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Title: Kif: An Unvarnished History (1929)
Author: Josephine Tey
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900811.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2010
Date most recently updated: March 2014

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

Title: Kif: An Unvarnished History (1929)
Author: Josephine Tey


* * *

TO M
WHO MIGHT HAVE LIKED IT
OR MIGHT NOT
BUT IN ANY CASE
WOULD HAVE BEEN PLEASED

* * *

CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29

* * *


CHAPTER ONE



The boy stepped into the chill dark of the winter morning and closed the
door quietly behind him. Quietly because the wife of Farmer Vass was apt
to be unreasonable if she were wakened betimes. It lacked an hour till
dawn and there was neither earth nor sky, hedge nor horizon. Only the
all-enveloping dark, immediate, almost tangible--the blackness that hems
us in with ourselves and annihilates philosophy. And it was bitterly
cold. The boy clutched at his coat collar as the thin sterile air struck
at his bare throat. His hobnailed boots echoed irrelevantly--a dreary
sound--as he made his stumbling way over the cobbles of the yard and
fumbled for the lantern that hung at the stable door. His sleep-sodden
brain which had brought him thus far mechanically was waking to its daily
passion of revolt.

God! what a life! What a bloody dam-fool life! A day that began with
fumbling in the dark and ended fumbling in another dark, and in between a
long procession of monotonous jobs, impersonal and void of interest. A
life of fastening buckles, he thought venomously, as his rapidly
stiffening fingers refused their office. Buckle-fastening! When life was
so short and there was so much of the world. Even those high new-born
pearly dawns of summer that lifted his heart with their wonder were but
urgent invitations to set out and see. He wanted passionately wanted--a
life where things happened; where the unexpected swung at you with a
terrifying beauty and events were not, since every hour brought its
event. The phlegm, the appalling foreverness of the fields and hills
roused in him a desperate consciousness of his own evanescence, and a
rebellion that any part of his short and so precious time should be given
to their thankless service. And what was there beyond his work to make it
worth while? To sit in winter at the farmhouse kitchen fire while Johnny,
the other hired man, scraped on his fiddle and Mary the 'girl' flirted
ineptly with a surfaceman from the railway or a shepherd from the hill?
Or to go once in three weeks or a month to a dance at the nearest
schoolhouse--an affair of polkas and boots? Or on summer evenings and
Sundays to join the gathering at the bridge-head and exchange gossip and
smutty stories, to make one of the self-elected tribunal which sat in sly
judgment on the manners and morals of the countryside, utterly content
with themselves and their lot? Even when he capped their stories and
earned their appreciative laughter and their admiring 'Ay, boy, you're
the one!' he had waves of angry disgust, not at the subject of his
triumph, but at the spiritual poverty of his audience.

The only events at Tarn were the New Year and an occasional calving. And
last autumn the little Jersey had got bogged in the low grazing; an
affair which had caused one day at least to be vivid with the meeting of
emergency which is life, and which, like lightning at night, had left the
succeeding moments darker. Beyond the occasional kissing of a girl at a
dance the only thrill of positive pleasure that he knew was provided by
the threepenny 'shockers' which he bought with his scanty pocket-money
when in Ferry on carting-business and absorbed in bed at night to the
accompaniment of Johnny's snores. It was usually a battle between the
swift sleep that falls on the open-air worker and his thirst for colour
and movement. That his need for at least vicarious adventure was great
was witnessed to by the repeated trouble with Mrs Vass over the
unwarrantable burning of candles. Johnny, not being cast in martyr's
mould, had no hesitation in absolving himself at the price of his
companion's secret, with the result that candles were rationed
thenceforth. If it had not been for the kindheartedness of the
flirtatious Mary--to whom a male thing in trouble, even if it were only a
long-legged sulky-mouthed boy, was quite unthinkable--his one escape from
a too drab reality might have been seriously hindered. But Mary's
generous supply of candle-ends--and Mary had royal ideas as to what
constituted ends--saved the situation.

At this moment she came to the kitchen door and called into the darkness
'Kif! Are you there, Kif?' her voice subdued in deference to the
unawakened household. The boy, who had seen the light appear fifteen
minutes before in the blank house and had been hoping for the summons,
came clumping to the open door that emitted a friendly stuffiness to the
frozen yard and followed her into the kitchen, where the fire had
graduated from the first stage of merely spectacular flame to a glowing
heat, and a steaming bowl of tea stood on the table.

'There's a cup of tea that will keep you going till breakfast,' she
whispered, and added the time-honoured formula, 'You'll not let on to
herself?'

Kif grinned and gulped the scalding tea, his shadow between the oil lamp
and the firelight swinging ghostly across the wall and ceiling. He would
make a handsome enough man, thought Mary. No one to look at him now would
think he was only fifteen. Pity he was so plain, though. And his quiet
ways were nice if only he had a little more back-chat.

They made desultory conversation in that happy comradeship savouring of
conspiracy of two people who alone are awake while others sleep, until
the shuffle of feet on the stone-floored passage proclaimed the arrival
of Johnny. While his senior was being fortified with tea against the
rigours of the morning Kif withdrew to his work. But at breakfast he
said:

'Are the two carts going to town for the meal?'

Johnny paused with a spoonful of porridge and milk half way to his
already open mouth.

'And what if they're not?' he said, eyeing Kif's carefully expressionless
face with cheerful malice. He swallowed the porridge, and since the boy
was silent he added: 'Well, since you're so curious, only one's going.'

Not a sign rewarded his expectant scrutiny of the face opposite. In
another country Kif would have made a reputation at poker. His inside
might be turning over in sick disappointment in a way that defied the
ordinary laws of anatomy, but that was no reason that daws should peck.
He pushed aside his emptied plate and cut himself a hunk of bread with
apparent indifference. The hope of a visit to town had been to him what
the prospect of a meal is to a hungry tramp. Its sudden obliteration was
a thing that did not bear immediate contemplation. But Mary, coming from
the hearth with the teapot, said to Johnny:

'You're the fine teaser, aren't you? Can you not tell the boy and be done
with it? It's only one cart that's going, sure enough, Kif,'--in her soft
western voice his name became Keef--'but it's yourself that's going with
it. That _amadan_ is going west to Little Crags for the new pony. Didn't
I hear Himself telling him in the byre last night.'

She passed him his cup and affected not to see the dull flush that came
to his dark face and that he tried unsuccessfully to hide in the
bowl-like proportions of his cup. What a shame to tease him when he
wanted to go like that! She had a moment of mushy warmth towards him. If
his hair had been live and curly instead of the lank thick stuff it was
she would have run her fingers through it as she passed behind him to the
dresser. As it was, she contented herself by putting a plate of scones
down in front of him to the pointed exclusion of Johnny.

And Kif, on his part, had for her a permanent if mild regard--the only
approach to affection he knew in his singularly unattached existence. He
had in the highest degree that unemotional attitude to his fellow beings
that is common in members of a large family in poor circumstances. When
his parents had died two years previously and his family had been
scattered to the ends of the kingdom, the younger to homes--the capital H
kind--the older to situations, he, in common with the rest, had accepted
their separation with equanimity. Personal relationships had very little
meaning for him. Since the day of his birth no one had singled him out
for special attention or consideration except with a view to punishment
occasionally. He had bee a unit in a family at home and at school he was
a unit in a class. That it might be otherwise had never occurred to him.
He was conscious of no lack of human contact in his existence, no desire
for a confidant. He was, on the contrary, more than ordinarily
self-contained. No one had ever shown any interest in his possible
thoughts or desires; there was no reason that he should expect that
anyone should. When he was twelve he had rebelled unconsciously against
this anonymity by being as wild at school as circumstances in the person
of a fairly competent master allowed. His master, who rather liked him,
deplored to a colleague the fact that he was difficult to appeal to. It
did not occur to him that personal appeal was a thing so strange to the
boy as to be almost meaningless and certainly open to suspicion. On
going to Tarn as farmer's boy he had lapsed again to his habitual
reserve and was a model of behaviour. That he was passably efficient in
his work, however, was due to the fact that his whole life had been
spent among farms and farm work and not to any good will in the doing of
it.

Sitting on the edge of the cart on the way to Ferry he reviewed the
situation--a little more philosophically now since there was the prospect
of town in front of him, and the sun had thawed the ice that was horror
to a carter on the sloping roads and was warming his back agreeably. For
a mind unpossessed by other visions an ideal day lay ahead. He was to
collect the meal from the grain store, do three errands for Mrs Vass,
wait for the three o'clock train from the south and bring back the
packages it would presumably deliver. Easy, pleasant, leisurely. But it
was Kif's tragedy that the easy and the leisurely had no appeal for him.
That he should do this thing for years to come without the hope of
deliverance was a thought that stopped his heart with its poignancy. The
appalling waste of time!

What he would do instead was not clear. He had not sufficient knowledge
of the world to apportion himself a definite rôle. What he could do was
equally vague. If he had had any ideas on that subject Tarn would not
have known him for the two years it already had.

On the outskirts of the town he had to descend hastily and go to the
agitated mare's head as the third battalion of a Highland regiment swung
down on him led by their pipes and drums: wild, defiant, deliriously
triumphant. Even while he was remonstrating with the animal he was
hypnotised by the splendour and the rhythm of them. Long after they had
passed he stood gazing after them as one involuntarily stares after a
lighted train which has thundered past one in the dark, caressing the
mare's nose with an absent hand.

'Lucky chaps!' he thought. 'Lucky chaps! France in a fortnight probably.'

That something more than France waited for them he did not consider. At
least their lives would not have been uneventful.

He left the horse and cart at the goods station and repaired to an
eating-place patronised by his kind--a place of benches, oilcloth
table-covers and cracked but mighty china. While he was waiting the
appearance of the tuppenny pie and strong tea which was the regular
farmhand's lunch (Shades of famous trenchermen, behold your sons!), a
red-headed youth opposite, whom he knew as a herd and odd-job man on
market days, brushed the last crumbs of pie from his garments, sucked his
teeth appreciatively and said to Kif, to whom he had nodded on entrance:

'Thinking of joining up?'

Kif was so taken by surprise that he blurted out: 'Me? I'm only fifteen.'

The red youth grinned as at a pleasantry.

'I don't think!' he said expressively, and continued to regard Kif with a
look in his bleached blue eye which obviously placed Kif among the
knowing ones.

'Well, well,' he said at length, 'every man to his taste. Far be it from
me to press you. I come of a military family myself. My great-grandfather
was the only man who ran away at Waterloo. So I sort of feel that this
show wouldn't be complete without me. Sorry you haven't leanings that
way. We might have done the deed together. However! Wish me luck.
So-long!'

And the door swung to behind him.

Kif gazed unseeingly at the food the slatternly attendant had set before
him, his mind opening on new and amazing vistas. Did he really look like
that? He must get out and see. He devoured the pie, drank half a cup of
the scalding liquid and paid his bill. Halfway down the street he paused
at a confectioner's, where a looking-glass formed the back of the window,
and dispassionately considered himself. He saw a tallish youth whose
ill-fitting old coat could not conceal the breadth and muscularity of his
shoulders. Heavy lids and thick brows gave sophistication to the bright
dark eyes--the only animated part of a face that had missed good looks
through its lack of modelling. It was certainly not a boy who looked back
at him from behind the little mounds of chocolates and 'mixtures'. And
that being so all his problems were miraculously solved.

For the first time since he was hired at Tarn, Kif went home without a
threepenny 'thriller' in his pocket.



CHAPTER TWO


Kif joined the army on the twelfth of December, 1914. He enlisted at a
recruiting office in Ferry, where his statement that he was eighteen was
received without comment. His request that he should be sent to a
Highland regiment had not so happy a fate. The sergeant in charge
affected surprise and demanded to know the reason for so curious a
predilection. Since Kif's only reasons were the unforgettable vision of
the other day and a vague memory of fine stories in his history book at
school he had not an answer ready, and the sergeant seized the
opportunity to lay before him a brief résumé of the attractions of his
own regiment. So Kif, who was largely indifferent to the means as long as
the end was achieved, became one of the Carnshires--known throughout the
service as the Half-and-Halfers, not from any lack of thoroughness either
in their spit-and-polish or their exploits in action, but because being
recruited from both sides of the border they were neither wholly Scots
nor wholly English. He started out to the horizon of his dreams with one
spare shirt, two pairs of socks, a Testament of Mrs Vass's, an untidy
packet of scones and cheese which the tearful Mary had thrust into his
hand at parting, his pay up to date, and his master's blessing.

This last had been obtained at the end of an interview which had left Kif
rather surprised at himself, and his master wholly surprised at his
employee. Kif had broken the news of his intended enlistment in the
stable as he was unharnessing the mare. Patriotic fever being then at its
height, Mr Vass saw in the proposition only the age-old glamour of a
uniform and war hysteria, and promptly vetoed the suggestion.

Not a bit of it,' he said. 'You're engaged to me and engaged to me you
stay, see? Time enough in three years from now to fight for your country.
By that time you'll have time to think about it and you very likely won't
want to.'

Kif hung the bridle carefully on a protruding nail and steadied it with a
deliberate hand before he turned.

'That may be true enough,' he said, 'but I'm going now.'

'Don't be a fool. Don't you realise that you can't? Supposing you go and
enlist to-morrow. All I've got to do is to tell them your age and they'll
throw you out without thanks, and I'll have you back in a day.'

And he turned to go. But before he had taken the first step, Kif stood
between him and the door.

'Look here,' he said, 'the sooner you understand the better. I'm going.
And there's nothing in Heaven or earth that's going to keep me. I'll stay
till the end of the week so's you can get someone in my place. But not a
day after. You can go and tell them my age if you like, but it won't
bring me back here. So you might as well keep your mouth shut. I'd just
go somewhere else and enlist where you couldn't interfere. _I'm going_.
Is that clear now?'

The staggered farmer sought for words. He experienced a queer uneasiness
which had something to do with Kif's presence between him and the door.
There was no threat in the boy's attitude. He was standing easily before
the half-door, his hands hanging limply at his sides. But his face in the
lamplight was very white, and there was that in his eyes that gave a man
of peace, even if he were still muscular and little over forty, most
furiously to think.

And do you expect me to pay you wages when you go? he asked feebly.

'That's as may be. I haven't any right to them, I suppose, since I'm
going without notice. But the wages don't matter.'

'So-ho! You're the first person I ever met who thought that. Well, well!
Who will to Cupar maun to Cupar, I suppose. You're being a big fool, but
it's you that'll be the sufferer. We'll see what we can do before the
week's out.'

Kif had taken that, correctly, as capitulation, and as the days passed Mr
Vass by some queer logic of his own had come to look upon the pending
enlistment as his own doing. He was letting Kif go, was he not? Putting
himself to endless inconvenience so that he might serve his King and
country. And the fact that a boy of fourteen had been found to take Kif's
place added the last ounce of satisfaction. So that when, on the last
morning, Kif received not only his full pay' but his master's benediction
as well, he was more amused than gratified. What did gratify him and
remained with him as a strange warm feeling under his ribs was the
recollection of Mary's wet eyes. It was a new sensation to be the centre
of interest even temporarily, and the more he licked the more he liked
the taste.

That prominence, however, was not to be his for long. At the Carnshire's
depôt he found that he counted rather less than did one of the hens at
Tarn. In those days huts were not yet thought of, and the incipient
battalions of the new army were billeted with more regard to space than
suitability in the choice of location. Bewildered tyros in the art of
self-preservation were harried by openly contemptuous and inwardly
resentful N.C.O.'s through the unspeakable discomfort of life in drill
halls, concert rooms, riding schools, garages, breweries, anything that
had floor space and a more or less weathertight roof. To the old N.C.O.'s
of the Half-and-Halfers this incredible collection of odds and
ends--mostly odds, as one confided to his crony the sergeant tailor--was
a desecration of the fair fame of the regiment. A nightmare. War they
understood. It was their business. But it was their own affair. Losses
were deplorable but to be understood. This influx of an untutored mob was
a tragedy. It was the end of the Regiment. Only the heart-breaking need
of that same regiment made the situation bearable at all. That being so
they had to make the best of that unnameable rabble.

When the fifth Carnshires marched out of barracks three months later, the
sergeant tailor, standing by the gate to watch them go, jerked his head
sideways in a gesture of admiration and remarked to a month-old corporal
striding past him, 'Man, the swing o' yez!' That that miracle was
possible was due in equal proportion to the faith, hope and philosophy of
the volunteers and--let us not forget it--to the much cursed and much
cursing N.C.O.'s of the old army who lacking faith and yet almost devoid
of hope, had the charity to agonise over us to the end that that multitude
of individual worth might not be made null for lack of a welding power.

During those months Kif was perhaps the only entirely happy man in the
battalion. He had never lain soft, and what was hardship to the majority
was but mild discomfort to him. Even the peeling of 'spuds' and the
scrubbing of floors and tables, the cutting up of meat for the endless
stew, the fetching and carrying--all the everlasting fatigues which were
such a bitter trial to the ardent spirits of the others, who had entered
the army with but one object in view, to get to France as soon as
possible--were done by him with a relish that endeared him to the hearts
of the weary corporals so beset by martyrs and protestants. Nothing came
amiss to him. What did it matter that to-day he was scrubbing out a dixie
when he could rejoice in the certainty that to-morrow he would be doing
something totally different, that every varied day brought something new?
Even inoculation did not damp his cheerfulness, though he was decidedly
ill for the first time in his life. For two days he lay on the doubtful
comfort of nobbly 'biscuits and let the world pass round and over him,
while he dawdled in a universe that was partly real and partly dream.

His nurse-in-chief during the two days that he 'went sick' was the
red-headed herd from Ferry. When Kif with five other newly enlisted was
ushered into the barrack-room at the depôt the first person his eyes
lighted on was, to his dismay, the author of his happiness. That the
dismay was not mutual was evident by the surprised glee on the face of
the offspring of soldiers.

'Hullo, hullo, hullo!' he said, making a little song of it. 'If it isn't
little Fifteen! What bit you, childie?'

Kif's heart stood still. In a moment they would all know. Someone in
authority would hear. Inquiries would be made.

He put down the brown-paper parcel which contained his possessions and
walked down the length of the room.

'If you get me heaved out I'll kill you,' he said simply, but with such
intensity in his quick undertone that the youth's laughing face became
grave. He looked at Kif intently for a moment and then said wonderingly:

'Coo! D'you mean to say it was true what you said? God bless me! Well,'
he added after a further scrutiny, 'you're safe enough, kid. Take it from
me. No one'd ever believe it.' And as he saw Kif's mouth opening with the
inevitable question: 'As for me, I'm your man. I wouldn't split on you
not if they gave me a commission. You're a sport. Come across to the
canteen and celebrate. Think you must have had military ancestors as
well, somehow.'

'What's your John-Willies?' he asked when beer was set before them.

'Archibald Vicar,' said Kif.

'Do they call you all that? That's not what the chaps at Ferry market
call you, is it?'

'No, everyone called me Kif.' Quite unconsciously he used the past tense.

'What's that short for?'

'Don't know. I've been called that ever since I was little. I think it's
the way I used to say my name. Your name is Struthers, isn't it. He had
just remembered it.

'Private James Struthers.' The red-headed one rolled the name
delightedly. 'But the "private" is only temporary, so to speak. And I'm
going to introduce you to one of the best, so that when I depart from the
ranks in my upward career I won't be leaving you lonesome. He hasn't much
chance in the army, but him and me's pals.'

The prospectless one proved to be a young stockbroker, London born and bred,
with an understanding eye, a humorous mouth, and literary tastes. He was
the complete antithesis of Jimmy Struthers, who seemed to provide him
with an immense amount of private enjoyment. Both were typical of their
class and professions, and that they should have forgathered even in that
polyglot assembly was due partly to the possessive habits of Jimmy and
partly to Barclay's attitude of _laisser faire_ and readiness to be
amused with whatever came his way. And Jimmy was certainly an
entertainment. There was a strange appeal about him, too. One had the
same warm feeling for him that one has for a particularly valiant mongrel
pup. He had broad cheek-bones and a narrow jaw, and his mouth in repose
had a half-pathetic, half-disgruntled droop which was not borne out by
anything either in his character or his history. When he was not talking
his eves had a half-asleep expression that was almost dazed, but in one
moment he would rouse from apparent indifference to an argumentative and
gesticulating animation.

It was with these two that Kif spent the leisure moments of his first
months in the army, and it was Jimmy who shooed the solicitous Barclay
away from Kif's mattress and constituted himself physician, consultant
and nurse where the sufferer was concerned. He had himself been
inoculated at the same time as Kif and regarded the proceeding as a
direct insult to his status as a human being. Apart from the hurt to his
dignity--'like dipping a lot of ruddy sheep'--it seemed to have had no
effect on him.

Kif became a first-class shot and developed a real talent for scout and
intelligence work. He cursed night manoeuvres with point and proficiency
because it was the custom to abhor them. But secretly he delighted in
them. There was something in the darkness and expectancy that vibrated an
answering chord in him. Anything might happen. Any one of the dragging
palpitating minutes might break suddenly into flaming moment. Night was
pregnant with event.

That ninety-nine per cent of nights on manoeuvres were merely a
protracted boredom of cold and discomfort never damped entirely the
expectation with which he set out on them. He would sit in the lee of a
dry-stone wall--and if you have ever sat behind a wall built of
unmortared stone you will realise how very little lee there is--with the
rain soaking through the shoulders of his greatcoat and a half-gale
coming through the chinks at his back, swearing mechanically and enjoying
himself to the top of his bent. He made his tall and by no means slight
figure a part of the murky world about him, and for a little glorious
hour would live as he had prayed to live, his mind alert to meet the
unexpected and throng with plans to counter plans.

Barclay liked him and was interested in him to an unexpected degree. It
was on night manoeuvres, lying in reserve on the edge of a sheltering
firwood, that he stumbled on the knowledge of Kif's unattached condition.
Kif expressed his intention of not taking the usual leave before going to
France.

But what will your people think?' asked Barclay, to whom one's people
were an integral part of one's existence.

'People?' said Kif vaguely, not because he did not understand the term,
but because his mind was on other things.

'He means your folks,' said Jimmy, with the air of one condoning a slip
of the tongue.

Kif explained his situation.

'And don't you want to see the people at the farm again?'

That was what Kif had been considering. Did he want to see the Tarn
people again? It would be rather nice to swank before them in his
uniform, which certainly became him marvellously. And there was Mary. He
would quite like Mary to see him.

That was Kif. He would consider going back, not to gratify any need to
see someone who had been amiable to him, but to taste again the magic of
someone's approval. Sentiment at that time did not exist in him. He
approved of Barclay and understood Struthers, and was happy with them,
but he had no definite affection for either.

He had once, seeing Barclay reading, asked him tentatively for the loan
of a book. Barclay, who had been reading _Pater_, had sent an urgent
message to his sister, with the result that for the next week Kif was
absorbed in Owen Wister's _Virginian_, and in the succeeding weeks
discovered Kipling. Kipling he approved of unreservedly, and it became
difficult to drag him out of an evening to the almost nightly
entertainments organised for the troops by the enthusiastic civilians of
the neighbourhood.

'Come on, my son,' Barclay would say, cuffing the black head, the only
visible part of which was the nape of the neck appearing between two bony
big-jointed hands, 'come and hear charming ladies sing.' At the second
cuff Kif would come to the surface and exhibit resentment. Occasionally
he was really angry; but he always went in the end. Not because of _force
majeure_ but because, being thoroughly wakened out of the dream land of
adventure, the attractiveness of the real world of his inhabiting was
once more patent to him. Concerts had so far bored him mildly--but you
never knew. The glory of not knowing--of living a life that was a
succession of corners!

In the end Kif elected to take his leave--the battalion were then at
Bulford--but it was not spent at Tarn, nor did Mary ever have an
opportunity of admiring the uniform. Stronger than Kif's desire to taste
again the unaccustomed sweets of playing lead was his longing to go out
by himself 'for to admire and for to see'. The helpless restlessness
which had characterised his existence at the farm had left him when his
life leaped from stagnation to movement. That he had by his own doing
become a pawn of unseen forces did not worry him. He had taken the stone
away, and life moved, and that was all he ever asked of it. Being master
of his fate was no ambition of Kif's.

But he had no intention of refusing heaven-sent opportunities of
embroidering it.

He had meant to leave the other under the impression that he was going
back to the farm, but Barclay's solicitude frustrated the intention.

'Will you stay at the farm?' he asked. I mean, will they put you up?'

Kif, after a microscopic pause, said airily, 'Oh yes, I expect so.' But
his airiness was so ethereal was to be suspect. Barclay looked up from
where he employed with button-stick and polish and favoured Kif with a
long and doubtful scrutiny. Kif bore it well for a moment or two, and
then a very faint dull flush came up from his collar. Barclay looked a
moment longer and returned to his buttons smiling.

'Where _are_ you going, Kif?' he asked.

Kif laughed. 'If you hadn't said you had only a sister I'd have said you
were a seventh son.'

'Second sight isn't necessary when you give yourself away by looking as
guilty as that. You'll never make a successful criminal, my lad. Is your
destination a secret?'

'It isn't a secret. It's just that I don't know anything about it. I'm
just going to look-see, you see.'

Barclay forbore to probe further beyond hoping that if he came to London
he would come and make the family's acquaintance. Kif, who had no
intention of doing any such thing--the very thought of it made him
sweat--thanked him politely and the subject was dropped.

Kif began his _ave valeque_ to Britain by going to see a boxing
tournament in Salisbury. At Tarn he had read with avidity the boxing news
in the newspapers. After that he had read the racing news. Football
interested him very little--there was little of adventure in anything so
redolent of the village green--and, for similar reasons, cricket not at
all. Horse-racing and boxing fascinated him, and boxing came an easy
first. When he found himself actually and incredibly a part of what he
had so often seen pictured, his joy vented itself in a prodigious sigh
which led the man next him--a private of Marines--to say:

'Fed up, mate? It do seem long when you're waiting. They oughter 'ave a
band or something.'

Kif assented absent-mindedly. He was not going to tell anyone that the
mere fact of being in the building, of being one of that waiting crowd,
was almost sufficient joy without the prospect of the spectacle to come.
He listened in a daze of happiness to the fragments of talk which dropped
out of the hum of conversation. Behind him three men were giving each
other riddles. He heard one say, 'I'll give you one now. When is a...'
Everywhere round him men were arguing, discussing, explaining:

'...knocked silly in the second round.'

'...three in the cook-house...'

'...and I said, ses I...'

'...far better in the Strand...'

'I'll lay you six to four...'

From his seat near the ring-side the huge house soared into a thick blue
haze in which the medley of voices seemed to be caught and to hang
suspended. Where roof met walls there were heavy violet shadows. Nothing
had form or definition. Vague voices, vague shapes, vague shadows.
Nothing real except the focal point of the ring, a square of drowned
brilliance in the merciless light of the down-shaded arc lamps.

The ring-side seats filled up. A man in evening clothes came and made a
little speech to which Kif did not listen. Another came and made an
announcement about a substitution in the programme. Seconds appeared,
tremendously important, with basins, towels, and Sponges. A slim youth in
a blue dressing gown climbed into the ring and sat down in a corner very
much as if he had lost his way and was too tired to go any further. He
took no notice of the hand-clapping which greeted his arrival and merely
nodded vaguely to the animated remarks his second addressed to him. A
chunky youth in a paisley-patterned robe, with a flat-topped head of
stiff upstanding hair alarmingly reminiscent of a curry-comb, climbed
through the ropes, bowed jerkily to every part of the house, and subsided
thankfully on the opposite chair. Someone came and introduced them,
holding them tightly the while as if afraid of their slipping through his
fingers. They shook hands with every appearance of doing their duty in
the face of tremendous odds. A gong clanged, and they came to life.

To Kif it was primarily a fight, and a good one. He saw nothing
consciously of the beauty of those poised dancing figures in the flooding
light; nothing of the ripple of biceps and deltoid, of swung torso and
quick feet, of light sweat that made silver high-lights on the golden
bodies, of the gracious appeal of a perfectly trained thing in complete
relaxation. But long after the night's entertainment was over the
recollection of it caused him a satisfaction that was not due wholly to
the excitement of contest.

In the third round the 'curry-comb' floored the slim youth with an
upper-cut which his habitually crouching position had masked until it was
too late for the slim one to parry. He went down heavily and the umpire
had counted eight before he had struggled to his knees; but he was on his
feet in time, blindly fighting off the elated 'curry-comb', who was out
to make an end of an easy thing.

Much good sentiment has been wasted on the man who will fight on when in
pain. Pain, instead of evoking the desire to give up, incites to action
by a direct appeal to temper, as any animal trainer will bear witness.
But the man who has the will to make himself fight when dazed, sick, and
half blind is a hero. Something of that Kif felt in the suspense of the
moment. He had no pity, as most boys of his age would have had, for the
staggering figure fending off attacks he could hardly see, but he had the
most intense admiration--an admiration that speared him like a knife, an
admiration that began in unaccustomed hero-worship and ended in envy.

'Game chap, that!' said the marine to Kif when the gong had saved the
object of his admiration from extinction and he was being revived by
anxious seconds in the corner. 'The black chap looks to be about half a
stone heavier, though he can't be.'

The fourth round found the slim one so far recovered that the
'curry-comb' reverted to the cautious tactics which had lost him the
first two rounds. His supporters became vocal in their disapproval.
Victory had been his for the taking, and he had failed to grasp it. With
the ingenuity of their kind they aimed their blow-arrows where they stung
most maddeningly. Their victim became angry, and twice his opponent's
right landed smartly in his ribs through a too impetuous movement on his
own part. More and more he lost his coolness. In the sixth round he lost
his temper entirely. The slim youth saw his chance and took it, and the
bout was over.

Always afterwards when Kif heard the word 'boxing' he had a lightning
picture of these two in the ring.

Kif left the building when the last bout was over, drunk with
satisfaction. Of all heady drinks the achieving of a much-wanted ambition
is the headiest. Love, the most vaunted of the intoxicating beverages, is
a poor thing, sharp with fear, flat with doubt, bitter with longing. But
this realisation of an ambition--even if it is only tobogganing down a
grass slope behind Authority's back to the detriment of microscopic
shorts--this achieving! To have been, to have seen, to have done! Nothing
makes a man so fey, so god-like.

And Kif, his head buried in Y.M.C.A. blankets, was fey because he had
attended a boxing match.



CHAPTER THREE


Kif set out for London next morning snuffing the wet spring air on his
way to the station as a terrier snuffs at a rat-hole. Any morning is a
morning for setting out, but two are ideal: a damp spring morning when
the little wind is full of the scent of growing things and the sky has
lifted from forgotten horizons; and an autumn morning, still and faintly
frosty and full of mellow sunlight when the hedges are cut and the trees
tidied from the walks. One sings: 'Come and see! Come and see!' And the
other says: 'It is over; let us go.' Kif on that spring morning trod the
moist pavements as a king enjoying his own.

In the warmth of the railway carriage he grew sleepy again, and for the
first half hour watched a strange country wheeling by in a mildly
interested somnolence. A fat elderly countrywoman seated in the middle of
the opposite seat regarded him with obtrusive benevolence. She had cheeks
like the apples in her own orchard and round china-blue eyes. Her
grey-brown hair was parted in the middle and sleeked down in a thin
shining enamel under a degrading and meaningless erection of net, lace,
wire, feathers, sequins and flowers which was probably the pride of her
heart. She sat clutching to her bosom a well-filled basket, though the
next stop was a good hour away. It rested uneasily on the steep
escarpment of her lap and every now and then slid slowly and was rescued
by its owner in a convulsive hitch. With the air of one invaded suddenly
by a new idea she now started a search in this receptacle and after some
exploration produced a crumpled little paper bag. She unrolled the top,
gave a reassuring glance at the contents, and with an embarrassing
disregard of her nearer neighbours she strained billowing over her basket
and proffered the bag to Kif. Kif, amused and gratified at the marked
preference, smiled at her, awkwardly inserted his big hand into the
trifling scrap of crushed paper and with infinite difficulty withdrew a
sweet.

'You're young to be serving,' she said, offering the sweets to the
soldier on her right, but keeping her eyes on Kif.

'I'm eighteen.'

'Oh, dear, dear. Just a baby. What about your mother? What does she
think?'

'Haven't got one.' Her eyes reminded him of Mary.

'And are you going to the front now?'

'Not me,' said Kif comfortably. 'I'm going on the spree.'

This left her rather in the air. She looked doubtful, and was obviously
moved to warn his motherless innocence of the dangers that awaited him,
but did not feel equal to it in face of such an audience.

But she had broken the ice of railway-compartment good manners and
presently the conversation became general. Under cover of the soldier
opposite Kif--the recipient of the old lady's belated charity--said to
him:

'Going to spend your leave in London?'

And they talked together, the desultory unaccented talk of strangers who
have yet a common bond. Kif found that his new acquaintance was almost
more unattached than he himself. He was an Australian who, beyond the
larger ports of Britain, knew nothing at all of the country. In spite of
the martial bravery of a Cameron kilt, he was, and always would be, a
sailor. He had been the mate of a wind-jammer which put into the Clyde in
October. Overcome by the prevailing fever and fired by several drinks to
a sublime pitch of military fervour he in one mad moment turned his back
on the sea which had been his world literally since his birth, thrusting
his freedom royally if insanely into the maw of an insensate machine and
becoming a thing of no account to be chivvied about in strange duties by
infantile lance-corporals with the down still on their cheeks. That the
bitterness of the inevitable awakening had not drowned his worth was
obvious in the three stripes which adorned his upper arm.

All these facts Kif learned severally and in the course of time. At the
moment he saw only a 'Jock' who regarded him with childish eyes, whose
colour reminded him of heather honey--or was it wet sawdust?--and whose
mild expression was astonishingly contradicted by the long line of the
ruthless mouth marked with the faint perpendicular lines of old cuts. He
looked with his fresh colouring and dreamy eyes ridiculously like a baby
in a perambulator until one noticed his mouth; when he smiled, too, his
teeth showed broad and short with a queer sawn-off look that was somehow
cruel.

Kif liked him; liked his quiet soft voice, his half-shy air and the
suggestion that hung about him of things seen and done. And he in his
turn liked the boy with the bold dark face and eyes that could laugh so
readily at the sentimental vagaries of fat countrywomen. When he
discovered that Kif had no plans beyond staying 'at a Y or somewhere' he
fell silent, and when they tumbled on to the platform at Waterloo, two
stray mortals in a purposeful world, he said:

'Look here, I'll show you London if you'll keep me away from the docks.
Is it a bargain?'

'It's a bet!' said Kif after a moment's surprised pause, and together
they went out into the streets.

Travenna--for that improbably but actually was the Australian's
name--decided against a Y.M.C.A. 'I've had enough of the barrack-room for
the moment. I know a woman who'll take us in. I used to stay with her
when we were in the river and I had time to burn.'

He took Kif to one of those little streets of two-storey houses below
London Wall. A woman answered his knock--a middle aged woman with a
frizzy Alexandra fringe and a forbidding expression which was due more to
absence of mind than to presence of intention.

'Hullo, Mrs Clamp!' he said, 'can you give us a room?'

She looked at him coldly for a second or two. Then her beady black eyes
broke into twinkles and she beamed welcome and amusement.

'Well, my! well, my!' she said, 'if it ain't Mr Travenna! Well, you are a
one!' she added' holding the hand she had shaken and using it as a lever
to push him away from her for the better examination of him. 'And you do
look a treat in them Scotch clothes. Bit of a change from nyvy, hy? And
why isn't your friend a Scotchman too?'

This was her polite way of including Kif in the conversation.

'Me? I got knocked over in the rush,' said Kif.

'Weren't in time in the queue, hy? Well, well, come in and 'ave something
to eat while I see about your room. Of course you can 'ave a room.
Changed days an' no mistake,' she went on as she ushered them into a
front room. 'There's Arthur somewhere in the country'--the country to Mrs
Clamp was a nebulous region the only positive quality of which was that
it wasn't London--'getting the most 'orrible indigestion trying to eat
horse. It ain't in human nature, I 'olds, to assimilate stuff like that.
In sausage, maybe, I wouldn't wonder. But not in slabs. Now, I'll cook
you something you can eat. I bet you ain't had a steak an' onion like mine
for a bit, hy?'

She disappeared in laughter at the heartfelt sally her remark had
provoked, delighted to be cooking for hungry men again. Before she
married a Quartermaster and gave four sons to the sea's service she had
cooked for more fastidious palates with entire success and equal
enthusiasm.

Travenna sprawled on the minute sofa while Kif fingered the curiosities
that crowded every horizontal surface and overflowed on to the walls.

'What do you want to do first?' asked Travenna. 'It's your call.'

'I just want to mooch round first and then I want to go to a theatre.'

'That's a good programme.'

'And I would like to see some racing if there is any near.'

Travenna whistled. 'That's not in my department. Never happened on any.
But I'll certainly go racing now it's been pointed out to me. We're going
to have a bonza time.'

That the time was a bonza one is proved by the fact that Kif spent the
whole of the rest of his leave in London. It was perhaps the happiest
week in his life. Every day was a succession of new things, of ambitions
achieved. Things which he had wanted and which had appeared to be vain
dreams six months ago suddenly crystallised to reality. And the reality
was in most cases better than his dreams. London which in the first hours
seemed drab and ordinary had become before he left it the all-satisfying
thing it is to its lovers. Travenna with his colonial desire to see
things and his native readiness to do anything once made a companion
after Kif's own heart. He was a mass of contradictions, but fundamentally
he was a sentimental child. And in some of their expeditions they were
ridiculously like a couple of good children. They spent an instructive
morning being solemnly conducted over the Tower, and a very hilarious
afternoon at the Zoo. They gave tea to a couple of girls who ogled them
as they were wiping their eyes in front of the monkey-house, and bade
them farewell outside Selfridge's after having paid their bus fare home,
since they had booked seats for a musical comedy and had no intention of
'wasting the evening on a pair of skirts', as Travenna remarked. That
Kif's nights were spent in blameless slumber in one of the beds at Mr
Clamp's was not due to any desire for chastity on his his part, but to
the direct intervention of the wind-jammer's mate, who knew the most
fashionable dives from 'Frisco to Hong Kong and who was not going to have
it said that any boy found knowledge in his company.

So much has been written--and charitably condoned--concerning the conduct
of final leaves that I feel it behoves me to present this picture of a
typical evening at the Clamp establishment. Kif and Travenna had come in
hilarious and slightly elevated from witnessing a revue so soaked in
military sentiment and studded with patriotic tableaux as to be
unbearable to more sophisticated palates--Kif had borne the sentimental
parts for the sake of the spectacular and Travenna the spectacular for
the sake of the sentimental--and after a large supper, retrieved from the
stove where it had been left to keep hot, and eaten among the curios,
they had retired for the night. Travenna was in bed and Kif was trying on
his kilt. The secret conviction that one would adorn a garment
considerably better than one's neighbour extends from crowns to cast-off
trilbys, and though more blatant among women is by no means peculiar to
them.

'It droops at the back,' said the critic from his pillows. 'You'll have
to stick out behind more.'

But Kif was not listening. He was wrestling with the difficulty of
beholding an adequate portion of himself in the minute swinging mirror on
the toilet table. He would adjust its angle and retreat hopefully a few
steps only to advance again and patiently persuade its stiff and
too-sudden joints through a microscopic arc. After several futile
attempts he mounted a chair and tried to solve the difficulty on
Mahomet's principle with recalcitrant mountains. This gave him for the
first time an excellent view of his be-spatted feet but of nothing else.
He sat down on the chair and laughed helplessly.

'If you sit on my pleats wrong ways on I'll put you to sleep for a
month,' warned Travenna.

'Can you box?' asked Kif, suddenly interested.

'No,' said the ex-mate, 'I can hit.'

'Oh, well, I can shoot, myself. But I'd like to be able to box.'

'Look here,' said Travenna, not interested in mock warfare, 'I'll work
the mirror for you if you go down and get that other bottle of beer.'

Kif assenting, he got himself out of bed and solemnly worked the mirror
up and down while Kif delighted in a fragmentary but continuous
reflection of himself.

'You're a sport,' said Kif. 'It's a fine rig-out. I wish now I'd been
firmer and joined a Highland regiment. But I couldn't leave the
Carnshires now. There aren't any flies on the Half-and-Halfers.'

'It still droops at the back,' said Travenna. 'Buzz off and get the
beer.'

* * *

Kif, in spite of his country upbringing and ancestry--or perhaps because
of it--was a town lover, and London laid her spell on a willing victim.
After the first hours of vague disappointment he had capitulated with the
suddenness of one who has for a moment failed to recognise a friend in
some new garb. From a bus-top he surveyed his kingdom and found it good.
From the street level he surveyed it and found it almost familiar. In all
his perambulations, in all his crowding new experiences one quality
singled him out from the army of countrymen who come to view London for
the first time. Kif never gaped, mentally or physically. Even he himself
realised that everything was surprisingly as he had expected it to be.
And he drew as much satisfaction from the fact as the gaper does from his
wonder. His calm acceptance of things which had never before entered his
actual experience was due partly to his reading, which if indiscriminate
had been sufficiently copious, and partly to a constitutional lack of
awe. Kif's bump of reverence was, to say the least, ill-developed. He
strode the alien pavements full of a little warm chortling joy that
London after all was only this. He had the feeling of having come home.

On the third day Travenna announced that, having exhausted the more
obvious pleasures of the town, they would now go racing.

'If there is any near London to-day,' amended Kif doubtfully.

'If there isn't we'll go where there is some,' said the Australian.

Mrs Clamp, coming in with the breakfast tray, brought a morning paper,
and was drawn into the discussion. Where was Kempton Park? How did one
get there?

She replaced the cover which she had been in the act of removing from a
large dish of bacon and eggs and surveyed them mock-sorrowfully.

'So that's the latest?' she said to Travenna. 'As if you 'adn't lost
enough fortunes what with poker and what not. An' 'orses are a deal wuss
than cards, that they are.'

'_Are_ they?' said Travenna, interested. 'Well, as I haven't touched a
chip since I left Boston, I think I'm due a little gamble. They don't
play cards in the British army. Only kid's games.'

'Well, if you take my advice you'll either stay at 'ome or else leave
your pocket-book with me. If you don't lose it betting you'll lose it the
other way. There's a nasty lot goes racing.'

'You seem to know a lot about it, mother.'

'Oh yes, I been to the Derby many a time. But that's different.'

'How, different?'

'Well, the Derby ain't racing in the ordinary manner of speaking. The
Derby's all right. But Kempton! 'Ere, 'ave your eggs before they're
cold.'

'Well, it seems my education's been neglected in some ways, and that's
going to be rectified this very day.'

'Don't forget to leave your vallybles behind and don't say I didn't warn
you,' she said as she went out. A second later she thrust her head in
again to say: 'And don't back the favourite.'

Halfway through breakfast Travenna's mind took one of its childish and
unexpected turns.

'I'm damned if I'm going to a social occasion in this damned uniform,' he
said suddenly, laying down his knife and fork for the better considering
of the situation.

Kif looked up in surprise. 'Why, I thought you liked it?'

'I like it all right in its proper place, but I'm damned if I'm going to
a race-meeting in it.'

'What can you do?'

'Haven't thought yet. Tell you after breakfast.' He resumed his eating
with an indignant expression on his face which would have been funny to a
less concerned observer than Kif who was afraid, not knowing Travenna,
that the plans for the day might be brought to nothing because of this
unforeseen whim of the Australian's.

But half an hour later the sitting-room was strewn with the garments
of the male members of the Clamp family which their delighted hostess had
drawn from moth-ball cupboards. They lay across the sofa and hung, limp
and grotesque, from chairs, like marionettes drained of their stuffing,
each still keeping strangely the impression of its wearer's
characteristic. Mrs Clamp introduced them after the manner of Mrs Jarley,
and eyed them with the complacence of a terrier who has produced a bone,
a conjurer who has proved the miraculous capacity of a hat. Travenna with
his chin tucked in stood in the middle of the floor like a bull about to
charge, while his mild golden eyes went back and fore over the array. At
last he picked up some navy blue garments from the sofa. 'This may do,'
he said, and was making for the door when his gaze in passing fell again
on a grey broken-checked cloth known as Glen Urquhart. He hesitated in
his stride and without remark gathered the grey suit to him.

'Come along, Kif,' he called from the stairs. 'Come and see the fun.'

'Shout when you've got the first lot on, and I'll conduct a general
inspection,' said Kif, and retired into the scullery with Mrs Clamp,
where he dried the breakfast things in spite of that good lady's protests
and much to her admiration.

He hung the last cup on its nail, spread the towel carefully to dry and
disappeared up the stairs two at a time like a small boy released from
school. He entered the bedroom just as Travenna was in the act of hurling
a grey-checked waistcoat into the far corner by the washstand. The grey
trousers which he was wearing outlined too lovingly his heated person.

It's a mystery to me,' he said to Kif, 'how such a fine upstanding pair
as old Clamp and his missis produced such a set of under-sized sissies as
their sons seem to be.'

His indignant eye together with the clinging trousers were too much for
Kif. He subsided on the edge of the bed and laughed tearfully. And
Travenna after a moment's hesitation joined him.

'What do you want trousers for when you have a kilt?' Kif asked
presently, sitting up and drawing a khaki coat-sleeve across his wet
eyes.

'I am going,' said Travenna, with a pause between each word and an edge
to his speech that his platoon knew well, and that slovenly deck-hands
had known of old, 'to Kempton Park as a private individual--as a
gentleman. As myself in fact. Not as Number 123456789 of any army in the
universe. I am now going out to buy a suit, and you are coming with me.'

In the Strand Travenna bought himself a complete outfit and was inclined
to be offended that Kif would not accept his offer and let himself be
garbed afresh at his friend's expense.

'What's the use of me getting myself up like a liner captain ashore,' he
observed pertinently, 'if you're going to hang on to these togs?'

Kif felt the truth of the argument, but was immovable. He hardly knew why
he refused. It was partly pride, partly shyness, partly a half-born and
unacknowledged loyalty to the uniform which had released him from
slavery. He longed to see himself clothed as Travenna was clothed in
delicate brown cloth and fine shirting, to see the effect on himself of
these trousers which hung with so ravishing a line straight to the thick
smooth brown shoes. And yet he refused, and could not have told why.

He even suggested to Travenna that, since by his sartorial glory he had
raised himself out of what he called 'plating class', they should go
separately to the races. This restored Travenna's good humour. He cuffed
Kif lightly on the side of the head. 'Come on,' he said, and left a
bowing shopkeeper raining refined blessings. They walked all the way to
Waterloo and Travenna admired himself blatantly in every window.

But Kif from the minute he entered the railway carriage forgot all about
clothes. Even Travenna's passage-at-arms with the stout elderly gentleman
who thought that he (Travenna) ought to be serving his king and country
instead of going to a race meeting faded into greyness beside the
dazzling fact of another ambition about to be realised. And nothing in
the realisation damped his happiness.

There was sunlight on the thick green of the trees, on the flat pale
green of the course. Sunlight on the white rails and the white stand. The
warm air in the paddock was full of the frou-frou of voices that came and
went above the murmur which was all that remained at this distance of the
clamour of the ring. Warm air full of pleasant smells: bitter cigarette
smoke, the faint fine scents of well-dressed women, the sweet smell of
crushed grass, the good clean smell of horses. Now and then a high far
voice called the numbers of the runners, a voice that floated out over
the crowd as mournful and plaintive as any muezzin calling the faithful
to prayer. And within the magic white circle of the parade ring, stepping
daintily, fastidiously, tolerant for the most part of the crowd that
leaned in critical appreciation along the rails, went the objects of
Kif's adoration. Chestnut, bay, and brown, they filed sedately round the
tan-bark track, the sunlight shivering along the high-lights on their
coats, their tails floating gently behind them, their eyes acquiescent,
their ears inquisitive. Here a bay snatched at his bit, pulling, and the
lad who was leading him remonstrated mildly with him. Here a filly shied
away like a blown feather from a suddenly opened sunshade, stood
quivering, gazing, and then, reassured, dropped her head and followed her
minute custodian into file again.

Kif leaned against the rail and sucked it all in as a thirsty man takes
water. Nothing was strange to him. He had done this in imagination many
times. He could tell the eager Travenna everything he wanted to know of
the where, the what, and the when, and quite an impressive amount of the
why. More than ever he had come home.

Travenna had recognised a spiritual resting-place if not a home in
Tattersall's and spent his time in joyful excursions between the paddock
and the Ring. In the Ring, tips were confided to him by chance
acquaintances or a name was bandied about, and he would reappear at Kif's
elbow demanding 'Where is Crimson Baby? I want to see Crimson Baby'.
Having seen, he would look interestedly at the medium of his investment
and go back to put his money on. Kif refused to have a bet in each race.
He was saving up for a gamble, he explained. When he saw something he
really fancied he was going to put all he had to spare on it. He stayed
habitually in the paddock till the last jockey had been thrown into the
saddle and led through the gate. He was back in the paddock to see the
winner unsaddled, while Travenna, who was astoundingly lucky, was
collecting his due from disgusted bookmakers. And five minutes later he
was propped against the parade-ring rails in his old place watching the
placid procession, watching the personalities gather in the sacred circle
for the next race; first a trainer or two, spare, hard-lipped men, with
clear, wrinkled eyes, quiet, indifferent; or a lad doing proxy, neat,
stiff-legged, conscious of his hands; then the owners, well fleshed for
the most part, genial or haughty as their temperaments were, full of
jests or dropping a curt remark. A pause in the influx, and lastly the
jockeys, smiling, careless-seeming, more or less self-conscious, crossing
the space with their jerky, straight-footed walk as quickly as possible,
and spilling as they went a riot of colour that danced and flamed among
the drab. Another pause, and mounting time. Kif regretted that one pair
of eyes was not adequate to absorb so prodigal an outlay of beauty and
incident. Sidling, pirouetting horses, horses standing still and proud,
jockeys tossed, a flash of colour, on to shining, uneasy backs, patient
lads, anxious, efficient men, the almost imperceptible movement to the
gate that merged the dizzy kaleidoscope into a single glowing silken
string.

Before the big race of the afternoon Travenna flung himself breathless
against the rail by Kif's side with an enthusiasm which shook the stout
wood.

'Well, I'll say this is a great game. I've won seven pound ten so far.
Found your fancy yet?'

'Yes,' said Kif, 'there he is. Number eleven.' He pointed to a smallish
bay, almost a pony, with black points. 'Wilton trains him. Not So Fast,
he's called.'

'That's a fool name for a horse.'

'Well, you see, he's by Investigator out of Cautious Dame.'

Travenna regarded his friend's choice a little longer and then remarked:

'You can't be said to have a flashy taste in horseflesh, anyway. Where's
this Strathnairn they're all talking about? They won't give more than
evens.'

'He hasn't come in yet.'

'What's extra special about him that they're so frightened?'

Kif enumerated as well as he could remember the achievements of
Strathnairn. 'He was fourth in the Derby last year,' he finished, and
even as he spoke there was a sudden crescendo of the crowd's murmuring
followed by a hush. Strathnairn had come into the ring.

Quiet lay like a spell on the four-deep sophisticated crowd as he made
his slow way round the track. Black except for a white diamond, sixteen
hands, magnificently muscled, almost impossible to fault, he moved
proudly, a king enjoying the homage of his subjects. Hardened race-goers
gaped in silence, or uttered a monosyllabic and blasphemous appreciation.
Kif, attune to wonders, had not anticipated anything like this. Travenna,
after having watched him round the ring in silence, said:

'I didn't know they made them like that. And you said he can do things as
well as looking like that?' He looked a little longer. 'Well,' he said,
heaving himself off the rails and rubbing his ribs tenderly, 'I expect
you've changed your mind about what-d'you-call-it--Not So Fast?'

'No, I haven't.'

'What! Are you going to back him to beat that?'

'_That_ is going to carry nine stone and mine has only seven stone two.
And--Oh well, I said I'd wait till I found one I liked, and I've found
him, that's all.'

He took out his wallet and gave Travenna two notes. 'Put that on for me
and take up two men's room in the stand till I come.'

Kif was back in the stand in time to see the parade. Strathnairn, as
befitted the top-weight, led the glittering line that trailed its slow
length down the middle of the course, Flannigan, the leading jockey of
the day, sitting upright and pleased on the superb back.

'You're a fool, Kif,' said Travenna amiably as the cherry and gold jacket
was borne past them. 'I don't know the first thing about horses, and you
probably know quite a little, but you don't need to know anything to see
that that thing's the icing on the cake.'

Kif did not answer. His eye was searching down the lovely line for the
green jacket and orange cap. There they were, Not So Fast demure but
alert; neat, beautifully turned, well-proportioned--but a mere pony. His
jockey, an about-to-be fashionable apprentice, made in his unexpected
beauty a fitting pilot for so gracious a thing. His small face under the
orange cap was carved like a cameo, delicate, aquiline, pale like ivory.
He went past easy and grave, his small bright eyes on his mount's dark
poll.

Kif drew a long breath. Something was hurting in his chest. 'If that
kid'--the kid was four years his senior--'only did the little horse
justice he would show that sultan up at the top a thing or two.'

They were cantering now, the colours fading rapidly into mere specks far
down the course.

'I got a hundred to seven for you,' said Travenna. 'Strathnairn is odds
on. They offered me evens and I went to scout for a better price, and
when I came back he said it was eleven to eight on. He'd give a 'Frisco
dealer points and a beating.'

He unslung the glasses with which Mrs Clamp had furnished them, and which
the vicissitudes of many Derby days had wrought to the battered polish
considered _de rigueur_ in racing.

'A man gave me a tip for Firth. Do you know what that was like?'

'Yes, he was that queer whitey-grey, fourth in the parade.'

'They're frightened of him too. Two to one was all they'd give, so I left
it. Change your mind and have something hopeful before it's too late?'

Kif grinned and shook his head. He watched the heated jostling throng in
front of him, and was blissfully sorry for them scrambling to and fro
there for a point above the odds, and caring not at all, so that their
money was well placed, what carried it. _They_ had no little bay with
black points. Calculation was in their eye, and _Racing-up-to-Date_
bulged from their pockets. He was about to tell Travenna how superior to
him and to everyone else there he was feeling when the roar of 'They're
off!' swamped every other consideration. In the ensuing quiet, late
bettors fled from the ring to what vantage point they might find in the
packed stand. Travenna, whose turn it was, had focussed the glasses on
the far bend when he turned suddenly and shoved them at Kif. 'Here you
are, kid,' he said. And Kif took them. This was his hour.

Far down there at the bend the course lay sunny and tranquil, quite
deserted. While he could have counted six he watched the distant trees
and listened to his heart thudding. A blur of swiftly moving colour swam
into the green and fled along the back stretch to the bend.

'Badly off,' the murmur went round, 'something badly off.'

At the bend the blur resolved itself into its elements and the smooth
effortless of its progress gave place to the visible striving of horse
and man. Out from the ruck came a grey horse riderless. Kif remembered
that Firth's jockey wore colours of French grey and his heart resumed its
place.

Second by second the distance between the word and the grey horse
widened. Firth... the word was bandied about... Firth.

'What's that fool doing?' said an irate voice behind. 'Does he think he
can keep up that pace with eight stone three?'

'He's crazy, or else the colt's bolted.'

But still the grey came on and there was a distinct green hiatus between
him and the rest. Then two horses came out in pursuit, a red jacket and a
magpie one, and presently a third. They had come to the grey's quarters
without making any impression or causing a falter in the machine-like
stride of the leader when a black whirlwind broke from the shifting mass
and swept irresistible up the course. A roar from the stands. Flannigan
and the favourite! They passed the third of the challengers as though he
had been standing still. The jockey in the scarlet lifted his whip twice
and faded out.

'Flannigan's bringing him early.'

'Afraid of Firth, I expect.'

Now the grey, the bay carrying the magpie jacket, and Strathnairn were
racing side by side. The bay's jockey was sitting down to it and the bay
was struggling gamely. But it was a struggle. With still more than a
furlong to go he dropped back beaten. Strathnairn and Firth were left to
fight it out. It was incredible that the grey could keep in front much
longer. The pace had been a good one. But still his rider had not moved.
And then without apparent cause he brought out his whip and the crowd
read the signal and roared again. Strathnairn!

But Kif's heart was heavy. He turned the glasses again on the ruck,
despairingly, and saw what none of the absorbed crowd looked for. On the
outside, coming up from what seemed an immense distance in the rear was
the green jacket and orange cap--flying! Kif had not realised that
anything on four legs could cover the ground like that. The excited
murmur of the crowd wavered, broke. They had seen. In a heavy-breathing
silence they watched the new-comer while the sound of the hoofs grew in
the silence. Would he do it? Firth was still holding Strathnairn, but
they knew that Flannigan had his measure. He could beat Firth, but what
about this with the green and yellow?'

'What's that thing?'

'It's that Investigator colt of Rayner's.'

Kif's heart was suffocating him. The apprentice was sitting motionless on
Not So Fast, crouched down with his face alongside the flying dark mane.
Someone called an offer in Tattersall's. It fell unheeded into the
silence. Speech struck from their lips, they watched him come. He was
only four lengths from the leaders now, and Flannigan woke to the danger.
He urged Strathnairn. There was no response. Thrice his whip fell and
Strathnairn leaped forward. But Not So Fast was level with him. In front
of him. Half a length. A length. Half a length.

The post flashed by.

Kif's knees were trembling. Travenna looked at him delightedly.

'Well, I'm damned, but he deserved it, and so do you for backing him,' he
said. But Kif was already shoving through the dazed crowd to the exit
where the policemen had but newly drawn aside the barrier. He tore along
the path to the paddock. There would be a crowd from the Club side, and
he must see the little horse once more.

Pressed against the rail of the unsaddling enclosure he saw Not So Fast
come back, still demure, still alert, sweating but not distressed. The
apprentice, his ivory beauty flushed and a little tight smile playing
round his mouth, patted the wet neck lovingly before he carried his
saddle into the weighing-room. The trainer was trying to look as if he
had not cared much one way or the other. The owner had given up any
attempt to hide his feelings and was beaming on all and sundry. Round
about, the varied crowd talked in Kif's ear.

'Deserves it. Left lengths, he was.'

'Good advertisement for Investigator.'

'...someday for that boy if he keeps steady.'

'Bred him himself.'

'What was the price?'

'Weighed in!' shouted a voice, and the little bay was led out of Kif's
sight. He went slowly back to Travenna, who presented him with a wad of
notes.

'Here you are, Rockefeller. You'll be able to take a tram now when your
feet ache.'

Kif, bewildered by the sight of his wealth, handled the wad doubtfully.

'Count it if you want to, I don't mind,' laughed Travenna.

'I was just thinking that I'll have to bet on the other races after all
to get rid of some of this.'

'Come on!' said his friend. 'I've just discovered that the man who trains
that,' he pointed with his stubby forefinger to a name on the card for
the next race, 'is an Australian, and I'm going to put my shirt on it.'

If the rest of the afternoon was rather an anti-climax Kif was not aware
of it. He was wrapped in a happy dream.

In bed that night he decided that some day he would own a thoroughbred,
bay with black points, and he would call it--what would he call it?

He was asleep before he had chosen a name.

* * *

The 6.10 at Waterloo, a wet evening, and the end of his leave. Travenna,
who had been ordered to Chelsea barracks for a course of instruction, was
on the platform to see him go.

For the first time Kif had a real pang at parting from a fellow-being.

'Good-bye,' said Travenna, giving him his hand, but not looking at him.
'Good luck!'

'So long,' said Kif.

They never met again.

Kif was halfway back to his battalion when he remembered that he had
meant to send Mary a picture postcard from London.



CHAPTER FOUR


Kif left England in June on a grey still evening when the sea was a level
floor of lavender and Folkestone lay dreaming and lightless, a mere
gathering of the greyness where the white cliffs still glimmered. The
subdued bustle of readjustment which was the backwash of embarkment faded
into a little silence as the dim coast vanished, broke out again, and
eventually settled into the low hum of conversation which was one with
the faint thud and wash of the _Arundel_ nosing her way indifferently
towards France. Kif leaned against the rail and thought of nothing in
particular. The calm of the night was in him and some of its dreaminess
and unreality. On one side of him Fatty Roberts, the company buffoon, was
calling heaven to witness that if he died it would be from tobacco
starvation and not from bullets. On the other was Barclay, very quiet and
whistling snatches of something under his breath. Further away was the
voice of Lance-corporal Struthers insisting--Kif could almost see the
gesticulation--that it was 'the principle of the thing, sergeant'.

Jimmy had put up his first stripe shortly before he went on leave. The
promotion elated him not at all. It was in his estimation the natural
order of events and he treated it as such. He had spent his leave lording
it over his admiring women-folk--five sisters, a mother, and a
grandmother--and showing off blatantly before his elder brother, who had
not yet torn himself from his browsing life among the sheep. 'One of
these days he'll take root, mark me,' he had said. He had come back to
the battalion with three recruits in his train whom he had proceeded
to adopt, bully and mother, very much as he had Kif. There was
no limit to Jimmy's fostering propensities. He was the complete
company-sergeant-major in embryo. He had not wet his promotion beyond a
mild exchange of drinks, but on the night that the battalion heard
definitely that they were 'for off' had come back to camp so riotously
drunk that Barclay and Kif had hard work to save the infant stripe. At
the cost of twenty minutes' hard work, some desperate expedients and some
shin bruises, they did it, however. Jimmy had asked next morning, 'Who
put me to bed last night?' but had offered not a word of spoken thanks.
He had made a little eloquent gesture with his head, and left the matter
there. In the months that followed he paid his debt in divers ways and
many times.

Barclay had refused in spite of urgings from home, cogent arguments from
his superiors, and the oratory of Jimmy Struthers, to consider taking a
commission.

'It isn't my job,' he would say. 'I'll form fours and march, and with
luck register an outer, but I'm not going to mug up drills.'

What he really hated, though he would never say so, was the thought of
responsibility. It was a thing his mind shied away from. If he took a
commission he would be saddled with it night and day--an old man of the
sea on his shoulders, perpetually clutching and weighing him down. It
would be disastrous, he felt, to attempt to make himself into something
he was not by nature. Disastrous not only to his own peace of mind, but
perhaps to those unfortunates whose safety would depend on a man who had
no confidence in himself. Therefore he stayed a private. And Kif was
wholeheartedly glad, though he said nothing. Kif was popular enough in
his platoon not to have necessarily missed Barclay if he had gone, but
the fact remains that Kif was happier with Barclay, whom he did not
always understand, than with Jimmy, whose language and habit of thought
resembled his own. Barclay had twitted him gently about his failure to
reach Golder's Green during his visit to London, and Kif had been
perfectly frank about his doings with the exception of the visit to the
zoo, which he suppressed, partly from an inward conviction that it was a
childish proceeding, partly from fear o Barclay's amusement.

'Well, well,' said Jimmy--it was in the canteen and he was propped against
the counter behind them--'you couldn't fairly expect him to posh himself
up for the "afternoon tea" business on his precious leave. He was out to
see all he could in the time. And I bet he didn't leave anything out,' he
added feelingly.

Barclay, who had been half saddened and a little foreboding somehow at
Kif's rapture with the world, expressed more in his obvious happiness
than in his account, smiled and said:

'Oh, as long as he didn't see more than there was...'

Jimmy's eyebrows went up. 'I suppose that's awful clever,' he said. 'I
never read anything but the football results myself.'

Only brigadier-generals impressed Jimmy, and they not seriously. But Kif
had wondered, going to sleep, what exactly Barclay had meant.

He looked down at him now in the dark and wondered what he was thinking.
He had a family to be sorry about; a mother and things. It must be rotten
to have other folks to consider. Thus Kif, all unaware that he should be
feeling the want of someone to be sorry for him. His roving eye caught a
familiar profile outlined against the sky and the direction of his
thoughts changed. He considered the profile admiringly: the stubborn set
of the head, thrust slightly forward so that the jaw was lifted, the grim
upper lip which made a very slightly convex curve, and the short straight
line of the lower one to the suddenly jutting chin. That Murray Heaton,
ex-horse-breeder and occasional cross-country jockey had earned the
unqualified approval of as mixed a company as ever was brought together,
was due not to any fortunate sally at a critical moment, but to their
shrewd recognition of his worth as a leader. His men not only obeyed him
unquestioningly, admired him, quoted him, and imitated him, but they
looked on him as their own property; than which is no better testimonial.
Barclay admired the man's efficiency and envied him his complete
self-confidence. Kif approved his lack of fuss, and the way his eyes
smiled when his mouth did not. And Jimmy adored him in secret, and spoke
possessively of him in public.

It is popularly supposed that proximity to horseflesh leaves
some peculiar and indelible stamp on a man; a metaphorical straw
in the mouth. I have never been able to see it. Apart from the
draught-board-breeches-and-yellow-waistcoat brigade--which is limited,
and in any case insignificant--your horseman, professional or otherwise,
in mufti looks just like an admiral, a detective, an actor, a
boy-in-buttons, or a stockbroker, as the case may be. Heaton looked
rather like a lawyer until you noticed his hands. He had an uncanny
capacity for seeing things which appeared to have happened behind his
back, a fact which was partly responsible for the veneration in which he
was held.

Kif, considering him, wondered for the first time what the possession of
power would be like; what it would be like to order people about and to
have them say 'sir' and look respectful. He considered it gravely. To
decide instead of being decided for. And you'd have to see that the
thing you decided on was done, of course. The whole thing would be a hell
of a nuisance, now he came to think of it. Having other people dependent
on you. You'd have money, of course. Money would be good. But you
couldn't have a really good time, somehow. In which case the money would
be of no use. No; being the boss was as far as he could see a dam' poor
business.

So by devious routes did Barclay and Kif arrive at the same conclusion.

And with such unheroic thoughts did Kif journey to France.



CHAPTER FIVE


This is not a war diary; it is merely the history of Kif. And Kif's
experiences on the western front differed not one whit from those of any
other private who went to France in 1915; they need not, therefore, be
given in detail, since the details are known either by experience or
hearsay to every soul who may read this book. Principally he learned in
all their moods the verbs to scrounge, to wangle, and to take cover, and
became proficient in all of them. He also learned to talk the lingua
franca which obtained behind the lines, and which stood to the troops for
French, and to the French people for English. He was at Loos in the
autumn, and came scatheless through that welter of incredible bravery and
monumental mismanagement, and was duly ribald in billets afterwards over
the thanks of the Higher Command.

Ribaldry was a weapon which he needed rather less than the others, to
whom it was often their only hold on that sense of proportion which is
sanity. He used it rather as he had cursed night manoeuvres; because it
was the fashion. It was not that he was insensible to the loss of his
chums--though Jimmy and Barclay were still safe--nor to the horror of
things, but some of the horror was mitigated by the fact that he still
kept, in spite of the possibility of death and mutilation, that thirst
for the unexpected that characterised him. He hated his tour in the line
as everyone hated it; but he invariably volunteered for a raiding party,
and would drag himself over the mud of no man's land, terrified but
ecstatic. Before an attack or during a bombardment he waited in as
palpitating suspense as the rest, until the danger was over; but after a
short period of safety and boredom he had a vague desire to experience
the moment again. Which is the quality which distinguished him from his
fellows. Even the continuous mining in the Hulluch area which sapped in
every sense one's morale left him less exhausted than it did the others.
The possibility that the piece of trench which he occupied might at any
moment be blown skyward--a possibility that most men found infinitely
more unbearable than being shelled--was to him but a mitigant of the
monotony of the eight-hour shifts of mine-carrying. It added a spice of
chance to the prosaic labour of carrying bags of spoil--knobbly lumps of
chalk that hurt his back--through inadequate passages and up indifferent
stairs.

His two friends had to battle with the unspeakable conditions unhelped by
any natural aptitude. To them ribaldry was a necessity, not an
indulgence. Barclay's natural philosophy stood him in good stead where
discomfort and danger were concerned, but broke down over dirt. There
were times, stumbling down Hulluch alley through the wearing uncertainty
of knee-deep mud and worn by a battering time in the line, that he could
have wept aloud because he was filthy. But there was invariably a saving
distraction at the crucial moment: Fatty Roberts' panting observations on
the inadequacy of communication trenches where a man of his generous
proportions was concerned, or the total disappearance of the man in front
of him into the mud and water. And the mining villages behind the lines
were usually well equipped with baths, where a shower restored his good
humour.

Jimmy, a bundle of nerves and devotion, was a model of efficiency, the
model being as near the original Heaton one as Jimmy could make it. When
things grew too thick he became short-tempered, and his tongue had a more
caustic quality than usual; but no one had ever seen him 'rattled'.

At Béthune, where the rest billets were, and where life was fairly normal
still, Kif had a mild flirtation with a buxom waitress at a café. That it
was merely a mild flirtation was again not due to any excess of virtue on
Kif's part, nor to backwardness on hers, but to the fact that his rival
was a sergeant of his own battalion. Simone rightly felt that to achieve
a double _affaire_ in a place the size of Béthune with two men who were
invariably out of the line together was possible but not politic. And if
it was a question of a choice between a rather inarticulate private and
any sergeant whatsoever she had no hesitation. The French have never been
a sentimental nation, and their logic is beyond reproach. So Kif helped
her to wash up, learning the names of dishes and pans in the process, and
receiving a kiss now and then for his pains, and the sergeant took her
walking.

In the spring of 1916 both Kif and Barclay got leave for Britain, and
Barclay insisted that Kif, who obviously intended spending the whole of
his in London, should stay at Golder's Green. Kif for the first time in
his life was torn in two, and for the first time since he came to France
he lost sleep. He had slumbered happily with the cold of a stone floor
striking through a single blanket, with rain trickling down on him from
between crazy tiles, with the enemy putting down a barrage half a mile
away, with men moving backward and forward over his prostrate body and
stumbling into it occasionally, with rats exploring his clothing and lice
enlivening it. But now he stayed awake and thought about going to
Barclay's people.

Barclay was sincere in his wish to have Kif spending his leave with him.
Kif knew that. He even had a spasm of pride at the thought. If Barclay
had been an independent individual and had asked him to spend his leave
at his rooms Kif would have consented immediately. But there was this
business of meeting and living with Barclay's people: his mother, his
sister, his father. And though Barclay for some incredible reason wanted
him it was extremely likely that to these people he would be merely a
nuisance, something to be put up with for Barclay's sake. They probably
wouldn't show it of course. They might be very obviously nice to him.
That would be worse, much worse. And if it was like that and he had
accepted their invitation he would have no excuse for leaving them before
his leave ended. And yet--they might not mind so much. Some of those
ladies at the depôt canteens had been quite easy to talk to. He would not
always be around and in the way. And if they were all as nice as
Barclay...

So Kif turned it over and over, staring into the dark, wanting to plunge
but fearing the depth of the water. For the first time his nerve failed
him. He was still hesitating on the brink when Mrs Barclay's letter came.
Kif had no correspondence except an occasional note from Mary or Mrs Vass
with socks or sweets, in return for which he sent postcards, chosen with
the help of Simone, on which the Union Jack and the Tricolor flourished
amid roses of an indescribable pink. Barclay was with a working party
when the mail arrived. Kif regarded incredulously the vivacious writing,
so different from Mrs Vass's careful angularities and Mary's painful
scrawl. He fingered the envelope doubtfully. There couldn't be a mistake.
There was his name in full and his designation in every particular. He
tore open the flap.


'Dear Kif' (wrote Barclay's mother), 'I feel I must call you that because
Tim never refers to you by any other name. Tim says that you are
expecting to have leave very soon, and that you have no friends in
London. Whether your leave coincides with Tim's or not we should be so
glad to have you with us. That is, if you have made no other plans. You
and my son have been such friends that I feel that we half know you
already, and we are all keen to know you better. If you come we will do
our best to give you a nice time in spite of little war-busy London. If
you know in time tell us when to expect you--a procession goes through
our spare room just now--but if not, don't let that keep you away. Walk
in and we'll find a bed for you and be delighted to see you.

Yours most sincerely,

Margaret Barclay.'


'Kif's had a love-letter,' said Fatty, regarding Kif's crimson face with
malicious enjoyment.

'More like a bill, I'd say,' said another, puzzled to analyse the boy's
expression.

''Is missus' 'ad triplits,' suggested a dapper little cockney known as
Wigs, not from any artificiality about his sleek fair hair, but because
his name was Clarkson.

This was received with _éclat_.

'Triplets yer granny!' insisted Fatty. ''Oo ever blushed so coy-like
over kids? It's a skirt.'

Kif consigned them all cheerfully to perdition and walked out of the barn
in a hail of ribald suggestions. At a safe distance he sat down on a heap
of bricks and read the letter slowly, twice. Then he replaced it in its
envelope, smoothed it thoughtfully, and put it carefully away in his
pocket-book.

The working party had returned by the time Kif came back to the barn.
Barclay was reading a letter and two more were lying on his knee. The top
one of the two had an envelope like the one Kif had received. Kif crossed
to him and subsided cross-legged on the floor a few feet away. He picked
up a straw and absently broke it inch by inch its entire length. As
Barclay shoved his first letter into its envelope Kif, twisting the straw
painfully, said:

'I had a letter from your mother.'

He threw away the tortured straw, and as Barclay turned to him he bent to
pick up another one so that his face was not visible.

'Oh?' Barclay regarded the top of Kif's service cap with a smiling
glance. 'Nice woman my mother.'

'If you really mean it about wanting me at your home, I'll come.'

'Good man!' said Barclay. 'That's settled.' And he tore open his second
letter. Then, remembering, he picked up an unopened weekly paper and
handed it to Kif.

'Here you are,' he said. 'I've two to read yet. Don't pass it on till
I've had a squint at it. Wigs cut out the prettiest ones in the last
before I'd as much as had a glance at it.'

Kif split the wrapper and rolled the curling paper backwards with
absent-minded care. He turned the pages conscientiously, but he saw
nothing of the contents. There was something he must ask, and he did not
know how to do it. He considered waiting until it was dark; when they
were going to sleep, perhaps. But he must see Barclay's face. If he were
going to know for certain--and he must know--he would have to ask now. He
shut the paper and rolled it tightly between his hands. Barclay was
finishing the reading of his mother's letter and the amusement on his
face nerved Kif to the point.

'I say,' he said slowly, 'did you ask your mother to write that letter?'

'What letter?' asked Barclay, looking up with the delight of far-away
things still about him and only half comprehending Kif's presence.

Kif swallowed audibly. 'The letter to me,' he said.

'Not I!' said Barclay, thoroughly roused now and thankful to be able to be
truthful. 'That was entirely off her own bat.'

He was suddenly conscious of the need to be facetious. 'If she's dragging
you into the family circle against your will, don't blame me. She's a
leech when she gets an idea into her head.'

Kif smiled and rose, but said nothing. He put the paper down gently by
Barclay's side--some of the deliberation of the countryman still hung
about his movements--and went out. In another minute he would make a fool
of himself. He regarded two bare and scoliotic poplars opposite in hot
disgust. What the hell was the matter with him? Getting soft like this
for no ruddy reason. What the... A stream of oaths chased themselves
through his brain as he whipped himself to composure.

He was merely an old campaigner who needed his leave very badly. He was
just sixteen, and he had never had a letter like that from anyone before.



CHAPTER SIX


It was thick fog and one in the morning as they walked out of Victoria
Station. They stood on the kerb and considered. Kif drew what was meant
to be an ecstatic breath and choked. Barclay stamped his feet
automatically. It was certainly a chill reception.

'After all,' said the Londoner suddenly, 'it can't be much more than four
miles. Queer how far away you think the suburbs when there are buses and
tubes, and you've never done a route march. And after all it's only a
mile or two. I'm blowed if I'm going to spend the night here when there's
a perfectly good bed only four miles away. Let's hoof it.'

'But we'll be rousing them in the middle of the night?'

'They'll be thrilled to the marrow,' predicted the son of the house, and
stepped off into the fog.

They tramped steadily without remark for some time, both fully conscious
of the wonder that the shadowy world about them was the London of their
dreams. To Barclay this world of vague tall shapes had a silent watchful
awareness. Aloof but aware. He had a sudden recollection of Torridon
mountains as he had seen them during a Highland holiday, a slight scarf
of mist rising slowly but with uncanny deliberation from their still,
awful faces. Withdrawn but aware, he thought. To Kif the town was a
sleeping place, and he the only aware thing in the world that dreamed.
The thought intoxicated him. The town was his and the freedom of it. A
royal thought. All round him a dim oblivious world, uncaring, negligible,
and he alive, potent, eager.

Not that Kif analysed it that way. He analysed very little and himself
not at all. If he had been asked what he thought of London on that foggy
early morning all he would have said would have been that it 'gave him
squirms'.

At the top of Baker Street it lightened suddenly and a minute later a
stray taxi appeared. Their simultaneous whoop attracted the attention of
the somnolent driver even more than their dash to him. If he had not been
crawling circumspectly in the darkness there might have been two
casualties that had not furthered the national cause in the least, a fact
which he pointed out to them with a sleepy querulousness. It required all
their powers of persuasion, monetary and otherwise, to make him abandon
the thought of the bed that had seemed so near and turn back to the
chilly northern heights. When he harped a third time on the little time
he had had in bed for the last week Kif lost his temper.

'Blast you,' he said, 'when d'you think we were in a bed last? You turn
your bus round and take us where my pal says, and be thankful you're
doing it for dollars and not for fear, see?'

'Oh, well,' said the man, as Barclay, in answer to Kif's indicative
elbow, climbed heavily with his kit into the taxi, 'if it wasn't that you
were serving I wouldn't do it. As it is, I've no doubt I'll live to see
you hanged, my lad.'

'You won't,' said Kif, 'you'll be the cause.' And he slammed the door
behind him.

As they chugged slowly through the dark Barclay said: 'If the sound of
this Methuselah doesn't waken them I'll knock up old Alison. She sleeps
above the door, and she can get us some food without routing them all
out. You'll like her. We've had her for ten years. If she left I think
mother would go straight into a nursing home. She runs everything.'

He lapsed into silence. The taxi snuffed and snorted its distressed way
northward and the two sat withdrawn, each busy with his thoughts.
Presently Barclay stepped out on to the running-board and directed the
driver through the gloom. After much fumbling they drew up definitely and
Kif climbed out on to the pavement. He could see nothing but the black
mass of a house that was evidently one of a row. The taximan mentioned
without emotion the price of his services, a sum which had been the
subject of his sleepy cogitations for the last fifteen minutes, and which
was placed artistically within a shilling of what the weary warriors
might be supposed to be willing to pay. Kif was quite ready to argue, but
Barclay, to whom parley at that moment would have been like haggling at
the gate of Heaven, shoved two notes at the man and led Kif away. They
stumbled through a small garden and Kif stood breathing in the smell of
wet earth and green things, and not realising why he felt welcomed, while
Barclay felt about for appropriate missiles. As the gravel sprayed on the
window for the second time the sash was gently raised and a melodious
Glasgow voice inquired softly:

'Who is i'?'

'It's me--Tim, and I've got a friend. Come down and let us in without
wakening the house, there's a dear.'

'Goad bless us, is i' you?' The voice mounted on the last word in a swoop
of amazement. 'Ay, well, stop you a minute just and I'll be down to you.'

It was less than a minute after that the light was switched on in the
hall and the door carefully unbarred. It was opened by a little woman
with her dark hair bundled hastily into a tight knot at the back of her
neck. Barclay's 'old' must have been an epithet of affection, for she was
not over forty. She seized both Barclay's hands and shook them endlessly
while she gazed at him, but uttered nothing but one long low liquid
'Well!'

Barclay laughed at her under his breath and said: 'Well, Ailie, there'll
be toffee-making to-morrow!'

Her big brown eyes twinkled at him. She smiled over his shoulder at Kif
and led the way into a small dining-room at the back, a place of cream
walls, gleaming mahogany and shaded gold lights. As she lit the gas fire
she said:

'I doubt the bath wa'er won' be ho', bu' by the time you've had something
to ea' i'll be all right.'

'Glory! Anyone staying? I suppose Mr Vicar can have the spare room?'

Kif wondered for a moment who Mr Vicar was. Someone else to meet! Then he
realised with a shock that Barclay was referring to him. Mister! How
funny! He, Kif Vicar, had suddenly grown up. Mister!

'Ooh ay,' she said, 'it's all ready. I'll away now an' see about yer
food.' And she left them.

The fire, a large one of simulated coals, was already glowing. Barclay
pulled up a chair and indicated one to Kif. Kif, following his host's
example, added his belt to the heap of accoutrements in the corner and
sat down. He regarded with a faint horror the indifferent way Barclay
used the cream tiles as props for his army boots and refrained from
following him so far. These were the things Barclay was used to, he
thought; the kind of thing he had grown up with. All the years he, Kif,
had been eating his meals off a rough table in a flagged untidy farmhouse
kitchen Barclay had eaten his here. His eyes wandered over all he could
see without moving his head. He gravely considered a framed piece of
petit point that hung beside the mantelpiece, wherein two shepherdesses
eternally toyed with a plump and ruddy swain over a stile. Was that
beautiful? Why had they framed it? On the mantelpiece itself were two
yellowish jars covered all over with a queer pattern, and another
shepherdess whose bodice was not as modest as her demeanour, and a
roughish blue and yellow bowl exactly like the one Simone kept her soap
in in Béthune. What did they have that there for? And over the row of
china there was a picture in a thin gold frame. The picture was so dark
that it might as well not have been a picture, but it made a nice dark
restful patch on the wall. The whole room was restful. The whole house.
Beatitude filled him. Presently he would sleep in a bed.

There was a faint sound as of a breeze outside, and the door swung open.
A girl in a dressing-gown stood in the dark oblong for an uncertain
moment, and then came in to them with a glad cry of 'Tim!'

Barclay met her halfway and kissed her resoundingly.

'Hullo, Ann, old lady,' he said, 'have we spoiled your beauty sleep? We
meant to sneak to bed and appear "the morrn's morrn", as MacIntyre says.'
He turned to Kif, who was standing awkwardly by the fire, but before he
could begin an introduction she had crossed the room with her hand
outstretched.

'It's Kif, isn't it?' she said. Her handshake was firm, like a man's. 'It
is nice to know you are not just an invention of Tim's.'

Her eyes went back to her brother and lingered on him, and Kif's lingered
on her. The black silk garment that wrapped her writhed with sprawling
dragons and contrasted oddly with the demureness of the smooth brown hair
parted in the middle and coiled in plaits round her ears. Her
hairdressing, in turn, contrasted with the aliveness and strength of her
face; a piquant, short-nosed, wide-mouthed face with a low forehead,
level brows and a stubborn chin. In this garb she looked about twenty,
but was in reality twenty-two. Kif's eyes slid shyly away from her bare
feet thrust into slim things of scarlet leather.

'Who is MacIntyre?' she was saying as she pushed her brother back into
the chair from which he had risen, and seated herself on the arm of it.

'MacIntyre is a private of the line and a natural philosopher whose
acquaintance I regret you may never make. When he says "morn's morn" you
could grind a knife on the noise he makes. But his real _métier_ is
scrounging.'

'No, swinging the lead,' amended Kif. ''Member his broken toe?'

Ann was about to inquire further into the prevarications of MacIntyre
when Alison returned with the beginnings of a meal and she said instead:

'Before you start eating I am going to tell Mother you are here. She'd
never forgive me if I didn't waken her. Quite apart from missing a
precious minute of you, she never approves of an act she's not on in, as
you know. Father's in Birmingham for the night, by the way. I'll be back
in a minute.'

'Little did I think I'd live to see the day that I should trail muddy
boots over a carpet and not have Alison as much as glower at me,' said
Barclay, stretching his legs to the glow again and giving the maid a
sideways glance.

'Ay,' said Alison reflectively, laying forks and not looking at him. But
there was a world of meaning in her monosyllable.

'Mother says would you go up to her, and would Kif forgive her if she
doesn't appear till morning,' said Ann, returning. She shut the door
behind her brother and settled herself down opposite Kif. 'I won't offer
you a cigarette because Ailie thinks that anyone who will smoke
immediately before a meal of her cooking is damned everlastingly. You're
only having what she calls "cauld kail het again", but I'd rather have
Alison's "cauld kail" than a Savoy luncheon.'

'And this'll be by way of asking me t' starch they belts you forgoat t'
send t' the laundry,' remarked the maid as she departed to fetch another
trayful.

Ann twinkled at Kif. 'One up to Alison. You haven't told me how you got
here. It's pretty foggy, isn't it?'

Kif gave her the history of their arrival. It was wonderful to him to
have this girl talk to him with the natural ease of a sister. She took
him for granted so utterly. Not once did he catch a scrutinising look, an
appraising glance. He had hoped for kindness, but he had not anticipated
this. And when Barclay returned and they drew in to the table she helped
Alison to bring the dishes and waited on their needs with such complete
matter-of-factness that it helped Kif to resign himself to the
strangeness of having a being like this, in a garment the like of which
he had never seen, play waitress to him. When they had been supplied she
sat down at the bottom of the table and drank weak tea while they
disposed of Alison's 'kail'--fried sole that was to have been for
breakfast, and stew tasting and smelling of all the flavours under heaven
in just proportion, to which Alison had added leftover potatoes from last
night's dinner.

The talk was all on the surface, laughing, bantering talk. To a stranger
looking on it would have seemed that these three had come back from a
theatre or a dance, and in the course of a belated meal were recounting
the amusing incidents for the entertainment of each other. Only the
uniforms spoke of war. Between them and the spearing reality of things as
they were hung the armour of their British self-containedness. Where
their Gallic allies would have laughed and wept and embraced till emotion
was spent they covered up their vulnerable places with a protective shell
of flippancy. It is not the prerogative of breeding or education, that
play of not caring. It is due to the Briton's constitutional aversion to
a scene, which is his fabled stolidness, his weakness and his strength.

'I have to be at the hospital at half past seven' said Ann, 'so I'm going
back to bed. If you hump your kits upstairs, though, I'll see you settled
in before I go. I have sent Alison back to bed.'

They followed her up the stairs, and on the landing Barclay tossed Kif
for the first bath and won. There was no host and guest relationship
between these two veterans. Barclay disappeared to turn on the water and
Ann led Kif to his room.

'This is yours, Kif,' she said as she switched on the light. 'I hope
you'll find it comfortable. We are not going to call either of you in the
morning, so you can sleep till the day after if you like.' She shoved her
hand between the turned back sheets to make sure that a hot-water bottle
had been put in. 'If there's anything in the world you want that we might
be able to supply, ask Tim for it when he has finished soaking himself.
Sleep well!' and she was gone.

The quiet of the room flooded round him. He lowered himself gingerly on
to the edge of the bed and considered it: primrose lights, daffodil
curtains closely drawn, thick pale carpet--he moved his boots
uneasily--and unpatterned pale walls warm in the glow that somehow filled
the room. He slid contemplative fingers over the amber taffeta of the
eiderdown and the cool uncreased bed-linen. Then his gaze went again to
the carpet. He unbuttoned his tunic hastily and applied himself to the
unwinding of his puttees.



CHAPTER SEVEN


Alison put down the tray and drew aside the curtains so that the noon
sunlight invaded the room. She looked gravely at the still sleeping Kif.

'Save us!' she said. 'It's a bairn!' Her eyes noted the uncrumpled state
of the bed; he had most evidently slept as he had lain down, immediately
and continuously--and came back to the young face from which sleep had
washed the last hint of sophistication. In spite of his size and the
muscular arm protruding from the sleeve of a pair of Barclay's less
hectically coloured pyjamas his youth was patent. Alison sighed as she
wakened him.

'Here's a bit of breakfast to you. I've just wakened Mister Tim. Mrs
Barclay said you'd probably be verray angry with her if she allowed you
to sleep any longer.'

Kif smiled sleepily at the thought of his daring to be angry with his
hostess for any reason whatsoever, and hoisted himself into a favourable
position for attacking his first breakfast in bed. Alison seized his
boots and was departing with them when he said:

'Oh, please, I'll clean them. I--'

'You'll do no such thing,' she said. 'This is yer holiday!' and the door
shut behind her.

Kif looked at the poem in silver and gold which was breakfast as
conceived by these people. The toast, the fillets, the marmalade, the
butter, the pale yellow china all glowed golden among the shining purity
of silver utensils and white linen. Delicately his long fingers slid
among the crowded perfection, lifting and pouring and setting down. He
had reached the toast and marmalade stage when Tim, radiant as to person
and raiment, came in on his way to the bathroom.

'If you go vamping old Alison like this you'll be having her join the
regiment as a vivandière or something. I hear she is dropping salt tears
in the scullery over your boots and demanding "how a lad could be
expected t' walk in they boots?" Now all she said to me was, "You'll no'
be needin' so many pairs o' shoes nowadays, I'm thinking!"'

Kif grinned at the apt rendering of Alison's accent and manner. 'It's a
bonza day,' he said, his eyes on the window.

'It is, my son, and we parade for luncheon at one-thirty. Ann has
victimised someone into taking her place at the hospital for the duration
of our leave, and the family is talking of taking us down to the coast in
the afternoon, or anywhere else you'd like to go. So stir yourself. I
shan't be five minutes in the bathroom.'

Kif made the best toilet that can be achieved with the British private's
service uniform of the 1916 pattern. He had to rely for effect, in the
absence of the wiggle of breeches or the swing of a kilt, on the
brightness of his buttons and the degree of smoothness and polish that
could be imposed on his thick hair in the process of brushing it back.
(Hair was worn straight back in those days, you may remember.) But the
ultimate result was fairly satisfactory. He took up a silver hand-mirror
that lay on the dressing-table and proceeded by dint of several
experimental positions to enjoy entirely new views of himself. He wished
his chin had not such a straight up-and-down line; it would look so much
better if it stuck out a little more, like Heaton's, or Travenna's. He
wondered where Travenna was now and if he were alive. One stray letter
was all that had ever reached him from that world's vagabond.


Dear Friend (it had said),

How are you? I hope you have managed to dodge boche bullets so far. At
the moment we are in reserve near censored. That is all I can tell you.
It is just about as bloody a place as all the other places in France. And
Belgium is a whole lot worse. To think I used to like Antwerp and never
guessed what was behind it. Well, how are you? I certainly hope you are
well and not too fed up with this war. That was a good time we had in
London. It would be a good plan to have another. What do you think?

Yours,

Jack Travenna.


The thought of Travenna made him deplore afresh the lack of zip in his
attire. Solemnly considering his image he sought for any means of
brightening his person that he might have overlooked. He had not nearly
exhausted the possibilities of double reflection when Barclay came to
fetch him, and he went downstairs reminding himself how nice Ann had been
and hoping for the best.

Barclay ushered him into a living-room full of comfortable chairs, space,
and the smell of a wood fire. On a sofa at the hearth sat a plump
smallish woman whose wiry grey hair was parted in the middle and drawn to
a loose knot at the back of her neck and whose broad shrewd face seemed
to be composed of curves.

'Mother,' said Barclay, 'this is Kif,' and she rose and came to meet
them.

Margaret Barclay's long suit was motherliness. She preferred mothering
male things, but was always delighted to act as mother confessor,
adviser, and on occasion Providence to any young girl. The only
stipulation was that the recipient of her favour should be perennially
conscious of her superior wisdom, surer instinct, and more complete
knowledge of the world. Any failure to realise this, any evidence of a
tendency to think for oneself, or advice sought and disregarded, was
succeeded not by any lack of kindliness--Margaret Barclay was invariably
kind--but by a subtle waning of interest. This acceptance of her
infallibility was more common among men, a fact which probably accounted
for her preference for them as members of her suite. She was exceedingly
popular with her tradespeople and with all shop assistants. Her gracious
and unaffected manner left them feeling somehow that they were in her
debt since they had been allowed to serve her. Where she was a regular
customer she took an unfailing interest in the various histories of the
staff, and when illness or matrimony overtook one invariably marked the
event in a practical manner.

As might have been expected, her son adored her unreservedly. Her
daughter, who had inherited much of the hard practicality which was the
basis of Margaret Barclay's being, recognised the quality in her mother.
She had inherited also her mother's capacity for taking her own line,
which did not tend to complete understanding between mother and daughter.
Where they differed most radically was in the fact that Ann Barclay never
desired to take anything or anybody under her wing, and the, to her,
obvious pleasure of her parent in the admiring obedience of her followers
roused in her a faint contempt. On occasions it almost nauseated her to
see what she mentally characterised as 'grown men and women' sitting at
the feet of a woman with no more brains or knowledge than they had
themselves, but who had the courage of her personality. And yet that
personality was directly responsible for the continuance of smooth
relations between mother and daughter. It was not possible to quarrel
with Margaret Barclay; to any assault she offered her impenetrable front
of sweet reasonableness, her patience, and her tacit assumption of
superiority.

'My dear boy,' she said quietly, 'we are so glad to have you. I hope
everything has been as you would like it, and that Alison has been
looking after you well? And that you forgive me for not coming down to
welcome you last night?'

She had a very beautiful speaking voice, which she used with deliberation
and very perfectly. Her pronunciation of the English tongue was what
every purist and musician would have it be. She used slang now and then
when the 'pally' attitude of the moment needed emphasis, and always with
good effect. Kif fell at once. If the charm of her voice had not done it
the obvious welcome she extended would have been sufficient to a boy who
had hesitated so painfully over his possible reception.

'It is very good of you,' was all he could think of at the moment, but
she seemed pleased with him.

Alison announced luncheon, and with a light hand on his arm she drew him
into the dining-room of the night before, still talking deliberately and
gently. As they seated themselves Ann joined them in her V.A.D. uniform.
She acknowledged Kif's presence with a smile and a little gesture of her
hand.

'If nobody minds but myself,' she said, 'I'll not change into mufti.
Joy-riding even with troops on board is looked on askance, so the more
uniforms we have to blaze at the great B.P. the better.'

They discussed the destination and route of the proposed joy-ride. The
women naturally elected that the men should choose. Kif was eager to go
to the coast, but, that granted, was indifferent where. Tim agreed to the
coast, but stipulated that there should be cliffs. The conversation went
via motoring through the commonplaces of roads, gradients, scenery,
accidents, first-aid, artificial respiration, swimming, and the Channel.
Some of it was witty, most of it was amusing, and all of it was
light-hearted, and in all of it Kif managed to keep his end up without
difficulty. He was habitually quiet but he was not slow-witted.

As soon as the meal was over Ann brought round the car--the Barclay
clan's one extravagance, as Mrs Barclay said--and they set out for
Birling Gap, Ann driving with Kif beside her, and Barclay and his mother
behind.

Surrey and Sussex! What terms of week-end sophistication they are become!
And even now, with the red rash of villadom creeping over them, there is
no country in Britain so satisfying in its settled loveliness. Cold hills
and windy skies of the north, sodden fields and smoky horizons of the
midlands, even the little orchards and flowery meadows of the west, what
can they put against this?--this little kingdom of forest, weald, marsh
and down, with its ever-present sea. Nowhere are horizons so seductive
and so generous in fulfilment. Would you have brisk heather and peaty
turf, bracken and twisted fir-trees? They are here. Would you have thick
hedges, and roadside farms that drowse in forgotten valleys? They are
here. Would you have tall skies with a level land from edge to edge,
etched with grey willows that attend slow streams? They are here. Or
would you have high green hills of thymy turf that have blue distances
for ever at their feet and have still on their brows some of the glory of
the world's morning? They are here.

Barclay, defending his demand for cliffs, said: 'I have a constitutional
aversion to a seaside place where the land and sea seem to have met by
accident, as it were. You're walking along a perfectly ordinary bit of
turf when a wave comes wollop at you and you say rather surprisedly, "Oh,
yes, the sea of course. I knew it was round here somewhere." I like a
place where the sea comes up against more than it bargained for and makes
a song about it.'

When Kif, the car being parked on the cliff top, descended the chalk-hewn
steps of the gap to the white shore and beheld the Sisters smiling their
siren loveliest in the afternoon sun he agreed with Tim. Shining, aloof,
and incredibly fair they stood along the lonely coast. The sea, no
assailing force to-day but a prostrate lover, kissed their white feet in
an ecstasy of abasement.

Tim put down the tea-basket and said: 'I once took a cousin, a girl, here
for an afternoon, and all she said was, "Gosh, isn't it just like a
postcard?"'

Said Ann, busy unpacking: 'Sylvia never said "Gosh" in her life.'

'Am I to conclude by that remark that you admit the major indictment?'
asked her brother.

'Oh, well, I wouldn't put it past her, as Alison says; she never did show
symptoms of soul, but she most emphatically had chronic lady likeness.'

'Hospital work has had the most disastrous effect on Ann's metaphor,'
said her mother. 'When first she started motoring it was the same, you
may remember. Everything was described in terms of cranks and spanners.
Tim dear, would you get me the other cushion from the car if no one is
just pining for it?'

They spread tea on a patch of tawny sand below the white boulders that
the cliffs had cast as sops to an importunate sea, and ate in the
unequalled content of people who are living wholly for the present and
who find that present good. There was no wind to make a murmuring in
their ears when the talk died; only the sleep-inducing repetition of the
sea filled the silence. Now and then a gull swooped, or a pebble slid
from the cliff in a little rattle of scudding fragments. A ship, hull
down, made the only human finger-mark on a shining elemental world.

When they had lit cigarettes Mrs Barclay and Tim strolled away along the
beach while Ann and Kif stayed where they were, given up to the lassitude
that invades the most active on a spring afternoon. Ann lay on her side
watching the gulls that swooped and eddied apparently meaninglessly about
the cliff face. Kif sat propped against a boulder, his service cap tilted
forward, his eyes, shut to black slits, on the dreaming sea. Presently
Ann said:

'Tim says you know all about farms. I am thinking of taking up that kind
of work when the war is over.'

She was not. It is true that she had decided to have a career of her own
when her country no longer had any need of her. But she had not
considered the medium. At the moment she merely thought that it would be
nice to show an interest in something this quiet boy might be supposed to
be familiar with.

To her surprise the quiet boy twinkled down at her and said
unimpressedly: 'I think you'd better think again.'

'Why?'

'I don't know,' he said, not because he did not know, but because he was
searching for words that would explain. 'How would you like a day like
this?' he said at last, and began an account of the farm-worker's average
day. As he talked, some of the bitterness of his life on the farm came
back to him, and through his matter-of-fact phrases there emerged some of
the futility, the barrenness, the endless expending of oneself on the
thankless earth that will be there unchanged and unchangeable when the
labourer is as if he had not been.

'And you don't get anywhere,' he finished. You just go round in circles.
If you don't want to get anywhere it might be all right. But I should
think you'd want to get somewhere. And anyhow it's awful work.'

'But don't you love animals?' she asked, rather taken aback.

'I like horses, yes. And dogs. But you wouldn't go to work in an
engineering shop just because you liked the smell of oil. Animals are
only a little bit of a farm--at least the kind of farm I worked on. If
you're fond of animals a stable would be the place to go to. Have you
ever been at a race-meeting?' And on hearing that she had not, 'You'd
like it,' he assured her, and proceeded to give her an account of the day
he and Travenna had spent at Kempton, while she lay and watched him, her
rather small merry blue eyes unwontedly grave. She had met many men of
many varieties and all classes in the last two years and had learned to
judge them fairly accurately. Her opinions were habitually clear-cut and
she usually knew the reasons for them. And now she was wondering why she
liked this boy. His physical attractions cancelled each other out, she
decided. He had a pleasant voice but a bad accent; his body was good to
look at, but his face was plain; good teeth but an ugly mouth; and nice
eyes if only the lids didn't give them that reckless look. Was it only
his quiet manner that attracted one? But Tim had liked him; and Tim,
though easy-going, had his standards. Perhaps she had liked him by proxy.

'Yes, I'd rather like to work in a stable,' she said. 'I learned to ride
when I was at school, but it was only the trot-out-one-canter-and-trot-back
type of thing. I must do something in the open air. If I had a job
indoors I'd regret every fine morning to such an agonising extent.

'But if you had an outside job you'd probably be sorrier still on every
bad one. And there are about five bad ones to every good one.'

She had a moment's spasm of annoyance that the conversation was not
running quite as she had unconsciously planned it; but her by no means
scanty humour came to her aid. She laughed and said: 'You're not being
very encouraging, are you? What would you suggest that I should do with
my abounding energies?'

This direct appeal rather turned his flank. He smiled at her, but in a
moment he said quite simply: 'I expect you'll get married.'

She had not expected that, so she merely shook her head and asked: 'What
about you, Kif? What do you want to do after?'

It was Kif's turn to shake his head. He did it quite gravely, but in a
moment the imp in his eye was laughing at her when he said: 'What would
you suggest for me?'

'I don't know. I don't even know your requirements.'

'I want something that makes no two days the same. Something so that you
never know what's going to happen next.'

'Great heavens!' said Ann unaffectedly.

'Do you want to make money at this queer business?' she asked after a
short pause. 'I mean must we consider that an indispensable part in
choosing?'

'I don't want a lot of money, if that's what you mean. I'd want enough to
go to a show or a boxing match or a race-meeting once a week perhaps.'

'Better go racing every day and be a bookmaker. They say that it's the
unexpected that happens there, though judging from my friends'
experiences the failure of the favourite seems to be common enough to be
monotonous. But you wouldn't mind that if you were a bookie. The only
alternative seems to be picking pockets in the Strand. You'd have the
double excitement of not knowing what you were going to take out of a
pocket and never knowing the minute you were going to be pinched.' She
took a cigarette from the case he offered her and considered. 'I don't
know, Kif,' she said seriously at last, 'you stump me. I don't think
there is such a job. Not unless you made a few millions first and then
proceeded to juggle with them. That would meet the case.'

They smoked in silence. The almost brimming tide gave little exhausted
pants of achievement, the gulls swooped and cried. Into the girl's mind
came the good things her brother had told of this boy at one time or
another: his courage, his good humour, his unselfishness. 'It is
strange,' she remembered his writing, 'he has any amount of initiative,
but no capacity for leadership.' What kind of work could his good
qualities be harnessed to in peace time? With the greater part of the
earth's surface as well explored as the downs the day after the Derby
there was little scope for physical courage and endurance in these days,
it seemed. But then--this hypothetical future?

As if he read her thought he said: 'Well, we needn't be bothering our
heads!'

His remark being delicately vague enough for her to ignore its probable
meaning she said: 'It's a good enough game for a sunny afternoon. I don't
expect you'll discover the ideal profession--'

'I don't expect so.

'--any more than I shall get a job out of doors with every day a fine one.'

They smiled at each other.

'But it is something to know what you want, Kif.'

When Mrs Barclay returned with Tim she found her charming but difficult
daughter playing five-stones with two pebbles and three shells under the
expert tuition of the ex-farmer's boy. They were both completely
unselfconscious and entirely happy.

Kif helped to pack the tea-basket with the neat-handed efficiency that
was always so astonishing coming from his loose, big-jointed hands, and
carried it up the cliff while Tim assisted his mother. As she came to the
car Mrs Barclay said:

'I think Kif will come behind with me this time if it would not bore him
dreadfully, and you, my dear boy, can change places with Ann if she gets
tired of driving.'

So Kif, nothing loth, climbed in beside his hostess, and as they rolled
through East Dean--a dreaming hollow filled with warm sunlight--Ann could
hear the boy's low voice answering the musical one more and more readily.
The mothering process in full swing, she thought; but it was more in
amusement than contempt to-day, for she was happy. There was sun and
spring air and Sussex, and beside her sat the being she cared most for on
earth, reprieved for a little from the horror over there. And a little
mothering probably wouldn't do the present subject any harm. He didn't
appear to have had much of it so far. Perhaps her mother would find his
ideal job for him. But no! It would be much more likely that she would
gently dissuade him from so primrose a path with careful and unanswerable
arguments about the advisability of a safe profession, a stable income.
The Orthodox and the Expedient were the gods of her mother's
idolatry--though she would have been sorrowfully forgiving if the
suggestion had been made to her.

'What are you smiling at, Ann?'

'I'm smiling because I can't help it. It's such a refreshing sensation to
have one's muscles do it of their own accord instead of having to do it
for them, that I'm just letting them carry on.'

Her brother patted her knee, but said nothing. He, too, appeared to be
listening, though probably with different emotions, to the voices behind.

'How did you two get on?' he asked presently.

'I like him. He's not so shy as you said he was.'

'He isn't so much shy as quiet. He evidently found you not too
terrifying.'

'Oh, no; he wasn't in the least blate. (Alison asked if you would like
almonds in the toffee, by the way, and I forgot to ask you!) He vetoed
farming as a career for me after the war in no uncertain manner.'

'I expect he would!... I'm almost frightened for him sometimes, and I
don't in the least know why. I think perhaps because he is so
tremendously in love with life. People who are that are simply asking to
get hurt. Life's a rotten spec. at best.'

'But, Tim! you found it good enough once!'

'Yes, good enough. And I was perfectly happy. But with a difference.
Kif--I can't explain; I just have the feeling.'

It was dark by the time they reached Croydon. Kif, who had been calmly
happy in the sunlight and the companionship at the Gap, was roused to
something more than content by the glamour of the evening streets: topaz
and ruby spilled on the purple of the earth and strung across the
blue-dark of the night; narrow streets full of light and sound where
tram, bus, dray and barrow nudged each other in expostulating impatience;
wide dark boulevards where the surface gleamed and reflected as if wet.
The diamond light of a searchlight, unearthly and chill, swept a cool
finger over the bustle of the town. Kif watched it for a moment and then
tried not to see it. They were running into London, London in the
evening; surely that was joy sufficient to blot out the cold reason of a
thousand searchlights. For the rest of the way his independent spirit
soared from the toils of his companion's sympathy and was away again on
the horizon. And Mrs Barclay, who was growing a little sleepy, shrank
further into her fur coat and thought of dinner.

Mr Barclay, whom Kif met at dinner, was the leader and Grand Master of
his wife's admiring train. He was a little pink man with upturned grey
moustache which in Lombard Street gave an uncompromising briskness to his
appearance, but in his wife's presence made him look still more like a
faithful small terrier. He welcomed Kif with a heartiness which was a
queer blend of shyness and pomposity. Ann and Tim seemed to have
inherited little from their father except their smallish bright eyes.
Both children had their mother's wide humorous mouth and curving chin,
though even in Tim's case the lips had a fuller curve than hers.

If Mrs Barclay was subtle there was nothing suave about her spouse. He
fired questions point blank at Kif until Tim, noticing what he called his
father's prosecuting counsel manner in full blast, obtained Kif's release
from the witness box by beginning a story about MacIntyre. Mrs Barclay
had made war talk taboo, but even her edict was not sufficient to achieve
such a miracle where the central thought and major experience of everyone
present was war. Mr Barclay laughed appreciatively over the MacIntyre
tale, and turned immediately to Kif with another question. This was
merely what he would call 'showing an interest in the boy'.

'And what has been your most thrilling experience at the front?' He
belonged to the brigade who liked the sound of 'at the front', and stuck
to the phrase long after it had passed into dis-use outside the
illustrated press.

Kif, rather at a loss, grinned. 'I think it was the time Fatty Roberts
put the brazier on top of the box of Verey lights and the dug-out went
up,' he said.

This was so unexpected from Mr Barclay's point of view that he was
momentarily speechless. Kif caught a doubtful look in Ann's eye and said
to Tim: 'Back me up. Miss Barclay doesn't believe me.'

'Oh, rather!' said Barclay, who had been smiling at the memory. 'Old
Kif's quite truthful. You wouldn't have thought that anything as wet as
that dug-out was would have even smouldered, but it blazed like a match
factory. There was more than one entrance to it, of course, so there was
a fine draught. We started making a barrier with sandbags, but with the
Verey lights popping all over the place you never knew the minute they
were going to set fire to the boxes of bombs or something like that. And
when Murray Heaton came along to superintend Jimmy nearly had a fit and
told to get out of it because it was no place for him. I don't suppose
Murray ever had that said to him in his life before.'

'What did he do?' asked Ann.

'Well, the moment was too hectic for anyone to observe much. He didn't
take any notice with his face. His face, in any case, is about as
noticing as a Red Indian's. But I think he was amused.'

'Amused!' said Ann. 'I thought he was an awful stickler for discipline!'

'He is. But he stickles in the right places, if you know what I mean.
There are no flies on Heaton.'

'That is the Heaton who rode a lot before the war, isn't it?' Mr Barclay
asked, though Tim had told them in letters and in person all about his
captain, and all the family knew that he knew. It gave him a childish
delight to trot out a piece of information, however tattered. 'He seems
to have done well?'

That word loosened the bonds of their self-containedness. If Murray
Heaton, playing poker at a kitchen table in a blue haze of cigarette
smoke that dimmed the candlelight, felt an ear burn at the moment it was
the right one.

'I am going to send you straight off to bed, my children,' said Mrs
Barclay as they finished their coffee. 'You have all arrears to make up.'

She herded Kif and Ann upstairs and allowed Tim half an hour for a talk
with his father. Kif was in bed, his nose in a Kipling that Ann had
provided, when Mrs Barclay came in with a tin in her hand and laughter in
her eye. She laid the tin on the bedside table.

'Alison's offering,' she said. 'Her most luscious "Taiblet". Don't eat it
all to-night or the rest of your leave will be of no account. Have you
everything you want? I really think Tim has the most deplorable taste in
pyjamas,' she added as her eye came to rest on Kif's sleeve.

Kif laughed at her. 'They look all right to me,' he said. 'I certainly
never wore anything silk before.'

She patted his arm lightly. 'Good night, my dear,' she said, and left
him.

He lay for a full minute with his eyes on the door. Then he humped the
bedclothes over his shoulders and returned to Kipling. A moment later he
remembered the tin. He sat up and peered into it, selected a piece of the
sugary brown sweetmeat and popped it whole into his mouth. He lay down
and pulled the clothes up again. As he crunched the mouthful his gaze
wandered absently round the piece of room visible between the pillow and
the sheet. Then he propped the book once more into a convenient position
and, still chewing, fell to its perusal, utterly content with the world.



CHAPTER EIGHT


It would not be true to say that Kif did not enjoy his leave with the
Barclays as much as his first one with Travenna. It is not possible to
compare them; it would be as possible to say that one preferred chalk to
cheese, their properties being in no wise the same. From the orthodox
point of view his week with Tim's people was packed fuller of
entertainment and well-being than anything his life had so far
contained. For the first time he ate daintily, slept soft, moved in an
atmosphere of leisure, and was wrapped round with consideration and
kindness. And he liked it. He was sybarite enough to appreciate the
softness, and the consideration appealed to his unaccustomed naturally
egotistical soul. He enjoyed to the top of his bent the theatre parties;
the supper dances in the carpetless drawing-room at Golder's Green when
he fox-trotted expertly with charming beings who seemed to take him
entirely for granted since he was a soldier, a friend of Tim Barclay's,
and could dance; the motor drives through an England sweet with spring;
the games of badminton on a lawn too small for tennis. But if he had
analysed his sentiments--and he did not, for he was happy--he would have
discovered that the day on which Tim, Ann, and Mrs Barclay went to the
country to visit a grandmother and which he spent mooning round his
beloved London by himself held, as well as happiness, a quality that the
others had lacked. It was the quality which had made his leave with
Travenna the unforgettable thing it was. It had something to do with the
freedom to go and do and see at the bidding of no one and without
consultation with any but his own spirit. When he was alone--and
Travenna had been so perfectly his complement that they had moved as
one--he was lord of the earth.

If Kif was vaguely conscious that being one of a jolly party packing the
present with its maximum content of joy could still leave him looking for
he did not know what, gratitude to his hosts and his habitual lack of
introspection smothered the thought. Had his leave been longer the soft
wrappings that held him might have chafed and gratitude might not have
been strong enough to melt entirely the intolerance of sentimental bonds
that characterised him. As it was, Kif reached the end of his leave in a
passion of gratitude to these people for their goodness to him. In his
perambulations round town his mind had been exercised over the desire to
give them something in return. He would have liked to give both Ann and
her mother a souvenir, but the difficulty of finding the appropriate
something confounded him. What did women like that like? Any ornament
that he might buy, he decided, would almost certainly not find favour in
their sight. He retired to the Park and analysed for the first time that
outer shell that woman presents to the world. In the hour that he spent
gaping at the passing show the only article that met with his approval
was a pair of silver shoe-buckles. But he had never seen Ann wear
anything like that. Perhaps they weren't in fashion. He took his problem
to an A.B.C. shop and over sausage-and-mash considered it afresh. The
crowd at the marble-topped tables were not productive of ideas in one
devoid of them. It began to be borne in on him, however, that he lacked
the courage to present even a box of chocolates in person--especially to
Ann. He was shy about presenting anything at all to Ann, somehow. He
wanted very badly to give her something, but she might not like it--the
giving, not the gift. A remembrance of her cool matter-of-fact charm came
to him and he saw in imagination the involuntary lift of her brows. He
grew hot and decided that a sin of omission was better than one of
commission.

He would make the gift to Mrs Barclay only. There couldn't be anything
against that. He repaired forthwith to a Piccadilly fruit-shop and
squandered what remained of his pay on a basket of fruit--Mrs Barclay did
not eat sweets--with instructions that it was to be sent two days later,
when he would be gone. He laid such stress on the condition that it was
not to be delivered before the stipulated time that the amused assistant
watched him out of the shop and speculated idly as to the nature of the
intrigue.

Tim and Kif were due to leave in the early morning. Ann was to drive them
to the station, but Mr and Mrs Barclay were to take leave of them at
home. There had been dancing on the last evening, but the guests were
gone. At the best of times a used and deserted room is a sorry spectacle:
a desolation of crumpled cushions, cigarette-ends, and disarranged
furniture; but when the end of the party is the imminent end of
everything the situation is unbearable. Kif helped Ann to straighten
things, patting cushions back to enticing plumpness with dreary
assiduity, and then said good night. When he attempted to take leave of
Mrs Barclay she said: 'I shall come in later and see that you have
everything.' So Kif shook hands with his host, who was once more
pompously shy, and left them.

As he sorted his kit on his knees on the amber carpet Ann came in and
said: 'Anything I can do, Kif?' She was looking very lovely in some kind
of green stuff that didn't shine. Nothing shone about her but her eyes and
her hair. He understood why she had come--partly because she was sorry
for him, but mostly to give her parents their last while alone with
Tim--and wished she would stay, but could think of nothing to keep her
She picked up a pair of his socks, and finding an incipient hole sat down
on the edge of the bed to darn it. Kif folded and arranged and placed and
replaced while they dropped little friendly remarks into the quiet. Ann
folded the socks carefully and saw them stowed in their appointed place.
Then with the little gesture of her hand that was characteristic of her
she said a smiling good night and was gone.

Alison succeeded her five minutes later. 'I' 's noa' such a big tin as I
wid ha' liked,' she said. 'Sugar's gey hard t' come by. But I'll have
some more to send you in a week or two.' She extended the tin of toffee
to him in one hand while she put the hot-water bottle in its place with
the other, and before he could thank her had taken her departure. 'I'll
call you in good time in the morning,' she said at the door, 'so sleep
sound.'

Lastly Mrs Barclay, her serene self, perhaps a little more deliberate
than usual. Kif sat up in bed and attempted to give utterance to some of
what he felt.

'I don't know how to thank you--' he began, but she laid a restraining
hand on his arm.

'You are not to try,' she said. 'If you have been happy with us we are
more than paid for the little we have done for you. To do something for
some of you boys is surely nothing that we need thanks for. It would be
our bounden duty if it were not our pleasure. So let us call it
quits--with the debt decidedly on our side. And now, is there anything I
can do for you?'

There wasn't.

'Well, I want you to promise me that if there is anything you want in
France you will write to me and ask for it as if I were your--aunt, let
us say. Is that a bargain?'

Kif promised, with his first faint definite feeling of rebellion against
the gossamer toils of human obligation. She rose from the bed's edge. 'Au
revoir, my dear boy,' she said. I hope you will come to us any time you
feel inclined to. There will always be a bed for you, you know.' She bent
over and kissed him lightly on the forehead. She made a remark about the
electric lamp and went away.

Kif shoved a desperate palm against one eye which threatened to disgrace
him, swore in a fierce whisper, and put out the light. But as he fell
asleep, deep down beneath the level ache of parting and ending, were
little sharp shoots of anticipation that he was going back.

It seemed to him that he had only just fallen asleep when Alison wakened
him. Even washing did not dispel his lethargy. He stumbled into his
uniform dazedly, devoid of thought, of emotion, almost of identity. He
picked up his kit, switched off the light without a backward glance, and
made his cautious way downstairs. Though everyone in the house was awake
it was full of the subdued movement of those who are up betimes. He found
Ann pouring out coffee and Tim helping out bacon and eggs. The glow of
the shaded table light struck down on them, but through the uncurtained
window the outline of roofs showed against a lightening sky. They ate in
a business-like silence; light conversation in the dawn is usually a
failure and on occasion may degenerate to hysteria. Neither the Barclays
nor Kif had a hysterical side, and so no one attempted the ghastly farce
of being amusing. Ann, who was once more in the V.A.D. uniform, since she
was going on duty that morning, went out for the car and Tim went up to
take leave of his parents. At the door Alison came to help Kif with his
kit. As he shook hands with her she said: 'See and take care of yourself.
And keep an eye on Mr Tim.'

As Ann let in the clutch both boys turned to wave to the dim white blur
in the doorway that was Alison, and that typified to both of them all
that they were leaving.

It was a damp morning and a wild red sky showed above the black
housetops. The canon of the road was still in semi-darkness with the
slender silver threads of the tram-lines stretching out into infinity.
Nothing inhabited the world but a groaning dust-cart. Here and there a
lighted window showed, a golden square in the flat neutrality of the
house-fronts. It should have been a cheerful sight, a lighted window, but
it was not. To Kif it was merely a suggestion of more early rising, a
part of the complete joylessness of the hour. To Tim it spoke of the
security and comfort he was leaving, the sweet safety of things dear and
known. And Ann did not see them. She saw nothing but the long straight
road stretching ahead of her--remorselessly. The mournful music of their
horn floated out into the morning and was one with the red sky and the
golden windows and the long dark road.

At the station the swarming khaki made it somehow easier. Bustle and the
elbowing of a crowd covered up a little of the stark nakedness of fact;
muddled a little their perceptions with thronging irrelevancies. Only at
the last moment, as its way was, did the thing leap and tear them.

Kif's throat suddenly hurt him, so that speech would not come. He faced
Ann--Ann who looked as though she were going smiling to her
death--fighting for words.

'You've been so decent to me! I can't thank--I--'

He shook her hand crushingly and left her with her brother.



CHAPTER NINE


Kif went back to summer conditions and a bereaved and indignant company.
It was a new sensation to feel a soft carpet of dust underfoot after the
ubiquitous mud. As for the company, it was indignant to the point of
mutiny. The powers that be had given Murray Heaton a majority. This was
looked on as a violation of their rights that nothing could condone. That
Heaton had several times lately refused the honour did nothing to
mitigate their bewilderment and wrath. And Heaton, who if his lot had
been cast as a dustman would have been a prince of scavenging and who had
been torn in two between love of his company and his ingrained ambition,
understood the situation and went about his work at battalion
headquarters looking, it was reported, like the sphinx with a toothache.
That was some slight balm to the deserted company who rolled the
information on their tongues and approved of it.

Jimmy also had gone up a step on the way to that proverbial baton; though
Jimmy's highest ambition in life was the glory attached to a regimental
sergeant-major. Than which, when one comes to consider it, there is no
greater glory. A colonel certainly is nominally his superior. But a
colonel is so far away as to be almost mythical in his power; no more
terrifying than God. Whereas the R.S.M. is a very present and actual
deity: omnipotent, awe-inspiring, omniscient. Oh, an R.S.M. every time!
Jimmy had achieved his second stripe through a direct hit on the part of
the enemy artillery. He was sorry about Fatty Roberts, and the other five
who had gone west, of course. Fatty especially, as the company comedian,
was a loss to be deplored. 'An' he occupied more than two men's place in
a front line trench,' he said. 'What a goal-keeper he'd have made!' But
it was all in the day's work, and things were 'cushier' now, he informed
them, than the battalion had ever known them.

Apart from the change in weather conditions a change in scenery had also
been vouchsafed to them. Instead of the utter desolation of the Flanders
plains--a level sea of mud from sky to sky--they revelled in the gently
rolling hills and little woods of Picardy; a kindly, pleasant land with
the gold of the charlock over its fields and its white chalky roads
rolling away into blue distances; a land in which war was an alien
incongruity. At Loos, in the Salient, the earth was not the earth they
knew; war had made it so much its own that the horror of it was one with
the horror of war. But here death was an outrage. Billets had roses in
the gardens, and up in the line grass waved and there were cornflowers,
stitchwort, charlock and the red splashes of poppies. Always poppies! Who
that knew Picardy in '16 will see poppies and not remember it? Larks sang
in the hot skies. Aeroplanes droned in place of the absent bees. So when
a man coughed and fell forward, and a little dark trickle ran along the
earth like a dusty worm, minds waked to surprised protest against such an
invasion.

Those were the days before the Somme country was a churned-up rubbish
heap crowned with the broken skeletons of woods--those little fatal
woods.

* * *

Kif sat on the bank with a writing-pad on his knee and a stub of
indelible pencil stuck behind his ear and idly chucked little pebbles
into the still water. The sun came through the high branches behind him
and made little hot places on his back, and a movement of the warm air
that was hardly a breeze retailed light fingers over his bare throat. The
calm water curved away to his right, blue and green and silver, with its
tall row of attendant poplars. On the opposite bank, further down, a few
garments lately washed and stone-held now to dry made a little patch of
motley. Somewhere an aeroplane droned and far away there was an
intermittent murmur, but the world was very quiet. He looked again at the
'Dear Friend' that adorned in careful backhand letters the virgin page,
and sighed lazily. He took the bit of pencil from behind his ear,
cogitated a while, twisted the pencil propeller-wise once or twice
between his fingers and put it back again. It was very warm.

He was seventeen to-day, but no one knew or remembered the fact but
himself, and he was not at all inclined to sentimentalise over it.
Retrospection he might indulge in at the prompting of such an event as an
anniversary, but introspection never.

Footsteps came along the path, footsteps too light for army boots. Kif
turned his head mechanically, and almost as mechanically smiled at the
girl as she came. Her steps slowed to a stop. She hitched the basket she
was carrying to a firmer position on her hip and regarded him with a
grave little smile.

'You are lonlee,' she said. Her L's reminded him of Alison. His grin
widened.

'I'm stuck,' he said. 'Come and help me write a letter.'

She moved slowly over the grass to him, her skirts falling away like
water from each forward-swung limb. She was tall and broad-shouldered and
firm-bodied, and her neck rose proudly to carry the round, dark head with
its salient cheek and chin bones. She was clad in the age-old and ageless
dress of the peasant--a fitting bodice and a full skirt, the latter part
of the garment being several inches shorter than her grandmother's would
have been, but still showing not more than a length of ankle.

'Stuck,' she repeated, ''ow stuck?'

'I don't know what to say.'

'Then it is not for me to say to you what to write.' She spoke English
with a strong French accent, but very fluently.

'You might help a chap,' said Kif. The golden afternoon was made for
dalliance.

'It is to your fiancée, perhaps, the letter?'

'Me? Gosh, no. I haven't got a girl.'

'Is it not to a lady that you write?' she asked, genuine surprise in her
tone.

'Yes, it's to a lady, but she's old enough to be my mother.'

'Then write to her what you write to your own mother.'

'Haven't got one.'

'Ah!' She made a little sound of commiseration which embraced in its
monosyllable the whole gamut of sympathy.

'It's too hot an afternoon to go carrying baskets that size about. Stay
and help me.'

'I go to return the laundry of Monsieur le Colonel.'

'Well, but Monsieur le Colonel'--he mimicked her pronunciation--'won't
need a clean shirt for another two hours at least. And this letter will
have to be written by then.' He patted the grass beside him.

She laid down the basket and seated herself a foot or two away from him
with the deliberate grace of a great lady and with complete
unselfconsciousness.

'You speak awfully good English,' said Kif.

'Before the war English people come every year to the Chateau at my home,
and the little girls I walk with them and they teach me English.'

'Where is your home?'

She nodded her head in the direction of the low murmur. '_Là-bas_,' she
said. 'It is not any more.'

'Rough luck!' said the boy to whom sticks and stones were nothing and the
horizon everything.

'_Eh bien_,' she said, 'it is of no use to weep. I say like you, "Fat lot
I care". The little Marjorie she say that _continuellement_.'

Kif gave a shout of laughter at the unexpected phrase in her charming
accent, and she smiled in sympathy.

'You say that, no?'

'Very often,' Kif admitted. 'What is your name?'

'Marcelle Fleureau.'

'That's pretty. Mine is Archibald Vicar, but they call me Kif.'

'Keef,' she said, and Kif, who was looking at her cheerful brown eyes,
saw nothing for a moment but the bare flagged interior of the kitchen at
Tarn.

'You have been long in France?' she asked, and they talked the simple
serious personalities of two simple beings while the pad lay neglected on
the grass by his side and the sunlight grew more golden.

It was the redness of the light on the water that recalled her to the
passing of time.

'_Hélas_!' she said. '_Le colonel_!' and got hastily to her feet. Kif
rose with her and took the basket.

'_Ah, non, alors_!' she protested, and held her hands out for it. But Kif
carried it to the edge of the town.

'And you have not written your letter. That is too bad,' she said as she
took it from him. 'I have hindered instead of helping.'

'Help me to-morrow,' said Kif.

The battalion were out at rest, and for another fortnight Kif met
Marcelle every evening, and every evening they walked by the water
solemnly exchanging experiences and views of life through the long June
sunsets. Kif was seized with an attack of diffidence that annoyed him. He
had known her a week before he had summoned up courage enough to hold her
hand. When he did she took the gesture so calmly that he was at a loss to
know whether she had been expecting it, or whether she found it so
unremarkable as not to be worthy of notice. She puzzled him and
fascinated him. She was neither coy nor forthcoming, and she had none of
the little airs that the girls of his acquaintance--with the exception of
Ann--invariably used in the presence of men. And yet she was not in the
least reminiscent of Ann. She was strangely self-sufficient, in the best
sense of that mis-used term. She was deeply interested in Kif and all he
had to tell her about himself, but she never wanted anything from him.
Her unselfconsciousness hung like a veil between her and his eagerness.
And Kif, who had made one of the bridge-head gatherings at Tarn and whose
country upbringing had not inculcated in him any reverence for the female
of the species, would go back to Barclay's twinkling eyes and Jimmy's
pungent remarks wondering at himself, wondering about the girl, and
swearing to himself to be bolder on the morrow. But on the morrow when
face to face with her serenity the old diffidence drowned his resolution.

Barclay was inclined to look with kindly toleration on what he mentally
called 'Kif's little affair,' but Jimmy, it seemed, was worried. Barclay
ran into him one day in the little bar in the side street that leads down
to the water. His blue eyes scanned his friend without any sign of
recognition and his mouth had a more than habitually mournful droop. No
one looking at him would have believed that inside Jimmy's bright head
lay anything more than an addled sleepiness.

'Good evening, corporal,' said Barclay in mock humility.

Jimmy's eye travelled mechanically over his friend's buttons and came
back to his face. 'What's this girl that Kif's got hold of?' he asked.

Barclay understood that he was being taken to task.

'Haven't the remotest idea.'

'Then you ought to,' snapped Jimmy.

'Am I my brother's keeper? And I always thought that Kif had an excellent
taste in females.'

'You know quite well that the boy wants looking after. Because he's gone
quiet all this time is not to say that he's not going to bolt at all. A
country kid like him. Never seen anything more than lumps of girls at
home.' Thus Jimmy the cosmopolitan! 'And now he's parlayvooing every
night with God knows what, and you haven't as much as cast an eye over
her.'

'Well, supposing my eye, having been cast, found nothing to approve of?
What then? Kif may be an infant, but he has a pretty mind of his own. You
couldn't make him give her up just because she was given to
baby-snatching, or whatever you suspect her of. What would you do?'

'What would I do? I'd have him in the guard-room or hospital, or Britain,
or something, instead of mooning round writing silly rhymes on the backs
of envelopes and not caring a dam' what anyone was doing.'

'_Touchée!_' Barclay smiled. 'Very good, sergeant. I'll do my best to
meet the lady, though how it is to be worked I don't quite see. As far as
I know the damsel is most respectably hardworking, and her evenings as
you know are rather occupied.'

'Who said anything about meeting her? It shouldn't be difficult to find
out all about her if you wanted to. I thought every female in this town
was ticketed like a cattle show until I... She must be very "also ran",
'cause no one seems to have heard of her.'

'Have you been making investigations then?'

'Course I wanted to know who the girl was! So ought you. That's what I'm
telling you.'

Barclay broke into laughter. 'Heavens, Jimmy,' he said, 'if _you_ can't
find out what you want to know, a fat lot of good it is my going
Sherlocking.'

'I haven't the time for Sherlocking, as you call it,' said Jimmy testily,
'but you're a gentleman of a private with nothing to do but amuse
yourself.'

Barclay laughed again at this perversion, which was yet half a truth. He
knew that it was the failure on the part of the watchful mothering Jimmy
to keep track of Kif's doings himself that had brought his wrath down on
the next responsible.

'Well, Jimmy,' he said, 'if no one knows anything about her it's a dam'
good sign. In fact, it's so amazing that I have a sneaking feeling that
we should be rescuing her from Kif.'

'That's right,' said Jimmy scornfully, 'get out of it somehow!'

And the argument dissolved into the friendly consumption of _vin rouge_.

And yet it was Marcelle who was the means of bringing Kif into his first
trouble in the army. He had come back one evening in the cool dusk
finding the world with its first pale stars a place of wonder. He had
kissed Marcelle. And Marcelle had lifted her mouth gravely and sweetly to
him as a child might. When they had come to the end of the path and she
had given him her hand as always in good night greeting he had blurted
'Give me a kiss', and had known a moment of surprised horror at himself,
for he had not meant to say it. The words had bubbled up of themselves.
And then with her steady eyes on him she had lifted her chin without the
smallest suspicion of coquetry, and Kif had kissed her blindly, almost
blunderingly, in surprise. But he had gone back to his billet treading
the powdery white dust as if it were air. That embraceless kiss was at
once a benediction and an intoxication. He was blessed beyond the common
lot of man, a being apart, and the world was a beautiful place and his
very own. He was unconscious of the tall purple trees patterned against
the last washy primrose of the daylight sky, of the smell of the dust and
the roses in the dew, of the way footsteps and voices melted into music
on the magic evening air. But all of it helped to bring him to the
fey-ness of his present mood.

And it was at this moment that he encountered Blyth as one slips up on a
worm in the path. Blyth was a lance-corporal in Kif's company; efficient
in his work, unattractive in his personality, and more immoral in speech
if not in mind than most. As Kif came to the door of his billet he met
Blyth, who, bursting with the officiousness engendered in him by the
blue-and-crimson brassard, had just been shepherding stray lambs to their
pen.

'You're late, Vicar,' he said. 'Get a move on.'

Kif took the rebuke mildly. He hardly heard it. He was moving on with the
little group of last-comers at the billet door when Blyth was moved to
further speech. He cocked a leering eye at Kif as he passed and half
seriously made a proposition.

'When you don't want that girl...'

The blatancy of the suggestion was not the least infamous part of it.

Now since this history of Kif is a truthful one, with nothing mitigated
and nothing touched up, it must be confessed that his attitude to
Marcelle had in the beginning differed not one whit from his to Simone,
which was by no means reverential. It was Marcelle who had made a
difference, not Kif. If it had been a day previously even, any time
before Marcelle had kissed him and made things wonderful, he might have
passed into the house with a more or less careless 'Shut your mouth!' As
it was the sentence caught him on the quick. His steps stopped with a
queer jerk, the abrupt movement of one who had seen a step only just in
time. His crystal world melted on the instant into such a wave of anger
as he had never known. In the middle of a strange haze was the ruddy face
of the corporal, solid, actual, mocking. Kif stepped forward and hit it
with all his might and with indescribable satisfaction. Words were
struggling within him, but rage barred their exit. All his pent eloquence
was in that right fist.

There was no lack of words on the part of Corporal Blyth when he regained
his feet: they poured from him in a turbid flood. Into the frothing spate
of his obscenities cut the cool voice of Sergeant Layton, late of the
Middle Temple.

'If you're wise, Blyth, you'll shut your rank mouth about the business.
You deserved it.'

'Shut my mouth about it? Not ---- likely! Do you think I'm going to be
hit by a ---- of a private and say nothing about it! Think turning the
other cheek a suitable business for N.C.O.'s, do you? Well, I don't--see?
He's for it, the ----, and I'll see that he gets his.'

'Don't be an idiot, man. You can't provoke a man and then get him into
trouble when the inevitable happens. You apologise for the remark, and
I've no doubt Vicar will apologise for his action.' He glanced to where
Kif was standing, exhausted by his access of emotion, white and
quick-breathing.

'Apologise! _Apologise!_ You do make me laugh. Apologise to a ----
private for remarking about a bit of skirt that--'

Barclay grabbed Kif's arm from behind just in time, while Layton moved
forward till he stood in front of Blyth.

'Will you shut up,' he said slowly between his teeth.

'Yes, I'll shut up for now. But that complaint's going in. He's for it, I
tell you. I'll talk at the proper time.'

'Well, I give you fair warning,' said Kif, finding words at last, 'that
if you talk to that effect again I'll kill you.'

'Oh, threats is it, now?' said the corporal. 'You wait, my little man.
You're for it, all right!' and he walked quickly away with his aide and
disappeared round the corner of the house.

Barclay led Kif inside, and the audience--less than a dozen--stirred from
their immobility, half regretful as one is at the fall of the curtain,
half thankful as at a sermon's end. They regarded each other furtively,
each eager to see how his neighbour was taking the incident. Then someone
said, 'Well, Blyth asked for it,' and someone seconded with, 'There don't
seem to be any call to make such a song about it, somehow', and
discussion was deemed open. The sympathy of the meeting, it soon became
evident, was very strongly in favour of Kif; not because he had stood up
for his girl so vigorously--there was not one among the group who in his
secret heart did not think the boy a fool in his rating of the
maiden--but because he was liked universally and the corporal was merely
tolerated.

When the iniquity and unfairness of Blyth had been canvassed to a refrain
of 'Exactly!' and 'Just my point!' and the luxury of discussion was
gradually promoting Kif to the martyr's pinnacle, it occurred to a large
heavy youth that the other side should have a hearing.

'Well, it do seem to me that he didn't ought to have hit his superior
nohow,' he said.

Wigs, the little cockney, took his stub of cigarette from between his
lips and spat accurately between a broken tile and a fragment of china.

'Your intelligence dazzles me,' he said.

And it seemed that the case for the prosecution was complete.

But in spite of the goodwill and the best efforts of Layton, who searched
hastily but unsuccessfully for Blyth in the hope of persuading him as he
cooled down to reconsider things, Kif spent that night in the guard-room
under arrest for striking his superior in the execution of his duty.

While Jimmy swore and Barclay sorrowed and both slept, Kif watched the
calm white square of moonlight travel round the white-washed walls. There
were no bars to the window since the guard-room of the hour was merely a
converted room in a former dwelling-house which was now used as army
offices, and the light from it lay in an unbroken square so vivid that it
seemed to Kif incredible that it was not a concrete thing that could be
handled and lifted. He counted the hours as they were tolled out by the
clock in the distant square. The chimes floated out into the silence with
a sweet reasonableness that maddened him. The irrelevant calm of the
night was a goad to the turmoil within him. The footsteps of the sentry,
muffled in the dust, padded in time to the throb in his brain. Blyth,
Blyth, Blyth. Blyth had done this to him and he was helpless. Blyth had
insulted his girl, had hurled him from his pinnacle of happiness, and had
caused him to spoil his army record.

It would be difficult to say which hurt him most acutely. The last was,
of course, the gravest, the most permanent injury. In those campaigning
days a man's army record was to him what business integrity or the
cleanliness of his sports reputation had been to his civilian
predecessor. But the murdering of his moment was probably a more heinous
crime in Kif's eyes that night than the finger-mark on his record. His
thoughts went back to Marcelle, sleeping somewhere almost within hail; so
near that if he shouted with all his might into the still white night his
voice would come to her as a far-away sound. The thought was vaguely
comforting.

His rage, having exhausted both body and mind, died down for lack of fuel
as a moor fire burns itself out at the edge of the heather, having
nothing left in the black waste to feed on, and leaving behind the
long-lasting unsuspected glow in the depths of the peaty turf that fools
so often the feet of the alien and the too optimistic. Before four he
fell asleep and was still asleep when breakfast was brought him by a
facetious fellow-private of his own platoon.

'Cheer up, old top,' said that worthy, as his gay eyes met Kif's,
sleep-sodden and lightless, in the midst of his badinage. 'It's Chicken
on the bench. He'll just bleat "What'll I do now, sergeant?" and the
sergeant will say. "Give the ---- the Iron Cross", and Chicken will say,
"Amen. Put it down to the wine bill", and that'll be all.'

It was, in a measure, as the cheerful one had foretold. The company
commander was on leave in Britain, and his place on the seat of judgment
was taken by the second in command, a gentleman with a genius for the
intricacies of indents and returns but without the normal capacities in
other directions. With the unobtrusive help of his sergeant he disposed
successfully of two routine cases, but boggled at Kif's, and referred the
case to the commanding officer. Since the colonel was, in his turn, on
leave, it fell to Murray Heaton to deal with the case.

Heaton's face looked more than ever like something carved out of teak as
Kif and his escort appeared before him. His long eyes, masked by the
folds of the upper lid and habitually veiled in expression, his salient
nose, his expressionless mouth gave to his face an impassivity strange in
so young a man. It had been said of his mouth by a subordinate that it
looked as if it had not been opened for years and then only with
difficulty.

He listened to the charge and to the case for the prosecution without
'batting an eye' as the orderly officer remarked afterwards. He watched
Blyth unblinkingly as he gave his evidence until the corporal said, 'I
said something in fun about his young lady, sir,' when he glanced at Kif
for a fleeting second. When Blyth had finished his admirably concise
account of the incident he asked:

'What did you say about his young lady, corporal?'

Blyth hesitated for the first time. 'I said he might pass her on to me
when he was tired of her,' he said with an uneasy smile.

'I see. What have you to say, Vicar?'

Kif had had much to say in the long hours of the night, but in the
official atmosphere of his commanding officer's presence his tongue
deserted him. What had all this--documents, and people standing to
attention, and all that--to do with the quarrel between him and Blyth,
with what Blyth had said about Marcelle? What was there to say to
Heaton--_Heaton_--about it all?

'He shouldn't have said what he did,' he said sullenly.

'You admit hitting Corporal Blyth?'

'Yes, sir.'

'You knew the seriousness of hitting your superior?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Then what induced you to forget yourself to that extent?'

'What he said, sir.'

'What did he say?'

Kif told him.

'Was that what you said?' Heaton asked the corporal.

'Not exactly, sir.' But witnesses when called were unanimous in asserting
that that was exactly what he had said. Heaton accepted the evidence
without remark. 'Anything else to say, Vicar?'

Kif was silent. Through Heaton's brain as the sulky dark eyes met his
went the memory of a night of sleet and mud, cold and black and void as
the beginning of time, when he and this body had tumbled into a shell
hole together, and the boy in the baleful light of a star-shell had
removed his boots from Heaton's chest with a polite 'Sorry, sir, my
fault.'

'You know that provocation is no defence whatever for what you have
done?'

Kif was still silent. Then he blurted out: 'Can a corporal say anything
he likes then?'

'No, he can't. But it is not for you to correct him. That is where your
mistake lay. Do you understand that?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Anything else to say?... I want you to say it now if you have. Get it off
your chest.'

'No, sir.'

'May I have his record again, sergeant?'

There was a little silence. A fly buzzed on the window-pane. Leather
creaked as the lieutenant on duty stirred a boot which his batman had
wrought to a chestnut brilliance with an artist's pride, another man's
polish, and still another man's brushes.

'In consideration of your good record, Private Vicar, and because of that
alone, I am going to deal as leniently with your offence as army
regulations will allow me. I believe that you hit Corporal Blyth without
malice aforethought, and I expect that you will behave decently in the
future. You will have three days in the guard-room in which to
contemplate your future good-conduct.'

There was a general stir of relief when the sentence ended. Heaton
wondered why the prisoner did not look more relieved.

'Do you want to say something?'

'Can I speak to Private Barclay before I go back, sir?'

That being granted, Heaton said: 'That is all, then, sergeant. I want to
speak to Corporal Blyth for a moment.'

Kif, whose thoughts had gone ahead, was the only man in the room whose
heart did not leap with an unholy joy at the last sentence. As the escort
filed out each of them cast an almost loving glance at the carefully
unconcerned face of the corporal.

'Strewth,' said one, as the door closed behind them, 'I wouldn't be in
his shoes with little Heaton all polite like that, not for a fortune I
wouldn't.'

'He'll wish he were safe in a ruddy guard-room,' prophesied another.

And the sentiments of Corporal Blyth were not materially different. He
braced himself for the 'telling-off' that was coming. Heaton had a
reputation for few but scorching words; and his eyes were particularly
nasty at the moment. Would it be better to take everything in silence or
to defend himself?

'You box, I hear, corporal?'

Blyth stared and tried to pull his scattered ideas together.

'Yes, sir. Yes, I do a bit.' What the devil was he getting at? Was he
going to suggest that he should have defended himself?

'What is your weight?'

'Just about eleven stone, sir.'

'Yes. I should like very much to meet you in the ring one of these days.
I am not much over ten and a half, but I think I could give you quite a
sporting bout. Will you meet me at the divisional tournament next month?'

'Can it be arranged, sir?' Blyth was trying to reconcile the
conversational tones with something unpleasant in his officer's eyes.

'I shall see to that if you care to have the bout. It may not be much fun
for you, of course.' (Wouldn't it! thought Blyth. An uppercut to that
chin would be his idea of earthly bliss.) 'You need not accept unless you
like.'

'I should be very glad, sir.'

'Ten rounds?'

'If you like, sir.'

'Very good. I shall see that it comes off. Good morning, corporal.'

And a very puzzled corporal went out into the sunlight.

It may be said here that the bout was duly fought a fortnight later at
the divisional tournament, of which it proved by far the most popular
item. Fare of this piquancy had not been offered within service memory.
No secrets can be kept in the army; it is too full of batmen for one
thing, and too self-centred for another. And though the Half-and-Halfers,
who had put two and two together and made a most satisfactory five long
before Blyth had done violence to his arithmetic in the same problem,
were once more in the line by the time the bout was fought there was not
a man in the audience who was ignorant of the history of its initiation,
nor was there a single feint or blow which was not faithfully reported to
the eager absentees. Not that there was much to report. The referee
stopped the contest in the third round and Blyth was excused duty for the
two succeeding days.

When Tim came, still indignant but relieved at the leniency of the
sentence, Kif said without preamble: 'Will you meet Marcelle for me
to-night and tell her I'm on duty?'

'I'll certainly meet Marcelle if you want me to, but I'm blowed if I'll
say you're on duty. Why this modesty? Don't you realise that you're the
complete little hero of fiction who has defended the right and is now
suffering martyrdom for it? Marcelle will adore you more than ever when
she hears about it.'

'Oh, stop it,' said Kif wearily. 'It isn't a bit like that, and you know
it.' In the revulsion of feeling that had succeeded his night of anger
the very contemplation of the incident gave him a faint feeling of
loathing. 'Jimmy'd go, but I thought you'd better, somehow.'

This was his way of saying that he thought Barclay the more understanding
of the the pair, and Tim relented.

'I'll do whatever you like, Kif. Instruct me.'

'Say I'm on duty and that I'll write her a letter.'

'That all?'

Kif hesitated. 'Make it clear to her somehow that I'm not just backing
out.'

'I'll do that,' said Tim heartily. 'Where do I meet her?'

Kif told him. As he was departing Kif said: 'I say--' and as his friend
turned he mumbled hastily: 'Don't tell your people about it, will you?'

And Tim promised.

But Marcelle knew all about the affair. She had collected linen that
afternoon from the commanding officers' quarters, and Heaton's batman,
Carey, a talkative worthy whose natural propensities suffered sore
constriction in his daily intercourse with Heaton, took the heaven-sent
occasion with both hands and did it justice. Marcelle's face as he
unfolded the story was spur to his talents, and he embroidered his
subject with an artistry worthy of such a tale of gallantry. After her
first exclamation of dismay she stood quite still, listening to the man's
chattering gesticulative cockney, her grave eyes on his bright careless
ones, her basket still propped against her hip. When he had finished and
she had learned the extent of Kif's punishment she said: 'Thank you for
telling it to me all,' and turned to go.

Carey followed her admiringly with his eyes. He picked up the dubbin tin
again and was regretfully about to resume his labours when he bethought
him. Something in the situation was missing. Such a tale called for a
_beau geste_.

'I say, miss, if you'd like some of us to beat up that little runt of a
corporal, just say the word.'

When his meaning was plain she shook her head. 'No, no,' she said, 'there
has enough happened,' and went away.

So Barclay did not find her at the rendezvous and had to seek her out. He
ran her to earth in a cottage on the outskirts of the town, a cottage
with lime-green shutters and a garden full of round tight heavy cabbage
roses of a boiled-sweet pink and a scent that drove to wild
indiscretions. It was her mother who came in answer to his knock--a tall
woman with unexpectant eyes and a presence as fine as Marcelle's. Tim
explained his errand and she received his explanation politely but with a
subtle reserve, very much as a reigning sovereign might treat a man from
a hostile country whose ambassadorial privileges made his entertainment a
necessity. Marcelle, she said, was at the back of the cottage taking in
the washing. And there Tim found her, her bare arms round a bundle of
linen and her supple body bending and straightening as she picked the
dried garments from the grass.

'Mademoiselle Fleureau,' he said, and she turned.

Tim was conscious even in that moment of amazement. So this was Kif's
girl'! What he noticed at the time was the graciousness of her air; what
he remembered afterwards was her fine eyebrows and the perfection of her
grooming.

'Monsieur?'

Tim said that he was a friend of Kif's, and had come to explain his
absence, but before he had time to commit himself further she said:

'I have heard. They told me at the commandant's. And ever since I think.
All the afternoon I think. It would be of no good that I would go to the
colonel and ask pardon for him?'

Barclay was afraid not.

'The colonel knows me--and my mother,' she added. 'Might he not listen?'

Barclay explained that the colonel was in Paris and that, in any case,
Kif had received the lightest punishment that they could have hoped for,
and that no good could come of interference. There had to be some kind of
punishment for discipline's sake.

'Deescipline!' she said, with unutterable scorn. 'That is men's talk.
That is of the war. Not real, made up--what do you say?--artifeecial,
_non-sense_! One cannot have justice, one cannot have comfort, one cannot
have pleasure. Be calm! It is the deescipline... It is dreadful!'

She became conscious of Barclay's reality and looked at him deliberately
for the first time 'Are you Teem?' she asked.

'Yes.'

She put out her hand and shook his calmly. 'How do you do?' she said.
She looked at him a moment longer. 'Did Keef ask you to come?'

'Yes.' He explained what Kif had wanted him to do and gave her his
messages.

'And Jeemy? What does he do?... Jeemy is perhaps "beatin' up" Mistair
Blyth?' She smiled for the first time, and Tim wondered afresh at Kif's
girl. 'You have met my mother? Please come in and have a sirop.'

Barclay thanked her and helped, unnecessarily, to carry the basket of
clothes into the cool tiled kitchen. He stayed for nearly half an hour,
being pleasant to Madame and watching Marcelle, none of them mentioning
Kif. When he rose to go Marcelle went with him to the door.

'Tell Keef that I shall write to him. And I shall see him before you go
away altogether. It will not be long now--three days? five days?--but I
shall see him, and it will be all right.' She stood searching his face.

'You are a good friend of his?' It was a question, not a statement.

'I hope so. Kif is a good boy.'

'Yes.' She was not going to discuss Kif with him. 'Thank you for coming.
I am very grateful.'

She did not ask him, as he had half hoped, to come again, nor did he ever
speak to her again. He saw her only once more, a fleeting glimpse as the
battalion marched out to the railway on their way up the line. But for
years afterwards Marcelle Fleureau was a vivid and gracious memory to
him.

Kif's farewell to her was almost as brief. The battalion left the town
thirty-six hours earlier than had been anticipated, and two hours after
Kif's release. Kif, almost frantic at the imminence of their departure,
would have broken still more canons sired by 'deescipline' if he had not
been forcibly restrained by Jimmy, who pointed out with fervour and
brilliant blasphemy that any more 'quod' just now would be unthinkable.

So Kif said good-bye to Marcelle as they passed up the _pavé_ road
between the poplars towards the low blue, sweetly curving hills that hid
the gaping horror beyond; and not a man of the company, witnessing the
leave-taking, called a ribald word or sucked a suggestive breath.

'I'll come back, Marcelle. I'll come back,' stammered Kif, and pulling
himself away ran to get his lost place in the ranks.



CHAPTER TEN


On July the first, as all the world knows, the Somme offensive started.
The Half-and-Halfers went into action at La Boiselle through the morning
mists under the lifting barrage. Kif had waited in the intolerable racket
of that first colossal bombardment like a two-year-old at a
starting-gate, nervous, panicky, heart-quickened. And inside him was that
other quickening which had nothing to do with his clamorous heart and
which made Danger for him a siren--loved and hated and sought again.
Uncertainty had reached its apex. The whole of life swung poised like a
bubble on the moment. And every moment from now on was to hold a bubble
poised. Fear. Ecstasy.

Perception was sharpened to an incredible fineness. Every blade of grass
was remarkable. His finger-tip where it lay resting on his rifle, a
little pebble embedded in the chalk of the parapet, the feel of the mist
on his cheek, the texture of his khaki sleeve, all were miracles. All
were caught up into the wonder of that poised moment. The mists swung and
eddied. The guns stormed. And presently... Even now...

Fear. Ectasy.

Kif never remembered much about that attack. He was drunk with
excitement, bloodlust and achievement. He had been 'over' before on many
occasions, but none were like this. He remembered realising that the
crumpled white mess of chalk, wire and wood at his feet was the enemy
front line and wondering why there were no Boches to do in. He remembered
Jimmy cheering like a maniac a few yards away and almost inaudible in the
row. He remembered realising that the heavy rain was machine-gun bullets.
He remembered stumbling over a steel hat on his way to the second line
and realising that its owner's head was in it and that the owner was
Wigs. Of the fighting in the second line he remembered nothing at all,
except that he seemed to carry a pain about with him which gradually
localised itself to his feet, and that on looking down to rid himself of
the hindrance he found that one puttee was red and soaking and already
growing sticky. He remembered seeing Heaton, unwontedly flushed, a bomb
in one hand and a revolver in the other, and wondering what he was doing
there.

He had just come up from clearing out a dug-out, two dazed men at his
bayonet's point, when a 5.9 burst at the end of the section. Something
hit him on the shoulder and spun him round. His legs felt like
cotton-wool and refused to move, and the ground came up and hit him.

But in that last moment of consciousness before he fell his eyes saw the
picture he carried away with him of the torn wire of the enemy second
line, and Jimmy Struthers hung across it like a wet rag, his brave career
finished.



CHAPTER ELEVEN


He realised that the thing above him was a far-away white ceiling. That
he was in bed. That he was Kif. For a long time now--he could not tell
how long--he had been aware of the world he had come back to, of hands
and voices. But he had not known what the hands did; the voices had been
meaningless. The body the hands had moved and tended had not been his,
and he had had no interest in the wordless voices. But now he entered
fully into possession of his identity. He was Kif. And he was in hospital
presumably. He tried to turn his head that he might enlarge the view, but
the pillow was deep and he gasped at the pain which tore him. In that dim
other-world he had inhabited he had been conscious of pain far away, as
he had been aware of the hands and voices. But now the pain was a
localised and searing reality. He could not breathe. It seemed to him
that to draw another of even these shallow and inadequate breaths was
more than he could manage. The ceiling wavered and grew distant. If he
lay very still perhaps he could cheat the pain a little. But there was
this business of breathing. He had to breathe. You couldn't live without
breathing. Well, he would rather die than have to suffer like this. If
only he would die quickly and get it over.

Someone near at hand was moaning softly and continuously. A voice said:
'It's all right, sonny, we'll soon have you more comfortable.' He opened
his eyes to see if the ceiling had grown steadier and found the nurse
looking down at him. It was to him she was talking. Was it he who had
been making the row? He tried to say something, but she forbade it. 'I
know it's pretty bad, but it won't be long now.' She had a round jolly
face and dark hair that frizzed out from under her cap. 'It's your turn
next and then you can have a long sleep and feel like a new person.' And
she went away. He tried to piece things together. It must be a long time
since that attack. Was this Britain or France? And what had happened at
La Boiselle?

Jimmy! He saw the picture clearly and cried aloud in his mind. The
ceiling pressed suddenly down to crush him, and as suddenly retreated to
an illimitable distance. And Tim. He didn't know what had happened to
him. And he had such a thirst. Why hadn't he asked the nurse for a drink?
If she couldn't stop this hellish pain at least she might give him some
water. 'A cup of cold water.' Something out of the Bible. 'Inasmuch as ye
have done it unto one of these.' She couldn't refuse him that. He was
managing his breaths better now. You sneaked one in when the pain wasn't
looking, as it were. As long as he didn't move he could just bear it.
That fellow had stopped his row. Oh, no, of course, it had been himself.
Funny. If only he could get a drink? Just a few drops of cold water on
his tongue. The well on the moor road at Tarn had never gone dry, not
even in summer. How had he ever chosen beer when he could have had water
for the asking? Water. Cool clear stuff. God, why didn't someone give him
some cold water. He knew now what the fellows in the Legion felt like.
Only they didn't have this pain. Not always. Tim had been good lending
him all those books. What had happened to him? Was he like Jimmy? Oh,
Jimmy? Perhaps he was the only one left of them all. It was no good
asking them here because of course they'd not know anything about it. All
he could do was to wait. Lie still and try to dodge the pain. It was like
stalking a Boche in the dark. You never knew where he was or the minute
you were going to bump up against him. If only Heaton were here. He could
work it in a minute. No, how silly of him. Heaton didn't know anything
about doctor's business. Heaton knew all about...

Here was the nurse back and two orderlies with her. He managed to ask her
for the drink. She shook her head and smiled at him just as if she had
not taken away more than his hope of salvation. 'But I'll give you a real
beauty when you come back,' she said. As the orderly insinuated a careful
arm under his shoulders the pain came alive again: rampant, tearing,
clutching. It was choking him. He couldn't bear it a second longer. Life
at this price wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it. Why did they fuss with
him like this when he'd probably go west anyhow? It was just cruelty.
They had put him down again. One of the orderlies said, 'Good man!' And
the nurse was smiling at him again. That was the way with people. They
thought it was their duty to torture you instead of putting you decently
out of it as soon as they could. He remembered the first life he had ever
taken. That rabbit he had jumped on unexpectedly coming over the fence by
the low meadow. It had been in the grassy rut of the lane, lying doggo,
and he had landed on it unawares. Well, he had not left it long in agony.
Why couldn't they see that he'd rather...

A new ceiling now. One with windows in it. And another nurse. This one
didn't smile, and she hadn't such pretty hair. At least her cap hid it
all. If he could stick this perhaps a second or two longer they might
find some way of stopping it.

A man's voice said: 'All right, Carter?'

Some one behind him held a little white cap above his face. A sickeningly
sweet scent began to steal out from it. He realised what it was and gave
himself up to it.

What a long time it was taking. He always thought anaesthetics...

His clenched hands relaxed.



CHAPTER TWELVE


There were daffodils round the slatted board at his feet, and a pale
spring sky over his head. The wall at his back, covered with the meagre
green of a budding pear-tree, reflected the warmth pleasantly. On his
knees was a basket of mending wool which he was unravelling for the night
sister, his big-jointed long-fingered hands, still smooth and thin from
their months indoors, playing in and out among the tangle with the light
sureness of a shuttle. And at the other end of the garden seat a fellow
convalescent was stertorously engrossed in putting bead eyes in a bright
woollen golliwog. Those were the days when a flood of golliwogs
percolated out of the hospitals and inundated the country.

Now and then Kif let his eyes rest absently on the green perspective of
the garden, but he did not see the flame of the tulips in the beds nor
did he hear the riot of bird-song. What he saw was Hyde Park Corner with
the first wash of green on the trees; what he heard was London traffic.
Presently--when they were satisfied about his lung--he would go there.
And it seemed to him that all the weariness and the pain of the last nine
months was a little price to pay for the chance of nine days in London.
It would almost be worth while going west afterwards--though he had no
intention of going west if he could help it--if his death would ensure
that London would go on being the London he knew.

Which is as near as Kif ever came to that form of exaltation known as
dying for an idea.

'Did I see you getting a cup of tea from the pantry-maid this morning?'
asked the little man at the end of the bench.

'You probably did if you were hanging around,' Kif said.

'Well, you keep off the grass, young fellow. That's my cup of tea, that
is. And she's a very nice girl, even if she is a duke's daughter. I don't
hold with titles as a rule, but with a cup of tea thrown in I'm not one
to stick at trifles. She's a nice girl and we're great friends, so don't
you try to come it over me.'

'Are you making that horror for her?' Kif asked, indicating the golliwog.

'Not so much of it!' said the outraged artist in coloured wools. 'This is
my shay-doover, this is. It's on commission, like an 'ouse or a picture
or what-not, for sister. Not Big Bertha. My one.' He handled the gaudy
heap on his lap lovingly. 'What d'you think?' he said, dreamily
contemplative. 'Seriously. Do you think yellow legs would look better
with the red body and them green arms, or would you 'ave the purple? I
'aven't used any of the purple yet. Pretty colour, ain't it? Like the
vi'lets outside Charing Cross. What d'you think? Would you carry out the
scheme, as they say, or would you 'ave a little variety?'

'Oh, put 'em all in,' said Kif tolerantly, and watched in secret
amusement while the gaudy object grew momentarily more gaudy. A large
content possessed him. The present was good, the immediate future was
better, and afterwards, when he was back in France, there would be
Tim--Tim who was at present in hospital in Scotland. It was strange how
his heart lightened at the thought of being with Tim again. In those
first chaotic days in hospital it had been, not the missives from
Golder's Green, but the first sight of Tim's neat small script on an
envelope that had given him the most acute pleasure.

'I can't tell you what a relief it was,' Tim had written, 'to have the
news of your whereabouts from home. The second line at La Boiselle was
such a mess when I saw it last that I began to think I was the only one
out of the bunch left. Jimmy has gone west. I saw him when they were
bringing me down. Do you ever think what those early days at the depôt
would have been without Jimmy?... They asked me, coming across, where I
should like to be nursed back to health and strength, and I said: "Oh,
thanks very much. It's awfully good of you to consider the matter. If
it's all the same to you I should like to be as near London as possible."
And much touched and comforted by such evidence of consideration for the
feelings of a poor private I went to sleep. And I woke up in Aberdeen. At
first I wasn't fit to speak to, but after a day or two I got over the
shock, and now I am enjoying myself immensely. Buck up and get better,
old boy, so that we can have another leave together in London. If you
want books or food or anything, do ask Mother for them. She will be dying
to do something for you and will be delighted to find an outlet for her
energies.'

Golder's Green had indeed been prodigal in providing for his comfort, but
the general hospital that housed him had been in Leeds, and he had
consequently seen nothing of the Barclay family since he had stayed with
them a year ago. Now, as he arranged the wools, he let his mind play
pleasantly with the thought of seeing them all again.

'What an industrious pair!' said a quiet voice, and the commandant sat
down beside them, restraining with a movement their embryonic effort to
rise. She was a little elderly woman whose fine-boned face and hands
belonged to an eighteenth-century miniature, and whose quiet talk was as
full of modern slang as it was of raciness and point. The contrast
between her appearance and her personality--only a little humorous twist
of her small mouth gave the lie to her looks--gave her a piquancy that
made her unique. To talk to her was like eating salt and sweet together,
or finding a hot dish in the middle of an iced one. Her neat black
clothes were tailored in Bond Street, and she was rumoured to be one of
the four best judges of a horse in Britain. Her only child--a major in a
line regiment--had been killed on the Aisne. At his death she had turned
her home into an auxiliary hospital of which she was commandant. But it
was characteristic of her that she was more often to be found talking to
the patients than sitting in state in her office.

'I say it is for the good of my soul,' she would explain to inspecting
colonels, 'but really it is a flight from the boredom of being a
figure-head. Everyone of my staff knows more about nursing than I do, and
my secretary knows more about the business side, and yet they will never
talk to me as man to man. I am merely the awful object on the prow that
they say their prayers to. So I sneak away where I can talk to my equals
for a bit.'

She hardly ever talked to a man with whom she did not find something in
common. To Kif she talked of horses and dogs, of London, of racing, of
cabbages and kings. She liked the dark youth with the unhurried
ways--Kif, even in the immobility of weakness, managed to convey more of
quiet in his demeanour than did his fellows--and when occasionally his
eyes slid laughing round to her after one of her remarks she had always a
disproportionate sense of pleasure.

To her girl chauffeur she said one day: 'Why are privates so much more
worth talking to than cabinet ministers?'

'Give it up,' said the girl, who was also her cousin. 'Perhaps it is
because they haven't a microphone inside them,' and the old lady had
laughed.

Kif was certainly not out to impress anyone. He was habitually
unselfconscious and natural.

To-day she asked him what he proposed to do when the war was over. He was
on the point of telling her what he had told Ann of his ideal occupation,
but contented himself with:

'Something in London.'

'If you are so keen on horses, wouldn't you like to work in a racing
stable?'

'Well, you see, I weigh nearly eleven stone, and I wouldn't like just
to--' he hesitated.

'Yes, I see. There wouldn't be much hope of promotion for you. I had no
idea that you were as heavy as that. You don't look it just now.'

'No, I'm a bantam weight at the moment.'

'Are you a boxer?'

'No. I've always wanted to learn, but I haven't had the chance
so far. Perhaps it won't be too late when the war's over. Our
captain--Heaton--was a nib.'

'Heaton?'

'Yes, the jockey, you know.'

'Good heavens! was Murray Heaton your captain? The really incredible
minuteness of the world! And what was Murray like as a military despot?
Very Prussian?'

'One of the best.'

'Oh? You liked him?... Did they all like him?' She was looking at him with
a frank and amused curiosity.

'Yes,' said Kif simply; but he made a little movement with his head which
emphasised the monosyllable to a superlative.

'Why? What was so fascinating about Murray?'

'I don't know,' said Kif, not having consciously looked for reasons for
his captain's excellence. 'He never fussed, somehow, but he always got
things done.'

'No,' she agreed. 'No, he wouldn't fuss. We used to tease him in the old
days by saying that instead of a text above his bed he had the motto "You
mind your business and I'll mind mine". I have known him ever since he
was a small boy. His father and my brother were great friends, and Murray
rode a lot for my brother before he started training for himself... And so
Murray is popular? And as stunningly efficient as ever, of course? Does
he still look as if nothing in the world affected him, and then give the
show away by fiddling with his hat?'

Kif watched a picture with his mind's eye for a moment.

'Yes,' he laughed, 'he takes it off a wee bit and settles it
differently.'

'And then puts it back the way it was. _I_ know. Well, he had a wonderful
way with horses. Perhaps it is the same with humans--in spite of his
alleged motto.'

Kif had a sudden desire to tell her the story of Heaton and the
corporal--how she would delight in it!--but the presence of his
fellow-convalescent restrained him. He would save it up for a time when
he was talking to her alone.

'I think, you know,' she said later, when she was taking her departure,
'that even if he reached the cabinet, Murray Heaton might be worth
talking to.' A remark which passed over Kif's head, since he was
wondering at the queerness of the fact that someone who took Murray
Heaton as a matter of course--almost!--should sit by his side and be
chummy like that.

When she had gone his companion began immediately to patronise him,
because in the piping times of peace he had seen Murray Heaton ride and
Kif had not. But for each exploit of Heaton's on the racecourse Kif
produced a more thrilling one in France, and this amiable competition was
in full swing when a nurse came down the path to them with a letter in
her hand.

'I think you must be the only two men who don't hang round the hall at
post-times,' she said, 'Has your girl given you up, Knight?'

Knight, who, as everyone knew--he produced their photographs at the
slightest provocation--had a buxom wife and four children, grinned and
smoothed the finished golliwog approvingly, and the nurse handed the
letter to Kif.

'If it had been a girl's writing I would have stuck it on the board and
let you find it. You dance much too well for me to let you go without a
struggle,' she said, and turned to receive the golliwog from the proud
author.

Serenely diplomatic, she admired the motley atrocity, and as she turned
to go her eye encountered Kif's with a sense of shock. So this was what
that quiet boy was like!

'He's sorry he hadn't any more colours, Sister, or he'd have put them
in,' Kif said.

'You wait!' she said. 'To-morrow I shall say that your foot is not well
enough for you to dance!'

The letter was from Tim.


'Dear Kif' (he wrote), 'I came home last Friday night, free at last from
their beastly electric baths and things. My leg is as good as ever it
was. I can't even get up a limp that might wangle a longer leave for me.
They probably wouldn't believe me, in any case. Unimpressionable
collection of hard cases, army doctors! The mater has elected to take the
whole family to the Isle of Wight for the duration of my leave. If you
are out before we come back, and would like the place, follow on. But I
am going down to Derbyshire to-morrow to see the grandmother, and I'm
quite determined to do the extra journey and drop in at Laythwaite.
Partly because I'm dying to see you and I have a sneaking suspicion that
even if you are free in time the Isle of Wight wouldn't be your idea of a
leave, but mostly because I want to have a good yarn with you. Expect me
on Wednesday.'


Kif thumbed the hand-made paper thoughtfully. He could read quite
distinctly the thing that was not written. Barclay was coming to say
something that he could not write. What was it?

A little chilly wind scudded suddenly round the corner. It had an edge to
it that mocked at the weak but valiant sun.

What was it that Tim had to say? He considered various possibilities.
Perhaps he had got engaged. But he wouldn't come in person to tell him
that. He would have been entirely off-hand about it. He had a queer
feeling that it was going to be unwelcome to him, this that Tim was going
to talk about. And having made up his mind on that point he quite
characteristically dismissed the thing deliberately from his thoughts.
There were still two days in which he could be blissfully ignorant. And
anyhow he was going to see Tim again after many months, and nothing could
alter the fact that he and Tim were very good friends. Whatever the thing
was it was outside their relations to each other. And for the first time
in his life Kif had come to set store by his relation with a fellow man.

But on the following night he dreamed vividly. He was lost in a strange
waste place. Fear such as he had never known in waking moments, even in
the tightest corners, strangled him. Tim was somewhere just out of sight
but within hearing. He knew that. But when he called there was no reply.
He knew that Barclay was there, quite near, listening. But he did not
come. And the agony of his mortal fear was shot through with the new
agony of grief at his friend's! desertion. 'Tim!' he cried, 'where are
you? Tim' and woke sweating and breathless, his heart hammering.

He lay a long while awake before his nerves were lulled into indifference
again, but he had forgotten all about it when he came face to face with
the real Barclay.

'Heavens, Kif, you've actually grown!' was his unemotional greeting, but
his handshake was eloquent, and the habitual smile was strong in his eyes
and round the corners of his mouth. 'Where can we talk in this place?'

'Come into the garden,' Kif said. 'You're very posh,' he remarked as he
led the way down a flagged path. Tim was in irreproachable mufti. His
nondescript suit was so faultlessly tailored that one forgot it had been
a piece of cloth, cut and seamed and pressed and padded; it was an
integral part of its wearer. It was impossible that it had ever looked
new and it was highly unlikely that it would ever look old. Kif, who had
a real appreciation of good clothes, gazed a trifle wistfully at it. Even
in the days when his wardrobe consisted of his working clothes--cast-off
and colourless--and his Sunday suit--stiff and angular and navy blue and
too tight everywhere--he had hankered after sartorial beauty. He would
not have known how to produce it, but he recognised it when he saw it.

'Pre-war,' said Tim, holding the ends of his coat out between finger and
thumb. 'And it's dam' good to be individual again. I feel positively
god-like because I can choose a tie. It amazes me that I ever thought
choosing anything a bore. I used to stay in bed till the last minute and
then grab the first tie that came to hand. Now I have the whole stock out
and dawdle over them. It seems that I never appreciated my privileges.
You're still a bit lame?'

'Only in the mornings. It wears off. I can dance all right by
night-time.'

'Having a good time then? It's a ripping place. It must be glorious in
summer.'

Kif agreed. 'There's a fine view at the other side of the plantation.
Let's go there.'

The path lay through the wood and ended abruptly at the other side, where
a four-barred gate led into a field of pasture. From their feet the
country sloped away in a wide valley of grass and plough and rose on the
far side to distant moors, bluish in the pale sunlight. Tim sighed
appreciatively and propped himself against the gate. Kif pulled himself
up to the flat top of the side-post, swung his legs over and sat there.
For a little they talked of their experiences since they had
parted--'Funny to think that the last time I saw you was in a trench at
La Boiselle,' Tim said--and much of Jimmy. It was amazing how vivid Jimmy
still was to them. It seemed to them both that at any moment he might
appear out of the still spring morning as out of one of his own
abstractions to bully, contradict and protect. The atmosphere as they
dropped their reminiscent phrases was alive, with his personality, and
their hearts were warm at the him.

Presently a little silence fell. 'Now, it's coming,' thought Kif.

'They've recommended me for a commission, Kif.'

Kif's heart turned over. So that was it! He thought Tim had definitely
given up that.

'Good for you!' he said heartily. 'Good for you!' he repeated, because
other words would not come. He turned to find Barclay's eyes watching him
unsmilingly. 'It'll be rotten without you,' he added cheerfully.

Barclay was still watching him. Damn it, why didn't he take his eyes away
for a moment till a fellow got his breath.

'I haven't taken it yet,' said Tim. 'That's what I came to talk to you
about.'

'What are you hesitating about?'

'Well, you know I always said I wouldn't have one. I hated the thought of
responsibility. I still hate it. I was born that way. But I hate the
thought of going back there as a Tommy even more than that. I'm telling
you this because I want you to understand. I can't explain things to my
people. They wouldn't understand, and I don't think I want them to. If I
take this commission it will be for the most rankly selfish reasons.
There isn't anything in me that will make the right kind of leader for
the men. I know that quite well because I'm under no delusions about
myself. The recommendation has nothing to do with it. They'll recommend
anyone who has been at a decent school nowadays, they're so hard up.
Taking the chance--because that is what it amounts to--seems to me to be
a deliberate going back on the men I've known. As a private I was as good
as the next man. As an officer I'd be a wash-out. I don't mean I'd be
incompetent. I've seen too much of the business for that. But when it
really mattered I'd be one of the no-use kind. You know what I mean. I
don't have to tell you. I always knew I'd be no use at the business, and
I didn't even bother to think about it when it was suggested before. Now
it has been shoved under my nose again, and I've sunk to the level of
considering it. And I've told you why--because I'm funking the
unpleasantness of being a poor bloody Tommy like the rest of the decent
chaps. I've come to you to be bucked up and told that the dam' duckboards
won't be half as bad once I'm back in France as they look from here. I
don't _want_ to take the commission. I'll regret it if I do. You've got
to help me do the decent thing, Kif. Fire away. Hot and strong.'

Kif sat very quiet. He was looking past Barclay at a periwinkle growing
at a tree's foot. A strange sad blue, it was, growing there in perpetual
shade. He felt as if part of his inside were missing. But there was no
question in his mind as to what he was to do. Fine shades of ethics did
not exist for him. Tim had the chance of a commission and he would be a
fool to refuse it. It was up to him to see that he accepted it.

'I think you're making a song about nothing,' he said. 'I'd have you for
my officer any day, and I'm particular enough. You've just got wrong
notions with having someone like Heaton so long in--'

'Damn you, Kif,' Barclay broke out, 'I didn't come to hear you say that.
I want with all my soul to go back with you. Only the rotten bit of me is
funking. I'm drowning and you won't help me.'

'You're nothing of the sort,' said Kif. 'You're only a bit sick on the
crossing. Once you're over you'll be as right as rain.'

'I appreciate the metaphor,' said Tim drearily. 'You're a broken reed,
Kif, and I thought you were a high tower. No,' he added instantly,
'that's nonsense. I've just been fooling myself, that's all. Everyone's
got to do his own deciding. Yes, I shall talk in _clichés_ and be-damned.
But I swear if you'd only tipped me the other way I'd have fallen right.
It's on your head, or at your door, or any other dam' thing you like. But
you've done it.'

Kif grinned. His dark eyes twinkled at his disconsolate friend from the
tilted peak of his service-cap. He put out his hand.

'Congratulations, Mr Barclay!'

Tim caught the hand without taking it, and brought it down on the gate,
imprisoning it below his while he looked regretfully at the owner.

'You old rotter, Kif,' he said affectionately, 'I thought you'd
_understand_.'

'I understand you'll make a jolly fine general some day.' Kif had adopted
many of Barclay's habits of speech.

'Oh, _general_--yes! That's what I'm afraid of. Being the "general" type.
All routine and no imagination. Look what I'd be responsible for!'

'You think too much about your ruddy responsibilities,' said Kif amiably.
'Have you got a watch?'

'A quarter to one.'

'Have to be getting back. Dinner is at one. Why won't you stay? They will
give you a feed.'

'No, I must get back to town to-night. I'll have something to eat at the
station. Where's Big Ben?' He referred to the loud-ticking gun-metal
object that was wont to adorn Kif's wrist. He had bought it for half a
crown from a man on whom the bestowal of a gold one by a besotted
sweetheart had had a delirious effect.

'Lost it when I was wounded... 'Member Jimmy telling me to take the
---- thing off before we went out wire-cutting that night or it would
rouse the whole ---- front line?'

'Yes, his language always got thick when there was a job on.'

And the talk went back to Jimmy.

Tim reclaimed his coat in the hall and they said good-bye on the steps.

'You'll come to us for your leave,' he said, making a statement of it,
but glancing anxiously at Kif.

'Thanks very much,' said Kif, and Tim ran down the steps as the
dinner-bell rang.

Kif went down the stairs to the basement dining-room rather sorrowfully.
He did not feel that the world was coming to an end because Barclay was
going out of his life. He had too great a faith in the good world in
front of him for that. But to have lost both Jimmy and Tim was certainly
going to make a difference. He had the feeling one has when the party is
over; to-morrow may be full of promise, but the moment is desolate. He
had the hump. Nothing more heroic than that.

What he could not be expected to know was the fact that it was the scales
of his own life, not Barclay's, that he had tipped out there where the
periwinkles grew.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Tim, in view of his coming promotion, had extended leave, and the
Barclays were still in the Isle of Wight when Kif left Laythwaite. They
wrote urging him if he would not come to them to use the Golder's Green
house where Alison still remained, but Kif was not yet sufficiently
accustomed to the usages of polite society to use a house in the owner's
absence. It savoured to him of cheek to go and stay there alone, as if he
owned the place. He wrote instead a stiffly polite little note, stiff not
from intention but because of the baldness of its phrasing. Kif had
naturally none of the epistolary arts. He did not, it is true, use the
meaningless stereotyped sentences so beloved of his class. He said
straightforwardly what he wanted to say and left it at that. They were
his own words, not a peculiar form of English used solely for
letter-writing. But he had not the knowledge to make what he wanted to
say graceful. Mrs Barclay handed the flimsy indelible-pencilled pages
over the breakfast table to Ann, with a little deprecating smile.

'Dear boy,' she said.

Ann found something peculiarly offensive in the tone of her mother's
remark. There was patronage, of course, and a kindly excusing of
short-comings, but there was something more: a sort of regulating and
emphasising of her own position of patroness in view of the deplorably
obvious lack of the graces on the part of her protégé. So Ann felt; but
Ann had probably not risen on the proper side that morning. She read the
backhand lines--Kif wrote a schoolboy hand, but the letters did not
sprawl or lie up against each other in the usual fashion of the little
educated--in a black rage. She had a disgraceful desire to hit her kindly
always-in-the-right mother. Just because he doesn't spend six pages being
clever, or telling her how wonderful she is, she thought savagely. Why,
he's the only boy of his sort we've known who wrote an individual letter.
But she wouldn't see that, of course. She never thought how he would have
stuck out of the herd if he had had the right sort of upbringing. Why,
the very words on the paper had more personality than nine out of ten of
the would-be clever ones she was so pleased with.

The mere sight of the stubborn, unflourishing handwriting brought the boy
so vividly before her that it was as if he had been personally snubbed by
her mother's remark.

'Please don't worry about me. I'm all right. I can look out for myself.'
No, of course her mother wouldn't revel in that sort of stuff. She was
piqued, that's what it was. So she had to condone the crudity to show she
wasn't. Ugh! If it had been a girl she wouldn't have bothered about her
at all.

What she might have said in her black mood was prevented by the tardy
arrival of her brother. He kissed his mother, who was gathering up her
letters preparatory to leaving the room to answer them--or previous ones.
It was typical of Margaret Barclay that, with time her own, she spent the
most wonderful hour of the most wonderful days being animated on
hand-made paper with her back to the window. Ann, with whom he had
already had an argument over the tenancy of the bathroom, he greeted with
cheerful opprobrium, and in his sunny presence she relaxed and blossomed.
For weeks he had been a being she did not know; Moody distrait,
undependable. Looking at him now, rummaging among the dishes on the
sideboard to the accompaniment of a running commentary on their merits,
one would say he had not a care in the world. Only to the being who knew
him best the difference was visible. The lazy acceptance had gone from
his eyes, they had a lost, half-afraid look sometimes that it hurt her to
see.

'_And_ kedgeree!' he said. 'That's the third morning running. There must
be an unlimited supply of stale fish in the neighbourhood.'

'You're growing very particular,' said Ann. 'Who are you that you should
look a boarding-house dish in the mouth?'

'True, O Queen! Live for ever. But I cannot pretend to illusions that I
am bereft of. I have seen so many wheels go round in the last two years
that I mistrust mechanics. If you don't call that mechanics,' he held up
a lingering spoonful of the glutinous mess, 'I'd like to know--'

'Be quiet and get on with it. It's a glorious morning, and it will be
half over before you are at toast and marmalade if you don't hurry.'

'Hurry? Nothing doing. That's another thing I've lost.'

'What?'

'My capacity for hurrying. No one hurries in the army. Come in to Ventnor
with me,' he added as he sat down with a plate of bacon and eggs.

'Wouldn't you rather walk the other way? It's a dream of a day for
March.'

'I would, but I want to shop.'

'Oh, Lord! Not more ties!'

'No, it isn't for myself--don't look so surprised, it isn't tactful--I
just feel moved to buy someone a present this fair day. And you need not
look so expectant either. You don't enter into it except as secretary of
the advisory committee. Honorary.'

'Oh, well. As long as I am allowed to hang over the counter and say Oo.
Who is it for, and what is it?'

'I must have notice of the question.'

'Oh, all right, keep it to yourself if you want to. I am that rarest of
birds, an incurious woman.'

'Myth,' said her brother indistinctly through a large mouthful.

No--phenomenon. There's a letter from Kif.'

Tim laid down his knife and fork and put out his hand for it. For a
little there was silence. Ann sat finishing her coffee and watching the
wistful look come back to her brother's eyes. Was it just the war, she
wondered? Just the strain and awfulness of things. Or was there a girl?
He had never mentioned a girl, which meant that if she existed she wasn't
the right sort. How terrible! Her Tim. She was beginning to incline to
the girl theory. There was this business of the present. And he couldn't
possibly have worried so much merely about taking a commission--a thing
that all his friends had done long ago. Of course he had said he didn't
want to, but that was just his old lack of self-confidence. He had always
been like that, letting other people do things while he looked on. There
must be another explanation, and the only explanation was a girl. Perhaps
her presence at the buying of the gift was to give him his opportunity to
introduce the subject. If so, then she must be decent about it and try to
understand. She wouldn't be one of those harpies whose talons are fixed
for ever in their male belongings so that they are dragged unwillingly at
their chariot wheels. Terribly mixed metaphor. Harpies and chariots.

Tim finished the short letter without remark and was absent-minded for
the rest of the breakfast. As they walked into the town they were still
silent. It was a still high blue morning that in summer would have been
pleasantly appropriate, but which in this leafless March seemed a
God-given thing of wonder. Something in the man and the girl, both so
susceptible to impression, responded to the atmosphere of the day as a
cat stretches itself in the sun; and deep in them both was the aching
regret that a wholly beautiful thing rouses in those who appreciate it.
Even in the broad stability of the days before the war they would have
been victims of that ache; now, when all human experience was thistledown
before a wind, the poignancy in beauty was very near the surface. So they
walked in silence until the streets of the town roused them to friendly
trivialities.

Tim led Ann into a watchmaker's and Ann followed, thinking: 'If only
he'll tell me about her! I wouldn't mind what she was like if only he'll
tell me.'

She could and would not ask questions. Ever since their nursery days they
had respected each other's reserves, a habit which had the effect of
giving value to their confidences and in some queer way reducing these
reserves to a minimum. There is in human nature a perverse desire to give
a confidence which we know will be well received but never asked for.
Much of the complete understanding and good-fellowship which existed
between Tim and Ann was due to their mutual light-rein methods.

Ann heard Tim say: 'I want to see some men's wrist watches--silver.'

In her surprise she blurted, 'Is it for a man?'

Tim, who was inspecting the display under the glass of the counter, took
a second to assimilate this, then he turned his head in quick surprise to
look at her, and his eyes were the laughing mischievous eyes of her
brother of nursery days, the small boy who had found her out. 'A mere
man,' was all he said, but as the assistant approached with the watches
he added: 'I'll give you due warning of the other kind. And I won't take
you with me to the buying thereof.'

Ann was so filled with relief at the revelation and annoyance at her
unwonted betrayal of herself that Tim had made his choice before she came
out of her abstraction to ask: 'Who is it for, Tim?'

'It's for Kif. Do you think he'd hate a square one? It's by far the
nicest.'

'I shouldn't think so. Kif is no conservative. In fact I should think the
most original shape ever invented wouldn't be too original for him. What
has happened to Big Ben? He was rather attached to it, wasn't he?'

'Yes, but he has lost it.'

'Well, this should comfort him! Is it his birthday?'

'Not that I know of.'

'It's rather nice of you, Tim.'

'Nice of me!' His pleasant mouth twisted in what was nearly a sneer.
'This is the merest conscience money--and paltry at that. Let's go and
have coffee.'

'But you've only just had breakfast.'

'Art criticism is thirsty work. I haven't considered the rival beauties
of Swiss and British for nearly twenty minutes without developing that
sinking sensation. We will have coffee--with cream in it.'

Over the coffee and the small hard cakes which were all that a war-time
establishment could supply they dawdled until nearly noon. A slant of
sunlight fell across the clothless table and drew a heady scent from the
four daffodils stuck mathematically into a glass vase at the table's
centre. In the drowsy warmth both achieved a measure of happiness. There
is no girl, Ann was thinking. No girl. I've been a fool. Meeting trouble
halfway. A fool. He isn't that sort. Dear Tim.

The result of Tim's meditations was to make him bring out the little
white packet and unwrap it. Together they eyed the watch in a mesmeric
quiet. When Tim had turned it over several times Ann put out her hand for
it, and she in turn fingered it absently; laid it on her wrist, dangled
it from a first finger, held it in an embracing palm, gazed at its shrewd
elongated face. Tim's hand came out for it again, and she surrendered it
wordlessly. He laid it gently in its wrappings and thoughtfully and with
infinite care parcelled it up. With as much deliberation as if it were
for a mistress, Ann thought, watching the lingering fingers. No as though
he were burying something, she thought abruptly as he put the lid on.
Laying a ghost. What made her think of that? Horrid thought.

Tim asked for the bill and together they went out into the sunshine.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN


From April 1917 until November 1918, Kif was in France; an insignificant
private of a battalion with an enviable reputation, moved back and fore,
careless and acquiescent, across the old battlefields until their very
familiarity bred a bastard kind of affection in him, and the
disappearance of a gable here or a tree there was a matter for amused
concern on his return. He was led up the uncurving roads, pavé or rutted,
trundled over the country in railway trucks, bucketed about in motor
lorries, ignorant always of his destination and nearly always
indifferent. The important things of life were whether his supply of
cigarettes would hold out until next day; whether the Q.M.S. would agree
that his boots were not what they had been; whether there would be a
letter or a parcel for him; who would win the hundred yards; whether the
sector they were taking over would be cushy or otherwise, and if
otherwise which were the 'unhealthy' places. But the only really
important thing which happened to him in all that time occurred just
after he returned from England and hospital.

The battalion were out of line. It was a chill mournful evening with a
Scotch mist that wavered damply about the billets and made one think of
firesides and hot toast, toast dripping with butter and generously
overlaid with marmalade--the mushy kind, full of gleaming peel. But there
were no fires. With luck there would be a stove somewhere. The new draft
inspected, the Sergeant Major said: 'You'll find most of the company over
in the Y.M. Your billet's the third door down on the left.' Kif dumped
his kit thankfully in the dim deserted house, full of the ghostliness
that personal belongings have in their owners' absence, and made for the
Y.M.C.A. hut.

A thin golden line drew a square round the blind of each window and a
pleasant hubbub came from within. Kif pushed open the door and savoured
it all gratefully: the stove, the lights, the voices, the tobacco smoke,
the click of billiard balls, the jigging of a mouth-organ, the flags, the
evergreens belying their reputation. 'Hullo, Vicar,' said someone, and he
crossed to the far corner and subsided among a group who might bring him
up-to-date in regimental history. While they talked his eye wandered over
the hut in search of old cronies, but there were none. He knew less than
a dozen faces in all that crowded hut and of these only three had a name
in his mind. Jimmy dead and Tim gone; it was going to be a dud time. He
knew the back of the chap playing billiards, but he couldn't remember his
name. He watched the fair head with its upstanding hair and the sloping
muscular shoulders idly first and then with attention. Who was that? And
where had he seen him last? He wished the fellow would turn round. Every
time he moved a picture swam into his mind and broke before it became a
whole. The unknown straightened himself abruptly and the picture rushed
together until just as he was on the point of recognising it, it faded.
It was connected with something exciting, unusual. Had it been a scrap
somewhere? Kif took the cigarette from his mouth and with narrowed eyes
concentrated his attention on the problem. But into no picture of a
trench mix-up did the supple smooth-moving figure fit.

The unknown laid down his cue and turned round, his game finished. He was
a complete stranger. No, he wasn't, then. He was--he was--he was the
boxer who had knocked out the 'curry-comb' that night at Salisbury!

The fair boy came easily towards them, feeling in his tunic pocket for
his cigarettes. And that is how Kif met Thomas Carroll, commonly known as
Angel, partly because of his beautiful colouring, partly owing to the
suggestion of his name.

It was a month before Kif was admitted into even the outer courts of
Carroll's friendship, and much longer before they reached the stage of
boon-companionship. It was not that Carroll put any premium on his value
as an acquaintance. When Kif told him that he had seen his triumph in
the ring he seemed unimpressed; Kif could read not the faintest
gratification in his face. And when Kif mentioned the fact of Carroll's
prowess to others he found that the company had up till now been unaware
of it. It was not from any sense of superiority, then, that Carroll kept
Kif at arm's length. His withholding seemed to be due rather to a queer
caution and reserve which was noticeable in all his dealings with people
and was completely lacking in his dealings with things. Even when
intimacy had been established Kif was often conscious that the
comfortable quality which had distinguished his friendship with Jimmy
and Barclay was missing. You could never bet on what Carroll was
thinking or feeling as you had been able to with the others. He was to
all appearances frank, he was good-natured, he could be amusing both in
private conversation and for public delectation (his most popular
moments were those in which he 'did' the various officers for the
benefit of whoever had the luck to be present); he was, as might be
expected, a good man in a scrap, he was a good friend--that is to say he
saw that no one pinched your share of the food when you were busied
elsewhere, and if part of your equipment was missing at a critical
moment he lent you his and pinched someone else's until the crisis was
past. But he was incalculable. In spite of everything he remained an
unknown quantity. And the comfortable sensation was lacking.

Carroll had enlisted the week after the Salisbury tournament and had been
in France for six months when Kif rejoined the battalion.

'You weren't a professional?' said Kif, remembering that the bout he had
witnessed had been an amateur one.

'No, but I would have been if I hadn't joined when I did. I was just
going to be.'

'What was your real job?'

Carroll cast him a swift glance. 'An agent.' he said. He did not
volunteer any further information and Kif shied away from the subject. 'A
bookie's tout or something,' he thought. This conclusion was strengthened
by the fact of Carroll's intimate and extensive knowledge of racing. That
and boxing constituted two strong ties of common interest between them,
and though Carroll asked frankly when the spirit moved him about Kif's
previous mode of life Kif left it to him to proffer details of his own;
and that Carroll never did.

His biggest concession was to give way to Kif's importunity and to teach
him the rudiments of the game of his heart. Whenever they came out of the
line he and Kif would retire to some approximately deserted place and he
would put Kif through it. After six months of such stolen moments he was
moved to rare expression of approval. 'You're not half bad,' he said. And
Kif could have fallen on his neck.

In the early spring of 1918 they spent a leave together in Paris and made
the gilt tawdriness of it sheer gold with their youth. The dreary
sand-bagged Paris of war-time did nothing to shake the throne that London
held in Kif's heart, but there were moments when, the pale spring
sunlight falling suddenly from the wide Parisian sky across the squares
and the bridges, he paused approvingly in the ploy of the moment,
awakened to a half-realisation of the beauty of this war-haggard queen.
'A bonza place,' he said, still using Travenna's phrase as the
superlative of praise.

They went back from waywardness and exuberance to bitter fighting and
retreat. By the time that the British army had found a wall to set its
back against and had drawn breath for recoil the incident of his Paris
leave had faded from the surface of Kif's mind.

One day at the beginning of April, Carroll, who had been reading a letter
from home--that home which he never talked about--handed an enclosure
over to Kif and said: 'Want to back something?' Kif took the type-written
slip and found that it was a bookmaker's list of prices for the Guineas.

'I wish I were going to see them,' he said wistfully, and read down the
lists with attention. There had been no racing either during his leave
with the Barclays or during his leave after discharge from hospital,
which he had spent alone in London; and he longed unutterably to taste
again the glow and satisfaction of it.

'What are you backing?' he asked.

'I'm having Gainsborough for the Two Thousand and My Dear for the
Thousand. If you want to have something on I'll send it with mine, if you
like.'

'Yes, I'm having one bet. I'm going to back a filly called Ferry for the
Thousand.'

'Think again!' said Carroll.

'No. Ferry is the place I know best on earth--Wypers always barred--in
fact, it's the place where I was born, and I'm putting a pound on it. How
many francs make a pound to-day?'

Carroll again pointed out that it was a pitiful mistake to back outsiders
at a hundred-to-one, especially in a classic race, where form was well
known. 'You're worse than a girl,' he said disgustedly. 'They back a
thing because it has the same colours as the dress they're wearing. Take
a free tip and back My Dear!'

Kif smiled lazily at him and remained unmoved. And that is how he came to
be possessed of a hundred pounds sterling and a bank book. Ferry won the
Thousand Guineas at the starting price of fifty-to-one.

When Carroll, amused and congratulatory, asked him what should be done
with his fortune, he decided that he would have it banked and the
bank-book sent to Mrs Clamp, who had put him up on his last leave and to
whom he wrote more or less regularly. He thought for a moment of asking
the Barclays to take charge of the money for him--Carroll did not offer
that service--but though he still heard regularly and often from Tim,
letters from Golder's Green had grown so infrequent as almost to have
ceased. Ann still wrote to him at longish intervals, and her letters were
still events which made a whole day vivid for him when they occurred, but
he was shy of introducing the subject of money affairs into the
correspondence. So he gave Carroll Mrs Clamp's address, saying happily:
'That will cure the old lady! She says no good ever came out of racing.
Now she'll have documents to prove the contrary!'

A fortnight before the armistice Kif developed pleurisy. He was sent down
to the base cursing feverishly, since the rumour of peace had been
insistent for the last two weeks, and the bitterness of being out of the
show now that the great moment had come was insupportable. Ten days later
he was in hospital at Eastbourne and the Half-and-Halfers went into
Germany without him.

He would have been mildly bored by his second dose of hospital life,
since he knew all that was to be known about it, if the prospect of his
imminent discharge had not given him a never-failing source of
speculation. In his walks along the deserted front with the grey winter
sea thick and still as if on the point of freezing, and Beachy Head very
clear and near; to the sound of the falling cards as he played with his
fellow patients; in bed at night when the night sister's lamp made a warm
pool among the shadows and the breathings and stirrings of his neighbours
filled the darkness: always the thought was with him. Free! His own
master, with money in his pocket and the world to choose from. There was
nothing he might not do. He played with possibilities as a child with
coloured balls, tossing them up one by one and watching them spin and
glitter and change colour as they turned, throwing up another before the
last had come to rest in his hand. There was all abroad to be
considered--America, Arizona, Oklahoma. The reality mightn't be as fine
as the shining names but there was nothing to hinder his going to see. He
might go and punch cows till he had enough money to have a ranch of his
own. The life had too decided a resemblance to the one at Tarn, and he
would toss up another ball. New York, the home of the self-made. He
didn't know anything about office work, but then neither did half the men
who had made millions. And anyhow he didn't want to make millions. To go
and do and see things while he was young--that was better than making a
mint of money. And someday to have enough to take a taxi without counting
his loose change; and to own a thoroughbred, bay with black points. But
even while the balls rose and twisted and gleamed, deep down in his
consciousness, unacknowledged but strong, was the realisation that he was
only playing; that the American plains and the South Seas and New York
and New Zealand were but foils to one thing, and his consideration of
them but sops to his pride. I could do this and this, he boasted to
himself, knowing full well that he never would. That he was caught. That
once he stepped out of Charing Cross into the Strand again coral islands
and cattle plains would be meaningless for him.

They gave him his discharge in January. 'You are sound now,' the doctor
said as he passed him, 'but you will have to be careful for a year or
two. No colds and no over-exertion. Good luck!'

'Ay, ay,' said the master tailor at the depôt, 'so ye're through with it!
I mind the day ye went out o' barracks with all yer bonnie white kit-bags
and the pride o' the devil... Ay!... Well, good luck!'

The old lady in the tuck-shop at the gate remembered him. 'You were the
boy who used to come for three tuppenny pies every evening. I'm very glad
to see you safe. And your two friends?... Ah!... Well, good luck!'

So Kif came to London possessed of a hundred pounds, his gratuity--the
tip a soldier received for dodging death for four years--and a light
heart, and clothed by a grateful government in a suit which, thanks to a
timely lubrication of an appropriate palm, was one which very nearly
fitted him. He decided that he would find a pied-à-terre with Mrs Clamp
while he looked for a temporary job which would keep him until he decided
upon an investment for his fortune. But Mrs Clamp, loquacious and
cheerfully reminiscent, had, for the first time in ten years as she
explained, her husband and two of her sons home together, and
consequently had no room to spare. She dragged the reluctant Kif into her
kitchen and presented him to two of the world-wanderers, clear-eyed
taciturn men with wind-bitten faces. They clutched pipes in a nervous
silence while their wife and mother trotted back and fore in the
preparation of the fatted calf for Kif, and translated for the visitor's
benefit their lightest word, their most embryonic gesture, their very
silences, into an exhaustive commentary on the world's affairs. She
played showman to them very much as she had played the part to their
empty garments on Kif's first leave. As they drew in their chairs for the
consumption of the calf--fried eggs and sausage--Mr Clamp said to Kif:

'Looking for a job?'

'Yes.'

'Know what you want?'

'Well, I'll recognise it when I see it. But I'm taking anything to begin
with.'

'Know anything about the sea?'

'Only enough to keep off it.' Kif grinned.

'Well, well, perhaps it's just as well. Lots of chaps coming out of navy
service. Overcrowding. No prospects. Eh, Bert?'

Bert, secure in the possession of a first engineer's 'ticket', believed
that that was so. And Mrs Clamp took hold of the conversation again. She
was not, it appeared, going to turn him into the street unaided. Her
sister's daughter's husband had a sister who let rooms. She lived in a
mews near the far end of Tottenham Court Road and if she had a room
vacant would do for Kif right willingly, Mrs Clamp was sure. So Kif,
primed with the fat of what was then a lean land, armed with the address
of his haven written in pencil on the back of a bullhead, and with a warm
feeling under his government suit too high in situation and too potent in
effect to be due wholly to eggs and sausage, went out into the street,
his hand still glowing from articulation with the hands of the
inarticulate mariners.

When next he went to pay his respects to his benefactor, some weeks
later, he found her gone. Mr Clamp had been given a shore job, a
neighbour informed him, and they had gone to live at Southampton.

At 5A Fitzmaurice Lane Kif set up his household gods. His landlady, a
pathetic little wisp of a woman with mouse-coloured hair and a subdued
manner, had been made a widow by the battle of Arras and supported
herself and her child--a girl of five--by letting her rooms and by taking
in fine washing. There was sometimes on her kitchen sink, in queer
contrast to the rough crockery and the poor room, a foam of lace as
delicate and lovely as happy dreams, frail beautiful mockery. Kif, coming
into the kitchen one morning to clean his boots, paused at the white heap
on the scrubbed spotless wood and touched it with a tentative finger. The
stuff fell across his finger-tip with no more friction than would a
cobweb.

'Do people really wear that?' he asked.

'That they do,' Mrs Connor said. 'Pretty, isn't it? Made by hand every
bit of it.' There was vicarious pride in her voice.

'How do they keep warm?'

'Oh, that kind live in heated houses, and when they go out they have furs
to put on.' Again there was no malice in her tone.

'Don't you envy them?' asked Kif, who envied no one on earth, but could
understand a woman resenting other women's fripperies.

'If they didn't have them there would be no work for me,' she said.

It seemed to Kif that there was something wrong with the reasoning, but
it was not the kind of thing he bothered his head about. As long as his
little landlady was content it was all right. There were times when her
eyes were so unhappy, hopelessly unhappy like a dog that has been beaten
and, knowing no future, touches the nadir of despair, that he was
uncomfortable. He had seen war in being, but he had not till now been
brought into contact with the backwash. He had gone through the mill and
come out and was free of it. This woman was caught; hopelessly and
irretrievably caught. The insane thing was going on grinding her to
pieces long after the need for it was over. Kif tried in various ways to
show his sympathy and she made it obvious that she appreciated his
unspoken goodwill by the thought she gave to his comfort, mental and
physical; the garnishing of a dish at supper or a vase of flowers in his
room. Hetty, the small girl, fell in love with him and, being at that
refreshing age of maidenhood when reticence is not, made no attempt to
hide her passion. She would waylay him on the stairs with a brazenness
which was disarming, and if an invitation was not forthcoming would
invite herself to his room with a mixture of determination and charm
which Kif found difficult to resist.

'Are you going to your room?'

'Yes.'

'Are you going to do anything speshul?'

'No, I don't think so.'

'Because if you were doing anything speshul Mother said I wasn't to
bother you.'

'Oh, did she?'

'Shall I come and talk to you for a little?'

'What will you talk about?' Pause. 'Me.'

She would sit on the edge of his bed, her small thin legs swaying gently
back and fore, the movement varied every now and then by a click of the
shabby heels. Before he had been many days with them she had catechised
him on his birth, parents, beliefs, war experiences, and had passed an
opinion on most of his belongings.

'Why haven't you a tex'?' she asked one day, her round blue eyes on his
bare walls. Kif didn't know.

'How many tex' do you know?' she pursued suspiciously.

'Oh, thousands,' said her victim, trying a big bluff.

'Well, say one.'

Bluff called. ''Fraid I can't remember any at the moment. Haven't used
many lately. Only King's Regulations.'

'That's not a very good one.'

'Well, you say one.'

'God is a ghost,' she said promptly.

'That doesn't sound quite right.'

'It's _quite_ right. And if you don't know any how can you tell? Shall I
give you a butterfly kiss?'

'Will it hurt?'

'No-o! It's just a little tickle-ickle. Has no one ever given you one
before?'

'Don't think so.'

'Poor Mr Vicar!' She pulled the boy down beside her and wound her skinny
arms round his neck. She laid her creamy cheek alongside his and, her
breath tightly held, brushed his cheek with her long lashes. 'There!' she
said, thankfully expelling the pent air from her lungs, 'that's a
butterfly kiss. Did you like it?'

'Rather!'

'You can have one every day if you like.'

'Thank you.' Kif gave the slight little body in the curve of his arm a
gentle hug and lifted her to the floor. 'You'd better go to Mummy now.
I'm going to wash.'

'_Must_ you wash?'

'Don't you?'

'Oh yes. But I shan't when I'm your age. Are you fond of washing?'

'Love it.'

'Would you like to bath me? To-morrow's my night.'

'Don't think I'd be any good at that.'

'I'll teach you. Please bath me! Please!'

But this time Kif was firm--until next evening, when, on his way
upstairs, he heard soft heart-broken crying from the kitchen and Mrs
Connor's patient protesting voice. He leaned over the balusters and said
'Hetty in trouble?' and learned that it was his delinquency in the matter
of superintending her ablutions that was the cause of her sorrow. He came
slowly and shyly back down the stairs and into the warm kitchen full of
steam and the faintly carbolic smell of soap. In an oval zinc bath before
the fire sat the infant, her soapy shoulders jerking convulsively to her
sobs, her fair hair screwed into a quaint knot at the top of her head.

'You said you wouldn't come,' she said accusingly, at once defending her
lapse by making him responsible and preventing any criticism of her
conduct by carrying the war into the enemy's country.

'Well, I've changed my mind,' said Kif humbly. 'Have you been soaped
enough?'

On every bath night after that he not only assisted at the ceremony but
carried her up to bed on his shoulder, a small bundle of satisfaction,
half crowing baby, half Cleopatra on her royal barge. Upstairs she
reverted wholly to baby and Kif tossed her three times and then tucked
her up. He was slightly ashamed of his own enjoyment of these moments,
and was glad that no one but Hetty's mother could see him. But he never
willingly missed one.

At 8.30 every morning Kif went round the corner to the little newsagent's
and came back with two daily papers. These he studied and clipped in the
quiet of his attic bedroom until, about ten o'clock, he sallied forth in
all the glory of a made-to-measure suit of the brown he had once coveted
on Travenna. Between five and six he came back, tired, and each day a
little more disillusioned. He had climbed stairs, penetrated into yards
and warehouses, waited in queues, and had been interviewed by all sorts
of men who had yet this in common, that they looked at him with one of
two expressions: hostility or a pitying contempt. It is an old tale now,
that reluctance on the part of the home front's defenders to employ men
out of the army, but Kif had to find it all out for himself. Incredulous
at first, later in a dull rage that ate up his vitality like a furnace,
he pursued the search for a job, any job that would keep him from
spending his precious fortune before he had a chance to invest it.

'What did you do before?' asked the foreman in a contractor's yard where
they wanted labourers.

'A farm servant.'

'You look it, I must say!' said the man, with a glance at Kif's clothes.

After that Kif went job-hunting in his government 'tweed'. But the
results were no better.

It was significant that no one asked his age. Kif at nineteen gave no
impression of immaturity. Though not so tall for a man as he had been for
his age at fifteen he was yet fairly tall, and, as always, well put
together. The army had abstracted the drawl from his step and there was
nothing left of the countryman either in his appearance or his manner. He
carried himself well and spoke easily. Even his accent, thanks to his
imitative faculty and Barclay's long proximity, was less rugged. He had
presentability, he had a man's strength, and he had the goodwill to work;
but no one wanted him.

So used had he become to rejection that he was almost shocked when he
found himself employed as assistant to a greengrocer in Camden Town.
Until he had been two days there he could not rid himself of the
apprehension that he had been engaged by mistake. Since this relief
promised to be merely temporary--his predecessor was 'off with
appendicitis'--he continued to live at Fitzmaurice Lane, and studied
advertisements in the intervals of enticing carrots and turnips into the
packed baskets of Mr Grabham's customers. On his first day he had wrapped
up a cauliflower--yea, in fair white paper--and it took him a week to
live down his mistake, and to reinstate himself in the good graces of his
employer.

'Paper!' Mr Grabham had shrieked. 'No paper, you great fool!'

'Don't you wrap up anything, then?' asked Kif humbly.

'Certainly not. Nothing's been wrapped up for the last two years.'

'And what's that for?' asked Kif, pointing to the pile of virgin sheets.

'That? That's just to show that we're a firm that knows what's what, even
if we don't do it. And don't ask so many questions. I bet you didn't ask
your sergeant questions.'

Kif's dark eyes rested sardonically on the fussy meagre man with his
cockatoo crest of thin grey hair. He had a picture of the mighty chest
and withering glance of Mullins, company-sergeant-major. What did this
little...

'I didn't,' he said good-humouredly. 'He usually got in first.'

I do not think Mr Grabham found Kif a bad assistant. He was at least
strictly honest, which, as Mr Grabham remarked in camera to his wife, was
a pleasant change from the last five bar one. But when the appendicitic
one came back two months later he returned to unemployment with a feeling
of emancipation which was as welcome as he recognised it to be illogical.
Sometimes among the barrels of apples and the vegetable baskets even in
these eight weeks he had had waves of that bitter impatience which he had
not known since he left Tarn. Now he was free to pursue the search. The
search for what? He was not quite sure. The search, anyhow.

If the labour market had been overcrowded in January, in March it was
infinitely worse. The days passed barren and workless, and Kif rationed
himself to two meals a day--and these he censored--in his desire to keep
that precious sum in the bank intact. He felt that if he tapped it even
to the extent of ten shillings the magic would somehow have gone from it
and he would not be able to resist further inroads. He no longer bought
papers. Mrs Connor pointed out that there was no need to buy a paper just
to look at advertisements; you could see all the papers you wanted in a
public library. So Kif made one of the eddying impatient crowd round the
green baize supports in a murky reading-room whose very atmosphere
breathed despair. A railway waiting-room may be the abomination of
desolation, but there is a smug certainty on the faces of the jetsam who
occupy for a little its penitential benches; trains are inevitable as
night and day, and the tide that washed them up on so forlorn a shore
will take them out at the appointed time, or thereabouts. But a London
reading-room at ten o'clock of a working morning is hung with a gloom
shot with malice and despair. In 1919 it was the mouth of the pit. Each
individual in the crowd round the daily papers pushed and squeezed so
that they might not be the one to be forced over the yawning edge. Every
day they jotted down on the backs of envelopes or in little notebooks the
precious addresses and hurried out so that they might be in the first
flight, and always on the morrow they were back, their roughened fingers
clutching the much-licked stub of pencil, their eyes searching the
columns again. Except for their hands, and the set of their shoulders,
and the look in their eyes they had outwardly as little in common as that
first gathering that flooded the barracks on the outbreak of war. In
mufti they had once more reverted to type, this to spats and this to a
muffler. The time had not yet come when spats were to disappear in favour
of the bare necessities of clothing. At present their only common
attribute was the stamp of their service, and their need; their urgent
need. Some of them, it is true, tried to camouflage the urgency under a
mask of indifference; but it deceived no one. The man to whom a job is a
matter of indifference does not consult the daily press in a public
reading-room at ten of a morning.

'I say, mister,' said a small man in a government suit and a rubber
collar to Kif one morning, 'what's a fly-tyer?'

Kif could not help him.

'Oh well, it don't matter. I'll have a shot at it.'

'Good luck!' said Kif, grinning at him; the man's cheerful remark was
less suggestive of present need than of the old army motto: Apply for
everything, just in case. Kif never saw him again, so he was never
enlightened on the mysteries of fly-tying.

The odd spasmodic scraps of work which eventually came Kif's way were
thrown in his path by blind chance, not obtained by any effort or
premeditation on his part, and none of them offered more than a short
breathing space in the battle. He was going despondently down the stairs
of some Strand offices one afternoon when a wild clattering announced the
descent of someone in a hurry, and a small fat man shot past him,
arrested himself several steps down by dint of a grab at the railing,
and, evidently overcome by a sudden idea, said to Kif:

'Not looking for a job, by any chance, are you?'

'Oh no,' said Kif bitterly, 'trailing up and down stairs is just my
amusement.'

'C'mon!' said the small man, laying a plump pointed hand on Kif's arm and
urging him upwards again. He propelled him into a cigar-thick office
lined entirely with photographs, and said triumphantly to the man who was
tearing his hair at the desk: 'I've got one, Sol. Ain't he a beaut!'

'Keep them in a pocket or what?' grunted the other.

'No, I got this one on the stairs.'

That night and for fourteen nights after, Kif, chocolate brown all over
except for the necessary apron demanded by a grandmotherly censor, held a
flaming torch (electric) up stage centre in act two of a new production
with an Eastern motif. The new production flopped severely, and Kif ended
his stage career without having found a substitute for it.

And then came the great idea.

In a paper one morning he read 'Wanted, a gentleman with capital
(£100--£150) as partner in bookmaking business, working or sleeping.' Kif
answered the advertisement and by return received a letter asking him to
call at an address in Charing Cross Road. He exchanged his now
disreputable tweed for the carefully preserved brown suit. As he drew the
trousers from their resting-place below the mattress he whistled. Walking
through the spring streets he whistled soft tuneless phrases under his
breath. Climbing the dark stairs in Charing Cross Road he was still
whistling. He was climbing the road to fortune. His luck had turned. He
knew it.

It was too dark on the landing to read the white card on the door, but he
knocked confidently, and a voice roared a cheerful 'Come in!' and Kif
went. At a large square table furnished simply with a telephone sat a
pallid little man with dead eyes and a peevish mouth. He had the complete
colourlessness of something that has grown under a stone. If Kif's
spirits were dashed by the sight of so unattractive an individual he was
reassured when his gaze met the merry blue eyes of the man who was
lounging in the window. This was the owner of the voice undoubtedly, a
ruddy person of forty or so.

'Hough and Collins?' he said.

'I'm Collins,' said the pallid man. 'This is Mr Hough.'

'I'm Vicar, come to talk business.'

'Pleased to meet you, Mr Vicar,' said the pallid man with an airy gesture
to his forehead. Hough came forward and shook hands.

'Just out of the army?' he asked, and Kif had the feeling that it was not
merely a conventional or business query.

'Not just. Last January.'

'Beat me by a month. France, was it?... Carnshires. I was in Egypt most of
the time with the--Yeomanry. Horses have always been rather in my line.
Before I joined the army I helped my father in a "silver ring" business.
And now that I'm out of it I'd like to go back to the old job, with a
little promotion. Mr Collins here knows the business from A to Z.'

It did not require any perspicuity on Kif's part to realise that Mr
Collins, though Hough's junior by nearly ten years, had not had
sufficient love of horses to draw him into any yeomanry. No army had
owned the wan-skinned thing at the table. How had he managed to escape
service? In what way could this spineless object have been indispensable?
He was answered almost immediately when Collins rose and crossed to a
cupboard. The man was so undersized in every way that even a bantam
battalion would have looked askance at him. A shade of pity mingled with
Kif's contempt until he wondered suddenly in what capacity Mr Collins had
learned the business from A to Z. A stable lad or a jockey? Not a jockey
certainly; his shoulders were ill-developed and narrow. Nor did he look
like a bookmaker's clerk. He was more like a tout. There was about him
that subtle suggestion of having no legal standing in the universe, of
being perpetually ready to run. Kif's glance went back to the glowing
solidity of Hough, who was setting out chairs. Hough caught the look and
smiled rubicundly. 'Expect you're looking for a billet for your gratuity,
same as me,' he said. Kif assented absent-mindedly. He was wondering how
he was to test the apparent frankness of Collins' partner. He certainly
had every appearance of having seen service in Egypt, but how was he to
know? And then he remembered a boy who had come one night to dance at the
Barclays, a trooper in the 2nd ----, a pleasant youth with a devastating
stammer.

'Which battalion of the ---- were you in?' he asked casually.

'The 2nd.'

'Ever met a fellow called Heseltine?'

'You b-b-bet your b-b-boots,' laughed Hough. 'Shared a blanket with him
often.'

So _that_ was all right.

'Have a drink, Mr Vicar,' said Collins, proffering the bottle he had
taken from the cupboard. Kif refused.

'Perhaps you're right,' Collins said in his thin creaking voice. 'Never
drink before a business discussion.' And Kif took the indicated seat by
the table.

Collins talked, with occasional appeals to Hough for corroboration. He
had, it appeared, been a partner in a small bookmaking business before
the war. He had not attended the meetings, but had looked after the town
end of the business. For the last two years he had been making munitions
and had spent even with decent living only half of what he had made. With
the other half he now proposed to start business. Hough, who was coming
in as junior partner, would do the outside work, attending the
meetings--'He has a daisy of a voice!'--and Collins would look after the
office side. If Kif was able to do clerk's work he was to be roped in as
Hough's second on the course. If not, he could be a sleeping partner and
a clerk would be engaged. But their original idea was to have the third
partner as clerk.

He produced ample proofs of all his statements and Kif was satisfied.

Kif explained that he had always been interested in racing, and that he
would like to do the clerk's work if it were possible to pick it up.
Figures were the only kind of learning he had ever received praise for.

In the end it was agreed that a clerk should be engaged for the first
weeks and Kif could attend and learn the business until he was able to
take his place. 'I don't expect that business will be so brisk to begin
with that anyone will be killed in the crush,' Collins said.

And that is how Kif became a part of Hough & Collins, the Firm You Know,
The Sure Payers. He proved a good pupil and made a smart enough clerk
because he liked the life. The shifting situations in the day's work were
what he had always sought. For no two consecutive minutes was the outlook
the same; the unexpected became the usual. And what would have been
mechanical work in an employee became a never-ceasing interest for him
since he was part of the firm. It was _his_ fortune that was being made
or lost. It was his tragedy when Oak, the favourite, fell lame on the way
to the gate and made the race an easy for Old Sinner which had stood at
fives in their book. It was his good luck when Mealybags, which no one
had ever heard of, pipped the well-backed Musical Evening on the post.
And he liked the changing scene of their fortunes; here to-day and there
to-morrow. He liked the coming and the going; the leisurely arrival in
the high-light of noon, the dawdling setting-out of their paraphernalia,
the atmosphere of expectant waiting, of shared jests; the hasty last
paying-out, the hurried packing and rush for the trains. But most of all
he liked the period of stress between.

He still kept the attic at Fitzmaurice Lane, but had two rooms instead of
one. Occasionally Hough took him back for a meal with his wife, a little
dark woman, pretty and birdlike, in their rooms in Fulham, and they went
to theatres together. And once or twice he went by invitation to visit
Collins, who was a bachelor and lived a lonely and apparently
misanthropic existence in a small flat on the floor above their office.
Mrs Hough introduced him to her 'crowd', which was limited, good-hearted,
and a queer mixture of extravagance and hardheadedness. Kif liked them
mildly, and did not regret them when he was away from them. He was still
to a large extent self-sufficient. He danced expertly if
unenthusiastically with the wives and sisters of the Hough circle and
remained heart-whole in the midst of their by no means limited
attractions, and apparently unimpressed by their approval of him. Mrs
Hough's sister, especially, a little Dresden beauty who had enjoyed the
war and found it difficult nowadays to put the necessary 'pep' into
existence, made no secret of her preference for him.

'What can you see in him?' asked her best friend of the moment. 'He's
ugly. And he hasn't a word to say for himself. I thought you liked them
snappy.'

'So I do. But he's a heavenly dancer.'

'Lord, since when have you fallen for a man's feet?'

'Not his feet, his figure. He's got a divine figure, you'll have to
admit, Kitty Farrant.'

'Yes, his figure's good enough, I suppose.'

'You suppose! And his eyes just make me weak. They're so dark, and sort
of lazy and not taking any notice of anything, and then they wake up all
of a sudden and tease you, sort of.'

'Huh! You've got it all right. But that doesn't alter the fact that he's
plain. Nice and all that, but plain.'

'You're jealous, that's what it is.'

'So far I haven't anything to be jealous about. He isn't exactly pining
away for you, is he?'

This being only too true, the infatuated one acknowledged it and changed
the subject. Kif infinitely preferred an evening in unalloyed male
company to playing cavalier. His happiest nights were with Hough at the
Ring. As a spectacle boxing never lost its first fascination for him;
indeed the understanding of the game which his sparring with Carroll had
brought him had added rather than detracted from its allurement. He sat
literally and metaphorically at the feet of the combatants, his eyes
eager, his brain retentive. And afterwards, alone in the attic, he would
rehearse feint and parry with his shadow on the wall, and would go to bed
with a glowing body and a speculative mind. Carroll had said he was good.
Presently he would get someone to give him lessons. After all, he was
only twenty.

He was entirely happy.

And then one Saturday night he decided to do what he had been meaning to
do as soon as he had found a job. He would not go to Golder's Green as an
out-of-work nobody, a suppliant for favours. But as as a partner in Hough
& Collins he could go with a free mind. Early on Sunday afternoon he
departed from Fitzmaurice Lane, radiant, rather nervous, full of
reminiscence. The thought of the Barclays had lain at the back of his
mind all those months like a promise--a promise to himself--so that they
had come to be associated in his thoughts with his graduation, his
promotion to fortune and recognition. In the bus going up Baker Street he
remembered how he and Tim had walked from Victoria in the dark; how
uncertainly he had stood in the damp garden, afraid of his reception,
afraid of life among these people, whose ways and thoughts he did not
know. And there had been nothing to be afraid of after all. And never
would be again.

He had heard regularly from Tim at intervals of about a month until the
armistice, when Tim went into Germany with the army of occupation. Since
he had been in Eastbourne he had had no word, but that was in accordance
with the general slackening of effort which overtook everyone when the
strain relaxed and safety had once more become the birthright of the
humblest private. Kif wondered if Ann would be at home. Perhaps she had
found her job; or perhaps she had got married in the last year. She had
not been engaged before the armistice or Tim would have told him. It was
strange: he had started out primarily to see Tim, but it was Ann who came
and went in his thoughts. He got off the bus at the stop with a slight
quickening of heart and an approving glance at the boots he had taken
such pains with that morning. If grooming alone was a passport to society
then Kif was qualified to attend a levée.

He went down the path under the pergola of red ramblers hoping intensely
that everyone was out. There was no immediate answer to his ring, and he
was consumed with a fear that there was no one at home. And then Alison
opened the door.

He was just about to say 'Hullo, Alison!' when her unrecognising glance
gave him pause. He asked for Mrs Barclay. At the sound of his voice she
looked at him again, puzzled. 'Yes,' she said. 'What name, please?'

'Vicar,' said Kif.

She swung round from opening the drawing-room door. 'Bless us!' she said.
'Goad bless us! Well, I give thanks this day.'

Kif put out his hand, and Alison, with a totally unnecessary wipe of her
palm on the hip of her spotless apron, shook it warmly and long, and with
a 'Sit ye down' she fled to announce him.

There were new cretonne loose-covers on the chairs, but otherwise the
drawing-room was as he had known it. There was a crystal jar of iceland
poppies on the mantelpiece. He wondered if Ann had arranged them. And on
Mrs Barclay's desk... He crossed the room carefully, lightly, and looked
at the photograph. Yes, it was Ann; the level brows, the curved chin, the
small laughing eyes, and the uncompromising manner he had known; the Ann
who had welcomed him that night in the black-and-gold thing and had taken
him so beautifully for granted.

There was a stir at the door, and he turned as it opened.

'My dear boy,' said Mrs Barclay, 'my dear boy, this is nice of you.'

She greeted him kindly and waved him to a seat 'I am so glad to see you
looking so well. Tell me all about yourself. You have left the army, of
course. And you have found something to do. Something congenial, I hope?'

Kif had been ready, though he did not know it, to give her by degrees the
whole of his Odyssey; the greengrocer's, the Egyptian with the torch--all
of it. Instead he said: 'Yes, I have a share in a bookmaking business.'

'Racing.' It was impossible to tell whether the word was a question, a
statement, or an exclamation; her deliberate voice was habitually
unaccented. 'And you like that?'

'Well, it's as near perfection as I expect to get. Yes, I like it.'

'I am so glad. You are lucky to find your _métier_ so easily.'

'Oh, I did a lot of things first. But I'm settled for a while now. How is
Tim?'

'Tim went back to the city a month ago and does not seem to be hating it
as much as he prophesied he would. He brings home a new tie every day. He
says it emphasises the freedom of the citizen or something of the sort.
You may understand him; I don't.' She smiled her charming smile at him
and arched her brows. 'Ann is poultry farming near Ticehurst in Sussex
with two other occupation-mad young people. At the moment she is upstairs
engaged in what she calls "poshing up". They take turn about in having
the week-ends off, so we see her one week-end out of three. And not very
much of that. She is going out to tea now as soon as her hat is at the
proper angle. Tim is in Birmingham on business. That _is_ a pity.'

Well, he wasn't going to miss her after all. In a minute or two she would
come in at that door. Or--awful thought!--would she go out without coming
in? Perhaps she did not know that he was there.

'Is your work office work?' Mrs Barclay was saying. 'You must find that
trying after the open air life in the army.'

'Oh no, I'm out in all weathers. I'm the clerk and book the bets. One of
the other partners does the shouting.'

What Mrs Barclay's mind said was 'Good Heavens!' What her voice said was
'But what a wearing life! And in this climate!'

'Oh no,' said Kif. 'Oh no!' He was struggling against a dawning feeling
of--not quite disappointment, but of being done out of something; a
feeling that there was something wrong somewhere. Mrs Barclay had turned
the tap labelled 'Gracious small-talk.' Kif knew only the mixture as
delivered by the taps 'Chumminess' and 'Motherliness'. He was looking for
familiar signposts and had not yet realised that he was in the wrong
landscape. The homeless Tommy had been a very different proposition in
Margaret Barclay's eyes from this uninteresting nobody in a suit of too
obvious a cut. Ann had once said--not to Kif--that her mother would
excuse at muffler, but not a collar of the wrong kind. Not that Kif wore
the wrong kind of collar--he saw too many of the right kind in the course
of his days work to make that kind of social mistake--but... The 'but',
from Mrs Barclay's point of view, was a very big one. She would be nice
to him, poor dear. That went without saying. Margaret Barclay was never
not nice to anyone. Of _course_ she would be nice to him.

'Are you quite strong again? You were in hospital with--pneumonia, was
it?'

'Pleurisy. Yes, I'm all right again, thanks.'

A little silence.

In Mrs Barclay's mind: 'Quite attractive in a way, but of course not
possible.'

In Kif's: 'She couldn't have gone out, or I'd have heard the door.'

The door opened and Ann's voice said: 'You know, Mother, I think it would
be better if I took Lavender's--' Kif had got to his feet, and she
stopped, looking calmly at him.

'Why, good lord, it's Kif,' she said suddenly, and went over to him
smiling with her hand outstretched. 'Good Lord!' she said again.

He grinned down at her wordlessly. He had not remembered her as so small.
But all the rest was the same: the vividness, the directness, the taking
him for granted. She was even dressed as she had been that last night in
some dull-surfaced stuff of a clear green. Nothing shone about her but
her eyes and the hair under the hat.

'And what are you doing now?' she asked, resting on the arm of a chair.
'Found the ideal job?'

So she had remembered that. 'Not quite, but very nearly. I'm a
bookmaker's clerk with a stake in the firm.'

'Congratulations! I see you at thirty with a large watch-chain across
your middle and a flat in--in Half Moon Street, let us say. If I come to
your firm'--she did not ask the name of it--'will you give me a point
over the odds?'

'We might. But don't mortgage the chickens.'

'Oh, you've heard about that? Well, it's not very nice on wet days, but
it's heavenly on fine ones. Is bookmaking very exciting?'

'Fairly,' Kif admitted.

'Between you and me and the hen-house door, it's more than chicken
farming is. But then, _noblesse oblige_, back to the land, a stake in the
country, justifying one's existence!' She laughed. 'Well, I must fly. I'm
awfully glad to see you looking so full of beans. No more trouble here?'
She tapped his chest lightly. 'That's good. Good-bye. It's rotten luck
Tim's away. You'll look us up again, won't you? I wish I hadn't to go
out.' She made the characteristic little gesture with her hand from the
door and was gone.

'Yes, it really is bad luck that Tim should be away.' Kif came back to
the realisation of Mrs Barclay. 'But you will stay and have tea, won't
you?'

'No, thank you. I--I've got to meet a chap.'

'I really don't want to keep you, my dear boy, if you must go, but I
should be delighted if you could wait. Alison won't be long in bringing
it.'

'No, really, thanks very much.' He must get out of the house. Out into
the air.

'Well, you must come again when Tim will be at home.' She went with him
to the hall door. 'He will be very disappointed at missing you. Stop. You
had better let me have your address.'

Kif gave her his business card.

'Good-bye, my dear boy. I am sorry you won't stay. But I am delighted to
see you again and looking so well and and prosperous.' She patted his arm
and waited at the door smiling as he went up the path under the red
ramblers to the gate.

Two hours later he threw away the butt of his twentieth cigarette and
kicked himself mentally.

'Don't be a fool! Don't be a fool! They're not worth it.'

'Ann,' said his other half.

'But you're only one in a hundred to her. What did you expect? She was
very nice.'

'Well, Mrs Barclay. Was all that kindness just bunk? How could it be
bunk?'

'Just bunk. It was all eyewash. They're not worth bothering about. Just
you wait, and you'll show them. You're just as good as they are.'

'But, Good God! I didn't want to hang on to them. I only wanted to see
them all again.'

'Yes, but how were they to know that? They were afraid you were going to.
They simply choked you off.'

'Tim wouldn't have been like that.'

'Wouldn't he?'

'No, he wouldn't! he wouldn't!' his mind cried out. 'He wouldn't. Tim's
not like that.'

'Well, just wait and see if Tim comes.'

So with a mind half protesting half leering Kif went back to supper alone
at Fitzmaurice Lane. And far beneath his arguing mind was a sore spot
that no argument reached.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN



For the next few months Kif was busy. When he remembered the Barclays a
dull rage swept him--Tim had not come--but otherwise he was completely
happy. He liked Hough and had developed a reluctant respect for the
shrewd brain that was Collins. Collins was the most single-minded man he
had ever met; nothing but business--his business, of course--existed for
him. Hough was a normal man who liked his wife, and theatres, and a
drink, and good company, and other pages of the penny press besides the
sporting one; but none of these things existed for Collins. And then,
towards autumn, business, which had been surprisingly good for the first
year of racing after the war, began to stagger. The volume of betting was
unchanged, but several of their clients had lucky coups which it took all
the firm's resources to pay. Only the coolness and resource of Collins
saved them once or twice.

'It's a hell of a nuisance,' grumbled Hough in the train one day. 'Wonder
what that chap Fotheringham in Leeds does. Something to do with a stable,
I'll be bound. He couldn't know all about these eight-to-ones and
ten-to-ones unless he was on the inside. Wish he hadn't picked on us just
when we wanted to earn our winter keep.'

'But he's been a client of ours all along,' Kif pointed out. 'We've had
some of his.'

'Well, he's having the devil's own luck now. If Collins weren't so keen
to get some of it back he'd close his account.'

It was the end of October, and for the last fortnight things had been
better. Kif whistled as he climbed to the office on a Tuesday morning to
meet Hough. Monday had been a blank day with no racing, and he felt
already the itch to be back in the excitement of work. He had spent the
week-end with cousins of Mrs Hough's at Brighton, and nothing in the last
two days had pleased him like the prospect of his work this morning. He
hoped anxiously that the fog would prove to be lighter in the country
than it gave promise of being in London. Still whistling, he turned the
handle of the door and found it locked. Strange. Hough might not have
arrived, but Collins, if he were out, would not leave the office without
even the office boy to answer the telephone. Perhaps he hadn't arrived,
and the office boy was ill. Perhaps... His key turned in the lock and he
went in.

The office was quite deserted. A loose-leaved calendar on the mantelpiece
waved with the wind of his entrance and subsided. The table was clear of
papers as he had seen it on his first visit, except for an envelope lying
mathematically in the middle of it. Kif's heart missed a beat at sight of
it as if he had come on a bomb. He walked round to the front of the table
and regarded it without picking it up. On it was written in Hough's
writing 'Vicar'. With a mind suddenly blank of surmise and a faintly
unsteady hand he opened it.


'DEAR VICAR,

Collins has gone. Lit out. I came up here this morning to arrange things
for to-morrow and found him gone and of course everything gone with him.
There was ten pounds left in the bank--in case of questions, I suppose.
No money has been paid out for a fortnight. He had the nerve to leave the
accounts ready. There is nothing to do but clear out. Even if we got
Collins it wouldn't help. We're done for. I have managed to cash the £10,
and with what I can borrow that will take Ethel and me out of this damned
country. I am leaving you in the lurch quite deliberately. If anyone had
told me yesterday that I would do that I would have knocked him down. Now
I can't think of anyone but Ethel. You are alone and can look after
yourself. If she asks about you I shall say we went fifty-fifty in what
was left. There is a pound note in the left-hand drawer in case you are
on the rocks. If we ever meet again you can kill me, but don't tell Ethel
why.

HENRY HOUGH

P.S.--Collins was Fotheringham. There is no such person known in Leeds.
What bloody fools we've been.'


Kif put down the note and drew Collins' chair from the knee-hole of the
table. He sat down in it stumblingly. His knees were trembling and he
felt sick and shaky. He put his elbows on the table and rested his head
on his hands, but his arms were shaking so that they were no support, and
he withdrew them and sat with a blank mind, drawing a hand over his
forehead, which was cold and damp. Presently he picked up the letter and
re-read it absently, as one reads an advertisement in the Tube. But
before he had come to the end for the second time he had come alive
again, and feeling poured through him agonisingly, as blood through a
frozen limb. Collins! He would find Collins if he had to work his way
round the world to do it, and when he found him he would kill him. He
would put his sinewy hands on that mean neck and throttle the life out of
him. He would beat him into unrecognisability. Hough he hardly thought
about, and it never occurred to him to doubt Hough's honesty. Hough had
been wronged too, ruined. Ruined! He was ruined. His money gone.
Hopelessly gone. All his plans gone. He was left with a pound note... He
snatched out his pocket-book. He had a ten-shilling note in his
pocket-book and five and threepence halfpenny in loose change in his
pocket. He opened the top left drawer and found the note. One pound
fifteen and threepence ha'penny. And he paid his landlady on a Wednesday.
That was to-morrow. He would have to look for a job, of course. Any kind
of a job that would keep body and soul together. Never any more the
happiness of taking a job 'until'. He was a beggar. A year ago he might
have faced the fact with the courage of ignorance. Now he knew what the
chances of success were. It would be a body-and-soul job for ever. The
realisation was too bitter to be borne. For the first time since he was
thirteen Kif broke down. He laid his head on his arms and sobbed--hard
dry tearless sobs that hurt him and brought no relief. When they ceased
from exhaustion he staved as he was, despairingly indifferent. The light
came and went as the wisps of fog passed between the window and the
opposite chimneys. Footsteps came and went on the stairs. The rumble of
traffic came through the closed window in a steady monotone. Kif lay
motionless.

It was nearly an hour later than he lifted his head. The first thing that
his eyes lighted on was the watch on his wrist. Good heavens, he would
miss his train! And then he remembered. It was finished. Even the
racecourse was closed to him for some time to come. He sat up and pushed
his fingers through his thick disordered hair; his gaze wandered round
the office. Collins had made a pretty tidy job of it. Or was it Hough?
No, Collins, probably; it would be like him. He drew out the wastepaper
basket; it contained the accounts for the previous week made out by
Collins and torn across by Hough. One by one he opened the drawers and
ran a sensitive hand into the further ends of them. He had no definite
purpose; at the back of his mind was a faint hope that something of value
had been overlooked. But there was nothing. Once his finger-nail caught
in something and he drew out a square of pasteboard. A visiting card. He
turned it over. 'Timothy R. Barclay.'

So Tim had come!

It did not seem to matter very much at the moment somehow. It wasn't his
relations with anyone that mattered. It was life and himself. He, Kif,
was what counted, and he was being overwhelmed, drowned. Quite
unconsciously he put the card into his pocket; but it was as a souvenir,
not as a gage for the future. He finished his examination of the drawers,
picked up his hat from the chair on which he had dropped it at his
entrance, cast a last glance round the office and went out, slamming the
door behind him.

Only poets and martyrs greet calamity without seeking that fortification
of the common man, a drink. Kif had a large whisky in a bar in Leicester
Square. He did not like whisky--beer was his habit--and he could not
afford it, but both seemed somehow excellent reasons for indulging in it.
He waited hopefully, staring at the lettered mirrors, for the
transformation which should ensue, but the drink had no effect, mental or
physical, beyond eliminating the queer empty feeling that had settled
below his heart. Disgusted, he went out into the grey streets again and
walked to Fitzmaurice Lane. He must tell his landlady that one room would
have to suffice from now on. And he would have another look at this
morning's paper, which he had skimmed so light-heartedly such a short
time ago. It already seemed long ago that he had opened that letter in
the office. Years. Time had nothing to do with a clock ticking, it
appeared. He had lived years since he set out from Fitzmaurice Lane this
morning, and yet the race-trains were not yet at their destination; the
day's work had not started.

He told Mrs Connor simply that the firm had gone to blazes, snatched the
paper which he saw lying among the wreckage on the kitchen table, and
went abruptly upstairs out of the range of her anxious eyes and tentative
sympathy. He wanted no one's sympathy. What he wanted was Collins' blood.
His impotence made his anger a living thing that mauled him in spasms
which left him weak and sick. He found it easier not to think of Collins;
the searing agony of his helpless rage was unbearable. He shut the
bedroom door behind him, stood a moment looking incredulously at the
quiet room, and then, flinging the paper on to the bed, he crossed slowly
to the fireplace and with arms propped on the mantelpiece surveyed the
row of photographs as if he had never seen them before. There were
several army groups, one of Tim, Jimmy and himself in the early days of
training, a studio portrait of a little Parisienne who had lightened the
leave he and Carroll had spent in Paris, one of a hospital sister, and in
the middle, slightly in front of the rest, Marcelle. It was a snapshot
taken before he had met her, but it represented her as he always thought
of her. Her smooth head was bare and the eyes looked straight at him,
gravely smiling in sympathy with her gravely smiling mouth. A wind blew
her full skirt to her and lifted a single tendril of hair from her centre
parting. Kif had never seen the Samothrace Victory and might not have
liked it if he had, but he was intensely aware of the living beauty of
that photograph of Marcelle.

'Marcelle,' he said. He had always liked the sound of it. A lovely name.
He took the photograph up after a little and sat down with it on the edge
of the bed. He had gone to look for Marcelle on the first possible
occasion after his return to France from hospital, but he had not found
her. She and her mother had gone to Paris, he was told. No one knew their
address. In those days of flux no one knew anything. The _belle-soeur_ of
Madame, it was said, kept a _blanchisserie_ in the Raspail district; that
was all they could tell him. Kif accepted the inevitable, and Marcelle
stayed with him as an unspoilt memory, without sting and without regret.
In Paris, it is true, he had inveigled his companion into spending nearly
a whole morning among the streets between the Boulevards Raspail and
Montparnasse. He had even penetrated into a small laundry on the
Boulevard Montparnasse under the pretext of asking his way. When Carroll
showed signs of impatience he was assured that he was seeing the Latin
quarter--a thing which everyone did. But when at last Carroll's desire
for the Place de l'Opéra grew too insistent to be comfortably ignored,
Kif went away from the district that somewhere held Marcelle, with a
regret that was more sentimental than poignant.

Now he sat moving her photograph gently from side to side so that the
eyes followed him. Occasionally he bent forward and scrutinised it more
closely. Slowly the strain in his face relaxed, the murder faded from his
eyes.

He propped the photograph on top of the pillow, and opened the paper at
Advertisements.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN


It was the end of December. The wave of hysteria which descends on the
city at Christmas time had passed. The crowds had the spent disgruntled
look of those who have worked themselves up to a crisis which has eluded
them. Goodwill was at a premium; and the weather was bitter.

A squall of thin sleet tore on an east wind up Oxford Street. The water
spouted from the shop-fronts and sluiced across the pavements in a thick
ripple. The gutters were the beds of evil-looking streams. A baleful pale
light lay on the street under the black sky. There was comfort neither in
heaven nor earth. Kif, sheltering in a doorway, looked at his leaking
sodden boots and cursed. He remembered suddenly the doctor's injunction
of nearly a year ago. No colds! He uttered a short stifled laugh. A young
woman who was finding temporary refuge in the same doorway glanced at him
hastily and opening her umbrella went out into the storm. Kif was aware
neither of her presence nor of her departure. He felt ill, and it was not
always easy to tell what was real and what was not. If he were to be
really ill, that might end in a hospital and warmth and comfort, even if
he pegged out afterwards. But there probably wouldn't be any such luck.
It was only that he was short of a meal. Old soldiers never die, and all
the rest of it. Only it would be dissolving to-day; not fading. He
laughed again. A man coming abruptly round the corner of the doorway with
his head down cannoned into him and apologised breathlessly as he turned
down his collar and shook the wet from himself.

'It's the kind of day--' he said, straightening himself.

'Well, I'm damned...! Well, I'm damned!' he repeated, rallentando.

'Carroll!' said Kif.

'A bull,' said Carroll, beaming on him.

'I suppose you are real?' said Kif and laughed.

'You bet! And what are you doing now, chum? This is luck. I lost your
address down a German drain.'

'L'me see. I don't remember what I did last. Yes, I do. The day before
yesterday it was. Watched a car for a fat gentlemen in spats. Very heavy
day's work.' He laughed again.

Carroll's blue eyes scanned him searchingly for a moment; they came to
rest on his friend's boots and then slid away.

'That the way? Well, I'm on the way to eat and you'll come along. There's
a lot to talk about. It's my turn anyhow,' he added casually. 'You stood
me that last blow-out in Amiens.'

'It's all right,' said Kif. 'Don't apologise. There's only two men on
earth I wouldn't take a meal from just now, and you're neither of them.'

The sleet thinned suddenly to drizzle. Carroll propelled Kif out of the
doorway and down a side street into Soho Square. At a restaurant in Old
Compton Street they ate, satisfyingly. At first Carroll talked--the old
Carroll talk, infinitely amusing and infinitesimally informative--while
he watched the dark face opposite in furtive solicitude. As Kif ate, the
world slid back to cold reality, and he ceased to find things amusing. At
the apple-tart stage, Carroll fell silent and let him unburden himself,
and Kif in his bitterness talked unreservedly.

At the mention of Collins, something leaped in Carroll's eyes.

'Know him?' asked Kif.

'Know _of_ him,' amended the other.

'I'm going to kill him some day,' said Kif, as one announces a golfing
appointment.

'You have my blessing,' said Carroll. 'There will be no wreaths.'

And Kif took up the tale again. He told everything except his visit to
the Barclays; that was not for Carroll; and Tim had come, even if he had
found out too late. He told of the jobs he had got and those he had not
got. He made no comment as he went along, but bitterness dropped from his
curt phrases like blood.

'My landlady put me up for a fortnight after I was broke, and I still owe
her for that. Even when her rooms were let she used to give me a meal in
the evenings. Five or six nights she did that, till I refused to go back.
She's hard enough up herself. For the last nine or ten days I've been
sleeping in models or wherever I had enough money for.'

'What about that chap who got a commission? Haven't you seen anything of
him?'

'Barclay? He came to the office one day I was out, and they forgot to
tell me. I only found it out when things had gone bust.'

'You wouldn't look him up now?'

'What do you think,' said Kif. It was not a question.

'Well, I don't know,' said Carroll, mendaciously considering. 'You were
very good pals, weren't you? And--'

'Shut up,' said Kif. 'If I didn't before I'm not going to now.'

'I was only going to point out that he would probably be fed up if he
thought you didn't. Besides, Pa was something in the city, wasn't he?
And--'

'_Shut up!_'

'All right, all right,' Carroll said amiably. 'Have some more coffee?'

Kif shook his head and took one of the cigarettes from the case Carroll
was offering him.

'Are you a pro. yet?' he asked.

No. I've given that up. Haven't the energy to start training again. The
army spoils you for that, somehow. My Dad has a newsagent's shop and I'm
in the business now.'

'Good for you! Well, it's lucky for me you came along when you did. I was
just wondering whether I had the nerve to break a window and spend a
night in quod. Funny, isn't it? but I hadn't.'

Carroll smiled his angelic smile. 'Never found you lacking in that way,'
he remarked. 'Well, listen. There's a bed vacant at home. It's only one
degree removed from prison--the chap who occupied it is there now--but
it's a dashed sight more comfortable, and you can go out when you like.
Are you on?'

Kif hesitated painfully. 'It's awfully decent of you.' (Shade of Tim!) 'I
haven't a bean, you know. What will they say if you bring in a--'

'It's my room,' said Carroll succinctly. 'Besides, they're not used to
introductions. Not the social kind anyhow. We're not a bit a
Sunday-school crowd, but that's no reason you shouldn't take the bed till
something turns up.'

'I'll take it,' said Kif; and Carroll pressed the butt of his cigarette
down on the ash-tray.

As Kif was getting into his sodden overcoat Carroll asked if he had
belongings anywhere. They were with his landlady, Kif said. 'Well, you
can send for them later on. We'll go home now. It'll be good to see a
fire.'

When their bus came it was full inside and as the rain had stopped they
climbed to the top rather than wait on the wet pavements. As they sat
down Carroll laid Kif's pocket-book gently on his knees with a 'Yours, I
think.'

'How did I drop it?' asked Kif, amazed. 'It was in my inside pocket.'

'You didn't. A chap took it from you when we were getting on to the bus,
and I took it from him. That's all. He'll be a very surprised little
fellow at this moment.' In answer to Kif's questioning look he added:
'I've been able to do that since I was eight, but I haven't indulged
since I was about thirteen. Dad beat it out of me. It isn't in his line.
But I did it a darn sight better than that chap. He was an amateur.' And
he smiled in unregenerate satisfaction.

Kif was very much more interested than shocked. But Carroll relapsed to
his habitual bright superficiality and Kif devoted the rest of the
journey to the difficult task of believing he was warm.

Carroll lived in a terrace of narrow, three-storied houses in
Wandsworth. About a hundred yards away was a block of business
premises; the usual semi-suburban collection of butcher, baker, grocer and
tobacconist-newsagent. 'The shop's down there,' Carroll informed him, and
led him through a spick-and-span doorway into a spick-and-span passage. A
bright green carpet, cheap and hard, but gay, covered the middle of the
stairs, and the woodwork was painted white. Very conscious of his muddy
boots he followed Carroll to the second floor, on which were two minute
bedrooms. 'Here's yours,' said Carroll, and opened the door of the back
one.

The abode of vice consisted of an irregularly shaped attic hung with a
cream-and-roses paper and furnished with a black iron bedstead, a crazy
basket chair cushioned in turkey-red, a grey-painted washstand with most
of the paint worn off round the basin, a brown-painted chest of drawers,
and a board with a row of hooks nailed to the wall. On the floor was a
very shiny linoleum patterned with brown-red cabbage roses on a green
ground, and at the bed a strip of violet carpeting. Everything was
gleaming and clean, and to Kif at the moment it looked like heaven.

'Sammy won't be wanting it for two years so you're quite safe,' said
Carroll. 'It doesn't look so bad on a fine day.'

'It looks all right to me! What is Sammy in for?'

'Burglary.'

Kif whistled.

''M,' agreed Carroll. 'Used to be a swell at it, but he's lost the knack
in the army. Joined up of his own accord, too. Awful luck. My room is
next door.' He had turned to lead the way when there were footsteps
outside, and a woman's voice said: 'Is that you, Tommy?'

'Hullo, Baba, I was just going to look for you. Come here. This is Vicar,
who was my pal in France. My sister--christened Barbara.'

It seemed that sunshine had come into the grey room of a sudden. The girl
who stood looking at him had all her brother's fairness, but her hair,
instead of being straw-coloured as his was, stood round her head in a
fine golden cloud that glowed as if illuminated from within. Kif had
never seen hair like it. Her face was slav-like in its smooth pallor, and
the curve of cheek and chin bones, and her wide grey eyes were outlined
with dark lashes. Her mouth was full and pale; her hands short and broad
with stubby fingers and ugly thumbs. She gave him her hand now and smiled
at him. Carroll was explaining that he was going to stay for a few days
until he got a job.

'You can stay as long as you like,' she said. 'Can you dry dishes?'

'You bet!' said Kif.

'In that case you can stay for ever,' she laughed. 'This room will look
better when the bed is made up. I'll put the things on presently. Come
down now and get warm. It's freezing up here. Bring your coat to the
kitchen. And you, too, Angel.' And Kif followed her down to warmth and
comfort with his eyes on her glowing misty hair.

Kif went to bed that night in the little back room filled with a mild
amaze at the unexpectedness of life, and a deep thankfulness for the
security of a friendly roof. To-morrow there would be breakfast as a
matter of course, and dry clothes, and no immediate need to turn out in
the pitiless weather to look for work. Carroll senior had made him
welcome as a friend of his son, and had said, 'Stay as long as you like,
my boy', as if he had meant it. There had been no discussion of his
financial position, but Kif had felt that when he retired to the kitchen
to wash up with Baba after the abundant high-tea Carroll had told his
father all about him. In that he guessed correctly.

'Your chum in low water, Angel?' his father had asked him.

'Yes. Birdie Collins did him down.' He recounted what Kif had told him,
and said heatedly: 'Fancy a ---- swine like that never having seen the
inside in all his days, and a good chap like Sammy gets put away first
go-off!'

'Distressing,' said Mr Carroll. He was a mild pink little man with his
son's blue eyes and a gentle manner. His phraseology was so restrained
that on occasions it was disconcertingly like sarcasm until one became
used to it. He never swore, but on the other hand he never appeared
pained when others exploited their vocabularies in his presence. His
abstention was due to inability rather than conviction, it seemed. It was
a long time before Kif discovered that Mr Carroll's gentleness could be
infinitely more intimidating than any thunderings of wrath.

In the kitchen Baba had fallen suddenly from animation to a busy
abstraction. She treated Kif as if he were not there, swilling cups and
plates diligently before slipping them into the hot water. Kif dried
expertly and watched her hair and her profile; but in a little it annoyed
him that she should find him so negligible. The Kif who had been full of
gladness that Ann should take him for granted did not in the least want
to be taken for granted in the eyes of Baba Carroll. Ann's acceptance of
him had been promotion; Baba's was depreciation. He made a few polite and
tentative remarks--after all she was his hostess--but she answered them
absently. Kif was piqued. Was she regretting perhaps that she had
seconded her brother's invitation so warmly? That roused a slight panic
in him.

'Do you do all the work of this house yourself?' he ventured.

'No, a girl comes in for three hours in the morning and a char once a
week. But for the rest I do like to have the house to myself.'

'Well, I won't be round much during the day,' said Kif, half in fun, half
in earnest.

At that she smiled. 'Funny!' she mocked.

And Kif went to sleep wondering whether she were lovelier smiling or
serious.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


It was Angel who woke Kif next morning as he put a tray of breakfast down
on the chest of drawers.

He was fully dressed and very good to look upon in the morning sunlight.
'Eleven o'clock, sir,' he said, and hung Kif's trousers dry, cleaned and
pressed, over the back of the chair. 'Shall I turn on your bath?'

'Who did that?' asked Kif with a jerk of the head to the trousers.

'Well, it was a sort of company affair. I took them out of your room last
night when you were sleeping sound enough to be safe, and Baba did the
rest. She rather fancies herself as a tailoress. It's the only thing
she'll ever do for me--press my pants. She makes an edge you could shave
with--so that it hurts to sit down.'

But Kif was not listening. His long muscular arm was groping agonisedly
on the floor. 'My boots!' he said.

Angel laughed at the dismay in his face. 'It's all right,' he said, 'I
did them with my own. They're outside the door. And you needn't be so
scared of Baba. She's not at all perishable goods. Her label's, 'No
matches to be lit in the vicinity of this package'. They wouldn't take
her in the post. She'd have to go by rail. I'm off out. There's no hurry
to get up. Have a holiday. I'll be back to dinner. See you then. S'long.'

Kif, eating the ample breakfast, pondered Carroll's apparently
meaningless remarks. This was the first time he had heard him make a
comment on any possession of his own. It was not in accordance with the
Carroll he knew. Was it just that he treated Kif as being inside the
family circle now and therefore privileged? Or was there a note of
warning?

'Oh, rot!' he thought, swinging his legs to the floor. 'You're going
balmy. Nerves.'

Half an hour later he presented himself before Baba in the kitchen. She
was baking, and a bright green cretonne apron covered her entirely. She
looked like some exotic flower. 'Sleep well?' she asked, casting him a
glance and going on with her work.

Kif thanked her and asked if there was anything he could do for her
before he went out.

'You're not going job-hunting to-day? Have a rest.'

Kif shook his head. 'There are two places in this morning's paper that I
must go after. It's rather late in the day to get a good place in the
queue, but you never know. I look so smart this morning that someone may
be impressed.'

'Well,' she said, not smiling as he had hoped, 'if you don't get them
come right back. I'll keep some dinner hot for you.' She propped herself
for a moment on the rolling-pin, and looking straight at him said
matter-of-factly: 'Have you got enough cash for bus fares? If not, I can
lend you some.'

'Oh yes, thanks,' said Kif, 'I can just manage that.' He had eightpence
ha'penny in his pocket.

When he had gone she finished the pie she had been making, put it into
the oven, tidied the table, and went upstairs humming a music-hall song
and breaking into the words at intervals. With a duster and a mop she
went into Kif's room and her song ceased. The bed was faultlessly made,
the corners folded on the slant and turned in hospital-wise, the top
cover level as a billiard table. The room was tidy and--yes, shining. She
swept a swift and experienced finger over the top of the chest of drawers
and examined it. Yes, it had been dusted.

'Would you look at this!' she said to the small maid who had followed her
up to ask some question. The maid looked round with the air of one to
whom no event which might occur in a world like this would occasion
shock.

'I know,' she said. 'I was doin' the landin' 'ere when he comes up from
the baffroom. "Wot's yer nime?" 'e ses. "Pinkie," I ses. An' 'e smiles'
(That was bad of Kif, but excusable; there was nothing pink about Pinkie
except the rims of her eyelids), 'an' 'e ses, "Lend me yer duster just a
tick." So I give 'im the good one, an' 'e give it to me back when 'e went
dahnstairs. _Fowlded_, if y' please.' She surveyed the room again.
'Brought 'em up well in the army, didn't they? 'Orspital, I suppose.'

'I wish to god Tommy'd had a dose of it! Oh _yes_, use the methylated,
and buzz off.' As the clatter of the maid's footsteps died into the lower
regions Baba crossed to the small case which had been rescued from
Fitzmaurice Lane the previous evening and was now lying by the fireplace,
and lifted the lock with a tentative finger. It was not locked. She
raised the lid and propped it carefully against the wall. Squatting on
her heels she let her eyes wander over the contents. Nothing was visible
except Kif's army uniform, which the pawnshops had presumably refused,
and in one corner, half-hidden under a fold of the tunic, a worn
pocket-book. Gingerly, as though it had been red-hot, she lifted the fold
and abstracted the wallet. It contained all the photographs that Kif had
collected in the last five years. She did not disturb them, but viewed
them all satisfactorily by squeezing the pliable leather at top and
bottom so as to form a cavity. There were no letters; Kif kept none. She
paused over the trio at the depôt, over a group taken at a picnic during
his Golder's Green leave, and at the Parisian Nymph; but Marcelle she did
not see. Her photograph Kif carried along with his army papers in the
pocket-book which Carroll had rescued on the bus step. When she replaced
the wallet in its original resting-place not a millimetre's deviation was
visible to shout a warning to the most suspicious eye. Her stubby fingers
sought again under the folds but there was nothing there. She replaced
the lid, mopped the floor hastily but comprehensively, and betook herself
with mop and duster to her brother's room.

Kif did not come back until six o'clock. He was still workless and
damp--it had been very wet all the afternoon--but cheerful withal. He had
eighteen and sixpence in his pocket, and had very much the feeling and
attitude of a financier who had made a quarter of a million in five
minutes. He had been coming along Conduit Street in the rain and had
offered to get a taxi for a very immaculately dressed man who was
standing in a doorway looking as if the rain were a direct insult to
himself. The offer had been cheerfully accepted, and when Kif came back
with the taxi, the immaculate one--he had Brigade of Guards written all
over him, Kif said--had asked 'Ex-service?' Kif had said, 'Yes, 5th
Carnshires,' and the man had handed him a pound note. When Kif tried to
thank him as he shut him in, the man had said: 'My dear chap, you don't
understand. You've saved my life. If I had been late I should have had to
buy her a tiara, and if I had arrived wet she'd have called the whole
thing off. Saved my life--absolutely.' Kif told them the tale, his eyes
bright with laughter, as they sat round the table consuming fried fish
and mashed potatoes. There was a new-comer in the gathering to-night--a
small round-shouldered man who might have been anything from twenty to
thirty, thin and swarthy, with a pouting lower lip, high cheek-bones, and
fine dead-black hair which he wore without oil, so that it had a matt
surface and hung straight and free like a child's. He was introduced as
Danny Anderson, but that was the last time that Kif ever heard his
surname mentioned; he was known to all his world, he found, as Danny the
Dago or Dago Danny. Not that there was any dago in his blood. His
grandfather had been a Highland ghillie who knew the ways of red deer and
cock and grouse, but nothing of the world. The ghillie's youngest son had
come to London to make his fortune and had married a domestic servant
from Cornwall whose knowledge of the world was too extensive. The mixture
of Cornish and Highland Celt had produced Danny, who looked like an
assassin and who earned his living as a barber's assistant. I have met
Danny once, and have always thought that the men who sat calmly in a
chair while Danny flourished a razor were either extraordinarily brave or
extraordinarily unimaginative.

Baba was wearing a black frock and a string of green beads. She had
touched her full mouth with lipstick, which added vividness if not
beauty to her triangular face. Kif noticed that Danny, who took no
special interest in her while she sat at table, followed her with his
eyes each time she rose to fetch or take away. He was unconscious that
Angel's indifferent blue glance remarked not only Danny's preoccupation,
but his own discovery of the fact. Baba was once more animated. It would
not be true to say she chattered; her talk was not continuous enough for
that. She tossed the ball of conversation from one to the another of the
four men as cleverly and with as little effort as any ambassador's lady
at a political dinner. She had a real flair for the provocative.

And yet later, when Kif accompanied her to the kitchen, followed unseen
but suspected by a malevolent glance from Danny, she did not bother to
make conversation for him and seemed little interested in his thoughts
and opinions. She made a few enquiries about his day's perambulation and
made a few practical suggestions for the future; but she did not follow
up any of his tentative leads. 'Damn,' he thought, 'what's the matter?
Doesn't she like me? Doesn't she like me being here?' He watched her
white neck as it turned to and fro from basin to rack. The strap of a
green rubber apron made a vivid line across it, and just above it melted
into the glory of her hair. The silence grew thick suddenly; thick and
suffocating. He must say something. Something everyday and ordinary. The
uninterrupted clatter of the dishes seemed to come from a great distance.

'Green's your colour, isn't it?' he heard himself say, which was not at
all the kind of remark he had intended to make. But even in his slight
dismay he was aware that it had broken the spell.

'That's right,' she said. 'It's my lucky colour, too. And thirteen's my
lucky number. What's yours?'

'Haven't got one,' said Kif, still conscious of escape from something
unknown.

'Oh, nonsense, everyone's got one. It's only that you haven't found it
out yet.'

'Well, I should think running into your brother was the luckiest thing
that ever happened to me. What was yesterday?'

'The twenty-eighth.'

'Well, twenty-eight is my lucky number. It's my birthday date too.'

'There, you see, I told you!' She squeezed out the dishmop, waggled it
vigorously to separate the strands, and propped it in a wooden frame.

'I'm not superstitious,' he said, hoping to provoke her to argument.

'No? Would you light three cigarettes with the same match?' She laughed
at his hesitation. 'You lose,' she said; she polished her nails hurriedly
on the towel and led the way back to the living-room.

The four men played cards while Baba sat by the fire with some mending,
and just before ten o'clock Angel went out to lock up the shop and
relieve the boy who on half-holidays ran both the newspaper and the
tobacco sides of the business from six o'clock onwards. And Kif went to
bed, leaving Danny in possession. But before Angel came back Danny and Mr
Carroll had departed together. Baba saw them off at the door and said
'Good-night. Be careful, old sporty. Good-night, Danny. Good luck!' When
Angel came back she was once more sitting by the hearth with her work. It
had been lying in her lap until she heard her brother's key in the door,
when she recommenced it with an air of industrious abstraction.

Angel came in rubbing his hands in cheerful protest at the cold, but when
he saw his sister his hands slid into his trouser pockets and he came
slowly over to the fire.

'Look here, Baba,' he said, 'hands off!'

Her wide eyes looked up at him, and dropped more hastily than she had
intended. It was not her brother who occupied the hearth-rug, but Saint
Michael on the war-path.

'Don't be so deep,' she said wearily.

'Oh, you know quite well what I mean. And you've got to keep off the
grass.'

'If you show me what I'm doing wrong I'll be delighted to oblige.'

'Come off it, Baba. Kif's my pal, and I'm not going to stand by and see
you do for him.'

'You _are_ complimentary. Have I lifted a finger to do for him, as you
call it?'

'Of course you haven't. Don't I know it! It's the old game--keeping him
guessing. You want him to stay here. Well, I don't--much. Sammy was
different. He was in the game. But now it's' hands off, see?'

'And just because you have a nasty jealous mind am I to--'

'Oh, carry on! I'd a sight rather you had your knife into me than your
claws into him.' He paused. 'Baba,' he said, 'be a sport and let up!'

Her eyes were very cold. 'If you'll explain exactly what I'm to let up
about I'll oblige, as I said before.'

He stood looking down at her in silence. 'I wish I could beat you,' he
said suddenly with venom. 'I don't know why Sammy never did it.'

Her smile was like sunlight on arctic wastes.

Baffled, he flung himself into the opposite chair. 'Well, you can clear
out now. I want the room to myself for a while.'

'I'm not ready to--' She met his eyes. They were not noticeably angry,
but she said sulkily 'Oh, _all_ right!' She folded up her work
deliberately, putting away pins and needles with elaborate care. As she
went to the door she said: 'And if you leave your bedroom in as untidy a
mess to-morrow as you did this morning I won't touch it. So now you
know!'

She went slowly upstairs, her face heavy and dark with anger, but on the
first landing she paused, teased the carpet with a considering toe for a
little, and then threw back her head in a silent laugh.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Kif came back from the hunt for work next day still unsuccessful but
comparatively happy in the reflected glow of yesterday's windfall. He
went upstairs two at a time without seeing anyone, elated at the thought
that in a few moments he would be face to face with Baba. He swung into
his room and stopped short. A man stood with his back to him inspecting
the contents of his suitcase. The bed had been turned up so that the
mattress showed and the drawers were half opened.

'What the--' he began. The man swung round, and at the surprised shock in
his face Kif leaped. Taken aback, the man fell backwards across the bed
with Kif on top of him, his hands groping blindly for Kif's throat, while
Kif with his left elbow under the unknown's chin was hitting him
wholeheartedly with his right. As they rolled over Kif's left arm
slipped, and the man, his throat free for the moment, shouted 'Richards!
Richards!' before another roll brought Kif on top once more, and both
Kif's sinewy hands on his neck. Kif was shaking him as a terrier shakes a
rat, heedless of the wild blows the unknown was raining on him, when a
hand plucked him backwards, and he was dragged to his feet by one of the
largest men he had ever seen. Sheer amazement kept him from struggling.

His victim sat up, trying to adjust a collar which was hopelessly wrecked
and said: 'That's right, hold him there a minute. Bright boy, isn't he!'
He glared malevolently at Kif.

'Who the devil are you?' demanded Kif.

'Well, _we'd_ like a little information first if you don't mind. Who are
_you_?'

'And what--' Kif was beginning, when Baba appeared.

'What's the row, sergeant?' she asked, looking, Kif thought, very faintly
dismayed.

'Who's this?' growled the man on the bed, waving a hand at Kif, who was
still standing mildly in the grip of the huge man.

'That's Vicar, an army friend of my brother's. What's your first name,
Kif?'

'Archibald.'

'Archibald Vicar. May I introduce Sergeant Wilkins of the Metropolitan
Police. And Constable--er--'

'Richards,' supplied the huge man, grinning amiably.

'Constable Richards. Did you do that to the sergeant?' she asked Kif. 'My
goodness, what a mess!'

But the sergeant did not appear to find the comfort that her sympathetic
tones might be supposed to convey. And there was that in his
subordinate's eye every time it came in contact with the mangled collar
that made magnanimity impossible.

Kif now began to stammer out apologies and to feel a complete fool. 'How
was I to know? he said. 'I just came in and found him with my things, and
there was no one about. How was I to know?' Most of his apology seemed,
strangely enough, to be addressed to Baba. He was consumed by a fear that
what he had done might reflect on her or her household.

'Well,' she said, 'perhaps the sergeant will fine you a collar and call
it quits. Eh, sergeant?'

The sergeant growled without looking at her. 'How long have you been
here?'

'I came the day before yesterday.'

'And before that?'

Kif gave him a brief _résumé_ of his doings.

He then demanded a detailed account of his actions during the day, which
the constable noted in a little book. That done, the sergeant heaved
himself off the bed, adjusted his clothes and hair at the mirror on the
chest of drawers, and was moving to the door when Kif, desperately
anxious to effect a reconciliation said: 'I'm frightfully sorry,
sergeant. Really I am!'

The Barclay adverb did not add to the sergeant's goodwill, but he had to
keep up appearances. 'So am I, young fellow,' he said, turning round and
smiling not at all pleasantly at Kif. '_Frightfully_! But we'll say it
was a mistake--this time. Finished, Richards? Aw right. All clear, Miss
Carroll. We're going now. Don't bother to come down.'

Baba went out to the landing and watched them stump their way down and
then came back to Kif, who was adding two and two together in an attempt
to make four.

'What did they want?' he asked.

'Father and Danny did a job last night, and they were looking for the
stuff. I forgot to warn them that you were here. I _am_ sorry.'

Kif was more anxious about her welfare than dismayed at his association
with the Law's suspects. 'But your father--is he--how did they know?'

'Oh, there are no flies on the police. Besides, Father is so good at the
game that they would recognise his work. He's all right though. He hasn't
been "inside" since I was little. He's in the shop right now, selling
Navy Cut and Evening Standards. And he'll go on selling them. Father
wasn't born yesterday.'

The pride in her voice arrested his attention. So that was the kind of
man she admired. Did she think him a sissy?

'Does Angel--' he hesitated.

'Oh yes, Angel will be as good as Father some day. Only a month ago he
and Danny-- But that's telling. Perhaps I'm a fool to be telling you
anything. You'll be going away one of these days, and who knows?' She
turned her great grey eyes on him in appeal. 'You wouldn't give us away,
though, would you?'

'What do you think!' said Kif. 'After you taking me in when I hadn't a
bean? You don't really think that. Besides, I'm not going away if you'll
let me stay. I'll get a job soon, and you can have me as a lodger. Will
you?'

She seemed to consider. '_I_ wouldn't mind, but I don't think it would be
good for you to stay I'm sorry. You see, it was different with Sammy.'

'Did Sammy work with the rest, or did he--do jobs alone?'

'Oh, he worked with the rest usually.'

'Well, I'm coming in in Sammy's place.'

She laughed outright, a low gurgle of amusement. 'Nonsense. You don't
know what you're talking about. You don't know anything about it.' She
was indulgently scornful.

'Well, I'll make a very good apprentice, you see if I don't. There's
nothing I'd like better than to relieve some well-to-do folk of their
cash.'

She smiled at him and sighed a little. 'It isn't for me to say, anyhow,
is it? Get tidy now and come down to tea. The others will be in
presently.'

'You're not angry with me for kicking up that row?'

'Angry with you? With Wilkins' collar looking like that? Why, I love you!
Don't be long. It's sausage.'

While Kif pulled his tie straight he whistled gently under his breath. It
was not a sign of any real elation on his part; it was what a groom does
to quiet a restive horse. He was, quite unconsciously, whistling to the
unquiet, eager stirring in his heart. Something had come awake there--the
faint delicious excitement before battle--and for once he wanted to
ignore it, to pretend that the possibilities ahead were of no great
moment. There was something about the prospect that did not bear close
examination, and his mind slid away from the contemplation.

He found only Mr Carroll in the living-room--Angel was to come home as
soon as his father relieved him at business--and it was impossible to
tell from his manner whether he knew of the occurrence or not. He asked
interestedly about Kif's luck during the day, and seemed genuinely
sympathetic over his lack of success. As Baba came in with a steaming
tray, however, he said:

'I am sorry you should have been put to inconvenience over your room. We
occasionally have these inspections, and have to put up with them as best
we can. But it is rather hard for a visitor to be subjected to the same
treatment. We feel we owe you an apology.'

Kif was not sure whether the 'we' was collective, editorial, or royal,
but he had, vaguely, the feeling of watching greatness unbend. He again
apologised, if not quite so heartily, for his hastiness in action, and Mr
Carroll smiled.

'Well, well, youth always hits first and asks questions afterwards. It is
no bad thing to be what our American friends call quick on the draw.
Though personally, I am a man of peace.'

Kif examined the man of peace curiously as he portioned out the dish of
sausages in front of him. A burglar! It was ludicrous. Smooth pink face
and smooth pinky-fair hair growing a little thin on the top, bland blue
eyes and a contemplative manner. A crook! In Kif's early literature
crooks were all swarthy, black-eyed and vaguely sinister: rather like
Danny on a bigger scale; and though five years of rubbing elbows with all
the world had modified his ideas on most things he still unconsciously
pictured Crime as the Knave of Spades. And Mr Carroll upset his ideas
with some violence.

His eyes turned to Baba, pouring out tea at the other end of the table.
The steam rose in slow waves round her like the smoke of incense.
Serenely aloof she sat there among the instruments of her rites, a
votary, a goddess, incalculable, unapproachable. Kif had a spasm of
despair. Who was he to aspire? And then she handed him his teacup and her
eyes rested on him for a moment; what he read in them made his replies to
Mr Carroll's conversation border on the incoherent. But when she joined
the conversation and Kif dared to look at her again her manner was
matter-of-fact and her eyes impersonal. And Kif cursed himself for a fool
that he should imagine vain things. She refused, later, to let him help
her in the kitchen. 'You're tired,' she said. 'Sit down and rest.' And
Kif felt as though a benediction had been said over him.

He was hunting through a collection of 'sevenpennys' hung in a
two-shelved bracket on the wall by the fireplace for something to read
when Angel came in.

'So you've been beating up Wilkins, I hear,' he said lightly, but the
eyes above the beautiful laughing mouth were not laughing.

Kif turned slowly from the sevenpennys. 'Do you mind?' he asked.

'Not I, but I'm afraid Wilkins will. Turning the other cheek isn't
Wilkins' strong point.'

'Well, I licked his boots till there couldn't have been any blacking
left.'

'That should have soothed him. He can stand any amount of that. Got
indigestion now?' He surveyed Kif half whimsically, half shrewdly.

'Not exactly. But I don't like being a neutral. If I offered you my
services, would you have them?'

Baba came in from the kitchen with fresh tea, and Angel was silent until
she had gone again. He pulled in his chair to the table, but instead of
eating he propped his head on his fists and looked long at Kif.

'You're a real sport, Kif,' he said, 'but I'd much rather you didn't.
You'd probably like it at first, but you'd probably get fed with it in a
little. And it's a darn sight easier to get into than out of. I'd feel
sort of responsible too for taking you here. You weren't born to it, like
me.'

'You think I'd be no use to you, that's it, isn't it?'

'Not a bit of it. It's that I think you'd probably get disgusted with it,
and be sorry you started that sort of life.'

'Well, but that's my look-out, isn't it? Of course your father--' he
hesitated.

'Oh, my father mightn't say anything against it.'

'In that case the only reason against it is that I might wish I hadn't.
And you might say that of anything.'

'Yes--but-- Well, you see, it isn't like starting a business, or something
like that. It's more like entering a ruddy convent. You're not one of the
crowd any more.'

'Well, I'm not so stuck on the crowd.' Kif's voice was bitter.

Angel considered him again. 'Well, don't decide yet anyhow. There's heaps
of time in front of you.' He started to eat as Baba came back.

She cast a suspicious glance at the two men, which Kif did not see, and
Angel ignored. 'Looking for a book?' she said.

'Yes, what would you recommend?'

'I'd recommend you not to,' she said. 'I never read a line myself, except
the papers. What do you see in it? It's all lies. What's the good of
reading a lot of lies? What you read in the papers is true--mostly. 'But
_that_!' She waved a hand at the red rows. 'And at school who used had
have to write exams on what a person who had never lived _thought_. Can
you beat it? Crazy!'

Kif considered this new point of view with some amazement. 'But if you
had a very dull life you'd want something to make it exciting even if it
was only pretending.'

'Pretending wouldn't excite me. I wouldn't need to pretend, anyhow. I'd
make my own excitement.'

'Well, perhaps it's different for a girl like you.' Kif said it
sincerely, and without any flirtatious motive. 'But I bet if you were
stuck on a farm miles from anywhere even you would take to reading.'

'I'd take to drugs first.'

'Well, reading's a sort of drug,' Kif admitted with a grin.

'Oh, let's go to the pictures,' she said, dismissing the argument. 'Will
you, Angel?'

'Righto,' said her brother, his eyes on his food. 'I thought you didn't
like things that weren't true?' said Kif.

She made a little moue. 'But they are true,' she said. 'They really
happened.'

This exhibition of feminine logic left Kif speechless. He smiled at her,
his eyes alight with laughter. 'Oh, kamarad!' he said, and left it there.

They went to the local cinema, and Baba sat between her brother and Kif.
She sat erect and still in the middle of her chair, exhibiting none of
the droopiness and tentative _rapprochement_ which Kif had come to
associate with the young female patron of the cinema. Her whole attention
seemed to be given to the story unfolding its hackneyed length on the
screen. And yet she appeared to be quite unmoved by the misfortunes of
the shadow world.

She shed no tear in sympathy with the wild grief of the heroine when the
hero, as is the way of screen and opera heroes, jumped to the worst
conclusion immediately on finding her in a mildly compromising situation
and departed in (presumed) sound and fury. The beautiful impassive face
in the flickering light showed no softening when the accident happened,
and the heroine, taking it for granted without attempting anything so
mundane as first-aid that the hero was dead, forgave him beautifully for
the injustice she had suffered. Kif forgot the shadows entirely in
watching her. He had played so long with shadows, and she was so
wonderful, this intoxicating reality beside him; the fine small nose, the
tilted chin, the turned-back mouth like a flower. Her eyes he could not
see; her hat hid them. But he could picture them. And he pictured wonders
for himself more miraculous even than those being told on the screen. But
when the hero, recovering with a celerity which in any other world would
have laid him open to a charge of malingering, had enclosed the heroine
in a last apologetic embrace, and a farce--intentional--followed, Kif
resolutely wrenched his attention back to the film; and since it was
funny he was soon laughing unselfconsciously.

And then when the fun was at its height he suddenly became aware of Baba
as he had not been aware of her before. The laughter fell from him like a
garment. He was conscious of her presence as something so potent as to be
intimidating, and he was defenceless and half afraid. He could not turn
his head to look at her. He wanted to take her violently in his hands and
shake the magic out of her and the fright out of himself at the same
time. The jigging four-four time of the piano and the pale haze of the
tobacco smoke fused suddenly to make the air suffocating. He wanted to
call out; to break something; or to say something reassuringly casual.
With a deliberate effort he took out the case which held his last two
cigarettes. His hands shook slightly, but the feel of the cigarette
between his lips--standby in many tight corners--was somehow comforting.
His eyes watched the pails of whitewash and the custard pies missing
their destination. He would not think of her. And he would not sit next
to her again until--until--

The lights went up. She turned to him with a cool small smile. 'Funny,
wasn't it?' she said casually, and to her brother: 'There are the Higgs,
two seats down.'

'God!' he thought, 'God! is it just me?'



CHAPTER NINETEEN


At the beginning of the year Kif found work as traveller for a small firm
of soap manufacturers in North London, his beat being in outer London and
the suburbs. The work was exhausting and the recompense meagre in the
extreme. His salary was sufficient to pay for his room and board with the
Carrolls, and no more. And if chemists and grocers found Messrs. Vidor &
Pratt's representative irresistibly persuasive it was because of Kif's
urgent need of a margin which would make life tolerable. But it was
rarely that his commission on sales was sufficient to warrant his having
an evening out with Baba; and his ambition in life had narrowed down to
simply that. He became more and more obsessed by the thought of her.
Everything he did was done in relation to her. And yet he saw very little
of her. After the six o'clock tea she went out usually with one or
another of the 'crowd' who were always willing to act cavalier at the
slightest hint of her willingness. When she stayed at home there was the
probability of Mr Carroll being present too. Unless Kif took her out
there was little chance of their acquaintance progressing as Kif ached to
have it progress. And so he badgered and cajoled and bluffed unwilling
customers into making trial of Crimson Rambler soaps, bending his stiff
tongue into slickness, and subduing the loathing the work roused in him,
for the sake of the few extra coins that made the difference between
Heaven and Hell.

And he never ceased to sift the papers for a more congenial way of making
a living; and clerks or cashiers or office-boys would be mildly
astonished when, just as they were preparing to shut up shop for the
night, a tallish man, very carefully brushed and rather tired about the
eyes, would present himself as candidate for the vacancy which had been
filled six hours ago. Occasionally in desperation Kif filched an hour
from his legitimate business so that he might come somewhere at the head
of the queue. But his luck was no better.

And then three months later he stepped over the border line without a
backward glance. His first essay in crime was not a particularly
difficult one. He stood for an hour one night in the shrubbery of a
suburban villa while the laurels rattled suspiciously and the rain
dripped down the back of his neck, until the constable on the beat had
passed. When that had happened--and the officer had hesitated at the gate
long enough to give Kif a thrill which cancelled the discomforts of the
wait and made his mind leap to find excuses for his presence were it
discovered--Kif, according to plan, walked down the street loudly
whistling a music-hall tune. When he reached the end of the street he
came back without melody, and, the street being reassuringly dark and
empty, gave vent to a long low whistle on one note. The lack of variation
in pitch made the sound, in spite of its carrying quality, quite
unarresting to one who was not waiting for it. In a moment or two Carroll
_père_ stepped out of the gate carrying an attaché case, and Kif without
looking at him and without greeting walked away in the opposite
direction. He crept to bed in the dark house and was asleep before his
partner returned. Three days later Mr Carroll handed him ten pounds in
treasury notes. 'Slept well?' Mr Carroll had said at breakfast on the
morning after their adventure, and Kif, taking his cue, had said 'Yes,
and you?' and had asked no questions. He was not going to spoil his
chances of further enlightenment by an ill-timed curiosity as to the ways
and means. It was enough that Carroll was pleased with him.

With this windfall he redeemed his watch--the one that Tim had given
him--which had been the last article to go to the pawnshop, and took Baba
to dinner and theatre in the West End. He had never seen Baba in what she
called war-paint before, but it did not need the tribute of turning heads
and murmuring to tell him that his estimate of her beauty was a true one.
Her frock had been her father's present to her, and Baba had chosen it
with an intuition which would have made her fortune in the dress-making
world. It was incredible that any other woman, by paying the price of it,
could have worn it. It was as if a piece of exquisite cloth had been
draped on her half-casually by a master; and she wore no ornaments except
the jewelled clasp at her hip which was part of her frock. She was
running over with happiness and the love of life. She jested and mocked
and criticised the world of their inhabiting until Kif could have sought
her for her tongue alone, and not for her arms and her hair and her eyes.
He had long forgotten his spasm of nerves in the picture-house, and
to-night he was nearer happiness than he had been since he had walked
into the Charing Cross office that foggy morning and found it empty. He
never thought about that if he could possibly help it. In his
dreams--those post-war dreams of confused nightmare struggle--it was
always Collins he was killing; but in his waking moments he had a queer
feeling of emancipation, a queer conviction that nothing he would ever
meet in life again would hurt him as that had hurt; he would never suffer
like that again. If he ever met Collins he would beat him up, of course;
that went without saying. In the meantime he did his best to forget about
it. No one at Northey Terrace had ever heard him talk about his bad
luck--partly because Kif was no talker, partly because it did not bear
talking about.

'Can you dance?' she asked as they stood on the steps of the theatre
after the show.

'Yes,' said Kif, a sudden light in his face. 'Well, let's go somewhere to
supper where we can dance.'

They went to a semi-suburban dance-hall and Kif spent the time in the
taxi trying to keep his emotions in decent check. In ten minutes--five
minutes--he would have Baba in his arms.

'I didn't know you could dance like this,' she said when the orchestra
stopped for the first time.

'Well, you know now,' said Kif, uttering words but having no knowledge of
or interest in their meaning. The music started again and his arms went
out for her.

Shortly after two o'clock they came home. Baba, who had been quiet and
half-asleep in the taxi, went upstairs first, and Kif put out the light
which had been left for them in the lobby and came up in the dark. She
was waiting for him on the landing and he took her in his arms without
warning and kissed her again and again while she stood acquiescent.

'Good night, Baba, good night,' he said huskily and dropped his arms. Her
hand slid lingeringly from his as he moved away, but he went without
pause up the last flight to his room. He sank on the edge of his bed
breathing quickly as if he had been running, his head propped in his
hands.

Baba in the room below turned on the light, flung her bag on to the bed
and said in a fierce whisper 'Hell and Damn!' She moved over to the
mirror scowling. Slowly the scowl faded. Gradually she smiled, one corner
of her mouth higher than the other. Her reflection smiled back at her
knowingly. Rapt in contemplation of herself she stood there, breathing
gently, her head propped on her hands.



CHAPTER TWENTY


Kif learned that Angel and Danny habitually worked together, and that the
unfortunate Sammy had been the partner of the elder Carroll, except on
the occasion on which he was pulled, when he had elected in the face of
much good advice to do a job alone. Mr Carroll seemed quite willing to
use Kif if Kif were usable, and Kif did his best to qualify. Twice he was
entrusted with the task of obtaining the layout of a house. The results
of these were so good--Kif had included in his report the habits of every
member of the respective households--that Mr Carroll beamed on him and
signified his approval by introducing Kif to his most precious
possession--his tools. These were, amazing as it may seem, kept in the
house, and though ultimately Kif learned to his intense admiration and
amusement their hiding-place it is not to be recorded here. Carroll is
still in business, and I have no doubt is using the same tools. Kif
handled them curiously and reverently as another might have examined the
emblems of priestcraft, and Carroll lectured on them--jemmies and bits,
nitroglycerine, oxy-acetylene, torches, cylinders, queer contraptions of
wire--explaining their uses, peculiarities, and some of their history
with the enthusiasm of the specialist. And Kif listened and admired.

He spent no time in examining the morality of the situation. He was not
even possessed of as positive a thing as a grudge against society. A way
had opened for him and he liked the look of it; that was all. The way led
to comfort--which he had had stolen from him and to which he felt vaguely
that he had a right--and to what was much dearer, adventure. He accepted
the chance as unquestioningly as he had joined the army at fifteen,
ignoring the main issue since the incidentals were what he wanted. There
was no one to keep him back; he had shed his acquaintances as he went
along--his family (he knew the whereabouts of one brother who had heard
from a sister three years ago but had lost the letter), the folk at Tarn,
the Barclays, his army friends, Marcelle, Hough and his crowd--they had
all melted into nothingness behind him; he was as unattached now as he
had been at fifteen. Only Carroll remained--Carroll and Baba. There was
nothing to deter him.

So Kif, who would never have dreamed of taking possession of an object
which was not his merely because he wanted it--with the exception of that
'winning' which all his fellows practised in France--became a
professional at the job with no more self-examination than he would have
had on entering the secret service. He kept his job with the soap
manufacturers since, financial considerations apart, Mr Carroll
explained, it was as well to have a perfectly good occupation to point to
as the means of one's existence. So Kif sold just as many cakes of
Crimson Rambler as satisfied Messrs. Vidor & Pratt and, remembering the
days when he had sweated in agony in case the order he had fought for was
not forthcoming, smiled smoothly at the manager when he said how kind of
the firm it was to employ useless ex-service men, and devoted his
interest and his energies to things nearer his liking.

For six months all that came his way was a succession of odd-jobs for Mr
Carroll, all of them what he had known in the army as 'intelligence'. Mr
Carroll found no fault with the results--indeed it would not be too much
to say that Kif had done the work with love--and Kif found no fault with
the payment. In that time he took his place in the queue of Baba's
recognised retainers, with a slight lead of the others because he was her
favourite dancing partner. His promotion paradoxically lessened the
urgency of his passion for her; made it a more reasonable, a less
devouring thing. Her treatment of him remained what it had been to begin
with, silent and talkative by spasms, superficially frank, but always
enigmatical. Now and then in their intercourse he was reminded forcibly
of Angel as he had known him first. Mentally she was as difficult to 'get
hold of as her brother had been; she afflicted him with the same sense of
impenetrability.

And then in August Mr Carroll looked up one morning from the patent food
of a burnt sawdust appearance which was his breakfast--he was full of
theories on diet and for six or eight weeks at a time would begin the day
enthusiastically with the latest discovery, only to supersede it at a
moment's notice--and said to Kif: 'Are you doing anything to-morrow
night?'

Kif had been going to ask Baba to dance because it was pay-day, but he
said immediately, 'No,' and waited.

'Well, I'm going to be busy. You could come along with me if you would
care to.' Tableau: a benevolent old gentleman asking a young one to spend
an evening at his club.

Kif nodded and turned over hastily in his mind the various commissions
with which he had been entrusted lately. Which was it?

Mr Carroll went on: 'It's an easy business, and you might as well start
easily,' and it dawned on Kif that he was on the threshold of his
initiation. He felt as if a hand squeezed his heart. For a moment it
seemed that Heaton had warned him for a wiring party or something of that
sort. He was on the point of saying 'Very good, sir,' when he met
Carroll's mild blue eyes, realised the placid, lower-middle-class
breakfast table at which he was seated, and nodded again. There was
silence for a little; Angel was not down yet and they were alone. He
became aware that Carroll, carefully masticating his unappetising
granules at the other end of the table, was still regarding him with a
dreamy gaze, and it occurred to him with a sense of shock that any 'dumb
insolence' would be as impossible under these gentle blue orbs as in the
presence of Heaton's cold grey eyes.

When he told Baba the next morning of the projected promotion she nodded
indifferently. Neither the fact that he was going on a 'job' nor the
necessity of missing the dancing which she must have expected made
apparently any difference to her. He had hoped for either a smile of
encouragement or an expression of regret, and when neither materialised
was left wondering, as he so often was. After tea he watched her depart
with Danny to the cinema.

'So long, you two. Good luck. Don't forget to leave the key.'

At half past ten--it was the end of the month and the days were
short--they set out, Carroll carrying an attaché case and an umbrella.
The umbrella was known in the family as Delilah--Danny had been
responsible for the christening--because it led honest men astray.
Carroll said that nothing soothed and impressed a doubtful constable like
the presence of an umbrella. 'Sir' came to their lips as soon as their
bull's-eye lighted on it. And since it was unmarked and of a pattern with
ten thousand replicas it could be discarded, if in the way, without
providing evidence of any value to the Law.

They went a short way by bus and then alighted and remained at the bus
stop for nearly ten minutes, ostensibly waiting for a special number but
in reality, as Kif knew very well, making sure that no one had followed
them. Having strolled fifty yards in both directions they resumed their
journey to a south-western suburb, and at half past eleven--an hour still
not too late to make their presence in any way remarkable--they were
walking down a retired road bordered by the railings of large gardens
which rendered the houses invisible. Half way down Carroll paused, lit a
match, and looked at his watch.

'Come, not so late!' he said in a cheerful well-fed-citizen voice. But
the pause showed that they were alone on the road. Far away a late bus
droned and a thick damp silence possessed the world. It had been raining
in the afternoon, and the sharp smell of sweetbriar came cleanly through
the mugginess from some invisible hedge. Kif drew in an abrupt breath.

'The gate is locked,' Carroll said, 'but it's quite easy to get over.
I'll go first.' His citizen voice had gone and he was talking quietly
though still not surreptitiously.

In the faint light from the nearest lamp they climbed over the gate and
walked into the dripping blackness of the avenue.

'The house is shut up. Everyone away in Scotland until the end of
September. Keep hold of me.' Carroll walked through the dark with the
assured step of one who knew his way. They coasted the house to the back
premises, where Carroll stopped. 'Scullery window,' he said. Nine-tenths
of the scullery windows in London are open invitations.' He produced a
pocket-knife and slid back the catch. With surprisingly little scraping
or fumbling he climbed over the lowered sash and helped Kif after him.
Kif felt his ankle held and his boot guided to a level resting-place.
'The edge of the sink,' explained Carroll. 'Don't go backwards. It's a
drop behind.' Kif came safely to floor level and Carroll closed and
bolted the window.

'Now in half an hour the policeman on the beat will arrive.' Mr Carroll
never referred to a 'bobby', still less to a flatty, or any of the other
more descriptive nicknames used by his kind. 'Until then we make
ourselves as comfortable as circumstances will permit. No lights and no
smoking.'

Kif grinned in the dark at the familiar prohibition and followed Carroll
up a narrow passage, his hand on Carroll's shoulder and his feet moving
as Carroll directed--'Three steps up' or 'Don't fall over the rug.' So
familiar was the proceeding that he found himself waiting for the
star-shell that would bring them to a halt. But the kitchen smell of
water and stale food and dried clothes gave way to the smell of floor
polish and varnish, and they moved unchallenged into a wider space and
across it to a door which, as it was opened, emitted the stuffy warm
chintzy smell of a living-room.

'Drawing-room,' said Carroll. 'Make yourself at home.'

Kif groped his way to a chair, cretonne-covered and very springy, took
his hat off--yes, he wore a hat; Carroll insisted on that; caps, he said,
were an object of suspicion to the force--and wiped his forehead.

'Why couldn't you use your presser?' he asked. 'That wouldn't show,
surely?'

'Well, Sammy is "abroad" now because of his torchlight reflected from a
brass door-knob shining through a key-hole. It does not sound very
credible, does it? But it is always the incredible things that happen;
don't forget that. I know a man who forgot as obvious a thing as a
skylight. And a reflection did for him too. Don't use a light until you
come to business and it's absolutely necessary.'

'You've been here before, of course?'

'Oh yes, I was here in daylight. Daylight's all right for reconnoitring,
but no use for serious work. You are liable to be interrupted at any
moment and that cramps your style. Don't talk any more.'

The stuffy quiet lapped them round and the quick prickings of excitement
in Kif had died to a sleepy acquiescence when a round light flashed
straight in his eyes. It took three heart-stopped seconds for him to
realise that it was a light on the drawing-room blind. He watched it
crawl over the fastenings, slide along the lower sashes, swerve back to
the fastenings and disappear. From outside came the faint sound of
movement and then silence. Kif remembered that the lawn at the side of
the house grew close up to the drawing-room windows, and that even a
policeman's steps would be inaudible on it. The quiet was so complete
that it was difficult to realise that Carroll was within a few feet of
him. He could not even hear him breathing. He resisted a desire to find
out if he were really there, and sat still. And then, inside the house
apparently and thunder-loud in the silence, came a shot-like sound. Kif
sat still, his heart thumping, determined to make no move without a sign
from Carroll. But the silence flowed back and nothing happened. He
realised that the man had tried the kitchen door, and as it dutifully
resisted had let the bolt fall back with a crash. And presently he heard,
faint but unmistakable, the tread of footsteps on gravel. The front door
shook. Several loud crunches on the gravel outside and the light moved
over the front windows of the drawing-room, hesitated and went out. The
footsteps died away. A small gurgle began above the window; it was
raining again. Carroll made no movement and Kif waited. Endlessly he
waited, motionless and determined. It was Carroll's move. At last Carroll
said: '_That's_ all right,' and got to his feet. Something in the tone
conveyed to Kif more than the words said, and he felt happy. 'There are
old shutters on the windows,' Carroll said, and Kif heard him moving
them. There was a click and the green light of a reading-lamp broke the
darkness.

Kif looked round him curiously--he had seen the interiors of so few homes
that he had still a child's curiosity about other people's
belongings--but Carroll was bent on business. He lifted the lamp from the
low table on which it rested and placed it on a neighbouring secretaire,
which stood against the wall between the fireplace and the large
side-window.

'It took me a good hour to find the safe,' he said, 'and even then I
would have missed it if it had not been for a finger-mark on the wall. Mrs
Neuman was hot and flurried last time she put her jewels away. That is
what makes me think they are here, and not in the bank where they ought
to be. But I suppose having made a cache like this she is rather proud of
it.' He was standing on a chair now, and, reaching up to the
electric-light bracket on the wall, he detached a bulb and a length of
cord, which he allowed to hang from where it entered the room immediately
above the bracket, and swung the whole bracket sideways on an invisible
hinge. 'See!' he said 'That is exceedingly neat work. Observe that hinge.
Observe the catch. Observe the way the cord lies in the groove. Nothing
so crude as dummy lights. Delightful work!' He sighed with a craftsman's
delight and came to earth, literally and metaphorically. 'You get another
chair'--Kif had been standing on the edge of his--'and hold the light.'

Kif lifted another chair forward, unconsciously choosing the one which
would be least damaged by his boots, and while he held the lamp watched
steel and flame bite into the barrier between them and what they wanted.
When Carroll at last stretched his hand into the hollow and drew forth a
flat morocco box he uttered a gently deprecatory, 'Oh, women, women!' As
they looked at the double string of pearls Kif said. 'Are they real?'

'We shall know in a moment,' said Carroll, burrowing again.

The two boxes which he brought to light contained respectively an emerald
pendant--six large stones set in diamonds--and a bracelet of alternate
diamonds and sapphires. At the back of the safe, thrown casually in, were
an uncrossed cheque for twenty pounds six shillings and twopence and a
roll of notes which amounted to seventy-three pounds ten shillings.

'Women,' whispered Carroll again. He closed the safe, swung back the
bracket, and replaced the cord painstakingly. Then he climbed down,
removed the lamp to the floor and said: 'While I pack up these go
upstairs to the first room on the right and bring me the ivory crucifix
you'll find hanging above the bed. It is the only thing of value to us in
the house. Don't use a torch more than you can help.'

Kif stepped from the lighted room, warm now with familiarity and
habitation, into the chilly hall. He found the room without trouble, and
swept it with a cautious but curious eye of light. It looked like a
girl's room, somehow. There was a single bed, stripped now, but with pale
mauve and pink hangings on the silver-grey wood. A large wardrobe of the
same wood ran the whole length of one side of the room. Kif pushed back
the sliding door and surveyed the contents. Frocks mostly, soft shining
things that seemed queerly alive in the white light. He ran his big
supple hand along them, lifting the folds of now one and then another
consideringly. A faint sweet scent came out from them. 'Girl's things,'
he thought. 'Queer!' It did not occur to him to think 'Less than a year
ago when I was at starvation point this girl was buying frocks she had no
need of.' It simply had nothing to do with him. He pulled the door to
again, made a casual examination of the pictures--Medici reproductions of
early Italian religious paintings--and took the crucifix from the wall.
It was nearly eighteen inches long and beautifully carved. He considered
the writhing figure dispassionately. He had seen many calvaries in
France, but this one was more alive than any he had seen. 'Well,' he
thought, 'lots of our chaps took far longer to die, and were a much
nastier mess while they were doing it. And for far less reason.' His head
went up at the sound of a drip-drip outside. It was still raining, damn
it. Carroll would have some use for Delilah. Good old Delilah.

Carroll saw his teeth in the half-light as he came back to the
drawing-room and asked what the joke was. He had packed away his tools
and their reward, and was waiting for the crucifix. As he stood up from
disposing of it he faced Kif and said:

'Have you taken anything on your own account?'

For a moment Kif felt as he would have felt six months ago if someone had
accused him of stealing. His right hand was already clenched and lifting
when he realised that he was about to be ridiculous.

'Not I,' he said.

'That's all right, then,' Carroll said. 'There isn't anything else in the
house that is worth the risk its disposal would entail. We already have a
destination for the crucifix in America. Otherwise it would be valueless.
My agent,' he never said fence, 'would not touch it. And to try to get
rid of an article through the pawnshops would mean disaster for all of
us. Forgive my asking, but you will realise that it was important.'

They left the room as they had found it, and made their exit by the
scullery window again. After a long pause in which there was no sound but
the drip of the rain, Carroll put the case and umbrella into Kif's hand
and said: 'Take these and wait for me near the gate. If you hear me call
out get away as quickly as possible.' Surprised but obedient Kif went,
the whole of the night's haul and all Carroll's tools in his possession.
He marvelled, alone in the wet, until he heard the suck of footsteps
growing gradually nearer and slower and Carroll's voice said his name.

It was nearly two o'clock as they went briskly down the gurgling street
under Delilah's chaperonage. 'We have a considerable walk in front of
us,' Carroll announced; and presently: 'You are no doubt wondering why I
stayed behind. If that window were not fastened our little night's
amusement would be discovered to-morrow by the constable on the beat. But
if the screw I put in remains unnoticed, nothing will be found until the
lady looks for her belongings a month hence.'

When they had walked for more than twenty minutes, judging by the quarter
hours boomed from many steeples, Kif decided that they were not making
for home. He revolved this a while and came to a conclusion. 'Going to
get rid of it'--and he wondered what the agent would be like. But the
method of getting rid of it was not his least surprise that night.

They were walking down a back street which, Carroll said, was a popular
short cut between two great highways of traffic. On one side were high
buildings--stores and garages--and on the other the back-garden walls of
a series of smallish houses, each back gate marked on its right by the
oblong iron covering of the coal chute. As he passed one of these,
Carroll lifted the lid, and without pausing let his case drop into it.
They had gone several steps past it before Kif realised what had happened
and then he made no comment; he was still on probation.

They walked for another ten minutes until they came to a halt on a wide
corner where there were shops--a local Piccadilly circus, black now and
silent. They had not been there two minutes before a taxi slid up to
them.

'Taxi, sir?' said the man, but Kif saw the grin under his drooping
moustache.

The speed, the warmth, and the safety all conduced to make Kif sleepy,
but it was a still wide-awake Carroll who pushed him out into the damp
again when the taxi dropped them at the end of Northey Terrace. As they
went up the street, the clocks of all the world, it seemed, ringing
three, they met a tall slowly-moving figure.

'Good night, officer,' said Carroll cheerfully.

'Good night, Mr Carroll. Out late, aren't you?' said the tall man.

'Oh, a little, but one must keep young. Have you ever seen'--he mentioned
a popular musical comedy of the moment. 'Well, don't miss it. Only if you
go to the upper circle, don't take the third seat from the right in the
third row. There's a pillar directly in front of it. Miserable!'

And Kif, ten minutes later, was ravenously devouring cold ham which
Carroll carved with delicacy and precision, and being silently grateful
for that coal shute in a back street and for Delilah.



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


Carroll's screw remained undiscovered, and no reports of a suburban
burglary enlivened the press of the succeeding days. Kif received his
portion of the night's takings a week afterwards, and at Baba's
instigation bought himself some much-needed clothes. She had come into
his room one evening in the process of distributing the contents of the
laundry basket, and holding up a shirt for his inspection had said: 'The
first thing you do with your next pay is to get yourself some new things.
I don't mind sewing on a button for you occasionally, but I draw the line
at trying to make this hold together.' So Kif refitted; and had his first
serious difference with Baba over the choosing of his suits.

She came upon Angel and himself, their elbows on the table and the
tea-things pushed back, contemplating samples of cloth in the large
content born of well-fedness and a congenial occupation. They were
turning over the patterns in a monastic calm, with none of the
twitterings and head-leanings and eye-narrowing and advances and retreats
which are part of a woman's method of conducting the business. Baba, on
seeing their occupation, immediately became authoritative. She took
possession of the situation and became the self-elected oracle on the
subject of shade, texture, suitability and wearing capabilities. A slow
surprise dawned in Kif at some of her pronouncements, but though Angel
made what she called crushing remarks occasionally he said nothing, and
she did not appeal to him. It became clear to him presently that she was
seriously engaged in choosing a cloth for him. At last she said: 'That's
the best,' and turning back to where a white forefinger was inserted,
'and that's the next. Have this for everyday and that for meetings.' She
put down the book and began to clear away the things.

Kif disapproved so wholeheartedly of her choice that he found it
difficult to believe she was in earnest. Baba! who dressed her own lovely
body with such an exquisite suitability. Angel was whistling softly to
himself while he turned over a second book, and Baba evidently considered
the subject closed.

'Well,' Kif said, 'here's my choice.' And held it out to her. She did not
take the book, but stood looking at him, her expression that of one who
reads a direction-sign in a railway station. Then her glance came down to
the pattern he was exhibiting, and the faint rare colour showed in her
face.

'Much too dull for me to go out with,' she said, and lifting the tray
carried it through the doorway he opened for her.

Angel lifted his head for the first time and grinned broadly.

When Baba came back from spending the evening with her only
girl-friend--one Sally Myers, whose Jewish good looks were an excellent
foil for her own--she found her brother alone with the last edition of
the evening paper. He was occupying her own armchair, a fact which
emphasised a feeling she had that their usual positions were reversed.
There was amusement and malice in his eyes as he greeted her.

'You should take an interest in racing,' he said, waving the paper at
her.

'So that more good money could be thrown away.'

'Ah, but think of the valuable lessons to be learned. The folly of
betting on certainties. Miss Confidence lost to-day at Derby by five
lengths. Terrible shock to all concerned.'

She was taking off her fur at the mirror over the fireplace and she
looked sharply at her brother's reflection.

'You look all right in that coat,' he went on, in the understatement
which is fraternal commendation. 'Pity you don't approve of Kif's new
suits. Saw them in the piece when we were being measured. They're going
to look a whole heap better than your horrors would have done.'

She turned to him incredulously.

'Well, I'm glad I didn't take the odds on Miss Confidence.' He picked up
the paper and met her glance over the top of it.

'Blast you,' she whispered, 'blast you!' and slashed him across the face
with her fur. But he laughed delightedly from behind his upflung arm, and
frustrated and beside herself she fled from the room.

So Kif was cast into outer darkness, and instead of spending what
remained of his money on Baba found himself to his own amazement with a
banking account. Since he had every intention of marrying Baba at the
first opportunity he considered the sum in the bank as so much deferred
bliss, and bore his exile from her good graces with an equanimity that
disconcerted her not a little.

The direct result of his temporary loss of Baba was his discovery of
Danny. As soon as it was apparent that Kif was in disgrace the little man
had become unobtrusively friendly. Kif was unimpressed, until he one day
used a phrase which Danny replied to with astonishing aptness. It was a
minute or two before he realised that his phrase had been a quotation
from a Kipling short story and that Danny had capped it. For the first
time then he really considered the desperate-looking little fellow who
was Angel's partner. Angel was at this time enamoured of a resting
chorus-lady and was not available as a companion in the evenings, and so
when Danny suggested that he should come round to his rooms for a book he
went not unwillingly, and that was the beginning of many nights together.

Danny had two rooms at the top of a boarding-house, and he had furnished
them himself with a success which was astonishing in an effort so wholly
instinctive. The colour scheme was a warm purple combined with shades
ranging from buff to amber; it was almost as if he had longed
unconsciously for the moors and burns of his heritage which he had never
seen, and which he would probably have hailed with opprobrium in reality.
There were but three wooden pieces of furniture in the flat--a
bed, a dressing-table, and a table which was half desk, half
chest-of-drawers--and they were all of walnut, dark and beautiful. The
books he had invited Kif to come and choose from filled the open wood
shelves that ran round the room, and over-flowed on to the chairs and the
floor; books of all sorts, from the little red pre-war sevenpenny's to
expensive volumes of travel and biography, thrown together without order
or arrangement. No library this, but the bare bones of things on which
Danny had feasted. And Kif who had come to borrow a book stayed to find
out about Danny.

And through the rest of that winter Kif was to be found at least two
nights a week buried in an armchair at one side of Danny's hearth, his
long legs stretched to the fire and his nose in a book, while Danny,
almost invisible in the cigarette smoke, sat curled gnome-like opposite
him and drew music from the fiddle tucked under his chin. Or Danny would
argue passionately some entirely unimportant theory--against himself
perforce, since Kif would lie, interested but wordless, contentedly
smoking. The atmosphere of the place fed a part of him which was starved
to atrophy at Northey Terrace. The warm beautiful colouring of the room,
the music, the books, Danny's husky voice in its unexpected cockney--one
always expected Danny to talk broken English--playing with abstractions,
Kif lapped it eagerly. When he had a home of his own it would be
something like this--a place to come back to after adventure.

The thought of Baba was a discord at Danny's, but Kif, unintrospective as
always, did not pursue the thought to its logical conclusion.

'What do you believe in?' Danny asked one night, dropping the fiddle in
the middle of a phrase.

'Prairie oyster and cloves,' said Kif.

'No, seriously. Have you any ideas on the hereafter, for instance?'

'Not I,' said Kif. 'Don't believe there is one.'

'Well, that's pretty good for someone who has no ideas on the subject.'

Kif grinned. 'I never thought about it, but I just don't see how there
can be. I'd need a lot of persuading that there was.'

'Were you properly brought up?'

'I went to Sunday School, when I was a kid, and learned the usual things,
I suppose.'

'Pearly gates and streets of gold?'

'Yes, that sort of thing.'

'And when did you stop believing in that?'

Kif thought. 'I don't think I ever really believed it.'

'No, I should think you probably didn't,' said Danny musingly. 'Bump of
scepticism well developed, bump of superstition a hollow. It isn't a
matter of upbringing at all really. It's a matter of mental equipment. My
father was a Catholic and my mother "turned" when she married him, but it
was she who believed that Saint Anthony'd find her thimble for her, same
as she believed in peeling apples on Hallowe'en, and he didn't give a
damn for all the archangels in the heavens.'

He took up his fiddle and played a little crying phrase over and over.

'So you don't believe that when I go west I'll get it in the neck for
emptying the safes of bloated companies of ruddy profiteers?' he said.

'Oh, between then and now you can start a new slant. Give all you have to
the poor and go round shaving people for nothing.'

'I think not. I'd have to start soon, for one thing. You see, I can't
make old bones. I've got it here.' He tapped his chest.

Kif, arrested in the middle of a search for the matches, said: 'Gas?'
forgetting that Danny had not served in the army.

'No, I--They wouldn't take me. That was why.'

'But it isn't bad, is it?' said Kif, unexpectedly moved. Swift death he
knew and understood, but this carrying death round with you--it was
horrible.

'Three years, four years, not more. If it's the matches you're looking
for, you're sitting on them.'

'But good God, man, they can cure it. Why don't you go away somewhere
where the air's good? Switzerland or somewhere.'

'I'd rather live till I die,' said the little barber's assistant dryly;
and Kif, groping wordlessly for the matches, understood, and felt a flame
of fellow-feeling spring up in him. If _he_ had only a little time...

I didn't mean to talk about that,' Danny went on. 'I was only finding out
what you believe in. Isn't it amazing what a lot of people accept what
they're told merely because they're told it? I suppose that if they were
taught from infancy that the world was a big mushroom and the sky blue
paper they'd feel bound to believe it. Especially if some kind of bible
said so. That's typical of their spoon-fedness--the reverence they have
for a Bible. If I had thrown a Bible across the room my mother would have
thought that I was a certainty for perdition. A Bible! Just an ordinary
hotch-potch of a book--some history, and some myth, and some poetry, and
some stud-hook, and a sermon or two. Nothing that you can't pick up from
the tuppenny box any day. Even the prophecies aren't as good as some
Highland ones that you can buy in any bookseller's at three-and-six. The
only thing in the book worth reverence is the English, and they never
think of that. It's the reference book of the whole Christian religion,
and you can prove anything from it. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay,"
and "The wicked flourish like the green bay tree," and so on.'

Kif turned his head at that. 'What would you do if a man robbed you of
everything you had in the world and everything you were going to have,
and you were told that?'

'What? "Vengeance is mine?" I would have a call to be the instrument of
the Lord. When clergymen go to a better paid job they always have a
"call" "A region of greater scope and activity." Ugh!' Danny flicked his
slender fingers as if to rid them of something foul, and wandered into a
dissertation on the iniquities of the priest caste and the unloveliness
of its history. He had reached the Druids by the time Kif got up to go,
with the inevitable book under his arm.

Kif had taken to reading in bed again, a habit he had lost during his
life in the army, and he devoured print at the rate of a book every two
nights. Baba silently resented these oblongs of red or blue or green
which she recognised as a talisman against her charms. If it were not for
them, she felt, he would have capitulated long before now, worn out,
starved. She had cast him out originally in a blaze of anger, and she had
continued to keep him there 'to teach him'. But he was not proving the
apt pupil she had anticipated, and she wanted him.

It is difficult to imagine how the affair would have ended if it had not
been for accident. A shriek from the kitchen one night brought him
pell-mell there to find Baba struggling with a blazing window-curtain.

'Keep away,' he said, and with a wrench brought the curtains, pole and
all, to the floor, where with considerable difficulty he smothered them
with the hearth-rug. Breathless and fey with excitement he took the white
and shaking Baba into his arms.

He came to his senses to find that she was answering his kisses with
utter abandon.

'Baba,' he whispered, drawing her down to a chair, 'marry me. Will you?
Baba!'

He had not time to analyse the look in her eyes. Her arm was round his
neck, pulling him to her. 'Kiss me,' she said. 'Kiss me again.' And Kif
was nothing loth.

Presently though she sat up, pushing her shining hair away from her face,
and said: 'Lummy, look at the mess! And I bought these curtains only
three months ago!'

He did not glance at the ruin. 'When will you marry me?' he asked. 'Soon?
I can keep you all right. How soon, Baba?'

'Don't let's talk of it just now,' she said. 'I'm all of a do-da.' And he
let her go.

But when he returned to the subject the following night while they were
dancing, she again evaded him, and a small cold trickle seeped into his
exuberance. Was it possible she was going to say no? In a slowly growing
panic he reviewed his possible rivals: Bennet, the theatrical agent,
typical London Jew, sleek and dark and talkative; Denman, the 'cellist,
almost as beautiful as Angel, his red-gold hair brushed high from a white
forehead and cut in a short side-whisker on his cheek-bones; Cleland, the
antique-dealer, whose acquaintance she had made at one of the innumerable
auction sales which she attended as other people go to plays--tall, shy,
stammering, young and rich; Barkis, the little ex-service man who had
bought the tobacconist's business in the next street; Miller, who as
Raoul ran a cabaret up West, and was reported to have made a fortune in
six weeks. He could think of others, but these were in the first flight.
And yet--there was last night in the kitchen.

In the dim intimacy of the taxi home he tried again to bring her to the
point.

'What makes you so keen on marriage?' she said at last, and something
like exasperation sounded in her voice. 'What d'you want out of it?
Kids?'

'No, I don't want anything but you. We needn't have kids if you don't
want them. It's only you I want.'

'Well, you can have me.'

'Baba!'

'Only let's hear a little less of the marriage business.'

His arm round her relaxed. 'What do you mean? Are you suggesting--what do
you mean?'

'Exactly what I say.' Something in his tone gave hers a defiant twist.

'But, Baba, I don't want that! I want you for keeps.'

'You don't want much, do you! No one's ever going to have me for keeps.'

She sat silent in her corner while he remonstrated and entreated; but it
was she who mocked and he who was sullen as she bade him good night on
the stairs.

A fortnight later Baba announced to her family at the mid-day dinner--a
meal at which Kif was rarely present--that that afternoon she was going
room-hunting with Kif.

'Dear me,' said her father, 'is he thinking of leaving us?'

'Well, it's time he had a decent place of his own, like Danny's. That
little back room is a miserable hole.' Her wide eyes rested easily on her
father's face.

'That's true enough,' said Angel. 'And Sammy'll be wanting it very soon
anyway.'

Baba's eyes were suddenly swords with which she stabbed her brother's
hostile stare. 'Wrong for once, Mr Clever,' she said; 'Sammy's not coming
back here.'

'Oh? Is he going into rooms too? Shouldn't have thought Sammy would see
the necessity of it, somehow.'

'Oh, you know a hell of a lot, don't you!'

'Be quiet, both of you,' said Mr Carroll mildly, and there was quiet.

The rooms into which Kif migrated were not at all reminiscent of Danny's,
but the landlady was a friend of Baba's; and Baba had done her best with
new cretonnes to give them a cheerfulness which would make up for their
undoubted ugliness. Danny, who was called in at the last moment,
casually, to view them, had asked her why she hadn't offered to do up the
rooms properly, 'so you could get rid of that'--pointing to the patterned
wall-paper.

'I did suggest it, but she put her foot down, and I can't afford to
offend her.'

'Well, make her take away the portrait gallery,' said Danny.

For two months Kif lived at 18 Dormer Street a life of such brilliant
high-lights and such deep shadows as he had not yet known. He was
hopelessly in love with Baba, but he felt that he possessed her only when
she was with him, that his physical presence was the measure of her
liking for him. She made no pretence of giving up her usual round of
amusement in his favour; she continued to divide her evenings as she had
always done among the more favoured of her train, her choice being
regulated solely by what appealed to her most at the moment. She had
never any compunction in throwing over a previous engagement if a
momentarily more attractive one materialised at the last minute, and her
edict was accepted by the unfortunate one in the resigned and unresentful
spirit in which we accept natural phenomena--flood, fire and tempest. Who
were they to grumble? Were they not made free of the sunlight at other
times? But what Baba did give Kif, she gave royally, because it was what
she herself wanted most at the time.

In that lay, I think, the secret of Baba's unholy charm. She was, thanks
to her ruthlessness, almost invariably doing what pleased her, and the
joy of it lit her beauty to a flame. Whatever she did she did
wholeheartedly, since she did nothing through compulsion or on
sufferance. And Kif, comforted by the knowledge that if Baba did not
belong to him, at least he was favoured beyond all the others, used his
natural capacity for living for the moment to make their hours together
particular separate heavens with which to balance the purgatories of her
absence.

His days continued to be devoted to the sale of soap, and his evenings
when Baba was otherwise engaged were spent with Angel at a boxing-match,
or billiards, or the theatre, or in Danny's flat. Neither Angel nor Danny
spent much time at Dormer Street; Danny said the colour made him
sea-sick, and a quiet evening by the fire did not appeal to Angel as an
ideal amusement. But Danny's friendliness to Kif had not suffered a
relapse when Baba had once more shown him favour, and Angel, whose
chorus-lady was again on tour, was prodigal with invitations and
suggestions for their mutual amusement.

His evenings with Baba began usually with dancing and ended at his rooms.
There Baba would lie in one of the creaking basket-chairs whose decrepit
ribs showed abruptly here and there through her brave cretonne, blowing
smoke-rings with her short pale mouth, and discussing people and
things--concrete things; Baba's conversation never soared into the realms
of abstract speculation. She would weigh the pros and cons of Denman's
accepting an offer to play at a West End picture-house, or she would
recount an adventure of Sally Myers, or she would criticise in retrospect
the appearance and manners of their fellow-dancers and speculate on their
private lives, or she would discuss the best methods of making people who
had no intention of buying Crimson Rambler soap change their minds. And
Kif would sit in the opposite chair, watching her, and pretending to
himself that they were married.

Going home one frosty night in January they met Danny, who stopped to
tell them 'a good one on Angel', and without waiting to see the effect of
his ribald tale went away, chuckling, into the dark.

Baba stood staring after him until Kif took her arm and urged her into a
walk again.

'Why isn't Danny jealous?' she asked abruptly.

'Perhaps he is, poor devil,' said Kif. 'I don't blame him.'

'No, he isn't,' she said, and was absent-minded for the rest of the
evening. Later she said: 'Do you know that Danny has what they call
second sight? Scotchmen have it sometimes.'

Kif grinned. 'All the winners?' he asked.

'You needn't be so uppish. Even scientists say there's a lot in it. And I
know a girl...'

Kif listened to the tale while he watched the way her lips alternately
hid and revealed her short level teeth, and between two kisses promised
that he would go with her to a famous crystal-gazer. He had forgotten the
promise entirely until he found himself, some days later, being conducted
to a flat above some business premises that bordered the park where they
had been dawdling. Laughing he tried to back out of it, but she said, 'Why
you promised!' and looked at him with wide grieved eyes.

Kif was quite prepared to find the door opened by a pseudo-slave of
alleged Eastern origin, and the tall correct parlour-maid in her
black-and-white disconcerted him.

'Have you an appointment, madam?'

'Yes,' said Baba astonishingly.

'Is the appointment for two, madam?'

It was Baba who looked disconcerted now. 'I just made an appointment,'
she said.

'I'll inquire, madam,' said the maid. 'Will you take a seat?' In a moment
she was back. 'Miss Fitzroy will see either the lady or the gentleman,
but not both.'

'You go, then, Kif,' said Baba. 'Go on!' as he was preparing to argue.
And Kif, partly from a natural curiosity, partly from a masculine desire
to avoid a discussion in public, suffered himself to be led away.

Miss Fitzroy was an aquiline lady, inclining now to embonpoint, but by no
means the fat old gipsy Kif had unconsciously expected. She bade him
good-day in a pleasant cultured voice and asked him to sit down.

'You want to know about the future, of course. I have one request to
make. Will you please not interrupt till I have finished the sitting?'
Kif, feeling decidedly foolish, gave his assurance. 'And another thing.
It is not always possible to tell whether the vision is of something past
or something to come. But if it is of the past you will recognise it, I
expect.'

She bent forward to the crystal lying on its black cushion on the table,
and there was a long silence. Kif sat in his habitual quiet, his bright
eyes sliding curiously from one article of furnishing to another. He had
so far assimilated the Carroll point of view as to wonder what kind of a
'job' this house might provide, and he had almost forgotten the
prophetess in his speculations when she said:

'I see a small dark man in a room with two others. I think the room is an
office. They are laughing and he is talking. I think they are laughing at
him. He is trying to convince them of something. He is very much in
earnest. I think he is distressed. He keeps pulling one hand through the
other.'

Kif, inattentive till now, woke to a sudden interest. Danny did
that--pulled one hand through the other--whenever he got excited. But
then--vague!

Forgetting the prohibition he said: 'What does he do with his hands? Show
me.'

'This,' she said, her eyes on the crystal, and gripping one hand with the
other imitated Danny's action.

Kif sat looking at her very much as a horse looks at the object it is
making up its mind to shy at, but she was silent now, absorbed in
contemplation of the crystal. After a long interval she began again.

'There is a dimly lit place. A barn. No, a stable. Someone--I think it is
you--is hanging a bridle on a nail, and there is another man there. It
all began then.'

'What did?'

'I don't know. Now it is brighter. No, it is another place altogether. A
kitchen full of shadows. You are there laughing with someone--a woman, I
think. There is something on the table, but her shadow is over it. Yours
is swinging about on the wall. Enormous. No, its--it's--_No_!'

The last negative was shot out so unexpectedly that it almost brought Kif
to his feet. She was no longer looking at the crystal; she was gazing at
him in a kind of incredulous horror.

'What's the matter?' he asked. 'I didn't mean to talk. I'm sorry.'

She was still staring at him. Really the woman must be dippy.

'Yes,' she said vaguely, 'you shouldn't have talked. I asked you not to.'
But she did not appear to care greatly or even to know what she was
saving.

'Go on,' said Kif, 'I won't interrupt again.' But she shook her head.

'No. I'm sorry, I can't do any more to-day. I--it isn't--it won't come to
order, you understand. I'm sorry. You don't owe me anything.' Her eves,
which had been fluttering between her hands and the crystal, came back to
his face and stayed there as if fascinated. As Kif got up to go she said:
'Will you tell me your name?'

'Archibald Vicar,' said Kif, seeing no reason why he should withhold it.

'Thank you.' She stood up and remained standing, still and silent, as he
walked past her to the door. 'As if I were royalty,' he thought,
irrelevantly, and went out feeling sold.

'Well?' said Baba as soon as the front door shut behind them. 'Well?'

'Oh, a wash-out. Absolutely. She threw a fit because I interrupted her,
and wouldn't go on.'

'But what did she tell you before that?'

'She didn't tell me anything. She said she saw three men yarning in an
office, but none of them seemed to be me. Tell me--who does this?' He
drew one hand, palm facing him, slowly through the other.

'Wait a minute. Do it again.' She watched, and in a few seconds she said:
'It's Danny, isn't it?'

Kif nodded, and she gripped his arm till her finger-tips bit into his
flesh. 'Did she see Danny? Did she?'

'Well,' he admitted, 'one of her three men might have been Danny, and
again might not.'

'What was he doing?'

'He was telling the tale to the other two men.'

'What were they like?'

'She didn't go into details.'

'And what else?'

'That was all, I think. No, she saw me in a stable. Considering the
amount of stables I've been in in my life that isn't a great
achievement.'

'What did you interrupt her about?'

'I don't remember now. Oh, she said something began in a stable, and I
asked what, but she didn't know. And then she cut up rough.'

'What did you pay her?'

'Nothing. She wouldn't take anything. Said the power was off and the
switch wouldn't work, or something of that sort.'

'D'you mean to say that she didn't charge you anything?' Baba seemed
strangely impressed.

'Well, she couldn't very well. It was a wash-out, even if it was partly my
fault.'

'You shouldn't have been such a fool. She's very famous. Why, admirals
and generals used to go to her in the war to find out what was the best
thing to do.'

Kif gave his rare shout of laughter. 'Strewth!' he said. 'They should
have come to me. I didn't need any switches and things for that. And I
wouldn't have charged them a cent.'

'We'll give her a month to cool off,' said Baba, 'and then we'll go
back.'

'Not me,' said Kif. 'You can!'

But by that time Kif was in prison.

On a February night he helped Mr Carroll in a job at the offices of an
insurance company off Cannon Street. Carroll had entered and emptied the
safe with his usual precision and despatch, and they had spent the rest
of the night in the deserted office, until the hour had become one at
which two pedestrians could traverse Cannon Street with an air of virtue
and early rising. Kif had preceded Carroll downstairs to the marble
entrance hall which marked the centre of the ground floor, Carroll being
a good flight and a half behind, when he became conscious with that sixth
sense which the war had developed in him that there was someone besides
themselves in the dark. He was halfway to the door when the knowledge
came to him, and he stopped abruptly. Almost before his light went out a
pair of arms clutched him from behind, and before he had started to
struggle he had warned Carroll.

'Look out! Beat it!' he called, and wondered immediately whether he had
done the right thing. There was no sound from above, but Kif was too
thoroughly occupied to notice whether there was or not.

'You'd better come quietly,' panted his assailant in the dark; but what
had been merely the desire for freedom had become in Kif the rage of the
fighting animal, and he was slowly but surely getting the better of the
encounter when he became aware that there were now two people beside him.
For one glad moment he thought that Carroll had come to the rescue, and
then he heard the voice in his ear say: 'Grab him, Tapper, till I get
them on him.' That roused him to a blind fury.

It was two strenuous minutes later that Kif felt his wrists imprisoned
and heard one of the men cross the hall to the electric switch while the
other held his arms above the elbow from behind. The light, diffused from
inverted bowls in a ceiling of a subtle oyster shade, shed an
incongruously mild radiance on the three dishevelled men.

'It's the chicken!' said the man who had switched on the lights,
surveying Kif disgustedly. 'But the old man's somewhere up above.
We'll--'

The front door swung gently open in the draught and fell to again,
thudding softly against its jamb.

'I thought--' began the man who held Kif. But the other had dashed to the
open door. He came back expressing himself with a fluency which roused
interest in Kif, who was feeling sick and dazed.

'Surely you could have heard him and warned me?' he finished.

'Me? Talk sense. I was much too busy trussing your damned chicken. If you
hadn't given him that wallop we'd be still at it.' He dropped Kif's arms
and came round to have a better look at the man who had put up such
resistance. 'Daisy, isn't he!' Then, with a sudden change of tone, he
said: 'Feeling cheap, chum? Sit down for a minute.' He pushed Kif, whose
knees were trembling, back on to a carved marble seat.

Tapper, still mouthing vain curses, went to the telephone, and Kif's
captor sat down at the other end of the bench. Something ran down Kif's
cheek and dropped on his hand. He looked at it uncomprehendingly and put
his hands up to his wet hair. The detective smiled, not unkindly.

'You wouldn't come quietly, you know. You asked for it.'

Kif looked at the blood on his hands and nodded indifferently. 'Give me
my handkerchief, will you?' he asked, and the detective searched for it,
and having mopped Kif's head handed it over.

Kif was feeling better by the time Tapper came back, but Tapper favoured
him with an unlovely stare. 'It's good your girl can't see you now,' he
said.

This was gratuitous insult, and Kif roused himself.

'If it comes to that,' he said, 'you're no oil painting.' His eyes
indicated a bluish-red swelling on Tapper's cheek-bone. 'And if I'd had a
truncheon they'd have needed an identification parade to spot you.'

'Not so much lip,' said Tapper sourly. 'You'll learn not to be so free
with your tongue before we've done with you--you and Carroll.'

'Who's Carroll?'

'Very clever, aren't you?' said the detective. But Kif merely looked
vague.

At the station a fat and sleepy sergeant wrote in a book while a
constable bound up Kif's head deftly and impersonally, very much as an
habitual church-goer turns up the epistle to the Ephesians, and he was
consigned to a clean little room which he supposed was a cell.

He was terribly, abysmally tired. There was nothing he wanted in all the
world but to go to sleep. His freedom, Baba, his old life--last night
seemed years away--were mere names to him, unattractive and without
meaning. All he wanted was to sleep. And as soon as he lay down sleep
deserted him, and he lay watching the dawn come, his head throbbing, and
every aspect of his predicament growing steadily clearer with the growing
light. But he pulled his mind resolutely away from the future. Things
were only bearable in this life if you didn't think about them; he had
found out that long ago at Tarn; so he turned, and turned again, wearily,
in the grey light, busying himself with his physical discomfort lest his
mind, already pulling on the leash like a too inquisitive dog, reach the
thing he knew was there--the locked door and all it stood for.

When he was brought into court in the morning he looked round eagerly for
a familiar face, but there was no one there. He listened as one at a play
to Tapper giving evidence of his arrest, of the implements found in his
pockets, of his abnormal violence, and found no reason why he should not
be committed for trial. With another despairing glance round the court he
departed to a new temporary home. Two weeks later he was sentenced in the
presence of Angel, Baba and Danny and an indifferent crowd of some fifty
idlers to twenty-one months' hard labour. The young and earnest lawyer
who had been presented to him for his defence could in the circumstances
confine himself merely to the plea for leniency. The forces of the Crown,
however, while admitting that there was no previous conviction recorded
against him, had incontrovertible evidence of the violence of his
character; and Kif listened in amazement to an account of his attack on
his superior officer while in the army, and of his obstructing a
police-sergeant while in the execution of his duty in January of the
previous year. Kif's counsel, after a consultation with him, explained
the reasons for Kif's two attacks on authority, and made the most of his
war record. But the impression remained, even in Kif's own mind, that he
was a desperate character. His thoughts went back to an interview he had
had with Tapper shortly after being committed for trial. Tapper had begun
on the 'You be sensible and we'll see what can be done for you', tack,
and had asked, 'What was Carroll going to do with the stuff he had that
night?'

'What Carroll?' Kif had said again.

Tapper had adjured him not to be foolish; it wouldn't pay him to make
enemies of the police; and it would probably make a difference to his
sentence if the stuff was recovered. But Kif was not going to be led into
any admission that Carroll had been his partner.

'I suppose you'll admit that you _know_ Carroll?' asked the detective,
exasperated and sarcastic.

'I know _a_ Carroll,' Kif said. 'The tobacconist on the Walham road.' And
Tapper had snorted and called him a fool.

And now the world called him a desperate character. A bad lot, in fact.
It was quite a new idea to him.

The judge pointed out that a good war record was not in itself any
mitigation of his offence; the fact that he had fought for his country in
war did not make him free to rob his neighbours in peace. What would have
been mitigation would have been any evidence that the crime was committed
through the urge of need or distress; as true, but there was no such
evidence. This was, it was true, the accused's first essay in crime--that
was to say it was the first occasion on which he had been arrested. In
most cases of a first offence it was usual to give a light sentence. But
there had been a wave of this type of crime lately, and it was very
necessary that a salutary example should be made in order to prevent
others embarking on that first all-important step. Moreover, the large
haul of booty which had been obtained from the offices burgled by the
accused and his confederates was still untraced, and the accused had
shown no anxiety to assist in its recovery. They had evidence that the
accused had a distinct bias towards violence. There was no doubt in his
own mind that he was a danger to law-abiding citizens. In these
circumstances he sentenced the accused to twenty-one months' hard labour.

Kif heard the sentence without realisation. The thing was over and he was
'for it'; that was all he knew. It was a queer mix-up, but he had
undoubtedly asked for it, and it didn't bear thinking about.

With which muddled but true summing-up he turned to smile at Baba and
left the dock.



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


Kif found prison not at all the place of half-grim half-picturesque
incarceration he had unconsciously pictured. It was a place of iron
routine and heart-searing monotony. It was like hospital without the
companionship and good-humour. In some ways it reminded him of the army;
the new-comer as in the army--as in most human communities--found himself
doing the least bearable work; 'scrounging' and 'winning' were certainly
not possible through lack of opportunity, but wrangling was in full
swing; and if he were particularly young and innocent, which did not
apply in Kif's case, his mates took an unholy delight in opening the
new-comer's eyes to the wickedness and hardship of the world. Kif bore
the dull work and the incredibly dull food with philosophy; he had asked
for it; he recognised that. Even if he were still puzzled by his arrival
in that _galère_, he admitted that he was paying the inevitable penalty
for bad luck and illegal practices. But the monotony ground his
philosophy into dust and ashes. He did his best to avoid it by getting
himself shifted from one kind of work to another as often as chance
offered or could be manufactured; he had not had four years of army
service in war-time without learning all that was to be known of
self-preservation. But the monotony remained: smothering, maddening,
indescribable. He had thought the hours of soap-selling monotonous, but
he knew now that they represented the wildest excitement; there was all
the world to look at and wonder about, all the crowding petty incident
which he had never noticed and which made life bearable. He had rebelled
at the moribund life at Tarn, but, even there, there had been the spice
of variety; what he had thought of as a smooth sphere was a thing of many
facets; a journey to town to-day, to-morrow snedding turnips, at the end
of the week a dance; if there was nothing more there was the changing
weather. Here there was the same work at the same time with the same
faces, the same food, the same surroundings, and the same
atmosphere--always. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow. To Kif
especially, that was unspeakable misery. He had bouts of cafard which
expressed themselves only in an added quiet, but while they lasted
warders would look at him a second time and thereafter appear aware of
him; and Kif, always quick to notice atmosphere, became aware of their
attitude; which was very bad for Kif. He was a bad lot, was he? And they
were frightened of him? Well, that was a good jape. No one so far had
ever feared him--his hand or his eye or his tongue. And Kif,
good-natured, easy-going, not yet twenty-two, found some relief from the
awful monotony in the thought that he counted as different from the herd,
and in watching the warders watch him.

His biggest anchor to sanity and to his native good-humour he found in
the books with which the chaplain supplied him. (Visitors other than the
padre he resolutely refused to have, either 'outside' or 'prison'.) They
did for him now what they had done at Tarn--created a coloured world in a
drab one. The padre was a cheerful Christian with a high ideal of
brotherly love and a habit of not listening to what was said to him. He
approved of Kif, and though their tastes in literature lay far apart--the
chaplain's ideal would have been a mixture of Mrs Hemans and R. M.
Ballantyne, and Kif preferred a dash of reality in his mixture--he
nevertheless took considerable pains to bring to him what he called 'the
nearest to specification'. And Kif approved of him to that extent. He
listened politely on the few occasions on which the clergyman was moved
to 'say his little piece', as Kif put it mentally; that was his job. The
chaplain had been through the war--at Rouen--and liked to think that he
understood 'the men'. But he knew nothing about things really, thought
Kif. Black was black and white was white to him. He didn't understand
things. He wouldn't see--even if he would listen while he was told--that
Angel and Danny were decenter really than some of the fat rotters who
came to his church, and who had never seen the inside of a cell in their
lives, and never would because the things they did weren't punishable by
law.

So the padre said his little piece about going straight, and making a new
start, and virtue being its own reward (he did not put that last quite so
blatantly--even to his intelligence it needed wrapping up), and was never
told anything about Collins, or Angel, or--Baba.

Baba! She was as potent in absence as ever her shining aloof presence had
been. It was she who defeated Kif's policy of not thinking of things. At
nights her pale triangular face hung against the dark, and swam under the
closed eyes pressed into his pillow. Baba with her pale turned-back mouth
and her white neck, her infinite variety, her givings and withholdings,
her boon-companionship; she was a torture to him. He would not think of
her! And even while his mind protested, he was remembering for the
thousandth time the men he had left with a fair field. They were seeing
her talking with her, dancing with her; and he had not the flimsiest
hold over her. Two years. Oh God! What might not happen in two years!

And Kif would fall asleep, worn out, an hour before reveillé, and would
start the day in despairing quiet. And the warders would cast that second
glance, and Kif would be sardonically amused.

He earned his full remission of sentence, however, belying his
reputation. The last three months were almost easy, so wonderful was it
to have something to look forward to. Baba had written to him, and Kif
had read her characteristically non-committal sentences until he had them
by heart; and over his work would shred them carefully phrase by phrase,
turn the phrases inside out and shake them for hidden meanings, fit
possibilities to them, search behind them, make them new by changing the
accented word. There was nothing to tell him what he wanted to know.

His final interview with the governor found him in no mood to listen to
sane advice. He was about to be free--free to walk down a road, and smoke
a cigarette, and talk to people, and have a drink, and do any blame'
thing he liked. The nightmare was behind him, and he'd come out of it
well, and he'd take jolly good care he never went back. He had learned a
tip or two in his stretch. He would never be so easy again.

'You have behaved very well indeed, Vicar,' the governor said.

He was not in reality at all impressed by Kif's good behaviour. All the
hopeless cases behaved exemplarily; it paid them to. He was merely
agreeably surprised; they had not expected to find him tractable. Kif had
been the subject of no complaints, and had himself complained only once,
when the complaint had proved justified. 'I don't know what your plans
are, but I want to say that if you find a decent job you will have no
trouble from the police. This is your first offence, and there is no
reason why it should not be your last.' Kif was admiring the way he
clipped out his phrases without waste or preamble. Like Heaton. He rather
liked the governor. 'There's the address of people who will help you to a
job if you want it. Good-day and good luck!'

At eight o'clock the next morning the gate shut behind Kif's tall figure
in a rather creased brown suit, and he stepped into the deserted sunny
street half fearful, half expectant.



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


The sunlight fell about him like a garment, and the warm air was a
benediction. A July morning and he was free. But he was afraid suddenly.
And then he saw the only other occupant of the street. The clothes were
unfamiliar and it was a moment before he recognised Angel.

Angel met him with a very little more demonstration than usual, but that
little was, in him, significant. His eyes were very blue, and he had _in
excelsis_ his usual air of having bathed in celestial dew; a true son of
the morning.

'Baba's making breakfast,' was all he said. 'I expect you can do with
it.'

They sat on a bus-top in the sun, and while Kif watched the vans, the
drays, the stray taxis, and the buses of the early morning traffic, Angel
sketched the history of the last eighteen months. They had all had
influenza; that seemed to be the most important event. And Carroll senior
had done two more jobs, and Kif's share was waiting for him; one of them
had been a really good one--a jeweller's. And Carroll had disapproved of
the percentages he had been given on the last occasion by the fence, and
had tried to send the jeweller's stuff straight to Holland. And the ways
they had tried and the way that had succeeded. And of course Sammy was
out a long time ago, but he was working with a man he had met in prison.
He wasn't staying with them.

The last item was a crumb of comfort which sustained Kif through the
desert of suspense and inarticulate questioning that lay between him and
his meeting with Baba.

The house was cool and empty as they passed through the open door from
the already hot street, and there was a faint sizzle of cooking from the
kitchen.

'Baba's through there,' said her brother. 'I'll be down in two shakes,'
and he disappeared up the stairs.

Kif opened the door of the kitchen with a thumping heart. Baba was
standing with her back to him at the frying-pan, rapt in the process of
bringing the contents to perfection. She had not heard him, but a second
later she turned, wiping a thumb in a long sweep down her green apron,
and their eyes met. Kif felt as if he were being hung over a bottomless
pit by a piece of gossamer; his throat was dry and his palms were wet.
And then her arms were round his neck and he was saying her name
unintelligibly into her hair. He forgot his shabbiness--which had worried
him when dressing that morning--his doubts, his lack of standing with
her, the eighteen months he had been away, everything but the fact that
she had welcomed him and that he had her in his arms. Everything was all
right.

'Oh, the fish!' she said suddenly, and drawing herself away from him
clutched the pan.

Together they dished the golden fillets, but Kif's teeth did not water at
the sight of them. He was occupied in remembering how the tip of her ear
curved forward, and being foolishly amazed to find it still so. And the
strand of hair that always crept down from the right side of her
forehead, it was still there.

Breakfast was a gala meal. The windows were set wide to the street, and a
warm air streamed into the cool room over a bowl of sweet peas, moving
them gently in its progress, and bearing with it some of their delicate
sweetness and the bitter fresh smell of new-sprinkled dust. Kif sniffed
it appreciatively. It had some happy association for him, that smell of
hot damp dust, but he could not remember what. He ate whatever was put
before him--Baba had rolls hot from the oven to mark the occasion--and
listened while they talked, answering their questions, and becoming more
and more conscious of a subtle difference in their manner, of which they
themselves seemed totally unaware. For the first time they were utterly
unreserved in his presence, and their welcome to him was a welcome to one
of themselves, not to any outsider, however good his standing with them.
Mr Carroll had patted him on the shoulder and said: 'Well, my boy, it is
very nice to have you back. I have business to talk with you, but that
can wait. It is good business.' And he had chuckled bronchially and
patted Kif's back again with an affectionate hand. They all lingered over
the meal as though nothing in the day mattered but Kif's return. 'The
boy' was opening the shop, it seemed. When eventually Mr Carroll
departed, Angel remained, smoking placidly, and placidly and feeding Kif
with scraps of information as they happened come to the surface of his
thoughts.

'Danny said to tell you he'd blow in here after six. You don't need to go
round to Dormer Street until after tea to-night.'

When Kif had mentioned his rooms Baba had said: 'Oh, Mrs Campany has
yours waiting for you.'

'Yes, I must. I must change my clothes. Look at me. Come round with me
now. You don't have to go to business just yet.'

'No, but--' Angel looked at his sister. She was extinguishing a cigarette
end carefully in the ash-tray (Baba allowed no one to 'muck up the
things' with cigarette ash) and as if conscious of the glance she said
without looking up:

'Yes, you go along with him.'

Angel still hesitated, but seeing the dawning surprise on Kif's face
said: 'All right. But Baba'll come along too. The house can wait for one
morning.'

'Yes, but the dinner can't. And Pinkie'll never be cook at the Ritz. You
take him along and see he's back sharp at one.'

'Oh, come along, Baba!' Kif said; but she would not be persuaded. She
gave him a fleeting kiss as he passed behind her to follow Angel, and
pushed him away from her.

'If you're later than one you needn't come back at all,' she said.

'Dance with me to-night?' he asked from the doorway. And she nodded.

As they debouched from Northey Terrace the dizzying racket of the main
street staggered Kif. For eighteen months that racket had come to him as
a far-away hum. He had listened so often to the low monotone--symbol of
all that he was missing--that he had forgotten the mad cacophony of the
reality. He felt that he needed the shelter of a dug-out from some
incredible barrage, and it was more than ten minutes before he could walk
along without being conscious of the row.

Mrs Campany--a tight-mouthed shrunken creature who had 'had misfortunes',
and who wore habitually shirt blouses of aggressive stripes which looked
still more aggressive on her meagre frame--smiled on Kif with as jubilant
an air as her features permitted. She remarked on his look of health, and
was going to conduct the returned exile personally into his kingdom when
Angel engaged her in talk, so that Kif went alone into the room he had
left expecting to come back to one evening more than a year ago.

When Angel followed him he was standing, hat in hand, just inside the
door.

'Who is responsible?' he asked, without turning round.

'For goodness' sake say you like it,' said Angel. 'It'll be an awful
come-down for them if you don't.'

Kif looked again at the cream walls, the four deep chairs covered in
golden-brown loose-covers, the hanging bookshelves filled with books, the
three framed prints of thoroughbreds in action done in pastel by a famous
sporting artist, the folding oak table with its bowl of yellow roses. He
remembered the grey-and-green patterned walls, the bilious tiles in the
fireplace--they were fawn now--the mirrored wall-brackets, the unsightly
ornaments, the improbable floral carpet which had mocked in its ugliness
Baba's gay cretonnes.

'Who did it?' he asked again.

'Well, I think it was Dago's idea originally, but Baba did all the
chivvying about what was necessary--and if you'd believe her, there was a
whole lot. There were times when I was sort of sorry for the workmen.'
Angel smiled his beautiful smile. 'And Dago'd come and say what was
wrong, you see, and Baba'd repeat it next day to the folk responsible. It
looks all right to me. What do you think?'

Kif put his hat on the table and sat down slowly in one of the round
swelling armchairs. 'It's a lot too good to be true,' he said. 'There
must be a snag somewhere.'

'Not that I know of. May I smoke in this palace? We owe you much more than
this. It's thanks to you the old man got away that night. (The stretch
you got was a bit of a shock to him, by the way.) He'll settle up with
you for that. But the rest of us... Well, I'm glad you like it. Mrs Cam.
was tickled to death when it was done, though it took a whole lot of
argy-bargy before she'd say go. She's a mule, if ever there was
one... You'd better buzz off and change.'

Kif's bedroom was a replica of the sitting-room. Gone was the crazy
basket-chair thinly smeared with hard turkey-red cushion and bristling
like a porcupine with broken cane, gone the defaced linoleum, gone the
drawers reluctant to open and impossible to shut. Kif rummaged happily
among the clothes which had been laid in the new chest-of-drawers,
finding, as is the way with everyone after a long absence, garments he
had forgotten he possessed. It was Angel calling to know if he was still
alive that recalled him to passing time, and the impatient one came
upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed while he completed his toilet. In
that hour Kif felt that the barriers of his knowledge of Angel had been
broken down. He knew, too, that they had reached their last
reserve--Baba. And that that reserve would for some reason remain.

After the mid-day dinner it was Mr Carroll who took a holiday while Angel
went to business, and Mr Carroll suggested that he and Kif should go up
West together. It was almost as if he had guessed Kif's ache to see the
town again. As they walked up Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Carroll
asked him if he had any plans. Kif, who was sniffing the atmosphere
delightedly, would have preferred to leave ways and means to a future
occasion, but he said:

'I want a job.'

'It would be better,' said Carroll, 'but it won't be easy.'

Kif fumbled in his breast pocket. 'They gave me this,' he said, handing
over the address with which the governor had provided him.

Carroll examined it. 'Ah, yes,' he said kindly. It was the tone one uses
on being asked to admire a kindergarten drawing. 'Well, there's no harm
in trying them.'

'What's wrong with them?' demanded Kif.

'Oh, nothing, nothing,' said Carroll. 'A most excellent institution. Of
course,' he added, 'there is no immediate need to find work. There is
your share of the last eighteen months still untouched.'

He paused pleasantly before delivering his bomb, and then lobbed it
gently into the warm afternoon. 'Your share of the Cannon Street business
and of the two affairs which, contrary to my custom, I put through alone,
amounts to--' and he mentioned the sum.

Kif's eyes opened wide, and the world swung suddenly into a new
perspective. A lump sum like that--why, it altered things completely.
With that sum he could begin bookmaking again; and presently, if things
went well, own horses of his own, make a steady income, have a house on
the river--long ago he had decided that when he had a home of his own it
should be by the river--and perhaps Baba for his own.

But the delicious mirage faded in the desert of second thought. There
would be too many questions to answer if he reappeared on the Turf just
now. Everyone in the bookmaking crowd had known that he was a partner in
Hough & Collins. He had no evidence to show that he had been a sufferer
in the absconding of his two partners. And any inquiry would unearth the
fact that he had just served a sentence of hard labour. He could not risk
yet that warning-off which would definitely put an end to the hope which
he secretly still hugged. But--supposing he got a job and hung on to it?

They were crossing the circus when he came to himself. 'All the same,' he
said, as they pushed open a bar door, 'I think I'll look for a job. The
busies are too inquisitive.'

Carroll assented with his tolerant air of letting everyone decide their
own course. As a Bass and a stone-ginger were set before them--Mr Carroll
drank only soft drinks--Kif heard him say: 'Hullo, Sammy!' and swung
round with an eagerness he had not meant to betray. Here was the man who
had caused him so many tortured moments.

Carroll turned from shaking hands to introduce Kif. Sammy looked at him
curiously for a moment and then nodded, but as he and Carroll talked his
eyes came back always, curiously, to Kif. Sammy was long and lean, and
pale, and loosely put together, with shoulders too square and too flat.
He had a thin twisted cynical mouth, rather kindly grey eyes, and a
perpetual air of having slept badly. They discussed the failure of the
Derby favourite, the possibility of Donoghue's doing the hat-trick next
year, the thinness of beer and its iniquitous price--all the subjects, in
fact, that are common to bars and clubs.

'I see Murray Heaton was married yesterday,' Sammy said. 'No end of a
splash. Duchesses and what not.'

'Oh? Didn't pay much attention to the papers this morning. Who's he
married to?'

'Don't know. No one I'd heard of. The chorus as like as not. The
duchesses would be all on Murray's side. He was a dam' fine jock.'

'He was. A great jockey. It's a pity he isn't riding now. Were you in
Liverpool when he won with Purple Pest on three legs and his hand half
chewed off at the wrist?'

They exchanged reminiscences until Kif was moved to give them later news.

'He was a jolly good soldier, too. He was my captain in France.'

At that they turned eagerly to him, and Kif told them stories of Heaton,
authorised and apocryphal, until their second glasses were drained. But
going home to six o'clock tea at Northey Terrace his mind was occupied
more with speculation about Sammy and thoughts of the evening he was
going to spend with Baba than with memories of Heaton, though he cast him
a friendly thought. (Old Heaton married! Good luck to him! One of the
best, Heaton.) Why was there this queer gap of silence in the apparent
frankness about Sammy? They all liked him, apparently, and they all
talked freely about him, and yet Kif was conscious of an uneasiness in
the atmosphere when his name was mentioned.

Danny came in at tea-time, a little more round-shouldered than when Kif
had seen him last, but with black eyes alive and friendly, and Kif tried
to thank him for what he had done to his rooms.

'Oh, that's Baba's work, not mine,' he said; and as Baba had said, 'Oh,
Dago did that,' Kif was left with his thanks undelivered. Kif noticed
that his eyes followed Baba as intently as they had on that night more
than two years ago, when he had met Danny for the first time. He had it
rather badly, poor little devil, Kif thought with a spasm of pity; and he
hadn't a chance--not an earthly. And yet what had Baba said about his not
being jealous? But he was jealous once. He had been jealous--furiously
jealous--that first night, when Kif, the new-comer, had helped Baba in
the kitchen. Strange!

Kif helped Baba again to-night, partly to be alone with her, partly
because she had to dress afterwards. But the clearing process had so many
interludes that the first reason proved to be the only valid one.

'For goodness' sake get a move on,' she said at last, 'or we'll be coming
home before we're there.'

She spread a newspaper on the sink and scraped the refuse from the plates
into it before consigning them to the water in the basin, and Kif stood
by her side drying expertly, his absent eyes on the newspaper.

'It is rumoured that very shortly a new arterial road will be commenced
from...'

'The state of Mysore has been famous for a generation or more for the
statesmanlike character...'

'Yesterday at the junction of Bedford Street and the Strand a collision
occurred...'

'At St. Margaret's, Westminster, yesterday there was solemnised the
marriage of Murray Heaton, the famous jockey, horse breeder and trainer,
to Miss Ann Barclay, only daughter of Mr and Mrs T. R. Barclay of
Golder's Green and granddaughter of...large assembly...the bride who
looked charming wore...retinue...'

The cup he had been drying crashed on the tiled floor.

'Butter-fingers!'

'I'm sorry. I'm--I--I'm sorry,' he stammered stupidly. Murray Heaton and
Ann!

She looked at him surprisedly and said: 'Well, you are a ninny, getting
white in the face over a broken cup. You don't suppose it matters really,
do you? Even if it did, it's done now.'

'Yes, that's true,' Kif laughed. 'Spilt milk, 'm?' He was still looking
at the pieces.

'Well, at least you can pick up the bits!'

'Can I?' He squatted on his heels and began to collect the fragments,
laying them in his palm as carefully as though they were fragile and
valuable. 'And don't be all night about it. It's nearly eight o'clock.
Chuck them in the ash-bin. It's outside the door.'

Kif carried the remains outside and trickled them slowly into the ashes.

As they danced--languidly, for the evening was warm--Baba glanced
curiously at him once or twice, and then she said: 'You're tired, aren't
you?'

'Well, it's long past my usual bed-time,' he said, but his smile was
unconvincing.

'We shouldn't have danced to-night. Let's beat it. I'll come to Eighteen
with you.'

She went to collect her wrap and they walked across the park. The cool
damp air rose round them from the dim grass, and the lights--the lights
of London at the climax of the season--came and went behind the purple
brown of the trees. Outside, taxis hooted, the horns of cars called long
and low, klaxons choked; but here it was very quiet. Their footsteps
sounded in faint thud and swish over the grass.

'Funny to think it was only this morning you came out,' she said.

'Yes.'

They took a taxi at the other side of the park and sat in their
respective corners without a word, the man abstracted, the girl puzzled.

As they came into his sitting-room she said: 'You do like it, don't you?'
and looked at him again with that doubtful glance.

'Oh, rather,' he said. 'Rather!'

As the door closed behind them he sank on to a chair, drawing her down to
the arm of it, and buried his face against her shoulder, clinging to her
despairingly.

'Baba!' he said. 'Oh, Baba!'

Her face cleared. She laughed, and rumpled his dark straight hair.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


It was a dull hot morning, heavy-aired and full of thunder. Kif, having
dutifully reported himself, determined to do the politic thing without
delay and provide himself with work of some sort. With considerable
curiosity and not much faith he betook himself to the address furnished
by the governor. There he was interviewed by a small rotund gentleman who
looked like Mr Pickwick--though Kif, who did not read Dickens, was
unaware of the fact--and whose benign expression seemed to have something
to do with his glasses, for when he removed these appendages for a moment
his eyes revealed themselves as hard and shrewd as any lawyer's.

'What have you done in the way of work? Have you a regular profession?'

Kif explained what he had done since the war. 'And before?'

Kif was just about to suppress the farm experience when he recollected
that now that the police had his dossier nothing could be hidden any
more.

'Ah, farm work!' said the little man, seizing eagerly on the information.
Now the best thing you can do is to go abroad. I think I can arrange
about the fare if you engage yourself for three years. An entirely new
start for you and a splendid opening.'

Kif, breaking in, said that he had no intention of going abroad.

'Dear me! and what are your intentions?'

'I want a job in London.'

'And do you know that about ten thousand men are wanting the same thing
at this moment?'

'I shouldn't be surprised.'

'And what chance do you think you have of being successful?'

'One in ten thousand.'

'Oh, much less. You forget your disabilities.'

'You mean that I've done time?'

'Exactly.'

'That doesn't prevent me being good at a job.'

'Perhaps not, but it makes you undesirable from an employer's point of
view.'

'Oh yes. I forgot. A bad lot, in fact.'

'You must see that in your position it is not possible to pick and choose
the kind of work that appeals to you. We take the risk of recommending
you, and if you desire to go straight, the work is there for you and the
opportunity. We can find you work that you can do, but it is not possible
for us to supply the ideal occupation.'

'Oh, I'll do any kind of work provided it's in London,' said Kif
cheerfully.

'Why London?' asked his interviewer suspiciously.

'Why not?' said Kif.

'Because,' said the little man, slightly non-plussed by this March Hare
attitude, 'it seems to me that it is the worst place for you.'

'It's the only place,' Kif said.

The little man subjected him to a mild stare through his glasses and a
keen examination without them, and said at last: 'Come back to-morrow
afternoon.'

On the morrow Kif was provided with an introduction to the manager of a
garage off the Edgware Road, and for the next six months he earned forty
honest shillings a week as washer there from nine to six daily.

The manager had received him without comment beyond explaining the
conditions and the work, and had dismissed him to his labours with a
casual: 'I expect you'll do all right.' The foreman had not been so
reticent. When he had finished a harangue on what was and what was not to
be done he added: 'And no tricks. You see, I know all about you.'

'Well, you have the advantage of me,' said Kif, 'but I expect I'll learn
all about you in time.' And after that the foreman, except for some
nagging, left him alone.

The work was monotonous but cheerful. New faces came and went
continually, and Kif found it bearable. He planned to stay there at least
a year, by which time he would have earned a recommendation which had no
taint of prison about it, and then to make an attempt to get back to the
Turf. Without doubt the happiest months of all his life were those he had
spent as clerk to Hough & Collins, and he wanted to get back to the
life--with a stake in the game. He felt vaguely that the concentrated
excitement of one night's 'job' did not compensate for the monotony,
however comfortable, in between adventures, and the risk of several years
super-boredom thrown in. Life was so short--so short--that he must pack
it with the maximum of living. So he was willing to trade twelve months'
monotony with Fate for the chance of living the kind of life he wanted
afterwards. It was a gamble. And it did not come off.

He was hosing a car after coming back from his mid-day meal one muddy
December day when Rice, the foreman, appeared and said: 'Hand it over
before there's trouble. We don't want the place to get a bad name just
through you.'

'What are you talking about?'

'I'm telling you to hand over that fur. The lady who left the Daimler
this morning left it in the dickey and it's gone.'

'Well, she should have locked the thing.'

'You have a nerve. Have you pawned it already? If not, hand it over.'

Kif was stammering with rage. 'Do you actually think I'd touch a mangy
bit of ratskin--'

'It's sable,' said the literally minded Rice.

'What do you think I am? A shop-lifter?'

'I don't know what your department in thieving is, but I do know you're a
dam' jailbird, and we've no use for you here.'

Nor I for you,' said Kif, and hit him. 'Take that.'

He picked up the hose he had dropped, turned off the water and, having
removed the hose to its appointed place, rolled down his sleeves.

'I'll have you up for assault,' said Rice, hugging his jaw.

'Do,' said Kif, 'and I'll sue you for libel. You can tell the boss I've
quit.'

But he met the manager at the office door on the way out.

'I'm going, sir,' he said. 'Every time someone's mislaid a spanner since I
came here they looked sideways at me, and now someone's lost a fur, and
I'm supposed to be able to produce it. They didn't teach conjuring in
quod.' He turned up his coat collar preparatory to braving the winter
atmosphere.

'That's a pity, Vicar,' said the manager. 'Don't you think you have been
too thin-skinned, perhaps. There's bound to be a lot to put up with for a
little. You'd find things easier after a bit, I'm sure. Think it over!'

'Well, I've just landed the foreman one,' said Kif.

'Oh?' the manager's eyes were almost amused. 'Hit Rice, have you? In that
case I think perhaps it would be better for you to go. Your resignation
is accepted with regret. Come into the office, and I'll give you what is
owing to you.'

'There's nothing owing to me,' said Kif. 'Thanks all the same.' And he
moved away.

'All right, Vicar. If you ever want a job in the future, come and see
me.'

Kif was halfway down the street before it occurred to him that the
manager had accepted without question his implied statement that he knew
nothing of the theft.

Kif made three more attempts to earn the recommendation he hankered
after. One was in a garage, and one was as a packer in a West End store,
but in both places his history leaked out, and things were made very much
more unbearable than they had been under Rice. Indeed his fellow
packers--youths of nineteen and twenty who had been just too young to see
active service--struck work when they found that the management, who knew
Kif's record, expected them to work with a 'convict'. They weren't over
particular, they said, but they had their pride. So Kif went.

A week later by a piece of sheer luck he obtained work as traveller to a
firm of crimped-case makers. This he secured through his own efforts,
and, afraid that if he enlisted the aid of the only people who would
vouch for him the truth might cause a rebuff, he resorted mistakenly to
covering his tracks by inventing a past for himself. He had been in
Ireland for the last two years, he said, and though he had done
travelling work, he had lost his job when the firm went phut. But before
that he had been with Vidor & Pratt, the soap people.

He risked that scrap of truth, hoping that the London address would be
sufficient to reassure them without further investigation. Once more it
was a gamble, and this time it came off. An agent had died suddenly and
they were in a hole. Kif was given his credentials, his samples, and was
sent out. He spent a busy and profitable five days among the bakers and
confectioners of the suburbs, and though he disliked the work he was
elated as he turned in to the office to report on Saturday morning at the
prospect of keeping it. The distributing manager was complimentary and
pleased, and Kif received his paltry pay with more satisfaction than he
had ever had on taking the contents from a safe. He had one ambition, and
one only: a clean sheet for a year, and then the Turf. And he had what
looked like a chance.

He went out of the office with his head in the air, brushed past another
of the salesmen coming in to report, and went downstairs three at a time.

The new-comer stood looking after him and then came slowly in to the
desk.

'Who was that?' he asked.

'Our new man on Denny's round.'

Was he ever with Vidor & Pratt, the soap do you know?'

'Yes, why?'

'Because I was with them too. Is his name still Vicar?'

On Monday morning by the first post Kif received a note saying that
Messrs Blewbury would require his services no longer, and enclosing a
cheque in lieu of notice; and when Kif went to the office to attempt an
explanation and understanding the office boy assured him that the manager
was out.

'What kind of out?' Kif asked.

'You know,' said the boy. '_Wash-out_.'

Meeting Kif's eyes he instinctively lifted his elbow in a protective
gesture, but Kif turned on his heel and walked away. Down on the pavement
again he stood looking through a mist of anger at the world. He felt
physically sick with rage and disappointment. He grabbed the rail of the
bus he boarded as if he would wrench it from its socket. From its top he
viewed Holborn, shining after a spring shower, in unseeing bitterness. He
was finished. Never again would he subject himself to that, even to get
the thing he wanted most. There were other things in life besides the
best. He had had high-falutin notions, that was what was wrong. And life
was too short for high-falutin. He would take the best of what came his
way from now on, but he wasn't going to sweat blood for anything. Nothing
was worth that.

As they came into Oxford Street his eyes lighted on a familiar doorway
and woke in intelligent vision. That was where he had run into Angel that
morning two--three years ago now. He remembered his cracked boots, his
soaking clothes, his semi-starvation and weariness. Well, thank God he
didn't have to go back to that. He had learned a thing or two since then.

Over a very good lunch in Regent Street he continued to review the
situation. He had been a fool, anyhow, to save the money Carroll had
banked for him. Look what had happened last time he put all his eggs in
one basket. As for his dreams of making Baba his wife, that too was a
wash-out. If anything she cared less for him now than when she first
refused to consider marriage with him. He would hold her better by a
present prodigality than by any glory to come. He realised that now. And
as for racing, there were other ways of enjoying the Turf besides
bookmaking. There was nothing to hinder his going racing any day as a
private individual.

But he knew suddenly and quite certainly that he would never do that. The
second-best theory did not apply to this. A sick stab shot through him.
He got up hastily, paid his bill, and went out.

At Northey Terrace he found Baba poised in front of the living-room
mirror engaged in deciding the most suitable situation for the
_boutonnière_ which was to be the finish of her toilet. At sight of Kif
she arrested the dabbing movements with which she was pursuing her
experiments and said in surprise:

'Hullo! I thought you were selling paper frills.' In her voice was the
faint scorn--a scorn so faint as to make even its existence
doubtful--with which she invariably referred to his attempts at work. Her
attitude had annoyed Kif without dismaying him--he still took his own
line in most things; now he was almost unaware of it. For once it
coincided with his own view of the matter; he had been a fool.

'Wash-out,' he said. 'But I've got a week's pay for nothing. They gave me
that rather than see my face again. Were you going out with anyone?'

'No, I was just going shopping.'

'Well, it's too late for a matinée. Let's go and have tea somewhere.'

He pinned the _boutonnière_ on the under side of the lapel for her and
they sallied forth together. It dawned gradually on Baba that the Kif by
her side was not the Kif she had known yesterday. He no longer hankered
after straight jobs for no earthly reason. (Kif had never told Baba of
his great ambition; that, quite typically, he would have kept to himself
until it was on the point of realisation.) And there was in the
recklessness of his expenditure a suggestion of celebration which she did
not understand.

'Are we celebrating something?' she asked at last, having revolved the
matter and arrived at no conclusion.

'We're blowing my last pay,' said Kif succinctly. 'Oh? Have the
employment agencies turned you down for good?'

'No, the other way about.'

'Oh!' She thought for a little, and then smiled at him dazzlingly. 'I
think Father's been missing you. He says he's getting old, and that's
something new for the old boy.'

Mr Carroll had refrained from the day on which Kif obtained his first
work from suggesting his participation in any 'job'. Kif was, in fact,
ignorant as to whether in the nine months that had passed since then,
Carroll had worked at all. (It may be said here that he had not.) Baba's
remark was meant as encouragement to a prodigal, but Kif changed the
subject abruptly. His only interest at the moment, it seemed, was to
spend what he had received that morning; to buy things for her. And in
that Baba came happily to his assistance.

A week later Kif and Mr Carroll did a job in Grafton Street, the
staff-work of which had been simmering pleasantly in Carroll's brain for
six months or so. The job, which occupied them from Saturday night until
early on Monday morning, involved a dizzy climb to the roof of a
five-storey building, a promenade over two neighbouring roofs, the
breaking of a skylight, the lowering of themselves into a questionable
dark, the forcing of two doors, the boring of a hole in the floor of an
office, through which they dropped to their goal below. In this last drop
Carroll slipped and broke two fingers of his right hand. He splinted them
with Kif's help, handed over his tools, and with Kif's coat and his own
settled himself comfortably in a near-by corner. 'This is your affair, my
boy,' he said. And after that he said nothing; he watched in silence. And
Kif faced the safe in that mixture of pride and trepidation of a small
boy who had been asked for the first time to come out to the floor and do
the sum on the board for all to see; the board looks queerly
perpendicular and the floor as big as a desert, but he knows how to do
the sum! Kif went to work unhurriedly, his hands choosing and rejecting
with their habitual neat deliberation, his reckless eyes absent,
absorbed. When the door of the 'fire and burglar proof' swung on its
hinges, he turned suddenly to the silent Carroll and smiled a whimsical
smile that was very good to see.

'After you, sir,' he said, with a little gesture of his hand to the
yawning door.

Carroll's mild blue gaze caught and reflected his pupil's laughter.

'I congratulate you,' he said. 'That was as pretty work as I ever did
myself.' And he came over to inspect the contents with the gratified air
of one accepting an invitation.

The safe contained two ledgers, share certificates, a letter written by a
famous society hostess to an actor, and ten pounds.

Carroll, who had made no secret of his hope of from two to three thousand
pounds as the result of the week-end's work, said: 'Dear, dear! Who would
have thought it!' And at the inadequacy of the remark Kif, whose mind was
already thronging with curses, sat back on his heels and laughed
helplessly.

Carroll pocketed the bank-notes, examined the ledgers to see that there
was nothing of value between their pages, and came back to the letter.
They both knew by reputation The woman who had written it, a diplomat's
wife, liked and respected both by her own crowd and by her more casual
acquaintances. Since the owner of the safe was not a friend of the lady
and since the letter was exceedingly compromising, its preservation could
only be for blackmail. Carroll, having read it a second time, lit a match
and applied it to a corner of the sheet.

'I didn't know he was as black as that,' he observed mildly, as he
powdered the last ash to dust with a plump forefinger. 'Let us have some
sandwiches.'

'Yes, but--' Kif paused, weighing one of Baba's neat little packets in a
contemplative hand.

'But what?'

'She won't know that it doesn't exist any longer. He'll just go on as if
it were there.'

'Yes. Quite true. I hadn't thought of that.'

'Let's write and tell her it's gone up in smoke.'

'And present the police-- Oh, but of course-- I see. Yes, we could do that.
Yes, certainly we could do that.'

It was Sunday afternoon, and broad daylight, and there was no hope of
making their escape for nine or ten hours yet, and they settled happily
to the composition of a letter which would inform their host's victim
that she need be a victim no longer. By the time they had finished the
production--execrably typed by Kif on their host's paper--they both felt
friendly and warm toward the woman they had never seen, as one does to a
life one has saved.


'MADAM' (they wrote):

'This is to inform you that we have to-day, Sunday, March 4th, at the
above address destroyed a letter written by you which we found in the
course of our business. We feel sure that you will be glad to know what
has become of it, and since we do not believe that the late owner would
be anxious to inform you we have taken it upon ourselves to do it. We
also undertake never to mention the existence of the said document,
though for obvious reasons we refrain from signing our names.


The style was Carroll's, but the moving spirit was Kif's, and I have
reproduced the letter so that the woman, if ever her eyes light on this
page, may know the story of the boy whose idle thought brought her out of
hell.


They amused themselves with the ledgers until the early quiet of a Sunday
night had settled on the streets and they deemed it safe to make their
get-away. To retrace their steps with their impedimenta and the handicap
of Carroll's maimed hand was an uneasy business, and Kif breathed a sigh
of relief as they dropped safely to the deserted pavement of a yard and
walked out unchallenged into the street. As he let himself into 18 Dormer
Street in the chill dark of the early mornings he was sleepy and tired,
but satisfied for the moment. There had been no tangible reward for all
their effort, but that did not matter much; he had had twenty-four hours
of very good entertainment.

So Kif drowned in the excitement of adventure the forlorn ache that ate
sometimes like a toothache into his indifference, and between times did
his best to ignore it. He took to spending his mornings in and out of the
West End bars with one or another of 'the crowd', spotting winners,
discussing the day's news, and exchanging mild drinks, exactly as his
more fortunate fellows were doing all along Piccadilly, St. James' Street
and Pall Mall. Baba, who had disapproved strenuously but ineffectually of
the washing and packing jobs--she had found the pliant Kif as malleable
as stone when he so pleased--was delighted at the change. This was Kif as
she would have him; well dressed--her interest in the dungareed Kif had
waned perceptibly--and possessed of leisure and money. And presently Kif,
almost unconsciously, resigned himself to his milieu. The Carrolls and
their friends were the only constant quantity in a life that lacked
foundation; and his natural egotism was satisfied by being accepted as
one of themselves and a personality. He accompanied Baba here and there
when she expressed a wish to be squired--to the Old Bailey or to one of
the sale-rooms which she haunted--but usually he was to be found in one
or another of the rendezvous of his acquaintances.

To provide the necessary spice in such a life he betted cheerfully and
recklessly on anything that provided an adequate gamble, and when he was
unlucky went short until the tide turned. In the following
November--almost a year after Kif's final attempt to tread the path of
his ambition--Carroll and he had planned a raid on the house of a
Levantine diamond merchant who lived with a plump, famous, and
notoriously unfaithful wife at Kew. It was the first 'villa' affair that
Kif had taken part in since Carroll had screwed up the scullery window on
that wet night more than three years ago; most of Carroll's business was
concerned with office safes and jeweller's premises. The layout had been
studied with the care that Carroll habitually gave to preparing the plan
of attack--he did few jobs, but those he did were perfect. Mrs Lisman was
in Biarritz at the moment, and her maid was on holiday. Mr Lisman dined
at home every night except on Thursdays, when he attended some weekly
festivity and returned home between two and three o'clock just
sufficiently sensible to be able to put himself to bed. There were three
maids and a butler, all of whom retired at eleven, when the butler went
round switching off lights and locking up. One of the maids had insomnia,
but she was also dull of hearing. There was a burglar alarm of a
well-known and almost infantile design, and a safe on which Mr Carroll
was itching to try his quality.

It had been agreed that on a certain Thursday Carroll and the safe would
try conclusions, but on the previous Tuesday Carroll developed influenza.
Since postponement would mean that the attempt would be hampered by the
returned Mrs Lisman--who had no habits--only impulses, and whose comings
and goings were incalculable, Carroll after some persuasion agreed to let
Kif, who was broke and correspondingly eager, attempt the work himself.
Angel was hot and shivering and obviously sickening for the same malady
as his father, and was therefore no help. So Kif was given one or two of
Carroll's most precious possessions to supplement his own equipment, and
departed from Northey Terrace in the early afternoon with those and
Carroll's blessing. He spent the evening at Danny's rooms, but Danny, who
seemed restless and depressed, did not share his jubilation over the
night's work. Kif wondered if he were annoyed that he had not been asked
to take Carroll's place, and then dismissed the thought as being not in
accordance with the evidence where Danny was concerned. Jealous of his
own he might be, but envy did not exist in him.

'Are you sickening for 'flu too?' he asked as he was departing with two
books.

'Don't think so,' said Danny. 'Got the hump just.'

'None of the various theories any good to-night?' Kif grinned.

'Not a bit. Everyone comes up against the fact of luck in the end.
They've all tried to explain it away, and no one's ever succeeded. It's
just there and you can't dodge it. A monstrous iniquity. And no theories
are any use.'

'Have ten grains of aspirin,' said Kif, but his hand on Danny's shoulder
had an affectionate touch.

'I wish you'd call it off to-night,' Danny said for the third time.

'You are an old grouch,' Kif said. 'And that reminds me--lend me your
automatic. I almost forgot to ask you. My old gat weighs half a ton, and
I can't afford to give away weight to-night--even if I did beat Angel on
points the other night. Did you hear that? We sparred six rounds... What?'

'I say don't carry a gun at all to-night. It's much safer not.'

'Safer for who?' Kif grinned again. 'Don't be afraid. I'm not going to
use it. But if presenting it is going to make a good get-away out of a
tight place for me I'd be a fool not to take it. You don't imagine I'm
going back there' he jerked his head vaguely to indicate prison, 'if I
can help it?'

So Kif left Danny's rooms with the automatic in one pocket and two books
under his arm.

At Number Eighteen he collected a muffler, an attaché case and an
umbrella--the twin of Delilah--and laid the two books on the table by his
bed, where Danny found them long afterwards.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


It was nearly one when he found himself in the garden of the house at
Kew. It was a dark night, with a light frost and no wind. The house was
in complete darkness--a mere thickening in the blackness in front of
him--but in his head was a clear and accurate map of his surroundings. He
moved over the grass, avoiding the beds as though he could see them,
until he came to the edge of the carriage-sweep. He followed that on the
grass until he reckoned that he had left the carriageway behind and had
only a path between himself and the house. He crossed that slowly. The
paths, he knew, were made of exceedingly fine bright red sand. As he took
each step he obliterated the mark of the last by a scuffling movement of
his toe. His gloved hand touched the wall, and he felt along it for the
beginning of the study window. It was longer in coming than he had
anticipated, and for a moment he was afraid that he had lost his bearings
after all. And then his hand slid into nothingness where a moment before
there had been brick; he was all right. Six or seven minutes' work at the
window, six seconds with the burglar alarm, and he lifted a cautious leg
over the sill, laid his case on the floor, and stepped into the centrally
heated warmth of the house.

He stood there listening. The door of the room must be open because he
could hear the pompous thud-thud of the hall clock. Another ticked
fussily near at hand, on the mantelpiece, presumably. Still he waited.
There was another ticking, sharp and irregular, that puzzled him, until a
sharper report than usual enlightened him; it was the cooling cinders of
a dead fire. Still he waited, standing by the tall curtain, a cold light
air at the back of his neck, the warm cigar-scented atmosphere of the
house in his nostrils. Nothing stirred. In all the night nothing stirred
but the two clocks, one agitated and one aloof. Gently he pulled the
heavy silk curtains across the window and took out his torch. It lighted
a small table set with a siphon and sandwiches. So this was where old
Lisman ate on his return if he were sober enough. Well, that was not
often, and in any case he would be away by then.

He moved carefully to the open door and stood there looking into the dark
hall, listening. Not a movement. He closed the door soundlessly, switched
on the light, and returned to his case. He knew where the safe was,
perfunctorily hidden by a marqueterie bureau; Mr Lisman relied more on
the workmanship of the safe than on any subtlety in concealment. If he
cracked this it would be a feather in his cap, and Carroll would have to
admit that the pupil was nearly as good as the master. He looked at the
drinks wistfully for a moment but decided against them. Apart from the
necessity of keeping a clear head, he wanted, if he did the job neatly,
to leave the fact of the robbery unsuspected as long as possible.

He had been working for perhaps ten minutes when a dull thud sounded
somewhere. He stopped instantly, his ears strained, his eyes on the door.
Would he have time to get to the switch before the door opened? '_Now_
you're going to be caught! Now you're going to be caught!' chattered the
clock exultantly. But nothing happened. The silence hung thick and still
as ever.

And yet that thud had sounded in the house somewhere. He drew Danny's
automatic from his pocket and laying it within easy reach resumed his
work. For two minutes he worked; and then everything happened at once.

He heard the breeze of the door opening, and turned to see Lisman,
apparently perfectly sober, his hands in his coat pockets, surveying him
and saying: 'Oh, you vould, vould you!' He saw Lisman see the automatic,
reached out his hand for it, saw the army revolver appear as if by magic
in Lisman's hand, heard the report of it, and heard something sing beyond
the open window in the night. And even as the report came he had fired
instinctively--as instinctively as he would have fired on the enemy
confronted suddenly in patrol--and he saw Lisman sag at the knees and
drop.

His first feeling, staring at the obscene bundle of flesh, was anger at
the wrecking of the night's work, his second was realisation of the need
to get away. In ten seconds the household would be awake. He crammed the
precious tools into the case, risked the loss of several seconds to put
out the light, and was through the window and running across the lawn
before the first light appeared in an upstairs window.

God! he had put his foot into it this time.

There were footsteps coming from the gate to meet him. Someone from the
lodge. He had forgotten the lodge. He pulled himself up. The steps had
started to run. He was being hemmed in between the house and the gate. He
wheeled sideways and made across the garden to the far side-boundary.
There were pear-trees against the wall, he remembered. Hampered by the
dark and the case to which he still clung, he climbed the wall, his
sensitive hands feeling ahead of him, and dropped down the other side
into soft mould. He bent and felt. A flower-border. He took two steps
straight ahead of him on to grass, obliterating his footsteps as he went.
Where now? The front way would be too unhealthy. But he had to put as big
a space between himself and Lisman's as soon as possible. The telephone
would be busy. He would have to risk it. He could not remember where the
gate lay, but he knew where the road was, and made for that, stumbling
over shrubs and afraid to show a light. There seemed to be no gate. To
and fro he went in the blackness, desperate and trapped. But there was a
gate; it had been part of the knowledge he and Carroll had gathered in
their preparation, that gate. He would have to use his presser. Not using
it was just a fad of Carroll's. There was no time...

And then he came on the gate. It was unlocked. He was through, walking
down the open naked road at a pace as leisured as he could make it. It
took the whole force of his will to keep his rising heels in subjection.
The effort exhausted him as a physical strain would have done. At each
step he felt that another at the same rate was more than he could
achieve. And yet they went on, those difficult even paces.

Someone was coming in front. A man. They had passed. He had done it. This
hell of a street ended in another hundred yards. At the end of this wall.
No, that man was coming back. Looking round he saw the flicker of a
half-touched torch in the man's hand. His heart leaped sickeningly. There
was no time to think. Without stopping he heaved the case over the high
wall at his side and heard the 'hush' as it dropped into some shrubbery.
In a moment the man behind overtook him and the torch-light ran over him.

'Late to be out, isn't it?'

Kif stopped. 'What d'you say? Do you mind taking that beastly thing off
my face?' He felt surreptitiously in his pocket for the automatic--the
mere feel of it would give him courage. It was no longer there. God! he
had dropped it somewhere. Where had he dropped it?

'Sorry, sir,' said the constable, pacified by his inspection of Kif's
clothes, his lack of impedimenta and his Barclay manner. 'We've got to be
careful in this district. Too many good hauls lying about for us to take
any chances.'

Kif made his stiff lips smile. 'That's all right, constable. Cold work on
a night like this.'

'You may say that, sir! And beginning to snow, too.'

It was, but Kif was aware of a much more portentous phenomenon; the hum
of a motor filled the night in a rapid crescendo. He must get away.

'Well--' he said, beginning to move on.

'Have you got the right time about you, sir? The cold's made mine crazy,
I think.'

As they compared watches a car whizzed round the corner and came to a
sudden halt with a squeal of brakes a yard or two past them.

'What's this? What's this?' said an irritated voice, and a man came to
them from the car. The constable, seeing the shape of a police-helmet in
the rear of the car, said:

'I was just making sure of the time from this gentleman, sir.'

'You on the beat?'

'Yes, sir.'

'There's been trouble at sixty-four. Who's this?'

'I was making my way home when the officer thought he had better make
sure of my respectability,' said Kif. With the only part of him that was
still capable of emotion, he prayed that the new-comer would be content
with the dim backwash of light from the head-lights.

But the new-comer took the torch from the constable and turned it on
Kif's face with a quick flash up and down his person. 'What are you doing
here, and where have you--' he stopped. Then with a change of tone he
said: 'Do you mind taking off your hat for a moment?'

There was nowhere to run to. The constable was on his left, and the
new-comer on his right. At his back was the wall. Kif removed his hat.

'Well, well, Vicar! This is a pleasure. It's a long time since we met,
but I remember it very well. _Very_ well. You've become quite well-known
since then.'

'I don't know what you're talking about,' said Kif, utterly without hope.

'No? Well, you'd better come along with us, and we can have further
explanations in a warm station. It's a cold night.'

'Are you arresting me?'

'That's what I'm doing.'

'But you have nothing against me. You can't arrest me just on spec.'

'Nothing against you!--_Hayward_!--That's good, from an old lag like you!
What about acting suspiciously, just for a go-off? Are you strolling
round Kew at two in the morning for your health? You and your
respectability! That's a good one. Put your hands up. Run him over,
Hayward.'

'Nothing,' reported Hayward, having examined Kif.

'Well, we're not taking any chances. Put these on him. He ruined one of
my best collars once.'

'Get in!' he added, and Kif got silently and despairingly into the car
between the two men, and while the man on the beat stood on the
foot-board, they were borne back to the Lisman gate.

'You take him to the station,' said Wilkins, 'and come back for me.' He
disappeared into the lodge gate with the constable, and Hayward escorted
Kif to the police-station in the car.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX


Baba was cutting up steak for beef-tea and listening to an account of
scandal in high life as recounted by Pinkie's successor, whose brother
was a footman in the best circles, when Mrs Campany arrived, her thin
face flushed and her expression a mixture of dismay and importance. Mr
Vicar had not been in all night, and this morning two plain-clothes men
had come and searched his rooms.

Baba gaped at her, obviously trying to drag her mind from the delightful
inconsequence of Lady Blank's indiscretions to the contemplation of
immediate trouble. When Mrs Campany had told all she knew--which was very
little, since the officers had been uncommunicative--and had some of the
importance wiped from her face by Baba's unrestrained scorn of the
meagreness of her information, Baba stood looking long at the chopped and
oozing fragments under her knife, and then said:

'All right. Have some tea. Gladys'll give you some. I'll see what can be
done.

She poured some soup into a bowl, and leaving Mrs Campany to be fortified
by Gladys went upstairs to her brother's room on the second floor. There
was no help in her father--he was really ill this morning, and she was
waiting for the doctor--but perhaps Angel would have some ideas, even if
he had a temperature.

Angel turned his flushed face on the pillow, and seeing the steaming bowl
said: 'Oh, give me something cold, there's a good kid,' and then
immediately: 'What's the matter?'

She set down the bowl beside him. 'They've got Kif.'

Angel started upright, gazing incredulously at her, and sank back with a
groan of dismay.

'Oh, hell!... How d'you know?'

Baba explained.

'Nothing in the papers?'

'No.'

'Perhaps they haven't got him. Perhaps he's just lying low. What did they
search his rooms for? He's probably got away. You'd better go round and
warn Dago though. Oh, Lord! what a mess! And everyone tied by the leg!'

When Baba asked Barney, the half-Irish half-Italian owner of the
hair-dressing establishment where Danny worked, if she could see Danny he
was delighted to oblige Miss Carroll, and Dago would be sent for
immediately. He ushered her into a small room and left her.

One glance at Danny's dark face when he appeared was all that Baba
needed.

'How do you know?' she asked. 'Has he been to you?'

'No, I'm afraid they've got him.'

'Then how did you know?'

'It's in the paper.' He pulled forward a chair and pushed her gently into
it.

'What did it say? Did they get him with the stuff on him?'

'Haven't you seen a paper?' he asked.

'No, Mrs Cam. came round to say he hadn't been home, and that they'd
searched his rooms this morning. So we hoped he'd got away. How do you
know he didn't? What does it say?'

Danny went out and came back with the latest edition of the morning
paper.

'You'd better read it,' he said.


GREEK MERCHANT MURDERED AT KEW. Mr Lisman shot.

'Oh, Danny, he _hasn't_!'

'You'd better read it,' he said again gently.

At an early hour this morning, Mr Lisman, the well-known diamond merchant
of ---- Street, was shot dead by burglars whom he had interrupted in the
course of their operations. According to his butler, Mr Lisman had
returned from an evening engagement rather earlier than usual. That he
was aware of the presence of the intruders is indicated by the fact that
he was grasping in his hand a heavy service revolver, which was contrary
to his habit, and which he must have fetched from his bedroom. One shot
had been fired from this weapon, but had apparently missed Mr Lisman's
assailants. The thief or thieves made their escape from the garden by a
side wall, and in their haste dropped an automatic revolver which is
regarded as a valuable clue. Nothing was missing from the safe, which had
not been opened, though the attempt showed the work of an expert.

Mrs Lisman, who is at present in the south of France, is a well-known
beauty. It is understood that an arrest has been made.


Baba's eyes, stony as green agate, were once more on Danny. He moved
uneasily.

'Don't mind so much, Baba,' he said. 'They may not have him.'

She was still speechless.

'They always say that about an arrest being made.'

'No, they don't,' she said, 'and you know it. When they have nothing they
say a clue. They've got him. And there's nothing we can do. There's Tommy
and Father in bed with flu' and no one to do anything!'

'There's me,' said Danny.

'Yes, there's you, but what can you do?'

'I'll do whatever I can. You believe that, don't you?'

'Of course I do,' she said impatiently. 'We all will. I'll have to go
back to Father and Tommy. Oh, Kif! Why did he!'

She left Danny, a mournful little figure, without a backward glance,
bought the later morning papers, and took the truth home to Angel.

Angel's aghast blue eyes lifted from the welter of shrieking headlines to
his sister, rocking herself in pent emotion on the edge of his bed.

'Old Kif!' he said. 'What a damned mess!'

'The fool! Oh, the fool!' she said between her teeth.

Angel was cogitating.

'Look here,' he said at last, 'if they haven't got him, by any chance,
let's say he was here all last night. You can say he stayed to help look
after Dad.'

'Not I!' she said. 'Do you take me for a fool?'

Angel looked genuinely astonished. 'Why?' he asked. 'What are you afraid
of?' And as she did not answer immediately he added with a twist of his
mouth: 'Your reputation?'

'Now _you're_ being a fool. No one can prosecute me for my reputation.
But I'm not going to find myself in the dock for perjury.'

'You wouldn't risk that even for Kif?'

'I wouldn't risk it for _anyone_. Why should I? I didn't ask him to do
that job at Kew and make a fool of himself by killing someone, did I?'

'No, but you'd go dancing on the proceeds,' said her brother brutally.
'He's taken all the risks so far, and you've had the good times. It's
surely up to you to take a risk to help him out of as tight a place as
this?'

'Not that risk,' she said. 'Think again!'

Angel lay and looked at her in a half-curious disgust. 'Well, I always
thought even the rottenest women did decent things when they were stuck
on a man.'

'Oh, shut up,' she said, 'you make me tired. Put your great brain to some
use instead of playing parson.'

She picked up the untouched bowl of cold soup and went out.

Angel lay looking at the closed door for a moment or two, clutching his
head with feverish hands in an attempt to think clearly, and then he got
slowly but determinedly out and began to dress. Baba found him there,
half-dressed and only half conscious, an hour later, and her rage knew no
bounds.

That afternoon Danny, very well brushed and neat, walked into what he
always referred to as his favourite police-station. It was not clear
whether his liking for it was due to its familiarity, its locality, or
the shade of the paint on the walls. He found Wilkins there in earnest
talk with the sergeant.

'Hullo, Dago!' said Wilkins, friendly but surprised. 'I've just sent for
you. You haven't had my message already?'

'No, I've come to save you trouble by giving myself up.'

'Oh? What for? Have you killed someone at last? I always said you'd do it
some day.'

'Yes. I killed Lisman. And you know it.'

'I know nothing of the sort. When did this happen? Lisman seems to have
been a popular sort of target.'

'I don't know what you're trying to pull. You've found my gun, haven't
you! And it's just my luck that you happen to know it's mine.'

'Oh yes, I know the gun's yours. It's the one I took from you that night
at d'Agostino's. But you didn't kill Lisman, all the same.'

'Why? Isn't he dead?'

'Because at a quarter to one your long-suffering landlady went up to ask
you to stop playing your fiddle, and Lisman was killed about
one-fifteen.' Wilkins smiled triumphantly.

Danny's eyes, which had been unfathomable black pools, became suddenly
hunted things.

'You don't know my landlady,' he said in a moment. 'She'd perjure her
immortal soul if she thought it would keep her house respectable. I think
you'd better arrest Mrs Frazer too. Or will you let her off now that you
have me?'

Wilkins ignored him. 'When did you give your gun to Vicar?'

'Never,' said Danny. 'He has one of his own,' and bit his too-ready
tongue.

'Quite so,' said the inspector. 'It was reposing all last night in his
collar drawer.'

'He doesn't carry one,' Danny said, trying to retrieve his error.

'No, just keeps it to look at,' agreed Wilkins facetiously.

'Look here,' said Danny, beginning to draw one hand through the other,
'you've got a perfectly good confession with perfectly good evidence. I
was there--with another chap--and I shot the fat rotter. Isn't that
enough for you?'

''Fraid not, Dago. There was only one in the business last night, and your
feet are three sizes too small. Besides, we've got all we want. Vicar was
charged this morning. Do you mind identifying this as your property?' He
produced the automatic.

'Of course it's my property! I've said so.'

'Well, when did you give it to Kif Vicar?'

'I didn't.'

Was Vicar with you last night?'

'Yes.'

'Till when?'

'About eleven.'

'What did he come for?'

'He often comes.'

'And he took nothing away with him?'

'Yes, he had two books.'

'Oh?' The inspector grinned. '_Three Weeks_, and _How To Open a Safe_.'

'No,' said Danny indifferently, 'a _Heraclitus_ and a _Sophocles_.'

The inspector's grin vanished. 'Well, you'll hear further from me, I
expect. It has still to be discovered how Vicar had that gun.'

'I've been offering you the explanation, but you don't want it.' Danny
buttoned his coat, and the inspector watched him curiously.

'What makes you so keen to go through the drop?' he asked as Danny turned
to go.

'I thought I might as well have the honour and glory of croaking that fat
swine. But you're so--particular.'

And Danny went out into the grey afternoon.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN


The shooting of Philip Lisman created a sensation without any
adventitious aids; for once the press came panting in the rear of public
interest. Lisman was well known--and universally disliked--in London, and
Mrs Lisman was famous throughout Britain and a large section of Western
Europe. The trial for murder of the man who was said to have shot him
became a _cause célèbre_. In those days Angel lost for ever the bloom
which had made his beauty the singular thing it was. He became merely a
good-looking youth who dressed well; his clothes no longer looked mundane
and incongruous. Mr Carroll too had lost something which could not be
accounted to the after-effects of influenza; and Danny looked like one
crucified. Only Baba flourished among the horror and the strain and the
fight against despair which occupied the men around her. Instead of being
involved in the squalor of an obscure murder trial, as she had feared,
she found herself a central figure in a case of intense public interest.
She therefore forgave Kif his criminal folly and spoke kindly and
affectingly of him. When an admiring reporter said: 'It's on the stage
you should be!'--he referred to her looks, not to her histrionic
ability--she played with the thought and turned over the possibilities in
secret delight. She would become famous one day, see if she didn't.

The combined resources of the two Carrolls and Danny proved insufficient
to brief the greatest criminal lawyer of his time, Stanley Arden-Davis,
in whom lay what seemed their only hope. Mr Carroll, making an attempt to
see the great man and perhaps get him to accept what was the most they
could offer, was met by the bland refusal of his secretary, and the
assurance that the case did not present sufficiently interesting features
to make defence worth while. At least, that is how it sounded in
Carroll's ears. It was Murray Heaton who proved the god from the machine
and gave Kif all the chance that remained to him. He came, grave,
self-possessed, solicitous, into their hot distress and helplessness and
'got things done' as of old. He interviewed Arden-Davis, pointed out the
popularity of the case, guaranteed his fee, and left that famous man
cancelling an engagement.

When he was ushered into the visitors' room he occasioned the first spark
of real interest that Kif's face had shown since the hand-cuff closed
round his wrist in the light of Wilkins' torch. He shook hands warmly, as
one war veteran with another.

'I came along,' he said 'to see if I could do anything I didn't know
until last night that you were a friend of Ann's. I had forgotten that
you and Tim used to be chummy. I've just been to see Arden-Davis and
he'll undertake the wangling business for you. You seem to be always
butting into trouble. Last time it was that little ---- of a
corporal--forget his name--who had to be saved from your clutches.'

'Blyth,' said Kif. 'Well, that wasn't exactly the last time.'

'Oh? What have you been doing since then?' Heaton sat down as one would
sit down to chat with a club acquaintance, and when the warder indicated
that time was up they were discussing the best method of making a
sprinter into a stayer, and Heaton had learned the salient points of
Kif's history since his discharge from the army, and had guessed the rest
with his uncanny accuracy.

He shook hands again and said that he would come as often as he could
wangle it. 'Tim's in Canada, but we expect him back in about a fortnight.
Ann said to give you her good wishes and to say to keep your pecker up.'

The door clanged, and Kif came back from the atmosphere of cheerful
good-fellowship and legitimate adventure to the realisation of his
loneliness. Ann had sent him that message, but it was a small weak echo
in the cold vastness that his life had become. It was meaningless,
irrelevant, in this numb immensity of horror. He tried to picture her
saying it. 'Tell Kif to keep his pecker up.' He pictured her in the
drawing-room at Golder's Green, and then remembered that she did not live
there any longer. She had married Heaton, and he had had Baba, and it was
very long ago that they had taught each other dance-steps, and been
curious about each other's ideas, and made toffee with Alison in the
kitchen at Golder's Green. 'Tell Kif to keep his pecker up. The words
sang in his head, but it was like listening to unrelated voices on the
telephone--thin, far-away voices that had nothing to do with him. What
had Ann to do with the thing that had happened to him? What had anyone to
do with it? They were all outside--spectators. He was alone with the
thing.

Arden-Davis found him an uninspiring client when he came to interview
him.

'You confessed to the police. What made you do that?'

'They had a gun that I borrowed from a friend. So I just told them the
truth.'

'What was the truth?'

'That he fired first. I never meant to kill him.'

'Did you say that of your own accord?'

'Yes.'

'They didn't suggest things to you?'

'No.'

'Well, tell me exactly what happened that night.'

Kif told him wearily, Arden-Davis watching him the while. Good living had
thickened the lawyer's jowl, but the eye in the fat face was keen and
clear as a bird's. When Kif finished, and had answered his questions, he
said:

'You needn't be so despondent, Vicar. You have a good fighting chance.'

'Of what? _Of what_?' said Kif, with a passion so sudden that the lawyer
was staggered.

'Of getting off, surely,' he said.

'Getting off! There's no getting off. Do you call fifteen years getting
off? _Fifteen years_!' Kif's hands came together white-knuckled and beat
a despairing tattoo on his knees. His eyes, staring at the opposite wall,
reminded Arden-Davis of the eyes of a horse he had seen whose back had
been broken at a point-to-point. He could find no words.

Perhaps we may get it to less than that,' he said mendaciously, and got
himself away to where he could forget unpleasantness in Italian cooking
and French wine.

But that was the only occasion on which the drowning, helpless Kif became
articulate. He came into the packed court to stand his trial pale and
quiet, his heavy dark eyes seeking round for familiar faces. When he
found them a smile that was more a ray of light than a movement of
feature went over his face, and after that he did not glance their way
again. The small wizened piece of concentrated acuteness that was his
judge examined him minutely from his hooded eyes, and the jury glanced
furtively or stared curiously as their several natures were. But Kif did
not appear to care, or even to be aware of the battery. He and the
custodian on either side of him were mere onlookers--the only onlookers
in the arena. They would argue and fight, all those others; strain their
wit and understanding, whip their straying minds back to the narrow path
of attention, take oaths and declare and deny, weigh the worth of
phrases, snatch a doubtful word before it fell, and juggle with it till
the nut became a tree sprouting new meanings; they would steep themselves
in a hot mesmerising bath of words and struggle to keep their brains
cool, the jury because it was their duty, the judge because it was his
habit, the prosecution because the Crown counsel had a new appointment in
his eye, the defence for the greater glory of Arden-Davis and the
ultimate advancement of his two juniors. But Kif and his stiff large
guardians could only watch. Nothing he could say or do would arrest the
spate of words, put an end to the heavy mockery of the play. He, Kif,
was the subject of it all, but no one in the arena remembered it now. He
was translated for them into an abstraction, a cause. He was a real
person only to the pleased mob that breathed and coughed subdued coughs
and exchanged surreptitious whispers beyond the pale, and to them he was
something between a monster and a hero. His very presence filled them
with a delightful entrail-gripping mixture of horror and pity, his
smallest movement, for which they watched with greedy eyes, thrilled them
as would a sign from Heaven. When he blew his nose they remarked it with
éclat and felt themselves privileged among mortals that they had
witnessed it. They had scamped their too-early breakfasts in order to
procure a good place at this free show, they had planned and manoeuvred
to be here, and the value of the show was enhanced accordingly. Now they
sat breathing comfortable breaths of achievement and content, the
sandwiches they had prepared the night before resting reassuringly in
pocket or bag, or lying careless and casual in newspaper on complacent
laps.

Through the preliminaries--that careful setting out of facts with all the
jealous relevance of the law--the court stirred gently and continuously
with the slight indeterminate sound of wind over grass. They had heard
all this before, this why and when. All this minute explanation of the
game, this dreary prologue demanded by the beloved of the law, was but
tedious recapitulation of an old tale. Had there not been an inquest to
enlighten them? To say nothing of a police-court and the press of a whole
nation. The law was a self-conscious bore. And so, with the eye that was
not occupied with Kif, they searched the court for amusement, criticised
the jury, compared the fleshy power of Arden-Davis with the lean
acuteness of Kinsley, the Crown counsel, decided that in a tight place
they would like to have Arden-Davis on their side, speculated as to who
was paying his fee in the present instance.

And then the first witness was called; there was a quick concerted
movement as the whole crowd leaned forward, and complete silence fell.

The first witness was Lisman's butler, Allen, who described the habits of
the household, his being roused from sleep by revolver shots, and his
discovery of his master's body. He was unable to say how many shots there
were. He had not actually heard any shot. It was merely the noise that
had awakened him. His master did not habitually carry firearms, though he
was apprehensive of burglars.

Arden-Davis: Was Mr Lisman a quick-tempered man?

Allen thought not.

Arden-Davis: Was he habitually clear-headed?

Allen thought he could say he was.

Arden-Davis: At one-thirty in the morning?

No, Allen must say that by evening Mr Lisman was not often clear-headed.

The butler was succeeded by Wilkins, who gave his testimony in the usual
model police fashion. He described his finding the body--he had been at
the police station on other business when the call from the Lisman house
had come in--and his search for clues. There were no finger-prints, but
outside the window of the room were two perfect footprints, one of a
whole foot and one of a toe. He took a cast of them, which, as could be
seen, fitted in every detail the boots which the accused was wearing at
the time. On the far side of the wall separating the Lisman house from
that on the east side of it he found the revolver from which the bullet
that killed Mr Lisman had presumably been fired. The bullet from Mr
Lisman's own revolver had been found in the soil of the garden. Behind
the street wall of a garden further along the road was found a case of
burglars' tools. The tools had been thrown into the case carelessly and
evidently in great haste. On his way to the Lisman house he had met the
accused and caused him to be detained, since he could give no proper
account of himself. The spot where he had stopped and interviewed the
accused was less than twenty yards from the place where the case of tools
had been found. The accused was charged on the following morning.

Arden-Davis did not cross-examine, and Wilkins was succeeded in turn by
the constable who had talked with Kif before the arrival of Wilkins, and
by the officer who had charged him.

Next came Danny, who was shown a revolver and identified it as his. His
appearance was hailed by the mob with a sigh of ecstasy. A real
crook--and a thoroughly bad lot, no doubt! Anyhow, he certainly looked
it. They prepared themselves for drama. The hostility on Danny's face as
he turned to Kinsley was unmistakable, and his slight round-shouldered
figure in the tight-fitting navy blue coat had the quality of a bent
spring. But they were disappointed. Having claimed the revolver as his,
Danny was dismissed. He hesitated a moment as if surprised, and then
went. Neither when he came in nor as he went out did he cast a glance at
Kif. A faint unexpected colour had mounted in Kif's weary face at sight
of him, but no one noticed it except the little blinking brown image in
the red robes, who noticed everything.

As the day wore on the weariness that marked Kif's face deepened, until
one of the jurymen, catching sight of it at a moment when his thoughts
were elsewhere, was jerked suddenly into realisation and humanity. For
two painful minutes he contemplated things as they were, and then pulling
himself sharply together became once more an unthinking plumber and a
juryman. It didn't pay to see things like that.

When the case for the defence opened Kif was preceded into the
witness-box by the Lisman housemaid. She said that on the night of the
tragedy she was not asleep. She suffered from insomnia. She had heard the
shots quite distinctly. Two of them. They differed in sound, the first
being louder than the second and not so sharp. She was quite sure about
the order of the sounds. She was slightly deaf, but not deaf enough to be
unable to hear sounds like that. On the contrary her very deafness made
her more aware of the character of sounds as detached from their meaning
than she would otherwise be.

And then Kif came, quiet and very white. He told his story in answer to
Arden-Davis very much as he had told it to the lawyer in the first
instance; bald bare phrases without explanation or excuse. When the
lawyer wanted a qualification he had to ask for it. Kif made no attempt
to justify himself. What did it matter? What did anything matter?

Arden-Davis brought out all the defence there was: that Lisman had fired
first and left Kif no choice, that Kif had had no intention of using his
weapon. And the great man sighed with pleasure as he sat down. What a
model witness! Would all witnesses were so amenable. There was a lot to
be said for indifference in an accused person. The over-anxious always
spoiled the game.

'You say Mr Lisman shot first?' Kinsley asked Kif.

'Yes.'

'Then how is it that he did not kill you? He did not even wound you. How
was that?'

'Because he was a bad shot, I suppose.'

'He would have to be a particularly bad shot to miss you by a yard,
wouldn't he?'

'Yes.'

Was your gun in your hand when Lisman came into the room?'

'No.'

'Where was it?'

'It was lying on a chair by my side.'

'Not in your pocket?'

'No.'

'Then you were prepared to use it at a moment's notice?'

'I was prepared to present it. Not to use it.'

'When did you first pick it up from the chair?'

'When I saw Lisman.'

'But if he had you covered how could you pick it up?'

'Lisman hadn't a revolver when he came in.'

'Then you were the first to present a weapon?'

'No. I reached for my gun, and when I looked up he was covering me.

'Then if he had you covered why did he shoot?'

'I don't know.'

'I suggest that you shot Lisman before he had time to take aim at you.'

'No. What I told you is the truth. I shot because he meant to kill me. I
never meant to shoot.'

'But _you_ killed him, and _his_ shot went a yard wide of the mark?'

Kif did not answer, and Kingsley abruptly sat down. Arden-Davis glanced
at the jury and wondered how far sob-stuff would go and how far the
straight-from-the-shoulder touch. He got to his feet still debating.

In convicting a man of murder, he said, they had to prove the will to
kill. The accused had said that he had no intention of killing anyone,
and since in law a man was presumed innocent until he was proved guilty
they might accept the accused's word for it, as hypothesis if not as
fact. Let them, in the absence of evidence, consider the probabilities.
Here was a man who had joined the British army in 1914. He was then
fifteen. They taught him how to kill, and for the next four years--that
was, for the whole period of what would normally have been his
boyhood--he killed and risked being killed daily at the bidding of his
country. At the end of the war he was discharged, and invested his
gratuity in a perfectly honourable business. His partner swindled him and
he was left penniless. His grateful country showed no anxiety to help him
to the work he sought for. On the other hand, an old army acquaintance,
met by chance, proved a good samaritan if incidentally a bad friend. The
friend and _his_ friends were what is popularly known as crooks, and the
accused assimilated their point of view. When on business he carried a
revolver as naturally as another man carried a heavy-headed stick on a
lonely tramp; not because he anticipated having to use it, but because he
felt happier with it. For a man who had spent his 'teens as a fighting
soldier on the western front to go into any adventure without a potential
weapon would be as unthinkable as that a soldier would be willing to go
into no-man's-land without a rifle. The accused had not the faintest
intention of killing anyone when he put his friend's gun into his pocket
that night. Even at the moment when he was confronted with Lisman, gun in
hand and intention in eye, he had no will to kill. He answered Lisman's
attack as mechanically as his training had taught him to do. That he
_killed_ Lisman was also due to the mechanical reaction of his training.
If he had been deliberate he could have disabled Lisman without doing him
serious injury. He had no reason to kill him. It was enormously to his
advantage that he should not. That Lisman was killed and the accused
unscathed was due to the fact that Lisman was a bad shot and had had too
many drinks, and to the fact that the accused was taken unawares, and
without time to think, shot by instinct, as he would at an enemy, to
kill. If his country had never taught the accused the trade of killing
Philip Lisman would be alive to-day. His country had taught him that and
nothing but that, and as long as he killed in their service they approved
of him. But now that in a mad unthinking moment he instinctively fell
back on what they had taught him they called him a murderer and wanted to
hang him. They called that justice. 'But justice is for you to dispense,
you twelve persons of the jury, and for no one else. It is for you to say
how blameworthy this boy is. There is nothing in his favour but the
probabilities and the sworn evidence that of the two shots the first was
the heavier report. Beyond that you have only his word. Do you think it
is so difficult to accept?'

Arden-Davis waited a long silent moment, and then sat down slowly.

It was late afternoon when Kinsley rose to address the jury.

There was no need, he said, in this instance to decide whether or not the
accused had fired the fatal shot. Even if the evidence for the Crown had
not been sufficiently conclusive on that score they had the accused's own
word for it that he had shot Lisman. Since his word was backed by
incontrovertible evidence they were ready to believe his statement. But
they were then asked to believe, with no more corroboration than that of
a half-deaf woman who had been half asleep at the other end of the house
at the time, that the shot had been fired in self-defence. That was to
say, they were asked to take the uncorroborated word of a man who was
confessedly on the premises with criminal intent. The net of the law had
closed so quickly and so securely round him that he had no chance to
deny, with any hope of belief, the fact of his presence there on the
night in question. Now he said that he would never have fired at all if
his victim had not used his weapon. If that were true it was strange that
it was the man who had fired first who had missed his target, and that
the man who had fired in flurried self-defence was the one to kill. It
might, of course, be a mere matter of marksmanship, as counsel for the
defence had suggested. But if probabilities, in the absence of evidence,
were to be taken into consideration, it was much more probable that the
very erratic course of Mr Lisman's bullet was due to the fact that he had
already been shot.

Again, whether or not he had fired in self-defence, the accused was
responsible for the killing of a human being, and that killing had become
necessary, as the accused would term it, only through the accused's own
criminal practices. Was that to be termed manslaughter? Was a burglar who
shot one when one showed signs of defending one's possessions to be
described merely as criminally negligent, or something equally absurd and
inapplicable. It was for the jury, under the judge's direction, to
decide, of course. He held that the shooting of Philip Lisman was murder,
and should be punished as such.

Kinsley's gown made a soft s-s-sh in the silence as he turned to his
seat. The court stirred, and breathed, and fell to silence again. In the
quiet the small, awful, red and brown god above it turned over the pages
of his notes with the stealthy rustle of dried leaves. Below him in the
hot stillness they waited for the oracle. The blood thudded thickly in
their ears. But in Kif's ears was a sound that was more the beating of
his heart than any artery's spasm--the sound of London's traffic. Sudden
and distinct it sounded, and a wave of agony rose in him.

Out there. Just out there. Just that link distance away. People would be
going home now; it was raining probably; it had been raining when they
brought him in the morning; the pavements would be wet and the buses
full. He could see the yellow Star placards wrinkly and damp. People
buying evening papers and going home and to theatres and things, just as
usual. All over the world people doing things just as usual. But he--!
What was it Danny had said? 'Luck always gets you in the end'--something
like that. Luck--that's all it was. And he'd drawn a loser. Or perhaps
he'd played badly. Who dealt anyhow? Oh, well, what did it matter? It was
done now. This was the card he was left with.

Mr Justice Faver began to address the jury. His slow precise words fell
into the silence as if they were distilled from some precious retort. The
jury were there, he said, to weigh the worth of facts, not to decide upon
matters of sentiment. As the prosecution had pointed out, the accused had
gone to a certain house on the night in question to commit a burglary.
When confronted with the owner of the property he shot him and killed
him. The accused said that the owner was the aggressor, and that he, the
accused, shot in self-defence. That was to say, he asked them to believe
that a householder, well armed, well aware that there were trespassers on
his property, and having the intruders at a distinct disadvantage in that
he could take them by surprise, was yet so devoid of all reason as to
shoot without provocation. Well, there were distinct limits to human
credulity, and quite frankly he did not find that story credible.
Provocation there must have been, and provocation could have been
provided only by the accused, either overtly with his weapon or covertly
in a gesture. It was, he thought, too unlikely for credence that Lisman,
having all the advantages of the situation on his side--having, quite
literally, the accused at his pistol's point--should go to the extreme
course of firing. There was evidence that Mr Lisman was of a placid
temperament. The defence, it is true, had in the course of evidence
suggested that Mr Lisman was not habitually responsible for his actions
at that hour of the morning. But subsequent and incontrovertible evidence
had been led to show that he left his friends about half-past twelve in a
perfectly sober condition. It was not, then, any inflamed condition of Mr
Lisman's own mind which induced him to use violence. The defence had
brought forward a witness who swore that of the two shots the first had
been the report of Mr Lisman's revolver. The witness was very positive on
the question, and there was no reason to suppose that the facts were
other than she had stated. There was nothing in her statement
incompatible with the case for the prosecution. It was quite possible
that Lisman had fired first. It was even probable. He was the more
prepared of the two. But it was something which the accused did which
caused him to fire. Did they think that if the accused had meekly held up
his hands on the appearance of Lisman there would have been any further
trouble?

The defence had sought to enlist their sympathy by pointing out at what
school the accused had been taught the use of firearms. His readiness to
shoot, they had said, was a weakness for which the nation and not the
accused was responsible. But half a million men--many of them as the
accused--had also been taught to use firearms with speed and accuracy,
and had evidently found no difficulty in resisting any inclination to
use the talents for their private ends. It was not unwisdom on the part
of the nation, but idiosyncrasy on the part of the accused which had
brought about the tragedy. It was that very idiosyncrasy that
predisposition to recklessness--which led to the accused's being on the
premises. Illegally armed, illegally on the premises with criminal
intent, the use of his revolver came, it had been admitted, fatally
natural to him. But one could not provoke a man to a trial of arms and
then attribute his death to self-defence on one's own part. One could
not threaten a man to the point where he defended himself with violence,
and kill him, and call it manslaughter. Let the jury go and consider it,
without bias and without sentiment. Let them not say: 'The accused is
young and badly brought-up.' Nor, on the other hand, must they say:
'There is too much of this type of lawlessness. One must be ruthless.'
Let them consider this one case and this alone, on the facts as they
were before them.

* * *

As the court rose respectfully at the talking god's slow departure a man
whispered to his neighbour: '--little devil! How he loves himself! And
how he hates Arden-Davis!'

'Hasn't much of a chance, has he?' said his neighbour, indicating Kif,
who was being led below.

'Not an earthly. Shall we wait? I do want my tea.' But they waited.

In seventeen minutes the jury came back. They would have been back in
five if it had not been for one juryman--a plumber--who was filled, it
appeared, with queer theories. Some heated minutes passed before the
other eleven could convince him that they were not concerned with ideas,
but with Facts and Justice.

They found the prisoner guilty of murder, but recommended him to mercy on
account of his youth. (That was the plumber's salve.)

The bright hooded eyes turned to the boy in the dock, the sunken mouth
opened for speech. But the expected speech did not come. The god paused.
For the first time in history Mr Justice Faver quite obviously changed
his mind. What was it? Had he suddenly recollected the lateness of the
hour? Had he caught himself on the point of being inartistic? Or did he
find in the indifferent dark eyes that met his a wholly new estimate of
himself, an estimate that made him, shockingly, of less account than the
hum of the traffic outside? Mr Justice Faver paused and became
mechanical.

The recommendation to mercy would be passed on to the proper quarter. Had
Kif anything to say before sentence of death was passed on him?

Kif shook his head.

The judge picked up the small black square.



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT


Baba was not going to see Kif. She could not bear it, she said. Besides,
she could be better employed otherwise. Every minute of every day must
be used in adding signatures to the petition for his reprieve. The
signatures of influential people. Anyone could get the man in the street
to sign his name, but that didn't get reprieves. It was the influential
people who counted, who must persuaded, and it was she who would see to
the persuading.

Angel, coming in one afternoon, found her entertaining a delighted
cub-reporter in the living-room. He surveyed the situation for a moment
with bitter eyes. Then he said to the newspaper man, who had risen at his
entrance, and was waiting an introduction, 'Git!' and jerked his head at
the door. And the reporter, surprised but politic, went without ado.

Angel went out of the room behind him--hastily, as if he did not trust
himself--leaving an indignant Baba with nothing on which to vent her
rage. But later he said: 'If you ever have one of that crowd here again
I'll beat you till you're half dead.' And Baba, appealing to her father
for sympathy and protection--'It's to Kif's advantage to be as nice to
the press as we can'--was disagreeably surprised to have Angel's
prohibition confirmed.

Kif, when Angel, nervous and explanatory, broke the news of Baba's
defection, seemed to his friend unexpectantly acquiescent.

'Oh, I understand,' he said. 'Tim's the same.' And he handed over the
letter he had been fingering for Angel to read.


'My Dear old Kif,

I meant to see you as soon as I could after the trial, but I have been
thinking it over, and have come to the conclusion that a letter will
perhaps be less painful for you as well as for me, and will say better
what I want to say.

I have a horribly guilty feeling that I left you in the lurch, somehow,
sometime, and that all this mess is somehow due to me. I can't put it
clearly even to myself, but I have the feeling all the same, and I want
to say that I'm as sorry as a man can be about everything. If it would do
any good to see you I would come, but I can't see that it would. I would
rather wait and meet under happier circumstances. I have a real belief in
the prospect of a reprieve, a belief so strong that it amounts to a
hunch.

If there is anything in this world that I can do for you, I'll do it.

Yours,

Tim Barclay.


Angel's features were carefully expressionless as he handed back the
letter.

'He's quite right, you know,' Kif said with a hint of defence in his
tone.

'About what? Leaving you in the lurch?'

'No, no. About it being best not to come.'

'Oh, yes... Do you not want him to come?'

'Not if he feels like that about it. Things always worried him when they
didn't go right.'

And Angel went out into the road thinking what a rotten world it was.

But there were others. Ann was in her sunny Surrey nursery playing with
her son when Tim came in. The baby was lying on the hearth-rug kicking
its seven-month-old legs in an ecstasy of enjoyment, but its mother's
eyes were absent as she raised them to meet her brother's. It was the
morning after the trial, and though Ann had not been there at
all--'There'll be enough to stare at him,' she had said--Tim had attended
from beginning to end. It was he who had telephoned the news of the
verdict to the waiting Ann and Heaton.

'Well?' she said.

'I know now what the people who came back from Calvary felt.'

'Yes,' she said. 'Yes, it's like that. Have you seen him?'

'No, I couldn't.'

'What do you mean? Wouldn't they let you in?'

'Yes, but--I just couldn't, Ann. I just couldn't!'

'Tim! You don't mean that you're not going to go at all? You're just
waiting to get your courage up, is that it?'

'I haven't any. I'm a moral bankrupt. I just can't go. It's beyond me.'

'But he'll be expecting you. Murray told him you were coming home, and he
probably saw you at the trial. And anyhow--You can't possibly not go,
Tim!'

'I've written to him. He'll understand.'

'You've--!' Ann sat a long time silent and looked at her brother. 'I
sometimes think we're a rotten family,' she said. She picked up the
crowing infant, and deposited him in his cot.

'Murray will be in the stables. I heard the second lot come back. I want
to see him,' she said, and went out.

And that was how Kif was told by a warder that Mrs Heaton would like to
see him, and Ann came in smelling of frost and furs and violets, ignoring
the warder as if he had been a shadow.

It was some time before Kif found his tongue, but Ann talked easily and
happily until he recovered himself. Kif could not see the shaking hands
that were hidden in her pockets. He saw only her bright small eyes with
their good-fellowship, and the kindness of her mouth and chin, and he was
conscious of a wave of strength and wholesomeness that flowed from her to
him. So miraculous was it to have Ann--_Ann_--sitting there that he
forgot for a little what lay in front of him, and talked and smiled and
exchanged ideas and experiences as if he were once more sixteen and
sitting on the beach at Birling Gap. She talked of Heaton and her baby
and of horses, much of horses--'You see, I'm a much more interesting
person from your point of view nowadays!'--and when she rose to go at a
slight movement from the warder, Kif lifted his hand in a wholly
unconscious gesture as if to deter her.

'I hope I haven't taken time that your fiancée might have had,' she said.
Heaton had told her that there was a girl.

She was not coming, Kif said. It was better that way.

'Perhaps you would rather that I didn't come again?'

'No, I'd like you to come, only it's pretty rotten for you.'

'No, it isn't. It's very nice to get to know you all over again. I'd
forgotten there was so much to know. And you see, I'm going to know you
for many years yet.'

She left him her violets and a vague new sense of self-respect. 'Keeping
his pecker up' didn't apply merely to trust in a hope, but in being able
to take the obliteration of hope like a man. Ann had not used the phrase
to him, but something in her personality had given a new meaning to it.

She came twice more in the time that lay between the sentence and the
day fixed for Kif's death, and each time put, for a little, some meaning
into existence for him. Two days after her third visit the Home
Secretary saw (officially) no reason to interfere with the course of
justice; and it was Danny who said in a blaze of anger to Kif's friends,
hanging back, 'Are you going to leave Kif to a ---- parson when he hears
that?' And it was Danny who went to him first.

'It's better that way,' was all Kif said. 'I know what you tried to do,
Dago. Bluffing Wilkins. It was dam' good of you... You'll look after Baba,
won't you?'

'I will,' said Danny.

'I haven't been any little plaster saint, but there's a whole heap worse
about. You'll look after her, won't you?'

'Do you want to see her?'

'No'.

'Anyone you'd like to see?'

'Yes, Angel... And Mrs Heaton, if she comes of her own accord. Not unless.
Don't ask her. Promise!'

'I promise,' said Danny, giving him his hand in farewell. 'I wish to God
it could have been me, Kif!'

On the last evening Ann came.

'Isn't that girl going to see him _now_?' she had asked her husband, and
he had said no, that she was a rotter and a funk, and there wasn't enough
publicity in it for her.

'And she can leave him alone like that! _Alone_! Good God!' she had
cried.

'So it's a was-hout, Kif,' she said, her lips trembling.


'Yes, don't mind, Ann. It was that from the beginning. The other way
would have been worse. It's only the waiting that's bad now.'

Her heart was crying: 'But this is the end of everything for him! Going
out, like a flame. To-morrow there would be no Kif, nor ever any more.
Finished. This boy, alive and lovable. The end of him. Nothing any more.
God, how awful!

And his was saying: 'I've got to do it decently. It's the only thing
that's left. I've got to do it decently.'

'I want to thank you for being so good. I wish I could have seen your
kiddy. Is he like you?'

'Well, Murray says he is, but I think he's like Murray. Very natural.
Parents are like that.' She kept it at that level for a few minutes. Then
she said:

'I'm going, Kif,' and took both his hands.

'Ann,' he said, gently, contemplating her. 'Do you remember that first
night I came to see you, and you came down in the black-and-gold thing?'

'Rather!'

'I was awfully scared to come. Scared stiff. Did you know?'

'No, I didn't guess.'

'It was you who cured me of being scared.'

'Bend down,' she said.

He bent his tall body. She put her ungloved hand on his hair and kissed
his cheek.

'You've been a brick, Kif,' she said.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE


The woman unbolted her cottage door and set it wide to the clear morning.
Pearly and high-heavened it stretched to the far round-backed hills,
daffodil gold in the first sunlight. The dew lay grey on a shadowless
world, and no bird sang. The sound of the drawn bars dropped into the
stillness and was lost in the wide waiting loveliness.

The woman's eyes were wet as she turned from the door. Her man came down
the wooden stair, stocking-soled because of the sleeping children. He sat
by the hearth to put his boots on, and she bent to the kindling fire.

'I used to save him candle-ends,' she said. 'He was always great for the
reading. And give him tea sometimes in the mornings. Poor Kif! Poor boy!'

Her tears hissed in the crackling wood.



THE END



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