Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: The Unlit Lamp (1924)
Author: Radclyffe Hall
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0701131.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: November 2007
Date most recently updated: December 2007

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Unlit Lamp (1924)
Author: Radclyffe Hall





'And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost
Is--the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin.'

Browning THE STATUE AND THE BUST




BOOK ONE



Chapter One


1


The dining-room at Leaside was also Colonel Ogden's study. It contained,
in addition to the mahogany sideboard with ornamental brackets at the
back, the three-tier dumb waiter and the dining-table with chairs _en
suite_, a large roll-top desk much battered and ink-stained, and bleached
by the suns of many Indian summers. There was also a leather arm-chair
with a depression in the seat, a pipe-rack and some tins of tobacco. All
of which gave one to understand that the presence of the master of the
house brooded continually over the family meals and over the room itself
in the intervals between. And lest this should be doubted, there was
Colonel Ogden's photograph in uniform that hung over the fireplace; an
enlargement showing the colonel seated in a tent at his writing-table,
his native servant at his elbow. The colonel's face looked sternly into
the camera, his pen was poised for the final word, authority personified.
The smell of the colonel's pipes, past and present, hung in the air, and
together with the general suggestion of food and newspapers, produced an
odour that became the very spirit of the room. In after years the
children had only to close their eyes and think of their father to
recapture the smell of the dining-room at Leaside.

Colonel Ogden looked at his watch; it was nine o'clock, He pushed back
his chair from the breakfast table, a signal for the family to have done
with eating.

He sank into his arm-chair with a sigh; he was fifty-five and somewhat
stout. His small, twinkling eyes scanned the columns of _The Times_ as if
in search of something to pounce on. Presently he had it.

'Mary.'

'Yes, dear.'

'Have you seen this advertisement of the Army and Navy?'

'Which one, dear?'

'The provision department. Surely we are paying more than this for
bacon?'

He extended the paper towards his wife; his hand shook a little, his face
became very slightly suffused. Mrs. Ogden glanced at the paper; then she
lied quickly.

'Oh, no, my love, ours is twopence cheaper.'

'Oh!' said Colonel Ogden. 'Kindly ring the bell.'

Mrs. Ogden obeyed. She was a small woman, pale and pensive looking; her
neat hair, well netted, was touched with grey, her soft brown eyes were
large and appealing, but there were lines about her mouth that suggested
something different, irritable lines that drew the corners of the lips
down a little. The maid came in; Colonel Ogden smiled coldly. 'The
grocer's book, please', he said.

Mrs. Ogden quailed; it was unfortunately the one day of all the seven
when the grocer's book would be in the house.

'What for, James?' she asked.

Colonel Ogden caught the nervous tremor in her voice, and his smile
deepened. He did not answer, and presently the servant returned book in
hand. Colonel Ogden took it, and with the precision born of long practice
turned up the required entry.

'Mary! Be good enough to examine this item.'

She did so and was silent.

'If', said Colonel Ogden in a bitter voice, 'if you took a little more
trouble, Mary, to consider my interests, if you took the trouble to
ascertain what we _are_ paying for things, there would be less for me to
worry about, less waste of money, less...' He gasped a little and pressed
his left side, glancing at his wife as he did so.

'Don't get excited, James, I beg; do remember your heart.'

The colonel leant back in his chair. 'I dislike unnecessary waste, Mary.'

'Yes, dear, of course. I wonder I didn't see that notice; I shall write
for some of their bacon to-day and countermand the piece from
Goodridge's. I'll go and do it now--or would you like me to give you your
tabloids?'

'Thanks, no', said the colonel briefly.

'Do the children disturb you? Shall they go upstairs?'

He got up heavily. ‘No, I'm going to the club.'

Something like a sigh of relief breathed through the room; the two
children eyed each other, and Milly, the younger, made a secret face. She
was a slim child with her mother's brown eyes. Her long yellow hair hung
in curls down her back; she looked fragile and elfish; some people thought
her pretty. Colonel Ogden did; she was her father's favourite.

There were two years between the sisters; Milly was ten, Joan twelve.
They were poles apart in disposition as in appearance. Everything that
Milly felt she voiced instantly; almost everything that Joan felt she did
not voice. She was a silent, patient child as a rule, but could, under
great provocation, display a stubborn will that could not be coped with,
a reasoning power that paralysed her mother and infuriated Colonel Ogden.
It was not temper exactly; Joan was never tearful, never violent, only
coldly logical and self-assured and firm. You might lock her in her
bedroom and tell her to ask God to make her a good child, but as likely
as not she would refuse to say she was sorry in the end. Once she had
remarked that her prayers had gone unanswered, and after this she was
never again exhorted to pray for grace.

It was what she considered injustice that roused the devil in Joan. When
the cat had been turned out to fend for itself during the summer
holidays, when a servant had been dismissed at a moment's notice for some
trifling misdemeanour, these and such-like incidents, which were
fortunately of rare occurrence, had been known to produce in Joan the
mood that her mother almost feared. Then it was that Joan had spoken her
mind, and had remained impenitent until finally accorded the forgiveness
she had not asked for.

Joan was large-boned and tall for her age, lanky as a boy, with a pale
face and short black hair. Her grey eyes were not large and not at all
appealing, but they were set well apart; they were intelligent and frank.
She escaped being plain by the skin of her teeth; she would have been
plain had her face not been redeemed by a short, straight nose and a
beautiful mouth. Somehow her mouth reassured you.

They had cut her thick hair during scarlet fever, and Joan refused to
allow it to grow again. She invariably found scissors and snipped and
snipped, and Mrs. Ogden's resistance broke down at the final act of
defiance, when she was discovered hacking at her hair with a pen-knife.


2


As the front door slammed behind Colonel Ogden the sisters smiled at each
other. Mrs. Ogden had gone to countermand the local bacon, and they were
alone.

'Rot!' said Joan firmly.

'What is?' asked Milly.

'The bacon row.'

'Oh, how dare you!' cried Milly in a voice of rapture. 'Supposing you
were heard!'

'There's no one to hear me--anyhow, it is rot!'

Milly danced. 'You'll catch it if Mother hears you!' Her fair curls
bobbed as she skipped round the room.

'Mind that cup', warned Joan.

But it was too late; the cup fell crashing to the floor. Just then Mrs.
Ogden came in.

'Who broke that cup?'

There was silence.

'Well?' she waited.

Milly caught Joan's eye. Joan saw the appeal in that look. Milly began.

'It was my fault', said Joan calmly.

'Then you ought to be more careful, especially when you know how your
father values this breakfast set. Really it's too bad; what will he say?
What possessed you, Joan?'

Mrs. Ogden put her hand up to her head wearily, glancing at Joan as she
did so. Joan was so quick to respond to the appeal of illness. Mrs. Ogden
would not have admitted to herself how much she longed for this quick
response and sympathy. She, who for years had been the giver, she who had
ministered to a man with heart disease, she who had become a veritable
reservoir of soothing phrases, solicitous actions, tabloids, hot soups
and general restoratives. There were times, growing more frequent of
late, when she longed, yes, longed to break down utterly, to become
bedridden, to be waited upon hand and foot, to have arresting symptoms of
her own, any number of them.

India, the great vampire, had not wrecked her, for she was wiry, her
little frame could withstand what her husband's bulk had failed to
endure. Mrs. Ogden was a strong woman. She did not look robust, however;
this she knew and appreciated. Her pathetic eyes were sunken and somewhat
dim, her nose, short and straight like Joan's, looked pinched, and her
drooping mouth was pale. All this Mrs. Ogden knew, and she used it as her
stock-in-trade with her elder daughter. There were days when the desire
to produce an effect upon someone became a positive craving. She would
listen for Joan's footsteps on the stairs, and then assume an attitude,
head back against the couch, hand pressed to eyes. Sometimes there were
silent tears hastily hidden after Joan had seen, or the short, dry cough
so like her brother Henry's. Henry had died of consumption. Then as
Joan's eyes would grow troubled, and the quick: 'Oh, Mother darling,
aren't you well?' would burst from her lips, Mrs. Ogden's conscience
would smite her. But in spite of herself she would invariably answer:
'It's nothing, dearest; only my cough', or 'It's only my head, Joan; it's
been very painful lately.'

Then Joan's strong, young arms would comfort and soothe, and her firm
lips grope until they found her mother's; and Mrs. Ogden would feel mean
and ashamed but guiltily happy, as if a lover held her.

And so, when in addition to the fuss about the bacon, a cup of the valued
breakfast set lay shattered on the floor, Mrs. Ogden felt, on this summer
morning, that life had become overpowering and that a headache, real or
assumed, would be the relief she so badly needed.

'It's very hard', she began tremulously. 'I'm quite tired out; I don't
feel able to face things to-day. I do think, my dear, that you might have
been more careful!' Tears brimmed up in her soft brown eyes and she went
hastily to the window.

'Oh, darling, don't cry.' Joan was beside her in an instant. 'I _am_
sorry, darling, look at me; I will be careful. How much will it cost? A
new one, I mean. I've still got half of Aunt Ann's birthday money; I'll
get a cup to match, only please don't cry.'

The slight gruffness that was characteristic of her voice grew more
pronounced in her emotion.

Mrs. Ogden drew her daughter to her; the gesture was full of soft,
compelling strength.

'It's a shame!'

'What is, dear?' said Mrs. Ogden, suddenly attentive.

'Father!' cried Joan defiantly.

'Hush, hush, darling.'

'But it is; he bullies you.'

'No, dear, don't say such things; your father has a weak heart.'

'But you're ill, too, and father's heart isn't always as bad as he makes
out. This morning--'

'Hush, Joan, you mustn't. I know I'm not strong, but we must never let
him know that I sometimes feel ill.'

'He ought to know it!'

'But, Joan, you were so frightened when he had that attack last
Christmas.'

'That was a real one', said Joan decidedly.

'Oh well, dearest--but never mind, I'm all right again now--run away, my
lamb. Miss Rodney must have come; it's past lesson time.'

'Are you sure you're all right?' said Joan doubtfully.

Mrs. Ogden leant back in the chair and gazed pensively out of the window.
'My little Joan', she murmured.

Joan trembled, a great tenderness took hold of her. She stooped and
kissed her mother's hand lingeringly.

But as the sisters stood in the hall outside, Joan looked even paler than
usual, her face was a little pinched, and there was a curious expression
in her eyes.

'Oh, Joan, it was jolly of you', Milly began.

Joan pushed her roughly. 'You're a poor thing, Milly.'

'What's that?'

'What you are, a selfish little pig!'

'But--'

'You haven't got any guts.'

'What are guts?'

'What Alice's young man says a Marine ought to have.'

'I don't want them then', said Milly proudly.

'Well, you ought to want them; you never do own up. You are a poor
thing!'



Chapter Two


1


Seabourne-on-Sea was small and select. The Ogdens' house in Seabourne was
small but not particularly select, for it had once been let out in
apartments. The landlord now accepted a reduced rent for the sake of
getting the colonel and his family as tenants. He was old-fashioned and
clung to the gentry.

In 1880 the Ogdens had left India hurriedly on account of Colonel Ogden's
health. When Milly was a baby and Joan three years old, the family had
turned their backs on the pleasant luxury of Indian life. Home they had
come to England and a pension, Colonel Ogden morose and chafing at the
useless years ahead; Mrs. Ogden a pretty woman, wide-eyed and melancholy
after all the partings, especially after one parting which her virtue
would have rendered inevitable in any case.

They had gone to rooms somewhere in Bayswater; the cooking was execrable,
the house dirty. Mrs. Ogden, used to the easy Indian service and her own
comfortable bungalow, found it well-nigh impossible to make the best of
things; she fretted. That winter there had been bad fogs which resulted
in a severe heart attack for Colonel Ogden. The doctor advised a house by
the sea, and mentioned Seabourne as having a suitable climate. The result
was: Leaside, The Crescent, Seabourne. There they had been for nearly
nine years and there they were likely to remain, in spite of Colonel
Ogden's grumbling and Mrs. Ogden's nerves. For Leaside was cheap and the
air suited Colonel Ogden's heart; anyhow there was no money to move, and
nowhere in particular to go if they could move.

Of course there was Blumfield. Mrs. Ogden's sister Ann had married the
now Bishop of Blumfield, but the Blanes were, or so the Ogdens thought,
never quite sincere when they urged them to move nearer to them. They
decided not to try crumb-gathering at the rich man's table in Blumfield.

It was her children's education that now worried Mrs. Ogden most. Not
that she cared very much what they learnt; her fetish was how and where
they learnt it. She had been a Routledge before her marriage, a fact which
haunted her day and night. 'Poor as rats, and silly proud as peacocks',
someone had once described them. We Routledges'--'The Routledges never do
that'--'The Routledges never do this'!

Round and round like squirrels in a cage, treading the wheel of their
useless tradition, living beyond their limited means, occasionally
stooping to accept a Government job, but usually finding all work _infra
dig_. Living on their friends, which somehow was not _infra dig._,
soothing their pride by recounting among themselves and to all who would
listen the deeds of valour of one Admiral Sir William Routledge said to
have been Nelson's darling--hanging their admiral's picture with laurel
wreaths on the anniversary of some bygone battle and never failing to ask
their friends to tea on that occasion--such were the Routledges of
Chesham, and such, in spite of many reverses, had Mary Ogden remained.

True, Chesham had been sold up, and the admiral's portrait by Romney
bought by the docile Bishop of Blumfield at the request of his wife Ann.
True, Ann and Mary had been left penniless when their father, Captain
Routledge, died of lung haemorrhage in India. True, Ann had been glad
enough to marry her bishop, then a humble chaplain, while Mary followed
suit with Major Ogden of The Buffs. True, their brother Henry had failed
to distinguish himself in any way and had bequeathed nothing to his
family but heavy liabilities when his haemorrhage removed him in the nick
of time--true, all true, and more than true, but they were still
Routledges! And Admiral Sir William still got his laurel wreaths on the
anniversary of the battle. He had moved from the decaying walls of
Chesham to the substantial walls of the bishop's palace, and perhaps he
secretly liked the change--Ann his descendant did. In the humbler
drawing-room at Leaside he received like homage; for there, in a
conspicuous position, hung a print of the famous portrait, and every year
when the great day came round, Mary, his other descendant, dutifully
placed her smaller laurel wreath round the frame, and asked her friends
to tea as tradition demanded.

'Once a Routledge always a Routledge', Mrs. Ogden was fond of saying on
such occasions. And if the colonel happened to feel in a good temper he
would murmur, 'Fine old chap, Sir William; looks well in his laurels,
Mary. Who did you say was coming in this afternoon?' But if on the other
hand his heart had been troubling him, he might turn away with a scornful
grunt. Then, Mary, the ever tactless, would query, 'Doesn't it look nice
then, dear?' And once, only once, the colonel had said, 'Oh, hell!'

The school at Seabourne was not for the Routledge clan, for to it went
the offspring of the local tradespeople. Colonel Ogden was inclined to
think that beggars couldn't be choosers, but Mary was firm. Weak in all
else, she was a flint when her family pride was involved, a knight-errant
bearing on high the somewhat tattered banner of Routledge. The colonel
gave way; he would always have given way before a direct attack, but his
wife had never guessed this. Even while she raised her spiritual
battle-cry she thought of his weak heart and her conscience smote her,
yet she risked even the colonel's heart on that occasion; Joan and Milly
must be educated at home. The Routledges never sent their girls to
school!


2


In the end, it was Colonel Ogden who solved the difficulty. He frequented
the stiff little club house on the esplanade, and in this most unlikely
place he heard of a governess.

Every weekday morning you could see him in the window. _The Times_ held
in front of him like a shield, his teeth clenched on his favourite pipe;
a truculent figure, an imperial figure, bristling with an authority that
there were now none to dispute.

Into the club would presently saunter old Admiral Bourne who lived at
Glory Point, a lonely man with a passion for breeding fancy mice. He had
a trick of pulling up short in the middle of the room, and peering over
his spectacles with his pleasant blue eyes as if in search of someone. He
was in search of someone, of some tolerant fellow-member who would not be
too obviously bored at the domestic vagaries of the mice, who constantly
disappointed their owner by coming into the world the wrong colour. If
Admiral Bourne could be said to have an ambition, then that ambition was
to breed a mouse that should eclipse all previous records.

Other members would begin to collect, Sir Robert Loo of Moor Park, whose
shooting provided the only alternative to golf for the male population of
Seabourne. There was Major Boyle, languid and malarial, with a doleful
mind, especially in politics; and Mr. Pearson, the bank manager, who had
found his way into the club when its funds were alarmingly low, and had
been bitterly resented ever since. Then there was Mr. Rodney the
solicitor, and last but not least, General Brooke, Colonel Ogden's hated
rival.

General Brooke looked like Colonel Ogden, that was the trouble; they were
often mistaken for each other in the street. They were both under middle
height, stout, with grey hair and small blue eyes, they both wore their
moustaches clipped very short, and they both had auxiliary whiskers in
their ears. Added to this they both wore red neckties and loose, light
home-spuns, and they both had wives who knitted their waistcoats from
wool bought at the local shop. They both wore brown boots with rubber
studded soles, and worst of all, they both wore brown Homburg hats, so
that their backs looked exactly alike when they were out walking. The
situation was aggravated by the fact that neither could accuse the other
of imitation. To be sure General Brooke had lived in Seabourne eighteen
months longer than Colonel Ogden and had never been seen in any other
type of garments; but then, when Colonel Ogden had arrived in his
startling replicas, his clothes had been obviously old and had certainly
been worn quite as long as the general's.

It was Mr. Rodney, the solicitor, who offered Colonel Ogden a solution to
his wife's educational difficulties. Mr. Rodney, it seemed, had a sister
just down from Cambridge. She had come to Seabourne to keep house for
him, but she wanted to get some work, and he thought she would probably
be glad to teach the Ogdens’ little girls for a few hours every day. The
colonel engaged Elizabeth Rodney forthwith.



Chapter Three


1


The schoolroom at Leaside was dreary. You came through the front door
into a narrow passage covered with brown linoleum and decorated with
trophies from Indian bazaars. On one side stood a black carved wood table
bearing a Benares tray used for visiting cards, beside the table stood an
elephant's foot, adapted to take umbrellas. To your right was the
drawing-room, to your left the dining-room, facing you were the stairs
carpeted in faded green Brussels. If you continued down the passage and
passed the kitchen door, you came to the schoolroom. Leaside was a sunny
house, so that the schoolroom took you by surprise; it was an unpleasant
room, always a little damp, as the walls testified.

It was spring and the gloom of the room was somewhat dispelled by the
bright bunch of daffodils which Elizabeth had brought with her for the
table. At this table she sat with her two pupils; there was silence
except for the scratching of pens. Elizabeth Rodney leant back in her
chair; what light there was from the window slanted on to her strong
brown hair that waved persistently around her ears. Her eyes looked
inattentive, or rather as if their attention were riveted on something a
long way away; her fine, long hands were idly folded in her lap; she had
a trick of folding her hands in her lap. She was so neat that it made you
uncomfortable, so spotless that it made you feel dirty, yet there was
something in the set of her calm mouth that made you doubtful. Calm it
certainly was, and yet...one could not help wondering...

Just now she looked discouraged; she sighed.

'Finished!' said Joan, passing over her copy-book.

Elizabeth examined it. 'That's all right.'

Milly toiled, the pen blotted, tears filled her eyes, one fell and made
the blot run.

'Four and ten and fifteen and seven, that makes--'

'Thirty-six', said Elizabeth. 'Now we'll go out.'

They got up and put away the books. Outside, the March wind blew briskly,
the sea glared so that it hurt your eyes, and around the coast the white
cliffs curved low and distinct.

'Let's go up there', said Elizabeth, pointing to the cliffs.

'Joan, Joan!' called Mrs. Ogden from the drawing-room window, 'where is
your hat?'

'Oh, not to-day, Mother. I like the feel of the wind in my hair.'

'Nonsense, come in and get your hat.'

Joan sighed. 'I suppose I must', she said. 'You two go on, I'll catch you
up.' She ran in and snatched a tam-o'-shanter from the hall table. 'Don't
forget my knitting wool, dear.'

'No, Mother, but we were going on to the downs.'

'The downs to-day? Why, you'll be blown away.'

'Oh, no, Miss Rodney and I love wind.'

'Well, as you come home, then.'

'All right. Good-bye, Mother.'

'Good-bye, darling.'


2


Joan ran after the retreating figures. 'Here I am', she said
breathlessly. 'Is it Cone Head or the Golf Course?'

'Cone Head to-day', replied Elizabeth.

There was something in her voice that attracted Joan's attention, a
decision, a kind of defiance that seemed out of place. It was as if she
had said: 'I _will_ go to Cone Head, I want to get out of this beastly
place, to get up above it and forget it.' Joan eyed her curiously. To
Milly she was just the governess who gave you sums and always, except
when in such a mood as to-day, saw that you did them; but to Joan she was
a human being. To Milly she was 'Miss Rodney', to Joan, privately at all
events, 'Elizabeth'.

They walked on in silence.

Milly began to lag. ‘I'm tired to-day, let's go into the arcade.'

'Why?' demanded Joan.

'Because I like the shops.'

'We don't', said Joan. Milly lagged more obviously.

'Come, Milly, walk properly, please', said Elizabeth.

They had passed the High Street by now and were trudging up the long
white road to Cone Head. Over the point the wind raged furiously, it
snatched at their skirts and undid Milly's curls.

'Oh! oh!' she gasped.

Elizabeth laughed, but her laughter was caught up and blown away before
it could reach the children; Joan only knew that she was laughing by her
open mouth.

'It's glorious!' shouted Joan. 'I want to hit it back!'

Elizabeth battled her way towards an overhanging rock. 'Sit here', she
motioned; the rock sheltered them, and now they could hear themselves
speak.

'This is hateful', said Milly. 'When I'm famous I shall never do this
sort of thing.'

'Oh, Miss Rodney', exclaimed Joan, 'look at that sail!'

'I have been looking at it ever since we sat down--I think I should like
to be under it.'

'Yes, going, going, going, you don't know and you don't care where--just
anywhere, so long as it isn't here.'

'Already?' Elizabeth murmured.

'Already what?'

'Nothing. Did I say already?'

'Then I was thinking aloud.'

She looked at the child curiously; she had taught the girls now for about
two years, yet she was not even beginning to understand Joan. Milly was
reading made easy. Delicate, spoilt by her father and entirely
self-centred; yet she was a good enough child as children go, easier far
to manage than the elder girl. Milly was not stupid either. She played
the violin astonishingly well for a girl of ten. Elizabeth knew that the
little man who taught her thought that she had genius. Milly was easy
enough, she knew exactly what she wanted, and Elizabeth suspected that
she'd always get it. Milly wanted music and more music. When she played
her face ceased to look fretful, it became attentive, animated, almost
beautiful. This then was Milly's problem, solved already; music,
applause, admiration, Elizabeth could see it all, but Joan?--Joan
intrigued her.

Joan was so quiet, so reserved, so strong. Strong, yes, that was the
right word, strong and protective. She loved stray cats and starving dogs
and fledgelings that had tumbled out of their nests, such things made her
cry; stray cats, starving dogs, fledgelings and Mrs. Ogden. Elizabeth
laughed inwardly. Mrs. Ogden was so exactly like a lost fledgeling,
with her hopeless look and her big eyes; she was also rather like a
starving dog. Elizabeth paused just here to consider. Starving, what for?
She shuddered. Had Mrs. Ogden always been so hungry? She was positively
ravenous, you could feel it about her, her hunger came at you and made
you feel embarrassed. Poor woman, poor woman, poor Joan--why poor Joan?
She was brilliant; Elizabeth sighed; she herself had never been
brilliant, only a very capable turner of sods. Joan was quietly,
persistently brilliant; no flash, no sparks, just a steady, glowing
light. Joan at twelve was a splendid pupil; she thought too. When you
could make her talk she said things that arrested. Joan would go--where
would she go? To Oxford or Cambridge probably; no matter where she went
she would make her mark--Elizabeth was proud of Joan. She glanced at her
pupil sideways and sighed again. Joan worried her, Mrs. Ogden worried
her, they worried her separately and collectively. They were so
different, so antagonistic, these two, and yet so curiously drawn
together.

Elizabeth roused Joan sharply: 'Come on, it's late! It's nearly tea
time.' They hurried down the hill.

'I must get that wool at Spink's', said Joan.

'What wool?'

'Mother's--for her knitting.'

Won't tomorrow do?'

'No.'

'But it's at the other end of the town.'

'Never mind, you and Milly go home. I'll just go on and fetch it.' They
parted at the front door.

'Don't be long', Elizabeth called after her.

Joan waved her hand. Half an hour later she was back with the wool. In
the hall Mrs. Ogden met her.

'My darling!'

'Here it is, Mother.'

'But, my darling, it's not the same thickness!'

'Not the same--' Joan was tired.

'It won't do at all, dearest, you must ask for double Berlin.'

'But I did!'

'Then they must change it. Oh, dear; and I wanted to get that waistcoat
finished and put away tonight; it only requires such a little wee bit of
wool!' Mrs. Ogden sighed.

Her face became suddenly very sad. Joan did not think that it could be
the wool that had saddened her.

'What is it, Mother?'

'Nothing, Joan--'

'Oh, yes, you're unhappy, darling; I'll go and change the wool before
lessons tomorrow.'

'It's not the wool, dear, it's--Never mind, run and get your tea.' They
kissed.

In the schoolroom Joan relapsed into silence; she looked almost morose.
Her short, thick hair fell angrily over her eyes--Elizabeth watched her
covertly.



Chapter Four


1


The five months between March and August passed uneventfully, as they
always did at Seabourne. Joan was a little taller, Milly a little fatter,
Mrs. Ogden a little more nervous and Colonel Ogden a little more
breathless; nearly everything that happened at Leaside happened 'little',
so Joan thought.

But on this particular August morning, the usual order was, or should
have been, reversed. One was expecting confusion, hurry and triumph, for
to-day was sacred to the memory of Admiral Sir William Routledge, gallant
officer and Nelson's darling. To-day was the day of days; it was Mrs.
Ogden's day; it was Joan's and Milly's day--a little of it might be said
to be Colonel Ogden's day, but very little. For upon this glorious
Anniversary Mrs. Ogden rose as a phoenix from its ashes. She rose, she
grew, she asserted herself, she dictated; she was Routledge. The colonel
might grunt, might sneer, might even swear; the overworked servants might
give notice, Mrs. Ogden accepted it all with the calm indifference
befitting one whose ancestor had fought under Nelson. Oh, it was a
wonderful day!

But this year a cloud, at first no larger than a man's hand, had floated
towards Mrs. Ogden before she got up. She woke with the feeling of
elation that properly belonged to the occasion, yet the elation was not
quite perfect. What was it that oppressed her; that somehow took the edge
off the delight? She sat up in bed and thought. Ah! She had it! Assuredly
this was the longed-for Anniversary, but--it was also Book Day, Wednesday
and Book Day! Could anything be more unjust, more unbearable? Here she
had waited a whole year for this, her one moment of triumph, and it had
come on Book Day. Ruined--spoilt--utterly spoilt and ruined--the thing she
dreaded most was upon her; the household books would be waiting on her
desk to be tackled directly after breakfast, to be gone over and added
up, and then met somehow out of an almost vanished allowance; it was
scandalous! We Routledges! She leapt out of bed.

'What the devil is it?' asked Colonel Ogden irritably.

Mrs. Ogden began to hurry. She pattered round the room like a terrier on
a scent; garments fell from her nerveless fingers, the hairbrush
clattered on to the floor. She eyed her husband in a scared way; her
conscience smote her, she had felt too tired to use proper economy last
week. The books, the books, the books, what would they come to? She began
cleaning her teeth. Colonel Ogden watched her languidly from the bed. His
red, puffy face looked ridiculous against the pillow; a little smile
lifted his moustache. She turned and saw him, and stopped with the
tooth-brush half-way to her mouth. She felt suddenly disgusted and
outraged and shy. In a flash her mind took in the room. There on the
chair lay his loose, shabby garments, some of them natural coloured
Jaeger. And then his cholera belt! It hung limply suspended over the arm
of the chair, like the wraith of a concertina. On the table by his side
of the bed lay a half-smoked pipe. His bath sponge was elbowing her as
she washed; his masculine personality pervaded everything; the room
reeked of it.

She went on cleaning her teeth mechanically, taking great care to do as
her dentist bade her--up and down and then across and get the brush well
back in your mouth; that was the way to preserve your teeth. Up and down
and then across--disgusting! What she was doing was ugly and detestable.
Why should he lie in the bed and smile? Why should he be in the bed at
all--why should he be in the room at all? Why hadn't they taken a house
with an extra bedroom, or at least with a room large enough for two beds?
What was he doing there now? He ought not to be there now; that sort of
thing was all very well for the young--but for people of their age! The
repellent familiarities!

She gathered her dressing-gown more tightly around her; she felt like a
virgin whose privacy had suffered a rude intrusion. Turning, she made to
leave the room.

'Where are you going, Mary?' Colonel Ogden sat up.

'To have my bath.'

'But I haven't shaved yet.'

'You can wait until I have had my bath.'

She heard herself and marvelled. Would the heavens fall? Would the ground
open and swallow her up? She hurried away before her courage failed.

In the bath-room she slipped the bolt and turned the key, and sighed a
sigh of relief. Alone--she was alone. She turned on the water. A reckless
daring seized her; let the hot water run, let it run until the bath was
full to the brim; for once she would have an injuriously hot bath; she
would wallow in it, stay in it, take her time. She never got enough hot
water; now she would take it _all_--let his bath be tepid for once, let
him wait on her convenience, let him come thumping at the door, coarse,
overbearing, foolish creature!

What a life--and this was marriage! She thought of Colonel Ogden, of his
stertorous breathing, his habits; he had a way of lunging over on to her
side of the bed in his sleep, and when he woke in the morning his face
was a mass of grey stubble. Why had she never thought of all these things
before? She _had_ thought of them, but somehow she had never let the
thoughts come out; now that she had ceased to sit on them they sprang up
like so many jacks-in-the-box.

And yet, after all, her James was no worse than other men; better, she
supposed, in many respects. She believed he had been faithful to her;
there was something in that. Certainly he had loved her once--if that
sort of thing was love--but that was a long time ago. As she lay
luxuriously in the brimming bath her thoughts went back. Things had been
different in India. Joan had been born in India. Joan was thirteen now;
she would soon be growing up--there were signs already. Joan so quiet, so
reserved--Joan married, a year, five years of happiness perhaps and then
this, or something very like it. Never! Joan should never marry. Milly,
yes, but she could not tolerate the thought of it for Joan. Joan would
just go on loving her; it would be the perfect relationship, Mother and
Child.

'Mary!'

'What is it?'

'Are you going to stay there all day?' The handle of the door was;
rattled violently.

'Please don't do that, James; I'm still in my bath.'

'The devil you are!' Colonel Ogden whistled softly. Then he remembered
the date and smiled. 'Poor old Mary, such a damned snob poor dear--oh
well! We Routledges!'


2


Breakfast was late. How could it be otherwise? Had not Mrs. Ogden sat in
the bath for at least half an hour? There had been no hot water when at
last Colonel Ogden got into the bath-room, and a kettle had had to be
boiled. All this had taken time. Milly and Joan watched their mother
apprehensively. Joan scented a breakdown in the near offing, for Mrs.
Ogden's hands were trembling.

'Your father's breakfast, Joan; for heaven's sake ring the bell!' Joan
rang it. 'The master's breakfast, Alice?'

'The kidneys aren't done.'

'Why not, Alice?'

'There 'asn't been time!'

'Nonsense, make haste. The colonel will be down in a minute.'

Alice banged the door, and Mrs. Ogden's eyes filled. Her courage had all
run away with the bath water. She had been through hell, she told herself
melodramatically; she had at last seen things as they were. Thump--thump
and then thump--thump--that was James putting on his boots! Oh, where was
the breakfast! Where were James's special dishes, the kidneys and the
curried eggs; what _was_ Alice doing? Thump--thump--there it was again!
She clasped her hands in an agony.

'Joan, Joan, do go and see about breakfast.'

'It's all right, Mother, here it is.'

'Put it on the hot plate quickly--now the toast. Children make your
father's toast--don't burn it whatever you do!' Thump--thump--thump--that
was three thumps and there ought to be four; would James never make the
fourth thump? She thought she would go mad if he left off at three. Ah!
There it was, that was the fourth thump; now surely he must be coming.
The toast was made; it would get cold and flabby. James hated it flabby.
If they put it in the grate it would get hard; James hated it hard. Where
was James?

'Children, put the toast in the grate; no, don't--wait a minute.'

Now there was another sound; that was James blowing his nose. He must be
coming down, then, for he always blew his nose on his soiled pocket
handkerchief with just that sound, before he took his clean one. What was
that--something broken!

'Joan, go and see what Alice has smashed. Oh! I hope it's not the new
breakfast dish, the fire-proof one!'

Thump, thump, on the stairs this time; James was coming down at last.
'Joan, never mind about going to the kitchen; stay here and see to your
father's breakfast.'

The door opened and Colonel Ogden came in. He was very quiet, a bad sign;
there was blood from a scratch on his chin to which a pellet of cotton
wool adhered.

'Coffee, dear?'

'Naturally. By the way, Mary, you'll oblige me by leaving a teacupful of
hot water for me to shave with another time.' He felt his scratch
carefully.

'Joan, get your father the kidneys. Will you begin with kidneys or
curried eggs?'

'Kidneys. By the way, Mary, I don't pay a servant to smear my brown boots
with pea soup; I pay her to clean them--to clean them, do you hear? To
clean them properly.' The calm with which he had entered the room was
fast disappearing; his voice rose.

'James, dear, don't excite yourself.'

The colonel cut a kidney viciously; as he did so, tell-tale stains
appeared on the plate.

'Damn it all Mary! Do you think I'm a cannibal?'

'Oh, James!'

'Oh, James, oh, James! It's sickening, Mary. No hot water, not even to
shave with, and now raw kidneys; disgusting! You know how I hate my food
underdone. Damn it all Mary, I don't run a household for this sort of
thing! Give me the eggs!'

'Joan, fetch your father the eggs!'

'What's the matter with the toast, Mary? It's stone cold!'

'You came down so late, dear.'

'I didn't get into the bath-room until twenty minutes past eight. I can't
eat this toast.'

'Joan, make your father some fresh toast; be quick, dear, and Milly, take
the kidneys to Ellen and ask her to grill them a little more. Now James
here's some nice hot coffee.'

'Sit down!' thundered the colonel.

Joan and Milly sat down hastily. 'Keep quiet; you get on my nerves,
darting about all round the table. Upon my word, Mary, the children
haven't touched their breakfast!'

'But, James--'

'That's enough I say; eat your bacon, Milly. Joan, stop shuffling your
feet.'

Milly, her face blotched with nervousness, attempted to spear the cold
and stiffening bacon; it jumped off her fork on to the cloth as though
possessed of a malicious life energy. Colonel Ogden's eyes bulged with
irritation, and he thumped the table.

'Upon my word, Mary, the children have the table manners of Hottentots.'

Now by all the laws of the Medes and Persians, Mrs. Ogden, on this Day of
Days, should have remained calm and disdainful. But to-day had begun
badly. There had been that little cloud which had grown and grown until
it became the household books; it was over her now, enveloping her. She
could not see through it, she could not collect her forces. 'We
Routledges!' It didn't ring true, it was like a blast blown on a cracked
trumpet. She prayed fervently for self-control, but she knew that she
prayed in vain. Her throat ached, she was going fast, slipping through
her own fingers with surprising rapidity.

Colonel Ogden began again: 'Well, upon my--'

'Don't, don't!' shrieked Mrs. Ogden hysterically. 'Don't say it again,
James. I can't bear it!'

'Well upon my word.'

'There! You've said it! Oh, Oh, Oh!' She suddenly covered her face with
her table napkin and burst into loud sobs.

Colonel Ogden was speechless. Then he turned a little pale, his heart
thumped.

'Mary, for heaven's sake!'

'I can't help it, James! I can't, I can't!'

'But, Mary, my dear!'

'Don't touch me, leave me alone!'

'Oh, all right; but I say, Mary, don't do this.'

'I wish I were dead!'

'Mary!'

'Yes I do, I wish I were dead and out of it all!'

'Nonsense--rubbish!'

'You'll be sorry when I am dead!'

He stretched out a plump hand and laid it on her shoulder. 'Go away,
James!'

'Oh, all right! Joan, look after your mother, she don't seem well.'

He left the room, and they heard the front door bang after him. Mrs.
Ogden looked over the table napkin. 'Has he gone, Joan?'

'Yes, Mother. Oh, you poor darling!' They clung together.

Mrs. Ogden dried her eyes; then she poured out some coffee and drank it.

'I'm better now, dear.' She smiled cheerfully.

And she was better. As she rose from the table the dark cloud lifted, she
saw clearly once more; saw the Routledge banner streaming in the breeze.

‘And now for those tiresome books', she said almost gaily.

She went away to the drawing-room and Joan collapsed; she felt sick,
scenes always upset her.

She thought: 'I wish I could hide my head in a table napkin and cry like
Mother did.' Then she thought: 'I wonder how Mother manages it. I
wouldn't have cried, I'd have hit him!'

She could not eat. In the drawing-room she heard her mother humming, yes,
actually humming over the books!

'That's all right', thought Joan, 'they must be nice and cheap this week,
that's a comfort anyhow.'

Presently Mrs. Ogden looked into the dining-room.

'Joan!'

'Yes, Mother?'

'No lessons to-day, dear.'

'No, Mother.'

'Come and help me to place the wreath.'

They fetched it, carrying it between them; a laurel wreath large enough
to cover the frame of the admiral's picture.

'Tell Alice to bring the steps, Joan. Now, dear, you hold them while I
get up. How does it look?'

'Lovely, Mother.'

'Joan, never forget that half of you is Routledge. Never forget, my dear,
that the best blood in your veins comes from my side of the family. Never
forget who you are, Joan; it helps one a great deal in life to have
something like that to cling to, something to hold on to when the dark
days come.'


3


All day long the house hummed like a beehive. There was no luncheon; the
children snatched some bread and butter in the kitchen, and if Mrs. Ogden
ate at all, she was not observed to do so. Colonel Ogden, wise man, had
remained at the club. Alice, her mouth surreptitiously full, hastened
here and there with dust-brushes and buckets; Milly begged to do the
flowers, and cut her finger; Joan manfully polished the plate, while Mrs.
Ogden, authoritative and dignified, reviewed her household as the colonel
had once reviewed his regiment.

Presently Alice was ordered to hasten away and dress. 'And', said Mrs.
Ogden, ‘let me find your cap and apron spotless, if you please, Alice.'

At last Joan and Milly went upstairs to put on their white cashmere
smocks, and Mrs. Ogden, left to herself, took stock of the preparations.
Yes, it was all in order, the trestle table hired from Binnings',
together with the stout waiter, had both arrived, so had the coffee and
tea urns and the extra cups and saucers. On the sideboard stood an array
of silver. Cups won at polo by Colonel Ogden, a silver tray bearing the
arms of Routledge, salvage this from the family wreck, and numerous
articles in Indian silver, embossed with Buddhas and elephants' heads.
The table groaned with viands, the centre piece being a large sugar
cake crowned with a frigate in full sail. This speciality Binnings was
able to produce every year; the cake was fresh, of course, but not the
frigate.

But the drawing-room--that was what counted most. The drawing-room on
what Mrs. Ogden called 'Anniversary Day' was, in every sense of the word,
a shrine. Within its precincts dwelt the image of the god, the trophies
of his earthly career set out about him, and Mary, his handmaiden, in
attendance to wreathe his effigy with garlands.

Poor old Admiral Sir William, a good fellow by all accounts, an honest
sailor and a loyal friend in his day. Possibly less Routledge than his
descendants, certainly, according to his biographer, a man of a retiring
disposition; one wonders what he would have thought of the Ancestor
Worship of which he had all unwittingly become the object.

But Mary was satisfied. The drawing-room, which always appeared to her to
be a very charming room, was of a good size. The colour scheme was pink
and white, broken by just a splash of yellow here and there where the
white chrysanthemums had run out and had been supplemented by yellow
ones. The wall-paper was white with clusters of pink roses; the curtains
were pink, the furniture was upholstered in pink. The hearth, which was
tiled in turquoise blue, was lavish in brass. Mrs. Ogden drew the
curtains a little more closely together over the windows in order to
subdue the light; then she touched up the flowers, shook out the cushions
for the fifth time and stood in the door to gauge the effect.

'Now', said Mrs. Ogden mentally, 'I am Lady Loo, I am entering the
drawing-room, how does it strike me?'

The first thing that naturally riveted the attention was the 
laurel-wreathed print of Admiral Sir William. What a pity James had been too
poor to buy the painting--for a moment she felt dashed, but this phase
passed quickly, the room looked so nice. The colour, so clean and dainty,
just sufficiently relieved by the blue tiled grate and the Oriental piano
cover; this latter and the Benares vases certainly seemed to stamp the
room as belonging to people who had been in the Service. On the whole she
was glad she had married James and not the bishop. The flowers
too--really Milly had arranged them quite nicely. But what a pity that it
would be too light to light the lamp; still, the shade certainly caught
the eye, she was glad she had taken the plunge and bought it at that
sale. It was very effective, pleated silk with bunches of artificial
iris. Still, she was not sure that a plain shade would not have looked
better after all. When one has so unusually fine a stuffed python for a
standard lamp, one did not wish to detract from it in any way. She
considered the photographs next; there was a goodly assortment of these
in silver frames; she had carefully selected them with a view to effect.
The panel of herself in court dress, that showed up well; then James in
his full regimentals--James looked a trifle stout in his tunic, still,
it all showed that she had not married a nobody. Then that nice picture
of her brother Henry taken with his polo team--poor Henry! Oh, yes, and
the large photograph of the bishop--really rather imposing. And
Chesham--the prints of Chesham on the walls; how dignified the dear old
place looked, very much a gentleman's estate.

But there was more to come; Mrs. Ogden had purposely left the best to the
last. She drew in her breath. There on an occasional table, lay the
relics of Admiral Sir William Routledge, gallant officer and Nelson's
darling. In the middle of the table lay his coat and his gloves, across
the coat, his sword. To right and left hung the admiral's decorations
mounted on velvet plaques. In front of the coat lay the oak-framed
remnants of Nelson's letter to the admiral, and in front of this again
the treasured Nelson snuff-box bearing the inscription 'From Nelson to
Routledge'.

She paused beside the table, touching the relics one by one with reverent
fingers, smiling as she did so. Then she crossed the room to where a
shabby leather-covered arm-chair looked startlingly incongruous amid its
surroundings. Very carefully she lowered herself into the chair; a small
brass plate had been screwed on to the back, bearing the inscription
'Admiral Viscount Nelson of Trafalgar sat in this chair when staying at
Chesham Court with Admiral Sir William Routledge'. Mrs. Ogden spread her
thin hands along the slippery arms, and allowed her head to rest for a
moment where supposedly Nelson's head had once rested. The chair was her
special pride and care; perhaps because its antecedents were doubtful.
Colonel Ogden had once reminded her that there never had been any proof
worth mentioning that Nelson had stayed at Chesham, much less that he had
sat in that infernally uncomfortable old chair, and Mrs. Ogden had
retorted hotly that Routledge tradition was good enough for her.
Nevertheless, from that moment the Nelson chair had, she felt, a special
claim upon her. She was like a mother defending the doubtful legitimacy
of a well-loved son; the Nelson chair had been threatened with a bar
sinister.

She gave the arms a farewell stroke, and rising slowly left the room to
dress. She trod the stairs with dignity, the aloof dignity that belonged
to the occasion, which she would maintain during the rest of the day. Her
lapse from Routledge in the morning but added to her calm as tea-time
approached.



Chapter Five


1


Admiral Bourne was the first to arrive. He liked the children, and Milly
sidled up and stood between his knees, certain of her welcome.

'Pretty hair!' he remarked thoughtfully, stroking her curls, 'and how is
Miss Joan getting on? You haven't let your hair grow yet, Miss Joan.'

Joan laughed. 'It's more comfortable short', she said. 'So it is', agreed
the admiral. 'Capital, capital!'

'You must come and see my cream mice, dozens of them--' he began. But at
that moment Elizabeth and her brother were announced and Joan hurried to
meet them. She examined Mr. Rodney with a new interest, for now he was
not just father's friend at the club, but he was Elizabeth Rodney's
brother. She thought: 'He looks old, old, old, and yet I don't believe he
is very old. His eyes are greenish like Elizabeth's, only somehow his
eyes look timid like Mother's, and Elizabeth's remind me of the sea. I
wonder what makes his back so humped, his coat goes all in ridges--' Then
she suddenly felt very sorry for him, he looked so dreadfully humble.

Elizabeth, tall and erect, was dressed in some soft green material; she
appeared a little unnatural to the children, who had grown accustomed to
her tailor-made blouses and skirts. Her strong brown hair was carefully
dressed as usual, but as usual a curl or two sprang away from the
hair-pins, straying over her ears and in the nape of her neck. Elizabeth
was always pale, but to-day she looked very vital; she was conscious of
looking her best, of creating an effect. Then she suddenly wondered
whether Joan liked her dress, but even as she wondered she remembered
that Joan was only thirteen.

Joan was thinking: 'She looks like a tree. Why haven't I noticed before
how exactly like a tree she is; it must be the green dress. But her eyes
are like water, all greeny and shadowy and deep looking--a tree near a
pool, that's what she's like, a tall tree. A beech tree? No, that's too
spready--a larch tree, that's Elizabeth; a larch tree just greening
over.'

The rooms began to fill, and people wandered in and out; it was really
quite like a reception. There was a pleasant babble of conversation.
James had come in; he had said to himself: 'Must look in and share the
Mem-Sahib's little triumph--poor Mary!' He really looked quite
distinguished in his grey frock coat and black satin tie. Here were
General and Mrs. Brooke. By common consent the two old war horses buried
their feud on 'Anniversary Day'. It was: 'How are you, Ogden?'

'Glad to see you, General!'

They would beam at each other across their black satin ties; after
all--the Service, you know!

Sir Robert and Lady Loo were shown in; good, that they had arrived when
the rooms were at their fullest. Lady Loo came forward with her vague
toothy smile. She looked like a very old hunter, long in the face, long
in the leg and knobbly, distinctly knobbly. Her dress hung on her like
badly fitting horse-clothing. To her spare bosom a diamond and sapphire
crescent clung with a kind of desperation as if to an insufficient
foothold; you felt that somehow there was not enough to pin it to, that
there never would be enough to pin anything to on Lady Loo. But for all
this there was something nice about her; the kind of niceness that
belongs to old dogs and old horses, and that had never been entirely
absent from Lady Loo.

As she sat down by Mrs. Ogden, her bright brown eyes looked inquisitively
round the room, resting for an instant on the admiral's portrait, and
then on the relics upon the occasional table. Mrs. Ogden watched her,
secretly triumphant.

'Dear Lady Loo. How good of you to come to our little gathering. _My_ Day
I call it--very foolish of me--but after all--Oh, yes, how very kind of
you--But then, why rob your hothouses for poor little me? You forgot to
bring them? Oh, never mind, it's the thought that counts, is it not? Your
speaking of peaches makes me feel quite homesick for Chesham--we had such
acres of glass at Chesham!--Yes, that is Joan--come here, Joan dear!
Naughty child, she will insist on keeping her hair short. You think it
suits her? Really? Clever? Well--run away, Joan darling--yes, frankly,
very clever, so Miss Rodney thinks. Attractive? You think so? Now fancy,
my husband always thinks Milly is the pretty one. Shall I ask Joan to
recite or shall Milly play first? What do you think? Joan first, oh, all
right--Joan, dear!'

The dreaded moment had arrived; Joan, shy and awkward, floundered through
her recitation.

'Capital, capital!' cried Admiral Bourne, who had taken a fancy to her.

Elizabeth felt hot; why in heaven's name make a fool of Joan like that?
Joan couldn't recite and never would be able to. And then the child's
dress--what possessed Mrs. Ogden to make her wear white? Joan looked too
awful in white, it made her skin look yellow. Then the dress was too
short; Joan's dresses always were; and yet she was her mother's
favourite. Curious--perhaps Mrs. Ogden wanted to make her look young;
well, she couldn't keep her a baby for ever. When would Joan begin to
assert her individuality? When she was fifteen, seventeen, perhaps?
Elizabeth felt that she could dress Joan; she ought to wear dark colours,
she knew exactly what she ought to wear. At that moment Joan came over to
her, she was flushed and still looked shy.

'Beastly rot, that poem!'

Elizabeth surveyed her: 'Oh, Joan, you're so like a colt.' And she
laughed.

Joan wanted to say: 'You're like a larch tree that's just greening over,
a tree by the side of a pool.' But she was silent.

The noise of conversation broke out afresh. Milly, longing to be asked to
play, was pretending to adjust the clasp of her violin case. Elizabeth
looked from one child to the other and could not help smiling. Then she
said: 'Joan, do you like my dress?'

'Like it?' Joan stammered; 'I think it's beautiful.'

Elizabeth wanted to say, 'Do you think me at all beautiful, Joan?' But
something inside her began to laugh at this absurdity, while she said:
'I'm so glad you like it, it was new for to-day.'

'Now, Milly, play for us', came Mrs. Ogden's voice. 'Miss Rodney will
accompany you, I'm sure.'

Milly did not blush, she remained cool and pale--small and cool and pale
she stood there in her white cashmere smock, making lovely sounds with as
much ease and confidence as if she had been playing by herself in an
empty room.

Extraordinary child. She looked almost inspired, coldly inspired--it was
queer. When she had finished playing, her little violin master came out
of the corner in which he had been hidden.

'Very good--excellent!' he said, patting her shoulder; and Milly smiled
quite placidly. Then she grew excited all of a sudden and skipped around
the room for praise.

Joan sat beside her mother; very gently she squeezed her hand, looking up
into Mrs. Ogden's face. She saw that it was animated and young, and the
change thrilled her with pleasure. Mrs. Ogden looked down into her
daughter's eyes. She whispered: 'Do you like my dress, darling; am I
looking nice?'

'Lovely, Mother--so awfully pretty!' But Joan thought: 'The same thing,
they both wanted to know if I liked their dresses, how funny! But Mother
doesn't look like a tree just greening over--what does Mother look like?
She could not find a simile and this annoyed her. Mrs. Ogden's dress was
grey, it suited her admirably, falling about her still girlish figure in
long, soft folds. No one could say that Mary Ogden never looked pretty
these days, that was quite certain; for she looked pretty this afternoon,
with the delicate somewhat faded prettiness of a flower that has been
pressed between the pages of a book. Suddenly Joan thought: 'I know--I've
got it, Elizabeth is like a tree and Mother's like a dove, a dove that
lights on a tree. No, that won't do, I don't believe somehow that Mother
would like to light on Elizabeth, and I don't think Elizabeth would like
to be lit on. What is she like then?'

People began to go. 'Good-bye, such a charming party.'

'So glad you could come.'

'Good-bye--don't forget that you and Colonel Ogden are lunching with us
next Saturday.'

'No, of course not, so many thanks.'

'Good-bye--'

'Over at last!' Mrs. Ogden leant back in her chair with a sigh that
bespoke complete satisfaction. She beamed on her husband.

He smiled. 'Went off jolly well, Mary!' He was anxious to make up for the
morning.

'Yes, it was a great success, I think. Don't you think it went off very
well, James?'

The colonel twitched; he longed to say: 'Damn it all, Mary, haven't I
just told you that I think it went off well!' But he restrained himself.

Mary continued: 'Well, dear, the Routledges always did have a talent for
entertaining. I can remember at Chesham when I was Joan's age--'


2


Sir Robert and Lady Loo were driving swiftly towards Moor Park behind
their grey cobs. 'Talent that youngster has for fiddle playing, Emma!'

'Yes, I suppose so. The mother's a silly fool of a woman, no more brains
than a chicken, and what a snob!'

'Ugly monkey, the elder daughter.'

'Joan? Oh, do you think so?'

'Awful!'

'Wait and see!' said Lady Loo with a thoughtful smile.

Elizabeth walked home between her brother and the little violin master;
she was depressed without exactly knowing why. The little violin master
waved his hands.

'Milly is a genius; I have got a real pupil at last, at last! You wait and
see, she will go far. What tone, what composure for so young a child?'

'Joan is like a young colt!' said Elizabeth to herself. 'Like a young
colt that somehow isn't playful--Joan is a solemn young colt, a
thoughtful colt, a colt wise beyond its months.' And she sighed.



Chapter Six


1


Elizabeth sat alone in her brother's study. Books lined the walls from
floor to ceiling; Ralph's books and some of her own that she had brought
with her from Cambridge.

This was Sunday. Ralph had gone to church. 'Such a good little man',
thought Elizabeth to herself; but she had not gone to church, she had
pleaded a fictitious cold. Ralph Rodney was still youngish, not more than
forty-five, and doing fairly well in the practice which he had inherited
from his uncle. But there was nothing beyond Seabourne--just Seabourne,
nothing beyond. Ralph would probably live and die neither richer nor
poorer than he was at present; it was a drab outlook. Yet it was Ralph's
own fault, he might have done better, there had been a time when people
thought him clever; he might have started his career in London. But no,
he had thought it his duty to keep on the business at Seabourne.
Elizabeth mused that it must either be that Ralph was very stupid or very
good, she wondered if the terms were synonymous.

Their life history was quite simple. They had been left orphans when she
was a year old and he was twenty. She had been too young to know anything
about it, and Ralph had never lived much with his parents in any case. He
had been adopted by their father's elder brother when he was still only a
child. After the death of her parents, Elizabeth had been carried off by
a cousin of their mother's, a kind, pleasant woman who divided her time
between Elizabeth and Rescue Work.

They had been very happy together, and when Elizabeth was twenty and her
cousin had died suddenly, she had felt real regret. Her cousin's death
left her with enough money to go up to Cambridge, and very little to
spare, for the bulk of Miss Wharton's fortune had gone to found
Recreation Homes for Prostitutes, and not having qualified to benefit by
the charity, Elizabeth was obliged to study to earn her living.

Her brother Ralph she had scarcely seen, he had gone so completely away.
This was only natural; and the arrangement must have suited their parents
very well, for their father had not been an earner and their mother had
never been strong.

Elizabeth was now twenty-six. The uncle had died eighteen months ago,
leaving Ralph his small fortune and the business. Ralph was a confirmed
bachelor; he had felt lonely after the old man's death, had thought of
his sister and had besought her to take pity on him; there it had begun
and there so far, it had ended.

Yet it need not have ended as it had done for Ralph, but Ralph was a
sentimentalist. He had loved the old uncle like a son, and had always
made excuses for not cutting adrift from Seabourne. Uncle John was
growing old and needed him in the business; Uncle John was failing--he
had been failing for years, thought Elizabeth bitterly, a selfish, cranky
old man--Uncle John begged Ralph not to leave him, he had a presentiment
that he would not last much longer. Ralph must keep an eye on the poor
old chap. After all, he'd been very decent to him. Ralph wanted to know
where he'd have been without Uncle John.

Always the same excuses. Had Ralph never wanted a change; had he never
known ambition? Perhaps, but such longings die, they cannot live on a law
practice in Seabourne and an ailing Uncle John; they may prick and stab
for a little while, may even constitute a real torment, but withstand
them long enough and you will have peace, the peace of the book whose
leaves are never turned; the peace of dust and cobwebs. Ralph was like
that now, a book that no one cared to open; he was covered with dust and
cobwebs.

At forty-five he was old and contented, or if not exactly contented, then
resigned. And he had grown timid, perhaps Uncle John had made him timid.
Uncle John was said to have had a will of his own--no, Elizabeth was not
sure that it was all Uncle John, though he might have contributed. It was
Seabourne that had made Ralph timid; Seabourne that had nothing beyond.
Seabourne was so secure, how could it be otherwise when it had nothing
beyond; whence could any danger menace it? Ralph clung to Seabourne; he
was afraid to go too far lest he should step off into space, for he too
must feel that Seabourne had nothing beyond. Seabourne had him and Uncle
John had him. It was all of a piece with Uncle John to leave a letter
behind him, begging Ralph to keep the old firm together after he was
dead. Sentiment, selfish sentiment. Who cared what happened to Rodney and
Rodney! Even Seabourne wouldn't care much, there were other solicitors.
But Ralph had thought otherwise; the old man had begged him to stick by
the firm, Ralph couldn't go back on him now. Ralph was humbly grateful;
Ralph felt bound. Ralph was resigned too, that was the worst of it. And
yet he had been clever, Elizabeth had heard it at Cambridge; but
Cambridge that should have emancipated him had only been an episode.
Back he had come to Seabourne and Uncle John, Uncle John much aged by
then, and needing him more than ever.

When they had met at Seabourne, her brother had been a shock to her. His
hair had greyed and so had his skin, and his mind--that had greyed too.
Then why had she stayed? She didn't know. There was something about the
comfortable house that chained you, held you fast. They were velvet
chains, they were plush chains, but they held.

Then there was Uncle John. Uncle John's portrait looked down from the
dining-room wall--Uncle John young, with white stock and keen eyes. That
Uncle John seemed to point to himself and say: 'I was young too, and yet
I never strayed; what was good enough for my father was good enough for
me and ought to be good enough for my nephew and for you, Elizabeth.'
Then there was Uncle John's later portrait on the wall of the
study--Uncle John, old, wearing a corded black tie, his eyes rather dim
and appealing, like the eyes of a good old dog. That Uncle John was the
worse of the two; you felt that you could throw a plate at the youthful,
smug, self-assertive Uncle John in the dining-room, but you couldn't hurt
this Uncle John because he seemed to expect you to hurt him. This Uncle
John didn't point to himself, he had nothing to say, but you knew what he
wanted. He wanted to see you living in the old house among the old
things; he wanted to see Ralph at the old desk in the old office. He
needed you; he depended on you, he clung to you softly, persistently; you
couldn't shake him off. He had clung to Ralph like that, softly,
persistently; for latterly the strong will had broken and he had become
very gentle. And now Ralph clung to Elizabeth, and Uncle John clung too,
through Ralph.

Elizabeth got up. She flung open the window--let the air come in, let the
sea come in! Oh! If a tidal wave would come and wash it all away, sweep
it away; the house, Uncle John and Elizabeth to whom he clung through
Ralph! Tradition! She clenched her hands; damn their tradition; another
name for slavery, and excuse for keeping slaves! What was she doing with
her life? Nothing. Uncle John saw to that. Yes, she was doing something,
she was allowing it to be slowly and surely strangled to death, soon it
would be gone, like a drop squeezed into the reservoir of Eternity; soon
it would be lost for ever and she would still be alive--and she was so
young! A lump rose in her throat; her hopes had been high--not brilliant,
perhaps--still she had done well at Cambridge, there were posts open to
her.

She might have written, but not at Seabourne. People didn't write at
Seabourne, they borrowed the books that other people had written, from
Mr. Besant of the Circulating Library, and talked foolishly about them at
their afternoon teas, wagging their heads and getting the foreign names
all wrong, if there were any. Oh! She had heard them! And Ralph would get
like that. Get? He was like that already; Ralph had prejudices, timid
ones, but there was strength in their numbers. Ralph approved and
disapproved. Ralph shook his head over Elizabeth's smoking and nodded it
over her needlework. Ralph liked womanly women; well, Elizabeth liked
manly men. If she wasn't a womanly woman, Ralph wasn't a manly man. Oh,
poor little Ralph, what a beast she was!

What did she want? She had the Ogden children, they were an interest and
they represented her pocket money--if only Joan were older! After all,
better a home with a kind brother at Seabourne than life on a pittance in
London. But something in her strove and rent: 'Not better, not better!'
it shouted. 'I want to get out, it's I, I, I! I want to live, I want to
get out, let me out I tell you, I want to come out!'

'Elizabeth, dear, how are you?' Her brother had come in quietly behind
her.

'Better, thank you. You're not wet, are you, Ralph? It's been raining.'

'No, not a bit. I wish you'd been there, Elizabeth. Such a fine sermon.'

'What was the text', she inquired. One always inquired what the text had
been; the question sprang to her lips mechanically.

'"Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many
days!" A beautiful text, I think.'

'Yes, very beautiful', Elizabeth agreed. 'Curious that being the text
to-day.'

'Why?' he asked her, but his voice lacked interest; he didn't really want
to know.

She thought: 'I suppose I've cast my bread upon the waters, it must be a
long way out at sea by now.' Then she began to visualize the bread and
that made her want to laugh. A crust of bread? A fat slice? A thin slice?
Or had she cast away a loaf? Perhaps there were shoals of sprats standing
upright on their tails in the water under the loaf and nibbling at it, or
darting round and round in a circle, snatching and quarrelling while the
loaf bobbed up and down--there were plenty of sprats just off the coast.
Anyhow, her bread must be dreadfully soggy if it had been in the water
for more than two years. 'For thou shalt find it after many days!' Yes,
but how many days? And if you did find it, if the sprats left even a
crumb to be washed up on the beach, how would it taste, she wondered. How
many days, how many days, how many Seabourne days, how many Ralph and
Uncle John days; so secure, so decent, so colourless! The text said,
'Many days'; it warned you not to grow impatient, it was like young Uncle
John in the dining-room taking it for granted that time didn't
count--Uncle John had never been in a hurry. And yet they were beautiful
words; she knew quite well what they meant, she was only pretending to
misunderstand, it was her misplaced sense of humour.

Ralph had cast his bread upon the waters, and no doubt he expected to
retrieve it on the shores of a better land; if he went hungry meanwhile,
she supposed that was his affair. But perhaps he was expecting a more
speedy return, perhaps when Ralph looked like old Uncle John his bread
would be washed back to him; perhaps that was how it was done. She paused
to consider. Perhaps your bread was returned to you in kind; you gave of
your spirit and body, and you got back spirit and body in your turn. Not
yours, but someone else's. When Ralph was sixty she would be forty-one;
there was still a little sustenance left in you when you were forty-one,
she supposed, though not much. Perhaps she was going to be Ralph's return
for the loaf that had floated away.

It was all so pigeon-holed and so tidy. She was tidy, she had a tidy
mind, but the mind that had thought out this bread scheme was even more
tidy than hers. The scheme worked in grooves like a cogwheel, clip, clip,
clip, each cog in its appointed place and round and round, always in a
circle. Uncle John and his forebears before him had cast away their
loaves turn by turn; it was the obvious thing to do; it was the Seabourne
thing to do, Father to son, uncle to nephew, brother to sister; a slight
difference in consanguinity but none in spirit. Uncle John's bread had
gone for his father and the firm; Ralph's bread had gone for Uncle John
and the firm, and she supposed that her bread had gone for Ralph and the
firm. But where was her return to come from? In what manner would she
find it, 'after many days'? Would the spell be broken with her? She
wondered.



Chapter Seven


1


It was a blazing July, nearly a year later. Seabourne, finding at first a
new topic for conversation in the heat wave, very soon wearied of this
rare phenomenon, abandoning itself to exhaustion.

Colonel Ogden wilted perceptibly but Mrs. Ogden throve. The heat agreed
with her, it made her expand. She looked younger and she felt younger and
said so constantly, and her family tried to feel pleased. Lessons were a
torment in the airless schoolroom; Joan flagged, Milly wept, and
Elizabeth grew desperate. There was nowhere to walk except in the glare.
The turf on the cliffs was as slippery as glass; on the sea-front the
asphalt stuck to your shoes, and the beach was a wilderness peopled by
wilting parents and irritable, mosquito-bitten children. Then, when
things were at their worst at Leaside, there came from out the blue a
very pleasant happening; old Admiral Bourne met the Ogden children out
walking and asked them to tea.


2


The admiral's house was unique. He had built it after his wife's death;
it had been a hobby and a distraction. Glory Point lay back from the road
that led up to Cone Head, out beyond the town. To the casual observer the
house said little. From the front it looked much as other houses, a
little stronger, a little whiter perhaps, but on the whole not at all
distinctive except for its round windows; and as only the upper windows
could be seen from the road they might easily have been mistaken for an
imitation of the Georgian period. It was not until the house was skirted
to the left and the shrubbery passed that the character of Glory Point
became apparent.

A narrow path with tall bushes on either side wound zigzag for a little
distance. With every step the sound of the sea came nearer and nearer,
until, at an abrupt angle, the path ceased, and shot you out on to a
cobbled court-yard, and the wide Atlantic lay before you. The path had
been contrived to appear longer than it was in reality, the twists and
turns assisting the illusion; the last thing you expected to find at the
end was what you found; it was very ingenious.

To the left and in front this court-yard appeared to end in space, and
between you and the void stood apparently nothing but some white painted
posts and chains. But even as you wondered what really lay below, a sharp
spray would come hurtling over the chains and land with a splash almost
at your feet, trickling in and out of the cobbles. Then you realized that
the court-yard was built on a rock that ran sheer down to the sea.

At the side of this court-yard stood a fully rigged flagstaff with an old
figure-head nailed to its base. The figure-head gazed out across the
Atlantic, it looked wistful and rather lonely; there was something
pathetic about the thing. It had a grotesque kind of dignity in spite of
its faded and weather-stained paint. The ample female bosoms bulged
beneath the stiff drapery, the painted eyes seemed to be straining to see
some distant object; where the figure ended below the waist was a roughly
carved scroll showing traces of gilt, on which could be deciphered the
word 'Glory'.

From this side the house looked bigger, and one saw that all the windows
were round and that a veranda ran the length of the ground floor. This
veranda was the admiral's particular pride, it was boarded with narrow
planks scrubbed white and caulked like the deck of a ship; the admiral
called it his 'quarter-deck', and here, in fine weather or foul, he would
pace up and down, his hands in his pockets, his cigar set firmly between
his teeth, his rakish white beard pointing out in front.

Inside the house the walls of the passages were boarded and enamelled
white, the rooms white panelled, and the steep narrow stairs covered with
corrugated rubber, bound with brass treads. Instead of banisters a piece
of pipe-clayed rope ran through brass stanchions on either side; and over
the whole place there brooded a spirit of the most intense cleanliness.
Never off a man-of-war did brass shine and twinkle like the brass at
Glory Point; never was white paint as white and glossy, never was there
such a fascinating smell of paint and tar and brass polish. It was an
astonishing house; you expected it to roll and could hardly believe your
good fortune when it kept still. Everyone in Seabourne made fun of Glory
Point; the admiral knew this but cared not at all, it suited him and that
was enough. If they thought him odd, he thought most of them incredibly
foolish. Glory Point was his darling and his pride; he and his mice lived
there in perfect contentment. The brass shone, the decks were as the
driven snow, the white walls smelt of fresh paint, and away beyond the
posts and chains of the cobbled court-yard stretched the Atlantic, as big
and deep and wholesome as the admiral's kind heart.


3


Through the blazing sunshine of the afternoon, Joan and Milly toiled up
the hill that led to Glory Point. Now, however, they did not wilt, their
eyes were bright with expectation, and they quickened their steps as the
gate came in sight. They pushed it open and walked down the pebbled path.

'It's all white!' Joan exclaimed. She looked at the round white stones
with the white posts on either side and then at the white door. They
rang; the fierce sun was producing little sham flames on the brass
bell-pull and knocker. The door was opened by a manservant in white drill
and beyond him the walls of the hall showed white. 'More white', thought
Joan. 'It's like--it looks--is honest the word? No, truthful.'

They were shown into a very happy room, all bright chintz and mahogany.
In one of the little round windows a Hartz Mountain Roller ruffled the
feathers on his throat as he trilled. The admiral came forward to meet
them, shaking hands gravely as if they were grown up. He, too, was in
white, and his eyes looked absurdly blue. Joan thought he matched the
Delft plates on the mantelpiece at his back.

'This is capital; I'm so glad you could come.' He seemed to be genuinely
pleased to see them. They waited for him to speak again, their eyes
astray for objects of interest.

'This is my after-cabin', said the admiral, smiling. 'What do you think
of it?'

'It's the drawing-room', said Milly promptly. Joan kicked her. 'We call
it a cabin on a ship', corrected the admiral.

'Oh, I see', said Milly. 'But this isn't a ship!'

'It's the only ship I've got now', he laughed.

Joan thought: 'I wish she wouldn't behave like this, what can it matter
what he calls the room? I wish Milly were shy!'

But Milly, quite unconscious of having transgressed, went up and nestled
beside him. He put his arm round her and patted her shoulder. 'It's a
very nice ship', she conceded.

Above the mantelpiece hung an oval portrait of a girl. Joan liked her
pleasant, honest eyes, blue like the admiral's, only larger; her face
looked wide open like a hedge rose.

Joan had to ask. She thought, 'It's cheek, I suppose, but I do want to
know.' Aloud she said: 'Please, who is that?'

The admiral followed the direction of her gaze. 'Olivia', he answered, in
a voice that took it for granted that he had no need to say more.
'Olivia?'

'My wife.'

'Oh!' breathed Joan, feeling horribly embarrassed. She wished that she
had not asked. Poor admiral, people said that he had loved her a great
deal!

'Where is she?' inquired Milly.

Joan thought: 'Of all the idiotic questions! Has she forgotten that he's
a widower?' She was on tenterhooks.

The admiral gave a little sigh. 'She died a long time ago', he said, and
stared fixedly at the portrait.

Joan pulled Milly round. 'Oh, look, what a pet of a canary!' she said
foolishly. She and Milly went over to the cage; the bird hopped twice and
put his head on one side. He examined them out of one black bead.

The admiral came up behind them. 'That's Julius Caesar', he volunteered.

Joan turned with relief; he was smiling. He opened the door of the cage
and thrust in a finger, whistling softly; the canary bobbed, then it
jumped on to the back of his hand, ignoring the finger. Very slowly and
gently he withdrew his hand and lifted the bird up to his face. It put
its beak between his lips and kissed him, then its mood changed and it
nipped his thumb. He laughed, and replaced it in the cage.

'Shall we go over the ship?' he inquired.

The children agreed eagerly. He stalked along in front of them, hands in
jacket pockets. He took them into the neat dining-room, opening and
shutting the port-holes to show how they worked, then into the
smoking-room, large, long, and book-lined with the volumes of his naval
library. Then up the rubber-covered stairs and along the narrow white
passage with small doors in a row on either side. A man in more white
drill was polishing the brass handles, there was the clean acrid smell of
brass polish; Joan wondered if they polished brass all day at Glory
Point, this was such a queer time to be doing it, at four in the
afternoon. The admiral threw open one of the doors while the children
peered over his shoulder.

'This is my sleeping cabin', he said contentedly.

The little room was neat as a new pin; through the open port-holes came
the sound and smell of the sea--thud, splash, thud, splash, and the
mournful tolling of a bell buoy. The admiral's bunk was narrow and white,
Joan thought that it looked too small for a man, like the bed of a little
child, with its high polished mahogany side. Above it the port-hole stood
wide open--thud, splash, there was the sea again; the sound came with
rythmical precision at short intervals. Milly had found the washstand, it
was an entrancing washstand! There was a stationary basin cased in
mahogany with fascinating buttons that you pressed against to make the
water flow; Milly had never seen buttons like this before, all the taps
at Leaside turned on in a most uninteresting way. Above the washstand was
a rack for the water bottle and glass, and the bottle and glass had each
its own hole into which it fitted with the neatest precision. The walls
of the cabin were white like all the others in this house of surprises,
white and glossy. Thud, splash, thud, splash, and a sudden whiff of
seaweed that came in with a breath of air.

Joan thought, 'Oh it _is_ a truthful house, it would never deceive you!'
Aloud she said, 'I like it!'

The admiral beamed. 'So do I', he agreed.

'I like it all', said Joan, 'the noises and the smell and the whiteness.
I wish we lived in a ship-house like this, it's so reassuring.'

'Reassuring?' he queried; he didn't understand what she meant, he thought
her a queer old-fashioned child, but his heart went out to her.

'Yes, reassuring; safe you know; you could trust it; I mean, it wouldn't
be untruthful.'

'Oh, I see', he laughed. 'I built it', he told her with a touch of pride;
'it was entirely my own idea. The people round here think I'm a little
mad, I believe; they call me "Commodore Trunnion"; but then, dear me,
everyone's a little mad on one subject or another--I'm mad on the sea.
Listen, Miss Joan! Isn't that fine music? I lie here and listen to it
every night, it's almost as good as being on it!'

Milly interrupted. 'Tell us about your battles!' she pleaded. 'My what?'
said the admiral, taken aback.

'The ones you fought in', said Milly coaxingly.

'Bless the child! I've never been in a battle in my life; what battles.
have there been in my time, I'd like to know!'

Milly looked crestfallen. 'But you were on a battleship', she protested.

The admiral opened his mouth and guffawed. 'God bless my soul, what's
that got to do with it?'

They had made their way downstairs again now and were walking towards the
garden door. Milly clung to her point.

'It ought to have something to do with it, I should suppose', she said
rather pompously.

The admiral looked suddenly grave. 'It will, some day', he said. 'When
will it be?' asked Joan; she felt interested.

'When the great war comes', he replied; 'though God grant it won't be in
your time.'

No one spoke for a minute; the children felt subdued, a little cloud
seemed to have descended among them. Then the admiral cheered up, and
quickened his steps. 'Tea!' he remarked briskly.


4


Over the immaculate lawn that stretched to the right of the house, came
the white-clad manservant carrying a tray; the tea-table was laid under a
big walnut tree. This was the sheltered side of the house, where, as the
admiral would say, you could grow something besides seaweed. The old
clipped yews were trim and cared for; peacocks and roosters and stately
spirals. Between them the borders were bright with homely flowers. The
admiral had found this garden when he bought the place; he had pulled
down the old house to build his ship, but the garden he had taken upon
himself as a sacred trust. In it he worked to kill the green fly and the
caterpillar, and dreamed to keep memory alive. They sat down to tea; from
the other side of a battlemented hedge came the whirring, sleepy sound of
a mowing machine, someone was mowing the bowling green. They grew silent.
A wasp tumbled into the milk jug; with great care the admiral pulled it
out and let it crawl up his hand.

'Silly', he said reprovingly, 'silly creature!'

It paused in its painful milk-logged walk to stroke its bedraggled wings
with its back legs, then it washed its face, ducking its jointed head.
The old man watched it placidly, presently it flew away.

'It never said "Thank you", did it?' he laughed.

'No, but it didn't sting', said Joan.

'They never sting when you do them a good turn, and that's more than you
can say of some people, Miss Joan.'

Tea over, they strolled through the garden; at the far end was a small
low building designed to correspond with the house. 'What's that?' they
asked him.

'We're coming to that', he answered. 'That's where the mice live.'

'Oh, may we see them, please let us see them all!' Joan implored. 

'Of course you shall see them, that's what I brought you here for; there
are dozens and dozens', he said proudly.

Inside the Mousery the smell was overpowering, but it is doubtful if any
of the three noticed it. Down the centre of the single long room ran a
brick path on either side of which were shelves three deep, divided into
roomy sections.

The admiral stopped before one of them, 'Golden Agouti', he remarked.

He took hold of a rectangular box, the front of which was wired; very
slyly he lifted a lid set into the top panel, and lowered the cage so
that the children might look in. Inside, midway between floor and lid was
a smaller box five inches long; a little hole at one end of this inner
box gave access to the interior of the cage, and from it a miniature
ladder slanted down to the sawdust strewn floor. In this box were a
number of little heaving pink lumps, by the side of which crouched a
brownish mouse. Her beady eyes peered up anxiously, while the whiskers on
her muzzle trembled.

The admiral touched her gently with the tip of his little finger. 'She's
a splendid doe', he said affectionately; 'a remarkably careful mother and
not at all fussy!' He shut the door and replaced the cage. 'There's a
fine pair here', he remarked, passing to a new section; 'what about that
for colour!'

He put his hand into another cage and caught one of the occupants deftly
by the tail. Holding the tail between his finger and thumb he let the
mouse sprawl across the back of his other hand, slightly jerking the feet
into position.

The children gazed. 'What colour is that?' they inquired.

'Chocolate', replied the admiral. 'I rather fancy the Self varieties,
there's something so well-bred looking about them; for my part I don't
think a mouse can show his figure if he's got a pied pelt on him, it
detracts. Now this buck for instance, look at his great size, graceful
too, very gracefully built, legs a little coarse perhaps, but an
excellent tail, a perfect whipcord, no knots, no kinks, a lovely taper to
the point!'

The mouse began to scramble. 'Gently, gently!' murmured the admiral,
shaking it back into position.

He eyed it with approbation, then dropped it back into its cage, where it
scurried up the ladder and vanished into its bedroom. They passed from
cage to cage; into some he would only let them peep lest the does with
young should get irritable; from others he withdrew the inmates,
displaying them on his hand.

'Now this', he told them, catching a grey-blue mouse. 'This is worth your
looking at carefully. Here we have a champion, Champion Blue Pippin. I
won the Colour Cup with this fellow last year. Of course I grant you he's
a good colour; very pure and rich, good deep tone too, and even,
perfectly even, you notice.' He turned the mouse over deftly for a moment
so that they might see for themselves that its stomach matched its back.
'But so clumsy', he continued. 'Did you ever see such a clumsy fellow?
Then his ears are too small, though their texture is all right; and I
always said he lacked boldness of eye; I never really cared for his eyes,
there's something timid about them, not to be compared with Cocoa Nibs,
that first buck you saw. But there it is, this fellow won his
championship; of course I always say that Cary can't judge a mouse!'

Champion Blue Pippin was replaced in his cage; the admiral shook his
finger at him where he sat grooming his whiskers against the bars.

'A good mouse', he told Joan confidentially. 'Very tame and affectionate
as you see, but a champion, no never! As I told them at the National
Mouse Club.'

They turned to the shelves on the other side. Here were the Pied and
Dutch varieties.

'I don't care for them, as you know', said Admiral Bourne. 'Still I keep
a few for luck, and they are rather pretty.'

He showed them the queer Dutch mice, half white, half coloured. Then the
Variegated mice, their pelts white with minute streaks or dots of colour
evenly distributed over body and head. There were black and tan mice and
a bewildering assortment of the Pied variety which the admiral declared
he disliked. Last of all, in a little cubicle by itself, was a larger
cage than any of the others, a kind of Mouse Palace. This cage contained
a number of neat boxes, each with its ladder, and in addition to the
ordinary outer compartment was a big bright wheel. Up and down the
ladders ran the common little red-eyed white mice; while they watched
them a couple sprang into the wheel and began turning it.

'Oh! The white mice that you buy at the Army and Navy!' said Milly in a
disappointed voice.

'That's all', the admiral admitted. 'I just have this cage of them, you
know, nice little chaps.' And then, as the children remained silent, 'You
see, Olivia liked them; she used to say they were such friendly people.'

He spoke as though they had known Olivia intimately, as though he
expected the children to say: 'Yes, of course, Olivia was so fond of
animals!'

Reluctantly they left the Mousery and strolled towards the gates; three
tired children, one of eleven, one of thirteen and one of sixty-eight.
The sun was setting over the sea, it was very cool in the garden after
the Mousery.

The admiral turned to Joan. 'Come again', he said simply. 'Come very
often, there may be some more young ones to show you soon.'

And so they parted on the road outside the gates. The children turned
once to look back as they walked down the hill; Admiral Bourne was still
standing in the road, looking after them.



Chapter Eight


1


A new family had come to Conway House under Cone Head. The place had
stood vacant for years; now, at length, it was sold, and Elizabeth knew
who the new people were. When Elizabeth, meaning to be amiable, had
remarked one afternoon that the Bensons had been old friends of her
cousin in London, and that she herself had known them all her life, Mrs.
Ogden had drawn in her lips, very slightly raised an eyebrow and
remarked: 'Oh, really!' in what Joan had grown to recognize as 'the
Routledge voice'. It was true that Mrs. Ogden was annoyed; there was no
valid reason to produce against Elizabeth having known the Bensons, yet
she felt aggrieved. Elizabeth appeared to Mrs. Ogden to be--not quite
'governessy' enough. She had been thinking this for the last few months.
You did not expect your governess to be an old friend of people who had
just bought one of the largest places in your neighbourhood, it was
almost unseemly. Elizabeth, when closely questioned, had said that the
family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Benson, a son of twenty-two, another of
seventeen, and one little girl of fourteen. And just at the very end,
mark you at the _end_, and then only after a pressing cross-examination
as to _who_ they were, Elizabeth had said quite vaguely that Mr. Benson
was a banker, but that his mother had been Lady Sarah Totteridge before
her marriage, and that the present Mrs. Benson was a daughter of Lord
Down.

Mrs. Ogden had made it clear that she could not quite understand how
Elizabeth's cousin had come to know the Bensons, and Elizabeth had said
in a casual voice that her cousin and Mrs. Benson had had a great mutual
interest; and when Mrs. Ogden had inquired what this interest had been,
Elizabeth had replied, 'Prostitutes', and had laughed! Of course the
children had not been in the room--still, 'Prostitutes'. Such a coarse
way to put it. Mrs. Ogden had spoken to Colonel Ogden about it afterwards
and had found him unsympathetic. All he had said was, 'Well, what else
would you have her call them? Tarts? Don't be such a damn fool, Mary!'

However, there it was; Elizabeth did know the Bensons and would, Mrs.
Ogden supposed, contrive to continue knowing them now that they had come
to Conway House. She could not understand Elizabeth; it was 'Elizabeth'
now at Elizabeth's own request; she had said that Rodney sounded so like
Ralph and not at all like her. Did anyone ever hear such nonsense!
However, the children had hailed the change with delight and so far it
did not appear to have undermined discipline, so that Mrs. Ogden supposed
it must be all right. She had to confess that it was a most unexpected
advantage for Milly and Joan to have such a woman to teach them.
Cambridge women did not grow on gooseberry bushes in Seabourne.


2


Her criticisms of Elizabeth afforded Mrs. Ogden a rather tepid
satisfaction for a time, but they never quite convinced her, and one day
her thoughts stopped short in the very middle of them. She had a moment
of clear inward vision; and in that moment she realized the exact and
precise reason why, in the last few months, she had grown irritated with
Elizabeth. So irritated in fact that nothing that Elizabeth said or did
could possibly be right. It was not Elizabeth's familiarity, not the fact
that Elizabeth knew the Bensons, not Elizabeth's rather frank English, it
was none of these things--it was Joan.

Joan was fourteen now, she was growing--growing mentally out of Mrs.
Ogden. There was so much these days that they could not discuss
together. Joan was a student, a tremendously hard worker; Mrs. Ogden had
never been that sort of girl. Even James could help Joan better than she
could--James was rather well up in history, for example. But she was not
well up in anything; this fact had never struck her before. 'Don't be
such a damn fool, Mary!' James had said that for so many years that it
had ceased to mean anything to her, but now it seemed fraught with
dreadful, new possibilities. Would Joan ever come to think her
a fool? Would she ever come to think Elizabeth a fool? No, not
Elizabeth--wait--there was the menace. Elizabeth had goods for sale that
Joan could buy; how was she buying them, that was the question? Was she
paying in the copper coin of mere hard work, content if she did
Elizabeth credit? Or would she, being Joan, slip in a golden coin of
love and admiration, a coin stolen from her almost bankrupt mother?

Elizabeth, that happy, clever young creature, with her self-assurance and
her interest in Joan, what was she doing with Joan--what did she mean to
do with Joan's mother? How much did she want Joan--the real Joan? And if
she wanted her, could she get her? Mean, oh, mean! When Elizabeth had
everything on her side--when she had youth so obviously on her
side--surely she had enough without Joan, surely she need not grow fond
of Joan?

She had fancied lately that Elizabeth had become ever so slightly
possessive, that she took it for granted that she would have a say in
Joan's future, would be consulted. Then there was the question of a
university--who had put that idea into Joan's head? Who, but Elizabeth!
Where would it end if Joan went to Cambridge--certainly not in Seabourne.
But James would never consent, he was certain to draw the line at that;
besides, there was no money--but there were scholarships; suppose
Elizabeth was secretly working to enable Joan to win a scholarship? How
dare she! How dare either of them have any secrets from Joan's mother!
She would speak to Elizabeth--she would assert herself at once. Joan
should never be allowed to waste her youth on dry bones. Elizabeth might
think that women could fill men's posts, but she knew better. Yet, after
all, Joan was so like a boy--one felt that she was a son sometimes.
Hopeless, hopeless, she was afraid of Elizabeth! She would never be able
to speak her mind to her; she was too calm, too difficult to arouse, too
thick-skinned. And Joan, Joan was moving away, not very far, only a little
away. Joan was becoming a spectator, and Joan as an audience might be
dangerous.

Mrs. Ogden trembled; she strove desperately to scourge her mentality into
some semblance of adequacy. She tried, sincerely tried, to face the
situation calmly and wisely and with understanding. But her efforts
failed pathetically; through the maze of her struggling thoughts nothing
took shape but the desperate longing, the desperate need that was Joan.
She thought wildly: 'I'll tell her how I want her, I'll tell her what my
life has been. I'll tell her the truth that I can't; simply can't live
without her, and then I shall keep her, because I can make her pity me.'
Then she thought: 'I must be mad--a child of fourteen--I must be quite
mad!' But she knew that in her tormenting jealousy she might lose Joan
altogether. Joan loved the little mother, the miserable, put upon,
bullied mother, the mother of headaches and secret tears; she would not
love the self-assertive, unjust mother--she never had. No, she must
appeal to Joan, that was the only way. Joan was as responsive as ever;
then of what was she afraid? Oh, Joan, Joan, so young and awkward and
adorable! Did she find her mother too old? After all, she was only
forty-two, not too old surely to keep Joan's love. She would try to enter
into things more, she would go for walks, she would bathe, anything,
anything--where should she begin? But supposing Joan suspected, supposing
she saw through her, supposing she laughed at her--she must be careful,
dreadfully careful. Joan was excited because Conway House was sold, and
had implored her to go and call on Mrs. Benson; very well then, she would
go, and take Elizabeth with her--yes, that would be gracious, that would
please Joan. And she would try not to hate Elizabeth, she would try with
all the will-power she had in her to see Elizabeth justly, to be grateful
for the interest she took in the child. She would try not to _fear_
Elizabeth.



Chapter Nine


1


The windows of Conway House glowed, and the winter twilight was creeping
in and out among the elms in the avenue. The air was cold and dry, the
clanking of the skates that Joan and Elizabeth were carrying made a
pleasant, musical sound as they walked. A boy joined them; he was tall
and lanky and his blunt freckled face was flushed.

'Here I am. I've caught you up!' he said.

They turned; he was a jolly boy and they liked him. Richard Benson, the
younger son of the Bensons now of Conway House, was enjoying his
Christmas holidays immensely; for one thing he had been delighted to find
Elizabeth established at Seabourne; they were old friends, and now there
was the nice Ogden girl. Then the skating was the greatest luck, so rare
as to be positively exciting. Elizabeth and Joan were very good sorts:
Elizabeth skated very well, and Joan was learning--he hoped the ice would
hold. He was the most friendly of creatures, rather like a lolloping
puppy; you expected him to jump up and put his paws on your shoulders.
They walked on together towards the house, where tea would be waiting,
they all felt happily tired--it was good to be young.

The house had been thoroughly restored, and was now a perfect specimen of
its period. The drawing-room was long and lofty, and panelled in pale
grey, the curtains of orange brocade, the furniture Chippendale--a
gracious room. Beside the fire a group of people sat round the tea-table,
over which their hostess presided. Mrs. Benson was an ample woman; her
pleasant face, blunt and honest like that of her younger son, made you
feel welcome even before she spoke; and when she spoke her voice was loud
but agreeable. Joan thought: 'She has the happiest voice I've ever
heard.' The three skaters having discarded their wraps had entered the
drawing-room together. Mrs. Benson looked up.

'Elizabeth dear!' Elizabeth went to her impulsively and kissed her. Joan
wondered; Elizabeth was not given to kissing, she felt that she too would
rather like to know Mrs. Benson well enough to kiss her. As they shook
hands Mrs. Benson smiled.

'How did the skating go to-day, Joan?'

'Oh, not badly, only one tumble.'

'She got on splendidly!' said Richard with enthusiasm.

'Elizabeth should be a good teacher', his mother replied. 'She used to
skate like an angel. Elizabeth, do you remember that hard winter we had
when the Serpentine froze?'

Mrs. Benson laughed as though the memory amused her; she and Elizabeth
exchanged a comprehending glance.

'They know each other very well', thought Joan. 'They have secrets
together.'

She felt suddenly jealous, and wondered whether she was jealous because
of Mrs. Benson or because of Elizabeth; she decided that it was because
of Elizabeth; she did not want anyone to know Elizabeth better than she
did. This discovery startled her. The impulse came to her to creep up to
Elizabeth and take her hand, but she could visualize almost exactly what
would probably happen. Very gently, oh, very gently indeed, Elizabeth
would disengage her hand, she would look slightly surprised, a little
amused perhaps, and would then move away on some pretext or another. Joan
could see it all. No, assuredly one did not go clinging to Elizabeth's
hand, she never encouraged clinging.

The group round the tea-table chattered and ate. Mrs. Ogden was among
them, but Joan had not noticed her, for she was sitting in the shadow.

'Joan!'

'Oh, Mother, I didn't see you.' She moved across and sat by her mother's
side, but her eyes followed Elizabeth.

Mrs. Ogden watched her. She wanted to say something appropriate,
something jolly, but she felt tongue-tied. There was the skating, why not
discuss Joan's tumble--but Elizabeth skated 'like an angel'. Joan would
naturally not expect her mother to be interested in skating, since she
must know that she had never skated in her life. Lawrence, the eldest
Benson boy, came towards them. He looked like his father, dark and
romantic, and like his father he was the dullest of dull good men. He
liked Mrs. Ogden, she had managed to impress him somehow and to make him
feel sorry for her. He thought she looked lonely in spite of her
overgrown daughter.

He pulled up a chair and made conversation. 'It's ripping finding you all
down here, Mrs. Ogden. I never thought that Elizabeth would settle at
Seabourne.'

Elizabeth, always Elizabeth! Mrs. Ogden forced herself to speak
cordially. 'It was the greatest good fortune for us that she did.'

'Yes--I suppose so. Elizabeth's too clever for me; I always tell her so,
I always chaff her.'

'Do you? Do you know, I never feel that I dare chaff Elizabeth, no--I
should never dare.'

'Not dare--why not? I used to tease the life out of her.'

'Well, you are different perhaps; you knew her before she was well--so
clever. You see I'm not clever, not in that way. I'm very ignorant
really.'

'I don't believe it; anyhow, I like that kind of ignorance. I mean I hate
clever women. No, I don't mean I hate Elizabeth, she's a dear, but I'd
like her even more if she knew less. Oh, you know what I mean!'

'But Elizabeth is so splendid, isn't she? Cambridge, and I don't know
what not; still, perhaps--'

'But surely a woman doesn't need to go to Cambridge to be charming?
Personally I think it's a great mistake, this education craze; I don't
believe men really care for such things in women; do you, Mrs. Ogden?'
Mrs. Ogden smiled. 'That depends on the man, I suppose. Perhaps a really
manly man prefers the purely feminine woman--'

He was very young. At twenty-two it is gratifying to be thought a manly
man; yes, decidedly he liked Mrs. Ogden.

'Oh, I don't think that--' It was Richard who spoke, he had strolled up
unperceived. His brother looked annoyed.

'Don't you?' queried Mrs. Ogden. She caught Lawrence's eye and smiled.

Richard blushed to his ears, but he went on doggedly: 'No, I don't,
because I think it's a shame that women should be shut out of things,
bottled up, cramped. Oh, I can't explain, only I think if they've got the
brains to go to college, we ought not to mind their going.'

'Perhaps when you're older you'll feel quite differently, most men do.'
Mrs. Ogden's voice was provoking.

Richard felt hot and subsided suddenly, but before he did so his eyes
turned to Joan where she sat silent at her mother's side. She wondered
whether he thought that the conversation could have any possible bearing
on her personally, whether perhaps it had such a bearing. She glanced
shyly at her mother; Mrs. Ogden looked decidedly cross.

'I hope', she said emphatically, 'that neither of my girls will want to
go to a university, they would never do so with my approval.'

'Oh, but--' Richard began, then stopped, for he had caught the warning in
Joan's eye. 'I came to say', he stammered, 'that if you'll come into the
library, Joan, I'll show you those prints of Father's, the sporting ones
I told you about.' He stood looking awkward for a moment, then turned as
if expecting her to follow him.

'May I go, Mother?'

But Joan was already on her feet, what was the good of saying 'No' since
she so obviously wanted to go? Mrs. Ogden sighed, she looked at Lawrence
appealingly. 'They are so much in advance of me', she said as Joan
hurried away.

Sympathy welled up in him; he let it appear in his eyes, together with a
look of admiration; as he did so he was thinking that the touch of grey
in her hair became Mrs. Ogden.

She thought: 'How funny, the boy's getting sentimental!' A little flutter
of pleasure stirred her for a moment. After all she was not so immensely
old and not so passée either, and it was not unpleasant to have a young
male creature sympathizing with you and looking at you as though he
admired and pitied you--in fact it was rather soothing. Then she thought:
'I wonder where Joan is', and suddenly she felt tired of Lawrence Benson;
she wished that he would go away so that she might have an excuse for
moving; she felt restless.


2


In the library Joan was listening to Richard. He stood before her with
his hair ruffled, his face flushed and eager.

'Joan! I don't know you awfully well, and of course you're only a kid as
yet, but Elizabeth says you're clever--and don't you let yourself be
bottled.'

'Bottled?' she queried.

'Don't you get all cramped up and fuggy, like one does when one sits over
a fire all day. I know what I mean, it sounds all rot, only it isn't rot.
You look out! I have a presentiment that they mean to bottle you.'

Joan laughed.

'It's no laughing matter', he said in an impressive voice. 'It's no
laughing matter to be bottled; they want to bottle me, only I don't mean
to let them.'

'Why, what do you want to do that makes them want to bottle you?'

'I'm going in for medicine--Father hates it; he hopes I'll get sick of
it, but it's my line, I know it; I'm studying to be a doctor.'

'Well, why not? It's rather jolly to be a doctor, I should think;
someone's got to look after people when they're ill.'

'That's just it. I'm keen as mustard on it, and I shan't let anyone stop
me.'

'But what's that got to do with me?'

'Nothing, not the doctor part, but the other part has; if you're clever,
you ought to do something.'

'But I'm not a boy!'

'That doesn't matter a straw. Look at Elizabeth; she's not a boy, but she
didn't let her brain get fuggy; though', he added reflectively, 'I'm not
so sure of her now as I was before she came here.'

'Why not?' said Joan; she liked talking about Elizabeth.

'Oh, just Seabourne, it's a bottling place. If Elizabeth doesn't look out
she'll be bottled next!'

At that moment Elizabeth came in. 'We were talking about you', said Joan,
but Elizabeth was dreadfully incurious.

'Your mother is waiting, it's time to go', was all she said.


3


In the fly on the way home the silence was oppressive. Mrs. Ogden seemed
to be suffering, she looked wilted. 'What is it, darling?’ Joan inquired.
She had enjoyed herself, and now somehow it was spoilt. She had hoped
that her mother was enjoying herself too.

Mrs. Ogden leant towards her and took her hand. 'My dear little girl',
she murmured, 'have you been happy, Joan?'

'Yes, very; haven't you, Mother?'

There was a pause. 'I'm not as young as you are, dearest.'

Elizabeth, sitting beside Mrs. Ogden, smiled bitterly in the dark. 'Wait
a while', she said to herself. 'Wait a while!' Her own emotions surprised
her, she was conscious of a feeling of acute anger. As if by a
simultaneous impulse the two women suddenly drew as far apart as the
narrow confines of the cab permitted. To Elizabeth it seemed as something
so intense as to be almost tangible leapt out between them--a naked
sword.

Sitting with her back to the driver, Joan was lost in thought; she was
thinking of the utter hopelessness of making her mother really happy. But
with another part of her mind she was pondering Richard's sudden outburst
in the library. She liked him, she thought what a satisfactory brother he
would be. Why was he so afraid of being caught and bottled? Lawrence, she
felt, must be bottled already; he liked it, she was sure that Lawrence
would think it the right thing to be. She wondered how Richard would
manage to escape--if he did escape. A picture of him rose before her eyes;
he made her laugh, he was so emphatic. She resolved to talk him over
with Elizabeth. Of course it was all nonsense--still, he seemed
dreadfully afraid. What was it really that he was afraid of, and why was
he so afraid for her?

The cab jolted abruptly, Joan's thoughts jolting with it. The driver had
pulled up to drop Elizabeth at her brother's house.




BOOK TWO



Chapter Ten


1


The summer in which Joan's fifteenth birthday occurred was particularly
anxious and depressing because of Colonel Ogden's health.

One morning in July he had woken up with a headache and a cough;
bronchitis followed, and the strain on his already flagging heart made
the doctor uneasy. Undoubtedly Colonel Ogden was very ill. Joan, working
hard for her Junior Local, was put to it to know what to do; whether to
throw up the examination for the sake of helping her mother or to
continue to cram for the sake of not disappointing Elizabeth. In the end
the doctor solved this difficulty by sending in an experienced nurse.

Just about this time a deep depression settled on Joan, a kind of heavy
melancholy. She wondered what the origin of this might be; she was too
honest to pretend to herself that it was caused by anxiety about her
father. She wanted to grieve over him. She thought: 'Poor thing, he can't
breathe; he's lying in a kind of lump of pillows upstairs in bed; his
face looks dreadfully ugly and he can't help it.' But the picture that
she drew left her cold. Then a hundred little repulsive details of the
illness crowded in on her imagination; when she was with her father she
would watch for them with apprehension. She forced herself to show him an
exaggerated tenderness, which he, poor man, did not want; it was Milly he
was always asking for--but Milly was frightened of illness.

Mrs. Ogden, who was sharing the duties of the nurse, looked worn out, an
added anxiety to Joan. They would meet at meals, kiss silently and part
again, Mrs. Ogden to relieve the nurse, Joan to go back to her books. She
thought: 'How can I sit here grinding away while she does all the beastly
things upstairs? But I can't go up and help her, I simply can't!' And one
day, almost imperceptibly, a new misery reared its head; she began to
analyse her feelings for her mother.

She tried to be logical; she argued that because she wanted to work for
an exam there was no reason to suppose that she loved her mother less;
she thought that she looked the thing squarely in the eyes, turned it
round and surveyed it from all sides and then dismissed it. But a few
moments later the thought would come again, this time a little more
insistent, requiring a somewhat longer effort of reasoning to argue it
away.


2


One evening during this period, Joan heard her own Doubt voiced by her
mother. They had been sitting side by side on the little veranda at the
back of the house; the night was warm and from a neighbouring garden
something was smelling sweet. Neither of them had spoken for a long time;
Mrs. Ogden was the first to break the silence. Quite suddenly she turned
her face to Joan; the movement was almost lover-like.

'Joan, do you love me, dearest?' It had come. This was the thing Joan had
been dreading for weeks, perhaps it was all her life that she had been
dreading it. She felt that time had ceased to exist, there were no clear
demarcations; past, present and future were all one, welded together in
the furnace of her horrible doubt. Did she love her mother, did she--did
she? Her mother was waiting; she had always been waiting just like this,
and she always would wait, a little breathlessly, a little afraid. She
stared out desperately into the darkness--the answer; it must be found
quickly, but where--how?

'Joan, do you love me, dearest?' The answer must be somewhere, only it
was not in her tired brain--it was somewhere else, then. In her mother's
brain? Was that why her mother was a little breathless, a little afraid?
She pressed her cold cheek against Mrs. Ogden's, rubbing it gently up and
down, then suddenly she folded her in her arms, kissing her lips, seeking
desperately to awaken her dulled emotions to the response that she knew
was so painfully desired.

When at last they released each other, they sat for a long time hand in
hand. To Joan there was an actual physical distaste for the handclasp,
yet she dared not, could not let go. She was conscious in a vague way
that her mother's hand felt different. Mechanically she began to finger
it, slipping a ring up and down; the ring came off unexpectedly, it was
loose, for the hand had grown thinner. Her mind seized on this with
avidity; here was the motive she needed for love: her mother's hand,
small and white, was thinner than it had been before, it was now terribly
thin. There was pathos in this, there was something in this to make her
feel sorry; she stooped and fondled the hand. But did she love her? No,
assuredly not, for this was not love, this was a stupendous and
exhausting effort of the will. When you loved you just loved, and all the
rest followed as a matter of course--and yet, if she did not love her,
why did she trouble to exert this effort of will at all, why did she feel
so strongly the necessity for protecting her mother from the hurt of
discovery? Deception; was it ever justifiable to deceive, was it
justifiable now? And yet, even if she were sure that she did not love
her, could she find the courage to push her away? To say: 'I don't love
you, I don't want to touch you, I dislike the feel of you--I dislike
above all else the feel of you!' How terrible to say such a thing to any
living creature, and how more than terrible to say it to her mother! The
hydra had grown another head; what would her mother do if she knew that
Joan loved her less?

Away out in the darkness a bell chimed ten o'clock; Mrs. Ogden got up
wearily. 'I must see to nurse's supper.' Inside Joan's brain a voice
said: 'Go and help her, she's tired; go and get the supper yourself.' But
another and more insistent voice arose to drown it: 'Do I love her, do I,
do I?' Mrs. Ogden went into the house, but Joan remained sitting on the
veranda.



Chapter Eleven


1


THE weeks dragged on; Colonel Ogden might recover, but his illness would
of necessity be a long one, for his heart, already weak, was now disposed
to stop beating on the least provocation. Joan worked with furious
energy. Elizabeth, confident of her pupil, protested that this cramming
was unnecessary, but Joan, stubborn as always, took her own line. She
felt that work was her only refuge, the only drug that, temporarily at
all events, brought relief.

It was now the veriest torture to her to be in her mother's presence, to
be forced to see the tired body going on its daily rounds, to hear the
repeated appeals for sympathy, to see the reproach in the watchful eyes.

But if the days were unendurable, how much worse were the nights, the
nights when she would wake with a sudden start in a cold sweat of terror.
Why was she terrified? She was terrified because she feared that she did
not love her mother, and one night she knew that she was terrified
because, if she could not love her mother, she might grow to love someone
else instead--Elizabeth for instance. The hydra grew another head that
night.

Elizabeth, the ever watchful, became alarmed at her condition. Joan,
haggard and pale, distressed her; she could not get at the bottom of the
thing, for now Joan seemed to avoid her. Yet she felt instinctively that
this avoidance did not ring true; there was something very like dumb
appeal in the girl's eyes as they followed her about. What was it she
wanted? There was something unnatural about Joan these days--when she
talked now, she always seemed to have a motive for what she said, she
seemed to hope for something from Elizabeth, from Milly even; to hang on
their words. Elizabeth got the impression that she was for ever skirting
some subject of which she never came to the point. She felt that
something was being demanded of her, she did not know what.

There were good days sometimes, when Joan would get up in the morning
feeling restored after a peaceful night. Her troubles would seem vague
like a ship on a far horizon. Then the reaction would be exaggerated.
Elizabeth was not reassured by a boisterously happy Joan, and was never
surprised when a few hours would exhaust this blissful condition.
Something, usually a mere trifle, would crop up to suggest the old
Horror. Very quietly, as a rule, Joan's torments would begin, a
thought--flimsy as a bit of thistledown, would light for an instant in
her brain to be quickly brushed aside, but like thistledown it would
alight again and cling. Gradually it would become more concrete; now it
was not thistledown, it was a little stone, very cold and hard, that
pressed and was not so easy to brush aside. And the stone would grow
until it seemed to Joan to become a physical burden, crushing her under
an unendurable load, more horrible than ever now because of those hours
of respite.

Elizabeth coaxed and cajoled; she wanted at all hazards to stop Joan from
working. She let down the barrier of her calm aloofness and showed a new
aspect of herself to her pupil. She entreated, she begged, for it seemed
to her that things were becoming desperate. At last she played her trump
card, she played it suddenly without warning and without tact, in a way
that was characteristic of her in moments of deep feeling. One day she
closed her book, folded her hands and said:

'Joan! If you loved me you couldn't make me unhappy about you as you do.
Joan, don't you love me?'

For answer Joan fled from the room as if pursued by a fiend.

'Do I love her? Do I? Do I?' There it was again--this time for Elizabeth.
Did she love Elizabeth and was that why she did not love her mother? Here
was a new and fruitful source of self-analysis; if she loved Elizabeth
she could not love her mother, for one could not really love more than
one person at a time, at least Joan was sure that she could not.


2


Alone in the schoolroom Elizabeth clasped her slim hands on her lap; she
sat very upright in her chair. Suddenly she rose to her feet; she knew
what was the matter with her pupil, she had had an illuminating thought
and meant to lose no time in acting upon it. She went upstairs and
knocked softly on the door of Colonel Ogden's bedroom. Mrs. Ogden opened
it; she looked surprised.

'May I speak to you for a moment, Mrs. Ogden?'

Mrs. Ogden glanced at the bed to make certain that this intrusion had not
wakened the sleeping patient, then she closed the door noiselessly behind
her and the two faced each other on the landing. Something in Elizabeth's
eyes startled her.

'Is anything wrong?' she faltered.

'I think we had better talk in the dining-room', was all that Elizabeth
would say.

They went into the dining-room and shut the door; neither of them sat
down.

'It's about Joan', Elizabeth began, 'I'm worried about her.'

'Why, is anything the matter?'

'I think', said Elizabeth, 'that a great deal is going to be the matter
unless something is done very soon.'

'You frighten me, Elizabeth; for goodness' sake explain yourself.'

'I don't want to frighten you, but I'm beginning to be frightened myself
about Joan; she's been very queer for weeks, she looks terribly ill, and
I think something is preying on her mind.'

'Preying on her mind?'

'I think so--she seems unnatural--she isn't like Joan, somehow.'

'But, I haven't noticed all this!' Mrs. Ogden's voice was cold. 'Are you
sure that you're not over-anxious, Elizabeth?'

'I'm sure I'm right. If you haven't noticed that Joan's ill, it must be
because you have been so worried about Colonel Ogden.'

'Really, Elizabeth, I cannot think it possible that I, the child's
mother, should not have noticed what you say, were it true.'

'Still, you haven't noticed it', said Elizabeth stubbornly.

'No, I have not noticed it, but I'm glad to have an opportunity of
telling you what I have noticed; and that is that you systematically
encourage the child to overwork.'

Elizabeth stiffened. 'She does overwork, though I have begged her not to,
but I don't think it's that, entirely.'

'Then what do you think it is?'

'Do you really want me to tell you?'

'Certainly--why not?'

'Because, when I do tell you, you'll get angry. Because it is a
presumption on my part, I suppose, to say what I am going to say; because
oh! because after all I'm only the governess and you are her mother, but
for all that I ought to tell you what I think.'

'You bewilder me, Elizabeth, I can't imagine what all this means; didn't
know, you see, that Joan made you her confidante.'

'She doesn't, and possibly that's a pity; I've never encouraged her to
confide in me, and now I'm beginning to wonder whether I haven't been a
fool.'

'I think that I, and not you, Elizabeth, would be the person in whom Joan
would confide.'

'Yes, of course', said Elizabeth, but her voice lacked conviction.

'Elizabeth! I don't like all this; I should be sorry if we couldn't get
on together; it would, I frankly admit, be a disadvantage for the
children to lose you, but you must understand at once that I cannot, will
not, allow you to usurp my prerogatives.'

'I've never done so, knowingly, Mrs. Ogden.'

'But you are doing it now. You appear to want to call me to book, at
least your manner suggests it. I cannot understand what it is you are
driving at; I wish you would speak out, I detest veiled hints.'

'You don't like me, Mrs. Ogden; if I speak out you will like me even
less--' Elizabeth's mind was working quickly; this might mean losing
Joan--still, she must speak.

She continued: 'Well, then, I think it's a mistake to play on the child's
emotions as you do; Joan's not so staid and quiet as she seems. You may
not realize how deeply she feels things, but she feels them horribly
deeply--when _you_ do them. I've watched you together and I know. You've
done it for years, Mrs. Ogden, perhaps unconsciously, I don't know, but
for years Joan has had a constant strain on her emotions. She loves you
in the only way that Joan knows how to love, that is with every ounce of
herself; there aren't any half tones about Joan, she sees things black or
white but never grey, and I think, I feel, that she loves you too much.
Oh, I know that what I'm saying must seem inexcusable, perhaps even
ridiculous, but that's just it: I think Joan loves you too much. I think
that underneath her quiet outside there is something very big and rather
dangerous; an almost abnormally developed capacity for affection, and I
think that it is this on which you play without cease, day in and day
out. I feel as if you were always poking the fire, feeding it, blowing it
until it's red hot, and I can't think it's right, Mrs. Ogden, that's all;
I think it will be Joan's ruin.'

'_Elizabeth!_'

'Wait, I _must_ speak. Joan is brilliant, you know that she's brilliant,
and that she ought to do something with her life. You must surely feel
that she can't stay here in Seabourne for ever? She must--oh! if I could
only find the right words--she must fulfil herself in some way--either
marriage or work, at all events some interest outside of and beyond you.
She's consuming herself even now, and what will she do later on? Yet, how
can she come to fruition if she's drained dry before she begins to live
at all? I don't know how I dare to speak to you like this, but I want
your help. Joan is such splendid material; don't let her worry about you
as she does, don't let her see that you are not a happy woman, don't let
her spend herself on you!'

She paused, her knees shook a little, she felt that in another moment she
would begin to cry, and emotions with her came hard.

Mrs. Ogden blanched. So it had come at last! This was what she had always
known would happen; Elizabeth had dared to criticize her handling of
Joan. She felt a blind rage towards her, a sudden longing to strike her.
The barriers went down with a crash, primitive invectives sprang to her
lips and she barely checked them in time. She choked.

'You dare to say this, Elizabeth?'

'I love Joan.'

'_What!_'

'I love Joan, and I must save her, Mrs. Ogden.'

'_You?_ How dare you suggest that the child is more to you than she is to
me; do you realize what Joan means to me?'

'Yes, it's because I do realize it--'

'Then be silent.'

'I dare not.'

Mrs. Ogden stamped her foot. 'You _shall_ be silent. And understand,
please, that you will leave us when your notice expires; but in the
meantime you will not interfere again between Joan and me, I will not
tolerate it! I refuse to tolerate it!' She burst into a violent fit of
weeping.

Elizabeth grew calm at the sight of her tears. 'I am going to ask you to
reconsider your decision to dismiss me', she said. 'I want to go on
teaching Joan, I shall not accept my notice to leave unless you give it
me again, which I hope for my sake you will not do; what I have said, I
have said from a conviction that it was my duty to speak plainly.' Then
she played skilfully in self-defence. 'You see, Joan simply adores you.'

Mrs. Ogden sobbed more quietly and became attentive. Elizabeth pressed
her advantage home; she could not endure to lose Joan, and she didn't
intend to lose her.

'Can't you see that Joan's love for you is no ordinary thing, that it's
the biggest thing about her, that it is her, and that's why everything
you do or say, however unintentional, plays on her feelings to an
abnormal extent?'

Mrs. Ogden drew herself up. 'I hope', she said stiffly, 'that I'm quite
capable of judging the depth of my child's affection. But I shall have to
think over your request to remain with us, Elizabeth. I hardly think--'
she paused.

'I am anxious to stay', said Elizabeth simply.

'Whether you stay or go, I consider that you owe me an apology.'

'I'll give it very gladly, for a great deal that I've said must have
seemed to you unwarrantable', Elizabeth replied.

Mrs. Ogden was silent. She longed to tell Elizabeth to go now at once,
but her rage was subsiding. Colonel Ogden was still ill and governesses
were not to be found easily or cheaply in Seabourne, at least not with
Elizabeth's qualifications. There were many things to consider, so many
that they rushed in upon her, submerging her mind in a tide of
difficulties--perhaps, after all, she would accept the apology for the
moment, and bide her time, but forgive Elizabeth? _Never!_

Elizabeth left the room. 'She won't dismiss me', she thought, 'I'm cheap,
and she won't find anyone else to take my post at my salary; but I shall
have to be more careful in future, it won't do to play with cards on the
table. I behaved like an impetuous fool this afternoon. What is it about
Joan that makes a fool of one? I shall stop on here until Joan breaks
free--I must help her to break free when the time comes.'


3


That night when the doctor called to see the colonel, Mrs. Ogden asked
him to examine Joan.

'My governess is rather inclined to overwork the child', she told him,
'but I don't think you will find much wrong with her.'

Joan, dutifully stripping to the waist, was sounded and pronounced by the
doctor to be in practically normal health. Too thin and a little anaemic,
perhaps, and the heart action just a little nervous, but Mrs. Ogden was
assured that she had no grounds for anxiety. The doctor advised less
study and more open air; he patted Joan's shoulder and remarked
comfortingly that he only wished all his patients were such healthy
specimens. Then he gave her a mild nerve tonic, told her to eat well and
go to bed early, shook hands cordially with Mrs. Ogden and departed.



Chapter Twelve


1


Colonel Ogden was convalescent. Every morning now when it was fine he
went out in a bath chair, dragged by a very old man. The dreadful bend of
the old man's shoulders as he tugged weakly with his hands behind him,
struck Joan as an outrage. The old man shuffled too, he never seemed able
to quite lift his feet; she wondered how many pairs of cheap boots he
wore out in the year. It was the starting of the bath chair that was
particularly horrible, the first strain; after that it went more easily.
Muffled to the eyes and swathed in rugs, his feet planted firmly on the
footstool, his hat jammed on vindictively, Colonel Ogden sat like a
statue of outraged dignity, the ridiculous leather apron buttoned over
his knees. Above his muffler his small blue eyes tried hard to glare in
the old way, but the fire had gone out of them, and his voice coming
weakly through the folds of his scarf, had already acquired the irritable
whine of the invalid. Mrs. Ogden would stand, fussy and solicitous, on
the steps to see him off, sometimes she would accompany him up and down
the esplanade, adjusting his cushion, tucking in his rug, inquiring with
forced solicitude whether he felt the wind cold, whether his chest ached,
whether his heart was troublesome. The colonel endured, puffing out his
cheeks from time to time as though an explosion were imminent, but it
never came, or at least if it did come it was such a melancholy ghost of
its former self as to be almost unrecognizable. And very deaf, a little
rheumy in the eyes, and terribly bent in the back, the old bath-chair man
tugged and tugged with his head shot forward at a tortoise-like angle,
the dirty seams standing out on the back of his neck.

But though Colonel Ogden required a great deal of attention now that the
nurse was gone, his wife's immediate anxiety regarding him was relieved,
which gave her the time to brood constantly over Joan. The girl was
seldom from her thoughts, she began to loom even larger than she had done
before in her mother's life, to appear ten times more valuable and more
desirable, now that Mrs. Ogden felt that a serious rival had declared
herself. Elizabeth's words burnt and rankled; she rehearsed the scene
with the governess many times a day in her mind and went to sleep with it
at nights. She felt Elizabeth's personality to be well-nigh unendurable;
she could never look at her now without remembering the grudge which she
must always bear her, though a veneer of civility was absolutely
necessary, for she did not intend to lose her just yet. She told herself
that she kept her because she was still too tired to look for a
successor, who must be found as soon as she recovered from the strain of
the colonel's illness; but in her heart of hearts she knew that this was
not her reason--she knew that she kept her because she was afraid of the
stimulus of Joan's affection for Elizabeth that might result from an
unconsidered action on her part. She was afraid to let Elizabeth go and
afraid to let her stay, afraid of Elizabeth and mortally afraid of Joan.

She watched the girl with ever increasing suspicion, and what she saw
convinced her that she was less responsive than she used to be. Joan had
grown more silent and more difficult to understand. Now, the mother and
daughter found very little to say to each other; when they were together
their endearments were strained like those of people with a guilty
secret. Yet even now there were moments when the mother thought that she
recognized the old Joan in the almost exasperated flood of affection that
would be poured out upon her. But she was not satisfied; these moments
were of fleeting duration, spoilt by uncertainty, by lack of
comprehension. There was something almost tragic about these two at this
time, bound together as they were by a subtle and unrecognized tie,
struggling to find each for herself and for the other some compensation,
some fulfilment. But if Mrs. Ogden was deceived, even for a moment, her
daughter was not. Joan knew that they never found what they sought and
never would find it now, any more. She could not reason it out, she had
nothing wherewith to reason, she was too young to rely on anything but
instinct, but that told her the truth.

The Horror was still with her; she wanted to love Mrs. Ogden, she felt
empty and disconsolate without that love. She longed to feel the old
quick response when her mother bent towards her, the old perpetual
romance of her vicinity. She was like a drug-taker from whom all
stimulant has been suddenly removed; the craving was unendurable,
dangerous alike to body and mind.


2


Now began a period of petty irritations, petty tyrannies and miseries.
Mrs. Ogden watched! She was gentle and overtired and pathetic, but oh! so
terribly watchful. Joan could feel her watching, watching her, watching
Elizabeth. Things happened, only the merest trifles, yet they counted.
One day it was a hat, another a pair of shoes or a pattern of knitting
wool. Perhaps Elizabeth would say:

'Put your black hat on this afternoon, Joan; it suits you.' Then Joan
would look up and see Mrs. Ogden standing inside the dining-room door.

'Joan!'

'Yes, dearest?'

'I dislike you in that hat, put the blue one on, darling.'

A thousand little unexpected things were always cropping up to give rise
to these thinly veiled quarrels. Even Milly began to feel uncomfortable
and ill at ease, but with characteristic decision she solved the problem
for herself.

'I shan't stay here when I'm bigger, Joan; I shall go away', she
announced one day.

Joan was startled; the words made her uneasy, they reopened the eternal
question, presenting a new facet. She began to ask herself whether she
too did not long to go away, whether she would want to stay at Seabourne
when she was older, and above all whether she loved her mother enough to
stay for ever in Seabourne. They were sitting in the schoolroom, and
Joan's eyes sought Elizabeth, who answered the unspoken thought. She
turned to Joan with a quick, unusual gesture.

'Joan, you mustn't stay here always either.'

'Not stay here, Elizabeth? Where should I go?'

'Oh, I don't know; to Cambridge perhaps, and then--oh, well, then you
must work, do things with your life.'

'But, Mother--'

Elizabeth was silent. Joan pressed her.

'Elizabeth, do you think Mother would ever consent?'

'I don't know; you have the brain to do it if you choose.'

'But suppose it made her unhappy?'

'Why should it? She'll probably be very proud of you if you make good--in
any case you'll have to leave her if you marry.'

'But it might--oh! can't you see that it might make her unhappy,
dreadfully unhappy?'

'What do you feel about it yourself, Joan; are you ambitious, I mean?'
Joan was silent for a moment, then she said: 'I don't think I am really
ambitious. I mean I don't think that I could ever push everything aside
for the sake of some big idea; I hate being hurt and hurting, and I think
you've got to do that if you're really ambitious; but I want to go on
working, frightfully.'

'Well, you'll probably get through your exam all right.'

'And if I do, what then?'

'Then your Oxford local, I suppose.'

'Yes but, then?'

'Well, then we shall have to consider. I should think Cambridge for you,
Joan--though I don't know; perhaps Oxford is better in some respects.'
She paused and appeared to reflect.

Joan looked at her fixedly. She thought: 'This is said to me in direct
opposition to Mother; it's being said on purpose. Elizabeth hates her and
I ought to hate Elizabeth, but I _don't_!'



Chapter Thirteen


1


Richard Benson came home towards the end of August after a visit to
friends in Ireland. To Elizabeth's disappointment, Joan showed no
pleasure at his return. However, it appeared that Richard had not
forgotten her, for Mrs. Benson wrote insisting that she and Elizabeth
should come to luncheon, as he had been asking after them.

They went to Conway House on the appointed day. Joan was acquiescent, she
never offered much opposition to anything at this time unless it were
interference with her self-imposed and ridiculous cramming. After all it
was a pleasant luncheon, and Elizabeth, at all events, enjoyed it.

Joan thought: 'I'm glad she looks happy and pleased, but I wish they'd
asked Mother; I wonder why they didn't ask Mother?' Her mother's absence
weighed upon her. Not that Mrs. Ogden had withheld a ready consent, she
was glad that her girls had such nice neighbours, but Joan knew
instinctively that she had felt hurt; she was beginning to know so much
about her mother by instinct. She divined her every mood; it seemed to
her to be like looking through a window-pane to look at Mrs. Ogden, and
the view you saw beyond was usually deeply depressing. Mrs. Ogden had
smiled when she kissed her good-bye, but the smile had been a little
rueful, a little tremulous; it had seemed to say: 'I know I'm not as
young as I used to be, I expect they find me dull.' Joan wondered if they
did find her dull, and her heart ached.

She was thinking of her now, as she tried to eat. Richard, more freckled
and blunt-faced than ever, talked and joked in a kind of desperation; it
seemed to him that something must be seriously wrong with Joan. Mrs.
Benson's keen eyes watched the girl attentively, and what she saw
mystified her. She took Elizabeth into the drawing-room after lunch,
having first ordered Richard and Joan into the garden. When she and
Elizabeth were alone together she began at once.

'What on earth's the matter with Joan, Elizabeth?'

'I don't know--why? Do you think she looks ill?'

'Don't you?'

'Yes.'

'I was quite shocked to-day. I always feel interested in that child, and
I should be dreadfully anxious if she belonged to me.'

'Well, she's at a difficult age, you know.'

'Oh, my dear, it's more than that; have you been letting her work too
hard?'

'Oh!' said Elizabeth violently, 'I'm sick to death of being asked that;
of course she works too hard, but it isn't that, it's--'

'Yes?' queried Mrs. Benson.

'It's--oh! I don't know, Mrs. Benson, I can't put it into words, but it's
an awful responsibility, somehow; I can't tell how it worries me.' Her
voice shook.

Mrs. Benson patted her hand reassuringly. 'Whatever it is, it's got on
your nerves too, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth looked at her a little startled. Yes, it had got on her nerves,
it was horribly on her nerves and had been for weeks. She longed to talk
frankly and explain to this kind, commonplace woman the complicated
situation as she saw it, to ask her advice. She began: 'Joan's got
something on her mind--' Then stopped.

'But of course she has', said Mrs. Benson.

'And she's growing--mentally, I mean. Oh, and physically too--'

'They all do that, Elizabeth.'

'Yes, but--I don't understand it; at least, yes, I do understand it, only
I can't see my way.'

'Your way?'

'Yes, my way with Joan.'

'Can't you try to rouse her? She seems to me to be getting very morbid.'

'No, she's not--at least not in the way you mean. Don't think I'm mad,
but Joan gives me such a queer feeling. I feel as though she'd been
fighting, fighting, fighting to get out, to be herself, and that now
she's not fighting any more, she's too tired.'

'But, my dear child, what is it all about?'

'I think I know, in fact I'm sure I do, and yet I can't help her. I want
her to go away from here some day, I want her to have a life of her own.
Can't you see how it is? She's so much her mother's favourite--they adore
each other.'

Mrs. Benson did not speak for a little while, then she said: 'I don't
know Mrs. Ogden very well, but I think she might be a very selfish
mother; but then, poor soul, she hasn't had much of a life, has she?'

Then Elizabeth let herself go, she heard her voice growing louder, but
could not control it.

'I don't care, she has no right to make it up to herself with Joan.
Joan's young and clever, and sensitive and dreadfully worth while. Surely
she has a right to something in life beyond Seabourne and Mrs. Ogden?
Joan has a right to love whom she likes, and to go where she likes and to
work and be independent and happy, and if she can't be happy then she has
a right to make her own unhappiness; it's a thousand times better to be
unhappy in your own way than to be happy in someone else's. Joan wants
something and I don't know what it is, but if it's Mrs. Ogden then it
ought not to be, that's all. The child's eating her heart out and it's
wrong, wrong, wrong! She dare not be herself because it might not be the
self that Mrs. Ogden needs. She wants to go to Cambridge, but will she
ever go? Why she's even afraid to be fond of me because Mrs. Ogden is
jealous of me.' She paused, breathless.

Mrs. Benson looked grave. 'My dear', she said very quietly, 'I
sympathize, and I think I understand; but be careful.'

Elizabeth thought: 'No, you don't understand; you're a kind, good woman,
but you don't understand in the least.'

Aloud she said: 'I'm afraid I seem violent, but I'm personally interested
in Joan's possibilities, she's very clever and lovable.'

Mrs. Benson assented. 'Why not encourage her to come here more often',
she suggested. 'She and Violet are about the same age, and Violet's
nearly always here in the holidays. Richard and Joan seemed to get on
very well last year. Oh, talking of Richard; you know, I suppose, that he
insists upon being a doctor?'

Elizabeth laughed. 'Well, as long as he's a good doctor I suppose he
won't kill anyone!' They both smiled now as they thought of Richard. 'His
father's furious', Mrs. Benson told her, 'but it's no good being furious
with Richard; you might as well get angry with an oak tree and slap it.'

'Does he work well?'

'Oh, I believe so; you wouldn't think it to look at him, would you? but I
hear that he's rather clever. Anyhow, he's a perfect darling, and what
_does_ it matter whether he's a doctor or a cabinet minister, so long as
he's respectable!'

'Will he specialize eventually, do you think?'

'He wants to, if he can get his father to back him.'

'Oh, but he will do that, of course. Does Richard say what he wants to
specialize in?'

Mrs. Benson smiled again. 'He does', she remarked with mock grimness. 'He
says he means to specialize in medical psychology--nerves, I believe is
what it boils down to. _Can_ you see Richard as a nerve specialist,
Elizabeth?'

'Well, if having no nerves oneself goes to the making of a good nerve
doctor, I should think he would succeed.'

'He tells me he's certain to succeed, my dear; he takes it as a matter of
course. If you could see the books he leaves about the house! Do you
know, Elizabeth, I'm almost afraid for my Richard sometimes; it would be
so awfully hard for him if he failed to make good, he's so sure of
himself; you know. And it's not conceit; I don't know what it is--it's a
kind of matter-of-fact self-confidence--it's almost impressive!'


2


Richard and Joan were walking up and down the path by the tennis lawn;
they looked very young and lanky and pathetic, the one in his eagerness,
the other in her resignation. Joan, as she listened to the enthusiastic
sentences, wondered how anyone could care so much about anything.

He was saying: 'It's ripping the feeling it gives you to know that you
can do a thing, and to feel that you're going to do it well.'

'But how can you be certain that you will do it well?' Joan inquired. 

'I don't know, but one is certain--at least, I am.'

'Will you live in Seabourne when you've taken your degree?'

'Good Lord, no, of course not! No one who wants to get on could do
anything in a place like this!'

'It's not such a bad place', she protested. She felt an urgent need to
uphold Seabourne just then.

'It's not a bad place for old people and mental deficients; no, I suppose
it's not.'

'But your mother isn't old and she isn't mentally deficient.'

'Of course not; but she doesn't stick here. She goes up to London for
months on end sometimes; besides, she's different!'

'I don't see how she's different. How is she different from my mother for
instance? And my mother never gets away from Seabourne.'

It was on the tip of his tongue to say: 'Oh! but she is different!' but
he checked himself and said: 'Well, perhaps some people can stick here
and remain human; only I know I couldn't, that's all.'

She longed to ask him about Cambridge, but she felt shy; his
self-confidence was so overpowering, though she liked him in spite of it.
It struck her that he had grown more self-confident since last Christmas;
she remembered that then he had been dreadfully afraid of being
'bottled'; now he didn't seem afraid of anything, of Seabourne least of
all. She wondered what he would say if she told him her own trouble; it
was difficult to imagine what effect her confidences would have on him;
he would probably think them ridiculous and dismiss them with an abrupt
comment.

'I suppose', she said drearily, 'some people have to stick to
Seabourne.'

'There's no "_have to_"', he replied.

'Oh, yes, there is; that's where you don't know. Look at Elizabeth!'

'Elizabeth doesn't have to stay here; she's lazy, that's all that's the
matter with her.'

Joan flared at once: 'If you think Elizabeth's lazy you can't know much
about her; she's staying on here because of her brother. He's delicate,
and he can't live alone, and he needs her; I think she's splendid!'

'Rot! He isn't a baby to need dry nursing. If Elizabeth had the will, I
expect she'd find the way. If Elizabeth stops here it's because she's
taken root, it's because she likes it; I'm disappointed in Elizabeth!'

'She _hates_ it!' said Joan with conviction.

He turned and stared at her. 'Then why in heaven's name--' he began.

'Because everyone doesn't think only of themselves!' She was angry now;
she had not been angry for so long that she quite enjoyed the excitement.
'Because Elizabeth thinks of other people and wants to be decent to them,
and doesn't talk and think only of her own career and of the things that
she wants to do. She sacrifices herself, that's why she stays here, and
if you can't understand that it's because you're not able to understand
the kind of people that really count!'

They stopped and faced each other in the path; her eyes glowered, but his
were twinkling though his mouth was grave. 'If you're talking at me,
Joan', he said solemnly, 'then you may spare your breath, because you see
I know I'm right; I know that even if Elizabeth is splendid and
self-sacrificing and all the rest of it, she's dead wrong to waste it on
that little dried-up brother of hers. She ought to get out and do
something for the world at large, or if she can't rise to that then she
ought to do something for herself. _I_ think it's a sin to let yourself
get drained dry by anyone, I don't care who it is; that wasn't the sort
of thing God gave us our brains for; it wasn't why He made us
individuals.'

Joan interrupted him: 'But Elizabeth isn't drained dry; she's the
cleverest woman I know.'

'Yes, now, perhaps.'

'She always will be', said Joan coldly.

He felt that he had gone too far; he didn't want to quarrel with her.

'I'm sorry', he said humbly. 'It's my fault, I suppose. I mean I daresay
I'm selfish and self-opinionated, and perhaps I'm not such great shakes,
after all. Anyhow, you know I'm awfully fond of Elizabeth.'

Joan was pacified. 'One does get fond of her', she told him. 'She's so
calm and neat and masterful, so certain of herself and yet so awfully
kind.'

He changed the subject. 'I'm swatting at Cambridge', he announced. 

'Are you?'

He heard the interest in her voice and wondered why his casual remark had
aroused it.

'Yes; when I've taken my science degree I shall go up to London for
hospital work--and then'--he gave a sigh of contentment--’I shall get my
Medical--and then Germany. You ought to go to Cambridge, Joan.'

'Is it expensive? Does it cost much?' she asked him.

'Well, that depends. Why, are you really going?'

She hesitated. 'Elizabeth would like me to.'

'Oh, yes, she was there, wasn't she? Well, you won't be there when I am,
I'm afraid; we'll just miss it by a year.'

'I don't suppose I shall go at all.'

'Why not?'

'Oh, lots of reasons. We're poor, you know.'

'Then try for a scholarship.'

'I'd probably fail if I did.'

'Why on earth should you fail; you're very clever, aren't you?'

She began to laugh. 'I don't know if I'm what you would call clever; you
see you think yourself clever, and I'm not a bit like you. I like
working, though, so perhaps I'd get through.'

Elizabeth, coming towards them across the lawn, heard the laugh and
blessed Richard.



Chapter Fourteen


1


It is strange in this world how events of momentous importance happen
without any warning, and do not, as is commonly stated, 'Cast their
shadows before'. Moreover, they reach us from the most unexpected
quarters and at a time when we are least prepared, and such an event
dropped out of space upon the Ogden household a few days later.

The concrete form which it took was simple enough--a small business
envelope on Colonel Ogden's breakfast tray; he opened it, and as he read
his face became suffused with excitement. He tried to get up, but the tea
spilt in his efforts to remove the heavy tray from his lap.

'Mary!' he shouted, 'Mary!'

Mrs. Ogden, who was presiding at the breakfast table, heard him call,
and also the loud thumping of the stick which he now kept beside the bed.
He used it freely to attract his family's attention to his innumerable
needs. She rose hastily.

Joan and Milly heard the quick patter of her steps as she hurried
upstairs, followed, in what seemed an incredibly short time, by her tread
on the bedroom floor, and then the murmur of excited conversation.

Joan sighed. 'Is it the butter or the bacon?' queried Milly. Milly had
come to the conclusion that her parents were unusually foolish; had she
been capable of enough concentration upon members of her family, she
would have cordially disliked them both; as it was they only amused her.
At thirteen Milly never worried; she had a wonderful simplicity and
clarity of outlook. She realized herself very completely, and did not
trouble to realize anything else, except as it affected her monoideism.
She was quite conscious of the strained atmosphere of her home, conscious
that her father was intolerable, her mother nervous arid irritating, and
Joan, she thought, very queer. But these facts, while being in themselves
disagreeable, in no way affected the primary issues of her life. Her
music, her own personality, these were the things that would matter in
the future so far as she was concerned. She had what is often known as a
happy disposition; strangers admired her, for she was a bright and pretty
child, and even friends occasionally deplored the fact that Joan was not
more like her sister.

Upstairs in the bedroom the colonel, tousled and unshaven, was sitting
very bolt upright in bed.

'It's Henrietta!' he said, extending the solicitor's letter in a hand
which shook perceptibly.

'Your sister Henrietta?' inquired Mrs. Ogden.

'Naturally. Who else do you think it would be?--Well, she's dead!'

'Dead? Oh, my dear! I am sorry; why, you haven't heard from her for
ages.'

Colonel Ogden swallowed angrily. 'Why the deuce can't you read the
letter, Mary? Read the letter and you'll know all about it.'

Mrs. Ogden took it obediently. It was quite brief and came from a firm of
solicitors in London. It stated that Mrs. Henrietta Peabody, widow of the
late Henry Clay Peabody, of Philadelphia, had died suddenly, leaving her
estate, which would bring in about three hundred a year, to be equally
divided between her two nieces, Joan and Mildred Ogden. The letter went
on to say that Colonel and Mrs. Ogden were to act as trustees until such
time as their children reached the age of twenty-one years or married,
but that the will expressly stated that the income was not to be
accumulated or diverted in any way from the beneficiaries, it being the
late Mrs. Peabody's wish that it should be spent upon the two children
equally for the purpose of securing for them extra advantages. The terms
of the letter were polite and tactful, but as Mrs. Ogden read she had an
inkling that her sister-in-law Henrietta had probably made rather a
disagreeable will. She glanced at her husband apprehensively.

'It means--' she faltered, 'it means--'

'It means', shouted the colonel, 'that Henrietta must have been mad to
make such a will; it means that from now on my own children can snap
their fingers under my nose; it means that I have ceased to have any
control over members of my own family. A more outrageous state of affairs
I never heard of! What have I ever done, I should like to know, to be
insulted like this? Why should this money be left over my head? One would
think Henrietta imagined I was the sort of man to neglect the interests
of my own children; she hasn't even left the income to me for life! Did
the woman wish to insult me? Upon my word, a pretty state of affairs!
Think of it, I ask you; Milly thirteen and Joan fifteen, and a hundred
and fifty a year to be spent at once on each of 'em. It's bedlam! And
mark you, I am under orders to see that the money is spent entirely upon
them; I, the father that bred them, I have no right to touch a penny of
it!' He paused and leant back on his pillows exhausted.

Through the myriads of ideas that surged into her brain, Mrs. Ogden was
conscious of one dominating thought that beat down all the others like a
sledge-hammer: 'Joan--how would this affect Joan?'

She tried to calculate hastily how much she could claim for the children
in her housekeeping; she supposed vaguely that Elizabeth's salary would
come out of the three hundred a year; that would certainly be a relief.
Then there were doctors and dentists, clothes and washing. Somewhere at
the back of her mind she was conscious of a faint rejoicing that never
again would she have to shed so many tears over current expenses, and a
faint sense of pride in the knowledge that her daughters were now
independent. But, though these thoughts should have been consoling, they
could not push their way to the foreground of her consciousness, which
was entirely occupied at that moment by an immense fear; the fear of
independence for Joan. Colonel Ogden was looking at her; clearly he
expected her to sympathize. She pulled herself together.

'After all, James', she ventured, 'it's a great thing for Joan and Milly,
and it will make a difference in our expenses.'

He glared. 'Oh, naturally, Mary, I could hardly expect you to see the
situation in its true light; I could hardly expect you to realize the
insult that my own sister has seen fit to put on me.'

'Really, James', said Mrs. Ogden angrily, stung into retort by this
childish injustice, 'I understand perfectly all you're saying, but I do
think you ought to be grateful to Henrietta. I certainly am, and even if
you don't approve of her will, I don't see that there's anything to do
but to look on the bright side of things.'

'Bright side, indeed!' taunted the colonel. 'A pretty bright side you'll
find developing before long. Not that I begrudge my own children any
advantages; I should think Henrietta ought to have known that. No, what I
resent, and quite rightly too, is the public lack of confidence in me
that she has been at such pains to show; that's the point.'

'The point is', thought Mrs Ogden, 'whether Joan will now be in a
position to go to Cambridge. This business will play directly into
Elizabeth's hands.' Aloud she said: 'Am I to tell the children, James?'

'You can tell them any damn thing you please. If you don't tell them
they'll hear about it from somebody else, I suppose; but I warn you
fairly that when you do tell them, you can add that I intend to preserve
absolute discipline in my household, I'll have no one living under the
roof with me who don't realize that I'm the master.'

'But, my dear James', his wife protested, 'they're nothing but children
still; I don't suppose for a moment they'll understand what it means. I
don't suppose it would ever enter their heads to want to defy you.'


2


She turned and left the room, going slowly downstairs. The children were
still at breakfast when she reached the dining-room. As they looked up,
something in their mother's expression told them of an unusual
occurrence; it was an expression in which pride, apprehension and
excitement were oddly mingled. Mrs. Ogden sat down at the head of the
table and cleared her throat.

'I have very serious news for you, children', she began. 'Your Aunt
Henrietta is dead.'

The children evinced no emotion; they had heard of their Aunt Henrietta
in America, but she had never been more than a name. Mrs. Ogden glanced
from one to the other of her daughters; she did not quite know how to
explain to them the full significance of the news, and yet she did not
wish to keep it back. Her maternal pride and generosity struggled with
her outraged dignity. She felt the situation to be quite preposterous,
and in a way she sympathized with her husband's indignation; she was of
his own generation, after all. Yet knowing him as she did, she felt a
guilty and secret understanding of Henrietta Peabody's motive. She told
herself that if only she were perfectly certain of Joan, she could find
it in her to be grateful to the departed Henrietta. She began to speak
again.

'I have something very important to tell you. It's something that affects
both of you. It seems that your Aunt Henrietta, apart from her pension,
had an income of three hundred pounds a year, and this three-hundred a
year she has left equally divided between you. That means that you will
have one hundred and fifty pounds a year each from now on.’

Her eyes were eagerly scanning Joan's face. Joan saw their appeal, though
she did not understand it; she left her place slowly and put her arm
round her mother.

Milly clapped her hands. 'A hundred and fifty a year and all my own!'
she cried delightedly.

'Shut up!' ordered Joan. 'Who cares whether you've got a hundred and
fifty a year or not? Besides, anyhow, you're only a kid; you won't be
allowed to spend it now.'

'It isn't now', said Milly thoughtfully. 'It's afterwards that I care
about.'

Mrs. Ogden ignored her younger daughter. What did it matter what Milly
felt or thought? She groped for Joan's hand and squeezed it.

'I think I ought to tell you', she said gravely, 'that your father is
very much upset at this news; he's very much hurt by what your aunt has
done. I can understand and sympathize with his feelings. You see he knows
that he has always been a good father to you, and it would have been more
seemly had this money been left to him, though, of course, your father
and I have control of it until you each become twenty-one years old or
get married.'

Something prompted her to make the situation quite clear to her children.
She had another motive for telling them, or at all events for telling
Joan, exactly how things stood; she wanted to know the worst at once. She
knew anything would be more endurable than uncertainty as to how this
legacy would affect Joan.

The children were silent; something awkward in the situation impressed
them; they longed to be alone to talk it over. Mrs. Ogden left the room
to interview the cook; she had had her say, and she felt now that she
could only await results.


3


As the door closed behind her they stared at each other incredulously.

Joan was the first to speak. 'What an extraordinary thing!' she said.

Milly frowned, 'You are queer; I don't believe you're really pleased. I
believe you're almost sorry.'

'I don't know quite what I am', Joan admitted. 'It seems to worry Mother,
though I don't see why it should; but I have a feeling that that's going
to spoil it.'

'Oh, you always find something to spoil everything. Why should it worry
Mother? It doesn't worry me; I think we're jolly lucky. I know what I'm
going to do, I'm going to talk to Doddsie this very day about going to
the Royal College of Music.'

Joan scented trouble. Would Milly's little violin master side with her
when he knew of his pupil's future independence?

'You'd better look out', she warned. 'You talk as though you had the
money now. Father won't agree to your going up to London, and anyhow
you're much too young. For goodness' sake go slow; one gets so sick of
rows!'

Milly smiled quietly; she felt that it was no good arguing with Joan;
Joan was always apprehensive and on the look-out for trouble. Milly knew
what she wanted to do and she intended to do it; after all, she reckoned,
she wouldn't remain thirteen years old for ever, and when the time came
for her to go to London to London she meant to go, so there was no good
fussing. A glow of satisfaction and gratitude began to creep over her;
she thought almost tenderly of Aunt Henrietta.

'Poor Aunt Henrietta!' she remarked in a sympathetic voice. 'I hope it
didn't hurt her--the dying, I mean.'

Joan looked across at her sister; she thought: 'A lot you really care
whether it hurt her or not!'

The front door bell rang; they knew that decided ring for Elizabeth's,
and leaving the table they hurried to the schoolroom. Elizabeth was
unpinning her hat; she paused with her arms raised to her head, divining
some unusual excitement. She looked at Joan, waiting for her to speak.
Joan read the unvoiced question in her eyes. But before she could answer,
words burst from Milly's lips in a flood; Elizabeth had heard all about
it in less than a minute, including all Milly's plans for the future.
During this recital Elizabeth smiled a little but her eyes were always on
Joan's face. Presently she said:

'This will help you too, Joan.'

Joan was silent; she understood quite well what was meant. Elizabeth had
put into words a feeling against which she had been fighting ever since
her mother had told her the news--a triumphant, possessive kind of
feeling, the feeling that now there was no valid reason why she should
not go to Cambridge or anywhere else for that matter. She looked at
Elizabeth guiltily, but there was no guilt in Elizabeth's answering
smile; on the contrary, there was much happiness, a triumphant happiness
that made Joan feel afraid.



Chapter Fifteen


1


After all, the novelty of the situation wore off very quickly. In a few
weeks' time the children had got quite accustomed to the thought of a
future hundred and fifty a year; it did not appear to make any difference
to their everyday lives. To be sure an unknown man arrived from London
one day and remained closeted with Colonel Ogden for several hours. The
children understood that he had come from the solicitors in order to
discuss the details of their inheritance, but what took place at that
interview was never divulged, and they soon ceased to speculate about it.

Could they but have known it the colonel had raged at considerable length
over what he considered the gross insult that his sister had put upon
him. It had been revealed to him as he read the will that a direct slight
had been intended, that Henrietta had not scrupled to let him know, with
as much eloquence as the legal phraseology permitted, that she was sorry
for her nieces, and that she knew a trick worth two of making them
dependent on their father for future benefits. The lawyer from London did
not appear to see any way out of the difficulty; he had been politely
sympathetic, but had in the main contented himself with pointing out the
excellence of the late Mrs. Peabody's investments. The estate could be
settled up very quickly.


2


Joan was conscious that she had changed somehow, and was working with a
new zest. She realized that whereas before her aunt's death she had
worked as an antidote to her own unhappiness, she was now working for a
much more invigorating purpose, working with a well-defined hope for the
future. The examination for which she had slaved so long now loomed very
near, but she was curiously free from apprehension, filled with a quiet
confidence. Her brain was clearing; she slept better, ate better and
thought of Mrs. Ogden less. She felt quite certain that she would pass,
and the nearer the examination came the less she worked; it was as though
some instinct of self-preservation in her had asserted itself at last.
Elizabeth encouraged her new-found idleness to the full; it was a lovely
autumn, warm and fine, and together they spent the best part of their
days on the cliffs. Milly rejoiced in the general slackness; it gave her
the time she needed for practising her violin. Sometimes she would go
with them, but more often now Elizabeth let her off the detested walks,
wanting to be alone with Joan.

Joan was surprised to find that she was gradually worrying less about her
mother, that it seemed less important, less tragic when Mrs. Ogden
complained of a headache. With this new-found normality her affection did
not lessen; on the contrary, she ceased to doubt it, but together with
other things it had begun to change in quality. It seemed to her as
though she had acquired an invisible pair of scales, on to which she very
gently lifted Mrs. Ogden's words and actions.

Sometimes, according to her ideas, Mrs. Ogden would be found wanting, but
this neither shocked nor estranged her, for at other times her mother
would give good measure and overflowing. But this weighing process was
not romantic; it killed with one blow a vast deal of sentimentality. Joan
began to realize that Mrs. Ogden's cough did not necessarily point to
delicate lungs, that her headaches were largely the outcome of a worrying
disposition, and occasionally a comfortable way out of a difficult
situation; in fact, that Mrs. Ogden was no more tragic and no more
interesting, and at the same time no less interesting, than many other
people.


3


A new factor entered into Joan's life at this period, and may have been
responsible for partially detaching her interest from her mother. Joan
had begun to mature--she was growing up. It was impossible to study as
she had done without gradually realizing that life offered many aspects
which she did not understand. It would have been unlike her to dismiss a
problem once she had become conscious of it. This new problem filled her
with no shyness and no excitement, but she realized that certain
emotional experiences played an immensely important part in the universal
scheme. She had been considering this for some time, gradually realizing
more and more clearly that there must be a key to the riddle, which she
did not possess. It was not only her books that had begun to puzzle
her--there were people--their lives--their emotions--above all their
unguarded words, dropped here and there and hastily covered up with such
grotesque clumsiness. She felt irritated and restless, and wanted to know
things exactly as they stood in their true proportion one to the other.
She shrank from questioning her mother; something told her that this
ought not to be the case, but she could not bring herself to take the
plunge. However, she meant to know the truth about certain things, and
having dismissed the thought of questioning Mrs. Ogden she decided that
Elizabeth should be her informant.

There was no lack of opportunity; the long warm afternoons of idleness on
the cliffs encouraged introspections and confidences. Joan chose one of
these occasions to confront Elizabeth with a series of direct questions.
Elizabeth would have preferred to shirk the task that her pupil thrust
upon her. Not that the facts of life had ever struck her as repulsive or
indecent; on the contrary, she had always taken them as a matter of
course, and had never been able to understand why free discussion of them
should be forbidden. With any other pupil, she told herself, she would
have felt completely at her ease, and she realized that her embarrassment
was owing to the fact that it was Joan who asked. She fenced clumsily.

'I can't see that these things enter into your life at all, at the
present moment', she said. 'I can't see the necessity for discussing
them.'

But Joan was obdurate. 'I see it', she replied, 'and I'd like to hear the
truth from you, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth knew that she must make up her mind quickly; she must either
refuse to discuss these things with Joan, or lie to her, or tell her the
truth, which was after all very simple, and she chose the latter course.
She watched the effect of her words on her pupil, a little
apprehensively, but Joan did not seem disturbed, showing very little
surprise and no emotion.


4


That long and intimate talk on the cliffs had not left Joan unmoved,
however; underneath the morbidity and exaggerated sensitiveness of her
nature flowed a strong stream of courage and common sense. The knowledge
that Elizabeth had imparted acted as a stimulant and sedative in one;
Joan felt herself to be in possession of the truth and thus endowed with
a new dignity and new responsibility towards life. She began to put
everyday things to the touchstone of her new knowledge, to try to the
best of her ability to see them and people in their true proportion, and
then to realize herself. Material lay near her hand for this entrancing
study; there was Elizabeth, for instance, and her mother. Shyly at first,
but with ever growing courage, she began to analyse Mrs. Ogden from this
fresh aspect, to select a niche for her and then to put her in it, to
decide the true relativity which her mother bore to life in general.
Joan, although she could not have put it into words, had begun to realize
cause and effect. Mrs. Ogden did not suffer by this analysis, but she
stood revealed in her true importance and her true insignificance, it
deprived her for ever of the power of imposing upon her daughter. If she
lost in this respect she gained in another, for Joan's feelings for her
now became more stable and, if anything, more protective. She saw her
divested of much romance, it is true, but not divested of her claim to
pity. She saw her as the creature of circumstances, as the victim of
those natural laws which, while being admirably adapted for the
multitude, occasionally destroyed the individual. She realized as she had
never been able to realize before the place that she herself held in her
mother's life; it was borne slowly in upon her that she represented a
substitute for all that Mrs. Ogden had been defrauded of.

A few months ago such a realization would have tormented her, would have
led to endless self-analysis, to innumerable doubts and fears lest she in
return could not give enough, but Joan's mind was now too fully occupied
for morbidity, it was busy with the realization of her own personality.
She knew herself as an individual capable of hacking out a path in life,
capable, perhaps, of leading a useful existence; and this knowledge
filled her with a sense of importance and endeavour. She found herself
able to face calmly the fact that her mother could never mean to her what
she meant to her mother; to her mother she was a substitute, but she,
Joan, was not conscious of needing a substitute. She did not formulate
very clearly what she needed, did not know if she really needed anything
at all except work, but one thing she did know and that was that her
mental vision stretched far beyond Seabourne and away into the vistas of
the great Untried.

Things were as they were, people were as they were, she was as she was
and her mother was as she was. And Elizabeth? Elizabeth she supposed was
as she was and that was the end of it. You could not change or alter the
laws that governed individual existence, but she meant to make a success
of life, if she could; her efforts might be futile, they probably would
be; nevertheless they were worth making. She concluded that individual
effort occasionally did succeed, though the odds were certainly against
it; it had failed in Mrs. Ogden's case, and she began to realize that
hitherto it had failed in Elizabeth's; but would Elizabeth always fail?
She saw her now as a creature capable of seizing hold of life and using
it to the full. Elizabeth, so quiet, so painfully orderly, so
immaculately neat, and in her own way so interesting, suddenly became
poignantly human to Joan; she speculated about her.

And meanwhile the examination drew nearer. Now it was Elizabeth who grew
nervous and restless, and Joan who supported her; it was extraordinary
how nervous Elizabeth did grow, she could neither control nor conceal it,
at all events from her observant pupil. Joan began to understand how much
it meant to Elizabeth that she should do well, and she was touched. But
she herself could not feel any apprehension; she seemed at this time to
have risen above all her doubts and fears. It is possible, however, that
Elizabeth's perturbation might in time have reacted on her pupil had fate
not interposed at the psychological moment.



Chapter Sixteen

1


Surely the last place in the world where anyone would have expected to
meet a tragedy was in the High Street of Seabourne. There never was a
street so genteel and so lacking in emotion; it was almost an indecency
to associate emotion with it, and yet it was in the High Street that a
thing happened which was to make a lasting impression on Joan. She was
out with Elizabeth and Milly early one afternoon; they were feeling dull,
and conversation flagged; their minds were concentrated on innumerable
small commissions for Mrs. Ogden. It was a bright and rather windy day,
having in the keen air the first suggestion of coming winter. The High
Street was very empty at that hour, and stretched in front of them ugly
and shabby and painfully unimportant. Hidden from sight just round the
corner, a little bell went clanging and tinkling; it was the little bell
attached to the cart of the man who ground knives and scissors every
Thursday. A tradesman's boy clattered down the street on a stout
unclipped cob, a basket over his arm, and somewhere in a house near by a
phonograph was shouting loudly.

Then someone screamed, not once but many times. It was an ungainly sound,
crude with terror. The screams appeared to be coming from Mrs. Jenkin's,
the draper's shop, whither Elizabeth was bent; and then before any of
them realized what was happening, a woman had rushed out into the street
covered in flames. The spectacle she made, horrible in itself, was still
more horrible because this was the sort of thing that one heard of or
read of but never expected to see. Through the fire which seemed to
engulf her, her arms were waving and flapping in the air. Joan noticed
that her hair, which had come down, streamed out in the wind, a mass of
flame. The woman, still screaming, turned and ran towards them, and as
she ran the wind fanned the flames. Then Elizabeth did a very brave
thing. She tore off the long tweed coat she was wearing, and running
forward managed somehow to wrap it round the terrified creature. It
seemed to Joan as though she caught the woman and pressed her against
herself, but it was all too sudden and too terrible for the girl to know
with any certainty what happened; she was conscious only of an
overwhelming fear for Elizabeth, and found herself tearing at her back,
trying to pull her away; and then suddenly something, a mass of
something, was lying on the pavement with Elizabeth bending over it.

Elizabeth looked over her shoulder. 'Are you there Joan?' The voice
sounded very matter of fact.

Joan sprang to her side. 'Oh, Elizabeth!'

'I want you to run to the chemist and tell him what's happened. Get him
to come back with you at once; he'll know what to bring, and send his
assistant to fetch the doctor, while I see to getting this poor soul into
the house.'

Joan turned to obey. A few moments ago the street had been practically
empty, but now quite a throng of people were pressing forward towards
Elizabeth. Joan shouldered her way through them; half unconsciously she
noticed their eager eyes, and the tense, greedy look on their faces.
There were faces there that she had known nearly all her life,
respectable middle-class faces, the faces of Seabourne tradespeople, but
now somehow they looked different; it was as though a curtain had been
drawn aside and something primitive and unfamiliar revealed. She felt
bewildered, but nothing seemed to matter except obeying Elizabeth. As she
ran down the street she saw Milly crying in a doorway; she felt sorry for
her, she looked so sick and faint, but she did not stop to speak to her.


2


When she returned with the chemist the crowd was denser than ever, but
all traces of the accident had disappeared. She supposed that Elizabeth
must have had the woman carried into the shop.

Inside, all was confusion; somewhere from the back premises a child
wailed dismally. A mass of unrolled material was spread in disorder upon
the counter, behind which stood an assistant in tears. She recognized
Joan and pointed with a shaking finger to a door at the back of the shop.
The door opened on to a narrow staircase, and Joan paused to look about
her; the old chemist was hard on her heels, peering over her shoulders,
his arms full of packages. A sound reached them from above, low moaning
through which, sharp and clear, came Elizabeth's voice:

'Is that you, Joan? Hurry up, please.'

They mounted the stairs and entered a little bedroom; on the bed lay the
servant who had been burnt. Elizabeth was sitting beside her, and in a
corner of the room stood Mrs. Jenkins, looking utterly helpless.
Elizabeth looked critically at Joan; what she saw appeared to satisfy
her; for she beckoned the girl to come close.

'We must try and get the burnt clothes off her', she said. 'Have you
brought plenty of oil, Mr. Ridgway?'

The chemist came forward, and together the three of them did what they
could, pending the doctor's arrival. As they worked the smell of burnt
flesh pervaded the air, and Mrs. Jenkins swayed slightly where she stood.
Elizabeth saw it and sent her downstairs; then she looked at Joan, but
Joan met her glance fearlessly.

'Are you equal to this?'

Joan nodded.

'Then do exactly what we tell you.'

Joan nodded again. They worked quickly and silently, almost like people
in a dream, Joan thought. There was something awful in what they did,
something new and awful in the spectacle of a mutilated fellow-creature,
helpless in their hands. Into Joan's shocked consciousness there began to
creep a wondering realization of her own inadequacy. Yet she was not
failing; on the contrary, her nerve had steadied itself to meet the
shock. After a little while she found that her repulsion was giving way
to a keen and merciful interest, but she knew that all three of them, so
willing and so eager to help, were hampered by a lack of experience. Even
Mr. Ridgway's medical knowledge was inadequate to this emergency.
Apparently Elizabeth realized this too, for she glanced at the window
from time to time and paused to listen; Joan knew that she was waiting in
a fever of impatience for the doctor to arrive. The woman stirred and
moaned again.

'Will she die?' Joan asked.

Elizabeth looked at the chemist; he was silent. At last he said: 'I'm
afraid she's burnt in the third degree.'

Joan thought: 'I ought to know what that means, but I don't.'

Then she thought: 'The poor thing's suffering horribly, she's probably
going to die before the doctor comes, and not one of us really knows how
to help her; how humiliating.'

At that moment they heard someone hurrying upstairs. As the doctor came
into the room they stood aside. He examined the patient, touching her
gently, then he took dressings from his bag. He went to work with great
care and deftness, and Joan was filled with admiration as she watched
him. She had no idea who he was; he was not the Ogden's doctor, this was
a younger man altogether. Then into her mind flashed the thought of
Richard Benson. She wondered why she had laughed at Richard when he had
talked of becoming a doctor. Was it because he was so conceited? But
surely it was better to be conceited than inadequate!

The doctor was unconscious of her scrutiny; from time to time he spoke to
Elizabeth, issuing short, peremptory orders. Elizabeth stood beside him,
capable and quiet, and Joan felt proud of her because even in this
extremity she managed somehow to look tidy.

'I think I've done all that I can, for the moment', he said. 'I'll come
again later on.'

Elizabeth nodded, her mouth was drawn down at the corners and her arms
hung limply at her sides. Something in her face attracted the doctor's
attention and his glance fell to her hands.

'Let me look at your hands', he said.

'It's nothing', Elizabeth assured him, but her voice sounded far away.

'I'm afraid I disagree with you; your hands are badly burnt, you must let
me dress them.' He turned to the dressings on the table.

She held out her hands obediently, and Joan noticed for the first time
that they were injured. The realization that Elizabeth was hurt
overwhelmed her; she forgot the woman on the bed, forgot everything but
the burnt hands. With a great effort she pulled herself together, forcing
herself to hold the dressings, watching with barely concealed
apprehension, lest the doctor should inflict pain. She had thought him so
deft a few minutes ago, yet now he seemed indescribably clumsy. But if he
did hurt it was not reflected on Elizabeth's face; her lips tightened a
little, that was all.

'Anywhere else?' the doctor demanded.

'Nowhere else', Elizabeth assured him. 'I think my hands must have got
burnt when I wrapped my coat round her.'

The doctor stared. 'It's a mystery to me', he said, 'how you managed to
do all you did with a pair of hands like that.'

'I didn't feel them so much at first', she told him.

The doctor called Mrs. Jenkins and gave her a few instructions; then he
hurried Elizabeth downstairs into the little shop, leaving her there
while he went to find a cab.

Joan stood silently beside her; neither of them spoke until the fly
arrived, then Joan said: ‘I shall come home with you, Elizabeth.'

'I'll send in two nurses', said the doctor. 'Your friend here will want
help too.'

Joan gave him Elizabeth's address.


3


During the drive they were silent again, there didn't appear to be
anything to say. Joan felt lonely; something in what had happened seemed
to have put Elizabeth very far away from her; perhaps it was because she
could not share her pain. The fly drew up at the door; she felt in
Elizabeth's coat pocket for her purse and paid the man; then she rang.
There was no one in the house but the young general servant, who looked
frightened when she saw the bandaged hands. Joan realized that whatever
there was to do must be done by her; that Elizabeth the dominating, the
practical, was now as helpless as a baby. The thought thrilled her.

They went slowly upstairs to the bedroom. Joan had been in the house
before but never in that room; she paused instinctively at the door,
feeling shy. Something told her that by entering this bedroom she was
marking an epoch in her relations with Elizabeth, so personal must that
room be; she turned the handle and they went in. As she ministered to
Elizabeth she noticed the room, and a feeling of disappointment crept
over her. Plain white-painted furniture, white walls and a small white
bed. A rack of books and on the dressing-table a few ivory brushes and
boxes. The room was very austere in its cold whiteness; it was like
Elizabeth and yet it was not like Elizabeth; like the outward Elizabeth
perhaps, but was it like the real Elizabeth? Then her eyes fell upon a
great tangle of autumn flowers, standing in a bright blue jar on the
chest of drawers; something in the strength and virility of their
colouring seemed to gibe and taunt the prim little room; they were there
as a protest, or so the girl felt. She wondered what it was in Elizabeth
that had prompted her to choose these particular flowers and the bright
blue jar that they stood in. Perhaps Elizabeth divined her thoughts, for
she smiled as she followed the direction of Joan's eyes.

'A part of me loves them, needs them', she said.

Very gently Joan helped her to undress; it was a painful and tedious
business. Joan noticed with surprise that Elizabeth's clothes were finer
than Mrs. Ogden's; it gave her a pleasure to touch them. Her nightgown
was of fine lawn, simple in design but very individual. Strange, oh!
strange, how little she really knew Elizabeth. She looked entirely
different with her hair down. Joan felt that in this new-found intimacy
something was lost and something gained. Never again could Elizabeth
represent authority in her pupil's eyes; that aspect of their
relationship was lost for ever, and with it a prop, a staff that she had
grown to lean on. But in its place there was something else, something
infinitely more intimate and interesting. As she helped her into bed, she
was conscious of a curious embarrassment. Elizabeth glanced at the clock;
it was long past tea-time.

'Good Heavens, Joan, you simply must go! And do see your mother at once,
and tell her what's happened. Do go; the nurse will be here any moment.'

Joan stood awkwardly beside the bed; she wanted to do something, to say
something; a lump rose in her throat, but her eyes remained dry. She
moved towards the door. Elizabeth watched her go, but at that moment she
was conscious of nothing but pain and was thankful that Joan went when
she did.



Chapter Seventeen


1


Mrs. Ogden had been waiting at the dining-room window and ran to open the
front door as Joan came down the street. The girl looked worn out and
dispirited; she walked slowly and her head was slightly bowed as she
pushed open the gate.

Mrs. Ogden, who had heard from Milly of the accident, had not intended to
remonstrate at Joan's prolonged absence. On the contrary, while she had
been waiting anxiously for her daughter's return, she had been planning
the manner in which she would welcome her, fold her in her arms; poor
child, it was such a dreadful thing for her to have seen! As the time
dragged on and Joan did not come a thousand fears had beset her. Had Joan
perhaps been burnt too? Had she fainted? What had happened, and why had
Elizabeth not let her know?

Milly's account had been vague and unsatisfactory; she had rushed home in
a panic of fear and was now in bed. Her sudden and dramatic appearance
had upset the colonel, and he too had by now retired to his room, so that
Mrs. Ogden, who had longed to go and ascertain for herself the true state
of affairs, had been compelled to remain in the house, a prey to anxiety.

At the sight of her daughter safe and sound, however, she temporarily
lapsed from tenderness. The reaction was irresistible; she felt angry
with Joan, she could have shaken her.

'Well, really!' she began irritably, 'this is a nice time to come home; I
must say you might have let me know where you were.'

Joan sighed and pushed past her gently.

'I'm so sorry,' she said, 'but you see there was so much to do. Oh, I
forgot, you haven't heard.' She paused.

'Milly has told me; at least, she has told me something; the child's been
terrified. I do think Elizabeth must be quite mad to have allowed either
of you to see such a horrible thing.'

'Elizabeth put out the fire', said Joan dully.

'Elizabeth put out the fire? What _do_ you mean?'

'She wrapped the woman in her coat and her hands got burnt.'

'Her hands got burnt? Where is she now, then?'

'At home in bed; I've just come from her.'

'Is _that_ where you've been all these hours? I see, you've been home
with Elizabeth, and you never let me know!'

'I couldn't, Mother, there was no one to send.'

'Then why didn't you come yourself? You must have known that I'd be crazy
with anxiety!'

Joan collapsed on a chair and dropped her head on her hand. She felt
utterly incapable of continuing the quarrel, it seemed too futile and
ridiculous. How could her mother have expected her to leave Elizabeth;
she felt that she should not have come home even now, she should have
stayed by her friend and refused to be driven away. She looked up, and
something in her tired young eyes smote her mother's heart; she knelt
down beside her and folded her in her arms.

'Oh, my Joan, my darling', she whispered, pressing the girl's head down
on her shoulder. 'It's only because I was so anxious, my dearest--I love
you too much, Joan.'

Joan submitted to the embrace quietly with her eyes closed; neither of
them spoke for some minutes. Mrs. Ogden stretched out her hand and
stroked the short, black hair with tremulous fingers. Her heart beat very
fast, she could feel it in her throat. Joan stirred; the gripping arm was
pressing her painfully.

Mrs. Ogden controlled herself with an effort; there was so much that she
felt she must say to Joan at that moment; the words tingled through her,
longing to become articulate. She wanted to cry out like a primitive
creature; to scream words of entreaty, of reproach, of tenderness. She
longed to humble herself to this child, beseeching her to love her and
her only, and above all not to let Elizabeth come between them. But even
as the words formed themselves in her brain she crushed them down,
ashamed of her folly.

'I hope Elizabeth was not much burnt', she forced herself to say. Joan
sat up. 'It's her hands', she answered unsteadily.

Mrs. Ogden kissed her. 'You must lie down for a little; this thing has
been a great shock, of course, and I think you've been very brave.'

Joan submitted readily enough; she was thankful to get away; she wanted
to lie on her bed in a darkened room and think, and think and think.


2


The days that followed were colourless and flat. Joan took to wandering
about the house, fidgeting obviously until the hour arrived when she
could get away to Elizabeth.

On the whole Elizabeth seemed glad of her visits, Joan thought. No doubt
she was dull, lying there alone with her hands on a pillow in front of
her. The nurse went out every afternoon, and Joan was careful to time her
visits accordingly. But it seemed to the girl that Elizabeth had changed
towards her, that far from opening up new fields of intimacy Elizabeth's
condition had set up a barrier. She was acutely conscious of this when
they were alone together. She felt that whatever they talked about now
was forced and trivial, that they might have said quite different things
to each other; then whose fault was it, hers or Elizabeth's? She decided
that it was Elizabeth's. Her hurried visits left her with a feeling of
emptiness, of dissatisfaction; she came away without having said any of
the clever and amusing things that she had so carefully prepared, with a
sense of having been terribly dull, of having bored Elizabeth.

Elizabeth assured her that the burns were healing, but she still looked
very ill, which the nurse attributed to shock. Joan began to dislike the
nurse intensely, without any adequate reason. Once Joan had taken some
flowers; she had chosen them carefully, remembering that one part of
Elizabeth loved bright flowers. It had not been very easy to find what
she wanted, and the purchase had exhausted her small stock of money. But
when she had laid them shyly on the bed Elizabeth had not looked as
radiantly pleased as she had expected; she had thanked her, of course,
and admired the flowers, but something had been lacking in her reception
of the offering; it was all very puzzling.

Mrs. Ogden said nothing; she bided her time and secretly recorded another
grudge against Elizabeth. She was pleased with a new scheme which she had
evolved, of appearing to ignore her. Acting upon this inspiration, she
carefully forbore to ask after her when Joan came home, and if, as was
usually the case, information was volunteered, Mrs. Ogden would change
the subject. Colonel Ogden was not so well, and this fact gave her an
excuse for making the daily visit to Elizabeth difficult if not
impossible. The colonel needed constant attention, and a thousand little
duties were easily created for Joan. Joan was not deceived, she saw
through the subterfuge, but could not for the life of her find any
adequate excuse for shirking the very obvious duty of helping with the
invalid.

When she was not kept busy with her father, her mother would advise her
to study. She had been in the habit of discouraging what she called
'Elizabeth's cramming system', yet now she seemed anxious that Joan
should work hard, reminding her that the examination was only two weeks
distant, and expressing anxiety as to the result. Colonel Ogden made no
secret of his preference for his younger daughter. It was Milly's company
that he wanted, and because she managed cleverly to avoid the boredom of
these daily tasks, the colonel's disappointment was vented on Joan. He
sulked and would not be comforted. At this time Mrs. Ogden's headaches
increased in frequency and intensity, and she would constantly summon
Joan to stroke her head, which latter proceeding was supposed to dispel
the pain. Joan felt no active resentment at what she recognized as a
carefully laid plot. Something of nobility in her was touched and sorry.
Sometimes, as she sat in her mother's darkened bedroom stroking the thin
temples in silent obedience, she would be conscious of a sense of shame
and pity because of the transparency of the deception practised.

In spite of Mrs. Ogden, she managed to see Elizabeth, who was getting
better fast; she was down in the study now, and Joan noticed that her
hands were only lightly bandaged. She asked to be allowed to see for
herself how they were progressing, but Elizabeth always found some
trifling excuse. However, it was cheering to know that she would soon be
back at Leaside, and Joan's spirits rose. Elizabeth seemed more natural
too when they were able to meet, and Joan decided that the queer
restraint which she had noticed in the early days of her illness had been
the outcome of the shock from which the nurse said she was suffering. She
argued that this in itself would account for what she had observed as
unusual in Elizabeth's manner. She had told her why the daily visits had
ceased to be possible, explaining the hundred little duties that had now
fallen to her share, and Elizabeth had said nothing at all. She had just
looked at Joan and then looked away, and when she did speak it had been
about something else. Joan would have liked to discuss the situation, but
Elizabeth's manner was not encouraging.

Elizabeth had told her that the servant had died of her burns; according
to the doctor it had been a hopeless case from the first, and Joan
realized that, after all, Elizabeth's courage had been in a sense wasted.
She looked at her lying so quietly on the sofa with her helpless hands on
their supporting pillow, and wondered what it was in Elizabeth that had
prompted her to do what she had done; what it was in anyone that
occasionally found expression in such sudden acts of self-sacrifice.
Elizabeth had tried to save a life at the possible loss of her own, and
yet she was not so unusual a creature so far as Joan could judge, and the
very fact that she was just an everyday person made her action all the
more interesting. She herself appeared to set no store by what she had
done; she took it for granted, as though she had seen no other
alternative, and this seemed to Joan to be in keeping with the rest of
her. Elizabeth would refuse to recognize melodrama; it did not go with
her, it was a ridiculous thing to associate with her at all. There had
been a long article in the local paper, extolling her behaviour, but when
Joan, full of pride and gratification, had shown it to her, she had only
laughed and remarked: 'What nonsense!'

But Joan had her own ideas on the subject; she neither exaggerated nor
minimized what Elizabeth had done. She saw the thing just as it was; a
brave thing, obviously the right thing to do, and she was glad that
Elizabeth should have been the person to do it. But quite apart from
this, the accident had been responsible for starting a train of thought
in the girl's mind. She had long ago decided that she wanted to make a
career, and now she knew exactly what that career should be. She wanted
to be a doctor. She knew that it was not easy and not very usual; but
that made it seem all the more desirable in her eyes. She thought very
often of Richard Benson, and was conscious of wishing that he were at
home so that she could talk the matter over with him. She was not quite
sure how Elizabeth would take her decision, and she expected opposition
from her mother and father, but she felt that Richard could and would
help her. She felt that something in his sublime confidence, in his
sublime disregard for everything and everybody, would be useful to her in
what she knew to be a crisis in her life. She scarcely glanced at her
books; the examination was imminent, but she knew that she would not
fail.


3


When at length the great moment arrived it found Joan calm and
self-possessed; she breakfasted early and took the train for a
neighbouring town in which the examination was to be held. The weather
was oppressive, the atmosphere of the crowded room stifling, seeming to
exude the tension and nervousness of her fellow competitors; yet, while
recognizing these things, she felt that they were powerless to affect
her. She glanced calmly over the examination paper that lay upon her
desk; it did not seem very formidable, and she began to write her answers
with complete assurance.

On her return home that evening she went in to see Elizabeth for a few
moments. She found her more perturbed and nervous than she could have
conceived possible. Joan reassured her as best she could and hastened on
to Leaside. Her mother also seemed anxious; something of the gravity of
the occasion appeared to have affected even Mrs. Ogden, for she
questioned her closely. Joan wondered why they lacked confidence in her,
why they seemed to take it for granted that she would have found the
examination difficult; she felt irritated that Elizabeth should have
entertained doubts. She had always expressed herself as being certain
that Joan would pass, yet now at the last moment she was childishly
nervous; perhaps her illness had something to do with it. Joan wished for
their sakes that the examination could have been completed in one day and
the result made known that first evening, but for herself she felt
indifferent. What lay ahead of her was unlikely to be much more
formidable than what she had coped with already, so why fear? She smiled
a little, thinking of Richard Benson--was she, too, growing
conceited--was she growing rather like him?



Chapter Eighteen


1


The usual time elapsed and then Joan knew she had passed her examination
with honours. There was a grudging pride in Mrs. Ogden's heart in spite
of herself, and even the colonel revived from his deep depression to
congratulate his elder daughter. Joan was happy, with that assured and
peaceful happiness that comes only to those who have attained through
personal effort; she felt now very confident about the future, capable of
almost anything. It was a red-letter day with a vengeance, for Elizabeth
was coming back to Leaside that same afternoon to take up her work again.
She would not have heard the news, and Joan rejoiced silently at the
prospect of telling her. She pictured Elizabeth's face; surely the calm
of it must break up just this once, and if it did, how would she look?
There were flowers on the schoolroom table; that was good. Mrs. Ogden had
put them there to celebrate Joan's triumph, she had said. Joan wished
that they had been put there to welcome Elizabeth back. The antagonism
between these two had never ceased to worry and distress her, not so much
on their behalf as because she herself wanted them both. At all times,
the dearest wish of her heart was that they should be reconciled, lest at
any time she should be asked to choose between them. But on this splendid
and fulfilling morning no clouds could affect her seriously.

The hours dragged; she could not swallow her lunch; at three o'clock
Elizabeth would arrive. Now it was two o'clock, now a quarter past, then
half past. Joan, pale with excitement, sat in the schoolroom and waited.
Upstairs, Milly was practising her violin; she was playing a queer little
tune, rather melancholy, very restrained, as unlike the child who played
it as a tune could well be; this struck Joan as she listened and made her
speculate. How strange people were; they were always lonely and always
strange; perhaps they knew themselves, but certainly no one else ever
knew them. There was her mother, did she really know her? And
Elizabeth--she had begun to realize that there were unexpected things
about her that took you by storm and left you feeling awkward; you could
never be quite certain of her these days. Was it only the shock of the
illness, she wondered, or was it that she was just beginning to realize
that there was an Elizabeth very different from that of the schoolroom; a
creature of moods, like herself?

Somewhere in the house a clock chimed the hour, and as it did so the
door-bell rang. Joan jumped up, she laughed aloud; how like Elizabeth to
ring just as the clock was striking, exactly like her. The schoolroom
door opened and she came in. She was a little thinner perhaps, but
otherwise the great experience seemed to have made no impression on her
outward appearance.

'Elizabeth, I've passed with honours!'

Elizabeth was midway between the door and the table; she opened her lips
as if to speak, but paused.

'I knew you would, Joan', was all she said.

Somewhere deep down in herself, Joan smiled. 'That's not what you wanted
to say', she thought. 'You wanted to say something very different.'

But she fell in with Elizabeth's mood and tried to check her own
enthusiasm. What did it matter if Elizabeth chose to play a part, she
knew what this news meant to her; she could have laughed in her face.
'But what really matters is that you've come back', she said.

'Yes, I suppose that is what really matters', replied Elizabeth, her calm
eyes meeting Joan's for an instant.

'Oh, Elizabeth, it's been too awful without you, dull and awful!'

'I know', she answered quietly.

'And suppose I'd failed you, Elizabeth, suppose I'd failed in the
examination', Joan's voice trembled. 'Suppose I had had to tell you
that!'

'I should still have been coming back.'

'Yes, I know, and that's all that really matters; only it's better as it
is, isn't it?'

'You would never fail me, Joan. I think it's not in you to fail, somehow;
in any case I don't think you'll fail me.' She hesitated--then, 'I don't
feel that we ought to fail each other, you and I.'

She took off her hat and coat and drew off her gloves with her back
turned; when she came back to the table her hands were behind her. She
sat down quickly and folded them in her lap. In the excitement of the
good news and the reunion, Joan had forgotten to ask to see her hands.
'Where's Milly?' said Elizabeth.

Joan smiled. 'Can't you hear? She's at her fiddle.'

Elizabeth looked relieved. 'Don't call her', she said, 'let me see your
examination report.' Joan fetched it and put it on the table in front of
her. For a moment or two Elizabeth studied it in silence, then she looked
up.

'It's perfectly excellent', she remarked.

In her enthusiasm, she picked up the paper to study it more closely, and
at that moment the sun came out and fell on her hands. Joan gasped, a
little cry of horror escaped her in spite of herself. Elizabeth looked
up, she blanched and hid her hands in her lap, but Joan had seen them;
they were hideously seamed and puckered with large, discoloured scars.

'Oh, Elizabeth--your hands! Your beautiful hands! You were so proud of
them--'

Joan laid her head down on the table and wept.


2


After supper that night Joan took the plunge. She had not intended doing
it so quickly, but waiting seemed useless, and, besides, she was filled
with a wild energy that rendered any action a relief. Colonel Ogden was
dozing over the evening paper; from time to time he jumped awake with a
stifled snort; as always the dining-room smelt of his pipe smoke and
stale food. At Joan's quick movement he opened his eyes very wide; he
looked like an old baby.

She began abruptly, 'Mother, I want to tell you that I'm going to study
to be a doctor.'

It was characteristic of her to get it all out at once without any
prelude. Mrs. Ogden laid down her knitting, and contrary to all
expectations did not faint; she did not even press her head, but she
smiled unpleasantly.

She said: 'Why? Because Elizabeth has burnt her hands?'

It was the wrong thing to say--a thoroughly stupid and heartless remark,
and she knew it. She would have given much for a little of the tact which
she felt instinctively to be her only weapon, but for the life of her she
could not subdue the smouldering anger that took hold of her at the
moment. She never for an instant doubted that Elizabeth was in some way
connected with this mad idea; it pleased her to think this, even while it
tormented her. The mother and daughter confronted each other; their eyes
were cold and hard.

'What's that?' said Colonel Ogden, leaning a little forward.

Joan turned to him. 'I was telling Mother that I've decided on a career.
I'm going in for medicine.'

'For _what_?'

'For medicine. Other girls have done it.'

Her father rose unsteadily to his feet; he helped himself up by the arms
of his chair. Very slowly he pointed a fat, shaking finger at his wife.

'Mary, what did I tell you, what did I tell you, Mary? This is what comes
of Henrietta's iniquitous will. My God! Did I ever think to hear a girl
child of fifteen calmly stating what she intends to do? Does she ask my
permission? No, she states that she intends to be a doctor. A doctor, my
daughter! Good God! What next?' He turned on Joan: 'You must be mad', he
told her. 'It's positively indecent--an unsexing, indecent profession for
any woman, and any woman who takes it up is indecent and unsexed. I say
it without hesitation--indecent, positively immodest!'

'Indecent, Father?'

'Yes, and immodest; it's an outrageous suggestion!'

Mrs. Ogden took up her knitting again; the needles clicked irritatingly.
Once or twice she closed her eyes, but her hands moved incessantly.

'Joan!'

 She swallowed and spoke as if under a great restraint. 'Yes,
Mother?'

'If you were a boy I would say this to you, and since you seem to have
chosen to assume an altogether ridiculous masculine role, listen to me.
There are things that a gentleman can do and things he cannot; no
gentleman can enter the medical profession, no Routledge has ever been
known to do such a thing. Our men have served their country; they have
served it gloriously, but a Routledge does not enter a middle-class
profession. I wish to keep quite calm, Joan. I can understand your having
acquired these strange ideas, for you have naturally been thrown very
much with Elizabeth and Elizabeth is--well, not quite one of us; but you
will please remember who _you_ are, and that I for one will never
tolerate your behaving other than as a member of my family. I--'

The colonel interrupted her. 'Listen to me', he thundered. In his anger
he seemed to have regained some of his old vitality. 'You listen to me,
young woman; I'll have none of this nonsense under my roof. You think, I
suppose, that your aunt has made you independent, but let me tell you
that for the next six years you're nothing of the kind. Not one penny
will I spend on any education that is likely to unsex a daughter of mine.
I'll have none of these new-fangled woman's rights ideas in my house; you
will stay at home like any other girl until such time as you get married.
You will marry; do you hear me? That's a woman's profession! A sawbones
indeed! Do you think you're a boy? Have you gone stark, staring mad?'

'No, I'm not mad,' Joan said quietly, 'but I don't think I shall marry,
Father.'

'Not marry, and why not, pray?'

She did not attempt to explain, for she herself did not know what had
prompted her.

'I can wait', she told him. 'It wouldn't be too late to begin when I'm
twenty-one.'

He opened his mouth to roar at her, but the words did not come; instead
he fell back limply in his chair. Mrs. Ogden rushed to him. Joan stood
very still; she had no impulse to help him; she felt cold and numb with
anger.

'I think you've killed your father', said Mrs. Ogden unsteadily. Joan
roused herself. She looked into her mother's working face; they stared at
each other across the prostrate man.

'No,' she said gravely, 'it's you, both of you, who are trying to kill
me.' She went and fetched brandy, and together they forced some between
the pallid lips. After a little he stirred.

'You see, he's not dead', said Joan mechanically. 'I'll go for the
doctor.'

When the doctor came he shook his head.

'How did this happen?' he inquired.

'He got angry', Mrs. Ogden told him.

'But I warned you that he mustn't be excited, that you ought not to
excite him under any circumstances. Really, Mrs. Ogden, if you do, I
won't answer for the consequences.'

'It was not _I_ who excited him', she said, and she looked at Joan. 

Joan said: 'Will he die, Doctor Thomas?' She could hear herself that her voice
was unnaturally indifferent.

The doctor looked at her in surprise. 'Not this time, perhaps; in fact,
I'm pretty sure he'll pull round this time, but it mustn't happen again.'

'No,' said Joan, 'I understand; it mustn't happen again.'

'Quite so', said the doctor dryly.




BOOK THREE


Chapter Nineteen


1


In the two years that elapsed before Joan's seventeenth birthday nothing
occurred in the nature of a change. Looking back over that time she was
surprised to find how little had happened; she had grown accustomed to
monotony, but the past two years seemed to have been more monotonous than
usual. The only outstanding event had been when she and Milly joined the
tennis club. Mrs. Ogden did not encourage her daughters to take part in
the more public local festivities, which were to a great extent shared
with people whom she considered undesirable, but in this case she had
been forced to yield to combined entreaties.

The tennis club meant less after all to Joan than she had anticipated,
though she played regularly for the sake of exercise. The members were
certainly not inspiring, nor was their game challenging to effort. They
were divided into two classes; those who played for the sake of their
livers and those who played for the sake of white flannels and
flirtation. To the former class belonged General Brooke, a boisterous
player, very choleric and invariably sending his balls into neighbouring
gardens. His weight had increased perceptibly since the colonel's
illness; perhaps because there was now no one to cause him nervous
irritation. When he played tennis, his paunch shook visibly under his
flannel shirt. The latter class was made up principally of youths and
maidens from adjacent villas. To nearly every member of this younger
generation was supposed to belong some particular stroke which formed an
ever fruitful topic for discussion and admiration. Mr. Thompson, the new
assistant at the circulating library, sprang quickly into fame through
volleying at the net. He was a mean player and had an odious trick of
just tipping the ball over, and apologizing ostentatiously when he had
done it. There was usually a great deal of noise, for not only was there
much applause and many encouraging remarks, but the players never failed
to call each score. Joan played a fairly good game, but contrary to all
expectation she never became really proficient. Milly, on the other hand,
developed a distinct talent for tennis, and she and young Mr. Thompson,
who was considered a star player, struck up a friendship, which, however,
never penetrated beyond the front door of Leaside.

At fifteen Milly was acutely conscious of her femininity. She was in all
respects a very normal girl, adoring personal adornments and distinctly
vain. The contrast between the two sisters was never more marked than at
this period; they made an incongruous couple, the younger in her soft
summer dresses, the elder in the stiff collars and ties which she
affected. In spite of all Mrs. Ogden's entreaties Joan still kept her
hair short. Of course it was considered utterly preposterous, and the
effect in evening dress was a little grotesque, but she seemed completely
to lack personal vanity. At seventeen she suggested a well set-up
stripling who had borrowed his sister's clothes.

The life of the schoolroom continued much as usual. Mrs. Ogden, now two
years older and with an extra two years of the colonel's heart and her
own nervous headaches behind her, had almost given up trying to interfere
with Joan's studies. She went in for her examinations as a matter of
course, and as a matter of course was congratulated when she did well,
but the subject of her career was never mentioned; it appeared to have
been thrust into the background by common consent. Elizabeth looked
older; at times a few new lines showed on her forehead, and the curious
placidity of her mouth was disturbed. Something very like discontent had
gathered about the firmly modelled lips.

But if Joan was given more freedom to study, she was to some extent
expected to pay for that freedom. Seabourne could be quite gay according
to its own standards; there were tennis and croquet parties in the summer
and a never-ending chain of whist drives in the winter, to say nothing of
tea parties all the year round. To these festivities Joan, now seventeen,
was expected to go, and it was not always possible to evade them, for, as
Mrs. Ogden said, it was a little hard that she should have to go
everywhere alone when she had a daughter who was nearly grown up.


2


The Loos gave a garden party at Moor Park. Poor Joan! She felt horribly
out of place, dressed for the occasion in a muslin frock, her cropped
head, crowned by a Leghorn hat, rising incongruously from the collarless
bodice. Sir Robert thought her a most unattractive young woman, but his
wife still disagreed with him. She had always admired Joan, and now the
fact that there was something distinctly unfeminine about the girl was an
added interest in her hostess's eyes. For Lady Loo, once the best woman
to hounds in a hard riding hunt, had begun to find life too restful at
Moor Park. She had awakened one day filled with the consciousness of a
kind of Indian summer into which she had drifted. Some stray gleam of
youth had shot through her, filling her with a spurious vitality that
would not for the moment be denied. And since the old physical activity
was no longer available, she turned in self-defence to mental interests,
and took up the Feminist Movement with all the courage, vigour and
disregard of consequences that had characterized her in the
hunting-field. It was a nine-days' wonder to see Lady Loo pushing her
bicycle through the High Street of Seabourne, clad in bloomers and a
Norfolk jacket, a boat-shaped hat set jauntily on her grey head. It is
doubtful whether Lady Loo had any definite ideas regarding what it was
that she hoped to attain for her sex; it certainly cannot have been
equality, for in spite of her bloomers, Sir Robert, poor man, was never
allowed to smoke his cigar in the drawing-room to the day of his death.

Lady Loo's shrewd eyes studied Joan with amusement; she took in at a
glance the short hair and the wide, flat shoulders.

'Will you ever let it grow?' she asked abruptly.

'Never', said Joan. 'It's so little trouble as it is.'

'Quite right', said her hostess. 'Now why on earth shouldn't women be
comfortable! It's high time men realized that they ain't got the sole
prerogative where comfort is concerned.' She chuckled. 'I suppose', she
remarked reflectively, 'that people think it's rather odd for a young
woman of your age to have short hair. I suppose they think it's rather
odd for an old woman like me to bicycle in bloomers; but the odd thing
about it is that they, the women I mean, should think it odd at all. It
must be that all the centuries of oppression have atrophied their brains
a little, poor dears. When they get equal rights with men, it'll make all
the difference to their outlook; they'll be able to stretch themselves.'

'Do you think so, Lady Loo?' said Mrs. Ogden. 'I should never know what
to do with that sort of liberty if I had it, and I'm sure Joan wouldn't.'

Lady Loo was not so sure, but she said: 'Well, then, she must learn.'

'I think there are many other things she had better learn first',
rejoined Mrs. Ogden tartly.

Lady Loo smiled. 'What for instance? How to get married?'

Mrs. Ogden winced. 'Well, after all,' she said, 'there are worse things
for a girl than marriage, but fortunately Joan need not think of that
unless she wants to; she's got her--' she paused--'her home.'

Lady Loo thought. 'You mean she's got you, you selfish woman.' Aloud she
said: 'Well, times are changing and mothers will have to change too, I
suppose. I hear Joan's clever; isn't she going to do something?'

Joan flushed. 'I want to', she broke in eagerly.

Mrs. Ogden drew her away and Lady Loo laughed to herself complacently.

'Oh! the new generation', she murmured. 'They're as unlike us as chalk
from cheese. That girl don't look capable of doing a quiet little job
like keeping a house or having a baby; she's not built for it mentally or
physically.'

At that moment a young man came across the lawn. 'Joan!' he called. It
was Richard Benson.

Joan turned with outstretched hands in her pleasure. 'I didn't know you
were in England', she said.

'I got back from Germany last week. It's ripping your being here today.'

He shook hands politely with Mrs. Ogden and then, as if she did not
exist, turned and drew Joan after him.

'Now then,' he began; 'I want to hear all about it.'

'All about what? There's nothing to tell.'

'Then there ought to be. Joan, what have you been doing with yourself?'

'Nothing', she answered dully, and then, quite suddenly, she proceeded to
tell him everything. She was surprised at herself, but still she went on
talking; she talked as though floodgates had been loosed, as though she
had been on a desert island for the past two years and he were the man
who had come to rescue her. He did not interrupt until she fell silent,
and then: 'It's all wrong', he said.

She stood still and faced him. 'I don't know why I told you; it can't be
helped, so there's no use in talking.'

His keen grey eyes searched her face. 'My dear, it's got to be helped;
you can't be a kind of burnt sacrifice!'

She said: 'I sometimes think we're all sacrifices one to the other,
that's what Elizabeth says when she's unhappy.'

'Then Elizabeth's growing morbid', he remarked decidedly. 'It's the
result of being bottled.'

At the old familiar phrase she laughed, but her eyes filled with tears.

'Richard', she said, 'it's utterly, utterly hopeless; they don't mean it,
poor dears, but they can't help being there, and I can't help belonging
to them or they to me. If I worry Mother, she gets a batch of nervous
headaches that would move a stone to compassion. And her cough takes
several turns for the worse. But if I worry _Father_, and make him really
angry, the doctor says he'll die of heart disease, and I know perfectly
well that he would, he's just that kind of man. What do you suggest, that
I should be a parricide?' She smiled ruefully. 'I ought to go up to
Cambridge next year, if I'm to be any good, and then to the hospitals in
London, but can you see what would happen if I were to suggest it,
especially the latter part of the programme? I don't think I'd have to
carry it out to kill my father, I think he'd die of fury at the mere
idea.'

'He'll die anyhow quite soon', said Richard quietly. 'No man can go on
indefinitely with a heart like his.'

'That may be', she agreed, 'but I can't be a contributory cause. There's
one side of me that rages at the injustice of it all and just wants to
grab at everything for itself; but there's another side, Richard, that
simply can't inflict pain, that can't bear to hurt anything, not even a
fly, because it hurts itself so much in doing it. I'm made like that; I
can't bear to hurt things, especially things that seem to lean on me.'

'I understand', he said. 'Most of us have that side somewhere; maybe it's
the better side and maybe it's only the weaker.'

'Tell me about yourself’, said Joan, changing the subject.

'Well, this is my last year at Cambridge, you know, and then the real
work begins--Joan, life's perfectly glorious!'

She looked at him with interest; he had not changed much; he was taller
and broader and blunter than ever, but the keenness in his grey eyes
reminded her still of the bright inquiring look of a young animal.

'Look here', he said impetuously, 'I'll send you some medical books;
study as well as you can until you come of age, and then--cut loose! Ask
Elizabeth to help you, she's clever enough for anything; and anyhow I
won't send things that are too difficult at first, I'll just send
something simple.'

Her eyes brightened. 'Oh, will you, Richard?'

'You bet I will. And, Joan, do come over more often, now I'm home, then
we can talk.'

'I will', she promised, and she meant it.


3


They had scarcely met for two years, for Richard had spent most of his
vacations abroad; there was little in common between him and his father.
His decision to take up medicine had shocked Mr. Benson, but he was a
just man in spite of the fact that he completely failed to understand his
younger son. He and Richard had thrashed things out, and it had been
decided that Richard's allowance should continue until he had taken his
medical degree, after which his father would make him a present of a lump
sum of money to do as he liked with, but this was to be final, and
Richard was well content. His self-confidence never failed.

He talked Joan over with his mother that evening.

'She's an awfully jolly girl', he said.

Mrs. Benson demurred at the adjective. 'Jolly is hardly the way I should
express her', she replied. 'I think she's a solemn young creature.'

'No wonder', he said hotly. 'Her life must be too awful; a mother who's
an hysteric, and a father--' He paused, finding no words adequate to
describe Colonel Ogden.

Mrs. Benson laughed. 'Oh, Richard! You never change. Don Quixote tilting
at windmills--and yet you're probably right; the girl's life must be
rather hard, poor child. But there are thousands like her, my son.'

'Millions', he corrected bitterly. 'Millions all over England! They begin
by being so young and fine, like Joan perhaps; and, Mother, how do they
end?'

'But Richard dear, I'm afraid it's the lot of women. A woman is only
complete when she finds a good husband, and those that don't find one are
never really happy. I don't believe work fulfils them; it takes children
to do that, my dear; that's nature, and you can't get beyond nature.'

'No', he said. 'You're mostly right, and yet they can't all find
husbands--and some of them don't want to', he added reflectively.

'Joan will marry', said Mrs. Benson. 'She ought to let her hair grow.' 

He burst out laughing. 'Bless you, you old darling', he exclaimed. 'It's
what's inside the head that decides those things, not what's outside it!'

She took his hand and stroked it. 'I'm glad I had you', she said. He
stooped and kissed her cheek. 

'So am I', he told her.

They wandered into the garden, arm in arm.

'It's lovely here', he said. 'But it's not for me, Mother; I don't think
lovely things were meant for me, so I must make the ugly ones beautiful
somehow.'

'My dear, you've chosen an ugly profession; and yet the healing of the
sick is beautiful.'

'I think so', he said simply.

Presently she said: 'I want to talk to you about Lawrence.'

'Fire away! You don't mean to tell me that Lawrence has been sowing
anything like wild oats? Your voice sounds so serious.'

No, of course not, you goose; can you see Lawrence knee-deep in a field
of anything but--well--the very best Patna rice?' They laughed. 'No, it's
very far from wild oats--I think he's fallen in love with Elizabeth.'

'With Elizabeth? But, good Lord! Lawrence hates clever women!'

'I know; he always said he did, and that's what makes it so astounding;
and yet I'm sure I'm right, I can see it in his eye.'

Richard whistled. 'Will she have him, do you think?'

'I don't know. Elizabeth is not an ordinary woman; sometimes I think
she's rather strange. I love her, but I don't understand her--she's not
very happy, I think.'

'Will Lawrence make her happy, Mother?'

She paused. 'Well--he'll make her comfortable', she compromised. They
laughed again.

'Poor old Lawrence', he said. 'He's the best fellow in the world, but
quite the very dullest; I can't think how you produced him, darling.'

'I can't think how I produced you!' she retorted.



Chapter Twenty


1


During the weeks that followed, Joan managed to visit the Bensons on
every available opportunity, or so it seemed to her mother. Mrs. Benson,
lavish in invitations, encouraged the intimacy between Joan and Richard,
and watched with amusement the rather pathetic and clumsy efforts of her
elder son to win Elizabeth. Mrs. Ogden searched her heart and found no
consolation. She had very little doubt that Joan and Richard were falling
in love; they were very young of course, especially Joan, but she felt
that Joan had never really been young, that she was a creature with whom
age did not count and could not be relied upon to minimize or intensify a
situation. She became retrospective, looking back into her own dim past,
recalling her own courtship and mating. The burning days of Indian
sunshine, the deep, sweet-smelling Indian nights with their melodramatic
stars, the garden parties, the balls, the picnics, and the thin young
Englishmen who had thought her beautiful; she remembered their tanned
faces, serious with new responsibilities.

She remembered the other English girls and her own sister Ann, with their
constant whispers of love and lovers, their vanities, their jealousies,
their triumphs and their heartbreaks. She, too, had been like that,
whispering of love and lovers, dreaming queer, uneasy dreams, a little
guilty, but very alluring. And then into the picture came striding James
Ogden, a square young man with a red moustache and cold twinkling blue
eyes. They had danced together, and almost any man looked his best in the
full dress uniform of the Buffs. They had ridden in the early mornings,
and James was all of a piece with his Barb, a goodly thing to behold. He
had never troubled to court her properly, she knew that now. Even then he
had just been James, always James, James for all their lives; James going
to bed, James getting up, James thinking of James all day long. No, he
had not wasted much time on courtship; he had decided very quickly that
he wanted to marry her and had done so. She remembered her wedding night;
it had not been at all like her slightly guilty dreams; it had been--she
shuddered. Thinking back now she knew that she herself, that part of her
that was composed of spirit, had been rudely shaken free, leaving behind
but a part of the whole. It had not been her night, but all James's, a
blurred and horrible experience filled with astonished repugnance.

Then their married life in the comfortable bungalow; after all, that had
had compensations, for Joan had come as a healer, as a reason, an
explanation. She had found herself promoted to a new dignity as a young
married woman and mother, the equal of the other married women, the
recipient of their confidences. Ann had married her chaplain, now a
bishop, but Ann neither gave nor received confidences, she had become too
religious. By the death of their father the two sisters had found
themselves very much alone; they were stranded in a strange, new
continent with strange, new husbands, and Mary Ogden would have given
much at that time could she have taken her secret troubles to her sister.
But Ann had discouraged her coldly, and had recommended prayer as the
only fitting preliminary to marital relations.

Then another man had come into her life, quite different from James; a
tall man with white hair and a young face. Unlike James, he took nothing
for granted; on the contrary, he was strangely humble, considering his
brilliant career. He was James's very good friend, but he fell in love
with James's wife; she knew it, and wondered whether, after all, what men
called love was as gross and stupid and distasteful as James made it. She
let him kiss her one night in the garden, but that kiss had broken the
spell for them both; they had sprung apart filled with a sense of guilt;
they were good, conventional creatures, both of them. They were not of
the stuff that guilty lovers are made of. But in their way they were
almost splendid, almost heroic, for having at one time bidden fair to
throw their prejudices to the wind, they had made of them instead a coat
of mail.

Mrs. Ogden searched her heart; it ached, but she went on prodding. What
would happen to Joan if she married--did she love Richard? Did she
know what it meant? What was her duty towards the girl, how much should
she tell her, how much did she know? She had been afraid of Joan going to
Cambridge. She laughed bitterly; what was Cambridge in comparison to
this? What was anything in comparison to the utter desolation of Joan in
love, Joan giving herself utterly to another creature! She felt weak and
powerless to stop this thing, and yet she told herself she was not quite
powerless; one thing remained to her, she could and would tell Joan the
facts of her own married life, she would keep back nothing. Yet she would
be careful to be just, she would point out that all men were not like
James, and at the same time make it clear that James was, as men go, a
good man. Was it not almost her duty to warn Joan of the sort of thing
that might happen, and to implore her to think well before she took an
irrevocable step? Yes, she told herself, it was a duty too long delayed,
a duty that must be fulfilled at once, before it was too late.


2


As Mrs. Ogden came to her momentous decision, Richard was actually
proposing to Joan. They stood together in the paddock beyond the orchard,
some colts gambolled near by. He went at it with his head down, so to
speak, in the way he had of charging at things.

He said, seizing her astonished hand: 'Joan, I know you only come here to
pick my brain about medicine and things, but I've fallen in love with
you; will you marry me?'

She left her hand in his, because she was so fond of him and because his
eyes looked a little frightened in spite of his usual self-confidence,
but she said:

'No, I can't marry you, Richard.'

He dropped her hand. 'Why can't you?' he demanded.

'Because I don't feel like that', she told him. 'I don't feel like that
about you.'

'But, Joan,' his voice was eager, 'we could do such splendid things
together; if you won't have me for myself will you have me because of the
work? I can help you to get away; I can help you to make a career. Oh,
Joan, do listen! I know I could do it; I'll be a doctor and you'll be a
doctor, we'll be partners--Joan, do say "Yes".'

She almost laughed, it struck her that it was like a nursery game of
make-believe. 'I'll be a doctor and you'll be a doctor!' It sounded so
funny; she visualized the double plate on their door front: 'Doctor
Richard Benson', and underneath: 'Doctor Joan Benson'. But she reached
again for his hand and stroked it gently as if she were soothing a little
brother whose house of bricks she had inadvertently knocked down.

'I'm not the marrying sort', she said.

'God knows what you are, then!' he burst out rudely. Then his eyes filled
with tears.

'Oh, Richard!' she implored, 'don't stop being my friend, don't refuse to
help me just because I can't give you what you want.'

Now it was his turn to laugh ruefully. 'You may not be the marrying
sort,' he said, 'but you're a real woman for all that; you look at things
from a purely feminine point of view.'

'Perhaps I do', she acquiesced. 'And that means that I'm being utterly
selfish, I suppose; but I need your friendship--can I have it?'

'Oh, I suppose so', he said with some bitterness. 'But you won't really
need it, you know, for you never mean to break away.'

She flushed. 'Don't say it!' she exclaimed. 'I forbid you to say it!'

'Well,' he told her, 'if you mean to, it's time you began to get a move
on. If you won't take me, then for God's sake take something, anything,
only don't let Seabourne take you.'


3


On the way home Joan told Elizabeth. They stopped and faced each other in
the road.

'And you said--?' Elizabeth asked.

'I said "No".' replied Joan. 'What did you think I'd say?'

'No!' said Elizabeth, and she smiled. Then, 'I wonder if you'll be
surprised to hear that I had a proposal too, last week?'

Joan opened her lips but did not speak. Elizabeth watched her.

'Yes', she said. 'I had a proposal from Lawrence. It seems to run in the
family, but mine was very impressive. I felt it carried the weight of the
whole Bank of England behind it. It sounded very safe and comfortable and
rich, I was almost tempted--' She paused.

'And what did you say, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth came a step nearer. 'I said I was too busy just now to get
married; I said I was too busy thinking of someone I cared for very much
and of how they could get free and make a life of their own.'

'You said that, Elizabeth?'

'Yes. Does it surprise you? That's what I said--so you see, Joan, you
mustn't fail me.'

Joan looked at her. She stood there, tall and neat, in the road; the dust
on her shoes seemed an impertinence, as though it had no right to blemish
the carefully polished leather. Her eyes were full of an inscrutable
expression, her lips parted a little as though about to ask a question.

If it's devotion you want,' said Joan gruffly, 'then you've got all I've
got to give.'

There was a little silence, and when Elizabeth spoke it was in her
matter-of-fact voice. She said, 'I not only want your devotion but I need
it, and I want more than that; I want your work, your independence, your
success. I want to take them so that I can give them back to you, so that
I can look at you and say, "I did this thing, I found Joan and I gave her
the best I had to give, freedom and--"' she paused, '"and happiness."'

They turned and clasped hands, walking silently home towards Seabourne.


4


Mrs. Ogden was watching from the dining-room window as she often watched
for Joan. Her pale face, peering between the lace curtains, had grown to
fill the girl with a combined sense of irritation and pity. She called
Joan into the room and closed the door. Joan knew from her mother's
manner that something was about to happen, it was full of a suppressed
excitement. Without a word she led Joan to the sofa and made her sit
beside her; she took the girl's face between her two cold hands and gazed
into her eyes.

Then she began. 'Joan, darling, I want to talk to you. I've wanted to
have a serious talk with you for some time. You're not a child any
longer, you're nearly a woman now, it seems so strange to me, for somehow
I always think of you as my little Joan. That's the way of mothers, I
suppose; they find it difficult to realize that their children can ever
grow up, but you have grown up and it's likely that you'll fall in love
some day--perhaps want to marry, and there are things that I think it my
duty to tell you--' She paused. 'Facts about life', she concluded
awkwardly.

Her conscience stirred uneasily, she felt almost afraid of what she was
about to do, but she thrust the feeling down. 'It is my duty, I'm doing
it for Joan's sake', she told herself. I'm doing it for her sake and not
for my own.'

Joan sat very still, she wondered what was coming; her mother's eyes
looked eager and shy and she was a little flushed. Mrs. Ogden began to
speak again in quick jerks, she turned her face slightly aside showing
the delicate line of her profile, her hands moved incessantly, plaiting
and unplaiting the fringed trimming on her dress.

'When I was not very much older than you, in India,' she went on, 'I was
like you, little more than a child. I was not clever as you are.I never
have been clever, my dear, but I was beautiful, Joan, really beautiful.
Do you remember, you used to think me beautiful?' The voice grew wistful
and paused, then went on without waiting for a reply. 'I had no mother to
tell me anything, and what I learnt about things I learnt from other
girls of my own age; we speculated together and came to many wrong
conclusions.' Another pause. 'About the facts of life, I mean--about men
and marriage and--what it all meant. Men made love to me, dearest, they
admired your mother in those days, but their lovemaking was restrained
and respectful, as the lovemaking of a man should be to a young unmarried
girl, and--' she hesitated, 'it told me nothing--nothing, Joan, of what
was to come. Then I met your father. I met James, and he proposed to me
and I married him. He was good looking then, in a way--at least I thought
so--and a wonderful horseman, and that appealed to me, as you may guess,
for we Routledges have always been fond of horses. Well, dear, that's
what I want to tell you about--not the horses, my married life, I mean.'

She went on quickly now, the words tumbled over each other, her voice
gathered volume, growing sharp and resentful. As she spoke she felt
overwhelmed with the relief that came with this crude recital of long
hidden miseries. Joan watched her, astonished; watched the refined worn
face, the delicate, peevish lips that were uttering such incongruous
things. Something of her mother's sense of outrage entered into her as
she listened, filling her with resentment and pity for this handicapped
and utterly self-centred creature, for whom the natural laws had worked
so unpropitiously. She thought bitterly of her father, breathing heavily
on his pillows upstairs, of his lack of imagination, his legally
sanctified self-indulgence, his masterful yet stupid mind, but she only
said:

'Why have you told me all this, dearest?'

Mrs. Ogden took her hand. 'Why have I told you? Oh, Joan, because of
Richard Benson, because I think you're falling in love for the first
time.'

Joan looked at her in amazement. 'You think that?' she asked. 

'Well, isn't it so? Joan, tell me quickly, isn't it so?'

'No,' said Joan emphatically, 'it isn't. Richard asked me to marry him
to-day and I refused.'

Mrs. Ogden burst into tears; her weeping was loud and unrestrained; she
hid her head on the girl's shoulder. 'Oh, Joan--my Joan--' she sobbed.
'Oh, Joan, I am so glad!'

Now she did not care what she said, the years of unwilling restraint
melted away; she clung to the girl fiercely, possessively, murmuring
words of endearment. Joan took her in her arms and rocked her like a
child. 'There, there!' she whispered.

Presently Mrs. Ogden dried her eyes, her face was ugly from weeping.
'It's the thought of losing you', she gasped. 'I can't face the thought
of that--and other things; you know what I mean, the thought of your
being maltreated by a man, the thought that it might happen to you as it
happened to me. You see, you've always seemed to make up for it all, what
I missed in James I more than found in you. I know I'm tiresome, my
darling, I know I'm not strong and that I often worry you, but, oh
Joan, if you only knew how much I love you. I've wanted to tell you so,
often, but it didn't seem right somehow, but you do understand, don't
you, my darling? Joan, say you understand, say you love me.'

Somewhere in the back of Joan's mind came a faint echo: did she love her?
But it died almost immediately.

'You poor, poor darling,' she said, 'of course I understand, and love
you.'



Chapter Twenty-One


1


Richard was faithful to his promise. Large brown paper parcels of books
began to arrive from Cambridge; Joan and Elizabeth studied them together.
The weariness of the days was gone for Joan; with the advent of her
medical books she grew confident once more, she felt her foot already on
the first rung of the ladder.

At this time Elizabeth strove for Joan as she had never striven before.
Joan did not guess how often her friend sat up into the small hours of
the morning struggling to master some knotty point in their new studies.
How she wrestled with anatomy, with bones and muscles and circulatory
systems, with lobes and hemispheres and convolutions, until she began to
wonder how it could be possible that anyone retained health and sanity,
considering the delicate and complicated nature of the instrument upon
which they depended. A good many of the books dealt with diseases of the
nerves and brain, and Joan found them more fascinating and interesting
than she had imagined possible. Poor Elizabeth had some ado to keep pace
with her pupil's enthusiasm. She strained every nerve to understand and
be helpful; she joined a library in London and started a line of private
study, the better to fit her for the task in hand. She gloried in the
difficulties to be surmounted, and felt that this work was invested with
a peculiar significance, almost a sanctity. It was as though she were
helping Joan towards the Holy Grail of freedom.

At the end of six months Elizabeth paused for breath, and together the
two students reviewed their efforts. They were very well pleased with
themselves and congratulated each other. But in spite of all this
Elizabeth was dissatisfied and apprehensive at moments. She told herself
that she was growing fanciful, nervy, that she was hipped about life and
particularly about Joan, that she needed a change, that she had been
overworking recklessly; she even consulted their text books with a view
to personal application, only to throw them aside with a scornful
exclamation. Theories, all theories! Those theories might conceivably
apply to other people, to Mrs. Ogden for instance, but not to Elizabeth
Rodney! She was not of the stuff in which neurosis thrives; she was just
a plain, practical woman taking a plain, practical interest in, and
having a plain, practical affection for, a brilliant pupil. But her state
of mental unrest increased until it became almost physical--at last she
broke--

'Joan!' she exclaimed irritably one day, flinging a text book on to a
chair, 'what, in Heaven's name, are we doing this for?'

Joan looked up in bewilderment. 'Out of scientific interest I suppose',
she ventured.

'Interest!' Elizabeth's eyes gleamed angrily. 'Interest! Scientific
interest--yes, that's it! I'm sitting up half the night out of mere
scientific interest in a subject that I personally don't care a button
about, except inasmuch as it affects your future. I'm trying to take a
scientific interest in the disgusting organs of our disgusting bodies, to
learn how and why they act, or rather how and why they don't act, to read
patiently and sympathetically about a lot of abnormal freaks, who as far
as I can see ought all to be shut up in a lunatic asylum, to understand
and condone the physical and mental impulses of hysterics, and I'm doing
all this out of scientific interest! Scientific interest! That's why I'm
slaving as I never slaved at Cambridge--out of pure scientific interest!
Well, I tell you, you're wrong! I don't like medical books and I
particularly dislike neurotic people, but it's been enough for me that
you do like all this, that you feel that you want to be a doctor and make
good in that way. It's not out of scientific interest that I've done it,
Joan; it's because of you and your career, it's because I'm mad for you
to have a future--I've been so from the first, I think--I don't care what
you do if only you do something and do it well, if only you're not thrown
on the ash-heap--' She paused.

Joan felt afraid. Through all the turbulent nonsense of Elizabeth's
tirade she discerned an undercurrent of serious import. It was
disconcerting to find that Elizabeth could rage, but it was not that
which frightened her, but rather a sudden new feeling of responsibility
towards Elizabeth, different in quality from anything that had gone
before. She became suddenly aware that she could make or mar not only
herself but Elizabeth, that Elizabeth had taken root in her and would
blossom or fade according to the sustenance she could provide.

'It's you, _you_, Joan!' she was saying. 'Are you serious, are you going
to break away in the end, or is it--am I--going to be all wasted?'

'You mean, am I going to leave Seabourne?'

'Yes, that is what I mean; are you going to make good?'

'Good God!' Joan exclaimed bitterly. 'How can I?'

'You can and you must. Haven't you any character? Have you no personality
worthy to express itself apart from Seabourne. No will to help yourself
with? Are you going to remain in this rut all the rest of your life, or
at least until you're too old to care, simply because you've not got the
courage to break through a few threads of ridiculous sentiment? Why it's
not even sentiment, it's sentimentality!' Her voice died down and
faltered: 'Joan, for my sake--'

They stared at each other, wide-eyed at their own emotions. They realized
that all in a moment they had turned a sharp corner and come face to face
with a crisis, that there was now no going back, that they must go
forward together or each one alone. For a long time neither spoke, then
Joan said quietly:

'You think that I'm able to do as you wish, that I'm able to break
through what you call "the threads of sentimentality", and you despise me
in your heart for hesitating; but if you knew how these threads eat into
my flesh you might despise me less for enduring them.'

Elizabeth stretched out a scarred hand and touched Joan timidly; her
anger had left her as suddenly as it had come, she felt humble and
lonely.

'You see,' she said, 'I'm a woman who has made nothing of life myself and
I know the bitterness that comes over one at times, the awful emptiness;
but if I can see you happy it won't matter ever again. I don't want any
triumphs myself; not now; I only want them for you. I want to sit in the
sun and warmth of your success like a lizard on an Italian wall; I want
positively to bask. It's not a very energetic programme, perhaps, and I
never thought I'd live to feel that way about anything; but that's what
it's come to, you see, my dear, and you can't have it in you to leave me
shivering in the cold!'

Joan clung to the firm, marred hand like a drowning man to a spar; she
felt at that moment that she could never let it go. In her terror lest
the hand should some day not be there, she grew pale and trembled. She
looked into Elizabeth's troubled eyes.

'What do you want of me?' she asked.

'If I told you, would you be afraid?'

'No, I'm only afraid of your taking your hand away.'

'Then listen. I want you to work as we are doing until you come of age,
then I want you to go to Cambridge, as I've often told you, but after
that--I want you to make a home with me.'

'Elizabeth!'

'Yes. I have a little money put by, not very much, but enough, and I want
you to come to London and live there with me. We could jog along somehow;
I'd get a job while you studied at the hospital; we'd have a little flat
together, and be free and very happy. I've wanted to say this to you for
some time and to-day somehow it's all come out; it had to get said sooner
or later. Joan, I can't stand Seabourne for many years, and yet as long
as you're here I can't get away. I tell you there are times when I could
dash myself to bits on the respectable mud-coloured wall of our house,
when I could lay a trail of gunpowder down the middle of the High Street
and set light to the fuse, when I could hurl Ralph's woollen socks in his
face and pull down the plush curtains and stamp on them, when I could
throw all the things out of the study window, one by one, at the heads of
the people on the parade, when I could--oh, Joan!--when I could swim a
long way out to sea and never come back; I nearly did that once, and then
I thought of you and I came back, and here I am. But how long will you
make me stay here, Joan? How long shall I have to endure the sight of you
growing weaker instead of stronger, as you mature, and some day perhaps
the sight of you growing old and empty and utterly meaningless, with all
the life and blood sucked out of you by this detestable place, when we
might get free and hustle along with life, when we might be purposeful
and tired and happy because we mean something.'

Joan got up.

'Listen', she said. 'When I'm twenty-one I will go to Cambridge and after
that I shall come to you in London; we'll find a little flat and be very
happy, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth looked straight into her eyes with a cold, searching scrutiny.
'Is that a promise, Joan?'

'Yes, it's a promise.'


2


Joan's medical studies went almost unnoticed by Mrs. Ogden, whose mind
was occupied with more pressing worries. Milly had suddenly announced her
intention of going to the Royal College of Music, and her master had
backed her up; there had been a scene, recriminations. The colonel had
put his foot down and had not on this occasion had a heart attack, so
that the scene had been painfully prolonged. In the end he had said quite
bluntly that there was no money for anything of the kind. This had
surprised Mrs. Ogden and had made her feel vaguely uncomfortable; she
began to remember certain documents that James had asked her to sign
lately; he had told her that they concerned the investment of the
children's money. And then, to her who knew him so well, it was all too
evident that something was preying on his mind; she fancied that recently
there had been more in his morose silences than could be accounted for by
ill-health. He had grown very old, she thought.

Milly had not stormed, nor did she appear to have gone through much
mental perturbation; in fact she had smiled pleasantly in her father's
face. It never occurred to her for one moment that she would not get her
own way in the end; it hardly seemed worth worrying about. She did not
believe that there was no money to send her to the College; she told Joan
afterwards that this sort of remark was on a par with all the rest of the
lies their father told when he did not wish to be opposed.

'After all,' she said, 'there is my hundred and fifty a year, and of
course, I should take a scholarship. It's only Father's usual tactics,
and it's all on a par with him to like the feeling of holding on to my
money as long as he can; he thinks it gives him the whip hand. But I'm
going up to the College, and I'm not going to wait until I'm twenty-one.
I shall manage it, you'll see; I'm not in the least worried about it
really; if necessary I shall run away.'

But Mrs. Ogden was not so confident; she questioned her husband timidly.

'James, dear--of course I understand your not wishing Milly to go to the
College at her age; she's only a child, that in itself is a reason
against it; but to say there's no money! Surely, dear--'

He cut her short. 'At the moment there is not', he said gruffly. 

'James!'

'Oh, what is it, Mary?'

'I ought to understand. Am I spending too much on the household? Surely I
haven't bought Milly too many new clothes, have I, dear? I thought
perhaps that hundred and fifty a year of hers would have gone a long way
towards helping her expenses in London; they say she'd certainly take a
scholarship, and there's no doubt she has very real talent. With Joan
it's different. I don't consider that she has very marked talent in any
particular direction; she's an all round good student and that's all; but
Milly is certainly rather remarkable in her playing, don't you think so?'

The colonel did not answer for a full minute, and when he spoke a
pleading note had come into his voice, a note so unusual that his wife
glanced quickly at him.

'Mary, it's these doctors and things, this damned long illness of mine
has been the very deuce. If it hadn't been for that money of Henrietta's
I don't know where we'd have been, but I'm not the man to spend my
children's money on myself.' He drew himself up painfully and his face
flushed. 'No, Mary, if Henrietta _wished_ to make me feel that I'd no
right to it, I wouldn't touch a penny that I couldn't pay back. If the
damned unsisterly old devil is able to understand anything at all in the
next world, I hope she understands that!'

'But, James, have we borrowed some of the children's money?'

'A little', he admitted. 'We've had to. After all, the children would be
in a bad way without their father. I consider it my duty to keep myself
alive for their sakes. Where would you all be without me?' he concluded
with some return of his old manner.

Mrs. Ogden looked at him; he was a very broken man. A faint pity stirred
in her, a faint sense of shock as though there were something indecent in
what she was now permitted to see. She had been little better than this
man's slave for over twenty years, the victim of his lusts, his whims,
his tempers and his delicate heart, the peg on which to hang his
disappointments, the doormat for him to kick out of the way in his rages.
She had lost youth and hope and love in his ungrateful service; at times
she almost hated him, and yet, now that the hand was weakening on the
reins, now that she realized that she could, if she would, take the bit
between her teeth, she jibbed like a frightened mare; it was too late.
There had been something in his almost humble half-explanation that
brought his illness home to her as no fits of irritability or silence
could have done.

'Never mind, my dear,' she said gently; 'you've done everything for the
best.'

He looked at her with frightened eyes and edged nearer.

'I've done what I hope was for the best', he said uncertainly. 'Some of
their money we had to take to keep going. I didn't want to tell you that
funds were pretty low. I suppose I ought to have told you not to spend so
much on clothes, but--oh, well, damn it all! A man has his pride, and I
hated to have to touch a penny of Henrietta's money after the way she
treated me; God knows I hated it! It must come all right, though. I've
changed some of the investments and put the money into an excellent
concern that I heard about quite by chance through Jack Hicks--a mine out
in Rhodesia--they say there's a fortune in it. Mary, listen and do try to
understand; it's a new mine and it's not paying yet, that's why we're
short at the moment, but it ought to begin paying next year, and by the
time the children come of age it'll be in full swing. It paid for a bit,
jolly well, of course, otherwise I wouldn't have put the money into it,
but I hear they're sinking a new shaft or something, and can't afford any
dividends just at present. It's only a matter of time, a few months
perhaps. There can't be a question about it's being all right; I realize
that from what Jack told me. And then, as you know, Mary, I always fancy
myself as a bit of an expert in mineralogy. From what I can see the
children ought to get a fortune out of it; don't suppose they'll be
grateful to me though, not likely, these days. Of course you understand,
Mary, that I didn't depend entirely upon my own opinion. If it had been
our own money I shouldn't have hesitated, for I've never found anyone
whose opinion I'd rather take than my own on financial matters; but being
the children's money I went into it thoroughly with Hicks, and between us
we came to the conclusion that as an investment it's as safe as the Bank
of England.'

'I see', said Mrs. Ogden, trying to keep all traces of doubt from her
voice. She did not see in the least and, moreover, gold mines in Rhodesia
reminded her unpleasantly of some of her poor brother Henry's ventures,
but her head felt suddenly too tired to argue. 'Shall I economize?' she
asked him.

He hesitated. 'Well, perhaps--' His voice shook a little, then he pulled
himself together. 'No, certainly not', he said loudly. 'Go on just as you
are, there's no reason whatever to economize in reasonable expenditure.
Of course this crack-brained scheme of Milly's is quite another matter;
there's no money for that sort of thing and never will be, as I told Joan
pretty plainly when she began expounding her theories of a career. But in
all reasonable matters go on just the same.'

He reached out his hand and took hers, patting it affectionately. 'I
think I'll go to bed', he said. 'I feel rather tired.'


3


Milly had hit upon a course of action diametrically opposed to her real
feelings, which were placid and a little amused. She intended to go to
London, and it occurred to her that the best way to achieve this might be
to make herself dispensable; at all events it was worth trying. She
therefore sulked and wept to an abnormal extent, and took care that these
fits of weeping should nor go unobserved. Whenever possible she shut
herself up with her violin, ignoring the hours of meals. Her family
became alarmed and put a tray outside her door, which she mostly left
untouched, having provided herself with a surreptitious supply of rolls
and potted meat. Her father looked at her glumly, but through his angry
eyes shone an uneasy, almost wistful expression, when forced to meet his
favourite daughter face to face. At the end of a fortnight he could bear
it no longer and began to make tentative efforts at reconciliation.

'That's a pretty dress you have on, Milly; going out to give the
neighbours a treat?'

Milly turned away. 'No', she said shortly.

'Coming out with your old father this morning, when he goes for a drive
in his perambulator? It's devilish dull with no one to talk to.'

She stared at him coldly. 'I have my violin to practise; I'm sorry I
can't come.'

The colonel winced; she was more than a match for him now, this impudent
daughter of his, perhaps because he loved her as deeply as he was capable
of loving. Once, when she had been unusually rude, snubbing his advances
with the sharp cruelty of youth, Joan had seen his bulgy eyes fill with
tears. She waited until they were alone together and then she turned on
her sister.

'Beast!' she said emphatically.

'I don't know what you mean', retorted Milly.

'I think you're a perfect beast to treat Father the way you do lately.
Anyone can see he's terribly ill and you speak to him as though he were a
dog.'

'Well, he's treated me as though I were a dog no,--worse; he'd give a dog
a sweet biscuit any day, but he denies me the only thing I long for, that
I'm ready to work for--my music. It's my whole life!' she added
melodramatically.

'Rot!' said Joan. 'That's no reason for speaking to him as you do; I
can't stand it, it makes me feel sick and cold; his eyes were full of
tears to-day.'

'Well, my eyes are almost blind from crying--I cry all night long.'

'That's a whopper, you snored all last night.'

'Oh!' exclaimed Milly, angrily. 'How I do _hate_ sharing a room with you,
there's no privacy!'

Joan laughed rudely. 'You are an ass, Milly, you try so hard to be grown
up and you're nothing but a silly kid.'

'Perhaps if you knew all,' Milly hinted darkly, 'you'd realize that some
people think me grown up.'

'Do they?'

'Yes, Mr. Thompson does, if you must know.'

'I didn't say I wanted to know.'

'Well, Mr. Thompson doesn't treat me as though I were a little girl; he's
very attentive.'

'Do you mean the young man at the library, who smells of hair oil?'

'I mean Mr. Thompson, the tennis player.'

'Oh, yes,' said Joan vaguely, 'I remember now, he does play tennis.'

'Considering he's the best player we've got,' said Milly flushing, 'it's
not at all likely that you didn't know who I meant.'

'Oh, shut up!' Joan exclaimed, growing suddenly impatient. 'I don't care
what Mr. Thompson thinks of you. I think you're a beast!'

Joan tried clumsily to make it up to her father; she tore herself away
from her books to walk beside his bath chair, but all to no avail, he was
silent and depressed. He wanted Milly, with her fair curls and doll's
eyes, not this gawky elder daughter with her shorn black locks. He
fretted for Milly; they all saw how it was with him. Milly saw too, but
continued to treat him with open dislike. In the midst of this welter of
illness and misery Mrs. Ogden flapped like a bird with a broken wing; she
reproached Milly, but not as one having authority. All day long the
sounds of a violin could be heard all over the house; it was almost as
though Milly played loudest when the colonel went upstairs to rest; he
would doze, and start up suddenly, wide awake.

'What's that? What's that?' And then, 'Oh, it's Milly; will the child
never think of anyone but herself!'

The doctor came more often. 'I'm not satisfied', he told Mrs. Ogden. 'I
think you must take him to London for the Nauheim cure. It's too late to
go to the place itself, but he can do the cure in a nursing home.'

Mrs. Ogden looked worried. 'He'll never go', she said.

'He must, I'm afraid', the doctor replied firmly. 'But before moving him
we must have Sir Thomas Robinson down in consultation.'

They told the colonel together. 'I absolutely refuse!' he began. 'There's
no money for that sort of nonsense. Good God, man, do you think I'm a
millionaire!'

The doctor said soothingly: 'I'll speak to Sir Thomas and ask him to
reduce his fee, he's a charming fellow.'

'I won't have him!' thundered the colonel. 'I refuse to be ordered about
like a child.'

Doctor Thomas motioned Mrs. Ogden to leave the room; presently he called
her in again.

'He's promised to be good', he told her with an assumption of
playfulness.

The colonel was sitting very upright in his chair, his face was paler
than usual but his little moustache bristled angrily above his parted
lips.

'Well, I must be off’, said the doctor, hastily picking up his hat.


4


Mary Ogden laid her hand on her husband's arm. 'I'm sorry if this annoys
you', she said.

For a moment he did not speak, then he cleared his throat and swallowed.
'He tells me, Mary, that it's my one chance of life, always providing
that the specialist man consents to my being moved.' She was silent,
finding nothing to say. He had died so many times already in all but the
final act, that now, if Death had moved one step nearer, she scarcely
perceived that it was so. Her mind was busy with a thousand pressing
problems, the money difficulty, how to manage about her girls, whom to
leave in charge of the house if she went to London, and where she herself
would stay; it would all costs very great deal. She thought aloud. 'It
will cost a lot--' she murmured.

He turned towards her. 'They say it's my only chance', he repeated, and
there was something pathetic in his eyes.

She pulled herself up. 'Of course, my dear, we must go, no matter what it
costs. And as it's certain to cure you the money will be well spent.'

He looked at her doubtfully. 'Not certain; there's just a chance, Thomas
said. And after all, Mary, I suppose a man has a right to take his last
chance? I'm not so very old, you know.'

He seemed to expect her to say something; she felt his need but could not
fill it.

'Not so very old,' he repeated, 'and I come of a good sound stock; my
father lived to be eighty-five. Not that I aspire to that, my dear, but
still, a few years more, just to look after you and the children? What?'

His lips were shaking. 'Mary!' he broke out suddenly; 'damn it all, Mary,
I've got to go if my time has come, but do for God's sake show a little
feeling, say something; it's positively unnatural the way you take it!'



Chapter Twenty-Two


1


Joan took two letters from her jacket pocket; one was from Elizabeth, the
other from her mother. Aunt Ann had come to the rescue in the end, and
Joan and Milly had been sent to the palace during Mrs Ogden's absence in
London; they had been there now for three weeks. There was peace up here
in the large, airy bedroom; peace from her dominating, patronizing aunt,
peace from the kind, but talkative bishop.

She looked at the letters, undecided as to which to open first. Her
fingers itched to open Elizabeth's, but she put it resolutely aside. Mrs.
Ogden wrote from the family hotel in South Kensington where she had taken
up her abode.

'My own darling Joan', she began. 'At last I hear from you; I had begun
to fear that you must be ill. Surely a postcard every day would not be
too much trouble for you to send? If only you knew how I watch and wait
for news, you would be more regular in writing, my darling. As for me, I
write this from my bed. I am utterly worn out and suppose that my general
condition is accountable for my having caught a cold which has gone down
on to my chest. The doctor says I must be really careful, and my heart
has been troubling me again lately, especially at night when I try to
sleep on my left side. I have had the strangest sensation in my throat
and all down my left arm. However, I must get up as soon as I feel able
to stand, as your poor father has no one else to look after him. I do not
myself think the nurses are very kind or the food at all good at the
Nursing Home; I spoke to the matron about it just before I went to bed,
she is an odious person and was inclined to be offensive. This hotel is
very uncomfortable, my bed hard and unsympathetic in the extreme, and the
servants far from attentive. I rang my bell six times yesterday before
anybody came near me. I shall have to complain. I cannot attempt to eat
their eggs, which is very trying as I am kept on a light diet. Your
father varies from day to day. The doctor assures me that he is quite
satisfied with his progress, but I think the cure altogether too severe.
Oh! my Joan, how cruel it seems that there was not enough money for you
to come to London with me. I feel that if only I could have you to talk
things over with, I could bear it so much better. I am such a child in
moments of anxiety, and my loneliness is terrible; I sit alone all the
evenings and think of you and of how much I need you--as never before! I
feel utterly lost; your poor, little mother in this big, big city, and
her Joan so far away and probably not thinking of her mother at all,
probably forgetting--'


'Oh, I can't read any more now!' Joan thought desperately. 'It's always
the same, she's never contented, and always sees the darkest side of
things, and I know there's nothing really wrong with her heart or her
chest!'

Her poor mother, so small and so inadequate! Why did her mother love her
so much? She oughtn't to love her so much; it was all wrong. Or if the
love was there, then it ought to be a patient, waiting, unchanging love;
the kind that went with making up the fire and sitting behind the
tea-tray awaiting your return. The love that wrote and told you that you
were expected home for Christmas, and that when you arrived your
favourite pudding would be there to greet you. Yes, that was the ideal
mother-love; it never waned, but it never exacted. It was a beautiful
thing, all of one restful colour. It belonged to rooms full of old
furniture and bowls of potpourri; it went with gentle, blue-veined hands
and a soft, old voice. It was a love that kissed you quietly on both
cheeks, too sure of itself to need undue demonstration. She sighed, and
thrusting the letter away, opened Elizabeth's. She smiled a little as she
saw the small, neat handwriting. Elizabeth always left a margin down one
side of the paper.


'Well, Joan, I have been waiting to answer your last letter until I had
something of interest to write about. Will you be surprised to hear that
I have been up to London? Do you remember my telling you about a friend
of mine at Cambridge, Jane Carruthers? Well, I heard from her the other
day after having lost sight of her for ages. She has some job or another
at the Royal College of Science and lives in London permanently now, and
as in her letter she asked me to look her up, I struck while the iron was
hot and went straight off, via a cheap excursion.

'But it's really about her service flat that I want to tell you. She
lives in a large building called "Working Women's Flats" or
"Gentlewomen's Dwellings", I can't remember which, but I prefer the
former, in a street just off one of those dignified old squares in
Bloomsbury. The street itself is not dignified, but if you walk just to
the end of it you are surrounded at once by wonderful Georgian houses
with spreading fanlights and link extinguishers and wide shallow
front-door steps. They are the most quietly friendly houses in the world,
Joan; a little reserved, but then we should like them all the better for
that.

'Jane's flat is on the fourth floor, so that instead of seeing the
undignified street you catch a glimpse of the trees in the square, and of
course there are plenty of roofs and chimney-pots, always interesting
things, or so I think. Even in London the roofs have character. It's the
most delightful little flat imaginable, two bedrooms with a study in
between. She has made it very homey with books and brown walls, and she
tells me that it's cheap as rents go in London; only it's difficult to
get in there at all.

'Oh, Joan, it's the very place for you and me. I felt it the moment I set
foot inside the front door; don't think me an idiot, but I felt excited,
I felt about fifteen. I could see us established in a flat like Jane's.
The whole time I was trying to discuss tea and cakes I found myself
planning a new arrangement of Jane's bookshelves, the better to hold your
books and mine--I should have put the writing-table in the other corner
of the room too. I murmured something to this effect just as Jane was
expounding some new scientific theory she has hit upon; she looked a
little surprised and rather pained, I thought.

'I asked her about my chances of finding a job in London. I thought I
might as well, as it will be very necessary, and she says she thinks that
I ought to be able to get quite a decently paid post, with my fairly good
Cambridge record.

'And now for a confession. I have put my name down for one of the flats.
I saw the agent and he says that there's a long waiting list, but we can
afford to wait for nearly three years, you and I, and if one is available
before that, we must beg, borrow or steal in order to secure it. We might
buy some odds and ends of furniture on the hire system and let the place
furnished until we want it for ourselves. Jane says the flats let like
wildfire, but I think I should try to live there while you were at
Cambridge. I'm sure I could make both ends meet, and then you could come
there for part of your vacations. But if that were not possible it
wouldn't matter much for I could always put up at Ralph's.

'I am beginning to laugh all by myself as I write, for I can see your
astonished face. Oh, yes, I know, I have acted on impulse, but it's
glorious to be reckless of consequences sometimes, and then think how
un-Seabournish I have been. Can you hear Ralph's consternation if I told
him?--which I shan't. I think we will keep it as a secret between us, at
all events for the present. Never cross a Seabourne bridge until you come
to it.

'Joan, I am missing you.'


2


Joan folded the letter and sat staring in front of her. So it had really
come very near; her freedom, her life with Elizabeth. The flat would have
a study with shelves for their books; they would go out of it every
morning to jostle with crowds, to work and grow tired; and come back to
it every evening to talk, study, or perhaps to rest. They would cook
their own supper, or sometimes go out to one of the little Italian
restaurants that Richard had told her about, queer little restaurants
with sanded floors and coarse linen table-cloths. Sometimes, when they
could afford it, they would go to cheap seats at the theatre or to the
gallery at Covent Garden, and afterwards find their way home in the 'bus,
or the Underground, discussing what they had seen and heard. They would
unlock their front door with their own latch-key and hang up their coats
in their own front hall; then they would laugh and joke together over the
old days in Seabourne, which, by then, would seem very far away.

'Joan!' came her aunt's voice with a note of irritation; 'Joan, I asked
you to do those flowers for the drawing-room. Have you forgotten?'



Chapter Twenty-Three


1


Mrs. Ogden wrote yet again: 'I brought your father home yesterday; the
doctor thought he would be better in his own house. God knows if the cure
has helped him at all, I do not think so; but, Joan, my dearest, come
back to me at once, for I am so longing to see you.'

Joan looked into the fire, she did not care whether her father was better
or worse, and now she did not care whether she cared or not. From
Seabourne to Blumfield, from Blumfield to Seabourne! And that was just
life; not a tragedy at all, only life, a simple and monotonous business.

As their train drew in to the familiar station the tall figure of
Elizabeth was waiting on the platform. She was standing very still, like
a statue of Fate; a porter, pushing a truck of luggage towards her,
called out: 'By your leave, Miss!' and seemed to expect her to move; but
the tall, impassive figure appeared not to notice him and he pulled up
abruptly, skirting it as best he could.

Milly said; 'Hallo, Elizabeth!' and then: 'What a beastly station this
is. I hate the bare flower-beds and the cockle-shells!'

They collected the luggage, Elizabeth unusually silent. It was not until
they drove off in the fly that she began to talk.

'Joan, your father is very ill; Mrs. Ogden told me to meet you, she
couldn't leave him to-day. He's no better for the cure--they say he's
worse; but you'll judge for yourself when you see him.'

They bumped down the High Street and on to the esplanade. A weak, watery
sunshine played over the sea and the asphalt. Walking stiffly, with his
hands behind his back, General Brooke was taking the air. A smell of
seaweed and dried fish came in through the open windows and mingled with
the pungent, musty smell of the fly. The cliffs that circled the bay
looked white and spectral, and far away they could just discern the
chimneys of Glory Point, sticking up in a fold of green. Joan roused
herself from a deadly lethargy that had been creeping over her.

'How is Mother?' she asked.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. 'Just the same', she said. 'Very
worried about your father, of course, but just the same as usual.' She
was staring at Joan with hard, anxious eyes, her lips a little
compressed.

'I'm glad you've come back, Joan, because--' She did not finish her
sentence, and the cab drew up at Leaside.

They got out, tugging at their bags. Milly rang the bell impatiently.
Elizabeth pulled Joan back.

'Look here,' she said in a low voice, 'I'm not coming in, but,
Joan--remember your promise to me.' And before Joan could answer she had
turned and walked quickly away.


2


Mrs. Ogden met them in the hall; her eyes were red. She flung her arms
around Joan's neck and began to cry again.

'Your poor father, he's very ill. Oh, Joan, it's been so terrible all
alone in London without a soul to speak to or to appeal to! You don't
know what I've been through; don't leave me again, I couldn't bear it!'

Joan pushed her gently into the dining-room; it was all in confusion,
with the remnants of luncheon still on the table. 'Don't cry, dear', she
said. 'Try to tell me what has happened.'

Mrs. Ogden dried her eyes, clinging to Joan's hand the while. Her soft
greyish hair was untidy, escaping from the net. 'The cure was too severe
for him; he ought never to have gone to London; he didn't want to go and
they forced him, the brutes! He got worse and they sent him home two days
ago; they said he was quite fit to travel and had better get home, but he
wasn't fit to travel--that's the way they get rid of their
responsibilities. And the nurses at that home were inhuman devils. I told
them so; he hated them all. He seemed better yesterday, but this morning
he fainted, and when the doctor came he put him to bed. He's there now,
and oh, Joan, he's groaning! They say he's not in pain, but of course he
must be, and sometimes he knows me, and sometimes he's delirious and
thinks he's back in India.'

'Come upstairs', said Joan drearily. 'I want to see him.'

The familiar bedroom was not familiar any longer; it looked strange and
austere as Joan entered. The blinds were down, flapping in the draught
from the windows. A large fire blazing in the grate added to the sense of
something important and portentous that hung about the place. On the bed
lay a strange figure; someone whom Joan felt she had never seen before.
Its face was unnaturally pale and shrunken and so were the wandering
hands extended on the coverlet. This stranger moaned incessantly, and
turned his head from side to side, his eyes were open and blank.

Joan took one of the wandering hands in hers: 'Father!' she said softly.

He looked through her and beyond, breathing with an effort.

A quiet tap came on the door and the nurse, hastily summoned from the
Cottage Hospital, came in. She was a pink-faced, competent-looking girl,
and wore her cloak and bonnet. She took in the situation at a glance.

'I'll just take off my things,' she said, 'and be back in a minute.'

Presently the doctor came again. He said very little, and pressing Mrs.
Ogden's limp hand, departed. The nurse, now in charge, had rendered the
bedroom still more unfamiliar, with her temperature chart, and a table
covered with a clean white towel, upon which she had set out strange
little appliances that they did not know the use of. When she spoke she
did so in a loud whisper, glancing ever and anon towards the figure on
the bed. Her cuffs creaked and so did her shoes. A smell of disinfectant
was everywhere; they wondered what it was, it was unfriendly, but no one
dared to question this empress ruling over the kingdom of Death.

The colonel belonged to her now; they all felt it, and submitted without
a protest. He was hers to do as she pleased with, to turn in the bed or
to leave in discomfort, to raise up or lay down. She it was who moistened
his lips with cotton wool, soaked in a solution of her own making.
Sometimes she opened his mouth and moistened his tongue as well. He lay
there utterly helpless and unable to protest, while she subjected him to
countless necessary indignities. Her trained hands, hard and deft,
permitted of no resistance, doing their work quietly and without emotion.
It seemed horrible to Joan to see him brought so low, but she, like the
rest of household, stood back respectfully, bowing to the realization
that only three beings had any control over her father now: the doctor,
the nurse--and Death.

Just before he died, on the afternoon of the fifth day, he knew his wife
and called her: 'Mary!' His voice was unexpectedly loud. She went and put
her arms round him.

'Mary!'

'Yes, James?'

'I'm going to die--it's funny my going to die--wish I knew more about
it.'

'Hush, dearest, don't talk.'

'Mary.'

'Yes, James?'

'Sorry--if I've been hard on you--but you see--'

'Hush, my dear, you mustn't try to talk.'

But the colonel had ceased to try to do anything any more in this world.



Chapter Twenty-Four


1


They buried him in the prim cemetery which had somehow taken upon itself
the likeness of Seabourne, holding as it did so many of the late
occupants of Seabourne's bath chairs and shelters. Everyone attended the
funeral. Admiral Bourne, General Brooke wearing a top hat, the despised
bank manager, Ralph Rodney, in fact all the members of the club, and most
of the local tradespeople. Sir Robert and Lady Loo sent a handsome
wreath, but Mr. and Mrs. Benson came in person.

Colonel Ogden had never been really liked in his lifetime; an ignorant
and over-bearing man at best. But now that he was a corpse he had for the
time being attained a new importance, almost a popularity, in the eyes of
Seabourne. His death had provided an excitement, something to do,
something to talk about. The four days of his final illness had been more
interesting than usual, in consequence of the possibility of tragedy.
People would not have admitted it even to themselves, but had he
recovered they would have felt flat; it would have been an anticlimax.

It was not until the funeral had been over for a week that Mrs. Ogden
could be persuaded to think of ways and means. At first she had given way
to a grief so uncontrollable that no one had dared to mention the family
solicitor. But now there were bills to be paid and plans to be made for
the future, and at last Joan persuaded her mother to write to the firm in
London who had attended to Colonel Ogden's affairs.

When the quiet man in a frock coat came down to Leaside, Joan was present
at the interview, which was short and to the point. The point being that
there was very little left of the three hundred a year that should have
been hers and Milly's. The quiet man made a deprecating gesture,
explaining that, against his firm's advice, the colonel had persisted in
changing the trust investments. The firm had refused to act for him in
this, it seemed, whereupon he had flown into a rage and acted without
them. They had inquired at the bank, on Mrs. Ogden's authority, and had
discovered that the bulk of the trust moneys had been put into a mine
which was paying nothing at present and seemed unlikely ever to pay
again. But Mrs. Ogden must surely be aware of this, as she was the
co-trustee? Had she not had papers to sign for the sale of securities and
so on? Ah, yes, of course, she naturally did not like to question her
husband's judgment--just signed whatever he told her to; still--she
should have been more cautious, she should have insisted upon knowing
what was being done. But then ladies were proverbially ignorant of such
things. Well, well, it was very sad, very distressing; there would be her
pension, of course, and about fifty pounds a year left of the trust
moneys--No, not more, unfortunately, but that fifty pounds came from a
sound investment, thank goodness. The two young ladies would have
twenty-five pounds a year each; that was better than nothing, still--

They thanked him, and when he had gone sat looking at each other
helplessly.

Joan said: 'This is the end for Milly and me, now we shall never get
away.'

Her own words astonished her, they were so cruel; she had not meant to
think aloud. Mrs. Ogden burst into tears. 'Oh, James, James!' she sobbed
hysterically; 'listen to her, she wants to get away! Oh, what _shall_ I
do, now that you've left me; what shall I do, what shall I do?'

'Stop crying, Mother, I'm sorry I said that, only you see--but don't
let's talk now, by this evening we shall both feel more able to decide
things.'

She left the room, closing the door quietly, and snatching up a hat went
out of the house. A black anger was slowly surging up in her, anger and a
feeling of desperation. What had they done to her and her sister, the
over-bearing, self-willed father and this weak, inadequate mother with her
exaggerated grief? For now that the colonel was dead Mrs. Ogden elected
to mourn him as though he had been the love of her life; she gave herself
up to an orgy of sorrow that permitted of no interruption. It had puzzled
Joan, remembering as she did the things her mother had told her. Through
it all her mother could not bear to have her out of her sight for an
instant, it was as though she craved her as an audience. She thought of
all this as she strode along, the fine drizzle soaking her shoulders.

It was not so much for herself that she cared as for Milly, and above all
for Elizabeth; how could she ever tell Elizabeth the truth, that now
there would be no money for Cambridge or for their little flat in London?
But, yes, it was for herself that she cared too. Oh, horribly,
desperately she cared for herself. She clenched her hands in her pockets,
a pain almost physical possessed her; she could not give it up like this,
all in a moment. She realized as never before how much that future with
Elizabeth had meant to her, and now it had been snatched away. What would
she do, what could she do? Nothing, if her mother would not help her to
get free--and of course she would not; she could not even if she would;
she was poor, poor, poor, they all were, poorer than they had ever been.
What would Milly do now? What would Elizabeth do? Milly would rage, she
would metaphorically stamp on their father's grave. And Elizabeth?


2


Elizabeth was alone in the schoolroom when Joan got back. As she came in,
pale and drenched with rain, Elizabeth held out her hand. 'I've been
waiting for you; come here, Joan.'

Joan took the proffered hand and pressed it.

'Joan, I know what it is you want to tell me, I've known for some time.'

'You know--but how?'

'My dear, all Seabourne knows that your father had been speculating
before he died. Do you think there's ever anything that all Seabourne
doesn't know? I heard something about it from Ralph; he told me.'

Joan snatched her hand away, she spoke bitterly: 'All Seabourne knew and
you knew, it seems; I see--only Milly and I were kept in the dark!'

'Don't be angry. What was the good of making--you unhappy before it was
absolutely necessary; surely you know soon enough as it is?'

'But I don't understand, Elizabeth; do you realize what this means to you
and me?'

'You mean that now you have no money you can't go to Cambridge?'

'Yes, Cambridge, but above all the flat. I was thinking of our plans for
our life together.'

'Go up and change and then we'll talk', said Elizabeth quietly. 'You're
wet through.'

Joan obeyed.


3


'And now', Elizabeth began, when Joan, wrapped in a dressing-gown, had
sunk into a chair. 'Let's thrash this thing out from clue to earring. How
much has he left you?'

'Twenty-five pounds a year each.'

Elizabeth considered. 'It might be done', she said. 'With care and
scraping, I think it might be done, providing of course you take a
scholarship, which you can do. You remember I told you that I could get a
job in London? Well, I'm more sure of that now than I was when I wrote,
I'm practically certain it can be managed. Don't interrupt, please. This
is my plan: you will go to Cambridge when you're twenty-one and I shall
take the flat. If it's available sooner we'll let it. While you're at
Cambridge I shall find a P.G. That oughtn't to be difficult, and the
little money that I've saved will go to help with Cambridge. Oh, don't
argue, you can pay me back when you get into harness. And there's another
thing I never told you; I have a relation from whom I must inherit
something, a most disagreeable relation of my father's who can't help
leaving me his little all, because it's entailed. Well, I propose to
raise a loan on my expectations, "borrowing on reversion" is what they
call it, I think, and with that loan we're going to make a doctor of you,
so you see it's all arranged.'

Joan stared at her, bewildered. 'But, Elizabeth, I could never pay you
back, perhaps.'

'Oh, well,' said Elizabeth laughing; 'then you'll have to work for me,
you may even have to keep me in my old age.'

Joan began to cry, with the suddenness of a child; she cried openly, not
troubling to hide her face.

'Oh, for God's sake, Joan, don't do that!'

'It's you', sobbed Joan, choking. 'It's you--just you.'

Elizabeth got up, she hesitated and then went to the door, she did not
look at Joan.

'Think it over', she said.


4


Mrs. Ogden's hands fluttered helplessly over the litter of papers that
lay among the plates on the half-cleared supper table; the eyes that she
raised to Joan were vague.

'Can you make all this out?' she said drearily. 'I shall never be able to
understand legal terms.'

Joan picked up a letter and read it through. 'There's your small life
interest under grandpapa Ogden's will, and then there'll be your pension,
Mother, but it's very little, I'm afraid; we shall obviously have to
leave this house.'

Mrs. Ogden shook her head. 'I can't do that', she said, with an
unexpected note of firmness in her voice. 'Where could I go and pay less
rent than I do here? Only thirty-five pounds a year.'

'But you see, dear, there are other expenses, servants and light and
coal.' Joan spoke patiently. 'And then the rates and taxes; a tiny flat
in London would cost so much less to run.'

'How can you suggest London to me now, after all I went through there
with my James's illness?' Her lips began to tremble. 'I should never be
able to face the noise and the dirt and the fearful climate, with my
heart as it is. You're cruel, Joan.'

'But, Mother, we have to face things as they are.'

'I can't', said Mrs. Ogden faintly. 'I'm too ill.'

Joan sighed. 'You must, darling; you can't stay here, you haven't got the
money, we none of us have now. It'll be all right, truly it will, if
you'll let me help to straighten things out.'

A sly, stubborn expression came over Mrs. Ogden's face; she wiped the
tears from her eyes and tucked away her handkerchief. 'Tell me exactly
what I have got', she asked quietly.

Joan told her.

'And then there's the fifty pounds a year, dearest, that your poor father
saved from the wreck; surely with that as well we can get on here quite
comfortably.'

Joan dropped the letter, something seemed to turn very cold inside her.
Even that, then! She meant to take even that from them. 'But, Mother,
there's Milly's future and--and mine', she finished lamely.

Mrs. Ogden flushed. 'I don't understand you', she said.

'Oh, Mother, don't make it all so terribly difficult, you know what I
mean; you know quite well that Milly and I want to work for our living.
We shall need the little he's left us if we're ever to make good; it's
bad enough, God knows, but we might manage somehow. Oh, Mother, dear!
won't you be reasonable?'

Mrs. Ogden's mouth tightened. 'I see,' she said; 'you and Milly wish to
leave home, to leave me now that I have no one else to care for me. You
want to hide me away in a tenement house, while you two lead the life
that seems amusing to you. This home is to be broken up and I am to go to
London--my health doesn't matter. Well, I suppose I'd be better dead and
then you'd be rid of the trouble of me. Your father must be turning in
his grave, I should think, feeling as he did about your ridiculous
notions. And what a father he was, devoted to you both; he killed himself
working and striving to make money for you, and this is the gratitude he
gets.' She began to sob convulsively. 'Oh, James!' she wailed. 'James,
James, why did you ever leave me!'

Joan got up. 'Stop it!' she said harshly. 'Stop it at once, Mother. You
know you're unjust and that you're not telling the truth, and as for my
father, he had--Oh, never mind, I won't say it, but stop crying and
listen to me. Milly and I are young, we've got all our lives before us
and we're unhappy here, don't you understand? We are not happy, we want
to go out into the world and do something; we must, I tell you, we can't
stay here and rot. It's our right to go and no one has any business to
stop us; you least of all, who brought us into the world. Did we ask to
be born? No, you and Father had us for your own pleasure. Very well,
then, now you must let us go for ours; it's your duty to help us because
you are our mother and we need your help. If you won't help us we shall
go just the same, because we must, because this thing is stronger than we
are, but--'

Mrs. Ogden clutched at Joan's hand, she dragged her to her, kissing her
again and again. 'You fool!' she said passionately. 'Can't you understand
that it's not Milly I care about, or the money, but you; will you never
see that I love you more than anything else in the world?'




BOOK FOUR



Chapter Twenty-Five


1


The two years that elapsed after Colonel Ogden's death were years of
monotonous uncertainty. There was no charm about this uncertainty, no
spirit of possible high adventure raised it from the level of Seabourne;
like everything else that came under the spell of the place, it was dull.
Mrs. Ogden had sunk into a deep depression, which expressed itself in the
wearing of melodramatic widow's weeds; when she roused herself now it was
usually to be irritable. There was a servant less in the house, for they
could no longer afford to keep a house-parlourmaid, and things had already
begun to look dingy and ill cared for. The overworked generals provided a
certain periodical variety by leaving at a moment's notice, for Mrs.
Ogden was fast developing the nagging habit, and spent hours every day in
examining the work that had been left undone. And then there was the
money. Always a difficult problem, it had now become acute. Released from
the domestic tyranny of her husband, Mrs. Ogden lapsed into partial
invalidism. She scarcely did more than worry along somehow. The books
went unchecked and sometimes unpaid, and in consequence the tradespeople
were less respectful in their manner, or so she imagined.

Elizabeth still crammed Joan, but for this she received no payment, and
they studied at Ralph Rodney's house during his office hours. In his
plush-hung study, beneath the portrait of Uncle John grown old, they sat
and worked and made plans; sometimes they were happy and sometimes
inexplicably sad. Elizabeth knew that Mrs. Ogden hated her, had always
hated her with the stubborn hatred of a weak nature. In the old days she
had not cared, except inasmuch as it might separate her from Joan, but
now she had become acutely sensitive to the atmosphere of antagonism that
she met at Leaside. It had begun to depress her, while at the same time
her will rose up to meet the emergency; it was 'pull Devil, pull baker'
more than ever before. Between these two passionately determined women
stood Joan, miserable and young, longing for things to come to a head,
for something that she felt ought to happen; she didn't know what. She
was conscious of a sense of emptiness, of unfulfilment; she was sleeping
badly again, tormented by dreams that were only half remembered, the
shadow of which haunted her throughout the day. She longed for peace;
when she was away from Elizabeth she was restless until they met again,
yet when they were together now their companionship was spoilt by Joan's
consciousness of her mother's disapproval. Elizabeth had swift gusts of
anger now that came up suddenly like a thunderstorm; she, too, was
changing, breaking a little under the strain. These two had begun to act
as an irritant on each other, and the hours of study would be interrupted
by quarrels that had no particular beginning or end, and reconciliations
that were only partial because so much seemed to be left unsaid.

Joan became scrupulously neat; she found relief in grooming herself. Her
hair no longer tumbled over her forehead, but was parted and brushed till
it shone, and she took an unconscionable time over her ties and the
polishing of her brown shoes. If she had had the money, she would
certainly have bought silk stockings to match her ties, a pair for every
new tie. The more unhappy she felt the more care did she lavish on her
appearance; it was a kind of bravado, a subtle revenge for some nameless
injustice that fate had inflicted on her. Elizabeth secretly approved the
change, but was silent; in vain did Joan wait for words of approbation;
they never came. She longed for praise, with a childish desire that
Elizabeth should admire her. Elizabeth did admire her, but a new
perverseness that had sprung up in her lately made her refrain from
saying so.

Events were moving slowly, but all the more surely for that, perhaps.
Less than a year now and Joan would be of age, and then what? The
unspoken question looked out of Elizabeth's eyes. Joan saw it there; it
seemed to materialize and stand between them. They could not evade the
hungry, restless thing; it made them feel self-conscious and afraid of
each other.

It was summer now and still Mrs. Ogden wore her heavy mourning; she
looked frailer than ever in the long crêpe veil, and her pathetic eyes
seemed to have grown dim with too much weeping. Seabourne elected to pity
her, and looked askance at Joan. Not that Mrs. Ogden ever accused her
daughter of heartlessness; she only implied it, together with her own
maternal devotion. People thought her a helpless little woman, worthy of
better treatment at the hands of that queer, cranky girl of hers. They
began to talk at Joan rather than to her.


2


The loss of her money had had an entirely unexpected effect on Milly, who
had not raged after all, but had just smiled disagreeably. 'I knew he'd
do something devilish,' she said, 'and how like him to die and leave us
to bear the brunt.'

If she fretted she did so silently, taking no one into her confidence; it
was curiously unlike the old Milly. At eighteen she was beautiful, with
the doll-like beauty that would some day become distressing, the beauty
that would never weather pleasantly.

Her little violin master had wrung his hands at the news of her
misfortune; to him the disaster meant the end of his hopes, the end of a
life-long ambition. Tears had stood in his eyes when Milly told him what
had happened; he had put his arm around her, thinking that she must be in
need of consolation, but she had flung away from him with a laugh.

Mrs. Ogden behaved as though her younger daughter were nonexistent, and
Elizabeth, though she saw that all was very far from well, had become
absorbed in her own troubles and held her peace. Joan on the other hand,
watched her sister with increasing apprehension; she felt that this
unnatural calm could not go on.

In the circumstances, it was too foreign to Milly's nature, an alien and
unwholesome thing that might some day give place to a whirlwind. Milly
still played her violin, but lately there was something defiant, almost
cruel, in her playing; she played now because she must and not because
she wanted to. She appeared to have grown calmly frivolous, but there was
no joy in her frivolity, or so it seemed to Joan; it was premeditated.
The society of Seabourne welcomed her advent with enthusiasm; it found
her bright and amusing. Her principal pleasure was now lawn tennis, which
absorbed her during the summer months; she was bidding fair to become a
star player, and she and Mr. Thompson of the circulating library vied
with each other in amiable competition.

Mr. Thompson was sleeker than ever, and slightly impertinent in his
manner, Joan thought; his hair shone and his flannels were immaculate.
'No, reely now, Miss Milly, reely now!' he protested, failing to take her
service after an exaggerated effort. It became quite usual for him to see
her home in the evenings, carrying her racket confidentially under his
arm.

Joan said: 'I can't understand you, Milly; why on earth do you treat that
bounder as if he were one of us?'

But Milly only smiled and held her peace.

She seemed to spend hours every Saturday afternoon at Mr. Dodds'. 'He's
teaching me some new German music', she told Joan, when questioned.

Milly had become a great letter writer; she was always writing letters
these days, and always receiving them. She made a practice of collecting
her post before the family came down to breakfast, slipping out of the
bedroom on any transparent pretext.

But gradually a subtle change began to come over Milly; some of the
bravado left her, its place being taken by a queer resentful desire to
please; it was almost as though she were frightened. She offered to run
errands for Joan, but was quick to take offence if her offer was refused.
She was no longer so secretive either, and seemed to welcome occasions
for confidential talks. When they were in bed at nights she tossed and
complained of sleeplessness; she was constantly hinting at some secret
that she would gladly divulge if pressed. But Joan did not press her; she
was growing sick of Milly.

One morning it happened that Joan herself went early to the letterbox;
Milly had overslept, and was in her bath. Among some circulars and a few
bills, there was a letter addressed to 'Miss Ogden' in a neat clerical
hand. She opened it and read, turning white with anger as she did so.

The letter was fulsome in its details, leaving nothing to the
imagination. So this was how Milly spent her Saturday afternoons! Not in
learning new music with innocent little Mr. Dodds, but hiding guiltily in
an old sand-pit on the downs, with Mr. Thompson of the circulating
library. Indulging herself in vulgar sensuality like any kitchen-maid
courting disaster. Here then was the explanation of the man's
impertinence, of her sister's new-found desire to propitiate; this then
was Milly's revenge for her wrong, this low intrigue with a common
tradesman in their own town. She tore upstairs with the letter in her
hand. Milly was only half dressed and looked round in surprise as the
door burst open.

Joan held the letter out towards her. 'This!' she panted. 'This beastly
thing!'

Milly saw the handwriting and turned pale. 'How dare you open my letters,
Joan?'

'_I_ open your letters? Look at the envelope; he forgot to put your
Christian name; it came addressed to me.'

Milly snatched the letter away. 'You beast!' she said furiously, 'you
cad! you needn't have read it all through.'

'I didn't read it all through, but I read enough to know what you've been
doing. Good God! You--you common little brute!'

Milly turned and faced her; her eyes were wild but resolute, like an
animal's at bay. 'Go on!' she said, 'go on, Joan, call me anything you
like, but at the same time suppose you try to realize that I'm also a
human being. Do you imagine that I really mind your knowing about Jack
and me? I don't care! I've wanted to tell you scores of times. Yes, we do
meet each other in the sand-pit every Saturday, and he makes love to me
and I like it; do you hear? I enjoy it; I like being kissed and all the
rest. I love Jack because he gives me what I want; if he's common I don't
care, he's all I've got or am ever likely to get. You stand there calling
me names and putting on your high and mighty air as though I were some
low creature that had defiled you; and why? Only because I'm natural and
you're not. You're a freak and I'm just a normal woman. I like men; they
mean a lot to me, and there aren't so many men in Seabourne that a girl
can afford to pick and choose. How am I going to find the sort of man you
would approve of in Seabourne; tell me that? And where's the harm? Lots
of other girls like men too, but they go to dances and things and meet
what you, I suppose, would call gentlemen. But it's all one; they do very
much what Jack and I have done, only you don't know it, you with your
books and your doctoring and your Elizabeth! Well, if I'd had a chance
given me to meet your precious gentlemen, perhaps I'd be engaged to be
married by now, instead of having to be satisfied with Jack in a
sand-pit.' She began to laugh hysterically. 'Jack in a sand-pit, how
funny it sounds; Jack in a sand-pit!' She stopped suddenly and stared
into Joan's eyes. 'Listen,' she said seriously, 'listen, you queer
creature; haven't you learnt anything from all your medical books? Don't
you know that some people's natures are like mine, and that they can't
help giving way sometimes to their impulses; and after all, Joan, where's
the harm; tell me that? Where's the harm to anyone in what Jack and I
have done? Perhaps I'll marry him--he wants me to--but meanwhile where's
the harm in our being happy, even if it is in a sand-pit on Saturday
afternoons?'

Joan looked at her in amazement. This was Milly, beside whom she had
slept for years; this was her sister, talking like some abandoned woman,
quite without shame, glorying in her lapse. This was the real Milly; all
the others had been unreal, this was the natural Milly. Something in her
own thoughts made her pause. Natural, yes, natural. This was Milly
upholding the nature she had inherited, fighting for its pleasures, its
gratifications; Milly was only being natural, being herself: Were other
people like that when they were themselves? Was that why a housemaid they
had had years ago had left, because she was going to have a baby? Had she,
too, been just natural? And what was being natural? Was it being like
Milly, or like the housemaid with her sin great and heavy within her?
What gave people these impulses which they would not or could not resist?
Was it nature working on them for her own ends? Milly and the housemaid,
she coupled them together in her mind. They were both human beings and
what they had done was very human, too; very pitiful and sordid, like
most human happenings.

She looked at her sister where she stood half dressed, her head drooping
a little now, her cheeks flushed. She was so thin. It was touching the
way her thin arms hung down from the short sleeves of her vest; they were
like young twigs waiting to complete their growth. Seen like this there
was so little of Milly to upbraid, she looked so childish. Yet she was
not childish; she was wiser than Joan, she had probed into some secret.
How funny!

'Come here,' Joan said unsteadily; 'come here to me, Milly.'

Milly went to her, hiding her head on her shoulder. She began to cry.
'Joan listen, I didn't mean half I said just now, all the beastly, coarse
things, I didn't mean any of them. I know it's wrong, it's awful--and
I've been so horribly ashamed--only I couldn't help it. I just couldn't
help it!'

Joan thought quickly; she knew instinctively that her moment had come. It
was now or never with Milly.

'Do you want to marry him?' she asked quietly.

Milly looked up, a little smile trembling over her tear-stained face. 'Of
course not', she said. 'Would you want to marry Jack?'

'Well, then, look here; do you still want to go to the Royal College
or have you lost all interest in your fiddle?'

'Lost interest? Why, I want it more than anything on earth; you know I
do.'

'Right!' said Joan; 'then you shall go. I'll speak to Mother to-morrow.'




Chapter Twenty-Six


1


It's no good, Mother', said Joan firmly. 'Things like this can I happen,
they do happen; it's _human_ nature, I suppose.'

'It's not my idea of human nature', Mrs. Ogden replied in a trembling
voice.

'Well, in any case it seems to have been Milly's nature, and the point is
now that she ought to be sent to London.'

'To think,' Mrs. Ogden burst out suddenly, 'to think that a daughter of
mine could stoop to a vulgar intrigue with a common young man in a shop!
Could--oh! I simply can't bring myself to say it--but could--well, go to
such lengths that he ought to marry her. It's too horrible! It's on a par
with our servant Rose, years ago; that was the milkman, and now it's my
own flesh and blood--a Routledge!'

Joan sighed impatiently. 'Good Lord! Mother, what does it matter who it
is, a Routledge or a Rose Smith, it's all the same impulse.'

Mrs. Ogden winced. 'Please, _please_; surely there's no need to be so
coarse, Joan?'

'I'm not coarse, Mother. Life may be, but I'm not; I'm just looking
things squarely in the face. It seems to me that people have different
temperaments. Some are pure because they can't help it, and some are
impure because they can't help it. Milly likes men too much, and I like
them too little, but here we are, we're your daughters, Routledges if you
like, and all you can do is to make the best of it. It's horribly hard on
you, Mother, but the only way that I see out of it for Milly is for her
to go to the College. She'll probably forget this miserable business when
she has her music again.' She paused.

Mrs. Ogden voiced a sudden, fearful thought. 'Joan,' she said faintly,
'will there--is there going to be a child?'

'No', said Joan. 'I don't think you need fear that, from what Milly tells
me.'

Mrs. Ogden fell back in her chair, 'I think I'm going to faint', she
whispered, wiping her lips with trembling fingers. Joan went to her and,
lifting her bodily, sat down with her mother on her knee. 'You can't
faint', she told her with the ghost of a smile. 'We've no time for
fainting, dear; we must go into the accounts and see where the money's to
come from.'


2


Milly took her scholarship and went to London. As the train moved slowly
from the platform, Joan had an overwhelming sense of something that
mattered. Was it Milly's departure? Perhaps. Milly's face had looked very
small and young peering from the window of the third-class carriage, it
had stirred Joan's protective instinct; yet her sister had smiled and
waved happily, filled with joy at her new-found independence. But
something had happened that did really matter, there was a change at
last; change for Milly, it must be that Milly had got out of the cage.
Why was Milly free while she, Joan, remained a prisoner? Was it because
Milly was heartless, a callous egoist? Milly did not submit, she took the
bit between her teeth and went at her own pace no matter who pulled on
the reins. And her own pace had led her not to destruction, as by all the
laws of morality it should have done, but to the actual goal of her
heart's desire; surely this was immoral, somehow?

Milly's letters were full of enthusiasm. She wrote:


'I can't begin to tell you, Joan, how ripping it all is up here. I like
Alexandra House; some of the others kick at the rules, but I don't mind
them. Good Lord! After Leaside it seems Paradise to me. And I'm going
ahead with my playing; I'm in the College orchestra, which is jolly good,
I think; of course it's only a students' orchestra, but it's splendid
practice. The students are quite good sorts, I've made one or two friends
already. I never tell a soul about Jack; you said not to and I'm being
cautious, for once. He keeps on writing, but I don't answer; what's the
good? I hope he'll soon leave Seabourne, as it will be so awkward to have
him there when the holidays come. By the way, he says he's going to try
to get work in London, but don't worry, I shan't see him if he does;
that's all over and I'm very busy.'


It had worked better than Joan had dared to hope. Milly, absorbed in her
music, had apparently submerged the other side of her nature, at all
events for the time being. Joan could not help thinking of herself as a
benefactress, a very present help in trouble. She had saved the
situation, and perhaps her sister, and yet she felt discontented. No
clouds of glory trailed for her, there was no spiritual uplift; she was
conscious of nothing but a great restlessness that swept over her like a
wind.

She would soon be of age; Elizabeth never let her forget this, for
Elizabeth was restless too. She urged and drove to work; once she had
held Joan back, but now she thrust her on and on. They slaved like two
creatures possessed, working well on into the evenings. If Ralph turned
them out of his study they went upstairs to Elizabeth's bedroom; work,
always work and more work. On Saturday afternoons they tore themselves
away from their books, and tired and dispirited walked slowly up to the
Downs and sat there, looking out to sea.

Elizabeth said once: 'You were little when I first knew you, Joan.' And
Joan answered: 'Yes, I was little then.'

It seemed as though they had uttered a momentous statement, they quailed
at the solemnity of their own words. It was like that now; their
overstrained nerves tanged sharply to every commonplace.

'Next year', said Elizabeth thoughtfully.

'Next year', Joan repeated with a sinking heart.

'I'm growing old, Joan, but you'll make me young again.'

And Joan's eyes filled with tears. 'You're not old; don't say things like
that, Elizabeth!'

'Oh, yes, I shall be old quite soon, and so we mustn't wait too long.
Joan, I can't wait much longer.'

She turned her tired eyes on Joan. 'Good God!' she said passionately,
'I've waited long enough.'

And Mrs. Ogden complained. She always complained now; about her health,
her house, the servant, her daughters. She was indefinitely ill, never
quite normal, yet the doctor came and pronounced her to be sound. She
complained of feeling lonely because Joan left her so much, pointing out
that even their evenings together were broken into by the prolonged hours
of study. She cried a good deal, and when she cried the evidences of it
remained with her for hours; her eyes were becoming permanently
red-rimmed. She said that she cried nearly every night in bed.

Elizabeth, far beyond being able to control her feelings, now expressed
open dislike of her. 'A selfish, hysterical woman', she called her; Joan
winced, but remained silent, and alone with her mother was forced in turn
to listen to elaborate tirades against Elizabeth. That was the way they
spent their short evenings now, in bickering about Elizabeth. Mrs. Ogden
said that she was a thief, a thief who had stolen her child from her, and
occasionally Joan's self-control would go with alarming suddenness and a
scene would follow, deplorably undignified and all quite futile. It would
end by Mrs. Ogden going slowly upstairs, clinging to the banister,
probably to cry herself to sleep, while Joan, her head buried in her
hands, sat on far into the night.



Chapter Twenty-Seven


1


On Joan's twenty-first birthday it poured with rain. She woke early,
conscious of a sound that she could not place for a moment, the sound of
a gutter overflowing on to the leads outside her window. She got up and
looked out through the streaming panes. The view was almost completely
hidden by mist, and her room felt cold with the first approach of autumn.
She dressed and went down to breakfast, to find Mrs. Ogden already behind
the coffee-pot.

Her mother looked up, smiling. 'Many happy returns of the day', she said.

There were two parcels and two letters on Joan's plate. She opened the
parcels first; one contained a writing-case, from her mother, the other a
book, from Milly. Her letters were from Richard and Elizabeth. She
recognized Elizabeth's writing on the unusually large envelope, and
something prompted her to open Richard's letter first.

He wrote:


'This is to congratulate you on coming of age, that is if there be cause
for congratulation, which, my dear, rests entirely with you. I hope, I
believe, that now at last you have made up your mind to strike out for
yourself; this is your moment, and I entreat you to seize it.'


The letter ended:


'Joan, for the fourth time, please marry me!'


Joan laughed quietly as she folded this epistle and opened the long
envelope addressed in Elizabeth's hand. It contained no letter of any
kind, only a legal document; the lease of the flat in Bloomsbury.


2


She found Elizabeth in Ralph's study, writing letters. As she came in
Elizabeth got up and took both her hands. 'My dear', she said, and kissed
her.

Joan sat down. 'So you've done it!' was all she found to say.

'You mean the flat? Yes, it's my birthday present to you--aren't you
pleased, Joan?'

'Elizabeth,' Joan tried to speak quietly, 'you shouldn't have done this
until we'd talked things over again; when did you sign the lease?'

Elizabeth stiffened. 'That's not the point', she said quickly. 'The point
is what do you mean about talking things over again? Our plans were
decided long ago.'

Joan faltered. 'Don't get angry, Elizabeth, only listen; I don't know how
to say it, you paralyse me, I'm afraid of you!'

'Afraid of _me_?'

'Yes, of you; terribly, horribly afraid of you and of myself Elizabeth,
it's my mother; I don't see how I can leave her, now that Milly's gone.
Wait; you've no idea how helpless she is. She seems ill and we never keep
a servant, these days--what would she do all alone in the house? She
depends so much on me; why, since Father's death she can't even keep the
tradesmen's books in order, and with no one to look after her I think
she'd ruin herself, she seems to have lost all idea about money. We must
wait just a little longer in any case, say a year. Elizabeth, don't look
like that! Perhaps she'll pull herself together, I don't know; all I know
is that I can't come now--' She paused, catching her breath.

Elizabeth had come close and was standing over her, looking down with
inscrutable eyes. 'Her eyes look like the sea in a mist', Joan thought
helplessly, reverting to the old habit of drawing comparisons. But
Elizabeth was speaking in a calm, cold voice.

'I see', she was saying. 'You've changed your mind. You don't want to
come and live with me, after all; perhaps the idea is distasteful to you?
Of course we should be dirt poor.'

Joan sprang up, shaking with anger. 'You know you're lying!' she said.

Elizabeth smiled. 'Am I? Oh no, I don't think so, Joan. It's all quite
clear, surely. I've been a fool, that's all; only I think it would have
been better, worthier, to have been frank with me from the first. I will
not wait a year, or a month, for that matter; either you come now or I
shall go.'

'Go, Elizabeth?'

'Yes, go!'

'But where?'

'Anywhere, so long as it's away from Seabourne and you. I've had enough
of this existence; even you, Joan, are not worth it. I'm going before
it's too late to go, before I get so deeply rooted that I can't free
myself.'

Joan said dully: 'If you leave me, I think--I don't think I can bear it.'

'Then come with me.'

'No, I can't'

'You can. You're quite free except in your own imagination, and your
mother is not ill except in hers. You'd find that she'd get on all right
once she hadn't got you as an audience; naturally she'll depend on you as
long as you let her. But I say to you, don't let her, she's little short
of a vampire! Well, let her vampire herself for a change, she shall
certainly not vampire me; if you choose to be drained dry, I do not. Good
God! You and she between you are enough to drive anyone insane!'

Joan faced her with bright, desperate eyes. 'Elizabeth, you can't go
away, I need you too much.'

'I must go away.'

'But I tell you I can't let you go!'

'Oh, yes, you can, Joan; you need your self-esteem much more than you
need me; you'll be able to look upon yourself as a martyr, you see, and
that'll console you.'

'Don't, Elizabeth!'

'You'll be able to wallow in a bog of sentimentality and to pat yourself
on the head because you're not as other men. You have a sense of duty,
whereas I--You'll feel that you are offering yourself as a sacrifice. Oh,
I know it all, and it makes me sick, sick, do you hear? Positively sick.
And you actually expect me to sympathize. Perhaps you expect me to praise
you, to tell you what a really fine fellow I think you, and that I feel
honoured to follow in your trail and be permitted to offer you a cup of
cold water from time to time. Is that what you want? Well, then, you
won't get it from me; you've had too much from me already, Joan, and what
are you giving me in return?'

Joan said: 'Not much, but all I have.'

Elizabeth laughed. 'All you have! Well, it's not enough, not nearly
enough; if this is all you have, then you're too poor a thing for me. You
see, I too have my ideals, and you don't fulfil them. You're the veriest
self-deceiver, Joan! You think you're staying on here because you can't
bring yourself to hurt your mother. It's not that at all; it's because
you can't bear to hurt yourself in the process. It's yourself you love.
Well, I've had enough; it's no good our trying to understand each other,
it's better to make the break here and now.'

Joan held out her hand. 'Good-bye, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth ignored the hand. 'Good-bye', she said, and turned away.



Chapter Twenty-Eight


1


Where's Elizabeth?' asked Mrs. Ogden curiously. 'Have you two quarrelled
at last?' Joan did not answer; she went on dusting the drawing-room
mechanically; the servant had left and she and her mother were alone.

'I must go and put the meat in the oven', she said, leaving the room.

She put the joint in the oven and, turning to the sink, began peeling
potatoes; then she rinsed them and put them to boil. The breakfast things
were waiting to be washed up; an incredible lot of them for two people to
have used, Joan thought. She hated the feeling of cold grease on her
fingers; she could not find the mop and the scummed water crept up her
bare wrists. But much as she detested this washing-up process, she
prolonged it intentionally--it was something to do.

The potatoes boiled over; she moved the saucepan to a cooler spot and,
finding a broom, swept the kitchen. Where was Elizabeth? She had left
Seabourne for London; so much she had learnt from the porter at the
station, but where was she now? It was a week since they had quarrelled,
but it seemed like years. And Elizabeth did not write; she must be too
angry, too bitterly disillusioned! She fetched the dustpan and took up
the dust; it lay in great unsightly flakes where she had swept it from
corners neglected by the discontented maid. Elizabeth had sacrificed all
the best years of her life for this, to be deserted, left in the end; she
had offered all that she had to give, and she, Joan, had spurned it,
hurled it back in her face--in Elizabeth's face!

The bell clanged. 'Milk!'

Joan fetched a jug.

'How much will you have to-day, miss?'

'I don't know', said Joan vaguely.

With a look of surprise the man filled the jug. 'Fine weather, miss,
after the rain.'

'Yes--oh, yes, very fine.'

She would write to her, go to her, anything but this; she would humble
herself, implore forgiveness. If only she knew where she was; she would
ask Ralph. No, what was the good? Elizabeth would not have her now, she
did not want a weak-kneed creature who didn't know her own mind; she
liked dependable, strong people like herself.

'Joan!' came a voice.

'Yes, Mother?'

'Bring me my nerve tonic, dear.'

'Yes, Mother.'

'Oh, and bring me my shawl, I feel cold; you'll find it in my top
right-hand drawer.'

She obeyed, fetching the shawl, measuring out the tonic in a medicine
glass.

'I don't feel it's doing me much good', Mrs. Ogden complained. 'I slept
very badly again last night.'

'You must give it time', said Joan comfortingly. 'This is only your third
dose.'

Where was Elizabeth? Had she found a new friend to share the flat? 'You
might go and buy me that trimming, some time to-day, darling; it may be
all sold out if we wait.'

'All right, I'll go when I've tidied the house, Mother; they had plenty
of it yesterday.'

But Mrs. Ogden persisted: 'I have a feeling that it will all be sold out
and I'm short by just half a yard. Can't you finish the house when you
come back?'

'I'd rather get on and finish it now, Mother; I'm quite sure it'll be all
right.'

Mrs. Ogden reverted to the subject of the trimming again during lunch,
and several times before tea. 'We shall never get it', she complained
querulously. 'I feel sure it'll all be sold out!'

She allowed herself to be a little monotonous these days, clinging to an
idea with wearying persistence. In her husband's lifetime she would have
been more careful not to irritate, but the restraint of his temper being
removed, she no longer felt the necessity for keeping herself in hand.

Joan bought the trimming just before the shop closed, and this done, they
settled down to their high tea. Joan cleared the table wearily, answered
two advertisements of general servants, and finally took her book to the
lamp. It was a new book that Richard had just sent her. Richard did not
yet suspect what she had done; he probably thought she was busily making
plans for her departure; how furious he would he when he knew. But
Richard didn't count; he could think what he liked, for all she cared.

She could not read, the book seemed beyond her comprehension, or was it
all nonsense?

Mrs. Ogden's voice broke the silence: 'Joan, it's ten o'clock!'

'Is it, dear?'

'Yes, shall we go to bed?'

'You go, I'll come presently.'

'Well, don't stay up too late; it makes me nervous, I can't sleep
properly till I know you're in bed.'

'I shan't wake you coming upstairs.'

'I never go to sleep at all until I hear your door close. Have you
written about those servants?'

'Yes, I'm going out now to post the letters.'

'Then I'll wait up until you get back, darling.'

'No, please not, Mother; I have a key.'

'But it makes me nervous when I know you're out. Run along, dear; I shall
wait for you.'

'Very well,' said Joan, 'I shan't be long.'


2


Mrs. Benson called and talked about Richard, and she looked at Joan as
she spoke. She would have liked her Richard to have this girl, if, as she
had begun to suspect, he had set his heart on her.

'You and Richard have so much in common, Joan; he's always writing to me
about you.'

Mrs. Ogden said nothing.

'When are you going to Cambridge?' Mrs. Benson continued hurriedly,
bridging an awkward pause.

Joan looked at her mother, but she was still silent.

'Aren't you going?' Mrs. Benson persisted.

Joan hesitated. 'Well, you see, it's rather difficult just now--'

'She doesn't want to leave me', said Mrs. Ogden with a little smile. 'She
thinks I'm such a helpless creature!'

'But, surely--' Mrs. Benson began, and then stopped.

The atmosphere of this house was beginning to depress her, and in a
sudden flash she realized the cause of her depression. There was
something shabby about everything here, both physical and 'mental.
Inanimate things, and people were letting themselves go, sliding; Mrs.
Ogden was sliding very fast--and Joan? She let her eyes dwell on the girl
attentively. No, Joan had only begun to slip a little as yet, but there
were signs; her mouth drooped too much at the corners, her lips were too
pale and her strong hands fidgeted restlessly, but otherwise she was
intact so far, and how spruce she looked! Mrs. Benson envied this talent
for tidiness, which had never been hers. Yes, on the whole, Joan's
clothes suited her, it would be difficult to conceive of her dressed
otherwise; still the short hair was rather exaggerated. She wondered if
Richard would make her let it grow when they were married, for, of
course, she would marry him in the end.

'So Elizabeth has gone to London', she said after a silence, feeling
that she had made a bad slip the moment the words were out. 'Yes, she
went more than a week ago', Joan replied.

Mrs. Ogden looked up with interest. 'But surely not for long? How queer
of you not to have told me, dear.'

'I thought I had', said Joan untruthfully.

'I heard from her this morning', Mrs. Benson plunged on, feeling that she
might as well be killed for a sheep as a lamb. 'She's got a very good
post as librarian to some society.'

Then Elizabeth was in London!

'Well, of all the extraordinary things!' said Mrs. Ogden, genuinely
surprised. 'Joan, you _never_ told me a word!'

'I didn't know about the post of librarian, Mother.'

'No, but you knew that Elizabeth had left Seabourne for good.'

'Yes, I knew that--'

'Well then, fancy your not telling me; fancy her not coming here to say
good-bye--extraordinary!' Her voice was shaking a little with excitement
now. 'What made her go off suddenly, like that? Surely you and she
haven't quarrelled, Joan?'

Joan looked at Mrs. Benson; did she know? Probably, as Elizabeth had
written to her. Mrs. Benson smiled and nodded sympathetically, her
motherly eyes said plainly: 'Never mind, dear, it's not so bad as you
think; you've got my Richard.' But Joan ignored the comfort. What could
Mrs. Benson know of all this, what could anyone know but Elizabeth and
herself.

She said: 'I think she was tired of Seabourne, Mother. Elizabeth was
always very clever, and there's nothing to be clever about here.'

Mrs. Ogden smiled quietly. 'Elizabeth was certainly very clever; but what
about her interest in you?'

'Yes, she took a great interest in me; she believed in me, I think,
but--oh, well, she couldn't wait for ever, could she?'

She thought: 'If they go on like this I shall scream!'

'Well, I must be going', said Mrs. Benson uncomfortably. 'Come up
tomorrow and lunch with me, Joan; half-past one, and I hope you'll come
too, Mrs. Ogden.'

Mrs. Ogden sighed. 'I never go anywhere since James's death. It may be
morbid of me, but I feel I can't bear to, somehow.'

'Oh, but do come, please. We shall be quite alone and it'll do you good.'

The smile that played round Mrs. Ogden's lips was apologetic and sad; it
seemed to repudiate gently the suggestion that anything, however kindly
meant, could do her good, now.

'I think not', she said pressing Mrs. Benson's hand. 'But thank you all
the same for wanting such a dull guest.'

Mrs. Benson thought: 'A tiresome woman; she's overdoing her bereavement,
poor thing.'

The door had scarcely closed on the departing guest when Mrs. Ogden
turned to her daughter. 'Is this true?' she demanded, holding out her
hands.

'Is what true?'

'About Elizabeth.'

'Oh, for God's sake!' exclaimed Joan gruffly, 'don't let's go into all
that. Elizabeth has gone away, isn't that enough? Aren't you satisfied?'

'Yes', said Mrs. Ogden, and her voice was wonderfully firm and
self-possessed. 'I am quite satisfied, Joan.'


3


At Christmas, Milly came home, a little taller, a little thinner, but
prettier than ever. Joan was glad enough of her sister's brief visit, for
it broke the monotony of the house.

Milly was happy, self-satisfied and friendly. She seemed to look upon the
episode of Mr. Thompson as an escapade of her foolish youth; she had
become very grown-up and experienced. She had a great deal to tell of her
life in London; she shared rooms with a girl called Harriet Nelson, a
singer. Harriet was clever and fat. You had to be fat if you wanted to be
an operatic singer, and Harriet had a marvellous soprano voice. She had
taken the principal part in the College opera last year, but
unfortunately she couldn't act, she just lumbered about and sang
divinely.

Milly said that Harriet was not a bad sort, but rather irritating and
inclined to show off her French. She did speak French pretty well, having
had a French nurse before her family had lost their money. Her father had
been a manager in some big works up north, they had been quite well off
during his lifetime; Harriet was always bragging about their big house
and the fact that she used to hunt. Milly didn't believe a word of it.
Still, Harriet always seemed to have plenty to spend, even now. Milly
complained of shortness of money, one felt it when it came to providing
teas and things.

Then there was Cassy Ryan, another singer who also had a wonderful voice
and was a born actress as well. She was a great darling. Milly would have
liked to chum up with her, her diggings were just above Milly's and
Harriet's. They had high jinks up there occasionally, judging by the row
they made after hours; they had nearly been caught by 'Old Scout', the
matron, one night, and had only just had time to empty the coffee down
the lavatory and jump into bed with the cakes. Milly wished that she had
been one of that party, but she didn't know Cassy very well; Harriet did,
but was rather jealous and liked keeping her friends to herself. Cassy's
father had been a butcher; Cassy said that he used to get drunk and beat
her mother; and one day he had got into a frenzy and had thrown all the
carcasses about the shop. One of them had hit Cassy and her lip had been
cut open by a piece of bone; she still had the scar of it. But it didn't
matter about Cassy's father having been a butcher; Cassy belonged to the
aristocracy of brains, that was the only thing that really counted.

The violin students were rather a dull lot with the exception of Renee
Fabre, who was beautiful. She was Andros's favourite pupil. Milly thought
that he pushed her rather to the detriment of the others; but it really
didn't matter, because Renee would be well off his hands when Milly wished to
take the field.

Andros was a great dear; he wore a pig-skin belt instead of braces, and
when he played his waistcoat hitched up and you saw the belt and buckle;
it was very attractive. He had a blue-black beard, which he combed and
brushed, and really beautiful black eyes. He was very Spanish indeed;
they said that he had cried like a baby over his first London fog, he
missed the sunshine so much.

You were allowed to go and see people, and Milly had gone once or twice
to Sunday luncheon with Harriet's family in Brondesbury. Her mother was a
brick; nothing was good enough for Harriet, special dishes were cooked
when it was known that she was bringing friends home.

Milly babbled on day after day; when she wasn't talking about her new
life she was making fun of the old one. Seabourne provided great scope
for her wit; she enjoyed walking up and down the esplanade, ridiculing
the inhabitants.

'What a queer crew, Joan, just look at them! They think they're alive,
too, and that's the funniest thing about them.'

Joan tried to enter in and to appear amused and interested, but she was
very heavy of heart. And in addition to this a certain new commonness
about her sister jarred her; Milly had grown second-rate and her sense of
humour was second-rate too. Still, she was happy and, so far as Joan
knew, good, and the other thing mattered so little after all. Mr.
Thompson had left Seabourne, so there was really nothing to worry about
so far as Milly was concerned; she was launched, and if she came to
shipwreck later on it would not be Joan's fault, she had done everything
she could for Milly.

There was no mutual understanding between them; Joan felt no temptation
to take her sister into her confidence. Milly had received the news of
Elizabeth's departure much as she always took things that did not concern
her personally--listening with half an ear, while apparently thinking of
something else. She had sympathized perfunctorily: 'Poor old Joan, what a
beastly shame!' But her voice had lacked conviction. After all, it was
not so bad for Joan, who had no talent in particular, it was when you had
the artistic temperament that things went deep with you. Joan had retired
into her shell at this obvious lack of interest, and the subject was not
discussed any more.

Milly seemed to take it for granted that Joan had given up all idea of
Cambridge. 'All I ask,' she said laughing, 'is that you don't grow to
look like them.'

'Like whom?' Joan asked sharply, nettled by Milly's manner. 

'Like the rest of the Seabourne freaks.'

'Oh, don't get anxious about me; I may change my mind and go up next
year, after all.'

'Not you!' said Milly with disturbing conviction.

On the whole, however, the holidays passed peaceably enough. They avoided
having rows, which was always to the good, and when at last Milly's
trunks were packed and on the fly, Joan felt regretful that her sister
was really going; Milly was rather amusing after all.



Chapter Twenty-Nine


1


The winter dragged on into spring, a late spring, but wonderfully
rewarding when it came. Everything connected with the earth seemed to
burst out into fulfilment all in a night; there was a feeling of
exuberance and intense colour everywhere, which reflected itself in
people's spirits, making them jolly. The milkman whistled loudly and
clanked his cans for the sheer joy of making a noise. They had a servant
again at Leaside, so that Joan no longer exchanged the time of day with
him at the back door, but she stood at the dining-room window and watched
him swinging down the street, pushing his little chariot in front of him;
a red-haired and rosy man, very well contented with life.

'He's contented and I'm miserable', she thought. 'Perhaps I should be
happier if I were a milkman, and had nothing to long for because there
was nothing in me to long with.'


2


Far away, in London, Elizabeth strode through Kensington Gardens on her
way to work; her head was a little bent, her nostrils dilated, sniffing
the air. A chorus of birds hailed her with apparent delight. She noticed
several thrushes and at least one blackbird among them. The Albert
Memorial came into sight, it glowed like flame in the sun; a pompous and
a foolish thing made beautiful.

'I suppose it's spring in Seabourne too', she was thinking, and then: 'I
wonder if Joan is very unhappy.'

She quickened her steps. 'Go on, go on, go on!' sang the spring
insistently, and then: 'Go back, go back, go back! There is something
sweeter than ambition.' Elizabeth trembled but went on.

To Joan the very glory of it all was an added heart-break. Grief is never
so unendurable in suitable company, it finds quite a deal of consolation
in the sorrow of others; it feels understood and at home. But on this
spring morning in Seabourne Joan's grief found no one to welcome it. Even
the servant at Leaside was shouting hymns as she laid the breakfast; she
belonged to the Salvation Army and every now and then would pause to clap
her hands in rhythm to the jaunty tune.


_'My sins they were as scarlet!
They are now as white as snow!'_


She carolled, and clapped triumphantly. Joan could hear her from her
bedroom upstairs.

Mrs. Ogden heard her too. 'Ethel!' she called irritably; 'not so much
noise, please.' She closed her door sharply and kneeling down in front of
a newly acquired picture of The Holy Family, began to read a long Matinal
Devotion--for Mrs. Ogden was becoming religious. The presence of spring
in her room coloured her prayers, giving them an impish vitality. She
entreated God with a new note of sincerity and conviction to cast all
evil spirits into Hell and keep them there for ever and ever. She made an
elaborate private confession, striking her breast considerably more often
than the prescribed number of times. 'Through my fault, through my
fault--' she murmured ecstatically.


3


An amazingly High Church clergyman had been appointed to a living two
miles away, and something in the incense and candles he affected had
stirred a new emotional excitement in Mrs. Ogden. Her bedside table was
strewn with little purple and white booklets: 'Steps towards Eternal
Life', 'Guide to Holy Mass', 'The Real Catholic Church'. They found their
way downstairs at times, and got themselves mixed up with Joan's medical
literature.

There appeared to be countless services at 'Holy Martyrs', all of which
began at inconvenient hours, for Mrs. Ogden was for ever having the times
of the meals altered so that she might attend. It was wonderful how she
found the strength for these excursions. Two miles there and two back and
early service every Sunday morning, for she had become a regular
Communicant now, and wet or fine went forth fasting.

Joan understood that the new 'priest', as Mrs. Ogden insisted that he
should be called, was ascetic, celibate and delicate. His name was
Cuthbert Jackson, and he was known to his flock as 'Father Cuthbert'.

It was not at all unusual for Mrs. Ogden to feel faint on her return from
Mass--the congregation called it Mass to annoy the bishop--and once she
had actually fainted in the church. Joan had been with her on that
occasion and had helped to carry her mother into the vestry; it had been
very embarrassing. When, after a severe application of smelling salts,
Mrs. Ogden had opened her eyes, there had been much sympathy expressed,
and she had insisted on leaving the church via the nave, clinging to her
daughter's arm.

She remonstrated with her mother about these early services, but to  no
effect.

'Oh, Joan! If only you could find Him too!'

'Who?' Joan inquired flippantly; 'Father Cuthbert?'

'No, my darling. I didn't mean Father Cuthbert--but then you don't
understand!'

Joan was silent, she felt that she was getting hard. It worried her at
times, but something in the smug contentment of her mother's new-found
faith irritated her beyond endurance. Mrs. Ogden had become so familiar
with the Almighty; so soppily sentimental over her Redeemer. Joan could
not feel Christianity like this or recognize Christ in this guise. She
suspected that Mrs. Ogden put Him only a very little above Father
Cuthbert: Father Cuthbert to whom she went every few days to confess the
sins that she might have committed but had not. Joan had formed her own
picture of Christ, and in it He did not appear as the Redeemer especially
reserved for elderly women and anaemic parsons, but as a Being immensely
vast and fierce and tender. Hers was a militant, intellectual Christ; the
Leader of great armies, the Ruler over the nations of the earth, the
Companion of wise men and kings, the Friend of little children and simple
people. She felt ashamed and indignant for Him whenever her mother
touched on religion, she was so terrifyingly patronizing.

Mrs. Ogden had quickly become a slave of small pious practices. She went
so far as to keep a notebook lest she should forget any of them. They
affected the household adversely, they made a lot more work for other
people to do. No meat was permitted on Fridays; in fact, they had very
little to eat of any kind. It was all absurd and tiresome and pathetic,
and obviously bad for the health. The only result of it, so far as Joan
could see, was that Mrs. Ogden evinced even less interest than before in
domestic concerns, only descending from her vantage ground to find fault.
She seemed to be living in another world, while still keeping a watchful
eye on her daughter.

She found an excellent new grievance in the fact that Joan resisted all
efforts to make her attend church regularly; there was no longer
Elizabeth to worry about, so she worried about Joan's soul. Joan was
patiently stubborn, she refused to confess to Father Cuthbert or to
interest herself in any way in his numerous activities. He came to tea at
Mrs. Ogden's request and tried his best, poor man, to wear down what he
felt to be Joan's prejudice against him. But he was melodramatic looking
and doubtfully clean, and wore a large amethyst cross on his emaciated
stomach, and Joan remained unimpressed.

'If you want to be a Catholic,' she told her mother afterwards, 'why not
be a real one and be done with it.'

'I _am_ a real one', said Mrs. Ogden.

'Oh no, Mother, you're not, you're only pretending to be. You take the
plums out of other people's religion and disregard the rest. I think it's
rather mean.'

‘If you mean the Pope!---' began Mrs. Ogden indignantly. 'Oh, I mean the
whole thing; anyhow, it wouldn't suit me.'

Mrs. Ogden was offended. 'I must ask you not to speak disrespectfully
of my religion', she said. 'I don't like it.'

'Then don't keep on pushing it down my throat.'

They started bickering again. Bickering, always bickering; Joan knew that
it was intolerable, undignified, that she ought to control herself, but
the power of self-control was weakening in her. She was sorry for her
mother, for the past that was so largely responsible for Mrs. Ogden's
present, but the fact that she felt sorry only irritated her the more.
She told herself that if this new religious zeal had been productive of
peace she could have been tolerant, but it was not; on the contrary the
domestic chaos grew. If Mrs. Ogden had tried her servants before, she did
so now ten times more; she nagged with new-found spiritual vigour; it was
becoming increasingly difficult to please her.

'It's them meal times, miss', blubbered the latest acquisition to Joan,
one morning. 'It's the chopping and the changing that's so wearying; I
can't stand it, no I can't, I feel quite worn out.'

'Don't say you want to leave, Ethel?' Joan implored with a note of
despair in her voice.

'But I do! She's never satisfied, miss; she's at me all the time.'

'She's at me, too,' thought Joan, 'and yet I don't seem able to give
month's notice.'


4


It was summer again. How monotonously the seasons came round it was
always spring, summer, autumn, or winter; it could never be anything
else, that made a year. How many years made a lifetime?

Joan began playing tennis again; one always played tennis every summer at
Seabourne, but now she disliked the game. Since Milly's affair with Mr.
Thompson, the tennis club and its members had become intolerable to her.
The members found her dull and probably disliked her; she was so sure of
this that she grew self-conscious and abashed in their midst. She
wondered sometimes if that was why she found fault with them, because
they made her feel shy. She had never made friends, she had been too much
wrapped up in Elizabeth. No one was interested in her, no one wanted her.
Richard wrote angry letters; she never answered them, but he went on
writing just the same. He seemed to take a pleasure in bullying her.

'I shan't come home this summer', he wrote. 'I can't see you withering on
your stalk. You can marry me if you like; why not, since nothing better
offers? But what's the good of talking to you? It's hopeless! I don't
know why I waste time in writing; I suppose it's because I'm in love with
you. You've disappointed me horribly; I could have stood aside for your
work, but you don't want to work, and you make your duty to your mother
the excuse. Oh Joan! I did think you were made of better stuff. I thought
you were a real person and not just a bit of flabby toast like the rest
of the things at Seabourne.'

She had said that she cared less than nothing for his approval or
disapproval, but she found she did care after all; not because she loved
Richard, but because it was being brought home to her that she, like the
rest of mankind, needed approbation. No one approved of her, not even the
mother for whose sake she was sacrificing herself. Self-sacrifice was
unpopular, it seemed, or was it in some way her own fault? She must be
different from other people, a kind of unprepossessing freak. She sat
brooding over this at the schoolroom table, with Richard's last epistle
crushed in her hand. Her eyes were bent unseeing on the ink-stained
mahogany, but something, perhaps it was a faint sound, made her look up.
Elizabeth was standing in the doorway gazing at her.

Joan sprang forward with a cry.

‘Hallo, Joan', said Elizabeth calmly, and sat down in the arm-chair.
Joan's voice failed her. She stood and stared, afraid to believe her
eyes.

Elizabeth waited; then: 'Well?' she queried.

Joan found her voice. 'You've come back for the holidays? Thank you for
coming to see me.'

Elizabeth said: 'There's no need to thank me; I came because I wanted to;
don't be ridiculous, Joan!'

'But I thought--I understood that you'd had enough of me. I thought my
failing you had made you hate me.'

'No, I don't hate you, or I shouldn't be here.'

'Then I don't understand', said Joan desperately. 'Oh! I _don't_
understand!'

Elizabeth said: 'No, I know you don't. I don't understand myself, but
here I am.'

They were silent for a while, eyeing each other like duellists waiting
for an opening. Elizabeth leant back in the rickety chair, her
enigmatical eyes on the girl's agitated face. She was smiling a little.

'What have you come for?' said Joan, flushing with sudden anger. 'If you
don't mean to stay, why have you come back to Seabourne? Perhaps you've
come to jeer at me. Even Richard hasn't done that!'

Elizabeth stretched her long legs and made as if to stifle a yawn. 'I've
given up my job', she said.

'You've given up your job in London?'

'But why?'

'Because of you.'

'Because of me? You've thrown over your post because of me?'

'Yes; it's queer, isn't it? But I've come back to wait with you a little
while longer.'



Chapter Thirty


1


It was extraordinary how Elizabeth's return changed the complexion of
things for Joan; strange that one human being, not really beautiful, only
a little more than average clever and no longer very young, could by her
mere presence, make others seem so much less trying.

Now that she had Elizabeth again the people at the tennis club, for
instance, were miraculously changed. She began to think that she had
misjudged them; after all, they were very good sorts and kindly enough,
nor did they really seem to be bored with her; she must have imagined it.
She found herself more tolerant towards Mrs. Ogden's religiosity. Why
shouldn't her mother enjoy herself in her own way! Surely everyone must
find their rare pleasures how and where they could. And, oh! the joy of
using her brain again! The exhilaration of renewed mental effort, of
pitting her mind against Elizabeth's.

'We must work a bit to keep you from getting rusty, Joan, but I can't do
much more for you now; you're getting beyond me, and Cambridge must do
the rest', Elizabeth said.

Ralph was pleased at his sister's return and welcomed Joan cordially as
the chief cause thereof. The atmosphere at his house had become restful,
because now it contained three happy people. Joan had never known
anything quite like this before; she wondered whether the dead felt as
she did when they met those they loved on the other side of the grave. A
deep sense of peace enveloped her; Elizabeth felt it too, and they sat
very often with clasped hands without speaking, for now their silence
drew them closer together than words would have done.

As if by mutual consent they avoided discussing the future. At this time
they thought of neither past nor future, but only of their present. And
they no longer worked very hard; what was the use? Joan was ready, and,
as Elizabeth had said, it was now only a matter of not letting her get
rusty, so they slackened the gallop to a walk and began to look about
them.

They ransacked Seabourne and the neighbouring towns for diversion,
visiting such theatres as there were, making excursions to places of
interest that they had lived close to for years yet never seen. They
discovered the joys of sailing, setting out of mornings before it was
quite light, becoming acquainted together for the first time with the
mystery and wonder that is Nature while she still smells drowsy and sweet
after sleep.

And they walked. They would go off now for a whole day, lunching wherever
they happened to find themselves. Sometimes it would be at a little inn
by the roadside and sometimes on the summit of a hill, or in woods,
eating biscuits they had stuffed into their pockets before starting.

When Milly came home for her holidays she did not seem surprised to find
Elizabeth back in Seabourne. They were relieved at this, for they had
both been secretly dreading her questions, which, however, did not come.
Milly was not wanted, but they found room for her in their days,
nevertheless; she joined them whenever their programme seemed amusing,
and because they themselves were so happy they made her welcome.

At this time Elizabeth did her best to placate Mrs. Ogden; she did it
entirely for Joan's sake, and although her efforts were rebuffed with
coldness, she knew that Joan was the happier for them. Mrs. Ogden was
aggrieved and rude; she could not find it in her, poor soul, to
compromise over Joan. If she had only met Elizabeth half-way, had made
even a slight effort to accept things as they were, she would almost
certainly have won from her daughter a lifelong gratitude. But she let
the moment slip, and so for the time being she found herself ignored.

Contentment agreed with Joan; she grew handsomer that summer, and people
noticed it. Now they would turn sometimes and look after the Ogden girls
when they passed them in the street, struck by the curious contrast they
made. Joan was burnt to the colour of a gipsy; her constant excursions in
the open air had brightened her eyes and reddened her lips and given her
slim body a supple strength which showed in all her movements. Milly's
beauty was a little marred by an ever-present suggestion of delicacy. Her
skin was too pink and white for perfect health, and of late dark shadows
had appeared under her eyes. However, she seemed in excellent spirits,
and never complained, in spite of the fact that she coughed a good deal.

'It's the dry weather', she explained. 'The dust irritates my throat.'

Her shoulders had taken a slight stoop from the long hours of practice,
which contracted her chest, but her playing had improved enormously; she
was beginning to acquire real finish and style.

'I shall be earning soon!' she announced triumphantly.

Elizabeth could not resist looking at Joan, but she held her tongue and
the dangerous moment passed.

Joan began to find it in her to bless Father Cuthbert and Holy Martyrs,
for between them they took up a good deal of Mrs. Ogden's time. To be
sure, her eyes were red with secret weeping, and she lost even the
remnant of appetite that her religious scruples permitted her; but Joan
was happy and selfish to the verge of recklessness. She was like a man
reprieved when the noose is already round his throat; for the moment
nothing mattered except just being alive. She felt balanced and calm,
with the power to see through and beyond the frets and rubs of this
everyday life, from which she herself had somehow become exempt.

She and Elizabeth went to tea with Admiral Bourne. It was like the old
days, out there in the garden, under the big tree. The admiral eyed them
kindly. 'Capital, capital!' was all he said. After tea they asked to see
the mice, because they knew that it would give him pleasure, and he
responded with alacrity, leading the way to the Mousery. But although
they had gone there to please Admiral Bourne, they stayed on to please
themselves; playing with the tame, soft creatures, feeling a sense of
contentment as they watched their swift, symmetrical movements and their
round bright eyes.


2


They walked home arm in arm through the twilight.

Joan said: 'Our life seems new, somehow, Elizabeth, and yet it isn't new.
Perhaps it's because you went away. We aren't doing anything very
different, only working rather less; but it all seems so new; I feel new
myself.'

Elizabeth pressed her arm very slightly. 'It's as old as the hills', she
said.

'What is?' asked Joan.

'Nothing--everything. Did you change those library books?'

'Yes. But listen to me, Elizabeth. I will tell you how your going away
and coming back has changed things. I'm changed; I feel softer and
harder, more sympathetic and less so. I feel--oh, how shall I put it? I
feel like a tiny speck of God that can't help seeing all round and
through everything. I seem to know the reason for things, somewhere
inside of me, only it won't get right into my brain. I don't think I love
Mother any less than I did, and I don't think I really hate Seabourne any
less; but I can't worry about her or it, and that's where I've changed.
I've got a feeling that Mother had to be and Seabourne had to be and that
you and I had to be, too; that it's all just a necessary part of the
whole. And after all, Elizabeth, if you hadn't gone away and I hadn't
been frightfully unhappy there wouldn't have been your coming back and my
happiness over that. I think it was worth the unhappiness.'

They stood still, staring at the sunset. A sweet, damp smell was coming
up from the ground; there had been a little shower. The sea lay very
quiet and vast, flecked here and there with afterglow. Down below them
the lights of Seabourne sprang into being, one by one; they looked small
and unnaturally bright. The ugly homes from which they shone were
mercifully hidden in the dusk. Only their lights appeared, elusive,
beckoning, never quite still. Around them little hidden specks of life
were making indefinable noises; a blur of rustlings, chirpings, buzzings.
They were very busy, these hidden people, with their secret activities.
Presently it would be night; already the moon was showing palely opposite
the sunset.

Elizabeth turned her gaze away from the sky and looked at Joan. The girl
was standing upright with her head a little back. She had taken off her
hat, and the queer light fell slantwise across her broad forehead, and
dipped into her wide open eyes that held in their depths a look of fear.
Her lips were parted as if to speak, but no words came. She stretched out
a hand, without looking at Elizabeth, as though groping for protection.
Elizabeth took the hand and held it firmly in her own.

'Are you frightened, Joan?' she asked softly.

'A little; how did you know?'

'Your eyes looked scared. Why are you frightened? I thought you were so
confident just now.'

'I don't know, but it's all so strange, somehow. I think it's the newness
I told you about that frightens me, now I come to think of it. You seem
new. Do you feel new, Elizabeth?'

Elizabeth dropped the hand and turned away.

'Not particularly', she said; 'I'm getting rather old for that sort of
thing; if I let myself feel new I might forget how old I'm getting. No, I
don't think I'd better feel too new, or you might get more frightened
still; you told me you were frightened of me once, do you remember?'

'Oh, rot! I could never be frightened of you, Elizabeth; you're just a
bit of me.'

'Am I? Well, come on or we'll be late, and I think I'm catching cold.'

'Let's walk arm in arm again', Joan pleaded, like a schoolgirl begging a
favour, and Elizabeth acquiesced with a short laugh.


3


Milly was obviously not well; she coughed perpetually, and Joan sent for
the doctor. He came and sounded her chest and lungs, but found no
alarming symptoms. Mrs. Ogden protested fretfully that Joan was always
over-fussy when there was nothing to fuss about, and quite unusually
indifferent when there was real cause for anxiety. She either could not
or would not see that her younger daughter looked other than robust.

Joan had a long talk with her sister about the life at the College. They
were pretty well fed, it seemed, but of course no luxuries. Oh, yes,
Milly usually went to bed early; she felt too dead tired to want to sit
up late. She practised a good many hours a day, whenever she could, in
fact; but then that was what she was there for, and she loved that part
of it. Couldn't she slack a bit? Good Lord, no! Rather not; she wanted to
make some money, and that as soon as possible; you didn't get on by
stamping your practising. Joan mustn't fuss, it bored Milly to have her
fussing like an old hen. The cough was nothing at all, the doctor had
said so. How long had it been going on? Oh, about two months, perhaps a
little longer; but, good Lord! it was just a cough! She did wish Joan
would shut up.

Elizabeth was anxious too; she felt an inexplicable apprehension about
this cough of Milly's. She was glad when the holidays came to an end and
Milly and her cough had removed themselves to London.

With her sister's departure, Joan seemed to forget her anxiety. She had
fallen into a strangely elated frame of mind and threw off troubles as
though they were thistledown.

'Mother seems very busy with her religion', she remarked one day.
Elizabeth agreed.

They fell silent, and then; 'Perhaps we can go soon now, Elizabeth; I was
thinking that perhaps after Christmas--'

Elizabeth bit her lip. Something in her wanted to cry out in triumph, but
she choked it down.

'The flat's let until March', she said quietly.

'Well then, March. Oh! Elizabeth, think of it!'

Elizabeth said: 'I never think of anything else--I thought you knew
that.'

'But you seem so dull about it, aren't you pleased?'

'Yes, but I'm afraid!'

'Of what?'

'Of something happening to prevent it. Don't let's make plans too long
ahead.'

Joan flushed. 'You don't trust me any more', she said, and her voice
sounded as though she wanted to cry.

'Trust you? Of course I trust you. Joan, I don't think you know how I
feel about all this; it's too much, almost. I feel--oh, well, I can't
explain, only it's desperately serious to me.'

'And what do you think it is to me?' demanded Joan passionately. 'It's
more than serious to me!'

'Joan, you've known me for years now. I was your teacher when you were
quite little. I used to think you looked like a young colt then, I
remember--never mind that--only you've known me too long really to know
me; that can happen I think. I often wish I could get inside you and know
just how I look to you, what sort of woman I am as you see me, because I
don't believe it's the real me. I believe you see your old teacher, and
later on your very good and devoted friend. Well, that's all right so far
as it goes; that's part of me, but only a part. There's another big bit
that's quite different; you saw the edge of it when I left you to go to
London. It's not neat and calm and self-possessed at all, and above all
it's outrageously discontented and adventurous; it longs for all sorts of
things and hates being crossed. This part of me loves life, real life,
and beautiful things and brilliant, careless people. It feels young,
absurdly so for its age, and it demands the pleasures of youth, cries out
for them. I think it cries out all the more because it's been so long
denied. This me could be reckless of consequences, greedy of happiness
and jealous of competition. It is jealous already of you, Joan, of any
interests that seem to take your attention off me, of any affection that
might rob me of even a hair's-breadth of you. It wants to keep you all to
itself, to have all your love and gratitude, all that makes you you; and
it wouldn't be contented with less. Well, my dear, this side of me and
the side that you know are one and indivisible, they're the two halves of
the whole that is Elizabeth Rodney; what do you think of her? Aren't you
a little afraid after this revelation?'

Joan laughed quietly. 'No,' she said, 'I'm not a bit afraid. Because, you
see, I think I've known the real Elizabeth for a long time now.'



Chapter Thirty-One


1


The tiny study at Alexandra House was bright with flowers, although it
was November. The flowers had been the gift of one of Harriet Nelson's
youthful admirers, Rosie Wilmot, an art student. The room was littered
with a mass of futilities, including torn music and innumerable signed
photographs. The guilty smell of cigarette smoke hung on the air,
although the window had been opened.

Harriet, plump and pretty, with her red hair and blue eyes, lolled
ungracefully in the wicker arm-chair; her thick ankles stretched out in
front of her. On a low stool, sufficiently near these same ankles to
express humbleness of spirit, crouched Rosie Wilmot.

'_Chérie_,' Harriet was saying with an exaggerated Parisian accent, 'you
are a naughty child to spend your money on flowers for me!'

'But, darling, you know how I loved buying them!'

Rosie's sallow cheeks flushed at her own daring. Her long brown neck rose
up from a band of Liberty embroidery, like the stem of a carefully
coloured meerschaum. She rubbed her forehead nervously with a
paint-stained hand, fixing her irritatingly intense eyes the while on
Harriet's placid face.

Harriet stretched out an indolent hand. 'There, there,' she said
soothingly, 'I'm very pleased indeed with the flowers; come and be
kissed.'

Milly raised scoffing eyes to the ceiling. She made her mouth into a
round O, and proceeded to blow smoke rings.

'Let me know when it's all over,' she said derisively, 'and then we'll
boil the kettle.'

'You can boil it now', said Harriet, waving Rosie back to her footstool.

They proceeded to make tea and toast bread in front of the fire. Milly
fetched some rather weary butter and a pot of 'Gentleman's Relish' from
the bedroom, and Rosie produced her contribution in the shape of a bag of
Harriet's favourite cream puffs. She had gone without lunch for two days
in order to afford this offering, but as Harriet's strong teeth bit into
the billowy cream which oozed out over her chin, Rosie's heart swelled
with pleasure; she had her reward.

'_Méchante enfant_!' exclaimed Harriet, shaking her finger, 'you mustn't
spend your money like this!'

At that moment the door opened and Joan and Elizabeth walked into the
room.

'Good Lord, _you_!' exclaimed Milly in amazement.

They laughed and came forward, waiting to be introduced.

'Oh, yes; Harriet, this is my sister Joan, and this is Miss Rodney.'
Harriet nodded casually.

'This is Rosie Wilmot, Joan; Rosie, Miss Rodney.'

Rosie shook hands with a close, intense grip. Her eyes interrogated the
new-comers as though they alone held the answer to the riddle of her
Universe. Milly dragged up the only remaining chair for Elizabeth.

'You can squat on the floor, Joan', she said, throwing her sister a
cushion. 'That's right. And now, what on earth are you doing here?' 

It was Elizabeth who answered. 'We've come up for a fortnight. We're staying
with the woman who has my flat.'

'But why? Has anything happened?'

'No, of course not. We just thought it would be rather fun.'

Milly whistled softly; however, she refrained from further comment.
Harriet was examining Joan. Joan fidgeted; this self-possessed young
woman made her feel at a disadvantage.

'You're musical too?' inquired the singer, still staring.

'Oh, no, not a bit; I don't know one note from another.'

'_Tiens_! Then what _do_ you do?'

Joan hesitated. 'At the present moment, nothing.'

Harriet turned to Elizabeth. 'And you?' she inquired. 'I feel sure you
must do something; you look it.'

'I? Oh, I teach Joan.'

Milly fidgeted with the tea things; the unexpected arrivals necessitated
more hot water. Her sister's sudden appearance with Elizabeth made her
vaguely uneasy. How on earth had these two managed to escape, and what
did this escape portend? Would it, could it possibly affect her in any
way? And they seemed so calm about it; Joan apparently took it as a
matter of course that she should come up to London for a fortnight's
spree. Milly felt incapable of boiling the kettle again; she poured out
some tepid tea and handed it to her sister.

'_Is_ Mother all alone?' she inquired.

Joan smiled at the implied reproach. 'No, we've got a very good maid at
the moment, though goodness only knows how long she'll stay.'

Milly was silent; what could she say? Joan's manner was utterly
unconcerned, and in any case, why shouldn't she come up to London for a
bit; everyone else did. She felt a little ashamed of herself; hadn't she
always been the one to rage against the injustice of their existence, to
encourage insubordination? And she owed her own freedom entirely to Joan;
Joan had stuck by her like a brick.

'I'm jolly glad you've come', she said, squeezing her sister's hand.
'Jolly glad!'


2


Through the open window drifted the sound of innumerable pianos, string
instruments and singing; a queer, discordant blur that crystallized every
now and then into stray cadences, shrill arpeggios, or snatches of
operatic airs. The distorted melody of some familiar ballad would now and
then be wafted through the misty atmosphere from the adjacent College.
'My dearest heart', sang a loud young voice, only to be submerged again
under the wave of other sounds that constantly ebbed and flowed. This
queer, almost painful inharmony struck Joan as symbolic. It awed her, as
the immense machinery of some steel works she had once seen as a child
had awed her. Then, she had been frightened to tears as the great wheels
spun and ground, whirring their straining belts. And now as she listened
to this other sound she was somehow reminded of her childish terror, of
the pistons and valves and wheels and belts that had throbbed and ground
and strained. Here was no steel and iron, it is true, but here was a vast
machine none the less. Only its parts were composed of flesh and blood,
of striving, living human beings, and the sound they produced was such
pitiable discord!

Her thoughts were broken into by the consciousness that eyes were upon
her; she turned to meet Harriet Nelson's stare.

Harriet smiled and tapped Rosie's shoulder. 'Go and find me a
handkerchief, in my drawer', she ordered.

The girl went with alacrity, and Joan was motioned to the vacant
footstool.

She protested: 'Oh, but surely this is Miss Wilmot's place.'

'Never mind that, sit down; I want to talk to you.'

Joan obeyed unwillingly.

'Now tell me about your life. Milly mentions you so seldom, I had no idea
she had such an interesting sister; tell me all about yourself; you live
with your friend Miss--Miss--Rodney, is that her name? Is she nice? She
looks terribly severe.'

'Oh, no, I don't live with Miss Rodney; I live with my mother at
Seabourne.'

'You live there all the year round? _Quelle horreur_! Why don't you come
to London?'

'Well, you see--' began Joan uncomfortably. But at this stage they were
interrupted. For some moments Rosie had been standing motionless in the
doorway, the clean handkerchief crushed in her hand. Her smouldering eyes
had taken in the situation at a glance, and it seemed to her
catastrophic. She stood now, paling and flushing by turns, biting her
under-lip. Her thin neck was extended and shot forward; the attitude
suggested an eagle about to attack. Harriet saw her there well enough,
but appeared to notice nothing unusual and continued to talk to Joan. In
fact her voice grew slightly louder and more intimate in tone. Rosie drew
a quick breath; it was noisy and Harriet looked up impatiently; then her
eyes fell to the crushed handkerchief.

'Give it to me, do!' she exclaimed.

Rosie took a step forward as if to obey, but instead she raised her arm
and hurled the crumpled linen ball straight at Harriet, then snatching up
her coat she fled from the room. Joan jumped up, Elizabeth looked
embarrassed and Milly laughed loudly; but Harriet only shrugged her plump
shoulders.

'_Nom d'un nom_!' she murmured softly. 'Poor Rosie grows insupportable!'

The situation was somewhat relieved by a knock on the door. 'Can I come
in?' inquired a pleasant, deep voice.

Cassy Ryan looked from one to another of the group gathered near the
tea-table. Her soft brown eyes and over-red lips suggested her Jewish
origin. She was a tall girl and as yet only graciously ample.

She turned to Milly. 'I've only come for a moment; I want you to try the
violin obbligato over with me tomorrow, Milly; I'm not sure of that
difficult passage.'

She hummed the passage softly in her splendid contralto voice. 'It won't
take you long; you don't mind, do you?'

'Rather not!' said Milly, introducing her to Joan and Elizabeth.

Cassy turned to Harriet. 'What's the matter with Rosie?' she inquired. 'I
met her on the stairs just now looking as mad as a hatter.'

'Oh, she's only in one of her tantrums; she's furious with me at the
moment.'

Cassy shook her head. 'Poor kid, she's half daft at times, I think. You
oughtn't to tease her, Harriet.'

'_Bon Dieu_!' exclaimed Harriet, flushing with temper. 'I shall forbid
her to come here at all if she goes on making these scenes.' She pressed
a hand to her throat. 'It makes my throat ache; I don't believe I've a
soupcon of voice left.'

She stood up and deliberately tried an ascending scale, while the rest
sat silent. Up and up soared the pure, sexless voice, the voice of an
undreamt-of choir-boy or an angel; and then, just as the last height was
reached, it hazed, it faltered, it failed to attain.

'There you are!' screamed Harriet, forgetting in her agitation how
perfectly she could speak French. 'What did I tell you? I knew it! That's
Rosie's fault, damn her! Damn her! She's probably upset my voice for days
to come, and I've got that rehearsal with Stanford tomorrow; my God, it's
too awful!'

She paused to try her voice once more, but with the same result. 'Where's
my inhaler?' she demanded of the room in general.

Milly winked at Cassy as she went into Harriet's bedroom. 'Here it is, on
your washstand', she called.

Harriet began feverishly to boil up the kettle; she appeared to have
completely forgotten Joan and Elizabeth; she spoke in whispers now,
addressing all her stifled remarks to Cassy. Milly brought in the inhaler
and a bottle of drops; they filled it from the kettle and proceeded to
count out the tincture. Harriet sat down heavily with her knees apart;
she gripped the ridiculous china bottle in both hands and, applying her
lips to the fat glass mouthpiece, proceeded to evoke a series of
bubbling, gurgling noises.

Milly drew her sister aside. 'You two had better go', she whispered.
'Don't try to say good-bye to her; she's in one of her panics, she won't
notice your going.'

Cassy smiled across at Elizabeth with a finger on her lips; her eyes were
full of amusement as she glanced in the direction of her friend. Years
afterwards when the names of Cassy Ryan and Harriet Nelson had become
famous, when these two old friends and fellow students would be billed
together on the huge sheets advertising oratorio or opera, Joan, seeing
an announcement of the performance in the papers, would have a sudden
vision of that little crowded sitting-room, with Harriet hunched fatly in
the wicker arm-chair, the rotund inhaler clasped to her bosom.



Chapter Thirty-Two


1


The transition from Seabourne to London had been accomplished so quietly
and easily that the first morning Joan woke up on the divan in the
sitting-room of Elizabeth's flat she could hardly believe that she was
there. She thumped the mattress to reassure herself, and then looked
round the study which, by its very strangeness testified to the glorious
truth.

The idea had originated with Elizabeth. 'Let's run up to London for a
fortnight', she had said, and Joan had acquiesced as though such a thing
were an everyday occurrence. And, strangest of all, Mrs. Ogden had taken
it resignedly. Perhaps there had been a certain new quality in Joan's
voice when she announced her intention. Perhaps somewhere at the back of
her mind Mrs. Ogden was beginning to realize that her daughter was now of
an age when maternal commands could be disregarded. Be that as it may,
she consented to Joan's cashing a tiny cheque, and beyond engineering a
severe migraine on the morning of their departure, offered no greater
obstacle to the jaunt than an injured expression and a rather faint
voice.

Elizabeth had arranged it all. She had persuaded her tenant to take them
in as 'paying guests', and had overcome Joan's pride with regard to
finances. 'You can pay me back in time', she had remarked, and Joan had
given in.

The little flat was all that Elizabeth had said, and more. Miss Lesway
had put in a small quantity of furniture to tide her over; she was only
there until March, when she would move into a flat of her own. But the
things that she had brought with her were good, quiet and unobtrusive
relics of a bygone country house; they suggested a grandfather, even a
great-grandfather for that matter. From the windows of the flat you saw
the romantic chimney-pots and roofs that Elizabeth loved, and to your
right the topmost branches of the larger trees of the Bloomsbury square.
Yes, it was all there and adorable. Miss Lesway had welcomed them as old
friends. Tea had been ready on their arrival and flowers on Elizabeth's
dressing-table.


2


Beatrice Lesway was a Cambridge woman. She was a pleasant, somewhat
squat, practical creature; contented enough, it seemed, with her lot,
which was that of a teacher in a High School. Her father had been a
hunting Devonshire squire, a rough-and-tumble sort of man having more in
common with his beasts than with his family. A kindly man but a mighty
spendthrift, a paralysing kind of spendthrift; one who, having no vices
on which you could lay your hand, was well-nigh impossible to check. But
that was a long time ago, and beyond the dignified Sheraton bookcase and
a few similar reminders of the past, Miss Lesway allowed her origin to go
unnoticed. Her eyes were so observant and her sense of humour so keen,
that she managed to extract a good deal of fun from her drab existence.
The pupils interested her; their foibles, their follies, their rather
splendid qualities and their less admirable meannesses. She attributed
these latter to their upbringing, blaming home environment for most of
the more serious faults in her girls. She liked talking about her work,
and had an old-fashioned trick of dropping her 'g's' when speaking
emphatically, especially when referring to sport. Possibly Squire Lesway
had said: 'Huntin', racin', fishin', shootin''; in any case his daughter
did so very markedly on those rare occasions when she gave rein to her
inherited instincts.

'Some of the girls would be all the better for a good day's huntin' on
Exmoor, gettin' wet to the skin and havin' their arms tugged out by a
half-mouthed Devonshire cob; that's the stuff to make men of 'em, that's
the life that knocks the affectation and side out of young females.'

Once she said quite seriously: 'The trouble is I can't give that girl a
sound lickin'; I told her mother it was the only way to cure a liar; but
of course she's a liar herself, so she didn't agree with me.'

She liked Elizabeth, hence her acceptance of this invasion, and she liked
Joan too, after she got used to her, though she looked askance at her
hair.

'No good dotting the "i's", my dear,' had been her comment.

Miss Lesway herself wore Liberty serges of a most unpleasing green, and a
string of turgid beads which clinked unhappily on her flat bosom. Her
sandy hair was chronically untidy, and what holding together it submitted
to was done by celluloid pins that more or less matched her dresses. Her
hands and wrists were small and elegant, but although she manicured her
shapely nails with immense care, and would soak them in the soap dish
while she talked to friends in the evenings, she disdained all stain or
polish. On the third finger of her left hand she wore a heavy signet ring
that had once belonged to her father. Her feet matched her hands in
slimness and breeding, but these she ignored, dooming them perpetually to
woollen stockings and wide square-toed shoes, heelless at that.

'Can't afford pneumonia', she had said once when remonstrated with.

The thick-soled, flat shoes permitted full play to the clumping stride
which was her natural walk. Her whole appearance left you bewildered; it
was a mixed metaphor, a contradiction in style, certainly a little
grotesque, and yet you did not laugh.

It was impossible to know what Beatrice Lesway thought of herself, much
less to discover what cravings, if any, tore her unfeminine bosom. She
managed to give the impression of great frankness, while rarely betraying
her private emotions. At times she spoke and acted very much like a man,
but at others became the quintessence of old maidishness. If she did not
long for the privileges denied to her sex, she took them none the less;
you gathered that she thought these privileges should be hers by right of
some hidden virtue in her own make-up, but that her opinion of women as a
whole was low. The feminist movement was going through a period of rest,
having temporarily subsided since the days, not so very long ago, when
Lady Loo had donned her knickerbockers. But the lull was only the
forerunner of a storm which was to break with great violence less than
twenty years later. Even now there were debates, discussions, threats,
but at these Miss Lesway laughed rudely.

'Bless their little hearts,' she chuckled, 'they must learn to stop
squabbling about their frocks before they sit in Parliament.'

'But surely,' Elizabeth protested, putting down the evening paper, 'a
woman's brain is as good as a man's? I cannot see why women should be
debarred from a degree, or why they should get lower salaries when they
work, for the same hours, and I don't see why they should be expected to
do nothing more intellectual than darn socks and have babies.'

Miss Lesway made a sound of impatience. 'And who's to do it if they
don't, pray?'

Elizabeth was silent, and Joan, who had not joined in this discussion,
was suddenly impressed with what she felt might be the truth about Miss
Lesway. Miss Lesway had the brain of a masterful man and the soul of a
mother. Probably that untidy, art-serged body of hers was a perpetual
battleground; no wonder it looked so dishevelled, trampled under as it
must be by these two violent rival forces.

'Well, I shall never marry!' Joan announced suddenly.

Miss Lesway looked at her. Joan had expected an outburst, or at least a
severe reproof, but, instead, the eyes that met hers were tired,
compassionate, and almost tender.

Miss Lesway said: 'No, I don't think you ever will. God help you!'


3


Everything was new and interesting and altogether delightful to Joan and
Elizabeth during this visit. They played with the zest of truant
schoolboys. No weather, however diabolical, could daunt them; they put on
their mackintoshes and sallied forth in rain, sleet and mud. They got
lost in a fog and found themselves in Kensington instead of Bloomsbury.
They struggled furiously for overcrowded buses, or filled their lungs
with sulphur in the Underground. They stood for hours at the pit doors of
theatres, and walked in the British Museum until their feet ached. Joan
developed a love of pictures, which she found she shared with Elizabeth,
and the mornings that they spent in the galleries were some of their
happiest. To Joan, beauty as portrayed by fine art came as a heavenly
revelation; she knew for the first time the thrill of looking at someone
else's inspired thoughts.

'After all, everything is just thought', she said wisely. 'They think,
and then they clothe what they've thought in something; this happens to
be paint and canvas, but it's all the same thing; thought must be clothed
in something so that we can see it.'

Elizabeth watched her delightedly. She told herself that it was like
putting a geranium cutting in the window; at first it was just all green,
then came the little coloured buds and then the bloom. She felt that Joan
was growing more in this fortnight than she had done in all her years at
Seabourne; growing, expanding, coming nearer to her kingdom, day by day.


4


The fortnight passed all too quickly; it was going and then it was gone.
They sat side by side in an empty third-class compartment, rushing back
to Seabourne. Everything had changed suddenly for the worse. Their
clothes struck them as shabby, now that it no longer mattered. In London,
where it really had mattered, they had been quite contented with their
appearance. Their bags, on the luggage rack opposite them, looked very
worn and battered. How had they ever dared to go to London at all? They
and their possessions belonged so obviously to Seabourne.

Joan took Elizabeth's hand. 'Rotten, it's being over!'

'Yes, it's been a good time, but we'll have lots more, Joan.'

'Yes--oh, yes!' Why was she so doubtful? Of course they would have lots
more, they were going to live together.

She realized now how necessary, how vitally necessary it was that they
should live together. Their two weeks in London had emphasized that fact,
if it needed emphasizing. In the past she had known two Elizabeths, but
now she knew a third; there had been Elizabeth the teacher and Elizabeth
the friend. But now there was Elizabeth the perfect companion. There was
the Elizabeth who knew so much and was able to make things so clear to
you, and so interesting. The Elizabeth who thought only of you, of how to
please you and make you happy; the Elizabeth who entered in, who liked
what you liked, enjoying all sorts of little things, finding fun at the
identical moment when you were wanting to laugh; in fact who thought your
own thoughts. This was a wonderful person who could descend with grace to
your level or unobtrusively drag you up to hers; an altogether darling,
humorous and understanding creature.

The train slowed down. Joan said: 'Oh, not already?'

They shared the fly as far as the Rodneys’ house, and then Joan drove on
alone.

Mrs. Ogden opened the front door herself.

'She's gone!' were her words of greeting.

'Who has? You don't mean Ethel?'

Mrs. Ogden sank on to the rim of the elephant pad umbrella stand. 'She
walked out this morning after the greatest impertinence. Of course I
refused to pay her. I'm worn out by all I've been through since you left;
I nearly telegraphed for you to come back.'

'Wait a minute, Mother dear; I must get my trunk in. Yes, please,
cabby--upstairs, if you don't mind; the back room.'

'She kept the kitchen filthy; I've been down there since she left and the
sink made me feel quite sick! I've thought for some time she was
dishonest and brought men in in the evenings, and now I'm sure of it;
there's hardly a grain of coffee left and I can't find the pound of bacon
I bought only the day before yesterday.'

'Oh! I do wish we hadn't lost her!' said Joan inconsequently. 'Have you
been to the registry office?'

No, of course not; what time have I had? You'll have to do that
tomorrow.'

Joan went upstairs and began unstrapping her trunk. She did not attempt
to analyse her feelings; they were too confused and she was very tired.
She wanted to sit down and gloat over the past two weeks, to recapture
some of their fun and freedom and companionship; above all she did not
want to think of registry offices.

Mrs. Ogden came into her room. 'You haven't kissed me yet, darling.'

Joan longed to say: 'You didn't give me a chance, did you?' But something
in the small, thin figure that stood rather wistfully before her, as if
uncertain of its welcome, made her kiss her mother in silence.

'Have you had any tea?' she asked, patting Mrs. Ogden's arm.

'No, I felt too tired to get it, but it might do my head good if you
could make some really strong tea, darling.'

Joan left her trunk untouched, and turned to the door. 'All right, I'll
have it ready in a quarter of an hour', she said.

Mrs. Ogden looked at her with love in her eyes. 'Oh, Joan, it's so good
to have you home again; I've missed you terribly.'

Joan was silent.



Chapter Thirty-Three


1


That Christmas Mrs. Benson invited them to dinner, and, being cookless,
Mrs. Ogden accepted. Milly was delighted to escape from the dreaded
ordeal of Christmas dinner at home. Her holidays were becoming
increasingly distasteful. For one thing she missed the convivial student
life, the companionship of people who shared her own interests and
ambitions, their free and easy talk, their illicit sprees, their love
affairs and the combined atmosphere of animal passion and spiritual
uplift which they managed to create. She dearly loved the ceaseless
activity of the College, the hurrying figures on the stairs, the muffled
thud of the swing-doors. The intent, preoccupied faces of the students
inspired and fascinated her; their hands seemed always to be clutching
something, a violin case, a music roll. Their hands were never empty.

She felt less toleration than ever for her home, now that she had left
it; the fact that she was practically free failed to soften her judgment
of Seabourne; as she had felt about it in the past, so she felt now, with
the added irritation that it reminded her of Mr. Thompson.

Milly was not introspective and she was not morbid. A wider experience of
life had not tended to raise her standard of morality, and if she was
ashamed of the episode with Mr. Thompson, it was because of the partner
she had chosen rather than because of the episode itself. She was
humiliated that it should have been Mr. Thompson of the circulating
library, a vulgar youth without ambition, talent, or brain. The memory of
those hours spent in the sand-pit lowered her self-esteem, the more so as
the side of her that had rejoiced in them was in abeyance for the moment,
kept in subjection by her passion for her art. She watched the students'
turbulent love affairs with critical and amused eyes. Some day, perhaps,
she would have another affair of her own, but for the present she was too
busy.

In her mind she divided the two elements in her nature by a well-defined
gulf. Both were highly important, but different. Both were good in
themselves, inasmuch as they were stimulating and pleasurable, but she
felt that they could not combine in her as they so often did in her
fellow students, and of this she was glad.

Her work was the thing that really counted, as she had always known; but
if the day should come when her work needed the stimulus of her passions
she was calmly determined that it should have it. She knew that she would
be capable of deliberately indulging all that was least desirable in her
nature, if thereby a jot or tittle could be gained for her music.

Her opinion of her sister was becoming unstable, viewed in the light of
wider experience; she was beginning to feel that she did not understand
Joan. In London Joan had seemed free, emancipated even; but back at
Leaside she was dull, irritable and apparently quite hopeless, like
someone suffering from a strong reaction.

It was true enough that the home-coming had been a shock to Joan; why, it
is impossible to say. She had known so many similar incidents; servants
had left abruptly before, especially of late years, so that familiarity
should have softened the effect produced by her arrival at Leaside. But
a condition of spirit, a degree of physical elation or fatigue, perhaps a
mere passing mood, will sometimes predispose the mind to receive
impressions disproportionately deep to their importance, and this was
what had happened in Joan's case. She had felt suddenly overwhelmed by
the hopelessness of it all, and as the days passed her fighting spirit
weakened. It was not that she longed any less to get away with Elizabeth,
but rather that the atmosphere of the house sapped her initiative as
never before. All the fine, brave plans for the future, that had seemed
so accessible with Elizabeth in London became nebulous and difficult to
seize. The worries that flourished like brambles around Mrs. Ogden closed
in around Joan too, seeming almost insurmountable when viewed in the
perspective of Leaside.

Milly watched her sister curiously. 'You look like the morning after the
night before! What's the matter, Joan?'

'Nothing', said Joan irritably. 'Do let me alone!'

'Your jaunt with Elizabeth doesn't seemed to have cheered you up much.'

'Oh, I'm all right.'

'Are you really going to Cambridge, do you think, after all?'

'_Will_ you shut up, Milly! I've told you a hundred times I don't know.'

Milly laughed provokingly, but the laugh brought on a paroxysm of
coughing; and she gasped, clinging to a chair.

Joan eyed her with resentment. Milly's cough made her unaccountably angry
sometimes; it had begun to take on abnormal proportions, to loom as a
menace. Her tense nerves throbbed painfully now whenever she heard it.

'Oh, do stop coughing!' she said, and her voice sounded exasperated. What
_was_ the matter with her? She was growing positively brutal! She fled
from the room, leaving Milly to cough and choke alone.


2


Christmas dinner at the Bensons' was a pleasant enough festivity. Mrs.
Benson was delighted that the Ogdens had come, for Richard was at home.
His stolid determination not to seek Joan out, coupled with his evident
melancholy, had begun to alarm his mother. She tried to lead him on to
talk about the girl, but he was not to be drawn. The situation was beyond
her. If Richard was in love with Joan, why didn't he marry her? His
father couldn't very well refuse to make him a decent allowance if he
married; it was all so ridiculous, this moping about, this pandering to
Joan's fancies.

'Marry her, my son, and discuss things afterwards', had been Mrs.
Benson's advice.

But Richard had laughed angrily. 'She won't marry me, unfortunately.'

'Then make her, for of course she's in love with you.'

No good; Mrs. Benson could not cope with the psychology of these two. She
felt that her only hope lay in propinquity, so if Richard would not go to
Joan the roles must be reversed and Joan must be brought to Richard. She
watched their meeting with scarcely veiled eagerness.

They shook hands without a tremor; a short, matter-of-fact clasp. Curious
creatures! Mrs. Benson felt baffled, and angry with Richard; what was he
thinking about? He treated Joan like another boy. No wonder the love
affair was not prospering!

Elizabeth was already there when the Ogdens arrived, and she, too,
watched the little comedy with some interest. She would rather have liked
to talk to Richard about Cambridge, it was so long since she herself had
been there, but Lawrence Benson was for ever at her elbow, quietly
obtrusive. He had taken to wearing pince-nez lately. Elizabeth wished
that he had not chosen the new American rimless glasses; she felt that
any effort to render pince-nez decorative only accentuated their
hideousness. She found herself looking at Lawrence, comparing the shine
on his evening shirt front with the disconcerting shine of his glasses.
He was very immaculate, with violets in his buttonhole, but he had aged.
The responsibility of partnership and riches appeared to have thinned his
sleek hair. Perhaps it made you old before your time to be a member of
one of the largest banking firms in England--old and prim and tidy.
Elizabeth wondered.

Lawrence reminded her of an expensive mahogany filing cabinet in which
reposed bundles of papers tied with red tape. Everything about him was
perfectly correct, from the small, expensive pearl that clasped his stiff
shirt, to his black silk socks and patent leather shoes. His cufflinks
were handsome but restrained, his watch-chain was platinum and gold, not
too thick, his watch was an expensive repeater in the plainest of plain
gold cases.

Elizabeth felt his thin, dry fingers touch her arm as he stooped over her
chair. 'You look beautiful tonight', he murmured.

She believed him, for she knew that her simple black dress suited her
because of its severity. The fashion that year was for a thousand little
bows and ruches, but Elizabeth had not followed it; she had draped
herself in long, plain folds, from which her fine neck and shoulders
emerged triumphantly white. She was the statuesque type of woman, who
would always look her best in the evening, for then the primness that
crept into her everyday clothes was perforce absent. She smiled across at
Joan, as though in some way Lawrence's compliment concerned her.

They went in to dinner formally. Mr. Benson gave his arm to Mrs. Ogden,
Lawrence to Elizabeth, and Richard to Joan. Milly was provided with a
Cambridge friend of Richard's, and Mrs. Benson was pompously escorted by
the local vicar.

Something of Mrs. Ogden's habit of melancholy fell away during dinner.
She noticed Lawrence looking in her direction, and remembered with a
faint thrill of satisfaction that although now he was obviously in love
with Elizabeth, some years ago he had admired her. Joan, watching her
mother, was struck afresh by her elusive prettiness that almost amounted
to beauty. It had been absent of late, washed away by tears and
ill-health, but tonight it seemed to be born anew, a pathetic thing, like
a venturesome late rosebud that colours in the frost.

Joan's mind went back to that long past Anniversary Day when her mother
had worn a dress of soft grey that had made her look like a little dove.
How long ago it seemed! It had been the last of many. It had ceased to
exist owing to her father's failing health, and now there was no money to
start it again. As she watched her mother she wished that it could be
re-established, for it had given Mrs. Ogden such intense pleasure, filled
her with such a harmless, if foolish, sense of importance. On Anniversary
Day she had been able to rise above all her petty worries; it had been
_her_ Day, one out of the three hundred and sixty-five. Perhaps, after
all, it had done much to obliterate for the time being the humiliations
of her married life. Joan had never thought of this possibility before,
but now she felt that hidden away under the bushel of affectations,
social ambitions and snobbishness that The Day had stood for, there might
well have burnt a small and feeble candle--the flame of a lost virginity.

The same diaphanous prettiness hung about her mother now, and Joan
noticed that her brown hair was scarcely greyer than it had been all
those years ago. She felt a sudden, sharp tenderness, a passionate sense
of regret. Regret for what? She asked herself; surprised at the violence
of her own emotion; but the only answer she could find was too vague and
vast to be satisfactory. 'Oh, for everything! for everything', she
murmured half aloud.

Richard looked at her. 'Did you speak, Joan?'

'No--at least I don't know. Did I?'

Her eyes were on her mother's face, watchful, tender, admiring. Mrs.
Ogden looked up and met those protecting, possessive eyes, full upon her.
She flushed deeply like a young girl.

Richard touched Joan's arm. 'Have you forgotten how to talk?' he
demanded.

She laughed. 'You never approve of anything I say, so perhaps silence is
a blessing in disguise.'

'Oh, rot! Joan, look at my brother making an ass of himself over
Elizabeth. Shall I start looking at you like that? I'm much more in love
than he is, you know.'

'Richard dear, you're not going to propose again in the middle of dinner,
are you?'

'No; but it's only putting off the evil day, I warn you'

He was not going to lecture her any more, he decided. Elizabeth had
written him a letter which was almost triumphant in tone; Joan was making
up her mind, it seemed; perhaps after all she would show some spirit. In
any case he found her adorable, with her black, cropped hair, her
beautiful mouth, and her queer, gruff voice. Her flanks were lean and
strong like a boy's; they suggested splendid, unfettered movement. She
looked all wrong in evening dress, almost grotesque; but to Richard she
appeared beautiful because symbolic of some future state--a forerunner.
As he looked at her he seemed to see a vast army of women like herself,
fine, splendid and fiercely virginal; strong, too, capable of gripping
life and holding it against odds--the women of the future. They
fascinated him, these as yet unborn women, stimulating his imagination,
challenging his intellect, demanding of him an explanation of themselves.

He dropped his hand on Joan's where it lay in her lap. 'Have you prayed
over your sword?' he asked gravely.

She knew what he meant. 'No', she said. 'I haven't had the courage to
unsheathe it yet.'

'Then unsheathe it now and put it on the altar rails, and then get down
on your knees and pray over it all night.'

Their eyes met, young, frank and curious, and in hers there was a faint
antagonism.



Chapter Thirty-Four


1


In the following February, Milly was sent home. They wrote from Alexandra
House to say that for the present, at all events, she was too ill to
continue her studies. She had had a touch of pneumonia shortly after her
return, with the result that her lungs were weak. The matron wrote what
was meant to be a kind and tactful letter. It was full of veiled
sentences; the sort of letter that distracted Joan by reason of its
merciful vagueness. The letter said that Milly was not strong, that she
was losing weight and was apt to run a little temperature night and
morning; according to the doctor, her lungs required care and she must be
given time to recover, and plenty of open air.

Joan looked across at Mrs. Ogden as she finished reading.

'It's tubercle', she said briefly.

Her voice sounded calm and cold. 'I might be saying "It's Monday
to-day,"' she thought. She felt stupid with pity for Milly and for
herself.

Mrs. Ogden tightened her lips; she assumed her stubborn expression. 'What
nonsense, Joan! We've never had such a thing in our family.'

'But, good heavens, Mother!--your father and your brother died of
galloping consumption.'

'Nothing of the kind. Henry died of bronchial pneumonia; you don't know
what you're talking about, my dear.'

Joan thought. 'She's going to refuse to face it, she's going to play
ostrich; what on earth am I to do!' Aloud she said: 'Well, I'd better go
up and fetch her; we can't let her travel alone.'

'Ah! there I agree with you; certainly go up and bring her home. But
whatever you do, don't frighten the life out of the poor child with any
ridiculous talk about consumption.'

Joan left her gently embroidering a handkerchief. 'I must see Elizabeth
at once', she told herself.


2


It was already half-past nine in the evening, but Joan rushed round to
the Rodneys' house, to find that Elizabeth had gone to bed with a
headache.

'I expect she's asleep', said Ralph doubtfully.

He was wearing an old Norfolk jacket and carpet slippers; his grey hair
was ruffled, and an end-of-the-day grey stubble clung like mould to his
chin. His eyes looked heavy and a little pink; he had probably been
asleep himself, or dozing in the arm-chair, under the picture of old
Uncle John. He was certainly too sleepy to be polite, and looked
reproachfully at Joan, as though she had done him some wrong.

Oh! the gloom of it all! Of this seaside house with its plush study, of
old Uncle John and his ageing descendant, of the lowered gas-jet in its
hideous globe, that was yet not dim enough to hide the shabby
stair-carpet and the bloodthirsty Landseer engraving on the landing.

It was misty outside, and some of the mist had followed Joan into the
house; it made a slight, melancholy blur over everything, including
herself and Ralph. She left him abruptly, climbing the stairs two at a
time.

She opened the bedroom door without knocking. The gas had been turned
down to the merest speck, but by its light Joan could see that Elizabeth
was asleep. She turned the gas up full, but still Elizabeth did not stir.
She was lying on her side with her cheek pressed hard into the pillow;
her hair was loosely plaited, thick, beautiful hair that shone as the
light fell across it. One of her scarred hands lay on the white
bedspread, pathetically unconscious of its blemish.

Joan stood and looked at her, looked at Elizabeth as she was now, off her
guard. What she saw made her look away and then back again, as if drawn
by some miserable attraction. Elizabeth's lips were closed, gently
enough, but from their drooping corners a few fine lines ran down into
the chin; and the closed eyelids were ever so slightly puckered. Joan
bent nearer. Yes, those were grey hairs close to the forehead; Elizabeth
had a good many grey hairs. Strange that she had never noticed them
before. She flushed with a kind of shame. She was discovering secret
things about Elizabeth; things that hid themselves by day to look up
grimacing out of the night-time and Elizabeth's sleep. Elizabeth would
hate it if she knew! And there lay her beautiful hand, all scarred and
spoilt; a brave hand, but spoilt none the less. Was it only the scars, or
had the texture of the skin changed a little too, grown a little less
firm and smooth? She stared at it hopelessly.

She found that she was whispering to herself: 'Elizabeth's not so young
any more. Oh, God! Elizabeth is almost growing old.'

She felt that her sorrow must choke her; pity, sorrow, and still more,
shame. Elizabeth's youth was slipping, slipping; it would soon have
slipped out of sight. Joan stooped on a sudden impulse and kissed the
scarred hand.

'Joan! Are you here? You woke me; you were kissing my hand!'

'Yes, I was kissing the scars.'

Elizabeth twitched her hand away. 'Don't be a fool!' she said roughly.

Joan looked at her, and something, perhaps the pity in her eyes made
Elizabeth recover herself.

'Tell me what's the matter', she said quietly. 'Has anything new
happened?'

Joan sat down beside her on the bed. 'Come here', she said.

Elizabeth moved nearer, and Joan's arm went round her with a quiet,
strong movement. She kissed her on the forehead where the grey hairs
showed, and then on the eyelids, one after the other. Elizabeth lay very
still.

Joan said: 'They're sending Milly home; I'm afraid she's in consumption.'

Elizabeth freed herself with a quick twist of her body. 'What?'

'Read this letter.'

Elizabeth blinked at the gas-jet. 'It's my eyes', she complained almost
fretfully. 'Light the candle, will you, Joan? Then we can put the gas
out.'

Joan did as she wished, and returning to the bed leant over the
foot-rail, watching Elizabeth as she read. Elizabeth had gone white to
the lips; she laid down the letter and they stared at each other in
silence.

At last Elizabeth spoke. 'She's coming home soon', she said in a flat
voice.

'Yes; I must go and fetch her the day after tomorrow.'

'She'll need--nursing--if she lives.'

'Yes--if she lives--'

'It's February already, Joan.'

'Yes, next month is March. We called it our March, didn't we, Elizabeth?'

'There are places--sanatoriums, but they cost money.'

'We haven't got the money, Elizabeth. And in any case, Mother's decided
that Milly can't be seriously ill.'

'I have some money, as you know, Joan, but I was saving it for you;
still--' Her voice shook.

Joan sat down on the bed again and took Elizabeth's hand. 'It's no good',
she said gently.

And then Elizabeth cried. She did it with disconcerting suddenness and
complete lack of restraint. It was terrible to Joan to see her thrown
right off her guard like this; to feel her shoulders shake with sobs
while the tears dripped through her fingers on to the bedspread.

She said: 'Don't, oh, don't!'

But Elizabeth took no notice, she was launched on a veritable torrent of
self-indulgence which she had no will to stem. The pent-up unhappiness of
years gushed out at this moment. All the ambitions, the longings, the
tenderness sternly repressed, the maternal instinct, the lover instinct,
all the frustrations, they were all there, finding despairing expression
as she sobbed. She rocked herself from side to side and backwards and
forwards. She lost her breath with little gasps, but found it again
immediately, and went on crying. She murmured in a kind of ecstatic
anguish: 'Oh! oh!--Oh! oh!' And then, 'Joan, Joan, Joan!' But not for an
instant did her tears cease.

Ralph heard the sound of sobbing as he passed on his way to bed, and a
quiet, unhappy voice speaking very low, breaking off and then speaking
again. He hesitated a moment, wondering if he should go in, but shook his
head, and sighing, went on to his own room, closing the door noiselessly
after him.


3


Two days later Joan was waiting in the matron's sitting-room at Alexandra
House. Someone had told her that Miss Jackson wished to speak to her
before she went up to her sister. She remembered that Miss Jackson was
Milly's 'Old Scout', and smiled in spite of herself.

The door opened and Miss Jackson came in. She held out her hand with an
exaggeratedly bright smile. 'Miss Ogden?'

Joan thought: 'She's terribly nervous of what she has to tell me.'

'Do sit down, Miss Ogden, please. I hope you had a good journey?'

'Yes, thank you.'

The matron looked at her watch. 'Your train must have been unusually
punctual; I always think the trains are so very bad on that line. However
you've been fortunate.'

'Yes, we were only five minutes late.'

'You don't find it stuffy in here, do you? I cannot persuade the maids to
leave the window open.'

'No, I don't feel hot--I think you wanted to speak to me about Milly.'

'Milly; oh, yes-I thought--the doctor wanted me to tell you--'

'That my sister is in consumption? I was afraid it was so, from your
letter.'

Miss Jackson moistened her lips. 'Oh, my dear, I hope my letter was not
too abrupt! You mustn't run ahead of trouble; our doctor is nervous about
future possibilities if great care is not used--but your sister's lungs
are sound so far, he _thinks_.'

'Then I disagree with him', said Joan.

Miss Jackson felt a little shocked. Evidently this was a very sensible
young woman, not to say almost heartless; still it was better than if she
had broken down. 'We all hope, we all believe, that Milly will soon be
quite well again,' she said, 'but, as you know, I expect, she's rather
frail. I should think that she must always have been delicate; and yet
what a student! A wonderful student; they're all heart-broken at the
College.' There was real feeling in her voice as she continued:
'I can't tell you what an admiration I have for your sister; her pluck is
phenomenal; she's worked steadily, overworked in fact, up to the last.'
Joan got up; she felt a little giddy and put her hand on the back of the
chair to steady herself.

'My dear, wait, I must get you some sal-volatile!'

'Oh, no, no, please not; I really don't feel ill. I should like to go to
Milly now and help her to collect her luggage, if I may.'

'Of course; come with me.'

They mounted interminable stairs to the rooms that Milly shared with
Harriet. A sound of laughing reached them through the half-open door. It
was Milly's laugh.

'She's very brave and cheerful, poor child', Miss Jackson whispered. Joan
followed her into the study.

'Here's your sister, Milly dear.'

Milly looked up from the strap of her violin case. 'Hullo, Joan! This is
jolly, isn't it?'

Joan kissed her and shook hands with Harriet.

‘I'll leave you now', said Miss Jackson, obviously anxious to get away.
Harriet raised her eyebrows. '_Vieille grue_!' she remarked, scarcely
below her breath.

Milly laughed again, she seemed easily amused, and Joan scrutinized her
closely. She was painfully thin and the laugh was a little husky;
otherwise she looked much as usual at that moment. Joan's heart beat more
freely; supposing it were a false alarm after all? Suppose it should be
only a matter of a month or two, at most, before Milly would be quite
well again and she herself free?

'How do you feel?' she inquired with ill-concealed anxiety.

'Oh, pretty fit, thank you. I think it's all rot myself. I suppose Old
Scout informed you that I was going into a decline, but I beg to differ.
A few weeks at Seabourne will cure me all right. Good Lord! I should just
think so!' and she made a grimace.

Harriet began humming a sort of vocal five-finger exercise; Joan glared
at her. Damn the woman! Couldn't she keep quiet?

Harriet laughed. 'Don't slay me with a glance, my dear!'

Joan forced herself to smile. 'I was thinking we'd be late for the
train.'

'Oh, no, you weren't; but never mind. You amuse me, Joan. May I call you
Joan? Well, in any case, you amuse me. Oh! But you are too funny and
young and _gauche_, a regular boor, and your grey-green coloured eyes go
quite black when you're angry. I should never be able to resist making
you angry just for the pleasure of seeing your eyes change colour; do you
think you could manage to get really angry with me some day?'

Joan felt hot with embarrassment. What was the matter with this woman;
didn't she know that she was in the room with a perfectly awful tragedy,
didn't she realize that here was something that would probably ruin three
people's lives? She wondered if this was Harriet's way of keeping the
situation in hand, of trying to carry the thing off lightly. Perhaps,
after all, she was only making an effort to fall in with Milly's mood;
that must be it, of course.

Harriet's decided voice went on persistently. 'Come up and see me
sometimes; don't stop away because Milly isn't here, though I expect
she'll be back soon. But in the meantime come up and see me; I shall like
to see you quite often, if you'll come.'

'Thank you,' said Joan, 'but I'm never in London.'

Harriet smiled complacently. 'We'll see', she murmured.

Joan turned to Milly. 'Come on, Milly, we ought to go; it's getting
late.'


4


In the train Milly talked incessantly; she was flushed now, and the hand
that she laid on Joan's from time to time felt unnaturally hot and dry.
She assured Joan eagerly that the doctor was a fool and an alarmist; that
he had sent a girl home only last year for what he called 'pernicious
anaemia', whereas she had been back at College in less than four months
as well as ever. Milly said that if they supposed she was going to waste
much time, they were mistaken; a few weeks perhaps, just to get over
that infernal pneumonia, but no longer at Leaside--no, thank you! If she
stayed at Leaside she was sure she _would_ die, but not of consumption,
of boredom! Her lungs were all right, she never spat blood, and you
always spat blood if your lungs were going. It was quite bad enough as it
was though; jolly hard lines having a set-back at this critical time in
her training. Never mind, she would have to work all the harder later on
to make up for it.

She talked and coughed and coughed and talked all the way from London to
Seabourne. She was like a thing wound up, a mechanical toy. Joan's heart
sank.

Elizabeth was at the station and so was Mrs. Ogden. They had come quite
independently of each other. As a rule Elizabeth kept away if she knew
that Mrs. Ogden was meeting one of the girls, anxious these days not to
feed the flame of the older woman's jealousy; but to-day her anxiety had
outweighed her discretion.

Mrs. Ogden kissed Milly affectionately. 'Why, she looks splendid!' she
remarked to the world in general.

Elizabeth assumed an air of gaiety that she was very far from feeling. It
seemed to her that Milly looked like death, and her eyes sought Joan's
with a frightened, questioning glance. For answer, Joan shook her head
ever so slightly.

They all went home to Leaside together. Elizabeth had offered to help
with the unpacking. She was not going to torment herself with any
unnecessary suspense, and she cared less than nothing whether Mrs. Ogden
wanted her or not. She had got beyond that sort of nonsense now, she told
herself. She pressed Joan's hand quite openly in the fly. Why not? Mrs.
Ogden was jealous of any demonstrations of affection towards Joan other
than her own; Elizabeth knew this, but pressed the hand again.

She and Joan had no opportunity of being alone together that evening.
They longed to talk the situation over. They were taut with nervous
anxiety; even a quarrel would have been a relief. But Mrs. Ogden was in a
hovering mood, they could not get rid of her; even after Milly had gone
to bed she continued to haunt them. Frail, unobtrusive, but always there.
She seemed to be feeling affable, for she had pressed Elizabeth to stop
to supper and had even thanked her for helping with the unpacking. It was
remarkable; one would have expected tears or at least depression or
irritability over this fresh disaster, for disaster it was, even though
Mrs. Ogden chose to take a cheerful view of Milly's condition. It was
impossible that she should contemplate with equanimity more doctor's
bills, and the mounting tradesmen's accounts for luxuries. Whatever the
outcome, Milly would require milk, beef-tea and other expensive things;
and there was little or no money, as even Mrs. Ogden must know. And yet
she was cheerful; it made Elizabeth feel afraid.

She became a prey to a horrible idea that Mrs. Ogden was happy, yes,
positively happy over Milly's illness, because she saw in it a new fetter
wherewith to bind Joan. Perhaps she had suspected all along that Joan had
determined to break away soon. Perhaps she had begun to realize that her
influence over her daughter was waning. And now came Milly's collapse,
with all that it entailed of responsibility, of diminished finances, of
appeal to every generous and unselfish instinct. Elizabeth shuddered. She
did not accuse Mrs. Ogden of consciously visualizing the cause of her
satisfaction; but she knew that no greater self-deceiver had ever lived,
and that although she was probably telling herself that she was being
cheerful and brave in the face of sorrow, and acting with unselfish
courage, she was subconsciously rejoicing in the misfortune that must
bind Joan closer to her than ever.

They could hear Milly coughing fitfully upstairs; a melancholy sound, for
it was a young cough. Mrs. Ogden remarked that they must get some syrup
of camphor, which in her experience never failed to clear up a chest
cold. She told Joan to write to London for it next day.

Elizabeth got up; she felt that she must walk and walk, no matter where.
Her legs and feet seemed terribly alive, they tormented her with their
twitching.

'I must go', she said suddenly.

Joan followed her into the hall. Their eyes met for an instant in a look
of sympathy and dismay; but Mrs. Ogden was standing in the open doorway
of the drawing-room, watching them, and they parted with a brief good
night.



Chapter Thirty-Five


1


Two weeks elapsed before Mrs. Ogden would consent to any further
examination of Milly's lungs. At first she refused on the ground that
Milly was only in need of rest, and when Joan persisted, made other
excuses, all equally futile. She seemed determined to prevent Doctor
Thomas's visit, and it struck Joan that her mother was secretly afraid.

Doctor Thomas was getting old. He had attended the Ogdens as long as Joan
could remember. He attended most of the residents of Seabourne, though it
was said that the summer visitors preferred a younger man, who had
recently made his appearance. Joan herself would have preferred the
younger man, but on this point Mrs. Ogden was obdurate; she would not
hear of a stranger being called in, protesting that Doctor Thomas would
be deeply hurt.

Doctor Thomas came, and rubbed his cold hands briskly together; he smiled
at the assembled family as he smiled on all serious occasions throughout
his career. A wooden stethoscope protruded from his tail-pocket; he took
it out and balanced it playfully between finger and thumb.

'Let _me_ explain', said Joan peremptorily, as Mrs. Ogden opened her lips
to speak.

She had to raise her voice somewhat, for the doctor was a little hard of
hearing.

'Eh, what? What was that?' he inquired from time to time.

Milly's lip curled. She shrugged her shoulders and complied with an ill
grace when told to remove her blouse.

'Take a deep breath.'

Doctor Thomas pressed his stethoscope to her chest and back; he pressed
so hard with his large, purplish ear that the stethoscope dug into her
bones.

'Ow! That hurts', she protested peevishly.

'Say "ninety-nine"!'

'Ninety-nine.'

'Again, please.'

'Ninety-nine.'

'Again.'

'Oh! Ninety-nine, ninety-nine, ninety-nine!'

For a young woman about to be twenty-one years old, Milly was behaving in
an extraordinarily childish manner. The doctor looked at her
reproachfully and began tapping on her back and chest with his notched
and bony fingers. Tap, tap, tap, tap: Milly glanced down at his hand
distastefully.

'And now say "ninety-nine" again', he suggested.

Milly flushed with irritation and coughed. 'Ninety-_nine_!' she exclaimed
in an exasperated voice.

The old doctor straightened himself and looked round complacently. 'Just
as I thought, there's nothing seriously wrong here.'

'Then you don't think--?' began Joan, but her mother interrupted. 'That's
just what I thought you'd say, Doctor Thomas; I felt sure there could be
nothing radically wrong with Milly's lungs. Thank God, she comes from
very healthy stock! I suppose a good long rest is all that she needs?'

'Exactly, Mrs. Ogden. A good rest, good food, and plenty of air; and no
more practising for a bit, Miss Milly. You must keep your shoulders back
and your chest well out, and just take things easy.'

'But for how long?' Milly asked, with a catch in her voice. 

'How long? Oh, for a few months at least.'

Milly looked despairingly at Joan, but, try as she would, Joan could not
answer that look with the reassuring smile that it was obviously asking
for. She turned away and began straightening some music on the piano.

'I must be off’, said the doctor, shaking hands. 'I shall come in from
time to time, just to see that Miss Milly is obeying orders; oh, and I
think cod liver oil would prove beneficial.'

'No; that I will not!' said Milly firmly.

'Nonsense! You'll do as the doctor tells you', Mrs. Ogden retorted.

'I will _not_ take cod liver oil; it makes me sick!'

Joan left them arguing, and followed Doctor Thomas to the front door.
'Look here,' she said in a low voice, 'surely you'll examine for
tubercle?'

He looked at her whimsically through his spectacles. 'My dear young lady,
you've been stuffing your head up with a lot of half-digested medical
knowledge', and he patted her shoulder as though to soften his words. 'Be
assured,' he told her, 'that I shall do everything I think necessary for
your sister, and nothing that I think unnecessary.'


2


Joan went back to the drawing-room. The argument about the cod liver oil
had ceased, and Milly was crying quietly, all by herself, in the window.
She looked up with tearful eyes as her sister took her hand and pressed
it.

'Cheer up, old girl!' Joan whispered, her own heart heavy with
forebodings.

Mrs. Ogden said nothing; her face seemed expressionless when Joan glanced
at her. Ethel's successor brought in the tea and Milly dried her eyes. It
was a silent meal; from time to time Milly's gaze dwelt despairingly on
her violin case where it lay on the sofa, and Joan knew that she was
grieving as a lover for a lost beloved.

'It's only for so short a time', she said, answering the unspoken
thought.

Milly shook her head and her eyes overflowed again, the tears dripped
into the tea-cup that she held tremulously to her lips.

Mrs. Ogden pretended not to notice. 'More tea, Joan?' she inquired.

Joan looked at her and hated her; and before the hate had time to root,
began to love her again, for the weak thing that she was. There she sat,
quiet and soft and utterly incapable. She was not facing this situation,
not even trying to realize what it meant to her two daughters.

'But I could crush her to pulp!' Joan thought angrily. 'I could make her
scream with pain if I chose, if I told her that I saw through her,
despised her, hated her; if I told her that I was going to leave her and
that she would never see me again. I could make her cry like Milly's
crying, only worse; oh, how I could make her cry!' But her own thought
hurt her somewhere very deep down, and at that moment Mrs. Ogden looked
up and their eyes met.

Joan stared at her coldly. 'Milly is fretting', she said.

Mrs. Ogden's glance wavered. 'She mustn't do that, after what the doctor
has told us. Milly, dearest, there's nothing to cry about.' Milly hid her
face.

'It's all my life, Mother', she sobbed.

'What is, my dear?'

'My fiddle!'

'But, my dear child, you're not giving up your violin; he only wants you
to rest for a time.'

Milly sobbed more loudly, she was growing hysterical. 'I want to go back
to College,' she wailed. 'I hate, hate, _hate_ being here! I hate
Seabourne and all the people in it, and I hate this house! It stifles me,
and I'm not ill and I shan't stop practising and I shan't take cod liver
oil!' She wrenched herself free from Joan's restraining arm. 'Let me go
upstairs', she spluttered. 'I want to go upstairs!'

Joan released her. Alone together, the mother and daughter looked at each
other defiantly.

'She ought to see a specialist', Joan said; 'Doctor Thomas is an old
fool!'

Mrs. Ogden's soft eyes grew bright with rising temper. 'Never!' she
exclaimed, raising her voice. 'I hate the whole brood; it was a
specialist who killed your father. James would be alive now if it hadn't
been for a so-called specialist!'

Joan made a sound of impatience. 'Don't be ridiculous, Mother; you don't
know what you're talking about. You're taking a terrible responsibility
in refusing to have a first-class opinion.'

'I consider Doctor Thomas first-class.'

'He is _not_; he's antediluvian and deaf into the bargain! I tell you,
Milly is very ill.'

Mrs. Ogden's remaining calm deserted her. 'You tell me, _you_ tell me!
And what do you know about it? It seems that you pretend to know more
than the doctor himself. You and your ridiculous medical books! You'll be
asking me to consult your fellow-student Elizabeth next.'

'I wish to God you would!'

'Ah! I thought so; well then, send for your clever friend, your unsexed
blue-stocking, and put her opinion above that of your own mother. How
many children has she borne, I'd like to know? What knowledge can she
have that I as a mother haven't got by natural instinct, about my own
child? How dare you put Elizabeth Rodney above me!'

Joan lost her temper suddenly and violently. 'Because she _is_ above you,
because she's everything that you're not.'

Mrs. Ogden gave a stifled cry and sank back in her chair. 'Oh! my head,
it's swimming, I feel sinking, I feel as if I were dying. Oh! oh! my
head!'

'Sit up!' commanded Joan. 'You're not dying, but I think Milly is.' Mrs.
Ogden began to cry weakly as Joan turned away. 

'Cruel, cruel!' she murmured.

Joan went up to her and shook her slightly. 'Behave yourself, Mother; I've
no time for this sort of thing.'

'To tell me that a child of mine is dying! You say that to frighten me; I
shall tell the doctor.'

Joan shrugged her shoulders. 'You may tell him what you please. I'm going
up to Milly, now.'


3


Richard had been gone for some weeks and Mr. and Mrs. Benson had moved
back to London when Milly came home. Joan would have given much to have
had Richard to talk to just now, but she could only write and tell him
her fears, which his brief answers did little to dispel: He advised an
immediate consultation and mentioned a first-class specialist; at the
same time he managed to drop a word here and there anent Joan's own
prospects, which he pointed out were becoming more gloomy with every
month of delay. No, Richard was not in a consoling mood these days.

Lawrence, on the other hand, was full of kindness. He had taken to coming
down to Conway House for the weekends, and he seldom came without a jar
of turtle soup or some other expensive luxury for the invalid. His
constant visits to Leaside might have suggested an interest in one of its
inmates; in fact Mrs. Ogden began to wonder whether Lawrence was falling
out of love with Elizabeth and into love with Milly. But Joan was not
deceived; she felt certain that he only came there in the hopes of
catching a glimpse of Elizabeth if, as sometimes happened, he found her
out when he called at her brother's house; she was amused and yet vaguely
annoyed.

'Your admirer's in the drawing-room, Elizabeth.'

Elizabeth smiled. 'Well, let him stay there with your mother; we'll sneak
out by the back door, for a walk.'

But Lawrence invariably saw them escaping; it was uncanny how he always
seemed to be standing at the window on such occasions. On a blustery day
in March he hurried after them and caught them at the corner of the
street, as he had already done several times. He always said the same
thing:

'Ripping afternoon for a walk, you two; may I join you?'

He threw out his chest and took off his hat.

'Jolly good for the hair, Elizabeth!'

Elizabeth's own hat, blown slightly askew, was causing her agony by
reason of the straining hat-pins; and in any case she always suffered
from neuralgia when the wind was in the east. She managed to turn her
head slightly in his direction, but before she had time to snub him, a
gust removed her hat altogether and blew her hair down into her eyes. The
hat bowled happily along the esplanade, and after it went Joan, with
Lawrence at her heels. She could hear him pattering persistently behind
her. For some reason the sound of his awkward running infuriated her; his
steps were short for a man's, as though he were wearing tight boots. She
felt suddenly that she must reach the hat first or die; must be the one
to restore it to its owner. She strained her lanky legs to their limit;
her skirts flew, her breath came fast, she was flushed with temper and
endeavour. Now she had almost reached it. No, there it went again,
carried along by a fresh and more spiteful gust. Several people stood
still to laugh.

'Two to one on Miss Joan!' cried General Brooke, halting in his strut.

Ah! At last! Her hand flew out to capture the hat, which was poised,
rocking slightly for a moment, like a seagull on a wave. She stooped
forward, grabbed the air, tripped and fell flat. Lawrence, who was close
behind her, nearly fell over her, but saved himself just in time. He
pursued the hat a few steps farther, seized it and then returned to help
Joan up; but she had already sprung to her feet with an exclamation of
annoyance.

'I've won!' laughed Lawrence provokingly. 'You're not hurt, are you?'

She was, having slightly twisted her ankle, but she lied sulkily. 'No, of
course not.'

It seemed to her that he was smiling all over, not only with his mouth,
but with his eyes and his glasses and the little brass buttons on his
knitted waistcoat. His very shoes twinkled with amusement all over their
highly polished toecaps. Instinctively she stretched out her hand to take
the hat from him.

'Oh, no!' he taunted. 'No, you don't; that's not fair!'

Elizabeth was standing still watching them, with her hands pressed
against her hair. 'Thank you', she said, as Lawrence restored her hat to
her; but she looked at Joan and smiled.

Joan turned her face away to hide a sudden rush of tears. How ridiculous
and childish she was! Fancy a woman of twenty-three wanting to cry over
losing the game! They walked on in silence, Joan trying not to limp too
obviously, but Elizabeth was observant.

'You're hurt', she said, and stood still. Joan denied it.

'It's nothing at all; I just twisted my ankle a bit.' And she limped on.

'Hadn't you better turn back?' suggested Lawrence a little too hopefully.
'Look here, Joan, I'll get you a fly.'

'I don't want a fly, thank you; I'm all right.'

'No, you're not; do let me call that cab for you; it's awfully unwise to
walk on a strained ankle.'

'Oh, for goodness' sake,' snapped Joan, 'do let me know for myself
whether I'm hurt or not!'

She realized that she was behaving badly; she could hear the irritation
in her own voice. Moreover, she knew that she was spoiling the walk by
limping along and refusing to go home; but some spirit of perverseness
was dominating her. She felt that she disliked Lawrence quite enormously,
and at that moment she almost disliked Elizabeth. Why had Elizabeth
accepted her hat from Lawrence's hand? She should have said something
like this: 'Give it to Joan, please; I would rather Joan gave me my hat.'
Ridiculous! She laughed aloud.

'What are you laughing at?' inquired Lawrence.

'Oh, nothing, only my thoughts.'

'Can't we share the joke?'

'No, it wouldn't amuse you.'

'Oh, do go back, Joan', said Elizabeth irritably. 'You're hardly able to
walk.'

'Do you want me to go back, then?'

'Yes, of course I do; and put on a cold-water bandage as soon as you get
home.'

Joan looked at her with darkening eyes, and left them abruptly.


4


'What on earth's upset her?' asked Lawrence, genuinely concerned.
Nothing--why? She's not upset.'

'She seemed angry about something.'

'Oh, I don't think so. Probably her ankle was hurting her rather badly,
only she didn't want to admit it.'

'Well, I thought she was angry. But never mind, let's talk about you.'
And he edged a little nearer.

Elizabeth evaded the hand that hovered in the vicinity of her arm. 'I'm
so dull to talk about', she parried. 'Let's talk about metaphysics!'

He gripped her arm now in a grasp that there was no evading. 'Why _will_
you always make fun of me, Elizabeth?'

She was silent, her head drooped, and he, misunderstanding the movement,
tightened his fingers.

'I love you!' he said rather loudly in her ear, raising his voice to be
heard through the wind. 'When _will_ you marry me, dearest?'

'Oh, Lawrence, don't', she protested. 'Some day, perhaps, or never. I
don't know!'

'But you _do_ love me a little, Elizabeth, don't you?'

'No, not a bit; I don't love you at all.'

'But you would. I'd make you.'

'How would you make me?'

He considered. 'I don't know,' he admitted lamely; 'but I'd find a way,
try me and see; it's not possible that I shouldn't find a way.'

He was very sincere, that was the worst of it. His eyes glowed fondly at
her behind his glasses.

'And, my dear, I could give you all you want,' he added. 

'All I want, Lawrence?'

'Yes, I mean we'd be rich.'

She stopped to consider him thoughtfully. A good-looking man, too well
dressed; a dull man, too conscious of worldly success; a shy man, shy not
to be over bold at times. A youngish man still, too pompous to be
youthful.

'Would you like to marry a woman who doesn't love you?' she asked him
curiously.

'I'd like to marry you, Elizabeth.'

'But why? I can't imagine why anyone should want to marry me.'

'I want to marry you because you're everything I love. My dear Elizabeth,
if you were seventy I should still love you.'

'You think so now, because I'm not seventy.'

'Look here', he said suddenly. 'Is it still Joan that's stopping you?'

She stiffened. 'I said I didn't love you, isn't that enough?'

He continued in his train of thought. 'Because if it is Joan, you know,
just think how we could help her, in her career, I mean. She'll need
money and I have at least got that. If you'll marry me, Elizabeth, I
swear I'll do more for that girl than I'd do for my own sister. Say
you'll marry me, Elizabeth--'

She pushed his hand away from her arm rather roughly. 'If I married you',
she said, 'I should have to stop thinking of Joan's career; it would be
your career then, not hers; and in any case money will never help Joan.'

'Why not?'

'Because she's Joan, I suppose; she's not like anyone else in the world.'

He was silent, his rejected hand hanging limply at his side. Presently he
said: 'You do love that child. I suppose it's because you've had the
making of her.'

'I suppose so; she's a very lovable creature.'

'I know. Well, think it over.'

'You're a patient man, Lawrence.'

'There's no help for it.'

'I wish you'd marry someone else, that is if you want to marry at all; it
may take me such a long time to think it over.'

He looked at her stubbornly. 'I'll wait', he said. 'I'm the waiting kind
when I want a thing badly enough.'



Chapter Thirty-Six


1



Milly's illness was discussed at every tea-table in Seabourne, and proved
a grateful topic in the stiff little club as well. If the Ogdens did
nothing else, they certainly provided food for comment. Joan's Short
Hair, the Colonel's Death, Mrs. Ogden's Popish Tendencies and now Milly's
Consumption were hailed in turn with discreet enthusiasm.

Major Boyle, the doleful politician, killed Milly off at least a dozen
times that spring.

'Family's riddled with it!' he remarked lugubriously. 'I happen to know
for a fact that three of the mother's brothers died of it.'

General Brooke laughed asthmatically. 'That's queer', he chuckled, 'for
she only had one!'

Major Boyle sighed as though this in itself were a tragedy. 'Oh, really,
only one? Then it must have been a brother and two cousins--yes, that was
it, two cousins--riddled with it!'

The little bank manager fidgeted in his chair, his mouth opened and shut
impatiently; if only they would let him get a word in edgeways. At last
he could contain himself no longer.

'Miss Joan told me--' he began.

But Sir Robert Loo interrupted with intentional insolence. 'You were
saying, Boyle, that two of the cousins died of consumption; which were
they, I wonder? I was at Christ Church with Peter Routledge, a cousin of
the mother's, awfully nice chap he was, but a bit of a wildster.'

They began tossing the ball of conversation backwards and forwards and
around between themselves, keeping it the while well above the head of
the bank manager. Eton, Christ Church, old days in India, the Buffs, the
Guards, crack shots, shooting parties, phenomenal exploits with the rod
and line, lovely women. They nodded their heads, chewing the ends of
their cigars and murmured 'By Gad!' and 'My dear fellow!' the while they
exaggerated and romanced about the past.

They emptied their glasses and sucked in their moustaches. They lolled
back in the arm-chairs or straddled in front of the smoky fire. Their
eyes glowed with the enthusiasms of thirty or forty years ago. They
forgot that they were grey or white or bald, or mottled about the jowls,
that their stomachs protruded and their legs gave a little at the knees.
They forgot that their sons defied them and their wives thought them
bores, that their incomes were for the most part insufficient, and that
nearly all their careers had been ignominiously cut short by the age
limit. They lived again in their dashing youth, in the glorious days when
they had been heroes, at least in their own estimation; when a scrap with
savages had taken on the dimensions of Waterloo. When fine girls and
blood fillies met with about equal respect and admiration, when moonlight
nights on long verandas meant something other than an attack of lumbago;
and when, above all, they had classified their fellow-men as being 'One
of us' or 'An outsider'.

There sat Mr. Pearson the bank manager, with the golden ball flying
around and above him, but never, oh! never within his grasp. He sighed,
he cleared his throat, he smoked a really good cigar that he could ill
afford; he envied. No, assuredly _his_ youth provided no splendours. He
thought distastefully of the Grammar School, he spat mentally when he
remembered the Business College. He felt like a worm who is discovered in
a ducal salad, and he cringed a little and respected.

He, too, was bald these days, and his waistcoats gaped sometimes where
they buttoned; in seniority he was the equal of most of them, but in
family, opportunity, knowledge of life and love of fair women, judging by
their reminiscences, he was hopelessly their inferior.

He knew that they resented him as a blot on their club, and that time
would never soften this resentment. He knew all about their almost
invisible incomes, he even accorded financial accommodation to one or
another from time to time. He saw their bank books and treated with as
much tact as possible their minute overdrafts. Sometimes he was allowed
to offer advice regarding a change of investments or the best method
whereby to soften the heart of the Inland Revenue. But all this was at
the bank, in his own little office. Behind his roll-top desk he was a
power; in the little office it was they who hummed and hawed and found it
difficult to approach the subject, while he, urbane and smiling,
conscious of his strength, lent a patronizing ear to their doubts and
worries.

But positions were reversed in the smoking-room of the club. Securely
entrenched in their worn leather chairs, they became ungrateful, they
forgot, they ignored: 'Eton, Christ Church, the Buffs, the Guards!' And
yet he would _not_ resign. He clung to the club like a bastard clings to
the memory of an aristocratic father--desperately, resentfully, with a
shamefaced sense of pride.

'My sister tells me', said Ralph Rodney, gently dragging the conversation
back to its original topic. 'My sister tells me that Milly's lungs are
absolutely sound.'

General Brooke snorted and Major Boyle shook his head mournfully. 'Can't
be, can't be,' he murmured; 'the family's riddled with it!'

'I'm sorry to hear about poor old Peter Routledge', remarked Sir Robert,
pouring himself out another whisky. 'I'd lost sight of him of late years.
Damned hard luck popping off like that, must have been fairly young too;
he was one of the best chaps on earth, you know, sound through and
through, if he was a bit of a wildster.'

Over in a dark corner someone stirred. It was Admiral Bourne, whom they
had thought asleep; now he spoke for the first time. He sat up and,
taking off his glasses, wiped them.

'She was such a pretty little girl', he said tremulously. 'Such a dear
little girl.' And he dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief.

They pretended not to notice; he was a very old man now and almost
childish, with him tears and laughter had grown to be very near the
surface.

'How goes it with the mice, Admiral?' inquired someone kindly, to change
the subject.

He smiled through his tears and cheered up immediately. 'Capital,
capital! Yes, indeed. And I think I've bred a real wonder at last, I've
never seen such a colour before, it's not roan and it's not mauve and
it's not blue; it's a sort of--a sort of--' He hesitated, and forgot what
he was going to say.

They handed him an evening paper. 'Thanks, thanks', he said gratefully.
'Thank you very much indeed', and subsided into his corner again.


2


In spite of gloomy prognostications Milly's health did nothing
melodramatic or startling as the months dragged on, though her cough
continued and she grew still thinner. At times she was overcome by
prolonged fits of weakness, but any change there was came quietly and
gradually, so that even Elizabeth was deceived. She watched Joan's
anxious face with growing impatience.

'Don't let yourself get hipped over Milly', she cautioned.

Joan protested. 'I'm not a bit hipped, but I'm terribly afraid.'

Elizabeth flared up. 'You really are overdoing it a bit, Joan; it's
almost hysterical! Even Doctor Thomas must know his trade well enough to
suspect tubercle if there were any.'

'I know, but I can't believe in him. Surely you think Milly's looking
terribly ill?'

'I think she looks very fagged, but I'm not prepared to know better than
the doctor.'

They argued for an hour. Elizabeth was exasperated. Why would Joan
persist in taking the most gloomy view of everything?

'It's a good excuse for your staying on here', she said bitterly.

Joan looked at her.

'Yes, I mean that', said Elizabeth. 'You find Milly's illness a
ready-made excuse.'

'I ought to get angry with you, Elizabeth, but I won't let myself. Do you
seriously think I can leave her? What about Mother?'

'Yes, what about your mother? Why can't she keep Milly company for a
while; can't they look after each other? Will you never consider yourself
or me?'

'Oh, what's the good; you don't understand. You know how helpless Mother
is, and then there's Milly. I've promised her not to leave her.'

'Oh, yes, I do understand; I understand only too well, Joan. You're
twenty-three already; and we're no nearer Cambridge than we were; what I
want to know is how long is this going on?'

Joan was silent.

'Oh, my dear!' said Elizabeth, stretching out her hand. 'Won't you come
now?'

Joan shook her head. 'I can't, I can't.'

A coldness grew up between them, a coldness unrelieved now by even so
much as bad temper. They met less often and hardly ever worked together.
At times they tried to avoid each other, so painful was this estrangement
to them both. The lines deepened on Elizabeth's face and her mouth grew
hard. She darned Ralph's socks with a shrinking dislike of the texture
and feel of them, and ordered his meals with a sickening distaste for
food. She felt that the daily round of life was growing more and more
unendurable. Breakfast was the worst ordeal, heralding as it did the
advent of another useless day. Ralph liked eggs and bacon, which he would
have repeated _ad nauseam_. She could remember the time when she had
shared this liking, but now the smell of the frying bacon disgusted her.
Ralph did not always trouble to eat quite tidily, and he chewed with a
slightly open mouth; when he wiped his lips he invariably left yellow
egg-stains on his napkin. She began to watch for those stains and to
listen for his noisy chewing. His face got on her nerves, too; it was
growing daily more like Uncle John's, and not young Uncle John's
either--old Uncle John's. His eyes were acquiring the 'Don't hurt me'
look of the portrait in the study. Something in the way his legs moved
lately suggested approaching old age, and yet he was not so old; it must
be Seabourne.

'Oh, do let's get away from here!' she burst out one morning. 'Let's go
to America, Australia, the Antipodes, anywhere!'

Ralph dropped his paper to stare at her, and then he laughed. He thought
she was trying to be funny.


3


At Leaside things were little better. A dreariness more tangible than
usual pervaded the house. Milly alternated between moods of exuberant
hopefulness and fits of deep depression, when she would cling to Joan
like a sickly child. 'Don't leave me! Oh, Joan, you mustn't leave me',
was her almost daily entreaty. She was difficult to manage, and insisted
on practising in spite of all they could say; but these bursts of
defiance generally ended in tears, for after a short half hour or so the
music would begin to go tragically wrong, as her weak hand faltered on
the bow.

'Oh!' she sobbed miserably, whenever this happened; 'it's all gone; I
shall never, never play again. I wish I were dead!'

Any emotion brought on a violent fit of coughing, which exhausted her to
the verge of faintness, so that in the end she would have to be put to
bed, where Joan would try to distract her by reading aloud. But Milly's
attention was wont to wander, and looking up from the book Joan would
find her sister's eyes turned longingly to the open window, and would
think unhappily: 'She's just like a thrush in a cage, poor Milly!'

Mrs. Ogden grew much more affectionate to her younger daughter, and
caressed her frequently; but these caresses irritated rather than
soothed, and sometimes Milly shrank perceptibly. When this happened Mrs.
Ogden eyes would fill with tears, and her working face would
instinctively turn in Joan's direction for sympathy. 'Oh, my God!' Joan
once caught herself thinking, 'will neither of them ever stop crying!'
But this thought brought a swift retribution, for she was tormented for
the rest of the day over what she felt to have been her heartlessness.

The maidservant left, as maids always did in moments of stress at
Leaside; and once again Joan found herself submerged in housework. After
her, as she swept and dusted, dragged Milly; always close at her heels,
too ill to help, too unhappy to stay alone.

It took a long time to find a new servant, for Mrs. Ogden's nagging
proclivities were becoming fairly well known, but at last a victim was
secured and Joan breathed a sigh of relief. They scraped together enough
money to hire a bath chair for Milly; it was the same bath chair that
Colonel Ogden had used, only now a younger man tugged at the handle. This
man was cheerful and familiar, possibly because Milly was so light a
passenger and looked so young and ineffectual. He joked and spat at
frequent intervals--the latter with an astounding dexterity of aim--and
Milly hated him.

'I can't bear his spitting', she complained irritably to Joan. 'It's
simply disgusting!'

It was history repeating itself, for Mrs. Ogden accompanied the bath
chair but seldom, and when she did so she managed to get on the patient's
nerves. The daily task fell, therefore, to Joan, as it had to a great
extent in her father's lifetime.


4


At this period Joan's hardest cross lay in the fact that she was never
alone. She had grown accustomed to having her bedroom to herself during
term time, but now there was no term time for Milly, and, moreover, Joan
had moved into her mother's room. Milly complained that if Joan was there
she lay awake trying not to cough, and that this choked her. She said,
truthfully enough, that she had had a room to herself at Alexandra House
for so long now that anyone in the next bed made her nervous, because she
couldn't help listening to their breathing.

This change was not for the better as far so Joan was concerned, for Mrs.
Ogden had become abnormally pervading in her bedroom since her husband's
death. During his lifetime he had been the one to dominate this apartment
as he had dominated the rest of the house; but now James was corporeally
absent there remained only his memory, which took up very little room;
all the rest of the space was purely Mrs. Ogden, and she filled it to
overflowing.

Joan did not realize to what an extent her mother had spread until they
came to share a room. There was literally not an available inch for her
things anywhere. The drawers were full, the cupboards were full; on the
washstand was a fearsome array of medicine bottles which, together with a
quantity of unneeded trifles, overflowed on to the dressing-table. And
what was so disheartening was that Mrs. Ogden seemed incapable of making
the necessary adjustments. She was far from resenting Joan's invasion; on
the contrary, she liked having her daughter to sleep with her, and yet
each new suggestion that necessitated the scrapping or the putting away
of some of the odds and ends was met with resistance. 'Oh! not that,
darling; that was given to me when I was a girl in India'; or, 'Joan,
please don't move that lacquer box; I thought you knew that it came from
the drawing-room at Chesham.'

Her years of widowhood had developed the acquisitive instinct in Mrs.
Ogden, who was fast becoming that terrible problem, the hoarder in the
small house. With no husband to ridicule her or protest, she was able to
indulge her mania for treasuring useless things. Joan discovered that the
shelves were full of them. Little empty bottles, boxes of various size
and shape, worn out hair-brushes, discarded garments, and even threadbare
bedroom slippers, all neatly wrapped up and put away against some
mythical day when they might be wanted, and all taking up an incredible
amount of space. In the end she decided that she would have to let her
own possessions remain where they were, in Milly's room.

Far more oppressive than lack of room, however, was the consciousness of
a continual presence. It seemed to Joan that her mother had begun to
haunt their bedroom. It was not only the exasperating performance of
communal dressing and undressing, but she was never able to have the room
to herself, even during the day; if she went upstairs for a few minutes'
solitude, her mother was sure to follow her, on some pretext or another.

In spite of the hoarding instinct Mrs. Ogden was exaggeratedly tidy and
spent a great deal of time in straightening up after her daughter, with
the result that the most necessary articles had a maddening way of
disappearing. Mrs. Ogden had the acute kind of eye to which a crooked
line is a torture; a picture a little out of the straight or a brush
askew on the table was all that was required to set her off: Once
launched, she fidgeted about the room, touching first this and then that,
drawing the curtains an inch more forward, fiddling with the obdurate
roller until the blind just skimmed the division in the sash window,
putting a mat straight with the toe of her slipper, or running her
fingers across the mantelpiece, which never failed to yield the expected
harvest of dust. Sharing a bedroom, Joan found herself doing a hundred
little odd jobs for her mother that she had never done before. It was not
dot Mrs. Ogden asked to be waited on in so many words, but she stood
about and looked the request. Rather than endure this plaintive,
wandering glance, Joan sewed on the skirt braid or found the lost
handkerchief, or whatever else it happened to be at the moment.

But the long nights were the worst of all. Side by side, in a small
double bed, lay the mother and daughter in dreadful proximity. Their
bodies, tired and nervous after the day, were yet unable to avoid each
other. Mrs. Ogden's circulation being very bad she could never sleep with
less than four blankets and two hot-water bottles. The hot, rubbery smell
of these bottles and the misery of the small double bed, became for Joan
a symbol of all that Leaside stood for. She took to lying on the extreme
edge of the bed, more out than in, in order to escape from the touch of
her mother's flannel nightgown. But this precaution did not always save
her, for Mrs. Ogden, who got a sense of comfort from another body beside
her at night, would creep up close to her daughter.

'Hold my hand, darling; it's so cold.' And Joan would take the groping
hand and warm it between her own until her mother dropped asleep; but
even then she dared not leave go, lest Mrs. Ogden should wake and begin
to talk.

Lying there uncomfortably in the thick darkness, with her mother's hand
held limply in her own, she would stare out in front of her with aching
eyes and think. During those wakeful hours her brain worked furiously,
her vision became appallingly clear and all-embracing. She reviewed her
short past and her probably long future; she seemed to stand outside
herself, a sympathetic spectator of Joan Ogden. When she slept she did so
fitfully and the sleep was not refreshing. She must hire a camp bed she
told herself over and over again, but where to put it when it came? There
was not a foot of unused space in the bedroom. She thought seriously of
flinging herself on Milly's mercy, and begging to be taken back into
their old room, but a sense of self-preservation stopped her. She was
certain, whatever the doctor said, that Milly's lungs were diseased, and
she did not want to catch consumption and probably die of it. Queer that,
for there was not much to live for in all conscience, and yet she was
quite sure that she did not want to die.

With the morning would usually come a gleam of hope; perhaps on that day
she would see Elizabeth, perhaps they would be as they had been, the
dreadful barrier of coldness having somehow disappeared in the night.
Sometimes she did see Elizabeth, it is true, but the barrier was still
there, and these meetings were empty and unfruitful.



Chapter Thirty-Seven


1


That August Joan's worst fears were justified, for Milly began to spit
blood. Trying to play her violin one morning she was overtaken by a fit
of coughing; she pressed her handkerchief to her mouth.

'Oh! Look, look, Joan, what is it? Oh, I'm frightened!'

They sent for Doctor Thomas, who ordered Milly to bed and examined her.
His face was grey when he looked up at Joan, and they left the room
together and went downstairs to Mrs. Ogden.

'It's terribly sudden and quite unexpected', Doctor Thomas said.

'But I simply can't believe it', wailed Mrs. Ogden. 'She comes of such
healthy stock, I simply can't believe it!'

'I'm afraid there is very little doubt, Mrs. Ogden; I myself have no
doubt. Still, we had better have a consultation.'

Mrs. Ogden protested: 'But blood may come from all sorts of places; her
stomach, her throat. She may even have bitten her tongue, poor child,
when she was coughing.'

The doctor shook his head. 'No,' he said; 'I'm afraid not; but I should
like to have a consultation at once, if you don't mind.'

'I will not have a specialist in my house again', Mrs. Ogden repeated for
about the fiftieth time in the last few months. 'It was your specialist
who killed my poor James!'

The doctor looked helplessly at Joan, and she saw fear in his old eyes.
She felt certain that he was conscious of having made a terrible mistake,
and was asking her dumbly to forgive, and to help him. His mouth worked a
little as he took off his dimmed glasses to polish them.

'No one knows how this grieves me', he said unsteadily. 'Why I've known
her since she was a baby.'

From the depths of her heart Joan pitied him. 'The lungs may have gone
very suddenly', she said.

He looked at her gratefully. 'And what about a consultation'? he asked
with more confidence.

Joan turned to her mother. 'There must be one', she told her.

'But not a specialist. Oh, please, not a specialist', implored Mrs.
Ogden. 'You don't know what a horror I have of them!'

'There's a colleague of mine down here, Doctor Jennings. I'd like to call
him in, Mrs. Ogden, if you won't get a London man; but I'm afraid he
can't say any more than I have.'

'Is he a specialist?' inquired Mrs. Ogden suspiciously.

'No, oh no, just a general practitioner, but a very able young man.' 

Joan nodded. 'Bring him this afternoon', she said.

The doctors arrived together about three o'clock. Joan, sitting in the
dining-room, heard their peremptory ring and ran to open the door. She
felt as though she were in a kind of dream; only half conscious of what
was going on around her. In the dream she found herself shaking hands
with Doctor Jennings, and then following him and Doctor Thomas upstairs.
Doctor Jennings was young and clean and smelt a little of some
disinfectant; it was not an unpleasant smell, rather the reverse, she
thought. Milly looked up with wide, frightened eyes, from her pillow as
they entered; Joan took her hand and kissed it. Doctor Jennings, who
seemed very kind, smiled reassuringly at the patient while making his
exhaustive examination, but once outside the bedroom his smile died away.

'I should like a few minutes alone with Doctor Thomas', he said. Joan
took them into the dining-room and left them. She began pacing up and
down outside in the hall, listening vaguely to the murmur of their
lowered voices. Presently Doctor Thomas looked out. 'Will you and your
mother please come in now.'

She went slowly into the drawing-room and fetched her mother; Mrs. Ogden
looked up with a frightened face and clung to her arm. 'What do they
say?' she demanded in a loud whisper.

The two doctors were standing by the window. 'Please sit down, Mrs.
Ogden', said Doctor Jennings, pushing forward a chair.

It was all over very soon and the doctors had left. They were completely
agreed, it seemed; Milly's lungs were already far gone and there was
practically no hope. Doctor Jennings would have liked to send her to
Davos Platz, but she was not strong enough to take the journey, and in
any case he seemed doubtful as to whether it was not too late.


2


So Milly was dying. Joan's eyes were dry while her mother sobbed quietly
in her chair. Milly was dying, going away, going away from Seabourne for
ever and ever. Milly was dying, Milly might very soon be dead. Her brain
cleared; she began to remember little incidents in their childhood,
little quarrels, little escapades. Milly had broken a breakfast cup one
day and had not owned up; Milly had cried over her sums and had sometimes
been cheeky to Elizabeth. Milly was dying. Where was Elizabeth, why
wasn't she here? She must find her at once and tell her that Milly was
going to die, that Milly was as good as dead already. Elizabeth would be
sorry; she had never really liked Milly, still, she would begin to like
her now out of pity--people did that when someone was dying.

She got up. 'I'm going to the Rodneys', she said.

'Oh! don't leave me, don't leave me now, Joan', wailed Mrs. Ogden.

'I must for a little while; try to stop crying, dearest, and go up to
Milly. But bathe your eyes first, though; she oughtn't to see them
looking red.'

Mrs. Ogden walked feebly to the door; she looked old and pinched, she
looked more than her age.

'Don't be long', 'she implored.


3


In the street, Joan saw one or two people she knew, and crossed over, in
order to avoid them. It was hot and the sea glared fearfully; she could
feel the sun beating down on her head, and putting up her hand found that
she was hatless. She quickened her steps.

Elizabeth was upstairs sorting clothes, they lay in little heaps on the
bed and chairs; she looked up as Joan came in.

'I'm thinking of having a jumble sale', she said, and then stopped. 

Joan sat down on a pile of nightgowns. 'It's Milly--they say she's dying.'

Elizabeth caught her breath. 'What do you mean, Joan?'

Joan told her all there was to tell, from the blood on the handkerchief
that morning to the consultation in the afternoon. Elizabeth listened in
shocked silence.

At last she said: 'It's awful, simply awful--and you were right all
along.'

'Yes, I knew it; I don't know how.'

'Joan, make your mother let me help to do the nursing; I'm not a bad
nurse, at least I don't think I am, and after all I'd be better than a
stranger, for the child knows me.'

'They say she may live for some little time yet, but they can't be sure,
she may die very soon. Are you quite certain you want to help,
Elizabeth?'

Elizabeth stared at her. So it had come to this: Joan was not sure that
she would want to help in the extremity, was capable of supposing that
she could stand aside while Joan took the whole burden on her own
shoulders. Good God! how far apart they had drifted.

'I shall come to Leaside and begin tomorrow', was all she said.


4


Seabourne was genuinely shocked at the news. Of course they had all been
saying for months past that Milly was consumptive, but somehow this was
different, entirely different. People vied with each other in kindness to
the Ogdens, touched by Milly's youth and Mrs. Ogden's new grief. Friends,
and even mere acquaintances, inquired daily, at first; their perpetual
bell-ringing jangled through the house, tearing at the nerves of the
overstrained inmates. Still, all these people meant so well, one had to
remember that.

The Bishop of Blumfield wrote a long letter of sympathy and
encouragement, and Aunt Ann sent three woolly bed jackets that she had
knitted herself. Richard wrote his usual brief epistle to Joan, but it
was very kind; and Lawrence came to Leaside once a week, loaded like a
pack mule with practical gifts from Mrs. Benson.

Milly, thin and flushed in her bed upstairs, was pleased at the attention
she was receiving. She knew now that she was very ill and at times spoke
about dying, but Joan doubted whether she ever realized how near death
she was, for on her good days she would begin making elaborate plans for
the future, and scheming to get back to the College as soon as possible.

She died in November after a violent haemorrhage that came on suddenly in
the middle of the night. Beyond the terror of that haemorrhage there was
nothing fearful in Milly's passing; she slept herself into the next world
with her cheek against the pillow, and even after she was dead they still
thought that she was sleeping.

She was buried in the local cemetery, near her father. There were
countless wreaths and crosses and a big chrysanthemum cushion with 'Rest
in Peace' straggling across it in violets, from the students of Alexandra
House. A good many people cried over Milly's death, principally because
she had been so pretty and had died so young. Seabourne was shocked and
depressed over it all; it seemed like a reproach to the place, the going
out of this bright young creature. They remembered how talented she had
been, how much they had admired her playing, and began telling each other
anecdotes that they had heard about her childhood. But Joan could not
cry; her heart was full of bitterness and resentment.

'_She_ broke away', she thought. 'Milly broke away, but only for a time;
Seabourne got her in the end, as it gets us all!'



Chapter Thirty-Eight


1


Milly's death had aged Mrs. Ogden; she did not speak of it on every
occasion as she had of her widowhood, but seemed rather to shrink from
any mention of the subject, even by Joan. The sudden, awful climax of an
illness which she had persisted in regarding lightly; the emergence of
the horrid family skeleton of disease in one of her own children, the
fact that Milly had died so young and that she had never been able to
love her as she loved Joan, all combined to make an indelible impression
which she bore plainly on her face. People said with that uncompromising
truthfulness which is apt to accompany sympathy: 'Poor thing, she does
look old, and she used to be such a pretty woman; she's got no trace of
that now, poor soul.' And it was true; her soft hair had lost its gloss
and begun to thin; her eyes, once so charmingly brown and pathetic, were
paler in colour and smaller by reason of the puffiness beneath them. She
stooped a little and her figure was no longer so girlish; there was a
vague spread about it, although she was still thin.

Her religion gripped her more firmly than ever, and Father Cuthbert was
now a constant visitor at Leaside. He and his 'daughter', as he called
Mrs. Ogden, were often closeted together for a long time, and perhaps he
was able to console her, for she seemed less unhappy after these visits.
Joan watched this religious fervour with even greater misgivings than she
had had before; the fasting and praying increased alarmingly, but she
could not now find it in her heart to interfere. She wished that her
mother would talk about Milly; about her illness and death, or even bring
herself to take an interest in the selection of the tombstone. She felt
that anything would be better than this stony silence. But the selection
of the tombstone was left to Joan, for Mrs. Ogden cried bitterly when it
was mentioned.

Joan could not pretend that Milly had formed an essential part of her
life; in their childhood there had been no love lost between them, and
although there had been a certain amount of affection later on, it had
never been very strong. Yet for all this, she mourned her sister; the
instinct of protection that had chained her to Milly in her last illness
was badly shocked and outraged. That Milly's poor little fight for
self-expression should have ended as it had done, in failure and death,
seemed to her both cruel and unjust. She could not shake off a sense of
indignation against the Power that so ruthlessly allowed these things to
happen; she felt as though something had given her a rude mental shove,
from which she found it difficult to regain her balance.

Prayer with Joan had always been extemporary, indulged in at irregular
intervals, as the spirit moved her. But in the past she had been capable
of praying fervently at times, with a childlike confidence that Someone
was listening; now she did not pray at all, because she had nothing to
say.

She missed Milly's presence about the house disproportionately,
considering how little that presence had meant when it was there. The
place felt empty when she remembered that her sister would never come
home again for holidays, would never lie chattering far into the night
about the foolish trifles that had interested her. She had often been
frankly bored with Milly in the past, but now she wished with all her
heart that Milly were back again to bore her; back again to litter up
their room with the rubbish that always collected around her, and above
all back again to play so wonderfully on her inferior violin.


2


Their joint nursing of Milly in her last illness had gone far to draw
Joan and Elizabeth closer once more. Elizabeth had been splendidly
devoted, splendidly capable, as she always was; she seemed to have
softened. For three months after Milly's death they forbore to discuss
their plans, and when, in the end, Elizabeth broached the subject, she
was gentle and reasonable, and seemed anxious not to hurry Joan.

But Joan ached to get away; to leave the house and never set foot inside
it again, to leave Seabourne and try to forget that such a place existed,
to blot out the memory of Milly's tragedy, in action and hard work. She
began to read furiously for Cambridge. A terror possessed her that she
had let herself get too rusty, and she tormented Elizabeth with nervous
doubts and fears. She lost all self-confidence and worked badly in
consequence, but persisted with dogged determination.

Elizabeth laughed at her. She knew that she was worrying herself
needlessly, and told her so; and as they gradually resumed their hours of
study Joan's panic subsided.

At the end of another three months Joan spoke to her mother. 'Dearest I
want to talk about the future.'

Mrs. Ogden looked up as though she did not understand. 'What future?' she
asked.

'My future, your future. I want you to let me find you a tiny flat in
London. I know we've discussed this before, but we never came to any
conclusion, and now I think we must.'

Mrs. Ogden shook her head. 'Oh! no', she said. 'I shall never leave here
now.'

'Why not? This house will be much too big for you when you're alone'.

'Alone?'

'Yes; when I go to Cambridge, as I want to do in the autumn.' There was a
long silence. Mrs. Ogden dropped her sewing and looked at her daughter
steadily; and then:

'You really mean this, about Cambridge, Joan?'

Joan hesitated uncomfortably; she wished her mother would not adopt this
quiet tone, which was belied by the expression in her eyes.

'Well, if I don't go now, I shall never go at all. I'm nearly
twenty-four already', she temporized.

'So you are, nearly twenty-four. How time flies, dear.'

'We're hedging', thought Joan. 'I must get to the point.'

'Look here, Mother', she said firmly. 'I want to talk this out with you
and tell you all my plans; you have a right to know, and, besides, I
shall need your help. I want to take a scholarship at Cambridge in the
autumn if I can. I shall only have my twenty-five pounds a year, I know,
because Milly's share you'll need for yourself, but Elizabeth has some
money put by, and she'd offered to let me borrow from her until I can
earn something. I'm hoping that if it's not too late, I might manage to
hang out for a medical degree, but even if that's impossible I ought to
find some sort of work if I do well at college. And then there's another
thing.' She hesitated for a moment but plunged on. 'If you had a tiny
place of your own it would cost much less, as I've always told you. Say
just two or three comfortable rooms, for, of course, there wouldn't be
money enough for you to keep up a flat for the two of us; but that
wouldn't matter, because Elizabeth's got a flat of her own in London, and
could always put me up when I was there. If you were in London I should
feel so much happier about it all; I could look after you better, don't
you see? We could see so much more of each other; and then if you were
ill, or anything--and another thing is that you'd have a little more
money to spend. You could go and stay with people; you might even be able
to go abroad in the winter sometimes. Dearest, you do understand, don't
you?'

Mrs. Ogden was silent. She had turned rather pale, but when she spoke her
voice was quite gentle.

'I'm trying to understand, my dear', she said. 'Let's see if I've got it
right. You say you mean to take your own money and go up to Cambridge in
the autumn. I suppose you'll stay there the usual time, and then continue
your studies at a hospital or some place; that's what they do, don't
they? Some day you hope to become a doctor, or if that fails to find some
other paid work in order to be free to live away from me. You mean to
break up our home, if you can, and to take me to London as a peace
offering to your conscience, and when I'm there you hope to have the time
to run in and see me occasionally. I'm right, aren't I; it would be only
occasionally? For between your work and Elizabeth your time would be
pretty well taken up.'

Joan made a sound of protest.

'No, don't interrupt me', said her mother quietly; ‘I'm trying to show you
that I understand. Well, now, what does it all mean? It seems to me that
it means just this: I've lost your father, I've lost your sister, and now
I'm to lose you. Well, Joan, I'm not an old woman yet, so I can't plead
age as an excuse for my timidity, and what would be my awful loneliness;
but Milly's death has shaken me very much, and I'm afraid, yes, afraid to
live in a strange place by myself. You may think I'm a coward; well,
perhaps I am, but the fact remains that what friends I have are in
Seabourne, and I don't feel that I can begin all over again now. Then
there's the money; if you take your money out of the home, little as it
is, I shall find it difficult to make ends meet. I'm not a good
manager--I never have been--and without you'--her voice
trembled--'without you, my dear, I don't see how I should get on at all.
But what's the good of talking; your mind's made up. Joan,' she said with
sudden violence, 'do you know how much you are to me? What parting from
you will mean?'

'Oh, my dear!' exclaimed Joan desperately, 'you won't be parting from me
really; you'd have to let me go if I were a son, or if I married--well,
that's all I'm asking, just to be treated like that.'

Mrs. Ogden smiled. 'Yes, but you're Joan and not a son, and you're not
married yet, you see, and that makes all the difference.'

'Then you won't come to London?'

'No, Joan, I won't leave this house. I have very sacred memories here and
I won't leave them.'

'Oh, Mother, please try to see my side! I can't give up what's all the
world to me; I can't go on living in Seabourne and never doing anything
worth while all the rest of my life; you've no right to ask it of me!'

'I don't ask it of you; I've some pride. Take your money and go whenever
you like; go to Elizabeth. I shall stay on here alone.'

'Mother, I can't go while you feel like this about it, and if I take my
money and I'm not here to manage you can't stay on in this house; it's
impossible, when every penny counts, as it does with us. Won't you think
it over, for my sake? Won't you promise to think it over for, say, three
months? I needn't go to London until some time in August. Mother, please!
Mother, you must know that I love you, that I've always loved you dearly
ever since I was a little girl, only now I want my own life; I want work,
I want--'

'You want Elizabeth', said Mrs. Ogden gently. 'You want to live with
Elizabeth.'

Joan was silent. It was true, she did want to live with Elizabeth; she
wanted her companionship, her understanding, her help in work and play;
all that she stood for of freedom and endeavour. Only with Elizabeth
could she hope to make good, to break once and for all the chains that
bound her to the old life. If she lived with her mother she would never
get free; it was good-bye to a career, even a humble one.

She knew that in her vacations she would want leisure for reading but she
could visualize what would happen when Mrs. Ogden had had time, during
her absence, to store up a million trifling duties against her return.
She could picture the hundred and one small impediments that would be
thrown, consciously or unconsciously, in her way, if she did succeed in
getting work. And above all she had a clear vision of the everlasting
silent protest that would be so much more unendurable than words; the
aggrieved atmosphere that would surround her.

'Mother,' she said firmly, 'it's true, I must live with Elizabeth if I'm
ever to make good. If you won't consent to coming to London I shall have
to go somehow, just the same, but I shan't go until the middle of August,
and I want you to think it over in the meantime.'

Mrs. Ogden got up. 'I think we've talked long enough', she said. 'In any
case, I have; I feel very tired.' And going slowly to the door she left
the room.


3


Joan sat and stared at the floor. It had been quite fruitless, as it had
been in the past; she and her mother could never meet on the ground of
mutual understanding and tolerance. Then why did they love each other?
Why that added fetter?

The discussion that evening had held some new features. Her mother's
calmness, for one thing; she had been nonplussed by it, not expecting it.
Her mother had told her to take her money and go whenever she pleased;
yes, but go how? What her mother gave with one hand she took away with
the other. If she left her now it would be with the haunting knowledge of
having left a woman who either would not or could not adapt herself to
the changed circumstances; who would harbour a grievance to the end of
her days. Her mother's very devotion was a weapon turned ruthlessly
against her daughter, capable of robbing her of all peace of mind. This
would be a bad beginning for strenuous work; and yet her mother had
undoubtedly some right on her side. She had lost her husband, and she had
lost Milly, and even supposing that neither of them had represented to
her what Joan did, still death, when it came, was always terrible. And
the talk, the gossip there would be! Everyone in Seabourne would pity her
for having such an unnatural daughter; they would lift their eyebrows and
purse their lips. 'Very strange, a most peculiar young woman.' Oh, yes,
all Seabourne would be scandalized if she left home, especially at such a
time. She would be thought utterly callous and odd; a kind of heartless
freak.

Then there had been the subterfuge about her staying occasionally with
Elizabeth. She had said, in a voice that she had tried to make casual:
'Elizabeth has a flat of her own in London, and she could always put me
up when I was there.' That had been a lie, pure and simple, because she
was a coward when it came to hurting people. She had tried to cloak her
real purpose, and her mother had seen through her with humiliating ease.
It was true enough that Mrs. Ogden would have to economize, and would
find herself in a better position to cope with the changed circumstances
if she took a flat just big enough for herself; but was that her only
motive for not wanting her mother to have a spare bedroom? She knew that
it was not. She despised herself for having descended to lies. Was she
becoming a liar? The answer was not far to seek; she had lied not only to
save her mother pain, but because she had not had the courage to say
straight out that she intended leaving her mother's home for that of
another woman. She had realized that in doing such a thing she was
embarking upon the unusual; this she had felt the moment she came to
putting her intention into words, and she had funked the confession.

She stopped to consider this aspect carefully. It was _unusual_, and
because it was unusual she had been embarrassed; a hitherto unsuspected
respect for convention had assailed her. She had never heard of any girl
of her acquaintance taking such a step, now that she came to think of it.
It was quite a common thing for men to share rooms with a friend, and, of
course, girls left home when they married. When they married. Ah! that
was the point, that was what made all the difference, as her mother had
pointed out. If she had been able to say: 'I'm going to marry Richard in
August', even although the separation would still have been there, she
doubted whether, in the end, her mother would really have offered any
strenuous opposition. Pain she would have felt; she remembered the scene
with her mother that day long ago, when Richard had proposed to her, but
it would have been quite a different sort of pain; there would have been
less bitterness in the thought, because marriage had the weight of
centuries of custom behind it.

Centuries of custom, centuries of precedent! They pressed, they crushed,
they suffocated. If you gave in to them you might venture to hope to live
somehow, but if you opposed them you broke yourself to pieces against
their iron flanks. She saw it all; it was not her fault, it was not her
mother's fault They were just two poor straws being asked to swim against
the current of that monster tyrant: 'the usual thing'!

She got up and walked feverishly about the room. They _must_ swim against
the current; it was ridiculous, preposterous that because she did not
marry she should be forced to live a crippled existence. What real
difference could it possibly make to her mother's loneliness if her
daughter shared a flat with Elizabeth instead of with a husband? No
difference at all, except in precedent. Then it was only by submitting to
precedent that you could be free? What she was proposing seemed cruel
now, even to herself; and why? Because it was not softened and toned down
by precedent, not wreathed in romance as the world understood romance.
'Good God!' she thought bitterly, 'can there be no development of
individuality in this world without hurting oneself or someone else?' She
clenched her fists. 'I don't care, I don't care! I've a right to my life,
and I shall go in August. I defy precedent. I'm Joan Ogden, a law unto
myself; and I mean to prove it.'



Chapter Thirty-Nine


1


Elizabeth's attitude towards the new decision to leave Seabourne made
Joan uneasy. Elizabeth said nothing at all, merely nodding her head. Joan
thought that she was worried and unhappy about something, but tried in
vain to find out the reason.

They worked on steadily together; but she began to miss the old
enthusiasm that had made of Elizabeth the perfect teacher. Now she was
dull and dispirited, even a little abstracted at times. It was clear that
her mind was not in their work. Was it because she doubted their going to
London in August? If Elizabeth began to weaken seriously, Joan felt that
all must indeed be lost. She needed support and encouragement, as never
before, now that she had taken the plunge and told her mother definitely
for the last time that she meant to break away. She felt that with
Elizabeth's whole-hearted support she could manage somehow to stand out
against the odds, but if she was not to be believed in, if Elizabeth lost
faith in her, then she doubted her own strength to carry things through.

'Elizabeth,' she said, with a note of fear in her voice, '_you_ feel
quite certain that we shall go?'

Elizabeth looked up from the book she was reading. 'I don't know, Joan.'

'But I've told Mother definitely that I intend to go in August.'

'Yes, I know you have.'

'But you're doubtful? You think I shall go back on you again?'

'You won't mean to do that, but so many things happen don't they? I think
I'm getting superstitious.'

'Nothing is going to happen this time', said Joan, in a voice which she
tried vainly to make firm. 'I'm not the weak sort of thing that you seem
to think me, and in August I go to London!'

Elizabeth took her hand and held it. 'I could weep over you!' she said.


2


The days were slipping by. It was now June and Mrs. Ogden still persisted
in her refusal to leave Seabourne. On this point Joan found herself up
against an opposition stronger than any she had had to meet before.
Gently but firmly, her mother stuck to her decision.

'You go, my dear', she said constantly now. 'You go, and God bless you
and take care of you, my Joan.' She seemed to be all gentleness and
resignation. 'After all, I'm not as young as I was, and I'm dull and
tiresome, I know.'

She had grown thinner in the past few weeks, and her stoop was more
pronounced. Joan knew that she must be sleeping badly, for she could hear
her moving about her room well into the small hours. Her appetite, always
poor, appeared to fail completely.

'Oh! Mother, do try to eat something. Are you ill?'

'No, no, my dear, of course not, but I don't feel very hungry.'

'Mother, I must know; is your head worrying you again?'

'I didn't say it was; what makes you ask?'

'Because you sit pressing it with your hand so often. Does it ache?'

'A little, but it's nothing at all; don't worry, darling; go on with your
studying.'

Joan often discovered her now crying quietly by herself, but as she came
in her mother would make as though to whisk the tears away. 'Mother,
you're crying!'

'No, I'm not, dearest; my eyes are a little weak, that's all.'

Towards Elizabeth she appeared to have changed even more completely. Now
she was always urging her to come to meals. 'You'll want to talk things
over with Joan', she would say. 'Please stop to lunch today, Elizabeth;
you two must have a thousand plans to discuss.'

She spoke quite openly to Elizabeth about Joan's chances of taking a
scholarship at Cambridge, and what their life together would be in
London. She sighed very often, it is true, and sometimes her eyes would
fill with tears, but when this happened she would smile bravely. 'Don't
take any notice of me, Elizabeth; I'm just a foolish old woman.'

Joan's heart ached with misery. This new, submissive, gentle mother was
like a pathetic figure of her childhood; a creature difficult to resist,
and still more difficult to coerce. Something so utterly helpless that it
called up all the chivalry and protectiveness of which her nature was
capable.

She found a little parcel on her dressing-table one evening containing
six knitted ties and a note, which said: 'For my Joan to wear at
Cambridge. I knitted them when I couldn't sleep.' Joan laid down her head
and cried bitterly.

In so many little ways her mother was showing thought for her. She found
her going through her clothes one day. 'Mother, what on earth are you
doing?'

'Just looking over your things, dearest. I see you'll need new stockings
and a new hat or two. Oh! and, Joan, do you really think these vests are
warm enough? I believe Cambridge is very damp.'

She began to seek out Elizabeth, and whereas, before, she had contented
herself more or less with generalities regarding Cambridge and Joan's
life with her friend, she now appeared to want a detailed description of
everything.

'Elizabeth,' she said one day, 'come and sit here by me. I want you to
tell me all about your flat. Describe it to me, tell me what it looks
like, and then I can picture you two to myself after Joan's gone. Is it
sunny? Where is the flat? Isn't it somewhere near the Edgware Road?'

'In Bloomsbury', said Elizabeth rather shortly; then she saw that Joan
was listening, and added hastily: 'Let me see, is it sunny? Yes, I think
it is, rather; it's a very tiny affair, you know.'

'Oh, but big enough for you two, I expect; I wonder if I shall ever see
it.'

'Of course you will, Mother', said Joan eagerly. 'Why we expect you to
come up and stay with us; don't we, Elizabeth?'

Elizabeth assented, but Mrs. Ogden shook her head. 'No, not that, my
dear, you won't want to be bothered with me; but it's a darling thought
of yours all the same. And now, Elizabeth, tell me all about Cambridge.
When I'm alone here in the evenings I shall want to be able to make
pictures of the place where my Joan is working.'

Elizabeth felt uncomfortable and suspicious; was Mrs. Ogden making a fool
of her, of them both? She tried to describe the town and then the
colleges, with the Backs running down to the river, but even to herself
her voice sounded hard and unsympathetic.

'Oh, dear, I'm afraid I've bored you', said Mrs. Ogden apologetically.
And Elizabeth, looking across at Joan, saw an angry light in her eyes.


3


Mrs. Ogden gave the maidservant notice, without consulting her daughter,
who knew nothing about it until the girl came to her to protest. 'The
mistress has given me a month's notice, and I'm sure I do'no what I've
done. It's a hard place and she's awful to please, but I've done my best.
I have indeed!'

Joan went in search of her mother. 'Why on earth have you givenEllen notice?' she demanded. 'She's the best girl we've ever had.'

'I know she is', said Mrs. Ogden, who was studying her bank book. 

'Then why--?'

'Well, you see, darling, I shan't be able to afford a servant when you've
gone, so I thought it better to give her notice at once. Of course I
couldn't very well tell her why I was sending her away, could I?'

Joan collapsed into a chair. 'But, good heavens, Mother! You can't do the
housework. Surely with a little management you might have kept her on;
she only gets nineteen pounds a year!'

'Ah! but there's her food and washing', said Mrs. Ogden patiently. 

'But what do you propose to do? You can't sweep floors and that sort of thing;
this is awful!'

'Now don't begin to worry, Joan. I shall be perfectly all right; I can
have a charwoman twice a week.'

'But what about the cooking, Mother?'

'Oh, that will be easy, darling; you know how little I eat.'

Joan began walking about the room, a trick she had acquired lately when
worried. 'It's impossible!' she protested. 'You'll end by making yourself
very ill.'

Mrs. Ogden got up and kissed her. 'Do you think,' she said softly, 'that
I can't make sacrifices for my girl, when she demands them of me?'

'Oh, Mother, I do beg of you to come to London! I know I could make you
comfortable there.'

Mrs. Ogden drew herself away. 'No, I can't do that', she said. 'I've
lived here since you and Milly were little children, my husband died here
and so did your sister; you mustn't ask me to leave my memories, Joan.'

In July the servant left. 'No, darling, don't do the housework for me; I
must learn to do things for myself’, said her mother, as Joan was going
into the kitchen as a matter of course.

A period of chaos ensued. Mrs. Ogden struggled with brooms and slop-pails
as a mosquito might struggle with Cleopatra's Needle. The food she
prepared came out of tins, for the most part, and what was fresh was
spoilt before it reached the table. Their meals were tragedies, and when
on one occasion Joan's endurance gave out over a particularly nasty stew,
Mrs. Ogden burst into tears.

'Oh! and I did try so hard!' she sobbed.

Joan put her arms round her. 'You poor darling,' she comforted, 'don't
cry; it's not so bad, really; only I don't see how I'm ever to leave
you.'

Mrs. Ogden dried her eyes. 'But you must leave me', she said steadily. 'I
want you to go, since you've set your heart on it.'

'Well, I do believe you'll starve!' said Joan, between laughter and
tears.

Every evening Mrs. Ogden was worn out. She could not read, she could not
sew; whenever she tried her eyelids drooped and she had to give it up. In
the end she was forced to sit quietly with closed eyes. Joan, watching
her apprehensively from the other side of the lamp, would feel her heart
tighten.

'Mother, go to bed; you're tired to death.'

'Oh, no, darling, I'll sit up with you; I shall have plenty of evenings
to go to bed early when you've gone.'

Not content, apparently, with moderate hours of work, Mrs. Ogden bought
an alarm clock. The first that Joan knew of this instrument of torture
was when it woke her with a fearful start at six-thirty one morning. She
could not exactly locate whence the sound came, but rushed instinctively
into her mother's room.

'What is it? Are you ill? What was that bell?' she panted.

Mrs. Ogden, already out of bed, pointed triumphantly to the alarm. 'I had
to get it to wake me up', she explained.

'But, my dear mother, it's only half-past six; you can't get up at this
hour!'

'There's the kitchen fire to light, darling, and I want you to have a
really hot bath by half-past seven.'

Joan groaned. 'Go back to bed at once', she ordered, giving her a gentle
push. 'I'll light the kitchen fire; this is ridiculous!'


4


It was the middle of July; only a few weeks more and then freedom.
'Freedom, freedom, freedom!' repeated Joan to herself in a kind of
desperation. 'I'm going to be free at last.' But something in her shrank
and weakened. 'No, no', she thought in terror. 'I will leave her; I
_must_.'

She sought Elizabeth out for comfort. 'Only a few weeks now Elizabeth.'

'Yes, only a few weeks now', repeated Elizabeth flatly. They went on with
their plans with quiet stubbornness. They spent a day in London buying
their furniture on the hire system; the selection was not very varied,
but they could not afford to go elsewhere. They chose fume oak for the
most part, and blue-grey curtains with art carpets to mate them. Their
greatest extravagance was a large roomy bookcase.

Joan said: 'Think of it; this is for our books, yours and mine.'

Elizabeth smiled and pressed her hand. 'Are you happy, my dear? she asked
doubtfully.

Joan flared up. 'What a ridiculous question to ask; but perhaps you're not
happy?'

'Oh, don't!' said Elizabeth, turning away.

They had tea in the restaurant of the 'Furniture Emporium', tepid Indian
tea and stale pound cake.

'Ugh!' said Joan disgustedly, as she tried to drink the mixture. 

'Yes, it's undrinkable', Elizabeth agreed.

They paid for the meal which they had left untouched, and catching a bus,
went to the station.

On their way home in the train they sat silent. They were very tired, but
it was not that which made speech difficult, but rather the sense of deep
disappointment oppressing them both. No, it had not been at all like they
had expected, this choosing of the furniture for their home together;
something, intangible had spoilt it all. 'It was my fault', Joan thought
miserably. 'It was all my fault. I meant to be happy, I wanted to be, but
I wasn't a bit--and Elizabeth saw it.'

When they said 'Good night' at the Rodneys' house they clung to each
other for a moment in silence.

'Go. Oh, do go!' said Elizabeth brokenly, and Joan went with drooping
head.



Chapter Forty


1


It had come. Joan lay awake and realized that this was her last night in
Seabourne. She got up and lit the gas. Her eyes roved round the familiar
bedroom; there was Milly's bed--they had not had it moved after her
death, and there was the old white wardrobe and the dressing-table, and
the crazy arm-chair off which she and Milly had torn the caster when they
were children. The caster had never been replaced. 'How like Seabourne',
she thought, smiling ruefully. 'Casters never get themselves replaced
here; nothing does.'

She looked at her new trunk, already locked and strapped; it had been a
present from her mother, and her name, 'Joan Ogden', was painted across
its top in white block letters. 'I thought it safer to put the full
name', her mother had said.

The blind flapped and the gas flame blew sideways; it was windy, and the
thud of the sea on shingles came in and seemed to fill the room. 'I am
happy!' she told herself; 'I'm very happy.'

How brave her mother had been that evening; she had smiled and talked
just as though nothing unusual were about to happen, but oh! how
miserably tired she had looked, and ill. Was she going to be ill? Joan's
heart seemed to stop beating; suppose her mother should get ill all alone
in the house! She had never thought of that before, but of course she
would be alone every night, now that she had sent away the servant. What
was to be done? It was dangerous, terribly dangerous for a woman of that
age to sleep alone in the house. She pulled herself up sharply; oh, well,
she would speak to her in the morning and tell her that she must have a
maid. Of course it was all nonsense; she must afford one: But what about
tomorrow night? She couldn't get a servant by that time. Never mind;
nothing was likely to happen in one or two nights. No, but it might be
weeks before she found a maid; what was to be done?

If her mother got ill, would she telegraph for her? Yes, of course; and
yet how could she if she were alone in the house? 'Oh, stop, stop!' cried
Joan aloud to herself. 'Stop all this, I tell you!' She had an
overwhelming desire to rush into her mother's room on the instant, and
wake her up, just to see that she was alive, but she controlled herself.
'Perhaps she's crying', she thought, and started towards the door. 'No,'
she said resolutely, 'I will _not_ go in and see her!'

She began to think of Elizabeth too; of her face when they had said
good-bye that afternoon. 'Don't be late in calling for me', she had
cautioned, and Elizabeth had answered: 'I shan't be late, Joan.' What was
it that she fancied she had seen in Elizabeth's eyes and heard in her
voice? Not anger, certainly, and not actually tears; but something new,
something rather dreadful, a sort of entreaty. She shuddered. Oh, why
could there never be any real happiness for Joan Ogden, never any real
fulfilment, never any joy that was quite without blemish? She felt that
her unlucky star shed its beams over everyone with whom she came in
contact, everyone she loved; those beams had touched Elizabeth and
scorched her. Yet how much she loved Elizabeth; she would have laid down
her life to save her pain. But she loved her mother too, not quite in the
same way, but deeply, very deeply. She knew this, now that she was about
to leave her; she had always known it, of course, but now that their
parting was near at hand the fact seemed to blaze forth with renewed
force. She began thinking about love in the abstract. Love was jealous of
being divided; it did not admit of your really loving more than one
creature at a time. She remembered vaguely having thought this before,
years ago. Yet in her case this could not be true, for she loved them
both, terribly, desperately, and yet could not serve them both. No, she
could not serve them both, but she had chosen.

She lay down on her bed again and buried her face in the pillow. 'Oh,
Elizabeth,' she whispered, 'I will come, I will be faithful, I swear I
will.'


2


They breakfasted at Leaside at eight o'clock, for Joan's train left at
ten-thirty. At ten o'clock Elizabeth would arrive with the fly. Joan
could not swallow.

'Eat something, my darling', said Mrs. Ogden tenderly.

She looked as though she had been crying all night, her eyes were red and
swollen, but she smiled bravely whenever she saw her daughter's glance
turned in her direction.

She refused to give in about not sleeping alone. 'Nonsense,' she said
brusquely, when Joan implored, 'I shall be all right; don't be silly,
darling.'

But she did not look as though she would be all right, and Joan searched
her brain desperately for some new scheme, but found none. What was she
to do? And in less than two hours now she would be gone. Throwing her
arms round her mother's neck she dropped her head on her shoulder.

'I can't leave you like this', she said desperately.

Mrs. Ogden's tears began to fall. 'But you must leave me, Joan; I want
you to go.'

They clung together, forlorn and miserable.

'You will write, Mother, very often?'

'Very often, my Joan, and you must too.'

'Every day', Joan promised. 'Every day.'

She went up to her room and began to pack her bag, but, contrary to
custom Mrs. Ogden did not follow her. At a quarter to ten she came
downstairs; her mother was nowhere to be seen.

'Mother'! she called anxiously, 'where are you?'

'In my room, darling', came the answer from behind a closed door. 'I'll
be down in a minute; you wait where you are.'

Joan wandered about the drawing-room. It had changed very little in all
these years; the wallpaper was the same, though faded now, there were the
same pink curtains and chairs, all shabby and reflecting the fallen
family fortunes. The turquoise blue tiles in the grate alone remained
startlingly bright and aggressive. The engraving of Admiral Sir William
Routledge looked down on her as if with interest; she wondered if he were
pleased or angry at the step his descendant was about to take; perhaps,
as he had been a man of action, he was pleased. '"Nelson's Darling" ought
at least to admire my courage!' she thought ruefully, and turned her back
on him. She sat down in the Nelson arm-chair.

Nelson's chair, how her mother had treasured it, how she did still; her
poor little mother. Joan patted the extended arms with tender hands, and
rested her head wearily where Nelson's head was said to have rested.
'Good-bye', she murmured, with a lump in her throat.


3


She began to feel anxious about her mother. It was five minutes to ten;
what on earth was she doing? In another five minutes Elizabeth would come
with the fly. Her mother had told her to wait in the drawing-room, but she
could not wait much longer, she must go and find her. At that moment the
door opened quietly and Mrs. Ogden came in. She was all in grey; a soft,
pearly grey, the colour of doves’ feathers. Her hair was carefully piled,
high on her head, and blended in softness and shine with the grey of her
dress; she must have bathed her eyes, for they looked bright again and
almost young. She cam forward, stretching out her arms.

Joan sprang up. 'Mother! It's--why it's the old dress, the same dress you
wore years ago on our last Anniversary Day. Oh! I remember it so well;
that's the dress that made you look like a grey dove, I remember thinking
that.' The outstretched arms folded round her. 'What made you put it on
to-day?' she faltered, 'it makes you look so pretty!'

Mrs. Ogden stroked her cheek. 'I wanted you to remember me like this',
she whispered. 'And, Joan, this _is_ Anniversary Day.'

Joan started. 'So it is,' she stammered, 'and I had forgotten'.

The door-bell clanged loudly. 'Let the charwoman answer it,' said Mrs.
Ogden, 'she's here this morning.'

They heard the front door open and close.

'Joan!' came Elizabeth's voice from the hall. 'Joan!'

No one answered, and in a moment or two Elizabeth had come into the room.
Joan and her mother were standing hand in hand, like two children.

Elizabeth said sharply: 'Joan, we shall miss the train, are you ready?

Joan let go of Mrs. Ogden's hand and stepped forward; she was deadly pale
and her eyes shone feverishly. When she spoke her voice sounded dry. like
autumn leaves crushed under foot.

'I'm not coming, Elizabeth; I can't leave her.'

Elizabeth made a little inarticulate sound in her throat: 'Joan!'

'I'm not coming, Elizabeth, I can't leave her.'

'Joan, for the last time I ask you: Will you come with me?'

'No!' said Joan breathlessly. 'No, I can't.'

Elizabeth turned without another word and left the room and the house.
Joan heard the door clang dully after her, and the sound of wheels that
grew fainter and fainter as the fly lumbered away.


4


The queer days succeeded each other like phantoms. Looking back on the
week which elapsed between Elizabeth's going and her last letter, Joan
found that she could remember very little of that time, or of the days
that followed. She moved about, ate her food, got up and went to bed in a
kind of stupor, broken by moments of dreadful lucidity.

On the sixth day came the letter in the familiar handwriting. The paper
bore no address, only the date, 'August, 1901'; a London postmark was on
the envelope.

Elizabeth wrote:


'JOAN,

'I knew that you would never come to me, I think I have known it in my
heart for a long time. But I must have been a proud and stubborn woman,
for I would not admit my failure until the very last. I had a hundred
things to keep hope alive in me; your splendid brain, your longing to
free yourself from Seabourne and what it stands for, the strength of all
the youth in you, and then the love I thought you had for me. Yes, I
counted a great deal on that, perhaps because I judged it by my love for
you. I was wrong, you see, your love did not hold, it was not strong
enough to give you your liberty; or was it that you were too strong to
take it? I don't know.

'Joan, I shall never come back, I cannot come back. I must go away from
you, tear you out of me, forget you. You have had too much of me already.
Oh! far too much! But now I have taken it back, all, all; for I will not
go into my new life incomplete.

'I wonder if you have ever realized what my life at Seabourne has been?
So unendurable at times that but for you I think I should have ended it.
The long, long days with their dreadful monotony, three hundred and
sixty-five of them in every year; and then the long long years!

'I used to go home from Leaside in the evening, and sit in the study with
Ralph and Uncle John's portrait, and feel as if tight fingers were
squeezing my throat; as if I were being suffocated under the awful plush
folds of the curtains. I used to have the horrible idea that Seabourne
had somehow become a living, embodied entity, of which Ralph and Old
Uncle John and the plush curtains and the smell of mildew that always
hung about Ralph's books, all formed a terrifying part. Then I used to
look at myself in the glass when I got up every morning, and count the
lines on my face one by one, and realize that my youth was slipping past
me; with every one of those three hundred and sixty-five days a little
less of it remained, a little more went into the toothless jaws of
Seabourne.

'Joan, I too have had my ambition, I too once meant to make good. When I
first came to take care of Ralph's house, I never intended to stay for
more than a year at most. I meant to go to London and be a journalist if
they'd have me; in any case I meant to work, out in the real world, the
world that has passed Seabourne by, long ago.

'Then I saw you, an overgrown colt of a child, all legs and arms. I began
to teach you, and gradually, very gradually, you became Seabourne's ally.
You never knew it, but at moments I did; you were helping the place to
hold me. My interest in you, in your personality, your unusual ability;
the joy it was to teach you, and later the deep love I felt for you, all
chained me to Leaside. My very desire to uproot you and drag you away was
only another snare that held me to the life I detested. Do you remember
how I tried to break free, that time, and failed? It was you who pulled
me back, through my love for you. Yes, even my love for you was used by
Seabourne to secure its victim.

'I grew older year by year, and saw my chances slipping from me; and I
often felt older than I was, life at Seabourne made me feel old. I
realized that I was only half a being, that there were experiences I had
never had, fulfilments I had never known, joys and sorrows which many a
poor devil of a charwoman could have taught me about. I felt stunted and
coerced, checked at the very roots of me, hungry for my birthright.

'But as time went on I managed to dam up the torrent, till it flowed away
from its natural course; it flowed out to you, Joan. Then it was that my
desire to help forward a brilliant pupil, grew, little by little, into an
absorbing passion. I became a monoïdeist, with you as the idea. I lived
for you, for your work, your success; I lived in you, in your present, in
your future, which I told myself would be my future too. Oh! my dear, how
I built on you; and I thought I had dug the foundations so deep that no
waves or tempests could destroy them.

'Then, five days ago, the house fell down; it crashed about my ears, it
stunned me. All I knew then was that I must escape from the ruin or let
myself be crushed to death; all I know now is that I must never see that
ruin again.

'Joan, I will not even go near enough to our disaster to ask you what you
are going to do. Why should I ask? I already know the answer. You must
forget me, as I must forget you. I don't understand the way of things;
they seem to me to be cruelly badly managed at the source; but perhaps
Someone or Something is wise, after all, as they would have us believe;
No, I don't mean that, I can't feel like that--resigned; not yet.

'By the time this letter reaches you I shall be married to Lawrence
Benson. Do I love him? No, not at all; I like him and I suppose I respect
him, but he is the last person on earth that I could love. I have told
him all this and he still wants to marry me. We shall leave very soon for
South Africa, where his bank is opening new branches. Oh! Joan, and you
will be in Seabourne; the injustice of it! You see I am hovering still in
the vicinity of my ruin, but I shall get clear, never doubt it.

'Do not try to see me before I go, I have purposely given no address, and
Ralph has been asked not to give it either; and do not write to me. I
want to forget.

ELIZABETH.'




BOOK FIVE



Chapter Forty-One


1


The new town band played every Thursday afternoon in the new skating-rink
in the High Street. The band was not really new and neither was the
skating-rink, both having come into existence about twelve months after
Milly Ogden's death, which made them almost nineteen years old. But by
those who remembered the days when these and similar innovations had not
existed, they were always spoken of as 'New'.

The old residents of Seabourne, those that were left of them, mourned
openly the time when the town had been really select. They looked askance
at the dancing couples who gyrated round the rink with strange clingings
and undulatings. But in spite of being shocked, as they genuinely were,
they occasionally showed their disapproving faces at the rink on Thursday
afternoons; it was a warm place to sit in and have tea during the winter
and early spring months, and in addition to this they derived a sense of
superiority from criticizing the unseemly behaviour of the new
generation.

'Well!' exclaimed Mrs. Ogden, as a couple more blatant than usual
performed a sort of Nautch dance under her nose, 'all I can say is, I'm
glad I'm old!'

Joan smiled. 'Yes, we're not so young as we were', she said.

Her mother protested irritably. 'I do wish you would stop talking as
though you were a hundred, Joan, it's so ridiculous; I sometimes think
you do it to aggravate me, you don't look a day over thirty.'

'Well, never mind, darling, look at that girl over there, she's dancing
rather prettily.'

'I'm glad you think so; personally, I can't see anything pretty about it.
Of course, if you like to tell everyone your age I suppose you must; only
the other day I heard you expatiating on the subject to Major Boyle. But,
considering you know I particularly dislike it, I think you might stop.'

Joan sighed. 'Here comes the tea, Mother.'

'Yes, I see it. Oh, _don't_ put the milk in first, darling! Well, never
mind, as you've done it. Major Boyle doesn't go about telling his age,
vain old man, but he's sure not to miss an opportunity now of telling
everyone yours.'

'Have you got your Saxin, Mother?'

'Yes, here it is, in my bag; no, it's not. Oh dear, I do hope I haven't
lost my silver box, just see if you can find it.'

Joan took the bag and thrust in her hand. 'Here it is', she said.

'Good gracious!' sighed Mrs. Ogden. 'I'm growing as blind as a bat; it's
an awful thing to lose your eyesight. No, but seriously, darling, do stop
telling people your age.'

'I will if you mind so much, Mother. But everyone we know doesn't need to
be told, if they think it out, and the new people aren't interested in us
or our ages, so what can it matter?'

'It matters very much to me, as I've told you.'

'All right, then, I'll try and remember. How old do you want me to be?’

Mrs. Ogden took offence at the levity in her daughter's tone and the rest
of the meal passed in comparative silence. At last Joan paid for the tea
and they got up to go. She helped her mother with her wrap.

'My fur's gone under the table', said Mrs. Ogden, looking vague.

Joan dived and retrieved the worn mink collar. 'Your gloves, Mother!' she
reminded.

Mrs. Ogden glanced first at the table and then at the chair, with a
worried eye. 'What _have_ I done with my gloves?' she said unhappily, 'I
really believe there's a demon who hides my things.' She screwed up her
eyes and peered about; her hand strayed casually into the pocket of her
wrap. 'Ah! here they are!' she cried, 'I knew I'd put them somewhere.'

Immediate problems being satisfactorily solved, Joan jerked herself into
her own coat; a green freize ulster with astrakhan cloth at the neck and
sleeves. As she did so her soft felt hat tilted itself a little back on
her head. It was the sort of hat that continually begs forgiveness for
its wearer, by saying in so many words: 'I'm not really odd or unusual,
observe my feminine touches!' If the hat had been crushed down in the
middle it might have looked more daring and been passably becoming, but
Joan lacked the courage for this, and wore the crown extended to its full
height. If it had been brown or black or grey it might have looked like
its male prototype, and been less at variance with its wearer's no longer
fresh complexion and angular face, but instead it was pastel blue. Above
all, if it had not had the absurd bunch of jaunty feathers, shaped like
an interrogation mark, thrust into its band, it might have presented a
less abject appearance, and been less of a shouted apology for the short
grey hair beneath it.

They were ready at last. Mrs. Ogden had her bag, her umbrella, her fur
and two parcels, all safely disposed about her person. She took her
daughter's arm for guidance as they threaded through the labyrinth of
tea-tables; if she would have put on her glasses this would not have been
necessary, but in one respect she refused to submit to the tyranny of old
age; she would never wear spectacles in public, except for reading.

A cold March wind swept round the corners of the High Street. 'Put your
fur over your mouth, Mother, this wind is deadly', Joan cautioned.

Mrs. Ogden obeyed, and the homeward walk was continued in silence. Joan
opened the door with a latch-key and turned up the gas in the hall.

'Oh, dear!' she exclaimed anxiously, 'Who left that landing window open?'

Mrs. Ogden disengaged her mouth. 'Helen!' she called loudly, 'Helen!' She
waited and then called again, this time at the kitchen door, but there
was no reply. 'She's gone out without permission again, Joan; I suppose
it's that cinema!'

'Never mind, dearest, you go and sit down, I'll shut the window myself.
It seems to me that one's got to put up with all their ways since the
war; if you don't, they just walk out.'

She shut the window, bolted it, and returning to the hall collected her
mother's coat and hat, then she went upstairs.


2


Her head ached badly, as it did pretty often these days. She put away
Mrs. Ogden's things and passed on to her own room. Taking off her heavy
coat, she hung it up neatly, being careful not to shut the door of the
cupboard until she was sure that the coat could not be crushed; she then
took off her hat, brushed it, and put it in a box under the bed.

The room had changed very little since the time when she and Milly had
shared it. There was the same white furniture, only more chipped and
yellower, the same Brussels carpet, only more patternless and threadbare.
The walls had been repapered once and the paint touched up, after Milly's
death, but beyond this, all had remained as it was. Joan went to the
dressing-table and combed her thick grey hair; she had given up parting
it on one side now and wore it brushed straight back from her face.

She looked at her reflection in the glass and laughed quietly. 'Poor
Mother', she said under her breath. 'Does she really think I don't look
my age?'

To the casual observer she looked about forty-eight, in reality she was
forty-three. Her grey eyes still seemed young at times, but their colour
had faded and so had their expression of intelligent curiosity. The eyes
that had once asked so many questions of life, now looked dull and
uninterested. Her cheeks had grown somewhat angular, and the clear pallor
of her skin had thickened a little; it no longer suggested good health.
In all her face only the mouth remained as a memory of what Joan had
been. Her mouth had neither hardened nor weakened, the lips still
retained their youthful texture and remained beautiful in their
modelling. And because this mouth was so startlingly young and fresh,
with its strong, white teeth, it served all the more to bring into relief
the deterioration of the rest of her face. Her figure was as slim as it
had been at twenty-four, but now she stooped a little at times, because
her back hurt her; she thought it must be rheumatism, and worried about
it disproportionately.

She had taken to thinking a great deal about her health lately, not
because she wanted to, but rather because she was constantly assailed by
small, annoying symptoms, all different and all equally unpleasant. Her
legs ached at night after she got to bed, and feeling them one evening
she discovered that the veins were swollen; at times they became acutely
painful. She seldom got up now refreshed by sound sleep, there was no joy
in waking in the mornings; on the contrary, she had grown to dread the
pulling up of the blind, because her eyes felt sensitive, especially
after the night.

Her mentality was gradually changing too, and her brain was littered with
little things. Trifles annoyed her, small cares preoccupied her, the
getting beyond them was too much of an effort. She could no longer force
her unwilling brain to action, any mental exertion tired her. She had
long since ceased to care for study in any form, even serious books
wearied her; if she read now it was novels of the lightest kind, and she
really preferred magazines.

Her mind, when not occupied with her own health or her mother's, was
beginning to find relaxation in things that she would have once utterly
despised; Seabourne gossip, not always kind; local excitements, such as
the opening of a new hotel or the coming of a London touring company to
the theatre. Her interests were narrowing down into a small circle, she
was beginning to find herself incapable of feeling much excitement over
anything that took place even as far away as the next town. At moments
she was startled when she remembered herself as she had once been,
startled and ashamed and horribly sad; but a headache or a threatened
cold, or the feeling of general unfitness that so often beset her, was
enough to turn her mind from introspection and send her flying to her
medicine cupboard.

Mrs. Ogden was her principal preoccupation. They quarrelled often and
seldom thought alike; but the patience that had characterized Joan's
youth remained with her still; she was good to her mother in spite of
everything. For the first few years of their life alone together, Joan
had rebelled at times like a mad thing. Those had been terrible years and
she had set herself to forget them, with a fair amount of success. Mrs.
Ogden had become a habit now, and quite automatically Joan fetched and
carried, and rubbed her chest and gave her her medicine; it was all in
the day's work, one did it, like everything else in Seabourne, because it
seemed the right thing and there was nothing else to do.

If there had been people who could have formed a link with her youth, she
might more easily have retained a part of her old self; but there was
only her mother, who had always been the opposing force; nearly everyone
else who belonged to that by-gone period had either left Seabourne or
died. She seldom met a familiar face in the street, a face wherewith to
conjure up some vivid memory, or even regret. Admiral Bourne had been
dead for fifteen years, and Glory Point had fallen into decay; it stood
empty and neglected, a prey to the winds and waves that it had once so
gallantly defied. No one wanted the admiral's ship-house, neither the
distant cousin who had inherited it, nor the prospective tenants who came
down from London to view. It was too fanciful, too queer, and proved on
closer inspection to be very inconvenient, or so people said.

General Brooke had gone to meet his old antagonist Colonel Ogden, and
Ralph Rodney had died of pleurisy, during the war. The Bensons had sold
Conway House to a profiteer grocer, and had moved to London. Richard, who
had written at intervals for one or two years after Elizabeth's marriage,
had long since ceased to write altogether. His last letter had been
unhappy and resentful, and now Joan did not know where he was. Sir Robert
and Lady Loo spent most of their time out of England, on account of her
health, and were seldom if ever, seen by the Ogdens.

Seabourne was changing; changing, yet always the same. The war had
touched it in passing, as the Memorial Cross in the market-place
testified; but in spite of world-wide convulsions, dreadful deeds in
Belgium and France, air raids in London and bombardments on the coast,
Seabourne had remained placid and had never lost its head. Immune from
bombs and shells by reason of its smug position, it had known little more
of the war than it gathered from its daily papers and the advent of food
tickets. Even the grip of the speculative post-war builder seemed
powerless to make it gasp. He came, he went, leaving in his wake a trail
of horrid toadstool growths which were known as the new suburb of
'Shingle Park'. But few strangers came to live in these blatant little
houses; they were bought up at once by the local tradespeople, who moved
from inconvenient rooms over their shops to more inconvenient villas
outside the town.

Yes, any change that there was in Seabourne was more apparent than real;
and yet for Joan there remained very little to remind her of her youth,
beyond the same dull streets, the same dull shops and the same monotony,
which she now dreaded to break. In her bedroom was one drawer which she
always kept locked, it contained the books that she and Elizabeth had
pored over together. She had put them away eighteen years ago, and had
never had the courage to look at them since, but she wore the key of that
drawer on a chain round her neck; it was the only token of her past that
she permitted to intrude itself.

There was no one to be intimate with, for people like the Ogdens; Mrs.
Ogden refused to admit the upstarts to her friendship. Stiff-necked and
Routledge as ever, she repulsed their advances and Joan cared too little
to oppose her. Father Cuthbert and a few oldish women, members of the
congregation, were practically the only visitors at Leaside. Mrs. Ogden
liked to talk over parish affairs with them, the more so as she was
treated with deep respect, almost amounting to reverence, by the faithful
Father Cuthbert, who never forgot that she had been one of his first
supporters.

With time, Joan, his old antagonist, had begun to weaken, and now she too
took a hand in the church work. She consented to join the Altar Society,
and developed quite a talent for arranging the flowers in their stiff
brass vases. The flowers in themselves gave her pleasure, appealing to
what was left of her sense of the beautiful. Someone had to take Mrs.
Ogden to church, she was too feeble to go alone; so the task fell to
Joan, as a matter of course. She would push her mother in a light wicker
bath chair which they had bought second-hand, or on very special
occasions drive with her in a fly. Also as a matter of course she now
took part in the services, neither impressed nor the reverse, but
remaining purely neutral. She followed the easiest path these days, and
did most things rather than make the necessary effort to resist. After
all, what did it matter, one church was as good as another, she supposed.
She was not quite dishonest in her attitude towards Ritualism, neither
was she strictly honest; it was only that the combative instincts of
youth had battered themselves to death in her; now she felt no very
strong emotions, and did not want to.



Chapter Forty-Two


1


The poor of Seabourne were really non-existent; but since certain types
of religiously minded people are not happy unless they find some class
beneath them on whom to lavish unwelcome care, the churches of each
denomination, and of these there were at least four, invented deserving
poor for themselves and visited them strenuously. Of all the pastors in
the little town, Father Cuthbert was the most energetic.

Mrs. Ogden was particularly interested in this branch of church work.
District visiting had come to her as second nature; she had found immense
satisfaction and a salve to her pride in patronizing people who could not
retaliate. But lately her failing health made the long walks impossible,
so that she was reduced to sitting at home and thinking out schemes
whereby the humbler members of the congregation might be coerced into
doing something that they did not want to.

She looked up from the paper one morning with triumph in her eye. 'I knew
it would come!' she remarked complacently.

'What would come?' Joan inquired.

She did not feel that she cared very much just then if the Day of
Judgment itself were at hand; but long experience had taught her that
silence was apt to make her mother more loquacious than an assumption of
interest.

'The influenza; I knew it would come! There are three cases in
Seabourne.'

'Well, what of it?' said Joan, yawning. 'The world's very much
overpopulated; I'm sure Seabourne is.'

'My dear, don't be callous, and it's the pneumonic kind; I believe those
Germans are still spreading microbes.'

'Oh, nonsense!' said Joan irritably.

Mrs. Ogden went over to her bureau and began rummaging in a drawer; at
last she found what she was looking for. 'These worsted vests must go to
the Robinsons to-day', she declared. 'That eldest girl of theirs must put
one on at once; with her tendency to bronchitis, she's an absolute
candidate for influenza.'

Joan made a sound of impatience. 'But, Mother, you know the girl hates
having wool next her skin; she says it makes her itch; she'll never wear
them.'

'Oh, but she _must_; you'll have to see her mother and tell her I sent
you; it's nonsense about wool making the skin irritate.'

'I don't agree with you; lots of people can't wear it. I can't myself,
and, besides, the Robinsons don't want our charity.'

'The poor always need charity, my dear.'

'But they're not poor; they're probably better off' than we are, or they
ought to be, considering what that family earned during the war.'

'I can't help what they earned in war-time, Joan; they're poor enough
now; everyone is, with all the unemployment.'

'I daresay, only they don't happen to be unemployed.'

'I expect they will be soon', said Mrs. Ogden with ghoulish optimism.

Joan sighed; this task of thrusting herself on people who did not want
her was one of the trials of life. For many years she had refused to be a
district visitor, but lately this too had been one of the duties that her
mother's increasing age imposed upon her. Mrs. Ogden worried herself ill
if she thought that her share in this all-important work was being
neglected, so Joan had given in.

She stretched out her hand for the vests. 'How they must hate us', she
said thoughtfully.

Mrs. Ogden took off her spectacles. 'They? Who?'

'Only the poor Poor.'

'You are a strange girl, Joan. I don't understand half the time what
you're talking about, and I don't think you do yourself.'

'Perhaps not!' Joan's voice was rather sharp; she wished her mother would
not speak of her as a 'girl', it was ridiculous and embarrassing. At
times this and equally trifling irritations made her feel as though she
could scream. 'Give me the idiotic things!' she said angrily, snatching
up the vests; 'I'll take them, if you make me, but they'll only throw
them away.'

Mrs. Ogden appeared not to hear her; she had become slightly deaf in one
ear lately, a fact which she had quickly discovered could be used to her
own advantage.

'Bring in some muffins for tea, darling', she called after Joan's
retreating figure.


2


Joan strode along the esplanade on her way to the Robinsons’ cottage.
Anger lent vigour to her every movement; she felt almost young again
under its stimulus. This useless errand on which she had been sent! Just
as though the Robinsons didn't know how to dress themselves. The eldest
girl, about whom her mother was so anxious, wore far smarter clothes at
church than Joan could afford, and, in any case why should the poor thing
be doomed to a perpetual rash because Mrs. Ogden wanted a peg on which to
hang her charity?

She walked with head bent to the wind; it looked like rain and she had
forgotten her umbrella. Suppose that storm-cloud over there should break,
she'd be drenched to the skin, and that would be bad for her rheumatism.
At the thought of her rheumatism her back began to ache a little. All
this trouble and risk of getting wet through was being taken for people
who would probably laugh at her the moment she was safely out of their
house. Of course the knitted vests would either be given to the dustman
or thrown away immediately. Now the gale began to absorb all her
attention; it was increasing every minute. She had some ado to hold her
hat on. Her anger gave place to feelings of misery and discomfort,
physical discomfort which filled her whole horizon. She forgot for the
moment the irritation she had felt with her mother; almost forgot the
errand on which she was bent, and was conscious only that the wind was
bitter and that she felt terribly tired.

She came at last to the ugly little street where the Robinson family
lived. She always dreaded this street; it was so full of children. Their
impudent eyes followed her as she walked, and they tittered audibly. She
rang the bell. She had not meant to pull it so hard, and was appalled at
the clanging that followed. After a pause she could hear steps coming
down the passage.

'No need to pull the 'ouse down when you ring, I should 'ope', said a
loud voice.

The door was flung open. 'Now then--' Mrs. Robinson was beginning
truculently, when she saw who it was and stopped.

Joan felt that she could not face it. Mrs. Robinson was composing her
countenance into the sly Sunday expression.

'Some vests; they're from my mother!' she said hurriedly, and thrusting
the parcel into the woman's hands, she fled down the steps.


3


There was no rain after all, and that was a great relief. Going home with
the wind behind her she had time to remember again that she was angry.
She would tell Father Cuthbert once and for all that he must find another
district visitor. She was not going to trudge about all over Seabourne,
ministering to people who disliked her, helping Father Cuthbert to make
them more hypocritical than they were already.

By the time she arrived at Leaside, however, apathy was uppermost again;
what was the good of having a row? What did it matter after all? What
really mattered most at the moment was that she wanted a cup of strong
tea and a fire to get warm by. She would have to invent a suitable
interview with Mrs. Robinson; anything for peace!

'Did you get the muffins, darling?' came Mrs. Ogden's voice from the
dining-room.

Joan stood still in the hall and pressed her hand to her head with a
gesture almost tragic. She had forgotten the muffins!



Chapter Forty-Three


1


The Ogdens took their annual holiday in May, in order to avoid the high
prices of the summer season. For a full month prior to their departure, a
feeling of unrest always possessed them. The numbers of things, real and
imaginary, that had to be settled before they could leave for Lynton, in
North Devon, augmented year by year, until they had arrived at dimensions
that only a prolonged visit to Kamchatka or Zanzibar could possibly
excuse. Joan found that as the years went on she was beginning to
subscribe more and more to her mother's fussiness; even beginning to
acquire certain fussinesses of her own. Sometimes the realization of this
made her pause. 'I never used to care so much about trifles', she would
think. But she found it almost impossible to stop caring. She would lie
awake at night going over in her mind the obstacles to be overcome before
they could leave Seabourne, and would go to sleep finally with a weight
on her brain. In the morning she would wake wondering what unpleasant
thing it was that hung over the household.

This brief visit to Lynton generally caused much worry regarding clothes.
Everything seemed to be worn out at once, and the necessity for
replenishing scanty wardrobes was added to the financial strain of the
holiday. Mrs. Ogden had decided that rooms were both objectionable and
expensive, and that unless she could go to an hotel she would rather stay
at home. In some respects Joan was thankful for this decision; constant
quarrels with outspoken landladies had made her dread anything in the
nature of apartments. But the expense was considerable, for the Bristol
Hotel was not cheap, even though they took the smallest bedrooms
available, or, worse still, shared a tiny double room at the back of the
house. They pinched and screwed for this longed-for holiday during all
the rest of the year, and at times Joan wondered whether the respite of
three weeks at an hotel away from Seabourne was worth the anxiety that it
entailed; whether, when she was finally there, she was not too tired to
enjoy it.

As the month of departure drew near Mrs. Ogden was wont to develop an
abnormal activity of mind. All the things that might so easily have been
spread out over the preceding months seemed only to be remembered a few
weeks prior to going away, and what did not exist to be remembered she
invented. It would also have been more natural and orderly had wreaths
been taken to the cemetery on the anniversaries of her husband's and
Milly's deaths, but this was never done, and their graves were always
visited shortly before leaving for Lynton.

'I can't go away without seeing for myself that those cemetery people are
looking after things properly', was the explanation she gave.

A purely hypothetical army of moths was another cause of anxiety. Mrs.
Ogden never visualized anything less than a Biblical scourge of these
pests. 'We shall have the carpets and blankets eaten to shreds if we're
not careful', she would prophesy. Bitter apple, naphthaline, even pepper,
was showered all over the house, and every article that could by the
wildest stretch of the imagination be supposed to tempt a moth's appetite
was wrapped in newspaper and put away weeks before the house was left. It
was not unusual for some muffler or golf-coat that might be required at
Lynton to go the way of all the rest, and when this happened an
irritating search would have to be made.

About this time a species of spring cleaning always took place. 'You
can't put the china and glass away without washing it, Joan; unless the
place is left clean we shall be overrun with mice and black-beetles. I
will have things done properly!' Every picture was draped in newspaper,
every chair in dust sheets; curtains were taken down, rugs rolled up,
photographs and knick-knacks were put away in boxes. During this process
the servant occasionally gave notice at a date which would make her
departure fall due shortly after the Ogdens had left for their holiday.
When this happened the confusion was augmented by the necessity of
finding a caretaker, or at least someone who would see that the house had
been properly locked up.


2


It was towards the end of April that Mrs. Ogden chose to visit her dead.
The day was kept as a kind of doleful festival, full of gloomy
excitement. Joan would unearth decent black for herself, and repair her
mother's widow's weeds, which were always resumed for the pilgrimage.
Little food would be eaten; there was scant time for meals, and, besides,
Mrs. Ogden had ordained a self-imposed fast. Usually the wreaths would
not arrive to the minute, and would have to be fetched from the
florist's. The fly was invariably late, and the servant would be sent to
make inquiries at the livery stable. Perhaps it would rain, in which case
waterproofs, goloshes and umbrellas were an additional burden. And to cap
all this, it was obviously unseemly to display impatience at such a time,
so that immense self-control was added to the strain of already taut
nerves.

This April everything seemed to have gone wrong. The florist had
arbitrarily raised his prices, and the wreaths were to cost half as much
again as they had in previous years. Mrs. Ogden considered his excuses
positively impertinent; she had not noticed the late frosts, the
abnormally dry weather, or, indeed, any of the disasters to which he
attributed the high price of flowers. In the end she had been obliged to
give in, but the incident had very much upset her, and she blamed this
upset for the cold on her chest which now kept her in bed when she should
have visited the cemetery. With the infantile stubbornness of the old she
had refused to abandon the idea of going until the last moment; and had
even got half through her dressing before Joan could persuade her to go
back to bed. This wilfulness of her mother's had delayed everything, and
the meals were not ordered or the canary cleaned and fed by the time the
fly arrived.

There had been a sharp shower, and Joan found to her dismay that the
wreaths, all wet and dripping, had been stood against the wallpaper in
the front hall. A little stain of dampness was making its appearance on
the carpet as well. She went to fetch a cloth from the scullery. As
usual, the window had been left open and on the sill sat a neighbour's
cat.

She spoke irritably. 'How many times have I told you to shut this window,
Rose? That cat comes here after the canary.'

She shut the window herself with a bang, and going back to the hall
dabbed at the wallpaper, but it was all too evident that the wet marks
meant to leave a stain. Sighing, she picked up the wreaths. The damp moss
soaked through her gloves. 'Oh, damn!' she muttered under her breath,
forgetting in her irritation the solemnity of the occasion. She took off
her gloves, thrust them into her pocket, and putting the wreaths into the
cab got in after them.

'Where to, miss?' inquired the unimaginative driver.

'Cemetery!' snapped Joan.

What a fool the man must be. Did he think she was going to the
skating-rink or the pier, with a large grave wreath over each arm?

The cemetery lay a little beyond Shingle Park, and as they bumped along
through old Seabourne and out on to the unfinished road Joan glanced
casually out of the window. Her head felt heavy and her eyes ached.
'Ugly, very ugly!' she murmured absent-mindedly. The roughcast shanties
grinned back defiance. Their walls were so thin that people who had
watched their erection declared that daylight had showed through the
bricks before the rough cast was applied. Their foundations were
non-existent, the woodwork of their front doors shamelessly unseasoned
and warping already in the damp sea air. They stood for everything that
was dishonest and unsound, and yet not one of them was empty.

The purchasers had begun to develop their front gardens, and several of
these were already making quite a good show of spring flowers. On either
side of the gritty ash paths jonquils and wall-flowers were growing
courageously. A sense of the pathetic stirred Joan's heart; everyone was
trying so hard to be happy, to make a place of enjoyment for themselves.
People had taken their savings to buy these homes; in the evenings they
worked in their tiny gardens, and in the mornings they looked out of
their windows with pride on the fruits of their labours. And all the
while these mean little houses were grinning in impish derision. They
knew the secrets of their shoddy construction, of their faulty walls and
shallow foundations; presently their owners would know them too. But in
the meantime the houses grinned.

A sudden anger roused Joan from her lethargy and she shook her fist at
them as she passed. 'You hideous, untruthful monstrosities,' she said
aloud, 'I hate you!'

The fly drew up at the cemetery and she got out, a wreath in either hand.
She made her way to her father's grave and on it laid the wreath of palm
leaves with its meagre spray of lilies. Colonel Ogden's tombstone was
quite impressive. His wife had chosen it before she realized the state of
her future finances; a broken column in fine Scottish granite and a
flower-bed with granite kerb. Joan peered down at this flower-bed
suspiciously. Yes, just as she had expected, there were weeds among the
forget-me-nots; she must speak to the gardener. One had to be after
everyone these days, they were all so slack and dishonest. She made a
mental note of her complaint and turned to her sister's grave.

Milly's resting-place testified to the fact that by the time she died the
state of the family fortunes had been all too well understood; a small
white cross and a plain grass mound marked the place where Milly's fight
had ended. Joan propped the wreath of narcissi against the foot of the
cross, and stood staring at the inscription.


MILDRED MARY OGDEN.
Died November 25th, 1900.
Aged 21 years.


How long ago it seemed; Milly had been dead for twenty years. If she were
alive now she would be forty-one. What would she be doing if she were
alive now? Assuredly not standing near her father's grave in Seabourne;
and yet who could tell? Perhaps she, too, would have failed. It was
difficult to picture a Milly of forty-one. Would she have been fat or
thin? Would her hair have gone grey like her sister's? Joan lingered over
her imaginings, but failed to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion.
Perhaps Milly would have kept her looks better than she had; a life such
as her sister would have led might well have kept her young. She tried to
conjure up a clear vision of Milly as she had been. Brown eyes, very soft
golden hair that was inclined to curl naturally, rather a sulky mouth at
times and a short straight nose--no, not quite straight. Hadn't Milly's
nose been a little tip-tilted? They had no photograph of her when she was
twenty-one; that was a pity. But what had she looked like exactly? Joan
went over her features one by one; it was like sorting out bits of a
jig-saw puzzle; when she began to put them together there was always a
slight misfit. Twenty years! it was a long time. The memory of Milly had
been gradually fading, and now she could no longer be quite sure of her
face, could no longer be perfectly certain what her voice had sounded
like.

She turned away from the grave with a sigh. Things might have been
different if her sister had lived: they might have helped each other; but
would they have done so? Perhaps, after all, Milly had chosen the wiser
part in dying young. Suppose she had failed to make a career? In that
case there might well have been three of them at Leaside instead of two,
and two people were enough to get on each other's nerves, surely. She
pulled herself up. 'What's the good of going back?' she thought. 'If, if,
if--it's all so futile! I'm not going to be morbid, in addition to
everything else.'

She got into the cab. 'Home!' she ordered peremptorily.



Chapter Forty-Four


1


Joan stared into her half-packed trunk with a worried expression.

 If only she could know what the weather would be! Should she take her
 flannel coat and skirt? Should she take any light suits at all, or would
 it be enough if she only had warm things?

'Joan, I can't find my new bedroom slippers; I've looked everywhere.
Where have you put them?' came Mrs. Ogden's voice from across the
landing.

'Oh, do wait a minute, Mother! I'm trying to think out what to take; I
can't find your slippers for a minute or two.'

There ensued an offended silence. Joan straightened her aching back and
sat down to consider. It might be hot at Lynton in May. It had been very
hot last year, but that was in the middle of a heat wave, whereas
now--still, on the whole, she had better take her grey flannel, it wasn't
a bulky thing to pack. She took a piece of paper from her pocket and
began to study a list. 'Travel in brown tweed, old coat and skirt, brown
shoes and stockings and grey overcoat.' What hat should she leave out?
Perhaps the old blue one; anything was good enough, it was always a dirty
journey. She referred to the list again. 'Pack six pairs stockings, three
pairs gloves, four vests, three nightgowns, blue serge suit, two pairs
shoes, one pair slippers.' She ticked the articles off on her fingers one
by one. Her mauve dinner dress was rather shabby, she remembered, but
that couldn't be helped; she must make out with a black skirt and
low-necked blouses, for a change.

'Joan, I can't lift my bag down from the top of the wardrobe; I do wish
you'd come here.'

'Oh, all right', sighed Joan, getting up.

They had been packing for several days and yet nothing was finished; the
next morning they were to start at seven in order to catch the express in
London.

'Where's the medicine bag?' Joan asked anxiously.

Mrs. Ogden shook her head. 'I don't know; hasn't it been got out? I
suppose it's in the cupboard under the stairs'.

They routed out the bag from its dusty lair and began to sort bottles.
'Joan, you must _not_ go on taking that bromo-seltzer after what Major
Boyle told us.'

'Of course I shall go on taking it; it's perfectly harmless.'

'It's very far from harmless. Major Boyle says that he knows for a
fact--'

'I don't care a rap what Major Boyle thinks he knows,' Joan interrupted
impatiently. 'It's the only thing that does my head the least good, and
I'm going to take it.'

'Well, I do wish you wouldn't; I'm sure it's very dangerous.'

'Oh, Mother, do leave me alone; I'm not a child, I can quite well look
after myself.'

They squabbled for a little while over the bromo-seltzer, while the bag
grew gradually full to bursting. At last it was closed, but not without
an effort.

'Good gracious, here's the bird-seed left out!' Mrs. Ogden exclaimed,
producing a good-sized cocoa tin from the washstand cupboard. 'And now
what's to be done?'

'It must go in a trunk', said Joan firmly.

'But suppose it upsets?'

'Oh, it won't.'

'Well, I don't know; it might.'

'Then put it in the hold-all; it will be all right there.'

'I can't understand why it can't go in the medicine bag; it always has at
other times', said Mrs. Ogden discontentedly. 'And it's Bobbie's special
mixture; I can only get it at one place.'

'Bobbie won't die, Mother, if he has to live for three weeks on Hyde's or
Spratt's or something; there's lots of seed at the grocer's at Lynton,
I've often seen it.'

But Mrs. Ogden persisted, 'We must find room in the bag for it, my dear.'

'I will not unpack the whole of that bag for any bird,' said Joan
untruthfully; if there had been the least necessity she would not only
have unpacked the bag but the entire luggage for Bobbie's sake.


2


They got off at last, and were actually in the Barnstaple train; bags,
wraps, bird-cage and all.

Mrs. Ogden sighed contentedly. 'The worst of the journey's over', she
declared. 'It's that change in London I always dread.'

Joan leant back in her corner and tried to sleep, but a flutter from the
cage at her side roused her. She bent down and half uncovered Bobbie, who
hopped to the bars and nibbled her finger.

'There, there, my pet', she murmured softly.

Bobbie burst into a loud song. 'He likes the noise of the train', smiled
Mrs. Ogden, nodding her head.

They began to pet the bird. 'Pretty Bob, pretty fellow!'

The canary loved them both, but Joan was his favourite; for her he would
do almost anything. He bathed while she held his bath in her hands, and
would dry himself on her short grey hair. At times Mrs. Ogden felt
jealous of these marks of esteem. 'I'm a perfect slave to that bird', she
often complained, 'and yet he won't come to me like that.'

But her jealousy never got beyond an occasional grumble, the little
canary managed to avoid being a bone of contention; Bobbie was a mutual
tie, a veritable link of love between them.

At Barnstaple they changed again, and got into the small toy train that
wanders over the moors to Lynton. The sun was setting across the wide,
misty landscape, turning pools that the rain had left into molten gold,
sending streams of glory earthward from behind the banked-up
storm-clouds. Joan sat with Bobbie's cage on her knee; she might easily
have put it down beside her, there was room on the seat, but she liked
the nearness of the bird. She wished that he were big enough to take out
and hug.

A great peace possessed her, one of those mysterious waves of wellbeing
that came over her at times. 'Feeling other-worldly', she described it to
herself. Mrs. Ogden was dozing, so there was no one to talk; the small
puffings and rumblings of the train alone broke the silence. She closed
her eyes in sensuous enjoyment. The little bird shook out his feathers
and cracked a seed, while the twilight deepened and the lamp flashed out
in the carriage. Joan sat on in a kind of blissful quiescence. 'All is as
it should be,' she thought dreamily, 'and I know exactly why it is so,
only I can't quite find the words. Somewhere at the back of my mind I
know the why of everything.'


3


On the second afternoon after their arrival, Joan sat alone in the hall
of the hotel. Mrs. Ogden had gone to lie down; she had scarcely got over
the fatigue of the journey. Joan picked up a paper idly; she had no wish
to read the news, but since the paper was there she might as well glance
through it. Two young girls with bobbed hair and well-tailored clothes
had come on to the veranda from the garden.

One of them was in riding-breeches. They sat down with their backs to the
open window, through which their voices drifted. 'Have you seen that
funny old thing with the short grey hair?'

'Yes, you mean the one at lunch? Wasn't she killing? Why moire ribbon
instead of a proper necktie?'

'And why a pearl brooch across her stiff collar?'

'I believe she's what they used to call a "New woman",' said the girl in
breeches, with a low laugh. 'Honey, she's a forerunner, that's what she
is, a kind of pioneer that's got left behind. I believe she's the
beginning of things like me. Oh! hang it all, I've left my gloves in the
garden; come on, we must look for them.' And they went down the steps
again.

Joan laid down the newspaper and stared after them. Of course they had
not known that she was there. 'A forerunner, a kind of pioneer that's got
left behind.' She shoved the hair back from her forehead. Yes, they were
right, that was what she had been, a kind of pioneer, and now she had got
left behind. She saw the truth of this all round her, in women of the
type that she had once been, that in a way she still was. Active,
aggressively intelligent women, not at all self-conscious in their
tailor-made clothes, not ashamed of their cropped hair; women who did
things well, important things; women who counted and who would go on
counting; smart, neatly put together women, looking like well-bred young
men. They might still be in the minority and yet they sprang up
everywhere; one saw them now even at Seabourne during the summer season.
They were particular about their clothes, in their own way; the boots
they wore were thick but well cut, their collars immaculate, their ties
carefully chosen. But she, Joan Ogden, was the forerunner who had failed,
the pioneer who had got left behind, the prophet who had feared his own
prophecies. These others had gone forward, some of them released by the
war, others who had always been free-lances, and if the world was not
quite ready for them yet, if they had to meet criticism and ridicule and
opposition, if they were not all as happy as they might be, still they
were at least brave, whereas she had been a coward, conquered by
circumstances. A funny old thing with grey hair, who wore moire ribbon
instead of a necktie and a brooch in the wrong place; yes, that was what
she had come to in twenty years.

She sprang up and hurried out of the hotel. On her way to the town she
unfastened the pearl brooch and hurled it into the bushes. It was twenty
minutes to six. She arrived at the shop she wanted just as they were
putting up the shutters.

'I'm not too late, am I?' she inquired breathlessly.

The clerk behind the counter reassured her. 'You've just ten minutes,
madam.'

'Then show me some stiff collars, the newest pattern.' She chose half a
dozen hastily. 'And now some neckties, please.'

She made the best selection she could from the limited stock at her
disposal, and left the shop with her parcel under her arm. Half-way up
the drive to the hotel, she stood still and stared incredulously at her
purchases; she had spent considerably over thirty shillings--she must
have gone mad! She walked on slowly with bent head. A pioneer that had
got left behind; what an impulsive fool she was! Pioneers that got left
behind didn't count; they were lost, utterly lost in the desert. How
could the young turn back for the old? In any case they didn't do it, and
one could not catch up with the young when one was forty-three.



Chapter Forty-Five


1


At the end of the pleasant hotel dining-room sat a big, florid man, alone
at a table. His reddish hair was sprinkled with grey and so were the
small side-whiskers he affected. His large hands held a wine-card
delicately, as though used to some work that necessitated extreme
fineness of touch. His jaw was perhaps a trifle too massive, his mouth a
trifle too aggressive in expression, but his eyes were eager and limpid,
and his smile was frank and very kind.

He put down the wine-card and looked about him. His fellow guests
interested him, people always did. These people were like their
prototypes in every English hotel that he had ever been to; dull men with
duller wives, dreary examples of matrimonial stagnation. Dull sons with
dull fathers, dull daughters with dull mothers. The two girls with bobbed
hair sat together and chattered incessantly, but even they looked
commonplace in their evening dresses, which did not suit them or their
weather-stained necks and hands.

From his vantage-point, facing the swing-doors, he could see the full
length of the room. Even the way people walked had a significance for
him; he was wont to say that you could read a person's whole life history
in the way they moved. As he looked towards the entrance, two women came
in; an old and very feeble lady wearing a white lace cap, and a
middle-aged woman with short, grey hair, who supported her companion on
her arm. In her disengaged hand she carried a white, fleecy shawl and a
bottle of medicine, while tucked away under her elbow was a box-shaped
thing that looked like a minute foot-warmer. The two women seated
themselves at a window table quite neat the man.

'Open the window, dear,' he heard the old lady say; 'this room is
stuffy.'

The younger woman did as she was asked, and he noticed that the window
seemed too heavy for her. They drank their soup in silence, but presently
the old lady shivered. 'It's colder than I thought', she said
plaintively. 'I think we'll have it shut, after all.'

Her companion rose obediently and closed the window, then she put the
small box-shaped object under the other's feet.

'So it was a foot-warmer!' thought the man with some amusement. He bent a
little forward, the better to hear what they would say. 'I'm
eavesdropping,' he thought, 'but they interest me.'

'Won't you have your shawl on, Mother?'

'Well, perhaps I will. It's much colder here than it was last year.' The
younger woman got up once more, this time to fold the shawl around her
mother's shoulders.

'Oh, Lord!' muttered the man impatiently, 'will she never sit still?'

He looked attentively at the pair. 'Gentle, tyrant mother,' he told
himself, 'and virgin daughter withering on her stem.' But as he looked,
something in the short-haired woman's appearance arrested him. 'It's a
fine face, even now,' he thought, 'and the mouth is positively beautiful.
I wonder why--I wonder how it happened. Who is it she reminds me of?'

The woman turned her head and their eyes met; he thought she started and
looked more intently; at all events she turned to her mother and said
something in a low voice. In a second or two the old lady glanced at him.

The man felt his heart tighten. Something in the face of this
short-haired woman and a certain gruff quality in her voice were
strangely familiar. Just then his attention was distracted, and when he
looked again the women's faces were turned away and they were speaking in
an undertone. The pair finished their dinner and left the room, while he
sat on stupidly, letting the years slip backwards.


2


Presently he got up and walked to the door. He went out into the hall,
meaning to look at the hotel register. The hall was empty except for the
short-haired woman who had apparently anticipated him, for she was
turning over the pages of the book. He came up quietly and looked over
her shoulder. Her finger was hovering near his own entry: 'Sir Richard
Benson, Harley Street, London.'

She saw him out of the corner of her eye. 'I was looking you up', she
explained simply.

'So I see', he said and smiled. 'May I look you up, too?'

She nodded and he turned back a page. 'Mrs. and Miss Ogden, Seabourne,'
he read aloud.

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, and then: 'Oh, Joan!'

'Richard!'

They clasped hands and laughed, then they clasped hands all over again
and laughed again too, but with tears in their eyes.

Presently he said: 'After all these years, Joan, and to meet in a place
like this!'

'Yes, it's a long time, isn't it!'

'It's a lifetime', he replied gravely.

They went out on to the veranda. 'Mother's going to bed', she told him.
'I can stay out here for twenty minutes.'

'Why only twenty minutes, Joan?'

'Because I must go and read to her when she's undressed; she's still
rather sleepless after the journey.'

He was silent. Then he said: 'Well, tell me all about it, please; I want
to hear everything.'

She smiled at the familiar words. 'That won't take twenty minutes; I can
say it in less than two.'

'Then say it', he commanded.

'I was bottled, after all', she told him with mock solemnity, but her
voice shook a little.

He took her hand and pressed it very gently. 'I know that, my dear.' She
said: 'You stopped writing rather suddenly, I thought. Why was that?'

He hesitated. 'Well, you know, after Elizabeth's marriage and your
decision to throw up the sponge--you remember you wrote to the of your
decision, don't you?--Well, after that I did write occasionally, for a
year or two, but then it all seemed so hopeless, and I realized that you
didn't mean to marry me, so I thought it best to let you go. I had my
work, Joan, and I tried to wipe you out; you were a disturbing element.'

She nodded. She could understand his not having wanted a distraction in
the days when he was making his career, she could even understand his
having dropped her; what interest could he have had in so disappointing a
life as hers? 'And you, on the other hand, have made good?' she queried,
continuing her own train of thought.

He sighed. 'Oh, yes, I suppose so; I'm considered a very successful man,
I believe.'

It came to her as a shock that she ought to know something about this
very successful man, and that the mere fact that she knew nothing showed
how completely she had dropped away from all her old interests.

'Don't be angry, Richard', she said apologetically. 'But please tell me
what you do. Did you specialize in nerves after all?'

He shook his head. 'No, Joan, I specialized in brain; I'm a surgeon, my
dear.'

'A great one, Richard?'

'Oh, I don't know; I'm fairly useful, I think.'

His words roused a vague echo in her, something stirred feebly; the ghost
of by-gone enthusiasm, called from the grave by the mere proximity of
this man, so redolent of self-confidence and success. She moved uneasily,
conscious that her thoughts were straying backwards. 'Elizabeth--' she
began, but checked herself, and at that moment a porter came up.

'Please, miss, the lady in twenty-four says will you come up at once,
she's in bed.'

'I must go; good night, Richard.'

'Wait a minute!' he said eagerly. 'When shall I see you again?

She hesitated. 'I think I can get off for a walk at nine o'clock
to-morrow morning; Mother won't be getting up until about twelve.'

'I shall be waiting here in the hall', he said.

When she was gone, he lit a cigar and went out into the night to think.



Chapter Forty-Six


1


The next morning Joan awoke with a feeling of excitement; the moment she
opened her eyes she knew that something unusual had happened. She got up
and dressed, more carefully than she had done for many years past. She
parted her hair on one side again. Why not? It certainly looked neater
parted. She was glad now that she had bought those new collars and ties.
She took an incredibly long time to knot the tie satisfactorily and this
dashed her a little. 'My hand's out,' she thought, 'and I used to tie a
tie so well.' She put on her grey flannel suit, thinking as she did so
that it was less frumpish in cut than the others; then she crushed her
soft felt hat into the shape affected by the young women with bobbed
hair, and was pleased with the result.

Her mother was awake when she went into her room.

'My darling!' she exclaimed in a protesting voice, 'what _is_ the matter
with your hat! You've done something queer to the crown. And I don't like
that collar and tie, it's so mannish looking.'

Joan ignored the criticism. 'I'm going for a walk with Richard, Mother,
I'll be back in time to help you to dress at twelve o'clock.'

Mrs. Ogden looked surprised. 'Is he staying long?' she inquired.

'I don't know, I haven't asked him; but it'll be all right if I'm back at
twelve, won't it?'

'Well, yes, I suppose so. I was going to get up a little earlier this
morning, so as to get as much benefit from the air as possible; still,
never mind.'

Joan hesitated; the long years of habit tugged at her, but suddenly her
mind was made up.

'I'll be back at twelve, darling, you'd better stay quiet until then.'
She hurried over her breakfast. Richard was waiting for her in the hall
and came forward as she left the dining-room.

'Ah! That's better', he said.

She looked at him questioningly. 'What's better?'

'Why, you are. You look more like yourself this morning.'

'Do I? It's only the clothes, I always look odd in the evening.'

He looked amused. 'Well, perhaps you do, a little', he admitted.

They strolled down the drive and through the gates into the little town.
The air was full of West Country softness, it smelt of brine and earth
and growing things. 'If we keep straight on,' she said, 'we shall come to
the Valley of the Rocks.'

'I don't care where we come to, my dear, as long as we get to a place
where we can talk in peace. I've a great deal to hear, you know.'

She turned to study him. He was so familiar and yet such a complete
stranger. His voice was the same rather eager, imperative thing that she
remembered, and she thought that his eyes had not changed at all. But for
the rest he was bigger, astonishingly so; his shoulders, his face, the
whole of him, seemed overpoweringly large this morning. And he looked
old. In the bright light she could see that his face was deeply lined,
and that little pouches had formed under his eyes. But it struck her that
she had never seen a more utterly kind expression; it was a charming age
that had come upon Richard, an age full of sympathy and tolerance. They
passed the Convent of the Poor Clares with its white walls inset with
Della Robbia plaques of the Innocents in their swaddling clothes. Richard
glanced at them and smiled.

'I rather love them, don't you, Joan? They're a kind of symbol of the
childhood of the world.'

She followed the direction of his eyes, but the plaques did not strike
her as being very interesting. Perhaps he missed some response in her, for
he fell silent.

When they reached the Valley of the Rocks he stood still and looked about
him. 'I had no idea there was anything as beautiful as this in England',
he said.

She nodded. She too had always thought this valley very lovely, but
because of its loveliness it depressed her, filling her with strange
regrets. They sat down on a wide boulder. Somewhere to their right the
sea was talking to itself on the pebbles; on a high pinnacle of grey rock
some white goats leapt and gambolled. Joan looked at the deep blue of the
sky showing between the crags, and then at Richard.

His chin was resting on his hands, which were clasped over his stick, and
she noticed the hard strong line of his jaw, and the roughened texture of
his neck.

Presently he turned to her. 'Well, aren't you going to tell me?' he
asked.

'There's nothing to tell', she said uneasily.

He laughed. 'What, in twenty years, has nothing happened?'

'Nothing at all, except what you see in me.'

He said gravely: 'I see Joan; older certainly, and grey-haired like
myself, but still Joan. What else could I see?'

She was silent, plucking at some moss with nervous fingers. It was kind
of Richard to pretend that the change in her had not shocked him, as, of
course, it must have done. She knew instinctively that he was kind, a man
one could trust, should the need arise. But she was not interested in
Richard or herself, she cared very little for the impression they were
making on each other. One question, and one only, burnt to get asked, yet
her diffidence was keeping her silent. At last she took courage.

'How is Elizabeth? It's a long time since I last saw her.'

He looked at her quickly. 'Yes, it must be a long time, now I come to
think of it,' he said, 'I saw her last year, you know, when I was in Cape
Town.'

She longed to shake the information out of him, his voice sounded so dull
and non-committal. 'Is she happy?' she asked.

'Happy? Oh! that's a large order, Joan. Those goats over there are
probably happy, at least they have a good chance of being so; but when
you come to the higher animals like men and women, it's a very different
thing. We poor human beings with our divine heritage, we think too much;
we know too much and too little to be really happy, I fancy.'

'Yes, I expect you're right', she agreed, but she did not want to hear
about the psychological problems of the race in general, according to
Richard; she wanted to hear about Elizabeth.

Possibly he divined her thoughts, for he went on quickly, 'But you don't
care at this moment for the Worries and troubles of mankind, do you? You
just want to know all about Elizabeth.'

She touched his sleeve almost timidly. 'Will it bore you to tell me,
Richard?'

He smiled. 'Good Lord, no, of course not; only she asked me not to.'

'She asked you not to?'

'Yes, she asked me not to talk about her, if I ever met you again.'

'But why? I don't understand.'

'No, neither do I. I told her it was rot and I refused to promise. You
want to know if Elizabeth's happy. Well, yes, I suppose that in her own
way she is. My brother's a most devoted husband and seems to be as much
in love with her as he ever was; he stands from under and fetches and
carries, and Elizabeth likes that sort of thing.'

Joan frowned. 'I see you're still unjust to her, Richard; you always were
a little bit, you know.'

'My dear, I'm not unjust; you asked me to tell you about her, and I'm
telling you the impression I received when I stayed in her house last
year.'

'Go on', said Joan.

'Well, then, she has a truly magnificent mansion in Cape Town. It's white
and square and rather hideous, that's the outside; inside it's full of
very expensive, supposedly antique furniture, all shipped out from
England. They entertain a great deal; my brother's managed to grow
indecently rich; helped by the war, I'm afraid. And he's generous,
positively lavish. Did you know that Lawrence got a baronetcy a little
while ago? Well, he did, so Elizabeth's now Lady Benson! Funny, ain't it?
I'm sorry there are no children; Lawrence would have loved to found a
family, poor old fellow. He deserved that baronetcy all right, though, he
was extremely useful to the Government during the war. Elizabeth was
pretty useful too in a humbler way. I believe she organized more
charities and hospital units and whatnots than any woman in South Africa;
they tell me her tact and energy were phenomenal, in fact she's a kind of
social leader in Cape Town. People go out with introductions to her, and
if she takes them up they're made for ever, and if she don't they sink
into oblivion; you know, that sort of thing.' He paused.

Joan said: 'So that's Elizabeth.'

He looked at her with sudden pity in his eyes. 'She's changed since you
knew her, Joan.'

'Never mind that', she interrupted. 'Tell me what she looks like.'

He considered. 'Rather placid, I should say--yes, decidedly placid, but
you feel that's not quite a true impression when you look at her mouth;
her mouth is mystifying.'

'How mystifying?'

'Oh, I don't know. Full of possibilities--it always was. She's rather
ample these days; not fat you know, but Junoesque, you can imagine that
she would be when she began to put on flesh. Oh! And her hair's quite
white, the nice silvery kind, and always wonderfully dressed. She's a
fine looking woman but she's cranky in some ways; for instance, she won't
come to England. She's never set foot on British soil since she left for
South Africa, except to skim across it en route for the Continent. When
she comes to Europe, she goes to Paris or Rome or some other place
abroad. She says that she hates England. As a matter of fact I think she
dislikes leaving South Africa at all, she says she's grown roots in the
bigness of things out there. Lawrence tells me that when she feels bored
with the gaieties of Cape Town, she goes right away to the veldt; he
thinks it's original and fine of her to need so much space to stretch in
and so much oxygen to expand her lungs. Perhaps it is, I don't know. In
any case she was awfully kind to me when I stayed with them; I was there
for three months, you know, having a rest.'

'Did she ever speak about me?' Joan asked, with an eagerness she could
not hide.

'Only once; let me think. It was one night after dinner. I remember we
were sitting alone on the terrace, and she asked me suddenly if I ever
heard from you. I told her that I hadn't done so for years, that it was
partly my fault, because I'd stopped writing. Then she said: "I don't
really want to discuss Joan Ogden, she belongs to the past, and I belong
to all this, to my life here. I've given up being sentimental, and I
find nothing either interesting or pathetic in failures. And I want you
to promise me that if you should ever meet Joan, you won't talk about me;
don't discuss me with her, she has no right to know."' He paused. 'I
think those were her words, my dear, at all events they were very like
that.'

His voice was calm and even, and he turned to look at the pale face
beside him. 'I think she's succeeded in forgetting her disappointment
over you', he said. 'And if she hasn't quite got over it, she's managed
to console herself pretty well. She's not the sort of woman to cry long
over spilt milk.'

He knew that he was being brutal. 'But it's necessary,' he thought; 'it's
vitally necessary. And if it rouses her even to a feeling of regret,
better that than this lethargy of body and mind.'

Joan stared out in front of her. All the expression seemed to have been
wiped out of her face and eyes. 'Shall we go?' she said presently. 'I
think it's getting late.'

He assented at once, and they turned towards Lynton; he watched her
covertly as she walked beside him. All his knowledge, all his experience,
were braced to their utmost to meet the necessity that he felt was hers.
But while his mind worked furiously, he talked of other things. He told
her about his work during the war; he had gone to France to operate, and
incidentally to study shell-shock, and the effects produced thereon by
hypnotic treatment. He saw that she was scarcely listening, but he talked
on just the same.

'That shell-shock work would have interested you, Joan, you'd have been
awfully useful out there; they wanted women of your type. The average
trained nurses sometimes hindered rather than helped, they didn't seem to
catch on to the new ideas.' He stood still and faced her. 'By the way,
what did you do during the war?' he asked suddenly.

She gave a hard little laugh. 'What did I do? Well, you see, I couldn't
leave Mother. I wanted to go with a unit to Serbia, but she got ill just
then, I think the mere idea made her ill; so I made swabs at the Town
Hall at Seabourne; I must have made thousands I should think. I had a
Sister Dora arrangement on my head; we all had, it made us look
important. Some of the women wore aprons with large red crosses on their
bibs, it was very effective! And we gossiped, we did it persistently;
that Town Hall grew to be a veritable "School for Scandal"; we took away
a character with every swab we made. We quarrelled too, I assure you it
was most exciting at times; why, life-long friendships went to pieces
over those swabs of ours. You see we were jealous of each other, we
couldn't bear to think that some of our friends were more expert than we
were, the competition was terrific! Oh, yes, and I was so good at my job
that they couldn't in decency avoid making me the head of our room for a
short time; I wore a wide blue sash over one shoulder. I shall never
forget the sense of power that I felt when I first put on that sash. I
became hectoring and dictatorial at once; it was a moment worth living
for, I can tell you!'

He was silent, the bitterness in her voice hurt him intensely.
'Good-bye', she said as they reached the hotel. 'And thank you for
telling me about Elizabeth.'



Chapter Forty-Seven


1


Richard stayed on from day to day. He had come to Lynton meaning to
remain a week, but now almost a fortnight had passed, and still he
stayed.

He planned endless walks and motor drives, excursions to all parts of the
country. There were many of these in which Mrs. Ogden could not join, and
a situation arose not unlike that which had arisen years ago, owing to
Elizabeth. But now the antagonists fought in grim silence, playing with
carefully concealed cards, outwardly polite and affable.

While treating Mrs. Ogden quite respectfully, Richard never allowed Joan
to evade him, dragging her out by sheer force of will, and keeping her
out until such time as he thought she had had enough open air and
exercise. He managed with no little skill to combine the authority of the
doctor with the solicitude of an old friend, and Joan found herself
submitting in spite of her mother's aggrieved attitude.

She began to feel better in health but sick in mind; Richard awoke so
much in her that she had hoped was over and done with. He joked over the
old days at Seabourne, in the hopeful, exuberant manner of a. man who
looks forward to the future. And all the while her heart ached
intolerably for those days, the days that had held Elizabeth and her own
youth. He seemed to be trying to make her talk too. Do you remember all
the medical books I used to send you, Joan?' or, 'That was when you and
Elizabeth were going to live together, wasn't it?' He discussed Elizabeth
as a matter of course, and because of this Joan found it difficult to
speak of her at all. She began to be obsessed with a craving to see her
again, to talk to her and hear her voice; the thought of the miles that
would always lie between them grew intolerable. This woman who had known
her since she was a little child, who had fashioned her, loved her and
then cast her out, lived again in her thoughts with all the old vitality.
'I shall die without seeing her,' was a phrase that ran constantly in her
brain; 'I shall die without ever seeing Elizabeth again.'

Richard observed the sunburn on her cheeks and felt happier. He believed
that his method was the right one, and dug assiduously among Joan's
memories. He was convinced that she had been very near a nervous
breakdown when he had found her, and congratulated himself on what he
thought was a change for the better. Her reticence when Elizabeth was
mentioned only served to make him speak of her the more. 'No good letting
the thing remain submerged,' he thought; 'she must be made to talk about
it.'

In spite of the mental unrest that possessed her, or perhaps because of
it, Joan looked forward to the long days spent on the moors, the long
drives in the car through the narrow, twisting lanes. Richard was an
excellent companion, always amusing and sympathetic, and there was a
painful fascination in talking over the old days. His eyes were kind when
he looked at her, and his hand felt strong and protective as he helped
her in and out of the car. She thought, as she had done a long time ago,
what an adorable brother he would have made.

Sometimes he would tell her about his work, going into technical details
as though she too were a doctor. When he spoke of a case which
particularly interested him, he gesticulated, like the Richard of twenty
years ago.

'How little you've changed', she said one day.

He replied: 'We none of us really change, Joan, except on the surface.'

'I've changed, Richard; the whole of me has.'

'Oh, no, you haven't; you're all of you there, only you've pushed some of
it away out of sight.'

She wondered if he were right. Was it possible that all that had once
made Joan Ogden, was lurking somewhere in her still? She shuddered. 'I
don't want to go back!' she said fiercely. 'Oh, Richard, I don't want
ever to go back!'

'Not back, but forward', he corrected. 'Just go forward with your whole
self.'


2


The time that Richard could afford to take from his work had come to an
end, it was his last day at Lynton. 'Let's walk to Watersmeet this
afternoon, Joan', he suggested. 'It's such a perfect day.'

'I oughtn't to leave Mother', she said doubtfully. 'She doesn't seem very
well.'

'Oh, she's all right, my dear; I've been up to see her and she's only a
little over-tired. After all, at her age, she's bound to feel tired
sometimes.'

Joan weakened. 'Well, wait a minute, then, while I go and say good-bye.'

They made their way down the steep hill and over the bridge to the far
side of the river. The water was rushing in a noisy torrent between the
rocks and boulders.

'Oh! How I love the noise of it', he exclaimed. 'It's life, just life!'

She looked at his lined and ageing face and marvelled at his enthusiasms.
He was so full of them still and of a great self-courage that nothing had
ever had the power to break. They strolled along the narrow path under
the fresh spring green, keeping the river that Richard loved beside them
all the way. He took her hand and held it and she did not resist; she was
feeling very grateful towards this friend who had come from the world and
found her. Presently she grew tired, it was hot down there by the river.

He noticed her lagging steps: 'Rest, my dear, we've walked too far.' They
sat down under the trees and for a long time neither spoke. He was the
first to break the silence:

'Joan, will you marry me?' he said abruptly.

It was the same old familiar phrase that she had heard so often before,
and she found it hard to believe that they were two middle-aged people
instead of the boy and girl of twenty years ago, but in another moment
she had flushed with annoyance.

'Is that joke in very good taste, Richard?'

He stared at her. 'Joke? But I mean it!' he stammered.

She sprang up and he followed her. 'Richard, have you gone quite mad?'

'I was never more sane in my life; I ask you: Will you marry me?'

She looked at him incredulously, but something in the expression of his
eyes told her that he did mean it. 'Oh, Richard,' she said with a catch
in her voice, 'I can't! I never could, you know.'

He said: 'Joan, if I weren't so ridiculously middle-aged, I'd go down on
my knees, here in the grass, and beg you to take me. I want you more than
anything else in the world.'

She said: 'You've made some awful mistake. There's nothing of me to want;
I'm empty, just a husk.'

'That's not true, Joan', he protested. 'You're the only woman I've ever
cared for. I want you in my life, in my home; I want your companionship,
your help in my work.'

'In your work?' she asked in genuine surprise.

'Yes, in my work, why not? Wouldn't it interest you to help me in the
laboratory, sometimes? I'm rather keen on certain experiments, you know,
Joan, and if you'll only come, we could work together. Oh, it would all
be so utterly splendid! Just what I planned for us years ago. Don't you
think you can marry me, Joan?'

She laid a firm hand on his shoulder. 'Listen,' she said gently, 'while I
try to make you understand. The woman you're thinking of is not
Joan Ogden at all; she's a purely fictitious person, conceived in your
own brain. Joan Ogden is forty-three, and old for her age; she's old in
body, her skin is old, and she'll soon be white-haired. Her mind has been
shrivelling away for years; it's not able to grasp big things as it was
once, it's grown small and petty and easily tired. Give it a piece of
serious work and it flags immediately, there's no spring left in it.

'Her body's a mass of small ailments; real or imaginary, they count
just the same. She goes to bed feeling tired out and gets up feeling more
tired, so that every little futile thing is enough to make her irritable.
She exaggerates small worries and makes mountains out of molehills. Her
nerves are unreliable and she dwells too much on her health. If she
remembers what she used to be like, she tries to forget it, because she's
afraid; long ago she was a coward and she's remained one to this day,
only now she's a tamer coward and gives in without a struggle.

It's different with you, Richard, you've got a right to marry. You want
to marry, because you're successful and because at your age a man settles
down. But haven't you thought that you probably want children, a son? Do
you think the woman I've described would be a desirable mother, even if
she could have a child at all? Would you choose to make posterity through
an old, unhealthy body; to give children to the world by a woman who is
utterly unfit to bear them, who never has loved you and never could?'

He covered his face with his hands. 'Don't, I can't bear it, Joan!'

'But it's the truth and you know it', she went on quietly. 'I'm past your
saving, Richard; there's nothing left to save.'

'Oh, Joan!' he said desperately. 'It can't be as bad as that! Give me a
chance; if anyone can save you, I can.'

She turned her face away from him. 'No!' she said. 'Only one creature
could ever have saved me and I let her go while I was still young.'

'Do you mean Elizabeth?' he asked sharply.

She nodded. 'Yes, she could have saved me, but I let her go.'

'God!' he exclaimed almost angrily. 'I ought to be jealous of her; I am
jealous of her, I suppose! But why, oh, why, if you cared for her so
much, didn't you break away and go with her to London? Why did you let
even that go by you? I could bear anything better than to see you as you
are.'

She was silent. Presently she said: 'There was Mother, Richard. I
loved her too, and she needed me; she didn't seem able to do without me.'

His face went white with passion; he shook his clenched fists in the air.
'How long is it to go on,' he cried, 'this preying of the weak on the
strong, the old on the young; this hideous, unnatural injustice that one
sees all around one, this incredibly wicked thing that tradition
sanctifies? You were so splendid. How fine you were! You had everything
in you that was needed to put life within your grasp, and you had a right
to life, to a life of your own; everyone has. You might have been a
brilliant woman, a woman that counted for a great deal, and yet what are
you now? I can't bear to think of it!

'If you _are_ a mass of ills, as you say, if your splendid brain is
atrophied, and you feel empty and unfulfilled, whose fault is that? Not
yours, who had too much heart to save yourself. I tell you, Joan, the sin
of it lies at the door of that old woman up there in Lynton; that mild,
always ailing, cruelly gentle creature who's taken everything and given
nothing and battened on you year by year. She's like an octopus who's
drained you dry. You struggled to get free, you nearly succeeded, but as
quickly as you cut through one tentacle, another shot out and fixed on to
you.

'Good God! How clearly one sees it all! In your family it was your father
who began it, by preying first on her, and in a kind of horrid
retaliation she turned and preyed on you. Milly escaped, but only for a
time; she came home in the end; then she preyed in her turn. She gripped
you through her physical weakness, and then there were two of them! Two
of them? Why, the whole world's full of them! Not a Seabourne anywhere
but has its army of octopi; they thrive and grow fat in such places. Look
at Ralph Rodney: I believe he was brilliant at college, but Uncle John
devoured him, and you know what Ralph was when he died. Look at
Elizabeth: do you think she's really happy? Well, I'm going to tell you
now what I kept from you the other day. Elizabeth got free, but not quite
soon enough; she's never been able to make up for the blood she lost in
all those years at Seabourne. She's just had enough vitality left to
patch her life together somehow, and make my brother think that all is
very well with her. But she couldn't deceive me, and she knew it; I saw
the ache in her for the thing she might have been. Elizabeth's grasped
the spar; that's what she's done, and she's just, only just managed to
save herself from going under. She's rich and popular and ageing with
dignity, but she's not, and never can be now, the woman she once dreamt
of. She's killed her dream by being busy and hard and quite unlike her
real self; by taking an interest in all the things that the soul of her
laughs at. And that's what life with Ralph in Seabourne has done for her.
That, and you, Joan. I suppose I ought to hate Elizabeth, but I can't
help knowing that when she broke away there was one tentacle more
tenacious than all the rest; it clung to her until she cut it through,
and that was you, who were trying unconsciously to make her a victim of
your own circumstances.

'Joan, the thing is infectious, I tell you; it's a pestilence that
infects people one after another. Even you, who were the most generous
creature that I've ever known; the disease nearly got you unawares. If
Elizabeth hadn't gone away when she did, if she had stayed in Seabourne
for your sake, then you would have been one of them. Thank God she went!
It's horrible to know that they've victimized the thing I love, but I'd
rather you were the victim than that you should have grown to be like the
rest of them, a thing that preys on the finest instincts of others, and
sucks the very soul out of them.' His voice broke suddenly, and he let
his arms drop to his sides. 'And I know now that I've been loving you for
all these years', he said. 'I've just been loving and loving you.'

She stood speechless before his anger and misery, unable to defend
herself or her mother, conscious that he had spoken the bitter and brutal
truth.

At last she said: 'Don't be too hard on Mother; Richard; she's a very old
woman now.'

'I know', he answered dully. 'I know she's very old; perhaps I've been
too violent. If I have you must forgive me.'

'No,' she said, 'you were right in everything, only one can't always
crush people because one has right on one's side.'

He stroked her arm with his strong, hard fingers. 'Can't you marry me?'
he reiterated stubbornly.

She said: 'I shall never marry anyone. I'm not a woman who could ever
have married. I've never been what you'd call in love with a man in my
life; but I think if I'd been different, Richard, I should have wanted to
marry you.'


3


The next morning Richard Benson left Lynton, and in the course of a few
days the Ogdens returned to Leaside.

'I don't think we'll go to Lynton again', said Mrs. Ogden fretfully.
'It's not done me any good at all, this year.'

Joan acquiesced; she felt that she never again wanted to see the place in
which so many unwelcome memories had been aroused. She sat staring out of
the window as the train neared Seabourne, and wished that Richard had
never crossed her path; all she wanted was to be left in peace. She
dreaded remembering and he had made her remember; she was afraid of
unhappiness and he had made her unhappy.

As the familiar landmarks sped past one by one, little forgotten
incidents of her youth surged through her mind in rhythm to the glide and
jolt of the train. She pictured the Seabourne station as it used to be
before they had enlarged it, and the flower-beds and cockle-shells that
Milly had once jeered at. On the short platform stood a little army of
ghosts: the red-haired porter who had limped, and had always called her
Miss Hogden. He had been gone these ten years past, where, she did not
know. Richard, freckled and gawky, reminding you somehow of a pleasant
puppy; rather uncouth he had been in those days. Milly, small and
fragile, her yellow curls always bobbing, and Elizabeth, slim as a larch
tree, very upright and neat and quiet; her intent eyes scanning the
incoming train for a sight of Joan's face at the window. And then
herself, Joan Ogden, black-haired, grey-eyed, young; with a body all
suppleness and vigour, and a mind that could grasp and hold. She would be
leaning far out of the carriage, waving an ungloved hand. 'Here I am!'
And then the meeting; the firm clasp of friendship, respect and love; the
feel of Elizabeth's signet ring cold against your fingers, and the goodly
warmth of her palm as it met your own. Ghosts, all ghosts; ghosts of the
living and the dead. Her eyelids felt hot and tingling; she brushed the
tears away angrily. Ghosts, all ghosts, every one of them dead, to her,
at all events; and she, how utterly dead she was to herself.



Chapter Forty-Eight


1


That winter Mrs. Ogden's prophecy came true, and influenza laid hold of
Seabourne with unexpected virulence. Mrs. Ogden was almost the first
victim. She was very ill indeed. Joan was bound to her hand and foot, for
the doctor warned her that her mother's condition was likely to be
critical for some time. 'It's her heart I'm afraid of’, he said.

Curiously enough the old lady fiercely resented her invalidism. She, who
for so many years had nursed her slightest symptom, now that at last she
was really ill, showed the rebellious spirit of a young athlete deprived
of his normal activities, and Joan's task in nursing her grew daily more
arduous. She flagged under the constant strain of trying to pacify her
turbulent patient, to whom any excitement might be dangerous. All
household worries must be kept from her mother; incredibly difficult when
a house was as badly constructed as Leaside. The front door could not
open without Mrs. Ogden hearing it and inquiring the cause, and very
little could go on in the kitchen that she was not somehow aware of.

At this most inappropriate moment Joan herself got influenza, but the
attack seemed so mild that she refused to go to bed. The consequences of
keeping about were disastrous, and she found herself weak to the verge of
tears. The veins in her legs began to trouble her seriously; she could no
longer go up and down stairs without pain. This terrified her, and in a
chastened mood she consulted the doctor. He examined the veins, and with
all the light-hearted inconsequence of his kind prescribed long and
constant periods of rest. Joan must lie down for two hours after luncheon
and again after dinner; must avoid stairs and, above all, must never
stand about.

One of the most pressing problems was Mrs. Ogden's digestion; always
erratic, it was now submerged in a variety of gastric disturbances
brought on by the influenza. There was so little that she could eat with
impunity that catering became increasingly difficult, the more so as for
the first time in her life she evinced a great interest in food. If the
servant made her Benger's she refused to drink it, complaining of its
consistency, which she described as 'Billstickers' paste'. In the end
Joan found herself preparing everything her mother ate.

She grew dully methodical, keeping little time-sheets: 'Minced chicken 1
p.m. Medicine 3 p.m. Hot milk and biscuits 5 p.m. Benger's 9 p.m.' Her
days were divided into washing, dressing, feeding, undressing and
generally ministering to the patient.

About this time she read in the paper the announcement of Richard
Benson's engagement, and a few days later saw a picture of him in the
_Bystander_, together with his future bride. The girl Richard was to
marry was scarcely more than a child; a wide-eyed, pretty creature with a
mass of soft hair, and the meaningless smile which the young assume in
obedience to the fashionable photographer. Joan gazed at the picture in
astonishment, and then at her own reflection in the glass. Richard had
not waited long to find a mate, after his final proposal at Lynton. It
was so characteristic of him to have waited twenty years, and then to
have made up his mind in a few months. She felt no resentment, no tinge
of hurt vanity; she was glad he was going to marry, her sense of justice
told her that it was fitting and right. With this marriage of his the
last link with her own past life would be snapped, and she was content to
let it be so.

She wondered if she should write and congratulate him, but decided that
she had better not. Her intuition told her that he, too, might want to
wipe out the past, and that even her humble letter of friendship would
probably come as an unwelcome reminder. She thought of him a great deal,
analyzing her own feelings, but although she recognized that her thoughts
were kindly, tender even, she could not trace in them the slightest
shadow of regret. Richard was a fine man, a successful man; he had made
good where others had failed; but to her he was just Richard, as he had
always been.

She was astonished at the scant show of interest which Mrs. Ogden evinced
in the event. She had expected that nothing else would be talked about
for at least a week, and had been prepared for a considerable amount of
sarcasm; but her mother scarcely spoke of the engagement beyond remarking
on the disparity of age between the bride and bridegroom. Joan felt
surprised, but failed to attach much importance to the incident, until it
was repeated with regard to other things. It began to be borne in on her
that a change was coming over her mother, that she was growing less
fussy, less exacting, less interested in what went on around her, and as
the weeks went by she was perplexed to find that a household disturbance,
which would formerly most certainly have agitated Mrs. Ogden almost past
endurance, now aroused no anxiety, not even much curiosity.

She would sit idle for hours, with her hands in her lap; she seemed at
last to be growing resigned to her life of restricted activity. Joan
thought that this was nothing more than a natural consequence of old age
imposing itself on her mother's brain, as it had long been doing on her
body. In many ways she found this new phase a relief, lessening as it did
the strain that had gone near to breaking her.

The canary grew tamer with the old lady, perching on her shoulder and
taking food from her lips. These marks of Bobbie's esteem delighted Mrs.
Ogden; in fact he seemed to be the only creature now who could rouse her
to much show of interest; she played happily with him while Joan cleaned
his cage, and at night insisted on having it on a chair by her bed so
that she could be the one to uncover him in the morning.

The days grew very peaceful at Leaside. Joan seldom went beyond the front
door, except to buy food; walking made her legs ache, and in any case she
didn't care to leave her mother for long. Father Cuthbert came and went
as he had done for years past, but now Mrs. Ogden showed no pleasure at
his visits. While he was there she listened quietly to what he said, or
appeared to do so, but when he left she no longer expatiated on his
merits to Joan, but just sat on with folded hands and apparently forgot
him.

The doctor's bill came in; it was very high and likely to get higher.
Joan felt that some of it must be paid off at once, so she sold the
Indian silver. Major Boyle, who loved a depressing errand, volunteered to
take it to a firm in London, and was able to shake his head mournfully
over the small amount it realized.

'He's missed his vocation,' thought Joan irritably, 'he ought to have
been a mute at funerals.'

She dreaded the moment when her mother would miss the silver from the
sideboard, and begin to ask questions; but three days elapsed before Mrs.
Ogden noticed the empty spaces. When she did so, and Joan told her the
truth, she only sighed, and nodded slowly. 'Oh, well!' was all she said.

The sale of the silver did not realize nearly enough to meet the bills
which had been accumulating. Everything cost so much these days, even
simple necessities, and when to these were added all the extras in food
and fires that her mother's health required, Joan awoke to the fact that
they were living beyond their meagre income. She considered the
advisability of dismissing the servant, as her mother had once done; but
at the thought of all that this would entail, her heart utterly failed
her. The girl's wages were at least double what they would have been
prior to the war, and she expected to eat meat three times a day; but she
was a pleasant, willing creature to have about the house, and Joan
decided that she must stay.

A kind of recklessness seized her; it seemed so useless to try and make
ends meet, with reduced dividends and abnormal taxes, and then she was so
terribly tired. Her tiredness had become like physical pain, it enveloped
her and prevented sleep. She did the simplest things with a feeling of
reluctance, dragging her body after her like a corpse to which she was
attached. If there was not enough money for immediate necessities, why
then they must sell out a little capital. She feared opposition from her
mother, but decided that the time had arrived when desperate straits
required desperate remedies, so broached the subject without
preliminaries.

'Mother, we're behindhand with the bills, and we can't very well overdraw
again at the bank.'

Mrs. Ogden looked up with dim, brown eyes. 'Are we, dear?' she said
indifferently.

'Yes, the doctor's bill cripples us most, and then there are others, but
his is the worst.'

'It would be', sighed Mrs. Ogden.

'Listen, Mother, I'm afraid we must sell a little of Milly's and my
capital; not much, you know, but just enough to get us straight. Perhaps
when things get cheaper, later on, we may be able to put it back.'

'My pension used to be enough, with the other money; why isn't it now, do
you think?'

Joan sighed impatiently. 'Because it's worth about half what it was. Have
you forgotten the war?'

'NO, that terrible war! Still, to sell capital--isn't that very wrong,
Joan?'

'It may be wrong, but we've got to do it; things may be easier next
year.'

Mrs. Ogden offered no further opposition and the stocks and shares were
sold. Like the Indian silver, they realized much less than Joan expected.
But poor as were the results of the sacrifice, when the gilt-edged
securities were translated into cash, Joan felt that the sum she
deposited at the bank gave a moment's respite to her tired brain. She
refused to consider the future.


2


In June Mrs. Ogden died quietly in her sleep. Joan found her dead one
morning, when she went in to call her as usual. She stood and stared
incredulously at the pale, calm face on the pillow; a face that seemed to
belong to a much younger woman. She turned away and lowered the blind
gently, then went downstairs in search of the servant. A great hush
enveloped the house, and the queer sense of awe that accompanies death
had stolen in during the night and now lay over everything. Joan pushed
open the kitchen door; here, at all events, some of the old familiarity
remained. The sun was streaming in at the uncurtained window and the
sound of hissing came from the stove, where the maid was frying sausages.

Joan said: 'Go for the doctor at once, will you? My mother died in the
night.'

The girl dropped her fork into the frying-pan and swung round with
frightened eyes. 'Oh, Lor'!' she gasped, beginning to whimper. But for
the first time in her life, Joan had fainted.



Chapter Forty-Nine


1


Joan sat alone in the dismantled drawing-room. All around her lay the
wreckage and driftwood of years. The drawers of her mother's bureau stood
open and in disorder; an incredible mass of discoloured letters, old
bills, clippings from bygone periodicals, and little hidden treasures put
away for safety and forgotten.

On the floor, with its face to the wall, stood the engraving of Admiral
Sir William Routledge, with the dust thick on its back.

'And we had a thorough spring clean last April', Joan thought
inconsequently.

The admiral's coat and other trophies lay in a neat heap on the Nelson
chair, ready for Aunt Ann to take away with her. The poor little everyday
tragedy of denuded walls enclosed Joan on all four sides; faded paper,
bent nails, dirty streaks where pictures had hung. Even the curtains had
gone, and no longer hid the chipped and yellowing paint of the
window-frames and skirting.

All over Leaside the same thing was happening. Upstairs in the bedrooms
stood half-packed trunks, the kitchen was blocked with wooden cases. The
suggestive smell of the Furniture Depository hung in the atmosphere,
pervading everything, creeping up from the packing-cases with their dusty
straw and the canvas covers that strewed the passages. Muddy boots had
left their marks on the linoleum in the hall, and the globe on the
gas-bracket by the front door had had a hole knocked in it by a
carelessly carried case.

Joan looked at the relics of Admiral Sir William and wondered how Aunt
Ann meant to pack them; would they all go in her trunk? The engraving
would certainly be too large; would she insist on taking it into the
railway carriage with her? She got up and touched the sleeve of the
discoloured old coat and found to her surprise that a tear had fallen on
her hand. What was she crying about? Surely not at parting with these
ridiculous things! Then what was she crying about? She did not know.

Perhaps the house was infecting her with its own sadness, even a Leaside
might be capable of sadness. This meagre little house had known them for
so long; known their quarrels, their reconciliations, their ambitions,
their failures. It had known her father, her mother, her sister and
herself, and once, long ago, it had known Elizabeth. And now Joan was the
only one left, and she was going, she had to go. Nearly everything would
shortly be taken to a sale-room; that was settled, Aunt Ann had advised
it.

'We must keep only those things that are of family interest', she had
said firmly, and Joan had agreed in view of the debts.

Perhaps the little house was mourning the changed order, mourning the
family that it had sheltered so long, the ugly furniture from which it
was parting. The chairs and tables, now all in disarray, seemed to be
looking at Joan with reproach. After all, these things had served
faithfully for many years; she was conscious of a sense of regret as she
looked at them. 'I hope they'll find good homes and be kindly treated', she
thought.

The Bishop of Blumfield and his wife had come to Seabourne for the
funeral, and had stayed on for nearly three weeks at the new hotel. The
bishop was incredibly old; his skin had taken on a yellowish polish like
an antique ivory netsuke. Aunt Ann had disapproved of his taking so long
a journey, but he had insisted on coming; he was often inclined to be
wilful these days. Aunt Ann herself bore her years aggressively. A tall,
majestic old lady, with fierce eyes, she faced the world, her backbone
very straight. Her sister's death, while it had come as a shock, had done
little to soften the attitude of disdain with which she now regarded her
fellow beings. Mary Ogden had always been rather despicable in her eyes,
and why think her less so merely because she was dead? But a sense of
duty had kept her at Seabourne for the past three weeks. After all, Joan
was a Routledge, or half of her was, and her future must be provided for
in some way.

Joan looked at her wrist watch, it was nearly half-past eight. Aunt Ann
had announced that she would dine at seven and come in afterwards for a
long talk. Joan guessed what this talk would be about; namely, her own
plans. What were her plans? She asked herself this for the hundredth time
since her mother's death. She must inevitably work for her living, but
what kind of work? That was the difficulty.

All this thinking was a terrible effort--if only she had had enough money
to keep Leaside, she felt that she would never have left it. She would
gladly have lived on there alone, just she and Bobbie; yes, she was
actually regretting Leaside. After all, Seabourne was comfortably
familiar, and in consequence easy. She shrank with nervous apprehension
from any change. New places, new people, a new manner of life, noise,
hurry, confusion; she pressed her hand to her head and took up the
_Morning Post_ as she had already done many times that day.

The situations vacant were few indeed, compared with those wanted. And
how much seemed to be expected of everyone nowadays! Governesses, for
instance, must have a degree, and nearly all must play the piano and
teach modern languages. Private secretaries, typists, book-keepers,
farmers, chauffeurs; their accomplishments seemed endless.

'Typist. Used to all the well-known makes of typewriter; good speed, fair
knowledge of foreign languages, shorthand.'

'Book-keeper seeks situation in hotel or business house; long
experience.'

'University woman, as secretary-companion; speaks French, German,
Italian, used to travelling, can drive car.'

'Young woman requires situation in country. Experience with remounts
during war, assist small farm or dairy, entire charge of kennels,
sporting or other breeds, or work under stud groom in hunting stables.'

'Lady chauffeur-mechanic, disengaged now, excellent personal references,
clean licence. Three years' war service driving motor ambulance France
and Belgium; undertake all running repairs, any make car.'

Joan laid down the paper. No, she was utterly incapable of doing any of
these things; incapable, it seemed, of filling any position of trust. She
had been brilliant once, but it had led to nothing; people would not be
interested in what she might have become. She supposed she could go into
a shop, but what shop? They liked young, sprack women to stand behind
counters, not grey-haired novices of forty-five; and besides, there were
her varicose veins.


2


The door-bell rang and Aunt Ann walked in. Behind her, leaning on an
ebony stick, came the little old Bishop of Blumfield. Aunt Ann sat down
with an air of determination and motioned the bishop to a chair.

'No, thank you; I prefer to stand up', he said stubbornly. His wife
shrugged her shoulders and turned to Joan.

'It's time we had a serious talk', she said. 'The first thing, my dear,
is how much have you got to live on?'

'Rather less than fifty pounds a year. You see we had to sell out some
capital and mother's pension died with her.'

Aunt Ann sniffed disapprovingly. 'It's never wise to tamper with capital,
but I suppose it was inevitable; in any case what's done is done. You
can't live on fifty pounds a year, I hope you realize.'

'No, of course not', Joan agreed. 'I shall have to find work of some
kind, but there seem to be more applicants than posts, as far as I can
see; and then I'm not up to the modern standard, people want a lot for
their money these days.'

'I cannot imagine,' piped the bishop in his thin, old voice, 'I cannot
imagine, Ann, why Joan should not live with us; she could make herself
useful to you about the house, and besides, I should like to have her.'
His wife frowned at him. 'Good gracious, Oswald, what an unpractical
suggestion! I'm sure Joan wouldn't like it at all; she'd feel that she
was living on charity. I should, in her place; the Routledges have always
been very independent, high-spirited people.'

Joan flushed. 'Thank you awfully, Uncle Oswald, for wanting me, but I
don't think it would do', she said hastily.

'Of course not', Aunt Ann agreed. 'Now, the point is, Joan, have you got
anything in view?'

During the pause that ensued Joan racked her brain for some dignified and
convincing reply. It seemed incredible to her that she had not got
anything in view, that out of all the innumerable advertisements she had
been unable to find one that seemed really suitable. Her aunt's eyes were
scanning her face with curiosity.

'I thought you were always considered the clever one', she remarked. Joan
laughed rather bitterly. 'That was centuries ago, Aunt Ann. The world has
progressed since then.'

'Do you mean to say that you feel unfitted for any of the careers now
open to women?' inquired her aunt incredulously.

'That's precisely what I do feel. You see one needs experience or a
business education for most things, and if you're going to teach, of
course you must have a degree. I've neither the time nor the money to
begin all over again at forty-five.'

Mrs. Blanc settled herself more comfortably in her chair. 'This requires
thought', she murmured.

'There's just a faint chance that I might get taken on at a shop', Joan
told her. 'But I'm rather old for that too, and there's the standing.'

'A _shop_?' gasped her aunt, with real horror in her voice. 'You think of
going into a _shop_, Joan?'

'Well, one must do something, Aunt Ann; beggars can't be choosers.'

'But, my dear--a Routledge--a shop? Oh, no, it's impossible; besides it's
out of the question for us that you should do such a thing. What would it
look like, for a man in your uncle's position to have a niece serving in
a shop! What would people say? You must consider other people's feelings
a little Joan.'

But at this point Joan's temper deserted her. 'I don't care a damn about
other people's feelings!' she said rudely. 'It's my varicose veins I'm
thinking of.'

The bishop gave a low, hoarse chuckle. 'Bravo! she's quite right', he
said delightedly. 'Her veins are much more important to her than we are;
and why shouldn't they be, I'd like to know! Even a Routledge is
occasionally heir to the common ills of mankind, my dear.'

His eyes sparkled with suppressed amusement and malice. 'In your place,
Joan, I'd do whatever I thought best for myself. Being a Routledge won't
put butter on your bread, whatever your aunt may say.'

His wife waved him aside. 'I've been thinking of something, Joan', she
said. 'Your future has been very much on my mind lately, and in case you
had nothing in view, I took steps on your behalf the other day that I
think may prove to be useful. Did your mother ever mention our cousin
Rupert Routledge to you?' Joan nodded. 'Well, then, you know, I suppose,
that he's an invalid. He's unmarried and quite well off, and what is more
to the point, his companion, that is, the lady who looked after him, has
just left to take care of her father, who's ill. Rupert's doctor wrote to
me to know if I could find someone to take her place, and of course I
thought of you at once, but I didn't mention this before in case you had
anything in your own mind. You're used to illness, and the salary is
really excellent; a hundred a year.'

'He's not an invalid', piped the bishop eagerly. 'He's as strong as a
horse and as mad as a hatter! Don't you go, Joan!'

'Oswald!' admonished Mrs. Blanc.

But the bishop would not be silenced. 'He's mad, you know he's mad; he's
sixty-five, and he thinks he's six. He showed me his toys the last time I
saw him, and cried because he wasn't allowed to float his boat in the
bath!'

Mrs. Blanc flushed darkly. 'There is not and never was any insanity in
our family, Oswald. Rupert's a little eccentric, perhaps, but good
gracious me, most people are nowadays!'

The bishop stuck his hands in his pockets and gave a very good imitation
of a schoolboy whistle.

Mrs. Blanc turned to Joan: 'He was dropped on his head when he was a
baby, I believe, and undoubtedly that stopped his development, poor
fellow. But to say that he's mad is perfectly ridiculous; he's a little
childish, that's all. I can't myself see that he's very much odder than
many other people are since the war. In any case, my dear, it would be a
very comfortable home; you would have the entire management of
everything. There are excellent old servants and the house is large and
very convenient. If I remember rightly there's a charming garden. Not to
put too fine a point on it, Joan, it seems to me that you have no
alternative to accepting some post of this kind as you don't feel fitted
to undertake more skilled work. And of course I should feel much happier
about you if I knew that you were living with a member of the family.'

Joan looked into the fire. 'Where does he live?' she inquired.

Mrs. Blanc fished in her bag. 'Ah, here it is. I've written the address
down for you, in case you should need it.'

Joan took the slip of paper. 'The Pines, Seaview Avenue, Blintcombe,
Sussex', she read.

'I've already written to Doctor Campbell about you', said Mrs. Blanc,
with a slight note of nervousness in her voice. She paused, but as Joan
made no reply she went on hastily: 'I got his answer only this morning,
and it was most satisfactory; he says he'll keep the post open for you
for a fortnight.'

Joan looked up. 'Yes, I see; thank you, Aunt Ann, it's very good of you.
I may think it over for a fortnight, you say?'

'Yes, Joan, but don't lose it. A hundred a year is not picked up under
gooseberry bushes, remember.'

'He's mad, mad, mad!' murmured the bishop in a monotonous undertone, 'and
occasionally he's very unmanageable.'

Mrs. Blanc raised her eyebrows and shook her head slightly at Joan.
'Don't pay any attention to your uncle', she whispered. 'He's over-tired
and he gets confused.'


3


When they had gone Joan took the paper from her pocket and studied the
address again. 'The Pines, Seaview Avenue, Blintcombe, Sussex.'
Blintcombe! She felt that she already knew every street, and every house
in the place. There would certainly be 'The Laurels', 'The Nook' and
'Hiawatha' in addition to 'The Pines'. There would be 'Marine Parade',
'Belview Terrace', and probably 'Alexandra Road' in addition to 'Seaview
Avenue'. There would be a pier, a cinema, a skating-rink, a band and a
swimming-bath. There would be the usual seats surrounded by glass along
the esplanade, in which the usual invalids incubated their germs or
sunned themselves like sickly plants in greenhouses, and of course very
many bath chairs drawn by as many old men. In fact, it would be just
Seabourne under a new name, with Cousin Rupert to take care of instead of
her mother.

She sprang up. 'I won't go!' she exclaimed aloud. 'I won't, I _won't_!'

But even as she said it she sighed, because her legs ached. She stood
still in the middle of the room, and stooping down, touched the swollen
veins gingerly. The feel of them alarmed her as it always did, and her
flare of resolution died out.

A great sense of self-pity came over her, bringing with it a crowd of
regrets. She looked about at all the familiar objects and began
remembering. How desolate the room was. It had not always been like this.
Her mind travelled back over the years to the last Anniversary Day that
Leaside had known. Candles and flowers had lent charm to the room, yes,
charm; she actually thought now that the drawing-room had looked charming
then by comparison. That was the occasion, she remembered, when her
mother had worn a dove-grey dress, and Elizabeth, all in green, had
reminded her of a larch tree. Elizabeth, all in green! She always
remembered her like that. Why always in that particular dress? Elizabeth
had looked so young and vital in that dress. Perhaps it had been
symbolical of growth, of fulfilment; but if so it had been a lying
symbol, for the fulfilment had not come. And yet Elizabeth had believed
in her up to the very last. It was a blessed thing to have someone to
believe in you; it helped you to believe in yourself. She knew that
now--but Elizabeth was married, she was leagues away in Cape Town; she
had forgotten Joan Ogden, who had failed her so utterly in the end. Oh,
well--'

She sat down at her mother's desk and began to write:


'DEAR DOCTOR CAMPBELL,

'My aunt, Mrs. Blanc, tells me--'


Then she tore up the letter. 'I can't decide to-night', she thought, 'I'm
too dead tired to think.'



Chapter Fifty


1


Joan got out of the cab. In her hand she gripped a bird-cage, containing
Bobbie, well muffled for the journey. 'That's the 'ouse, miss', said the
driver, pointing with his whip. A large gate painted and grained, with
'The Pines' in bold black lettering across it. She pushed it open and
walked up the drive Speckled laurels and rhododendrons, now damp and
dripping, flanked her on either hand. The yellow gravel was soggy and
ill-kept, with grass and moss growing over it. At a bend in the drive the
house came into view; a large three-storied building of the Victorian
era, with a wide lawn in front, and a porch with Corinthian columns. The
house had once had the misfortune to be painted all over, and now
presented the mournful appearance of neglected and peeling paint. As Joan
rang the bell she got the impression of a great number of inadequate sash
windows, curtained in a dull shade of maroon.

A middle-aged maid-servant opened the door. 'Miss Ogden'? she inquired,
before Joan had time to speak.

'Yes, I'm Miss Ogden. Do you think my luggage could be brought in,
please?'

'That cabby should have driven up to the door', grumbled the woman. 'And
he knows it, too; they're that lazy!'

She left Joan standing in the hall while she lifted her skirts and
stepped gingerly down the drive. Joan looked about her, still clutching
the cage. The impression of maroon persisted here; it was everywhere: in
the carpet, the leather chairs, the wallpaper. Even the stained-glass
fanlight over the front door took up the prevailing tone. The house had
its characteristic smell, too; all houses had. Glory Point, she remembered,
had smelt of tar, fresh paint and brass polish; the Rodneys’ house had
smelt of Ralph's musty law books. Leaside had smelt of newspaper cooking,
and for many years of her father's pipes. But this house, what was it it
smelt of? She decided that it smelt of old people.

The servant came back, followed by a now surly cabby, carrying a trunk

'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, miss', she said less austerely.

A door opened at the far end of the hall, and a pleasant-looking old
woman came forward. Her blue print dress and large apron were
reassuringly clean, and she smiled affably at Joan. She spoke in the loud
sing-song voice of the midlands. 'I'm the cook-housekeeper; Keith's my
name', she drawled. 'I don't know why you've been left standin' like
this, miss. I says to 'er, I says, "Now you be sure an' ask her into the
drawing-room when 'er comes, and let me know at once!" But Mary, 'er be
that queer, some days.'

'Oh, it's all right', said Joan, tactfully. 'She had to go and see about
my luggage.'

'Very impolite, I calls it; Mary should know better. Please to step this
way.'

Joan followed her into a large, cold room, evidently seldom used, for the
blinds were down and the furniture in linen covers.

'And I says to 'er, "Mind you 'ave the blinds up and all," and now just
look at this!' grumbled Mrs. Keith, as she struggled with a cord at one
of the windows. 'And now, miss,' she continued, turning to Joan, 'since
you're new to us and we're new to you, I'd better tell you about the
master. He's a little queer like, childish, as no doubt you've heard. But
he's very gentle and quiet some days, and if as how you find him
troublesome at first, please just come to I. He knows I and he be good
with I. And when you goes in to him first, mind to take notice of his
toys, if he asks you; he be just a great baby, although he's a
grey-haired man, and his toys is all the world to him. After you've been
introduced to him, you come downstairs and I'll explain about his diet
and all his little fancies. He's a poor, afflicted gentleman, but we're
all very fond on 'im. I've been here for thirty-five years, and I hope
you'll stay as long, miss, if I may say so. And now I'll show you your
room.'

They mounted the sombre staircase to a fair-sized bedroom on the first
floor.

'I'll be waiting for you on the landing, to take you to Master Rupert
when you're ready', said Mrs. Keith as she closed the door.

Joan put Bobbie's cage down on the chest of drawers and took off his
cover. 'My dear little yellow bird,' she murmured caressingly, 'we must
keep you out of the draught!'

She took off her hat and washed her hands. Going to her bag she found a
comb and hastily tidied her hair.

'I'm quite ready, Mrs. Keith', she said, rejoining the housekeeper.

The old woman opened a door a little way down the passage. 'This be his
nursery', she whispered.

The room was long and unexpectedly light, having three large windows; but
it struck Joan with a little shock of pity that they were barred along
the lower half, just as the window had been in the old bedroom at Leaside
when she and Milky were venturesome little children. In front of the fire
stood a tall nursery guard.

'Here's the kind lady, Master Rupert; 'er what I told you about.'

A large, shabby man, with a full grey beard and a mane of hair, was
kneeling in front of an open cupboard. As Joan came forward he looked
round piteously.

'I've lost my dolly, my _best_ dolly', he whimpered. 'You haven't hidden
my dolly, have you?'

'Now, now, Master Rupert!' said Mrs. Keith sharply. 'This is Miss Ogden,
what's come here to look after you; come and say "How do you do" to her,
at once.'

The big, untidy man stood up. He eyed Joan with suspicion, fingering his
beard. 'I don't like _you_,' he said thoughtfully, 'I don't like you at
all. Go away, please; I believe you've hidden my dolly.'

'Can't I help you to look for her?' Joan suggested. 'What's this one; is
this the dolly?' she added, retrieving a dilapidated wax doll from under
a chair.

'_That's_ my dolly!' cried the man in a tone of rapture. 'That's my dear,
darling dolly! Isn't she beautiful?' And he hugged the doll to his bosom.

'Say "Thank you", Master Rupert', admonished Mrs. Keith.

But the man looked sulky. 'I shan't thank her; she hid my dolly. I know
she did!'

'Oh, you must thank her, Master Rupert. It was her who _found_ your dolly
for you. Come now, be good!'

But the patient stamped his foot. 'Take her away!' he ordered
peremptorily. 'I don't like her hair.'

'Come downstairs', murmured Mrs. Keith, pushing Joan gently out of the
room. 'He'll be all right next time he sees you; you be strange to him
just at first, but presently he'll love you dearly, I expects.'


2


In the housekeeper's room the old woman became expansive. Obviously
nervous lest the patient had made a bad impression, she tried clumsily to
correct it by entertaining Joan with details about her predecessors, of
whom Mrs. Keith had apparently known four. Seated in the worn arm-chair by
the fire, Joan listened silently to this depressing recital.

At last Mrs. Keith came to Joan's immediate predecessor, Miss King, who
had stayed for twenty years. She had been such a pretty lady when she
first arrived, yellow-haired and all smiles. She had only taken the post
to help her family of little brothers and sisters. But when they were all
grown up and no longer in such pressing need of help, Miss King had still
stayed on, because, as she said, she had grown used to it, somehow, and
didn't feel that she could make a change after all those years. Master
Rupert, had loved her dearly, for she had understood all his little ways
and had played with him for hours. She used to read aloud to him too. He
liked fairy stories best, after 'Robinson Crusoe'; Miss Ogden would find
that he was never tired of 'Robinson Crusoe', it would be a good book for
her to start reading to him.

Master Rupert used to beg to have his little bed put in Miss King's room,
he was so afraid of the dark. But of course she couldn't consent to this,
for he was a full-grown man, after all, though he didn't know it, 'Poor
afflicted gentleman, being all innocent like.' When Miss King had had to
go in the end, she had been very unhappy at leaving. But her old father
had become bedridden by that time, so her family had sent for her to look
after him.

'Hard, I calls it,' said Mrs. Keith, 'for her to have to go home for
that, after all the years of toiling with Master Rupert; but then you
see, miss, her was a spinster like, and so the others thought as how her
was the one to do it.'

From the discussion of Joan's predecessors, Mrs. Keith went on to speak
of Master Rupert himself. She explained that his mind had only grown up
to the age of six. 'Retarded something or other', she said the doctor
called it. His parents had died when he was twelve, and his guardian, not
knowing what to do with him, had sent him to a home for deficient
children. But after a time he had grown too old to remain there, and so,
as he had been left quite well off, poor gentleman, his trustees had
bought 'The Pines' for him to live in, and there he had lived ever since.

Mrs. Keith explained at some length the daily routine that Joan must
follow, and went into the minutest details regarding the patient's menu.
'He do be greedy, a bit', she remarked apologetically. 'Them as is
mentally afflicted often is, the doctor says. The way he eats would
surprise you, considering how little exercise he takes! But his stomach
is that weak, and he's given to vomiting something awful if I'se not
careful what he gets; so the doctor, 'e says to me, 'e says, "Better give
him light meals in between times," 'e says, "so as to fill him up, like."
He's a poor afflicted gentleman,' she repeated once more, with real
regret in her voice. 'But he'll be all right with you, miss, never fear;
I knows 'im and he's that fond of I, it's touching. You see, miss, I'se
known 'im for thirty-five years.'

'If I want advice I shall certainly come to you, Mrs. Keith', Joan told
her gratefully. 'But I expect I'll get on all right, as you say.'

She felt very tired after the journey and longed painfully to lie down
and rest. Her brain seemed muddled and she was so afraid she might forget
something.

Was it Benger's at eleven and beef-tea at four, or the other way round?'
she asked anxiously.

'It were the other way round, miss; don't you think you'd better write it
down?'

'Perhaps I had', Joan agreed, fishing in her jacket pocket for her little
notebook.

‘Now, then', she said, trying hard to speak brightly. Now then, Mrs.
Keith, we'd better make a list. Hot milk coloured with coffee, that's
when he wakes up, I understand; then beef-tea at eleven o'clock, and his
cough mixture at twelve-thirty. He has Benger's at tea-time and again
before going to bed. Oh, I shall soon get into it all, I expect. I'm used
to invalids, you see.'



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia