suddenly to the ground, the
lapwings, then in another throb of anguish and protest, they swing up
again, offering a glistening white breast to the sunlight, to deny it in
black shadow, then a glisten of green, and all the time crying and crying
in despair.

The pheasants are frightened into cover, they run and dart through the
hedge. The cold cock must fly in his haste, spread himself on his
streaming plumes, and sail into the wood's security.

There is a cry in answer to the peewits, echoing louder and stronger the
lamentation of the lapwings, a wail which hushes the birds. The men come
over the brow of the hill, slowly, with the old squire walking tall and
straight in front; six bowed men bearing the coffin on their shoulders,
treading heavily and cautiously, under the great weight of the glistening
white coffin; six men following behind, ill at ease, waiting their turn
for the burden. You can see the red handkerchiefs knotted round their
throats, and their shirt-fronts blue and white between the open
waistcoats. The coffin is of new unpolished wood, gleaming and glistening
in the sunlight; the men who carry it remember all their lives after the
smell of new, warm elm-wood.

Again a loud cry from the hill-top. The woman has followed thus far, the
big, shapeless woman, and she cries with loud cries after the white
coffin as it descends the hill, and the children that cling to her skirts
weep aloud, and are not to be hushed by the other woman, who bends over
them, but does not form one of the group. How the crying frightens the
birds, and the rabbits; and the lambs away there run to their mothers.
But the peewits are not frightened, they add their notes to the sorrow;
they circle after the white, retreating coffin, they circle round the
woman; it is they who for ever "keen" the sorrows of this world. They are
like priests in their robes, more black than white, more grief than hope,
driving endlessly round and round, turning, lifting, falling and crying
always in mournful desolation, repeating their last syllables like the
broken accents of despair.

The bearers have at last sunk between the high banks, and turned out of
sight. The big woman cannot see them, and yet she stands to look. She
must go home, there is nothing left.

They have rested the coffin on the gate-posts, and the bearers are wiping
the sweat from their faces. They put their hands to their shoulders on
the place where the weight has pressed.

The other six are placing the pads on their shoulders, when a girl comes
up with a jug and a blue pot. The squire drinks first, and fills for the
rest. Meanwhile the girl stands back under the hedge, away from the
coffin which smells of new elm-wood. In imagination she pictures the man
shut up there in close darkness, while the sunlight flows all outside,
and she catches her breast with terror. She must turn and rustle among
the leaves of the violets for the flowers she does not see. Then,
trembling, she comes to herself, and plucks a few flowers and breathes
them hungrily into her soul, for comfort. The men put down the pots
beside her, with thanks, and the squire gives the word. The bearers lift
up the burden again, and the elm-boughs rattle along the hollow white
wood, and the pitiful red clusters of elm-flowers sweep along it as if
they whispered in sympathy--"We are so sorry, so sorry--"; always the
compassionate buds in their fulness of life bend down to comfort the dark
man shut up there. "Perhaps," the girl thinks, "he hears them, and goes
softly to sleep." She shakes the tears out of her eyes on to the ground,
and, taking up her pots, goes slowly down, over the brooks.

In a while, I too got up and went down to the mill, which lay red and
peaceful, with the blue smoke rising as winsomely and carelessly as ever.
On the other side of the valley I could see a pair of horses nod slowly
across the fallow. A man's voice called to him now and again with a
resonance that filled me with longing to follow my horses over the
fallow, in the still, lonely valley, full of sunshine and eternal
forgetfulness. The day had already forgotten. The water was blue and
white and dark-burnished with shadows; two swans sailed across the
reflected trees with perfect blithe grace. The gloom that had passed
across was gone. I watched the swan with his ruffled wings swell onwards;
I watched his slim consort go peeping into corners and under bushes; I
saw him steer clear of the bushes, to keep full in view, turning his head
to me imperiously, till I longed to pelt him with the empty husks of last
year's flowers, knap-weed and scabious. I was too indolent, and I turned
instead to the orchard.

There the daffodils were lifting their heads and throwing back their
yellow curls. At the foot of each sloping, grey old tree stood a family
of flowers, some bursten with golden fulness, some lifting their heads
slightly, to show a modest, sweet countenance, others still hiding their
faces, leaning forward pensively from the jaunty grey-green spears; I
wished I had their language, to talk to them distinctly.

Overhead, the trees, with lifted fingers shook out their hair to the sun,
decking themselves with buds as white and cool as a water-nymph's
breasts.

I began to be very glad. The colts-foot discs glowed and laughed in a
merry company down the path; I stroked the velvet faces, and laughed
also, and I smelled the scent of black-currant leaves, which is full of
childish memories.

The house was quiet and complacent; it was peopled with ghosts again; but
the ghosts had only come to enjoy the warm place once more, carrying
sunshine in their arms and scattering it through the dusk of gloomy
rooms.



CHAPTER III - THE IRONY OF INSPIRED MOMENTS


It happened, the next day after the funeral, I came upon reproductions of
Aubrey Beardsley's Atalanta, and of the tailpiece to Salome, and others.
I sat and looked and my soul leaped out upon the new thing. I was
bewildered, wondering, grudging, fascinated. I looked a long time, but my
mind, or my soul, would come to no state of coherence. I was fascinated
and overcome, but yet full of stubbornness and resistance.

Lettie was out, so, although it was dinner-time, even because it was
dinner-time, I took the book and went down to the mill.

The dinner was over; there was the fragrance of cooked rhubarb in the
room. I went straight to Emily, who was leaning back in her chair, and
put the Salome before her.

"Look," said I, "look here!"

She looked; she was short-sighted, and peered close. I was impatient for
her to speak. She turned slowly at last and looked at me, shrinking, with
questioning.

"Well?" I said.

"Isn't it--fearful!" she replied softly.

"No!--why is it?"

"It makes you feel--Why have you brought it?"

"I wanted you to see it."

Already I felt relieved, seeing that she too was caught in the spell.

George came and bent over my shoulder. I could feel the heavy warmth of
him.

"Good Lord!" he drawled, half amused. The children came crowding to see,
and Emily closed the book.

"I shall be late--Hurry up, Dave!" and she went to wash her hands before
going to school.

"Give it me, will you?" George asked, putting out his hand for the book.
I gave it him, and he sat down to look at the drawings. When Mollie crept
near to look, he angrily shouted to her to get away. She pulled a mouth,
and got her hat over her wild brown curls. Emily came in ready for
school.

"I'm going--good-bye," she said, and she waited hesitatingly. I moved to
get my cap. He looked up with a new expression in his eyes, and said:

"Are you going?--wait a bit--I'm coming."

I waited.

"Oh, very well--good-bye," said Emily bitterly, and she departed.

When he had looked long enough he got up and we went out. He kept his
finger between the pages of the book as he carried it. We went towards
the fallow land without speaking. There he sat down on a bank, leaning
his back against a holly tree, and saying, very calmly:

"There's no need to be in any hurry now--" whereupon he proceeded to
study the illustrations.

"You know," he said at last, "I do want her."

I started at the irrelevance of this remark, and said, "Who?"

"Lettie. We've got notice, did you know?"

I started to my feet this time with amazement.

"Notice to leave?--What for?"

"Rabbits I expect. I wish she'd have me, Cyril."

"To leave Strelley Mill!" I repeated.

"That's it--and I'm rather glad. But do you think she might have me,
Cyril?"

"What a shame! Where will you go? And you lie there joking--!"

"I don't. Never mind about the damned notice. I want her more than
anything.--And the more I look at these naked lines, the more I want her.
It's a sort of fine sharp feeling, like these curved lines. I don't know
what I'm saying--but do you think she'd have me? Has she seen these
pictures?"

"No."

"If she did perhaps she'd want me--I mean she'd feel it clear and sharp
coming through her."

"I'll show her and see."

"I'd been sort of thinking about it--since Father had that notice. It
seemed as if the ground was pulled from under our feet. I never felt so
lost. Then I began to think of her, if she'd have me--but not clear, till
you showed me those pictures. I must have her if I can--and I must have
something. It's rather ghostish to have the road suddenly smudged out,
and all the world anywhere, nowhere for you to go. I must get something
sure soon, or else I feel as if I should fall from somewhere and hurt
myself. I'll ask her."

I looked at him as he lay there under the holly tree, his face all dreamy
and boyish, very unusual.

"You'll ask Lettie?" said I. "When--how?"

"I must ask her quick, while I feel as if everything had gone, and I was
ghostish. I think I must sound rather a lunatic."

He looked at me, and his eyelids hung heavy over his eyes as if he had
been drinking, or as if he were tired.

"Is she at home?" he said.

"No, she's gone to Nottingham. She'll be home before dark."

"I'll see her then. Can you smell violets?"

I replied that I could not. He was sure that he could, and he seemed
uneasy till he had justified the sensation. So he arose, very leisurely,
and went along the bank, looking closely for the flowers.

"I knew I could. White ones!"

He sat down and picked three flowers, and held them to his nostrils, and
inhaled their fragrance. Then he put them to his mouth, and I saw his
strong white teeth crush them. He chewed them for a while without
speaking; then he spat them out and gathered more.

"They remind me of her too," he said, and he twisted a piece of
honeysuckle stem round the bunch and handed it to me.

"A white violet, is she?" I smiled.

"Give them to her, and tell her to come and meet me just when it's
getting dark in the wood."

"But if she won't?"

"She will."

"If she's not at home?"

"Come and tell me."

He lay down again with his head among the green violet leaves, saying:

"I ought to work, because it all counts in the valuation. But I don't
care."

He lay looking at me for some time. Then he said:

"I don't suppose I shall have above twenty pounds left when we've sold
up--but she's got plenty of money to start with--if she has me--in
Canada. I could get well off--and she could have--what she wanted--I'm
sure she'd have what she wanted."

He took it all calmly as if it were realised. I was somewhat amused.

"What frock will she have on when she comes to meet me?" he asked.

"I don't know. The same as she's gone to Nottingham in, I suppose--a sort
of gold-brown costume with a rather tight-fitting coat. Why?"

"I was thinking how she'd look."

"What chickens are you counting now?" I asked.

"But what do you think I look best in?" he replied.

"You? Just as you are--no, put that old smooth cloth coat on--that's
all." I smiled as I told him, but he was very serious. "Shan't I put
my new clothes on?"

"No--you want to leave your neck showing."

He put his hand to his throat, and said navely:

"Do I?"--and it amused him.

Then he lay looking dreamily up into the tree. I left him, and went
wandering round the fields finding flowers and bird's nests.

When I came back, it was nearly four o'clock. He stood up and stretched
himself. He pulled out his watch.

"Good Lord," he drawled, "I've lain there thinking all afternoon. I
didn't know I could do such a thing. Where have you been? It's with being
all upset, you see. You left the violets--here, take them, will you; and
tell her; I'll come when it's getting dark. I feel like somebody else--or
else really like myself. I hope I shan't wake up to the other things--you
know, like I am always--before them."

"Why not?"

"Oh, I don't know--only I feel as if I could talk straight off without
arranging--like birds, without knowing what note is coming next."

When I was going he said:

"Here, leave me that book--it'll keep me like this--I mean I'm not the
same as I was yesterday, and that book'll keep me like it. Perhaps it's a
bilious bout--I do sometimes have one, if something very extraordinary
happens. When it's getting dark then!"



Lettie had not arrived when I went home. I put the violets in a little
vase on the table. I remembered he had wanted her to see the drawings--it
was perhaps as well he had kept them.

She came about six o'clock--in the motor-car with Marie. But the latter
did not descend. I went out to assist with the parcels. Lettie had
already begun to buy things; the wedding was fixed for July.

The room was soon over-covered with stuffs: table linen, underclothing,
pieces of silken stuff and lace stuff, patterns for carpets and curtains,
a whole gleaming, glowing array. Lettie was very delighted. She could
hardly wait to take off her hat, but went round cutting the string of her
parcels, opening them, talking all the time to my mother.

"Look, Little Woman. I've got a ready-made underskirt--isn't it lovely.
Listen!" and she ruffled it through her hands. "Shan't I sound splendid!
Frou-Frou! But it is a charming shade, isn't it, and not a bit bulky or
clumsy anywhere?" She put the band of the skirt against her waist, and
put forward her foot, and looked down, saying, "It's just the right
length, isn't it, Little Woman?--and they said I was tall--it was a
wonder. Don't you wish it were yours, Little?--oh, you won't confess it.
Yes, you like to be as fine as anybody--that's why I bought you this
piece of silk--isn't it sweet, though?--you needn't say there's too much
lavender in it, there is not. Now!" She pleated it up and held it against
my mother's chin. "It suits you beautifully--doesn't it? Don't you like
it, Sweet? You don't seem to like it a bit, and I'm sure it suits
you--makes you look ever so young. I wish you wouldn't be so
old-fashioned in your notions. You do like it, don't you?"

"Of course I do--I was only thinking what an extravagant mortal you are
when you begin to buy. You know you mustn't keep on always--"

"Now--now, Sweet, don't be naughty and preachey. It's such a treat to go
buying. You will come with me next time, won't you? Oh, I have enjoyed
it--but I wished you were there--Marie takes anything, she's so easy to
suit--I like to have a good buy--Oh, it was splendid!--and there's lots
more yet. Oh, did you see this cushion-cover--these are the colours I
want for that room--gold and amber--"

This was a bad opening. I watched the shadows darken farther and farther
along the brightness, hushing the glitter of the water. I watched the
golden ripeness come upon the west, and thought the rencontre was never
to take place. At last, however, Lettie flung herself down with a sigh,
saying she was tired.

"Come into the dining-room and have a cup of tea," said Mother. "I told
Rebecca to mash when you came in."

"All right. Leslie's coming up later on, I believe--about half-past
eight, he said. Should I show him what I've bought?"

"There's nothing there for a man to see."

"I shall have to change my dress, and I'm sure I don't want the fag.
Rebecca, just go and look at the things I've bought--in the other
room--and, Becky, fold them up for me, will you, and put them on my bed?"

As soon as she'd gone out, Lettie said:

"She'll enjoy doing it, won't she, Mother, they're so nice! Do you think
I need dress, Mother?"

"Please yourself--do as you wish."

"I suppose I shall have to; he doesn't like blouses and skirts of an
evening, he says; he hates the belt. I'll wear that old cream cashmere;
it looks nice now I've put that new lace on it. Don't those violets smell
nice?--who got them?"

"Cyril brought them in."

"George sent them you," said I.

"Well, I'll just run up and take my dress off. Why are we troubled with
men!"

"It's a trouble you like well enough," said Mother. "Oh, do I? such a
bother!" and she ran upstairs.

The sun was red behind Highclose. I kneeled in the window seat and smiled
at Fate and at people who imagine that strange states are near to the
inner realities. The sun went straight down behind the cedar trees,
deliberately, and, it seemed as I watched, swiftly lowered itself behind
the trees, behind the rim of the hill.

"I must go," I said to myself, "and tell him she will not come."

Yet I fidgeted about the room, loth to depart. Lettie came down, dressed
in white--or cream--cut low round the neck. She looked very delightful
and fresh again, with a sparkle of the afternoon's excitement still.

"I'll put some of these violets on me," she said, glancing at herself in
the mirror, and then taking the flowers from their water, she dried them,
and fastened them among her lace.

"Don't Lettie and I look nice tonight?" she said, smiling, glancing from
me to her reflection which was like a light in the dusky room.

"That reminds me," I said, "George Saxton wanted to see you this
evening."

"Whatever for?"

"I don't know. They've got notice to leave their farm, and I think he
feels a bit sentimental."

"Oh, well--is he coming here?"

"He said would you go just a little way in the wood to meet him."

"Did he! Oh, indeed! Well, of course I can't."

"Of course not--if you won't. They're his violets you're wearing, by the
way."

"Are they--let them stay, it makes no difference. But whatever did he
want to see me for?"

"I couldn't say, I assure you."

She glanced at herself in the mirror, and then at the clock.

"Let's see," she remarked, "it's only a quarter to eight. Three-quarters
of an hour--! But what can he want me for?--I never knew anything like
it."

"Startling, isn't it!" I observed satirically.

"Yes." She glanced at herself in the mirror.

"I can't go out like this."

"All right, you can't then."

"Besides--it's nearly dark, it will be too dark to see in the wood, won't
it?"

"It will directly."

"Well, I'll just go to the end of the garden, for one moment--run and
fetch that silk shawl out of my wardrobe--be quick, while it's light."

I ran and brought the wrap. She arranged it carefully over her head.

We went out, down the garden path. Lettie held her skirts carefully
gathered from the ground. A nightingale began to sing in the twilight; we
stepped along in silence as far as the rhododendron bushes, now in rosy
bud.

"I cannot go into the wood," she said.

"Come to the top of the riding"--and we went round the dark bushes.

George was waiting. I saw at once he was half distrustful of himself now.
Lettie dropped her skirts and trailed towards him. He stood awkwardly
awaiting her, conscious of the clownishness of his appearance. She held
out her hand with something of a grand air.

"See." she said, "I have come."

"Yes--I thought you wouldn't--perhaps"--he looked at her, and suddenly
gained courage.

"You have been putting white on--you, you do look nice--though not
like--"

"What?--Who else?"

"Nobody else--only I--well, I'd--I'd thought about it different--like
some pictures."

She smiled with a gentle radiance, and asked indulgently, "And how was I
different?"

"Not all that soft stuff--plainer."

"But don't I look very nice with all this soft stuff, as you call
it?"--and she shook the silk away from her smiles.

"Oh, yes--better than those naked lines."

"You are quaint tonight--what did you want me for--to say good-bye?"

"Good-bye?"

"Yes--you're going away, Cyril tells me. I'm very sorry--fancy horrid
strangers at the Mill! But then I shall be gone away soon, too. We are
all going, you see, now we've grown up"--she kept hold of my arm.

"Yes."

"And where will you go--Canada? You'll settle there and be quite a
patriarch, won't you?"

"I don't know."

"You are not really sorry to go, are you?"

"No, I'm glad."

"Glad to go away from us all."

"I suppose so--since I must."

"Ah, Fate--Fate! It separates you whether you want it or not."

"What?"

"Why, you see, you have to leave. I mustn't stay out here--it is growing
chilly. How soon are you going?"

"I don't know."

"Not soon then?"

"I don't know."

"Then I may see you again?"

"I don't know."

"Oh yes, I shall. Well, I must go. Shall I say good-bye now?--that was
what you wanted, was it not?"

"To say good-bye?"

"Yes."

"No--it wasn't--I wanted, I wanted to ask you--"

"What?" she cried.

"You don't know, Lettie, now the old life's gone, everything--how I want
you--to set out with--it's like beginning life, and I want you."

"But what could I do--I could only hinder--what help should I be?"

"I should feel as if my mind was made up--as if I could do something
clearly. Now it's all hazy--not knowing what to do next."

"And if--if you had--what then?"

"If I had you I could go straight on."

"Where?"

"Oh--I should take a farm in Canada--"

"Well, wouldn't it be better to get it first and make sure--?"

"I have no money."

"Oh!--so you wanted me--?"

"I only wanted you, I only wanted you. I would have given you--"

"What?"

"You'd have me--you'd have all me, and everything you wanted."

"That I paid for--a good bargain! No, oh no, George, I beg your pardon.
This is one of my flippant nights. I don't mean it like that. But you
know it's impossible--look how I'm fixed--it is impossible, isn't it
now?"

"I suppose it is."

"You know it is.--Look at me now, and say if it's not impossible--a
farmer's wife--with you in Canada."

"Yes--I didn't expect you like that. Yes, I see it is impossible. But I'd
thought about it, and felt as if I must have you. Should have you...Yes,
it doesn't do to go on dreaming. I think it's the first time, and it'll
be the last. Yes, it is impossible. Now I have made up my mind."

"And what will you do?"

"I shall not go to Canada."

"Oh, you must not--you must not do anything rash."

"No--I shall get married."

"You will? Oh, I am glad. I thought--you--you were too fond--. But you're
not--of yourself, I meant. I am so glad. Yes--do marry!"

"Well, I shall--since you are--"

"Yes," said Lettie. "It is best. But I thought that you she smiled at him
in sad reproach.

"Did you think so?" he replied, smiling gravely.

"Yes," she whispered. They stood looking at one another. He made an
impulsive movement towards her. She, however, drew back slightly,
checking him.

"Well--I shall see you again some time--so good-bye," he said, putting
out his hand.

We heard a foot crunching on the gravel. Leslie halted at the top of the
riding. Lettie, hearing him, relaxed into a kind of feline graciousness,
and said to George:

"I am so sorry you are going to leave--it breaks the old life up. You
said I would see you again--" She left her hand in his a moment or two.

"Yes," George replied. "Good night"--and he turned away. She stood for a
moment in the same drooping, graceful attitude watching him, then she
turned round slowly. She seemed hardly to notice Leslie.

"Who was that you were talking to?" he asked.

"He has gone now," she replied irrelevantly, as if even then she seemed
hardly to realise it.

"It appears to upset you--his going--who is it?"

"He!--Oh--why, it's George Saxton."

"Oh, him!"

"Yes."

"What did he want?"

"Eh? What did he want? Oh, nothing."

"A mere trysting--in the interim, eh!" he said this laughing, generously
passing off his annoyance in a jest.

"I feel so sorry," she said.

"What for?"

"Oh--don't let us talk about him--talk about something else. I can't bear
to talk about--him."

"All right," he replied--and after an awkward little pause, "What sort of
a time had you in Nottingham?"

"Oh, a fine time."

"You'll enjoy yourself in the shops between now and--July. Some time I'll
go with you and see them."

"Very well."

"That sounds as if you don't want me to go. Am I already in the way on a
shopping expedition, like an old husband?"

"I should think you would be."

"That's nice of you! Why?"

"Oh, I don't know."

"Yes you do."

"Oh, I suppose you'd hang about."

"I'm much too well brought up."

"Rebecca has lighted the hall lamp."

"Yes, it's grown quite dark. I was here early. You never gave me a good
word for it."

"I didn't notice. There's a light in the dining-room, we'll go there."

They went into the dining-room. She stood by the piano and carefully took
off the wrap. Then she wandered listlessly about the room for a minute.

"Aren't you coming to sit down?" he said, pointing to the seat on the
couch beside him.

"Not just now," she said, trailing aimlessly to the piano. She sat down
and began to play at random, from memory. Then she did that most
irritating thing--played accompaniments to songs, with snatches of the
air where the voice should have predominated.

"I say Lettie..." he interrupted after a time.

"Yes," she replied, continuing to play.

"It's not very interesting..."

"No?"--she continued to play.

"Nor very amusing..."

She did not answer. He bore it for a little time longer, then he said:

"How much longer is it going to last, Lettie?"

"What?"

"That sort of business..."

"The piano?--I'll stop playing if you don't like it." She did not,
however, cease.

"Yes--and all this dry business."

"I don't understand."

"Don't you?--you make me."

There she went on, tinkling away at "If I built a world for you, dear".

"I say, stop it, do!" he cried.

She tinkled to the end of the verse, and very slowly closed the piano.

"Come on--come and sit down," he said.

"No, I don't want to--I'd rather have gone on playing."

"Go on with your damned playing then, and I'll go where there's more
interest."

"You ought to like it."

He did not answer, so she turned slowly round on the stool, opened the
piano, and laid her fingers on the keys. At the sound of the chord he
started up, saying: "Then I'm going."

"'t's very early--why?" she said, through the calm jingle of "Meine Ruh is
hin--"

He stood biting his lips. Then he made one more appeal. "Lettie!"

"Yes?"

"Aren't you going to leave off--and be--amiable?"

"Amiable?"

"You are a jolly torment. What's upset you now?"

"Nay, it's not I who am upset."

"I'm glad to hear it--what do you call yourself?"

"I?--nothing."

"Oh, well, I'm going then."

"Must you?--so early tonight?"

He did not go, and she played more and more softly, languidly, aimlessly.
Once she lifted her head to speak, but did not say anything.

"Look here!" he ejaculated all at once, so that she started, and jarred
the piano, "What do you mean by it?"

She jingled leisurely a few seconds before answering, then she replied:

"What a worry you are!"

"I suppose you want me out of the way while you sentimentalise over that
milkman. You needn't bother. You can do it while I'm here. Or I'll go and
leave you in peace. I'll go and call him back for you, if you like--if
that's what you want--"

She turned on the piano stool slowly and looked at him, smiling faintly.

"It is very good of you!" she said.

He clenched his fists and grinned with rage.

"You tantalising little--" he began, lifting his fists expressively. She
smiled. Then he swung round, knocked several hats flying off the stand in
the hall, slammed the door, and was gone.

Lettie continued to play for some time, after which she went up to her
own room.



Leslie did not return to us the next day, nor the day after. The first
day Marie came and told us he had gone away to Yorkshire to see about the
new mines that were being sunk there, and was likely to be absent for a
week or so. These business visits to the north were rather frequent. The
firm, of which Mr Tempest was director and chief shareholder, were
opening important new mines in the other county, as the seams at home
were becoming exhausted or unprofitable. It was proposed that Leslie
should live in Yorkshire when he was married, to superintend the new
workings. He at first rejected the idea, but he seemed later to approve
of it more.

During the time he was away Lettie was moody and cross-tempered. She did
not mention George nor the mill; indeed, she preserved her best, most
haughty and ladylike manner.

On the evening of the fourth day of Leslie's absence we were out in the
garden. The trees were "uttering joyous leaves". My mother was in the
midst of her garden, lifting the dusky faces of the auriculas to look at
the velvet lips, or tenderly taking a young weed from the black soil. The
thrushes were calling and clamouring all round. The japonica flamed on
the wall as the light grew thicker; the tassels of white cherry-blossom
swung gently in the breeze.

"What shall I do, Mother?" said Lettie, as she wandered across the grass
to pick at the japonica flowers. "What shall I do? There's nothing to
do."

"Well, my girl--what do you want to do? You have been moping about all
day--go and see somebody."

"It's such a long way to Eberwich."

"Is it? Then go somewhere nearer."

Lettie fretted about with restless, petulant indecision.

"I don't know what to do," she said, "And I feel as if I might just as
well never have lived at all as waste days like this. I wish we weren't
buried in this dead little hole--I wish we were near the town--it's
hateful having to depend on about two or three folk for your--your--your
pleasure in life."

"I can't help it, my dear--you must do something for yourself."

"And what can I do?--I can do nothing."

"Then I'd go to bed."

"That I won't--with the dead weight of a wasted day on me. I feel as if
I'd do something desperate."

"Very well, then," said Mother, "do it, and have done."

"Oh, it's no good talking to you--I don't want--" She turned away, went
to the laurestinus, and began pulling off it the long red berries. I
expected she would fret the evening wastefully away. I noticed all at
once that she stood still. It was the noise of a motor-car running
rapidly down the hill towards Nethermere--a light, quick-clicking sound.
I listened also. I could feel the swinging drop of the car as it came
down the leaps of the hill. We could see the dust trail up among the
trees. Lettie raised her head and listened expectantly. The car rushed
along the edge of Nethermere--then there was the jar of brakes, as the
machine slowed down and stopped. In a moment with a quick flutter of
sound, it was passing the lodge gates and whirling up the drive, through
the wood, to us. Lettie stood with flushed cheeks and brightened eyes.
She went towards the bushes that shut off the lawn from the gravelled
space in front of the house, watching. A car came racing through the
trees. It was the small car Leslie used on the firm's business--now it
was white with dust. Leslie suddenly put on the brakes, and tore to a
standstill in front of the house. He stepped to the ground. There he
staggered a little, being giddy and cramped with the long drive. His
motor-jacket and cap were thick with dust.

Lettie called to him, "Leslie!"--and flew down to him. He took her into
his arms, and clouds of dust rose round her. He kissed her, and they
stood perfectly still for a moment. She looked up into his face--then she
disengaged her arms to take off his disfiguring motor-spectacles. After
she had looked at him a moment, tenderly, she kissed him again. He
loosened his hold of her, and she said, in a voice full of tenderness:

"You are trembling, dear."

"It's the ride. I've never stopped."

Without further words she took him into the house.

"How pale you are--see, lie on the couch--never mind the dust. All right,
I'll find you a coat of Cyril's. Oh, Mother, he's come all those miles in
the car without stopping--make him lie down."

She ran and brought him a jacket, and put the cushions round, and made
him lie on the couch. Then she took off his boots and put slippers on his
feet. He lay watching her all the time; he was white with fatigue and
excitement.

"I wonder if I shall be had up for scorching--I can feel the road coming
at me yet," he said.

"Why were you so headlong?"

"I felt as if I should go wild if I didn't come--if I didn't rush. I
didn't know how you might have taken me, Lettie when I said--what I did."

She smiled gently at him, and he lay resting, recovering, looking at her.

"It's a wonder I haven't done something desperate--I've been half mad
since I said--Oh, Lettie, I was a damned fool and a wretch--I could have
torn myself in two. I've done nothing but curse and rage at myself ever
since. I feel as if I'd just come up out of hell. You don't know how
thankful I am, Lettie, that you've not--oh--turned against me for what I
said."

She went to him and sat down by him, smoothing his hair from his
forehead, kissing him, her attitude tender, suggesting tears, her
movements impulsive, as if with a self-reproach she would not
acknowledge, but which she must silence with lavish tenderness. He drew
her to him, and they remained quiet for some time, till it grew dark.

The noise of my mother stirring in the next room disturbed them. Lettie
rose, and he also got up from the couch.

"I suppose," he said, "I shall have to go home and get bathed and
dressed--though," he added in tones which made it clear he did not want
to go, "I shall have to get back in the morning--I don't know what
they'll say."

"At any rate," she said, "You could wash here--"

"But I must get out of these clothes--and I want a bath."

"You could--you might have some of Cyril's clothes--and the water's hot.
I know. At all events, you can stay to supper--"

"If I'm going I shall have to go soon--or they'd not like it, if I go in
late;--they have no idea I've come;--they don't expect me till next
Monday or Tuesday--"

"Perhaps you could stay here--and they needn't know." They looked at each
other with wide, smiling eyes--like children on the brink of a stolen
pleasure.

"Oh, but what would your mother think!--no, I'll go."

"She won't mind a bit."

"Oh, but--"

"I'll ask her."

He wanted to stay far more than she wished it, so it was she who put down
his opposition and triumphed.

My mother lifted her eyebrows, and said very quietly: "He'd better go
home--and be straight."

"But look how he'd feel--he'd have to tell them...and how would he feel!
It's really my fault, in the end. Don't be piggling and mean and
Grundyish, Matouchka."

"It is neither meanness nor Grundyishness--"

"Oh, Ydgrun, Ydgrun--!" exclaimed Lettie, ironically. "He may certainly
stay if he likes," said Mother, slightly nettled at Lettie's gibe.

"All right, Mutterchen--and be a sweetling, do!"

Lettie went out a little impatient at my mother's unwillingness, but
Leslie stayed, nevertheless.

In a few moments Lettie was up in the spare bedroom, arranging and
adorning, and Rebecca was running with hot-water bottles, and hurrying
down with clean bedclothes. Lettie hastily appropriated my best
brushes--which she had given me--and took the suit of pyjamas of the
thinnest, finest flannel and discovered a new tooth-brush--and made
selections from my shirts and handkerchiefs and underclothing--and
directed me which suit to lend him. Altogether I was astonished, and
perhaps a trifle annoyed, at her extraordinary thoughtfulness and
solicitude.

He came down to supper, bathed, brushed, and radiant. He ate heartily and
seemed to emanate a warmth of physical comfort and pleasure. The colour
was flushed again into his face, and he carried his body with the old
independent, assertive air. I have never known the time when he looked
handsomer, when he was more attractive. There was a certain warmth about
him, a certain glow that enhanced his words, his laughter, his movements;
he was the predominant person, and we felt a pleasure in his mere
proximity. My mother, however, could not quite get rid of her stiffness,
and soon after supper she rose, saying she would finish her letter in the
next room, bidding him good-night, as she would probably not see him
again. The cloud of this little coolness was the thinnest and most
transitory. He talked and laughed more gaily than ever, and was
ostentatious in his movements, throwing back his head, taking little
attitudes which displayed the broad firmness of his breast, the grace of
his well-trained physique. I left them at the piano; he was sitting
pretending to play, and looking up all the while at her, who stood with
her hand on his shoulder.

In the morning he was up early, by six o'clock downstairs and attending
to the car. When I got down I found him very busy, and very quiet.

"I know I'm a beastly nuisance," he said, "but I must get off early."

Rebecca came and prepared breakfast, which we two ate alone. He was
remarkably dull and wordless.

"It's a wonder Lettie hasn't got up to have breakfast with you--she's
such a one for raving about the perfection of the early morning--its
purity and promises and so forth," I said.

He broke his bread nervously, and drank some coffee as if he were
agitated, making noises in his throat as he swallowed.

"It's too early for her, I should think," he replied, wiping his
moustache hurriedly. Yet he seemed to listen for her. Lettie's bedroom
was over the study, where Rebecca had laid breakfast, and he listened now
and again, holding his knife and fork suspended in their action. Then he
went on with his meal again.

When he was laying down his serviette, the door opened. He pulled himself
together, and turned round sharply. It was Mother. When she spoke to him,
his face twitched with a little frown, half of relief, half of
disappointment.

"I must be going now," he said--"thank you very much--Mother."

"You are a harum-scarum boy. I wonder why Lettie doesn't come down. I
know she is up."

"Yes," he replied. "Yes, I've heard her. Perhaps she is dressing. I must
get off."

"I'll call her."

"No--don't bother her--she'd come if she wanted--"

But Mother had called from the foot of the stairs. "Lettie, Lettie--he's
going."

"All right," said Lettie, and in another minute she came downstairs. She
was dressed in dark, severe stuff, and she was somewhat pale. She did not
look at any of us, but turned her eyes aside.

"Good-bye," she said to him, offering him her cheek. He kissed her,
murmuring, "Good-bye--my love."

He stood in the doorway a moment, looking at her with beseeching eyes.
She kept her face half averted, and would not look at him, but stood pale
and cold, biting her under-lip. He turned sharply away with a motion of
keen disappointment, set the engines of the car into action, mounted, and
drove quickly away.

Lettie stood pale and inscrutable for some moments. Then she went in to
breakfast and sat toying with her food, keeping her head bent down, her
face hidden.

In less than an hour he was back again, saying he had left something
behind. He ran upstairs, and then, hesitating, went into the room where
Lettie was still sitting at table. "I had to come back," he said.

She lifted her face towards him, but kept her eyes averted, looking out
of the window. She was flushed.

"What had you forgotten?" she asked.

"I'd left my cigarette-case," he replied.

There was an awkward silence.

"But I shall have to be getting off," he added.

"Yes, I suppose you will," she replied.

After another pause, he asked:

"Won't you just walk down the path with me?"

She rose without answering. He took a shawl and put it round her
carefully. She merely allowed him. They walked in silence down the
garden.

"You--are you--are you angry with me?" he faltered. Tears suddenly came
to her eyes.

"What did you come back for?" she said, averting her face from him. He
looked at her.

"I knew you were angry and--" he hesitated.

"Why didn't you go away?" she said impulsively. He hung his head and was
silent.

"I don't see why--why it should make trouble between us, Lettie," he
faltered. She made a swift gesture of repulsion, whereupon, catching
sight of her hand, she hid it swiftly against her skirt again.

"You make my hands--my very hands disclaim me," she struggled to say.

He looked at her clenched fist pressed against the folds of her dress.

"But--" he began, much troubled.

"I tell you, I can't bear the sight of my own hands," she said in low,
passionate tones.

"But surely, Lettie, there's no need--if you love me--"

She seemed to wince. He waited, puzzled and miserable. "And we're
going to be married, aren't we?" he resumed, looking pleadingly at her.

She stirred, and exclaimed:

"Oh, why don't you go away? What did you come back for?"

"You'll kiss me before I go?" he asked.

She stood with averted face, and did not reply. His forehead was
twitching in a puzzled frown.

"Lettie!" he said.

She did not move or answer, but remained with her face turned full away,
so that he could see only the contour of her cheek. After waiting awhile,
he flushed, turned swiftly and set his machine rattling. In a moment he
was racing between the trees.



CHAPTER IV - KISS WHEN SHE'S RIPE FOR TEARS


It was the Sunday after Lettie's visit. We had had a wretched week, with
everybody mute and unhappy.

Though spring had come, none of us saw it. Afterwards it occurred to me
that I had seen all the ranks of poplars suddenly bursten into a dark
crimson glow, with a flutter of blood-red where the sun came through the
leaves; that I had found high cradles where the swan's eggs lay by the
water-side; that I had seen the daffodils leaning from the moss-grown
wooden walls of the boat-house, and all, moss, daffodils, water,
scattered with the pink scarves from the elm buds; that I had broken the
half-spread fans of the sycamore, and had watched the white cloud of
sloe-blossom go silver grey against the evening sky: but I had not
perceived it, and I had not any vivid spring pictures left from the
neglected week.

It was Sunday evening, just after tea, when Lettie suddenly said to me:

"Come with me down to Strelley Mill."

I was astonished, but I obeyed unquestioningly.

On the threshold we heard a chattering of girls, and immediately Alice's
voice greeted us:

"Hello, Sybil, love! Hello, Lettie! Come on, here's a gathering of the
goddesses. Come on, you just make us right. You're Juno, and here's Meg,
she's Venus, and I'm--here, somebody, who am I, tell us quick--did you
say Minerva, Sybil dear? Well, you ought, then! Now, Paris, hurry up.
He's putting his Sunday clothes on to take us a walk--Laws, what a time
it takes him! Get your blushes ready, Meg--now, Lettie, look haughty, and
I'll look wise. I wonder if he wants me to go and tie his tie. Oh,
Glory--where on earth did you get that antimacassar?"

"In Nottingham--don't you like it?" said George, referring to his tie.
"Hello, Lettie--have you come?"

"Yes, it's a gathering of the goddesses. Have you that apple? If so, hand
it over," said Alice.

"What apple?"

"Oh, Lum, his education! Paris's apple--Can't you see we've come to be
chosen?"

"Oh, well--I haven't got any apple--I've eaten mine."

"Isn't he flat--he's like boiling magnesia that's done boiling
for a week. Are you going to take us all to church then?"

"If you like."

"Come on, then. Where's the Abode of Love? Look at Lettie looking
shocked. Awfully sorry, old girl--thought love agreed with you."

"Did you say love?" inquired George.

"Yes, I did; didn't I, Meg? And you say 'Love' as well, don't you?"

"I don't know what it is," laughed Meg, who was very red and rather
bewildered.

"'Amor est titillatio'--'Love is a tickling'--there--that's it, isn't
it, Sybil?"

"How should I know."

"Of course not, old fellow. Leave it to the girls. See how knowing Lettie
looks--and, laws, Lettie, you are solemn."

"It's love," suggested George, over his new neck-tie.

"I'll bet it is 'degustasse sat est'--ain't it, Lettie? 'One lick's
enough'--'and damned be he that first cries: Hold, enough!'--Which one do
you like? But are you going to take us to church, Georgie, darling--one
by one, or all at once?"

"What do you want me to do, Meg?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't mind."

"And do you mind, Lettie?"

"I'm not going to church."

"Let's go a walk somewhere--and let us start now," said Emily somewhat
testily. She did not like this nonsense. "There you are, Syb--you've got
your orders--don't leave me behind," wailed Alice.

Emily frowned and bit her finger.

"Come on, Georgie. You look like the finger of a pair of scales--between
two weights. Which'll draw?"

"The heavier," he replied, smiling, and looking neither at Meg or Lettie.

"Then it's Meg," cried Alice. "Oh, I wish I was fleshy--I've no chance
with Syb against Pem."

Emily flashed looks of rage; Meg blushed and felt ashamed; Lettie began
to recover from her first outraged indignation, and smiled.

Thus we went a walk, in two trios.

Unfortunately, as the evening was so fine, the roads were full of
strollers: groups of three or four men dressed in pale trousers and shiny
black cloth coats, following their suspicious little dogs: gangs of
youths slouching along, occupied with nothing, often silent, talking now
and then in raucous tones on some subjects of brief interest: then the
gallant husbands, in their tail coats very husbandly, pushing a jingling
perambulator, admonished by a much-dressed spouse round whom the small
members of the family gyrated: occasionally, two lovers walking with a
space between them, disowning each other; occasionally, a smartly dressed
mother with two little girls in white silk frocks and much expanse of
yellow hair, stepping mincingly, and, near by, a father awkwardly
controlling his Sunday suit.

To endure all this it was necessary to chatter unconcernedly. George had
to keep up the conversation behind, and he seemed to do it with ease,
discoursing on the lambs, discussing the breed--when Meg exclaimed:

"Oh, aren't they black! They might ha' crept down th' chimney. I never
saw any like them before." He described how he had reared two on the
bottle, exciting Meg's keen admiration by his mothering of the lambs.
Then he went on to the peewits, harping on the same string: how they
would cry and pretend to be wounded--"Just fancy, though!"--and how he
had moved the eggs of one pair while he was ploughing, and the mother had
followed them, and had even sat watching as he drew near again with the
plough, watching him come and go--"Well, she knew you--but they do know
those who are kind to them--"

"Yes," he agreed, "her little bright eyes seem to speak as you go by."

"Oh, I do think they're nice little things--don't you, Lettie?" cried Meg
in access of tenderness.

Lettie did--with brevity.

We walked over the hills and down into Greymede. Meg thought she ought to
go home to her grandmother, and George bade her go, saying he would call
and see her in an hour or so.

The dear girl was disappointed, but she went unmurmuring. We left Alice
with a friend, and hurried home through Selsby to escape the after-church
parade.

As you walk home past Selsby, the pit stands up against the west, with
beautiful tapering chimneys marked in black against the swim of sunset,
and the head-stocks etched with tall significance on the brightness. Then
the houses are squat in rows of shadow at the foot of these high
monuments.

"Do you know, Cyril," said Emily, "I have meant to go and see Mrs
Annable--the keeper's wife--she's moved into Bonsart's Row, and the
children come to school--Oh, it's awful!--they've never been to school,
and they are unspeakable."

"What's she gone there for?" I asked.

"I suppose the squire wanted the Kennels--and she chose it herself. But
the way they live--it's fearful to think of!"

"And why haven't you been?"

"I don't know--I've meant to--but--" Emily stumbled. "You didn't want,
and you daren't?"

"Perhaps not--would you?"

"Pah--let's go now!--There, you hang back."

"No, I don't," she replied sharply.

"Come on then, we'll go through the twitchel. Let me tell Lettie."

Lettie at once declared, "No!"--with some asperity. "All right," said
George. "I'll take you home."

But this suited Lettie still less.

"I don't know what you want to go for, Cyril," she said, "and Sunday
night, and, everybody everywhere. I want to go home."

"Well--you go then--Emily will come with you."

"Ha," cried the latter, "you think I won't go to see her." I shrugged my
shoulders, and George pulled his moustache. "Well, I don't care,"
declared Lettie, and we marched down the twitchel, Indian file.

We came near to the ugly rows of houses that back up against the
pit-hill. Everywhere is black and sooty; the houses are back to back,
having only one entrance, which is from a square garden where
black-speckled weeds grow sulkily, and which looks on to a row of evil
little ash-pit huts. The road everywhere is trodden over with a crust of
soot and coal-dust and cinders.

Between the rows, however, was a crowd of women and children, bare hands,
bare arms, white aprons, and black Sunday frocks bristling with gimp. One
or two men squatted on their heels with their backs against a wall,
laughing. The women were waving their arms and screaming up at the roof
of the end house.

Emily and Lettie drew back.

"Look there--it's that little beggar, Sam!" said George.

There, sure enough, perched on the ridge of the roof against the end
chimney, was the young imp, coatless, his shirt-sleeves torn away from
the cuffs. I knew his bright, reddish young head in a moment. He got up,
his bare toes clinging to the tiles, and spread out his fingers fanwise
from his nose, shouting something, which immediately caused the crowd to
toss with indignation, and the women to shriek again. Sam sat down
suddenly, having almost lost his balance.

The village constable hurried up, his thin neck stretching out of his
tunic, and demanded the cause of the hubbub.

Immediately a woman, with bright brown squinting eyes and a birthmark on
her cheek, rushed forward and seized the policeman by the sleeve.

"Ta'e 'im up, ta'e 'im up, an' birch 'im till 'is bloody back's raw," she
screamed.

The thin policeman shook her off, and wanted to know what as the matter.

"I'll smosh 'im like a rotten tater," cried the woman, "if I can lay
'ands on 'im. 'E's not fit ter live nowhere where there's decent
folks--the thievin', brazen little devil--" thus she went on.

"But what's up!" interrupted the thin constable, "What's up wi' 'im?"

"Up--it's 'im as 'is up, an' let 'im wait till I get 'im down. A crafty
little--"

Sam, seeing her look at him, distorted his honest features, and
overheated her wrath, till Lettie and Emily trembled with dismay.

The mother's head appeared at the bedroom window. She slid the sash back,
and craned out, vainly trying to look over the gutter below the slates.
She was even more dishevelled than usual, and the tears had dried on her
pale face. She stretched farther out, clinging to the window-frame and to
the gutter overhead, till I was afraid she would come down with a crash.

The men, squatting on their heels against the wall of the ash-pit
laughed, saying:

"Nab 'im, Poll--can ter see 'im--clawk 'im!" and then the pitiful voice
of the woman was heard crying, "Come thy ways down, my duckie, come
on--on'y come ter thy mother--they shanna touch thee. Du thy mother's
biddin' now--Sam--Sam--Sam!" her voice rose higher and higher.

"Sammy, Sammy, go to thy mammy," jeered the wits below. "Shonna ter come,
shonna ter come to thy mother, my duckie--come on, come thy ways down."

Sam looked at the crowd, and at the eaves from under which rose his
mother's voice. He was going to cry. A big gaunt woman, with the family
steel comb stuck in her back hair, shouted, "Tha' mun well bend thy face,
tha' needs ter scraight," and, aided by the woman with the birthmark and
the squint, she reviled him. The little scoundrel, in a burst of
defiance, picked a piece of mortar from between the slates, and in a
second it flew into fragments against the family steel comb. The wearer
thereof declared her head was laid open and there was general confusion.
The policeman--I don't know how thin he must have been when he was taken
out of his uniform--lost his head, and he too began brandishing his
fists, spitting from under his sweep's-brush moustache as he commanded in
tones of authority:

"Now then, no more on it--let's 'a'e thee down here, an' no more messin'
about!"

The boy tried to creep over the ridge of the roof and escape down the
other side. Immediately the brats rushed round yelling to the other side
of the row, and pieces of red-burnt gravel began to fly over the roof.
Sam crouched against the chimney.

"Got 'im!" yelled one little devil "Got 'im! Hi--go again!" A shower of
stones came down, scattering the women and the policeman. The mother
rushed from the house and made a wild onslaught on the throwers. She
caught one and flung him down. Immediately the rest turned and aimed
their missiles at her. Then George and the policeman and I dashed after
the young wretches, and the women ran to see what happened to their
offspring. We caught two lads of fourteen or so, and made the policeman
haul them after us. The rest fled.

When we returned to the field of battle, Sam had gone too.

"If 'e 'asna slived off!" cried the woman with a squint. "But I'll see
him locked up for this."

At this moment a band of missioners from one of the chapels or churches
arrived at the end of the row, and the little harmonium began to bray,
and the place vibrated with the sound of a woman's powerful voice,
propped round by several others, singing:

"At even 'ere the sun was set--"

Everybody hurried towards the new noise, save the policeman with his
captives, the woman with the squint, and the woman with the family comb.
I told the limb of the law he'd better get rid of the two boys and find
out what mischief the others were after.

Then I enquired of the woman with the squint what was the matter.

"Thirty-seven young 'uns 'an we 'ad from that doe, an' there's no knowin'
'ow many more, if they 'adn't a-gone an' ate-n 'er," she replied,
lapsing, now her fury was spent, into sullen resentment.

"An' niver a word should we a' known," added the familycomb-bearer, "but
for that blessed cat of ourn, as scrat it up."

"Indeed," said I, "the rabbit?"

"No, there were nwt left but th' skin--they'd seen ter that, a thieving,
dirt-eatin' lot."

"When was that?" said I.

"This mortal night--an' there was th' head an' th' back in th' dirty
stewpot--I can show you this instant--I've got 'em in our pantry for a
proof, 'aven't I, Martha?"

"A fat lot o' good it is--but I'll rip th' neck out of 'im, if ever I lay
'ands on 'im."

At last I made out that Samuel had stolen a large, lop-eared doe out of a
bunch in the coal-house of the squint-eyed lady, had skinned it, buried
the skin, and offered his booty to his mother as a wild rabbit, trapped.
The doe had been the chief item of the Annables' Sunday dinner--albeit a
portion was unluckily saved till Monday, providing undeniable proof of
the theft. The owner of the rabbit had supposed the creature to have
escaped. This peaceful supposition had been destroyed by the
comb-bearer's seeing her cat, scratching in the Annable garden, unearth
the white and brown doe-skin, after which the trouble had begun.

The squint-eyed woman was not so hard to manage. I talked to her as if
she were some male friend of mine, only appealing to her womanliness with
all the soft sadness I could press into the tones of my voice. In the end
she was mollified, and even tender and motherly in her feelings towards
the unfortunate family. I left on her dresser the half-crown I shrank
from offering her, and, having reduced the comb-wearer also, I marched
off, carrying the stewpot and the fragments of the ill-fated doe to the
cottage of the widow, where George and the girls awaited me.

The house was in a woeful state. In the rocking-chair, beside the high
guard that surrounded the hearth, sat the mother, rocking, looking sadly
shaken now her excitement was over. Lettie was nursing the little baby,
and Emily the next child. George was smoking his pipe and trying to look
natural. The little kitchen was crowded--there was no room--there was not
even a place on the table for the stew-jar, so I gathered together cups
and mugs containing tea sops, and set down the vessel of ignominy on the
much-slopped tea-cloth. The four little children were striped and patched
with tears--at my entrance one under the table recommenced to weep, so I
gave him my pencil which pushed in and out, but which pushes in and out
no more.

The sight of the stewpot affected the mother afresh. She wept again,
crying:

"An' I niver thought as 'ow it were aught but a snared 'un; as if I
should set 'im on ter thieve their old doe; an' tough it was an' all; an'
'im a thief, an' me called all the names they could lay their tongues to;
an' then in my bit of a pantry, takin' the very pots out; that stewpot as
I brought all the way from Nottingham, an' I've 'ad it afore our Minnie
wor born--"

The baby, the little baby, then began to cry. The mother got up suddenly,
and took it.

"Oh, come then, come then, my pet. Why, why cos they shanna, no they
shanna. Yes, he's his mother's least little lad, he is, a little 'un.
Hush then, there, there--what's a matter, my little?"

She hushed the baby, and herself. At length she asked: "'As th' p'liceman
gone as well?"

"Yes--it's all right," I said.

She sighed deeply, and her look of weariness was painful to see.

"How old is your eldest?" I asked.

"Fanny--she's fourteen. She's out service at Websters. Then Jim, as is
thirteen next month--let's see, yes, it is next month--he's gone to
Flints--farming. They can't do much--an' I shan't let 'em go into th'
pit, if I can help it. My husband always used to say they should never go
in th' pit."

"They can't do much for you."

"They dun what they can. But it's a hard job, it is, ter keep 'em all
goin'. Wi' weshin', an' th' parish pay, an' five shillin' from th'
squire--it's 'ard. It was diff'rent when my husband was alive. It ought
ter 'a been me as should 'a died--I don't seem as if I can manage
'em--they get beyond me. I wish I was dead this minnit, an' 'im 'ere. I
can't understand it: 'im as wor so capable, to be took, an' me left. 'E
wor a man in a thousand, 'e wor--full o' management like a gentleman. I
wisht it was me as 'ad a been took. 'An 'e's restless, 'cos 'e knows I
find it 'ard. I stood at th' door last night, when they was all asleep,
looking out over th' pit pond--an' I saw a light, an' I knowed it was
'im--cos it wor our weddin' day yesterday--by the day an' th' date. An' I
said to 'im, 'Frank, is it thee, Frank? I'm all right, I'm gettin' on all
right'--an' then 'e went; seemed to go ower the whimsey an' back towards
th' wood. I know it wor 'im, an' 'e couldna rest, thinkin' I couldna
manage--"

After a while we left, promising to go again, and to see after the safety
of Sam.

It was quite dark, and the lamps were lighted in the houses. We could
hear the throb of the fan-house engines, and the soft whirr of the fan.

"Isn't it cruel?" said Emily plaintively.

"Wasn't the man a wretch to marry the woman like that," added Lettie with
decision.

"Speak of Lady Chrystabel," said I, and then there was silence. "I
suppose he did not know what he was doing, any more than the rest of us."

"I thought you were going to your aunt's--to the Ram Inn," said Lettie to
George when they came to the cross-roads.

"Not now--it's too late," he answered quietly. "You will come round our
way, won't you?"

"Yes," she said.

We were eating bread and milk at the farm, and the father was talking
with vague sadness and reminiscence, lingering over the thought of their
departure from the old house. He was a pure romanticist, forever seeking
the colour of the past in the present's monotony. He seemed settling down
to an easy contented middle age, when the unrest on the farm and
development of his children quickened him with fresh activity. He read
books on the land question and modern novels. In the end he became an
advanced radical, almost a socialist. Occasionally his letters appeared
in the newspapers. He had taken a new hold on life.

Over supper he became enthusiastic about Canada, and to watch him, his
ruddy face lighted up, his burly form straight and nerved with
excitement, was to admire him; to hear him, his words of thoughtful
common sense all warm with a young man's hopes, was to love him. At
forty-five he was more spontaneous and enthusiastic than George, and far
more happy and hopeful.

Emily would not agree to go away with them--what should she do in Canada,
she said--and she did not want the little ones "to be drudges on a
farm--in the end to be nothing but cattle".

"Nay," said her father gently, "Mollie shall learn the dairying, and
David will just be right to take to the place when I give up. It'll
perhaps be a bit rough and hard at first, but when we've got over it we
shall think it was one of the best times--like you do."

"And you, George?" asked Lettie.

"I'm not going. What should I go for? There's nothing at the end of it
only a long life. It's like a day here in June--a long work day, pleasant
enough, and when it's done you sleep well--but it's work and sleep and
comfort--half a life. It's not enough. What's the odds?--I might as well
be Flower, the mare."

His father looked at him gravely and thoughtfully.

"Now it seems to me so different," he said sadly, "it seems to me you can
live your own life, and be independent, and think as you like without
being choked with harassments. I feel as if I could keep on--like that--"

"I'm going to get more out of my life, I hope," laughed George. "No. Do
you know?" and here he turned straight to Lettie. "Do you know, I'm going
to get pretty rich, so that I can do what I want for a bit. I want to see
what it's like, to taste all sides--to taste the towns. I want to know
what I've got in me. I'll get rich--or at least I'll have a good try."

"And pray how will you manage it?" asked Emily.

"I'll begin by marrying--and then you'll see."

Emily laughed with scorn--"Let us see you begin."

"Ah, you're not wise!" said the father sadly--then, laughing, he said to
Lettie in coaxing, confidential tones, "But he'll come out there to me in
a year or two--you see if he doesn't."

"I wish I could come now," said I.

"If you would," said George, "I'd go with you. But not by myself, to
become a fat stupid fool, like my own cattle."

While he was speaking Gyp burst into a rage of barking. The father got up
to see what it was, and George followed. Trip, the great bull-terrier,
rushed out of the house shaking the buildings with his roars. We saw the
white dog flash down the yard, we heard a rattle from the hen-house
ladder, and in a moment a scream from the orchard side.

We rushed forward, and there on the sharp bank-side lay a little figure,
face down, and Trip standing over it, looking rather puzzled.

I picked up the child--it was Sam. He struggled as soon as he felt my
hands, but I bore him off to the house. He wriggled like a wild hare, and
kicked, but at last he was still. I set him on the hearth-rug to examine
him. He was a quaint little figure, dressed in a man's trousers that had
been botched small for him, and a coat hanging in rags.

"Did he get hold of you?" asked the father. "Where was it he got hold of
you?"

But the child stood unanswering, his little pale lips pinched together,
his eyes staring out at nothing. Emily went on her knees before him, and
put her face close to his, saying, with a voice that made one shrink from
its unbridled emotion of caress:

"Did he hurt you, eh?--tell us where he hurt you." She would have put her
arms around him, but he shrank away.

"Look here," said Lettie, "it's here--and it's bleeding. Go and get some
water, Emily, and some rags. Come on, Sam, let me look and I'll put some
rags round it. Come along."

She took the child and stripped him of his grotesque garments. Trip had
given him a sharp grab on the thigh before he had realised that he was
dealing with a little boy. It was not much, however, and Lettie soon had
it bathed, and anointed with elder-flower ointment. On the boy's body
were several scars and bruises--evidently he had rough times. Lettie
tended to him and dressed him again. He endured these attentions like a
trapped wild rabbit--never looking at us, never opening his lips--only
shrinking slightly. When Lettie had put on him his torn little shirt, and
had gathered the great breeches about him, Emily went to him to coax him
and make him at home. She kissed him, and talked to him with her full
vibration of emotional caress. It seemed almost to suffocate him. Then
she tried to feed him with bread and milk from a spoon, but he would not
open his mouth, and he turned his head away.

"Leave him alone--take no notice of him," said Lettie, lifting him into
the chimney seat, with the basin of bread and milk beside him. Emily
fetched the two kittens out of their basket and put them too beside him.

"I wonder how many eggs he'd got," said the father, laughing softly.

"Hush!" said Lettie. "When do you think you will go to Canada, Mr
Saxton?"

"Next spring--it's no good going before."

"And then you'll marry?" asked Lettie of George.

"Before then--oh, before then," he said.

"Why--how is it you are suddenly in such a hurry?--When will it be?"

"When are you marrying?" he asked in reply.

"I don't know," she said, coming to a full stop.

"Then I don't know," he said, taking a large wedge of cheese and biting a
piece from it.

"It was fixed for June," she said, recovering herself at his suggestion
of hope.

"July!" said Emily.

"Father!" said he, holding the piece of cheese up before him as he
spoke--he was evidently nervous: "Would you advise me to marry Meg?"

His father started, and said:

"Why, was you thinking of doing?"

"Yes--all things considered."

"Well--if she suits you--"

"We're cousins--"

"If you want her, I suppose you won't let that hinder you. She'll have a
nice bit of money, and if you like her--"

"I like her all right--I shan't go out to Canada with her though. I shall
stay at the Ram--for the sake of the life."

"It's a poor life, that!" said the father, ruminating.

George laughed. "A bit mucky!" he said--"But it'll do. It would need
Cyril or Lettie to keep me alive in Canada."

It was a bold stroke--everybody was embarrassed.

"Well," said the father, "I suppose we can't have everything we want--we
generally have to put up with the next best thing--don't we, Lettie?"--he
laughed. Lettie flushed furiously.

"I don't know," she said. "You can generally get what you want if you
want it badly enough. Of course--if you don't mind--"

She rose and went across to Sam.

He was playing with the kittens. One was patting and cuffing his bare
toe, which had poked through his stocking. He pushed and teased the
little scamp with his toe till it rushed at him, clinging, tickling,
biting till he gave little bubbles of laughter, quite forgetful of us.
Then the kitten was tired, and ran off. Lettie shook her skirts, and
directly the two playful mites rushed upon it, darting round her, rolling
head over heels, and swinging from the soft cloth. Suddenly becoming
aware that they felt tired, the young things trotted away and cuddled
together by the fender, where in an instant they were asleep. Almost as
suddenly, Sam sank into drowsiness.

"He'd better go to bed," said the father.

"Put him in my bed," said George. "David would wonder what had happened."

"Will you go to bed, Sam?" asked Emily, holding out her arms to him, and
immediately startling him by the terrible gentleness of her persuasion.
He retreated behind Lettie.

"Come along," said the latter, and she quickly took him and undressed
him. Then she picked him up, and his bare legs hung down in front of her.
His head drooped drowsily on to her shoulder, against her neck.

She put down her face to touch the loose riot of his ruddy hair. She
stood so, quiet, still and wistful, for a few moments; perhaps she was
vaguely aware that the attitude was beautiful for her, and irresistibly
appealing to George, who loved, above all in her, her delicate dignity of
tenderness. Emily waited with the lighted candle for her some moments.

When she came down there was a softness about her. "Now," said I to
myself, "if George asks her again he is wise."

"He is asleep," she said quietly.

"I'm thinking we might as well let him stop while we're here, should we,
George?" said the father.

"Eh?"

"We'll keep him here while we are here--"

"Oh--the lad! I should. Yes--he'd be better here than up yonder."

"Ah, yes--ever so much. It is good of you," said Lettie. "Oh, he'll make
no difference," said the father.

"Not a bit," added George.

"What about his mother?" asked Lettie.

"I'll call and tell her in the morning," said George. "Yes," she said,
"call and tell her."

Then she put on her things to go. He also put on his cap. "Are you coming
a little way, Emily?" I asked.

She ran, laughing, with bright eyes as we went out into the darkness.

We waited for them at the wood gate. We all lingered, not knowing what to
say. Lettie said finally:

"Well--it's no good--the grass is wet--Good night--Good night, Emily."

"Good night," he said, with regret and hesitation, and a trifle of
impatience in his voice and his manner. He lingered still a moments; she
hesitated--then she struck off sharply.

"He has not asked her, the idiot!" I said to myself.

"Really," she said bitterly, when we were going up the garden path, "you
think rather quiet folks have a lot in them, but it's only
stupidity--they are mostly fools."



CHAPTER V - AN ARROW FROM THE IMPATIENT GOD


On an afternoon three or four days after the recovery of Sam. matters
became complicated. George, as usual, discovered that he had been
dawdling in the portals of his desires, when the doors came to with a
bang. Then he hastened to knock.

"Tell her," he said, "I will come up tomorrow after milking--tell her I'm
coming to see her."

On the evening of that morrow, the first person to put in an appearance
was a garrulous spinster who had called ostensibly to enquire into the
absence of the family from church: "I said to Elizabeth, 'Now what a
thing if anything happens to them just now, and the wedding is put off.'
I felt I must come and make myself sure--that nothing had happened. We
all feel so interested in Lettie just now. I'm sure everybody is talking
of her, she seems in the air.--I really think we shall have thunder: I
hope we shan't.--Yes, we are all so glad that Mr Tempest is content with
a wife from at home--the others, his father and Mr Robert and the
rest--they were none of them to be suited at home, though to be sure the
wives they brought were nothing--indeed they were not--as many a one
said--Mrs Robert was a paltry choice--neither in looks or manner had she
anything to boast of--if her family was older than mine. Family wasn't
much to make up for what she lacked in other things, that I could easily
have supplied her with; and, oh, dear, what an object she is now, with
her wisp of hair and her spectacles! She for one hasn't kept much of her
youth. But when is the exact date, dear?--Some say this and some that,
but as I always say, I never trust a 'they say'. It is so nice that you
have that cousin a canon to come down for the service, Mrs Beardsall, and
Sir Walter Houghton for the groom's man! What?--You don't think so--oh,
but I know, dear, I know; you do like to treasure up these secrets, don't
you; you are greedy for all the good things just now."

She shook her head at Lettie, and the jet ornaments on her bonnet
twittered like a thousand wagging little tongues. Then she sighed, and
was about to recommence her song, when she happened to turn her head and
to espy a telegraph-boy coming up the path.

"Oh, I hope nothing is wrong, dear--I hope nothing is wrong! I always
feel so terrified of a telegram. You'd better not open it yourself,
dear--don't now--let your brother go."

Lettie, who had turned pale, hurried to the door. The sky was very
dark--there was a mutter of thunder.

"It's all right," said Lettie, trembling, "it's only to say he's coming
tonight."

"I'm very thankful, very thankful," cried the spinster. "It might have
been so much worse. I'm sure I never open a telegram without feeling as
if I was opening a death-blow. I'm so glad, dear; it must have upset you.
What news to take back to the village, supposing something had happened!"
she sighed again, and the jet drops twinkled ominously in the thunder
light, as if declaring they would make something of it yet.

It was six o'clock. The air relaxed a little, and the thunder was silent.
George would be coming about seven; and the spinster showed no signs of
departure; and Leslie might arrive at any moment. Lettie fretted and
fidgeted, and the old woman gabbled on. I looked out of the window at the
water and the sky.

The day had been uncertain. In the morning it was warm, and the sunshine
had played and raced among the cloud-shadows on the hills. Later, great
cloud masses had stalked up from the north-west and crowded thick across
the sky; in this little night, sleet and wind, and rain whirled
furiously. Then the sky had laughed at us again. In the sunshine came the
spinster. But as she talked, over the hill-top rose the wide forehead of
the cloud, rearing slowly, ominously higher. A first messenger of storm
passed darkly over the sky, leaving the way clear again.

"I will go round to Highclose," said Lettie. "I am sure it will be stormy
again. Are you coming down the road, Miss Slaighter, or do you mind if I
leave you?"

"I will go, dear, if you think there is going to be another storm--I
dread it so. Perhaps I had better wait--"

"Oh, it will not come over for an hour, I am sure. We read the weather
well out here, don't we, Cyril? You'll come with me, won't you?"

We three set off, the gossip leaning on her toes, tripping between us.
She was much gratified by Lettie's information concerning the proposals
for the new home. We left her in a glow of congratulatory smiles on the
highway. But the clouds had upreared, and stretched in two great arms,
reaching overhead. The little spinster hurried along, but the black hands
of the clouds kept pace and clutched her. A sudden gust of wind shuddered
in the trees, and rushed upon her cloak, blowing its bugles.

An icy raindrop smote into her cheek. She hurried on, praying fervently
for her bonnet's sake that she might reach Widow Harriman's cottage
before the burst came. But the thunder crashed in her ear, and a host of
hailstones flew at her. In despair and anguish she fled from under the
ash trees; she reached the widow's garden gate, when out leapt the
lightning full at her. "Put me in the stair-hole!" she cried. "Where is
the stair-hole?"

Glancing wildly round, she saw a ghost. It was the reflection of the
sainted spinster, Hilda Slaighter, in the widow's mirror; a reflection
with a bonnet fallen backwards, and to it attached a thick rope of
grey-brown hair. The author of the ghost instinctively twisted to look at
the back of her head. She saw some ends of grey hair, and fled into the
open stair-hole as into a grave.

We had gone back home till the storm was over, and then, restless, afraid
of the arrival of George, we set out again into the wet evening. It was
fine and chilly, and already a mist was rising from Nethermere, veiling
the farther shore, where the trees rose loftily, suggesting groves beyond
the Nile. The birds were singing riotously. The fresh green hedge
glistened vividly and glowed again with intense green. Looking at the
water, I perceived a delicate flush from the west hiding along it. The
mist licked and wreathed up the shores; from the hidden white distance
came the mournful cry of water-fowl. We went slowly along behind a heavy
cart, which clanked and rattled under the dripping trees, with the hoofs
of the horse moving with broad thuds in front. We passed over black
patches where the ash flowers were beaten down, and under great massed
clouds of green sycamore. At the sudden curve of the road, near the foot
of the hill, I stopped to break off a spray of larch, where the soft
cones were heavy as raspberries, and gay like flowers with petals. The
shaken bough spattered a heavy shower on my face, of drops so cold that
they seemed to sink into my blood and chill it.

"Hark!" said Lettie, as I was drying my face. There was the quick patter
of a motor-car coming downhill. The heavy cart was drawn across the road
to rest, and the driver hurried to turn the horse back. It moved with
painful slowness, and we stood in the road in suspense. Suddenly, before
we knew it, the car was dropping down on us, coming at us in a curve,
having rounded the horse and cart. Lettie stood faced with terror. Leslie
saw her, and swung round the wheels on the sharp, curving hill-side;
looking only to see that he should miss her. The car slid sideways; the
mud crackled under the wheels, and the machine went crashing into
Nethermere. It caught the edge of the old stone wall with a smash. Then
for a few moments I think I was blind. When I saw again, Leslie was lying
across the broken hedge, his head hanging down the bank, his face covered
with blood; the car rested strangely on the brink of the water, crumpled
as if it had sunk down to rest.

Lettie, with hands shuddering, was wiping the blood from his eyes with a
piece of her underskirt. In a moment she said:

"He is not dead--let us take him home--let us take him quickly."

I ran and took the wicket-gate off its hinges and laid him on that. His
legs trailed down, but we carried him thus, she at the feet, I at the
head. She made me stop and put him down. I thought the weight was too
much for her, but it was not that.

"I can't bear to see his hand hanging, knocking against the bushes and
things."

It was not many yards to the house. A maidservant saw us, came running
out, and went running back, like the frightened lapwing from the wounded
cat.

We waited until the doctor came. There was a deep graze down the side of
the head--serious, but not dangerous; there was a cut across the
cheek-bone that would leave a scar; and the collar-bone was broken. I
stayed until he had recovered consciousness. "Lettie." He wanted Lettie,
so she had to remain at Highclose all night. I went home to tell my
mother.

When I went to bed I looked across at the lighted windows of Highclose,
and the lights trailed mistily towards me across the water. The cedar
stood dark guard against the house; bright the windows were, like the
stars, covering their torment in brightness. The sky was glittering with
sharp lights--they are too far off to take trouble for us, so little,
little almost to nothingness. All the great hollow vastness roars
overhead, and the stars are only sparks that whirl and spin in the
restless space. The earth must listen to us; she covers her face with a
thin veil of mist, and is sad; she soaks up our blood tenderly, in the
darkness, grieving, and in the light she soothes and reassures us. Here
on our earth is sympathy and hope, the heavens have nothing but
distances.

A corn-crake talked to me across the valley, talked and talked endlessly,
asking and answering in hoarse tones from the sleeping, mist-hidden
meadows. The monotonous voice, that on past summer evenings had had
pleasant notes of romance, now was intolerable to me. Its inflexible
harshness and cacophony seemed like the voice of fate speaking out its
tuneless perseverance in the night.

In the morning Lettie came home wan, sad-eyed, and self-reproachful.
After a short time they came for her, as he wanted her again.

When in the evening I went to see George, he too was very despondent.

"It's no good now," said I. "You should have insisted and made your own
destiny."

"Yes--perhaps so," he drawled in his best reflective manner.

"I would have had her--she'd have been glad if you'd done as you wanted
with her. She won't leave him till he's strong, and he'll marry her
before then. You should have had the courage to risk yourself--you're
always too careful of yourself and your own poor feelings--you never
could brace yourself up to a shower-bath of contempt and hard usage, so
you've saved your feelings and lost--not much, I suppose--you couldn't."

"But--" he began, not looking up; and I laughed at him.

"Go on," I said.

"Well--she was engaged to him--

"Pah--you thought you were too good to be rejected."

He was very pale, and when he was pale, the tan on his skin looked
sickly. He regarded me with his dark eyes, which were now full of misery
and a child's big despair.

"And nothing else," I completed, with which the little, exhausted gunboat
of my anger wrecked and sank utterly. Yet no thoughts would spread sail
on the sea of my pity: I was like water that heaves with yearning, and is
still.

Leslie was very ill for some time. He had a slight brain fever, and was
delirious, insisting that Lettie was leaving him. She stayed most of her
days at Highclose.

One day in June he lay resting on a deck-chair in the shade of the cedar,
and she was sitting by him. It was a yellow, sultry day, when all the
atmosphere seemed inert, and all things were languid.

"Don't you think, dear," she said, "it would be better for us not to
marry?"

He lifted his head nervously from the cushions; his face was emblazoned
with a livid red bar on a field of white, and he looked worn, wistful.

"Do you mean not yet?" he asked.

"Yes--and, perhaps--perhaps never."

"Ha," he laughed, sinking down again. "I must be getting like myself
again, if you begin to tease me."

"But," she said, struggling valiantly, "I'm not sure I ought to marry
you."

He laughed again, though a little apprehensively.

"Are you afraid I shall always be weak in my noddle?" he asked. "But you
wait a month."

"No, that doesn't bother me--"

"Oh, doesn't it!"

"Silly boy--no, it's myself."

"I'm sure I've made no complaint about you."

"Not likely--but I wish you'd let me go."

"I'm a strong man to hold you, aren't I? Look at my muscular paw!"--he
held out his hands, frail and white with sickness.

"You know you hold me--and I want you to let me go. I don't want to

"To what?"

"To get married at all--let me be, let me go."

"What for?"

"Oh--for my sake."

"You mean you don't love me?"

"Love--love--I don't know anything about it. But I can't--we can't
be--don't you see--oh, what do they say--flesh of one flesh."

"Why?" he whispered, like a child that is told some tale of mystery.

She looked at him, as he lay propped upon his elbow, turning towards hers
his white face of fear and perplexity, like a child that cannot
understand, and is afraid, and wants to cry. Then slowly tears gathered
full in her eyes, and she wept from pity and despair.

This excited him terribly. He got up from his chair, and the cushions
fell on to the grass.

"What's the matter, what's the matter!--Oh, Lettie,--is it me?--don't you
want me now?--is that it?--tell me, tell me now, tell me,"--he grasped
her wrists, and tried to pull her hands from her face. The tears were
running down his cheeks. She felt him trembling, and the sound of his
voice alarmed her from herself. She hastily smeared the tears from her
eyes, got up, and put her arms round him. He hid his head on her shoulder
and sobbed, while she bent over him, and so they cried out their cries,
till they were ashamed, looking round to see if anyone were near. Then
she hurried about, picking up the cushions, making him lie down, and
arranging him comfortably, so that she might be busy. He was querulous,
like a sick, indulged child. He would have her arm under his shoulders,
and her face near his.

"Well," he said, smiling faintly again after a time. "You are naughty to
give us such rough times--is it for the pleasure of making up, bad little
Schnucke--aren't you?"

She kept close to him, and he did not see the wince and quiver of her
lips.

"I wish I was strong again--couldn't we go boating--or ride on
horseback--and you'd have to behave then. Do you think I shall be strong
in a month? Stronger than you?"

"I hope so," she said.

"Why, I don't believe you do, I believe you like me like this--so that
you can lay me down and smooth me--don't you, quiet girl?"

"When you're good."

"Ah, well, in a month I shall be strong, and we'll be married and go to
Switzerland--do you hear, Schnucke--you won't be able to be naughty any
more then. Oh--do you want to go away from me again?"

"No--only my arm is dead," she drew it from beneath him, standing up,
swinging it, smiling because it hurt her.

"Oh, my darling--what a shame! Oh, I am a brute, a kiddish brute. I wish
I was strong again, Lettie, and didn't do these things."

"You boy--it's nothing." She smiled at him again.



CHAPTER VI - THE COURTING


During Leslie's illness I strolled down to the mill one Saturday evening.
I met George tramping across the yard with a couple of buckets of swill,
and eleven young pigs rushing squealing about his legs, shrieking in an
agony of suspense. He poured the stuff into a trough with luscious
gurgle, and instantly ten noses were dipped in, and ten little mouths
began to slobber. Though there was plenty of room for ten, yet they
shouldered and shoved and struggled to capture a larger space, and many
little trotters dabbled and spilled the stuff, and the ten sucking,
clapping snouts twitched fiercely, and twenty little eyes glared askance,
like so many points of wrath. They gave uneasy, gasping grunts in their
haste. The unhappy eleventh rushed from point to point trying to push in
his snout, but for his pains he got rough squeezing, and sharp grabs on
the ears. Then he lifted up his face and screamed screams of grief and
wrath unto the evening sky.

But the ten little gluttons only twitched their ears to make sure there
was no danger in the noise, and they sucked harder, with much spilling
and slobbing. George laughed like a sardonic Jove, but at last he gave
ear, and kicked the ten gluttons from the trough, and allowed the residue
to the eleventh. This one, poor wretch, almost wept with relief as he
sucked and swallowed in sobs, casting his little eyes apprehensively
upwards, though he did not lift his nose from the trough, as he heard the
vindictive shrieks of ten little fiends kept at bay by George. The
solitary feeder, shivering with apprehension, rubbed the wood bare with
his snout, then, turning up to heaven his eyes of gratitude, he
reluctantly left the trough. I expected to see the ten fall upon him and
devour him, but they did not; they rushed upon the empty trough, and
rubbed the wood still drier, shrieking with misery.

"How like life," I laughed.

"Fine litter," said George; "there were fourteen, only that damned
she-devil, Circe, went and ate three of 'em before we got at her."

The great ugly sow came leering up as he spoke.

"Why don't you fatten her up, and devour her, the old gargoyle? She's an
offence to the universe."

"Nay--she's a fine sow."

I snorted, and he laughed, and the old sow grunted with contempt, and her
little eyes twisted towards us with a demoniac leer as she rolled past.

"What are you going to do tonight!" I asked. "Going out?"

"I'm going courting," he replied, grinning.

"Oh!--wish I were!"

"You can come if you like--and tell me where I make mistakes, since
you're an expert on such matters."

"Don't you get on very well then?" I asked.

"Oh, all right--it's easy enough when you don't care a damn. Besides, you
can always have a Johnny Walker. That's the best of courting at the Ram
Inn. I'll go and get ready."

In the kitchen Emily sat grinding out some stitching from a big old hand
machine that stood on the table before her: she was making shirts for
Sam, I presumed. That little fellow, who was installed at the farm, was
seated by her side firing off words from a reading book. The machine
rumbled and rattled on, like a whole factory at work, for an inch or two,
during which time Sam shouted in shrill explosions like irregular pistol
shots: "Do--not--pot--"

"Put!" cried Emily from the machine; "put--" shrilled the child, "the
soot--on--my--boot--," there the machine broke down, and, frightened by
the sound of his own voice, the boy stopped in bewilderment and looked
round.

"Go on!" said Emily, as she poked in the teeth of the old machine with the
scissors, then pulled and prodded again. He began, "--boot--but--you----"
here he died off again, made nervous by the sound of his voice in the
stillness. Emily sucked a piece of cotton and pushed it through the needle.

"Now go on," she said, "--'but you may'."

"But--you--may--shoot":--he shouted away, reassured by the rumble of the
machine: "Shoot--the--fox. I--I--It--is--at--the--rot--"

"Root," shrieked Emily, as she guided the stuff through the doddering
jaws of the machine.

"Root," echoed the boy, and he went off with these crackers:
"Root--of--the--tree."

"Next one!" cried Emily.

"Put--the--ol--" began the boy.

"What?" cried Emily.

"Ole--on--"

"Wait a bit!" cried Emily, and then the machine broke down.

"Hang!" she ejaculated.

"Hang!" shouted the child.

She laughed, and leaned over to him:

"Put the oil in the pan to boil, while I toil in the soil'--Oh, Cyril, I
never knew you were there! Go along now, Sam: David '11 be at the back
somewhere."

"He's in the bottom garden," said I, and the child ran out.

Directly George came in from the scullery, drying himself. He stood on
the hearth-rug as he rubbed himself, and surveyed his reflection in the
mirror above the high mantlepiece; he looked at himself and smiled. I
wondered that he found such satisfaction in his image, seeing that there
was a gap in his chin, and an uncertain moth-eaten appearance in one
cheek. Mrs Saxton still held this mirror an object of dignity; it was
fairly large, and had a well-carven frame; but it left gaps and spots and
scratches in one's countenance, and even where it was brightest, it gave
one's reflection a far-away dim aspect. Notwithstanding, George smiled at
himself as he combed his hair, and twisted his moustache.

"You seem to make a good impression on yourself," said I.

"I was thinking I looked all right--sort of face to go courting with," he
replied, laughing: "You just arrange a patch of black to come and hide
your faults--and you're all right."

"I always used to think," said Emily, "that the black spots had swallowed
so many faces they were full up, and couldn't take any more--and the rest
was misty because there were so many faces lapped one over the
other--reflected."

"You do see yourself a bit ghostish--" said he, "on a background of your
ancestors. I always think when you stop in an old place like this you
sort of keep company with your ancestors too much; I sometimes feel like
a bit of the old building walking about; the old feelings of the old
folks stick to you like the lichens on the walls; you sort of get hoary."

"That's it--it's true," asserted the father, "people whose families have
shifted about much don't know how it feels. That's why I'm going to
Canada."

"And I'm going in a pub," said George, "where it's quite
different--plenty of life."

"Life!" echoed Emily with contempt.

"That's the word, my wench," replied her brother, lapsing into the
dialect. "That's what I'm after. We know such a lot, an' we know nowt."

"You do--" said the father, turning to me, "you stay in one place,
generation after generation, and you seem to get proud, an' look on
things outside as foolishness. There's many a thing as any common man
knows, as we haven't a glimpse of. We keep on thinking and feeling the
same, year after year, till we've only got one side; an' I suppose
they've done it before us."

"It's 'Good night an' God bless you,' to th' owd place, granfeythers an'
grammothers," laughed George as he ran upstairs--"an' off we go on the
gallivant," he shouted from the landing.

His father shook his head, saying:

"I can't make out how it is, he's so different. I suppose it's being in
love--"



We went into the barn to get the bicycles to cycle over to Greymede.
George struck a match to look for his pump, and he noticed a great spider
scuttle off into the corner of the wall, and sit peeping out at him like
a hoary little ghoul.

"How are you, old chap?" said George, nodding to him--"Thought he looked
like an old grandfather of mine," he said to me, laughing, as he pumped
up the tyres of the old bicycle for me.

It was Saturday night, so the bar parlour of the Ram Inn was fairly full.

"Hello, George--come co'tin'?" was the cry, followed by a nod and a "Good
evenin'," to me, who was a stranger in the parlour.

"It's raght for thagh," said a fat young fellow with an unwilling white
moustache, "--tha can co'te as much as ter likes ter 'a'e, as well as th'
lass, an' it cost thee nwt--" at which the room laughed, taking pipes
from mouths to do so. George sat down, looking round.

"'Owd on a bit," said a black-whiskered man, "tha mun 'a 'e patience when
to 't co'tin' a lass. Ow's puttin' th' wd lady ter bed--'ark thee--can
t' 'ear--that wor th' bed latts goin' bang. Ow'll be dern in a minnit
now, gie 'er time ter tuck th' wd lady up. Can' ter 'ear 'er say 'er
prayers."

"Strike!" cried the fat young man, exploding:

"Fancy th' wd lady sayin' 'er prayers!--it 'ud be enough ter ma'e 'er
false teeth drop out."

The room laughed.

They began to tell tales about the old landlady. She had practised
bone-setting, in which she was very skilful. People come to her from long
distances that she might divine their trouble and make right their limbs.
She would accept no fee.

Once she had gone up to Dr Fullwood to give him a piece of her mind,
inasmuch as he had let a child go for three weeks with a broken
collar-bone, whilst treating him for dislocation. The doctor had tried
the high hand with her, since when, wherever he went, the miners placed
their hands on their shoulders, and groaned: "Oh my collar-bone!"

Here Meg came in. She gave a bright, quick, bird-like look at George, and
flushed a brighter red.

"I thought you wasn't cummin'," she said.

"Dunna thee bother--'e'd none stop away," said the black-whiskered man.

She brought us glasses of whisky, and moved about supplying the men, who
chaffed with her honestly and good-naturedly. Then she went out, but we
remained in our corner. The men talked on the most peculiar subjects:
there was a bitter discussion as to whether London is or is not a
seaport--the matter was thrashed out with heat; then an embryo artist set
the room ablaze by declaring there were only three colours, red, yellow.
and blue, and the rest were not colours, they were mixtures: this
amounted almost to atheism and one man asked the artist to dare to
declare that his brown breeches were not a colour, which the artist did,
and almost had to fight for it; next they came to strength, and George
won a bet of five shillings, by lifting a piano; then they settled down,
and talked sex, sotto voce, one man giving startling accounts of Japanese
and Chinese prostitutes in Liverpool. After this the talk split up: a
farmer began to counsel George how to manage the farm attached to the
inn, another bargained with him about horses, and argued about cattle, a
tailor advised him thickly to speculate, and unfolded a fine secret by
which a man might make money, if he had the go to do it--so on, till
eleven o'clock. Then Bill came and called "time!" and the place was
empty, and the room shivered as a little fresh air came in between the
foul tobacco smoke, and the smell of drink, and foul breath.

We were both affected by the whisky we had drunk. I was ashamed to find
that when I put out my hand to take my glass, or to strike a match, I
missed my mark, and fumbled; my hands seemed hardly to belong to me, and
my feet were not much more sure. Yet I was acutely conscious of every
change in myself and in him; it seemed as if I could make my body drunk,
but could never intoxicate my mind, which roused itself and kept the
sharpest guard. George was frankly half drunk: his eyelids sloped over
his eyes and his speech was thick; when he put out his hand he knocked
over his glass, and the stuff was spilled all over the table; he only
laughed. I, too, felt a great prompting to giggle on every occasion, and
I marvelled at myself.

Meg came into the room when all the men had gone.

"Come on, my duck," he said, waving his arm with the generous flourish of
a tipsy man. "Come an' sit 'ere."

"Shan't you come in th' kitchen?" she asked, looking round on the tables
where pots and glasses stood in little pools of liquor, and where spent
match and tobacco-ash littered the white wood.

"No--what for?--come an' sit 'ere!"--he was reluctant to get on his feet;
I knew it and laughed inwardly; I also laughed to hear his thick speech,
and his words which seemed to slur against his cheeks.

She went and sat by him, having moved the little table with its spilled
liquor.

"They've been tellin' me how to get rich," he said, nodding his head and
laughing, showing his teeth, "An' I'm goin' ter show 'em. You see, Meg,
you see--I'm goin' ter show 'em I can be as good as them, you see."

"Why," said she, indulgent, "what are you going to do?"

"You wait a bit an' see--they don't know yet what I can do--they don't
know--you don't know--none of you know."

"An' what shall you do when we're rich, George?"

"Do?--I shall do what I like. I can make as good a show as anybody else,
can't I?"--he put his face very near to hers, and nodded at her, but she
did not turn away. "Yes--I'll see what it's like to have my fling. We've
been too cautious, our family has--an' I have; we're frightened of
ourselves, to do anything. I'm goin' to do what I like, my duck, now--I
don't care--I don't care--that!"--he brought his hand down heavily on the
table nearest him, and broke a glass. Bill looked in to see what was
happening.

"But you won't do anything that's not right, George!"

"No--I don't want to hurt nobody--but I don't care--that!"

"You're too good-hearted to do anybody any harm."

"I believe I am. You know me a bit, you do, Meg--you don't think I'm
a fool now, do you?"

"I'm sure I don't--who does?"

"No--you don't--I know you don't. Gi'e me a kiss--thou'rt a little
beauty, thou art--like a ripe plum! I could set my teeth in thee, thou'rt
that nice--full o' red juice"--he playfully pretended to bite her. She
laughed, and gently pushed him away.

"Tha likest me, doesna to?" he asked softly.

"What do you want to know for?" she replied, with a tender archness.

"But tha does--say now, tha does."

"I should a' thought you'd a' known, without telling."

"Nay, but I want to hear thee."

"Go on," she said, and she kissed him.

"But what should you do if I went to Canada and left you?"

"Ah--you wouldn't do that."

"But I might--and what then?"

"Oh, I don't know what I should do. But you wouldn't do it, I know you
wouldn't--you couldn't." He quickly put his arms round her and kissed
her, moved by the trembling surety of her tone:

"No, I wouldna--I'd niver leave thee--tha'd be as miserable as sin,
shouldna ta, my duck?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"Ah," he said, "tha'rt a warm little thing--tha loves me, eh?"

"Yes," she murmured, and he pressed her to him, and kissed her, and held
her close.

"We'll be married soon, my bird--are ter glad?--in a bittha'rt glad,
aren't ta?"

She looked up at him as if he were noble. Her love for him was so
generous that it beautified him.

He had to walk his bicycle home, being unable to ride; his shins, I know,
were a good deal barked by the pedals.



CHAPTER VII - THE FASCINATION OF THE FORBIDDEN APPLE


On the first Sunday in June, when Lettie knew she would keep her
engagement with Leslie, and when she was having a day at home from
Highclose, she got ready to go down to the mill. We were in mourning for
an aunt, so she wore a dress of fine black voile, and a black hat with
long feathers. Then, when I looked at her fair hands, and her arms
closely covered in the long black cuffs of her sleeves, I felt keenly my
old brother-love shielding, indulgent.

It was a windy, sunny day. In shelter the heat was passionate, but in the
open the wind scattered its fire. Every now and then a white cloud broad
based, blue shadowed, travelled slowly along the sky-road after the
forerunner small in the distance, and trailing over us a chill shade, a
gloom which we watched creep on over the water, over the wood and the
hill. These royal, rounded clouds had sailed all day along the same
route, from the harbour of the south to the wastes in the northern sky,
following the swift wild geese. The brook hurried along singing, only
here and there lingering to whisper to the secret bushes, then setting
off afresh with a new snatch of song.

The fowls pecked staidly in the farmyard, with Sabbath decorum.
Occasionally a lost, sportive wind-puff would wander across the yard and
ruffle them, and they resented it. The pigs were asleep in the sun,
giving faint grunts now and then from sheer luxury. I saw a squirrel go
darting down the mossy garden wall, up into the laburnum tree, where he
lay flat along the bough, and listened. Suddenly away he went, chuckling
to himself. Gyp all at once set off barking, but I soothed her down; it
was the unusual sight of Lettie's dark dress that startled her, I
suppose.

We went quietly into the kitchen. Mrs Saxton was just putting a chicken,
wrapped in a piece of flannel, on the warm hob to coax it into life; it
looked very feeble. George was asleep, with his head in his arms on the
table; the father was asleep on the sofa, very comfortable and admirable;
I heard Emily fleeing upstairs, presumably to dress.

"He stays out so late--up at the Ram Inn," whispered the mother in a high
whisper, looking at George, "and then he's up at five--he doesn't get his
proper rest." she turned to the chicks, and continued in her
whisper--"the mother left them just before they hatched out, so we've
been bringing them on here. This one's a bit weak--I thought I'd hot him
up a bit," she laughed with a quaint little frown of deprecation. Eight
or nine yellow, fluffy little mites were cheeping and scuffling in the
fender. Lettie bent over them to touch them; they were tame, and ran
among her fingers.

Suddenly George's mother gave a loud cry, and rushed to the fire. There
was a smell of singed down. The chicken had toddled into the fire, and
gasped its faint gasp among the red-hot cokes. The father jumped from the
sofa; George sat up with wide eyes; Lettie gave a little cry and a
shudder; Trip rushed round and began to bark. There was a smell of cooked
meat.

"There goes number one!" said the mother, with her queer little laugh. It
made me laugh too.

"What's a matter--what's a matter?" asked the father excitedly.

"It's a chicken been and walked into the fire--I put it on the hob to
warm," explained his wife.

"Goodness--I couldn't think what was up!" he said, and dropped his head
to trace gradually the border between sleeping and waking.

George sat and smiled at us faintly, he was too dazed to speak. His chest
still leaned against the table, and his arms were spread out thereon, but
he lifted his face, and looked at Lettie with his dazed, dark eyes, and
smiled faintly at her. His hair was all ruffled, and his shirt collar
unbuttoned. Then he got up slowly, pushing his chair back with a loud
noise, and stretched himself, pressing his arms upwards with a long,
heavy stretch.

"Oh--h--h!" he said, bending his arms and then letting them drop to his
sides. "I never thought you'd come today."

"I wanted to come and see you--I shan't have many more chances," said
Lettie, turning from him and yet looking at him again.

"No, I suppose not," he said, subsiding into quiet. Then there was
silence for some time. The mother began to enquire after Leslie, and kept
the conversation up till Emily came down, blushing and smiling and glad.

"Are you coming out?" said she, "there are two or three robins' nests,
and a spinkie's--"

"I think I'll leave my hat," said Lettie, unpinning it as she spoke, and
shaking her hair when she was free. Mrs Saxton insisted on her taking a
long white silk scarf; Emily also wrapped her hair in a gauze scarf, and
looked beautiful.

George came out with us, coatless, hatless, his waistcoat all unbuttoned,
as he was. We crossed the orchard, over the old bridge, and went to where
the slopes ran down to the lower pond, a bank all covered with nettles,
and scattered with a hazel bush or two. Among the nettles old pans were
rusting, and old coarse pottery cropped up.

We came upon a kettle heavily coated with lime. Emily bent down and
looked, and then we peeped in. There were the robin birds with their
yellow beaks stretched so wide apart I feared they would never close them
again. Among the naked little mites, that begged from us so blindly and
confidently, were huddled three eggs.

"They are like Irish children peeping out of a cottage," said Emily, with
the family fondness for romantic similes.

We went on to where a tin lay with the lid pressed back, and inside it,
snug and neat, was another nest, with six eggs, cheek to cheek.

"How warm they are," said Lettie, touching them, "you can fairly feel the
mother's breast."

He tried to put his hand into the tin, but the space was too small, and
they looked into each other's eyes and smiled. "You'd think the father's
breast had marked them with red," said Emily.

As we went up the orchard side we saw three wide displays of coloured
pieces of pots arranged at the foot of three trees.

"Look," said Emily, "those are the children's houses. You don't know how
our Mollie gets all Sam's pretty bits--she is a cajoling hussy!"

The two looked at each other again, smiling. Up on the pond-side, in the
full glitter of light, we looked round where the blades of clustering
corn were softly healing the red bosom of the hill. The larks were
overhead among the sunbeams. We straggled away across the grass. The
field was all afroth with cowslips, a yellow, glittering, shaking froth
on the still green of the grass. We trailed our shadows across the
fields, extinguishing the sunshine on the flowers as we went. The air was
tingling with the scent of blossoms.

"Look at the cowslips, all shaking with laughter," said Emily, and she
tossed back her head, and her dark eyes sparkled among the flow of gauze.
Lettie was on in front, flitting darkly across the field, bending over
the flowers, stooping to the earth like a sable Persephone come into
freedom. George had left her at a little distance, hunting for something
in the grass. He stopped, and remained standing in one place.

Gradually, as if unconsciously, she drew near to him, and when she lifted
her head, after stooping to pick some chimney-sweeps, little grass
flowers, she laughed with a slight surprise to see him so near.

"Ah!" she said. "I thought I was all alone in the world--such a splendid
world--it was so nice."

"Like Eve in a meadow in Eden--and Adam's shadow somewhere on the grass,"
said I.

"No--no Adam," she asserted, frowning slightly, and laughing.

"Who ever would wants streets of gold," Emily was saying to me, "when you
can have a field of cowslips! Look at that hedgebottom that gets the
south sun--one stream and glitter of buttercups."

"Those Jews always had an eye to the filthy lucre--they even made heaven
out of it," laughed Lettie, and, turning to him, she said, "Don't you
wish we were wild--hark, like woodpigeons--or larks--or, look, like
peewits? Shouldn't you love flying and wheeling and sparkling
and--courting in the wind?" She lifted her eyelids, and vibrated the
question. He flushed, bending over the ground.

"Look," he said, "here's a larkie's."

Once a horse had left a hoof-print in the soft meadow; now the larks had
rounded, softened the cup, and had laid there three dark-brown eggs.
Lettie sat down and leaned over the nest; he leaned above her. The wind
running over the flower-heads, peeped in at the little brown buds, and
bounded off again gladly. The big clouds sent messages to them down the
shadows, and ran in raindrops to touch them.

"I wish," she said, "I wish we were free like that. If we could put
everything safely in a little place in the earth--. couldn't we have a
good time as well as the larks?"

"I don't see," said he, "why we can't."

"Oh--but I can't--you know we can't"--and she looked at him fiercely.

"Why can't you?" he asked.

"You know we can't--you know as well as I do," she replied, and her whole
soul challenged him. "We have to consider things," she added. He dropped
his head. He was afraid to make the struggle, to rouse himself to decide
the question for her. She turned away, and went kicking through the
flowers. He picked up the blossoms she had left by the nest--they were
still warm from her hands--and followed her. She walked on towards the
end of the field, the long strands of her white scarf running before her.
Then she leaned back to the wind, while he caught her up.

"Don't you want your flowers?" he asked humbly.

"No, thanks--they'd be dead before I got home--throw them away, you look
absurd with a posy."

He did as he was bidden. They came near the hedge. A crabapple tree
blossomed up among the blue.

"You may get me a bit of that blossom," said she, and suddenly added,
"No, I can reach it myself," whereupon she stretched upward and pulled
several sprigs of the pink and white, and put it in her dress.

"Isn't it pretty?" she said, and she began to laugh ironically, pointing
to the flowers--"pretty, pink-cheeked petals, and stamens like yellow
hair, and buds like lips promising something nice"--she stopped and
looked at him, flickering with a smile. Then she pointed to the ovary
beneath the flower, and said, "Result: Crab-apples!"

She continued to look at him, and to smile. He said nothing. So they went
on to where they could climb the fence into the spinney. She climbed to
the top rail, holding by an oak bough. Then she let him lift her down
bodily.

"Ah!" she said, "you like to show me how strong you area veritable
Samson!"--she mocked, although she had invited him with her eyes to take
her in his arms.

We were entering the spinney of black poplar. In the hedge was an elm
tree, with myriads of dark dots pointed against the bright sky, myriads
of clusters of flaky green fruit.

"Look at that elm," she said, "you'd think it was in full leaf, wouldn't
you? Do you know why it's so prolific?"

"No," he said, with a curious questioning drawl of the monosyllable.

"It's casting its bread upon the winds--no, it is dying, so it puts out
all its strength and loads its boughs with the last fruit It'll be dead
next year. If you're here then, come and see. Look at the ivy, the suave
smooth ivy, with its fingers in the trees' throat. Trees know how to die,
you see--we don't."

With her whimsical moods she tormented him. She was at the bottom a
seething confusion of emotion, and she wanted to make him likewise.

"If we were trees with ivy--instead of being fine humans with free active
life--we should hug our thinning lives, shouldn't we?"

"I suppose we should."

"You, for instance--fancy your sacrificing yourself--for the next
generation--that reminds you of Schopenhauer, doesn't it?--for the next
generation, or love, or anything!"

He did not answer her; she was too swift for him. They passed on under
the poplars, which were hanging strings of green beads above them. There
was a little open space, with tufts of bluebells. Lettie stooped over a
wood-pigeon that lay on the ground on its breast, its wings half spread.
She took it up--its eyes were bursten and bloody; she felt its breast,
ruffling the dimming iris on its throat.

"It's been fighting," he said.

"What for--a mate?" she asked, looking at him.

"I don't know," he answered.

"Cold--he's quite cold, under the feathers! I think a wood-pigeon must
enjoy being fought for--and being won; especially if the right one won.
It would be a fine pleasure to see them fighting--don't you think?" she
said, torturing him.

"The claws are spread--it fell dead off the perch," he replied.

"Ah, poor thing--it was wounded--and sat and waited for death--when the
other had won. Don't you think life is very cruel, George--and love the
cruellest of all?"

He laughed bitterly under the pain of her soft, sad tones. "Let me bury
him--and have done with the beaten lover. But we'll make him a pretty
grave."

She scooped a hole in the dark soil, and snatching a handful of
bluebells, threw them in on top of the dead bird. Then she smoothed the
soil over all, and pressed her white hands on the black loam.

"There," she said, knocking her hands one against the other to shake off
the soil, "He's done with. Come on."

He followed her, speechless with his emotion.

The spinney opened out; the ferns were serenely uncoiling, the bluebells
stood grouped with blue curls mingled. In the freer spaces forget-me-nots
flowered in nebulae, and dog-violets gave an undertone of dark purple,
with primroses for planets in the night. There was a slight drift of
woodruff, sweet new-mown hay, scenting the air under the boughs. On a wet
bank was the design of golden saxifrage, glistening unholily as if
varnished by its minister, the snail. George and Lettie crushed the
veined belles of wood-sorrel and broke the silken mosses. What did it
matter to them what they broke or crushed?

Over the fence of the spinney was the hill-side, scattered with old thorn
trees. There the little grey lichens held up ruby balls to us unnoticed.
What did it matter, when all the great red apples were being shaken from
the Tree to be left to rot.

"If I were a man," said Lettie, "I would go out west and be free. I
should love it."

She took the scarf from her head and let it wave out on the wind; the
colour was warm in her face with climbing, and her curls were freed by
the wind, sparkling and rippling.

"Well--you're not a man," he said, looking at her, and speaking with
timid bitterness.

"No," she laughed, "if I were, I would shape things--oh, wouldn't I have
my own way!"

"And don't you now?"

"Oh--I don't want it particularly--when I've got it. When I've had my
way, I do want somebody to take it back from me."

She put her head back and looked at him sideways, laughing through the
glitter of her hair.

They came to the kennels. She sat down on the edge of the great stone
water-trough, and put her hands in the water, moving them gently like
submerged flowers through the clear pool.

"I love to see myself in the water," she said, "I don't mean on the
water, Narcissus--but that's how I should like to be out west, to have a
little lake of my own, and swim with my limbs quite free in the water."

"Do you swim well?" he asked.

"Fairly."

"I would race you--in your little lake."

She laughed, took her hands out of the water, and watched the clear drops
trickle off. Then she lifted her head suddenly, at some thought or other.
She looked across the valley, and saw the red roofs of the Mill.


"Ilion, Ilion
Fatalis incestusque judex
Et mulier peregrina vertit.
In pulverem----"


"What's that?" he said.

"Nothing."

"That's a private trough," exclaimed a thin voice, high like a peewit's
cry. We started in surprise to see a tall, black-bearded man looking at
us and away from us nervously, fidgeting uneasily some ten yards off.

"Is it?" said Lettie, looking at her wet hands, which she proceeded to
dry on a fragment of a handkerchief.

"You mustn't meddle with it," said the man in the same reedy, oboe voice.
Then he turned his head away, and his pale grey eyes roved the
country-side--when he had courage, he turned his back to us, shading his
eyes to continue his scrutiny. He walked hurriedly, a few steps, then
craned his neck, peering into the valley, and hastened a dozen yards in
another direction, again stretching and peering about. Then he went
indoors.

"He is pretending to look for somebody," said Lettie, "but it's only
because he's afraid we shall think he came out just to look at us"--and
they laughed.

Suddenly a woman appeared at the gate; she had pale eyes like the
mouse-voiced man.

"You'll get Bright's disease sitting on that there damp stone," she said
to Lettie, who at once rose apologetically.

"I ought to know," continued the mouse-voiced woman, "my own mother died
of it."

"Indeed," murmured Lettie, "I'm sorry."

"Yes," continued the woman, "it behooves you to be careful. Do you come
from Strelley Mill Farm?" she asked suddenly of George, surveying his
shameful deshabille with bitter reproof.

He admitted the imputation.

"And you're going to leave, aren't you?"

Which also he admitted.

"Humph!--we s'll 'appen get some neighbours. It's a dog's life for
loneliness. I suppose you knew the last lot that was here."

Another brief admission.

"A dirty lot--a dirty beagle she must have been. You should just ha' seen
these grates."

"Yes," said Lettie. "I have seen them."

"Faugh--the state! But come in--come in, you'll see a difference."

They entered, out of curiosity.

The kitchen was indeed different. It was clean and sparkling, warm with
bright red chintzes on the sofa and on every chair cushion. Unfortunately
the effect was spoiled by green and yellow antimaccassars, and by a
profusion of paper and woollen flowers. There were three cases of woollen
flowers, and on the wall, four fans stitched over with ruffled green and
yellow paper, adorned with yellow paper roses, carnations, arum lilies,
and poppies; there were also wall pockets full of paper flowers; while
the wood outside was loaded with blossom.

"Yes," said Lettie, "there is a difference."

The woman swelled, and looked round. The black-bearded man peeped from
behind the Christian Herald--those long blaring trumpets!--and shrank
again. The woman darted at his pipe, which he had put on a piece of
newspaper on the hob, and blew some imaginary ash from it. Then she
caught sight of something--perhaps some dust--on the fireplace.

"There!" she cried, "I knew it; I couldn't leave him one second! I
haven't work enough burning wood, but he must be poke--poke--"

"I only pushed a piece in between the bars," complained the mouse voice
from behind the paper.

"Pushed a piece in!" she re-echoed, with awful scorn, seizing the poker
and thrusting it over his paper. "What do you call that, sitting there
telling your stories before folks--"

They crept out and hurried away. Glancing round, Lettie saw the woman
mopping the doorstep after them, and she laughed. He pulled his watch out
of his breeches' pocket; it was half-past three.

"What are you looking at the time for?" she asked. "Meg's coming to tea,"
he replied.

She said no more, and they walked slowly on.

When they came on to the shoulder of the hill, and looked down on to the
mill, and the millpond, she said:

"I will not come down with you--I will go home."

"Not come down to tea!" he exclaimed, full of reproach and amazement.
"Why, what will they say?"

"No, I won't come down--let me say farewell--jamque Vale! Do you remember
how Eurydice sank back into Hell?"

"But"--he stammered, "you must come down to tea--how can I tell them? Why
won't you come?"

She answered him in Latin, with two lines from Virgil. As she watched
him, she pitied his helplessness, and gave him a last cut as she said,
very softly and tenderly:

"It wouldn't be fair to Meg."

He stood looking at her; his face was coloured only by the grey-brown
tan; his eyes, the dark, self-mistrustful eyes of the family, were darker
than ever, dilated with misery of helplessness; and she was infinitely
pitiful. She wanted to cry in her yearning.

"Shall we go into the wood for a few minutes?" she said in a low,
tremulous voice, as they turned aside.

The wood was high and warm. Along the ridings the forget-me-nots were
knee deep, stretching, glimmering into the distance like the Milky Way
through the night. They left the tall, flower-tangled paths to go in
among the bluebells, breaking through the close-pressed flowers and ferns
till they came to an oak which had fallen across the hazels, where they
sat half screened. The hyacinths drooped magnificently with an overweight
of purple, or they stood pale and erect, like unripe ears of purple corn.
Heavy bees swung down in a blunder of extravagance among the purple
flowers. They were intoxicated even with the sight of so much blue. The
sound of their hearty, wanton humming came clear upon the solemn boom of
the wind overhead. The sight of their clinging, clambering riot gave
satisfaction to the soul. A rosy campion flower caught the sun and shone
out. An elm sent down a shower of flesh-tinted sheaths upon them.

"If there were fauns and hamadryads!" she said softly, turning to him to
soothe his misery. She took his cap from his head, ruffled his hair,
saying:

"If you were a faun, I would put guelder roses round your hair, and make
you look Bacchanalian." She left her hand lying on his knee, and looked
up at the sky. Its blue looked pale and green in comparison with the
purple tide ebbing about the wood. The clouds rose up like towers, and
something had touched them into beauty, and poised them up among the
winds. The clouds passed on, and the pool of sky was clear.

"Look," she said, "how we are netted down--boughs with knots of green
buds. If we were free on the winds!--But I'm glad we're not." She turned
suddenly to him, and with the same movement, she gave him her hand, and
he clasped it in both his. "I'm glad we're netted down here; if we were
free in the winds--Ah!"

She laughed a peculiar little laugh, catching her breath.

"Look!" she said, "it's a palace, with the ash-trunks smooth like a
girl's arm, and the elm-columns, ribbed and bossed and fretted, with the
great steel shafts of beech, all rising up to hold an embroidered
care-cloth over us; and every thread of the care-cloth vibrates with
music for us, and the little broidered birds sing; and the hazel-bushes
fling green spray round us, and the honeysuckle leans down to pour out
scent over us. Look at the harvest of bluebells--ripened for us! Listen
to the bee, sounding among all the organ-play--if he sounded exultant for
us!" She looked at him, with tears coming up into her eyes, and a little,
winsome, wistful smile hovering round her mouth. He was very pale, and
dared not look at her. She put her hand in his, leaning softly against
him. He watched, as if fascinated, a young thrush with full pale breast
who hopped near to look at them--glancing with quick, shining eyes.

"The clouds are going on again," said Lettie.

"Look at that cloud face--see--gazing right up into the sky. The lips are
opening--he is telling us something--now the form is slipping away--it's
gone--come, we must go too."

"No," he cried, "don't go--don't go away."

Her tenderness made her calm. She replied in a voice perfect in
restrained sadness and resignation.

"No, my dear, no. The threads of my life were untwined; they drifted
about like floating threads of gossamer; and you didn't put out your hand
to take them and twist them up into the chord with yours. Now another has
caught them up, and the chord of my life is being twisted, and I cannot
wrench it free and untwine it again--I can't. I am not strong enough.
Besides, you have twisted another thread far and tight into your chord;
could you get free?"

"Tell me what to do--yes, if you tell me."

"I can't tell you--so let me go."

"No, Lettie," he pleaded, with terror and humility. "No, Lettie; don't
go. What should I do with my life? Nobody would love you like I do--and
what should I do with my love for you?--hate it and fear it, because it's
too much for me?"

She turned and kissed him gratefully. He then took her in a long,
passionate embrace, mouth to mouth. In the end it had so wearied her that
she could only wait in his arms till he was too tired to hold her. He was
trembling already.

"Poor Meg!" she murmured to herself dully, her sensations having become
vague.

He winced, and the pressure of his arms slackened. She loosened his hands
and rose half dazed from her seat by him. She left him, while he sat
dejected, raising no protest.

When I went out to look for them, when tea had already been waiting on
the table half an hour or more, I found him leaning against the gatepost
at the bottom of the hill. There was no blood in his face, and his tan
showed livid; he was haggard as if he had been ill for some weeks.

"Whatever's the matter?" I said. "Where's Lettie?"

"She's gone home," he answered, and the sound of his own voice, and the
meaning of his own words made him heave. "Why?" I asked in alarm.

He looked at me as if to say, "What are you talking about? I cannot
listen!"

"Why?" I insisted.

"I don't know," he replied.

"They are waiting tea for you," I said.

He heard me, but took no notice.

"Come on," I repeated, "there's Meg and everybody waiting tea for you."

"I don't want any," he said.

I waited a minute or two. He was violently sick.

"Vae meum Fervens difficile bile tumet jecur,"

I thought to myself.

When the sickness passed over, he stood up away from the post, trembling
and lugubrious. His eyelids dropped heavily over his eyes, and he looked
at me, and smiled a faint, sick smile.

"Come and lie down in the loft," I said, "and I'll tell them you've got a
bilious bout."

He obeyed me, not having energy to question; his strength had gone, and
his splendid physique seemed shrunken; he walked weakly. I looked away
from him, for in his feebleness he was already beginning to feel
ludicrous.

We got into the barn unperceived, and I watched him climb the ladder to
the loft. Then I went indoors to tell them.

I told them Lettie had promised to be at Highclose for tea, that George
had a bilious attack, and was mooning about the barn till it was over; he
had been badly sick. We ate tea without zest or enjoyment. Meg was
wistful and ill at ease; the father talked to her and made much of her;
the mother did not care for her much.

"I can't understand it," said the mother, "he so rarely has anything the
matter with him--why, I've hardly known the day! Are you sure it's
nothing serious, Cyril? It seems such a thing--and just when Meg happened
to be down--just when Meg was coming--"

About half-past six I had again to go and look for him, to satisfy the
anxiety of his mother and his sweetheart. I went whistling to let him
know I was coming. He lay on a pile of hay in a corner, asleep. He had
put his cap under his head to stop the tickling of the hay, and he lay
half curled up, sleeping soundly. He was still very pale, and there was
on his face the repose and pathos that a sorrow always leaves. As he wore
no coat, I was afraid he might be chilly, so I covered him up with a
couple of sacks, and I left him. I would not have him disturbed--I helped
the father about the cowsheds and with the pigs.

Meg had to go at half-past seven. She was so disappointed that I said:

"Come and have a look at him--I'll tell him you did."

He had thrown off the sacks and spread out his limbs. As he lay on his
back, flung out on the hay, he looked big again, and manly. His mouth had
relaxed, and taken its old, easy lines. One felt for him now the warmth
one feels for anyone who sleeps in an attitude of abandon. She leaned
over him, and looked at him with a little rapture of love and tenderness;
she longed to caress him. Then he stretched himself, and his eyes opened.
Their sudden unclosing gave her a thrill. He smiled sleepily, and
murmured, "'Alto, Meg!" Then I saw him awake. As he remembered, he
turned with a great sighing yawn, hid his face again, and lay still.

"Come along, Meg," I whispered, "he'll be best asleep."

"I'd better cover him up," she said, taking the sack and laying it very
gently over his shoulders. He kept perfectly still while I drew her away.



CHAPTER VIII - A POEM OF FRIENDSHIP


The magnificent promise of spring was broken before the May blossom was
fully out. All through the beloved month the wind rushed in upon us from
the north and north-east, bringing the rain fierce and heavy. The
tender-budded trees shuddered and moaned; when the wind was dry, the
young leaves flapped limp. The grass and corn grew lush, but the light of
the dandelions was quite extinguished, and it seemed that only a long
time back had we made merry before the broad glare of these flowers. The
bluebells lingered and lingered; they fringed the fields for weeks like
purple fringe of mourning. The pink campions came out only to hang heavy
with rain; hawthorn buds remained tight and hard as pearls, shrinking
into the brilliant green foliage; the forget-me-nots, the poor pleiades
of the wood, were ragged weeds. Often at the end of the day the sky
opened, and stately clouds hung over the horizon infinitely far away,
glowing, through the yellow distance, with an amber lustre. They never
came any nearer, always they remained far off, looking calmly and
majestically over the shivering earth, then saddened, fearing their
radiance might be dimmed, they drew away, and sank out of sight.
Sometimes, towards sunset, a great shield stretched dark from the west to
the zenith, tangling the light along its edges. As the canopy rose
higher, it broke, dispersed, and the sky was primrose coloured, high and
pale above the crystal moon. Then the cattle crouched among the gorse,
distressed by the cold, while the long-billed snipe flickered round high
overhead, round and round in great circles, seeming to carry a serpent
from its throat, and crying a tragedy, more painful than the poignant
lamentations and protests of the peewits. Following these evenings came
mornings cold and grey.

Such a morning I went up to George, on the top fallow. His father was out
with the milk--he was alone; as I came up the hill I could see him
standing in the cart, scattering manure over the bare red fields; I could
hear his voice calling now and then to the mare, and the creak and clank
of the cart as it moved on. Starlings and smart wagtails were running
briskly over the clods, and many little birds flashed, fluttered, hopped
here and there. The lapwings wheeled and cried as ever between the low
clouds and the earth, and some ran beautifully among the furrows, too
graceful and glistening for the rough field.

I took a fork and scattered the manure along the hollows, and thus we
worked, with a wide field between us, yet very near in the sense of
intimacy. I watched him through the wheeling peewits, as the low clouds
went stealthily overhead. Beneath us, the spires of the poplars in the
spinney were warm gold, as if the blood shone through. Farther gleamed
the grey water, and below it the red roofs. Nethermere was half hidden
and far away. There was nothing in this grey, lonely world but the
peewits swinging and crying, and George swinging silently at his work.
The movement of active life held all my attention, and when I looked up,
it was to see the motion of his limbs and his head, the rise and fall of
his rhythmic body, and the rise and fall of the slow waving peewits.
After a while, when the cart was empty, he took a fork and came towards
me, working at my task.

It began to rain, so he brought a sack from the cart, and we crushed
ourselves under the thick hedge. We sat close together and watched the
rain fall like a grey striped curtain before us, hiding the valley; we
watched it trickle in dark streams off the mare's back, as she stood
dejectedly; we listened to the swish of the drops falling all about; we
felt the chill of the rain, and drew ourselves together in silence. He
smoked his pipe, and I lit a cigarette. The rain continued; all the
little pebbles and the red earth glistened in the grey gloom. We sat
together, speaking occasionally. It was at these times we formed the
almost passionate attachment which later years slowly wore away.

When the rain was over, we filled our buckets with potatoes, and went
along the wet furrows, sticking the spritted tubers in the cold ground.
Being sandy, the field dried quickly. About twelve o'clock, when nearly
all the potatoes were set, he left me, and fetching up Bob from the far
hedge-side, harnessed the mare and him to the ridger, to cover the
potatoes. The sharp light plough turned the soil in a fine furrow over
the potatoes; hosts of little birds fluttered, settled, bounded off again
after the plough. He called to the horses, and they came downhill, the
white stars on the two brown noses nodding up and down, George striding
firm and heavy behind. They came down upon me; at a call the horses
turned, shifting awkwardly sideways; he flung himself against the plough,
and leaning well in, brought it round with a sweep: a click, and they are
off uphill again. There is a great rustle as the birds sweep round after
him and follow up the new-turned furrow. Untackling the horses when the
rows were all covered, we tramped behind them down the wet hill-side to
dinner.

I kicked through the drenched grass, crushing the withered cowslips under
my clogs, avoiding the purple orchids that were stunted with harsh
upbringing, but magnificent in their powerful colouring, crushing the
pallid lady smocks, the washed-out wild gillivers. I became conscious of
something near my feet, something little and dark, moving indefinitely. I
had found again the larkie's nest. I perceived the yellow beaks, the
bulging eyelids of two tiny larks, and the blue lines of their wing
quills. The indefinite movement was the swift rise and fall of the brown
fledged backs, over which waved long strands of fine down. The two little
specks of birds lay side by side, beak to beak, their tiny bodies rising
and falling in quick unison. I gently put down my fingers to touch them;
they were warm; gratifying to find them warm, in the midst of so much
cold and wet. I became curiously absorbed in them, as an eddy of wind
stirred the strands of down. When one fledgling moved uneasily, shifting
his soft ball, I was quite excited; but he nestled down again, with his
head close to his brother's. In my heart of hearts, I longed for someone
to nestle against, someone who would come between me and the coldness and
wetness of the surroundings. I envied the two little miracles exposed to
any tread, yet so serene. It seemed as if I were always wandering,
looking for something which they had found even before the light broke
into their shell. I was cold; the lilacs in the Mill garden looked blue
and perished. I ran with my heavy clogs, and my heart heavy with vague
longing, down to the Mill, while the wind blanched the sycamores, and
pushed the sullen pines rudely, for the pines were sulking because their
million creamy sprites could not fly wet-winged. The horse-chestnuts
bravely kept their white candles erect in the socket of every bough,
though no sun came to light them. Drearily a cold swan swept up the
water, trailing its black feet, clacking its great hollow wings, rocking
the frightened water-hens, and insulting the staid black-necked geese.
What did I want that I turned thus from one thing to another?



At the end of June the weather became fine again. Hay harvest was to
begin as soon as it settled. There were only two fields to be mown this
year, to provide just enough stuff to last until the spring. As my
vacation had begun I decided I would help, and that we three, the father,
George and I, would get in the hay without hired assistance.

I rose the first morning very early, before the sun was well up. The
clear sound of challenging cocks could be heard along the valley. In the
bottoms, over the water and over the lush wet grass, the night mist still
stood white and substantial. As I passed along the edge of the meadow the
cow-parsnip was as tall as I, frothing up to the top of the hedge,
putting the faded hawthorn to a wan blush. Little, early birds--I had not
heard the lark--fluttered in and out of the foamy meadow-sea, plunging
under the surf of flowers washed high in one corner, swinging out again,
dashing past the crimson sorrel cresset. Under the froth of flowers were
the purple vetch-clumps, yellow milk vetches, and the scattered pink of
the wood-betony, and the floating stars of marguerites. There was a
weight of honeysuckle on the hedges, where pink roses were waking up for
their broad-spread flight through the day.

Morning silvered the swaths of the far meadow, and swept in smooth,
brilliant curves round the stones of the brook; morning ran in my veins;
morning chased the silver, darting fish out of the depth, and I, who saw
them, snapped my fingers at them, driving them back.

I heard Trip barking, so I ran towards the pond. The punt was at the
island, where from behind the bushes I could hear George whistling. I
called to him, and he came to the water's edge half dressed.

"Fetch a towel," he called, "and come on."

I was back in a few moments, and there stood my Charon fluttering in the
cool air. One good push sent us to the islet. I made haste to undress,
for he was ready for the water, Trip dancing round, barking with
excitement at his new appearance.

"He wonders what's happened to me," he said, laughing, pushing the dog
playfully away with his bare foot. Trip bounded back, and came leaping
up, licking him with little caressing licks. He began to play with the
dog, and directly they were rolling on the fine turf, the laughing,
expostulating, naked man, and the excited dog, who thrust his great head
on to the man's face, licking, and, when flung away, rushed forward
again, snapping playfully at the naked arms and breasts. At last George
lay back, laughing and panting, holding Trip by the two forefeet which
were planted on his breast, while the dog, also panting, reached forward
his head for a flickering lick at the throat pressed back on the grass,
and the mouth thrown back out of reach. When the man had thus lain still
for a few moments, and the dog was just laying his head against his
master's neck to rest too, I called, and George jumped up, and plunged
into the pond with me, Trip after us.

The water was icily cold, and for a moment deprived me of my senses. When
I began to swim, soon the water was buoyant, and I was sensible of
nothing but the vigorous poetry of action. I saw George swimming on his
back laughing at me, and in an instant I had flung myself like an impulse
after him. The laughing face vanished as he swung over and fled, and I
pursued the dark head and the ruddy neck. Trip, the wretch, came paddling
towards me, interrupting me; then all bewildered with excitement, he
scudded to the bank. I chuckled to myself as I saw him run along, then
plunge in and go plodding to George. I was gaining. He tried to drive off
the dog, and I gained rapidly. As I came up to him and caught him, with
my hand on his shoulder, there came a laughter from the bank. It was
Emily.

I trod the water, and threw handfuls of spray at her. She laughed and
blushed. Then Trip waded out to her and she fled swiftly from his
shower-bath. George was floating just beside me, looking up and laughing.

We stood and looked at each other as we rubbed ourselves dry. He was well
proportioned, and naturally of handsome physique, heavily limbed. He
laughed at me, telling me I was like one of Aubrey Beardsley's long,
lean, ugly fellows. I referred him to many classic examples of
slenderness, declaring myself more exquisite than his grossness, which
amused him.

But I had to give in, and bow to him, and he took on an indulgent, gentle
manner. I laughed and submitted. For he knew how I admired the noble,
white fruitfulness of his form. As I watched him, he stood in white
relief against the mass of green. He polished his arm, holding it out
straight and solid; he rubbed his hair into curls, while I watched the
deep muscles of his shoulders, and the bands stand out in his neck as he
held it firm; I remembered the story of Annable.

He saw I had forgotten to continue my rubbing, and laughing he took hold
of me and began to rub me briskly, as if I were a child, or rather, a
woman he loved and did not fear. I left myself quite limply in his hands,
and, to get a better grip of me, he put his arm round me and pressed me
against him, and the sweetness of the touch of our naked bodies one
against the other was superb. It satisfied in some measure the vague,
indecipherable yearning of my soul; and it was the same with him. When he
had rubbed me all warm, he let me go, and we looked at each other with
eyes of still laughter, and our love was perfect for a moment, more
perfect than any love I have known since, either for man or woman.

We went together down to the fields, he to mow the island of grass he had
left standing the previous evening, I to sharpen the machine knife, to
mow out the hedge-bottoms with the scythe, and to rake the swaths from
the way of the machine when the unmown grass was reduced to a triangle.
The cool, moist fragrance of the morning, the intentional stillness of
everything, of the tall bluish trees, of the wet, frank flowers, of the
trustful moths folded and unfolded in the fallen swaths, was a perfect
medium of sympathy. The horses moved with a still dignity, obeying his
commands. When they were harnessed, and the machine oiled, still he was
loth to mar the perfect morning, but stood looking down the valley.

"I shan't mow these fields any more," he said, and the fallen, silvered
swaths flickered back his regret, and the faint scent of the limes was
wistful. So much of the field was cut, so much remained to cut; then it
was ended. This year the elder flowers were widespread over the corner
bushes, and the pink roses fluttered high above the hedge. There were the
same flowers in the grass as we had known many years; we should not know
them any more.

"But merely to have mown them is worth having lived for," he said,
looking at me.

We felt the warmth of the sun trickling through the morning's mist of
coolness.

"You see that sycamore," he said, "that bushy one beyond the big willow?
I remember when Father broke off the leading shoot because he wanted a
fine straight stick, I can remember I felt sorry. It was running up so
straight, with such a fine balance of leaves--you know how a young strong
sycamore looks about nine feet high--it seemed a cruelty. When you are
gone, and we are left from here, I shall feel like that, as if my leading
shoot were broken off. You see, the tree is spoiled. Yet how it went on
growing. I believe I shall grow faster. I can remember the bright red
stalks of the leaves as he broke them off from the bough."

He smiled at me, half proud of his speech. Then he swung into the seat of
the machine, having attended to the horses' heads. He lifted the knife.

"Good-bye," he said, smiling whimsically back at me. The machine started.
The bed of the knife fell, and the grass shivered and dropped over. I
watched the heads of the daisies and the splendid lines of the cocksfoot
grass quiver, shake against the crimson burnet, and drop over. The
machine went singing down the field, leaving a track of smooth, velvet
green in the way of the swath-board. The flowers in the wall of uncut
grass waited unmoved, as the days wait for us. The sun caught in the
up-licking scarlet sorrel flames, the butterflies woke, and I could hear
the fine ring of his "Whoa!" from the far corner. Then he turned, and I
could see only the tossing ears of the horses, and the white of his
shoulder as they moved along the wall of high grass on the hill slope. I
sat down under the elm to file the sections of the knife. Always as he
rode he watched the falling swath, only occasionally calling the horses
into line. It was his voice which rang the morning awake. When we were at
work we hardly noticed one another. Yet his mother had said:

"George is so glad when you're in the field--he doesn't care how long the
day is."

Later, when the morning was hot, and the honeysuckle had ceased to
breathe, and all the other scents were moving in the air about us, when
all the field was down, when I had seen the last trembling ecstasy of the
harebells, trembling to fall; when the thick clump of purple vetch had
sunk; when the green swaths were settling, and the silver swaths were
glistening and glittering as the sun came along them, in the hot ripe
morning we worked together turning the hay, tipping over the yesterday's
swaths with our forks, and bringing yesterday's fresh, hidden flowers
into the death of sunlight.

It was then that we talked of the past, and speculated on the future. As
the day grew older and less wistful, we forgot everything, and worked on,
singing, and sometimes I would recite him verses as we went, and
sometimes I would tell him about books. Life was full of glamour for us
both.



CHAPTER IX - PASTORALS AND PEONIES


At dinner-time the father announced to us the exciting fact that Leslie
had asked if a few of his guests might picnic that afternoon in the
Strelley hayfields. The closes were so beautiful, with the brook under
all its sheltering trees, running into the pond that was set with two
green islets. Moreover, the squire's lady had written a book filling
these meadows and the mill precincts with pot-pourri romance. The wedding
guests at Highclose were anxious to picnic in so choice a spot.

The father, who delighted in a gay throng, beamed at us from over the
table. George asked who were coming.

"Oh, not many--about half a dozen--mostly ladies down for the wedding."

George at first swore warmly; then he began to appreciate the affair as a
joke.

Mrs Saxton hoped they wouldn't want her to provide them pots, for she
hadn't two cups that matched, nor had any of her spoons the least
pretence to silver. The children were hugely excited, and wanted a
holiday from school, which Emily at once vetoed firmly, thereby causing
family dissension.

As we went round the field in the afternoon turning the hay, we were
thinking apart, and did not talk. Every now and then--and at every
corner--we stopped to look down towards the wood, to see if they were
coming.

"Here they are!" George exclaimed suddenly, having spied the movement of
white in the dark wood. We stood still and watched. Two girls, heliotrope
and white, a man with two girls, pale green and white, and a man with a
girl last.

"Can you tell who they are?" I asked.

"That's Marie Tempest, that first girl in white, and that's him and
Lettie at the back, I don't know any more."

He stood perfectly still until they had gone out of sight behind the
banks down by the brooks, then he stuck his fork in the ground, saying:

"You can easily finish--if you like. I'll go and mow out that bottom
corner."

He glanced at me to see what I was thinking of him. I was thinking that
he was afraid to meet her, and I was smiling to myself. Perhaps he felt
ashamed, for he went silently away to the machine, where he belted his
riding breeches tightly round his waist, and slung the scythe-strap on
his hip. I heard the clanging slur of the scythe stone as he whetted the
blade. Then he strode off to mow the far bottom corner, where the ground
was marshy, and the machine might not go, to bring down the lush green
grass and the tall meadow-sweet.

I went to the pond to meet the newcomers. I bowed to Louie Denys, a tall,
graceful girl of the drooping type, elaborately gowned in heliotrope
linen; I bowed to Agnes D'Arcy, an erect, intelligent girl with
magnificent auburn hair--she wore no hat and carried a sunshade; I bowed
to Hilda Seconde, a svelte, petite girl, exquisitely and delicately
pretty; I bowed to Maria and to Lettie, and I shook hands with Leslie and
with his friend, Freddy Cresswell. The latter was to be best man, a
broad-shouldered, pale-faced fellow, with beautiful soft hair like red
wheat, and laughing eyes, and a whimsical, drawling manner of speech,
like a man who has suffered enough to bring him to manhood and maturity,
but who in spite of all remains a boy, irresponsible, lovable--a trifle
pathetic. As the day was very hot, both men were in flannels, and wore
flannel collars, yet it was evident that they had dressed with scrupulous
care. Instinctively I tried to pull my trousers into shape within my
belt, and I felt the inferiority cast upon the father, big and fine as he
was in his way, for his shoulders were rounded with work, and his
trousers were much distorted.

"What can we do?" said Marie; "you know we don't want to hinder, we want
to help you. It was so good of you to let us come."

The father laughed his fine indulgence, saying to them--they loved him
for the mellow, laughing modulation of his voice:

"Come on, then--I see there's a bit of turning-over to do, as Cyril's
left. Come and pick your forks."

From among a sheaf of hay-forks he chose the lightest for them, and they
began anywhere, just tipping at the swaths. He showed them
carefully--Marie and the charming little Hilda--just how to do it, but
they found the right way the hardest way, so they worked in their own
fashion, and laughed heartily with him when he made playful jokes at
them. He was a great lover of girls, and they blossomed from timidity
under his hearty influence.

"Ain' it flippin' 'ot?" drawled Cresswell, who had just taken his M.A.
degree in classics: "This bloomin' stuff's dry enough--come an' flop on
it."

He gathered a cushion of hay, which Louie Denys carefully appropriated,
arranging first her beautiful dress, that fitted close to her shape,
without any belt or interruption, and then laying her arms, that were
netted to the shoulder in open lace, gracefully at rest. Lettie, who was
also in a close-fitting white dress which showed her shape down to the
hips, sat where Leslie had prepared for her, and Miss D'Arcy reluctantly
accepted my pile.

Cresswell twisted his clean-cut mouth in a little smile, saying:

"Lord, a giddy little pastoral--fit for old Theocritus, ain't it, Miss
Denys?"

"Why do you talk to me about those classic people--I daren't even say
their names. What would he say about us?" He laughed, winking his blue
eyes:

"He'd make old Daphnis there"--pointing to Leslie--"sing a match with me,
Damoetas--contesting the merits of our various shepherdesses--begin
Daphnis, sing up for Amaryllis, I mean Nais, damn 'em, they were for ever
getting mixed up with their nymphs."

"I say, Mr Cresswell, your language! Consider whom you're damning," said
Miss Denys, leaning over and tapping his head with her silk glove.

"You say any giddy thing in a pastoral," he replied, taking the edge of
her skirt, and lying back on it, looking up at her as she leaned over
him. "Strike up, Daphnis, something about honey or white cheese--or else
the early apples that'll be ripe in a week's time."

"I'm sure the apples you showed me are ever so little and green,"
interrupted Miss Denys; "they will never be ripe in a week--ugh, sour!"

He smiled up at her in his whimsical way:

"Hear that, Tempest--Ugh, sour!'--not much! Oh, love us, haven't you got
a start yet?--isn't there aught to sing about, you blunt-faced kid?"

"I'll hear you first--I'm no judge of honey and cheese."

"An' darn little apples--takes a woman to judge them; don't it, Miss
Denys?"

"I don't know," she said, stroking his soft hair from his forehead with
her hand whereon rings were sparkling.

"'My love is not white, my hair is not yellow, like honey dropping
through the sunlight--my love is brown, and sweet, and ready for the lips
of love.' Go on, Tempest--strike up, old cowherd. Who's that tuning his
pipe?--oh, that fellow sharpening his scythe! It's enough to make your
back ache to look at him working--go an' stop him, somebody."

"Yes, let us go and fetch him," said Miss D'Arcy. "I'm sure he doesn't
know what a happy pastoral state he's in--let us go and fetch him."

"They don't like hindering at their work, Agnes--besides, where ignorance
is bliss--" said Lettie, afraid lest she might bring him. The other
hesitated, then with her eyes she invited me to go with her.

"Oh, dear," she laughed, with a little moue, "Freddy is such an ass, and
Louie Denys is like a wasp at treacle. I wanted to laugh, yet I felt just
a tiny bit cross. Don't you feel great when you go mowing like that?
Father Timey sort of feeling? Shall we go and look! We'll say we want
those foxgloves he'll be cutting down directly--and those bell flowers. I
suppose you needn't go on with your labours--"

He did not know we were approaching till I called him, then he started
slightly as he saw the tall, proud girl.

"Mr Saxton--Miss D'Arcy," I said, and he shook hands with her.
Immediately his manner became ironic, for he had seen his hand big and
coarse and inflamed with the snaith clasping the lady's hand.

"We thought you looked so fine," she said to him, "and men are so
embarrassing when they make love to somebody else--aren't they? Save us
those foxgloves, will you--they are splendid--like savage soldiers
drawn up against the hedge--don't cut them down--and those
campanulas--bell-flowers, ah, yes! They are spinning idylls up there. I
don't care for idylls, do you? Oh, you don't know what a classical
pastoral person you are--but there, I don't suppose you suffer from
idyllic love--" she laughed, "--one doesn't see the silly little god
fluttering about in our hayfields, does one? Do you find much time to
sport with Amaryllis in the shade?--I'm sure it's a shame they banish
Phyllis from the fields--"

He laughed and went on with his work. She smiled a little, too, thinking
she had made a great impression. She put out her hand with a dramatic
gesture, and looked at me, when the scythe crunched through the
meadow-sweet.

"Crunch! isn't it fine!" she exclaimed, "a kind of inevitable fate--I
think it's fine!"

We wandered about picking flowers and talking until teatime. A manservant
came with the tea-basket, and the girls spread the cloth under a great
willow tree. Lettie took the little silver kettle, and went to fill it at
the small spring which trickled into a stone trough all pretty with
cranesbill and stellaria hanging over, while long blades of grass waved
in the water. George, who had finished his work, and wanted to go home to
tea, walked across to the spring where Lettie sat playing with the water,
getting little cupfuls to put into the kettle, watching the quick skating
of the water-beetles, and the large faint spots of their shadows darting
on the silted mud at the bottom of the trough.

She glanced round on hearing him coming, and smiled nervously: they were
mutually afraid of meeting each other again.

"It is about tea-time," he said.

"Yes--it will be ready in a moment--this is not to make the tea
with--it's only to keep a little supply of hot water."

"Oh," he said, "I'll go on home--I'd rather."

"No," she replied, "you can't because we are all having tea together: I
had some fruits put up, because I know you don't trifle with tea--and
your father's coming."

"But," he replied pettishly, "I can't have my tea with all those folks--I
don't want to--look at me!"

He held out his inflamed, barbaric hands.

She winced and said:

"It won't matter--you'll give the realistic touch."

He laughed ironically.

"No--you must come," she insisted.

"I'll have a drink then, if you'll let me," he said, yielding. She got up
quickly, blushing, offering him the tiny, pretty cup.

"I'm awfully sorry," she said.

"Never mind," he muttered, and turning from the proffered cup he lay down
flat, put his mouth to the water, and drank deeply. She stood and watched
the motion of his drinking, and of his heavy breathing afterwards. He got
up, wiping his mouth, not looking at her. Then he washed his hands in the
water, and stirred up the mud. He put his hand to the bottom of the
trough, bringing out a handful of silt, with the grey shrimps twisting in
it. He flung the mud on the floor where the poor grey creatures writhed.

"It wants cleaning out," he said.

"Yes," she replied, shuddering. "You won't be long," she added, taking up
the silver kettle.

In a few moments he got up and followed her reluctantly down. He was
nervous and irritable.

The girls were seated on tufts of hay, with the men leaning in attendance
on them, and the manservant waiting on all. George was placed between
Lettie and Hilda. The former handed him his little egg-shell of tea,
which, as he was not very thirsty, he put down on the ground beside him.
Then she passed him the bread and butter, cut for five-o'clock tea, and
fruits, grapes and peaches, and strawberries, in a beautifully-carved oak
tray. She watched for a moment his thick, half-washed fingers fumbling
over the fruits, then she turned her head away. All the gay tea-time,
when the talk bubbled and frothed over all the cups, she avoided him with
her eyes. Yet again and again, as someone said: "I'm sorry, Mr
Saxton--will you have some cake?"--or "See, Mr Saxton--try this peach,
I'm sure it will be mellow right to the stone,"--speaking very naturally,
but making the distinction between him and the other men by their
indulgence towards him, Lettie was forced to glance at him as he sat
eating, answering in monosyllables, laughing with constraint and
awkwardness, and her irritation flickered between her brows. Although she
kept up the gay frivolity of the conversation, still the discord was felt
by everybody, and we did not linger as we should have done over the cups.
"George," they said afterwards, "was a wet blanket on the party." Lettie
was intensely annoyed with him. His presence was unbearable to her. She
wished him a thousand miles away. He sat listening to Cresswell's
whimsical affectation of vulgarity which flickered with fantasy, and he
laughed in a strained fashion.

He was the first to rise, saying he must get the cows up for milking.

"Oh, let us go--let us go. May we come and see the cows milked?" said
Hilda, her delicate, exquisite features flushing, for she was very shy.

"No," drawled Freddy, "the stink o' live beef ain't salubrious. You be
warned, and stop here."

"I never could bear cows, except those lovely little highland cattle, all
woolly, in pictures," said Louie Denys, smiling archly, with a little
irony.

"No," laughed Agnes D'Arcy, "they--they're smelly,"--and she pursed up
her mouth, and ended in a little trill of deprecatory laughter, as she
often did. Hilda looked from one to the other, blushing.

"Come, Lettie," said Leslie good-naturedly, "I know you have a farmyard
fondness--come on," and they followed George down.

As they passed along the pond bank a swan and her tawny, fluffy brood
sailed with them the length of the water, "tipping on their little toes,
the darlings--pitter-patter through the water, tiny little things," as
Marie said.

We heard George below calling "Bully--Bully--Bully--Bully!" and then, a
moment or two after, in the bottom garden: "Come out, you little
fool--are you coming out of it?" in manifestly angry tones.

"Has it run away?" laughed Hilda, delighted, and we hastened out of the
lower garden to see.

There in the green shade, between the tall gooseberry bushes, the heavy
crimson peonies stood gorgeously along the path. The full red globes,
poised and leaning voluptuously, sank their crimson weight on to the
seeding grass of the path, borne down by secret rain, and by their own
splendour. The path was poured over with red rich silk of strewn petals.
The great flowers swung their crimson grandly about the walk, like crowds
of cardinals in pomp among the green bushes. We burst into the new world
of delight. As Lettie stooped, taking between both hands the gorgeous
silken fullness of one blossom that was sunk to the earth. George came
down the path, with the brown bull-calf straddling behind him, its neck
stuck out, sucking zealously at his middle finger.

The unconscious attitudes of the girls, all bent enraptured over the
peonies, touched him with sudden pain. As he came up, with the calf
stalking grudgingly behind, he said:

"There's a fine show of pyeenocks this year, isn't there?"

"What do you call them?" cried Hilda, turning to him her sweet, charming
face full of interest.

"Pyeenocks," he replied.

Lettie remained crouching with a red flower between her hands, glancing
sideways unseen to look at the calf, which with its shiny nose uplifted
was mumbling in its sticky gums the seductive finger. It sucked eagerly,
but unprofitably, and it appeared to cast a troubled eye inwards to see
if it were really receiving any satisfaction,--doubting, but not
despairing. Marie, and Hilda, and Leslie laughed, while he, after looking
at Lettie as she crouched, wistfully, as he thought, over the flower, led
the little brute out of the garden, and sent it running into the yard
with a smack on the haunch.

Then he returned, rubbing his sticky finger dry against his breeches. He
stood near to Lettie, and she felt rather than saw the extraordinary pale
cleanness of the one finger among the others. She rubbed her finger
against her dress in painful sympathy.

"But aren't the flowers lovely!" exclaimed Marie again. "I want to hug
them."

"Oh, yes!" assented Hilda.

"They are like a romance--D'Annunzio--a romance in passionate sadness,"
said Lettie, in an ironical voice, speaking half out of conventional
necessity of saying something, half out of desire to shield herself, and
yet in a measure express herself.

"There is a tale about them," I said.

The girls clamoured for the legend.

"Pray, do tell us," pleaded Hilda, the irresistible.

"It was Emily told me--she says it's a legend, but I believe it's only a
tale. She says the peonies were brought from the Hall long since by a
fellow of this place--when it was a mill. He was brown and strong, and
the daughter of the Hall, who was pale and fragile and young, loved him.
When he went up to the Hall gardens to cut the yew hedges, she would
hover round him in her white frock, and tell him tales of old days, in
little snatches like a wren singing, till he thought she was a fairy who
had bewitched him. He would stand and watch her, and one day, when she
came near to him telling him a tale that set the tears swimming in her
eyes, he took hold of her and kissed her and kept her. They used to tryst
in the poplar spinney. She would come with her arms full of flowers, for
she always kept to her fairy part. One morning she came early through the
mists. He was out shooting. She wanted to take him unawares, like a
fairy. Her arms were full of peonies. When she was moving beyond the
trees he shot her, not knowing. She stumbled on, and sank down in their
tryst place. He found her lying there among the red pyeenocks, white and
fallen. He thought she was just lying talking to the red flowers, so he
stood waiting. Then he went up, and bent over her, and found the flowers
full of blood. It was he set the garden here with these pyeenocks."

The eyes of the girls were round with pity of the tale and Hilda turned
away to hide her tears.

"It is a beautiful ending," said Lettie, in a low tone, looking at the
floor.

"It's all a tale," said Leslie, soothing the girls.

George waited till Lettie looked at him. She lifted her eyes to him at
last. Then each turned aside, trembling.

Marie asked for some of the peonies.

"Give me just a few--and I can tell the others the story--it is so sad--I
feel so sorry for him, it was so cruel for him And Lettie says it ends
beautifully--"

George cut the flowers with his great clasp-knife, and Marie took them,
carefully, treating their romance with great tenderness. Then all went
out of the garden and he turned to the cowshed.

"Good-bye for the present," said Lettie, afraid to stay near him.

"Good-bye," he laughed.

"Thank you so much for the flowers--and the story--it was splendid," said
Marie, "--but so sad!"

Then they went, and we did not see them again.

Later, when all had gone to bed at the mill, George and I sat together on
opposite sides of the fire, smoking, saying little. He was casting up the
total of discrepancies, and now and again he ejaculated one of his
thoughts.

"And all day," he said, "Blench has been ploughing his wheat in, because
it was that bitten off by the rabbits it was no manner of use, so he's
ploughed it in: an' they say with idylls, eating peaches in our close."

Then there was silence, while the clock throbbed heavily, and outside a
wild bird called, and was still; softly the ashes rustled lower in the
grate.

"She said it ended well--but what's the good of death--what's the good of
that?" He turned his face to the ashes in the grate, and sat brooding.

Outside, among the trees, some wild animal set up a thin, wailing cry.

"Damn that row!" said I, stirring, looking also into the grey fire.

"It's some stoat or weasel, or something. It's been going on like that
for nearly a week. I've shot in the trees ever so many times. There were
two--one's gone."

Continuously, through the heavy, chilling silence, came the miserable
crying from the darkness among the trees.

"You know," he said, "she hated me this afternoon, and I hated her--"

It was midnight, full of sick thoughts.

"It is no good," said I. "Go to bed--it will be morning in a few hours."




PART THREE



CHAPTER I - A NEW START IN LIFE


Lettie was wedded, as I had said, before Leslie lost all the wistful
traces of his illness. They had been gone away to France five days before
we recovered anything like the normal tone in the house. Then, though the
routine was the same, everywhere was a sense of loss, and of change. The
long voyage in the quiet home was over; we had crossed the bright sea of
our youth, and already Lettie had landed and was travelling to a strange
destination in a foreign land. It was time for us all to go, to leave the
valley of Nethermere whose waters and whose woods were distilled in the
essence of our veins. We were the children of the valley of Nethermere, a
small nation with language and blood of our own, and to cast ourselves
each one into separate exile was painful to us.

"I shall have to go now," said George. "It is my nature to linger an
unconscionable time, yet I dread above all things this slow crumbling
away from my foundations by which I free myself at last. I must wrench
myself away now--"

It was the slack time between the hay and the corn harvest, and we sat
together in the grey, still morning of August pulling the stack. My hands
were sore with tugging the loose wisps from the lower part of the stack,
so I waited for the touch of rain to send us indoors. It came at last,
and we hurried into the barn. We climbed the ladder into the loft that
was strewn with farming implements and with carpenters' tools. We sat
together on the shavings that littered the bench before the high gable
window, and looked out over the brooks and the woods and the ponds. The
tree-tops were very near to us, and we felt ourselves the centre of the
waters and the woods that spread down the rainy valley.

"In a few years," I said, "we shall be almost strangers."

He looked at me with fond, dark eyes and smiled incredulously.

"It is as far," said I, "to the 'Ram' as it is for me to
London--farther."

"Don't you want me to go there?" he asked, smiling quietly.

"It's all as one where you go, you will travel north, and I east, and
Lettie south. Lettie has departed. In seven weeks I go.--And you?"

"I must be gone before you," he said decisively.

"Do you know--" and he smiled timidly in confession, "I feel alarmed at
the idea of being left alone on a loose end. I must not be the last to
leave--" he added almost appealingly.

"And you will go to Meg?" I asked.

He sat tearing the silken shavings into shreds, and telling me in clumsy
fragments all he could of his feelings:

"You see, it's not so much what you call love. I don't know. You see, I
built on Lettie"--he looked up at me shamefacedly, then continued tearing
the shavings--"you must found your castles on something, and I founded
mine on Lettie. You see, I'm like plenty of folks, I have nothing
definite to shape my life to. I put brick upon brick, as they come, and
if the whole topples down in the end, it does. But you see, you and
Lettie have made me conscious, and now I'm at a dead loss. I have looked
to marriage to set me busy on my house of life, something whole and
complete, of which it will supply the design. I must marry or be in a
lost lane. There are two people I could marry--and Lettie's gone. I love
Meg just as well, as far as love goes. I'm not sure I don't feel better
pleased at the idea of marrying her. You know I should always have been
second to Lettie, and the best part of love is being made much of, being
first and foremost in the whole world for somebody. And Meg's easy and
lovely. I can have her without trembling, she's full of soothing and
comfort. I can stroke her hair and pet her, and she looks up at me, full
of trust and lovingness, and there is no flaw, all restfulness in one
another--"

Three weeks later, as I lay in the August sunshine in a deck-chair on the
lawn, I heard the sound of wheels along the gravel path. It was George
calling for me to accompany him to his marriage. He pulled up the
dog-cart near the door and came up the steps to me on the lawn. He was
dressed as if for the cattle market, in jacket and breeches and gaiters.

"Well, are you ready?" he said, standing smiling down on me. His eyes
were dark with excitement, and had that vulnerable look which was so
peculiar to the Saxtons in their emotional moments.

"You are in good time," said I, "it is but half-past nine."

"It wouldn't do to be late on a day like this," he said gaily, "see how
the sun shines. Come, you don't look as brisk as a best man should. I
thought you would have been on tenterhooks of excitement. Get up, get up!
Look here, a bird has given me luck"--he showed me a white smear on his
shoulder.

I drew myself up lazily.

"All right," I said, "but we must drink a whisky to establish it."

He followed me out of the fragrant sunshine into the dark house. The
rooms were very still and empty, but the cool silence responded at once
to the gaiety of our sun-warm entrance. The sweetness of the summer
morning hung invisible like glad ghosts of romance through the shadowy
room. We seemed to feel the sunlight dancing golden in our veins as we
filled again the pale liqueur.

"Joy to you--I envy you today."

His teeth were white, and his eyes stirred like dark liquor as he smiled.

"Here is my wedding present!"

I stood the four large water-colours along the wall before him. They were
drawings among the waters and the fields of the mill, grey rain and
twilight, morning with the sun pouring gold into the mist, and the
suspense of a midsummer noon upon the pond. All the glamour of our
yesterdays came over him like an intoxicant, and he quivered with the
wonderful beauty of life that was weaving him into the large magic of the
years. He realised the splendour of the pageant of days which had him in
train.

"It's been wonderful, Cyril, all the time," he said, with surprised joy.

We drove away through the freshness of the wood, and among the flowing of
the sunshine along the road. The cottages of Greymede filled the shadows
with colour of roses, and the sunlight with odour of pinks and the blue
of corn-flowers and larkspur. We drove briskly up the long, sleeping
hill, and bowled down the hollow past the farms where the hens were
walking with the red gold cocks in the orchard, and the ducks like white
cloudlets under the aspen trees revelled on the pond.

"I told her to be ready any time," said George--"but she doesn't know
it's today. I didn't want the public-house full of the business."

The mare walked up the sharp little rise on top of which stood the Ram
Inn. In the quiet, as the horse slowed to a standstill, we heard the
crooning of a song in the garden. We sat still in the cart, and looked
across the flagged yard to where the tall madonna lilies rose in clusters
out of the alyssum. Beyond the border of flowers was Meg, bending over
the gooseberry bushes. She saw us and came swinging down the path, with a
bowl of gooseberries poised on her hip. She was dressed in a plain, fresh
holland frock, with a white apron. Her black, heavy hair reflected the
sunlight, and her ripe face was luxuriant with laughter.

"Well, I never!" she exclaimed, trying not to show that she guessed his
errand. "Fancy you here at this time o' morning!"

Her eyes, delightful black eyes like polished jet, untroubled and frank,
looked at us as a robin might, with bright questioning. Her eyes were so
different from the Saxtons': darker, but never still and full, never
hesitating, dreading a wound, never dilating with hurt or with timid
ecstasy.

"Are you ready then?" he asked, smiling down on her. "What?" she asked in
confusion.

"To come to the registrar with me--I've got the licence."

"But I'm just going to make the pudding," she cried, in full
expostulation.

"Let them make it themselves--put your hat on."

"But look at me! I've just been getting the gooseberries. Look!" She
showed us the berries, and the scratches on her arms and hands.

"What a shame!" he said, bending down to stroke her hand and her arm. She
drew back smiling, flushing with joy. I could smell the white lilies
where I sat.

"But you don't mean it, do you?" she said, lifting to him her face that
was round and glossy like a blackheart cherry. For answer, he unfolded
the marriage licence. She read it, and turned aside her face in
confusion, saying:

"Well, I've got to get ready. Shall you come an' tell Gran'ma?"

"Is there any need?" he answered reluctantly.

"Yes, you come an' tell 'er," persuaded Meg.

He got down from the trap. I preferred to stay out of doors. Presently
Meg ran out with a glass of beer for me.

"We shan't be many minutes," she apologised. "I've o'ny to slip another
frock on."

I heard George go heavily up the stairs and enter the room over the
bar-parlour, where the grandmother lay bedridden.

"What, is it thagh, ma lad? What are thagh doin' 'ere this mornin'?"
she asked.

"Well A'nt, how does ta feel by now?" he said.

"Eh, sadly, lad, sadly! It'll not be long afore they carry me downstairs
head first--"

"Nay, dunna thee say so!--I'm just off to Nottingham--I want Meg ter
come."

"What for?" cried the old woman sharply.

"I wanted 'er to get married," he replied.

"What! What does't say? An' what about th' licence, an' th' ring, an'
ivrything?"

"I've seen to that all right," he answered.

"Well, tha 'rt a nice'st 'un, I must say! What's want goin' in this
pig-in-a-poke fashion for? This is a nice shabby trick to serve a body!
What does ta mean by it?"

"You knowed as I wor goin' ter marry 'er directly, so I can't see as it
matters o' th' day. I non wanted a' th' pub talkin'--''

"Tha 'rt mighty particklar, an' all, an' all! An' why shouldn't the pub
talk? Tha 'rt non marryin' a nigger, as ta should be so frightened--I
niver thought it on thee!--An' what's thy 'orry, all of a sudden?"

"No hurry as I know of."

"No 'orry--!" replied the old lady, with withering sarcasm. "Tha wor
niver in a 'orry a' thy life! She's non commin' wi' thee this day,
though."

He laughed, also sarcastic. The old lady was angry. She poured on him
her abuse, declaring she would not have Meg in the house again, nor leave
her a penny, if she married him that day.

"Tha can please thysen," answered George, also angry. Meg came hurriedly
into the room.

"Ta'e that 'at off--ta'e it off! Tha non goos wi' 'im this day, not if I
know it! Does 'e think tha 'rt a cow, or a pig, to be fetched wheniver 'e
thinks fit. Ta'e that 'at off, I say!"

The old woman was fierce and peremptory.

"But Gran'ma--!" began Meg.

The bed creaked as the old lady tried to rise.

"Ta'e that 'at off, afore I pull it off!" she cried.

"Oh, be still, Gran'ma--you'll be hurtin' yourself, you know you will--"

"Are you coming, Meg?" said George suddenly.

"She is not!" cried the old woman.

"Are you coming, Meg?" repeated George, in a passion. Meg began to cry. I
suppose she looked at him through her tears. The next thing I heard was a
cry from the old woman, and the sound of staggering feet.

"Would ta drag 'er from me!--if tha goos, ma wench, tha enters this 'ouse
no more, tha 'eers that! Tha does thysen, my lady! Dunna venture anigh me
after this, my gel!"--the old woman called louder and louder. George
appeared in the doorway, holding Meg by the arm. She was crying in a
little distress. Her hat, with its large silk roses, was slanting over
her eyes. She was dressed in white linen. They mounted the trap. I gave
him the reins and scrambled up behind. The old woman heard us through the
open window, and we listened to her calling as we drove away:

"Dunna let me clap eyes on thee again, tha ungrateful 'ussy, tha
ungrateful 'ussy! Tha'll rue it, my wench, tha'll rue it, an' then dunna
come ter me--"

We drove out of hearing. George sat with a shut mouth, scowling. Meg wept
a while to herself woefully. We were swinging at a good pace under the
beeches of the churchyard which stood above the level of the road. Meg,
having settled her hat, bent her head to the wind, too much occupied with
her attire to weep. We swung round the hollow by the bog end, and rattled
a short distance up the steep hill to Watnall. Then the mare walked
slowly. Meg, at leisure to collect herself, exclaimed plaintively:

"Oh, I've only got one glove!"

She looked at the odd silk glove that lay in her lap, then peered about
among her skirts.

"I must 'a left it in th' bedroom," she said piteously. He laughed, and
his anger suddenly vanished.

"What does it matter? You'll do without all right."

At the sound of his voice, she recollected, and her tears and her weeping
returned.

"Nay," he said, "don't fret about the old woman. She'll come round
tomorrow--an' if she doesn't, it's her lookout. She's got Polly to attend
to her."

"But she'll be that miserable--!" wept Meg.

"It's her own fault. At any rate, don't let it make you miserable"--he
glanced to see if anyone were in sight, then he put his arm round her
waist and kissed her, saying softly, coaxingly, "She'll be all right
tomorrow. We'll go an' see her then, an' she'll be glad enough to have
us. We'll give in to her then, poor old gran'ma. She can boss you about,
an' me as well, tomorrow as much as she likes. She feels it hard, being
tied to her bed. But today is ours, surely--isn't it? Today is ours, an'
you're not sorry, are you?"

"But I've got no gloves, an' I'm sure my hair's a sight. I never thought
she could 'a reached up like that."

George laughed, tickled.

"No," he said, "she Was in a temper. But we can get you some gloves
directly we get to Nottingham."

"I haven't a farthing of money," she said.

"I've plenty!" he laughed. "Oh, an' let's try this on."

They were merry together as he tried on her wedding ring, and they talked
softly, he gentle and coaxing, she rather plaintive. The mare took her
own way, and Meg's hat was disarranged once more by the sweeping
elm-boughs. The yellow corn was dipping and flowing in the fields, like a
cloth of gold pegged down at the corners under which the wind was
heaving. Sometimes we passed cottages where the scarlet lilies rose like
bonfires, and the tall larkspur like bright blue leaping smoke. Sometimes
we smelled the sunshine on the browning corn, sometimes the fragrance of
the shadow of leaves. Occasionally it was the dizzy scent of new
haystacks. Then we rocked and jolted over the rough cobblestones of
Cinderhill, and bounded forward again at the foot of the enormous pit
hill, smelling of sulphur, inflamed with slow red fires in the daylight,
and crusted with ashes. We reached the top of the rise and saw the city
before us, heaped high and dim upon the broad range of the hill. I looked
for the square tower of my old school, and the sharp proud spire of St
Andrews. Over the city hung a dullness, a thin dirty canopy against the
blue sky.

We turned and swung down the slope between the last sullied cornfields
towards Basford, where the swollen gasometers stood like toadstools. As
we neared the mouth of the street, Meg rose excitedly, pulling George's
arm, crying:

"Oh, look, the poor little thing!"

On the causeway stood two small boys lifting their faces and weeping to
the heedless heavens, while before them, upside down, lay a baby strapped
to a shut-up baby-chair. The gim-crack carpet-seated thing had collapsed
as the boys were dismounting the kerb-stone with it. It had fallen
backwards, and they were unable to right it. There lay the infant
strapped head downwards to its silly cart, in imminent danger of
suffocation. Meg leaped out, and dragged the child from the wretched
chair. The two boys, drenched with tears, howled on. Meg crouched on the
road, the baby on her knee, its tiny feet dangling against her skirt. She
soothed the pitiful tear-wet mite. She hugged it to her, and kissed it,
and hugged it, and rocked it in an abandonment of pity. When at last the
childish trio were silent, the boys shaken only by the last ebbing sobs,
Meg calmed also from her frenzy of pity for the little thing. She
murmured to it tenderly, and wiped its wet little cheeks with her
handkerchief, soothing, kissing, fondling the bewildered mite, smoothing
the wet strands of brown hair under the scrap of cotton bonnet, twitching
the inevitable baby cape into order. It was a pretty baby, with wisps of
brown-gold silken hair and large blue eyes.

"Is it a girl?" I asked one of the boys--"How old is she?"

"I don't know," he answered awkwardly. "We've 'ad 'er about a three
week."

"Why, isn't she your sister?"

"No--my mother keeps 'er"--they were very reluctant to tell us anything.

"Poor little lamb!" cried Meg, in another access of pity, clasping the
baby to her bosom with one hand, holding its winsome slippered feet in
the other. She remained thus, stung through with acute pity, crouching,
folding herself over the mite. At last she raised her head, and said, in
a voice difficult with emotion:

"But you love her--don't you?"

"Yes--she's--she's all right. But we 'ave to mind 'er," replied the boy
in great confusion.

"Surely," said Meg, "surely you don't begrudge that. Poor little
thing--so little, she is--surely you don't grumble at minding her a
bit--?"

The boys would not answer.

"Oh, poor little lamb, poor little lamb!" murmured Meg over the child,
condemning with bitterness the boys and the whole world of men.

I taught one of the lads how to fold and unfold the wretched chair. Meg
very reluctantly seated the unfortunate baby therein, gently fastening
her with the strap.

"Wheer's 'er dummy?" asked one of the boys in muffled, self-conscious
tones. The infant began to cry thinly. Meg crouched over it. The "dummy"
was found in the gutter and wiped on the boy's coat, then plugged into
the baby's mouth. Meg released the tiny clasping hand from over her
finger, and mounted the dog-cart, saying sternly to the boys:

"Mind you look after her well, poor little baby with no mother. God's
watching to see what you do to her--so you be careful, mind."

They stood very shamefaced. George clicked to the mare, and as we started
threw coppers to the boys. While we drove away I watched the little group
diminish down the road.

"It's such a shame," she said, and the tears were in her voice, "--A
sweet little thing like that--"

"Ay," said George softly, "there's all sorts of things in towns."

Meg paid no attention to him, but sat woman-like, thinking of the forlorn
baby, and condemning the hard world. He, full of tenderness and
protectiveness towards her, having watched her with softening eyes, felt
a little bit rebuffed that she ignored him, and sat alone in her fierce
womanhood. So he busied himself with the reins, and the two sat each
alone until Meg was roused by the bustle of the town. The mare sidled
past the electric cars nervously, and jumped when a traction engine came
upon us. Meg, rather frightened, clung to George again. She was very glad
when we had passed the cemetery with its white population of tombstones,
and drew up in a quiet street.

But when we had dismounted, and given the horse's head to a loafer, she
became confused and bashful and timid to the last degree. He took her on
his arm; he took the whole charge of her, and laughing, bore her away
towards the steps of the office. She left herself entirely in his hands;
she was all confusion, so he took the charge of her.

When, after a short time, they came out, she began to chatter with
blushful animation. He was very quiet, and seemed to be taking his
breath.

"Wasn't he a funny little man? Did I do it all proper?--I didn't know
what I was doing. I'm sure they were laughing at me--do you think they
were? Oh, just look at my frock--what a sight! What would they think--!"
The baby had slightly soiled the front of her dress.

George drove up the long hill into the town. As we came down between the
shops on Mansfield Road he recovered his spirits.

"Where are we going--where are you taking us?" asked Meg.

"We may as well make a day of it while we are here," he answered, smiling
and flicking the mare. They both felt that they were launched forth on an
adventure. He put up at the Spread Eagle, and we walked towards the
market-place for Meg's gloves. When he had bought her these and a large
lace scarf to give her a more clothed appearance, he wanted dinner.

"We'll go," he said, "to an hotel."

His eyes dilated as he said it, and she shrank away with delighted fear.
Neither of them had ever been to an hotel. She was really afraid. She
begged him to go to an eating-house, to a cafe. He was obdurate. His one
idea was to do the thing that he was half afraid to do. His passion--and
it was almost intoxication--was to dare to play with life. He was afraid
of the town. He was afraid to venture into the foreign places of life,
and all was foreign save the valley of Nethermere. So he crossed the
borders flauntingly, and marched towards the heart of the unknown. We
went to the Victoria Hotel--the most imposing he could think of--and we
had luncheon according to the menu. They were like two children, very
much afraid, yet delighting in the adventure. He dared not, however, give
the orders. He dared not address anybody, waiters or otherwise. I did
that for him, and he watched me, absorbing, learning, wondering that
things were so easy and so delightful. I murmured them injunctions across
the table and they blushed and laughed with each other nervously. It
would be hard to say whether they enjoyed that luncheon. I think Meg did
not--even though she was with him. But of George I am doubtful. He
suffered exquisitely from self-consciousness and nervous embarrassment,
but he felt also the intoxication of the adventure, he felt as a man who
has lived in a small island when he first sets foot on a vast continent.
This was the first step into a new life, and he mused delightedly upon it
over his brandy. Yet he was nervous. He could not get over the feeling
that he was trespassing.

"Where shall we go this afternoon?" he asked.

Several things were proposed, but Meg pleaded warmly for Colwick.

"Let's go on a steamer to Colwick Park. There'll be entertainments there
this afternoon. It'll be lovely."

In a few moments we were on the top of the car swinging down to the Trent
Bridges. It was dinner-time, and crowds of people from shops and
warehouses were hurrying in the sunshine along the pavements. Sun-blinds
cast their shadows on the shop-fronts, and in the shade streamed the
people dressed brightly for summer. As our car stood in the great space
of the market-place we could smell the mingled scent of fruit, oranges,
and small apricots, and pears piled in their vividly coloured sections on
the stalls. Then away we sailed through the shadows of the dark streets
and the open pools of sunshine. The castle on its high rock stood in the
dazzling dry sunlight; the fountain stood shadowy in the green glimmer of
the lime trees that surrounded the alms-houses.

There were many people at the Trent. We stood a while on the bridge to
watch the bright river swirling in a silent dance to the sea, while the
light pleasure-boats lay asleep along the banks. We went on board the
little paddle-steamer and paid our "sixpence return". After much waiting
we set off, with great excitement, for our mile-long voyage. Two banjos
were tumming somewhere below, and the passengers hummed and sang to their
tunes. A few boats dabbled on the water. Soon the river meadows with
their high thorn hedges lay green on our right, while the scarp of red
rock rose on our left, covered with the dark trees of summer.

We landed at Colwick Park. It was early, and few people were there. Dead
glass fairy-lamps were slung about the trees. The grass in places was
worn threadbare. We walked through the avenues and small glades of the
park till we came to the boundary where the race-course stretched its
level green, its winding white barriers running low into the distance.
They sat in the shade for some time while I wandered about. Then many
people began to arrive. It became noisy, even rowdy. We listened for some
time to an open-air concert, given by the pierrots. It was rather vulgar,
and very tiresome. It took me back to Cowes, to Yarmouth. There were the
same foolish over-eyebrowed faces, the same perpetual jingle from an
outof-tune piano, the restless jigging to the songs, the same choruses,
the same escapading. Meg was well pleased. The vulgarity passed by her.
She laughed, and sang the choruses half audibly, daring, but not bold.
She was immensely pleased. "Oh, it's Ben's turn now. I like him, he's got
such a wicked twinkle in his eye. Look at Joey trying to be funny!--He
can't to save his life. Doesn't he look soft--!" She began to giggle in
George's shoulder. He saw the funny side of things for the time and
laughed with her.

During tea, which we took on the green veranda of the degraded hall, she
was constantly breaking forth into some chorus, and he would light up as
she looked at him and sing with her, sotto voce. He was not embarrassed
at Colwick. There he had on his best careless, superior air. He moved
about with a certain scornfulness, and ordered lobster for tea
off-handedly. This also was a new walk of life. Here he was not
hesitating or tremulously strung; he was patronising. Both Meg and he
thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

When we got back into Nottingham she entreated him not to go to the hotel
as he had proposed, and he readily yielded. Instead they went to the
Castle. We stood on the high rock in the cool of the day, and watched the
sun sloping over the great river-flats where the menial town spread out,
and ended, while the river and the meadows continued into the distance.
In the picture-galleries there was a fine collection of Arthur Melville's
paintings. Meg thought them very ridiculous. I began to expound them, but
she was manifestly bored, and he was half-hearted. Outside in the grounds
was a military band playing. Meg longed to be there. The townspeople were
dancing on the grass. She longed to join them, but she could not dance.
So they sat a while looking on.

We were to go to the theatre in the evening. The Carl Rosa Company was
giving "Carmen" at the Royal. We went into the dress circle "like giddy
dukes", as I said to him, so that I could see his eyes dilate with
adventure again as he laughed. In the theatre, among the people in
evening dress, he became once more childish and timorous. He had always
the air of one who does something forbidden, and is charmed, yet fearful,
like a trespassing child. He had begun to trespass that day outside his
own estates of Nethermere.

"Carmen" fascinated them both. The gaudy, careless Southern life amazed
them. The bold free way in which Carmen played with life startled them
with hints of freedom. They stared on the stage fascinated. Between the
acts they held each other's hands, and looked full into each other's wide
bright eyes, and, laughing with excitement, talked about the opera. The
theatre surged and roared dimly like a hoarse shell. Then the music rose
like a storm, and swept and rattled at their feet. On the stage the
strange storm of life clashed in music towards tragedy and futile death.
The two were shaken with a tumult of wild feeling. When it was all over
they rose bewildered, stunned, she with tears in her eyes, he with a
strange wild beating of his heart.

They were both in a tumult of confused emotion. Their ears were full of
the roaring passion of life, and their eyes were blinded by a spray of
tears and that strange quivering laughter which burns with real pain.
They hurried along the pavement to the Spread Eagle, Meg clinging to him,
running, clasping her lace scarf over her white frock, like a scared
white butterfly shaken through the night. We hardly spoke as the horse
was being harnessed and the lamps lighted. In the little smoke-room he
drank several whiskies, she sipping out of his glass, standing all the
time ready to go. He pushed into his pocket great pieces of bread and
cheese, to eat on the way home. He seemed now to be thinking with much
acuteness. His few orders were given sharp and terse. He hired an extra
light rug in which to wrap Meg, and then we were ready.

"Who drives?" said I.

He looked at me and smiled faintly.

"You," he answered.

Meg, like an impatient white flame, stood waiting in the light of the
lamps. He covered her, extinguished her in the dark rug.



CHAPTER II - PUFFS OF WIND IN THE SAIL


The year burst into glory to usher us forth out of the valley of
Nethermere. The cherry trees had been gorgeous with heavy out-reaching
boughs of red and gold. Immense vegetable marrows lay prostrate in the
bottom garden, their great tentacles clutching the pond bank. Against the
wall the globed crimson plums hung close together, and dropped
occasionally with a satisfied plunge into the rhubarb leaves. The crop of
oats was very heavy. The stalks of corn were like strong reeds of bamboo;
the heads of grain swept heavily over like tresses weighted with drops of
gold.

George spent his time between the Mill and the Ram. The grandmother had
received them with much grumbling but with real gladness. Meg was
re-installed, and George slept at the Ram. He was extraordinarily bright,
almost gay. The fact was that his new life interested and pleased him
keenly. He often talked to me about Meg, how quaint and nave she was,
how she amused him and delighted him. He rejoiced in having a place of
his own, a home, and a beautiful wife who adored him. Then the public
house was full of strangeness and interest. No hour was ever dull. If he
wanted company he could go into the smoke-room, if he wanted quiet he
could sit with Meg, and she was such a treat, so soft and warm, and so
amusing. He was always laughing at her quaint crude notions, and at her
queer little turns of speech. She talked to him with a little language,
she sat on his knee and twisted his moustache, finding small, unreal
fault with his features for the delight of dwelling upon them. He was, he
said, incredibly happy. Really he could not believe it. Meg was, ah! she
was a treat. Then he would laugh, thinking how indifferent he had been
about taking her. A little shadow might cross his eyes, but he would
laugh again, and tell me one of his wife's funny little notions. She was
quite uneducated, and such fun, he said. I looked at him as he sounded
this note. I remembered his crude superiority of early days, which had
angered Emily so deeply. There was in him something of the prig. I did
not like his amused indulgence of his wife.

At threshing day, when I worked for the last time at the Mill, I noticed
the new tendency in him. The Saxtons had always kept up a certain proud
reserve. In former years, the family had moved into the parlour on
threshing day, and an extra woman had been hired to wait on the men who
came with the machine. This time George suggested: "Let us have dinner
with the men in the kitchen, Cyril. They are a rum gang. It's rather good
sport mixing with them. They've seen a bit of life, and I like to hear
them, they're so blunt. They're good studies though."

The farmer sat at the head of the table. The seven men trooped in, very
sheepish, and took their places. They had not much to say at first. They
were a mixed set, some rather small, young, and furtive looking, some
unshapely and coarse, with unpleasant eyes, the eyelids slack. There was
one man whom we called the Parrot, because he had a hooked nose, and put
forward his head as he talked. He had been a very large man, but he was
grey, and bending at the shoulders. His face was pale and fleshy, and his
eyes seemed dull-sighted.

George patronised the men, and they did not object. He chaffed them,
making a good deal of demonstration in giving them more beer. He invited
them to pass up their plates, called the woman to bring more bread, and
altogether played mine host of a feast of beggars. The Parrot ate very
slowly.

"Come, Dad," said George, "you're not getting on. Not got many
grinders--?"

"What I've got's in th' road. Is'll 'a'e ter get 'em out. I can manage
wi' bare gums, like a baby again."

"Second childhood, eh? Ah well, we must all come to it," George laughed.

The old man lifted his head and looked at him, and said slowly:

"You'n got ter get ower th' first afore that."

George laughed, unperturbed. Evidently he was well used to the thrusts of
the public house.

"I suppose you soon got over yours," he said.

The old man raised himself and his eyes flickered into life. He chewed
slowly, then said:

"I'd married, an' paid for it; I'd broke a constable's jaw an' paid for
it; I'd deserted from the army, an' paid for that: I'd had a bullet
through my cheek in India atop of it all, by I was your age."

"Oh!" said George, with condescending interest, "you've seen a bit of
life then?"

They drew the old man out, and he told them in his slow, laconic fashion,
a few brutal stories. They laughed and chaffed him. George seemed to have
a thirst for tales of brutal experience, the raw gin of life. He drank it
all in with relish, enjoying the sensation. The dinner was over. It was
time to go out again to work.

"And how old are you, Dad?" George asked. The Parrot looked at him again
with his heavy, tired, ironic eyes, and answered:

"If you'll be any better for knowing--sixty-four."

"It's a bit rough on you, isn't it?" continued the young man, "going
round with the threshing machine and sleeping outdoors at that time of
life? I should 'a thought you'd 'a wanted a bit o' comfort--"

"How do you mean, 'rough on me'?" the Parrot replied slowly.

"Oh, I think you know what I mean," answered George easily.

"Don't know as I do," said the slow old Parrot.

"Well, you haven't made exactly a good thing out of life, have you?"

"What d'you mean by a good thing? I've had my life, an' I'm satisfied wi'
it. Is'll die with a full belly."

"Oh, so you have saved a bit?"

"No," said the old man deliberately, "I've spent as I've gone on. An'
I've had all I wish for. But I pity the angels, when the Lord sets me
before them like a book to read. Heaven won't be heaven just then."

"You're a philosopher in your way," laughed George.

"And you," replied the old man, "toddling about your backyard, think
yourself mighty wise. But your wisdom '11 go with your teeth. You'll
learn in time to say nothing."

The old man went out and began his work, carrying the sacks of corn from
the machine to the chamber.

"There's a lot in the old Parrot," said George, "as he'll never tell."

I laughed.

"He makes you feel, as well, as if you'd a lot to discover in life," he
continued, looking thoughtfully over the dusty straw-stack at the
chuffing machine.

After the harvest was ended the father began to deplete his I farm. Most
of the stock was transferred to the Ram. George was going to take over
his father's milk business, and was going to farm enough of the land
attaching to the Inn to support nine or ten cows. Until the spring,
however, Mr Saxton retained his own milk round, and worked at improving
the condition of the land ready for the valuation. George, with three
cows, started a little milk supply in the neighbourhood of the Inn,
prepared his land for the summer, and helped in the public-house.

Emily was the first to depart finally from the Mill. She went to a school
in Nottingham, and shortly afterwards Mollie, her younger sister, went to
her. In October I moved to London. Lettie and Leslie were settled in
their home in Brentwood, Yorkshire. We all felt very keenly our exile
from Nether-mere. But as yet the bonds were not broken; only use could
sever them. Christmas brought us all home again, hastening to greet each
other. There was a slight change in everybody. Lettie was brighter, more
imperious, and very gay; Emily was quiet, self-restrained, and looked
happier; Leslie was jollier and at the same time more subdued and
earnest; George looked very healthy and happy, and sounded well pleased
with himself; my mother with her gaiety at our return brought tears to
our eyes.

We dined one evening at Highclose with the Tempests. It was dull as
usual, and we left before ten o'clock. Lettie had changed her shoes and
put on a fine cloak of greenish blue. We walked over the frost-bound
road. The ice on Nethermere gleamed mysteriously in the moonlight, and
uttered strange, half-audible whoops and yelps. The moon was very high in
the sky, small and brilliant like a vial full of the pure white liquid of
light. There was no sound in the night save the haunting movement of the
ice, and the clear twinkle of Lettie's laughter.

On the drive leading to the wood we saw someone approaching. The wild
grass was grey on either side, the thorn trees stood with shaggy black
beards sweeping down, the pine trees were erect like dark soldiers. The
black shape of the man drew near, with a shadow running at its feet. I
recognised George, obscured as he was in his cap and his upturned collar.
Lettie was in front with her husband. As George was passing, she said, in
bright clear tones:

"A Happy New Year to you."

He stopped, swung round, and laughed.

"I thought you wouldn't have known me," he said.

"What, is it you, George?" cried Lettie in great surprise--"Now, what a
joke! How are you?"--she put our her white hand from her draperies. He
took it, and answered, "I am very well--and you--?" However meaningless
the words were, the tone was curiously friendly, intimate, informal.

"As you see," she replied, laughing, interested in his attitude--"but
where are you going?"

"I am going home," he answered, in a voice that meant "have you forgotten
that I too am married"?

"Oh, of course!" cried Lettie. "You are now mine host of the Ram. You
must tell me about it. May I ask him to come home with us for an hour,
Mother?--It is New Year's Eve, you know."

"You have asked him already," laughed Mother.

"Will Mrs Saxton spare you for so long?" asked Lettie of George.

"Meg? Oh, she does not order my comings and goings."

"Does she not?" laughed Lettie. "She is very unwise. Train up a husband
in the way he should go, and in after life--I never could quote a text
from end to end. I am full of beginnings, but as for a finish-----!
Leslie, my shoe-lace is untied--shall I wait till I can put my foot on
the fence?"

Leslie knelt down at her feet. She shook the hood back from her head, and
her ornaments sparkled in the moonlight. Her face with its whiteness and
its shadows was full of fascination, and in their dark recesses her eyes
thrilled George with hidden magic. She smiled at him along her cheeks
while her husband crouched before her. Then, as the three walked along
towards the wood she flung her draperies into loose eloquence and there
was a glimpse of her bosom white with the moon. She laughed and
chattered, and shook her silken stuffs, sending out a perfume exquisite
on the frosted air. When we reached the house Lettie dropped her
draperies and rustled into the drawing-room. There the lamp was low-lit,
shedding a yellow twilight from the window space. Lettie stood between
the firelight and the dusky lamp-glow, tall and warm between the lights.
As she turned laughing to the two men, she let her cloak slide over her
white shoulder and fall with silk splendour of a peacock's gorgeous blue
over the arm of the large settee. There she stood, with her white hand
upon the peacock of her cloak, where it tumbled against her dull orange
dress. She knew her own splendour, and she drew up her throat laughing
and brilliant with triumph. Then she raised both her arms to her head and
remained for a moment delicately touching her hair into order, still
fronting the two men. Then with a final little laugh she moved slowly and
turned up the lamp, dispelling some of the witchcraft from the room. She
had developed strangely in six months. She seemed to have discovered the
wonderful charm of her womanhood. As she leaned forward with her arm
outstretched to the lamp, as she delicately adjusted the wicks with
mysterious fingers, she seemed to be moving in some alluring figure of a
dance, her hair like a nimbus clouding the light, her bosom lit with
wonder. The soft outstretching of her hand was like the whispering of
strange words into the blood, and as she fingered a book the heart
watched silently for the meaning.

"Won't you take off my shoes, darling?" she said, sinking among the
cushions of the settee. Leslie kneeled again before her, and she bent her
head and watched him.

"My feet are a tiny bit cold," she said plaintively, giving him her foot,
that seemed like gold in the yellow silk stocking. He took it between his
hands, stroking it.

"It is quite cold," he said, and he held both her feet in his hands.

"Ah, you dear boy!" she cried with sudden gentleness, bending forward and
touching his cheek.

"Is it great fun being mine host of 'Ye Ramme Inne'!" she said playfully
to George. There seemed a long distance between them now as she sat, with
the man in evening dress crouching before her putting golden shoes on her
feet.

"It is rather," he replied, "the men in the smoke-room say such rum
things. My word, you hear some tales there."

"Tell us, do!" she pleaded.

"Oh! I couldn't. I never could tell a tale, and even if I could--well--"

"But I do long to hear," she said, "what the men say in the smoke-room of
'Ye Ramme Inne'. Is it quite untellable?"

"Quite!" he laughed.

"What a pity! See what a cruel thing it is to be a woman, Leslie: we
never know what men say in smoke-rooms, while you read in your novels
everything a woman ever uttered. It is a shame! George, you are a wretch,
you should tell me. I do envy you--"

"What do you envy me, exactly?" he asked, laughing always at her
whimsical way.

"Your smoke-room. The way you see life--or the way you hear it, rather."

"But I should have thought you saw life ten times more than me," he
replied.

"I! I only see manners--good manners and bad manners. You know 'manners
maketh a man'. That's when a woman's there. But you wait a while, you'll
see."

"When shall I see?" asked George, flattered and interested.

"When you have made the fortune you talked about," she replied.

He was uplifted by her remembering the things he had said.

"But when I have made it--when!"--he said sceptically--"even then--well,
I shall only be, or have been, landlord of 'Ye Ramme Inne'." He looked at
her, waiting for her to lift up his hopes with her gay balloons.

"Oh, that doesn't matter! Leslie might be landlord of some 'Ram Inn' when
he's at home, for all anybody would know--mightn't you, hubby, dear?"

"Thanks!" replied Leslie, with good-humoured sarcasm.

"You can't tell a publican from a peer, if he's a rich publican," she
continued. "Money maketh the man, you know."

"Plus manners," added George, laughing.

"Oh, they are always There--where I am. I give you ten years. At the end
of that time you must invite us to your swell place--say the Hall at
Eberwich--and we will come--'with all our numerous array'."

She sat among her cushions smiling upon him. She was half ironical, half
sincere. He smiled back at her, his dark eyes full of trembling hope, and
pleasure, and pride.

"How is Meg?" she asked. "Is she as charming as ever--or have you spoiled
her?"

"Oh, she is as charming as ever," he replied. "And we are tremendously
fond of one another."

"That is right!--I do think men are delightful," she added, smiling.

"I am glad you think so," he laughed.

They talked on brightly about a thousand things. She touched on Paris,
and pictures, and new music, with her quick chatter, sounding to George
wonderful in her culture and facility. And at last he said he must go.

"Not until you have eaten a biscuit and drunk good luck with me," she
cried, catching her dress about her like a dim flame and running out of
the room. We all drank to the New Year in the cold champagne.

"To the Vita Nuova!" said Lettie, and we drank, smiling. "Hark!" said
George, "the hooters."

We stood still and listened. There was a faint booing noise far away
outside. It was midnight. Lettie caught up a wrap and we went to the
door. The wood, the ice, the grey dim hills lay frozen in the light of
the moon. But outside the valley, far away in Derbyshire, away towards
Nottingham, on every hand the distant hooters and buzzers of mines and
ironworks crowed small on the borders of the night, like so many strange,
low voices of cockerels bursting forth at different pitch, with different
tone, warning us of the dawn of the New Year.



CHAPTER III - THE FIRST PAGES OF SEVERAL ROMANCES


I found a good deal of difference in Leslie since his marriage. He had
lost his assertive self-confidence. He no longer pronounced emphatically
and ultimately on every subject, nor did he seek to dominate, as he had
always done, the company in which he found himself. I was surprised to
see him so courteous and attentive to George. He moved unobtrusively
about the room while Lettie was chattering, and in his demeanour there
was a new reserve, a gentleness and grace. It was charming to see him
offering the cigarettes to George, or, with beautiful tact, asking with
his eyes only whether he should refill the glass of his guest, and
afterward replacing it softly close to the other's hand.

To Lettie he was unfailingly attentive, courteous, and undemonstrative.

Towards the end of my holiday he had to go to London on business, and we
agreed to take the journey together. We must leave Woodside soon after
eight o'clock in the morning. Lettie and he had separate rooms. I thought
she would not have risen to take breakfast with us, but at a quarter-past
seven, just as Rebecca was bringing in the coffee, she came downstairs.
She wore a blue morning-gown, and her hair was as beautifully dressed as
usual.

"Why, my darling, you shouldn't have troubled to come down so early,"
said Leslie, as he kissed her.

"Of course, I should come down," she replied, lifting back the heavy
curtains and looking out on the snow where the darkness was wilting into
daylight. "I should not let you go away into the cold without having seen
you take a good breakfast. I think it is thawing. The snow on the
rhododendrons looks sodden and drooping. Ah, well, we can keep out the
dismal of the morning for another hour." She glanced at the clock--"just
an hour!" she added. He turned to her with a swift tenderness. She smiled
to him, and sat down at the coffee-maker. We took our places at table.

"I think I shall come back tonight," he said quietly, almost appealingly.

She watched the flow of the coffee before she answered. Then the brass
urn swung back, and she lifted her face to hand him the cup.

"You will not do anything so foolish, Leslie," she said calmly. He took
his cup, thanking her, and bent his face over the fragrant steam.

"I can easily catch the 7.15 from St Pancras," he replied, without
looking up.

"Have I sweetened to your liking Cyril?" she asked, and then, as she
stirred her coffee she added, "It is ridiculous, Leslie! You catch the
7.15 and very probably miss the connection at Nottingham. You can't have
the motor-car there, because of the roads. Besides, it is absurd to come
toiling home in the cold slushy night when you can just as well stay in
London and be comfortable."

"At any rate I should get the 10.30 down to Lawton Hill," he urged.

"But there is no need," she replied, "there is not the faintest need for
you to come home tonight. It is really absurd of you. Think of all the
discomfort! Indeed I should not want to come trailing dismally home at
midnight, I should not indeed. You would be simply wretched. Stay and
have a jolly evening with Cyril."

He kept his head bent over his plate and did not reply. His persistence
irritated her slightly.

"That is what you can do!" she said. "Go to the pantomime. Or wait--go to
Maeterlinck's 'Blue Bird'. I am sure that is on somewhere. I wonder if
Rebecca has destroyed yesterday's paper. Do you mind touching the bell,
Cyril?" Rebecca came, and the paper was discovered. Lettie carefully read
the notices, and planned for us with zest a delightful programme for the
evening. Leslie listened to it all in silence.

When the time had come for our departure Lettie came with us into the
hall to see that we were well wrapped up. Leslie had spoken very few
words. She was conscious that he, was deeply offended, but her manner was
quite calm, and she petted us both brightly.

"Good-bye dear!" she said to him, when he came mutely to kiss her. "You
know it would have been miserable for you to sit all those hours in the
train at night. You will have ever such a jolly time. I know you will. I
shall look for you tomorrow. Good-bye, then, good-bye!"

He went down the steps and into the car without looking at her. She
waited in the doorway as we moved round. In the black-grey morning she
seemed to harbour the glittering blue sky and the sunshine of March in
her dress and her luxuriant hair. He did not look at her till we were
curving to the great, snow-cumbered rhododendrons, when, at the last
moment he stood up in a sudden panic to wave to her. Almost as he saw her
the bushes came between them and he dropped dejectedly into his seat.

"Good-bye!" we heard her call cheerfully and tenderly like a blackbird.

"Good-bye!" I answered, and: "Good-bye Darling, goodbye!" he cried,
suddenly starting up in a passion of forgiveness and tenderness.

The car went cautiously down the soddened white path, under the trees.

I suffered acutely the sickness of exile in Norwood. For weeks I wandered
the streets of the suburb, haunted by the spirit of some part of
Nethermere. As I went along the quiet roads where the lamps in yellow
loneliness stood among the leafless trees of the night I would feel the
feeling of the dark, wet bit of path between the wood meadow and the
brooks. The spirit of that wild little slope to the Mill would come upon
me, and there in the suburb of London I would walk wrapt in the sense of
a small wet place in the valley of Nethermere. A strange voice within me
rose and called for the hill path; again I could feel the wood waiting
for me, calling and calling, and I crying for the wood, yet the space of
many miles was between us. Since I left the valley of home I have not
much feared any other loss. The hills of Nethermere had been my walls,
and the sky of Nethermere my roof overhead. It seemed almost as if, at
home, I might lift my hand to the ceiling of the valley, and touch my own
beloved sky, whose familiar clouds came again and again to visit me,
whose stars were constant to me, born when I was born, whose sun had been
all my father to me. But now the skies were strange over my head, and
Orion walked past me unnoticing, he who night after night had stood over
the woods to spend with me a wonderful hour. When does day now lift up
the confines of my dwelling place, when does the night throw open her
vastness for me, and send me the stars for company? There is no night in
a city. How can I lose myself in the magnificent forest of darkness when
night is only a thin scattering of the trees of shadow with barrenness of
lights between!

I could never lift my eyes save to the Crystal Palace, crouching,
cowering wretchedly among the yellow-grey clouds, pricking up its two
round towers like pillars of anxious misery. No landmark could have been
more foreign to me, more depressing, than the great dilapidated palace
which lay for ever prostrate above us, fretting because of its own
degradation and ruin.

I watched the buds coming on the brown almond trees; I heard the
blackbirds, and saw the restless starlings; in the streets were many
heaps of violets, and men held forward to me snowdrops whose white mute
lips were pushed upwards in a bunch: but these things had no meaning for
me, and little interest.

Most eagerly I waited for my letters. Emily wrote to me very constantly:

"Don't you find it quite exhilarating, almost intoxicating, to be so
free? I think it is quite wonderful. At home you cannot live your own
life. You have to struggle to keep even a little apart for yourself. It
is so hard to stand aloof from our mothers, and yet they are only hurt
and insulted if you tell them what is in your heart. It is such a relief
not to have to be anything to anybody, but just to please yourself. I am
sure Mother and I have suffered a great deal from trying to keep up our
old relations. Yet she would not let me go. When I come home in the
evening and think that I needn't say anything to anybody, nor do anything
for anybody, but just have the evening for myself, I am overjoyed.

"I have begun to write a story--"

Again, a little later, she wrote:

"As I go to school by Old Brayford village in the morning the birds are
thrilling wonderfully and everything seems stirring. Very likely there
will be a set-back, and after that spring will come in truth.

"When shall you come and see me? I cannot think of a spring without you.
The railways are the only fine exciting things here--one is only a few
yards away from school. All day long I am watching the great Midland
trains go south. They are very lucky to be able to rush southward through
the sunshine.

"The crows are very interesting. They flap past all the time we're out in
the yard. The railways and the crows make the charm of my life in
Brayford. The other day I saw no end of pairs of crows. Do you remember
what they say at home?--'One for sorrow.' Very often one solitary
creature sits on the telegraph wires. I almost hate him when I look at
him. I think my badge for life ought to be--one crow--"

Again, a little later:

"I have been home for the week-end. Isn't it nice to be made much of, to
be an important cherished person for a little time? It is quite a new
experience for me.

"The snowdrops are full out among the grass in the front garden--and such
a lot. I imagined you must come in the sunshine of the Sunday afternoon
to see them. It did not seem possible you should not. The winter aconites
are out along the hedge. I knelt and kissed them. I have been so glad to
go away, to breathe the free air of life, but I felt as if I could not
come away from the aconites. I have sent you some--are they much
withered?

"Now I am in my lodgings, I have the quite unusual feeling of being
contented to stay here a little while--not long--not above a year, I am
sure. But even to be contented for a little while is enough for me--"

In the beginning of March I had a letter from the father:

"You'll not see us again in the old place. We shall be gone in a
fortnight. The things are most of them gone already. George has got Bob
and Flower. I have sold three of the cows, Stafford, and Julia and
Hannah. The place looks very empty. I don't like going past the cowsheds,
and we miss hearing the horses stamp at night. But I shall not be sorry
when we have really gone. I begin to feel as if we'd stagnated here. I
begin to feel as if I was settling and getting narrow and dull. It will
be a new lease of life to get away.

"But I'm wondering how we shall be over there. Mrs Saxton feels very
nervous about going. But at the worst we can but come back. I feel as if
I must go somewhere, it's stagnation and starvation for us here. I wish
George would come with me. I never thought he would have taken to
public-house keeping, but he seems to like it all right. He was down with
Meg on Sunday. Mrs Saxton says he's getting a public-house tone. He is
certainly much livelier, more full of talk than he was. Meg and he seem
very comfortable, I'm glad to say. He's got a good milk round, and I've
no doubt but what he'll do well. He is very cautious at the bottom; he'll
never lose much if he never makes much.

"Sam and David are very great friends. I'm glad I've got the boy. We
often talk of you. It would be very lonely if it wasn't for the
excitement of selling things and so on. Mrs Saxton hopes you will stick
by George. She worries a bit about him, thinking he may go wrong. I don't
think he will ever go far. But I should be glad to know you were keeping
friends. Mrs Saxton says she will write to you about it--"

George was a very poor correspondent. I soon ceased to expect a letter
from him. I received one directly after the father's.

"My Dear Cyril,

"Forgive me for not having written you before, but you see, I cannot sit
down and write to you any time. If I cannot do it just when I am in the
mood, I cannot do it at all. And it so often happens that the mood comes
upon me when I am in the fields at work, when it is impossible to write.
Last night I sat by myself in the kitchen on purpose to write to you, and
then I could not. All day, at Greymede, when I was drilling in the fallow
at the back of the church, I had been thinking of you, and I could have
written there if I had had materials, but I had not, and at night I could
not.

"I am sorry to say that in my last letter I did not thank you for the
books. I have not read them both, but I have nearly finished Evelyn
Innes. I get a bit tired of it towards the end. I do not do much reading
now. There seems to be hardly any chance for me, either somebody is
crying for me in the smoke-room, or there is some business, or else Meg
won't let me. She doesn't like me to read at night, she says I ought to
talk to her, so I have to.

"It is half-past seven, and I am sitting ready dressed to go and talk to
Harry Jackson about a young horse he wants to sell to me. He is in pretty
low water, and it will make a pretty good horse. But I don't care much
whether I have it or not. The mood seized me to write to you. Somehow at
the bottom I feel miserable and heavy, yet there is no need. I am making
pretty good money, and I've got all I want. But when I've been ploughing
and getting the oats in those fields on the hillside at the back of
Greymede church, I've felt as if I didn't care whether I got on or not.
It's very funny. Last week I made over five pounds clear, one way and
another, and yet now I'm as restless, and discontented as I can be, and I
seem eager for something, but I don't know what it is. Sometimes I wonder
where I am going. Yesterday I watched broken white masses of cloud
sailing across the sky in a fresh strong wind. They all seemed to be
going somewhere. I wondered where the wind was blowing them. I don't seem
to have hold on anything, do I? Can you tell me what I want at the bottom
of my heart? I wish you were here, then I think I should not feel like
this. But generally I don't, generally I am quite jolly, and busy.

"By jove, here's Harry Jackson come for me. I will finish this letter
when I get back.

"--I have got back, we have turned out, but I cannot finish. I cannot
tell you all about it. I've had a little row with Meg. Oh, I've had a
rotten time. But I cannot tell you about it tonight, it is late, and I am
tired, and have a headache. Some other time perhaps--"

"GEORGE SAXTON."


The spring came bravely, even in south London, and the town was filled
with magic. I never knew the sumptuous purple of evening till I saw the
round arc-lamps fill with light, and roll like golden bubbles along the
purple dusk of the high road. Everywhere at night the city is filled with
the magic of lamps: over the river they pour in golden patches their
floating luminous oil on the restless darkness; the bright lamps float in
and out of the cavern of London Bridge Station like round shining bees in
and out of a black hive; in the suburbs the street lamps glimmer with the
brightness of lemons among the trees. I began to love the town.

In the mornings I loved to move in the aimless street's procession,
watching the faces come near to me, with the sudden glance of dark eyes,
watching the mouths of the women blossom with talk as they passed,
watching the subtle movements of the shoulders of men beneath their
coats, and the naked warmth of their necks that went glowing along the
street. I loved the city intensely for its movement of men and women, the
soft, fascinating flow of the limbs of men and women, and the sudden
flash of eyes and lips as they pass. Among all the faces of the street my
attention roved like a bee which clambers drunkenly among blue flowers. I
became intoxicated with the strange nectar which I sipped out of the eyes
of the passers-by.

I did not know how time was hastening by on still bright wings, till I
saw the scarlet hawthorn flaunting over the road, and the lime buds lit
up like wine drops in the sun, and the pink scarves of the lime buds
pretty as louse-wort a-blossom in the gutters, and a silver-pink tangle
of almond boughs against the blue sky. The lilacs came out, and in the
pensive stillness of the suburb, at night, came the delicious tarry scent
of lilac flowers, wakening a silent laughter of romance.

Across all this, strangely, came the bleak sounds of home. Alice wrote to
me at the end of May:

"Cyril dear, prepare yourself. Meg has got twins--yesterday. I went up to
see how she was this afternoon, not knowing anything, and there I found a
pair of bubs in the nest, and old Ma Stainwright bossing the show. I
nearly fainted. Sybil dear, I hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry when
I saw those two rummy little round heads, like two larch cones cheek by
cheek on a twig. One is a darkie, with lots of black hair, and the other
is red, would you believe it, just lit up with thin red hair like a
flicker of firelight. I gasped. I believe I did shed a few tears, though
what for, I don't know.

"The old grandma is a perfect old wretch over it. She lies chuckling and
passing audible remarks in the next room, as pleased as punch really, but
so mad because Ma Stainwright wouldn't have them taken in to her. You
should have heard her when we took them in at last. They are both boys.
She did make a fuss, poor old woman. I think she's going a bit funny in
the head. She seemed sometimes to think they were hers, and you should
have heard her, the way she talked to them, it made me feel quite funny.
She wanted them lying against her on the pillow, so that she could feel
them with her face. I shed a few more tears, Sybil. I think I must be
going dotty also. But she came round when we took them away, and began to
chuckle to herself, and talk about the things she'd say to George when he
came--awful shocking things, Sybil, made me blush dreadfully.

"Georgie didn't know about it then. He was down at Bingham, buying some
horses, I believe. He seems to have got a craze for buying horses. He got
in with Harry Jackson and Mayhew's sons--you know, they were horse
dealers--at least their father was. You remember he died bankrupt about
three years ago. There are Fred and Duncan left, and they pretend to keep
on the old business. They are always up at the Ram, and Georgie is always
driving about with them. I don't like it--they are a loose lot, rather
common, and poor enough now.

"Well, I thought I'd wait and see Georgie. He came about half-past five.
Meg had been fidgeting about him, wondering where he was, and how he was,
and so on. Bless me if I'd worry and whittle about a man. The old grandma
heard the cart, and before he could get down she shouted--you know her
room is in the front--'Hi, George, ma lad, sharpen thy shins an' com' an'
a'e a look at 'em--thee'r's two on 'em, two on 'em!' and she laughed
something awful.

"''Ello Granma, what art ter shoutin' about?' he said, and at the sound
of his voice Meg turned to me so pitiful, and said: "'He's been wi' them
Mayhews.'

"'Tha's gotten twins, a couple at a go, ma lad!' shouted the old woman,
and you know how she gives squeal before she laughs! She made the horse
shy, and he swore at it something awful. Then Bill took it, and Georgie
came upstairs. I saw Meg seem to shrink when she heard him kick at the
stairs as he came up, and she went white. When he got to the top he came
in. He fairly reeked of whisky and horses. Bah, a man is hateful when he
reeks of drink! He stood by the side of the bed grinning like a fool, and
saying, quite thick:

"'You've bin in a bit of a 'urry, 'aven't you Meg. An' how are ter
feelin' then?'

"'Oh, I'm a' right,' said Meg.

"'Is it twins, straight?' he said; 'Wheer is 'em?'

"Meg looked over at the cradle, and he went round the bed to it, holding
to the bed-rail. He had never kissed her, nor anything. When he saw the
twins, asleep with their fists shut tight as wax, he gave a laugh as if
he was amused, and said:

"'Two right enough--an' one on 'em red! Which is the girl, Meg, the black
'un?'

"'They're both boys,' said Meg, quite timidly.

"He turned round, and his eyes went little.

"'Blast 'em then!' he said. He stood there looking like a devil. Sybil
dear, I did not know our George could look like that. I thought he could
only look like a faithful dog or a wounded stag. But he looked fiendish.
He stood watching the poor little twins, scowling at them, till at last
the little red one began to whine a bit. Ma Stainwright came pushing her
fat carcass in front of him and bent over the baby, saying:

"'Why, my pretty, what are they doin' to thee, what are they?--What are
they doin' to thee?"

"Georgie scowled blacker than ever, and went out, lurching against the
wash-stand and making the pots rattle till my heart jumped in my throat.

"'Well, if you don't call that scandylos--!' said old Ma

"Stainwright, and Meg began to cry. You don't know, Cyril! She sobbed fit
to break her heart. I felt as if I could have killed him.

"That old gran'ma began talking to him, and he laughed at her. I do hate
to hear a man laugh when he's half drunk. It makes my blood boil all of a
sudden. That old grandmother backs him up in everything, she's a regular
nuisance. Meg has cried to me before over the pair of them. The wicked,
vulgar old thing that she is--"

I went home to Woodside early in September. Emily was staying at the Ram.
It was strange that everything was so different. Nethermere even had
changed. Nethermere was no longer a complete, wonderful little world that
held us charmed inhabitants. It was a small, insignificant valley lost in
the spaces of the earth. The tree that had drooped over the brook with
such delightful, romantic grace was a ridiculous thing when I came home
after a year of absence in the south. The old symbols were trite and
foolish.

Emily and I went down one morning to Strelley Mill. The house was
occupied by a labourer and his wife, strangers from the north. He was
tall, very thin, and silent, strangely suggesting kinship with the rats
of the place. She was small and very active, like some ragged domestic
fowl run wild. Already Emily had visited her, so she invited us into the
kitchen of the mill, and set forward the chairs for us. The large room
had the barren air of a cell. There was a small table stranded towards
the fireplace, and a few chairs by the walls; for the rest, desert spaces
of flagged floor retreating into shadow. On the walls by the windows were
five cages of canaries, and the small sharp movements of the birds made
the room more strange in its desolation. When we began to talk the birds
began to sing, till we were quite bewildered, for the little woman spoke
Glasgow Scotch, and she had a hare lip. She rose and ran towards the
cages, crying herself like some wild fowl, and flapping a duster at the
warbling canaries.

"Stop it, stop it," she cried, shaking her thin weird body at them.
"Silly little devils, fools, fools, fools!!" and she flapped the duster
till the birds were subdued. Then she brought us delicious scones and
apple jelly, urging us, almost nudging us with her thin elbows to make us
eat.

"Don't you like 'em, don't you? Well, eat 'em, eat 'em then. Go on,
Emily, go on, eat some more. Only don't tell Tom--don't tell Tom when 'e
comes in"--she shook her head and laughed her shrilling, weird laughter.

As we were going she came out with us, and went running on in front. We
could not help noting how ragged and unkempt was her short black skirt.
But she hastened around us, hither and thither like an excited fowl,
talking in her high-pitched, unintelligible manner. I could not believe
the brooding mill was in her charge. I could not think this was the
Strelley Mill of a year ago. She fluttered up the steep orchard bank in
front of us. Happening to turn round and see Emily and me smiling at each
other she began to laugh her strident, weird laughter, saying, with a
leer:

"Emily, he's your sweetheart, your sweetheart, Emily! You never told me!"
and she laughed aloud.

We blushed furiously. She came away from the edge of the sluice gully,
nearer to us, crying:

"You've been here o' nights, haven't you, Emily--haven't you?" and she
laughed again. Then she sat down suddenly, and pointing above our heads,
shrieked:

"Ah, look there "--we looked and saw the mistletoe. "Look at her, look at
her! How many kisses a night, Emily?--Ha! Ha! Kisses all the year! Kisses
o' nights in a lonely place."

She went on wildly for a short time, then she dropped her voice and
talked in low, pathetic tones. She pressed on us scones and jelly and
oat-cakes, and we left her.

When we were out on the road by the brook Emily looked at me with
shamefaced, laughing eyes. I noticed a small movement of her lips, and in
an instant I found myself kissing her, laughing with some of the little
woman's wildness.



CHAPTER IV - DOMESTIC LIFE AT THE RAM


George was very anxious to receive me at his home. The Ram had as yet
only a six days' licence, so on Sunday afternoon I walked over to tea. It
was very warm and still and sunny as I came through Greymede. A few
sweethearts were sauntering under the horse-chestnut trees, or crossing
the road to go into the fields that lay smoothly carpeted after the
hay-harvest.

As I came round the flagged track to the kitchen door of the inn I heard
the slur of a baking-tin and the bang of the oven door, and Meg saying
crossly:

"No, don't you take him, Emily--naughty little thing! Let his father hold
him."

One of the babies was crying.

I entered, and found Meg all flushed and untidy, wearing a large white
apron, just rising from the oven. Emily, in a cream dress, was taking a
red-haired, crying baby from out of the cradle. George sat in the small
arm-chair, smoking and looking cross.

"I can't shake hands," said Meg, rather flurried. "I am all floury. Sit
down, will you--" and she hurried out of the room. Emily looked up from
the complaining baby to me and smiled a woman's rare, intimate smile,
which says: "See, I am engaged thus for a moment, but I keep my heart for
you all the time."

George rose and offered me the round arm-chair. It was the highest honour
he could do me. He asked me what I would drink. When I refused
everything, he sat down heavily on the sofa, frowning, and angrily
cudgelling his wits for something to say--in vain.

The room was large and comfortably furnished with rush-chairs, a
glass-knobbed dresser, a cupboard with glass doors, perched on a shelf in
the corner, and the usual large sofa whose cosy loose-bed and pillows
were covered with red cotton stuff. There was a peculiar reminiscence of
victuals and drink in the room; beer, and a touch of spirits, and bacon.
Teenie, the sullen, black-browed servant girl came in carrying the other
baby, and Meg called from the scullery to ask her if the child were
asleep. Meg was evidently in a bustle and a flurry, a most uncomfortable
state.

"No," replied Teenie, "he's not for sleep this day."

"Mend the fire and see to the oven, and then put him his frock on,"
replied Meg testily. Teenie set the black-haired baby in the second
cradle. Immediately he began to cry, or rather to shout his remonstrance.
George went across to him and picked up a white furry rabbit, which he
held before the child.

"Here, look at bun-bun! Have your nice rabbit! Hark at it squeaking"

The baby listened for a moment, then, deciding that this was only a
put-off, began to cry again. George threw down the rabbit and took the
baby, swearing inwardly. He dandled the child on his knee.

"What's up then?--What's up wi' thee? Have a ride then--dee-de-dee-de-dee."

But the baby knew quite well what was the father's feeling towards him,
and he continued to cry.

"Hurry up, Teenie" said George as the maid rattled the coal on the fire.
Emily was walking about hushing her charge, and smiling at me, so that I
had a peculiar pleasure in gathering for myself the honey of endearment
which she shed on the lips of the baby. George handed over his child to
the maid, and said to me with patient sarcasm:

"Will you come in the garden?"

I rose and followed him across the sunny flagged yard, along the path
between the bushes. He lit his pipe and sauntered along as a man on his
own estate does, feeling as if he were untrammeled by laws or
conventions.

"You know," he said, "she's a dam rotten manager."

I laughed, and remarked how full of plums the trees were.

"Yes" he replied heedlessly--"you know she ought to have sent the girl
out with the kids this afternoon, and have got dressed directly. But no,
she must sit gossiping with Emily all the time they were asleep, and then
as soon as they wake up she begins to make cake--"

"I suppose she felt she'd enjoy a pleasant chat, all quiet," I answered.

"But she knew quite well you were coming, and what it would be. But a
woman's no dam foresight."

"Nay, what does it matter" said I.

"Sunday's the only day we can have a bit of peace, so she might keep 'em
quiet then."

"I suppose it was the only time, too, that she could have a quiet
gossip," I replied.

"But you don't know," he said, "there seems to be never a minute of
freedom. Teenie sleeps in now, and lives with us in the kitchen--Oswald
as well--so I never know what it is to have a moment private. There
doesn't seem a single spot anywhere where I can sit quiet. It's the kids
all day, and the kids all night, and the servants, and then all the men
in the house--I sometimes feel as if I should like to get away. I shall
leave the pub as soon as I can--only Meg doesn't want to."

"But if you leave the public-house--what then?"

"I should like to get back on a farm. This is no sort of a place, really,
for farming. I've always got some business on hand. There's a traveller
to see, or I've got to go to the brewers, or I've somebody to look at a
horse, or something. Your life's all messed up. If I had a place of my
own, and farmed it in peace--"

"You'd be as miserable as you could be," I said.

"Perhaps so," he assented, in his old reflective manner. "Perhaps so!
Anyhow, I needn't bother, for I feel as if I never shall go back--to the
land."

"Which means at the bottom of your heart you don't intend to," I said,
laughing.

"Perhaps so" he again yielded. "You see, I'm doing pretty well
here--apart from the public-house: I always think that's Meg's. Come and
look in the stable. I've got a shire mare and two nags: pretty good; I
went down to Melton Mowbray with Tom Mayhew, to a chap they've had
dealings with. Tom's all right, and he knows how to buy, but he is such a
lazy, careless devil, too lazy to be bothered to sell--"

George was evidently interested. As we went round to the stables, Emily
came out with the baby, which was dressed in a new silk frock. She
advanced, smiling to me with dark eyes.

"See, now he is good! Doesn't he look pretty?"

She held the baby for me to look at. I glanced at it, but I was only
conscious of the near warmth of her cheek, and of the scent of her hair.

"Who is he like?" I asked, looking up and finding myself full in her
eyes. The question was quite irrelevant: her eyes spoke a whole clear
message that made my heart throb; yet she answered.

"Who is he? Why, nobody, of course! But he will be like Father, don't you
think?"

The question drew my eyes to hers again, and again we looked each other
the strange intelligence that made her flush and me breathe in as I
smiled.

"Ay! Blue eyes like your father's--not like yours--" Again the wild
messages in her looks.

"No" she answered very softly. "And I think he'll be jolly, like
Father--they have neither of them our eyes, have they?"

"No," I answered, overcome by a sudden hot flush of tenderness. "No--not
vulnerable. To have such soft, vulnerable eyes as you used makes one feel
nervous and irascible. But you have clothed over the sensitiveness of
yours, haven't you?--like naked life, naked defenceless protoplasm they
were, is it not so?"

She laughed, and at the old painful memories she dilated in the old way,
and I felt the old tremor at seeing her soul flung quivering on my pity.

"And were mine like that?" asked George, who had come up.

He must have perceived the bewilderment of my look as I tried to adjust
myself to him. A slight shadow, a slight chagrin appeared on his face.

"Yes," I answered, "yes--but not so bad. You never gave yourself away so
much--you were most cautious: but just as defenceless."

"And am I altered?" he asked, with quiet irony, as if he knew I was not
interested in him.

"Yes, more cautious. You keep in the shadow. But Emily has clothed
herself, and can now walk among the crowd at her own gait."

It was with an effort I refrained from putting my lips to kiss her at
that moment as she looked at me with womanly dignity and tenderness. Then
I remembered, and said:

"But you are taking me to the stable, George! Come and see the horses
too, Emily."

"I will. I admire them so much," she replied, and thus we both indulged
him.

He talked to his horses and of them, laying his hand upon them, running
over their limbs. The glossy, restless animals interested him more than
anything. He broke into a little flush of enthusiasm over them. They were
his new interest. They were quiet and yet responsive; he was their master
and owner. This gave him real pleasure.

But the baby became displeased again. Emily looked at me for sympathy
with him.

"He is a little wanderer," she said, "he likes to be always moving.
Perhaps he objects to the ammonia of stables too," she added, frowning
and laughing slightly; "It is not very agreeable, is it?"

"Not particularly," I agreed, and as she moved off I went with her,
leaving him in the stables. When Emily and I were alone we sauntered
aimlessly back to the garden. She persisted in talking to the baby, and
in talking to me about the baby, till I wished the child in Jericho. This
made her laugh, and she continued to tantalise me. The hollyhock flowers
of the second whorl were flushing to the top of the spires. The bees,
covered with pale crumbs of pollen, were swaying a moment outside the
wide gates of the florets, then they swung in with excited hum, and clung
madly to the furry white capitols, and worked riotously round the waxy
bases. Emily held out the baby to watch, talking all the time in low,
fond tones. The child stretched towards the bright flowers. The sun
glistened on his smooth hair as on bronze dust, and the wondering blue
eyes of the baby followed the bees. Then he made small sounds, and
suddenly waved his hands, like rumpled pink hollyhock buds.

"Look," said Emily, "look at the little bees! Ah, but you mustn't touch
them, they bite. They're coming" she cried, with sudden laughing
apprehension, drawing the child away. He made noises of remonstrance. She
put him near to the flowers again till he knocked the spire with his hand
and two indignant bees came sailing out. Emily drew back quickly crying
in alarm, then laughing with excited eyes at me, as if she had just
escaped a peril in my presence. Thus she teased me by flinging me all
kinds of bright gages of love while she kept me aloof because of the
child. She laughed with pure pleasure at this state of affairs, and
delighted the more when I frowned, till at last I swallowed my resentment
and laughed too, playing with the hands of the baby, and watching his
blue eyes change slowly like a softly sailing sky.

Presently Meg called us in to tea. She wore a dress of fine blue stuff
with cream silk embroidery, and she looked handsome, for her hair was
very hastily dressed.

"What, have you had that child all this time?" she exclaimed, on seeing
Emily. "Where is his father?"

"I don't know--we left him in the stable, didn't we, Cyril? But I like
nursing him, Meg. I like it ever so much," replied Emily.

"Oh yes, you may be sure George would get off it if he could. He's always
in the stable. As I tell him, he fair stinks of horses. He's not that
fond of the children, I can tell you. Come on, my pet--why, come to its
mammy."

She took the baby and kissed it passionately, and made extravagant love
to it. A clean-shaven young man with thick bare arms went across the
yard.

"Here, just look and tell George as tea is ready," said Meg.

"Where is he?" asked Oswald, the sturdy youth who attended to the farm
business.

"You know where to find him," replied Meg, with that careless freedom
which was so subtly derogatory to her husband. George came hurrying from
the out-building. "What, is it tea already?" he said.

"It's a wonder you haven't been crying out for it this last hour," said
Meg.

"It's a marvel you've got dressed so quick," he replied.

"Oh, is it?" she answered--"well, it's not with any of your help that
I've done it, that is a fact. Where's Teenie?" The maid, short, stiffly
built, very dark and sullen-looking, came forward from the gate.

"Can you take Alfy as well, just while we have tea?" she asked. Teenie
replied that she should think she could, whereupon she was given the
ruddy-haired baby, as well as the dark one. She sat with them on a seat
at the end of the yard. We proceeded to tea.

It was a very great spread. There were hot cakes, three or four kinds of
cold cakes, tinned apricots, jellies, tinned lobster, and trifles in the
way of jam, cream, and rum.

"I don't know what those cakes are like," said Meg. "I made them in such
a fluster. Really, you have to do things as best you can when you've got
children--especially when there's two. I never seem to have time to do my
hair up even--look at it now."

She put up her hands to her head, and I could not help noticing how grimy
and rough were her nails.

The tea was going on pleasantly when one of the babies began to cry.
Teenie bent over it crooning gruffly. I leaned back and looked out of the
door to watch her. I thought of the girl in Tchekoff's story, who
smothered her charge, and I hoped the grim Teenie would not be driven to
such desperation. The other child joined in this chorus. Teenie rose from
her seat and walked about the yard, gruffly trying to soothe the twins.

"It's a funny thing, but whenever anybody comes they're sure to be
cross," said Meg, beginning to simmer.

"They're no different from ordinary," said George, "it's only that you're
forced to notice it then."

"No, it is not," cried Meg in a sudden passion:

"Is it now, Emily? Of course, he has to say something! Weren't they as
good as gold this morning, Emily?--and yesterday!--Why, they never
murmured, as good as gold they were. But he wants them to be as dumb as
fishes: he'd like them shutting up in a box as soon as they make a bit of
noise."

"I was not saying anything about it," he replied.

"Yes, you were," she retorted. "I don't know what you call it then--"

The babies outside continued to cry.

"Bring Alfy to me," called Meg, yielding to the mother feeling.

"Oh no, damn it" said George, "let Oswald take him."

"Yes," replied Meg bitterly, "let anybody take him so long as he's out of
your sight. You never ought to have children, you didn't--"

George murmured something about "today".

"Come then," said Meg, with a whole passion of tenderness, as she took
the red-haired baby and held it to her bosom. "Why, what is it then, what
is it, my precious? Hush then, pet, hush then."

The baby did not hush. Meg rose from her chair and stood rocking the baby
in her arms, swaying from one foot to the other.

"He's got a bit of wind," she said.

We tried to continue the meal, but everything was awkward and difficult.

"I wonder if he's hungry," said Meg, "let's try him."

She turned away and gave him her breast. Then he was still, so she
covered herself as much as she could, and sat down again to tea. We had
finished, so we sat and waited while she ate. This disjointing of the
meal, by reflex action, made Emily and me more accurate. We were
exquisitely attentive, and polite to a nicety. Our very speech was
clipped with precision, as we drifted to a discussion of Strauss and
Debussy. This of course put a breach between us two and our hosts, but we
could not help it; it was our only way of covering over the awkwardness
of the occasion. George sat looking glum and listening to us. Meg was
quite indifferent. She listened occasionally, but her position as mother
made her impregnable. She sat eating calmly, looking down now and again
at her baby, holding us in slight scorn, babblers that we were. She was
secure in her high maternity; she was mistress and sole authority.
George, as father, was first servant; as an indifferent father, she
humiliated him and was hostile to his wishes. Emily and I were mere
intruders, feeling ourselves such. After tea we went upstairs to wash our
hands. The grandmother had had a second stroke of paralysis, and lay
inert, almost stupified. Her large bulk upon the bed was horrible to me,
and her face, with the muscles all slack and awry, seemed like some cruel
cartoon. She spoke a few thick words to me. George asked her if she felt
all right, or should he rub her. She turned her old eyes slowly to him.

"My leg--my leg a bit," she said in her strange guttural.

He took off his coat, and pushing his hand under the bedclothes, sat
rubbing the poor old woman's limb patiently, slowly, for some time. She
watched him for a moment, then without her turning her eyes from him, he
passed out of her vision and she lay staring at nothing, in his
direction.

"There," he said at last, "is that any better then, Mother?"

"Ay, that's a bit better," she said slowly.

"Should I gi'e thee a drink?" he asked, lingering, wishing to minister
all he could to her before he went.

She looked at him, and he brought the cup. She swallowed a few drops with
difficulty.

"Doesn't it make you miserable to have her always there?" I asked him,
when we were in the next room. He sat down on the large white bed and
laughed shortly.

"We're used to it--we never notice her, poor old gran'ma."

"But she must have made a difference to you--she must make a big
difference at the bottom, even if you don't know it," I said.

"She'd got such a strong character," he said, musing, "--she seemed to
understand me. She was a real friend to me before she was so bad.
Sometimes I happen to look at her--generally I never see her, you know
how I mean--but sometimes I do--and then--it seems a bit rotten--"

He smiled at me peculiarly, "--it seems to take the shine off things," he
added, and then, smiling again with ugly irony--"She's our skeleton in
the closet." He indicated her large bulk.

The church bells began to ring. The grey church stood on a rise among the
fields not far away, like a handsome old stag looking over towards the
inn. The five bells began to play, and the sound came beating upon the
window.

"I hate Sunday night," he said restlessly.

"Because you've nothing to do?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "It seems like a gag, and you feel helpless. I
don't want to go to church, and hark at the bells, they make you feel
uncomfortable."

"What do you generally do?" I asked.

"Feel miserable--I've been down to Mayhew's these last two Sundays, and
Meg's been pretty mad. She says it's the only night I could stop with
her, or go out with her. But if I stop with her, what can I do?--and if
we go out, it's only for half an hour. I hate Sunday night--it's a dead
end."

When we went downstairs, the table was cleared, and Meg was bathing the
dark baby. Thus she was perfect. She handled the bonny, naked child with
beauty of gentleness. She kneeled over him nobly. Her arms and her bosom
and her throat had a nobility of roundness and softness. She drooped her
head with the grace of a Madonna, and her movements were lovely, accurate
and exquisite, like an old song perfectly sung. Her voice, playing and
soothing round the curved limbs of the baby, was like water, soft as wine
in the sun, running with delight.

We watched humbly, sharing the wonder from afar.

Emily was very envious of Meg's felicity. She begged to be allowed to
bathe the second baby. Meg granted her bounteous permission:

"Yes, you can wash him if you like, but what about your frock?"

Emily, delighted, began to undress the baby whose hair was like crocus
petals. Her fingers trembled with pleasure as she loosed the little
tapes. I always remember the inarticulate delight with which she took the
child in her hands, when at last his little shirt was removed, and felt
his soft white limbs and body. A distinct, glowing atmosphere seemed
suddenly to burst out around her and the child, leaving me outside. The
moment before she had been very near to me, her eyes searching mine, her
spirit clinging timidly about me. Now I was put away, quite alone,
neglected, forgotten, outside the glow which surrounded the woman and the
baby.

"Ha!--Ha-a-a!" she said with a deep-throated vowel, as she put her face
against the child's small breasts, so round, almost like a girl's, silken
and warm and wonderful. She kissed him, and touched him, and hovered over
him, drinking in his baby sweetnesses, the sweetness of the laughing
little mouth's wide, wet kisses, of the round, waving limbs, of the
little shoulders so winsomely curving to the arms and the breasts, of the
tiny soft neck hidden very warm beneath the chin, tasting deliciously
with her lips and her cheeks all the exquisite softness, silkiness,
warmth, and tender life of the baby's body.

A woman is so ready to disclaim the body of a man's love; she yields him
her own soft beauty with so much gentle patience and regret; she clings
to his neck, to his head and his cheeks, fondling them for the soul's
meaning that is there, and shrinking from his passionate limbs and his
body. It was with some perplexity, some anger and bitterness that I
watched Emily moved almost to ecstasy by the baby's small, innocuous
person.

"Meg never found any pleasure in me as she does in the kids," said George
bitterly, for himself.

The child, laughing and crowing, caught his hands in Emily's hair and
pulled dark tresses down, while she cried out in remonstrance, and tried
to loosen the small fists that were shut so fast. She took him from the
water and rubbed him dry, with marvellous gentle little rubs, he kicking
and expostulating. She brought his fine hair into one silken up-springing
of ruddy gold like an aureole. She played with his tiny balls of toes,
like wee pink mushrooms, till at last she dare detain him no longer, when
she put on his flannel and his night-gown and gave him to Meg.

Before carrying him to bed Meg took him to feed him. His mouth was
stretched round the nipple as he sucked, his face was pressed closer and
closer to the breast, his fingers wandered over the fine white globe,
blue-veined and heavy, trying to hold it. Meg looked down upon him with a
consuming passion of tenderness, and Emily clasped her hands and leaned
forward to him. Even thus they thought him exquisite.

When the twins were both asleep, I must tiptoe upstairs to see them. They
lay cheek by cheek in the crib next the large white bed, breathing
little, ruffling breaths, out of unison, so small and pathetic with their
tiny shut fingers. I remembered the two larks.

From the next room came a heavy sound of the old woman's breathing. Meg
went in to her. As in passing I caught sight of the large, prone figure
in the bed, I thought of Guy de Maupassant's "Toine", who acted as an
incubator.



CHAPTER V - THE DOMINANT MOTIF OF SUFFERING


The old woman lay still another year, then she suddenly sank out of life.
George ceased to write to me, but I learned his news elsewhere. He became
more and more intimate with the Mayhews. After old Mayhew's bankruptcy,
the two sons had remained on in the large dark house that stood off the
Nottingham Road in Eberwich. This house had been bequeathed to the oldest
daughter by the mother. Maud Mayhew, who was married and separated from
her husband, kept house for her brothers. She was a tall, large woman
with high cheek-bones and oily black hair looped over her ears. Tom
Mayhew was also a handsome man, very dark, and ruddy, with insolent
bright eyes.

The Mayhews' house was called the "Hollies". It was a solid building, of
old red brick, standing fifty yards back from the Eberwich highroad.
Between it and the road was an unkempt lawn, surrounded by very high
black holly trees. The house seemed to be imprisoned among the bristling
hollies. Passing through the large gate, one came immediately upon the
bare side of the house and upon the great range of stables. Old Mayhew
had in his day stabled thirty or more horses there. Now grass was between
the red bricks, and all the bleaching doors were shut, save perhaps two
or three which were open for George's horses.

The "Hollies" became a kind of club for the disconsolate, "better-off"
men of the district. The large dining-room was gloomily and sparsely
furnished, the drawing-room was a desert, but the smaller morning-room
was comfortable enough, with wicker arm-chairs, heavy curtains, and a
large sideboard. In this room George and the Mayhews met with several men
two or three times a week. There they discussed horses and made mock of
the authority of women. George provided the whisky, and they all gambled
timidly at cards. These bachelor parties were the source of great
annoyance to the wives of the married men who attended them.

"He's quite unbearable when he's been at those Mayhews'," said Meg. "I'm
sure they do nothing but cry us down."

Maud Mayhew kept apart from these meetings, watching over her two
children. She had been very unhappily married, and now was reserved,
silent. The women of Eberwich watched her as she went swiftly along the
street in the morning with her basket, and they gloried a little in her
overthrow, because she was too proud to accept consolation, yet they were
sorry in their hearts for her, and she was never touched with calumny.
George saw her frequently, but she treated him coldy as she treated the
other men, so he was afraid of her.

He had more facilities now for his horse-dealing. When the grandmother
died, in the October two years after the marriage of George, she left him
seven hundred pounds. To Meg she left the Inn, and the two houses she had
built in Newerton, together with brewery shares to the value of nearly a
thousand pounds. George and Meg felt themselves to be people of property.
The result, however, was only a little further coldness between them. He
was very careful that she had all that was hers. She said to him once
when they were quarrelling, that he needn't go feeding the Mayhews on the
money that came out of her business. Thenceforward he kept strict
accounts of all his affairs, and she must audit them, receiving her exact
dues. This was a mortification to her woman's capricious soul of
generosity and cruelty.

The Christmas after the grandmother's death another son was born to them.
For the time George and Meg became very good friends again.

When in the following March I heard he was coming down to London with Tom
Mayhew on business, I wrote and asked him to stay with me. Meg replied,
saying she was so glad I had asked him: she did not want him going off
with that fellow again; he had been such a lot better lately, and she was
sure it was only those men at Mayhews' made him what he was.

He consented to stay with me. I wrote and told him Lettie and Leslie were
in London, and that we should dine with them one evening. I met him at
King's Cross and we all three drove west. Mayhew was a remarkably
handsome, well-built man; he and George made a notable couple. They were
both in breeches and gaiters, but George still looked like a yeoman,
while Mayhew had all the braggadocio of the stable. We made an impossible
trio. Mayhew laughed and jested broadly for a short time, then he grew
restless and fidgety. He felt restrained and awkward in my presence.
Later, he told George I was a damned parson. On the other hand, I was
content to look at his rather vulgar beauty--his teeth were blackened
with smoking--and to listen to his ineffectual talk, but I could find
absolutely no response. George was go-between. To me he was cautious and
rather deferential, to Mayhew he was careless, and his attitude was
tinged with contempt.

When the son of the horse-dealer at last left us to go to some of his
father's old cronies, we were glad. Very uncertain, very sensitive and
wavering, our old intimacy burned again like the fragile burning of
alcohol. Closed together in the same blue flames, we discovered and
watched the pageant of life in the town revealed wonderfully to us. We
laughed at the tyranny of old romance. We scorned the faded procession of
old years, and made mock of the vast pilgrimage of by-gone romances
travelling farther into the dim distance. Were we not in the midst of the
bewildering pageant of modern life, with all its confusion of bannerets
and colours, with its infinite inter-weaving of sounds, the screech of
the modern toys of haste striking like keen spray, the heavy boom of busy
mankind gathering its bread, earnestly, forming the bed of all other
sounds; and between these two the swiftness of songs, the triumphant tilt
of the joy of life, the hoarse oboes of privation, the shuddering drums
of tragedy, and the eternal scraping of the two deep-toned strings of
despair?

We watched the taxi-cabs coursing with their noses down to the street, we
watched the rocking hansoms, and the lumbering stateliness of buses. In
the silent green cavern of the park we stood and listened to the surging
of the ocean of life. We watched a girl with streaming hair go galloping
down the Row, a dark man, laughing and showing his white teeth, galloping
more heavily at her elbow. We saw a squad of life-guards enter the gates
of the park, erect and glittering with silver and white and red. They
came near to us, and we thrilled a little as we watched the muscles of
their white smooth thighs answering the movement of the horses, and their
cheeks and their chins bending with proud manliness to the rhythm of the
march. We watched the exquisite rhythm of the body of men moving in
scarlet and silver farther down the leafless avenue, like a slightly
wavering spark of red life blown along. At the Marble Arch Corner we
listened to a little socialist who was flaring fiercely under a plane
tree. The hot stream of his words flowed over the old wounds that the
knowledge of the unending miseries of the poor had given me, and I
winced. For him the world was all East End, and all the East End was as a
pool from which the waters are drained off, leaving the water-things to
wrestle in the wet mud under the sun, till the whole of the city seems a
heaving, shuddering struggle of black-mudded objects deprived of the
elements of life. I felt a great terror of the little man, lest he should
make me see all mud, as I had seen before. Then I felt a breathless pity
for him, that his eyes should be always filled with mud, and never
brightened. George listened intently to the speaker, very much moved by
him.

At night, after the theatre, we saw the outcasts sleep in a rank under
the Waterloo bridge, their heads to the wall, their feet lying out on the
pavement: a long, black, ruffled heap at the foot of the wall. All the
faces were covered but two, that of a peaked, pale little man, and that
of a brutal woman. Over these two faces, floating like uneasy pale dreams
on their obscurity, swept now and again the trailing light of the
tramcars. We picked our way past the line of abandoned feet, shrinking
from the sight of the thin bare ankles of a young man, from the draggled
edge of the skirts of a bunched-up woman, from the pitiable sight of the
men who had wrapped their legs in newspaper for a little warmth, and lay
like worthless parcels. It was raining. Some men stood at the edge of the
causeway fixed in dreary misery, finding no room to sleep. Outside, on a
seat in the blackness and the rain, a woman sat sleeping, while the water
trickled and hung heavily at the ends of her loosened strands of hair.
Her hands were pushed in the bosom of her jacket. She lurched forward in
her sleep, started, and one of her hands fell out of her bosom. She sank
again to sleep. George gripped my arm.

"Give her something," he whispered in panic. I was afraid. Then suddenly
getting a florin from my pocket, I stiffened my nerves and slid it into
her palm. Her hand was soft, and warm, and curled in sleep. She started
violently, looking up at me, then down at her hand. I turned my face
aside, terrified lest she should look in my eyes, and full of shame and
grief I ran down the embankment to him. We hurried along under the plane
trees in silence. The shining cars were drawing tall in the distance over
Westminster Bridge, a fainter, yellow light running with them on the
water below. The wet streets were spilled with golden liquor of light,
and on the deep blackness of the river were the restless yellow slashes
of the lamps.

Lettie and Leslie were staying up at Hampstead with a friend of the
Tempests, one of the largest shareholders in the firm of Tempest, Wharton
& Co. The Raphaels had a substantial house, and Lettie preferred to go to
them rather than to an hotel, especially as she had brought with her her
infant son, now ten months old, with his nurse. They invited George and
me to dinner on the Friday evening. The party included Lettie's host and
hostess, and also a Scottish poetess, and an Irish musician, composer of
songs and pianoforte rhapsodies.

Lettie wore a black lace dress in mourning for one of Leslie's maternal
aunts. This made her look older, otherwise there seemed to be no change
in her. A subtle observer might have noticed a little hardness about her
mouth, and disillusion hanging slightly on her eyes. She was, however,
excited by the company in which she found herself, therefore she
overflowed with clever speeches and rapid, brilliant observations.
Certainly on such occasions she was admirable. The rest of the company
formed, as it were, the orchestra which accompanied her.

George was exceedingly quiet. He spoke a few words now and then to Mrs
Raphael, but on the whole he was altogether silent, listening.

"Really!" Lettie was saying, "I don't see that one thing is worth doing
any more than another. It's like dessert: you are equally indifferent
whether you have grapes, or pears, or pineapple."

"Have you already dined so far?" sang the Scottish poetess in her
musical, plaintive manner.

"The only thing worth doing is producing," said Lettie. "Alas, that is
what all the young folk are saying nowadays!" sighed the Irish musician.

"That is the only thing one finds any pleasure in--that is to say, any
satisfaction," continued Lettie, smiling, and turning to the two artists.

"Do you not think so?" she added.

"You do come to a point at last," said the Scottish poetess, "when your
work is a real source of satisfaction."

"Do you write poetry then?" asked George of Lettie.

"I! Oh, dear no! I have tried strenuously to make up a Limerick for a
competition, but in vain. So you see, I am a failure there. Did you know
I have a son, though?--A marvellous little fellow, is he not, Leslie?--He
is my work. I am a wonderful mother, am I not, Leslie?"

"Too devoted," he replied.

"There!" she exclaimed in triumph--"When I have to sign my name and
occupation in a visitor's book, it will be, '--Mother'. I hope my
business will flourish," she concluded, smiling.

There was a touch of ironical brutality in her now. She was, at the
bottom, quite sincere. Having reached that point in a woman's career when
most, perhaps all, of the things in life seem worthless and insipid, she
had determined to put up with it, to ignore her own self, to empty her
own potentialities into the vessel of another or others, and to live her
life at secondhand. This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a
woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development.
Like a nun, she puts over her living face a veil, as a sign that the
woman no longer exists for herself: she is the servant of God, of some
man, of her children, or maybe of some cause. As a servant, she is no
longer responsible for her self, which would make her terrified and
lonely. Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good
progress of one's life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of
loneliness, and the heaviest of responsibilities. So Lettie indulged her
husband, but did not yield her independence to him; rather it was she who
took much of the responsibility of him into her hands, and therefore he
was so devoted to her. She had, however, now determined to abandon the
charge of herself to serve her children. When the children grew up,
either they would unconsciously fling her away, back upon herself again
in bitterness and loneliness, or they would tenderly cherish her, chafing
at her love-bonds occasionally.

George looked and listened to all the flutter of conversation, and said
nothing. It seemed to him like so much unreasonable rustling of pieces of
paper, of leaves of books, and so on. Later in the evening Lettie sang,
no longer Italian folk songs, but the fragmentary utterances of Debussy
and Strauss. These also to George were quite meaningless, and rather
wearisome. It made him impatient to see her wasting herself upon them.

"Do you like those songs?" she asked in the frank, careless manner she
affected.

"Not much," he replied, ungraciously.

"Don't you?" she exclaimed, adding with a smile, "Those are the most
wonderful things in the world, those little things"--she began to hum a
Debussy idiom. He could not answer her on the point, so he sat with the
arrow sticking in him, and did not speak.

She enquired of him concerning Meg and his children and the affairs of
Eberwich, but the interest was flimsy, as she preserved a wide distance
between them, although apparently she was so unaffected and friendly. We
left before eleven.

When we were seated in the cab and rushing down-hill, he said:

"You know, she makes me mad."

He was frowning, looking out of the window away from me. "Who, Lettie?
Why, what riles you?" I asked.

He was some time in replying.

"Why, she's so affected."

I sat in the small, close space and waited.

"Do you know--?" he laughed, keeping his face averted from me. "She makes
my blood boil. I could hate her."

"Why?" I said gently.

"I don't know. I feel as if she'd insulted me. She does lie, doesn't
she?"

"I didn't notice it," I said, but I knew he meant her shirking, her
shuffling of her life.

"And you think of those poor devils under the bridge--and then of her and
them frittering away themselves and money in that idiocy--"

He spoke with passion.

"You are quoting Longfellow," I said.

"What?" he asked, looking at me suddenly.

"'Life is real, life is earnest--'"

He flushed slightly at my good-natured gibe.

"I don't know what it is," he replied. "But it's a pretty rotten
business, when you think of her fooling about wasting herself, and all
the waste that goes on up there, and the poor devils rotting on the
Embankment--and--"

"And you--and Mayhew--and me--" I continued.

He looked at me very intently to see if I was mocking. He laughed. I
could see he was very much moved.

"Is the time quite out of joint?" I asked.

"Why! "--he laughed. "No. But she makes me feel so angry--as if I should
burst.--I don't know when I felt in such a rage. I wonder why. I'm sorry
for him, poor devil. Lettie and Leslie'--they seemed christened for one
another, didn't they?"

"What if you'd had her?" I asked.

"We should have been like a cat and dog; I'd rather be with Meg a
thousand times--now!" he added significantly. He sat watching the lamps
and the people and the dark buildings slipping past us.

"Shall we go and have a drink?" I asked him, thinking we would call in
Frascati's to see the come-and-go.

"I could do with a brandy," he replied, looking at me slowly.

We sat in the restaurant listening to the jigging of the music, watching
the changing flow of the people. I like to sit a long time by the
hollyhocks watching the throng of varied bees which poise and hesitate
outside the wild flowers, then swing in with a hum which sets everything
aquiver. But still more fascinating it is to watch the come and go of
people weaving and intermingling in the complex mesh of their intentions,
with all the subtle grace and mystery of their moving, shapely bodies.

I sat still, looking out across the amphitheatre. George looked also, but
he drank glass after glass of brandy. "I like to watch the people," said
I.

"Ay--and doesn't it seem an aimless, idiotic business--look at them!" he
replied in tones of contempt. I looked instead at him, in some surprise
and resentment. His face was gloomy, stupid and unrelieved. The amount of
brandy he had drunk had increased his ill humour.

"Shall we be going?" I said. I did not want him to get drunk in his
present state of mind.

"Ay--in half a minute," he finished the brandy, and rose. Although he had
drunk a good deal, he was quite steady, only there was a disagreeable
look always on his face, and his eyes seemed smaller and more glittering
than I had seen them. We took a bus to Victoria. He sat swaying on his
seat in the dim, clumsy vehicle, saying not a word. In the vast cavern of
the station the theatre-goers were hastening, crossing the pale grey
strand, small creatures scurrying hither and thither in the space beneath
the lonely lamps. As the train crawled over the river we watched the
far-flung hoop of diamond lights curving slowly round and striping with
bright threads the black water. He sat looking with heavy eyes, seeming
to shrink from the enormous unintelligible lettering of the poem of
London.

The town was too large for him, he could not take in its immense, its
stupendous poetry. What did come home to him was its flagrant discords.
The unintelligibilty of the vast city made him apprehensive, and the
crudity of its big, coarse contrasts wounded him unutterably.

"What is the matter?" I asked him as we went along the silent pavement at
Norwood.

"Nothing," he replied. "Nothing!" and I did not trouble him further.

We occupied a large, two-bedded room--that looked down the hill and over
to the far woods of Kent. He was morose and untalkative. I brought up a
soda-syphon and whisky, and we proceeded to undress. When he stood in his
pyjamas he waited as if uncertain.

"Do you want a drink?" he asked.

I did not. He crossed to the table, and as I got into my bed I heard the
brief fizzing of the syphon. He drank his glass at one draught, then
switched off the light. In the sudden darkness I saw his pale shadow go
across to the sofa in the window-space. The blinds were undrawn, and the
stars looked in. He gazed out on the great bay of darkness wherein, far
away and below, floated a few sparks of lamps like herring-boats at sea.

"Aren't you coming to bed?" I asked.

"I'm not sleepy--you go to sleep," he answered, resenting having to speak
at all.

"Then put on a dressing-gown--there's one in that corner--turn the light
on."

He did not answer, but fumbled for the garment in the darkness. When he
had found it, he said:

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

I did not. He fumbled again in his pockets for cigarettes, always
refusing to switch on the light. I watched his face bowed to the match as
he lighted his cigarette. He was still handsome in the ruddy light, but
his features were coarser. I felt very sorry for him, but I saw that I
could get no nearer to him, to relieve him. For some time I lay in the
darkness watching the end of his cigarette like a ruddy, malignant insect
hovering near his lips, putting the timid stars immensely far away. He
sat quiet still, leaning on the sofa arm. Occasionally there was a little
glow on his cheeks as the cigarette burned brighter, then again I could
see nothing but the dull red bee.

I suppose I must have dropped asleep. Suddenly I started as something
fell to the floor. I heard him cursing under his breath.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"I've only knocked something down--cigarette-case or something," he
replied, apologetically.

"Aren't you coming to bed?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm coming," he answered quite docile.

He seemed to wander about and knock against things as he came. He dropped
heavily into bed.

"Are you sleepy now?" I asked.

"I dunno--I shall be directly," he replied.

"What's up with you?" I asked.

"I dunno," he answered. "I'm like this sometimes, when there's nothing I
want to do, and nowhere I want to go, and nobody I want to be near. Then
you feel so rottenly lonely, Cyril. You feel awful, like a vacuum, with a
pressure on you, a sort of pressure of darkness, and you yourself--just
nothing, a vacuum--that's what it's like--a little vacuum that's not
dark, all loose in the middle of a space of darkness, that's pressing on
you."

"Good gracious!" I exclaimed, rousing myself in bed. "That sounds bad!"

He laughed slightly.

"It's all right," he said, "it's only the excitement of London, and that
little man in the park, and that woman on the seat--I wonder where she is
tonight, poor devil--and then Lettie. I seem thrown off my balance.--I
think really, I ought to have made something of myself--"

"What?" I asked, as he hesitated.

"I don't know," he replied slowly, "--a poet or something, like Burns--I
don't know. I shall laugh at myself for thinking so, tomorrow. But I am
born a generation too soon--I wasn't ripe enough when I came. I wanted
something I hadn't got. I'm something short. I'm like corn in a wet
harvest--full, but pappy, no good. I s'll rot. I came too soon; or I
wanted something that would ha' made me grow fierce. That's why I wanted
Lettie--I think. But am I talking damn rot? What am I saying? What are
you making me talk for? What are you listening for?"

I rose and went across to him, saying:

"I don't want you to talk! If you sleep till morning things will look
different."

I sat on his bed and took his hand. He lay quite still.

"I'm only a kid after all, Cyril," he said, a few moments later.

"We all are," I answered, still holding his hand. Presently he fell
asleep.

When I awoke the sunlight was laughing with the young morning in the
room. The large blue sky shone against the window, and the birds were
calling in the garden below, shouting to one another and making fun of
life. I felt glad to have opened my eyes. I lay for a moment looking out
on the morning as on a blue bright sea in which I was going to plunge.

Then my eyes wandered to the little table near the couch. I noticed the
glitter of George's cigarette-case, and then, with a start, the whisky
decanter. It was nearly empty. He must have drunk three-quarters of a
pint of liquor while I was dozing. I could not believe it. I thought I
must have been mistaken as to the quantity the bottle contained. I leaned
out to see what it was that had startled me by its fall the night before.
It was the large, heavy drinking glass which he had knocked down but not
broken. I could see no stain on the carpet.

George was still asleep. He lay half uncovered, and was breathing
quietly. His face looked inert like a mask. The pallid, uninspired clay
of his features seemed to have sunk a little out of shape, so that he
appeared rather haggard, rather ugly, with grooves of ineffectual misery
along his cheeks. I wanted him to wake, so that his inert, flaccid
features might be inspired with life again. I could not believe his charm
and his beauty could have forsaken him so, and left his features dreary,
sunken clay.

As I looked he woke. His eyes opened slowly. He looked at me and turned
away, unable to meet my eyes. He pulled the bedclothes up over his
shoulders, as though to cover himself from me, and he lay with his back
to me, quite still, as if he were asleep, although I knew he was quite
awake; he was suffering the humiliation of lying waiting for his life to
crawl back and inhabit his body. As it was, his vitality was not yet
sufficient to inform the muscles of his face and give him an expression,
much less to answer by challenge.



CHAPTER VI - PISGAH


When her eldest boy was three years old Lettie returned to live at
Eberwich. Old Mr Tempest died suddenly, so Leslie came down to inhabit
Highclose. He was a very much occupied man. Very often he was in Germany
or in the South of England engaged on business. At home he was
unfailingly attentive to his wife and his two children. He had cultivated
a taste for public life. In spite of his pressure of business he had
become a County Councillor, and one of the prominent members of the
Conservative Association. He was very fond of answering or proposing
toasts at some public dinner, of entertaining political men at Highclose,
of taking the chair at political meetings, and finally, of speaking on
this or that platform. His name was fairly often seen in the newspapers.
As a mine-owner, he spoke as an authority on the employment of labour, on
royalties, land-owning and so on.

At home he was quite tame. He treated his wife with respect, romped in
the nursery, and domineered the servants royally. They liked him for
it--her they did not like. He was noisy, but unobservant, she was quiet
and exacting. He would swear and bluster furiously, but when he was round
the corner they smiled. She gave her orders and passed very moderate
censure, but they went away cursing to themselves. As Lettie was always a
very good wife, Leslie adored her when he had the time, and when he had
not, forgot her comfortably.

She was very contradictory. At times she would write to me in terms of
passionate dissatisfaction: she had nothing at all in her life, it was a
barren futility.

"I hope I shall have another child next spring," she would write, "there
is only that to take away the misery of this torpor. I seem full of
passion and energy, and it all fizzles out in day-to-day domestics--"

When I replied to her, urging her to take some work that she could throw
her soul into, she would reply indifferently. Then later:

"You charge me with contradiction. Well, naturally. You see I wrote that
screeching letter in a mood which won't come again for some time.
Generally I am quite content to take the rain and the calm days just as
they come, then something flings me out of myself--and I am a trifle
demented:--very, very blue, as I tell Leslie."

Like so many women, she seemed to live, for the most part contentedly, a
small indoor existence with artificial light and padded upholstery. Only
occasionally, hearing the winds of life outside, she clamoured to be out
in the black, keen storm. She was driven to the door, she looked out and
called into the tumult wildly, but feminine caution kept her from
stepping over the threshold.

George was flourishing in his horse-dealing.

In the morning, processions of splendid shire horses, tied tail and head,
would tramp grandly along the quiet lanes of Eberwich, led by George's
man, or by Tom Mayhew, while in the fresh clean sunlight George would go
riding by, two restless nags dancing beside him.

When I came home from France five years after our meeting in London I
found him installed in the Hollies. He had rented the house from the
Mayhews, and had moved there with his family, leaving Oswald in charge of
the Ram. I called at the large house one afternoon, but George was out.
His family surprised me. The twins were tall lads of six. There were two
more boys, and Meg was nursing a beautiful baby girl about a year old.
This child was evidently mistress of the household. Meg, who was growing
stouter, indulged the little creature in every way.

"How is George?" I asked her.

"Oh, he's very well," she replied. "He's always got something on hand. He
hardly seems to have a spare moment; what with his socialism, and one
thing and another."

It was true, the outcome of his visit to London had been a wild devotion
to the cause of the down-trodden. I saw a picture of Watt's "Mammon" on
the walls of the morning-room, and the works of Blatchford, Masterman,
and Chiozza Money on the side-table. The socialists of the district used
to meet every other Thursday evening at the Hollies to discuss reform.
Meg did not care for these earnest souls.

"They're not my sort," she said, "too jerky and bumptious. They think
everybody's slow-witted but them. There's one thing about them, though,
they don't drink, so that's a blessing."

"Why!" I said, "Have you had much trouble that way?" She lowered her
voice to a pitch which was sufficiently mysterious to attract the
attention of the boys.

"I shouldn't say anything if it wasn't that you were like brothers," she
said. "But he did begin to have dreadful drinking bouts. You know it was
always spirits, and generally brandy--and that makes such work with them.
You've no idea what he's like when he's evil-drunk. Sometimes he's all
for talk, sometimes he's laughing at everything, and sometimes he's just
snappy. And then--" here her tones grew ominous, "--he'll come home
evil-drunk."

At the memory she grew serious.

"You couldn't imagine what it's like, Cyril," she said. "It's like having
Satan in the house with you, or a black tiger glowering at you. I'm sure
nobody knows what I've suffered with him--"

The children stood with large awful eyes and paling lips, listening.

"But he's better now?" I said.

"Oh, yes--since Gertie came,"--she looked fondly at the baby in her
arms--"He's a lot better now. You see he always wanted a girl, and he's
very fond of her--isn't he, pet?--are you your Dadda's girlie?--and
Mamma's too, aren't you?"

The baby turned with sudden coy shyness, and clung to her mother's neck.
Meg kissed her fondly, then the child laid her cheek against her
mother's. The mother's dark eyes, and the baby's large, hazel eyes looked
at me serenely. The two were very calm, very complete and triumphant
together. In their completeness was a security which made me feel alone
and ineffectual. A woman who has her child in her arms is a tower of
strength, a beautiful, unassailable tower of strength that may in its
turn stand quietly dealing death.

I told Meg I would call again to see George. Two evenings later I asked
Lettie to lend me a dog-cart to drive over to the Hollies. Leslie was
away on one of his political jaunts, and she was restless. She proposed
to go with me. She had called on Meg twice before in the new large home.

We started about six o'clock. The night was dark and muddy. Lettie wanted
to call in Eberwich village, so she drove the long way round Selsby. The
horse was walking through the gate of the Hollies at about seven o'clock.
Meg was upstairs in the nursery, the maid told me, and George was in the
dining-room getting baby to sleep.

"All right!" I said, "we will go in to him. Don't bother to tell him."

As we stood in the gloomy, square hall we heard the rumble of a
rocking-chair, the stroke coming slow and heavy to the tune of "Henry
Martin", one of our Strelley Mill folk songs. Then, through the man's
heavily-accented singing floated the long light crooning of the baby as
she sang, in her quaint little fashion, a mischievous second to her
father's lullaby. He waxed a little louder; and without knowing why, we
found ourselves smiling with piquant amusement. The baby grew louder too,
till there was a shrill ring of laughter and mockery in her music. He
sang louder and louder, the baby shrilled higher and higher, the chair
swung in long, heavy beats. Then suddenly he began to laugh. The rocking
stopped, and he said, still with laughter and enjoyment in his tones:

"Now that is very wicked! Ah, naughty Girlie--go to boh, go to bohey!--at
once."

The baby chuckled her small, insolent mockery.

"Come, Mamma!" he said, "come and take Girlie to bohey!"

The baby laughed again, but with an uncertain touch of appeal in her
tone. We opened the door and entered. He looked up very much startled to
see us. He was sitting in a tall rocking-chair by the fire, coatless,
with white shirt-sleeves. The baby, in her high-waisted, tight little
night-gown, stood on his knee, her wide eyes fixed on us, wild wisps of
her brown hair brushed across her forehead and glinting like puffs of
bronze dust over her ears. Quickly she put her arms round his neck and
tucked her face under his chin, her small feet poised on his thigh, the
night-gown dropping upon them. He shook his head as the puff of soft
brown hair tickled him. He smiled at us, saying:

"You see I'm busy!"

Then he turned again to the little brown head tucked under his chin, blew
away the luminous cloud of hair, and rubbed his lips and his moustache on
the small white neck, so warm and secret. The baby put up her shoulders,
and shrank a little, bubbling in his neck with hidden laughter. She did
not lift her face or loosen her arms.

"She thinks she is shy," he said. "Look up, young hussy, and see the lady
and gentleman. She is a positive owl, she won't go to bed--will you,
young brown-owl?"

He tickled her neck again with his moustache, and the child bubbled over
with naughty, merry laughter.

The room was very warm, with a red bank of fire up the chimney mouth. It
was half lighted from a heavy bronze chandelier, black and gloomy, in the
middle of the room. There was the same sombre, sparse furniture that the
Mayhews had had. George looked large and handsome, the glossy black silk
of his waistcoat fitting close to his sides, the roundness of the
shoulder muscle filling the white linen of his sleeves.

Suddenly the baby lifted her head and stared at us, thrusting into her
mouth the dummy that was pinned to the breast of her night-gown. The
faded pink sleeves of the night-gown were tight on her fat little wrists.
She stood thus sucking her dummy, one arm round her father's neck,
watching us with hazel solemn eyes. Then she pushed her fat little fist
up among the bush of small curls, and began to twist her fingers about
her ear that was white like a camellia flower.

"She is really sleepy," said Lettie.

"Come then!" said he, folding her for sleep against his breast. "Come and
go to boh."

But the young rascal immediately began to cry her remonstrance. She
stiffened herself, freed herself, and stood again on his knee, watching
us solemnly, vibrating the dummy in her mouth as she suddenly sucked at
it, twisting her father's ear in her small fingers till he winced.

"Her nails are sharp." he said, smiling.

He began asking and giving the small information that pass between
friends who have not met for a long time. The baby laid her head on his
shoulder, keeping her tired, owl-like eyes fixed darkly on us. Then
gradually the lids fluttered and sank, and she dropped on to his arm.

"She is asleep," whispered Lettie.

Immediately the dark eyes opened again. We looked significantly at one
another, continuing our subdued talk. After a while the baby slept
soundly.

Presently Meg came downstairs. She greeted us in breathless whispers of
surprise, and then turned to her husband. "Has she gone?" she whispered,
bending over the sleeping child in astonishment. "My, this is wonderful,
isn't it!" She took the sleeping drooping baby from his arms, putting her
mouth close to its forehead, murmuring with soothing, inarticulate
sounds.

We stayed talking for some time when Meg had put the baby to bed. George
had a new tone of assurance and authority. In the first place he was an
established man, living in a large house, having altogether three men
working for him. In the second place he had ceased to value the
conventional treasures of social position and ostentatious refinement.
Very, very many things he condemned as flummery and sickly waste of time.
The life of an ordinary well-to-do person he set down as adorned
futility, almost idiocy. He spoke passionately of the monstrous denial of
life to the many of the fortunate few. He talked at Lettie most
flagrantly.

"Of course," she said, "I have read Mr Wells and Mr Shaw, and even Niel
Lyon and a Dutchman--what is his name, Querido? But what can I do? I
think the rich have as much misery as the poor, and of quite as deadly a
sort. What can I do? It is a question of life and the development of the
human race. Society and its regulations is not a sort of drill that
endless Napoleons have forced on us: it is the only way we have yet found
of living together."

"Pah!" said he, "that is rank cowardice. It is feeble and futile to the
last degree."

"We can't grow consumption-proof in a generation, nor can we grow
poverty-proof."

"We can begin to take active measures," he replied contemptuously.

"We can all go into a sanatorium and live miserably and dejectedly
warding off death," she said, "but life is full of goodliness for all
that."

"It is fuller of misery," he said.

Nevertheless, she had shaken him. She still kept her astonishing power of
influencing his opinions. All his passion, and heat, and rude speech,
analysed out, was only his terror at her threatening of his
life-interest.

She was rather piqued by his rough treatment of her, and by his
contemptuous tone. Moreover, she could never quite let him be. She felt a
driving force which impelled her against her will to interfere in his
life. She invited him to dine with them at Highclose. He was now quite
possible. He had, in the course of his business, been sufficiently in the
company of gentlemen to be altogether "comme it faut" at a private
dinner, and after dinner.

She wrote me concerning him occasionally:

"George Saxton was here to dinner yesterday. He and Leslie had frightful
battles over the nationalisation of industries. George is rather more
than a match for Leslie, which, in his secret heart, makes our friend
gloriously proud. It is very amusing. I, of course, have to preserve the
balance of power, and, of course, to bolster my husband's dignity. At a
crucial dangerous moment, when George is just going to wave his bloody
sword and Leslie lies bleeding with rage, I step in and prick the victor
under the heart with some little satire or some esoteric question, I
raise Leslie and say his blood is luminous for the truth, and vous voil!
Then I abate for the thousandth time Leslie's conservative crow, and I
appeal once more to George--it is no use my arguing with him, he gets so
angry--I make an abtruse appeal for all the wonderful, sad, and beautiful
expressions on the countenance of life, expressions which he does not see
or which he distorts by his oblique vision of socialism into
grimaces--and there I am! I think I am something of a Machiavelli, but it
is quite true, what I say--"

Again she wrote:

"We happened to be motoring from Derby on Sunday morning, and as we came
to the top of the hill, we had to thread our way through quite a large
crowd. I looked up, and whom should I see but our friend George, holding
forth about the state endowment of mothers. I made Leslie stop while we
listened. The market-place was quite full of people. George saw us, and
became fiery. Leslie then grew excited, and although I clung to the
skirts of his coat with all my strength, he jumped up and began to
question. I must say it with shame and humility--he made an ass of
himself. The men all round were jeering and muttering under their breath.
I think Leslie is not very popular among them, he is such an advocate of
machinery which will do the work of men. So they cheered our friend
George when he thundered forth his replies and his demonstrations. He
pointed his fingers at us, and flung his hand at us, and shouted till I
quailed in my seat. I cannot understand why he should become so frenzied
as soon as I am within range. George had a triumph that morning, but when
I saw him a few days later he seemed very uneasy, rather
self-mistrustful--"

Almost a year later I heard from her again on the same subject.

"I have had such a lark. Two or three times I have been to the Hollies:
to socialist meetings. Leslie does not know. They are great fun. Of
course, I am in sympathy with the socialists, but I cannot narrow my eyes
till I see one thing only. Life is like a large, rather beautiful man who
is young and full of vigour, but hairy, barbaric, with hands hard and
dirty, the dirt ingrained. I know his hands are very ugly, I know his
mouth is not firmly shapen, I know his limbs are hairy and brutal: but
his eyes are deep and very beautiful. That is what I tell George.

"The people are so earnest, they make me sad. But then, they are so
didactic, they hold forth so much, they are so cocksure and so
narrow-eyed, they make me laugh. George laughs too. I am sure we made
such fun of a straight-haired goggle of a girl who had suffered in prison
for the cause of women, that I am ashamed when I see my 'Woman's League'
badge. At the bottom, you know, Cyril, I don't care for anything very
much, except myself. Things seem so frivolous. I am the only real thing,
I and the children--"

Gradually George fell out of the socialist movement. It wearied him. It
did not feed him altogether. He began by mocking his friends of the
confraternity. Then he spoke in bitter dislike of Hudson, the wordy,
humorous, shallow leader of the movement in Eberwich; it was Hudson with
his wriggling and his clap-trap who disgusted George with the cause.
Finally the meetings at the Hollies ceased, and my friend dropped all
connection with his former associates.

He began to speculate in land. A hosiery factory moved to Eberwich,
giving the place a new stimulus to growth. George happened to buy a piece
of land at the end of the street of the village. When he got it, it was
laid out in allotment gardens. These were becoming valueless owing to the
encroachment of houses. He took it, divided it up, and offered it as
sites for a new row of shops. He sold at a good profit.

Altogether he was becoming very well off. I heard from Meg that he was
flourishing, that he did not drink "anything to speak of," but that he
was always out, she hardly saw anything of him. If getting-on was to keep
him so much away from home, she would be content with a little less
fortune. He complained that she was narrow, and that she would not
entertain any sympathy with any of his ideas.

"Nobody comes here to see me twice," he said. "Because Meg receives them
in such an off-hand fashion. I asked Jim Curtiss and his wife from
Everley Hall one evening. We were uncomfortable all the time. Meg had
hardly a word for anybody--'Yes' and 'No' and 'Hm Hm!'--They'll never
come again."

Meg herself said:

"Oh, I can't stand stuck-up folks. They make me feel uncomfortable. As
soon as they begin mincing their words I'm done for--I can no more talk
than a lobster--"

Thus their natures contradicted each other. He tried hard to gain a
footing in Eberwich. As it was he belonged to no class of society
whatsoever. Meg visited and entertained the wives of small shop-keepers
and publicans: this was her set.

George voted the women loud-mouthed, vulgar, and narrow--not without some
cause. Meg, however, persisted. She visited when she thought fit, and
entertained when he was out. He made acquaintance after acquaintance: Dr
Francis; Mr Cartridge, the veterinary surgeon; Toby Heswall, the brewer's
son; the Curtisses, farmers of good standing from Everly Hall. But it was
no good. George was by nature a family man. He wanted to be private and
secure in his own rooms, then he was at ease. As Meg never went out with
him, and as every attempt to entertain at the Hollies filled him with
shame and mortification, he began to give up trying to place himself, and
remained suspended in social isolation at the Hollies.

The friendship between Lettie and himself had been kept up, in spite of
all things. Leslie was sometimes jealous, but he dared not show it
openly, for fear of his wife's scathing contempt. George went to
Highclose perhaps once in a fortnight, perhaps not so often. Lettie never
went to the Hollies, as Meg's attitude was too antagonistic.


Meg complained very bitterly of her husband. He often made a beast of
himself drinking, he thought more of himself than he ought, home was not
good enough for him, he was selfish to the back-bone, he cared neither
for her nor the children, only for himself.


I happened to be at home for Lettie's thirty-first birthday. George was
then thirty-five. Lettie had allowed her husband to forget her birthday.
He was now very much immersed in politics, foreseeing a general election
in the following year, and intending to contest the seat in Parliament.
The division was an impregnable Liberal stronghold, but Leslie had hopes
that he might capture the situation. Therefore he spent a great deal of
time at the Conservative club, and among the men of influence in the
southern division. Lettie encouraged him in these affairs. It relieved
her of him. It was thus that she let him forget her birthday, while, for
some unknown reason, she let the intelligence slip to George. He was
invited to dinner, as I was at home.

George came at seven o'clock. There was a strange feeling of festivity in
the house, although there were no evident signs. Lettie had dressed with
some magnificence in a blackish purple gauze over soft satin of lighter
tone, nearly the colour of double violets. She wore vivid green azurite
ornaments on the fairness of her bosom, and her bright hair was bound by
a band of the same colour. It was rather startling. She was conscious of
her effect, and was very excited. Immediately George saw her his eyes
wakened with a dark glow. She stood up as he entered, her hand stretched
straight out to him, her body very erect, her eyes bright and rousing,
like two blue pennants.

"Thank you so much," she said softly, giving his hand a last pressure
before she let it go. He could not answer, so he sat down, bowing his
head, then looking up at her in suspense. He smiled at her.

Presently the children came in. They looked very quaint, like acolytes,
in their long straight dressing-gowns of quilted blue silk. The boy,
particularly, looked as if he were going to light the candles in some
childish church in paradise. He was very tall and slender and fair, with
a round fine head, and serene features. Both children looked remarkable,
almost transparently clean: it is impossible to consider anything more
fresh and fair. The girl was a merry, curly-headed puss of six. She
played with her mother's green jewels and prattled prettily, while the
boy stood at his mother's side, a slender and silent acolyte in his pale
blue gown. I was impressed by his patience and his purity. When the girl
had bounded away into George's arms, the lad laid his hand timidly on
Lettie's knee and looked with a little wonder at her dress.

"How pretty those green stones are, Mother!" he said. "Yes," replied
Lettie brightly, lifting them and letting their strange pattern fall
again on her bosom. "I like them."

"Are you going to sing, Mother?" he asked.

"Perhaps. But why?" said Lettie, smiling.

"Because you generally sing when Mr Saxton comes." He bent his head and
stroked Lettie's dress shyly.

"Do I?" she said, laughing. "Can you hear?"

"Just a little," he replied. "Quite small, as if it were nearly lost in
the dark."

He was hesitating, shy as boys are. Lettie laid her hand on his head and
stroked his smooth fair hair.

"Sing a song for us before we go, Mother--" he asked, almost shamefully.
She kissed him.

She played without a copy of the music. He stood at her side, while Lucy,
the little mouse, sat on her mother's skirts, pressing Lettie's silk
slippers in turn upon the pedals. The mother and the boy sang their song.


"Gaily the troubadour touched his guitar
As he was hastening from the war."


The boy had a pure treble, clear as the flight of swallows in the
morning. The light shone on his lips. Under the piano the girl child sat
laughing, pressing her mother's feet with all her strength, and laughing
again. Lettie smiled as she sang.

At last they kissed us a gentle "good night", and flitted out of the
room. The girl popped her curly head round the door again. We saw the
white cuff of the nurse's wrist as she held the youngster's arm.

"You'll come and kiss us when we're in bed, Mum?" asked the rogue. Her
mother laughed and agreed.

Lucy was withdrawn for a moment; then we heard her, "Just a tick, nurse,
just half a tick!"

The curly head appeared round the door again.

"And one teenie sweetie," she suggested, "only one!"

"Go, you--!" Lettie clapped her hands in mock wrath. The child vanished,
but immediately there appeared again round the door two blue laughing
eyes and the snub tip of a nose.

"A nice one, Mum--not a jelly one!"

Lettie rose with a rustle to sweep upon her. The child vanished with a
glitter of laughter. We heard her calling breathlessly on the
stairs--"Wait a bit, Freddies--wait for me!"

George and Lettie smiled at each other when the children had gone. As the
smile died from their faces they looked down sadly, and until dinner was
announced they were very still and heavy with melancholy. After dinner
Lettie debated pleasantly which bon-bon she should take for the children.
When she came down again she smoked a cigarette with us over coffee.
George did not like to see her smoking, yet he brightened a little when
he sat down after giving her a light, pleased with the mark of
recklessness in her.

"It is ten years today since my party at Woodside," she said, reaching
for the small Roman salt-cellar of green jade that she used as an
ash-tray.

"My Lord--ten years!" he exclaimed bitterly. "It seems a hundred."

"It does and it doesn't," she answered, smiling.

"If I look straight back, and think of my excitement, it seems only
yesterday. If I look between then and now, at all the days that lie
between, it is an age."

"If I look at myself," he said, "I think I am another person altogether."

"You have changed," she agreed, looking at him sadly. "There is a great
change--but you are not another person. I often think--there is one of
his old looks, he is just the same at the bottom!"

They embarked on a barge of gloomy recollections and drifted along the
soiled canal of their past.

"The worst of it is," he said, "I have got a miserable carelessness, a
contempt for things. You know I had such a faculty for reverence. I
always believed in things."

"I know you did," she smiled. "You were so humblyminded--too
humbly-minded, I always considered. You always thought things had a deep
religious meaning, somewhere hidden, and you reverenced them. Is it
different now?"

"You know me very well," he laughed. "What is there left for me to
believe in, if not in myself?"

"You have to live for your wife and children," she said with firmness.

"Meg has plenty to secure her and the children as long as they live," he
said, smiling. "So I don't know that I'm essential."

"But you are," she replied. "You are necessary as a father and a husband,
if not as a provider."

"I think," said he, "marriage is more of a duel than a duet. One party
wins and takes the other captive, slave, servant--what you like. It is
so, more or less."

"Well?" said Lettie.

"Well!" he answered. "Meg is not like you. She wants me, part of me, so
she'd kill me rather than let me go loose."

"Oh, no!" said Lettie, emphatically.

"You know nothing about it," he said quietly.

"In the marital duel Meg is winning. The woman generally does; she has
the children on her side. I can't give her any of the real part of me,
the vital part that she wants--I can't, any more than you could give
kisses to a stranger. And I feel that I'm losing--and don't care."

"No," she said, "you are getting morbid."

He put the cigarette between his lips, drew a deep breath, then slowly
sent the smoke down his nostrils.

"No," he said.

"Look here!" she said. "Let me sing to you, shall I, and make you
cheerful again?"

She sang from Wagner. It was the music of resignation and despair. She
had not thought of it. All the time he listened he was thinking. The
music stimulated his thoughts and illuminated the trend of his brooding.
All the time he sat looking at her his eyes were dark with his thoughts.
She finished the "Star of Eve" from Tannhuser and came over to him.

"Why are you so sad tonight, when it is my birthday?" she asked
plaintively.

"Am I slow?" he replied. "I am sorry."

"What is the matter?" she said, sinking onto the small sofa near to him.

"Nothing!" he replied--"You are looking very beautiful."

"There, I wanted you to say that! You ought to be quite gay, you know,
when I am so smart tonight."

"Nay," he said, "I know I ought. But the tomorrow seems to have fallen in
love with me. I can't get out of its lean arms."

"Why!" she said. "Tomorrow's arms are not lean. They are white, like
mine." She lifted her arms and looked at them, smiling.

"How do you know?" he asked, pertinently.

"Oh, of course they are," was her light answer.

He laughed, brief and sceptical.

"No!" he said. "It came when the children kissed us."

"What?" she asked.

"These lean arms of tomorrow's round me, and the white arms round you,"
he replied, smiling whimsically. She reached out and clasped his hand.

"You foolish boy," she said.

He laughed painfully, not able to look at her.

"You know," he said, and his voice was low and difficult "I have needed
you for a light. You will soon be the only light again."

"Who is the other?" she asked.

"My little girl!" he answered. Then he continued, "And you know, I
couldn't endure complete darkness, I couldn't. It's the solitariness."

"You mustn't talk like this," she said. "You know you mustn't." She put
her hand on his head and ran her fingers through the hair he had so
ruffled.

"It is as thick as ever, your hair," she said.

He did not answer, but kept his face bent out of sight. She rose from her
seat and stood at the back of his low armchair. Taking an amber comb from
her hair, she bent over him, and with the translucent comb and her white
fingers she busied herself with his hair.

"I believe you would have a parting," she said softly.

He laughed shortly at her playfulness. She continued combing, just
touching, pressing the strands in place with the tips of her fingers.

"I was only a warmth to you," he said, pursuing the same train of
thought. "So you could do without me. But you were like the light to me,
and otherwise it was dark and aimless. Aimlessness is horrible."

She had finally smoothed his hair, so she lifted her hands and put back
her head.

"There!" she said. "It looks fair fine, as Alice would say. Raven's wings
are raggy in comparison."

He did not pay any attention to her.

"Aren't you going to look at yourself?" she said, playfully reproachful.
She put her finger-tips under his chin. He lifted his head and they
looked at each other, she smiling, trying to make him play, he smiling
with his lips, but not with eyes, dark with pain.

"We can't go on like this, Lettie, can we?" he said softly. "Yes," she
answered him, "Yes; why not?"

"It can't!" he said, "it can't, I couldn't keep it up, Lettie."

"But don't think about it," she answered. "Don't think of it."

"Lettie," he said. "I have to set my teeth with loneliness."

"Hush!" she said. "No! There are the children. Don't say anything--do
not be serious, will you?"

"No, there are the children," he replied, smiling dimly.

"Yes! Hush now! Stand up and look what a fine parting I have made in your
hair. Stand up, and see if my style becomes you."

"It is no good, Lettie," he said, "we can't go on."

"Oh, but come, come, come!" she exclaimed. "We are not talking about
going on; we are considering what a fine parting I have made down the
middle, like two wings of a spread bird--" she looked down, smiling
playfully on him, just closing her eyes slightly in petition.

He rose and took a deep breath, and set his shoulders.

"No," he said, and at the sound of his voice, Lettie went pale and also
stiffened herself.

"No!" he repeated. "It is impossible. I felt as soon as Fred came into
the room--it must be one way or another."

"Very well then," said Lettie, coldly. Her voice was "muted" like a
violin.

"Yes," he replied, submissive. "The children." He looked at her,
contracting his lips in a smile of misery.

"Are you sure it must be so final?" she asked, rebellious, even
resentful. She was twisting the azurite jewels on her bosom, and pressing
the blunt points into her flesh. He looked up from the fascination of her
action when he heard the tone of her last question. He was angry.

"Quite sure!" he said at last, simply, ironically.

She bowed her head in assent. His face twitched sharply as he restrained
himself from speaking again. Then he turned and quietly left the room.
She did not watch him go, but stood as he had left her. When, after some
time, she heard the grating of his dog-cart on the gravel, and then the
sharp trot of hoofs down the frozen road, she dropped herself on the
settee, and lay with her bosom against the cushions, looking fixedly at
the wall.



CHAPTER VII - THE SCARP SLOPE


Leslie won the conservative victory in the general election which took
place a year or so after my last visit to Highclose.

In the interim the Tempests had entertained a continuous stream of
people. I heard occasionally from Lettie how she was busy, amused, or
bored. She told me that George had thrown himself into the struggle on
behalf of the candidate of the Labour Party; that she had not seen him,
except in the streets, for a very long time.

When I went down to Eberwich in the March succeeding the election, I
found several people staying with my sister. She had under her wing a
young literary fellow who affected the "Doady" style--Dora Copperfield's
"Doady". He had bunches of half-curly hair, and a romantic black cravat;
he played the impulsive part, but was really as calculating as any man on
the stock-exchange. It delighted Lettie to "mother" him. He was so shrewd
as to be less than harmless. His fellow guests, a woman much experienced
in music and an elderly man who was in the artistic world without being
of it, were interesting for a time. Bubble after bubble of floating fancy
and wit we blew with our breath in the evenings. I rose in the morning
loathing the idea of more bubble-blowing.

I wandered around Nethermere, which had now forgotten me. The daffodils
under the boat-house continued their golden laughter, and nodded to one
another in gossip, as I watched them, never for a moment pausing to
notice me. The yellow reflection of daffodils among the shadows of grey
willow in the water trembled faintly as they told haunted tales in the
gloom. I felt like a child left out of the group of my playmates. There
was a wind running across Nethermere, and on the eager water blue and
glistening grey shadows changed places swiftly. Along the shore the wild
birds rose, flapping in expostulation as I passed, peewits mewing
fiercely round my head, while two white swans lifted their glistening
feathers till they looked like grand double water-lilies, laying back
their orange beaks among the petals, and fronting me with haughty
resentment, charging towards me insolently.

I wanted to be recognised by something. I said to myself that the dryads
were looking out for me from the wood's edge. But as I advanced they
shrank, and glancing wistfully, turned back like pale flowers falling in
the shadow of the forest. I was a stranger, an intruder. Among the bushes
a twitter of lively birds exclaimed upon me. Finches went leaping past in
bright flashes, and a robin sat and asked rudely, "Hello! Who are you?"

The bracken lay sere under the trees, broken and chavelled by the
restless wild winds of the long winter.

The trees caught the wind in their tall netted twigs, and the young
morning wind moaned at its captivity. As I trod the discarded oak-leaves
and the bracken they uttered their last sharp gasps, pressed into
oblivion. The wood was roofed with a wide young sobbing sound, and
floored with a faint hiss like the intaking of the last breath. Between,
was all the glad out-peeping of buds and anemone flowers and the rush of
birds. I, wandering alone, felt them all, the anguish of the bracken
fallen face down in defeat, the careless dash of the birds, the sobbing
of the young wind arrested in its haste, the trembling, expanding delight
of the buds. I alone among them could hear the whole succession of
chords.

The brooks talked on just the same, just as gladly, just as boisterously
as they had done when I had netted small, glittering fish in the
rest-pools. At Strelley Mill a servant girl in a white cap, and white
apron-bands, came running out of the house with purple prayer-books,
which she gave to the elder of two finicking girls who sat disconsolately
with their blacksilked mother in the governess cart at the gate, ready to
go to church. Near Woodside there was barbed-wire along the path, and at
the end of every riding it was tarred on the tree-trunks, "Private".

I had done with the valley of Nethermere. The valley of Nethermere had
cast me out many years before, while I had fondly believed it cherished
me in memory.

I went along the road to Eberwich. The church bells were ringing
boisterously, with the careless boisterousness of the brooks and the
birds and the rollicking coltsfoots and celandines.

A few people were hastening blithely to service. Miners and other
labouring men were passing in aimless gangs, walking nowhere in
particular, so long as they reached a sufficiently distant public-house.

I reached the Hollies. It was much more spruce than it had been. The
yard, however, and the stables had again a somewhat abandoned air. I
asked the maid for George.

"Oh, master's not up yet," she said, giving a little significant toss of
her head, and smiling. I waited a moment.

"But he rung for a bottle of beer about ten minutes since, so I should
think--" she emphasised the word with some ironical contempt, "--he won't
be very long," she added, in tones which conveyed that she was not by any
means sure. I asked for Meg.

"Oh, Missis is gone to church--and the children--but Miss Saxton is in,
she might--"

"Emily!" I exclaimed.

The maid smiled.

"She's in the drawing-room. She's engaged, but perhaps if I tell her--"

"Yes, do," said I, sure that Emily would receive me.

I found my old sweetheart sitting in a low chair by the fire, a man
standing on the hearth-rug pulling his moustache. Emily and I both felt a
thrill of old delight at meeting.

"I can hardly believe it is really you," she said, laughing me one of the
old intimate looks. She had changed a great deal. She was very handsome,
but she had now a new self-confidence, a fine, free indifference.

"Let me introduce you. Mr Renshaw, Cyril. Tom, you know who it is; you
have heard me speak often enough of Cyril. I am going to marry Tom in
three weeks' time," she said, laughing.

"The devil you are!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"If he will have me," she added, quite as a playful afterthought.

Tom was a well-built fair man, smoothly, almost delicately tanned. There
was something soldierly in his bearing, something self-conscious in the
way he bent his head and pulled his moustache, something charming and
fresh in the way he laughed at Emily's last preposterous speech.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked.

"Why didn't you ask me?" she retorted, arching her brows. "Mr Renshaw," I
said. "You have out-manoeuvred me all unawares, quite indecently."

"I am very sorry," he said, giving one more twist to his moustache, then
breaking into a loud, short laugh at his joke.

"Do you really feel cross?" said Emily to me, knitting her brows and
smiling quaintly.

"I do!" I replied, with truthful emphasis.

She laughed, and laughed again, very much amused.

"It is such a joke," she said. "To think you should feel cross now, when
it is--how long is it ago--?"

"I will not count up," said I.

"Are you not sorry for me?" I asked of Tom Renshaw.

He looked at me with his young blue eyes, eyes so bright, so navely
inquisitive, so winsomely meditative. He did not know quite what to say,
or how to take it.

"Very!" he replied in another short burst of laughter, quickly twisting
his moustache again and looking down at his feet.

He was twenty-nine years old; had been a soldier in China for five years,
was now farming his fathers' farm at Papplewick, where Emily was
schoolmistress. He had been at home eighteen months. His father was an
old man of seventy who had had his right hand chopped to bits in the
chopping machine. So they told me. I liked Tom for his handsome bearing
and his fresh, winsome way. He was exceedingly manly: that is to say, he
did not dream of questioning or analysing anything. All that came his way
was ready labelled nice or nasty, good or bad. He did not imagine that
anything could be other than just what it appeared to be--and with this
appearance, he was quite content. He looked up to Emily as one wiser,
nobler, nearer to God than himself.

"I am a thousand years older than he," she said to me, laughing. "Just as
you are centuries older than I."

"And you love him for his youth?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied. "For that and--he is wonderfully sagacious--and so
gentle."

"And I was never gentle, was I?" I said.

"No! As restless and as urgent as the wind," she said, and I saw a last
flicker of the old terror.

"Where is George?" I asked.

"In bed," she replies briefly. "He's recovering from one of his orgies.
If I were Meg I would not live with him."

"Is he so bad?" I asked.

"Bad!" she replied. "He's disgusting, and I'm sure he's dangerous. I'd
have him removed to an inebriates' home."

"You'd have to persuade him to go," said Tom, who had come into the room
again. "He does have dreadful bouts, though! He's killing himself, sure
enough. I feel awfully sorry for the fellow."

"It seems so contemptible to me," said Emily, "to become enslaved to one
of your likings till it makes a beast of you. Look what a spectacle he is
for his children, and what a disgusting disgrace for his wife."

"Well, if he can't help it, he can't, poor chap," said Tom. "Though I do
think a man should have more backbone." We heard heavy noises from the
room above.

"He is getting up," said Emily. "I suppose I'd better see if he'll have
any breakfast." She waited, however. Presently the door opened, and there
stood George with his hand on the knob, leaning, looking in.

"I thought I heard three voices," he said, as if it freed him from a
certain apprehension. He smiled. His waistcoat hung open over his woollen
shirt, he wore no coat and was slipper-less. His hair and his moustache
were dishevelled, his face pale and stupid with sleep, his eyes small. He
turned aside from our looks as from a bright light. His hand as I shook
it was flaccid and chill.

"How do you come to be here, Cyril?" he said subduedly, faintly smiling.

"Will you have any breakfast?" Emily asked him coldly. "I'll have a bit
if there's any for me," he replied.

"It has been waiting for you long enough," she answered. He turned and
went with a dull thud of his stockinged feet across to the dining-room.
Emily rang for the maid, I followed George, leaving the betrothed
together. I found my host moving about the dining-room, looking behind
the chairs and in the corners.

"I wonder where the devil my slippers are!" he muttered explanatorily.
Meanwhile he continued his search. I noticed he did not ring the bell to
have them found for him. Presently he came to the fire, spreading his
hands over it. As he was smashing the slowly burning coal the maid came
in with the tray. He desisted, and put the poker carefully down. While
the maid spread his meal on one corner of the table, he looked in the
fire, paying her no heed. When she had finished:

"It's fried white-bait," she said. "Shall you have that?"

He lifted his head and looked at the plate.

"Ay," he said. "Have you brought the vinegar?"

Without answering, she took the cruet from the sideboard and set it on
the table. As she was closing the door, she looked back to say:

"You'd better eat it now, while it's hot."

He took no notice, but sat looking in the fire.

"And how are you going on?" he asked me.

"I? Oh, very well! And you--?"

"As you see," he replied, turning his head on one side with a little
gesture of irony.

"As I am very sorry to see," I rejoined.

He sat forward with his elbows on his knees, tapping the back of his hand
with one finger, in monotonous two-pulse like heart-beats.

"Aren't you going to have breakfast?" I urged. The clock at that moment
began to ring a sonorous twelve. He looked up at it with subdued
irritation.

"Ay, I suppose so," he answered me, when the clock had finished striking.
He rose heavily and went to the table. As he poured out a cup of tea he
spilled it on the cloth, and stood looking at the stain. It was still
some time before he began to eat. He poured vinegar freely over the hot
fish, and ate with an indifference that made eating ugly, pausing now and
again to wipe the tea off his moustache, or to pick a bit of fish from
off his knee.

"You are not married, I suppose?" he said in one of his pauses.

"No," I replied. "I expect I shall have to be looking round."

"You're wiser not," he replied, quiet and bitter.

A moment or two later the maid came in with a letter. "This came this
morning," she said, as she laid it on the table beside him. He looked at
it, then he said:

"You didn't give me a knife for the marmalade."

"Didn't I?" she replied. "I thought you wouldn't want it. You don't as a
rule."

"And do you know where my slippers are?" he asked.

"They ought to be in their usual place." She went and looked in the
corner. "I suppose Miss Gertie's put them somewhere. I'll get you another
pair."

As he waited for her he read the letter. He read it twice, then he put it
back in the envelope, quietly, without any change of expression. But he
ate no more breakfast, even after the maid had brought the knife and his
slippers, and though he had had but a few mouthfuls.

At half-past twelve there was an imperious woman's voice in the house.
Meg came to the door. As she entered the room, and saw me, she stood
still. She sniffed, glanced at the table, and exclaimed, coming forward
effusively:

"Well I never, Cyril! Who'd a thought of seeing you here this morning!
How are you?"

She waited for the last of my words, then immediately she turned to
George, and said:

"I must say you're in a nice state for Cyril to see you! Have you
finished?--If you have, Kate can take that tray out. It smells quite
sickly. Have you finished?"

He did not answer, but drained his cup of tea and pushed it away with the
back of his hand. Meg rang the bell, and having taken off her gloves,
began to put the things on the tray, tipping the fragments of fish and
bones from the edge of his plate to the middle with short, disgusted
jerks of the fork. Her attitude and expression were of resentment and
disgust. The maid came in.

"Clear the table, Kate, and open the window. Have you opened the bedroom
windows?"

"No'm--not yet"--she glanced at George as if to say he had only been down
a few minutes.

"Then do it when you have taken the tray," said Meg. "You don't open this
window," said George churlishly. "It's cold enough as it is."

"You should put a coat on then if you're starved," replied Meg
contemptuously. "It's warm enough for those that have got any life in
their blood. You do not find it cold, do you, Cyril?"

"It is fresh this morning," I replied.

"Of course it is, not cold at all. And I'm sure this room needs airing."

The maid, however, folded the cloth and went out without approaching the
windows.

Meg had grown stouter, and there was a certain immovable confidence in
her. She was authoritative, amiable, calm. She wore a handsome dress of
dark green, and a toque with opulent ostrich feathers. As she moved about
the room she seemed to dominate everything, particularly her husband, who
sat ruffled and dejected, his waistcoat hanging loose over his shirt.

A girl entered. She was proud and mincing in her deportment. Her face was
handsome, but too haughty for a child. She wore a white coat, with ermine
tippet, muff, and hat. Her long brown hair hung twining down her back.

"Has Dad only just had his breakfast?" she exclaimed in high censorious
tones as she came in.

"He has!" replied Meg.

The girl looked at her father in calm, childish censure.

"And we have been to church, and come home to dinner," she said, as she
drew off her little white gloves. George watched her with ironical
amusement.

"Hello!" said Meg, glancing at the opened letter which lay near his
elbow. "Who is that from?"

He glanced round, having forgotten it. He took the envelope, doubled it
and pushed it in his waistcoat pocket.

"It's from William Housley," he replied.

"Oh! And what has he to say?" she asked.

George turned his dark eyes at her.

"Nothing!" he said.

"Hm-Hm!" sneered Meg. "Funny letter, about nothing!"

"I suppose," said the child, with her insolent, high-pitched superiority,
"it's some money that he doesn't want us to know about."

"That's about it!" said Meg, giving a small laugh at the child's
perspicuity.

"So's he can keep it for himself, that's what it is," continued the
child, nodding her head in rebuke at him.

"I've no right to any money, have I?" asked the father sarcastically.

"No, you haven't," the child nodded her head at him dictatorially, "you
haven't, because you only put it in the fire."

"You've got it wrong," he sneered. "You mean it's like giving a child
fire to play with."

"Um!--and it is, isn't it, Mam?"--the small woman turned to her mother
for corroboration. Meg had flushed at his sneer, when he quoted for the
child its mother's dictum.

"And you're very naughty!" preached Gertie, turning her back disdainfully
on her father.

"Is that what the parson's been telling you?" he asked, a grain of
amusement still in his bitterness.

"No, it isn't!" retorted the youngster. "If you want to know you should
go and listen for yourself. Everybody that goes to church looks nice--"
she glanced at her mother and at herself, pruning herself proudly, "--and
God loves them," she added. She assumed a sanctified expression, and
continued after a little thought, "Because they look nice and are meek."

"What!" exclaimed Meg, laughing, glancing with secret pride at me.

"Because they're meek!" repeated Gertie, with a superior little smile of
knowledge.

"You're off the mark this time," said George.

"No, I'm not, am I, Mam? Isn't it right, Mam? 'The meek shall inevit the
erf'?"

Meg was too much amused to answer.

"The meek shall have herrings on earth," mocked the father, also amused.
His daughter looked dubiously at him. She smelled impropriety.

"It's not, Mam, is it?" she asked, turning to her mother. Meg laughed.

"The meek shall have herrings on earth," repeated George with soft
banter.

"No, it's not, Mam, is it?" cried the child in real distress.

"Tell your father he's always teaching you something wrong," answered
Meg.

Then I said I must go. They pressed me to stay.

"Oh yes--do stop to dinner," suddenly pleaded the child, smoothing her
wild ravels of curls after having drawn off her hat. She asked me again
and again, with much earnestness.

"But why?" I asked.

"So's you can talk to us this afternoon--an' so's Dad won't be so
dis'greeable," she replied plaintively, poking the black spots on her
muff.

Meg moved nearer to her daughter with a little gesture of compassion.

"But," said I, "I promised a lady I would be back for lunch, so I must.
You have some more visitors, you know."

"Oh, well!" she complained. "They go in another room, and Dad doesn't
care about them."

"But come!" said I.

"Well, he's just as dis'greeable when Auntie Emily's here--he is with her
an' all."

"You are having your character given away," said Meg brutally, turning to
him.

I bade him good-bye. He did me the honour of coming with me to the door.
We could neither of us find a word to say, though we were both moved.
When at last I held his hand and was looking at him as I said "Good-bye",
he looked back at me for the first time during our meeting. His eyes were
heavy, and as he lifted them to me, seemed to recoil in an agony of
shame.



CHAPTER VIII - A PROSPECT AMONG THE MARSHES OF LETHE


George steadily declined from this time. I went to see him two years
later. He was not at home. Meg wept to me as she told me of him, how he
let the business slip, how he drank, what a brute he was in drink, and
how unbearable afterwards. He was ruining his constitution, he was
ruining her life and the children's. I felt very sorry for her as she
sat, large and ruddy, brimming over with bitter tears. She asked me if I
did not think I might influence him. He was, she said, at the Ram. When
he had an extra bad bout on he went up there, and stayed sometimes for a
week at a time, with Oswald, coming back to the Hollies when he had
recovered--"though," said Meg, "he's sick every morning and almost after
every meal."

All the time Meg was telling me this, sat curled up in a large chair
their youngest boy, a pale, sensitive, rather spoiled lad of seven or
eight years, with a petulant mouth and nervous dark eyes. He sat watching
his mother as she told her tale, heaving his shoulders and settling
himself in a new position when his feelings were nearly too much for him.
He was full of wild, childish pity for his mother, and furious, childish
hate of his father, the author of all their trouble. I called at the Ram
and saw George. He was half drunk.

I went up to Highclose with a heavy heart. Lettie's last child had been
born, much to the surprise of everybody, some few months before I came
down. There was a space of seven years between her youngest girl and this
baby. Lettie was much absorbed in motherhood.

When I went up to talk to her about George, I found her in the bedroom
nursing the baby, who was very good and quiet on her knee. She listened
to me sadly, but her attention was caught away by each movement made by
the child. As I was telling her of the attitude of George's children
towards their father and mother, she glanced from the baby to me, and
exclaimed:

"See how he watches the light flash across your spectacles when you turn
suddenly--Look!"

But I was weary of babies. My friends had all grown up and married and
inflicted them on me. There were storms of babies. I longed for a place
where they would be obsolete, and young, arrogant, impervious mothers
might be a forgotten tradition. Lettie's heart would quicken in answer to
only one pulse, the easy, light ticking of the baby's blood.

I remembered, one day as I sat in the train hastening to Charing Cross on
my way from France, that that was George's birthday. I had the feeling of
him upon me, heavily, and I could not rid myself of the depression. I put
it down to travel fatigue, and tried to dismiss it. As I watched the
evening sun glitter along the new corn-stubble in the fields we passed,
trying to describe the effect to myself, I found myself asking,
"But--what's the matter? I've not had bad news, have I, to make my chest
feel so weighted?"

I was surprised when I reached my lodging in New Malden to find no
letters for me, save one fat budget from Alice. I knew her squat,
saturnine handwriting on the envelope, and I thought I knew what contents
to expect from the letter.

She had married an old acquaintance who had been her particular aversion.
This young man had got himself into trouble, so that the condemnations of
the righteous pursued him like clouds of gnats on a summer evening. Alice
immediately rose to sting back his vulgar enemies, and having rendered
him a service, felt she could only wipe out the score by marrying him.
They were fairly comfortable. Occasionally, as she said, there were
displays of small fireworks in the back yard. He worked in the offices of
some iron foundries just over the Erewash in Derbyshire. Alice lived in a
dirty little place in the valley a mile and a half from Eberwich, not far
from his work. She had no children, and practically no friends; a few
young matrons for acquaintances. As wife of a superior clerk, she had to
preserve her dignity among the work-people. So all her little crackling
fires were sodded down with the sods of British respectability.
Occasionally she smouldered a fierce smoke that made one's eyes water.
Occasionally, perhaps once a year, she wrote me a whole venomous budget,
much to my amusement.

I was not in any haste to open this fat letter until, after supper, I
turned to it as a resource from my depression.

"Oh dear, Cyril, I'm in a bubbling state, I want to yell, not write. Oh,
Cyril, why didn't you marry me, or why didn't our Georgie Saxton, or
somebody. I'm deadly sick. Percival Charles is enough to stop a clock.
Oh, Cyril, he lives in an eternal Sunday suit, holy broadcloth and
righteous three inches of cuffs! He goes to bed in it. Nay, he wallows in
Bibles when he goes to bed. I can feel the brass covers of all his family
Bibles sticking in my ribs as I lie by his side. I could weep with wrath,
yet I put on my black hat and trot to chapel with him like a lamb.

"Oh, Cyril, nothing's happened. Nothing has happened to me all these
years. I shall die of it. When I see Percival Charles at dinner, after
having asked a blessing, I feel as if I should never touch a bit at his
table again. In about an hour I shall hear him hurrying up the
entry--prayers always make him hungry--and his first look will be on the
table. But I'm not fair to him--he's really a good fellow--I only wish he
wasn't.

"It's George Saxton who's put this Seidlitz powder in my marital
cup of cocoa. Cyril, I must a tale unfold. It is fifteen years since our
George married Meg. When I count up, and think of the future, it nearly
makes me scream. But my tale, my tale!

"Can you remember his faithful-dog, wounded-stag, gentle-gazelle eyes?
Cyril, you can see the whisky or the brandy combusting in them. He's got
d.t.'s, blue-devils--and I've seen him, and I'm swarming myself with
little red devils after it. I went up to Eberwich on Wednesday afternoon
for a pound of fry for Percival Charles' Thursday dinner. I walked by
that little path which you know goes round the back of the Hollies--it's
as near as any way for me. I thought I heard a row in the paddock at the
back of the stables, so I said I might as well see the fun. I went to the
gate, basket in one hand, ninepence in coppers in the other, a demure
deacon's wife. I didn't take in the scene at first.

"There was our Georgie, in leggings and breeches as of yore, and a whip.
He was flourishing, and striding, and yelling. 'Go it, old boy,' I said,
'you'll want your stocking round your throat tonight.' But, Cyril, I had
spoken too soon. Oh, lum! There came raking up the croft that long,
wire-springy racehorse of his, ears flat, and, clinging to its neck, the
pale-faced lad, Wilfred. The kid was white as death, and squealing 'Mam!
Mam!' I thought it was a bit rotten of Georgie trying to teach the kid to
jockey. The race-horse, Bonny-Boy--Boney Boy, I call him--came bouncing
round like a spiral egg-whish. Then I saw our Georgie rush up screaming,
nearly spitting the moustache off his face, and fetch the horse a cut
with the whip. It went off like a flame along hot paraffin. The kid
shrieked and clung. Georgie went rushing after him, running staggery, and
swearing, fairly screaming--awful--'a lily-livered little swine!' The
high lanky race-horse went larroping round as if it was going mad. I was
dazed. Then Meg came rushing, and the other two lads, all screaming. She
went for George, but he lifted his whip like the devil. She daren't go
near him--she rushed at him, and stopped, rushed at him, and stopped,
striking at him with her two fists. He waved his whip and kept her off,
and the race-horse kept tearing along. Meg flew to stop it, he ran with
his drunken totter-step, brandishing his whip. I flew as well. I hit him
with my basket. The kid fell off, and Mag rushed to him. Some men came
running. George stood fairly shuddering. You would never have known his
face, Cyril. He was mad, demoniacal. I feel sometimes as if I should
burst and shatter to bits like a sky-rocket when I think of it. I've got
such a weal on my arm.

"I lost Percival Charles's ninepence and my nice white cloth out of the
basket, and everything, besides having black looks on Thursday because it
was mutton-chops, which he hates. Oh, Cyril, 'I wish I was a cassowary,
on the banks of the Timbuctoo.' When I saw Meg sobbing over that
lad--thank goodness he wasn't hurt!--I wished our Georgie was dead; I do
now, also; I wish we only had to remember him. I haven't been to see them
lately--can't stand Meg's ikeyness. I wonder how it all will end.

"There's P. C. bidding 'Good night and God bless You' to Brother Jakes,
and no supper ready--"

As soon as I could, after reading Alice's letter, I went down to Eberwich
to see how things were. Memories of the old days came over me again till
my heart hungered for its old people.

They told me at the Hollies that, after a bad attack of delirium tremens,
George had been sent to Papplewick in the lonely country to stay with
Emily. I borrowed a bicycle to ride the nine miles. The summer had been
wet, and everything was late. At the end of September the foliage was
heavy green, and the wheat stood dejectedly in stook. I rode through the
still sweetness of an autumn morning. The mist was folded blue along the
hedges; the elm trees loomed up along the dim walls of the morning, the
horse-chestnut trees at hand flickered with a few yellow leaves like
bright blossoms. As I rode through the tree tunnel by the church where,
on his last night, the keeper had told me his story, I smelled the cold
rotting of the leaves of the cloudy summer.

I passed silently through the lanes, where the chill grass was weighed
down with grey-blue seed-pearls of dew in the shadow, where the wet
woollen spider-cloths of autumn were spread as on a loom. Brown birds
rustled in flocks like driven leaves before me. I heard the far-off
hooting of the "loose-all" at the pits, telling me it was half-past
eleven, that the men and boys would be sitting in the narrow darkness of
the mines eating their "snap", while shadowy mice darted for the crumbs,
and the boys laughed with red mouths rimmed with grime, as the bold
little creatures peeped at them in the dim light of the lamps. The
dogwood berries stood jauntily scarlet on the hedge-tops, the bunched
scarlet and green berries of the convolvulus and bryony hung amid golden
trails, the blackberries dropped ungathered. I rode slowly on, the plants
dying around me, the berries leaning their heavy ruddy mouths, and
languishing for the birds, the men imprisoned underground below me, the
brown birds dashing in haste along the hedges.

Swineshed Farm, where the Renshaws lived, stood quite alone among its
fields, hidden from the highway and from everything. The lane leading up
to it was deep and unsunned. On my right, I caught glimpses through the
hedge of the cornfields, where the shocks of wheat stood like small
yellow-sailed ships in a widespread flotilla. The upper part of the field
was cleared. I heard the clank of a wagon and the voices of men, and I
saw the high load of sheaves go lurching, rocking up the incline to the
stack-yard.

The lane debouched into a close-bitten field, and out of this empty land
the farm rose up with its buildings like a huddle of old, painted vessels
floating in still water. White fowls went stepping discreetly through the
mild sunshine and the shadow. I leaned my bicycle against the grey,
silken doors of the old coach-house. The place was breathing with
silence. I hesitated to knock at the open door. Emily came. She was rich
as always with her large beauty, and stately now with the stateliness of
a strong woman six months gone with child.

She exclaimed with surprise, and I followed her into the kitchen,
catching a glimpse of the glistening pans and the white wood baths as I
passed through the scullery. The kitchen was a good-sized, low room that
through long course of years had become absolutely a home. The great
beams of the ceiling bowed easily, the chimney-seat had a bit of
dark-green curtain, and under the high mantel-piece was another low shelf
that the men could reach with their hands as they sat in the inglenook.
There the pipes lay. Many generations of peaceful men and fruitful women
had passed through the room, and not one but had added a new small
comfort; a chair in the right place, a hook, a stool, a cushion, a
certain pleasing cloth for the sofa covers, a shelf of books. The room,
that looked so quiet and crude, was a home evolved through generations to
fit the large bodies of the men who dwelled in it, and the placid fancy
of the women. At last, it had an individuality. It was the home of the
Renshaws, warm, lovable, serene. Emily was in perfect accord with its
brownness, its shadows, its ease. I, as I sat on the sofa under the
window, felt rejected by the kind room. I was distressed with a sense of
ephemerality, of pale, erratic fragility.

Emily, in her full-blooded beauty, was at home. It is rare now to feel a
kinship between a room and the one who inhabits it, a close bond of blood
relation. Emily had at last found her place, and had escaped from the
torture of strange, complex modern life. She was making a pie, and the
flour was white on her brown arms. She pushed the tickling hair from her
face with her arm, and looked at me with tranquil pleasure, as she worked
the paste in the yellow bowl. I was quiet, subdued before her.

"You are very happy?" I said.

"Ah, very!" she replied. "And you?--you are not, you look worn."

"Yes," I replied. "I am happy enough. I am living my life."

"Don't you find it wearisome?" she asked pityingly.

She made me tell her all my doings, and she marvelled, but all the time
her eyes were dubious and pitiful.

"You have George here," I said.

"Yes. He's in a poor state, but he's not as sick as he was."

"What about the delirium tremens?"

"Oh, he was better of that--very nearly--before he came here. He
sometimes fancies they're coming on again, and he's terrified. Isn't it
awful! And he's brought it all on himself. Tom's very good to him."

"There's nothing the matter with him--physically, is there?" I asked.

"I don't know," she replied, as she went to the oven to turn a pie that
was baking. She put her arm to her forehead and brushed aside her hair,
leaving a mark of flour on her nose. For a moment or two she remained
kneeling on the fender, looking into the fire and thinking. "He was in a
poor way when he came here, could eat nothing, sick every morning. I
suppose it's his liver. They all end like that." She continued to wipe
the large black plums and put them in the dish.

"Hardening of the liver?" I asked. She nodded.

"And is he in bed?" I asked again.

"Yes," she replied. "It's as I say, if he'd get up and potter about a
bit, he'd get over it. But he lies there skulking."

"And what time will he get up?" I insisted.

"I don't know. He may crawl down somewhere towards teatime. Do you want
to see him? That's what you came for, isn't it?"

She smiled at me with a little sarcasm, and added, "You always thought
more of him than anybody, didn't you? Ah, well, come up and see him."

I followed her up the back stairs, which led out of the kitchen, and
which emerged straight in a bedroom. We crossed the hollow-sounding
plaster-floor of this naked room and opened a door at the opposite side.
George lay in bed watching us with apprehensive eyes.

"Here is Cyril come to see you," said Emily, "so I've brought him up, for
I didn't know when you'd be downstairs."

A small smile of relief came on his face, and he put out his hand from
the bed. He lay with the disorderly clothes pulled up to his chin. His
face was discoloured and rather bloated, his nose swollen.

"Don't you feel so well this morning?" asked Emily, softening with pity
when she came into contact with his sickness.

"Oh, all right," he replied, wishing only to get rid of us.

"You should try to get up a bit, it's a beautiful morning, warm and
soft--" she said gently. He did not reply, and she went downstairs.

I looked round to the cold, whitewashed room, with its ceiling curving
and sloping down the walls. It was sparsely furnished, and bare of even
the slightest ornament. The only things of warm colour were the cow and
horse skins on the floor. All the rest was white or grey or drab. On one
side, the room sloped down so that the window was below my knees, and
nearly touching the floor, on the other side was a larger window, breast
high. Through it one could see the jumbled, ruddy roofs of the sheds and
the skies. The tiles were shining with patches of vivid orange lichen.
Beyond was the cornfield, and the men, small in the distance, lifting the
sheaves on the cart.

"You will come back to farming again, won't you?" I asked him, turning to
the bed. He smiled.

"I don't know," he answered dully.

"Would you rather I went downstairs?" I asked.

"No, I'm glad to see you," he replied, in the same uneasy fashion.

"I've only just come back from France," I said.

"Ah!" he replied, indifferent.

"I am sorry you're ill," I said.

He stared unmovedly at the opposite wall. I went to the window and looked
out. After some time, I compelled myself to say, in a casual manner:

"Won't you get up and come out a bit?"

"I suppose I s'll have to," he said, gathering himself slowly together
for the effort. He pushed himself up in bed.

When he took off the jacket of his pyjamas to wash himself I turned away.
His arms seemed thin, and he had bellied, and was bowed and unsightly. I
remembered the morning we swam in the millpond. I remembered that he was
now in the prime of his life. I looked at his bluish feeble hands as he
laboriously washed himself. The soap once slipped from his fingers as he
was picking it up, and fell, rattling the pot loudly. It startled us, and
he seemed to grip the sides of the washstand to steady himself. Then he
went on with his slow, painful toilet. As he combed his hair he looked at
himself with dull eyes of shame.

The men were coming in from the scullery when we got downstairs. Dinner
was smoking on the table. I shook hands with Tom Renshaw, and with the
old man's hard, fierce left hand. Then I was introduced to Arthur
Renshaw, a clean-faced, large, bashful lad of twenty. I nodded to the
man, Jim, and to Jim's wife, Annie. We all sat down to table.

"Well, an' 'ow are ter feelin' by now, like?" asked the old man heartily
of George. Receiving no answer, he continued, "Tha should 'a gor up an'
corn' an' gen us a 'and wi' th' wheat, it 'ud 'a done thee good."

"You will have a bit of this mutton, won't you?" Tom asked him, tapping
the joint with the carving-knife. George shook his head.

"It's quite lean and tender," he said gently.

"No, thanks," said George.

"Gi'e 'im a bit, gi'e 'im a bit!" cried the old man. "It'll do 'im
good--it's what 'e wants, a bit o' strengthenin' nourishment."

"It's no good if his stomach won't have it." said Tom, in mild reproof,
as if he were sneaking of a child. Arthur filled George's glass with beer
without speaking. The two young men were full of kind, gentle attention.

"Let 'im 'a'e a spoonful o' tonnup then," persisted the old man. "I canna
eat while 'is plate stands there emp'y."

So they put turnip and onion sauce on George's plate, and he took up his
fork and tasted a few mouthfuls. The men ate largely, and with zest. The
sight of their grand satisfaction, amounting almost to gusto, sickened
him.

When at last the old man laid down the dessert-spoon which he used in
place of a knife and fork, he looked again at George's plate, and said:

"Why tha 'asna aten a smite, not a smite! Tha non goos th' raight road to
be better."

George maintained a stupid silence.

"Don't bother him, Father," said Emily.

"Tha art an wd whittle, Feythey," added Tom, smiling good-naturedly. He
spoke to his father in dialect, but to Emily in good English. Whatever
she said had Tom's immediate support. Before serving us with pie, Emily
gave her brother junket and damsons, setting the plate and the spoon
before him as if he were a child. For this act of grace Tom looked at her
lovingly, and stroked her hand as she passed.

After dinner, George said, with a miserable struggle for an indifferent
tone:

"Aren't you going to give Cyril a glass of whisky?"

He looked up furtively, in a conflict of shame and hope. A silence fell
on the room.

"Ay!" said the old man softly. "Let 'im 'ave a drop."

"Yes!" added Tom, in submissive pleading.

All the men in the room shrank a little, awaiting the verdict of the
woman.

"I don't know," she said clearly, "that Cyril wants a glass."

"I don't mind," I answered, feeling myself blush. I had not the courage
to counteract her will directly. Not even the old man had that courage.
We waited in suspense. After keeping us so for a few minutes, while we
smouldered with mortification, she went into another room, and we heard
her unlocking a door. She returned with a decanter containing rather less
than half a pint of liquor. She put out five tumblers.

"Tha neda gi'e me none," said the old man. "Ah'm non a proud chap. Ah'm
not."

"Nor me neither," said Arthur.

"You will, Tom?" she asked.

"Do you want me to?" he replied, smiling.

"I don't," she answered sharply. "I want nobody to have it, when you look
at the results of it. But if Cyril is having a glass, you may as well
have one with him."

Tom was pleased with her. She gave her husband and me fairly stiff
glasses.

"Steady, steady!" he said. "Give that George, and give me not so much.
Two fingers, two of your fingers, you know."

But she passed him the glass. When George had had his share, there
remained but a drop in the decanter.

Emily watched the drunkard coldly as he took this remainder.

George and I talked for a time while the men smoked. He, from his glum
stupidity, broke into a harsh, almost imbecile loquacity.

"Have you seen my family lately?" he asked, continuing. "Yes! Not badly
set up, are they, the children? But the little devils are soft,
mard-soft, every one of 'em. It's their mother's bringin' up--she marded
'em till they were soft, an' would never let me have a say in it. I
should 'a brought 'em up different, you know I should."

Tom looked at Emily, and, remarking her angry contempt, suggested that
she should go out with him to look at the stacks. I watched the tall,
square-shouldered man leaning with deference and tenderness towards his
wife as she walked calmly at his side. She was the mistress, quiet and
self-assured, he her rejoiced husband and servant.

George was talking about himself. If I had not seen him, I should hardly
have recognised the words as his. He was lamentably decayed. He talked
stupidly, with vulgar contumely of others, and in weak praise of himself.

The old man rose, with a:

"Well, I suppose we mun ma'e another dag at it," and the men left the
house.

George continued his foolish, harsh monologue, making gestures of
emphasis with his head and his hands. He continued when we were walking
round the buildings into the fields, the same babble of bragging and
abuse. I was wearied and disgusted. He looked, and he sounded, so
worthless.

Across the empty cornfield the partridges were running. We walked through
the September haze slowly, because he was feeble on his legs. As he
became tired he ceased to talk. We leaned for some time on a gate, in the
brief glow of the transient afternoon, and he was stupid again. He did
not notice the brown haste of the partridges, he did not care to share
with me the handful of ripe blackberries, and when I pulled the bryony
ropes off the hedges, and held the great knots of red and green berries
in my hand, he glanced at them without interest or appreciation.

"Poison-berries, aren't they?" he said dully.

Like a tree that is falling, going soft and pale and rotten, clammy with
small fungi, he stood leaning against the gate, while the dim afternoon
drifted with a flow of thick sweet sunshine past him, not touching him.

In the stackyard, the summer's splendid monuments of wheat and grass were
reared in gold and grey. The wheat was littered brightly round the rising
stack. The loaded wagon clanked slowly up the incline, drew near, and
rode like a ship at anchor against the scotches, brushing the stack with
a crisp, sharp sound. Tom climbed the ladder and stood a moment there
against the sky, amid the brightness and fragrance of the gold corn, and
waved his arm to his wife who was passing in the shadow of the building.
Then Arthur began to lift the sheaves to the stack, and the two men
worked in an exquisite, subtle rhythm, their white sleeves and their dark
heads gleaming, moving against the mild sky and the corn. The silence was
broken only by the occasional lurch of the body of the wagon, as the
teamer stepped to the front, or again to the rear of the load.
Occasionally I could catch the blue glitter of the prongs of the forks.
Tom, now lifted high above the small wagon load, called to his brother
some question about the stack. The sound of his voice was strong and
mellow.

I turned to George, who was also watching, and said: "You ought to be
like that."

We heard Tom calling, "All right!" and saw him standing high up on the
tallest corner of the stack, as on the prow of a ship.

George watched, and his face slowly gathered expression. He turned to me,
his dark eyes alive with horror and despair.

"I shall soon--be out of everybody's way!" he said. His moment of fear
and despair was cruel. I cursed myself for having roused him from his
stupor.

"You will be better," I said.

He watched again the handsome movement of the men at the stack.

"I couldn't team ten sheaves," he said.

"You will in a month or two," I urged.

He continued to watch, while Tom got on the ladder and came down the
front of the stack.

"Nay, the sooner I clear out, the better," he repeated to himself.

When we went in to tea, he was, as Tom said, "downcast". The men talked
uneasily with abated voices. Emily attended to him with a little,
palpitating solicitude. We were all uncomfortably impressed with the
sense of our alienation from him He sat apart and obscure among us, like
a condemned man.



THE END




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