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


Title: The Road
Author: Warwick Deeping
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000131.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2010
Date most recently updated: March 2010

This eBook was produced by: Don Lainson

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

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

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

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

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

Title: The Road
Author: Warwick Deeping


* * *


I


1

Bonthorn closed the gate.

It was a little white gate set deep in the dark recess of a very
old holly hedge, and the opening in which it swung was like a
tunnel cut through a city wall.  Bonthorn paused in the shadow, and
with his back to the gate looked at something which appeared to
please him.  His one very deep-blue eye filled with the light of a
smile.

He saw a big cherry tree in bloom and under it a carpet of vivid
grass, and on the grass Rollo, his brown Cairn, playing with a
small black kitten.  They were beautiful to watch on that beautiful
day in May, and to Nicholas Bonthorn the secret of life was beauty.
The soul of The Unknown Artist was the soul of his God.


2

Martha came out of the green porch carrying the wickerwork table
pressed against her stout bust.  She was one of those solid women
who seem to absorb comfort and satisfaction from the inevitableness
of habit.  Her black eyebrows were as decisive as her mouth.  If
Mr. Bonthorn chose to be an oddity, she accepted his oddness
because it had a reasonable and sweet quality.  She allowed him
genius of a sort, which was infinite and sympathetic condescension.
She allowed him tea in the garden on Sunday when the weather was as
reasonable as her workaday soul.  She would have allowed him
anything that a sensible woman of five and fifty can allow a man
who can sprawl on the grass like a boy.

For Mr. Bonthorn was lying flat on his chest playing with those two
young animals.  That was the sort of game that was pleasant to
watch, the six-foot man with his intense, brown face, and one very
blue eye balanced by the black patch over the other socket, rolling
those two furry little creatures over and over on the grass.  Mrs.
Martha might wonder about things, but she did not ask bathotic
questions.  She may have wondered why the ex-soldier had never
mounted a glass eye, but she had never asked him for reasons.  He
was sufficiently himself to satisfy her.

Martha laid the table under the cherry tree.  The kitten, in a
sudden access of energy and joy, shot up the trunk of the tree with
hair erect and all claws spread.  The dog, as though comprehending
that joyous, furry fury, stood bearded and with ears erect, barking
applause.  Mr. Bonthorn took his floppy old hat off and threw it to
the dog.  Rollo commenced a furious conflict with the hat.

Martha regarded them with beneficence.

"You'll spoil that dog, sir."

The one blue eye rallied her.

"Never do it yourself, do you, Martha?  What about that sacred
garment you let him whisk off into the currant bushes?"

"That was what--in a manner of speaking--might be called an act of
God, sir."

"Or an act of dog.  I bet you sat up mending it."

"But hats, Mr. Bonthorn.  It's the only decent one--"

"True.  Here--you young devil, deliver up that hat."

To Bonthorn, tea out of doors somehow retained the spell of
adventure, especially with the bees busy in the cherry blossom and
the black kitten lapping milk.  Martha gave him buttered scones and
homemade cake.

"None of your grocer's stuff, sir."

And she would tell him how those Buck women who gave teas to the
motoring crowd down at the old Mill House on the Lignor road would
sometimes be left with pounds of stale cake spotted with sickly
cherries.  "Trifle for a whole week, sir, that's to say if you can
call a yellow mess of grocer's cake and custard powder anything but
a trifle."

Yes, even Martha's cake and her bread and butter had a spell.

England in May on a day when the bees found the cherry blossom very
white and sweet in the sunshine, an England that was full of those
faint perfumes that eschew the highroads.  Bonthorn lit a pipe, and
lying at ease in his deck chair, felt himself part of the place and
its loveliness.  Yew End.  The coral arils of the yew.  The lane
going up past his holly hedge to the secret meadows of Beech Farm.
A green cleft under the blue sky and the white clouds.  The long,
golden buds of the beeches unfolding millions of emerald fans.
High woods with bluebells thick in them and glimmering wind-
flowers, and steep, grassy slopes brilliant with broom.  Hedges
ready to break into the blossom of the thorn, a fragrance that the
wild honeysuckle would repeat.  Bracken crooking through.  The
misty willows and murmuring aspens where the stream ran down to the
Mill House.  The great cedars of Stella Lacey, and its Scotch pines
red-throated to the sunset.  Birds.  The complex confederation of
the grasses, poas, fescues, foxtails.  And behind him that funny
old white cottage, with its green shutters, vines, roses, glycine,
a low, lovable cottage, sitting rather like some white bird deep in
a green nest.  In the hall a clock went tick-tock as though it
understood the relativity of time.  The rooms had a kind of
exquisite, faded dimness.

Bonthorn lay and looked up through the branches of the cherry tree.
What strange differences there were in this mysterious and diverse
world.  Why should the bark of a cherry tree be unlike the bark of
a pear?  Why should people rush to and fro along those miles of
tarmac?  Why should Rollo be Rollo?  Did it matter if the soul of
this most mysterious world was somehow the soul of your secret,
happy self?  To grow flowers instead of discords, Politics!  Good
God!

The dog began to play with his shoe, and while rolling the Cairn to
and fro on the grass, Bonthorn dreamed, though his dreams were like
the threads of a tapestry wilfully woven.  If you dreamed of new
flowers, cunning was needed to create them.  But that was his job
in life, work for the eye and the hand, the planned mating of
pollen grain and ovule, even the cheating of the bee.  Three acres
of garden, a garden that was the workshop of the hybridist, the
canvas of the artist, the laboratory of the chemist, a little
corner in the conception of God.

"Petulant and sweet--petulant and sweet."

Some thrush's variant and over the grass the footsteps of Martha
coming to clear away the tea.  She had a quiet voice and quiet
movements.  She seemed to fit into his lonely life like a shadow
into the hollow of a hedge.

She made a remark as she folded up the cloth, and it was to the
effect that the London-Lignor road was noisier than usual.
Bonthorn had not noticed it, but he supposed that it could be so.

"So long as they don't come up our lane."

Mrs. Martha patted the cloth.

"No, we shouldn't want them up here, should we?  And us not daring
to let the dog out of the gate.  But I can remember that road on a
Sunday, a few lads on bikes with bunches of flowers tied to the
handlebars, and people going to church."

Bonthorn echoed her.

"People going to church!  How strange!"

She tucked the cloth over an arm and picked up the tray.

"Sort of makes one feel old, sir.  Not getting the feel of all
these new things."

"Yes, the feel of them.  Need one?"

"But that road!  Funny--the notions that come into one's head.  One
used to walk on a road.  There's that story in the Bible about the
legion of swine--"

"Not swine, Martha."

Softly he laughed, and she remained there for a moment with the
tray.

"Well, I tell you one thing, sir that place down there is the new
sort of church."

"You mean the Mill House?"

"Sure-ly.  Goings on.  Blue tables with pink cloths."

"Yes, pink is provocative, Martha."

"And yellow umbrellas, and a loud-speaker shouting, and all those
young women and lads.  If they serve one tea on a Sunday they serve
a hundred.  That's Sunday."

She made a kind of clucking noise and departed with the tray, and
Bonthorn sat and listened to the distant discords of the London-
Lignor road.  It did not disturb him; it was too far away; in fact
it seemed to emphasize the secrecy and the seclusion of his own
celibate corner.  Almost, it was like the hum of another planet, or
some heated--meteoric phenomenon that would pass and burn itself
out.  It was steel not protoplasm.  Life for him centred about the
secrecy of the cell.

Dreamer he might be, but also he was the man of routine.  His
rhythm was of the earth and of the things that grew.  A puff-ball
might be both a weed and a mystic clock.  Had any man or woman in
that crowd down yonder ever looked closely at one of those furry,
perfect parachutes?  When the whole world did begin to look at such
things--!

He got up out of his chair.  He spoke to the wise little eyes of
the dog.

"Come on, you little thing.  Parade."

The Cairn's hairy and alert face brisked itself.  There were three
sharp barks, and then silence.  They set off together along a patch
under drooping lilacs.  The dog had learned to adapt himself to the
larger and more mysterious activities of the man.  Parade.  There
was the close-boarded gate in the thorn hedge that had rabbit wire
protecting it.  The sacred precinct, no scratchings and furious
rushes here, and never a rabbit.  The man-god kept strange
treasures in this place, green things that grew out of the ground,
plants that would sometimes wear queer white gossamer veils.  As
usual the man-god went round past the potting shed with its old red-
brick wall and the green water-butt at the corner.  Then came that
other queer and exciting building with a funny old white cupola and
a weather vane, its doors a faded blue.  Rollo was moved to sniff
at those doors.  Mysterious interiors, rats, mice, elusive smells.

Then, a broad path with bricks on edge dividing stretches of earth
in which things grew.  There were white slips of wood.  Obviously,
Mr. Bonthorn was infatuated with this strange place where a dog had
to behave as though the whole of it was one clean kitchen floor.
Mr. Bonthorn might have buried innumerable bones here.  It
suggested the presence of strange, fascinating smells.

Rollo might be sympathetic to a point, sitting on a stumpy tail
with an air of docile puzzlement.  He did not know that one of
those Beaded Irises--"Bayard" had brandished a blazing standard as
far as California.  "Dame Georgiana," a great lady among the
delphiniums in the early stateliness of her growth, had travelled
back from London with a gold medallion round her throat.  The
strange preoccupations of man!  Bending over those green things,
touching them, caressing them!  One blue eye sending deliberate and
wise glances here, there and everywhere.

And in those solitary places on a Sunday, Rollo might sit and turn
a head this way and that, and paw tentatively and apologetically at
some tempting stone.

"No, my lad, no rampagings here."

But afterwards the dog would have his hour, delirious moments
chasing an old rubber ball on the grass verges of the lane.


II


1

Mrs. Robinia Buck, being the widow of one of His Majesty's Civil
Servants, might have mounted the Lion and the Unicorn over the
doorway of the Mill House at Monks Lacey.  Honi soit qui mal y
pense.  Mrs. Buck's daughters, long-legged, comely young women,
were too healthily modern to wear such a text upon their garters.

Black and purple.  The colours blended well with the Misses Buck,
who were both dark young women, and unlike their mother who was one
of those neutral tinted persons about whom Nature had not been able
to make up her mind, but the dominance of Buck had settled the
inheritance by giving darkness to the daughters.  As for the Mill
House, it had ceased to be old English and to grind corn.  A wheel
had turned here when the monks of Stella Lacey had seen to it that
their tenants carried their corn to be ground here at a price.

Now, there were other wheels, wire, steel disc and artillery,
thousands upon thousands of wheels whirling to and fro along the
black road.  A hundred yards beyond the hedge a white notice-board
warned the world:


                      YE OLD MILL HOUSE

                  Lunches.  Teas.  Petrol.


Robinia had been responsible for the "Ye."  Rhoda's touch had
persuaded the petrol pump to colour itself purple.  Rachel, a
little less Buckish than her sister, administered the flowers.

But on a Whit-Sunday with the sun shining!  Two young women in
black dresses and stockings and purple aprons rushing to and fro
with trays, circulating among tables, growing at times a little
short-tempered, and venting it upon each other.

"O, get out of my way!"

"Don't be so touchy."

They would meet outside the serving-hatch opening into the kitchen
through which Robinia and a cottage girl hired for the day, thrust
trays upon which the china was white and purple.  Rhoda was more
strenuous than Rachel, more full of adjectival verve and colloquial
backchat.  There were moments when Rachel dreamed, and would lose
herself in a passing contemplation of the water and the willows.
There was in her a quality that her more vivid sister lacked.  Her
young audacity was tempered by sudden shadows of mystery, moments
of indecision, by wonder at things.  Her reactions were more
sensitive and subtle than Rhoda's.  Her face, slightly Mongolian,
with high cheekbones and nose broadening at the nostrils, sustained
with its large expressive mouth and brown eyes set rather wide
under a low, straight forehead, a sensuous and pleasant appetite
for life.

"Ceylon or China, please?"

The two girls differed in their asking of that question.  Rhoda put
it aggressively as though no person who possessed a car of any
horse-power would deign to drink the washy, vapid decoction of
Cathay.  Rachel asked it more sympathetically, and with the
suggestion that particular people might have sensitive palates.
Even in personal poise and the carrying of trays the two sisters
maintained their contrasts.  Rachel had more lissom, sinuous
movements.  Rhoda strode, back well hollowed, and shoulders
squared.

On this Sunday in the spring of the year, with a mild heat-wave
confounding the weather forecast, the world was a world of wheels
and of little tables.  Cars were strung along the grass, and the
old mill-yard was full of them.  There were tables under the big
chestnut tree by the bridge whose huge green canopy made the yellow
umbrellas on the flagged space outside the Mill House look like
trivial toadstools.  The tea-room itself, cool and spacious, with
its old beams browned, held all that it could carry.  There was a
faint haze over the river and the meadows, and the water ran like
melted glass between the willows.

Rachel was not very well that day, but when your livelihood depends
upon seizing the busy hour and rushing hither and thither with
plates of bread and butter and cake and trays of crockery, the
failings of the flesh have to be discounted.  The day had brought a
tempest of teas.  People seemed a little impatient and very
thirsty.

"Miss--hot water."

Half the tables demanded additional hot water.

"Yes, in a minute."

An impatient fellow with two dressy young women in tow, and a
Bentley waiting in the yard, kept glancing at a wrist-watch.

"Waitress--"

Rachel tried to skid round him, for there is an art in avoiding the
over self-important.

"Waitress--"

"Yes, in a minute--"

"We've been sitting here twenty minutes.  We want tea."

He was emphatic, and she did not contradict him.  He might have
been static there for hours for all she knew.  The day and its
devoir were a little blurred to her, a moving mosaic of tables and
yet more tables, of people who looked so alike, of bodies
insinuated into pullovers and jumpers, of heads in hats and without
hats.  It was one of those days when every table was a sort of
impatient, white eye waiting to catch hers.  The world on wheels
was not a patient world.  It had to work its way in the Sunday
queue some fifty miles or so to some suburb.  She was conscious of
the noise of the road.  It roared and clattered and detonated.  It
seemed to surge so close to the white posts and chairs in front of
the Mill House grounds.  The Georgian bridge was hog-backed and
rather narrow.  Everybody hooted there.  Klaxons gulped.  There
were screams, trumpetings.

Someone pushed a chair back unexpectedly, and caught her foot.  A
tray crashed.  A blue shoulder shrank in angry protest.

"Damn--!"

"I'm most awfully sorry--"

Milk on crêpe-de-chine!  And the wearer truculent.

"You've spoilt my frock."

"I'm most awfully sorry.  Someone pushed a chair.  If you'll come
inside--"

She felt a little dizzy, confused.  What did you do for milk on
crêpe-de-chine?  The stain might have been ink, for she was
conscious of spots of blackness.

"If you'll come inside--"

The retort was tart.

"No, thanks.  I'll have it cleaned and send you the bill.  You've
got too many tables here.  Not room to move."

A nice lad in a blue-and-white pullover helped her with the debris.
She went in rather unsteadily, passing Rhoda striding out with a
tray in either hand, and looking as though she was going to
confront the world and flout it.

"Mother's calling.  See--will you?"

The coolness of the old stone building welcomed her.  But here were
more tables, more faces, a beckoning hand or two.

"Miss--"

She heard Mrs. Binnie's voice like a bit of bunting flapping in
distress.

"Rachel!  Rachel--!"

What next?  Were they out of milk as on that disastrous day last
year?  If you could keep a cow as you kept a petrol pump and just
turn a handle!

"Rachel--!"

She diverged towards the kitchen with the dishevelled tray.
Someone tweaked her skirt.  She was aware of a small child crying
quietly at the table.

"A glass of milk, Miss."

"Don't be so silly, Gertie.  Father won't bring you out again."

A small voice bleated: "I's tired.  I want t'go home."

Again the voice of Mrs. Binnie: "Rachel, Rhoda--"

She found herself in the kitchen, and observing the hired girl
sucking a bleeding finger.  There was a dab of blood on the girl's
chin.  A knife and a loaf of bread on a dresser suggested an
explanation.

Mrs. Binnie, looking as though she had been fighting a heath-fire
on a hot day, uttered a wailing protest.

"Mary's cut her finger.  Bread and butter.  We're three plates
behind.  For God's sake--girl--"

Rachel stood for an instant quite still.  Qualms, blood, bread,
that stolid young woman sucking a knuckle!  The world became a
blackness.  The unfortunate tray suffered a second crash.  She
fainted.


2

Monday and washing-day, because the world went back to its work,
and the heart of the country was glad.

It was Rachel's turn to fire the old-fashioned copper and to make a
stew of the week's table-cloths and the household linen, not
together, mark you, for the Mill House had a conscience in the
matter of a nice cleanliness.  And how thoughtless the world was
even upon the topic of table-cloths.  There were people who slopped
tea and spilt jam, and treated clean linen as they treated the face
of God's country.  Litter, messes for other people to clean up,
stains to be effaced, and without a protest.

Poor Mrs. Binnie would lament: "Seven stained cloths this week,
and one with a knife cut in it."

Rhoda, more combative than her mother and her sister would have
pinned up notices, the texts of a clean-limbed efficiency.


              A soiled cloth is a spoilt cloth.

Remember, your carelessness costs other people time and money.

                 Have a little imagination.


Rachel knew that it was necessary to be gentle with this linen, for
it represented capital, precious cash.  The impatience of youth had
somehow been chastened in her by those glimpses of her mother
putting on spectacles and holding linen up to the light.  Was it
wearing thin?

But on this Monday morning she had all the pink sails spread in the
little grassy corner behind the Mill House.  They hung in windless
peace, and to her came one of those moods of inattention when eyes
look beyond the mere moment.  She sat down on the grass close to
the water.  Her consciousness became part of the scene, an immense,
soft greenness, blue sky, the placid pool lipping the water-flags
and sedges, full of reflections.  The chestnut tree rose above the
stone roof, and was covered with wax candles.  The apple blossom in
the little orchard had fallen, but in the bushy hedges of the lane
beyond the stream the mayflower was out.  A Lombardy poplar
glimmered faintly, but the shock-headed willows seemed to catch no
wind.

A row of red cottage tulips and forget-me-nots strung along a
fence.  The grey walls of the Mill House, the old hoist with its
rusty wheel, six casements, a blue door.  Her glances wandered
farther.  A strip of meadow full of buttercups, the smooth green
hillsides blurred with patches of yellow broom, the woods so
vividly and variously green.  Those larches up there, exquisite,
fairy trees.

She saw a hat passing in the lane, an old brown hat.  The head and
shoulders of a man became visible for a moment.  Mr. Bonthorn,
otherwise Old One Eye.  But how old was he?  Forty?  Inevitably he
seemed to go by like that, always seen in profile, brown, lean,
aloof, a little mysterious.  A hawk-man--but somehow not so fierce
as a hawk.  Never did that one eye seem to diverge towards woman.

She was conscious of a twinge of laughter.

How quaint to be so separative!  And so silent!  What did he think
about?  Nothing but flowers?  Odd creature, sometimes using a stick
that was like a staff, a sort of Aaron's Rod.  Almost he might have
come out of the Bible.  Attach a beard and he would have possessed
the presence of a prophet.

She pulled a grass stem and sucked it.  She wondered whether the
same swallows would come and build under the eaves?  And that
flowery frock in a shop-window at Lignor?  Her left stocking had a
hole in the heel, and she had not had time to mend it.  Also, a
man?  She was not quite sure about that particular man or about
herself.  She was less sure about things than Rhoda.  Stanley
Shelp?  Shelp?  Did the name suggest too much largeness, too much
hot self-confidence, something swarthy and a little arrogant?

"Rachel--"

She became aware of her mother standing on that queer timber
platform at the back of the mill.  It had white posts and rails.  A
strip of water slid under it.

"Rachel."

"Hallo!"

"I've had a bill for that dress you spilt the milk over."

Really, how mean?  To get a free-clean for a frock, and to send the
bill in so soon.  A week ago!  Just a little milk spilt in the
confusion of a crowded Sunday!

But her mother was worried, and long ago it had became obvious to
Rachel that her mother was like a woman pursued in a dark lane by
some phantom shape.  Robinia had the eyes of a hare, and a fearful
and busy restlessness.  Even her hair fled back from her poor
forehead and frightened eyes.  A figure that was both futile yet
somehow heroic, incapable of accomplishing things, and yet
accomplishing them.  With her nervous, finicking fingers she had
picked up the threads when her husband's hands had left them in a
tangle; she had unravelled them and worked them into a pattern.
Rachel could not remember a time when her mother had not been in a
hurry, chasing her own tail and yet contriving to elude the world's
judgment of her as a perfect fool.

Rachel gathered herself up.

"Sorry, mumsie.  I'll pay it out of my allowance."

"O, there's no need for that."

"O, yes--I shall."

Mrs. Binnie disappeared again like a rabbit into a hole.  She was a
little woman with a stoop, and when she walked she gave one the
impression that her head was moving faster than her feet.  She
would either sag right over like a flaccid stern or fall forward on
her nose.  She did neither.  Her hands might betray a nervous
tremor, but they did not drop things.

Rachel crossed over to the clothes-line and felt one of the cloths.
The washing was drying well.  She heard a char-a-banc thundering
over the bridge and the sound of singing.  Yes, even on a Monday
morning the road could be restless, like a black thread in the new
web that was England, and responding to the jerks and tremors of
all those other threads.  Even the vibrations of Fleet Street were
registered at Monks Lacey.  Restlessness.  There were days when
Rachel felt herself troubled by the restlessness of the road, its
endless coming and going, its cry of whence and whither.  The grey
stone building would tremble to the tread of lorries.  Speed,
adventure.  At night, in her attic bedroom, she would hear some
fast car come zooming to the bridge, slacken for a moment as though
gathering itself for a leap, utter a sharp, strident cry, and rush
on.


III


1

The cupola clock at Stella Lacey struck five, and Mrs. Buck glanced
at her own clock in the tea-room.  It had been a quiet day, so
quiet that the girls had gone up to Lignor on an adventure of their
own.

The red van arrived with a gentle surreptitiousness, and parking
itself on the piece of grass beyond the gate, extruded a human
figure, something round and bald, with large spectacles and much
shirt-front.  The redness of the van was sacred neither to the
G.P.O. nor to advanced propaganda.  It was nothing more and nothing
less than an itinerant pill-shop.

Its owner toddled across to the bridge and stood for a moment in
contemplation of the mill-pool, meadows and trees.  He removed his
spectacles and polished them as though to do justice to this piece
of England, the flickering pool, the water brimming and tumbling at
the weir, the sedges and water-flags in gentle movement.

"Marvellous!"

He used youth's adjective but he used it differently, and though
his smile was full of artifice as to the teeth, his sense of
atmosphere was sound.  The noise of running water and its coolness!
He faced about, and crossing the tarred high-road, stood for a
moment under the chestnut tree.  Being something of a peripatetic
philosopher on wheels he could take off his hat to progress.

"Well--Mrs. Binnie."

Robinia was darning a hole in a tea-cloth.  She had been engaged in
exactly the same piece of work six months ago, sitting up rather
like a squirrel with a nut in her hands and black eyes alert.  To
the owner of the red van she was woman mending an eternal tea-
cloth.

"Bless us, it's you!"

She had used just the same expression on previous occasions.  The
little man crinkled his eyes at her, and removed his hat.

"Always at it.  How's business?"

"Come in, Sam.  No, I can't grumble."

"And the girls, bless 'em?"

He gathered that the girls were much as usual.

Mrs. Buck was pleased to see him, not because he or his
preposterous pills were anything to be proud of, but because she
had known him for some thirty years and had found in him a
listener.  As a rule no one listened to her.  It had been a habit
of Mr. Buck's to make the remark from behind his paper: "Still,
talking, Binnie?" and her daughters--though fond of her--were
equally inattentive.  Sam Prodgers listened.  He was like a little
stout white jug of a man into which gossip could be poured.  He was
interested in people.  He had a bright eye and a sense of humour,
but he could keep his sense of humour from getting under a woman's
feet and tripping her up.  Also, he was a distant relation, though
Tom Buck had spoken of him habitually and scathingly as a
mountebank.

Mrs. Binnie was up and active.

"You'll take some tea, Sam?"

He would.  He sat down in one of the basket chairs, and surveyed
the room.  It had been re-decorated during the winter, and in the
style of Rhoda-Rachel, and not of Mrs. Robinia.  The roses of
Edwardianism had fallen.  The walls suggested a series of sunsets
separated by black pilasters.  The spaces between the rafters were
speckled with purple and orange stars.  Also, there was a small
dance floor amid the chairs and tables.

Mr. Prodgers had never exceeded the redness of his van, but when
the van was in action he did indulge in coloured lights and
cracklings and coruscations.  Professor Prodgers's Electro-Magnetic
Pills!  He showed the public his pills being treated electrically
in large glass tubes.

"Say, Binnie, you've crowded in some colour."

Mrs. Buck, pausing on her way to the kitchen, apologized for the
room.

"The girls' idea.  I'd have had it all white."

"That's not noisy enough, Binnie."

"It almost gives me a headache.  And what with the wireless, and
the gramophone--!"

"Have to be up-to-date, you know."

Mrs. Buck's lips quivered.

"Up-to-date, Sam.  Things seem to change every five minutes, like
the tunes.  I feel I get out of breath--sometimes--trying to keep
up with them."

Mr. Prodgers nodded.

"Yes; everything's on wheels."

He could speak with authority.  For more than twenty years he had
been trundling about England, exploiting cathedral cities and
market towns.  In his early days he had travelled at the tail of a
horse and had been able to talk confidentially and sociably to the
beast.  "Now then--Sequah--get along, old lad."  The petrol engine
had changed those leisurely, ruminant days.  Mr. Prodgers never
felt friendly towards his engine.  He damned it on occasions,
especially when it refused to fire late on a Saturday night when
some market-place was full of darkness and debris, and he felt
hoarse and tired.  "Curse you and your sanguinary plugs."  In a
sense he was the slave of pills, progress and the machine.  In pre-
war days he had managed to make a living in ten counties, and
mostly south of the Thames and the Severn, but now the red van
carried as far as York and Chester.  Education--competition, cash
chemists.  He had to cover more ground and shout more lustily--he
had taken to a megaphone--in order to live.

Mrs. Binnie appeared with a tea-tray.

"I can't give you buttered toast, Sam.  There's no fire."

"Never you mind.  Toast and oil stoves don't harmonize.  I ought to
know."

He observed two cups on the tray.  So, Robinia had not lost her
love for tea, though probably it gave her indigestion.  But why
worry?  To attempt the alleviation of life's little sins and their
dyspepsias is to burn incense before a great illusion.  And though
he was pedlar of pills he had never attempted to work off a box
upon Robinia.  He snuggled into his chair.

"Well, you ought to be doing pretty well here, Binnie.  You deserve
to."

She fussed over the tea-tray, and Samuel supposed that she would
fuss in heaven and make restless flutterings with her wings.  But
he had affection and respect for Robinia Buck.  She turned her
wheel.  She kept clucking bravely in a farm-yard that was to her a
place of pother, progress and confusion.  She might appear
perpetually flurried and bewildered, but she carried on.

"Two lumps, Sam?"

"As usual."

He sat and wondered at her.  Tom Buck had left her two daughters,
some furniture and about fifty pounds in cash.  To begin with she
had taken to dressmaking, and had run a small tea-shop in Lignor.
She had taken a still larger shop, saved money somehow, and then--
with a kind of restless sagacity, and seizing what had appeared to
be her opportunity, she had sunk all her capital in the Mill House
at Monks Lacey.  A mixture of whimsicality and wisdom?  And if
anything she looked more worried than ever.  Well, probably, that
was her fate.

"Girls out?"

"They're gone to Lignor."

"You're rather lucky, Binnie, as things go."

She sat perched like a bird, her head on one side.

"There's one thing that worries me, Sam."

"What's that?"

"I do wish they weren't quite so good-looking."

The philosopher dealt with a mouthful of bread and butter.

"Is that all?  And--after all--it's a lot.  Paradise and the
Pyramids."

"It worries me, Sam."

"Things do.  You wouldn't be--Besides, it's an asset."

"Now, don't say that."

"I do say it.  A couple of good-looking--"

"Honey pots, Sam.  I used to say to Tom that it was a girl's
misfortune--looks."

"And he didn't agree with you, did he?  You weren't a bad-looking
girl yourself, my dear."

But her anxiety was authentic, and over the tea-table she passed it
to Samuel Prodgers, while with an occasional flick of the hand she
denied three predatory flies the right to settle on the sugar or
the cakes.  All through life she had been at war with Beelzebub in
his multifarious manifestations, only to suspect that Beelzebub had
been playing peep-bo with her at every corner.  She confessed to
being bothered, bewildered, worried.  She did not understand her
daughters.  She did not understand their new world and its
tendencies.  She asserted that there were times when she had a
feeling of horrible insecurity, that the whole structure was a
paper sham, and the Book of Common Prayer a mediæval relic.

"Well, and so it is, Binnie."

She was shocked.  She wanted the skeleton of her old world re-
clothed in the familiar flesh, and here was Sam too seeing it as a
skeleton.

"Sam, I did think you'd agree with me."

"And so I do, but I live on wheels.  Change and decay, no--not
quite.  We're not so lugubrious as some of the old hymns.  After
all, it's all a sort of sham, isn't it?  Self-suggestion.  We just
pretend.  And I gather that the young things do less pretending."

Mrs. Binnie exclaimed: "It's their morals, Sam."

"Morals--!"

"They're so easy about the--No sense of responsibility.  It worries
me dreadfully."

Mr. Prodgers passed her his cup.

"The fact is, Binnie, we used to fuss too much.  We used to lock
the cupboard, pocket the key, and bluff human nature.  God in a top-
hat and wearing a beard, a sort of Divine scarecrow.  Well, there
isn't any God these days, or not that sort of god.  The young
things don't think any more of Him than they do of Father
Christmas.  Possibly they've pulled the false beard off our
morality."

Mrs. Robinia was so discouraged that she forgot to re-fill his cup.

"Sam, are you serious?"

"Not so serious as I used to be, my dear.  There is something in
the modern point of view.  The war was a pretty bad crash for the
conventions.  We got up looking blue and bothered.  We saw all
sorts of naked things lying about, the dolls we'd dressed up.
Well--what's happened?  The new generation laughs.  It makes a joke
of our old wax-work show.  Everything's a joke; sex, marriage, even
my pills.  I suppose we were getting too smug and serious, and
someone had to shy green apples at us."

Mrs. Binnie noticed the empty cup and re-filled it.  But she forgot
the sugar; she even forgot to wave aside the septic flies.

"Sam--what does it say somewhere about green fruit, and people's
teeth being on edge?"

"O, yes, my dear, there always will be green fruit, and pains in
the world's tummy.  These young things--"


2

Someone blew a horn outside the Mill House, as though its walls
were the walls of Jericho, and since its voice mimicked the voice
of Mr. Prodgers's red van, he suspected the presence of children.

"One moment, Binnie.  That sounds very much like my horn.
Someone's playing a game with it."

He put down his cup and went to the door, and on that quiet day the
flagged space between the house and the white posts and chains was
innocent of tables.  It staged other surprises, a small, impudent
urchin of a car with a silver bonnet and vermilion body, and
crowded into it like children in a bath two girls and two men.

"Hallo, Prof!  You here?"

He was very much there, or--at least--he thought so.  And hadn't
they noticed the red van?  Rhoda, at the wheel, was trying to
extract a leg and emerge, but the congestion was serious.

"Get out, Fred--I can't move."

Fred obeyed her, a long, fair lad with shy eyes and an air of young
gravity.  The other gentleman was less likeable and in less of a
hurry to dissociate himself from the tangle, perhaps because he had
Rachel on his knees.  He was not quite new to the professor, who
recognized him as one Mr. Stanley Shelp, clerk to the Collector of
Taxes at Lignor, a large, heavy, sallow fellow of infinite
assurance.  He was in no hurry to move.  He was the man in
possession, holding Rachel round the waist, and looking a good deal
too complacent about it.

But if the professor could not say what he would like to have said,
Rhoda supplied the abruptness.

"Get out, Stanley."

"Better tell Rachel to get off my knees."

"Don't be an idiot."

Rhoda used an elbow, and Rachel, with a protesting scuffle, slipped
out on a pair of long legs.

"Silly ass."

Mr. Prodgers thought the phrase worthy of repetition.

"Yes, silly ass."

And Stanley Shelp looked at him, being the sort of fellow who took
life and himself with gross seriousness.


3

Mrs. Robinia made gestures as of throwing up her hands.

"Well--really!  It's beyond me--Who's to--"

Her daughters had bought the car through Mr. Tanrock, the fair boy
with the shy eyes whose father owned Tanrock's Garage at Lignor.  A
bargain, certainly, thirty pounds, and with more than six months'
insurance to run.  Four years old!  Did it look older?  Yes, the
front wings were a bit dissipated.  But Fred had overhauled the
machine; everything was O.K.; the tyres would do another three
thousand miles.

The two young men lit cigarettes and strolled across to the bridge,
figures of self-conscious superfluity.  The old lady was not taking
it well, and young Tanrock was feeling a little guilty.

"I'm in the soup over this."

Shelp, hunching shoulders of an arrogant bulkiness over the bridge
wall, pushed his hat back and laughed.  He was the sort of man who
wore grey flannel trousers that were too loose everywhere, and
whose coat wrinkled over his fat back.  He had a truculence of neck
and chin, eyes of a sensual brownness--insolent eyes.  His laugh
had no sense of fun in it.

"O, they'll twist the old woman's tail."

But Miss Binnie's tail was still erect, if tremulous.  Really!
Bringing home a thing like this, a wretched little tin pan!  Who
was to pay for it?  What, it had been paid for?  Out of their
allowances?  Well, really!  And the accumulated twopenny tips!  But
who was to pay for the petrol and the tax and the tyres?

"O, don't fuss, old thing.  It's not going to cost you a penny."

"Well--really!  When we want every penny in the business."

Rhoda reasoned with her mother as she would have reasoned with a
fractious and excited child.

"We want it for the winter.  We can't be stuck here, mater, like a
couple--of--O--well--never mind.  We want some sort of show."

"Rushing off to Brighton, I suppose?"

"Exactly."

Mr. Prodgers, also feeling superfluous, had slipped back into the
Mill House to finish his tea.  He could appreciate both sides of
the question.  The world on wheels, and poor Mrs. Binnie mending
table-cloths.  Of course!

And then she joined him.  She shut the door with an agitated bang.
She was in tears.

"Sam, I'm--I'm beaten."

She subsided in a chair.

"O, nonsense--Binnie--"

"As if I didn't want them to have things--Of course--I do.  But
going off like that, and not telling me.  No sense of responsibility.
Just--recklessness.  I won't have the car here--I--"

Mr. Prodgers went up and patted her shoulder.

"Easy--Binnie.  O--yes--you will.  They must have their show, you
know.  They work for it, don't they?"

"But--Sam--more expense.  I'm trying so hard to save."

"I know.  Youth--spends--my dear.  Hallo--"

He saw a face in the doorway, Rachel's.  They exchanged glances,
smiles of meaning.

"Mumsie--we want you to come for the first drive.  The boys are
going to walk back."

Mrs. Binnie rocked in her chair.

"Never--"

"O, yes, do.  You don't get out enough.  We won't go fast, just up
to Hook Hill and back."

"But who's to look after the house?"

Mr. Prodgers patted her shoulder.

"Go on, Binnie, move with the times.  I'll stay here till you all
come back."


4

Bonthorn came over the bridge.  He observed, and was observed by
young Tanrock and Shelp of the grey flannel trousers, and his
impressions were as quick as his prejudices.  Young Tanrock, though
strange to him, was pleasantly English, but Shelp he knew, and the
little he knew of him was sufficient.  A greasy, truculent fellow,
and somewhat fungoid.  But he nodded at Shelp.

Shelp's stare was an insult, and meant as such.

"Who's the card?"

He explained to young Tanrock the refined offensiveness of
Bonthorn.

"That!  Fellow who grows flowers.  Don't you get the smell of him,
Oxford and honeysuckle?  So bloody superior.  I had a chance to
teach him something."

"O--how?"

"In the way of business.  Came into our office one day to tell us
we had got our figures wrong."

"And had you?"

"Not likely.  He didn't get any silver out of me."

But Bonthorn was gathering other impressions, the shadows under the
chestnut tree, and of Mrs. Binnie being tucked into a vermilion
vehicle by one of her daughters, while the other daughter wound a
handle.  Mr. Prodgers in a doorway, smoking a pipe, and on the
grass beyond the gate Mr. Prodgers's red van.  Bonthorn remembered
the van and smiled at it.  He had seen the professor in action on a
warm July night in Lignor market-place, a preposterous and urgent
figure in top hat, black tie and dinner-jacket, waving a white
wand, and producing coruscations and flashes, oratorical and
otherwise.  A mountebank!  And Bonthorn had loved him, and because
of the joy the professor had caused him, he had pushed through the
half ironical and gaping crowd and had bought a box of pills.

Nicholas Bonthorn walked on the grass beside a stretch of the old
Roman road until he came to the lower lodge of Stella Lacey and the
great avenue of beeches.  They were in fullness of young leaf, and
as he followed the park road under these towering trees he was glad
of Gloriana Gurney.  What a woman and what a name!  Looking at life
with her air of whimsical melancholy she had said to him: "After
me--death duties and the deluge.  And yet--the ghosts of these
trees will stand."  Yes, he supposed that when she died these trees
would fall to Demos, and to the Shelps of the new dispensation.

But what a woman!  Dame Gloriana Gurney writing her book upon the
Gardens of England!  Gloriana.  Even the name was archaic and
incredible and splendid like a page from Spenser, or an Arthurian
sunset.  Gloriana Gurney--Stanley Shelp.  Stella Lacey and the new
cubes in concrete.

He had her letter in his pocket.


"DEAR MR. BONTHORN,

"If you can spare the time do come and look at 'Dame Isabeau.'  She
is in full dress.

"And I wish you would cast an eye upon my phloxes.  Lavender says
it was the north-east wind last month, but I am afraid of something
more serious.

"Yours sincerely,

"G. GURNEY."


Had he time to go to Stella Lacey?  Assuredly, he would have walked
up there on two wooden legs.

As to her phloxes, probably they were being attacked by eel-worm,
and would have to be put on the bonfire, which was sad.


IV


1

For centuries the stillness of this green valley had remained
virginal and inviolate, and the cupola clock over the Georgian
stables of Stella Lacey seemed to claim this silence when it struck
the deliberate hours.

"Mine, mine, mine."

Did a fish jump in the moat the valley might have heard it, though
in the spring of the year the birds made at dawn so great a clamour
that the very trees seemed to tremble.  So far as Gloriana's ears
served her it was a thrush who began it, and always from the top of
one of the cedars.  With the strange steadfastness of nature, on
the same spire for an infinite number of years a thrush had led
those multitudinous sweet pipings.

She opened the door in the wall and saw the six white pillars of
the portico standing like ghosts.  The oak door made a little
creaking as she swung it back.  She passed along the brick path of
the rose garden to the arched opening in the yew hedge, and here
the turf began, and the cedars, and the twelve clipped yews, the
historic yews of Stella Lacey.  She moved noiselessly, skirting the
branches of a cedar where darkly they almost touched the grass.
Another yew hedge rose like a deep-green wall with flecks of gold
upon it, and beyond it lay the terrace with its statues and its two
garden-houses, and beyond the terrace lay the moat.

Venus, Eros, Pan.

The robins would perch on the leaden heads of these statues, and
ever and again a gardener with bucket and cloth would wash Venus,
Eros and Pan, and the white anointings.

She stood on the terrace and listened, a woman with very white
hair, and eyes of whimsical tenderness.  She still had beauty, the
beauty of one who had grown old with dignity, and who--when life
tore illusion after illusion from her, held fast to a jocund sense
of life's humorous inevitableness.  Here--on the terrace--the
troubling of the valley's stillness became sound, as though the
Jacobean walls of Stella Lacey caught these vibrations and
transmuted them into vague rumblings.  So, during the war, she had
sometimes heard the guns in Flanders, and the sound of the
slaughter on the Somme.

In those days she had stood by one of the pedestals, and made an
inward murmuring.

"What does Pan say?  Can Pan hear the guns?  O, unhappy summer,
unhappy generation!  Old things and thoughts blown to pieces."

Her two sons had died over yonder, Oliver in front of Ypres, Victor
near Contalmaison.  Stella Lacey itself had had its death-wound
there.  It lived while she lived.

She walked towards one of the garden-houses and entered it, and
opening one of the lattices between the mullions, looked out.  This
gazebo gave upon the valley, and between the beeches and the clumps
of old Scotch pine she could follow the windings of the river to
the grey bridge at Monks Lacey.  A portion of the Mill House was
visible, a slip of tarmac, and perhaps two or three yellow
umbrellas.

A tea-house, a petrol pump, the Buck family, modernity
multitudinous and mechanical, and to her--both strangely futile and
wholly inevitable.

Those dreadful young women!

No, not dreadful--but different.  Twelve years ago she might have
referred to them as dreadful, but not now.  Though, if her sons had
been alive?  Well--yes, possibly.  Oliver--most certainly--would
have been seeking adventure down yonder, lured by flesh-coloured
legs even as his Georgian forefathers had glimpsed a red stocking.
Mrs. Buck and her daughters, and young men with untidy heads and
electric pullovers and floppy grey trousers, and an air of
promiscuous intimacy.  But just how promiscuous was it?

She would say to herself: "Don't be old.  Don't grouse against
youth.  Youth is the same and different.  It looks at life as it
looks at a car.  How does it go, how fast will it go?  I see, I
want, I take.  We took in the old days, and somehow made our
takings seem gracious and pleasant.  These--the new ones--are
taking from us now.  Get--quickly; there is no mumbo-jumbo God to
balk you."

She heard footsteps on the flags of the terrace.  Bonthorn had
arrived, and was in search of her.  She saw him standing by Eros,
all brown in the evening sunlight, and somehow suggesting the happy
celibate.  She saw both the priest and the soldier in him, a figure
in bronze from one of the Gallipoli beaches, rather like one of
those hawk-headed Australians.  He glowed in khaki drill.  Were
those strange clothes of his relics of the war, or did he have them
made for him?  The Flower Man looking at Eros with a kind of gentle
fierceness.

She spoke to him from the shadows of the garden-house.

"Mr. Bonthorn, I'm here."

His blue eye searched for her.  He suggested the heat and the glare
and the dust of Cape Helles, where he had left the other eye.  She
moved into the doorway, smiling at him and his unusualness.

"Almost like hide and seek."

He had no hat, and he saluted her.

"They sent me out to find you.  I hope you don't mind?"

"Why should I--when I am wasting your time?"

"Hardly that.  A man finds excuses--"

Her glance was whimsical.

"For doing what he wants to do?"

"Exactly."

He stood still, as though his world waited upon hers.

"Some places and people reassure one."

She joined him.

"Do you need reassuring?"

"Sometimes.  Even names are reassuring.  Oriana of the Moated
Grange.  Your valley is looking very beautiful to-night."

She moved to the terrace wall and looked down at the white lilies
in the moat.

She said: "It is so difficult to realize that a beauty like this
dies.  To you--I suppose--it might seem so permanent."

And then she laughed.

"I am an old woman, Mr. Bonthorn, in an age when no one is supposed
to grow old.  One arrives at the impersonal.  Both my sons were
killed in the war.  Had they lived, it would not have been here--
after me.  Even this terrace, which seems so solid, slips from
under one's feet."

She turned to him half questioningly.

"Does it strike you as sad?"

"You mean--?"

"This other England that is dying?  No--I am not being gloomy.  No
tradition is final, thank God.  We people who lived spaciously and
thought of ourselves as England, and who put our servants to live
in cellars and sent missionaries and millions to the so-called
heathen!  To appear sententious and selfish and superfluous to the
new age?  Why not?  This place is just a beautiful dead shell."

He thought for a moment.

"Not dead!  Surely not dead?"

"Not yet, perhaps.  Five years ago I planted that bank of flowering
trees and shrubs over there.  You saw it--a month or so ago."

He nodded.

"Double cherries--pink and white, Siberian crab, Pyrus Floribunda,
Pyrus Purpurea, lilac, red mays, a touch of laburnum.  Is that
death?"

Again her eyes were whimsical.

"Death duties do not consider flowering shrubs and waterlilies.
The Stella Laceys--are--museum pieces.  Yet, if one is a mystic--"

"All gardeners are mystics."

"O, don't generalize.  One has to sit still with beauty, and this
age cannot sit still."

He passed a hand over the weathered stone of the parapet.

"Are you sure?  Was any age so flower-loving?  Was any age so full
of a divine discontent?  Even the rush and the restlessness.
Confusion, but the confusion of--"

"Change."

"Why not--creation?"

She stood reflecting.

"Prejudices--without prejudice!  That road down there, all the new
roads, a vast sameness, that Mill House a tea-shop, two long legged
girls, trippers in char-a-bancs.  I ask myself--But how bête to ask
if it is good, or better, or different?  It just--is."

"Yes, it just is."

She made a movement as of smoothing her hair.

"And the solution?  I could give you one from America."

He bridled.

"America!"

"My Californian friend, Mr. Jonathan G. Cripps.  You've met him."

"And what does Mr. Cripps say?"

"Just this.  You English are finished.  You are blind to your own
beauty.  Over there we are--or some of us--are just getting our
eyes wide to it.  We--or some of us--are emerging from the mere
material scuffle; you--with your something-for-nothing crowd--are
heading for the thick of it.  We shall buy up your beauty.  I can
see England becoming like the Italy of the seventeenth century, an
antique shop, bric-à-brac, a little subsidized show-country,
parasitic and picturesque."

She laughed gently.

"Just that."

Bonthorn said: "I wonder."

She observed him for a moment; he was staring at the moat with that
one very blue eye.  His face had a fierceness.  She spoke.

"Come and see Isabeau.  She has most exquisite lavender standards,
and claret-coloured falls.  And the phloxes."

He came out of his strained reverie.

"Yes--I expect your phloxes have eel-worm.  That's serious."


2

Shelp and young Tanrock had remained on the bridge at Monks Lacey,
for the conciliation of Mrs. Buck had been unexpected, and though
Rhoda and Rachel had every right to console the old lady, youth saw
no reason why it should be balked.

"May as well wait till they come back."

Tanrock had agreed.  If he desired Rhoda he did not desire her as
Shelp desired Rachel, purely for himself and like a glutton with a
dish of delicacies.  His association with Shelp was fortuitous, and
if a magnanimous but shy ardour in him resented Shelp's too
familiar splurges, that was somehow to his credit.  For Shelp had
proposed to speak with gross intimacy on certain matters, and young
Tanrock had gone hot.

"O, shut up."

"You're one of the sentimental kids, Fred."

"I don't keep a butcher's shop."

Inevitably there had been a pause, a constricted silence, while
Shelp sulked, and the fair boy watched the water for possible fish.
Shelp's sallowness sulked easily, but not for long.  He was too
full of what young Tanrock would have described as hot air.  You
might deflate the fellow for five minutes, but like the perpetual
gasbag that he was he would recover his turgidity and bump against
you.  A disconcerting, uneasy devil, like a fellow on a soap-box
spluttering and declaiming and raging about revolution.  He could
not let things alone.  He possessed a kind of malignant and glib
speciousness.

Shelp, with his fat thighs pressed against the parapet of the old
bridge, was sighting Stella Lacey.  He could distinguish the tops
of the cedars, two high chimneys, a Jacobean gable, and even as
Stella Lacey had looked at the Mill House, so--Stanley Shelp
observed Stella Lacey.  It offended him.  There were glutinous
movements of his fat back, a kind of angry squirming.

He pointed with the stem of his pipe.

"We've got to pull that sort of thing to pieces."

Tanrock, head in air, eyed him mistrustfully.

"What sort of thing?"

"Why--that.  Pirated property.  That park."

"What's the matter with Stella Lacey?"

"Matter?  That sort of thing's going to be smashed."

So, the fellow was off again, and Tanrock, who had seen Shelp try
to play football and lose his temper, egged on the argument.

"What for?"

Shelp sucked the stem of his pipe.  He had moments of turgid
emotion, silences, bursts of hysterical truculence.

"My father was a butler in a house like that.  Supercilious,
superior swine.  Gentlefolk!"

Yes, Shelp was off again.

"But all that is going sky-high.  We know things--now.  We know
where the money is, and we know how to get it.  Call us tax-
mongers, do they?  We're their bosses, we reds in the offices.  Let
'em talk about putting their money out of the country.  We're ready
for that game.  We shall have 'em all marked and locked up till
they disgorge."

Tanrock looked bored.

"There's not much money in Stella Lacey."

"Yes, but we'll have the land.  We'll have the old woman out of it.
All those damned trees."

"What'll you grow, radishes?"

Shelp seemed to swallow.

"Swine!  With their parks and their pictures and their patronage.
But they're finished.  We've got 'em cold.  We're going to make a
new England--"

He was very much off, high on the soap-box; but young Tanrock,
whose father had evolved the most prosperous business of its kind
in the neighbourhood out of a back-street cycle shop, had other
views.  He was shy but shrewd.  If England fell to the soapboxes
and the Shelps--!  And Stanley caught him smiling.

"What's the joke?"

"Hot air!  You're just like a balloon, old lad, with a fellow
scattering pink pamphlets."

Shelp's sulkiness returned.

"O, you're a toff in the making, are you!  Sir Frederick Tanrock!"

Tanrock laughed.

"What price Sir Stanley Shelp?  I'm going in to have a talk with
old Prodgers.  He's a card."

"That old pill pedlar!  Why can't you be serious?  That's the whole
trouble with this damned country.  It's got too much grin."

"Supposing we are made that way?  Try Russia, old chap.  Grow a
beard and bite it."

Hands in pockets he went off whistling, unseriously serious, and
provocatively English in his sanguine tolerance.


3

The car had returned, with Mrs. Binnie somewhat appeased, and
reassured as to youth's recklessness.

Mrs. Buck, descending at the gate, looked a little blown about but
proud.

"Well--we're car folk."

Rachel was opening the door of the wagon-shed which the car was to
share with the lumbering superfluities of Mrs. Buck's past.  Her
daughters complained that she collected everything and shed
nothing, and amid the amazing clutter Wilfred came to rest.  Here
were boxes full of feathers, a derelict mangle, a discarded iron
bedstead, oddments of china, rolls of rusty wire netting, piles of
wastepaper, a broken screen, two obsolete gas-stoves and a
wheelbarrow that had lost its wheel.  Confronted with the contents
of the shed Mrs. Buck's mind equivocated.

"If you throw a thing away you'll always find you want it to-
morrow."

The key was turned upon the car.  The red van had not yet removed
itself to "The Chequers" at Lignor.  In the tea-room Mr. Prodgers
was sitting astride a chair, looking pawky and sly.  Shelp had the
whole of the fireplace to himself and was straddling a grievance.
Young Tanrock was fiddling with the gramophone.

"Well--Mrs. Binnie, broken any records?"

Rhoda betrayed a certain abruptness.

"Hallo, you two still here."

She looked at young Tanrock, and Tanrock jerked a thumb in the
direction of Shelp.

"Stanley's lecturing us."

"He would."

Mrs. Binnie sat down with the air of a woman who had experienced
something.  Rhoda joined young Tanrock by the gramophone.  Rachel,
with a glance at Shelp, diverged towards the kitchen door, but with
a kind of oily glide, he intercepted her.  His right arm was
familiar and insinuating, but she edged him off.

"Well--there's something to be said for wheels."

Mrs. Binnie removed her hat.

"And in spite of the police one's not breaking any of the
commandments."

Mr. Prodgers made an alert little movement on his chair.

"Commandments!  That's a coincidence.  We've been having an
argument here.  Mr. Shelp's point of view."

"What's that, Sam?"

"Why, that the whole ten of them are obsolete, so to speak.  But
the joke is--"

Rhoda pirouetted.

"I bet I know.  You couldn't remember them.  Own up."

"Well--not all of them?"

"Not even Stanley--"

"Mr. Shelp was a little vague."

"O, Mr. Infallible!"

There was no love wasted between Rhoda and Stanley Shelp, and if
Rhoda disliked him it was not because he preferred her sister.  She
understood his preference for Rachel, for Rachel was softer, more
like a grape to Rhoda's more acid sloe.  And if Rhoda had a little
mocking, bright-eyed devil in her that could refer to the clerk as
"Mr. Yelp," and pinch him until he began to exude his characteristic
sour juices--well--that was life.

She turned on the gramophone, and nudged Tanrock.

"Let's get Stanley yelping."

In a minute there was clamour, with Mr. Prodgers treating his chair
like a rocking-horse, an exultant philosopher.  The crater had
rushed to the challenge.  He lost his temper.  Tanrock began to
laugh, and like many shy lads--when once his laughter was launched,
it became joyous and immoderate.  Rhoda did steps in front of
Shelp.  The gramophone squirled "Blue Eyes."  Mrs. Buck, half
shocked, and half amused, exclaimed at intervals: "Well--really!"

Stanley Shelp was on his soap-box.

"I never make a statement unless I am sure of my figures."

"Well--ten, Stanley, ten.  I'll hear you.  Commandment No. 1?"

"He's forgotten."

"Something about God, isn't it?"

Shelp, almost shouting: "God's an obsolete abstraction.  We've got
rid of Mumbo-Jumbo."

Mrs. Buck with hands up: "Well--really!  Mr. Shelp, how can you
say such things!"

A fat voice from the gramophone--"Blue Eyes--I call you Blue Eyes--"

Rhoda, still doing steps, irony on its toes, appealed to the
professor.

"Stanley's forgotten most of them.  I expect he knows the seventh.
What is the second commandment, professor?"

"I'm ashamed to say--I've forgotten."

There was general clamour, with the gramophone shouting--"Blue
Eyes, I call you Blue Eyes."  Shelp, very pale and slightly clammy,
lost the remnants of his temper.  He too began to shout.

"All right, all right, I'll contradict the lot of you.  There is no
God.  We make a graven image of money.  No one keeps the Sabbath;
we don't honour our fathers and mothers.  All capitalists steal and
commit murder.  The police bear false witness--"

The gramophone squawked itself out, and Tanrock laughing, attended
to it.  Mrs. Buck covered her ears.  Mr. Samuel made exultant
movements in his chair.

"Splendid--splendid!  Bang go all the Tables of the Law."

"Really.  Mr. Shelp, really!  It's blaspheming."

And suddenly Shelp's rage grew sullen.

"O, all right.  You people can't be serious.  What I am giving you
is the new gospel, and I'm giving it you hot and strong.  It's the
gospel of the new world.  All the old, middle-class Christian stuff
is as dead as the Czar.  What about the sexual seventh?  We don't
commit adultery these days.  We do what's natural.  We've got rid
of all the nasty, fly-blown humbug about purity.  We--"

Mrs. Buck stood up suddenly, looking fluffed and combative like an
incensed bird.

"Mr. Shelp--that's enough!  It's--it's disgraceful.  I won't have
such things said before my girls."

The professor applauded her, with mischievous and spectacled eyes
focusing Shelp.

"The new morality--what!"

But it was Rachel--Rachel darkly in the background--who first saw
Nicholas Bonthorn standing in the doorway with something white and
dirty in his arms.


V


1

That dirty object was a small, rough-haired dog, and on Bonthorn's
face fierceness and pity were in conflict.  He looked taller than
himself, a bronze figure with one blue and vivid eye.

He spoke.

"Excuse me, have you any water?  I found this poor little beggar in
the road.  A car--of course.  The people in it hadn't stopped"--and
quite gently he finished with a "Damn them."

Was it that he looked intuitively at Rachel, or was it that Rachel
being the most sensitive of the six was the first to move?  Her
eyes were wide open.  They had looked at Bonthorn's face and at the
dog and again at the face of the man.  She said nothing.  She
seemed to glide away into the kitchen, and to return with a saucer
of water.  The whole room was on its feet, its noisy rag forgotten
in this minor tragedy.  Only Shelp stood apart, sullen and ironic.

Rachel put her saucer on the floor by one of the windows.  She
snatched a cushion from a chair.

"O, poor little thing."

"I'm afraid his back's broken."

"How horrible."

The dog was in extremis, and as Bonthorn knelt and laid the little
beast on the cushion, Rachel's eyes watched his hands.

"O, you're bleeding."

"He bit me--when I picked him up.  Dogs do sometimes--when they are
in anguish.  It's nothing."

Mrs. Binnie, agitated and shocked, sat down in a chair behind her
elder daughter.

"O--I can't bear to see things suffer."

The professor made sympathetic noises.  Young Tanrock, looking
angry, stood and frowned.  "The swine, not to stop!"  Shelp
glowered in the background.  Rhoda, her straight black eyebrows
rather stern, crossed the room and closed the door.

Rachel, on her knees and trying to persuade the dying dog to drink,
became somehow the room's central figure.  Banthorn was on one knee
beside her, like a lean Bayard after a battle.  And old Prodgers
remembered him.  You did not forgot a face like Bonthorn's, the tan
and the temper of it made more vivid by the black patch over the
empty socket.  It was the face of a man who had suffered much, and
yet was happy, and in whom some spiritual mystery endured.

Rachel withdrew the saucer.

"He can't drink."

"I'm afraid he's too far gone."

"Poor--poor poppet."

Gently she stroked the dog's dirty coat.

"I don't think he feels now."

Her arm touched Bonthorn's.

"No."

But someone was out of the picture, the one person in the room who
wanted to be in the centre of the picture, always and all the time.
That--perhaps--was part of the new morality.  Stanley Shelp's voice
was heard, and its sneer was unexpected.

"Can't you see the dog's dead?"

And before anyone could respond to the challenge, he had added:

"That's England all over.  Getting sentimental about dogs and
daffodils, and not caring a damn--"

Bonthorn seemed to come to his full height in one swift movement.

"I beg your pardon--"

His one urge was a thing of sudden and solitary fierceness.  It
picked out Shelp instantly and fixed him.

"I don't think anyone else here agrees with you."

But the voice and the glance were so final, and Shelp's sallowness
seemed to grow turgid.  It was as though he had been thrown quietly
and emphatically upon the floor, and had got up hot and raging.

"That's all right, Bonthorn, it's my privilege to disagree."

"Probably--you do."

Someone laughed, and the sharp, wholesome sound was like a clip
across Shelp's ear.  His head went back with a jerk.  That flabby
and voluble mouth of his began to utter things.

"I don't want any superior lip from you--"

Rhoda settled him.

"Shut up--Mr. Bolshie."

The crudeness of Shelp subsided.  He found a hat and disappeared,
and no one appeared to notice his absence.  Bonthorn had forgotten
him after those first whipping words, and was down on one knee
again, with a hand laid gently on the dog's body.  He nodded.

"All over."

Rachel was looking at him, and with a suggestion of inevitableness
he turned his head and met her eyes, and for a second or two the
glance between them held.

She rose.  She was aware of Bonthorn picking up the dead dog.  He
was on his feet, and with a curious inward smile he seemed to
forget them all for a moment.  Then he faced Mrs. Binnie.

"Thank you.  It was good of you to let me bring the dog in.  I hope
I haven't--"

Mrs. Binnie nodded her small head.  It was obvious that she liked
Mr. Bonthorn and liked him very well.

"I wish we could have done more.  I've seen you pass my place so
often, sir."

He smiled at Mrs. Binnie.

"This little fellow has introduced us--apparently.  I hope he was
merry.  Sad dogs shouldn't be.  And now--if you will excuse me--I
will go and bury him."

Mrs. Binnie offered her garden for the purpose, but Bonthorn's whim
was for Yew End.

"I have a corner up there.  I have a dog and a cat buried in it,
and a tame crow who died of swallowing buttons.  Thank you, all of
you."

His blue eye travelled from face to face.  He exchanged smiles with
Mr. Prodgers of the red van.  Young Tanrock went to open the door
for him.

"Thank you."

If necessary, young Tanrock would have opened more doors for him,
and when man and dog had disappeared there was a silence, a kind of
inward dispersion of the presences that remained.  Young Tanrock
went and closed the lid of the gramophone.  Rachel picked up the
saucer and carried it carefully into the kitchen.  Rhoda collected
the cushion, dusted it, and returned it to its chair.  Mr. Samuel
refilled his pipe.  Robinia nodded her head approvingly at Rhoda's
lover.

"That's right, Fred--that's quite right of you."

Mr. Prodgers, removing the mouthpiece of his pipe, blew down it.

"Bit of an original--that.  And a gentleman.  Makes you feel--
somehow--"

Rhoda, with a dark straightness of brow and a lift of the head,
seemed to reflect for a moment.

"That bladder of lard--Stanley.  He hung him up on a hook--all
right."

Young Tanrock gave a little laugh.

"Bladder of lard!  Marvellous.  That's it--absolutely it."


2

Bonthorn followed the lane.  A few sprays of honeysuckle were out,
and the buds of a wild rose showed points of crimson.  The growth
was deep and green below the hedges, vetch, sheep's parsley, wild
garlic, pimpernel, cleevers, and the grasses.  He carried the dead
dog as he would have carried a baby, its four paws tucked up, its
eyes closed.  He felt pity for this dead thing, for the creature
that had ceased from all doggy delights, sniffings and adventures
and tail waggings and the exploring of hedgerows.  Rats.  And those
people had not stopped after breaking this little mongrel's back.

Life in a hurry, the magniloquence of the machine, the mere
sottishness of speed.  Changed rhythms for the multitude, this
strange age with its nose in a newspaper and its legs under a tank.
Yet the grasses of the field were the same and bees hung to the
florets of the clover, and the briar burned in the green tangle,
and the sun moved from equinox to solstice.

And those people at the Mill House, the nice lad who had opened the
door for him, the girl with the compassionate eyes, old Prodgers of
the Pills, Mrs. Robinia rather like a thrush.  If they had a
newness, they were all as old as time, perhaps without knowing it.
Yes, the obdurate Martha--full of her pots and pans--was too quick
to discover Magdalenes.  Possibly the bee accused the butterfly of
flightiness.

He entered the white gate in the yew hedge.  A tawny shape rushed
at him, paused, turned a head from side to side, whimpered.  What
was this white thing, this brother or rival?

Bonthorn spoke to the dog.

"Gently--gently.  No fuss."

He laid the dead thing on the grass under the cherry tree, and the
Cairn, nervous and troubled, sniffed at it, and whimpered.  From
somewhere appeared Thomas the black cat, the patriarch not the
kitten, brushed against Bonthorn's legs, and then delivered a
strange and unexpected gesture.  The cat stalked softly and
solemnly to the dead dog, put out a paw, and patted the white jowl.
Almost--it was a caress.

Bonthorn stood stock-still, his blue eye pleased.  The
unexpectedness of animals!  What moved them?  The soft and
surprising pat of a paw.  He picked up the cat and snuggled his
chin into the black fur.

"Gentleman--Thomas.  I love you."

He went for a spade.  That oddity--old Osgood his gardener--had
gone home with a scythe over his shoulder and his gnome's face
under an old straw hat, a "gent's boater."  Bonthorn found a spade
hanging from a nail in the tool-house with its old red roof.  In a
wild corner just above the orchard where foxgloves grew among the
stools of hazels Bonthorn had a little graveyard.  In the autumn
squirrels hid nuts here; in the spring it was yellow with primroses
and green with dog's-mercury.  Bonthorn dug his grave beside that
of Tabitha a cat.

The dead dog had no collar, and his grave would be nameless, but
those other animals attended the funeral, Thomas walking tail in
air, Rollo trotting gravely.  It was a ceremony.  The cat sat
solemnly and watched with yellow eyes, while the Cairn, stretched
on his tummy, kept turning a head and blinking.  Bonthorn laid the
dead dog in the grave with a foxglove like a spire at its head.  He
filled in the soil and patted it gently with the spade.

"Requiescat in pace."

Thomas looked at him intently, rose, licked himself, and walked
daintily away.

Bonthorn rested a foot on the spade and meditated.  The dog watched
him.  A blackbird perched, peered, and winged off into the orchard.
Up the valley the Stella Lacey clock struck three deep, distant
notes.


3

Mr. Prodgers parked the red van in a corner of Lignor market-place.
Opposite him he had the white portico and stolid front of the
"George Inn," on his right flank a hardware stall, and on his left,
a stall that sold Lignor Rock, though the sweetstuff was no more
sacred to Lignor than it was to London.

Life was not growing any more easy either for Lignor or Mr. Samuel,
for though Lignor continued to be a market town and an agricultural
centre, it was becoming hybridized, and like much of provincial
England living upon an exchange of washing.  It was suffering from
the usual eruption of bungalows and small villas: "Baroda"--"Two
Oaks"--"Heather Croft"--"My Corner," the names have a universality.
At every exit to the town, petrol pumps stood like red sentinels.
Mr. Tanrock's new garage was all reinforced concrete and plate
glass, with a central and welcoming notice--"Drive right in."  The
old red brick of Lignor had become a core about which much highly-
coloured pulp had accumulated.  Everybody said that the shacks and
hutments on the Downs road were a disgrace, but nobody did anything
about it.  Nor could anything be done with the torrent of traffic
that hooted and roared through Lignor on Sundays.  Attempts were
being made to short-circuit the nuisance.

In the Abbey church--Canon Woolgarth, who was original and a man of
some passion--had opened a sermon with the words:

"The Lord's Day--Lout's Day, Litter Day, detonations, hooting,
smells!"

If Lignor was suffering the pangs of progress, so was Mr. Prodgers.
The police were growing more autocratic and less sweet-tempered.
The public, while continuing credulous in its attitude towards the
Press and to the proprietary preparations advertised therein, found
him and his pills less persuasive and plausible.  He had to contend
with new drifts, Mothers' Welfare Centres, cash-chemists, a young
generation that knew everything, or thought it did.  He had
modernized his show and his propaganda.  Electro-magnetic!  Give
"Little Mary" a shock.  His van flashed lights and emitted
cracklings, but business was not quite what it had been.

Mr. Prodgers was a laughing philosopher, and a student of faces,
and when darkness descended and lights were lit, the red van became
more truly a temple of magic.  Also, the other hucksters had had
their day, and were packing up, leaving a wilderness of waste-
paper, straw, and broken boxes to be dealt with by the Lignor
sanitary squad.  The public, having completed its business, was in
a mood to loiter, listen and be amused, and Mr. Prodgers knew that
it is fatal to bore your public.

"Ladies and gentlemen, electricity is life."

The side of the van let down, forming a platform upon which Mr.
Prodgers strutted up and down nicely "smokered" as to the upper
man.  He wore his top hat at an angle, but the lower part of him
lapsed into grey flannel trousers.  In one hand he held a silver
megaphone, in the other a white wand.

"My pills, ladies and gentlemen, are subjected to a process which I
claim to be one of the epoch-making discoveries of the century.
Drugs!  Dead stuff.  Some hotch-potch in a bottle.  But electrify
your drug, ladies and gentlemen, and the drug is a different
article.  That's my discovery.  Observe!"

Then, with jocund emphasis and some back-chat, he would demonstrate
the process, a complex of wires and lights and long glass tubes in
which were wads of coloured wool.  He would pour a handful of pills
into one of the tubes, turn on the current, and cause cracklings
and flashings.

"That's what you get inside you.  No, not quite such a thunderstorm.
No forked lightning.  My pills are powerful persuaders--but they are
gentlemen, sirs, gentlemen."

Mr. Prodgers studied faces.  It was necessary.  He had to appraise
his public, to distinguish the possible patron from the incipient
heckler.  In every society there exists the Marxian mind, the
fanatical, interfering egoist who cannot let life have it, either
its pill or its joke.  Mr. Prodgers kept a sharp look out for such
political faces.  He had a particular method of getting back at
such people.

"I'll present you with a free box of my pills, sir, but if the test
is to be positive--I must ask you to take a pill in public, and sit
down for half an hour in this chair."

Yes, he had had one or two prodigious triumphs, in which the
subsequent and sudden disappearance of the experimenter had
electrified the crowd.  An emetic pill kept for phenomenal
occasions!

On this Thursday night Mr. Prodgers saw a face.  It was a little
hairy face with twinkling eyes under an immense bowler hat.  The
twinkling eyes watched him intently, and Mr. Prodgers was on the
alert.

"Rheumatism, dyspepsia, constipation--"

The little man with the hat edged nearer and nearer.  He was none
other than Mr. John Osgood, Bonthorn's gnome.  He waited.  He had
an air of confidential slyness.

Mr. Prodgers tackled him.

"I think you are interested, sir."

Yes, Mr. Osgood was interested.  He stood in close to the stage,
and putting a curved hand to his mouth, whispered.

"Did you say constipation?"

Mr. Prodgers had said so.

"Most certainly."

"My old woman, she grouts and grouts.  I'd like to give her a
shock."

Mr. Prodgers's spectacles were solemn.

"You mean--?"

"If she must talk about some'at, I'd like she to have some'at to
talk about."

"I have a special pill.  If your good lady takes one a night, I can
guarantee--"

"How much?"

"One and threepence the box.  Twenty-four pills to a box."

"I'll have 'un.  One--you said?"

"Yes, not more than one."

Mr. Osgood went home with his box, but being a gnome with sundry
grievances he was not quite candid with his wife.  He told her to
take three pills.  She should have some'at actual to grout about.

But that was not the Professor's adventure.  He had one of his own
on that Thursday night.  Someone threw a tomato at him from the
dark passage leading to the "George's" side entrance.  Whose was
the malignant or mischievous hand?  Mr. Prodgers never knew, but
the shot was a good one, and the fruit splashed upon his shirt-
front.

But he had a quick and jocund temper.

"Thank you, sir, thank you.  Will anyone throw a bunch of flowers.
True blue's my colour."

Yet, the incident depressed him.  Shirt-fronts were precious, and
he was his own laundryman.  Definitely he had felt pilloried,
insulted.  Some boy, possibly?  But he suspected the "George," and
even the local chemist, for no chemists loved him.  Professional
jealousy!

At the end of the evening when he put the red van away in the
"Chequers" yard, and went into the private bar to have a drink an
old acquaintance hailed him.  Mr. Prodgers had put his van up at
the "Chequers" for the best part of twenty years, though it could
not be said that he put himself up there.  He slept and mealed in
his van.

"Hallo, Sam, on the old round.  Have one with me?"

The professor was thirsty after three hours of oratory.

"Thanks.  I could do with a drink."

"Hallo!  Who's blooded your shirt?"

"Someone threw a tomato."

"It hit you?"

"It--sure--did."

There was laughter, and Mr. Prodgers joined in it.  If you live on
the crowd you should be careful to laugh with it.

"Fact is, Prof, you've missed the boat.  You ought to be going
round in that old van of yours spouting Bolshie stuff.  It's the
right colour."

"So was the tomato, my dear sir.  I'm thinking of painting my van
blue.  Any of you gentlemen got a match?"

And in return for the drink and their sympathy he told them the
tale of old Osgood who wanted his dear woman to experience reality
so that she might have something evidential to talk about.  Sam
Prodgers could tell a tale very well, and when the room had had its
laugh, he threw in his pinch of philosophy.

"Something accomplished, something done, gentlemen.  What the world
wants is results.  You could go and spend fifty guineas in Harley
Street and get nothing but a gilt-edged diagnosis.  I wouldn't mind
betting that I've had as good results.  And why?  Because I can put
a joke inside a pill.  Get 'em laughing, get 'em laughing."

He drank.

"But--mind you--there must be some stuff behind the laugh.  My
pills aren't hocus-pocus.  No, sir.  I'd back them even against
Carter's and Beecham's for the Derby--any day."


VI


1

In the meadows a tenuous mist clung about the pollards.  A full
moon was rising, tawny and huge above the trees of Stella Lacey,
and pencilling upon the parkland slopes etchings of light and of
shadow.  The road was silent, and the water falling at the weir had
the silence to itself.

Rachel stood for a moment on the bridge.  She looked at the moon,
at the high mysteries of Stella Lacey, at the veiled trees, at the
water that fell and yet was ever the same.  She turned and crossed
the bridge, and saw the lane to Beech Farm full of the moonlight
between the hush of its hedges.  Up its centre ran a ribbon of bare
soil where the hoofs of the farm horses trod, then two deep wheel-
ruts, and outside these stretches of dewy grass.  Both lane and
river followed the valley, but the lane climbed gradually along the
flank of the hill like a strand of pale light losing itself in the
shadows of the woods.

Rachel followed the lane.  A rabbit feeding in the turf, scurried
from her feet.  From one of the hedges a drift of perfume touched
her face like a spirit hand, and she paused to breathe it in, but
in a moment the elusive scent had vanished.  She idled on, and
coming to that open space where the Beech Farm gate closed the lane
she saw the holly hedge of Yew End.  A great beech tree threw a
wide shadow here, but in the blackness of the holly hedge she saw
that other gate, six white slats shining in the moonlight.

Why had she come here?  But on such a night did one ask questions,
or try to sort out the strands of wayward impulses?  Life might be
just such a tangle as one of those hedgerows, thorn, briar rose,
honeysuckle, maple.  A dog barked for a few seconds and was still.
Was it that someone had been expected at the Mill House, someone
whom suddenly she was avoiding with a little shudder of
fastidiousness?  Common clay.

She went to the farm gate, climbed it, and perched herself on the
top rail.  She found herself looking at the beech tree, and
noticing how little burrs of moonlight stippled the dense foliage.
She was conscious of its stillness, and of one streak of light
slanting through and touching the ground.  Her mood was not
analytical; it was more a mirror in which were reflected the
mysteries of this June night, reflections that were the responses
of a child.  A part of the holly hedge was in shadow, a part of it
glistened.  Close to the gate, bracken spread itself.

Old One Eye!

But she had ceased to think of him as Old One Eye.  He was Mr.
Nicholas Bonthorn, a man with a dying dog in his arms, and somehow
more than man.  He suggested a fairy tale.  She could imagine him
in a green coat and curiously peaked cap with little bells that
shivered.  He belonged here.  He was not of the road or the shop.
Fantastic?  But more than that.  He had touched her imagination.

She wondered.  Her glances could not penetrate that hedge.  She
could not know that he was sitting there under the cherry tree with
a black cat on his knees, and that he had heard her footsteps.  His
hearing was like a bird's.

He heard other footsteps before they were audible to her.  They
belonged to some solid creature who was cautiously ascending the
lane.  Occasionally there was a break in the rhythm of the
approach.  The man stood still and listened.  His pauses were
purposeful.

Rachel swung a foot from side to side.  She was watching the moon
swimming above the valley.  Her face had a vacant, pale serenity.
She was visible to the man.  She was not aware of his nearness or
its significance until he spoke.

"Hallo!  Star-gazing?  What!"

She was startled.  She sat poised for a moment, and then slid down
off the gate, and stood with her back to it.

"What do you want?"

He was in the moonlight, and his figure threw a squat shadow.

"Guess, can't you?  I've done some guessing."

She was silent, and her silence challenged him.

"Got a fit of the sentimentals!  Marvellous!"

Bonthorn, rising from his chair and putting the black cat on the
ground, seemed to hesitate between the white gate and the cottage.
If these two were lovers he had no wish to be elected listener-in.
Confound them!  Why couldn't they go elsewhere?  And was every
green backwater and cul-de-sac to become a corner for the embraces
of the casual crown on wheels?  But the man's voice had seemed
familiar, and he hesitated.

He heard the girl say: "Why did you follow me up here?"

This time he recognized her voice, and was held by something
sensitive and unsure in it.

"Curiosity, my dear.  I suppose you sneaked up here to vamp the dog
fellow."

Bonthorn's head went up.  He waited.  He was conscious of a
startled suspense.  Was she of the same crude flesh as that
aggressive, confident cad?

Her answer came: "I'm here to look at the moon.  I don't want you
here.  I'm alone--with myself."

That should have been final, but he heard Shelp's voice, complacent
and cozening, like the caress of a fat hand.

"Bit moody, kid?  That's all right.  Come and sit on the gate and
be sentimental."

"O, don't be an idiot."

"Come on, Rachel, come on."

Bonthorn moved towards the gate.  He was hearing those two voices,
and the suggestions of a struggle, something breathless and
disturbing, and again he stood still.  What business was it of his?
But in him there was a little knot of anger.  Just how serious were
they, and how much was he a listening fool?  Two blackbirds
scuffling in a hedge, but one of them cried out, and the note had
the poignancy of fear.  The two voices contended like birds.

"Let go--"

"Come on, kid; you know you want it just as much as I do."

"O, get away--"

"Don't be a little fool.  Everybody does it these days."

"You beast."

Bonthorn went to the white gate in the holly hedge, and stood there
in the shadow.  He was less surprised by the sudden flare of his
fierceness than by the unexpectedness of the words that came into
his head.  He uttered them.

"Christ is risen."


2

There was silence.  Hidden in that deep cleft in the hedge Bonthorn
could see and not be seen, but for the moment he could distinguish
nothing but the moonlit grass, the beech tree and its shadow, and
the outline of the field-gate.  Then a figure drifted to the gate,
and leaning upon it with arms spread, gave him the impression of
breathlessness.

The other figure became visible, something dark attached to the
shadow of the tree.  Two hands showed but the face was very dim.
For a moment the silence continued.

Then, Bonthorn was out in the moonlight, head up, shoulders rigid.
When he spoke his voice had a scathing gentleness, though the words
were molten metal.

"Get out--you foul thing."

There was a kind of little moaning sound from the gate, and from
the beech tree something snarled.

"You go to hell.  No bloody business of yours.  She's just a little
animal."

Bonthorn said nothing.  He went straight towards that other shape,
with a purpose that was self-evident and inexorable.  They met in
the full moonlight, and the girl, turning a head for a moment,
watched them from the gate.  The shorter, thicker figure crouched
and rushed, seemed to meet some impact and to flounder back into
the shadow.  Then--two crisp blows following each other, heavy
breathing, a rustling of dead beech leaves.

She heard Bonthorn's voice, sharp and fierce.

"Get up!  Get up and clear out!"

She turned again to the gate, her face towards the meadows and the
woods about Beech Farm.  She seemed to hang there, a little dazed
by those sudden physical happenings.  The bar of the gate threw a
sharp shadow on the grass, and Bonthorn's fierceness had just such
a sharp edge.  She had been strangely thrilled by it.

Never a word from Shelp.  She did not look round and see the slouch
of his retreat, or the dabbing handkerchief.  She had an idea that
Bonthorn followed him down the lane, like a wolf-hound making sure
of the exit of some mongrel.  The man with cap and bells!  And
what--exactly--did he think her to be?  A little animal!  She was
angry with both of them and with herself.  She was a little animal,
but cleanly so, and more than a mere body.  It was as though Shelp
had torn her dress open, and Bonthorn had seen her naked.

He was coming back.  She heard his footsteps, and her whole body
stiffened.  He stopped somewhere behind her.

"I'm sorry."

Her rigidity shivered.  Why should he be sorry?  She clutched the
gate, and was mute.

"I'm sorry I lost my temper.  One shouldn't do that."

He was apologizing to her!  She wanted to laugh, but this impulse
towards laughter was emotion masquerading in motley.  Something in
her felt humiliated, resentful, mocking.

"O, that's all right.  You heard what he said."

She felt his silence like a tense thread.

"I suppose you might conclude that if I hadn't been--rather like
what he called me, he wouldn't have--"

She waited.  She put her mouth to one of her wrists, and bit it.
His response surprised her.

"Was it true--what you said?"

"What was that?"

"Your coming out to be with--yourself."

Her head lifted sharply.

"Yes, quite true.  I suppose even a little animal can come out to
play in the moonlight."

His voice had a reflective drift.

"Yes, animals and fairies.  They are rather alike.  And there are
some flowers that open at night, the flowers that moths visit.  And
perhaps the happy ghosts of dead dogs."

A sudden sound surprised him.  She was in tears, and he stood and
looked at her with a kind of shocked wonder.  Had he made her cry,
and how?  Had she a fondness for that slimy, sensual cad?  Was it
possible that her nay--

He fumbled.  He called her by name.

"Miss Buck--I'm most terribly sorry.  I've hurt you--somehow--"

She twisted from the gate.

"Yes; you have.  You think I'm just--"

"I?"

"Yes; you do.  You're just saying nice things to me.  You think--"

His grip came back.

"My dear child--that's not true.  I'm sorry this happened, and yet
I'm glad.  You came out to look for--what?  Yes, just what?
Sometimes we don't know, do we?  Some little fellow on a toadstool,
not a toadstool like that--cad."

He was very near to her.  He touched her shoulder.

"If you can be a bit of a kid, so can I.  You're just a little
shocked and angry with things--with me.  Yes, I understand that.
I'm going to walk down the lane with you.  Shall we go?"

She consented, and was mute.  She walked down the middle of the
lane between the ruts, he--on the grass verge.  They did not utter
a word, though once or twice she made a little, moist sound.  And
just beyond the bridge, he stopped and stood still.

"Goodnight."

"Good night, Mr. Bonthorn."

He walked back over the bridge, and she sat down on the bench under
the chestnut tree.  She could not go in until her dishevelled,
secret self had tidied itself up.


3

She could hear the gramophone playing dance-music, and before
showing herself to her mother and her sister she looked in through
one of the windows.  Supposing her over-confident, bullying lover
had sneaked in to show his wounds and tell a tale?  But that was
not very likely, and as she stood there in the shadow of the tree
she felt as she had never felt before about men, or about that sort
of man.  Pawing, slobbering beasts!  Not that she was unaware of
those passionate urges that are locked up no longer in secret
cupboards, but like a cat she felt that she would wish to keep the
body of her passion clean for the man to whom she could give it.

That beast!  The insolent assumption that she--!

She looked in, and saw Rhoda, turning over old records.  Her
mother, spectacles on nose, was reading the daily paper.  Mrs.
Binnie's lips moved, for when she discovered some item that
interested her, she could not keep it to herself.  She would read
out a whole paragraph, though her daughters said: "Yes, mother,"
with the tolerance due to a child.

Moreover, Mrs. Binnie's items of interest were so unexpected.

"Unfrocked priest married in mid-ocean.  Well--really!"

She liked her head-lines well emphasized so that her own particular
protest could come out pat.

Rachel went in.  No creature could have looked more casual.  She
locked the door, put up a hand to a yawning mouth, and had an eye
for the clock.

"Any news--?"

Her mother glanced at her anxiously, but asked no questions.  She
was discovering the uselessness of asking her daughters questions.

"Buns are coming in again."

"Then you'll be in the fashion, mumsie."

Rhoda put on a record and wound the handle.

"Did you see Stanley?  He put his head in here."

Rachel yawned.

"Yes.  I'm bored with Stanley.  I sent him home."

Mrs. Binnie nodded.

"I don't like that young man.  He's much too--"

Rhoda supplied the word.

"Too Shelpish.  Nasty bit of work.  Don't mind me being candid,
Rachie."

"I don't.  Supposing we leave it at that.  I'm sleepy; I'm going to
turn in."

The conversion of the Mill House to the religion of progress had
left the wheel and machinery intact, but Mrs. Binnie had managed to
transmute the big store-room into bedrooms.  The mill-wheel and
the grinding plant were curiosities and so was that black oubliette
under the floor where water dripped and trickled.  Even the world
on wheels sometimes liked to look at this other wheel, and to
discover how England came by its flour before the days of steel
rollers, elevators and cheap trans-Atlantic transport.  The mill as
a mill was part of Mrs. Binnie's stock-in-trade, like the "Ye" on
her notice boards.  Also, those improvised bedrooms were let on
occasions to the right sort of people, married couples preferred,
and neither too old nor too young.  Children were not accepted.
Mrs. Binnie liked her boarders to be of the order of chastity,
decent creatures who went for country walks, and were vaguely
interested in the picturesque and the historic, and who would take
out light lunches and visit Hurst Castle and Hartfield Abbey.  Once
a month the grounds of Stella Lacey were open to the world.

But the new promiscuity left Mrs. Binnie cold.  In spite of the
tolerance of her daughters she would have nothing to do with those
sports-model people, adventurous weekenders out to share a
sensation.  It might all be very rational and natural, but she had
not been brought up that way.  She was her own censor where too
much leg and lipstick suggested the new candour.

"They can go up to the 'George.'  I'm not going to be mixed up in
their affairs."

She called such couples "French Honeymooners," having the
conventional English idea of morality across the Channel.  Her
obstinacy in such matters was eloquent and emphatic.

Rhoda might argue--"After all--it's nothing to do with us, mater.
Most people are like that these days.  If a man and a girl want to
be natural--"

Mrs. Robinia would not accept the naturalness of this attitude to
sex.

"Where would you have been, my dear, if your father and I had been
natural.  Yes; I know more about it than you think.  Doing what you
want--without any of the obligations.  Children--"

Rhoda might point out that the country was becoming like a fly-
paper, and that though children could be regarded as potential
realities, sex was a reality.

"We used to call it love, my dear," said her mother.  "But then--of
course--I'm an old woman.  But I won't have these mock marriages in
my house.  These Hoity-Toities!  Reminds me of Humpty Dumpty, and
all the King's Horses and all the King's men.  I dare say they
would like to sneak in here because they don't have to register,
but I'm not having any, so there."

Incidentally, the interior complexities of the Mill House made
Rachel's going to bed an affair of many steps and the carrying of a
candle.  She had chosen to lodge herself in one of the attics of
the old house, because it pleased her, and did not open its window
on the road.  A generation ago the young of her order would have
spoken of this attic as "Quaint" or "Picturesque," but Rachel's
adjectives were less facetiously self-conscious, perhaps because
her generation was more conscious of the realities and less
affected by imaginary refinements.  She was neither very secretive
nor sentimental.  She liked to be physically clean, and her
inwardness corresponded with that prejudice.  She and her sister
had insisted upon a bath-room, though the plumbing had had to be
dispensed with, and hot water carried to it by hand.

She shut the door, put her candle on the chest of drawers and went
to the dormer window.  It had the cheapest of curtains, but they
were full of colour.  Rachel liked her colours rich, deep yellows,
grass greens, cerise.  She stood at the window.  She saw the swell
of the river and the moonlit meadows and the willows like silver
filigree, and the mysterious valley narrowing to the glooms of the
high woods.

She could distinguish the hedges of the lane, and pick out that
great mound of moonlight and of shadow, the beech tree opposite
Bonthorn's hedge and gate.

"Christ is risen!"

Almost she reverted to her mother's protest.  Well, really!  And
yet the fantastic and the mystical in that utterance of his had
most strangely captured her.  Yes, that and his sudden fierceness,
his flailing of the sexmonger in Shelp, and again his sudden
gentleness.

But not wholly so.  A part of her was angry with him.  Are rescued
maidens always grateful to the hero who arrives at those raw
moments when indiscretions turn up for payment?  She had let her
fooling with Stanley become a little too casual.

Stanley!  Beastly name.  She should have known--

But then--did one suppose that a man--?  No, hardly--She had
undervalued the primitiveness of things.

She was still conscious of flushes of anger, though her fear had
passed.  She had made a beastly fool of herself before Mr. Nicholas
Bonthorn.

Damn Nicholas Bonthorn!

She left the curtains undrawn and proceeded to go to bed.


VII


1

Bonthorn received a letter.  It was delivered by one of the under-
gardeners from Stella Lacey.


"DEAR MR. BONTHORN,

"I am expecting Mr. Cripps on Thursday.  He is over here for a
month before going on to Germany and Austria.  He wants to see your
new delphiniums.  May I book the afternoon of Friday for him?  I
have to sit on a committee that afternoon, but I can join you later
and in time for five o'clock tea.

"Perhaps you will dine here afterwards?  Mr. Cripps will be full of
gossip.

"Sincerely yours,

"GLORIANA GURNEY."


The gardener was waiting for an answer, and Bonthorn scribbled a
reply, and his fingers impressed upon the paper a faint tinge of
earth.


"I shall be delighted.  Please excuse the fingermark.  Your man
caught me very much at work.

"I should like to show California that England can still produce
something.  But perhaps that's egotism--"


While up at Lignor Mr. Stanley Shelp was displaying to the world
the full beauty of a black eye which promised a procession of
autumnal tints.  He had been twitted about it.  Old Megson, who was
his chief, and according to Shelp the most querulous of dotards,
had taken the opportunity of improving the occasion.  He was on the
lookout for such occasions, and for any opportunity of applying
caustic to the superabundant proud flesh of his subordinate.

"How did you get that?"

The new dispensation was sulky.  It could not tell old Megan to
mind his sanguinary business.  There were quite a number of people
whose dream was to use such language to the Inland Revenue.

"Want it officially?"

Old Megan smiled gloatingly.

"It looks official.  The real--authentic article!  Almost on His
Majesty's Service."

"The other fellow got two copies."

"Did he--indeed?  So--you didn't run up against a door.  But I
shouldn't advertise it too much."

Shelp dealt truculently with a ledger.  Obviously, the old fool was
trying to be funny, but Mr. Megson with his yellow teeth and acid
grin was not the absolute offence.  Mr. Megson might and did vote
Tory, and express himself with scorn upon the potentialities of the
bright, young men, those sedulous and aggressive boy bureaucrats
who propose to recreate the earth in the likeness of a government
department.  Mr. Megson could and did talk about camels and straws
and geese that laid golden eggs.  He was that sort of pantaloon, a
pimp for the propertied, but Mr. Megson would die and become dust,
and the voluble, wild-haired, consciously inferior young men would
possess this planet.

In June Mr. Megson was a rose; in August and September a dahlia.
That is to say he would arrive in the office wearing his virtue
consciously like a flower, and place it in a glass jar upon his
desk.  The caretaker had instructions to keep the jar fresh and
filled, and had Shelp been a sympathetic and wise creature and
tender towards other men's foibles he would have exclaimed: "I
say, that's some rose!  Where did you get it?"  Mr. Megson's smile
would have appeared less dusty.  "Grew it, my lad.  Queen
Alexandra.  I take off my hat to the rose and the lady."  Damned
old potterer and sycophant!  Growing flowers when there were
thrones to be pulled down, and property cut up and distributed like
a bloody carcase?  That was a man's job, power, passion.

Flowers!  That fellow Bonthorn!  Sanguinary sentimentalist, but
with a most unsentimental fist.

Mr. Megson referred to Bonthorn on that particular morning, perhaps
because of the rose he was wearing in contrast to his subordinate's
Susan eye.

"Yes, the cutting came from Mr. Bonthorn's place.  That's the man I
envy.  Bit of a wizard."

Shelp grunted.

"Not much use to us, is he?  Not much milk there."

Mr. Megson sorted papers.

"Gentleman.  Last time he was in here we had a talk.  But it
doesn't interest you, Shelp.  People coming a hundred miles to see
flowers."

"Yes--who goes to see slums.  Selfish swine--"

"I said flowers.  Next week is Delphinium Day at Yew End.  I shall
be there."

"Delphinium Day.  Sounds like Poppy Day.  A sixpenny save-your-face--
when half the country's starving."

Mr. Megson looked bored.

"Why don't you go and see a doctor, my lad.  Sluggish liver.  All
this sitting."

Shelp spread himself and scribbled, but from the midst of their
conversation a suggestion had fluttered and fallen upon the papers
like the petal of a flower.  Coquelicot, flame-coloured, a little
malevolent streak.  It remained there with Stanley Shelp all the
morning, like a blob of red ink, a provocation.  His sensationalism
spread itself in gestures after the fashion of the politically
minded, and on that June morning he conceived a secret assassination.

At the end of the day he went out and walked, avoiding the highroad
to Monks Lacey.  His self-regard had put the Mill House out of
bounds.  He took the Southfield road, and about a mile from Lignor
a deep old lane diverged and wandering as it pleased, skirted the
woods west of Beech Farm.  A path struck off from it, and passing
mostly through woodland and along the ridge above Yew End, dropped
finally into the Lignor-London road.

Stanley Shelp took that path.  He was able to look down from the
high woods on Yew End, and to spy out the lie of the land and the
linking up of the hedges.  He saw a field gate, and another and a
smaller gate opening into Bonthorn's orchard.  Later there would be
a moon.


2

Mr. John Osgood carried a Saxon name, but he belonged to the little
people.  He should have been a relic of Andred's Wold, some puckish
thing out of the primæval past, a creature of the Crock of Gold, no
blond, blue-eyed Nordic.  His very legs were mischievous, little,
toddling pegs in absurd trousers.  He wore huge white collars and
black ties; his bowler hat was a round barrow, or rather--a big
toadstool from under which his little eyes peered and twinkled.  He
chuckled.  He was both malicious and magnanimous, sly and wise,
like a child in his tricksiness and his love of display, but in a
garden amid the things of the soil he was Puck equipped with
passion.  The pruning shears and the budding knife seemed to grow
out of his hands.

Bonthorn called him "Old Mischief," and mischief he was, but with
reservations.  The presenting of a box of pills to a valetudinarian
partner might be the gesture of a gnome, and no sacrilege--but the
thieving of goblin gold--that was another matter.  Sacrilege in a
garden, some trampling beast, rabbits, boys!

This leprechaun would get out of bed at half-past four in the
morning, boil his own kettle and make his own tea, and arrive at
Yew End when the world belonged to the birds and the rabbits.
Bonthorn was an early riser, but the gnome was part of the dawn.
On occasions he would arrive under Bonthorn's bedroom window and
chant a little song.

"Did you remember to order the raffia, sir?" or

"Slugs have been at Blue Glory."

The soil at Yew End being a heavy loam with a clay subsoil slugs
were rampant and unashamed.  No birth control appeared to have been
instituted in the slug world, and Bonthorn's precious delphiniums
had to be ashed early in the year before the first shoots had
appeared.  The leprechaun waged war on slugdom.  On early summer
nights a little twinkling light could be seen moving, Osgood with a
lantern and a pair of scissors, snipping the succulent thieves in
half.

Bonthorn had just opened his eyes when he heard Osgood's voice
under his window.

"Mr. Bonthorn, sir--Mr. Bonthorn."

"Hallo."

"There's bin murder."

Bonthorn rolled out of bed.

"Murder!  What's the matter, John?"

"All they young delphs, the new hybrids, cut to pieces."

"What!"

"Aye, cut to pieces, murder--"

There was no note of mischief in Osgood's lament, and Bonthorn
hurried into shirt and trousers and laced on a pair of shoes.
Osgood had disappeared, but Bonthorn found him at the gate of the
nursery, the sacred precinct, his fingers busy in his beard.

"Did y'ever see the like?  Summun's gone mad in the night."

It was so.  The long border in which Bonthorn's precious
delphiniums grew looked as though it had been attacked by some
insensate yokel with a flail.  Those spikes of all shades of blue
and mauve and lavender lay flat.  Even the stakes had been smashed.
It was obvious to Bonthorn that there had been method and
deliberation in this sabotage, for the man with the big stick had
gone up and down and left not a single clump erect.

He was shocked, not only by the devastation, but by the ugliness of
the deed.  The spikes had just been coming into flower; they were
the children of three years of careful crossing, and some of them
were blooming fully for the first time.  For days Bonthorn had been
watching the flowers open, on the alert for some new and precious
prize, something that was nameless but would be named if its glory
sufficed.  All this work and wonder smashed in an hour by some
malicious and merciless fool!

"Incredible!"

Old John watched his face.

"Some enemy hath done this, sir.  When I cummed up here and looked
over t'gate--I felt like--spewing."

Bonthorn was moving among the dishevelled and flattened spikes.
Here and there it might be possible to rescue a flower stalk and
set it erect, but most of them had either been pulped or bent and
fractured.  He searched for one particular plant, a hybrid that had
promised to be the year's find, a gorgeous thing of peacock-blue
shot over with greens and purples.  His one eye gave a gleam.  He
bent down.

"John, we're in luck."

Old Osgood peered.

"Surely!  She's just pushed over.  She'll stand--"

"By God, the devil missed our prize!  Yes, she's sound.  Only one
spike too."

He was on his knees feeling the half-prone stem.  It lay propped
upon a sheaf of other stems.

"Get a stake, John."

Osgood pottered off on his pegs of legs, and came back with a green
stake and a hank of bass.

"In here.  That's it.  Tie while I hold."

Very gently and carefully he raised the year's queen of beauty, and
Osgood tied her to the stake.

Bonthorn stood up.  His face had a fierceness, and yet he smiled.

"I boasted, John, that I'd show California something.  Well, I
shall--this--and this--"

His arm swept in a half circle.

"Would anyone believe--?  Now, who was it?"

Osgood fingered his beard.

"Who could it be?  Just spite.  This be'nt mere mischief."

Bonthorn nodded.

"It was done in the night with a heavy stick.  The fellow went up
and down.  Do you see those boot marks?"

The gnome bent double, peering.

"Man's boots.  No hobnails.  Gent's boots--in a manner of
speaking."

And Bonthorn laughed.

"Gent's.  Obviously."

Osgood had raised himself to his five feet one inch.  He rubbed his
hands on the seat of his trousers.

"I'd like to have caught he.  I'd like to have had a gun.  A dose
o' sparrow shot in t'bum.  But who could t'chap be?"

He looked at Bonthorn.

"Summat you've said or done, Mr. Bonthorn?"

"I suppose so."

"A slug of a chap."

He watched Bonthorn's face.  He guessed that Bonthorn must know who
the man might be, but Bonthorn told him nothing.

"We can't prove it, John."

"Them there boot marks.  I'd get the police in.  Not that they be
much to talk about."

"The police can't mend those broken stems, John."

"That's gospel--"

"We'll look over the crop and see if there is anything else to be
saved.  Where it's hopeless we'll cut down and mulch, and hope for
second spikes."

The gnome grunted.

"An' I'll keep a gun handy.  If I get a god's chance to get the
blackguard's backside!"

"You'd be for it, John."

"So'd he be--the dirty swine."


3

Bonthorn saw the American at the white gate in the holly hedge, and
was moved to reflect upon the futility of labels, for to the
newspaper mind Uncle Sam is Uncle Sam, strident and boastful, the
dollar king, and Mr. Cripps was none of these things.  He had a
quiet voice and a quiet manner; a tall, thin, sallow man with
gentle eyes.  He did not speak English as England expected him to
speak it.  His opinions and his prejudices could be delicately
shaded, and might appear as implications.  If he foresaw those
transfigurations which Mr. Shaw chuckles over in The Apple Cart he
did not chuckle.  It might be possible to divine that which the
inward voice of him was saying about England.  "You've got a lovely
little country and you are trying to spoil it.  And--after all--you
can't feed yourselves, and a great part of your crowd is living on
the savings of previous generations.  They beat the big drum and
shout about downing capital, and but for the capital invested
abroad--many of them would not be alive.  Free bread and free
games, Mr. Bonthorn.  The decline and fall of the New Rome.  The
future is with us."

He carried himself courteously and gently as in the presence of
some very old servant who had many notable achievements to his
credit, but whose white head was in the shadow of death.  A
venerable country, living on the illusion of some noise made by a
number of irresponsible and playful children, a country that could
not say no to itself or to other countries, a corner that might
become the world's garden.  This green island set in the silver
sea.  Well, why not?  Almost Mr. Cripps trod gently in the presence
of the patriarch dreaming in his chair.

He did not hurry.  He came up through the garden on leisurely long
legs, pausing to look at things and to finger a label or a flower.
To Bonthorn, appearing in the white porch he gave a smile, a slight
bow and a lift of the hat.

"Glad to meet you again, Mr. Bonthorn."

His dark eyes twinkled.

"No need to say pleased to be met.  Dame Gloriana will be here at
half-past four."

He spoke the name as though it was Elizabethan, a beautiful and
spacious word, not to be clipped even in these days of speed.

"I did not hear a car."

Car--forsooth!  As if England was not worth walking through in the
green glory of the year!  Mr. Cripps said so.

"Sure, sometime soon Hollywood will rediscover the world's legs.
Honeysuckle in your hedges--too.  I had to stop and smell and look.
Tell me, what's the insect, Mr. Bonthorn?"

"For honeysuckle?"

"That long tube?"

"Yes.  Some tongue is needed.  Twenty-five mm. at least."

"The Privet Hawk-moth.  A night-flyer.  Rare."

"They set seed pretty seldom then."

"That's so."

Mr. Cripps took off his hat and laid it on one of the seats of the
white porch.  His face looked all smoothed out and happy.  He
produced a cigar-case and offered it to Bonthorn.

"No?  I agree.  Pity to spoil the smell of things.  Could I have a
glass of water?"

It was brought and handed to him, and he drank.

"Well--you have something to show me?  When are you coming to
California?"

"When--a garden--"

"Exactly.  If I hadn't a partner--But I'm greedy, Mr. Bonthorn; I
want to see everything that is, and there's so much.  Spain calling
you, and Kashmir.  It's in my mind to go camping in Tibet.  Do you
know a man named Ingram?"

"I've met him."

"I want to meet that man.  And Marion Cran."

"You have only to go on into Kent and you'll find both of them
close together."

"I'll go.  But you have things to show me.  The great lady tells me
your delphiniums--"

Bonthorn smiled strangely.

"I have been keeping my delphiniums just as they are--to show you.
Come along."

Two tall men together they walked pleasantly and at ease to the Yew
End nursery.  They passed through the wired gate, and past two rows
of young sweet peas.  And Bonthorn paused with his hands in his
pockets, and made a movement of the head.

"There you are.  Some sight, isn't it?"

The American was silent.  He looked with intelligent, soft eyes at
all that ruin, and frowned slightly, and seemed puzzled.  Flower
lovers might play jests upon each other--but this!  A mat of broken
stems as though a tornado had passed, green pulp, confusion.  He
stared.

"I don't quite get you.  This--?"

"We found it like that this morning."

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Bonthorn--?"

"Someone got busy in the night."

The American looked shocked.

"God!"

He went a few steps forward and stood still.

"God!  Who was the--?"

"I'm not sure--I have a suspicion.  Some gesture--that!  I left
them for you and Mrs. Gurney to see.  The thing has a sort of
significance.  But come and look.  The blackguard missed the prize
pearl."

He took the Californian along the derelict border and showed him
that solitary spire lashed to its green mast.

"He missed that.  The best of all my crosses.  One ought to
chuckle, I suppose?"

Mr. Cripps gazed.

"God!  That's gorgeous."


4

Mrs. Gloriana was more shocked than either of them, and more angry,
and as though for solace she went about carrying the Cairn in her
arms, and Rollo being a gentleman, was full of loving licks.  Did
the lady smell sweet?  Assuredly.

She was pouring out tea for the two men.  Her glances went hither
and thither into the green glooms of the high woods.  Somewhere a
reaper droned, and the June grasses were falling.  Yet even in this
very peaceful spot a little tremor of disquietude troubled her.  So
might some Roman matron in a garden of Silchester or Old Sarum have
felt on the east wind the rumour of the barbarians.

Mrs. Gurney stroked the dog.

"I wonder, did the savage who smashed those flowers feel virtuous?
No country lad would have done it.  That's the town's touch."

She looked at Bonthorn as though her curiosity asked to be
satisfied.  She had more than a feeling that he knew the name of
the destroying angel.  He smiled at her, and his smile was wise.

"One connects that kind of wantonness with the new intelligentsia."

She nodded.

"Is there such a thing?"

"Always.  The politically-minded young man.  But in this case I
think the inspiration was more primitive."

"Not jealousy?"

"Not exactly professional jealousy.  Malice.  Besides--it was a
very small malice.  If one has read the history of Ireland--for
instance--during the revolutionary period, one ceases to be
astonished at anything modern man does--and especially the so-
called idealists.  Imagine oneself butchering an Irish girl by the
roadside because she was going out to play tennis with an
Englishman!"

"Not idealism, Mr. Bonthorn--"

"O--yes--idealism gone mad, and utterly without a sense of humour.
After all--I had my laugh.  I think I would rather my idealist
laughed--than raved."

The Californian produced a cigar.

"You're right there, Mr. Bonthorn.  I'd say that a man like Mark
Twain did more for humanity than a mad dog like Karl Marx.  If
anyone did that to my garden in California--"

Mrs. Gurney's eyes were mischievous.

"Would you laugh?"

"Sure, madam--I would try to--after I had handled my shot-gun--and
put it away again.  Laughter carries farther than shot-guns."


VIII


1

Afterwards, Nicholas Bonthorn remembered that summer evening
because of the poignancy and vividness of the contrasts that it
carried.  The smell of the green lane, and a primrose sky, and the
cedars of Stella Lacey, and Mrs. Gurney's far-away smile.

The car should have come for her, but it did not arrive, and
thinking that the chauffeur might be waiting at the end of the
lane, she and Bonthorn and the Californian walked down to the
bridge at Monks Lacey.  Mr. Cripps, very conscious of this world of
willows and flowering grasses and idle water, had the air of a man
quoting poetry to himself.  Immemorial elms, Elizabethan windows,
sunsets, the sound of water falling at the weir!

But there were other sounds, voices and laughter, and looking over
the hedge and across a strip of meadow and the stream the
Californian saw youth at play, two young women in short skirts and
bright jumpers, and three young men in pullovers and plus-fours.
On that piece of grass where the Mill House hung out its table-
cloths someone had rigged up a couple of beansticks and a piece of
string.  The five were enjoying a jumping-match, the girls against
the men.

Mr. Cripps paused.

"That's almost Greek.  Strip them and they might be Spartans."

Mrs. Gurney looked amused.

"O--those young women--!"

The three of them stood to watch, unnoticed as yet by the young
things on the other side of the stream.  One of the lads was
adjusting the string.  He was something of a wag, but a nice wag,
with his buttered head and laughing eyes.

"Now then--Jerry.  Atta-boy!"

Jerry, a heavy young man whose fat calves curved backwards, mooched
into position, charged, took off with the wrong foot, and bungled
it badly.  The bean-rods shook.  There was a chorus of derision.

"Mere man--!"

"I say--you're letting the sex down."

"Come on, Rachel.  Show him the way."

The girl shook her hair and laughed.

"Rhoda's turn."

"No, it isn't.  No refusing.  Come on."

She chose her distance, took a look at a readjusted string, ran,
fluttered on quick feet, and slanting sideways like a man, went up
and over.  In the air she seemed poised like a bird.  Landing, she
shook her hair again and laughed.

Mr. Cripps was delighted.

"Now, wasn't that lovely?  Just like a young animal.  Good for the
gods."

His enthusiasm had to applaud even in the face of possible
indiscretion.  He clapped his hands, and the unawareness of the
moment was past.  The young men stared.  Rhoda looked sharply
across as though annoyed.  Rachel, turning suddenly, saw those
three faces, but Bonthorn's face was the most vivid to her.  Her
sudden stillness was the self-conscious poise of the nymph
surprised by the philosopher, and somehow resenting it.  She gave a
little flick of the head and showed Bonthorn her back.

The three went on to the bridge, but of the five who were left on
the grass, four only were playful.  Rachel sucked a grass stem and
sat down on the bank, and looked like Cassandra.

"Come on, Rache.  Have another shot."

"Don't be put out of your stride."

She shrugged temperamental shoulders.

"I beat Jerry; that's good enough."

"I say, who were the three interesting strangers?"

Rhoda was studying the back of her sister's neck.

"Innocence is bliss.  Mrs. Gloriana Gurney of Stella Lacey."

"O, the duchess!  I wonder what she thought of Rachel's effort?
Shocking!  And the Old Silver fellow with the black eye-shade.
Some buccaneer?"

"Mr. Bonthorn."

"What, the flower Johnnie?  Bit of an oddity, isn't he?"

"O possibly."

The Stella Lacey car had not arrived, and Mrs. Gloriana proposed to
Mr. Cripps that they should walk up through the park.  She
explained that she had forgotten to tell Lambert, her chauffeur, to
be at the bridge a quarter of an hour before she would need him.
Lambert was one of those pleasant persons who are smilingly and
inveterately unpunctual.  Bonthorn was ready to walk with them.

"Supposing the car turns up?"

"Lambert will smoke a cigarette or go to sleep."

"Shall I ask someone at the Mill House to tell him?"

"You might.  Yes, please do."

Bonthorn went in and found Mrs. Binnie putting cakes away in a tin.
He had removed his hat.  The prevailing crowd was either hatless or
entered hatted.

"Good evening, Mrs. Buck.  I wonder if you or one of your daughters
would do something for us?"

Robinia, liking him very well, held a cake poised as though she
were about to offer it to him.

"Certainly--Mr. Bonthorn."

"Mrs. Gurney's car hasn't turned up.  It was to meet her at the
bridge.  We're walking.  If the car comes would you tell the
chauffeur to go back?"

"Of course, Mr. Bonthorn.  To the house?"

"Yes."

They smiled at each other, and Bonthorn returned to the road.

Mr. Cripps's appreciation of beauty, genius and joy continued to
flutter about the flower of the world's youth.  How much
affectation and silliness had passed away with the trailing skirt
and the tight corset.  Yes, youth was much more free, and more
pleasant to watch, healthier, cleaner, better looking.  That girl
leaping was a symbolical figure, surely?  A young Atalanta.  And
what had been the meaning of the apple?

Mrs. Gloriana was gently amused.

"That--too--was symbolical, Mr. Cripps.  Man could not let woman
outpace him.  And yet--perhaps it was not man."

The Californian's quick mind caught her meaning.

"Old Nature.  The apple of sex.  Yes, that ties a woman to earth.
Our idea of change--"

"Very relative, isn't it?  I really can remember school treats and
parties many years ago when young women ran races.  Certainly--they
did not jump--because just then the social prejudice in the matter
of dress--"

She caught Bonthorn's blue eye and was surprised to find it so
serious.  Was he thinking of those smashed larkspurs, or were there
in him mysterious deeps of disapproval?

They came to the grass of the park.  Mr. Cripps paused to estimate
the height and girth of a Scotch pine.

"Now--what would be the age of that tree?"

Bonthorn's eye climbed the trunk.

"O, about eighty, I should think.  Trees are much more calculable
creatures.  Sappy spring wood--and tough autumn."

He heard Mrs. Gurney's gentle little laugh.

"Does that apply to humans?  Yes, spring is ravishing and restless,
sappy and sad.  It is so sudden with its beauty, so elusive, and
with our passion for putting self into nature--we yearn to hold it
back.  Stay with us, stay in the young leaf and the apple blossom.
Yes, the spring used to hurt me--but not now."

Both the men looked at her.  It was the Californian who found the
gracious phrase.

"You, madam, have a sort of immortality."

She laughed.

"O, no, I have set my autumn wood, that's all.  I'm tougher.  I
just react to the seasons without dreaming that anything is going
to be very different.  There may be a little more rain or frost, or
even a little more sun.  And our civilization is just like that.
We may collect more plants and produce delightful hybrids, but the
climate remains the same.  We are just the same humans, just as
cruel on occasions, just as splendid, just as silly and self
important."

Mr. Cripps reflected.

He replied: "It is only in an old country that such things can be
thought and said."


2

Bonthorn walked back alone, and coming within sight of the bridge
at Monks Lacey he saw a girl leaning over the parapet and looking
at the water.  A yellow knitted coat, dark hair, dark legs, the
same figure that had floated over a piece of stretched string.  And
from the Mill House itself came sounds of music, syncopated
stridencies, cheerful and active and crude, youth's music.  And
Bonthorn wondered, following the birdlike flight of Mrs. Gloriana's
gentle cynicism.  Had youth been much the same eighteen hundred
years ago.  Had British girls loitered at the ford to see Roman
legionaries go past, and remark upon the fashion of a centurion's
sandals?  Probably.  And perhaps there had been music, an
improvisation upon trumpets and cymbals, and the soldiers had
danced with the girls.

How like a centurion he was he did not suspect, or that there might
be something of the eternal Roman in him, even in the nose and the
carriage of the head.  One of Cæsar's veterans.  A nasal voice
emanating from the Mill House gramophone asked the eternal question
with the flavour of God's Own Country.

"Why do I love you?  Why do you love me?"

But Bonthorn came to the bridge, ready with a hat and a greeting,
and all in the course of the day's goodwill.  "Good evening, Miss
Buck."  Yet, before he had uttered the salutation he realized that
the girl was both seeing him and not seeing him.  He had caught the
sidelong trail of a glance, and received the impression of hunched
shoulders and wilful unawareness.

He paused.  He too could be wilful, and playfully so.

"Good evening."

She faced him for a moment with an assumption of surprise.

"O, good evening."

"By the way, do you know if Mrs. Gurney's car--?"

"O, yes--it went back half an hour ago."

Her attitude was both farouche and casual.  He was not being
encouraged to loiter, and he wondered.  Youth was so temperamental.

He smiled.

"Congratulations on that jump."

She gave a flick of the head.  Almost it said: "O, shut up.  We're
not in the same category."  But a voice from the Mill House
interrupted the interplay.  The lad with the buttered head and the
laughing eyes stood in the doorway.

"Hallo, Rachel.  Come on--show a leg."

The invitation to the dance!  She turned with an air of langour,
and without looking directly at Bonthorn, passed over the road
towards the shadow of the chestnut tree.

"Evening, Mr. Bonthorn.  I'm wanted."

He nodded.  For a moment his blue eye was as whimsical as Mrs.
Gurney's brown ones.  He walked on over the bridge and turned into
the lane.  He had been rebuffed and he knew it, and he was
sufficiently man to pursue the proposition.  Had he been what the
Americans call "A buttinsky"?  Had her nay been a veiled yea?  He
was conscious of a little qualm of disgust.  Sex was so
incalculable.  It might be piqued by some slimy, sensual cad, by a
lust--that when balked--sneaked out with a stick and smashed
flowers.  He reacted against that little spasm of disgust.  No,
that wasn't quite credible.  The solution was more sensitive, more
subtle.  He remembered her with that dying dog.  She was not mere
obvious flesh.  She was shy of him just because of that very
incident and its crudeness, as though he had surprised her naked,
and the soul of her was a little resentful.  He had--as it were--
forced upon her an uneasy intimacy--and she drew back behind a
young reserve, and was difficult--awkward.

Someone had once said to him: "O, yes, you're such a sanguine
devil.  If you see a silk stocking you don't suspect the hole in
the heel.  One of the world's optimists.  Human nature is full of
holes."


3

Rachel went in and danced.  She danced very well in the manner of
the modern tall young thing, back well hollowed, shoulders and head
thrown back, her eyes looking squarely into the face of the man.
Perhaps she appeared a little over-excited and vivacious, more than
ready to laugh at anything and everything the lad said.

"You are a priceless person!"

He rather thought so too, and he did not mind her agreeing with
him, but he was a nice lad, and he had a sense of fun.

"I say, we get on jolly well together.  O, damn--"

The record had run itself out, and to him the romantic adventure
was just beginning.

"Put on another, Jerry.  You old ass--that's a tango.  We don't
tango, do we, Rachel?"

"Why not?"

"O--if you're daring me, come on.  I'll be your Valentino."

Their tango ended in confusion and laughter, and in a sudden mutual
warmth and clinging of hands.

"Sorry, all my fault.  Let's revert.  A foxtrot, Jerry."

Rhoda and her partner were walking briskly about between the
tables, watching Rachel and young Hanson, and exchanging amused and
meaning glances.  Geoff was a little bit touched, but that was not
exceptional.  He was but one of the many and multifarious young men
on wheels who came once to the Mill House, looked upon the
daughters of Robinia, and came again.  There was no nonsense about
Rhoda and Rachel; they were not genteel or "retained"; they were
just healthy young women with a frank outlook upon life, ready to
give and to take when they pleased.

Geoffrey grew confidential.

"I'm getting my new M.-B. next week.  Hot stuff.  She'll do eighty.
What about coming for a spin?"

She glimmered her eyes at him.

"I might."

"Marvellous!"

"And I might not."

"O, don't be hard on a chap.  Say yes."

"Right-o.  But it can't be a Saturday or Sunday."

"Why?"

"Silly!  I have to work."

"Does anyone work these days?  Well, what about next Tuesday?  I
could get here at six."

"In the morning?"

"Is it likely!  Well, that's a fixture."

He held her a little more firmly.

"Say--I wish it was a 'plane.  We'd zoom over to Paris and back
again.  Lovely!"

"O, would we!  Don't be such a speed-merchant."

But she liked young, Hanson.  Her young body warmed to him, and
standing at her window that night she contrasted Geoffrey with Mr.
Bonthorn.  She could play with the younger man; they talked the
same language, understood the same quips and their world's pattern.
He was not desperately serious, and who wishes to be desperately
serious?  If sex was just a romp and a joke--?

But Bonthorn?  She was afraid of Nicholas Bonthorn.  He had made
her feel uncomfortable and crude and apologetic.  He was so much a
finished piece of workmanship that her young self-in-the-making was
both attracted and repelled.  She might even feel that he was
laughing at her gently and subtly, but what young woman asks for
such laughter?--more especially so when she is something of an
Atalanta and pleasing to the young men.

Mr. Superior Bonthorn!

She would not allow to herself that she was afraid of him, but she
could admit that he made her feel awkward and gauche.  He was so
vividly serious, so very much a person who walked head in the air
through the little world of your marvellous fooling.  She could not
imagine him on a motor-bike, and herself on the pillion streaking
round corners at fifty miles an hour.

"Nick, old thing, what about it?"

Yes, he was a sort of grandee who spoke a different language.  He
was quite old.  He would seriously want to discuss serious things,
as--he no doubt discussed them with Mrs. Gurney.  That serene,
stuck up old autocrat!

No, she wanted someone to play with, to fool with, to rush about
the country on wheels, someone who could dance and talk nonsense.
She would be so much more transcendent with a fellow whom she could
call a silly fool.  A one-eyed and learned philosopher stuck in a
flower-garden!  Something in her shrank from the mysterious menace
of him.


IX


1

Hook Hill was a noted stunting-ground for youth upon wheels.  Local
clubs held rallies and tests here, and any casual child with a
passion for speed might challenge the declivity.  That is to put it
sententiously, but Hook Hill itself was not sententious.  A mere
lane, it snaked its way up a bluff between beech and pine woods,
and on peaceful days its coils were as silent as the glidings of a
snake.  Peaceful people--a few--had houses about Hook Hill, nor
were the remarks made by these same people upon the world on wheels
flowered with sententiousness.  Sir Oscar Marbury, taking his dogs
for a ramble in the lane, and meeting a sports-model at speed, had
had one dog killed, and had himself been driven up the bank.

"You young savages!"

On certain Saturdays and Sundays Hook Hill became Bedlam.  Its
beech woods had been beautiful with bluebells, but each year this
beauty was being devastated.  Someone had christened the place
"Litter Lane."  Peaceful people protested, but apparently there was
no redress.

As Marbury put it: "We don't mind people coming to be in the
country.  That's all to the good.  But we do object to Birmingham
and Brooklands becoming indigenous.  We--who are a little sensitive
and not wholly selfish, do ask progress to be a little more
sensitive and a little less selfish."

If other observers said that life was becoming half cinema show--
half circus, the retort was obvious.  Each generation to its ideal.
There may be courage in the climb, and less stupidity than in
baiting a bull.  Hook Hill might reverberate, and its trees marvel,
and its bluebells disappear, but the crowd must spread itself, and
given leisure Hook Hill might even civilize the crowd.

Dr. Carver of Lignor, steering his car carefully out of the gates
of Hurst Lodge, insinuated himself into the lane, and with brakes
applied, crawled round the first curve.  The surface was bad, rain
scoured and wheel worn.  He knew the lane well; he had driven up it
and down it at night and in all sorts of weather.  Ahead of him he
had an S-bend, with high, bracken-covered banks that oozed moisture
and gave a greasy puddle to the clay.  Scotch pines, larches and
spruces towered on either side.  He descended cautiously.

Entering the S-bend he heard something coming up with furious
detonations.  He hooted.  He crowded his car over to the left until
wings and bracken touched.  Something flashed into view, a red
motor-bicycle with a young man in a blue and white pullover in the
saddle, and a girl in yellow on the pillion.  The rider was taking
the curve at such a speed that he could not cut his corner.  Carver
braked desperately, ran his car half up the bank and stuck there,
but the crash was inevitable.  The motor-bicycle caught the side of
the car, and seemed to summersault.  The girl was flung in the air.
The rider and the machine crashed off and on in a tragic tangle, to
come to rest confusedly in the crumpled bracken.

Carver got out of his car realizing that the luck had been with
him, and that lad and machine might have come through his wind
screen.

The girl was lying in the middle of the lane, and Carver went to
her first.  He recognized her.  One of the Mill House young women!
She was unconscious and lying on her back, with her pelvis twisted,
and bending down he slipped a hand under her head.  No blood, no
wound.  She was alive.  Putting his hands under her arm-pits he
drew her gently aside to the foot of the bank, for a machine
climbing the hill at speed might have run over her.

He went to look at the man.  There was blood here, even on the
bracken, and the lad's head was horribly smashed.  He was dead.
Carver had seen many dead men in the war, and had learnt to
recognize intuitively those attitudes of distorted stillness.
Poor, reckless young idiot, showing off to a girl!  The thing
shocked him, though he had a fairly tough shell.

Well, the mess had to be cleared up.  He lit a cigarette, and had
decided to walk back to Hurst Lodge and telephone, when he heard a
car climbing the hill.  It appeared and at a sedate pace, a little
Austin Seven with two middle-aged women in it.  He held up a hand.

"There's been an accident.  I wonder if you would go and telephone.
I'm a doctor."

"Of course--"

"A motor cyclist--"

"My dear, the boy and girl on a red machine.  They passed us, you
remember?"

"I do remember."

The woman at the wheel of the Austin was a capable and decisive
person.

"Get out, Mildred.  You may be of use.  Isn't there an A.A. box on
the main road?"

Carver had thrown his cigarette into the green bracken.

"Yes, turn left when you reach the main road at the top.  If the
scout is there get him to 'phone to Lignor Hospital for the
ambulance.  Also, he had better warn the police.  The lad's dead."

The younger and smaller of the two women got out of the car.

"Really--it's too horrible!  I'm afraid I'm--"

"O, just go and sit by the girl.  I'm going a little way down the
road to warn people."

The Austin Seven drove off, its occupant calling back to Carver:
"I'll bring the A.A. man back with me.  He may be of use."

The little woman in brown went and sat on the bank within a yard of
the unconscious Rachel.  She felt helpless and she looked it.
Meanwhile, Dr. Carver placed himself half-way down the S-bend, and
as it so often happens on such occasions, every casual car in the
neighbourhood appeared attracted to Hook Hill.  A young man in a
bowler hat driving two girls in a Chrysler disregarded Carver's
signal, but seeing there had been a smash, pulled up just beyond
the unconscious Rachel.  He and his women got out and stared.

Carver followed them up.

"Did you hear what I said?"

He of the bowler looked at him blankly.

"Thought we might be of some use."

"I'm a doctor and there is nothing for you to do.  Move your car on
please, and don't block the lane.  We're expecting the ambulance."

The young man was rude.

"All right, all right.  You aren't on traffic control, and I'm not
a fool."

"Kindly move your car," said the doctor, "and prove it."

The car was moved, but only to the top of the hill, and its
occupants came back to stare.  Car after car appeared, and picking
up Carver's exhortation, joined the Chrysler up above.  The crowd
increased.  It clumped itself round the dead man, and stood and
gazed upon Rachel.  It made remarks; it criticized; it offered
suggestions.

The lane became jammed like the neck of a bottle, and Carver, who
was a quick-tempered man, became eloquent.

"Look here, all you people, doesn't it occur to you that it would
be much kinder to clear out.  You're blocking the road--and I'm
expecting the ambulance.  I'm the doctor in charge."

Some went; others stayed.  And then the A.A. scout arrived with a
perspiring police constable on a bicycle.  Carver knew the
constable and appealed to him.

"Will you get these fools out of the way?"

The constable was of the same opinion as the doctor.  He became the
busy autocrat.  The lane began to clear, while the A.A. scout went
down to the foot of the hill to hold up traffic until the ambulance
had come and gone.

The little brown woman came and twittered to Carver.

"O, doctor, please, she's recovered consciousness.  She's--"

Carver, who had been supporting the activities of the constable,
hurried to Rachel.  He knelt down beside her.

"You know me, Miss Buck."

Her brown eyes regarded him with a strange expression, a mingling
of bewilderment and terror.

"I--I can't move.  Who's holding my legs?"

She tried to raise herself as though to look, and Carver laid a
hand gently on her shoulder.

"Just lie still.  Leave it to us.  The ambulance is coming for
you."

"But--my legs--"

"That's all right.  We'll see to all that."

"Where's Geoff?  What happened to Geoff?"

"Now don't you worry.  We're looking after Geoff."

She closed her eyes and gave a little shudder.

"Dr. Carver--I believe--something's happened to my back."

He patted her shoulder and stood up.  He was aware of the little
woman in brown sitting on the bank.  They exchanged glances.  The
little woman seemed to wince and to turn her head away.  The police
constable, hot, combative and blue-eyed, came down the hill.

"Lot of sheep.  You'd think a crowd like that would think."

Carver showed the hard edge of a smile.

"Crowds don't think, Killick.  You--ought to know that."

The man's blue eyes were looking at the girl.  They grew gentle.

"Poor kids."

Carver strolled over to his car, and the little woman in brown
followed him.

"Doctor, I'm not just horribly inquisitive--but do you think her
back is broken?"

Carver took out his cigarette-case.

"I'm rather afraid it is."


2

On those long summer evenings the sun set between the spurs of the
two hills above the high woods of Monks Lacey.  It seemed to trail
a cloak of gold up the narrow valley.  The back of the Mill House
was all light, its front in the shadow.  The chestnut tree threw
its shade as far as the mill-pool, and from this great patch of
shadow the river glimmered out like light escaping from under a
cloud.

When Dr. Carver pulled up his car outside the white posts and
chains of the Mill House he realized that the road did not suffer
its servants to be idle.  This was the hour of those who did not
dine, and who took an egg with their tea.  The fine evening had
brought Mrs. Binnie business, and more than a dozen people were
seated at the tables outside the house.  The gramophone was active,
uttering that song from "The Show-Boat."

"Why do I love you?  Why do you love me?"

Dr. Carver climbed out.  The tables were just so many tables with
human shapes attached to them.  He passed between them, and saw
Rhoda in the doorway with a tea-tray.  A young man wearing a blue
beret with a yellow tassel attached to it, remarked to a girl upon
the obvious condition of the doctor's car.

"That fellow's taken a biff."

Rhoda stood still.  She looked at Carver, and something passed from
his eyes to hers.  Her straight black brows seemed to draw
together.

"Is your mother in?"

"Yes."

She stood aside with the tray, and Carver, pausing by her, looked
at the dish of bread and butter.

"Your sister has been hurt.  Is your mother alone?"

"Two couples having tea.  Serious?"

"I'm afraid so."

"She's not--?"

"No.  Thrown off.  I'll get your mother to see me alone."

But Rhoda put the tray down on a vacant table, and with an air of
striding decision, went in first.  She looked for her mother, but
Mrs. Binnie was not there.  She was in the kitchen.

Rhoda and the doctor exchanged glances.

"Through that door."

Dr. Carver crossed towards the door, and Rhoda went and silenced
the gramophone before going out to recover the tray.  It was
destined for the young man with the tassel and his lady.  Rhoda was
aware of him regarding her with interested and prominent eyes.  He
had a little, wet, ginger-coloured moustache, and she did not like
that kind of moustache.

"Been a smash, has there?"

With an air of dark detachment she put down the tray.  She ignored
his curiosity.

"Care for lettuce--green food?"

He might have been a rabbit.

Through the open doorway of the kitchen the doctor saw a little
woman putting a slab of cherry cake back into a tin.  He was
impressed by the smallness of Mrs. Binnie, her air of inadequacy in
the presence of death and disaster.  She looked so ineffectual.
Her little narrow shoulders fell away, as did her chin and
forehead.  She was all negative curves.  Her tremulous hands were
trying to fix the lid to the tin, and the lid was refusing to sit
down comfortably, for it and the tin had received rough treatment
in the hurry and scurry of life.  Mrs. Binnie's lips moved.  She
talked to herself and that tin.

"Now--do be obliging.  O, bother you!  No, it isn't at all funny.
You'll make me use my temper, you will--really."

Abruptly she became conscious of being observed.  Her small,
birdlike eyes discovered Carver.

She stood quite still, holding the tin against her body.  There was
a momentary flicker of her pale lashes.  And Carver felt strangely
sorry for her, this little, dusty, busy creature who seemed to
scurry in and out amid life's casual feet.

He walked through the doorway into the kitchen and closed the door.
He had to break the news to her, and as a doctor he knew that when
the knife has to be used on sensitive flesh, swiftness and
suddenness may be merciful.

"Mrs. Buck--I have just sent your daughter to the hospital.  She
was thrown off the pillion seat--"

The tin slipped a little way down Mrs. Binnie's body, but was
clutched and held.  For a moment her face was like a little mask in
wax.

"My Rachel--?"

Carver nodded.

"Sit down, won't you."

He went for a kitchen chair, but she remained standing, clutching
the tin, and into her still face sudden lines and creases seemed to
sear themselves.

"No--I won't sit down.  You're telling me the truth, Dr. Carver?
She's not--?"

He watched her face.  He half expected that little figure to
crumple up.

"No.  But she's rather seriously injured."

"How?"

"I'm afraid it's her back."

Mrs. Binnie uttered one little cry like a small animal in pain.

"O, don't say--it's broken, doctor."

Carver moved the chair nearer to her.

"You are taking it--very bravely, Mrs. Buck.  I'm hoping--"

And suddenly she moved.  She walked to a table and put the tin on
it, and seemed to falter.  Her hands went to her face.  Without a
sound she seemed to collapse into herself, like a dress allowed to
fall upon the floor.  Her head struck a leg of the table.

The Mill House kitchen was used by the Buck family as a living-
room, and under one of the lattice windows stood a sofa, Victorian
and severe, and still wearing its black horsehair cover.  Carver
picked up Mrs. Binnie and carried her to the sofa.  She had the
weight and shape of a child, though she had borne two strapping
daughters.  He was laying her on the sofa when Rhoda came in.

Her darkness was suddenly fierce.

"You've told her--too much."

Carver forgave her this fierceness.

"I'm sorry.  It's kinder--sometimes.  Get a cushion."

Rhoda grabbed one out of her mother's basket-chair.

"What's happened exactly?"

"I'm very much afraid your sister has broken her back."

"Good Lord!"

Rhoda stood stark and still for a moment.

"That damned new machine of young Geoff's.  I'll tell that lad
something--"

She caught herself up.

"Sorry.  The deep end's no good.  What happened to--?"

"Dead."

She did not ask how it happened and he did not tell her.  The
small, still figure on the sofa concerned them both.

"No, keep the cushion there.  I want her head low."

Rhoda was a practical young woman.  She unfastened her mother's
dress and loosened her stays, though the little body seemed to need
no such corseting.  But other things were loosened in Rhoda:
compassion, a sense of clanship that was primal, a very deep
affection for this courageous little oddity whom she called mother.
Her own life and its affairs seemed to keep step with her
compassion.  She was thinking: "Fred and I were to get married
next year.  Well, it can't be--by the feel of things.  And that's
that."

She was abrupt with Carver, but no more abrupt than she was with
herself.

"What about cold water?"

"Yes, on a handkerchief.  Flick her face gently."

It was done.

"Any more to tell me, doctor, before she comes to?"

"No.  I don't think so."

"Is my sister going to--?"

"I can't say yet."

"And if she doesn't die, she'll be paralysed?"

"I can't tell you anything definitely yet.  If there has been a
fracture--"

But Rhoda held up a hand, and her lips were firm.

"She's coming to.  No more--details--yet."

Carver smiled faintly.

"I have a feeling that your mother has--"

"Pluck?  O, plenty."

She was down on her knees by the sofa, her long, shapely legs
sticking out.  She put a cool hand on Mrs. Binnie's forehead.

"Hallo, mumsie--I'm here.  It's all right, dear, it's all right."

Mrs. Robinia looked at her with vague eyes, whimpered, and tried to
sit up.

"Did I faint?  How very silly of me.  I--"

Rhoda restrained her.

"No, lie still for a bit, mumsie."

Her mother lay still--but her small face seemed to sharpen and to
grow firm.

"Very well, my dear, just for two minutes.  Is Dr. Carver there?
O, doctor, is my girl awake?"

"She's quite conscious, Mrs. Buck."

"She's at Lignor?"

"Yes."

Mrs. Binnie crossed her hands on her bosom.

"Rhoda, my dear, go and get the car out.  No, never mind the
people.  They can finish their teas and leave the money.  We'll
lock up.  I am going to see Rachel."

Rhoda stood as though to refuse her mother this effort, but she met
Carver's eyes, and the doctor nodded.

"Let her go," said his glance, "it's her urge.  It can't do your
sister any harm--I think.  Your mother has grit."

Rhoda bent down and kissed Mrs. Binnie's forehead.

"I will go and get everything ready, mother."

And Carver, being a man of some understanding, did not offer to
drive them to Lignor in his damaged car.


X


1

Mrs. Robinia had contributed a characteristic remark upon the Great
War, to the effect that without socks and trouser-buttons the
heroic war would have fizzled out.  Yes, life was a matter of socks
and trouser-buttons, and the bread bill and laddered stockings, and
just as Mrs. Binnie was in the act of buttoning up her best shoes
one of the buttons flew.

The callous cussedness of inanimate things seemed to cut her to the
quick.  She uttered reproaches.

"Now--you--would do that, wouldn't you?  Really!  As if you
couldn't have waited."

And she burst into tears.  She wept quietly and continuously while
Rhoda was reattaching the button, but when the shoe was on Mrs.
Binnie's tears ceased.  She stood up.  She went to the sink and
dabbled her face with the corner of a towel dipped in cold water.
Life and the conventions required to behave like a mother and a
woman of the world, and her small, frail figure ceased to quake.

"Now, my dear."

Rhoda had dealt with the last of their clients.  They locked up the
Mill House and entered that gaudy little car.  Its radiator cap had
been decorated with the slim and silver figure of a girl poised as
in the act of leaping, and Mrs. Robinia's eyes seemed to fix
themselves upon that figure.  Possibly she saw it as a symbol,
youth delighting in speed, but youth on the edge of unexpected
tragedy.

She made a remark that sounded irrelevant.

"I shall have to get up a little earlier in the morning."

But Rhoda understood it, and its secret, household heroism.  Her
dark and determined young face confronted the road and other
realities.

"No, you won't.  I can do that."

Mrs. Binnie moistened her lips.

"England's not done yet."

Another seeming irrelevancy, but it was a tribute to her daughter.

Lignor had shut up its shops for the night.  The streets were empty
save for a few strolling couples, and dogs who were being taken for
walks.  The Buck car crossed the market-place dominated by the
spire of the Gothic church that rose whitely into the evening
sunlight from a cloud of elms and chestnut trees.  Opposite the
Jacobean market-house with its statue of Charles II they passed Mr.
Stanley Shelp oiling his way on fat thighs to some aggressive
adventure.  He both saw them and did not see them.  He had banished
the Bucks from the scheme of the new dispensation, but the Paul Pry
in him reflected.

"I bet the old woman diddles us.  Might twist her for accounts.
It's an idea."

The hospital stood in South Street, a late Georgian building that
had been added to and remodelled.  Its forecourt was entered by
iron gates, upon one of which was posted the admirable exhortation:
"Motors--please park on the left.  No hooting."  For the obvious
thing was to drive your car right up to the hospital entrance, and
hoot for the porter and leave your engine running, and on departing
you might open the throttle wide and roar au revoir.  Dr. Carver
had been able to persuade the hospital committee that the hospital
was for the patients, and should be a place of peace.  One of the
most flagrant noise-mongers had been a cheerful and athletic young
curate who drove like Jehu in a ramshackle but muscular car.

Rhoda saw the notice and followed its suggestions.  She parked the
machine under the shade of a row of old lime trees, and slipping
out without troubling to open a door, stood to help her mother, but
Mrs. Robinia was in no need of assistance.  Her small face was set
and sure.

"I think I'll go in alone, my dear.  Afterwards--"

Rhoda nodded.

"Right-o.  I'll wait here."

The small figure disappeared into the vestibule where a porter in
dark-blue uniform met it.  This man was also the driver of the
hospital ambulance, and he knew Robinia by sight.

"I've come to see my daughter."

The porter, being a sympathetic and rather florid person with blue
eyes and a broad and benignant nose, took Mrs. Binnie by the arm.

"This way, ma'am, up the stairs."

But Mrs. Buck was holding tightly to her dignity.  She did not want
to be stirred up by the spoon of emotionalism.  Her two small hands
were clenched fists.  She swallowed twice, and gently detaching
herself, walked towards the stairs.

"It's kind of you, but I can manage."

The porter looked a little abashed.

"You'll find the Sister.  Turn left, first floor."

Half-way up the stone stairs Mrs. Binnie met Dr. Carver coming
down, putting a pair of pince-nez away in a case.  He looked at
Mrs. Binnie's small, stark face, and gave her the words that she
needed.

"Ah--Mrs. Buck--that's right.  Your daughter has been asking for
you.  We've got her comfortably to bed."

Mrs. Binnie swallowed hard.

"Yes, bed's the best place.  I shan't upset her, doctor."

"Of course you won't."

He turned and went up with her to the door of the ward, and spoke
to the little nurse who met them.

"Nurse, Mrs. Buck has come to see her daughter for five minutes.
Show her the way, please."

He did not wink at the nurse, but the staff at Lignor Hospital had
learnt to lip read Dr. Carver's facial instructions.  He might have
said, "Don't fuss her.  Let her alone--with the girl."  He stood
for a moment to see what passed, and watched Mrs. Binnie being
conducted to a bed round which a green screen had been placed.  She
disappeared behind it, and the nurse came back.

Carver spoke to her in an undertone.

"Ten minutes.  Don't worry.  She'll be all right."

When Mrs. Binnie passed behind the screen and looked at her younger
daughter she had a sudden feeling that she was looking at the
Rachel of eighteen years ago, the child of five or so who had been
subject to strange terrors.  Rachel had been a very pretty child, a
purple pansy without the scowl, and her beauty on this summer
evening had a strangeness.  It had a quality that caused her mother
a spasm of pain.  She held her breath for a moment and saw Rachel
as she had seen her years ago, emerging from one of those night
terrors.  "Mother--mother--"

There was a chair and she sat down on it.  She bent and kissed
Rachel, but her kiss had a brave restraint.

"Well, my darling, you--have--given us a fright."

One of Rachel's hands sought Mrs. Binnie's.  She was mute.  Her
eyes were full of the stillness of fear.  She looked at her mother
as though that familiar little face could reassure her, and the
voice conjure away the horrors of some dream.

"I'm so sorry, mumsie."

Mrs. Binnie managed to smile.

"Now, you mustn't talk too much.  Rhoda's downstairs.  We came up
in the car.  Dr. Carver has been so kind."

Rachel's lips moved.  She seemed to question her mother's
cheerfulness.  Was it assumed?  Did Mrs. Binnie understand, or
realize what had happened?  This horror of helplessness!

"Did Dr. Carver tell you?"

"O, yes, of course, my dear.  Naturally.  But--when--one thinks of
your being thrown off like that--"

"They think my back is injured, mumsie.  I can't move my legs."

Mrs. Binnie swallowed.

"O--I expect it's the shock, darling.  Besides, in these days
doctors can do anything."

"They are going to X-ray me to-morrow."

Her eyes watched her mother's face.

"Mumsie--I have a feeling--that it's--bad.  Don't be frightened,
dear, but I can't help thinking--I mean--if I'm helpless--a sort of
dead weight on you--"

Mrs. Binnie tried not to wince.  She held firmly to Rachel's hand.

"You mustn't think such things yet, dear.  Of course--you are going
to get better.  A dead weight--indeed!  Didn't I nurse you once for
six weeks--?"

Rachel closed her eyes.

"Mumsie--you wouldn't grow to hate me--would you?"

Mrs. Binnie was profoundly shocked.  She bent down and her kiss had
a twinge of passion.

"My dear--my little Rachel girl!  O, it won't be like that, and if
it were--I think I'd love you all the more."

The girl's hand touched her mother's face.

"Perhaps--mumsie--it's only a bad dream."


2

Bonthorn, coming down to the bridge from Stella Lacey with a book
he had borrowed from the Gurney library, saw the Mill House dark
against the afterglow.  He had taken the river path, and it brought
him through a grove of beeches to the park fence where the ground
fell away in a flurry of fern.  Between this slope and the road lay
a tongue of marshy land set with sallow and alder, and stippled in
the spring with kingcups, and bristling with rush and sedge.  The
path crossed it as a grassy dyke and opened upon the main road by a
swing-gate some fifty yards south of the mill.

The Mill House was shut up and without lights, but as he drew level
with it Bonthorn saw tables standing behind the posts and chairs,
and the tables were covered with cloths, nor had the tea-things
been cleared away.  He was passing on when he became aware of a
figure balanced on one of the chains where the chestnut tree threw
its deepest shade.  And Bonthorn recognized young Tanrock.

He nodded and spoke.

"Everybody out, apparently."

It was the sort of obvious and casual remark that one made brightly
to a pleasant lad perched on a gate, but young Tanrock rose from
the chain, and left it swinging.

"I'm just waiting, sir, to hear the news."

Bonthorn drew up.

"I missed them.  They must be up at Lignor.  I rushed down here
when a chap came into our garage.  But perhaps you haven't heard?"

"No.  What's happened?"

"Poor Rachel's been badly smashed."

Bonthorn's face seemed to sharpen.

"I'm sorry to hear that.  How--?"

"She went out with young Hanson from Oakhurst on his M.-B.
Apparently they hit a car on Hook Hill and crashed.  He was
stunting--I guess."

"Good God!"

"Young Hanson was killed.  Curious thing--they hit the doctor's
car, Carver of Lignor.  He 'phoned up the ambulance and took Rachel
into hospital.  Poor Kid."

"Fatal?"

"I don't know.  Rumour has it--her back's broken.  Pretty bloody,
isn't it?"

Bonthorn stood still.  He looked at those uncleared tables that
somehow gave the impression of panic and sudden flight.  He was
aware of young Tanrock's sorrowful slouch.  And suddenly he
remembered the dog and its broken back, and Rachel kneeling with
her saucer of water and eyes of compassion.  He was profoundly
shocked.

"Her back!  But perhaps--Are you sure?"

Tanrock moved restlessly, hands in pockets.

"Well, no.  I'm just waiting to hear.  They'll be back some time.
But if it's her back--"

"Yes."

"Well--I'd rather be dead.  Yes, if it happened to me.  Just
think--!"

Bonthorn shifted the book from one hand to the other.

"To youth--yes.  One can only hope--"

Young Tanrock's eyes were looking at him.

"Queer, isn't it.  I can't get that dog out of my mind, Mr.
Bonthorn, the dog you--"

And Bonthorn nodded.

"Yes.  I buried him up in my orchard.  You're going to wait?"

"Rather."

"I'd like to hear.  Perhaps you could--"

The younger man understood.

"Up the lane, isn't it?"

"Yes, a white gate in a holly hedge.  If you could just stroll up
and leave word."

"I will."

Bonthorn went on over the bridge and into the lane where the soft
green gloom of the dusk hung between the hedges.  A streak of light
touched the pool, linking up the moment with that incident of a few
days ago, those young things at play, and Rachel skimming over a
stretched string.  How ironical!  That such a thing should happen
to youth in the spring of its year!  And as he walked on he thought
of his smashed delphiniums, and some malicious savage with a stick.
A flower with a broken stem!  The dusk came gently, and the high
woods seemed to draw together until the valley became a grey-green
cleft with the stream threading it.  He saw the gate where she had
stood on that moonlight night, and the pale lane going on to Beech
Farm.

He heard Rollo at the other gate, scratching and impatient, joyous
whimperings.

"Hallo, old fellow, mind the paint!"

He picked up the Cairn and carried him as he had carried that other
dog, but Rollo was very much alive, and his desire was to lick
Bonthorn's face.  Also, he disapproved of the book which shared the
embrace, and scratched at it with two fore-paws.  Bonthorn saw a
light shine out suddenly.  Mrs. Martha was lighting the sitting-
room lamp.  He saw her come to the window and pull down the blind.

He went in, and putting the dog down on the sofa, and the book on
the table, found himself in the presence of the very soul of
Puritanism.  Martha was adjusting the lamp-wick, for lamps were
still used at Yew End, and Martha somehow approved of lamps, smelly
things though they were when not properly attended to.  But lamps
were Biblical and catholic.  The parable of the Wise and the Unwise
Virgins would have lost for Martha all its vivid austerity had
those maidens been pictured as carrying electric torches.

Her obduracy and her conscientiousness showed in the way she kept
the lamps.

"Have you heard the news, Martha?"

Martha had heard no news.  And what was news but organized
halfpenny gossip put up for sale?

"One of Mrs. Buck's daughters badly injured."

Martha gave a last severe glance at the lamp.

"One of those young women!  I'm not surprised.  Tearing about the
country with their skirts blowing above their knees."

Bonthorn smiled gently.

"Rather a tragedy--though, Martha, to have your back broken just
when--"

Martha looked at him.

"One of them motor-bikes, I suppose?  Such things shouldn't be
allowed.  It's asking for trouble--"

"We get it sometimes, Martha, whether we ask for it or not."

"That's God's choice, sir.  I'm sorry for Mrs. Buck.  She's not a
bad little woman, and I reckon she's enough to bear."

No, Martha would not say that she was sorry for the girl, for poor
Rachel was one of her Unwise Virgins, and turning in the doorway
she discovered Rollo on the sofa.

"You'll spoil that dog, sir."

"One must spoil something, Martha."

"I don't hold with spoiling things, sir."

"Not even puddings, Martha.  As a matter of fact I have never known
you spoil a pudding."

That was the worst or the best of Mr. Bonthorn.  If he teased you
or gave you a flip of the finger, he did it with such a smile, or
with a little piece of flattery that would not allow a woman's
teeth to be on edge.  Martha might issue decretals, but not to him.
He was the one incorrigible man to whom her middle-aged severity
allowed a tolerant shrug.  He was somehow unique, but differently
so from that Puck--old Osgood, whom Mrs. Martha treated with the
imperiousness of an elderly Titania.  "Mischievous old rascal!"
John did not loiter at her back door.

She closed the door on Mr. Bonthorn and his dog and his book as
though she were shutting him in for the night, but Bonthorn's mood
was neither for book nor lamp.  He allowed Mrs. Martha to get away
to her kitchen, and then he threw up the lower sash of the window,
and slipped out on his long legs.  The dog sprang after him, but
sensing the silence and the inwardness of his master's mood was no
more than a little shadow at his heels.  With cocked head he
attended to the filling and the lighting of a pipe, and following
Bonthorn to the white gate in the holly hedge, lay down with a deep
and satisfied sigh.

Bonthorn leaned upon the gate.  The road down yonder was strangely
silent, but he heard a car come from the direction of Lignor and
stop at Mill House.  Apparently it was put away in a shed, and
protestingly so, its exhaust emitting one emphatic and final bang.
Yes, that would be the Mill House car, that little silver and
vermillion bath on wheels.  He waited.  He felt the silence of the
summer night as a challenge to all that rather raucous pragmatism,
the Cheerio of progress.  A wonderful age!  O, assuredly so, but so
the Romans might have felt in the time of Trajan.  Julius,
Aurelius, Severus, corn-ships, games, a gradual and opulent
decadence.  Then--fewer Romans, more tax-gatherers, a purblind
proletariat, and less and less opulence.  Lastly, the barbarians.

But where were the barbarians of to-day?  For a contrast--the
increasingly unfit, the morons, the little people who were
flattered?  What would Martha's views be on eugenics?  And what
were views but cerebral acrobatics?

He waited, and presently he heard footsteps coming up the lane, a
young man's steps.  Young Tanrock.  No, young Tanrock was not
exactly decadent.  Possibly he and his breed might be left to deal
with the Shelps.

It had become very dark, and Bonthorn spoke.

"The gate's here.  Good of you to come."

The little red point of a cigarette glowed.

"That's all right, Mr. Bonthorn.  I'm afraid it's rather bad."

"Is it?"

"I had a few words with Rhoda.  She'd seen the doctor alone.  He
told her more than he told Mrs. B."

"No hope?"

"No, it's not so much that.  Carver thinks her back is broken, but
quite low down.  He thinks she'll live--but it may be a sort of
living death, you know."

Bonthorn was looking at the dark mass of the beech tree.

"At her age!  What a tragedy!"

"You're right."



XI


1

If Mrs. Robinia hoisted her flag with "Business as Usual"
embroidered upon it, that was the result of her dire necessity,
since there was nothing else for her to do, for when the doctors
had made their diagnosis, and Mrs. Binnie had paid the fee of the
expert who had travelled down from London to Lignor and had echoed
all that Dr. Carver and his confrères had said, the Mill House knew
how it stood.

"O--my dear, if I wasn't her mother--!"

Mothers do not wish their daughters dead, yet when Mrs. Binnie had
realized what Rachel's life might be for Rachel, she had felt very
near to despair.  Dr. Carver had set out to explain to her the
unusual and rather baffling elements in the case.  There appeared
to be no fracture of the spinal column, but a rupture of the cord
itself complicated by the pressure of extravasated blood.  Dr.
Carver put it to Mrs. Binnie as simply as he could.  The injury was
in the lower part of the cord; it seemed probable that Rachel would
live, but she might never regain the use of her lower limbs.  She
would be bed-ridden, a nursing case that would have to be cared for
day in--day out.  In some respects she would be more helpless than
a baby who has to be washed and dressed and kept meticulously
clean.  She would need a special mattress, massage, ministrations--
intimate and thorough and never ending.  She might live for years.

Dr. Carver spoke gently, but to Mrs. Binnie he seemed to be closing
door after door, or attaching a series of weights to her already
overburdened heart.  An air-mattress and pillows, and waterproof
sheets, O, certainly.  And a room on the ground floor?  Yes, there
was the little room beyond the tea-room, which had never been
furnished.  And massage?  She supposed that she could soon teach
herself to rub and knead.  And washings with rectified spirit and
the clothes to be kept free from creases.  She sat very still, and
listened, with her little head drooping.

Carver realized that he was laying straw after straw upon the back
of this small camel.

"Of course, one might try to get her into some institution."

But Mrs. Buck would have none of it.

"O--I'll manage somehow.  But can't you give me any hope, doctor?"

Carver was tempted to prophesy possible ameliorations.

"As a matter of fact we did hope that we could set down all the
symptoms--to bleeding and the pressure of the blood in the spinal
canal."

"Isn't that possible, doctor?"

Carver hesitated.

"Well, you see--one has to be honest, and to be guided by what one
finds.  The paralysis came on almost immediately.  One might say at
once.  That rather negatives the idea of mere pressure by bleeding.
I'm sorry."

From somewhere Mrs. Binnie conjured up a whimsical little smile.

"I'm sure you are.  So, you can't promise me--?"

"Not much, I'm afraid.  There's just this, no need for you to worry
about fees."

"O, doctor---I couldn't think of--"

Carver collected his hat and gloves.

"You have plenty to worry about.  We'll cut out what we can.  No,
that's quite all right.  I'm not a cannibal."

She sat alone with her problem.  Money, O--yes, money!  She could
manage to go on making money, perhaps enough money to keep the Mill
House from tumbling into the river, but it wasn't merely a question
of money.  Time, tissue, travail.  Hands and feet, washings up and
washings down, table-cloths, crockery, food.  That road pouring its
people upon her, people who were impatient, a world on wheels in a
hurry to be served.  Did she feel like a little animal in a cage,
turning a wire wheel, unable to stop?  Her courage and her
compassion might endure--but Rhoda?

How long would Rhoda stand it?  Could she be expected to stand it?
Was it reasonable to expect any young woman to stand it?  Rhoda had
a life of her own, and a rapid temper, and urges that asked to be
satisfied.  There was young Fred Tanrock.  Inevitably the day would
come--sooner or later--when Rhoda would go.  Who could blame her?

And then?  A hired girl, some perfunctory young woman, or a series
of perfunctory young women who became bored with frightful
regularity, and who disappeared!  Plates and plates of bread and
butter, eternal washings-up, oceans of tea, scurrying to and fro,
impatient humanity asking for boiled eggs.

Eggs!  Just when all the hot water was needed!  Eggs!  No, it would
be a question of legs, of keeping the pot boiling, and the tables
supplied, while a paralysed girl lay in that little room.

And how would Rachel take it?

Metaphorically, Mrs. Binnie threw her apron over her head.  She
felt crushed, bewildered, overwhelmed.  She went out alone, and
wept.

She chose a most strange place for her weepings, an old sugar-box
in the shed where the small car lived.  But the car was not there
at the moment.  Rhoda had taken it up to Lignor, to see Rachel and
to buy stores.  And Mrs. Binnie shut the door, and sat on the empty
sugar-box and wept.  Her chin and the front of her little frock
were all wet.

"Well--really!  As if--I hadn't--!  O, Tom, why did you leave me
with two girls?"

But if her eyes and her chin were wet, she did not squeal like the
raucous fanatics who would cut the throats of the more efficient
and adventurous few and pour the blood as a libation at the feet of
their Clay Idol.  She was more obscurely heroic than the
demagogues.  She sat there in her wet woe, resolving to make the
best of things, to set her alarm clock for half-past five, to will
the miraculous, and to carry on.


2

But for the fact that Rhoda was wearing shoes with crêpe soles Mrs.
Binnie would not have been caught in that situation.  The door of
the shed opened suddenly, and Rhoda beheld her mother sitting on
that sugar-box rather like a hen on a nest.  And Mrs. Robinia was
just a little peeved.

"My dear--bouncing in on one!  You might have knocked."

Which, of course, was ridiculous, for one does not knock at the
door of an empty garage, or expect to surprise Niobe upon a sugar-
box.  But Rhoda did not say so.  She looked at her mother, and then
closed the door.

Mrs. Binnie had to accept the self-betrayal and its consequence.
The shed possessed one small window covered with dust and cobwebs,
but the light was adequate.

"I've forgotten my handkerchief, my dear."

Rhoda produced one.  Actually she dried her mother's eyes like a
capable and strong-minded young nurse.  Her own voice was not quite
as full and steady as usual.

"Mustn't sneak away like this--all by yourself--"

"My dear--I simply had to.  It came over me all at once.  But I'm
quite all right now.  I didn't hear the car.  You'll be wanting to
bring it in."

Rhoda produced something else that was white, and more crepitant
than a handkerchief.  She dropped the little wad of notes in her
mother's lap.

"Fred got rid of it for me.  Twenty pounds.  Not so bad.  That will
help things--just now."

Mrs. Binnie looked at the notes, fingered them, and emitted two or
three soft sobs.

"O, my dear--you've sold it?"

"Of course.  Rachel had a half share.  We want some ready money."

Mrs. Binnie put out a hand.

"Well--really--my dear, it's lovely of you.  I was so worried.  I
had to think, and when one starts thinking--"

Rhoda grasped the hand and raised her mother from the box.

"Come on, old lady--this is a family affair.  I'm not exactly a
quitter."

Mrs. Buck, on her feet, and dabbing her chin, looked intently at
Rhoda.

"What about Fred?  You see--I--"

"Fred will have to wait.  I'm not going to leave you until I see
how things go.  Besides--it may be better than we think, mumsie."

"My dear--you don't know--I was just saying to myself--Rhoda has
her life to live."

"Well, it will be here, for the next twelve months, anyway.  What
else?  I'm not a mush-merchant.  I'm not going on the dole because
the job's too tough.  Come on.  To-day's Saturday.  We shall have
the crowd on us this afternoon."

She led her mother out by the hand.

"I left word with Gladys to come along and help.  She's not a bad
flapper."

Mrs. Binnie, with a damp handkerchief compressed into a little
ball, emerged into the sunlight.

"That's the last and only blub I'll have, my dear.  We'll manage
somehow.  Yes, we'll manage somehow."


3

It rained, and Mrs. Gurney could never promise her own soul how a
rainy day would affect it, and whether she would feel soothed or
restless.  For there were days when she would tire of her books,
and all the illusions of reality, and the pretending that things
mattered.  Moods!  If she allowed herself to wander like yesterday
through the garden and the house, pausing to stand and stare and
perhaps to exclaim: "My love, how beautiful you are," a flower
could not answer her.  And yet, to a man like Bonthorn flowers
spoke, using no sentimental lingo, or--rather--they were one of the
scripts used by his Unknown Artist.

He was so full of scorn for the mechanically minded, for those
pedants who proposed to regard life as a vast jigsaw puzzle the
pieces of which were bundled together in a bag and somehow sorted
themselves out and made a picture.  Why deny any scheme when the
delicacy and splendour of the scheming were so obvious?

He would say--"Imagine it.  A fortuitous collection of cells lumped
together and being pushed and pulled by other fortuitous
collections of forces and cells, and behold--after an infinite
number of reactions--the flower and the bee.  Take the pollen-box
of the pansy and the spathe and inflorescence of the wild arum.  To
say such cunning is the product of mere particles--chemical or
electrical--whatever you choose to call them, things like marbles
in a bag--shaken up and becoming what?  Evolution by variation, by
an infinite number of minute reactions.  But why variations?  What
began it?  You don't paint a picture by pouring paint from pot to
pot.  Why a single green algal cell--and then a rose in full
flower?  Just a marvellous, coincidental muddle that somehow
happened!  A huge porridge of protoplasm becoming man!  Why--how?
Not even the hypothetical spoon allowed!  All this marvellous co-
ordination, this rhythm, this lovely scheming and cunning--just a
blind boiling up of energy, or whatever the word may be.  To me--it
is the uttermost bosh.  I postulate the Unknown Artist."

His mysticism could be humorous.

"Take Stella Lacey.  A certain collection of organic matter called
Gurney somehow coming into contact with other collections of
organic matter called craftsmen, impinges with them upon certain
masses of silicate of alumina, and sandstone and woody fibre--and
behold--this House.  The product of collodial chemistry, or an
agglomeration of electrons so arranging themselves--that a pattern
arrives in consciousness!  O, but you mustn't whisper the word--
teleology.  That is blasphemy against our new little cleverness."

Or again: "If I look down my microscope and observe a pollen tube
worming its way to the ovum, and some pedant stands by me and says:
'O, yes, that's integration.  When we get all the formulæ we shall
see how the mechanism clicks.  Intelligence, my dear chap.  It's
quite incredible.  It just happens without a head.'  But isn't that
attitude far more incredible than my so-called credulousness?  Even
your pedant will say:  'Nothing can come out of nothing.'  Old
Paley wasn't quite the obsolete fool.  What is this state we call
consciousness?  Has it for us no significance as the complex
pattern grows.  Your pedant makes me think of a man sitting down to
a good dinner, and having eaten it he denies the existence of the
cook.  'The thing cooked itself.'"

Yes, Bonthorn was a reassuring person, when the loneliness in you
doubted, and you complained of the lassitude of living.


     "Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean;
     Tears from the depth of some divine despair."


On this drenching day she walked with herself in the Long Gallery,
up and down, up and down.  It had twelve windows, and she would
pause at a window and look out to see the green world blurred by
the greyness of the rain.  Her mood was whimsical.  Reality?  The
thing or its shadow?  All this furniture, these pictures, portraits
of the dead.

She paused before the picture of the Gurney in the White and Gold
Brocade.  That dress still survived; she had it smothered in tissue
paper at the bottom of a drawer.  Victor had worn that dress one
Christmas before the war.

White and Gold Gurney and Victor were strangely alike.  Both dead.
But what was death?

She wondered.  She sat down close to the Sedan chair by the fifth
window counting from the west.  That Sedan chair too had been
Gurney, green and gold, and lined with pale blue silk.  Some other
Georgiana had sat in it and been carried by link-light to routs and
levees and to Drury Lane.  The ghost within a ghost!  She rose
again and walked up and down.  Armour, pictures, a grotesque
casque, crossed rapiers, a Queen Anne commode, two high-backed
Charles II chairs.

A clock struck, and its voice was deep, rich and deliberate.  It
stood at the head of the stairs in its black-and-gold lacquer case,
and for two centuries it had told the hours.  It was less
possessive than the clock in the cupola.  Its cry was not "Mine,
Mine, Mine," but "Doom, Doom, Doom."

She heard footsteps on the stairs.  A maid appeared.

"Mr. Bonthorn, madam."

How strange!  She stood with a hand to her cheek.

"Yes?"

"He wants to borrow a book, madam.  He does not wish to bother
you."

She smiled to herself.

"Ask Mr. Bonthorn to come up."

While the maid went for Bonthorn she walked to the western end of
the Great Gallery and saw that there was a break in the sky, a
crevice of tawny light.  A long, yellow beam like a ray from the
eye of God as shown in some strange old picture, touched one of the
cedars and a part of one lawn.  She stood to gaze, and then heard
Bonthorn's footsteps and the ticking of the lacquer clock.

She saw him all brown against the wainscoting, and just above his
head a gilded sconce seemed to burn.  The mystic!  The man of to-
morrow!

"Aren't you very wet?"

He came down the gallery towards her, and she thought that had she
been a younger woman he would have moved her to other mysticism.

"Summer rain.  I've come to borrow Reynold Green's book.  I believe
you have it?"

"I have."

"Something about the Chelsea Physic Garden, and old Hudson."

She sat down in the window-seat with its cushion of red brocade.

"You can take it home with you.  Unless--"

He smiled.

"O--I don't read books in your presence."

"Thank you."

From that west window a part of the valley was visible, and under
the glittering edge of the passing shower where the grey fringe met
sunlight the Mill House at Monks Lacey looked like one of those
minute toy houses set in glass.  The chimneys and the green swell
of the chestnut tree caught Bonthorn's attention to the momentary
exclusion of the Chelsea Physic Garden and its herbalists.  A
string of motor-coaches was passing along the road and over the
bridge, like a file of blue, green, red and yellow beetles.  The
Mill House had always refused to deal with mass-production teas,
and a white board warned the world:


                     "No char-a-bancs."


Bonthorn rested one knee on the cushioned seat.

"I suppose you have heard about the trouble at the Mill House?"

She had not heard it.

"One of those young women?"

He answered her rather quickly, as though to save her the folly of
seeming flippant.

"Yes, rather a tragedy.  One of the girls was riding pillion.  A
smash, and she was thrown off.  Her back is badly injured."

"Not--permanently?"

"They seem to think so.  Legs paralysed."

"Which girl?"

"Do you remember our stopping with 'California' to watch a jumping-
match?  It was the girl we saw jumping."

She was studying his face as though she divined in him a compassion
that was stronger than he knew.

"How tragic!  A broken back?"

"Youth--with a broken back!  Utterly wrong--somehow.  No more play,
no more fooling."

The lacquer clock struck the half-hour and its deep note was like
the voice of the old house setting other human notes vibrating.
Those sons of hers who had died in the war, youth cut off in the
moment of flowering, like those larkspurs of Bonthorn's!  And
suddenly her face seemed to transcend time.  She looked out of the
window at a wet, green, glittering world.

"The poor mother!  I suppose life can be pretty hard for such
people."

Bonthorn nodded.

"Yes, theirs seems such a flimsy world.  A sort of crowded scuffle.
If your health goes--where are you?"



XII


1

On his way back to Yew End Bonthorn called upon Mrs. Robinia.

The paved space outside the Mill House was deserted save for half-a-
dozen painted wooden tables cocked slantingly against each other to
throw off the rain.  A little breeze came down the valley, and the
chestnut tree scattered moisture from its leaves and rejoiced in
the returning sunlight.  A wet and glimmering greenness everywhere.
The tarred road steamed.

The tea-room door stood open.  Bonthorn walked in and found the
place deserted, but he heard sounds of hammering coming from the
interior of the house.  Also, he heard voices, and in particular
Mrs. Buck's voice.

"I do believe, I've hung it crooked again, Rhoda.  Give me a line,
my dear, will you.  What--more to the left?  I'll put in another
nail."

There were more tappings, and then an exclamation.  Mrs. Binnie had
hit her finger.

"Well--really!  That comes of being in a hurry.  I've broken the
skin--too."

"You'd better have it tied up."

"Perhaps I had.  There's an old handkerchief in one of the drawers
of the dresser.  Top--left."

Bonthorn was wondering whether his intrusion was not superfluous
with Mrs. Buck and her elder daughter so obviously occupied in
domestic adjustments, but before he could put the feeling into
action Rhoda came out from the little room on the right.  She stood
still and stared at him.  For the moment she had supposed him to be
someone in search of tea.

"O--Mr. Bonthorn!"

Almost her implication assumed that it was only Mr. Bonthorn, old
One Eye, though that one eye was but a year over forty.  And
Bonthorn apologized.

"No interference, I wanted to inquire--"

Rhoda's dark directness was somehow friendly.  This man-creature
was not unintelligent.

"That's all right.  You mean--about my sister?"

"Yes."

But Mrs. Binnie had heard the voices, and not being able to resist
the sound of voices, emerged with a bruised forefinger and a
hammer.  She had an air of moist activity, and hair--that from
frequent pattings and smoothings--had chosen a provoked untidiness.

"O--Mr. Bonthorn!"

Her exclamation was more welcoming than Rhoda's.  It did not
suggest that it was only Old Bonthorn.  She was a sociable
creature, and in a crisis she was glad of social support, and Mr.
Bonthorn's was a singular and attractive figure.  He was so much
the gentleman, and Mrs. Binnie belonged to a generation that had
not felt itself admitting inferiority when admitting good manners.

Bonthorn was gently formal.

"I was explaining to Miss Buck that I came in to inquire--But you
are busy."

Mrs. Binnie understood him.  She was never too busy to receive good
will.

"Do sit down, sir, please.  Yes, I've just hit my finger.  I never
was much use with a hammer, Mr. Bonthorn.  My husband always said
no woman could ever hit a nail on the head.  Rhoda, my dear, get me
that handkerchief."

Bonthorn, having laid his hat and book on a table, sat down, for it
was plain to him that Mrs. Binnie wanted him to sit down.

"You see, Mr. Bonthorn, we're getting a room ready.  It has to be
on the ground floor.  Poor Rachel--"

She too sat down, holding her finger erect like a candle.

"Poor Rachel will have to lie on her back.  I lay on my back for
six weeks--once, Mr. Bonthorn, and I know what it means.  That was
when I had phlebitis in my left leg.  But, O--Mr. Bonthorn, sir, to
lie on your back for ever and ever--!  And Rachel was always such a
child for movement, dancing and running, never still--though
without being restless--if you know what I mean?"

Rhoda returned with a neat strip cut from the old handkerchief.

"Hadn't you better wash it, mother?"

"No, my dear--you see--it has stopped bleeding now.  Just tie it up
for me, will you."

She continued to hold her finger erect while her daughter bandaged
it, and she continued talking to Bonthorn.

"I was only thinking yesterday, sir, what a strange thing it was
you should have brought that poor dog in here, with his back
broken.  And then my poor girl.  Not too tight, my dear, please.
But it's all these machines, cars and aeroplanes, and everybody
being in such a terrible hurry.  Yes, everybody seems to be wanting
to rush about, sir.  That's what makes me wonder about poor Rachel,
I expect it's harder to lie still these days, especially when
you're young.  Thank you, my dear."

Bonthorn was aware of the elder sister watching him from behind
Mrs. Binnie's chair.  Did she mistrust his wisdom, or doubt the
rightness of his touch?  Or was he an encumbrance, wasting their
time?

He said: "Life's not easy for some of us.  Perhaps it's not meant
to be too easy."

Rhoda's dark eyes embarrassed him.  She had the air of youth
questioning the platitudes of a previous generation.  So much of
the old humanism was musty and obsolete.

He glanced at her.

"Perhaps your daughter understands these things--better than we
do."

And Rhoda nodded at him.

"If you mean movement, Mr. Bonthorn, not getting stuck in old ruts.
If you'll excuse me--"

She turned and walked towards the kitchen, and Bonthorn rose, and
Mrs. Binnie held up her bandaged finger.

"There's no hurry, sir, really.  It does one good to talk."

Her glance went towards the kitchen door.  It closed.

"That's one of the queer things, Mr. Bonthorn.  You talk to your
children for years, and they chatter to you--and suddenly there's a
sort of dumbness.  They stop talking to you.  It's like something
being cut off.  Not that my girls aren't good girls, but there's
something about growing up and growing old.  We're different, I
suppose, or we seem different."

Her small face was questioning, and Bonthorn tried to think of an
answer.

"Perhaps that's only on the surface, Mrs. Buck.  So, you are having
your daughter here?"

"O, yes, sir.  We're going to manage somehow.  The district nurse
is coming in to show me how to do things.  I've got to have an
electric battery--too.  Dr. Carver's been so kind.  No doctor could
have been kinder.  But it's a problem, Mr. Bonthorn, it's a
problem.  They tell me I must keep the poor child's legs alive--so
to speak, but what about her mind, sir?  That's what's worrying me.
You can't massage a human soul, Mr. Bonthorn, can you?  How to keep
her amused--and interested!  I lie awake at night--thinking of it,
and worrying and worrying."

Yes, Mrs. Binnie's problem was very much a problem, and Bonthorn,
who had turned aside and entered the house of these strangers with
the idea of being merely kind, found himself feeling responsible.
He began to understand Rhoda's dark, gliding exit, as though youth
knew that for youth there could be no solving of such a problem.
Stark finality, life caged and without things.  He felt the silence
of the room and heard the dripping of the chestnut leaves, and the
drone of an approaching car.  This wet, green England, so suddenly
and strangely sad!  But chiefly he was conscious of a small and
perplexed face, and a bandaged finger held out stiffly.  A little,
obscure, dusty oddment of a woman who kept a tea-house, and had
tragedy on her hands, and who in her quaint way had asked him an
answerable question.

He temporized.

"Is there no hope of her getting better?"

He gathered from Mrs. Binnie's reply that the doctors were not very
hopeful, and understanding the limitations of human prescience he
did not blame them.  Life, as described in the text-book, and life
as studied in the field, are such different matters.  The most
prosaic of plants poses you.  A seeming likeness, questioned
relentlessly, melts into baffling unlikeness.  How often he had
accused some wild plant, even the humble buttercup, of not being
true to type.  "Confound you, you're fooling me."

Man's knowledge was so relative, a charting of appearances, and
here was this little woman holding in her hands a flower with a
broken stem, and asking the world and herself what she was to do
with it.  Who could tell her?  Certainly not a mere professor of
botany.  Possibly she would find out for herself.  Things manifest
themselves in their very mystery of growth, and not in words.

He spoke to her very gently.

"No one can tell you what to do, Mrs. Buck.  Perhaps it's a
question of feeling.  One does the right thing without quite
knowing how or why."

Her small face looked puckered and puzzled.

"In a blundering sort of way, sir?"

"No, not quite that.  I spend a lot of time watching flowers and
insects.  Insects seem to do the right thing without knowing or
worrying."

Robinia looked still more puzzled.  Was Mr. Bonthorn comparing her
to an insect?  And to what sort of insect?

"I know I'm a bit of a bumble-bee, Mr. Bonthorn."

He smiled at her.

"You know what I mean by instinct?"

Yes, she knew that.

"I'm being quite a lecturer, Mrs. Buck.  We say that we live by
reason and by instinct.  Reason helps us in some problems; in
others--not at all.  I have a feeling that in some of our
difficulties--instinct is the guide."

She blinked her little eyes at him.

"Really--Mr. Bonthorn--I think I begin to see.  Martha and Mary.
Martha was a good woman about the house, but she hadn't something
that Mary had.  One should be a bit of Martha and a bit of Mary."

Bonthorn nodded, and added five words.

"The instinct of the mother."

And suddenly Mrs. Buck's small face seemed to clear.  It lost its
puzzled puckers.  Her stiff forefinger, held erect, reminded
Bonthorn of one of those mysterious and angelic fingers in a
Leonardo picture.

"You've said it--Mr. Bonthorn.  That's helped me, somehow.  For,
really, sir, one can't do more than that, can one?  Just letting
oneself go--so to speak--in loving and labouring.  Like one of your
insects.  Though--does a bee love, sir?  But there I am again
asking silly questions--which no one can answer?  I see just what
you mean, sir.  Worrying's a sort of selfishness.  I've got to be
just mother, a bit of Martha and a bit of Mary, but perhaps--more
Mary."

Bonthorn stood up, and he seemed to stand in the presence of some
mystery, just as he would stand at times in his garden, watching
and wondering.  The sentimental flower-man!  He had read some of
the new literature, and with a kind of amused compassion he had
compared it to dung, an exhibition of culture in which the finality
of the flower had not been demonstrated.  Farmyard manure, and
blood and bones were good, elemental stuff, but why concentrate on
the elementals to the exclusion of petals, perfume, seed?

Sentiment?  Sensibility?  The mystical idiot who was accused of
being on the side of the angels!  Well--why not?  Why ally yourself
with fæcal bacteria.  Man transcends his cells.

He bent over Mrs. Binnie's small figure.

"That's it.  Plenty of the Mary, with Martha in the background.  If
I can help in any way--But the inspiration is yours--"

She gave him her left hand.

"That's not unlucky, is it Mr. Bonthorn?  But you've helped me.
You have--really."


2

Bonthorn went back to Yew End and asked his own Martha to answer
the question.  She had brought him in his very simple supper, bread
and cheese and some fruit.

"What would you do with a bed-ridden girl, Martha?"

"Do?  You mean about nursing, sir?"

"No.  How could you keep her alive, interested in things?"

Few people can think impersonally, nor was Martha one of them.  She
was too rigid in her prejudices, too sure of her own yardstick, and
of how things should be done.

"Amused, sir?"

"Yes."

"You are thinking of Miss Rachel Buck."

"I have been talking to her mother, Martha."

Martha stood by the door, erect and rather severe.

"It's all amusement these days, sir.  In my day we were taught
other ways.  We got up in the morning thinking:  'What have I to do
to-day?'  These young things seem to say:  'What am I going to play
at to-day?'  Always the jam before the bread, Mr. Bonthorn."

Bonthorn cut himself a piece of cheese.

"Possibly.  They don't feel so responsible--or they feel it--in a
different way.  But let's take this particular case."

"If she won't be able to use her legs, sir, I'd give her more to do
with her hands."

"I see.  Keep up the average of occupation.  What sort of things
would you give her to do?"

Martha reflected.

"Well, she could do all the household mending couldn't she?  And
keep the books, and clean silver, and the knives."

"All day and every day, Martha?  What about the play?"

"Books, sir, and pictures.  And the gramophone and the wireless.
They're great on the gramophone down at the Mill House."

Bonthorn balanced a piece of cheese upon a cube of bread.

"Dance music, Martha?"

"I suppose so, sir."

"Dance music when you can't dance!  Wouldn't that be rather
tantalizing?"

Martha agreed that it might be so, but she asserted that life
wasn't all jazz, and if the younger generation had degenerated into
dancing maniacs, well--when trouble came--duty found you out.
Martha still spoke of duties, in spite of Bernard Shaw.

"I guess she'll have terrible trouble with herself, Mr. Bonthorn.
And her mother will have trouble--plenty.  She'll have to learn to
carry her cross."

Bonthorn became silent, and Mrs. Martha went back to her kitchen,
but Bonthorn was not thinking of Rachel as carrying a cross, but of
hanging upon one.  That dreadful ache of the limbs, and achings of
the heart, and the thirst--thirst for the sweet water of living.


3

The sun was in arms when Stella Lacey came down to the Mill House,
the old to the seeming new.

Gloriana was met by Rhoda, a young woman with a tray and an air of
uncompromising casualness.  She stood her ground with tray on hip,
as though to challenge and contradict a tradition.  The great lady
stuff!  Patronage?  Not likely!

"Miss Buck, I think.  Is your mother in?"

Yes, Mrs. Buck was in but busy, and Rhoda showed no signs of
recognizing Stella Lacey as Stella Lacey, though she had seen Mrs.
Gloriana in the flesh dozens of times.  What did the old woman want--
anyway, butting in just when the Mill House was busy with teas?

"Anything important?  You see, we are rather rushed just now."

Mrs. Georgiana was gently amused.  How singular it was that each
young generation should resemble an English spring on a day when
the north-east wind is blowing.  So raw, and aggressively new as
though no other springs had preceded it, and the serenity of
September was an offence.  She supposed too that Rhoda subscribed
to the superstition that Stella Lacey expected servility, and could
conceive of nothing but condescension.  And the Rhoda world was not
going to accept any lip from Stella Lacey.

Mrs. Gurney apologized.

"My dear, how inconsiderate of me.  If you will tell me when Mrs.
Buck will find it most convenient to see me."

Rhoda stared.  Like many of those to whom the aristocrat is just
idle rich, she was a little nonplussed when the silk touched her.
My dear--indeed!  Was this simplicity just other sidiness, a more
subtle assertion of superiority?

"Oh--if you'll wait a moment, I'll go and see?"

"Thank you."

"What name?"

"Mrs. Gurney."

Rhoda stalked off with her tray, somehow resenting the silkiness of
that presence.  The self-conscious canvas of her young crudeness
creaked.  Mrs. Georgiana sat down on one of the painted chairs
among the partakers of tea, and Rhoda found her mother in the
kitchen, cutting bread and butter.

"You've got a visitor.  The old woman from Stella Lacey.  I told
her you were busy."

Mrs. Binnie put down the knife.

"What, Mrs. Gurney?"

"Yes."

"Well--really!  What have you done with her, my dear?"

"Left her outside."

Mrs. Binnie looked shocked.

"Well--really!  Haven't you more sense?  What must she think of our
manners?"

Mrs. Robinia hurried out to restore the situation, and with a
sincerity that did not trouble about aprons.  Stella Lacey left
standing on the doorstep!  What manners!  For to Mrs. Binnie Stella
Lacey still represented a creation that was singular and splendid.

"O--Mrs. Gurney, madam--I really must apologize--"

Gloriana had an instant hand for Mrs. Binnie.

"I should have reminded myself, Mrs. Buck, that you had people to
look after."

"O, they can manage.  Will you come in, madam?"

"May I?  I wanted to ask about your daughter."

"O dear--yes, poor Rachel.  Please come in, Mrs. Gurney.  I know
you won't mind our kitchen.  Living-room and kitchen combined, you
know."

Rhoda, passing out with a full tray, wondered why her mother was
such a snob, while Mrs. Binnie was childishly innocent of any such
feeling of inferiority.  Didn't Rhoda know that Gurney was Gurney,
and not Shelp or Shoddy?  And as if the human heart did not love
kings and pageantry and soldiers in red coats, and beautiful
behaviour.  For--sometimes--a woman wishes to escape from her
kitchen.

"Do take this chair, Mrs. Gurney.  Yes, you see, I was cutting
bread and butter."

Gloriana had observed certain things, the cleanliness of the place,
the spotlessness of Mrs. Binnie's table.  The conscientiousness of
being clean, even when the world and worry harried you!  She sat
down.

"Please don't let me interfere.  Please go on cutting bread and
butter.  We can talk, can't we?  I should so much like you to tell
me about Rachel."

Mrs. Binnie blinked at her and became full of self-expression.  Her
knife and tongue were equally busy, and while the one spread
butter, the other produced a working philosophy.  It might be a
little muddled in its metaphors and somewhat subjective, but it
carried.  Yes, everybody was being very kind.  Yes, she was having
her daughter back here, she would manage somehow.

"One does--somehow, madam, doesn't one--when one's put to it."

Mrs. Gloriana agreed.

"Hidden strengths--Mrs. Buck.  And we go on cutting our bread and
butter.  Yes, all that is splendid."

Mrs. Binnie's eyes were a little moist.

"I'm not clever, you know, Mrs. Gurney, but I do try--really.
There was talk of sending Rachel to a London hospital, but she was
against it, though I would have managed somehow.  But as I said to
Dr. Carver:  'Be honest, doctor, would it be sure to do her any
good, or do her more good than we can--here?'  He wouldn't promise
anything.  So, the child's to have massage and electricity, and I'm
learning all that I ought to know.  The district nurse is going to
show me things to begin with.  Yes, we'll manage somehow."

Rhoda came in for supplies, looked at them both with a dispassionate
curiosity, and went her way.  And Mrs. Buck explained Rhoda to the
gentlewoman.

"O, yes, she's a good girl.  Rather abrupt and mannish.  But they
are like that--some of them--these days, Mrs. Gurney.  Rhoda's all
right inside.  Rachel, poor dear, was never so quick off the mark
as Rhoda.  Gentler, you know.  And--really--if you ask me, I like
them gentler."

Again Mrs. Gloriana agreed.

"I'm trying to think, Mrs. Buck--of anything I can do.  I have had
my own troubles.  As one woman to another--if anything occurs to
you--I shall be grateful if you will let me know."

Mrs. Binnie held her knife poised over the butter.

"I'm sure I will.  Let me see now.  You don't happen to have one of
those invalid tables, Mrs. Gurney, the sort that swings over the
bed?"

"As a matter of fact I have one.  I'll send it down."

"O, thank you, madam."

"And some books.  Perhaps you will let me come and see Rachel when
she comes out of hospital?"

"Really--I'll only be too glad, Mrs. Gurney.  Really, if you don't
mind me saying so--I'd just love to lie and listen to your voice--
myself.  Please excuse me--madam--but really--everybody's being so
kind."



XIII


1

Directly opposite Rachel's bed in the women's ward at Lignor
hospital a long window gave her a view of South Street, or rather
of a section of South Street.  She could see half the façade of the
bootshop of Messrs. Freeman, Hardy & Willis, the whole of
Bannister's the tobacconist, and two-thirds of Messrs. Gilstrap &
Grace, drapers.  Every day she counted the number of windows and
chimney-pots, and watched the people going in and out, and the
traffic passing in South Street.  She might have been far back in
the pit of a theatre, watching things happening on a stage, and
after all so very little happened.

That surprised her.  She lay and wondered at South Street and at
herself.  Already, she was very weary of her bed, she--who was dead
from the waist downwards, but so alive in heart and lips and eyes.
She could not believe it; she did not believe it--though she had
dared to ask Carver that most final of questions.

"Doctor, tell me the truth.  Shall I always be like this?"

Gently, he had nodded his head at her, and she had closed her eyes,
and caught her lower lip between her teeth, and saved herself from
crying out: "It's impossible.  It can't be so.  I haven't lived
yet."  And then she had felt Carver's hand on her wrist.

"That's the worst.  There is just a chance--that some of the power
may come back."

She had kept her eyes closed.

"I wish I had been Geoff.  All over--just nothing."

His hand had gripped her wrist.

"I know.  But you'll find things get easier.  Mercifully--they do."

But she did not believe it.  To be alive and yet so helpless, to be
washed and powdered and rubbed just like a baby, to feel your hands
ready to grasp at life, while the lower part of you was wax.  Her
incredulity was elemental.  She had a feeling that she would wake
one morning to find that movement had come back, suddenly and
inevitably, and that her legs had become the legs of Rachel, and
had ceased to be strange, unfriendly appendages.  Each morning when
consciousness returned her face would wear a look of excitement and
of hope.  She would strain a little and watch the bed-clothes.
Then a kind of spasm would distort her face.  She was the same as
yesterday, a prisoner.  And life seemed to contract, and to become
no more spacious than the glimpse she got of Lignor through that
high window.

She had her visitors, and especially her mother, who came wearing
quite a coquettish little hat and the brightest of manners.

"Well, really--my dear, I've never seen you look so handsome."

Which was true, for already Rachel's comeliness had had its curves
and its colours subtilized.  Petulant and sweet.  Something large
and elusive in the eyes, a prophetic sadness.

Mrs. Binnie brought flowers.

"When you come home, Rachel, you can arrange all the vases."

"And do all the mending, mumsie."

"Oh--I don't know about that.  But people have been so kind, my
dear.  I had Mr. Bonthorn to see me.  He's a most wonderful man, my
dear, he is--really."

"Old One Eye!"

"And who do you think came yesterday?  Mrs. Gurney.  She's going to
send us down a table and books."

Rhoda was less consoling than her mother.  She seemed to bring the
vigour and the verve and the forcefulness of her youth to the edge
of Rachel's bed.  She was the young priestess of pragmatism.  Her
very stride was tantalizing to Rachel, making her feel that she--as
a creature of adventure and eagerness--was finished.

Rachel was a little frightened of Rhoda.  The determination of
those eyebrows, the compression of those lips!  What was Rhoda
thinking?  How was she welcoming all the extra work, the drudgery,
the interference of stupid circumstances?  Would Rhoda resent it
all, Rhoda whose patience was not her particular virtue?

"I'm so sorry, Rho.  It's rather rotten for you."

"Don't you worry, my dear.  We'll manage."

"But what about Fred?"

"Fred's a bit of a philosopher.  After all, I don't know that I am
in such a furious hurry.  Marriage is an all-time job."

But Rhoda asked more questions than Mrs. Binnie, and asked them
more pertinently and with an air of critical foresight.  Was Rachel
satisfied with these local doctors?  Yes, the X-ray photographs may
have been negative so far as bone displacements were concerned, but--
after all--London was the place.  Rhoda had heard of cases in
which injured spines had been operated upon with quite excellent
results.  She could not produce the word "Laminectomy," but she
understood the procedure.

Rachel lay and wondered!  Did Rhoda want to get her to London for
other reasons?

"Dr. Carver is against it, Rho.  And so is Dr. Spence."

Rhoda might have asserted that she thought Dr. Carver rather an old
woman.  She said: "Well.  I think any chance ought to be followed
up.  If you have something pressing on your spinal cord--obviously--
something might be done."

Rachel looked wistful.

"But they don't think it is pressure, Rho.  They think I fell all
doubled up.  Ordinarily the bones would have come apart, but in my
case--they didn't."

Evidently Rhoda was not satisfied.  She may have had a feeling that
Rachel was taking her tragedy lying down, and that more stimulation
might be necessary, but she said no more to Rachel.  She did speak
to Dr. Carver and to her mother, with the result that an eminent
neurologist who happened to visit Lignor to report upon another of
Carver's patients, saw Rachel, and examined her.  He agreed that it
was a curious case, and that the results of operative interference
might be problematical.  Also he was not knife-mad.

"Watch her.  Keep the legs in condition--of course.  What is her
own feeling about it?"

"She wants to go home."

The neurologist was not a pedant.

"After all---a patient's predispositions do count.  And environment.
I'd just watch her, Carver, for six months.  It seems perfectly
plain that there is no pressure by displaced vertebrae.  A ruptured
cord, rare, but probable."

Young Tanrock came to see Rachel.  He was shy and kind, and rather
inarticulate.  He sat by her bed and smiled at her reassuringly.

"I'm going to work out a patent go-cart for you, Rache.  I've got
the idea.  We'll put it through in the machine-shop."

She liked Fred Tanrock by her.  He could sit quite still, and she
liked to look at his capable, brown hands.

"How kind of you, Fred.  Shall I be able to work it myself?"

"Rather.  Low-geared hand-levers.  And steering.  You'll get quite
nippy about the place."

Her eyes moistened.

"Fred--I've such a horror--of being useless, a drag on them."

Young Tanrock patted her hand.

"Don't you worry, old girl.  Rhoda's got the stuff in her.  And as
for the mater--"

"Mother's--mother's marvellous.  Oh, it hurts me, Fred."

"That's because you've got the stuff in you too, Rachie.  Don't you
worry, old thing."


2

But there came a morning when Rachel had what might be described as
an attack of life-terror.  She had been lying looking out of that
window at the too-familiar shop-fronts and at the traffic and
people passing in South Street, and it had seemed to her that she
was looking through a slit in a fence, and that the slit was
growing narrower and narrower.

The nurse on duty heard herself called.

"Nurse--nurse--"

She saw a hand up, its fingers fluttering, and she went towards the
bed.

"Yes.  What is it?"

"Can I have the blind down, the blind over that window?"

"Why?  The sun's not shining on you?"

"Do pull it down, nurse."

"But--what about the other patients?"

"Nurse--I can't bear that window.  It's--it's just like a hole in a
wall."

"My dear, pull yourself together."

And then Rachel had what the nurse described to Dr. Carver as an
attack of hysteria.  She wept; she cried out like a child, she
pleaded.  She poured out a tumult of words.  "O, please--pull down
the blind.  I'm frightened.  Don't you understand--?  That window's
like a door that's being shut on me.  Just a slit of light--O,
please pull down the blind.  I don't want to look at that beastly
window."  A screen had to be put round her bed, while the other
patients exchanged glances and significant murmurings.  "Poor kid,
she's got the terrors on her."  "Well, you can't wonder, can you,
if she's a bit hysterical."  "It's come over all of a sudden-like."
They heard her moaning and sobbing behind the screen.  "I want to
die.  Why didn't they let me die?  O, mother, mother!"

The nurse went for the sister in charge, and the sister, having
tried without success to calm Rachel, telephoned to Dr. Carver.
She managed to get into touch with him at the house of a patient.

"O, doctor, sorry to trouble you, but the Buck girl is hysterical.
Quite uncontrollable.  Shall I give her a dose?"

Carver's voice replied.

"No.  I'll come along when I've finished here."

"She's disturbing the other patients, sir.  I hate a scene in a
ward.  We've put a screen round her bed."

"I'll be with you in twenty minutes."

When he appeared from behind the screen and sat down on the edge of
Rachel's bed, she put out a hand like a child asking to grasp
something solid and reassuring.

"O, doctor--I'm so sorry."

"That's all right, Rachel.  Tell me all about it."

"I couldn't.  It's so silly.  I'm better now."

"Nothing is silly, my dear.  Everything has a meaning.  Now, you
just tell me.  Get it off your soul."

"It was that window.  I've been lying here looking at it and out of
it--for days and days.  You can't see very much, and I have had
such a lot of time to think about things, and sometimes I have
heard a voice saying: 'That's all you will see in the future, a bit
of street and people going to and fro.'  It got on my nerves,
doctor, until I was afraid of the window.  It made me feel that I
was going to spend my life looking through a slit like that."

Carver understood.

"I know.  And you felt a kind of rage against that window.  Well,
we must do something about it."

"I shan't behave like that again."

"I shan't give you the chance to, Rachel.  You want a change.  What
about the Mill House?  I think they are ready for you."

Her eyes expressed relief.

"Could I go?  It's different down there, Dr. Carver."

"Of course."

"You mustn't think me an ungrateful little beast?  Everybody has
been so good to me here.  But everything here seems part--"

"I know.  Associations.  I shall be passing the Mill House this
afternoon.  I'll see your mother."

Her face looked all smoothed out.

"Thank you.  And I want to apologize to Sister Burt."

"Supposing I do it for you?"

"You do understand things, doctor."

"Well, if I didn't, my dear, I shouldn't be worth calling a doctor.
But so many of us don't."

She smiled at him as he passed out from behind the screen, and he
returned to the day's work thinking how the child emerged in
moments of stress and of sickness.  Here was a grown woman ashamed
of an emotional outburst, and crying for her mother.  Yes, that
might be very natural, but the child's woe was to be laid in Mrs.
Binnie's lap for love and for labour.  And who would encourage and
console the child in Mrs. Binnie, that small courageous, tremulous
creature who fell into panics and out of them?  Rachel was asking
to go to her mother, but did the child in her realize all that her
mother would have to do and to bear?


3

Robinia had the room ready.  She took Dr. Carver in to see it, and
to criticize any of her arrangements, but Dr. Carver found nothing
to question, save that the window looked out on the road and was
somewhat overshadowed by the mass of the chestnut tree.  Mrs.
Binnie had placed the bed near the window, and her bright eyes
watched Dr. Carver's face.

"It's quite a cheerful room, don't you think so, doctor?"

Most certainly it had all the cheerfulness that Mrs. Binnie's love
and her finances had been able to supply, rose-coloured curtains,
and a buoyant carpet bought second-hand, and bright prints from
sundry periodicals hung on the biscuit-coloured walls.  Mrs. Binnie
had even provided a wash-hand-stand and a chest of drawers as
though to suggest to Rachel a nice normality.

"You see, doctor, I arranged the bed there so that she could look
out and see things.  Of course--there's the traffic on the road,
but she may like to watch things passing.  And it you stand just
there and put your head down you can see the river and the park."

Dr. Carver stood just there.

"Splendid.  Quite a view."

"And it's just clear of the draught when the door's open.  Yes,
I've got the air-mattress.  Tibbits of Lignor expect to deliver the
battery this week."

"I'll come and show you how to use it."

"And this table, doctor.  Mrs. Gurney sent it down.  I don't see
why we shouldn't manage--famously."

He looked very kindly at her small face.

"There are one or two things I want to say.  They have got to be
said, Mrs. Buck.  You'll have plenty on your hands.  Now--
scrupulous cleanliness--back and heels, or there will be bedsores.
You see, in cases like this--the nutrition of the skin and its
feeling are upset.  Then--those other matters--"

She listened to him with an air of bright docility.

"Yes--I understand, doctor.  I'll see to everything.  It's like
having a baby to look after, poor dear."

Her face had a sheen to it, and Carver, saluting the little
splendour of her, forced himself to further frankness.

"Now, Mrs. Buck, you are being great--in every way.  Just one
thing, if you can see her as a child, remember to see her as a
woman."

Mrs. Binnie blinked at him.

"Children have moods."

"Of course, doctor."

"And women have moods.  I have a feeling that she will want to help
in every way she can.  Let her help.  Try to find her things to do.
Make them up--if necessary.  She's a live girl in a partly
paralysed body.  But you understand all right."

Mrs. Binnie sat down for a moment on the bed.  Her little face was
tragically serious.

"Dr. Carver--I know--I'm going to have--O--yes--bad times with her.
When one's had children--The young things think sometimes that we
old ones don't know anything.  As if we hadn't lived and bit our
tongues and felt like nothing on earth--now and again.  I've got
through it, and please God--I'll go through it again."

Dr. Carver nodded his head at her, pulled out a silk handkerchief
and blew his nose.

"O, yes, you'll do it, all right.  I just had to mention these
things.  Well, that's all, I think.  And remember, I'm always at
hand when you want me."


4

Bonthorn, passing down the lane and over the bridge about sunset,
saw the chestnut tree half in light and half in shadow.  The Mill
House had fed its flock for the day, and almost St. Tarmac folded
his hands and lay in peace.  The green of the valley had a tinge of
gold in it, especially the slopes of Stella Lacey where the Scotch
pines warmed their red throats in the sunlight.

Rhoda was collecting cloths from the painted tables, whisking them
off, and folding them up with deft movements, before going in to
help her mother with the washing-up.  She gave Bonthorn a cursory
but friendly smile.

"How's your sister, Miss Buck?"

"We expect her home to-morrow."

"I'm glad."

Having dealt with the cloths she began to pile the tables in twos,
for the Bucks had found that these tables were a temptation to the
world.  They had to be carried to the old wheel-house of the mill
beyond the chestnut tree and stacked there for the night.

"You don't have to move all those tables, do you?"

Her glance was ironical.

"O, don't we!  Some pirate on a lorry pinched four of them one
night.  At least--we suppose it was a lorry."

"The damned scoundrel!"

"Yes, I should like to have caught him."

"You would.  Let me give you a hand."

"O, don't bother."

"Why not?"

He picked up a pair of the tables.

"Where do they go?"

"Over there--in the old wheel-house."

Her glance was appraising, but there was no freshness in Mr.
Bonthorn, and she passed him as a kind of avuncular oddity.  She
supposed that he supposed he was doing the gentlemanly thing, and
without any obvious claims upon her youth.  Some men were useful.

"Thanks--so much."

Bonthorn had dealt with the first load and was returning for a
second, when Robinia appeared in the doorway and discovered him in
the act of moving furniture.

She exclaimed: "Really, Mr. Bonthorn, sir, you mustn't do that.
You mustn't--really."

His one eye was whimsical.

"Think of me as a boy scout, Mrs. Buck.  I hear your daughter is
coming home to-morrow."

"Yes, poor dear."

"I'll send you down some flowers."



XIV


1

There were people who wondered how Nicholas Bonthorn made a living,
curiosity as to one's neighbour's financial status being as
prevalent as those hypothetical essences vice or virtue.

The Inland Revenue officials knew.  Ex-Captain Bonthorn drew a
disability pension and a wound pension.  Also, he possessed a small
private income of his own derived from some five thousand pounds
invested in trustee stock.  The officials knew the amount to a
penny.


2

For, after all, man's social pomposities are supremely funny, and
so are his budgets and his set-speeches and his political
occasions.  And his disinterested gestures!  Altruism, ethics!
Some genial old ass rising at a dinner-table and assuring the
exploited masses that the best of all possible worlds shall be
produced for them by legislation in the course of the next ten
years.

Bonthorn pondered these matters as he gathered flowers, for even
flowers have to be worked for, and will not spring into sudden
profusion in obedience to a legislative decretal.  And seeing Old
Mischief toddling along with a hoe, he called to him and propounded
a question.

"John, have you ever performed a disinterested act?"

Jack screwed up his puck's eyes.

"That be a long word, Mr. Bonthorn."

"Well, what's your idea of it?"

"Some'at like this, sir.  If I have a pouch o' baccy and I give the
'ole pouch away to a chap with a pipe and no baccy."

"Do you ever do that, John?"

"No, sir, t'aint sense.  I give he a fill."

"Just explain.  It's partly good nature and sympathy, and perhaps a
little of the notion that you'll get a free fill back again some
day."

Old John chuckled.

"Sure--there's a bit of all that in it.  But for why don't I give
the 'ole pouch away?  Easy come, easy go.  If you start giving
pouches away--you'll be teachin' people to expect free pouches.
Human nature's human nature.  Most of t'world, sir, would like free
pouches."

"You think so?"

Osgood leaned on his hoe.

"Sure, don't we know it.  But we 'ave to pretend, sir.  We 'ave to
'ave our parsons and our police constables--but t'parson's dead,
sir, or nearly so.  Instead we have the politician.  Parson
promised 'em hell or heaven.  Politician promises 'em heaven on
earth, free meals, no kids to keep, free everything."

Bonthorn laughed.

"But they are making a kind of religion of it, John."

"Just blindness, sir.  They want the goods and the cash, but just
like t'parson they have to dress up in a surplice, and put on a
queezy, solemn sort of voice.  Don't you believe it, Mr. Bonthorn?"

"I don't, John."

"It's all part of t'game, sir.  Forfeits.  Man's such a clever
creature at dressin' up and usin' long words.  He likes t'feel good
with hisself.  If he can feel good with hisself and same time get
t'goods, he's in heaven.  Them as aren't worth so much in value--
want to take the stuff from them as 'as more value, but they want
to feel good and righteous about it."

"How would you feel about it, John?"

Osgood grinned.

"Don't you be for temptin' I, Mr. Bonthorn.  Besides, I've got a
little more money put by than t'neighbours, and they know it.  Call
I an ol' miser--I guess!  Envy may pull man right or it may pull
man wrong."

"Nothing but envy, John?"

A wicked eye fixed him.

"O, I guess you could find a nicer word, sir.  But, you see, I've
growed stuff all my life.  Maybe I've growed more than my
neighbours.  Fur that reason I be'unt so popular as I might be.
Wid a little more spit and polish and a shiny 'at--I might be idle
rich, you know."

Bonthorn took his flowers, a true country bundle of asters,
gaillardias and stocks, to the potting shed, and looked for a hank
of bass.  Obviously, old John had no illusions as to the
disinterestedness of democracy.  Man is an envious animal, and the
more sagacious ancients had sought to sublimate envy and to
christen the product emulation.  He found his bass and wound it
about the stalks, and looked at his bundle of flowers in the mass.
But out of the soil came reality, the reality that old Osgood
understood, effort, labour, watchfulness, pride, the bent back and
the sedulous hoe.  Weeds--too!  And how had man evolved his best
other than by watching a massed crop for some singular individual,
and selecting that individual and breeding from it, and giving the
chosen progeny every encouragement.  Singularity, aloofness,
leisure.  Who dared to teach these truths?

He set off through the garden with his flowers, and in the lane it
occurred to him to wonder how these professors of economics, and
those glib young lecturers would fare were they taken from their
class-rooms and bundled into a world of reality, to create work and
food for these masses of men?  Doubtless it all looked so easy from
the doctrinaire's chair?  Economic man!  That absurd person was
dead--but in his place one had social man.  Did the theorists
imagine that they had altered man by tagging the word social to
him?  And what sort of mess were these new egoists going to make of
reality?

They would run their heads against the Slavonic wall.  They would
be compelled to create other tyrannies.  Possibly that was part of
their plan, the enthronement of official egotism.

He arrived at the bridge, and stopped to look at the river, and
here he forgot the fret of theories.  The wind in the willows, the
trembling of the sedges.  The chestnut tree had its foliage gently
ruffled like the breast of a bird.  O, these social altercations,
these scoldings!  Was he responsible for them, or was he just
responsible for getting on with his own job and minding his own
business?

A world of furious administrators administrating other people's
business until nothing should be left but a feather duster and
administration!

He turned towards the Mill House, and finding the door open, he--
tactfully--knocked.


3

Mrs. Robinia was busy, but she was never too busy to talk, or too
tired to refrain from it, and when she saw Mr. Bonthorn and his
flowers she wanted him to come in.

"Well--really, Mr. Bonthorn, it--is--kind of you.  Aren't they just
lovely!"

She had to fetch a vase immediately and put the flowers in water.

"Yes, I'm catching the two-o'clock bus to Lignor, and I'm coming
back in the ambulance with Rachel.  I'll put the vase in her room."

Her simplicity was such that it took other people by the hand and
introduced them to her particular affairs as though they grew in a
garden.  She paused in the doorway of Rachel's room, and looked
brightly at Bonthorn.

"Yes, we've had to put her downstairs.  Everything's ready.  It's
quite a sweet little room.  Would you like to see it?"

Bonthorn, hat in hand, walked to the door and looked at the room of
Rachel.  The chestnut tree seemed to tinge its atmosphere with a
soft greenness.

Mrs. Binnie placed the vase on Mrs. Gloriana's table.

"There!  That's lovely."

She stood off and gazed, her head on one side, and Bonthorn knew
that he wanted to say something because she was expecting it.

"I think the room's charming."

Mrs. Binnie was delighted.

"Really--I'm so glad.  I've been busy at it for quite a week.  It
isn't as though I could give all my time to a thing.  I have to
keep on my feet, Mr. Bonthorn, and I do believe my poor head's
always just in front of my feet."

He looked at her very kindly.

"You do your job, Mrs. Buck."

That seemed to amuse her.  She gave him a glance that was almost
arch.  Obviously she was excited about Rachel's home-coming, and
all her preparations, and her particular surprises.

"I do keep moving, Mr. Bonthorn, but then--life--does keep you
moving these days, doesn't it?  Now do come and have a glass of my
home-made lemonade.  Real lemons, not nasty powders."

The glass of lemonade was inevitable.  She had to be allowed her
gesture.  So, he sat down in one of the basket-chairs, and accepted
the glass and her conversation.

"I'm afraid I'm keeping you."

"No, really.  I'm used to doing two things at once, Mr. Bonthorn."

She brought the other thing into the living-room, a baking-tray
full of cakes, rock cakes as a matter of fact, and these cakes had
to be put away in tins.  He watched her, and drank his lemonade.
It was very good lemonade, and he said so.

"Well, it should be, Mr. Bonthorn.  I believe in giving people
something for their money."

Her hurried hands looked as though they would drop things, but they
didn't.

"I suppose even cakes have moods, Mrs. Buck?"

"Moods!  You couldn't imagine the cussedness of cakes on occasions,
sir.  No, really.  Just when you're busy too.  As though they and
the oven had a spite on you."

She chattered on, and it occurred to him to wonder what the ethical
result would be were some official interferer to enter this most
human house and dispense social amelioration.  "Harmony, Mrs. Buck.
Be at ease.  No more degrading labour or anxiety.  You will receive
so much a week as a dole.  The doctor's bill will be paid.  Your
daughter will be supplied with every possible gadget and
convenience.  Sit down, my good woman, and fold your hands and
cease from worrying.  The State will provide."

And Bonthorn finished his lemonade.  Would Mrs. Binnie be any the
happier?  In fact would she not be far less happy, a little well-
fed person whose essential self would starve and shrivel up, just
because the more subtle essence was denied it?  Giving, spending,
contriving, the eternal--human struggle.  She would be like a very
vital creature forcibly retired from the more mysterious business
of living.

He said something of the kind to her.

"I don't believe you'd like life half so well, Mrs. Buck, if you
had plenty of time to sit about in a chair."

For a moment her small face looked puzzled.

"You mean--if I hadn't got trouble biting me--so to speak?"

"Exactly."

She put her head on one side.

"Well, really, Mr. Bonthorn, I've sometimes thought I'd like to lie
in bed half the day, and once or twice I've tried it.  But before
long I began to fidget.  I did--really.  Now isn't that strange?"



XV


1

The driver of the ambulance closed the door, and Mrs. Binnie, alone
with her daughter for the first time, bent over Rachel and kissed
her.

"O, my darling--I've got you back."

Rachel closed her eyes.  She too was suffering from too much
emotion, and her mother's excitement was like a strong light when
eyes feel hot and tired.  She lay on the stretcher with a grey
blanket folded neatly over her.  That short journey on the
stretcher from the ward to the ambulance had been so very small an
adventure, with one man at her head and another at her feet,
carefully carrying her down the stairs.  She had said good-bye to
the hated window, to the nurses, to the other patients.  Some of
them had stood at the door of the ward and had said kind things.
But never before had she been so conscious of her own helplessness.

"Sit down, mumsie."

Mrs. Binnie sat down rather suddenly, and not of her own free will,
for the ambulance moved off and swung round to negotiate the
hospital gateway.

"Well--really!"

She sat there and looked at her daughter, and though Rachel's eyes
were closed she had a feeling that she was being looked at by her
mother, and her self-control--brittle as thin ice--found the weight
of that affectionate scrutiny almost too heavy.  Also, the
ambulance had been standing in the sun, and was as stuffy as an
unventilated tent.  A faint smell pervaded it suggestive of
disinfectant.

Rachel opened her eyes, to find her mother's eyes fixed on her, and
inwardly she winced and resented that scrutiny.  The silence
between them was as heavy as the air in the little closed
compartment.

"Your hat's crooked, mother."

It was.  And Mrs. Binnie exclaimed: "Is it, my dear?  Well, never
mind."  She sat and smiled at her daughter, and again Rachel's eyes
closed.  Her self-control seemed to be smothering in the presence
of a supreme devotion.

"It's very stuffy, mumsie.  Couldn't we have a window open?"

Mrs. Binnie got up and fiddled with a ventilator, but not very
successfully so.

"Yes, it's so hot to-day.  Drat the thing!  Well, we shan't be
long, not much more than ten minutes."

The ambulance, oiling its way along at twenty miles an hour,
brought them to Monks Lacey and the Mill House as the clock at
Stella Lacey was striking three, and to Rachel the voice of that
clock was to become ever present and familiar, like some edge of
metal cutting the useless hours and letting them fall with a faint,
sad clangour.  The ambulance door opened, and she saw faces,
Rhoda's, Fred Tanrock's.  Her sister's face had a kind of
sternness, set lips, straight brows, the face of youth confronting
crowded occasions.  And when Rachel saw her sister's face something
shrank in her.

Mrs. Binnie bustled out, impulsively cheerful, her hat still more
awry.

"Well, here we are.  It's kind of you, Fred, very kind."

Tanrock smiled at her.  He had come down from Lignor on a motor-
bicycle to help with the lifting.

The driver of the ambulance took charge, and Mrs. Binnie hurried in
to make sure that everything in that precious room was in order,
and that the bed-clothes were turned back.  She had left everything
in order before catching the red bus, but her life was so supremely
a scuffle that she had got into the way of running round in circles
and patting and pushing things as though nothing would ever stay
put.

The ambulance man took the head of the stretcher, Fred Tanrock the
foot, and as Rachel was carried past the post and chains and the
array of tables, she noticed that all the tables were laid for tea.
The inevitable teas!  And Rhoda's set face seemed to explain
itself, and the determined striding of Rhoda's long legs.  The
stretcher passed through the familiar doorway, and Rachel saw that
a bell had been hung inside the doorway, and a neat little white
board fastened to the wall.


                       "Ring--please."


An improvisation, a proposal to save time and tissue owing to the
uselessness of one pair of legs.  She closed her eyes for a moment,
and felt the slight swaying of the stretcher, but behind her closed
lids she was seeing all those other chairs and tables arranged in
the tea-room.  They suggested tense activities, hurrying with trays
and dishes, the scufflings to find change for an inconsiderate
pound note, clamours for hot water, swift exits and entries.  How
she had learnt to swing in and out among those tables and keep a
pleasant face--!  But all that was dead, though doubly urgent in
the lives of two other women.  She opened her eyes again and found
herself in the little room, and looking at Fred Tanrock's solid
back.  A soft, greenish light, a pause, a blob of colour on a
table, white sheets, a yellow bed-spread half-turned back.

She heard the voice of the ambulance man.

"Ready--lower."

The stretcher sank.  It rested on the ground.  The two men uprising
stepped aside and looked at Mrs. Binnie.

"We'd better lift her for you, ma'am.  Is the bed ready?"

Mrs. Binnie turned back the clothes, and the ambulance man
explained just how the thing had to be done.  The four of them
would be needed to do it properly.  The stretcher should be placed
on a couple of chairs, and level with the bed, and then the four of
them would gently support and transfer Rachel from stretcher to
bed.  It was done, with Rachel very conscious of those four serious
faces and of her own flaccid helplessness.

The ambulance-man's eyes expressed relief.

"That's it.  Good luck, Miss."

He went out with the closed stretcher, followed by Fred Tanrock,
while Mrs. Binnie and Rhoda saw to sundry details.  Then, Rhoda
disappeared, and Rachel and her mother were alone together.

"Quite comfortable, Rachie?"

"Quite."

"It makes a nice little room, doesn't it?"

She was aware of that expectant, small face, and of the effort life
required of her.

"It's lovely, mumsie, so pretty."

"And those flowers.  Mr. Bonthorn left them for you."

"Did he?"

"Everybody's so kind.  Now, you just rest and have a little sleep,
and then I'll bring your tea in."

She bent over her daughter and kissed her, and Rachel's hands
clasped her mother's head.

"O, you dear.  I wish--"

"There--there."

Mrs. Binnie hurried to the door, and Rachel made a pretence of
closing her eyes, but she was aware of that small figure pausing in
the doorway to look back, while it fumbled with a handkerchief.
Then the door closed gently, and Rachel was alone.

She lay and stared at the wall opposite.

"How am I going to bear it?  I must bear it."


2

On one side of her Bonthorn's flowers, on the other--the window.
Her consciousness seemed to shape itself to the oblong of the
window.  It was a sash-window, painted white, broader than it was
high, and the lower sash was raised.  Her pillowed head was a
little higher than the sill.  She could see the trunk of the
chestnut tree, and its lower branches, a slip of the paved terrace,
three white posts and two black chains, and some fifteen yards of
tarred road.  But this window was kinder in some respects than the
window up at Lignor.  Its vista broadened and was not abruptly
curtailed by bricks and mortar.  It gave her distance, a glimpse
beneath foliage of the chestnut, of a loop of the river, and the
willows and a piece of meadow.  Also, by looking to the right she
could command a little panel picture of the high ground and the
sky, the slopes of Stella Lacey, a group of Scotch pine, some
clouding beeches, even the black spire of one of the Stella Lacey
cedars.  The little landscape shimmered in the August heat, but the
shadows were cool under the tree, and she could hear the water
falling at the weir.

Her new world, but like the new world it seemed to hang upon the
black reality of the road.  For a while she was not very conscious
of the road.  Her impressions had floated beyond it and merged
themselves into the more mysterious distances, nor had she as yet
mastered all the details of the room.  The very near things seemed
far away.  Moreover, the road was enjoying one of those curious
spells of temporary and fallacious peace.  For twenty minutes it
was strangely innocent of traffic.  Its polished tarmac had a
glistening, ironic grin.

Then, something rumbled to the bridge, bringing with it a kind of
spume of voices.  The old house quivered.  A char-a-banc went by
trailing paper streamers, brimful of humanity.  Shoutings, a mouth-
organ squeaking, a young man wearing a pink lampshade on his head,
a girl taking a pot-shot with a banana skin at one of the Mill
House tables.  The red rump of the great bulk disappeared with
something trailing behind it, a nude rubber doll attached to a
string.

Rachel's eyes seemed to open wider.  The road was the reality, and
the slopes of Stella Lacey no more than a green canvas backing.
She was as much ears as eyes.  And behind the monster that had
vanished came one of those strange streams of patiently impatient
progress, cars--nose to tail, with motor-bicycles swerving in
and out, a procession, a kind of jointed, mechanical snake.
Detonations, hootings, smells, sudden surges, the splurge of some
more pushful machine swerving out and cutting in.  The squealing of
brakes.  Car after car, cars of all sorts and of all sizes, cars
with strange luggage roped untidily to luggage-grids, a car that
had deck-chairs and a push-cart loaded anyhow in the back seats,
cars with young men in shirt-sleeves, blue cars, red cars, brown
cars, yellow cars, endless coloured streaks.  And suddenly she
found herself tired of gazing at them.  It was like watching the
painted slats of a moving fence.  She blinked and closed her eyes.


3

The rhythm of the road changed.  The long queue behind the char-a-
banc was worming its way up to Lignor, and cars passed individually
at the rate of one every fifteen seconds, but the pause was
relative, for the noise of an approach grew on the heels of the
diminishing departure.  She lay with her eyes closed.  Never in her
active days had she realized the dominance of this world upon
wheels.  It had a kind of mechanical inevitableness; it went on and
on; you could not stay it, or diminish it.  It was like perpetual
motion as expressed by a huge clock-work train, a symbol of the
crowded, complex urge of modernity.

A voice in her complained.  "I wish it would stop.  O, I wish it
would stop."

A portion of the procession humoured her.  Cars were pulling up.
Brakes squeaked, doors banged, the air was full of voices.  The
Mill House hour had begun.  She heard that new bell clanging.  And
the voices sounded so near to her, so raw and loud and cheerful.

"Four teas, Miss, please."

"What ho! girls."

"Mustn't swing on the chains."

"Here, mind my new trousers!"

She had a glimpse of a pair of long, beige-coloured legs in motion,
and the black loop of a chain swaying to and fro.  The owner of the
legs had a blue silk handkerchief round her neck, and her face was
crimped with mischief.  Rachel closed her eyes again.  She could
remember sitting on that very chain, and exchanging patter with
Geoffrey Hanson.

The door opened and Robinia hurried in with a tray, and so full of
solicitous haste that her hair seemed to be slipping back as though
her small face was leaving it behind.

"Rush just beginning, Rachie.  Got you your tea first, dear.  Now,
we'll try Mrs. G.'s table."

She put the tray on the chest of drawers, removed Bonthorn's
flowers to a corner of the window-sill, swung the table across the
bed, and placed the tray on it.

"There.  You'll be able to manage, won't you?"

"O, splendidly.  You're not to worry, mumsie."

"Business as usual, Rachie.  We've got Gladys in helping."

She turned the teapot so that the handle would come readily to
Rachel's fingers, kissed the top of her daughter's head, and bolted
like a small brown rabbit.

Mrs. Binnie had taken special care in the preparation of that tea-
tray, and had found time to cut six small cucumber sandwiches, and
then had forgotten the sugar.  That piece of forgetfulness brought
a smile to Rachel's face, even though she had no power of her own
to remedy the omission.  What did sugar matter?  There were so many
things that she would have to learn to do without while Mrs. Binnie
and Rhoda were attending to business.  Moreover, the outer world
was so very near to her that almost she could imagine herself
taking her tea in public.  The nearest tables were just out of
view, hidden by the edge of a curtain, but if she could not see
them she could hear them.

A very cheerful party had settled itself at two of these tables,
four young men and four young women.  They were full of patter.
One of the young men was the obvious wit, a very facetious fellow
with a ruff of fair hair, and spectacles straddling a little snub
nose, an untidy young man whose white canvas shoes were dirty, and
whose grey flannel trousers looked as though they were extracted
from a rag-bag each morning.

"Pass the herbache, Gertie."

He was a dreadfully facetious young man.  His open collar flapped,
his hair flapped, his untidy trousers were in sympathy.

"Two cubes and one isosceles--if you please.  Try the herbache,
Bert.  Wilfred's hour."

Someone remarked upon the rock cakes.

"Quite the antique touch, what!"

"Where's my little hammer?  Fossils inside 'em.  Fresh from the
tomb of that Egyptian blighter."

"Gus is quite historic."

"Name--name."

"Tutan--what?"

"Tutan--carmen.  Look it up in the Daily Bilge."

Rachel could visualize the facetious fellow.  She had seen so much
and so many of the genus, and actually she did see him in the
flesh, for one of the young women scuffled with him for a box of
matches and, getting possession, threw the box at his head.  It
missed him and landed under the chestnut tree, and the young man,
getting up to recover it, discovered the window and Rachel.  He
gave her a momentary and owl-like stare, a cigarette casually
pendant from the corner of a wet, pink mouth.

He disappeared.  His facetiosity became sotto voce and mysterious.

"Say--Bert, old lad, go and peek-week in at that window."

Bert was tempted, and came back with a sly snigger.  Being
questioned, he referred the matter back to Augustus.

"Peek Frean."

"Young person in pink--all abed with a tea-tray."

"Shut up, Gus."

"A real live chocolate-box houri."

"O, shut up.  Cheese it."

There were giggles.

The rhythm changed.  The eight young things departed, somehow
crowding themselves into two small cars that made much ostentatious
and unnecessary noise in attempting to exaggerate their sense of
horse-power.  Prump, prump!  The tables were reoccupied by a more
domesticated party.  Rachel heard Rhoda taking orders.

"Come and sit here, Milly."

"I want to sit by far-ther."

"Clarence--leave that spoon alone.  Put your cap straight."

"Got any jam, Miss?  Strawberry?"

"I think I'll take an egg, Tom."

"Two eggs please, Miss."

"Don't boil 'em too hard."

"Can I have an egg, Ma?"

"No, you can't, so there.  You had too much tinned salmon for
lunch."

"I didn't."

"Don't argue.  Put your cap straight."

Rachel had finished her tea, and swung the swivelled table to one
side.  She could hear all the clatter and the chatter, and picture
Rhoda striding in and out, and Mrs. Binnie pattering round on her
small feet.  Business as usual.  And those eggs to be boiled and
not too decisively so at a moment when hot water and time were
precious!  Now and again she heard her mother's voice:

"Yes, in one minute, madam.  We're terribly busy to-day.  Yes,
really."

Someone was rapping on a table with a spoon.

"Hot water, hot water--please."

Something laughed in Rachel, but her laughter had a tragic twinge
in it.  How funny it all sounded, while she lay there unable to
move, and unable to help!  Rhoda and her mother chasing tea-cups.
And Rhoda's tight lips and fuss-confronting eyebrows!  And her
sister's quick temper?

She caught a whiff of it.

"Yes--I'm not deaf.  I have to serve this lady and gentleman
first."

Rachel lay still.  She began to wish that she could close her
window and draw the curtains and shut out all those tantalizing
activities.  She wanted to get away and dream and dream, for dreams
were the only things left to her.  It was like lying on Brighton
beach amid a mob of vigorous children, while the spirit in you
longed to lie and listen to nothing but the sound of the sea.

Her eyes rested on Bonthorn's flowers.

Old One Eye, the man in green with little silver bells.

"Christ is risen!"

What strange motley!  She closed her eyes, and saw a dog lying in a
man's arms, a dog with a broken back.

Sudden, inexpressible emotion wrung her.  She drew up the fold of
the sheet and covered her face with it.  She sobbed.


4

But when Rhoda stalked in to take the tray away Rachel had the
appearance of complete calm.  She was reading one of the books that
had been placed in a neat row upon the window-shelf, and within
easy reach of her hand.  She glanced from the printed page to her
sister's face, and read as much of Rhoda as it was possible for her
to read.  Rhoda's temperament had to be respected, especially when
she was out of temper, and ready to resent indelicate questions.

As sisters they had always treated each other with an air of
casualness, as though any relationship was incidental and not to be
taken too seriously.  Moods clashed.  There had been occasional
squabbles, but Rachel, being less strident and less sure of her own
physical forcefulness, had chosen to be elusive.

She pointed to the tray.

"O, Rho, mater forgot the sugar.  Don't let on."

Her black-browed sister nodded.

"Right-o."

She picked up the tray and walked with it to the door as though she
had a score of such trays waiting for her, but before she could
escape Rachel spoke again.

"Rho--I'm awfully sorry--I feel such a rotter."

Rhoda half-turned, and her set face softened.

"That's all right, old thing."

"But it isn't, Rho.  I've been lying and listening to everything
and loathing my beastly legs.  I want you to do something for me."

Rhoda's face regained some of its tenseness.

"What?"

"Bring me anything you can, there's a sport.  The mending.  And I
could keep the books.  And I don't see why I shouldn't cut bread
and butter.  Chuck anything you can at me, there's a dear."

Rhoda turned again to the door.

"Right you are."

She went out, closing the door gently, leaving Rachel realizing
that her nightdress was rucked up and needed smoothing, but she had
been quite unable to ask Rhoda to put that tray down and smooth out
those cursed creases.  Rhoda had looked overworked and on edge.
Her temper was in creases, and needed smoothing out, and Rachel
waited for her mother.



XVI


1

Mr. Osgood's face appeared at a window, and not unlike the face of
some hirsute saint, with his straw hat for a halo.  For the moment
his presence was not suspected.  He saw Bonthorn sitting on his
high stool at the long deal table, his one eye applied to the
eyepiece of a microscope, and Old Mischief's urge was to scoff at
microscopes.

"Them brass chubes!  What we knows we knows, and what we don't
knows we don't want to know."

To begin with he had been prepared to scoff at Bonthorn, and to see
in him one of those superior and academic gentlemen who are apt to
appear loathsome in the eyes of the man with the hoe.  Something
that smelt of a University or a Government Inspectorship, something
that got up and lectured and dispersed ignorance with the wavings
of a white wand.  But John Osgood's practical scepticism had wilted
early and been left on the rubbish-heap of reality.  He had seen
Mr. Bonthorn with a spade trenching a piece of ground; he had seen
him bud a rose; he had seen him using a hoe.  And he had said to
his old woman: "He be'ant t'fool I thought he was," for John had a
conviction that no amateur ever mastered the craft of the hoe, but
just scuffled the surface and poked the weeds under it instead of
leaving them nicely with their roots to wind and sun.

Bonthorn looked up and saw the face.  He beckoned with a finger,
and old John put a hand to the latch of the blue door.

He removed his straw hat.  That gesture was in itself a most
singular act, like a tug at the forelock of his puckish soul.  For
Mr. Bonthorn's garden-room was to John a sort of temple of mystery
where nothing was to be touched.  No, not upon your life!

"John, if I ever find you meddling here"--and the threat had
hovered--"I'll burn your straw hat."

John did not meddle.  No one meddled, for this long low room with
its ample window lived under that queer little cupola in the
garden.  In the old days it had been a sort of store-room, and
Bonthorn had seized upon the solidity of its red brick and
weathered tile and had converted it to more mysterious uses.  Its
window looked out across the nursery and over the green valley.  It
was a room of shelves, and white wood cabinets with nests of
drawers, of bottles and glass jars and old tobacco tins, of files
of paper, catalogues, books.  It possessed a perfume of dried
herbs.  In winter it was warmed by pipes from the greenhouse
furnace.

Bonthorn straightened on his stool, and with a finger rubbed gently
at the lid of his solitary eye.  That one eye had to serve all
purposes, and he found that too much concentration upon complex
detail tried it.

"What's the trouble, John?"

"Them wi-olas, I've taken some slips."

"Custance Cream and Iseult?"

Puck nodded.  But why did Mr. Bonthorn confer upon innocent plants
such outlandish names?  White of Egg or True Blue would have met
the occasion.

"I've put they in a frame."

"And shut them up tight, John?"

Puck grinned.

"You will have your way, Mr. Bonthorn.  The light is one third off,
and shaded."

"All right.  Come and look at this, John."

He got off the stool and made way for Old Mischief whose face
assumed an expression of glum slyness as though he was expecting to
be fooled.  "No, no, I be'ant caught that way."  He applied his eye
to the eye-piece much as though he was looking down the barrel of a
loaded gun, and screwed up the other lids.  He breathed heavily.

"Looks like a flea with a feathery tail, sir."

Bonthorn did not laugh.

"That's only the low-power, John.  Very little magnification."

"Whoi--it's a seed, sir."

"You've got it.  Germinating nicely.  That belongs to one of the
first sets we took from Inland Revenue."

Puck looked puzzled, but he was dissembling.

"It's a delph seed."

"Quite right."

"The delph that thur blackguard missed swoppin' with his stick?"

"Right again.  You've got an eye, John."

Mr. Osgood plucked at the grizzled stuff on his chin.

"Inland Revenue!  That be a coorious sort o' name to give a
flower."

"It is John, isn't it.  But they won't mind that in America.
Dozens of little Inland Revenues will be going to America."

"But what made you call he--?"

Bonthorn was examining some seed-vessels laid out to dry in a glass
dish.

"Rather subtle, John.  Because that was the one treasure the Inland
Revenue has left us.  I must have my joke."

Old Osgood grunted, and being wholly mystified, he retreated upon
the realities.  Mr. Bonthorn was sometimes a very fantastical
gentleman, but he did know what he was talking about.  Not like
that Labour candidate who had come down as a forlorn hope to attack
the entrenched Tories of Lignor.  Yes, Mr. Mascrop of Folly Farm
told the tale.  He had shown the fellow a field of young wheat, and
the Labour Prophet, who had been bred somewhere near Bethnal Green,
had remarked with vote-persuading enthusiasm: "You do grow nice
grass down 'ere."

Mr. Osgood resumed his hat.

"'Bout them frames, will you be waterin' they?  Sun's on 'em just
now."

"Yes, I'll water them, John."

And John did not want to say: "Now don't 'ee soak 'em too much, or
they'll miff," but even Puck could not utter such blatancies to Mr.
Bonthorn, for unlike the Labour Prophet, Mr. Bonthorn did not ride
upon an ass.

For a tired eye green distances suffice, woodland and meadows that
have not to be looked at too closely, the spaces of the sky instead
of a mosaic of cells.  Yet, even some disability teaches a man
philosophy, when to hold fast, when to relax.  "Stop looking.  Stop
thinking.  Be."  Bonthorn said such things to himself, for unless
such things are said life may become mere pedantry, a fatal
fanaticism.  Perhaps he played with the dog.

"Mind my trousers, young fellah."

For Rollo could not resist the flap of a turned-up trouser leg,
even when the provocation was provided by his master.

Bonthorn went out and cut flowers, crimson and rose cosmea, asters,
a few glowing marigolds for contrast.  He tied up the bunch and
left it with its stalks in a watering-can in a shady corner by the
tool-shed.  He had his tea, with the dog and the cat for company.

Martha, coming in for the tray, had something on her mind, and
Martha's mind had to speak itself.  She believed in divine candour.

"About--your shirts, sir."

"Shirts, Martha?"

"Most of them--are past praying for, sir."

Bonthorn was tickling the dog's chest.

"How human of them, Martha.  Someone wrote a book about it being
never too late to mend."

"I've been mending them for the last--"

"I know you have.  Next time I'm in Lignor I'll buy a new supply."

Martha's virtue lay in being taken seriously.  Put a quip upon her
and she jibbed, but a sack of seriousness shaped itself to her
shoulders.

"You ought to have some flannel ones for winter, sir."

"I thought I had some, Martha.  O, they're past praying for too,
are they?  Send 'em to heaven."

She reproved him.

"I'll make dusters of them."

With Mr. Osgood she agreed that Mr. Bonthorn was often a very
fantastical gentleman.  You might have thought him frivolous minded
if his other-mindedness hadn't been so obvious and dependable.


2

But he possessed all the possibilities of his shyness, the
aloofness of the sensitive, a quick sense of the ridiculous.
Always he could turn into some byway to avoid the crowd and the
crowd's conversation, the flowing of the futile and the obvious.
Also, he had his moments of rash diffidence, for a man's most
reckless moments may be when his self is run away with by his own
protesting timidity.

Sunset, and Mrs. Robinia at the eternal task of collecting tea-
cloths.  From within a faint and distant sound of washing up.
Piles of crockery.

It would appear that Mrs. Binnie flagged him with a table-cloth,
but the signal had no such significance.  She was shaking off the
crumbs, for the sparrows would deal with the crumbs from the Mill
House tables.

The most obvious thing about Mr. Bonthorn was his bunch of flowers,
perhaps because he and his bunch of flowers had become mutually
self-conscious.  He was in a sudden hurry to rid himself of them by
presenting them to Mrs. Binnie.

"Really, Mr. Bonthorn--now that--is kind of you."

She made no attempt to handle the posy.

"Rachel will just love them, she will--really."

Her very naturalness dealt with Bonthorn's diffidence.  The
occasion was upon him before he could question it.  Mrs. Binnie was
making straight for a particular window, and with all the innocence
of an impulse.

"Rachel--Mr. Bonthorn's brought you some more flowers."

Both the window and Mrs. Binnie expected him to approach and make
his presentation, and not to delegate it to some convenient go-
between.  He found himself walking to the window, and as he reached
it Mrs. Binnie fluttered off.

"You'll excuse me, Mr. Bonthorn, won't you?  But we've been so
busy."

At that window his little, hesitant self was lost in other
realities.  He stood looking in.  He saw her two hands resting on
the coverlet, her cherry-coloured bed-jacket, the darkness of her
hair.  It looked very dark against the pillow, and her eyes had an
equal darkness.  She lay so still.

He placed the flowers on the window-shelf with the stalks towards
her.

"I thought you might like them."

She seemed to lie like a figure in white wax, or one of those
legendary maidens under a spell, enclosed in a case of crystal.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Bonthorn."

He had meant to leave the flowers and go, for what could you say to
youth with a broken back?  "Hard luck!  I'm so sorry."  The
futility of words!  She put out a hand to touch the flowers, and
his impulse was instant and unhesitating.  As her hand came to rest
on the flower-stalks, his right hand went out and covered it.

"I wish I could do something.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to touch
you."

For in her eyes he had seen a kind of fear, a shrinking.  Her face
seemed to grow more white; it had the soft pallor of white petals.
Her hand withdrew itself.

She looked at him mutely.  Her eyelids flickered.  He stood with
one hand holding his hat, the other resting on the window-sill.
Never had he felt so inarticulate, so baffled, so disturbed.

"That's all right.  I didn't mean to bother you."

Her eyes looked immense.  They still suggested to him vague fear.
And he was shocked, somehow ashamed of that sudden, blundering
gesture.  He should have understood--But why fear--if it was fear?

"I'll leave them there, shall I?  All right.  I'll go and have a
few words with your mother."

He managed to smile at her, but she did not smile in return.

"Thank you--so much, Mr. Bonthorn."

He nodded and moved away, and she reached out again for the flowers
and held them to her face.  Then, suddenly she placed them on the
bed, and with a little thrust of the hand pushed them away.  Her
eyes closed.  She seemed to shiver.

It wasn't fair.  Life could come to her window and distress her,
and she could not say it nay.  She could only lie there and feel
strangely afraid, and shrink from it and utter a few foolish words.
She was like a doll in a shop window.

She opened her eyes again and looked at the flowers.

Why couldn't he have left them with her mother?


3

Bonthorn walked back slowly up the lane, but instead of passing in
by the white gate in the holly hedge he went and leaned upon that
other gate.  The sun was level with the high woods, and as it sank
the shadow of the woods was drawn towards him over the narrow
meadow.  He saw the sun as a splash of gold amid the trees.  The
shadow climbed, and rising like water, spread across his face.  The
grass seemed to grow more intensely green.

Beauty!  The indescribable beauty of such a sunset, the swift
interchanges, the transformations of light and of shadow!  And
turning about he could see the upper windows of the Mill House
reflecting the light and flashing it back to him as though the
upper part of the house was on fire.

He could say to himself that consciousness is a gallery of subtle
impressions gathered together during the years, the complex of a
man's reactions, Dutch genre or English landscape, the tender
paganism of a Botticelli, a mingling of the mystical and the
sensual as in Rossetti.  It was strange that inward eyes should see
the world so differently, or desire to see it as half a salmon and
a bunch of grapes, or as Mona Lisa.  Or a mere casual eye set upon
the turgid stalk of sex.

O, yes, sex, was there anything he did not know about the storms of
sex, or how sex can be sublimated if a man has the will for it?  He
remembered how Gallipoli had taught him that, months without the
sight of a woman, until he had realized that sex slept in him.  He
had been astonished, for with some men the provocation had been
like a vivid dream, desire denied, balked, a burning obsession.  He
could remember discussing the elemental thing with a Scottish padre
in a cliff dug-out.

"Padre--a year ago I did not believe that there was anything in the
monastic idea.  Out here I've found that one can forget woman and
be chaste."

The padre had been a little shy of the subject.

"Always on guard--my dear chap."

And Bonthorn had smiled at him.

"No, not quite like that.  It's as though one had gone back to the
days before sex was--I mean--to one's kid's days.  An utter absence
of provocation.  But that--of course--is not normal."

But during these years after the war the celibate in him had
endured.  In his younger days he would have said: "There is no such
thing as continence.  Purity--humbug," and yet--in living his life
among his flowers he had not known woman.  There was in him a
fastidiousness, a pride that had made him fierce in transcending
the animal in himself, a horror of abuse, or little surreptitious
secrecies.  "Clean" to him was like the blade of a sword.
Moreover, the mystic in him, seeking beauty everywhere, and
labouring for it day by day, had learned to walk in a world of
habit and to turn eyes upon gentle, sexless things.  Even though
his craft played with the sex of flowers, he was conscious of that
which may be behind that which is.

A flower with a broken stem!

For that was how he had seen her, both as woman and child, beauty,
unexpected beauty, spiritualized, strange.  Never before had he
realized beauty in woman as he had realized it at her window.
Something wounded and afraid.  But afraid of what?  Of life, of
herself, of a crowd of physical disharmonies, starvations,
repressions?  Of man, sex, provocation?  That lithe, long-limbed
thing lying helpless.

He had been very deeply moved.  Something had happened in his world
to make this sunset different from other sunsets.  The eternal
sentimentalist!  He could overhear the gibe and smile it off.

For what would the realist say to him?  "You have seen a buxom
young woman in bed.  Hair, arms, throat, and other attractivenesses
that can be inferred.  A pair of paralysed legs.  Probably, you
discovered a sentimental provocation in the helpless plasticity of
those members.  O, you mystical people.  You fix your eyes on the
flame and ignore the candle."

Exactly.  But is not the candle's destiny its flame?  And what of
that crude, swashbuckling maleness that can see woman as a mere
torso and legs?  "Legs, my chap, legs!"  And the body of beauty as
a mere turgid white turnip!

Almost, he laughed.  With his hat in his hand he wandered again
down the lane as though to meet the dusk and the imminence of some
new mystery.  The White Flower, Amaryllis, Woman with her Crown of
Thorns?  For why should that crown of thorns be sacred to man
alone?

He stood by the darkening hedge, and looking across the little
pool, saw the youth of her leaping.  That was in the past.  And in
the future, what?

He uttered her name softly--"Rachel."

For he did not think of her as a little, modern wench, a sort of
amateur servant or waitress, a tea-shop girl.  He thought of her as
woman, something essentially different from himself, a creature as
capable of transcending self as the mystic transcends the realist.
He saw her as beauty, within and without, not evolution, but part
of that mystical stuff that has no name.  Not protoplasm.  Not as
something that can be expressed in words, a jellified abstraction,
but as something that could be loved, tenderly, splendidly, with
understanding.



XVII


1

The days of the year may be like a succession of beads on a string,
and when Rachel had fingered seven of them she knew that they were
as like as peas.

She woke early, and if the sun was shining it lit up her blind, and
if a wind was blowing she heard the rustling of the chestnut
leaves.  Or perhaps the blind flapped and fidgeted, and the soul of
her fidgeted like that blind.  She heard the clock at Stella Lacey
striking the quarters and the hours, and like a restless child she
wanted the house to wake up and play with her, even while she knew
that the day would have a dreadful sameness.

She could just distinguish the alarum of her mother's clock as a
little, distant buzzing, and five minutes later, Mrs. Binnie,
having put a match to the oil stove in the kitchen, would come
quickly in.

"Well, my darling, how have you slept?"

"O, quite well, mumsie."

Question and answer seemed to repeat themselves unchangefully.

"Not feeling sore anywhere?"

"Just a little uncomfortable.  It's the clothes, I expect."

"I'll see to that in a minute.  Wait till I've made your early
tea."

Then would follow those intimate ministrations, Mrs. Binnie's hands
busy as with a baby.

"That's better, Rachie, isn't it?"

"Yes, much better."

"I don't know what Dr. Carver would say if I let you get sore."

Then Mrs. Binnie would pull up the blind, and with the sudden
brightening of the room Rachel would make her effort and show to
her mother a cheerful face.

"I'm all right now, dear.  Yes, I'd like the curtains back a
little.  It's quite a lovely day."

For she wished to help, and how could she help but by showing a
bright face and by trying to match her mother's courage?  The work
of the day had to go on; the world upon wheels had to be served in
order that the little Buck world might live.  She listened to its
activities while she lay abed, unable to fetch for herself the
simplest thing that she needed.  She was utterly dependent upon
those other hands, upon the goodwill and the compassion of two
other women, and being sensitive she felt ashamed, though her
tragedy was so innocent.

She would say to herself: "I ought to have thought--I ought to
have thought.  Just recklessness.  Poor Geoff did not think.  I've
just squandered everything, and the others have to pay."

Outwardly she was calm.  Carver could describe her as an admirable
patient, but her patience was willed.  She built it up each day
like a house of cards, knowing how fragile it was, and that some
breath of emotion would bring it down.  There were moments when she
wanted to weep, and she did not weep.  There were other moments
when panic possessed her, and her impulse was to scream, and she
was silent.

"I am to be like this for ever and ever.  They will have to go on
doing things for me.  How can I bear it?  How can they?"

Fearfully, she craved to do things, to help in some trivial way, to
feel that she was not the dreadful incubus of her black moments.
She knew that she could help herself by helping them, that even the
urge to help was comforting and somehow good.

"Give me things to do."

They humoured her.  Even the forceful Rhoda turned aside to bring
distractions to her sister's bed, and to meet that grateful,
propitiatory glance.  For Rachel was humble, often pathetically so.
She showed no petulance and despair in those early days.

"Here are some stockings, Rache."

"Thanks so much.  That's splendid."

Her face lit up when work was brought her, things to mend, things
to clean.  That good lad Fred had fitted up for her a sort of
trolley-table on wheels which she could push and pull with a
crooked stick.  On it she kept her working gear, needles and thread
and wool, metal polish, brushes, rags, a sharp old table-knife,
scissors.  She stitched and mended; she polished spoons and forks,
and cleaned knives.  She managed to cut bread and butter, dish
after dish for the world upon wheels.  Each evening her mother
brought the day's takings to her, and she totted it up, and entered
it in a ledger.

People were kind to her, people whom she would not have expected to
be kind.

"My dear, here's Mrs. Gurney waiting to see you."

"Do you think I ought to, mother?  I don't know whether I can live
up to that."

"My dear, she's as natural as milk."

Rachel saw her, and any formalism that she had feared soon ceased
from troubling her.  Mrs. Gloriana had brought with her a dozen
copies of Punch, and one or two carefully-chosen books, books that
were to amuse and not to improve.  If Rachel had imagined Mrs.
Gurney as a sort of superior district visitor she was able to
correct the crudeness of that conception.

"I expect you get rather tired of reading, but I thought you might
like these."

"It's so good of you to trouble."

"My dear, do you think it's a trouble.  Your mother tells me you
are being so plucky about things."

Rachel smiled faintly at those wise, sad eyes.

"I'm afraid I'm not half so plucky--as I should like to be."

"Is one ever?"

She had the lightest and gentlest of touches, a hint that life
could be laughed over even in the darkest of cupboards.  And it was
she who suggested to Rachel that she might amuse herself with a
pencil and brushes.  She could watch life from her window, and make
a sketch-book of it, even caricature--though kindly--the new world.

"Why not try?  I'm not suggesting it as a prig.  When I had my own
great trouble I took to scribbling."

It was an idea, and Rachel dallied with it, confessing that there
had been a period in her life when she had produced home-made
Christmas cards, and whimsical sketches of domestic profiles.

"I used to think them rather funny."

"Well, I would resume being funny.  If you will allow me I will
present you with some of the paraphernalia."

Rachel blushed.

"I don't know why you should.  But--I'm--"

"That's splendid.  You might even persuade the world to sit for you
at your window."

When she rose to go she bent over Rachel and kissed her forehead.

"I know how things must hurt, my dear.  I've been hurt.  Thank you
for seeing me."

Youth--too--came to Rachel's window, kindly, a little impulsively,
not meaning to tantalize but to sympathize and to amuse.  Quite a
number of lads who had danced with her and flirted with her must
have said to themselves: "Poor old Rachel, must go and cheer her
up," but appearing before her window they had found themselves
inarticulate.  This was a different Rachel; and youth, having no
experience of such a martyrdom, did not know what to say to her.
Hard luck--a bad business.  And becoming conscious of the
inadequacy of its silence youth would sometimes grow garrulous and
noisy, as though Rachel was an infant to be amused by the beating
of a tea-tray.  She made these young men feel uncomfortable.

Moreover, she knew it.  Lying there in bed and unable to spend
herself in action, she was like an over-strung wire, picking up
every vibration.  She became much more sensitive to things and to
people, more sudden and subtle in her impressions, and too quick in
detecting the artificial note or gesture.

"Hallo, Rache.  Got to be up and dancing by Christmas, you know."

Some of them said the most crassly cruel things to her, and did not
suspect it.

"Good old rest-cure, what!"

She watched the facile brightness of their faces die away under the
cloud of a vague discomfort.  This sympathetic stunt was not
exactly a success, and if you couldn't play a game with a girl, or
rag her or go tearing off together into space, what the devil were
you to do?  Youth fumbled, fidgeted, faded away and did not
reappear.

She realized the finality of these disappearances.  Youth--somehow--
was afraid of her.  It could not be itself outside her window, and
posed and chattered and forced itself to be blatantly cheerful.
She was a kind of spectre lying beside the road, or some machine
that had crashed and been burnt out, a sinister and unjoyous
warning to others.  Or was it that she herself had lost the quality
of youthfulness, and had become suddenly sundered from her own
generation, subtly and strangely alien to it.  She was--no longer--
a bright young thing.  Even the quality of her glance had changed.
Almost, it was the Cassandra look, instinct with an uncanny
feyness, baffling the easy cheerio world.


2

She had a feeling that most of the people who came to her window
were not real.  Or--rather--they were actors.  For, insensibly, her
appreciation of reality was changing.  She lay and gazed and
wondered and grieved.  Her glance went beyond and below those flat
and shallow activities which by reason of much noise and movement
assumed a specious significance.  She found herself looking beyond
the road towards those other distances, the shadows of clouds and
of trees upon grass, the flight of birds, the moods of the sky, the
play of light and of wind upon the river.  Slowly, and perhaps
almost unconsciously, she began to apprehend these aspects of
nature as reality, like a young child responding to its
environment.

The road--with its seeming variousness--began to have for her a
dreadful sameness.  An endless string of mechanical toys seemed to
be drawn along it by some ironical colossus, toy machines full of
little people who were all alike.  She had not realized how much
alike they were until she lay and listened to their voices and to
what they said.  The same jokes, the same facetiousness, the same
grumblings, the same absorption in trivialities.  They were almost
as alike as their cars; some were a little larger, a little
noisier, a little more pretentious than others.

"The old bus."

Everybody seemed to refer to a car as a bus.  It was some bus, or a
nice little bus, or the old bus, or Bert's bus.

She lay and wondered why she saw the crowd and the road so
differently.

There were other revelations.

One wet day someone started the gramophone.  She heard tables and
chairs pushed back, and voices and laughter.

"Put on 'Blue Eyes,' Rho."

For a moment the music devastated her.  They were dancing, and the
rhythm tantalized her imagined feet.  And she would never dance
again!  She caught the sheet between her teeth and bit it.

She heard her mother's voice.

"Really--do stop that gramophone.  Poor Rachel--"

There was a hush, a suggestion of protest, and suddenly she found
herself.  She raised her voice.

"Mother--I don't mind.  Don't let them stop."

Mrs. Binnie's quick ears heard her.  The small face appeared in the
doorway.

"It will worry you, won't it, dear?"

"Not a bit.  I'd like to listen."

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

The dancing went on.  It both tantalized her and solaced her.  The
body of Rachel yearned, while the spirit of her seemed to finger
those physical self-expressions and to appraise them.  She could
say to herself: "I have to get used to certain things.  Perhaps
they will not matter to me so much if I get used to them.  Like the
cars on the road.  In seeing so many--you see none."

She felt tranquillized.

They were playing "The Show Boat."

A nasal, feminine voice declaimed: "Why do I love you?--Why do you
love me?"

Yes, why, and with a voice like that?

And then she became aware of something opaque shadowing a part of
her window.  Mr. Nicholas Bonthorn.  He had been there fully half a
minute before she realized his presence, looking down at her, his
hat in one hand, a bunch of flowers in the other.  A certain aspect
of her provoked in him a simile.  Snowy Mespillus.  Queer,
fragrant, white old words.  She glanced up and surprised his brown
face in a kind of rapt gazing.

She smiled.  She was not afraid of him to-day.  To-morrow she might
be.


3

He laid the flowers on the window-ledge.  His face had a strange,
whimsical shyness.

"Music."

She looked at his flowers.

"If you like to call it that."

The whimsical gleam passed.  He--too--had come by the sudden
impression that she was different, Snowy Mespillus and not a little
hard white bud.  Something deep and rich stirred in him.  He became
aware of a little tentative movement of her left hand, and some
intuitive gesture answered it.  He picked up the flowers and passed
them to her, and their fingers touched.

"They're lovely.  It's very good of you."

She laid them on the bed.

"I mustn't get spoilt, Mr. Bonthorn.  Some people are too good to
me."

He fetched a chair and placing it outside the window, sat astride
of it, with his arms crossed on the back.

"Do you mind?"

No, she did not mind.  She was not afraid of him to-day, though why
her mood was different she could not say.  Moreover, he was not
like the casual people who came and went, or those young things who
were restlessly bright.  He had reality, a sort of repose, and
almost she could have described him as being part of the landscape,
one with the trees and the river.

And he was wondering about her.  What did she do and think during
the long day?  How was she adapting the altered rhythm of her youth
to this monotony, and if she was like a bird in a cage hung in a
window would she ever have the heart to sing?  And what songs would
she sing?  A lament for her lost freedom?

But while he wondered he talked to her about simple things, his dog
and his cat and their tricks and whims and jealousies.  He told her
one or two funny stories about Old Mischief, and she laughed, for
the words he used, and the things he said did not matter supremely
to either of them.  They were like leaves or petals floating on
some undercurrent and carried along by it.

He asked her about the books she read, and the traffic that passed
on the road.

"Does it bother you?"

"Sometimes.  But I'm used to it.  We live by it--you know."

"And you hear plenty of conversation."

"O, plenty."

In fact, nothing very singular or intimate was said by either of
them.  They were like two people playing at cards, putting down
pieces of pasteboard, while their eyes exchanged occasional
glances, and inward questions were asked and left unanswered.



XVIII


1

A bad day.

They had not been able to find her anything to do.

It rained, and there was a wind, one of those stark winds that turn
the world inside out and display its drab, grey, shabby lining.
The trees were troubled, the sky a moving smudge.  The chestnut
outside her window, smitten by sudden gusts, seemed to throw up
dismayed and tragic hands.  A litter of leaves lay on the stones.

She had to have her window shut.  The rain pattered against it, and
she watched the drops coalesce and run.  A green leaf blew against
one of the panes and stuck.

O, weariness; O--ruffled, restless trees!  She could see a little
figure in a yellow oilskin, motionless, squatting on a stool by the
river.  The man was fishing, in spite of the rain and in spite of
the wind.  He had been there since ten o'clock.  She did not see
him catch anything, though now and again he drew in his line and
did something to it, and once more the rod slanted out over the
water.  Absurd little figure!

Her book bored her.  She let it lie on the bed, and as though to
annoy her it procured from somewhere power of movement, slid and
fell to the floor.  And now that it was on the floor and beyond her
reach she wanted it.

What a child one was, but what a hopeless child!

She lay and looked at the grey sky and the smudged landscape.  She
grieved.  It was suggested to her that all her life was going to be
like this, wasted days, time dragging itself along with a broken
back.  And this was summer.  What of her life when winter came, and
the sun shone once a week, and the night began at half-past four?

She shuddered a little and was afraid.

Suddenly she heard a crash, voices.  Yes, something had gone down
on the floor in the tea-room, and Rhoda was in a temper.

"O, damn--what did you put it there for?"

"My dear, really!"

"Half off the table too.  Bang go six cups and plates.  How bloody
silly!"

Yes, Rhoda could be tempestuous.  She had been more short-tempered
of late, blacker about the eyebrows, full of frowns.  Her mouth
looked tight as though the lips shut things in.  She strode in and
out, always hurrying, too starkly occupied to speak.

"O, I'm fed up."

Someone was bending down and picking up the pieces, and making a
clatter with them on a metal tray.

"Yes, it's always you young things who get fed up, and throw your
cards down.  I can't throw mine down.  If I get fed to the teeth,
my dear--"

Rhoda flared.

"That's right.  Youth always rotten and irresponsible and selfish.
Fact is, you old people forget--"

Mrs. Binnie's voice became plaintive and protesting: "I'm not so
very old, not so old as all that."

There was more clanking of broken china, and apparently Rhoda was
back in the saddle, and in control of her kicking temper.

"Sorry, mater.  I go off the deep end sometimes.  All my fault."

"That's all right, my dear."

Rachel lay and listened.  She knew that she was listening more and
more attentively to those two voices, and also--that she was
watching the faces of her sister and her mother, yes--and with a
kind of fearfulness.  What if those two faces clouded over?  What
if the burden of her own helplessness became too grievous to be
borne with any air of sweetness and patience?  She could endure so
long as those two endured, but already it seemed to her that
Rhoda's patience was wearing thin.  Lying in bed there she sensed
things so much more subtly than of old.  Supposing--because of her--
the spirit of the place turned sour, and life became a thing of
sordid squabblings, of overwork and worry and squalid self-
repressions, of thin-edged smiles and forced compassion?  Supposing
they grew to hate her?

Three women nagging each other, and uttering, during moments of
provocation--bitter or unforgettable words.

"A lot of use you are!"

"Well--I can't help it."

"You might try and look cheerful, anyway.  All the dirty work falls
on us."

Would it come to so grievous a state, a kind of simmering stew of
discord and disillusionment and cynicism?

The door opened and Mrs. Binnie came into the room.  She closed the
door, and noticing the book lying on the floor, stooped to pick it
up.

"Did it fall off, Rachie?"

"Yes, it fell off."

"You ought to have called me."

Rachel felt smothered.  She could not say: "I did not want to
trouble you.  I give you so much trouble as it is," for her
mother's small face was looking pinched and worried and none too
sure of its self-control.  Mrs. Binnie sat down on a chair beside
the bed, and made aimless movements with her hands, as though
smoothing out the creases in an imaginary apron.  She looked
pathetic.  Her eyes had the drabness of the wet sky.

"Rhoda's a bit upset.  It's natural, I suppose.  She was going out
with Fred this evening, and he can't take her."

One of Rachel's hands rested on the recovered book.

"Fred too busy?"

"I suppose so.  And then we had a smash.  I do wish Rho wasn't so
quick-tempered.  It gives me palpitations."

Rachel put out a hand.

"Poor mumsie, we are a worry to you."

"O, no, my dear, Rho doesn't mean it, not really.  She can't stand
having things upset.  She expects to boss things and have them go
just so--but they don't--my dear.  If I've learnt one thing--I've
learnt that."

"Just--the cussedness, mumsie."

"One has to make allowances, Rachie.  Bound to be upsets, bound to
be smashes.  No use getting wild about it.  So tiring."

They held hands, and Rachel knew that there were many things that
she wished to say to her mother; tender, intimate, reassuring
things, and yet she could not say them.  She felt so dreadfully
dumb.  But--why?  To lie there feeling inarticulate in the presence
of the one creature whose compassion was disinterested seemed so
strange, and yet it was reality.  She wanted to pour herself out,
to talk and talk, and yet she could do no more than hold her
mother's hand.  She was too conscious of her tragedy; it seemed too
near to her, just as Mrs. Binnie seemed too near.

"I wish I could say things, mumsie."

She felt a pressure of the fingers.

"O--I know what you mean, Rachie."

But that was just the misery of it, she did not know.  And how
could you break into lamentation, and pour the shame of your soul
into that patient, uncomplaining lap?  "O--I wish I could die.  It
would be so much easier for everybody."  This terrible muteness in
the presence of the one creature who loved her.

Was it always so?  Was it to strangers that you talked, while your
lips were sealed to the one real friend?  How ironical!  How
utterly alone one was, a slip of quivering consciousness stretched
out on a bed.

She pressed her mother's hand.

"You have always been wonderful to us."

Mrs. Binnie allowed one sob to escape her.

"You are all I've got, Rachie, you two.  I have tried--I have--
really.  And it's worth while--if you--"

"O, mumsie, don't.  I'm so utterly useless."

"Don't say that, my dear."

"No, I won't."


2

How utterly alone she was.  Those cars hurrying by along the wet
road emphasized her loneliness.  She was like some green thing that
had been trodden down by a passing foot, and left to wilt while
life went by.

If only she had someone to talk to, someone who understood and who
would not be hurt by her confessions, someone to whom she could
say: "I have to be silent when I yearn to cry out.  I'm weak and
selfish and frightened, and I must not show it.  I might be so
dreadfully naked--if I once let go.  There are all sorts of things
I want--and can't have.  I--want--yes--all the things that a live--
warm body wants, and I have to be a shadow, to pretend.  I want
kisses.  I want to be touched and held.  I want to dance and run
and laugh, and be mischievous.  I want to be looked at by a man--
and to look.  I want to put on pretty clothes.  O, there's so much
and so much.  Half of me lusts to live--while the other half is
dead."

Sometimes she wished that she could howl like a dog.  And that
reminded her of childish days when Mrs. Buck's house had been
opposite the cemetery gates at Lignor, and ladies, coming to visit
the graves of their dear departed, had brought their dear dogs with
them.  But since dogs had not been allowed in the cemetery, the
ladies had tied their dogs to the railings and the doleful beasts
had kept up a melancholy howling.

What egotists people were!  "Poor Carlo shall have a walk."  And
Carlo was tied to the railings and hated it, and when his mistress
reappeared he was overjoyed at being set free.  And his mistress
thought: "How devoted dear Carlo is to me."

Egotism!  It was not the dog's happiness that mattered, but the
woman's.  The dog's emotion flattered her.  She--was the goddess,
the dispenser of favours.  Rachel could remember a neighbour
complaining about the howling of those dogs, an irritable neighbour
who gave music lessons; he had written a letter to the Lignor Argus
upon this nuisance.

"Idle Ladies and their Dogs."

One of the idle ladies had replied to him.  She had accused the
protestor of blatant selfishness.  Dogs must have exercise, dear
things.  Her dog--never--howled.  And even if he did howl for his
dear mistress--sniff--sniff---who was visiting the grave of her
poor dear husband--well--wasn't such feeling touching and natural.
Her dog should howl--for ever and ever--if he pleased.

Egotists!

Yes, she supposed that--in a sense--she was just such an egotist,
part dog, part mistress, but the dogs tied to the railings had
howled, and she could not.  Moreover, the dogs had been set free,
while for her the leash and the railings were final.

But if only she could talk to someone, empty herself of these dark
self-absorptions, and somehow escape from her own self-hauntings!
To have to endure and in silence!  If only she could behave like a
child, and run with her grievings to someone who would not be too
disturbed!

But to whom could she talk?

To Bonthorn?

Yes, perhaps.  The man who had held that dying dog in his arms.
But Bonthorn had not been to her window for three days and she had
begun to wonder about him.  Was he like those others who came and
handed her a little kindness, and then went away upon his own
affairs, and forgot?  Why should he be different from those others?
What was her tragedy to him?  No more perhaps than an unhappy
incident to be deplored for a day or a week, and then left to mend
itself.  You could not lay your burden upon other shoulders.  It
was part of your flesh, part of your intimate self, inexorably
sundered from all other selves.

Towards evening the sky cleared and the rain ceased, and though
Rachel could not see the sunset she saw the valley lit up by it.  A
sudden wind blew and the wet trees trembled; they seemed to scatter
golden light, and as suddenly the wind ceased: the world was still.
So still was it that it had for her the appearance of beautiful
unreality, of a faery landscape suddenly evolved out of crystal.
She watched the light die away as the sun went down behind the
hills.  The twilight was tinged with green, and gradually it grew
grey, and in a strip of blue-black sky a star quivered.

It occurred to her that beauty could be more wounding than
ugliness, for beauty provoked in you strange discontents and
yearnings, while ugliness was man's domestic architecture, so
homely and obvious that it did not tantalize you.

But in the beautiful, dripping dusk she thought of Bonthorn.  If he
came to her window to-night she felt that she would be able to talk
to him.


3

It grew dark, and Mrs. Binnie hurried in.

"Rachie--you'd like a light?"

"Don't bother.  I'm quite happy here--in the dark."

"Really?"

"Yes, really.  But I would like the window open."

"You won't feel cold?"

"No."

Mrs. Binnie raised the lower sash.

"I'll be in again presently, Rachie.  Rho has a headache, and I've
sent her to bed."

She lay in the darkness, watching the stars come out and ever and
again the foliage of the chestnut tree was lit by the headlights of
a passing car.  The wet freshness of the night was pleasant to her.
It was growing late, and yet she had a feeling that he would come
and stand at her window, even though it was unlit; and in the
darkness she would talk to him.

She waited and listened.  The leaves of the chestnut dripped and
dripped.  A car passed, and in passing seemed to leave behind it
some other sound.  She heard a table creak as though someone had
pushed against it.  She was aware of a presence, a faint
crepitation as of a sleeve rubbing against the wall.  She held her
breath and listened.

Yes, someone was there just outside the window, but hidden from her
as yet.  She fancied that she could hear the sound of breathing.

A voice startled her.

"Hallo, Rache."

The upper part of her went rigid.  Her head lay turned on the
pillow, and she saw the dim outline of a head and body at the
window, a kind of dark bulk.

"Who's that?"

"Guess."

She was silent.

"You ought to know without guessing.  Well--how's life?  Finding
things a bit dull?"

She lay and stared.  She was frightened, for it seemed to her that
a large animal was rubbing itself against the wall, tail and hair
erect, and that its movements had a lascivious slyness.  Almost,
the creature purred, and gloated, and sleeked itself.

"It's Stanley--Stanley Shelp."

She felt a kind of horror of him and of herself, because--in the
darkness--he seemed to suggest some of those cravings that vexed
her.  He was life at her window, solicitous, suggestive, sex
symbolized in its hot breathing and surreptitious eagerness.  She
wanted to cry out.

He leaned in.

"Damned bad luck--Rache.  Sorry.  Thought you might like a little
gossip on the quiet."

And suddenly she understood.  She divined his impulse.  Her very
helplessness piqued him, the inert shape of her in bed.  Yes,
probably she would be less pixsome now, less wayward.  She might
even welcome sex, the insidious smell of the male thing, sensual
tenderness, pawings, provocations.  She lay rigid.

"What did you come here for?"

"Feeling friendly, my dear.  Nice dark night.  Give a chap a hand."

She could distinguish a groping arm.  She had a sudden feeling that
if she humoured him--even for a moment--he would slip in through
the window.  She would have him on her bed.

She cried out.

"Go away."

She called to those others.

"Mother--Rhoda--I want you."

The bulk of him hung there for a moment.  He sneered at her.

"All right, all right!  Don't howl.  I suppose if some other fellow
came--"

"Go away."

He disappeared, and there was no sound but the dripping of the
chestnut leaves.  No one had heard her.  No one came.


4

She felt distracted, even while lying so very still in the summer
darkness.  She was not ashamed of being woman, but she was ashamed
of the provocation, and that she should have been provoked by him,
not as a man but as her opposite.  She was no stranger to sex.
Like her generation she was less concerned with an act's niceness
than with its naturalness.

But, that she should be so much alive in the midst of this living
death--that was what shocked her, not that it was shocking, but
because it was unattainable, a kind of mockery.  His coming to her
window had been gross mockery.  As man she loathed him, but he had
made her realize that there were other men; he had provoked the
suggestion, and made her young blood yearn.

Not for him, but for a lover, the spark to the tinder of her youth,
those ultimate tendernesses, intimacies.

She pulled the sheet up over her face.

But--how impossible!  To be conscious of that fierce, sweet,
elemental urge, in her blood and in her brain; to be tantalized by
it, humiliated by it.  An hour ago she had felt tranquillized and
calm, content with the idea of talking to a man, and then the young
flesh of her had been set alight.  Not sex in its mere crudity, but
in its beauty, in its surrenders and in all its secret, spiritual
sublimations.  She wanted to be loved, the whole of her, eyes,
lips, body--self, the creature that was Rachel, the spirit that was
Rachel.

And then she heard that other voice, and her despair cried out in
her:

"O, go away--please--I'm--I'm not myself."

He did not utter a word in reply, and she lay with eyes closed,
arms straight and rigid.  She divined the placing of something on
her window-sill.  He was gone, and she opened her eyes, and saw a
dim, white blur--flowers.

She reached out and took them, and dragging them under the sheet,
laid them against her bosom.

She thought: "I'm in my coffin.  Flowers.  I wonder if any woman
has ever come to life in the darkness underground, and cried out
and gone mad.  I mustn't go mad.  O, if I could talk to somebody."



XIX


1

Old Mischief, having seen on several occasions a bunch of flowers
waiting with their stems in a watering-can, gave way to a very
natural curiosity, and made it his affair to discover whither those
flowers went.  For Mr. Bonthorn was not the kind of man to whom you
put the obvious question.  Moreover, Old Mischief could enjoy a
certain circuitous slyness.  If there was pleasure to be got from
peeping, let the peeping preserve its puckishness.

Solemnly wearing his gent's boater, and telling Mrs. Osgood that he
was going to see Tom Tranter's onions--any excuse being good enough
for Mrs. Osgood--he sat under a particular hedge and smoked his
pipe.  There was a hollow place in the hedge where an old thorn
tree grew, a kind of green choir-stall or sentry-box, and from it
Old Mischief could command a hundred yards of the Lignor road and
the front of the Mill House.  He saw Mr. Nicholas Bonthorn come
over the bridge, and disappear into the Mill House.

So--that was it!  John Osgood had wondered whether those flowers
went to Stella Lacey.  Carrying coals to Newcastle, or a bouquet to
a woman with white hair!  But having done his peeping, Mr. Osgood
could not keep the secret to himself.  He had to try it on Martha,
just as he had tried the professor's pills upon a valetudinarian
wife.

"So, Mr. Bonthorn's taking flowers to the ladies."

He supplied this information to Martha at the back door while he
was cleaning Mr. Bonthorn's boots.

Martha was filling a kettle as though the kettle had committed some
offence.

"What's your nonsense now?"

Puck tittered.

"Takin' flowers to the Mill House, regular.  And who would they be
for?  Mrs. Skinny Buck?"

"It's none of my business--or yours."

"O, don't tell me you be'ant coorious.  He takes them flowers to
one of the young women.  The one that be paralysed, I guess.  Such
a kind-hearted gen'leman, hee-hee."

Curtly, Mrs. Martha told him not to be a fool.  She added that Mr.
Bonthorn was less of a fool than most men.  Getting sentimental
about one of those young Buck women, even though she had a broken
back!

"You mind your business, John, and polish those boots proper."

"I'll polish they, so you can see your beautiful face in 'em,
Martha."

"You're an old fool."

Had she used those words to Nicholas Bonthorn on that particular
morning he might have given her some whimsical answer, while
inwardly agreeing with her.

"O, yes we all of us are fools, Martha, more or less."

And for the moment he was in the mood of more so.  Rebuffed, and
asked to go away, he had suddenly seen himself in cap and bells,
the sweet fool, the sentimental ass.  A man of forty or so spending
the perfume of sentiment upon a young girl--who--a few weeks ago
had been flicking her long legs over pieces of string and careering
behind youth--up hill and down dale--and holding tight to it.
Fantastic ass!  What had he to say to her or she to him?

But he was one of those incorrigibly sensitive people--who, having
once gone forth upon an adventure, cannot let the grace and the
spirit of it lapse.  A gesture should not be cut short or turned
into an awkward gesticulation.  If flowers had gone to the Mill
House they should continue to go there.  But he eschewed the
window.  He walked in at the front door, and presented his bouquet
to Robinia.

Mrs. Binnie was a little puzzled, but then Mr. Bonthorn was very
much the gentleman.  Also, she was too much worried at the moment
to distinguish subtle differences in shades of behaviour.  She was
worried about the milk bill and the price of coal during the coming
winter, and about Rhoda's temper which did not require additional
fuel, but especially she was worried about Rachel.  Rachel had been
so queer and quiet during the last two or three days.

Mrs. Binnie talked to everybody.  Had Jehovah appeared suddenly in
her doorway she would have invited him to discuss the morals of the
Lignor tradesmen, of the meanness of certain people who assumed
that a shilling per head included all the unconsumed cakes on the
dish.

"So kind of you, Mr. Bonthorn.  No, we haven't much time to grow
flowers, only a few hardy cut and come again--what's-a-names in the
back garden."

Mrs. Binnie was preoccupied and flustered.  Tomorrow was Saturday,
and the day's baking of cakes had not been a success, perhaps
because Rhoda's temper had been feeling the heat.  If there was one
thing Mrs. Binnie wanted to do it was to sit down, and at the
moment life would not permit her to sit down.

"I'm sure Rachel would like a little chat, Mr. Bonthorn.  Anything
to keep her cheerful, poor dear."

Bonthorn smiled, knowing that Mrs. Robinia had not meant to
catalogue him with the anythings and the etceteras.

"O--I won't bother her.  Just give her those flowers."

He walked out, and Mrs. Binnie, escaping for a moment from her fog
of abstraction, cocked a brown eye at his departing back.  Now,
what was the matter with Mr. Bonthorn?  A little abrupt, and funny
and shy?  O, just a mood!  It was astonishing how much leisure some
people seemed to have for the cultivation of moods.

"Well, really!  I don't even get time to think."

And she scurried towards some activity in the kitchen.

Bonthorn, picking his way among the empty tables, and looking at
the chestnut tree, and not at that window under the green selvedge
of it, heard his name spoken.

"Mr. Bonthorn--"

He swung round.  His face had a kind of startled alertness.  He
diverged towards the window.

She lay there and looked at him.  Almost she suggested
breathlessness after effort.  She had seen him pass her window and
go to the door, and she had waited.  His aloofness had linked
itself to the rebuff she had given him in that previous dusk.  "O,
go away, please."  And suddenly she had known acute disappointment,
the chagrin of the forgotten child--and more than that.

But she looked frightened.  She was frightened.  For now that he
was at her window she did not know what to say to him, and all the
intimate things she had dreamed of saying seemed to scatter like a
flurry of dead leaves.  Also, there had come to her a realization
of him as man, but man so different from all the other men she had
known.

But something had to be said, and while struggling in the deeps of
her silence and feeling herself sinking beneath its surface, she
clutched at reality.

"I'm sorry--I was rude--the other night."

He looked at her with a curious, veiled intentness.

"Were you rude?  After all, you have a right to your window.  It
isn't a box-office."

"No--but--"

"Sometimes one wants to be alone."

"Yes, sometimes."

He hesitated, and then he went for a chair, and carried it to the
window.

"May I?"

She nodded.

He sat astride the chair, with his arms crossed on its back, and
she lay with her face turned on the pillow, looking at him.  She
wanted to look at him.  Almost she could have wished him unaware of
her, while she looked and looked, and wondered about him at her
leisure.  He was real, though she did not realize as yet how
terribly real he was to become to her.

He began to talk to her, and a part of her lay and listened while a
part of her observed him.  She began to notice all sorts of little
things about him that she had not noticed previously, for she had
seen him in broad effect and not in detail.  What was behind that
black shade, and why did he wear it?  Just a socket, emptiness, or
closed lids?  And wasn't it rather tiring to have only one eye to
see things with?  She listened and looked and gave him vague
answers, for just then she was more concerned with the reality of
him, the mystery of him, than she was with what he said.

But suddenly he was speaking to her about real things, and her eyes
seemed to open wide to them.  It was as though she had been looking
at him through a closed window, and he had opened the window.  He
seemed much nearer to her.

"When are they going to get you out of doors?"

Her eyelids flickered.

"O--I don't quite know yet."

"Don't you long to get out?"

"O, yes, terribly.  But then--"

She felt that she had come nearer to him and the nearness confused
her.

"They are making me a kind of long chair on wheels.  Mr. Tanrock is
having it made--at their garage, but Dr. Carver wants me to wait
for two or three weeks."

"But then--you will be able to get out."

"Perhaps."

Why--perhaps?  She had turned her head on the pillow, and he saw
her in profile.  She was looking up at the ceiling.

"Well--you see, everything has to be done for me.  They're awfully
good, those two.  But to be so--helpless."

"It worries you.  You feel--"

"So--ashamed--somehow."

Her hands made little movements on the coverlet, and then lay
still, but it seemed to him that her stillness concealed a
suppressed and almost agonized restlessness.  And suddenly he
seemed to see her as she was, the whole suffering, shrinking,
bewildered soul of her, a live spirit lashed to a bed, grieving and
yearning.

"There is nothing to be ashamed of, Rachel."

She turned her head on the pillow, eyes wide and almost accusing.

"O, don't you know?  They have to--"

He answered with a slight movement of the head.

"Yes, everything.  Your world is just as far as your hands can
reach.  And you grieve.  You lie and think--how--"

Her eyes seemed to narrow.  She was looking at him with a new
intentness, a poignant curiosity.  She did not see him merely as a
face, but as a presence, a creature who somehow comprehended her
realities.  He understood.  He was not mere man conscious of her as
flesh; he was conscious of the whole of her.

"O--if one couldn't think!"

His head seemed to sink a little like the head of a man who was
praying.

"But would you be--you?"

She drew her breath in sharply.

"Ah, but that's it!  One's body lies here.  O, how I loathe it at
times--this wretched--useless shell.  I can't even wash myself.  O,
but I mustn't talk like this."

He looked at her.

"It is just how you ought to talk--"

"But I can't--I mustn't.  Don't you see--?  I can't lie and grouse
to mother.  How can I?  Hasn't she enough to put up with?  One has
to stifle things."

He spoke as though he meant every word to have infinite meaning for
her.

"But you can talk to me."

She lay silent, gazing.  She seemed to sink more deeply into the
bed, as though something in her had relaxed.  She had given way to
a spasm of despair, and for the moment it had passed.  She lay and
looked at him.  She loved him.

"Why do you say that?"

He smiled, and his smile puzzled her.

"Because--you can.  Shall we leave it at that?  Because--I think--I
understand.  Because--I want you to talk to me."

She closed her eyes.  She heard a movement of the chair.  He was
going, and the soul of her consented.  She wanted to be alone,
quite alone, to feel and to think.  Did he understand that?  Was
that why he was leaving her?

She opened her eyes.

"I--I--think I've talked enough to-night--"

"Yes, enough for to-night."

Her face seemed luminous.

"Good night--"

"Good night--Rachel."


2

Up at Yew End that night Bonthorn heard other voices in the lane,
and one of them was like Rachel's voice, but harder and more
metallic.  A man and a girl were strolling, and the girl had
certain things to say to him, unhappy, tempestuous things.

"Well--we've got our lives to live."

The man agreed, but with reservations.  Apparently he had less
sympathy with the girl's attitude than he should have had, and it
was evident that she divined his rather inarticulate resistance and
resented it.  She knew that she was showing to him a side of
herself that was not flattering, but when your temper is on edge a
man should allow you a blunt surface to work it off upon.

"All right, Rho.  But after all--"

He mumbled, and Bonthorn missed some of the words, but they annoyed
the girl, and her retort was sharp and clear.

"O, don't talk like that.  I'm not a cinema angel.  I'm just human.
I don't mind hanging on for six months."

They passed the white gate and paused at that other gate, and
Bonthorn, who had been walking up and down the grass with a pipe
and his own thoughts, stood by the holly hedge to listen.  He was
eavesdropping, but what of it?  For this lover's argument touched
other matters.  It was like a thread in a skein, and one end of the
skein was in his hands.

"But what are they going to do?"

Rhoda flared.

"You've asked me that silly question three times."

"All right, old thing, but--after all--it is a bit of a problem."

"O, shut up, it isn't your problem.  You don't seem to realize that
I'm getting fed up.  Yes, you think that rotten of me, don't you?
O, yes--you do.  You're so dashed impartial.  You expect me to back
up the mater.  Well, haven't I?  But what gets my goat is your
assuming--"

The man's voice tried conciliation.

"Look here, old girl, what--are--we scrapping about?  It seems
damned silly--"

"I should think so."

"All I said was--that we couldn't very well rush things, and leave
the old lady up against it--until--"

"Yes, you don't have to do the work, my lad, do you?  And Rachel's
smash-up has just about doubled the work.  Every blessed thing has
to be carried in and out.  O, Fred, I know I'm talking like a
beast, but I'm tired."

"I know, old thing, and then one flares up.  I only want to help
both sides.  Hold tight, Rho."

"You're a good lad, Fred.  You're much better tempered than I am."

"O, a bit--perhaps.  Depends on how we're made."

A little night breeze ruffled the leaves of the big beech tree, and
the two voices were stilled.  Rhoda and young Tanrock were leaning
against the gate with arms about each other, and Bonthorn guessed
as much.  He heard the voices begin again, but they sounded gentle
and intimate and distant.  He could catch a few detached words.

"Well, say till next midsummer."

"I don't want her to think I'm fed up with it."

"We might be able to help a bit.  The business is hot stuff--these
days.  I get a third share in January."

The two voices moved from the field gate to the beech tree and
seemed to pause in the deep shade.

"Just a minute, Rho."

"All right."

Bonthorn strolled away from the hedge, for that more intimate
minute under the beech tree was theirs and not his.  He left it to
them and their youth.  He sat down in a chair under the cherry
tree, and presently he heard the two voices passing away down the
lane.  They had a languor, the smoothness of a desire that was
satisfied.  He heard Tanrock laugh.  Then there was silence, save
for a faint stirring in the foliage of the beech tree.

Something cool and moist touched his hand.  The little Cairn had
crept to him so noiselessly that he had not heard the patter of
paws over the grass.  The dog put his fore-paws against Bonthorn's
knees and whimpered.

"Hallo, you little thing!  Up, up."

Rollo leapt into his lap, and thrust his muzzle under Bonthorn's
chin.

"What will Martha say to you, my lad?  Sneaking out of bed at this
hour."

The dog licked him.

"Lonely little fellow, what?  Yes, loneliness!  The more you feel--
the more you miss things.  Yes, that will do, young fellow; I don't
want washing all over."

He sat awhile in the darkness and then--with the dog at his heels,
he went out through the white gate and down the lane.  The night
had settled itself for sleep, and trees had drawn down their green
hoods, and the mill pool was black velvet.  He went as far as the
bridge and stood leaning against the stone parapet, but hearing a
car approaching, he picked up the dog and held him in his arms.
Two glaring eyes rushed at them and passed, and the churned silence
resettled itself like troubled water.  Bonthorn, with the Cairn's
head snuggling against his neck, looked at the Mill House, and at
one particular window.  It showed no light.

Was she asleep?  Had that car wakened her?  Life, with its glare
and noise rushing past, leaving her to the troubled darkness, and
adding to her loneliness?  For now he was comprehending the
loneliness of that little room into which people came and went,
carrying and fetching, and yet leaving behind them nothing that
could fill its emptiness for her.  Mrs. Robinia, flustered, and
kind and sedulous, carrying in her cup of devotion and carrying it
away again untouched by the lips of a melancholy that was mute.

Yes, this was tragedy, this obscure, secret broken thing lying
hidden away in a green valley.  Like the agony of the war this
anguish was so unsensational.  People did not understand the
stealth of tragedy.  They expected posturings and clamour, and the
flamboyant falseness of the picture-house.  Life had to screech
like a machine.

But she lay there abed, on the edge of the highway, and looked at
the trees and the river, and at the faces of people to whom she
could not tell things.  Her very sensitiveness made her mute.  She
had moments of terror, like a child shut away in a dark cupboard.

Yes, but her terror was not the terror of a child.  She was woman.
She could not or would not cry out and so suffer her sorrows to be
assuaged.

But she had cried out to him, and her little cry of anguish had had
for him a bitter sweetness, an almost unbearable poignancy.  He
wanted to enfold her dear pain and to possess it, not as the mere
egoist--the shiny and consciously consoling little pa-god, but as a
man who could love the mystery of loving even as he loved the
mystery of some strange flower or tree or sunset.



XX


1

If life is a mosaic composed of innumerable tesseræ--the little
trivial happenings of the day set in the cement of individual
consciousness, its pattern may appear predestined, if there is any
pattern to be recognized.  These little cubes of circumstance may
be variously coloured, and if the figure is that of Spring, it may
carry a garland; if that of Winter a black faggot may lie across
its back!  But in Rachel's case the pattern laid out by a sequence
of little happenings tended to be of one colour, and the face of
the figure was the face of tragedy.

Her day might be a day of trivialities.  A part of her was numb, a
part of her ached; there might be breadcrumbs in the bed; someone
left her in a draught; a book fell on the floor.  Or nature was
suddenly urgent and had to be helped in its urgency by other hands.
Rhoda had a tense face.  There were sounds of distant discord.
Personalities gathered at the tables on the terrace, personalities
that were as alike as rolls of linoleum in a shop; the patterning
might vary, but smell and texture were identical.

She would find herself looking at her legs while her mother
massaged them.  They had kept their shape; they were white and
comely, and save for the sensuous out-curve of the thighs, as
straight as the legs of Atalanta.  A few months ago she had danced,
and leaped and run with them.

"You've got such pretty legs, my dear."

Mrs. Robinia made that remark almost daily, but to Rachel those
white members were annoying appendages of white wax, or as useless
as silk stockings stuffed with wool.  She would watch her mother's
hands kneading and flicking, and wonder at Mrs. Binnie's patience,
and at the seeming futility of these activities.  What did it
matter if those two members became like a couple of sticks, and yet
her mother seemed strangely concerned over conserving the
comeliness of those legs.

"Mustn't let the muscles waste, you know, my dear."

But why keep those useless things alive?  Why tantalize her with
suggestions of liveness?  Why not accept the inevitable and assume
that she was like a creature cut in half, and that the upper half
of her alone mattered?  And did that matter?

She was so much at the mercy of circumstance.

Mrs. Binnie cut her finger badly with a kitchen knife during the
rush of a Saturday afternoon, and the wound, instead of healing,
became septic, and for a week or more Robinia's left hand was out
of action.  It had to be fomented every few hours and carried in a
sling.  Meanwhile, Rhoda was obliged to deputize, and act as nurse
and masseuse, waitress and cook and housemaid.  She would come into
Rachel's room with the air of a fierce young woman confronting a
sandstorm.  Her face and eyes had a bleakness.  She was less gentle
than Mrs. Binnie.

"Now--then--legs!  You've got the clothes rucked up again."

Criminal carelessness!  As though everything in the Mill House had
entered into a conspiracy with Rachel's bed-clothes and plotted to
get rucked up.

"Sorry, Rho."

"That's better.  Now--then."

She rubbed and pounded.  She was rough and peremptory without being
conscious of her roughness; it was just part of the day's hurry;
the work had to be got through somehow.

"Why not leave it this morning?"

"Not likely.  If I'm on the job I'm on it."

She did things with a frowning, dark inexorableness, a kind of
tempestuous haste, and when she knocked the spirit lotion off the
table she swore.

"Damn you!  You would be just there, wouldn't you."

She would leave Rachel feeling that a small tornado had been active
in her room.  She would leave her feeling humiliated and weak and
bewildered, and with the insidious and gradual conviction that
Rhoda hated her, or would grow to hate her.  Rhoda's temperament
was not suited to sick rooms.  Her young forcefulness seemed to
resent wiltings and whimsies.  To watch Rhoda snatch bottles and
towels and other etceteras and clear them away was like watching an
angry fate dealing with exasperating impedimenta.

When the door closed Rachel would lie very still, and look at the
sky or the green bluffs of Stella Lacey.  She was becoming more and
more conscious of that relentless road.  She seemed to be lying on
the edge of it, within a foot or two of all those whirling wheels.
Almost, she could feel the draught of it, and fancy herself being
sucked in like a piece of crumpled paper, to be dealt with as one
of those machines had dealt with Bonthorn's stray dog.

The barrier was so flimsy, a row of posts and chains.  Yes, the
barrier was so flimsy for all of them.  They were at the mercy of
that road; they existed by it and for it, with their one petrol
pump and their poor little tables.  Teas.  Threepenny profits, the
domestic budget like a lap into which coppers were tossed, wet days
calamitous.  Her mother's small face all puckered and set,
confronting necessity.

What a helpless lump of flesh she was!

She began to be afraid of the road.  It filled her with strange
dreads.  Sometimes she would shrink when some high-powered car
roared by.  Supposing it were to skid?  Supposing some thundering
lorry suddenly saw red, and charged her window like a monstrous,
trampling beast?  But would it matter?

She began to feel towards the road as some primitive creature might
feel towards a bug-a-boo god, a power to be propitiated and
dreaded.  It gave you sustenance, and it gave you terror and death.
Though crowded with little fragments of humanity it was so
impersonal, so relentless.  The very cars ceased to be vehicles at
the service of society.  They were like links in the iron track of
a caterpillar tractor, the steel scales of some snakelike tank.
She found herself shrinking fearfully from the tremors and
vibrations, the ramp and the rush of it.

Sometimes when a car screamed at the bridge she felt that the angry
squeal was meant for her.  The nameless terror was upon her.  She
was to be crushed.


2

Then, there was Nicholas Bonthorn.  He was not one of her
trivialities, but the one big thing towards which all the little
trickles of her tragedy tended.  They seemed to coalesce in him,
and to flow both to him and from him.  Because she was loving him
now, not as the raw young sensationalist, but both as woman and
child, in secret and in stealth, as a woman loves when that which
is loved is like a face fading before a dying fire.

He came and sat by her window and talked, and the reality of him
both terrified and ravished her, for it was a reality such as she
had never dreamed of, perhaps because in crude action dreams are
apt to be so shallow.  For to those who can dream age brings a
haunting vividness, and the simulacrum of reality, and in three
months Rachel had grown old.  The soul of her had unfolded
suddenly, and with a burning completeness.  She was hot youth and
ripe maturity in one and the same body, no hard bud, but the open
and sensitive flower.  The very sex in her had become subtilized,
the perfume associated with it ethereal and haunting.  The "record"
was so different, not a disk grating out some jazz tune, but
L'Après Midi, or the prelude from Tristan and Isolde.

He talked to her as though she were alive, and would be still more
alive, and this tantalized her.  He talked to her about things--
which--three months ago--would have seemed incredibly boring, for
youth can be so easily and profoundly bored.  Its instrument has so
few strings.  But her wounded self was conscious of and responsive
to new over-tones.  Even her thoughts were like a blackbird singing
in some green, sad dusk.

"O, joy; O--anguish!  I live--I die.  Was ever anything so sad as
loving?"

To begin with she talked to him in return.  She told him things
that she would have told to no other soul.  She scattered herself
like petals on the bed.  And then--gradually--as love waxed in her--
she grew inarticulate and shy.  Something in her held back, and
the hands of her soul faltered.  She conceived despair.  For what
could she grasp?  Reality would slip through her fingers.  She
could not touch him, possess him, and be possessed.  She would be
no better than a dead thing in love's arms, yes--and more
tormenting than that, she would yearn to give, and be no more in
the lap of life than a clogging, sterile stone.

She would lie and wait for his coming, and then--when he was with
her--almost she would wish him away.

But, if he was aware of her increasing silence, of a pair of eyes
watching him, he did not and could not comprehend all that was
happening behind those eyes.  If he thought of her as a spray of
white lilac, or as Snowy Mespillus, or a flower with a broken
stalk, he was not the complete flower-master.  As man he was apt to
efface himself.  He talked to her of impersonal things, as though
to provoke her interest in them, not realizing that it did not
matter about what he talked so long as he was the talker.  He
brought the dog to see her, but if she fell in love with the Cairn,
it was largely because he was Bonthorn's dog.

There were times when she wanted to say to him: "I shan't live very
long.  It is better that I should not live very long.  So, why
should you be so very careful?  There is in me that which is both
bitter and sweet, and just because of the bitter and the sweet it
is better that I should die.  But you do not quite understand that,
my dear, but I am not to you what you are to me.  I lie and look
and feel while you talk to me.  I see you and all and everything as
in a mirror; you see--only a paralysed child in a bed.  I'm still
so much a child to you.  Perhaps it is better so."

There were occasions when he told her funny stories, and tried to
make her laugh, and she did laugh, because he wished her to, but he
did not hear the echoes that her laughter left within her when he
had gone.

His compassion was a little too immaterial.  It walked hand in hand
with love.  It had not yet discovered in her that other flower, not
Snowy Mespillus, but Love-lies-bleeding.


3

Sudden rain.

It came up from the south-west and from the bosom of a blue-black
cloud at half-past three on a Saturday afternoon.  At two, or
perhaps seven, such a downpour would not have mattered, but when
Rachel heard it on the stones and the chestnut leaves she knew that
all those little tables had been laid.  And five minutes ago the
sun had been shining.

She heard Rhoda rush out.

"O, damn you!  You dirty dog."

There was a clatter of hastily rescued china, with Mrs. Binnie's
one active hand snatching at cloths.

"Well, really--!  It might have--"

"Did you ever see such a bloody climate."

Yes, Rhoda was in one of her tempestuous moods, and the provocation
was adequate, for after emptying itself upon the valley the black
cloud passed, and left sunlight, and dripping leaves, wet chairs
and tables, and a road that steamed.

More exasperation.  Rhoda apostrophized the retreating blackness.

"Yes, that's right.  Make a bloody mess of everything, and then
sneak off.  Why couldn't you stay and do it thoroughly."

For, in ten minutes cars were pulling in, and the bell was
clanging, and people who had escaped the rain were asking to have
tea out of doors.  And Rhoda was short with them.

"You'll have to come inside.  We've had a young cloud-burst.  Can't
you see?"

They saw wet tables and chairs, but some of them discovered no
reason why cloths should not be found, and the chairs and tables
wiped.  Rhoda tore down a roller-towel, and flung it at the most
argumentative of the men.

"All right.  Mop it up--if you want to sit outside.  I've got too
much to do."

At half-past four she charged in with Rachel's tea, and obviously
that tray belonged to the category of last straws.  She gave
Rachel's table a twist, and put down the tray with such abruptness
that the milk-jug lost its balance.

"O, damn!"

She snatched at the small jug and rescued it with some milk left.

"Talk about the rush hour on the Tubes!"

Rachel lay very still.

"All right, Rho.  There's some left."

She spoke almost humbly, and when Rhoda went striding out she
continued to lie still, and for quite five minutes she did not
touch her tea.  She was beginning to feel that her sister hated
her, or would learn to hate her if this sordid scuffle were to
continue indefinitely.


4

Nor did the tempest blow itself out, or spend itself in the
business of feeding the multitude.  It gathered to a climax.  It
burst like that rain-cloud, and developed into an altercation with
the forceful, florid mother of a family.

"We don't want any of your lip, young woman; we want tea."

Rhoda flared like a dark beacon.  She had seen the family arrive
like so many porkers packed into a small but pretentious car.  It
was the sort of family that had possessed a car for a week and a
half, and had swelled in it.  To Rhoda they had faces like sides of
bacon.

She became arctic, but her tongue was a north wind.  She could use
a most scarifying tongue.

"If you want tea--you can go on to Lignor.  You can crowd back into
your tin pan and frizzle."

The woman's face was like a large pink ham.

"Impudence.  I should just think we will go somewhere else.  Bert,
get the car out."

"Thank you," said Rhoda.  "Try Canaan."

Mrs. Binnie had witnessed the scene, and she was shocked.  Her
temper was a small one, but she lost it, and it was swallowed up in
her daughter's more capacious fury.  They said things to each
other.  Their voices were raised, and Rachel heard them.

"Damn it--I'm fed up.  I'm through--"

Rhoda stalked upstairs, crushed a small hat on her head, descended,
and walked out of the door.

"I'm going to see Fred.  I'd like a show of my own."

There was silence, though Rachel gathered that her mother was
attending to the remnants of the day's necessity.  The crowd on
wheels had drifted on, but there were tables to be cleared.
Rachel's window was shut, for Mrs. Binnie had come in and closed it
towards the end of that devastating shower, but Rachel could hear
the clink and clatter of spoons and china.

Then the sounds ceased.  The storm had subsided, but it had
subsided into a sort of lassitude, the stillness of surrender.  The
leaves of the chestnut tree still dripped, little plashes of green
sadness.

She did not see Bonthorn pass, glance at her closed window, and go
on.  She was lying listening and staring at the ceiling, and
feeling herself so responsible for that row.  The silence troubled
her, for she divined it as the silence of a tired little woman,
who, on the edge of that relentless road, fought an unequal battle.

Meanwhile, Bonthorn, arriving in the open doorway, surprised a
small figure seated on a rush-bottomed chair.  Mrs. Binnie was
alone with the dusk and the day's clutter, and possibly she was
suffering from a sense of the futility of all human effort.  She
was not in tears.  She had arrived for the moment in that dusty and
draughty space behind the painted scene where faces do not manifest
conscious emotion.  She was at the back of herself and of
everything.

Her small face looked like a white streak in the dusk of the room.
She seemed to accept Bonthorn's presence as part of the day's
inevitableness.

"O, Mr. Bonthorn--I'm beaten."

He entered the room and closed the door.  She looked so very small,
so narrow, like something laid out straight in a coffin.

"Well, tell me about it."

"My girl's left me."

"Rhoda--?"

"Yes, gone off in a huff.  We've had a very trying day, Mr.
Bonthorn, we have--really.  Everything seems to have gone wrong of
late.  Yes, Rhoda's not one of the easy sort and she's had a lot to
try her.  But, Mr. Bonthorn, all this talk of going on strike.
Some of us can't go on strike, can we?"

He sat on the edge of a table.

"No, of course not.  But where has she gone?"

"To Lignor.  You see--she's being pulled two ways, poor dear.  She
and Fred Tanrock.  And we both lost our tempers, Mr. Bonthorn.
There's some excuse for Rhoda, there is--really--but I oughtn't to
have lost my temper."

Bonthorn smiled at her.

"Well, you have found it again, Mrs. Buck.  Don't you think your
daughter will find hers?  If she's your daughter--"

Rachel lay listening.  She had been able to hear all that had
passed between them.



XXI


1

To Bonthorn Mrs. Robinia's need was a pair of hands.  He saw around
her a dozen tables to be cleared, and though mere man he could
infer piles of crockery waiting to be washed and put away.  He lit
a pipe, and seeing a big black tray leaning against a table leg, he
collected it.

"I may as well give you a hand with all this."

Mrs. Binnie protested, but without conviction.

"O, Mr. Bonthorn, really--I couldn't think--"

But already he was packing crockery on the tray, and rising from
her chair she accepted his intervention.

"We collect all the teapots together, Mr. Bonthorn."

"I see, there's a system.  Supposing I leave you the teapots?  What
about milk-jugs?  Do they segregate?"

A little wisp of a smile seemed to blow across her face.

"Yes, that's right."

"Well, I'll concentrate on the cups and saucers and plates, and the
etceteras."

He loaded his tray, and directed by her, he carried it into the
kitchen.  It was his first visit to the Mill House kitchen, and
under its oak beams an afterglow filled the window with yellow
light.  It was a very clean kitchen, as Mrs. Gurney had found
before him.  He put his tray down on a big table; there was just
room for the tray; the rest of the table was occupied by tins half-
full of cakes, bread crusts, a loaf and a half, and a plate
containing yellow slabs of butter.

Mrs. Binnie followed him.

"O, on the table by the sink, Mr. Bonthorn, please."

"I see."

He understood the ritual.  He arranged the crockery in order upon
the washing-board.

"Get rid of the crumbs, don't I?"

"Yes, that bucket.  But don't bother."

Bonthorn, using a knife, scraped the crumbs from the plates into
the bucket.

Robinia was emptying out tea-leaves.  He went with his tray for a
second service, and had loaded it and had it in his hands when the
front door swung open.  It was Rhoda returning, a Rhoda who stared
at him and closed the door firmly, and without apology or
explanation reft the tray from him.

"All right.  My job.  No need for you to fuss."

He did not challenge the accusation.  He just smiled at her, and
went to recover a pipe that had been laid aside on a window-sill.
As he had prophesied she had recovered her temper, and tucked it
away behind firmly compressed lips.  He saw her put down the tray
for a moment, pull off her hat and throw it into a basket-chair,
and resume the tray.  She went striding towards the kitchen.

He heard the two voices.

"O, my dear--you did make me jump.  I thought it was Mr. Bonthorn."

"You sit down.  You're tired."

"No--I'm not."

"Sit down."

Bonthorn gathered that Mrs. Binnie did sit down, but only to humour
the downright daughter.

"What's he messing about here for?"

"My dear--"

"Much better be talking to Rachel.  Send him in."

Bonthorn had opened the front door, for it had not occurred to him
that he could take himself and his pipe into a young woman's
bedroom.  Yes, obviously, Rhoda was making amends after her own
forceful fashion, and he would be less superfluous and a case of
offence to her out in the open air.  He was a trousered accusation,
a reproach.  He heard footsteps and the turning of a door-handle,
and Mrs. Binnie's voice.

"Wouldn't you like the window open again, my dear?"

"Yes, mother."

"I'm sorry I forgot it.  O, Mr. Bonthorn's here."

He accepted the suggestion, waiting until he heard the sash raised,
and then walking along the front of the Mill House to her window.
He was smoking his pipe.  And as he stood and looked at her lying
there he wondered just how much she had heard and understood, and
what effect it had had on her.

She smiled at him, but her smile was a wilful veiling of her mood,
a gentle dissembling.

"You've been helping mother."

"To the best of my ability.  Your sister had to go out."

Her muteness was like the muteness of extreme lassitude.  She just
lay and looked at him as though she had neither the desire nor the
strength to talk.  He had never seen her so still.  Nothing moved,
lips, eyelids or hands; almost he got the impression that she had
ceased to breathe.  She was like a creature sick unto death, and
conscious and consenting.  And he was troubled.

"You are tired to-night."

There was a faint movement of the head.

"Yes, in a way."

"Well, we won't talk.  I'll just sit here.  May I?"

"Yes, sit there."


2

The smoke from his pipe was blue in the dusk, and as he sat there
on her window-sill he was conscious of more than the mere semblance
of death, a white face very still on a white pillow, two hands
stretched out.  He was conscious of being looked at.  Also, her
eyes were more than eyes.  They seemed to contain the whole of her,
the inward conscious woman, the mystery of that other self.  They
did not merely gaze at him, and focus a figure.  They seemed full
of some dual comprehension, as though in her gazing and perceiving
some picture of him and of her was enclosed in a little dark
crystal.

For, she was beginning to think how much easier it would be to die,
and to wonder at old people for clinging to life as they did.  It
seemed to her that life and the relish for life were associated
with the body, and that when your body failed you life was
finished.  All this talk about souls and beauty and the loveliness
of an inner spiritual state was fudge.  She supposed that old
people talked that way, and tried to pretend that the pomp and
passion of the great show did not matter.

But she was the child of her generation, and she had lain long
enough on her back to know that youth is the one and only savour.
So long as you felt the urge of your body and could give it life--
you were alive.  All the rest was flat fish, boiled cod and
philosophy.  When the flesh and the flare of the adventure were
gone from you, was it worth while to sit in a chair and moralize?

She was the child of her generation, of a youth that craved speed
and movement and change.  It was not her dream to stand like a
white lily in a garden and emit a faint, cloying and saintly
perfume.  She mourned her hot eager youth, even its discontents and
its restlessness.

She thought: "They tell us that we do not know what we want.  But
we want things--blindly--bitterly.  It is the want that matters.  I
know now what I want."

She looked at Bonthorn with her still, enigmatic eyes.

"I want to die.  Even he makes me want to escape from this--
nothingness.  It would be so much easier for the others.  Rhoda is
young.  This cold-storage body of mine exasperates her--just as it
exasperates me.  He's a dear, but he doesn't understand."

She observed him.  She recalled her first impressions of Nicholas
Bonthorn.  He was so much the man with the sword, a sort of Christ
Militant calling upon the world for heroism and high-mindedness.
He embarrassed hungry humanity.  He was the inexorable gentleman
who, with radiant conscientiousness, would put on a clean shirt,
and shave himself before stepping into his coffin.

And if she loved him, as she did, how could she live to his level?
Always she would have a feeling of clinging to his knees, of
struggling to be what she was not.  She could not make him part of
the ardour of a young, live body.

No.  She knew that she wanted to die.


3

Rhoda sailed in, a pragmatical, forceful Rhoda, making up in cheer
for the lapses of an intolerant temper.

"O--I've seen Fred.  Your super-pram is coming down to-morrow."

And Bonthorn, vaguely perplexed and disturbed by those dark eyes,
took up the chant.

"That's splendid!  The new chariot.  She'll be able to see life on
wheels, won't she, Miss Rhoda?"

Yes, obviously so, and Rhoda described the chair to him.  It had a
side let down so that Rachel could be transferred with ease from
bed to chair.  It had a steering handle and a brake, and could be
propelled either by turning the wheels by hand or by working a
lever.  Fred Tanrock had designed and built the carriage in the
workshop of the Tanrock garage.

Said Bonthorn: "You will have to drive up and see my garden."

Rhoda was the active optimist.

"Rather.  In a week or so she'll be doing stunts on the way to
London."

While Rachel lay and reflected that Bonthorn and her sister were
treating her like a sick child who had to be humoured, and
encouraged to take an interest in life.  Her bed would be on
wheels, but it would still be a bed; she would not have escaped
from it.



XXII


1

Rachel's wheeled chair arrived in a light motor-van, and when
Tanrock and the driver of the van had unloaded it, the machine was
wheeled to Rachel's window.  It was quite a gay affair for the uses
to which it would be put: being a kind of long, cream-coloured box
mounted on red wire wheels.  It had a black hood that could be
raised against sun and rain.

Young Tanrock got into the machine and, lying flat, gave a
demonstration, circling round the chestnut tree and worming his way
between chairs and tables.

"You see, she steers like a taxi."

He was flushed and a little excited.  The occasion was very much
his, and the new machine more than a toy.  Rhoda had to get into
it, and after her--Mrs. Binnie, but Mrs. Binnie's peregrinations
were so erratic that she had to be rescued from under one of the
posts and chains.

"O, dear--I'm afraid I've scratched the paint, Fred."

"Nothing to speak of, mother."

"You--are--clever, Fred."

"Let Rhoda have another shot."

Rhoda was more adventurous.  She propelled the machine out on the
road and over the bridge, and turning where the Beech Farm lane
gave her room to reverse, she came back at speed, overshot the
entrance and had to pull up on the grass.  She sat up.

"I say--it's priceless, Fred."

But Tanrock had vanished.

"Where's Fred?"

Mrs. Binnie looked about her as though she expected to find the
young man under one of the tables.

"Really--I don't know.  He was here a moment ago."

The mechanic, standing by and smoking a cigarette, had seen young
Mr. Tanrock enter the Mill House, and there Rhoda found him, with a
carpenter's folding rule, and an expression of humorous relief upon
his face.

"My God, Rho, I had a shock.  I'd forgotten to measure the bedroom
doorway.  Just--fancy!"

He laughed.

"Just two inches to spare.  What shocks!"

The new toy was a present to Rachel, and when these grown-up people
had played with it, the wheeled chair became hers.  They were all
so eager to put her into it and to take her out on show like some
new baby all dressed up for the occasion.  Even the district nurse
arrived on her bicycle to supervise the adventure, a kind creature
with a taste for superlatives and a complexion that lived the
simple life and so had ceased to be anything but leather.  The
wheeled chair was insinuated into Rachel's room, and pushed beside
her bed; it had a special mattress of its own.

"Now then, my dear, we'll get at you."

The phrase expressed Nurse Tamplin.  She was aggressively kind.
Her face shone when attacking with fomentation or with syringe.
She talked all the time to Rachel or her assistants.  The three of
them would lift her, the nurse in the middle, Rhoda at the head,
Mrs. Binnie at the feet.  "When I say go, all together, lift."  It
was done most efficiently, and the body that was Rachel found
itself transferred from bed to wheeled couch, and yet a part of her
was left pendant in the air.  An intangible, questioning
melancholy.  If it took three to lift her, how would they manage
when the nurse was not here?

But that good woman seemed to divine the question.

"Yes, you see--I'm going by most days about half-past two.  I can
slip off and give you a hand."

It was Rhoda who wheeled her out through the tearoom to the
terrace.  They stood round her as though to admire the new infant.
Even the mechanic joined the group.  And she felt like a piece of
property, a doll in a pram, for obviously they were concerned with
her as a body, a bambino.  They stood around with kind faces, and
said such simple things to her that almost she felt self-conscious,
and ashamed of being so very sophisticated a child.

"Well, that's marvellous--"

She did remember to thank Fred, though how was poor Fred to know
that he had provided her increasing purpose with the power to
express itself?

"Fred--it's wonderful.  I'm so awfully--grateful."

"O--that's all right, Rache.  I had a great time making it."

Mrs. Binnie bent down and kissed her.

"Well--really--you do look sweet.  Now, where would you like to
go?"

Go?  She had not thought about it, but obviously these dear, active
people expected her to go somewhere.  They were full of propulsive
enthusiasm.  And she closed her eyes for a moment, and wished they
would not all stand staring at her.  Did an infant ever feel like
that?  But she could not get away, and even if she was on wheels it
was publicly so on the sea front.

"I'd like to go up the lane."

The word lane seemed to slip out of a crevice in her consciousness.
She smiled brightly at her mother, who--dear soul--was so eager to
see the sun shining.

"I'll take you.  Nurse, do have a glass of lemonade and a piece of
cake.  And Fred too--and this gentleman.  I'm sorry I haven't any
beer."

The mechanic put her at ease on that score.

"We're a coffee-and-bun crowd, these days, ma'am."

The machine could be either pulled or propelled, and a handle like
the handle of a Bath-chair could be attached by a couple of pins to
the floating front axle.  This was explained to Mrs. Binnie and to
Rachel.  "When anyone's pulling you, you don't have to steer."
Mrs. Binnie went in to put on a hat, while Fred demonstrated how
the hood was raised and lowered.

"Like it up or down, Rache?"

"O, down, please."

The group stood to give them a send-off.  The road was quiet for
the moment, and Mrs. Binnie, with her two small arms sticking out
behind her, set off with her haulage and her joke.  "I don't know
whether I'm a goat or a moke."  They cheered her, Rhoda waving a
table-cloth, Fred Tanrock a hat.  Nurse Tamplin wheeled out her
bicycle and prepared to attack the next case.  The mechanic,
getting into the driving-seat of the light van, backed her into the
yard, and drove out on to the road with the van's nose pointing
towards Lignor.

The nurse mounted her bicycle.

"That's about the best bit of work you've turned out, Mr. Tanrock."

Fred Tanrock rather thought so too.


2

In late summer the lane was a deep-green cleft, the hedges meeting
overhead where thorn touched thorn.  There was a centre way between
two ruts worn by the wheels of the Beech Farm wagons and tumbrils.
A strip of turf sloped slightly to each hedge-bottom, where golden
rod and fleabane caught the scattered sunlight.

To Rachel it was a new world.  She had not seen it before as she
saw it now, a vertical world spreading above her.  She lay flat in
her wheeled chair, a horizontal creature, aware of the branches
overhead, a fretwork of leaves and sky.  The chair rocked slightly.
She could see the upper half of Mrs. Binnie, and two taut little
arms attached to the handle.  It was like lying in a boat and
gliding up some green backwater.

Half-way up the lane her mother paused.

"Feeling all right, Rachie?"

"Quite.  It's not too much for you?"

Mrs. Binnie was a little out of breath, and enjoying it.

"No, not really.  And to think it's the first time you've been out.
Must seem nice."

Rachel was looking up into the heart of an oak tree.  It was full
of flickering light.

"Yes--funny.  You don't see things on the level."

Robinia cocked her head like a bird.

"Looking up.  Yes, it must be different--in a way."

"Quite different.  It's surprising."

Mrs. Binnie nodded at her, smiled, and plodded on again between the
two ruts.  The sky was very blue, with a few clouds floating at
their leisure.  They came to the big beech tree, and a stretch of
grass and of fern, and the holly hedge and white gate of Yew End,
and that other gate with the meadows beyond it.  The ruts were less
deep here, and Mrs. Binnie was able to pull the wheeled chair into
the shade of the beech tree.

"Pff--flies!"

She was hot, and she had a little halo of flies round her head, but
Rachel was not being worried by them.

"Try a piece of bracken, mumsie."

Mrs. Binnie broke off two fronds, and gave one of them to her
daughter.  She sat down on the grass beside the chair and fanned
the air with her plume of bracken.

"Wretched things.  Always when you don't want them.  But it's
lovely here, isn't it, poppet?"

"Yes."

"And that's Mr. Bonthorn's gate.  He does keep that holly hedge
beautiful.  It's like a green wall with a hole cut in it.  I've
never been inside.  I expect it's lovely."

Rachel lay silent, gazing at the mass of the tree.  She was
thinking of that moonlight night, and of Bonthorn's sudden coming,
and the strangeness of his words: "Christ is risen."  Mrs. Binnie's
fern frond was in active movement.  Somewhere a dove crooned.

The Stella Lacey clock struck four, and at the bridge a motor
hooted, and to Mrs. Binnie the day resumed its urgent necessities.
She stood up, still warning off flies.

"O, dear, four o'clock."

Rachel understood her.  Down at the Mill House people would be
demanding tea, and Rhoda was alone there.

"Mumsie--you could leave me here.  I shall be all right.  You or
Rhoda could fetch me presently."

"But--your tea, Rachie?"

"This--is better than tea.  It's so peaceful."

Probably the world would not have acquitted Mrs. Binnie of the
charge of conspiring to place her daughter outside Mr. Bonthorn's
gate, but Mrs. Binnie was not an ulterior person, and Rachel was
left in the shade of the beech tree.  She could see nearly the
whole of the great green vault with its dark groining of branches.
The sky was blotted out by the mosaic of those innumerable leaves.
On the side towards the sun there was more yellow in the foliage.
On the smooth, ash-grey trunk some lover many years ago had carved
a heart and two letters, E & A.  There was a soft whirr of wings
and a dove settled overhead and began to croon, and Rachel lay and
searched for the bird, but for a long time she could not see it.
Nor did she see it until the bird flew away and showed to her the
fan of its tail spotted with white.  But all this was new to her.
She was conscious of a little thrill of pleasure and surprise.
Lying on her back on this late day in summer she had discovered a
new dimension of branches and of birds.  Almost, she felt herself
floating up into it, but the full significance of this other world
had not yet been revealed to her.  She had both to die and to live.
She would have to sink into surrender, to traverse the cold green
disillusionment of an English spring, to look at life not merely as
Rachel, but as a creature who was somehow bird and tree and cloud
and flower.


3

She was discovered.  A little, hairy head appearing with two black
dots for eyes and one for nose, confronted her from under the holly
hedge.  Rollo the Cairn had a particular bolthole of his own, and
sighting this strange object in the shade of the beech tree, he
protested, first with a little, indignant gruffness, and then with
loud, sharp barks.

She turned her head and saw the dog, ears and hair erect, his
little, sturdy elbows turned out.

She called him by name, "Rollo--Rollo," but he was suspicious, full
of a sense of property, and barking he came to investigate this
thing on wheels and the creature in it.  He sniffed at the wheels,
but when she put out a hand and tried to coax him to her he was in
two moods.  The small ears went back; he waggled up close to the
hand, tail wagging, lips retracted, and then suddenly stood off and
continued to bark at her.

She spoke to him again.

"Rollo, come and make friends."

His bright eyes watched her.  Obviously he was convinced that she
and her machine needed investigating, by superior authority.  His
bark said: "Come and look at this thing I have found, a very
questionable object--outside--our--gate."  And Bonthorn, coming
down from the little house to the white gate, saw this fierce and
very responsible brown atom confronting Rachel.

"Hallo--hallo!"

The dog whisked about and raced for him, ears back, tail stretched
out, and Bonthorn bent down and picked him up.

"Nice way of treating a lady.  Come along and apologize."

Rollo, making furious attempts to lick the whole of a face with one
small tongue, was carried across to Rachel's chair.

"All right, all right, young fellow."

He was looking at Rachel and not at the dog, and Rollo, realizing
that this other thing somehow interested his master, became prick-
eared and observant, and quite still in the man's arms.

"Your first outing?  Well--I was wondering--"

She looked up at him and smiled, but her smile had a dimness.  A
moment ago her new world had seemed so impersonal, and now he was
here.

"Mother brought me.  She had to go back."

He walked round the chair, examining it, the dog alert in his arms.

"Splendid.  That nice lad contrived it?"

"Yes.  A present."

"Just what you wanted."

Her head made a slight movement on the pillow.  His words had
reminded her of all that her consciousness craved and could not
claim.  She closed her eyes for a moment.  And then she felt the
dog's paws on her body, and heard Bonthorn's voice:

"He wants to be introduced.  Funny little chap.  But he's rather
lovable."

She drew the dog to her and held him, and Rollo, with a sudden fury
of affection, licked her neck and ears.  There was no need for
Bonthorn to say: "Gently--gently," for the little beast seemed to
understand that this other creature could not play rough games.
"O, you darling."  She kissed his head.  And then, quite suddenly,
her face grew all shimmering and strange, and her mouth poignant.

Bonthorn was shocked.  He went and stood behind her as though he
understood that she would not wish to be looked at too closely.
This sudden emotion, like rain on green leaves!  Rollo, aware of
something very strange, sat up and looked at her with his head on
one side.  What was this funny expression?

Bonthorn spoke.

"Why shouldn't I take you round the garden.  May I?"

She made a movement of the head.

"Yes, please.  If--"

"O, there's no one about.  Just you and I and the dog."

He crossed to the gate, opened it, and coming back, saw the dog
lying with his hind legs stretched out after the manner of Cairns.
He was licking Rachel's hands.

She said: "I'm sorry to be so silly.  It just--"

"It just happened.  Why shouldn't it?  Life's like that."

Her eyes fixed themselves on his two big brown hands, as, facing
her, he guided the wheeled chair through the gate in the holly
hedge.  Then he turned about, and beyond the height and the breadth
of him she saw the garden, and the little white house with its
green shutters and white lattice porch.  She lay with two tears
still on her cheeks, and thought: "Yes--I would wish to see all
this--before I go away."  One hand stroked the dog who lay and
blinked at her ecstatically.  They went on past the cherry tree,
and round the darkness of two old yews to the gate in the thorn
hedge.

Bonthorn paused here.

"What about tea?"

She looked up at him.

"O, don't bother."

"You haven't had it?"

"No."

"O, well, we'll have it here in the garden."

He left her for a moment, and she heard his voice beyond the yews.

"Martha.  Tea for two--under the cherry tree--please.  Yes, in
about twenty minutes."

He came back.  He stood beside her for a moment, and tickled the
dog's neck, and she was very conscious of his nearness.  She--too--
wanted to be touched by him, and yet she was afraid.

"Nice things--animals.  So natural and transparent, and so easily
pleased.  So wholesomely greedy and grateful.  No complexes.  What
about it, young fellow?"

Rollo blinked at him--"I'm very comfortable, thank you."

They passed on through the gate in the thorn hedge into the sacred
precinct, and suddenly she saw the world in which he worked and
lived.  It was very beautiful and she had become much more
sensitive to beauty.  Almost it hurt her.  It was like that which
yearned in her, desire, despair, the unattainable.  She half-closed
her eyes and saw the place as a blur of colours, sheaves of asters,
sunflowers, dahlias, golden rod, helenium, hollyhock, late phloxes.
The whole place seemed to glow, and up above she saw the softly-
wooded hills and a quiet sky.

He paused and stood at gaze and his face was not as she had seen it
before.  It seemed part of the stillness.  She would have said that
something entered into him and filled him.  It was as though he
stood in the midst of a circle of light.

And then he looked at her, and smiled.  It was not that he expected
her to say anything, to exclaim, to make polite remarks to the
garden.  To him flowers were creatures with a sense of humour.  He
had heard them laugh.  He could remember hearing the laughter of
flowers, a shivering, bell-like sound.  Some leathery lady with no
complexion and hair anyhow--making remarks, yes--such personal
remarks.  "Yes, quite nice, but they look so untidy."  And the
sudden laughter of flowers.

"Lovely things, aren't they.  But you need not tell them so."

She lay with half-closed eyes, wondering.  It was his garden, and
yet she felt that he did not think of it as his garden.  It
belonged to the things that grew in it.

She said: "It's very beautiful."

He stood with head up, as though listening to the voice within her
voice.

"It hurts you.  Why?"

She had a moment of breathlessness.  How did he know that?  How had
she betrayed herself?  This question--!

"Yes.  It shouldn't do, should it?"

"O, that depends.  It used to hurt me--till I got hold of the
secret.  The 'Open Sesame.'"

She looked at him over the dog's head.

"Is there a secret?"

"O, yes.  It may sound either very simple--or rather sententious.
That--too--depends.  Sink yourself.  Get rid of the wretched little
ego that wants to root things up and possess them.  We're such
children.  We want to clutch and shout: 'Mine.'"

She saw his hands grasp the handle.  They went on.  And suddenly
she knew that his words had hurt her more than had the beauty of
these flowers.  Yes, she wanted things, she wanted them
desperately, and because they were beyond her passionate hands she
wanted to die.


4

She lay under the cherry tree, beside a table, and watched the dog
who was sprawling on the grass and playing with a rubber bone.  He
balanced it between his fore-paws and on the tip of a black nose.
It was very much his bone.

Did the man beside her realize that?

Also, the foliage of the cherry tree was so different from the
foliage of the beech.  It let more light through, and you could see
more sky.  In the days of her freedom she had not noticed things as
she noticed them now, and she wondered why.  Was it that she had
been in too much of a hurry, too full of herself and her youth?
But was not that understandable?  She had been more concerned in
living than in looking, but now, like a prisoner with one small
window to peer through she saw more outside that window.

Bonthorn had left her for a moment, and suddenly she heard his
voice behind her.

"Yes, we'll have it here, Martha."

Martha became visible to her.  She was putting the tea-tray down on
the table, and her face was like the front of a house with its door
and windows shut.  Martha had black hair on her upper lip, and a
tight, hard forehead.  Her eyes seemed to avoid looking at the girl
in the wheeled chair.

"This is Miss Rachel, Martha."

The grey eyes of Martha gave her a kind of snapping glance.

"Good afternoon."

And Rachel's lips moved--only to remain mute.  She smiled very
faintly at the unexpected severity of Martha.  For, obviously,
Martha did not approve of her, and was unfriendly, and grudged her
her tea under the cherry tree in Mr. Bonthorn's garden.

But Bonthorn was speaking.

"Have you got such a thing as a feeding-cup, Martha?"

Martha stood straight and severe.

"A feeding-cup, Mr. Bonthorn!  We haven't any use for such a
thing."

"Well, a small tea-pot with a lid that doesn't fall off."

Martha looked at him as though he was in one of his fantastical
moods.

"A small tea-pot?"

"Yes, you see--Miss Rachel can't manage very well with a cup.  Go
and find a small tea-pot."

And Martha went.



XXIII


1

There were occasions when Rachel overheard things that she was not
meant to hear, for Rhoda had one of those voices that penetrate
closed doors, and do not lack emphasis.

"I'll see you through the winter.  What about getting one of Aunt
Annie's girls and training her?  Gertie's just about the age.
You'll have to have someone."

Rhoda's vibrant voice seemed to strike on a soft woolly surface and
to produce a little murmur from Robinia.

"Well--Rache is not going to get any better.  And I'm not
satisfied.  Carver ought to have sent her up to London."

There were other worries that found their way into Rachel's room,
though they were not supposed to have the right of entry.  She had
so much time to lie and listen, and to reflect like a sensitive
mirror the happenings in and about the house.  For a month the
weather had been disastrous.  They had experienced five wet week-
ends in succession, and at a time of the year when the Mill House
might count on making money.  And what was still more exasperating,
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday would be fine, and Friday, Saturday
and Sunday windy and grey and wet.

Wasted cakes, wasted bread, superfluous preparations, tables and
chairs stacked away, the road black and empty.  Their takings were
down by pounds and pounds.  Rachel noticed that they did not bring
her the books to enter up.  They kept those depressing figures from
her.

But she had heard Rhoda standing amid wet tables and saying exactly
what she thought of the English climate.

"Well, of all the bloody weather!  That's right, drown us."

One word of Rhoda's fixed itself like a burr on the edge of her
consciousness.  On four days out of seven she was being mewed up in
the house, for in such weather the new chair was useless.  And
as she lay there she began to think of the winter; and the
inevitableness of the winter frightened her.  The dark, desolate
mornings, the slopes of Stella Lacey all grey, dusk creeping in,
hours and hours of lamplight.  Nothing happening.  And perhaps one
of those raw, anæmic cousins co-opted into the family to take
Rhoda's place, a stranger, but a stranger who was sufficiently well
known to be disliked.

And Bonthorn was away.  He had gone off on a ten-days' holiday to
visit gardens, his only holiday in the year, though the Chelsea
Show and Vincent Square saw him for a few hours.  He had come down
to the Mill House on the evening before he left, a wet, grey
evening, but there had been no meeting at the window.  He had sat
for five minutes with Mrs. Binnie beside Rachel's bed, and in the
dusk his face had had a dimness.  It had tantalized her.

"Use my garden.  Take her up there, Mrs. Buck."

Had her mother's presence made those five minutes seem so dim and
formal?  But what else could she expect?  And when he had gone she
had fallen into a mood of self mockery.  She was a silly,
sentimental little idiot in love with a man because he was kind to
her.  Yes, kind--was the word.  And she was weary of kindness, of
the patient tolerance of the world, of ministrations that made her
feel less than some helpless, unclean infant.

It seemed to her that her mother's face had grown smaller.  It was
a pathetic little face peering anxiously through a slit in a fence.

"Now, Rachie, legs--my dear."

The daily ritual endured.  She was rubbed and electrified.  She
would lie and watch her mother's busy hands and those two white,
waxlike members that were hers and not yet hers.  She had begun to
loathe them, to regard them as alien things, horrible, absurd
appendages.  She was weary of her body, O--so weary of it.  Often
she wanted to say to her mother: "Stop.  What's the use?  I'd be
much better dead."

But she did not say it.  She could not say it.

She lay there with a deceptive calmness, an apparent patience that
deceived those who saw her day by day.  She was a wax flower in a
glass case.  Even Nurse Tamplin was beguiled.

"Well--I think she's a perfect angel."

And she was feeling like a devil, not so much in the ethical sense,
but in regard to her bitter hatred of her own body.  There were
moments when she wanted to do violent things to it, and to tear it
in pieces, to destroy it.


2

Mrs. Binnie was a little blind.  She saw Rachel day by day, and to
Robinia every day was a sort of scramble.  She was like a little
animal scuttling round in a cage, turning a wheel.  So much of her
was externalized.

It happened to be sunny, and Rachel was lying out in her wheeled
chair under the chestnut tree when Stella Lacey came to the Mill
House.  Mrs. Gurney had been wandering round Skye and Lewis, and
feeling as she always felt the unreality of those strange islands,
so brilliant and yet so dim, so near to the edge of some other
world.  Great blue-black shadows, and the sudden weeping clouds,
and the mountains blurred, and the sea all colours.  Stacks of
peat, and white gulls, and the desolate purple of the heather, and
the wind, and sudden sunlight near or far away.

She came and sat down by Rachel's chair.  She looked at her.  Her
lips uttered a few pleasant, facile words, but within her the
intuitive cry was instant.

"This girl is going to die."

She did not stay long with Rachel, for Rachel was not wanting
anybody near her.  She lay and listened to what Mrs. Gurney had to
say, but only because it was Mrs. Gurney who was speaking, and not
because anything that was said could matter.  And Mrs. Gurney spoke
cheerfully.

"I am so glad you have this chair.  You will be able to get about
now.  You must come up and see me at Stella Lacey."

Rachel thanked her.

"I should love to, Mrs. Gurney."

But her voice was the voice of a mechanism responding to the click
of a lever, and her bright apathy was no more deceiving than one of
those confectionery faces that are so hideously young and so
deplorably old.  Lying there in that long and narrow box on wheels
she suggested to Gloriana youth in its coffin.

Mrs. Gurney said more bright things.

"Yes, you must come up and see me," and she was accused by Rachel's
eyes of behaving like some tiresome person who stands beside a
child's bed making cheerful and foolish noises.  She felt that she
had been guilty of blowing a tin trumpet and bouncing a doll up and
down, and suddenly the eyes of this girl had disconcerted her.

She rose.

"Is your mother in?"

Yes, Mrs. Binnie was always in, and to be found in the kitchen, but
it was no more possible to say certain things to Robinia than it
had been to say them to the daughter.  The gentle cynic in Mrs.
Gloriana sat down and talked and listened to Mrs. Binnie.  Mrs.
Binnie still had her illusion, perhaps because the woman who spends
herself must feel that she is getting some return for her money.
She was not exactly a fatuous optimist, but she did believe that it
was her duty to carry on.

"O, we manage somehow.  One--does--you know--Mrs. Gurney, when
you're put to it.  And Rachel's so patient."

That was one of Mrs. Binnie's illusions, but how could you shatter
it, for to the impartial eyes of Mrs. Gurney Rachel was anything
but patient.  Yet Mrs. Binnie had to be allowed her illusion.

"That wheeled chair should make a good deal of difference to her.
Can she work it herself?"

"O, yes, she's getting quite clever at it, Mrs. Gurney.  We tease
her and say she'll be breaking records."

"So, she's interested.  That's everything."

Mrs. Binnie was icing a cake.  As a matter of fact it was to be
Rachel's birthday-cake, nor would she have allowed that birthdays
could become superfluous, because a woman remained at forty for a
great number of years, and so much of life is wilful pretending.
Icing cakes, making pink squiggles on a white surface.  Yes, so
much of life was like that.

"Besides," said Mrs. Binnie, as though reinforcing an argument that
had never been opened, "you're to be envied if you've got something
to worry about, provided it's not all about yourself.  It means--"

Mrs. Gloriana understood just what it meant, that you were alive,
that you mattered to people.  When worry ceased from worrying you
were finished with life.

"Yes, when things become too comfortable--we become bored."

Mrs. Binnie waved her icing-bag.

"Not much chance of that for me, Mrs. Gurney.  Cornucopias; the
peace and plenty idea.  Rather like an old-fashioned Sunday, too
much dinner, too much sitting about--yawns.  Yes, to enjoy life
you've got to be kept a bit on the thin and hungry side.  That's a
thing those silly Socialists don't seem to understand.  When
they've put everybody in the same sort of nice little house, and
everybody's garden just so, and there's nothing for anybody to
worry about, and the doctor's paid before you're ill, and there are
no 'speshul models' in the shop windows!  What about it?"

"Yes, what about it, Mrs. Buck?"

"Why--people will be so bored that we'll have to have another sort
of revolution just to brighten thing's up and get going again.
Yes, a good old human smash-up."

Mrs. Gurney was ready to agree with her, but Mrs. Binnie's views
upon social problems could not supply her daughter with a new pair
of legs, and with a fresh set of illusions.  For might not life
itself be an illusion? and without illusion there is no life, the
illusion that as saints we little people matter.  Mrs. Gurney saw
life as a series of illusions; Mrs. Binnie lived on an illusion;
that was the difference between them.

But Mrs. Gloriana had one more glimpse of Rachel, a Rachel who was
trundling her wheeled chair across the terrace, and whose sudden
eyes met those of the departing lady.

"I see you can guide it yourself."

"Yes, quite well now."

They smiled faintly at each other as though recognizing the fatuity
of such social interchanges, and Mrs. Gurney passed on.  What
idiotic remarks one made in the presence of a disconcerting
reality, for to Mrs. Gurney those two dead dark eyes in the bright
pallor of the girl's face were the most relentless realities.  She
felt that Rachel had no illusions.  Life was a thing to be lived, a
physical phenomena, and if--for some reason--you were unable to
live it with full-fleshed ferocity--you were better dead.  Yes,
just as growing old was a tragedy, and just as man's secret rage
against growing old had produced Moses and the prophets.  "Go up,
thou bald-head."  The irreverent, merciless realism of youth.

These modern young things did not humbug themselves.  They made no
attempt to disguise a corpse by dressing it up with ribbons, and
rouging its face, and calling the process philosophy, or art, or
ethics.  The only thing that mattered was life, and the
satisfactions one got from life--yes, obviously, and that was what
Rachel knew.  She had not sat subdued in the presence of old man
Jehovah.  It was not a question of being good, or dutiful, or clean
or truthful, it was a question of being alive, and active on your
legs.

All the rest was sheer bunk, the paint and feathers and rattling
bones and mumbo-jumbo of the old medicine man.  A ragged, bald
Jehovah in a rage against youth, envying David his Bathsheba, and
to save his senility inventing sin!

Mrs. Gloriana went back to her garden, and she knew that even her
garden was a subterfuge, a soporific.  Just pottering.  You
pottered, and tried to persuade yourself that your potterings
mattered.  And that was why the eyes of Rachel had hurt her.  They
had said: "You are old, and so you don't matter.  I'm old--because
I am paralysed, and so I don't matter.  We are allowed to live--
because there are sentimental people in the world who think they
ought to keep us alive.  We have to try and live up to the
sentimentalists, and that's what's so terrible.  We should be much
better dead."

The ruthless realism of those dark eyes confronted her from the
breadth of a white pillow!


3

Rachel practised with her wheeled couch.  She was unable to
manoeuvre it through doorways unless she could head straight for
the doorway, or someone slewed the back wheels round for her, and
so started her on her way.  But the machine gave her definite
mobility, it put it within her power to perfect her project.  Her
bed could move.

It gave her a little feeling of adventure to potter out on the road
when the road happened to be quiet, and to propel herself as far as
the end of the lane or into the yard at the back of the mill.  Her
sense of adventure was limited, and because of its obvious
limitations she herself had set a definite end to it.  Her
explorations were no more extensive than those of a child
navigating a tub in a horse-pond, and intrinsically they were far
less exciting.  She got no pleasure out of it, for where the
child's tub would be bumping against the bank her boat on wheels
ran up against other limitations, and it was the live self that was
jarred, and recoiled.

She wished to be allowed her gesture, and it would be a gesture of
self-effacement.

She wanted to cease from existing because the business of existing
was both boring and bitter, and because being in love seemed to add
to its bitterness.  She wanted to set Mrs. Binnie free, for though
her mother might weep once a week for the rest of her life, she
would have leisure to do it in, and she would be able to sit in a
chair.  Yes, she simply could not live up to these devoted and
sentimental people.  Almost she preferred Rhoda, and Rhoda's young
egotism.

Having brought her chair to the edge of the road she confronted
that smooth tarred surface and those passing machines.  She had
only to wait for her opportunity, give the wheels a turn and send
her chair gliding under the nose of some char-a-banc or lorry.  It
would be so supremely easy.  But something in her recoiled from
that sort of bloody squelch.  Moreover, she realized that it would
be kinder to leave an illusion behind her.  The thing must appear
accidental.  She lay and reflected.  Her lassitude was all for
quietism.


4

Did she wish to see Bonthorn again?

Yes, and no, and the passionate "yes" seemed to render the "no"
more emphatic.  She did not think that she could bear to see him
again.  He understood her too well and yet not at all.  She was a
flower with a broken stem and he should have known that such a
flower is finished.  But he would have said that she was woman,
soul, spirit, not a mere complex of cells, and that as spirit she
could transcend matter and the luxations of matter.  He wanted to
make of his love a little green-pointed stick, and lash her to it,
and bid her lift up her head and live.

But how was it possible?

She would have cried to him--not "Help me to live"--but "Help me to
die."

For that was one of the superstitions that astonished her.  This
religion of keeping people alive!  As though there was no sense and
honesty in the business of dying and wanting to die, when life was
bankrupt in you, a survival mere hypocrisy.  Why, by choosing to
die, should one be accused of sinning against society?  As though
society cared twopence about it.

For, in the newspapers society might make a pretence of caring.  It
was copy, or like one of the many "isms," but only upon the new
roads was society consistent.  It killed and was killed, and no one
suffered any great loss of sleep because of it.  Besides, the
circus must have its thrill.

She did not realize how like the life of the road was to the life
of a circus until there was a bad crash at the bridge, and a small
saloon car overturned and burst into flames.  Its four occupants
were roasted like chestnuts.  Rachel had heard the screams of the
trapped women.  The thing happened about tea-time, and Mrs. Binnie
hurried in and pulled down Rachels' blind, as though Rachel needed
protecting from any such horror.

The Mill House terrace was crowded, and Rachel heard the rush for
the bridge, the pushing back of chairs, the excited exclamations.
The glare of the burning car made patterns upon the blind.  She
heard a man shouting.  Apparently, the driver of a lorry had tried
to open one of the doors, and had been badly burned.  She lay very
still in bed.

The people began to come back.  The lorry driver was brought into
the Mill House, and Mrs. Binnie routed out a bottle of salad oil,
and smothered his burnt hands with it.  Someone was telephoning to
Lignor.  Traffic was piling up and blocking the road.

Rachel lay and listened to the voices of the people who had
returned to their teas.  She heard a woman say: "Put the jam away,
Fred.  No--I can't eat any more."  Another voice was a little
hysterical.  A man said: "That's what comes of having your petrol
tank in the front."  Yet another voice poured abuse upon the
bridge: "Regular death-trap.  There ought to be a thirty-foot
roadway.  One asks for a chance."

But the most surprising voice of all was that of a woman who came
and sat down under the chestnut tree, and quite close to Rachel's
window.

"My dear--I enjoyed every bit of it."

But just how surprising was that declaration?  The thrill, the
sensation!  And somehow it did not surprise Rachel.  She had begun
to understand that a part of life is like that.  Her mother rushing
in to pull down a blind, and these other people--or some of them--
to whom the road had exhibited a real, live, sanguinary show!

Mrs. Binnie's little anxious face reappeared.

"It hasn't upset you, Rachie, has it?"

"No, mumsie--I'm all right."

Mrs. Binnie hurried out again, and Rachel lay and listened to the
voices, and to the confusion upon the road where the blind impetus
of progress had been halted for a moment.  Someone was shouting:
"Go on, sir, go on."  A car trumpeted like an impatient beast.  And
then, gradually, the confusion seemed to sort itself out; the
clockwork trains ran to and fro.  She supposed that someone was
dealing with that charred relic, while speed reasserted itself, and
the road resumed normality.

Yes, death was just an incident.

The only thing that really mattered, and against which the new
world had a grievance--was the narrowness of that bridge.



XXIV


1

She waited upon her opportunity.

It came to her on the day before Bonthorn was expected back at Yew
End.

"The Regal" at Lignor was showing Journey's End, and Fred Tanrock
had come down in a car to collect Rhoda.  It was suggested that
Mrs. Binnie should go with them, and Rachel, who was lying on her
wheeled bed under the chestnut overheard the arguments, and her
mother's protests.

"No, really--I can't leave Rachel."

Rachel closed her eyes for a moment as though a glare of light had
been let suddenly into a darkened room.  She called to those
others.

"Rhoda--Fred.  Take her with you.  I shall be all right."

Mrs. Binnie came to her, looking bothered.

"But--really--I--"

"Yes, do, do, mother.  I'd like you to enjoy yourself."

Robinia was persuaded, partly because Rachel seemed so eager for
her to go, and after all there were no reasons to be advanced
against her going.  The day was a Tuesday, and the tea-hour was
over, and any loss of custom would be limited to the price of a few
glasses of lemonade.  Mrs. Binnie went in to put on her hat, and
Rachel asked to be moved to the other side of the Mill House so
that she would be in the sun.

Fred Tanrock wheeled her round.

"Where would you like to be, Rache?"

"Oh, in the gallery.  I like to lie and look at the water."

He arranged her chair on the wooden staging at the back of the Mill
House above the disused mill-race and the upper pool.  He did not
question her choice.  She was in the evening sunlight here, and out
of view, with the river and the green valley to be looked at.  And
she had a book.

"Not a bad spot--either, Rache."

Mrs. Binnie came hurrying round.

"Really, it does seem selfish leaving you like this."

"You don't often have two hours off, dear."

"We'll come straight back when the show's over.  It won't be late,
Fred, will it?"

"No, I'll run you back."

"But you'll be in the dark, Rache."

She smiled at her mother.

"Well, that won't frighten me."

Mrs. Binnie bent down to kiss her, and Rachel's arms went round her
mother's neck.

"Enjoy yourself, dear; you deserve it."

Mrs. Binnie was kissed with tenderness, but the embrace roused in
her no suspicion, Rachel had always been an affectionate child.

"Sure you'll be all right--my darling?"

"Of course."

It occurred to Rachel at that moment that her mother was looking
quite pretty.  Yes, she supposed that there had been a time when
her mother--But how strange!  And why was it strange?  She drew a
hand softly across Mrs. Binnie's cheek.

"You do look nice.  Good-bye."

Mrs. Binnie's face was all puckered up with pleasure.

"Well--really!  I'm going to enjoy myself.  Yes really."

They were gone, and Rachel lay for a while with her eyes closed as
though wishing to be alone for a minute with the memory of her
mother's face.  She was glad that she had seen it like that, both
glad, and yet infinitely sorry.  Would she be too terribly hurt--?
But, after all, it might be kinder to cut a rope with one stark
flash of a knife, than to leave the strands to chafe and fray
themselves out.  Journey's End.  She opened her eyes and looked
about her at this world of the senses.  It was very beautiful, and
so peaceful.  She was glad that the sun was shining.

How green everything was, the meadows, the flags and water-weeds,
the willows!  A September greenness.  And the water!  It seemed to
swell between emerald cushions like liquid glass.  It reflected the
willows and the red brick and grey stone of the old building, and
the white posts and rails of the gallery.  Swallows were skimming,
and now and again they seemed to touch the water.  A little V-
shaped track showed where a rat was swimming.  She heard a moor-
hen's cry.

How green and alive and lovely, but how bitterly green, how hurtful
in its liveliness!  The shimmer of the light upon the water played
upon the surface of the wall.  She stretched out a hand and touched
the wall; it was quite warm; the sunlight had warmed it.  Would the
water be as warm?  And she was aware of a sudden catching of her
breath, a spasm as of the live flesh of her contracting, resisting,
struggling.  Yes, the water would be cold, and so final.

She was afraid, and in a sudden agony of spirit she cried out
against her fear.

"Coward!  O, you poor, beastly funk!  If you haven't the courage to
live--surely--?"

She looked at the white posts and rails.  She measured the height
of the rail at the far end of the gallery.  Yes, there was room for
the wheeled chair to pass under it, and below lay deep water.  She
had only to put her hands to the wheels, shut her eyes, and let
herself slip over the edge.  It would be over so quickly.

And afterwards?  O, but she did not believe in any afterwards.
Death was just a going to sleep.

She put her hands to the wheels, moved the chair a foot or so, and
paused.

No, just a minute more, just a last glimpse of that green world.
She was like a child with the medicine glass at her lips: "Just a
minute; O--just a minute.  I'll drink it, yes, but please let me
wait just a minute--"


2

She uttered a sudden, sharp cry, and lay panting.

"How long have you been there?"

"Only just come."

"You startled me--most horribly."

She had seen a shadow on the wall, and had realized that someone
was standing just behind her chair.  Bonthorn?  But who else could
it be but Bonthorn appearing like some angel of the Lord to trouble
poor humanity.  O, damnable interference!  Just when she had made
up her mind, and got her courage to the sticking point.  O, damn
his dear, disastrous, futile interference.

She was angry.

"I thought it was to-morrow--"

"Well, so it should have been.  Have I done wrong in coming back a
day earlier?"

"You startled me."

"I'm sorry.  I saw you from the end of the lane, lying here in the
sun."

"O, you saw me lying in the sun."

"Yes.  And I dared--"

He stood beside her chair, and was aware of her two restless hands
and her strangely sullen face.  What was the matter?  Surely, if he
had startled her the reaction was out of all proportion to the
offence?  That cry of hers, and her hurried breathing, and those
restless and errant hands!

He said: "I'm sorry.  I did not mean to startle you like this.  I
found the house shut up, and I thought--"

"They have gone to the pictures.  O, don't sit there!  It isn't
safe."

He had made as though to sit on one of the rails, and she knew that
one or two of the posts were rotten.  Yes, when you were short of
money some things had to be left in disrepair.  He was standing
between her and the water, and his shadow lay across her face.  Did
he suspect?  She wished that he would not stand and look at her so
intently with that one blue eye.  She could not bear to be looked
at; she could not bear him so near--and somehow so intimately near--
just when her despair had stripped itself of all illusions.  For
he was life, bidding her live, clutching at her suddenly and
passionately.  She felt torn, distracted, and so helpless.

She closed her eyes.  She tried to speak casually.

"Did you have a good time?"

Yes, he had had quite a good time.  He began to tell her where he
had been, but not as though it mattered.  He was watching her, and
she understood that the words he uttered were mere pebbles thrown
into a pool.  He was saying other and more urgent things to her and
to himself.  She kept her eyes closed.

And suddenly she felt his hand touching her shoulder, and she lay
rigid.

"Has anything happened--while I've been away?"

"Anything?  No."

"Sure?"

"Quite sure."

She was trembling.  She knew that she could not go on lying there
with her eyes shut.  O, if only he would go away!  This bitter,
exquisite, hopeless interference!  He did not understand.

Her hands clutched the sides of the chair.  He had bent down and
kissed her on the forehead.  She opened her eyes wide.

"O, don't--please--"

She stared up into his face.  It frightened her, for it was the
face of a lover.

"You mustn't--It hurts me--I--"

He stood very still.

"Why should it hurt you?  Can't you understand--?"

Her eyelids flickered.

"I'm dead.  I can't bear--this--It makes me so unhappy."

"Unhappy?  The one thing in all the world--I want to save you from.
Rachel--"

A bell rang, the bell over the front door of the Mill House.  Both
of them heard it, and the urgent--compelling clangour of it.  Her
eyes opened wide.  She spoke.

"Someone's there.  They may want petrol.  O, please go and see."

For a moment he seemed to hesitate.  He smiled at her with a
peculiar gentleness, a tender tolerance.

"All right.  I dare say I can deal with them."

She heard him move away.  She lay wild-eyed for a moment until she
supposed him out of sight.  Then she put her hands to the wheels of
the chair.  She closed her eyes, and turned the wheels of her fate.


3

What it was that made him pause at the corner of the house and look
back at her was mere conjecture.  He had had no suspicion, no
understanding of her young and raw despair; he just saw her chair
moving, and was surprised.  And then the thing flashed upon him.
Deliberately she was propelling herself to the end of the wooden
staging where the water lay deep.

He did not utter a word.  He felt the crazy structure quiver as he
ran.  He saw her hands turning more fiercely at the wheels as
though she had heard him behind her, and was wild to elude a
rescue.  She was at the edge.  The front wheels were over, and the
machine in the act of tilting when he got his hands to it.

He dragged it back.  He saw her two hands leave the wheels, clutch
each other, and then cover her face.

She cried out with a strange, smothered voice:

"O, let go.  It's damnable of you.  I can't even kill myself."

He stood quite still for a moment, his two big hands on the handle
of the chair.  He was looking at her two hands.  He too was on the
edge of reality.

He spoke.

"I--understand--now."

Her head seemed to twist from side to side on the pillow.  She
flung her hands aside and let them hang over the wheels.

"Damn you--and your kindness.  I've had--too--much kindness.  It
kills one.  One just lies and rots.  Yes--I wanted to die.  And you
say--you understand--!"

"Perhaps."

"O, rot!  If you understood--you'd push me over the edge."

All the colour seemed to have gone from his face.  It had a
starkness.  The bell was ringing again, and he did not hear it.  He
bent over her from behind, and his hands clasped her face.

"Should I?  When--I love you?"

She put up her hands and tried to push his away.  Her despair was
even more naked and unashamed.

"O, don't talk such rot to me.  It makes it worse.  It's all so
impossible, so filthy--"

"Rachel--"

"O, can't you understand--?  I'm not cold.  I'm alive.  I've faced
things out.  I'm honest.  I'm a live coal that can't burn.  I want
to be put out.  And you say--"

He held her head in his hands.

"I'm not cold--either, Rachel."

"O, my God!  Push me over.  Yes, if you love me like that, push me
over.  It's best; it's the only thing; the only decent thing.  You
see--I know--"

Her wide eyes implored him.  They were like the eyes of an animal
in pain.

"Do it for me.  You couldn't do anything more dear--and wonderful
and brave.  O, my dear, have pity."

She looked at him steadily for some seconds, and then suddenly she
closed her eyes and began to weep.  Her hands hung over the wheels.
She was alive on the bed of her destiny--and helpless.  He wanted
her to live.  She would be sacrificed to his belief that one should
go on living, and loving and being loved.  He was a man; he didn't
know; he didn't understand.

And like a pathetic, frustrated child, she whimpered to him.

"Yes, I shall die--I shall die somehow.  You'll see.  O, why did
you come back?"


4

A voice interrupted them, a fat and rather embarrassed voice.

"Excuse me--but could I have some petrol?"

"Petrol?  Of course."

Bonthorn faced about.  He saw a little, walrus-headed man in grey
flannel trousers, the collar of a tennis shirt flopping over the
collar of a blue coat.  The little man's prominent eyes were
apologetic.

"Sorry to trouble you, but I've run out of juice."

Bonthorn's body was a screen concealing Rachel.  He smiled at John
Citizen who--so far as the flesh was concerned--looked so little
lacking in juice.

"Right.  I'll come round to the front."

"Thanks.  Sorry to trouble you."

He disappeared, and again Bonthorn bent over Rachel.  She was lying
with her eyes shut, and the lashes were wet.

"I am going to take you with me."

She said nothing.  She had been frustrated, and her cry of despair
had been uttered, but her silence was not the silence of surrender.
Her very helplessness protested, and as he drew her wheeled chair
over the planking of the gallery he was made to realize her silence
and to examine it.  For this attempt of hers to end life had been
no hysterical display.  She was most dreadfully in earnest.  And
the interfering and tender hands of the lover had provoked in her a
more resentful despair.

And perhaps that had both surprised and shocked him, both as man
and lover.  The self-complacency of sex!  And discovering that
element of the old Adam in him, he was in a hurry to cast it out.
Was his vanity to be involved because she--poor child--was
desperate?

And then he heard her speaking.

"Mr. Bonthorn, don't take me round to the front."

He paused.  How strange that she could cling to that formal
prefix when both of them were so overwrought!  And yet it was
understandable.  She was trying to cover her nakedness, to recover
her self-control, and formalism might help.

"I don't want to see people just now."

He understood.

"Where would you like to be?"

"Over there, on the grass, where we dry the clothes."

It was the little piece of grass where he had seen her leaping with
those other young things, and as he turned aside and placed her
chair in the centre of it, he saw her yesterday contrasted with her
to-day.  He stood hesitant.  Was she to be trusted?  And he was
looking about for something with which to wedge the wheels of her
chair.

Instantly she discovered his mistrust.

"No, you needn't do that.  I won't try--"

"You promise?"

"I promise."

He reached for one of her hands.

"That's good enough.  I'm not a mere sentimental fool.  We're on
the edge of things together."

She looked at him tragically.

"I don't think you could understand--without being me."

"Couldn't I?  But I might try to.  Why not give me a chance?"

Her fingers pressed his.

"O, it might be too bitter--But you'll want the key of the pump.
It will be hanging on a nail just inside the front door."

He raised her hand, kissed it, and left her, and she lay looking at
her hand.  She placed it against her cheek.

"O, if she could dare to live!"

The little walrus-headed man was waiting patiently with an empty
petrol can.  He explained that he had had to leave his car a
hundred yards up the road.

"Damned silly--to run out of juice."

Bonthorn found that the front door of the Mill House had been
locked, but he managed to scramble in at an open window and possess
himself of the key.  He explained the situation to John Citizen.

"They have gone out for the evening.  They forgot to leave the key
with us.  How much petrol do you want?"

"A couple of gallons."

They made the discovery that neither of them knew how to operate
the pump.  Bonthorn looked fierce.

"I'll go and ask Miss Buck.  She'll know.  She had a bad accident a
few months ago.  That's why--"

He went.  He returned not merely with the information, but with
Rachel and her chair.  To all appearances she had recovered her
self-control.  She lay beside the red pump and directed him.  The
can was filled.

"How much?"

It was Rachel who gave the price.  The little man paid, nodded his
round head at them, said he was much obliged, and trotted off with
the can.

Bonthorn locked up the pump, and handed the key and the money to
Rachel.

"Like to go back to that other place?"

She lay looking at the sky.

"No, not now.  Put me by the chestnut tree."

He wheeled her into the shadow of the tree.  He was aware of her
beseeching eyes.  She put out a hand.

"You won't tell?"

"Your mother?"

"Yes--promise--promise."

"I promise."



XXV


1

The dusk seemed to envelop them as though the tree had let down a
dark and diaphanous curtain, and out of the dusk her voice came to
him as he stood leaning against the trunk of the tree.  She was
both very near, and very far away.

"O, please don't talk sentimental rot.  It hurts.  It's so
impossible."

For, actually, he had asked her to marry him.  He had suggested
taking her to that little white house and making a new life for her
there.  He was the urgent, dear idealist still regarding her as a
plant with a broken stem, and proposing to tie her to the green
stake of his compassion.

"You don't realize things.  No, please don't touch me."

Her despair went in search of wounds.  She wanted to slash at all
the conventions with which life clothed itself, to rend the seams
of the garment of sentiment.  She was both reckless and resolutely
calm.  He was not facing the facts.  He was treating her as a kind
of beautiful abstraction; he asked to see her all dressed up in
white chiffon, the dear, desired, devoted martyr, and she was
determined that he should see her naked.

She said: "Let's be honest.  Your woman would give notice in a
week, and you would not find it easy to get another.  You don't
seem to realize how helpless I am, and what my helplessness means
to other people.  Mother has to put up with it--just because she is
my mother."

He seemed part of the trunk of the tree, and his silence humoured
her, and she did not ask to be humoured.

"Besides--you'd begin to be sick of me.  O, yes, you would.  Men
can't put up with things as women can.  O, let's be real.  I don't
want to pretend.  One dies of trying to pretend, and I have to
pretend with mother.  It's all I can do.  You see, a man can't know
how a woman feels about certain things--"

"Are you sure?"

"Certain.  Or, you wouldn't have suggested taking charge of me.  It
was dear of you--but--O--so-stupid.  And if I had let myself go--
You see--I don't want to live.  And you think that's horrible and
cowardly."

He did not answer her at once.

"But if I understand?"

"You can't understand.  You would have to be with me for a month to
understand how life hurts me.  Because life's worse than a farce if
you can't live it.  O, yes, it is, at my age.  If I were very old--
I might just lie and rot, but I'm young; I want to do things, and I
want to be things.  And I'm just a corpse."

He made a movement towards her, but her quick voice restrained him.

"No, no--that's not fair.  You mustn't try to get at me in that
way.  Not--by touching.  O, that may sound so crude to you, but it
isn't really.  You see--we are bodies--more body than soul--I
think, and you are trying to persuade me that a soul can live and
be happy inside a wretched, broken, useless body.  It can't, it
can't.  O, don't try and pretend."

He stood very still.  It was as though her young and ruthless
realism was crucifying his humanity.  She was nailing his idealism
to the trunk of that tree.

She had to be answered.

"I do believe--that it would be possible."

Her hands moved restlessly.

"Must I go on explaining?  You are making me strip myself."

"Rachel!"

"Listen.  I have to be washed and dressed and fed like a small
child.  Hour after hour and day after day, I have to be fussed
over.  I have to lie and accept, hating myself, loathing myself.
There is only one person in the world whom I can bear near me, to
do all these things for me.  She does them--not because she's an
angel, but because she's a woman and my mother.  And yet--you can't
understand--"

He watched the lights of a car sending a glare towards them along
the road.  The darkness was dispersed for a few seconds.  He could
see her lying there in her chair, and his own face was revealed.
The tree was like some lighted tent, and then everything was dark
again.

"Perhaps I am beginning to understand."

"A little.  But not everything."

"My limitations?  Yes, is it that I have lived so much with
impersonal things?  And life can be so ruthlessly personal.  But
tell me, Rachel, is there anything that could make you want to
live?"

She seemed to draw a deep breath.  He was being real with her now.

"Yes, to be able to live--even a little."

"Just--how?"

"To walk--even with two sticks.  To be able to move myself, to get
things for myself, and not only for myself."

He looked down at her in the darkness.

"There is more soul in your body, dear, than you think.  And you'll
have to go on living--"

He was aware of her dim hands hanging.

"Yes--I know.  That's fate--somehow.  I tried to hang myself, and
you came and cut the rope.  She--wants me to go on living.  Yes, I
know that.  She couldn't conceive.  I suppose it would be a brutal
thing."

"Yes."

"I'm her baby, so to speak, and babies don't commit suicide, do
they?  No--I can't call you Nicholas or Nick.  What shall I call
you?"

He was conscious of keeping himself pressed against the tree.

"Why not--just--man?"

"Man!"

She lay musing.

"Man.  Then--help me--man.  I can't die--and I can't live.  O, try
and help me--without hurting or provoking--"

And suddenly he knelt down and put his hands on the edge of her
chair.

"No, don't be afraid.  I won't touch, unless you ask me to.  I've
begun to understand.  We need not pretend together any more, need
we?--or if we are pretending we shall know that it's because of
someone else.  But--I love you, and when one is loved one is not
alone."

She lay and looked at him in the darkness.  She put out a hand and
touched his face.

"Dear man--stay with me till they come back.  I'm always alone with
myself now.  I did not know what being alone meant until--"

"Yes--I think I know."

There was a long silence between them.  Bonthorn had brought one of
the terrace chairs, and he sat astride it, watching the road.
Certain words of hers possessed him.  To walk--even with two
sticks.  How little it was to ask, and being denied it he had a
feeling that she would die, just burn herself up and flicker out
for lack of the will to live.  And sitting there in the darkness
beside him he knew that he loved the reality of Rachel as he would
never have loved the sweet and sentimental creature of his own
creating.  Her very despair was part of his flesh.  She wanted to
die because living could be too bitter.  This was reality.

He sat on beside her, with his hand resting on hers, and presently
the lights of another car approached, but he did not withdraw his
hand.  The car slowed up.  It was Mrs. Binnie returning from
Journey's End with Rhoda and Fred Tanrock.

He felt her fingers clasp his.

"Mother."

He stood up with the lights of the car upon him.  He heard Mrs.
Binnie's voice.

"Why, it's Mr. Bonthorn."

He went forward to meet them.

"Yes, we sold some petrol, and after that we sat and talked."

"I'm so glad.  It seemed so selfish of me, Mr. Bonthorn."

She fluttered past him towards her younger daughter.  A part of the
tree was lit up brilliantly by the car's lights, but Rachel was in
the shadow.  Bonthorn heard Rachel's voice, bright and brave and
welcoming.

"Yes--I'm quite all right, dear.  How did you enjoy yourself?"

He understood Mrs. Binnie to say that she had enjoyed herself at
the cost of two wet handkerchiefs, her own and Rhoda's.  Yes, it
had been lovely, but so tragic, so sad.  And Bonthorn felt moved to
slip silently away, like a big moth passing across the glare of the
car's lights.  Tragedy!  While Mrs. Binnie had been weeping over
those tragic happenings on a screen, he had been involved in
Rachel's tragedy, the imminence of her Journey's End.

He walked slowly up the dark lane, and the urgent reality of her
anguish walked with him, for she was flesh and blood, no sublimated
piece of sex and sentiment, the creation of a man's dream-spinning
soul.  She was Journey's End, as tragic and as real and as
ruthlessly inevitable.

"If I could walk--even with two sticks."  Yes, that was the
problem.  Nothing in his garden had ever propounded such a problem
to him as this girl who could neither live nor die.


2

He went to see the one man who could tell him whether there was any
hope for Rachel, Carver of Lignor, and he caught Dr. Carver walking
in his walled garden at the back of the old red house in Southgate
Street.  Dr. Carver grew dahlias and chrysanthemums of an immense
size and splendour, and Bonthorn was led gently into the doctor's
garden.

"About yourself, is it?  You look fit enough."

"No, not about myself."

"That's all right.  Just have a look at these new fellows.  There's
a thing called Atalanta--"

But Bonthorn was not at all interested in Dr. Carver's dahlias,
though the name of Atalanta was strangely significant.  Almost,
there was an arrogance and a grossness about these succulent
sheaves with their brilliant blobs of colour, and Bonthorn's mood
was urgent.  He was introduced to Atalanta, paid discreet homage to
her, and then came to the point.

"It's about Rachel Buck.  I want you to tell me whether you
consider--"

He was aware of the abruptness of Carver's glance, a stare that
said: "Hallo--a private patient of mine!  What business is it of
yours?  You're not a relation," and Bonthorn made haste to parry
that glance.

"O, you want my authority?  Well, I have asked her to marry me, and
of course--Yes, that's the situation.  I want to know whether there
is any hope."

Dr. Carver forgot about his dahlias.  Bonthorn had disconcerted
him, and very considerably so.  The unexpectedness of this new
world!  A man like Bonthorn proposing to marry a girl from a tea-
shop, a poor paralysed thing, even though she was the daughter of
Mrs. Binnie.  And that one blue eye of Bonthorn's covering him like
the mouth of a pistol!

Almost, Dr. Carver prevaricated.  Usually a crisp and decisive
person, he was guilty of hesitations, fumblings.  He looked
annoyed, and offered Bonthorn a cigarette.

"That's rather a poser my dear chap.  And coming from you--Well,
the fact is--"

Bonthorn accepted a cigarette.

"I quite understand--the difficulties."

"But--that's just it, Bonthorn.  I don't think you do.  What I mean
is, well--to be quite frank--the case has been a bit of a puzzle;
not according to plan."

Bonthorn smiled at him gently.  Carver the man and Carver the
professional authority were jostling each other.

"Not a text-book case?"

"No."

"But doesn't that happen very often?--though you doctors can't
blurt it out.  Life catches us guessing.  As a biologist--I know
that.  The thing your microscope shows you and the nice picture in
the text-book don't always tally.  So, you can be candid."

Dr. Carver was candid.  He explained that the history of the case,
the signs and symptoms had indicated a certain lesion, but that the
X-ray examination had clouded instead of clearing the issue.  "It
did not show us what we expected to see."  And his explanation, a
little confused and almost apologetic, seemed to partake of the
obscurity of the condition.  "We can't work miracles, you know.
And then there was the question of active interference, and after
considering it carefully, we turned it down.  Because--there was an
alternative explanation, just a glimmer of hope.  And if it
happened to be a case of hæmorrhage into the spinal canal and of
pressure--"

He threw away the stump of a cigarette and lit another.

"Fact is, Bonthorn, some of us are a little shy--these days--of the
bright young men with knives.  O, yes, damned efficient, but the
results aren't always happy.  Yes, you take me."

Bonthorn nodded.

"So--there is hope?"

"Did I say so?"

"You hinted at it."

"Well, look here, it's so damned shadowy that somehow I hadn't the
heart to suggest it to them."

"You waited."

"Exactly.  And I think--if you had been in my shoes you would have
done just the same.  I made sure that she was getting all the
treatment that could help her, should there be a chance--"

Bonthorn stood thinking, his blue eye set in a stare.

"Yes--I understand.  But there is the psychology of the case, the
human factor--I happen to know.  You see the child is dying just
because she hasn't any hope.  I don't say that we should dangle a
rope--but can't we do--something active?"

Carver looked at him.

"How?"

"Give her change.  Supposing we had another opinion?  Supposing you
sent her to London for a month?  I'll foot the bill.  Don't think
me an interfering devil--but I'm in this--as a man."

Carver nodded.  His voice was a little gruff.

"That's all right.  I see what you mean.  A change of environment
does help.  I'm quite ready--"

Bonthorn smiled at him.

"That's what I wanted from you, what I expected from you, and I've
got it.  I'm grateful.  Give me the name of the best man in town,
and a letter.  Will you?  Or perhaps you would prefer--?"

Carver threw the stump of the second cigarette into the deeps of
his precious dahlia border.

"O, yes, that's all right, Bonthorn.  I'm not a professional prig.
I'm ready to help in any way.  Besides it will give the mother a
little rest.  She's a damned little old sport."

"She is."


3

Carver sent Bonthorn to Sir Magnus Orme, and when Sir Magnus had
read Dr. Carver's letter and examined the photographs, he addressed
himself to Bonthorn as though Bonthorn was part of the problem.

"Are you a relative?"

"No. . . .  But I'm engaged to Miss Buck."

"I see."

The fresh-coloured old gentleman with the white head and the airs
of an ambassador had a shrewd and meticulous eye.  He belonged very
much to the old school; he did not believe in letting the public
too intimately behind the screen, and to relatives he was apt to
appear as the mysterious autocrat, for, being wise as to how much
and how little he knew, and as to how much the world thought it
knew, he believed that the priest abdicated his power when he
dispensed with mystery.  He looked Bonthorn through and over; he
appraised him.

He said: "I have every confidence in Dr. Carver," and paused.

Bonthorn smiled at him.

"So have I."

That put them into harmony, and when Bonthorn went on to explain
the humanities, and to touch simply and gently upon youth's
tragedy, the old autocrat became man.

"Very well.  Bring her up here--yes, the sooner the better.  I'll
recommend you a nursing-home.  Or--I can arrange it for you."

"If you would."

"I should prefer to examine her there."

The persuading of Rachel was an easy matter.  She was wild to go.
Something was about to happen, and in this season of her despair
she was ready to welcome the most trivial of happenings, new faces,
any tremor of change.  How much she hoped was doubtful, but it was
Bonthorn's advantage as well as hers.  Moreover, they had been
obliged to let Mrs. Binnie into the secret, for pure altruism is
not wholly convincing, and if Bonthorn was to sign cheques he
should be allowed an air of authority.

Mrs. Binnie had exclaimed: "Well, really--isn't it wonderful," and
with very bright eyes had expected Bonthorn to kiss her, and
Bonthorn had kissed her, but behind her lover's back Rachel had
spoken gently to her mother.

"I don't want it known.  People would only laugh.  It is very dear
of him to do this for me."

Robinia could not see the world laughing at Bonthorn.  Her attitude
was childlike.  In spite of social incongruities it seemed to her
most natural that Bonthorn should love Rachel, for Rachel had
always been lovable, and to Mrs. Binnie she was far more lovable
now as the dark-eyed and tragic martyr.

"Well, we won't say anything about it."

"You see, it's so helpless.  Even if I were to--"

Mrs. Binnie looked wise.

"I'll never give up hoping.  I don't think Mr. Bonthorn's given up
hoping.  He wouldn't be worrying you to go up to London if he
didn't hope.  He's not an ordinary man, my dear."

"There's no other man like him."

So the Lignor ambulance was chartered, and Rachel was driven up to
London, and Mrs. Binnie travelled with her.  Mrs. Binnie had heard
terrible things about nursing-homes, but when she had seen and
spoken to the very great lady who was responsible for No. 7 Seymour
Square, Mrs. Binnie was reassured.

She was introduced to Rachel's nurse, a pale and quiet girl with
kind eyes.

"I know you'll be good to her, my dear."

Mrs. Binnie wept a little all to herself in the empty ambulance,
but her distress had a happy edge to it.  People were so kind, but
she had a feeling that life was going to be a little less
difficult.  After all, things couldn't always go wrong.



XXVI


1

Robinia dared to hope, for a naive optimism had sustained this
sanguine, scurrying little creature through years of domestic
disaster.  September was giving the year a last gentle and golden
week; the world upon wheels provided the Mill House with a profit,
while slackening its exactions, and the dark-browed Rhoda showed a
forceful kindness.

"Mother, you'll breakfast in bed."

"But, my dear, really--"

"Yes, you will.  Good opportunity.  Take it."

So, in humouring and being humoured Mrs. Binnie did take her
breakfast in bed, with the window wide open, and the road and the
river and the green slopes of Stella Lacey visible to her.  She
allowed herself to relax, though her relaxation lacked a complete
and sensuous surrender.  She sat propped against her pillows with
an air of correctness, as though this idling in bed was not quite
in order, and it behoved her not to be caught napping.  Possibly,
this peace upon earth appeared fallacious, and she could not quite
rid herself of the feeling that worry was waiting for her outside
the door, and that if she dozed off, it would poke its head in and
mock her.

"Silly old woman.  Thought you'd got rid of me, did you?  Not
likely."

But Mrs. Binnie did dare to hope that her scurryings and her
scufflings had wrung from life some result, some harmony, a little
perch of permanence.  And why should she not hope?  The Mill House
seemed to be standing upon solid feet.  Rhoda, poor dear, appeared
less fractious, and after all, Rhoda's future was provided for.
Moreover, Mrs. Binnie had received a cheerful and affectionate
letter from Rachel, and though nothing very definite had
transpired, Rachel seemed ready to hope.  Sir Magnus Orme was
watching the case, yes, he had examined her most carefully; she had
been X-rayed.  Sir Magnus was writing to Dr. Carver.  And then, of
course, there was Mr. Bonthorn, and to Mrs. Binnie Bonthorn was
both mysterious and magnificent, a sort of Colossus of Rhodes
dumped down in Sussex.  She was just a little in awe of Nicholas
Bonthorn, but just as a child might be a little in awe of him.  He
was such a person, somehow so vivid and reassuring.

Mrs. Binnie mused.

"Of course, they may never be able to get married.  Invalids
shouldn't marry.  I'm sure Rachel would feel like that about it.
But, after all, I've got a home for her here.  I can get one of
Annie's girls when Rhoda goes.  I've built up a nice little
business, yes--I have really, and we can feel ourselves
independent.  I don't want to have to sponge on anybody, even on a
dear fine man like Mr. Bonthorn.  I let him pay for the nursing-
home, but I shouldn't like him to go on paying.  No, really."

And contemplating that quiet, September landscape, Mrs. Binnie did
allow herself to think that life had played its worst tricks upon
her.  The road was there; it would always be there bringing custom
to her door.  That custom should increase.  She was a little person
of property.  She felt innocently and justifiably proud.


2

A Friday morning.

Rhoda had come in to collect her mother's breakfast-tray, and her
mother had said to her: "I do feel so much better for the rest.
I'll get up as usual on Sunday morning."

Mrs. Binnie lay and looked out of the window.  The day was young,
and the road in a quiet mood with an occasional car swinging over
the humped back of the bridge.  Mrs. Binnie could see the bridge,
and the white posts and rails where the ramp of the road rose above
the piece of swampy ground beyond.  Willowherb and purple
loosestrife were still in bloom amid the flags and sedges.  The
trees of Stella Lacey stood embattled on the changeless hills.  But
for the black road the landscape might have been the landscape of
Queen Bess or the Benedictines, peculiarly permanent and
reassuring.

But something was happening down there under the very eyes of the
Mill House.  Mrs. Binnie became aware of two young men in grey
flannel trousers and brown jackets stretching a measuring tape
across the bridge.  They spoke to each other: "How's that?  Are you
flush with the wall?"  "Yes."  "Eighteen six."--"Yes, she narrows a
bit in the centre."  One of the young men produced a note-book, and
using the flat of the parapet as a table, jotted down figures,
while his assistant drew in the tape.

Mrs. Binnie was puzzled, vaguely disquieted.  She watched the two
young men remove themselves from the bridge, and proceed to stretch
the tape across the road immediately in front of the Mill House.
The younger of the two squatted for a moment on one of the white
posts while he held the end of the measure against the ground.

"Right.  Got it."

The man on the farther side came across and disappeared from view,
and Mrs. Binnie heard their voices below.

"Regular bottle-neck."

"Yes, that old tree will have to go."

Mrs. Binnie got quickly out of bed and dressed herself as though
her old enemy was waiting on the threshold and might burst in and
catch her naked.  She was greatly disquieted.  What were those two
young men doing with their wretched tapes?  And suggesting that a
tree would have to come down?  Not her tree--surely?

Rhoda was in the kitchen, and Mrs. Binnie did not call her
daughter, but went out to see whether the two young men were still
there.  They were very much there, and in the act of measuring the
width of that paved space between the Mill House and the posts and
chains.  One of the twain, in the act of bending, showed to Robinia
the seat of a tight pair of grey flannel trousers.

She exclaimed.  She stood there rather like a very small and
combative hen.

"What are you doing, measuring my terrace?  It's private property,
you know.  Did you ask permission?"

No, the young man had not asked permission.  The elder of the two
sat down on one of Mrs. Binnie's chairs, and opened his note-book
on one of her tables.  He was a rather surly and laconic young man,
and he was in a hurry.  He scribbled some figures in his book, and
addressed Mrs. Binnie, but without looking at her.

"New bridge coming here.  Got to widen the road for it--too."

Mrs. Binnie was conscious of a little sinking feeling.

"A new bridge!  I hadn't heard anything--"

The young man went on scribbling.

"O, you'll hear about it, all right.  I'm afraid we've got to take
in your frontage."

"My frontage?"

"Yes--all this paved place.  The tree will have to come down.  Of
course--you'll be compensated."

But Mrs. Binnie had fled into the tea-room, and was calling for her
daughter, and her small face had a pinched look.

"Rhoda--Rhoda--there are some men measuring here.  They say they
are going to take away our terrace."

Rhoda emerged.  She looked at her mother, and went out straightway
to interview those two young autocrats.  She was in one of her dark
moods, and she belonged to a generation that believed in candour.

"Hallo, what's the wheeze?"

The young man at the table observed her.  He was a little less
abrupt to Rhoda than he had been to a superfluous old woman.  Rhoda
had looks.

"Afraid I'm using one of your tables."

"No charge for manners."

The young man became very polite and sarcastic.

"We are surveying the bridge and its approaches.  O, yes, our
authority is all right.  Yes, a new bridge to carry the traffic.
Afraid we shall have to bring our new ramp within a couple of yards
of your windows.  No use my apologizing.  Progress, you know."

Rhoda, black browed, glanced at the open doorway.  She divined her
mother within, listening.

"That's all very bright and nice, but you can't come and--"

The young man got up.

"O, yes, we can.  Besides, we're not responsible.  We're just sent
to survey things and report.  Sorry--but transport--"

Rhoda looked black.

"You've got plenty of room over there."

"Where?"

"On the other side."

"Nothing doing.  Soft ground.  Cost too much to make it carry a
road.  The obvious thing is to take what's solid.  Can't help these
things, you know, in these days.  Can't obstruct the Ministry of
Transport."

Rhoda nodded her head.

"O, pills--you could do it if you wanted to.  Got a bit swelled
over your authority, my lad.  Damn it, we get a little business
built up here, and you come and cut its face off."

"You'll be compensated."

"O, compensated!  With cars cutting past within two yards of our
windows.  Why--this bit of ground and the tree are--it--so far as
we are concerned.  It's a bloody wash-out."

The young man grew heated.  He put his notebook away.

"Well, no use losing your hair.  You can't expect main traffic to
be held up by a tea-shop."

Rhoda tightened her lips.

"No--I suppose not.  And when do you expect this delightful--?"

"O--some time this winter.  There was a pretty bad smash-up here a
few weeks ago, wasn't there?  People roasted.  But I don't suppose
that seems so important to you--"

"As you feel."

She turned her back on them, re-entered the house, and closed the
door.  She saw her mother sitting on a chair, and her mother's face
had a queer and vacant expression.  The lips trembled.  She seemed
to be trying to ask Rhoda a question, and the words would not shape
themselves.

"Is it true, Rho?"

"Afraid so."

"They're going to leave us right on the edge of the road--with
nothing?  After all we've done, just when we've got going?"

And Rhoda, instead of letting her tongue loose, went and kissed her
mother on the forehead, and spoke with curious quietness.

"O, they're just pups.  We may be able to do something about it.
I'll go and see Fred.  He knows the surveyor up at Lignor."

She patted her mother's limp arm.

"Just--pups."


3

Bonthorn, with a bagging-hook and a crooked hazel stick, was
cutting the rough grass at the bottom of the holly hedge when Mrs.
Binnie appeared in the lane.  Bonthorn did not hear her, and she
stood a moment to watch the flick-flick of his wrist and the glint
of the sickle.  Mr. Bonthorn was wearing no collar, and his throat
and arms, brown as berries, showed the strong lines of sinew and
muscle.  Nor did it seem strange to Mrs. Binnie that Mr. Bonthorn
should be using a sickle.

"O, Mr. Bonthorn, you'll excuse me, won't you?"

She saw him turn and straighten.  A hand went to his old hat.  His
blue eye observed her.

"What's the matter?"

For it was obvious from Mrs. Binnie's face that something was the
matter, and Bonthorn thought that Mrs. Binnie had had bad news of
Rachel.  She was standing just where a flicker of light and of
shadow from the beech tree played across her small face and figure.

"No, it's not about Rachel.  That's one mercy.  But I've just had
terrible news.  They are going to take all my frontage away."

For a moment Bonthorn looked at her as though someone had
threatened to remove a portion of her small person.

"Frontage?"

"Yes--they're going to widen the bridge and cut down the chestnut
tree, and take away all the ground where we have our tables."

"Who?  How do you know?"

"There've been some young men measuring everything.  Really, it
does seem hard, Mr. Bonthorn.  We're going to have the road right
up against our windows.  Everything's ruined.  It makes you wonder
what's going to happen next; it does--really.  And I was having
breakfast in bed, this morning, and just telling myself that things
seemed to be going right."

She seemed part of the flicker of light and shadow, and Bonthorn
felt himself part of her trouble.

"It's damnable.  But are you sure?"

"The young men said so.  But I haven't been warned."

"The official mind doesn't work in that way.  It just takes a ruler
and a pencil and a map.  But surely--"

"I wondered if you could do anything, Mr. Bonthorn."

"I?"

He smiled at his own whimsical, fierce self.  In the new world he
was of no more account than a tree or an old piece of red wall, and
he knew it.

He said: "You see, they call this progress.  If you happen to be in
the way--But I might be able to find out.  You may be able to
appeal, but it's not much use appealing against Juggernaut.
Besides--"

He was aware of her little worried face.

"Besides--we're so smothered under legislation that the ordinary
man who has a job to do--can't know where he stands.  But I'll try
and find out."

She looked up at him like a child.

"Rhoda's gone up to see Fred.  He knows the surveyor.  I do think
they might have warned me--I do--really.  It's just as though one
was a heap of stones, Mr. Bonthorn, and not a human being."

His voice was very gentle.

"Exactly.  It may be that it's because there are too many human
beings in the world that things have to happen in this way.  Hardly
time to count heads, much less to consider little people like you
and me.  But I'll go up to Lignor."

Yet, in crossing that very bridge on the way to Lignor he realized
the inevitableness of the disaster.  The old grey parapets clasped
and constricted the new haste; the bridge was obsolete, and
exasperating to a world in a hurry, a world that had lost the art
of lingering and looking.  Mrs. Binnie, like a trusting little
bird, had built her nest too near the road, while proposing to pick
up her crumbs from that same road.  And yet one should have been
able to forecast the replacement of that almost mediæval structure
by something conceived in reinforced concrete.

Lignor possessed an urban district council, and Bonthorn happened
to know the clerk to the council, a tired but efficient little man
with dry and faded blue eyes.  Mr. Wendover gave Bonthorn five
minutes, but he talked to him standing, as though sitting down
might prove too official and dilatory.

"The bridge at Monks Lacey?  Widening?  We don't know anything
about it.  Well, you need not look surprised.  The road's an A
road.  The Assyrians are responsible."

That was one of Mr. Wendover's little jests.  He referred to
centralized officialdom as Assyria.

"We're just sheep.  But, as a matter of fact, I know that your
particular bridge has been under condemnation.  O, yes, they'll
just rub it out, or order it to be rubbed out.  Do anything?  No,
you can't do anything.  Making a fuss would be waste of money.  We
are hopelessly mixed up in the thing called progress, yes, just as
though we had got involved in the wheels of a traction-engine."

"It's rather hard on the old lady."

"I agree.  She's just one of the victims, a fly on the wheel.  Of
course, she will get compensation."

"Quite so," said Bonthorn, "enough to pay for a tombstone.  I know
all this sort of thing has to happen, but I sometimes wonder
whether it need happen so brutally."

"Brutally."

"Well--officially, anonymously--much the same thing--to my mind."

He returned to the Mill House, and tried to soften the apparent
inevitableness of the event to Mrs. Binnie.  He found that Rhoda
had preceded him, and that young Tanrock had been concealing
information that had come to him from trade sources.  He had not
wanted to worry the old lady.  The transformation of the bridge at
Monks Lacey was but a trifle in a comprehensive scheme for
modernizing the Lignor-London road.  Corners were to be cut, trees
felled and narrow stretches widened.  One village, not five miles
away, was to see a dozen of its houses demolished.

Mrs. Binnie sat with her hands lying in her lap.

"Well--I suppose they can't consider us.  But it does seem rather
hard.  We'll have to manage somehow."

She looked up at Bonthorn.

"But I don't want Rachel to know.  It might worry her--just when we
don't want her worried.  Besides--if Rachel gets well, that's what
matters most, doesn't it, Mr. Bonthorn?  But this has taken the
heart out of me, somehow, it has--really.  I've tried and I've
tried, and it's the things over which you have no control which
seem to beat you.  But it's no use grousing, is it?  I'll have to
manage somehow."


4

Meanwhile, No. 7 Seymour Square was gathering the impression that
Rachel would not get well, or rather--that she would remain as she
was, youth in a half-paralysed body.  She herself was absorbing
that same impression.  It looked out at her from Sir Magnus Orme's
wise old eyes.  He was gentle, rather formal, paternally reticent.
She divined it in the kindness of the nurses, and in the quiet
sympathy of the matron.  They were preparing to console her, before
letting the truth be known.  Almost she could hear them taking
counsel together outside her door.

For a while she had felt the window of life wide open, but now a
careful and considerate hand seemed to be slowly lowering the
blind.  She lay and mused.  She listened to the sound of the
traffic, the triumphant and urgent trumpetings of the new world.
Like some horned beast it had gored her and tossed her aside.

Something in her lay still and consented.  Was the world going mad?
Were there no quiet places left in which a wounded creature could
lie hidden and at peace, unprovoked by this rushing hither and
thither?

Her attitude to things had changed.  No longer did she feel violent
towards herself.  That spasm had passed.

She might die, but she would drop like a leaf.  And did it matter?
Why should it matter?  Life was broken in her.

Bonthorn came up to see her, and his very quietness suggested that
he had been worried by those others.

"No change.  Quite hopeless, I'm afraid.  There was just a chance.
If there had been a flicker, any sign of returning power--we should
have been justified in hoping.  No, there's nothing."

She put out a hand to her lover.  She spoke to him appealingly, and
without a trace of petulance.

"Would you feel--hurt--if I asked to go home?"

He held her hand.

"You want to go home.  That's sufficient."

She closed her eyes.

"I'm not going to get any better.  They haven't dared to tell me
yet, but I know."



XXVII


1

When Mrs. Binnie heard the news she climbed the narrow, wooden
stairs to the attic that had been Rachel's bedroom in the days
before her accident.  For Mrs. Binnie wanted to be alone, and she
stood in the recess of the dormer window, and since the afternoon
sunlight was pouring in, she shaded her face with her hand.  She
did not weep, even though her worries had reached saturation point,
and this sudden chill should have brought down dew.

It occurred to her that she would have to buy new bed linen, for
Rachel's illness had worn out sheets that had never been of first
quality.  And there were no sales on, and prices seemed
preposterous.  But what a thing to think of!  She gave a little,
sorrowful sniff, and rubbed her eyes gently, and made herself look
out of the window as though trees and water and green grass were
consoling realities.

She thought: "Yes--I shall have to carry on.  As long as she lives,
poor darling, I shall have the nursing of her.  She and poor Mr.
Bonthorn will never be man and wife."

Her small face puckered itself.  She was remembering the imminent
operations upon the bridge, and that the activities of the road-
makers and the bridge-builders would be in action just outside the
window of that little room on the ground floor.  And the tree was
to be felled.

"What--am--I to do about it?"

It occurred to her that she might put up a bed in the kitchen, for
the kitchen window did not look out upon the road.  Yes--that was
both possible and practical, and the kitchen fire would make for
economy.  Her preoccupations traversed the winter and considered
the following spring.  She would have to find a place for her tea-
tables, and attempt the creating of a new atmosphere, for she and
Rachel had to live and the world on wheels be persuaded to sustain
them with its shillings.

Yet, out of that autumn landscape a vision was vouchsafed her.  She
saw the burning beech trees, and particularly that vast tree close
to Mr. Bonthorn's cottage, and the green of the oaks, and the
incipient pallor of the poplars and the willows.  A splendid scene,
with the still water reflecting the golds and the blues of the
foliage and sky, and if her vision was of no great splendour, but a
little, simple, workaday glimpse of her world's possibilities, it
was none the less courageous.  She withdrew her hand, and leaning
out, looked down at that green space and piece of rough garden
behind the Mill House and dipping gently to the river.  Why, of
course!  How was it that it had not occurred to her before.  If the
Official World had cut off her frontage, it had left her a space at
the back of the house.  She could turn all that ground into a
parking-place and garden; transfer the paving stones and the chairs
and tables and the yellow umbrellas.  She could put up a board:


           "Pull in here.  Have tea by the river."


Mrs. Binnie did not go to church.  She had no time to go to church,
but she was one of those simple souls to whom the angel of the Lord
appeared, and she needed her angel.  She went down on her knees in
that attic and prayed.  She came down from her high place with a
small face that was somehow transfigured.

She found Rhoda sweeping the tea-room.

"My dear, I have just had an idea.  We shall have to turn things
the other way round; that's all."

Rhoda paused to look at her mother, for to Rhoda her mother was an
eternal enigma, a little creature who would have stood at the foot
of the Cross with a face of wet ecstasy.

"What's the idea?"

"Why, the back will have to be the front."

Rhoda waited for further illumination.  She was pregnant with a
problem of her own, and a little inclined to brood upon it.

"We just make the back the front.  Silly of me not to think of it
before, wasn't it?  Besides, it will be so much nicer by the river.
A tea-garden by the river."

Rhoda leaned upon her broom.

"You mean--you are going to start all over again?"

Robinia's eyes were like the bright little eyes of a dog.

"I'll have a door cut through that wall, and two windows.  Yes, to
look out on the river instead of on the road.  And I'll have a nice
garden made.  People will come in off the road, and get such a
surprise.  And there will be room for cars to park."

Rhoda's harsh mood softened.  If no angel ever appeared to her and
her generation, at least her mother was an amazing little person,
and as unexpected as Balaam's ass.

She said: "Well, you've got some stuff in you, mater.  You don't
chuck your hand in."

And Mrs. Binnie gave a little, twittering laugh.

But when Bonthorn came down to tell her that he had made
arrangements for the Lignor ambulance to bring Rachel back to Monks
Lacey, she was full of her new inspiration, and took him out with
her to the ground beside the river.  She explained her plan.  She
was ready to hail him as her expert and her prophet.

"I could make quite a lovely place here, couldn't I, Mr. Bonthorn?
I'd like to have a terrace, and flower-beds, and a per-go-la.  I
could use up the stones from the other side.  And perhaps you could
draw me a plan."

If to him she appeared as the Mother of Man, he was ready to be the
Beloved Disciple.

"I think I could.  But what about the labour?"

"I could get a strong lad in.  Besides, the winter's our quiet
time, Mr. Bonthorn.  I used to love doing a bit of gardening."

"You--yourself?"

"Well--why not?"

He considered her, and her half-acre, and possible transfigurations.

"Yes--I'll plan it for you.  And I can give you all the plants.  I
might be able to put in a few hours myself.  I'd like to."

"Oh--I couldn't expect you to do that."

"Couldn't you?"

His smile was whimsical.

"No, not just rough work like that, Mr. Bonthorn.  No, not really,
when you're quite famous."

He laughed.

"I'd find it famous fun."


2

Meanwhile, the official mind had dealt with Robinia and the
subtractions that were to be made from her property.  It had
notified her of the annexation of her strip of frontage, treating
the affair as a fait accompli.  She would receive compensation, but
the sum to be paid her was not stated, nor when it was to be paid.
There would be a valuation--by the official world at the official
world's convenience.  Moreover, the communication she received
somewhat resembled a big fist held under her small nose, intimating
that any self-assertion on her part was useless and would be
regarded as an impertinence.

She was not impertinent.  She was preparing to sublimate the
situation and to persuade the Mill House to turn its face away from
progress.  A builder from Lignor had given her an estimate for
inserting two new windows and a doorway, and then it had occurred
to her that Rachel's little room might be made to perform a right-
about-turn.  The window towards the road could be blocked up.

The builder assured her that he could change that particular window
in three days, but that the new brickwork and plaster would have to
dry out.  Not a very big matter, certainly.  And Mrs. Binnie
decided to have Rachel's window altered immediately, and that
Rachel should find temporary quarters in the kitchen.

The man from Lignor kept his word, and the work was done to time,
but on the day before Rachel was due to return a wooden house on
wheels parked itself on the grass just beyond the gate leading into
what had once been the mill yard.  There were men, and a person who
wore a bowler hat and an air of authority.  They produced a fire,
impedimenta, and an atmosphere of destructive--if latent--energy.

Mrs. Binnie went out to interview the authority in the bowler hat.
He was one of those bulbous men with protuberant blue eyes and a
walrus moustache.  His figure seemed to square the circle.  He
ambled about on bowed legs.  But he listened to Mrs. Binnie; he was
paternal.

What were they going to do?  Prepare the ground, fell the chestnut
tree and remove it, and clear away the posts and chains.  He called
Mrs. Binnie "ma'am," and supposed that she had been notified.

O, yes, she had been notified, but a little fragment of the season
was left to her, and these operations would compel her to close
down, for who would stop at the Mill House to take tea in the midst
of all this destructive energy.

Mr. Bowler Hat was sympathetic.  He made sympathetic noises, and
his satellites gathered round.

"It does seem rather hard, doesn't it?"

"Well, we've had orders, ma'am."

"Of course you have.  I haven't any quarrel with you."

She went on to explain that her living depended upon people
stopping here for refreshment, and that she was expecting an
invalid daughter home tomorrow.  And couldn't they postpone cutting
down the tree until Rachel had been smuggled inside the house.
Yes, her daughter was paralysed, and she--Mrs. Binnie--did not want
her to be shocked by being introduced suddenly to this devastation.
No, her daughter had not been told; worries were kept from her.

Mr. Bowler Hat rubbed his chin.  The men were sympathetic, much
more so than the official mind.  They seemed to understand Mrs.
Binnie and Mrs. Binnie's activities, even her prejudices against
the felling of that tree.

"You see, my daughter was fond of that tree."

One of the men spat.

"It's a bit of a mess-up for you, ma'am."

He made a suggestion to Mr. Bowler Hat.

"Ol' Fusspot won't be 'ere for a couple o' days.  He's stuck up at
Godhurst.  There's that left 'and parapet t' come down.  We could
wangle it, Jim."

"Yes, I'm not saying we couldn't."

"Leave the ol' tree for two days to oblige the lady.  Tell ol'
Fusspot the cross cut saw 'ad to go up t' Lignor to be set and
sharpened.  Anything's good enough f' ol' Fusspot."

Mr. Bowler Hat assented.  He and his gang were with Mrs. Binnie in
opposition to the official mind.

"We'll manage it, ma'am."

"Now, that is kind of you; it is--really.  And if you want any hot
water--"

They were at her service.  Mr. Bowler Hat explained that the tree
was hers, and where would she like the timber stacked?  Yes, they
would saw it up for her and stack it, Fusspot or no Fusspot.  And
the white posts and chains?  And the paving stones?  Round the
back?  Certainly.  Yes, they would be careful with the stones, and
they would move all the tables for her.  No, nothing should be
touched until her daughter had come home and been put to bed.

Mrs. Binnie thanked them, and her little eyes were bright.

"You see, I've got to manage somehow."

"That's all right, ma'am.  We won't be more of a noosance to you
than we can 'elp."

Someone's voice remarked that "It was a bit of a bloody shame," and
all because of a lot of sanguinary people in sanguinary motor-cars,
and Mrs. Binnie looked a little flushed.

"Don't forget the hot water.  I've generally got a kettle on."

And from that moment she had the whole gang in her small pocket.


3

Bonthorn went up in the ambulance to bring Rachel away from No. 7
Seymour Square, and since she was a stretcher case he was able to
help.  He and the driver of the ambulance had lunched together at a
tea-shop in New Cavendish Street, and somewhat self-consciously so
in the driver's case.  His knife and fork had been so obviously a
knife and fork.

The doors of the ambulance were closed, and to Bonthorn sitting
there, beside her, it seemed strange to be shut up in a box on
wheels in the midst of London.  The surge and the striving of the
traffic were so audible, and they were aware of the checking and
the speeding of the vehicle, its hootings, and its hesitations.
Rachel lay still, but to Bonthorn her stillness was relative,
suggesting the illusive stillness of a tree whose quietism conceals
the aliveness of a multitude of cells.

He wondered how she felt, shut up in this hospital van, with the
wheeled life of the city raging outside like a tempest.  Whenever
he came up from the deep country, London seemed to him more than a
little mad, a chattering Bedlam that would burn itself out.  Its
very blood was fevered, carrying amid its human corpuscles the
germs of an infection.  Its life was a kind of delirium.

He was aware of Rachel's eyes gazing at him.  They were neither sad
nor happy.  They seemed to be questioning him and the world
without, but tranquilly so.  She had ceased to fret at her soul
with febrile fingers.  There were some knots that could not be
untied.

She spoke.

"Doesn't it sound funny.  If you'd never seen London, and you were
put in a box like an animal, you would wonder what was happening."

He said that he thought that the animal would be rather scared.  It
might fancy itself in a world of trumpeting and stampeding strange
beasts.  She smiled faintly.

"It sounds so silly--somehow."

So, she was not afraid.  Had she ceased to fear things?  Was her
surrender so final and so conscious of its own finality?  Would she
be content to lie and look?  Was the spirit of her healed, though
her body remained broken.

He asked her if she was comfortable.

"Yes, quite."

She half-closed her eyes, but she continued to look at him, nor was
he disturbed or made to feel self-conscious by her tranquil,
steadfast scrutiny.  It did not question.  It seemed to accept that
which was seen as in a mirror.  It dwelt.

They heard an angry voice addressing some competitor.

"D'you want all the bloody road?"

She heard it and smiled.

"There'd be so much more road, wouldn't there--"

He nodded.

"If there were no roads.  That's a paradox."

But at that moment he was thinking of the road where it crossed the
bridge at Monks Lacey, and of the chestnut tree that was to fall to
pieces like a golden catafalque.  He had not told her of the
destructions and the transfigurations that were in prospect.  To-
morrow she might hear the crash of falling timber, and might
wonder.  But he had begun to suspect that she was her mother's
child, more enduring than she looked, and like a plant that threw
up fresh green spikes when the prime growth was trampled.

They came to the Mill House just before sunset.  It was one of
those gentle October evenings with mist beginning to spread from
the river across the meadows.  The knees of the old pollarded
willows were already involved in it, while their shock heads caught
the sunlight.  The pungent smell of a weed fire drifted.  On the
slopes of Stella Lacey the beech trees flamed, though the oaks were
still deeply green.

A few people had stopped for tea; but the last party was leaving as
the ambulance swung over the bridge, and Rhoda was clearing the
tables.  Mrs. Binnie, looking strangely old-fashioned, with a plum-
coloured shawl over her shoulders, had been standing under the
chestnut tree, watching the road.  Mr. Bowler Hat and his men were
gathered about the house on wheels, putting away picks and shovels,
and lighting pipes.  One parapet of the bridge had been removed,
and a temporary wooden barrier erected.

These were the last teas that the Mill House was to serve this
autumn, but Mrs. Binnie was not thinking of that.  She had had her
eyes on the road, and as the ambulance swung over the swell of the
bridge Mr. Bowler Hat came rolling up on his curved legs.

"Perhaps some of us can give you a hand, ma'am."

She thanked him and explained that they had a man friend in the
ambulance, and that the friend and the driver would be able to
manage.

"But it's so kind of you to think of it."

"Not at all, ma'am.  Any time you want a little 'elp, you've only
got to tell us."

The ambulance drew up by the gap in the posts and chains, and the
opening leaves of the rear doors showed to Mrs. Binnie Bonthorn's
very brown face.  He smiled at her.

"Yes, here she is."

And Mrs. Binnie climbed past him into the ambulance, and fell
gently upon her favourite daughter.  They kissed, and for once in
her life Mrs. Binnie had nothing to say, though the bread that she
had cast upon the waters was yet to be returned to her.

The driver and Bonthorn dealt with Rachel and her stretcher while
the men by the house on wheels stood and watched as though they
were being present at some ceremony.  Rhoda appeared with the air
of willing herself to be cheerful, while having something on her
mind.

"Hallo, Rache; glad to have you back."

Mrs. Binnie, slipping in beside the stretcher as it passed the
doorway, prepared Rachel for the new dispensation.

"Just a little surprise, Rachie.  You are going to camp in the
kitchen for a day or two.  We've had your room done up, and it's
not quite dry yet."

"Shan't I be in the way?"

"No, never.  But you won't mind, will you, dear, for a day or two?"

"O, no."

When Bonthorn had played his part, he went out quietly and left the
three women alone together.  He stood for a moment and looked up at
the chestnut tree.  Half of it was lit by the sunset, the other
half in shadow.  And he wondered.  Did trees know?  Was it wise as
to what would happen on the morrow?

He was sorry for the tree.



XXVIII


1

So Rachel came back.

She did not sleep very well that night, for when the others had
gone to bed, she had felt herself to be alone and utterly alone.
Life had crept on naked feet to her bedside, and had touched her,
and the youth in her had cried out: "I want to live--I want to
live."  She had felt shut up in the darkness, unable to move or to
cry out.

This dreadful stillness!  She had pulled the clothes over her head
as though to smother the panic that had threatened to make her wail
like a child: "Mother, mother!"  Her mother was sleeping, or she
had supposed that she was sleeping, and Mrs. Binnie's wakefulness
had enough to bear.

And suddenly the door had opened, and she had heard the soft
shuffle of her mother's slippers.  Mrs. Binnie had come and stood
beside her bed, as though something had disturbed her, and she had
come to make sure that her child slept.  Rachel, rigid under the
bed-clothes, had made herself breathe as though she slept, and her
mother, deceived and reassured, had slipped silently out of the
room.

Rachel heard a clock strike two, but she heard no more sounds until
the grey of the morning.  The house itself still slept, but sounds
came to her from the outer world.  They puzzled her, and she lay
and listened to them.  There were the voices of men, but they had a
kind of muffled carefulness.  She heard the clink and rattle of
chains, the sound of a saw, of blows being dealt.  There were
cracklings, rustlings, an occasional thud.

Rhoda was the first down.  She came into the kitchen, and pulled up
the blind.

"Slept well, Rache?"

"Yes, not so badly."

It seemed to Rachel that her sister looked a little drawn and
dishevelled, as though she had got up in a hurry, and not in the
best of tempers.  Yes, probably Rhoda was trying to do too much,
and the vagaries of many feminine tempers are due to tiredness.

There was a sudden rending crash without, and Rhoda, who was
reaching up to hang an enamelled jug on a hook, let the thing fall.
It descended upon a couple of plates lying on the dresser, broke
one, and rolled off on to the floor.

"Damn!"

She recovered herself and the jug almost instantly.

"Sorry, Rache."

"What on earth's happening out there?"

"I'll go and see."

She went, partly because she wanted to be alone with herself for a
minute.  She had been too conscious of Rachel's eyes.  She found
Mr. Bowler Hat and his men at work upon the chestnut tree, and
standing among the leafage of a big limb that had been brought
down.  Mr. Bowler Hat was unhitching a rope.

"Thought we'd get the job done early, Miss.  Less likely to worry
the other young lady.  No, we didn't mean to make so much noise as
that, but the--bl--the rope slipped."

She nodded at him.

"All right.  Much obliged to you.  The sooner--the better."

She returned to the kitchen.  She supposed that Rachel would have
to be informed, and so she told her about the changes that were in
prospect.  She spoke casually, flippantly.

"That's the old chestnut tree coming down.  O, of course, you
haven't heard.  There's a new bridge to be put up, and they are
slicing off our frontage to widen the road.  Some progress."

"The chestnut tree!"

"Well, it's in the way."

"My tree.  And mother.  Is that why I'm in here?"

Rhoda proceeded to light the stove.  She had put on a pair of old
gloves.

"Nothing much to worry about.  We receive compensation.  And the
mater had been marvellous about it.  She's turning things the other
way round.  There is to be a tea-garden and a car-park out at the
back there.  We have had your old window blocked up, and a new one
made looking over the pool and up the valley."

Rachel lay very still, and then her mother hurried in with her
small head five seconds in front of her feet.  She looked anxiously
at Rachel.

"Really--I overslept myself.  Disgraceful."

She seemed to hover like a moth, and Rhoda, on her knees at the
grate, spoke over a stubborn shoulder.

"I've told her.  Not worrying, Rache, are you?"

"No."

"The chaps thought they'd get the job done early.  They're a decent
crowd."

Mrs. Binnie ceased to hover, and sat down for a moment on the edge
of Rachel's bed.

"It's quite all right, Rache, really.  We're going to have a lovely
garden out at the back.  Mr. Bonthorn's going to plan it for us.
And after all--it will be much nicer--really.  We shall be off the
road, you know, so to speak."

Rachel lay inert.

"Yes, mother."

"And you've got such a nice new window."

"Yes, mother.  Don't worry on my account."

The work of the day went on, and about nine o'clock the maimed bulk
of the old tree came down like thunder.  The house shook, and Mrs.
Binnie, who was in the tea-room, hurried in to her daughter.

"It's all right, Rachie--that's the worst."

She was surprised, for Rachel smiled at her.

"I don't mind it, mother.  It doesn't worry me."

"Really?"

"No.  Something's happening.  I think I'd like to go out in my
chair and watch, and see things happening."

Mrs. Binnie's face smoothed itself out.

"Well--that is a mercy."


2

Stella Lacey, becoming wise as to Bonthorn's involvement in this
maid's tragedy, was neither whimsical nor gently cynical.  It might
be regarded as a sentimental journey that would have no ending, for
obviously he could not marry the girl.  That emotional cliché was
ruled out.

To Mrs. Gloriana the affair was a part of the social revolution,
with the Board of Education in the character of Christ.  Or
Bonthorn might be regarded as the perennial peasant, or as a sort
of Fabre domiciled in Sussex.  She did not seek to interfere even
with her sympathy.  She was too aloof for interference.

Even that battle at the bridge between Mrs. Binnie and the powers
of progress was a mere revolutionary skirmish, with Mrs. Binnie in
the part of Bayard.  But Bayard had ordered every musketeer who was
captured to be shot, as though the age of powder and lead could be
waved aside with the flash of a cavalier's sword.  From her terrace
Gloriana could look down upon the stricken field.  Here were red
flags, poles on tripods, piles of earth and shingle, great balks of
timber, dishevelled huts and shelters, a strange machine that
swallowed cement and sand and shingle and mixed it in its iron
belly, pyramids of road metal, girders, men, red lanterns, a
watchman's box, a brazier, trampled turf.  Shovels scraped, picks
pecked.  Cars came crawling to the impasse, and bumped slowly over.
The affair was like a siege, with mine and counter-mine, trench and
scarp.

She saw the face of the Mill House grey and stark, stripped of its
shade.

But, as she said to Bonthorn: "I suppose this sort of thing happens
to all of us.  Ten years hence this old house of mine will be a
school, or perhaps a country hotel, offering a sort of spaciousness
and high mutton to the elect.  No--mere bitterness is bathos."

But to Mrs. Binnie she did feel as woman to woman.  She could smile
at herself as something effete and gently sad when she considered
how Mrs. Binnie still contended, and stood on her bridge like
Bayard.  A futile yet indomitable little person.

Bonthorn would have disagreed with her over that adjective.
Possibly, she disagreed with it herself.  She went and sat with
Mrs. Binnie.  She promised her plants for the new tea-garden.

"Yes, one has to adapt."

Mrs. Binnie, who had been busy with adaptations for the last ten
years, understood perhaps why the great lady had become static.

"Well--I've got my girls to think of, and especially poor Rachel.
And she's perfectly wonderful about it."

Which, in a superficial sense, was true.  For Rachel, wrapped up in
her chair, was asking to be put where things happened.  Like a very
old woman she did not wish to be tucked away in some green corner,
but to be set beside the high-road where life went to and fro.  She
liked to watch the turbulent happenings at the bridge.  She and Mr.
Bowler Hat had become gossips.  The whole crowd knew her.

"Morning, Miss.  Bit fresh to-day."

Rhoda was different, for something was happening in Rhoda, and Mrs.
Gloriana was the first to detect those happenings, and to consider
them with an oblique, and quiet eye.  For Rhoda was abrupt to her.
More and more this farouche young woman seemed to bend her black
brows against the world.  And Mrs. Binnie, preoccupied with her
many affairs and with Rachel, was more than a little blind to the
inwardness and the outwardness of Rhoda.

Bonthorn was not quite so blind as Mrs. Binnie.  The days were
shortening.  It was a beautiful autumn, but very cold, a presage of
what was to be, and the hours were full at Yew End.  There was so
much to be done before Jack Frost became a serious lad, and Old
Mischief was shaking his head.  "Never know'd dahlias cut back so
early."  Perhaps on three evenings a week Bonthorn would walk down
to the Mill House and sit by the fire.  He noticed that both Mrs.
Binnie and Rhoda would slip out for a little while and leave Rachel
and man alone together.

But their way of doing it was different.  Mrs. Binnie always
remembered something that had to be done in some other part of the
house, even though it was by candlelight.  She would loiter awhile
before going, but Rhoda would get up and stalk off directly
Bonthorn appeared.  The egoist in him might have exclaimed: "Your
sister doesn't like me," but such egotism as was his did not strut
and posture in the house of these three women.

He thought that Rhoda looked ill, rather drawn and sallow, and then
one evening he surprised two shadowy shapes standing by the Mill
House doorway.  And there was awkwardness, a disjointed silence,
something sombre and sullen about the girl.

Tanrock's voice was cheerful.

"No--I'm not coming in to-night."

Bonthorn went into the house and left them there together.  Nor did
Rhoda appear, and Mrs. Binnie's feathers were less sleek than
usual.  She too was worried about something.

"Why doesn't Fred come in?  I heard his voice."

Bonthorn caught Rachel looking at her mother.  Surely Mrs. Binnie
understood that Rhoda and Fred had very little time together.
Bonthorn had brought a plan with him, with the flower-beds made gay
with coloured chalks, the grass shown green, the pavement etched in
ink.  He spread it on the kitchen table.

Mrs. Binnie put on her spectacles to look at it.  She said that it
was lovely, but her voice was not the whole voice of Mrs. Binnie.
There were two Mrs. Binnies, a dissociated personality, the Mrs.
Binnie who looked at Bonthorn's plan, and the Mrs. Binnie who was
somehow worried about her elder daughter.

"Yes, it's lovely, Mr. Bonthorn.  And is that the per-go-la?"

"Yes, that's the per-go-la."

But presently she slipped away, and Bonthorn, turning his chair
towards Rachel's bed, let the plan lie across his knees.

"Your mother is worried about something."

She lay looking at him.  She could lie and look at him undisturbed,
though sometimes she remembered her old fear of him.  She had
ceased to fear.  He gave more than he asked, and she was so much
older, centuries older.  Four months of martyrdom had subtilized
her, changing her from the crude child to the watching, waiting
woman.

"Mother's always worried, poor dear."

"Less by you--though--"

"O--I don't know."

"But I think I do.  You're her pot of musk in the window.  Care to
look at the plan?"

"Of course."

He stood behind her bed, and with outstretched arms, held it for
her to see, and she pointed with a fine, pale finger at the little
patches of colour.

"What's that?"

"A lot of long names.  Do you want them?"

"Yes."

"Campanula glomerata, betonica--O, well, let's keep to English.
Sweet William, cranesbill, stocks, snapdragons, bergamot."

And then he realized that she was looking at her own raised hand,
and looking at it regretfully, pensively.  His tenderness hovered,
and became playful.

"Yes, that's Madonna Lily."

"Which?"

He touched her hand.

"That."

And suddenly he realized that tears were wetting her cheeks.

"O, so useless!  Just look at it, like a bit of wax."

He let the coloured plan fall on the bed, and took her hand and
drawing it to him, laid it against his mouth.

"No, not useless."


3

Mrs. Binnie went about softly calling to her elder daughter.

"Rhoda--Rhoda--my dear."

But no voice answered her, and she put her candle down on a table,
and going to the front door, opened it and looked out.

"Rhoda, my dear--"

The river was talking to the sedges.  She saw a few stars very
bright in a cold, clear sky, and a red flower burning by the
bridge, the night-watchman's brazier, also a row of red lights.  A
car came from Lignor, and slackening its speed, went crawling over
the temporary bridge.  Its engine quickened and with a suggestion
of stress and of haste it sped on, cutting the darkness with the
long beams of its headlights.

Mrs. Binnie closed the door and returned to her candle.  She did
not pick it up, but left it burning on the table, and going to the
stairs ascended with footsteps that seemed to drag.  She came to
the darkness that was Rhoda's door, but under it she saw a streak
of light.

She hesitated, she knocked.

"Hallo!"

"Rhoda, my dear--"

"What d'you want?"

"May I come in?"

"O, come in."

Mrs. Binnie opened the door.  She saw her elder daughter sitting on
the bed in her stockings, under-knickers and vest.  A skirt lay on
the floor, and for a moment these two women looked at each other.
Rhoda's face was sullen, and suddenly she spoke.

"Shut the door.  Bonthorn still there?"

"Yes."

Mrs. Binnie stood by the door, looking bothered.

"What's the matter, Rho?"

"Matter?"

"Yes--there's something."

Rhoda stooped, picked up her skirt, and tossed it into a chair.

"O--I suppose you may as well know.  Fred and I are going to be
married next week.  Yes, quietly, no sob-stuff.  You see--"

Mrs. Binnie's fingers picked at her apron.

"My dear--I don't think I quite--"

"O, well--it's quite simple.  Something happened a little too
previously.  The only trouble is--I shall have to start
housekeeping on my own.  I was going to tell you.  I had meant to
see you through next year--but with baby coming--"

Mrs. Binnie's small mouth hung open.

"O, my dear--!  Really--!  I shouldn't have thought it of Fred.
Well--really--!"

And then something happened to them both.  Possibly it was Rhoda
who clutched her mother and dragged her down beside her on the bed.

"Sorry, mumsie.  It's all right.  Nothing to be ashamed of--really.
One's human--you know.  I'm not a humbug, and all this stuff and
fuss about--O, well--I've got to go to Fred.  Seems like letting
you down, and damn it--I didn't want to let you down."

Mrs. Binnie clutched her daughter.

"O, my dear--you ought to have told me before.  No, I'm not angry,
I'm not--really.  But it's taken my breath away somehow--just for
the moment.  We've got to think of you, yes--of course.  I'll
manage--all right."

Rhoda took her mother's small face between her hands, and kissed it
with a kind of fierceness.

"Mumsie--you're human--too.  You're the damnedest little old dear--"

"O, Rho--your language.  But, O--my dear, I'm going to be a
grandmother.  Well--really!"


4

Bonthorn had gone, and Mrs. Binnie, descending the stairs, found
her candle still burning in the tearoom.  Perhaps an inch of wax
had been consumed, and she sat down and watched the small and
steady flame.  In the dark and empty hollow of the big room it
looked no larger than a baby's finger, a little silver slit in an
aureole of light.  Mrs. Binnie stared at it as though she were
looking through a crevice into some world beyond.

So, Rhoda was to have a baby.  And she had heard Rhoda's views upon
birth and marriage, and Rhoda belonged to a post-war generation, a
generation that was coming to believe in the control of birth, and
that the producing of a child was neither a shameful nor a
sentimental affair, a cause for sniggers or shocked sniffings.
O, yes, some sort of social understanding between the man and the
woman--of course, but the mumbo-jumbo cult was dead.  The thing was
to produce healthy children and not too many of them, and to be
prepared to be responsible for them.  As for those two words sin
and shame, let them be stuffed down the throats of all the old
pontificial prudes.

Casual desire--indeed!  Where would the world be without that young
and healthy urge?

To Mrs. Binnie's eyes the candle-flame seemed to grow smaller and
smaller.  She was conscious of herself as a little ageing woman in
the dark hollow of the big room.  Nothing but chairs, and tables,
and shadows, and that gramophone to which her young things had
danced.  Rhoda was going--

And Rachel--?  Rachel had become like a sick and beloved child who
would never grow up.  And supposing Rachel burnt herself out as
that candle would burn itself out?

Mrs. Binnie's eyes looked frightened.  Almost her small figure had
a crouching furtiveness.  Those shadowy corners, and something
waiting for her!  She felt herself alone.  She was alone.

She got up quickly and picked up the candle, and hastened as though
flying from some presence into that other room.  It had light and
warmth, and the reality of Rachel.  Her small voice shivered as she
spoke.

"Mr. Bonthorn gone, Rachie?"

"Yes."

"I ought to rub your legs a little.  I'll just warm my hands at the
fire."



XXIX


1

So, Rhoda was married, but not as her mother would have wished it,
with orange-blossom and the wedding-march and virginal flimsies,
but with unostentatious reasonableness before a registrar, and Mrs.
Binnie was left alone with Rachel to face the winter.

"Manage, my dear!  Of course I can manage."

The winter was their dead season when chairs and tables were put
away, and some occasional and solitary soul crept in for tea and
made the most of a very small fire.  Mrs. Binnie, the wilful
optimist, proposed to feed that fire with billets from the
slaughtered chestnut tree, but the wood was less ardent than her
courage.  But surely one active little women could look after
herself and her daughter, and have time to spare for work in the
new garden.  Yes, she was going to be very busy planting things.

Rachel, inwardly troubled, and giving her fingers to the household
linen, tried to persuade her mother to have help.

"You never get any rest."

But Mrs. Binnie was strangely cheerful.  She had moved Rachel back
into her own little room, and precisely at seven each evening she
lit an oil stove, and carried it into her daughter's bedroom.

"I'm not worrying, my dear.  I shall get plenty of rest in my
coffin.  Besides, I like doing things, I do--really, especially
when I've got you to do them for."

"Nobody has ever done things for you, mumsie."

"O, yes, they have.  And when the spring comes I'll have one of
Annie's girls here and train her.  And Mr. Bonthorn's coming in
twice a day."

Rachel knew of Bonthorn's coming, for without him she could not be
lifted from her bed to her wheeled chair.  He was very strong and
very gentle; he seemed to know just how to hold her, while her
mother supported her feet.  Moreover, he held her just as she
wished to be held, as though he understood that there was a part of
her that could not bear too much pressure, a love that was wounded
and ready to bleed.  He seemed to know just how helpless she felt
and how she asked not to have it emphasized.  Never did she feel at
his mercy, or that any advantage would be taken.  He carried her as
though her broken self was sacred to them both.

She loved him for this.

She just put her arms round his neck and surrendered herself to a
compassion that cast out fear.

"What a lot of your time I'm wasting."

He looked at her almost quizzically.

"Think so?  Think a little further, Rachel."

He did not kiss her, and for his restraint she was strangely
grateful, for his very restraint sustained her.  She had a horror
of mawkishness, of the thing her more downright sister would have
called sex slobber.  She belonged to a generation that washed
itself more thoroughly, and the candour of its cleanliness was
symbolical.  He carried both her body and her spirit, child and
woman, and sometimes she felt that she was like a bundle of flowers
in his arms.  She trusted him.  She liked him to tease her gently.
The silk of her was too tightly stretched to be plucked at with
rough fingers.

Yes, she loved him, dearly, hopelessly, consentingly, for he
understood, though how he understood she did not know.

The sudden fall of the leaf.  Her new window looked up the valley,
and it seemed to her that no autumn had known such colour.  Or was
it that she noticed things more?--being less of a young animal on
active legs.  She could look up at the high woods, with their
goblin gold, and watch the pale willows dropping their leaves into
the river.  The valley was a great tapestry.  There seemed to be
crevices of crimson in Bonthorn's beech tree.  She watched all
those colours burn themselves out, and the tracing of twigs and
branches become apparent.  It happened very quickly after
successive nights of frost, and with a raw mist blanketing the
valley.  She felt the rawness creeping in at her window.

Winter was here, and such a winter.  She could not forecast its
sullen, sombre fierceness, nor the changes it was to bring into her
swaddled life.  Could anything be reborn in such a winter, when
grey day followed grey day, ghost after ghost, with the soil stiff
and the river bearded with ice, the hedges all rime, and the birds
dying.  She was to throw crumbs to the birds from her window,
blackbirds, thrushes, chaffinches, sparrows, and a robin who learnt
to flutter in and sit on the rail of her bed.  The breath of the
bridge-builders was to be silver smoke.  An old woodman was to be
found dead in one of those coppices with his billhook beside him.
And she was to find in herself a little flicker of new life, but
that was not yet.

Her mother at work in that half-acre behind the house, wearing an
old yellow jumper and gloves, and a small black hat pressed down
over her little peaky face.  She saw Bonthorn there too, busy with
a spade, but very soon their activities were restricted.  The
winter sealed up the soil.  It became impossible to plant in that
heavy, frozen loamy clay.

With the fall of the leaf, the valley seemed to grow conscious of
its nakedness like Eve after eating the forbidden fruit.  The
invisible became visible.  Everything looked so much smaller and
less distant.  You felt yourself at the back of the world's stage
on a grey winter afternoon at about four o'clock.  Rachel had
glimpses of Bonthorn in his garden or orchard, and from her kitchen
window Mrs. Martha could look down upon the Mill House.

Being a good woman she liked to look down upon it, to condescend to
it in righteousness.  She was feeling more kindly to Mrs. Binnie,
and even towards Rachel, for it seemed to Martha that Mrs. Binnie
was being chastened by her rebellious children.  Your nonconformist
expects the younger generation to conform, and Martha knew all
about Rhoda's sudden marriage.

"Disgraceful--I call it."

She would bring in her candour and serve it to Bonthorn with the
buttered toast.  She believed in speaking her mind, however rudely
that mind might function on occasions.  Even her austerity liked to
consider itself indispensable, and Mr. Bonthorn was exhibiting
himself too much at the Mill House.

"But what can you expect with girls showing their legs.  No modesty--
no morals."

Martha was indeed an admirable Martha, but her candour was too
personal, and Bonthorn was tempted.

"What are--morals, Martha?"

She turned in the doorway to survey him.

"If we can't resist our appetites, sir."

"Well, you had better take this toast away.  I always fall with
it."

So, he was being fantastic, was he!  She said: "I'm sorry for the
poor woman.  She's a decent body, and she'll kill herself if she
goes on lifting those heavy stones."

Bonthorn's blue eye was attentive.

"You've been in Canaan, Martha."

"I can't help looking out of a window.  I can't help seeing her
dragging those stones about at the back of her house.  She oughtn't
to be doing it.  That strong girl of hers might have done better
than--"

But there were occasions when Bonthorn closed Martha's mouth.  He
said such queer things.

"A baby may be bread to a woman.  Mrs. Buck is a mother, and she's
going to be a grandmother.  Stones--Martha--"

Martha made a clucking noise with her tongue.

"She isn't fit for it.  A little wisp of a woman like that."

The door closed, but a moment later it was reopened.

"When I'm cooking--I'm cooking.  There's room in the oven for
somebody else's small joint.  I suppose you have no objection,
sir?"

"None at all, Martha.  Carry on."

But that particular day was less grey than its sisters, and a huge
red sun was hanging in the high woods above Beech Farm.  Bonthorn
hurried his tea and went out, and in that vivid moment before the
day faded he saw that little distant figure, half yellow, half
black, clasping a stone to its bosom, and carrying it to the river
bank.  He put a match to his pipe and marched down the lane.

Mrs. Binnie was incorrigible.  Baffled by the frost, she yet was
determined to have her paved terrace and her pergola.  She had
purchased larch and chestnut poles, and a truck-load of cinders,
and the cinders were to be spread as a mattress for her stones.  As
for the strong lad he had not yet appeared.  During that dead
season it was necessary to husband one's resources.

The men at the bridge were putting away their tools.  The brazier
was a red flower, and about it a big black kettle hung on a tripod.
The new bridge, a grey streak of reinforced concrete, was to be up
by the new year.  Bonthorn passed the time of day with Mr. Bowler
Hat, who, with many mufflings, looked more globular than ever.

"More frost."

The Mill House shut off the setting sun, and the shadow had a cold
solidity.  Bonthorn passed round the house, and caught Mrs. Binnie
in the act of removing a stone from the pile arranged by the bridge-
builders.

He said: "You mustn't do that, mother."

She crinkled up her small face at him.

"But I'm only taking the little ones and putting them ready.  It
keeps me nice and warm."

He took the stone away from her, and carrying it to the river bank
placed it on the small cairn she had collected.

"Absolutely--I forbid you to do it."

He crossed over to the heap of cinders and rubbed the toe of a boot
against them.

"And you've split your finger--too."

"I just pinched it between two stones.  I've got it tied up."

"So--I see."

He went and stood over her.  He pointed the stem of his pipe at
her.

"I forbid you to do it.  I'll come down and lay those stones for
you.  Yes, you can help to rake the cinders when I have spread
them."

"But it's asking too much of you, Mr. Bonthorn, it is, really."

"Is it!"

He took her gently by the arm and marched her towards the house,
watched by Rachel from the kitchen window.

"This isn't Egypt.  I'll let you try your hand, perhaps, at nailing
lattice-work on the pergola.  But only on one condition."

She looked up at him sideways from under her funny little hat.

"And what is it?"

"That you don't hit your finger with the hammer."

"But I always do hit my finger."

He laughed softly and opened the door.

"That's rather awkward.  Well, what am I to do about it?  We'll ask
Rachel."


2

Mrs. Binnie had left them alone together for five minutes, and the
blind was up, and the red afterglow mimicking the fire.  Bonthorn
had put out his pipe.  He stood beside her chair, and looked out of
the window.

"I've forbidden her to do that."

Rachel's left hand moved to and fro.

"I wanted you to--I can't stop her.  She's--"

"Unconquerable.  I'll lay the stones, and put in those posts.  I've
plenty of time."

Her eyes looked up at him.

"Hold my hand."

"May I?"

"But don't--stop her--altogether.  She's like a child--in some
ways.  Isn't it funny?  I'm her baby--and she's my child.  I
understand--now--why I let her do things for me.  It used to fret
me, O--horribly.  But not now."

Deliberately and slowly he bent down and kissed her hair.

"You have beautiful hair, beloved.  And something else--too.
That's what I put my lips to.  You--understand?"

She laid a hand against his cheek.

"I never thought it could be like this.  I was so--raw--somehow."

"Hardly that."

"O, yes--I was.  And I used to be afraid of you."

"But not now?"

"Not now."


3

The frozen ruts of the lane were too unfriendly for Rachel's chair,
but there was the carriage-drive leading up to Stella Lacey where
no cars came.  And that was Rachel's highway.  Sometimes Bonthorn
took her, sometimes Mrs. Binnie, and when her chair crossed the
high road the man with the red flag who held the bridge-head would
assume an air of sentimental authority and carry the flag at
Rachel's service.

"That's all right, Miss.  Let 'em all come and wait."

Flapping his arms afterwards he would chant a sort of refrain to
his comrades.

"Let 'em bloody-well wait, bloody-well wait.  Gosh--I'm glad I'm
not at Wipers."

Old Mischief, sawing wood in an out-house, with a stubby old pipe
stuck in his mouth, would listen to the saw, "Swish-swoo--swish-
swoo," and look at the pile of sawdust.  Sawdust, a rag doll
stuffed with sawdust.  That was what that poor young woman
suggested to him.  And Mr. Bonthorn--!  Well, it was a funny mix-
up, sure-ly!

Mr. Osgood could say that he had never remembered a worse winter,
and that like a woman it began by being sulky and grew more and
more grim until you hunched your shoulders and went out of doors
and spat.  And just as you said of your old woman's sulks: "They
can't last," and yet found that their wind was set in the north-
east for a month, so this winter confounded the prophets.  No sun
shone and the north wind blew; ponds were sealed up, the soil was
proof against the plough and the spade.  Up at Lignor burst pipes
prevailed.  But Old Mischief had one cause for crowing over the
malignant fiend.  Quite early in the spell he had gone round
emptying all the water butts at Yew End.

"Reckon I've done he over them.  Thought he'd burst the lot, he
did."

Bonthorn, looking down and across at the Mill House, saw it smudged
with a kind of grey gloom.  It seemed to emerge dimly out of the
dawn and melt away again into the dusk, though at night it showed
two bright windows.  The river crackled with ice; the shock-headed
willows seemed frozen into voiceless fear.  Birds scuffled and
scratched in the dry hedge-bottoms and in the woods for food, and
gathered round kitchen doorways.  Starved rabbits began to peel the
bark from the trees.  It was a winter of dreadful deadness,
sunless, windless, without stars.

Mrs. Binnie both felt the cold and defied it.  She scuttled down in
the morning to light Rachel's stove and to put life into the dead
kitchen-range.  The old stone house seemed to grow colder and
colder, as though the long frost had penetrated its vitals, for it
had no damp-course and the river was at its doors.  For days it
would be enveloped in a thin and stagnant mist, with the windows
frosted, and one little plume of smoke climbing straight into the
still air.

The milk froze in the larder, and the butter had to be thawed
before it would spread.  Apples could be bounced on the floor like
marbles, but the Mill House well was proof against Jack Frost.
Rachel listened to the clank of the pump handle, and it seemed to
repeat her mother's felicitations: "That's a mercy--that's a
mercy."

Mrs. Binnie herself looked smaller and a little more shrivelled,
and the bridge of her nose was a sharp edge.  She scuttled about
all day, multifariously active, cooking, washing, cleaning, rubbing
her daughter's legs, interviewing tradesmen and sometimes scolding
them.  Nor could she be kept indoors.  She took Rachel out in her
wheeled chair, looking like a minute nursemaid pushing a monstrous
pram, and though Rachel helped by working the levers, Mrs. Binnie
got a little out of breath when the road ascended.

"Don't push so hard, mother."

"It keeps me warm, my dear."

Rhoda, coming down from Lignor, and suggesting the hiring of help,
was cheerfully rebuffed.  She and Fred were well able to help with
money.

"Oh--I can manage, my dear.  A strong girl indeed!  Where can you
find a strong girl these days?  O, yes, they may be strong enough,
but most of them are not willing."

She persisted in going out to work in the new garden where Bonthorn
was laying flagstones and digging post-holes for the pergolas.  He
allowed her to be a little busy with the rake, and to imagine that
she was helping him to prepare the stone-bed, remembering Rachel's
appeal: "Don't stop her altogether."  Besides, the little bird had
to hop about and keep itself warm.  But as for the pergola and its
rustications she was quite hopeless with a hammer; she bent the
nails or hit her gloved fingers.

When the night came Robinia's hour arrived.  The curtains were
drawn, the lamp lit and Rachel's chair drawn up by the fire, and
Mrs. Binnie was alone with her child.  She liked to comb and brush
Rachel's hair, for as Bonthorn had said, Rachel had very beautiful
hair, crisp and black and glossy.  She was letting it grow into a
half-shingle, and Mrs. Binnie kept it in shape, a kind of beautiful
nimbus.

"Frost again to-night, Rachie.  You're all crackly."

"You must be tired, mumsie."

"No, I'm not.  It soothes me--doing this.  You've got such lovely
hair, my dear."

She seemed to exult over her daughter's hair.  This helpless child
of hers, the one precious thing that was left her!  In combing her
hair she was smoothing out all the ravelled ends of life, somehow
soothing herself and Rachel.

At nine o'clock they would hear Bonthorn's knock.  He was as
regular as the Stella Lacey clock chanting in its cupola.  He came
down from Yew End to carry Rachel to her bed.



XXX


1

It was Mrs. Binnie's custom to put a hot-water bottle in Rachel's
bed an hour before Bonthorn carried her to it, and Dr. Carver had
warned Mrs. Binnie to be careful about this bottle.  He had
explained to her that since Rachel had no feeling in her lower
limbs it would be an easy matter for her to be burnt, and that Mrs.
Binnie would be well advised to use a very large bottle with a
double cover and not to make it very hot.

It so happened on one of the coldest nights in December that
Robinia forgot the bottle, and did not discover the omission until
Rachel was in bed.  She was shocked at her own forgetfulness.

"Well, really, my silly old head!"

She hurried to the kitchen to fill the bottle from the kettle, and
after carefully drying the funnel and screwing in the stopper, she
held the pink flannel cover against her cheek.  Yes, the
temperature was just as it should be, and she carried the bottle
into Rachel's room, and slipped it into her daughter's bed.

"So sorry, dear.  That's right.  Just clear of your feet."

Mrs. Binnie returned to the kitchen to put things ready for the
morning, for it was easier to get them ready when one was warm than
to fumble with cold fingers.  It was one of those stark, windless
nights when the very air seemed frozen.  Mrs. Binnie had left the
candle in Rachel's room, and Rachel lay and watched the little
flame.  To her this night had come just as other nights, the gentle
extinction of another dying day.  Yet, had she imagined it, and had
Bonthorn's arms held her a little more firmly, with a more
possessive pressure?  And she had been more poignantly conscious of
her life's limitations, and of the little she could give to those
who gave.

It was while she lay watching the candle-flame, more conscious of
inward than of outward things, that some sensation projected an
image upon her brain.  Heat, a hot object in the bed with her and
near to her feet.  It was as though she heard a voice saying:
"Mother has made the bottle too hot."  But almost instantly that
impersonal voice became a sudden, clear, clamorous cry in the very
core of her consciousness.  The mere sensation, travelling from
percept to concept, flashed on her as something miraculous yet
real.  Sensation.  An object that emitted heat and made her aware
of its presence.  The skin of her feet had ceased to be dead skin.

The significance of the thing seemed to flash on her like a sudden
light.  She was bewildered, incredulous, afraid.  She lay very
still.  She could feel her heart beating hard and fast.  Had her
inner consciousness played her a trick?  Was she imagining it or
had her skin suddenly become alive to the warmth of that bottle?

She lay there and tried to efface the previous impression, to make
consciousness a blank or like an impartial hand that could touch
and appraise without passion or prejudice.  Had she been the fool
of an illusion?  She closed her eyes.  She tried to efface
consciousness, as though she could fall asleep and wake again to
test the illusion.  Almost the hurrying of her heart hurt her.  She
felt hot, smothered, ready to cry out like a child.

Was she feeling that bottle with her feet or with her mind?  Was
the reaction physical or mental?

But the thing was burning her, it was too hot or too near, and
suddenly that feeling of discomfort became a little spasm of
exquisite, inward anguish, an anguish that was joy.  This could be
no illusion.  She could not conceive an image of a bottle that was
too hot.  She--was--feeling.

And suddenly she cried out.

"Mother--mother--come quickly."

She never forgot the frightened look on her mother's small face.
Mrs. Binnie had rushed across from the kitchen, and the effort had
made her breathless.

"My dear--what is it?"

"Mother--I can feel."

"Feel?"

"Yes, my feet and the bottle.  It's too hot."

Mrs. Binnie's mouth drooped.  For the moment the accusation and the
reality were tangled up in her mind.

"Too hot?  It can't be--I--"

And then she understood.  She gave a little, breathless cry, and
slipping a hand under the bedclothes, groped for the thing.  She
found that it was lying six inches away from Rachel's feet.

"My dear, it's not touching you."

For an instant they looked into each other's eyes.

"Mother--then--I can feel--warmth.  Something--something's coming
back.  O, mumsie!"

Mrs. Binnie seemed to fall forward on the bed.

"O, God, don't make a fool of me.  O, God, let it be true."


2

Mrs. Binnie sat on a chair by the bed and wept.

"O, Rachie--I--"

But to Rachel had come a strange calmness.  She lay motionless,
with a slight frown on her forehead as though she were struggling
with some problem.  Her gaze was concentrated upon that prominence
where her two feet raised the bed-clothes.  It was an unblinking
and steady gaze.

She said: "If I can feel--perhaps I can move, even if it is ever so
little.  Look, mother."

Mrs. Binnie clasped her hands together, and then turned back the
clothes so that Rachel's feet were exposed.  They were in the
shadow, and Mrs. Binnie changed the position of the table, but
still the light was not good.

"Hold the candle, mother."

Mrs. Binnie did so.

"I am trying to move my toes.  Can you see anything?"

"No, my dear; not yet."

"Now?"

"No."

She heard Rachel emit a deep sigh, as though she had been holding
her breath and willing those toes to move.  Then, Mrs. Binnie had
an inspiration.  She rubbed a first finger softly against the sole
of Rachel's left foot, and she obtained a response, a faint
movement, a jerk, an involuntary contraction of the muscles.  Mrs.
Binnie uttered a little cry.  She was so excited that she was
holding the candle askew, and some grease dropped upon the
bedclothes.

"You moved, Rachie."

"Did I?"

"Yes--there was a sort of twitch."

"It wasn't me that moved."

"Not you?"

"I mean--I wasn't trying just then.  But are you sure?"

Mrs. Binnie repeated the experiment and obtained the same
flickering reaction.

"There!  It happened again.  It did--really.  O, my dear, it must
mean that something's coming back."

And then she became aware of the guttering candle and the grease-
spots on the bed.

"Well--really!  What--am--I doing?  I don't think I quite know what
I am doing."

She put the candlestick back on the table, and gave way to a sudden
and tender impulse.  She was weeping.  She bent down and kissed her
daughter's feet and wetted them with her tears.

"O, mother, you mustn't do that."

She held out her arms to Robinia, and Mrs. Binnie replaced the bed-
clothes and gave herself to the embrace.

"O, my darling, it's a miracle.  Dr. Carver must be told.  I wish
we were on the telephone.  He ought to know at once.  I think I'll
go up to Lignor."

But Rachel held her.

"You'll do nothing of the sort."

"Then I'll go to Mr. Bonthorn's."

"Mother--I don't want him to know--until Dr. Carver's been.  I want
to be sure.  O--I want to be sure."


3

As though to welcome and bless this tremor of hope the sun rose as
a visible luminary.  His gold might be very pale gold, but he
ushered in a pageant of smoky clouds and blue sky, and though the
earth's smile was ice it satisfied Mrs. Binnie.  She had been too
excited to sleep very soundly.  She was up before the sun, and in
time to see stars flickering like spangles on black velvet.

At seven o'clock she was in conversation with the night-watchman at
the bridge.  She found him stamping up and down in front of his
brazier and wearing one of those funny woollen helmets that are
reminiscent of the trenches in winter.

"I want to get a message to the doctor."

The man told her that he was going off duty at eight when the gang
arrived, and that he was cycling up to Lignor and would leave a
message for her.

"Not bad news, ma'am, I hope?"

"No, I think it's good news."

"That's the stuff to give 'em."

Mrs. Binnie took him out an early cup of tea and a massive slice of
bread and butter.  She had slipped in and found Rachel awake, and
scarcely had dared to ask her questions.

"Slept, my dear?"

"Not very much.  I've little pricking feelings in my feet."

"O, Rachie, it's coming back.  I've sent word to Dr. Carver."

Bonthorn arrived at nine, but those two trembling and excited women
maintained a conspiracy of silence, and when Bonthorn was told by
Robinia that Rachel had decided to stay in bed that morning he was
a little troubled.  Was there any change for the worse?  But Mrs.
Binnie reassured him, and he went back to Yew End between the rimed
hedges that glistened in the winter sunlight.  The ruts in the lane
might have been grooves worn in the stone blocks of a Roman street
by ancient chariot wheels.  There was a huge patch of blue sky over
the Beech Farm woods.  The dog came scuffling out under the holly
hedge to meet him, and through the still air came the swish-swoo
from Old Mischief's saw.

Rollo bounced up and down.

"What of the day, master, what of the day?"

As yet Bonthorn had not suspected the sunlight of smiling at him.

Carver, overworked and very ready to be irritable, received Mrs.
Binnie's message as he was entering his surgery.  Another visit to
be made, and the surgery choc-a-bloc, and no time for a cigarette!
He could say that this was the most damnable winter on record; and
that he lived in a world that coughed and sweated and called him up
needlessly at night.  Influenza--detestable word!  He had been
going about with a temperature and a grumbling head, and ready to
spank any elderly valetudinarian who wished to be in the fashion.

"I think I've got a little chill, doctor."

Yes, there were people whom he wished in their coffins.  But Mrs.
Binnie had had the sense to send her message early, not like some
of the old women of both sexes who became a little nervous at nine
o'clock at night.  He managed to clear the surgery by half-past
ten, and since he had two patients to visit at Hook Hill he took
the Mill House on his way.

On such occasions Dr. Carver did not knock and wait upon doorsteps.
He thrust in and appeared suddenly in bedrooms.  He appeared to
Robinia in her kitchen, and abruptly so.

"Anything wrong?  Not you is it?"

Her small face was like the day's luminary.

"O, doctor, Rachel can feel.  And I managed to make her toes
twitch."

"The devil you did!  Let's go and see."

In Rachel's room he forgot his headache and his irritations, and
all those people who expected him to be as cheerful as sin.  The
bed-clothes were turned back, and borrowing a pin from Mrs. Binnie,
he used it with varying degrees of emphasis.  Rachel had been told
to shut her eyes, and to keep them shut.

"Feel anything?"

"Yes."

"Which foot?"

"The right."

"Whereabouts?"

"On the big toe--I think."

Carver grunted.  He did various things to Rachel, with Mrs. Binnie
watching like an eager bird.  And then, quite suddenly, he replaced
the bed-clothes and straightened his back.

"Well--that's--great.  You can open your eyes, Rachel."

"Doctor, you do think--?"

"My dear lady, she can feel, and I can get some reactions in the
muscles.  That's about as much--and a good deal.  It's what I hoped
for, and didn't dare to count on."

He stood looking at Rachel's feet where they railed the clothes.

"When did it happen?"

"Last night, doctor.  I'd put a hot-water bottle in the bed.  But
isn't it rather extraordinary, so sudden?"

Carver wiped his moustache.

"Nothing's extraordinary.  We don't always know enough--that's all.
The pressure of clotted blood, and the clot is absorbing.  Just
Nature.  I'm damned glad we left Nature alone."

Rachel lay silent.  It was Mrs. Binnie who asked the inevitable
question.

"Doctor, will she be able to walk?"

"Probably.  I don't say how--well.  She has been something of a jig-
saw puzzle to us.  Now, don't you begin to be too--too--"

"Hopeful?"

"No, not exactly that.  Shall we say--too excited, too much in a
hurry.  We must wait a while and see."

And then he bent over Rachel and smiled and patted her shoulder.

"You're your mother's case.  I've never seen a more devoted piece
of nursing.  I thought you would have bed-sores, my dear, and you
didn't."

Rachel looked up at him, and then at her mother.

"I think I know.  I ought to know.  Whatever comes to me, doctor,
will have come through her."


4

Were the words whispered to her mother, or did Robinia read them in
her daughter's eyes?

"Go and tell him."

Mrs. Binnie did not wait to put on a hat.  She took down an old
coat of Rachel's that hung on a peg, and with the sleeves flopping
over her hands, hurried out to carry the news to Bonthorn, but
first she had to tell it to those friends of hers--the bridge-
builders.  She knew quite a number of them by their Christian
names, Fred and Jim and Jack and Albert and Arthur.  Bowler Hat she
always addressed as Mr. Hands, for she judged that it would have
been unseemly of her to address a foreman as Fred.

"I've had such good news, boys."

She could hail them collectively as boys, and they gathered round
her.

"Someone left you a fortune, ma'am."

"Better than that.  My girl is going to get well--or if not quite
well--the doctor thinks she will be able to walk."

They were not particularly eloquent or original in their
congratulations, but they were pleased because Mrs. Binnie was so
obviously in a state of joy.  Their simplicities understood hers.
Mr. Bowler Hat raised his headgear as though the occasion belonged
to the ceremonious.  It was neither a wedding nor a funeral, but it
was an occasion.

"Well, you do deserve it, ma'am, and so does the young lady."

Warmed by their friendly faces she hastened on up the frozen lane
where dead leaves and desiccated grasses made a little shivering
sound in the hedgerows when the light air moved.  She came to the
white gate in the holly hedge, and passed through it and up the
path.  The garden had its winter nakedness, and its hedges ceased
to conceal its secrets, but she could not see Bonthorn anywhere.
From one of the lodges came sounds of toil, the snarl of a saw, and
the sharp strokes of a felling-axe splitting logs.

She made towards the lodge.  The saw paused for a moment in its
play, and she heard Old Mischief's voice.

"She's getting a bit sulky, she be.  Y'have t'soap a saw just as
y'soap a woman."

Bonthorn's voice replied:

"I didn't know you were a diplomat, John."

"That be a long word.  Sometimes you give 'em sarce, sometimes a
little soap, and not too much of either.  You should always keep a
woman guessin', sir."

And Mrs. Binnie laughed.  She did not appear in the doorway of the
lodge.  She called to Bonthorn, and he came out to her.

"Hallo!  It's you, Mrs. Binnie."

Which was obvious, as obvious as her happy and excited face.  Old
Osgood, running a thumb along the teeth of the saw, made of the
saw's sulkiness an excuse for listening.

"Dr. Carver has just been.  Rachel can feel in her feet.  Yes, and
move her toes a little."

If Old Mischief expected Mr. Bonthorn to leap in the air, or strike
a dramatic attitude, he was disappointed.  Mr. Bonthorn was not a
gentleman who showed off, but Mr. Osgood could not let the occasion
pass without having a finger in it.  He appeared in the doorway.

"You tell 'er from me, Mrs. Buck, that she's got to walk to 'er
weddin'"--and he sniggered.



XXXI


1

Bonthorn did not show off, and yet he could appreciate the humour
of exhibitionism, especially the ostentation of the well informed
and the seriously minded.  He could remember squatting under a
beech tree beside the track that climbs the south downs to
Chanctonbury, and on a chalky bank opposite him a very particular
flower had been in bloom.  A party of girls out for the day had
come laughing and panting through the steep, green splendours, and
had paused in the hollow way to acclaim that flower.

"What is it?"

"Chicory--I think."

Bonthorn had nursed his knees and remained mute, but an earnest
gentleman arriving from above with an air of out-of-door integrity
and a wife, had been unable to restrain his knowledge.

"Nice patch of viper's bugloss."

He had spoken the words as though informing his wife and the world
at large, and as though those maidens were so many scattered
flints, but Bonthorn had known that the superior fellow had had an
eye on the ladies.  A well-informed person, very much without a hat
or tie, grey-bagged, cultivating the country and his own high
glistening forehead.  Bonthorn had watched him swing on down the
woodland track with a little, pedagogic swagger.

"Viper's bugloss, my dear!  Ha, viper's bugloss!"

Yes, even the most cultured of pilgrims cannot refrain from
exhibiting themselves in public at the expense of a flower.

Possibly there were people who would have accused Bonthorn of
exhibiting himself as the sentimental knight on that half-acre of
ground behind the Mill House at Monks Lacey.  Pottering about with
an old woman, while the eyes of the daughter watched his prowess
from a window.  Mrs. Gloriana, having heard that life had decided
to leave Rachel a legacy, came down to congratulate both mother and
daughter, and through Rachel's window saw Bonthorn at work.  The
new paved terrace by the river was taking shape.  Mrs. Binnie was
out there with Mr. Bonthorn, ready to scatter a little more ash or
sand under the flagstones as Bonthorn laid them so that each stone
should be steady.  He had all the ground pegged out and prepared.

Mrs. Gloriana remembered her Bible.  Jacob serving his seven years
for Rachel.  And then she realized that while she had been
observing Bonthorn, she herself had been under observation.  The
eyes of the girl watched her, and in them the great lady divined
defiance.

"Mine.  Yes, and I'm without shame."

But Mrs. Gloriana could transcend the conventions.  She could agree
to sponge out the figures on the slate of her generation, for even
the slate itself was an obsolete convention.  Stella Lacey would be
effaced.  Life was an experiment, an adventure in psychology, and
perhaps she saw Rachel as youth reborn, youth subtilized and
enriched and comprehending.  She wanted to say certain things to
Rachel, to tell youth that it need not stand on guard.

She said: "If there is virtue in courage your mother should
receive--"  And then she paused, feeling that there are occasions
when the spoken phrase is always on stilts, and that silence can be
more significant and less sententious.  She went and stood for a
moment by the window.  She realized Bonthorn's strength, the
deliberate and patient purposefulness of the man as he handled
those heavy stones.

She said: "That's quite good to watch," and suddenly her eyes
turned very gently to Rachel--"And you--you must be glad--knowing
that you will not have to lie and look.  One wants to play with the
other children."

The watchfulness went out of Rachel's eyes.

"Yes, I'm learning to play.  It's like learning some things all
over again."

She was learning them differently, and somehow like a grown-up
child, realizing the significance of her movements and her mother's
pride and delight in them.  For Mrs. Binnie life was repeating
itself.  Her beloved child was learning to stand and to walk, and
though Mrs. Binnie's possession of the babe was not complete, it
sufficed her.  She exclaimed like a joyous mother over the miracle
of growth.

"Yes, you are moving them, Rachie, you are really."

She was referring to Rachel's toes, and since the movement was
conscious and wilful it was the more significant.

Carver, coming in daily in spite of a spate of sickness, turned
back the bed-clothes and confessed himself astonished.

"Well, you're doing wonderfully.  Keep it up.  Keep it up, Mrs.
Buck."

Rachel could flex and extend her feet, and Mrs. Binnie and the
district nurse worked hard upon the muscles.  In spite of that most
stubborn winter life seemed to be flowing back into Rachel with the
insurgence of the year's sap.  How much of her youth and her
strength would return Carver could not promise, but she would be no
dead thing on a board.

Night and morning Bonthorn came in to carry her to and from her
bed, but if he carried her a little differently, she too was less
inert in his arms.  She hoped.  She was to be to him something more
than a paralysed child.  It was as though she grew up all in a
moment and became woman.

She remembered that night when they kissed each other as human
lovers kiss.

"O, man."

"Dearest."

And suddenly she grew very grave, and a little frightened, as
though she had ventured too far, and for his sake was urged to draw
back.

"Not yet, not quite yet.  I'm not sure--"

"Of me, or of yourself?"

She half-closed her eyes.

"No, of how much use I shall be to you."

"As mere matter?"

"Well, yes.  But--we're practical people--these days.  We want to
be real and have things real."

"Even--our mysteries."

He held her and seemed to laugh over her deeply.

"Dear realist, and yet how much mystery there is in you, even in
the reality you call your body.  Just a fragment of consciousness
that behaves.  What rot!"

She touched his face with her fingers.

"Put me down, man.  You've held me long enough."

But instead of carrying her to her room he put her back in her
chair before the fire, and sat down beside her, and Mrs. Binnie,
looking in on them, smiled and found further occupation.  And for a
while they were silent, watching the fire.

She said: "I don't think I shall ever quarrel with things again.
Just to be able to walk and to go to things and touch them.  It
will be so good--if it happens."

Somehow he was so sure that it would happen,

"Yes, you will walk and touch and take."

She smiled at him.

"But not quite as I used to.  Things will be a little slower."

He nodded.

"Quite right.  But isn't that what the world wants?  A little more
of the pony-trap idea and less of the aeroplane.  I suppose that
sounds sententious.  But haven't you learnt to look at things?"

"Yes, I think I have."


2

Mrs. Binnie had to be allowed her surprise, the preparing of a
little tableau vivant, but before this piece of stagecraft could be
perfected there had to be rehearsals.  Rachel was to stand erect,
on her own feet and unsupported.  The experiment was deliberate and
secret, carried out after tea-time when the old house had warmed
itself.

"Don't help me, mother."

She sat on the edge of her bed with her feet touching the floor,
and with her hands resting on the bed she tried to raise herself,
but neither on the first nor the second occasion had she the
strength to do so, and Mrs. Binnie, standing by, anxiously watched
her child's struggles.

"You are trying too much, Rachie."

"I must try."

"Perhaps you can stand--if I help you."

Mrs. Binnie put an arm round her daughter, and giving her the
support of her small body, enabled Rachel to rise to her feet.

"There, you are up."

"Let me try standing alone."

"O, do be careful."

"Let me try."

Mrs. Binnie withdrew her support, and for a couple of seconds
Rachel stood, and then suddenly she tottered.  Her knees gave way,
but Mrs. Binnie caught her, and they collapsed together on the bed.

"My dear, you're not hurt?"

"No.  But I stood.  You weren't touching me."

"Yes, Rachie, you stood."

Day after day this experiment was repeated, until Rachel could
stand erect and unsupported.  Next, she was raising herself from
the bed without her mother's help, while Mrs. Binnie stood by with
clasped hands, solicitous and watchful.  She held her breath.  She
applauded.

"Isn't that splendid.  Why, soon you'll be walking."

The rehearsals were complete, and the first tableau ready for the
ascent of the curtain.  Bonthorn, coming down from Yew End on a
Sunday evening, found mother and daughter before the fire.  Rachel
was seated in a chair, and when Bonthorn entered she rose slowly to
her feet and stood before him.

In that moment he was aware of something strange in her, of her
deliberate and young dignity suddenly erect before him.  She seemed
taller than he had believed her to be, and undoubtedly she was
older, not in time but in self-knowledge.  Her very clothes were
not the garments of a girl, but a sheath suggesting a spathe or a
robe.  He was conscious of feeling in her presence the exquisite
awe and wonder of the lover.  She looked so dark and still and
steadfast, standing before him as she had never stood in the hurry
of her less stately youth.

He stood looking at her for fully half a minute, with a silence
that was both homage and salutation.  She was not disquieted by his
gaze.  She understood it.  And Mrs. Binnie, watching them both,
realized that Bonthorn had become a figure in her tableau.

Slowly, and with a faintly mysterious smile, Rachel seated herself
in her chair.  The very deliberation of her movements seemed part
of a spell.  And to Bonthorn, lover and mystic, she appeared as a
creature of the creative fancy, a symbolic figure such as man in
his super-sensuous moments dreams of and translates into colour,
music or words.

If he had knelt to her he would have knelt as the young man in
armour, not as a sophisticated Georgian on his silken knees to sex.
To him and with him she transcended sex, though sex might be
manifest in the colour and the shape of her.  For in them both were
other mysteries.

He completed Mrs. Binnie's tableau.

"The Queen is seated.  I salute the Queen."

He took one of her hands, and letting it rest in the old-fashioned
way on the back of his wrist, he kissed her fingers.  It was done
half playfully, and with the passion that can be poignant because
of its playfulness.  And Mrs. Binnie, with her hands folded over
her bosom, put her head on one side and thought the picture
perfect.  Her simplicity held the serpent of sophistication pinned
under its small feet.

She said, "I'm sure you didn't dream, Mr. Bonthorn, when you opened
that door--"

He turned from daughter to mother.

"Dream?--I'm always dreaming.  When we stop dreaming--we die.  One
just opens a door, but--of course--it depends--on how you pass
through the doorway."

He had the air of laughing without making any sound.  He went and
put his hands on Mrs. Binnie's shoulders, and kissed her.


3

A month front that day Rachel was walking.  As she said laughingly
to Bonthorn she had escaped the crawling stage and raids upon the
coal-box, and those disastrous moments when one fell flat upon
one's face and sent up an angry howl.  Moreover, she had discovered
laughter, but very unnoisy laughter, an exquisite and tremulous
delight in the humour of being herself.  This business of walking
made her look graver than she felt, for she had to concentrate upon
it like a very young child.

There were occasions when she subsided suddenly upon a chair or a
couch, or even on the edge of a table.  She had begun by using two
sticks, but the sticks were soon discarded.  She liked to have her
hands free and ready.  She carried herself in those early days with
a singular erectness, a kind of stately rigidity that made her
laugh when she surprised a reflection of herself in a long mirror.

"Just like a fashion-plate."

But to Bonthorn there was nothing stilted in her movements.  To him
her walking was a deliberate and stately glide, the poise of the
young priestess.  She looked so intensely serious when she walked,
and he was tempted to fancy that had some tall flower been blessed
with feet it would have walked just as she walked.  Yes, in and out
of the sunlight and shadow.  For sometimes he thought that he heard
the laughter of flowers, a bell-sound, blue-throated in the dawn
and in the cool of the evening.

During those early days Mrs. Binnie was apt to follow Rachel about,
or to watch her anxiously through doorways.  She might catch one of
those tentative feet and stumble.  Moreover, Robinia never tired of
watching her child repeating her own past, and if Mrs. Binnie was
sentimental about it she was sentimental with a difference.  For
life is not just repetition when you yourself have marched twenty
years.

The bridge-builders had departed, and the new stretch of tarmac
flowed within a yard of Mrs. Binnie's doorstep.  As she expressed
it: "If you put your nose outside--you may get it cut off."  She
warned her child, but Rachel did not need the warning; she had ears
and eyes.  When some lorry or van rumbled past its bulk darkened
the windows of the tea-room that looked towards the road.  They
were up against progress, the scowling face of speed that snarled
"Damn you, get out of the way."  If it occurred to Rachel to wonder
what the old house would suffer when the summer traffic began to
flow, she concealed that curiosity.  Possibly she was more
concerned with immediate things.  Also, she was beginning to feel
curiously protective towards her mother.  Mrs. Binnie was sixty and
looked ten years older than her age, and the hard winter seemed to
have had a shrivelling effect on her.

When Rachel took her first walk out of doors she went over the
bridge and fifty yards up the Beech Farm lane.  Bonthorn was with
her.  She needed a smooth surface for her feet, and the tarred road
gave it, but the road was for the world on wheels.  The frozen,
turfy stretches of the lane were safer than the rutty track, and
she essayed the turf.

"No, don't help me."

He stood off a little and watched her.

"Not too much adventure, Rachel."

She laughed.

"A lame dog's not much use in this new world.  You have to be quick
on your feet."

"There are few lanes left."

"For old women!  Do you know, I've made a discovery, man."

"Tell it."

"I've come to suspect that old people are not really old.  They
have young hearts in old bodies.  They are just as much in love
with life, and perhaps more so, but they can't quite go the pace."

"Yes, that's so.  But youth--"

"Yes, I don't suppose youngsters realize."

"Youth never thinks of itself as growing old, or of the old
potterers as having been young."

"But I do.  I suppose I've been taught.  Could anything be younger
than mother?"

But the frozen turf of the lane soon tired her and she was ready to
turn back.

"Take the old lady home."

Her little whimsical laugh touched him.  It made him realize how
wise she was growing, and how exquisite the wisdom of her
comradeship could be.  Her touch had become delicate and subtle;
the texture of her youth had the softness of an old, rich fabric.

He took her arm.

"You will have to tolerate--this."

She understood him.

"It's not so difficult," and she was wondering how any woman who
had become friends with her intimate self could suffer the rude
intimacies of some scrambling boy.

And on the new bridge of Monks Lacey they fell in with that type of
boy, youth in a hurry, in too much of a hurry to understand
anything, even its own raw self.  They were in the middle of the
bridge and in the middle of a seemingly deserted road when a two-
seater car travelling at speed appeared on the straight stretch
behind them.  It emitted squeals like some savage beast that had
had its belly ripped with a knife.

Rachel seemed to stiffen.  It was as though her paralysis suddenly
had returned and pinned her helplessly in the middle of the road.

"I can't move, Nick.  Make him stop."

Bonthorn swung round and raised an arm, and the car, slowing up
with complaining brakes, stopped within two yards of them.  A
sullen, young face glowered, the face of a fair young man with high
cheek-bones, and unpleasant, angry eyes.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"



XXXII


1

Rachel had said that her mother always would be young, and yet she
had the eyes to see the changes that the last six months had
wrought in Mrs. Binnie.  Work, worry and that wicked winter had
left their mark, and if Rachel welcomed the rising tide of her own
power to do things, it was for Mrs. Binnie's sake as much as for
Bonthorn's.

For Robinia had aged very noticeably in those six months.  She had
a shrunken look, and both face and hair had become more bleached.
She got out of breath more easily, and even her quick movements
were a little more flurried and inco-ordinate.

She dropped things.  She let the milk-jug crash in the middle of
the kitchen floor, and stood regarding the white mess with an air
of pained surprise.

"Well--really!  What am I doing?"

Her memory began to play her little tricks.  She kept some ready-
money locked up in an old oak bureau, and for years it had been her
custom to secrete the key in some secret hole or corner, and from
time to time she would change the key's hiding-place.  Yes, in
these days you never knew when motor-thieves might not descend upon
you.  But a day came when she forgot where she had hidden the key,
and began to rummage for it.

"I can't think, my dear."

She stood by the window with her hands to her head.

"Now--where did I put that key?  Isn't it silly.  My head feels all
muzzy."

Rachel, with a sudden protective glance at that little figure rose
from her chair, and took up the search.

"I'll find it.  Sit down, dear."

Mrs. Binnie sat down with an air of slight bewilderment.  She was
annoyed with herself.  What a head!  And Rachel found the key in a
half-empty matchbox on the mantelpiece.

"Here it is."

"Well, really!  I must have forgotten."

At night, when sitting in front of the fire, she would begin to
nod, and then fall asleep in the chair, her small body sagging over
to one side, her mouth open.  Sometimes she would wake up with a
jerk, and look across at Rachel, and try to conceal the lapse.
Asleep?  O, no.  But there were occasions when she herself realized
that concealment was impossible.  She would come to with a start, a
catching of the breath, and a stiffening of her small body.

"Well, really--I must have dropped off!  Isn't the room rather
stuffy, Rachel?"

"Just a little, perhaps.  But why shouldn't you have a nap?  No
need to be so hard to yourself, mumsie."

"My dear, I'm not an old woman yet."

But that was just what she was, a gallant little old creature, and
so much the slave of her own courage that, like an old horse, she
would fall asleep while trotting.  Rachel's eyes were wise.  She
was realizing that this little body was very tired.  It had never
spared itself, and now it needed rest.  She did not think of her
mother as a candle that was flickering out, but as a lamp that
needed oil.  Her mother should be replenished.

Yes, if only she could hasten things, hurry her slack muscles back
to strength, unglue her stiff joints.  But it would happen, it must
happen.  Already, she was beginning to help in the house, and when
her mother protested she smiled to herself and persisted.

"Now, you mustn't try to do too much, Rachie."

"It's lovely to do things, mother.  It does me good."

Would she ever be able to do too much, to make her offering, her
recompense?  For mere restless, flitting youth was dead in her.
She would not take all that was given and go her way to be young
with some mate, while remaining perfunctorily kind to the
pensioner.  She had compassion, understanding, a passionate
integrity.  The impatient egotism of youth was dead.  She could be
loyal to both generations.

She spoke to Bonthorn of her mother.

"She had never spared herself.  She's tired.  Yes, she was ready to
spoil us, and it's her turn to be spoilt.  O, I must hurry."

He trod gently, delicately.

"Look here, get help.  If it's a question of filthy lucre--"

But she put him off.

"No, we can manage.  I don't think I want one of my cousins here.
They have pale eyelashes.  I'm getting Rhoda to look out for a
woman.  If your Martha hears of one--"

"I'll ask her."

"You see, this is a personal matter, Nick.  I've got it in my heart
and on my conscience."

"You would."

She understood too that he had magnanimity, the finer patience, a
compassionate restraint.  He was not the ruthless, greedy boy,
clamouring to clutch her.

"Give me time, dear.  But you will."

He spoke gently, thoughtfully: "The more you give to her--the more
you'll get from me, dear.  I don't know why, but you will."

If they conspired together it was in secret.  There was to be no
coercion, no suggestion of patronage, no "Mother, go to bed" touch.
For Mrs. Binnie was so much Mrs. Binnie, and so full of the urge of
Mrs. Binnie, that like a child at play she could not be interfered
with.  Why take her toys away, those very precious toys.  In some
matters she would have to be circumvented, but on soundless feet.

"I want to prevent her doing too much.  For instance, the garden--"

For though that dreadful winter still endured, and March was
January, Mrs. Binnie would go out and potter, and come in with half-
frozen fingers.  As a pragmatist she was incorrigible, but then her
pragmatism had a core of mysticism.

And Bonthorn understood it.

"Let her potter, Rachel.  She loves it.  I'll try and see that she
doesn't do too much."

Rachel nodded, and her eyes seemed to look at distant things.

"When the spring comes I ought to be able to manage.  Though I
suppose I shall always be a sort of slow-motion picture of myself.
I must find the right sort of woman.  But--I want her to feel that
it is--her--show."


2

March prevaricated, or rather--it was the March of realism, dusty
and dry and dead.  The grass was as grey as a cloud.  In the
gardens there had been devastation, and Old Mischief could declare
that he had never known such a winter, and perhaps he gloated a
little, for the frost had found out the frailty of a number of
those interlopers from abroad, plants with impossible names whom
Old Mischief was tempted to regard as unwise virgins.

"That'll larn they.  Old Jack's spoilt their virtue."

Not till the thaw came and the sap began to rise would the extent
of the ruin be known.  Here were shrubs with cracked stems, and
evergreens looking as though a fire had scorched them.  The
wallflowers were dead in the beds, and with them myosotis and
polyanthus and violas.  Bonthorn had lost every cistus he had, and
the lithospermum which had covered two square yards of soil looked
like a piece of old sacking.  Buds remained sealed.  Even the elder
showed no sign of life.  Never had March been so bitter, with a
north-east wind blowing day after day.

Mrs. Binnie fretted a little.

"We'll never get the garden ready for Easter."

Crocuses in March.  And a few narcissi spearing up in an attempt to
be punctual.  But March departed at last like a holy virago who had
had her say and told the world just what she thought of it.  The
soil softened and accepted a spade, and Bonthorn came down and
laboured.  He was going to sow a plot of grass for Robinia, and
stock her borders with such plants as he could spare.  It would
have to be a year of annuals, and Mrs. Binnie bought seed,
mignonette, candytuft, nasturtium, larkspur, sweet sultan, Virginia
stock, marigold, clarkia, and godetia and love-in-a-mist.  She
began to be busy with a trowel.  She was in too much of a hurry to
sow her seeds, and Bonthorn had to preach patience.

"Wait till the soil has been warmed up a little and we have had
some rain."

In one corner by the shed a clump of daffodils for whom nobody had
been responsible contrived to produce a dozen golden heads.  Mrs.
Binnie watched them opening, and when the first yellow trumpet was
blowing she picked it and took it in to Rachel.

"That's the first, my dear.  I thought I'd like you to have it."

Rachel placed that solitary flower in a vase on her window-sill,
and whenever she looked at it her eyes grew tender.

Meanwhile, she was becoming more sure of her legs and her future.
She was working; she could walk as far as Yew End and back again
without any sense of effort.  Also, both she and Rhoda were
searching for the unique woman who could float about among tables,
and carry innumerable tea-trays and not lose her head or her
temper.

Rhoda had heard of one such woman, but she would not be free till
the end of April.  Her name was Mary Bragg, but the surname was
hyperbole.  And Rhoda's baby was growing big in her, and Fred was
becoming anxious and fussy.  It--of course--would be a wonderful
baby, because it would make Mrs. Binnie a grandmother, and she
would be able to gloat over the infant without feeling herself so
responsible.


3

It had been Mrs. Binnie's custom to take Rachel an early cup of
tea, and Rachel was preparing to discourage this habit and to cease
from breakfasting in bed, for, in the nature of things, Robinia was
the person who should take her early tea in bed.

"I shall get up for breakfast, mother, next week."

"There's no need, my dear."

"But I want to."

It happened on a Sunday.  That solitary daffodil was still alive on
Rachel's window-sill, and the brightness of her blind suggested
that the sun was shining.  She glanced at her watch and found that
it was ten minutes to eight, and on Sundays her early tea arrived
at half-past seven.  She could hear no one moving about the house,
and she supposed that Mrs. Binnie had overslept herself, and she
was of the opinion that her mother had every right to lie late in
bed.

Her mother's bedroom was overhead and she lay and waited for the
inevitable patter of feet.  Mrs. Binnie would arise in haste, and
with self accusations, come scurrying downstairs in her old pink
dressing-gown to light the fire.  But the silence continued, and
Rachel began to be vaguely oppressed by it.  Such inactivity was
abnormal, even on a Sunday morning.

It disquieted her.  She glanced again at her watch.  Half-past
eight.  She sat up; she pushed back the clothes, and getting out of
bed, thrust her feet into her slippers.  A dressing-jacket hung
from a hook on the door, and she put it on, and went out into the
tea-room.

The room was just chairs and tables and streaks of early sunlight.
It had prepared itself for the world on wheels, and on the previous
day Mrs. Binnie had served seven teas.  Rachel stood and gazed.
She supposed from the look and the feel of the place that her
mother was still in bed.

And then she heard a curious sound.  It seemed to come from the
kitchen.  It puzzled her, and in her puzzlement was a tinge of
fear.  It was as though someone in the kitchen was trying to cry
out, but could produce only sounds that were mere stifled,
unintelligible noise.

The kitchen door was closed.  She crossed the tea-room and opened
that door, and for a moment she stood still.  She saw her mother
on the floor, half seated and half huddled against the sofa.
Something had happened to Mrs. Binnie's face; one half of it had a
flaccid look.  One arm seemed tucked up.  She mumbled.

But it was her mother's eyes that shocked Rachel.  They looked up
at her piteously.  They were like the eyes of a child to whom
something terrifying and strange had happened.

She was trying to speak.  The other hand made groping gestures.

Rachel went down on her knees.

"Mother--what are you doing--?"

Mrs. Binnie mumbled at her, and her eyes grew more piteous.

Then Rachel understood, and if the inward soul of her uttered a cry
of anguish it was to herself alone.  She, who had been paralysed,
saw in her mother a little helpless creature in whom some cord had
snapped.  But in Rachel the strands of life seemed to vibrate and
tighten.  She touched her mother's face, stroked it, spoke.

"Lie quite still, darling.  Do you understand?"

Mrs. Binnie's dragged mouth mumbled.

"I'll get help.  Lie quite still."

She knew that she had not the strength to lift her mother, but
going to her room she pulled off the warm bed-clothes and gathering
them in her arms, carried them into the kitchen.  She wrapped them
round her mother.  She kissed her.

"Lie quite still, darling.  I'll get help."

She hurried into her clothes, and while her fingers dealt with
tapes and buttons, her heart cried out: "Mother--mother."  But that
little succouring presence lay there huddled and helpless.  It was
she who had to help.

She went out of the house and over the bridge and up the lane.  It
was an April morning; the sun shone, birds sang, and in their
singing there was anguish--bitter-sweet.  She came to Bonthorn's
gate and passed in, and suddenly she saw him in the little white
porch of the house, lighting a pipe.

His one eye met hers.  She saw him take his pipe from between his
lips, and drop the flickering match.  He stood quite still for a
moment.  She called him.

"O, come, quickly.  Mother--"

He seemed to be with her in one stride.

"Ill?"

"She's had a stroke or something.  I found her lying in the
kitchen."

He put an arm round her.

"Rachel--Let me carry you."

But she was both soft and rigid.

"No, no--please.  It is with me now.  You'll understand when--when
you see her eyes."


4

Bonthorn, on his knees, was conscious of nothing but those eyes.

"All right, mother, just keep still."

He was aware of Rachel speaking.

"In my bed.  Not upstairs now."

He folded the bed-clothes round Mrs. Binnie, and lifting her,
carried her across the empty tea-room to Rachel's room.  And
suddenly he remembered the little white dog with the broken back,
and an indescribable spasm of emotion stirred in him.

Very carefully he laid Robinia in her daughter's bed.

"All right, mother."

Rachel was by him.  She touched his arm.

"Yes--I'll see to her--now.  Go up to Lignor."

Her lips seemed to move almost soundlessly, and Bonthorn
understood.  He went very softly out of the room and took the road
to Lignor.



XXXIII


1

On that same Sunday morning Rhoda's child was born, about an hour
after Rachel's finding of her mother in the Mill House kitchen, and
Bonthorn and Carver met on the doctor's doorstep.  Carver had been
up half the night, and he was tired and hungry, and if he was less
pleased than he should have been at finding Bonthorn at his door
that was the way of the world.

"Hallo--you don't want me, do you?"

"Mrs. Buck has had a stroke."

"What!"

"She can't speak, and one arm and leg--"

Carver opened his door.

"Well--I'm damned!--I've just seen her grandson come into the
world.  Bonthorn--I'm sorry.  Come in a moment, will you.  I
haven't had any breakfast yet."

He put his midwifery bag on the hall table, and hung up his hat.

"Poor little Mrs. Binnie.  Well, life's queer, I shouldn't have
thought--but then she had overworked herself for years.  That
touches me, somehow, Bonthorn, and I'm a hard nut.  I'll just get
some breakfast and come straight down."

"What about the Tanrocks?"

"O, she had better not hear for a day or two.  She has had rather a
tough time.  If you care to wait I'll drive you down."

"Thanks.  I think I'll get straight back."

As he went down the road from Lignor Bonthorn saw the Lacey valley
opening to him in the April sunlight.  The Stella Lacey trees were
throwing long shadows down the slopes.  The river showed as little
loops and dots of silver, and the Mill House itself, like a small
grey box, sent up a thread of smoke.  And Bonthorn felt sad with
some of the gentle sadness of this English landscape in the spring
of the year.  Mrs. Binnie's silver cord was loosened.  The hands of
that lovable and ridiculous little creature would serve no more
teas or set no more plants in the soil.

Rachel was at the door.  She had come out to hang up the notice
that the Mill House wore on occasions: "Closed To-day."  To
Bonthorn she had a look of stricken calmness, but like her mother
she would endure.

"Carver is coming directly.  Strange, but your sister has just had
her baby."

"Rhoda's baby.  A boy?"

"Yes."

"I'll go and tell her.  She understands."

But she paused in the doorway, as though she wished to share her
sorrow with him.

"I want to be with her as much as I can.  You see, she was
frightened, terribly frightened.  She couldn't tell me, but I
knew."

He nodded.

"Shall I stay?  I'm yours to do as you wish."

"Please."

"I can send Martha down."

"No--I can manage."

Her mother's phrase, and Bonthorn recognized it and was moved by
it, and passing round the house he found himself in Mrs. Binnie's
half-finished garden, and wondering whether it would be completed.
But of course it would be completed.  It had been both her last
labour and her last play-box, and his eye fell upon a little base
made of old red bricks.  She had arranged them herself in the
centre of the paving, her desire being to possess a sundial.  "I
must have a sundial--I must--really."  Up at Yew End he had the
barrel of an old stone roller that was to be trundled and set up on
the bricks as a pedestal.  Yes, she should have her sundial though
her gnomon might be in the shadow.

He heard Rachel's voice.  She was at the kitchen window.

"Nicholas."

He turned to go to her.

"I've told her.  She understood.  She gave me a kind of smile with
half her poor face.  She was--pleased."

She put out her hand to him and he held it for a moment.

"Things happen--as they happen, Rachel."

"Not as we wish them to happen."

"O, yes, sometimes."

Then, Dr. Carver's car came down the road and she went to meet him
at the door, and took him to the room that had been hers and was
now her mother's.  Mrs. Binnie might be an unusual little person,
but her case was a text-book case, and the reading of it simplicity
itself.  She crinkled up half her small face at the doctor, and
mumbled to him.  And perhaps to no other patient had Carver ever
been so gentle.  As he had said to Bonthorn: "This touches me, and
I'm a hard nut."

He spoke to Rachel in the kitchen.  He told her that her mother had
had an attack of cerebral hæmorrhage, that he thought she would
survive it, but that she would never be the Mrs. Binnie of old.
She might recover a part of her speech and some of the power in leg
and arm, but he could not say how much.  She would have to be kept
in bed for some time and nursed very carefully.

He looked at Rachel with meaning.

"Almost like your own case.  You will have to have a nurse in."

She sat silent and still by the window, watching Bonthorn walking
in the half-finished garden.

She said: "I can manage.  My mother managed.  The district nurse
will come in and help me."

He did not answer her at once.  He seemed to stand and consider her
and her inspiration.

"You are not quite strong enough yet."

And she smiled.

"Stronger than you think.  There are things that make one strong.
I can get a woman to help me in the house."

"You want to nurse your mother?"

She answered him with a steady, silent glance.

He understood her, and inwardly he applauded her.  This was Mrs.
Binnie revealed in her daughter, but if he was captured by her
compassion, he was both man and physician.  He opened the window
and called to Bonthorn, but in Bonthorn he found no ally, but yet
another conspirator.

"Bonthorn, as a friend--Rachel wants to nurse her mother.  Now, a
part of me approves--but is it quite wise?"

Bonthorn looked in through the window at the woman who some day was
to be his wife.

"It's inevitable, like Rachel."

She flushed slightly, and gave him a quick, proud look.

"I'm not a fool, Dr. Carver.  I don't rush at a thing I can't
carry.  Often she has made herself carry more than she ought to
have borne.  Would you call her a fool?  O, yes, some people would.
But--I--"

She paused for a moment, looking down.

"What I do I shall do--with my whole heart.  O, yes, don't let's
get sentimental about it.  But this is so obvious, so lovely, so
right."

It may have seemed to her that the two men slipped away as though
such words should be left to sink silently like rain into the soil.
Exquisite, simple language.  But Bonthorn went round the house, and
joined Carver by his car.  They did not look into each other's
eyes.  Men don't when they are much moved.

Said Bonthorn: "I think it will be all right.  I'll see she doesn't
overdo things.  I'm becoming a bit of a woman myself in some ways,
and quite useful about the house."

Carver gave a little laugh, though laughter was far from him.

"Fancy anybody calling you an old woman.  And yet, damn it--how
silly!  Those two women in there--"

"Exactly."


2

It took Rachel just fifteen minutes to find the key of her mother's
bureau, and she found it at the bottom of a disused teapot in
company with odds and ends of string and sealing-wax, a stumpy
pencil and a packet of jam-labels.

She knew that the secrets of her mother's bureau would have to be
invaded, and that for the future the finances of the Mill House
would be in her hands.  She sat down and went through Mrs. Binnie's
account books and papers.  There were a few letters, which, when
glanced at, she put hurriedly away.  There were a few old photos,
and two locks of hair in an envelope, and a piece from a wedding-
veil wrapped up in tissue paper.  She found her mother's pass-book;
it had been made up about a month ago, and showed a credit of £33
7s. 1¼d.  She discovered £1 17s. 8d. in cash.  And this,
apparently, was the extent of their resources, for at the end of
the dead season funds were low, and the summer trade was expected
to replenish the exchequer.

Less than forty pounds, and the freehold value of the old house.

Well, there wasn't much margin.  Her own long illness had narrowed
that margin, and Mary Bragg would cost her more than a pound a
week.  But she would manage somehow.

And then Fred Tanrock arrived, with a smudge of sleeplessness and
worry in his blue eyes, and found her at the bureau.  He was more
sensitive than he looked.  He saw more than he appeared to see, but
he could not put things into words.

"Awfully sorry, Rachel.  Fancy it happening just when--No, I
haven't told Rho yet.  She's had a tough time, poor kid."

He sat on the edge of a table.

"Anything I can do?  You'll want somebody."

"Mary Bragg is coming next week."

"But--till then?"

"O, I can manage."

His tired blue eyes looked at her doubtfully.

"But--you can't.  You're not fit yet.  If things had been different
Rhoda would have come back for a month."

"Really, I can manage, Fred."

His glance went to the bureau.

"Looking into things, are you?"

"Yes."

"Any idea how you stand?"

"We have something in hand--and when the season starts--"

He got off the table and stood over her.

"You don't mean to say, Rachel, you are going to carry on
everything; teas and nursing and all that?"

"Of course I am."

"But, my dear girl--!"

She folded up some papers and put them away.

"I'm stronger than you think, Fred.  I shall only be doing what she
did for me."

"But, look here, we're going to help.  I know Rhoda will want to
help.  I'm doing pretty well, you know.  I can let you have a quid
a week."

"That's very good of you, Fred.  If I should need it--I will tell
you.  That's a bargain."

She held out a hand to him.

"You're a comforting man to have around.  You don't splurge, and
work things up.  When one's keeping a firm lip, it's easier--"

"O, that's all right, Rache.  I mean what I say, but I'm not much
good at saying it."

Meanwhile, it became plain to her that there were occasions when
her mother would have to be left in the charge of a friend.  She
knew that it was necessary for her to interview the manager of the
bank and certain of the shopkeepers.  She wanted to see Rhoda and
Rhoda's baby, and clinch matters with Mary Bragg, and when she put
the problem to Bonthorn he found the solution easy.

"Well--I suppose I can deputize for an hour.  I think Mrs. Binnie
will accept me."

Obviously so.

"Fred will send a car, and I can get everything done in an hour or
two."

"I'll sit with your mother.  She understands things?"

"Yes."

"Well, explain to her.  I don't think my being in and out will
worry her."

When the matter was put to her, Mrs. Binnie smiled that crinkled,
wry smile, and made a sign of assent with the hand that retained
its power of movement.  And Rachel went for Bonthorn and took him
in.  He sat down in a chair beside the bed.

"Rachel has to go out for an hour, mother.  You won't quarrel with
me, will you, if I come and read the paper to you?"

She put out a hand to him, and he sat holding it.

Tanrock drove Rachel up to Lignor, and she had her interview with
the bank manager and discovered that Mrs. Binnie possessed a sum of
£50 on deposit.  The current account was in Mrs. Binnie's name, and
if Mrs. Binnie could not sign cheques it might be necessary for
Rachel to produce a power of attorney.  She went on to various
shops, and assured herself that there were no accounts outstanding,
and it appeared that the Buck credit was gilt-edged.  She made
arrangements for the delivery of stores.  There followed her visit
to Rhoda and Rhoda's new house in Lignor's garden suburb.  It was
all very new to Rachel, and so was her sister's face, a little
weary and somehow softened.  And there was the baby--Master
Frederick Francis Tanrock that was to be, all red and crinkled,
with blue, blinking eyes.

Rachel nursed the baby, while she and Rhoda talked.

"Fred's spoken to you about the money?"

"It's very good of Fred.  If I find that I'm pushed--"

"My dear--I want my share.  When I heard the news--I felt like
getting up and coming down.  You've got everything on your
shoulders, and you--"

Yes, Rhoda had softened.  Her black brows were less fierce.

"O--I can manage, Rho.  Isn't he lovely?"

"The precious little rascal.  But he gave me a time of it, Rache.
I'll forgive him."

"I bet you will"

"And I thought I was the last sort of woman who wanted a kid.
Silly fool!  Let me hold him, my dear."

Returning to the Mill House she saw Bonthorn walking in the garden.
He had a book in his hand, and when she went to him he explained to
her why he was in the garden and not at the post of duty.

"I read to her, and she fell asleep."

And with a smile he showed her the book: "Alice in Wonderland," and
on the fly-leaf was written "Robinia on her tenth birthday--with
Mother's love."  She took the book from him, and for a moment her
eyes were suffused.

"She fell asleep?"

He nodded.

"And that's another title: 'Robinia in Dreamland.'  I let her
dream.  Well--how have things gone?"

She kept the book in her hand, and told him all that she had done
in Lignor.  Rhoda's baby was--well, just the first baby and
grotesquely attractive, and the financial situation was a little
less cramped than it had seemed.  Her mother's integrity was
absolute.  Mrs. Binnie, who, to the casual eye, might have appeared
a feckless and muddled little person, had been meticulous in
squaring her accounts.

"We owe the grocer five-and-sevenpence.  She had paid up everything
else.  Marvellous."

She walked slowly over the paved space to the river, and seemed to
muse a moment, and then came to stand by the little pile of red
bricks that was to have supported pedestal and sundial.  That it
was incomplete was as significant as the incompleteness of the
garden.

She said: "I don't know whether I can afford to finish this.  At
least--not yet.  But somehow--I should like it finished, not
because of the people who will come and sit here, and shout for
more bread and butter and hot water."

"A matter of sentiment?"

Her dark eyes asked him: "Just what--is sentiment?"

But he had other realities to propound.

"Myself will do it.  I've made various gardens in my time, but not
one which has pleased me--as this one will."

"Man, that's very dear of you."

"O, nonsense.  I'm utterly corrupt and prejudiced.  I'll finish it
in three weeks, and keep it in order."

"But your busy time is just coming."

He smiled as he produced for her one of the Mill House mottoes.

"I can manage."



XXXIV


1

About that time his London library dispatched to Bonthorn among
other volumes a book on "Experimental Psychology," and Bonthorn,
having sat up for two successive nights with the pedantic prig,
shoved the fellow back in the book-box.  Let him enjoy his jargon
in secret.  For, if the science of psychology is the study of human
behaviour, Bonthorn had a little world of his own to observe, and
he preferred the Mill House to the book.

For there it was not necessary to scrape the paint off the canvas,
and having ruined the picture, declare with spectacles on nose that
the artist's product was nothing but pigment applied to a sheet of
cellulose.  Nor was it necessary to get befogged in a complex, or
draw a diagram of Mrs. Binnie, and stick pins into it, or worry
about organic affects and conditioned reflexes.  Let the new wisdom
assert that Mrs. Binnie had no soul, and that she was a little
sequence of reactions in the time-space scheme, but Bonthorn saw
her otherwise.  He was more interested in the living picture than
in the hypothetical shreds to which the sedulously wise would
reduce it.

If it was asserted that Rachel had no soul he could reply that he
was watching the soul of Rachel unfold itself, like youth released
from the chrysalis and spreading softly brilliant wings.  Or,
gardener that he was, he would have compared her to some flower of
mystic growth.  Her dark young dignity went to and fro before him.
She would never move with the swiftness of her youth, and her slow,
deliberate glide pleased him.  She made him think--somehow--of a
draped statue walking, but a statue that had colour, warmth, the
compassion of the young priestess.

She could say to him: "I shall never dance again, but I can stand
and walk and touch things."

The delicacy of her touch was manifest, especially in her fingering
of flowers.  It was as though things could be hurt.  He was aware--
too--of what he called the tender tranquillity of her eyes.

Speaking of her mother she said to him: "We have just changed
places, that's all."

For the season had arrived, and Bonthorn had completed Mrs.
Binnie's garden, even to the sundial, and the chairs and tables
were set out.  Miss Mary Bragg had arrived, appearing each morning
on a bicycle at eight o'clock.  If Rachel set out to make the best
of Mary she found in her certain superlatives.  An angular woman
with a pale and narrow face that clove consistently into the day's
affairs, she was neither seductive nor a Winged Victory floating
triumphantly with trays and teapots.  But she served.  No one could
fluster her or make her lose her temper.

Mrs. Gloriana, returning from Italy, found Bonthorn involved in all
those domesticities, a sort of doubled personality.  Her gentle
cynicism was mute.  If, in her more prejudiced days she had accused
the Mill House of a certain promiscuity, she withdrew the
accusation, and was gently ironical towards herself.  She sent down
boxes of bedding plants to the Mill House garden, and Bonthorn put
them out.

She had questioned him about Robinia.

"Is there any hope for the poor little soul?"

Hope--indeed!

"She's just a child again.  Her mentality--?  O, well, in a way
it's a rather happy state.  She's always smiling, but sometimes she
weeps just a little.  She has only two words left her."

And to Bonthorn Mrs. Binnie's two words were strangely significant
and touching, familiar relics.  She said: "Well--really" to
everything, to Rhoda's baby, when Dr. Carver teased her, when the
sun shone, for yes and no.  She could give those two words certain
inflections.  She could protest with them, express delight.

Every day Bonthorn would come down and carry her as he had carried
Rachel, and sometimes she would pat his face.

"Well, really!"

An apt exclamation.

"Now then, mother, we want you out with us in the garden."

She liked being out of doors and very much in the midst of things.
Propped up in Rachel's chair she lay and watched, sometimes nodding
her head and smiling.  She wished to be there when the world on
wheels poured in, and sat at the tables, and Mary Bragg hurried out
with the tea-trays that Rachel passed through the kitchen window.
And on Saturdays and Sundays Rhoda, not wholly Mrs. Frederick
Tanrock, came down from Lignor to help, and Mrs. Binnie was put in
charge of Master Frederick Francis.  They got on famously together
these two children, for Mrs. Binnie could make absurd noises which
the infant seemed to understand.  Or he slept placidly in Robinia's
lap, while she surveyed him and all those activities which seemed
to suggest to her that the little world of her creating endured and
was good.

But, sometimes, there were tears.  Almost daily Bonthorn brought
her a bunch of flowers, and one morning after he had set her in her
chair and given her the flowers to hold, he went away to do some
job or other, and returning found her in tears.

"What is it, mother?"

The posy had rolled off her lap on to the stones, and she could not
recover it.

"Well--really!"

He picked up the flowers and placed them into her hands, and almost
instantly she was comforted.  She put them to her face and then
held them up for him to smell.

"Yes, lovely, mother, aren't they?"

So easily was she pleased.


2

Rachel's appeal to the world looked up and down the Lignor road.


                     "YE OLD MILL HOUSE.

                   Have Tea by the River."


She had wondered whether that brand-new bridge and the broad sheet
of tarmac would carry her custom past her doorway, but in the month
of May she served more teas than during the corresponding month of
the previous year.  Saturdays and Sundays were as busy as ever, and
Mrs. Binnie, sitting in her own particular corner under the shade
of an elder tree, would sometimes play a game of her own
contriving.  She had on her table a white jam-pot and a box of
beans, and for every visitor she would take a bean from the box and
drop it into the jam-jar.

She was pleased to see people.  She understood their uses, and she
would nod and smile at them, and sometimes the perfect gentleman
would raise a hat to Mrs. Binnie.  Others fell short of perfection,
and on one occasion, Rhoda, sailing along with a tray, heard an
untidy youth exclaim:

"Look at that funny old guy in the chair!  She wants to get off
with you, Bert."

Rhoda's sudden, flaming face presaged a storm, but Rhoda was not
quite the old Rhoda.  She swallowed something, and in refusing to
let her soul flame like her face, she was the mother of Master
Frederick Francis.  Why let your wrath waste itself on some mop-
headed fool?


3

Old Mischief had come to know that when the first flowering of some
new hybrid was to be expected Mr. Bonthorn would be a little
restless, for Nature could play you tricks, and Yew End had its
disappointments.  She would provoke Bonthorn to one of his
fantastical moods.  You never quite knew then what he would do or
say, and even his sayings might be as puzzling as a rebus.  Old
Mischief could remember the first flowering of a particular plant,
which, according to its parentage and all the colour factors,
should have turned out an Egyptian blue, but had put forth petals
of a dowdy puceness.

Bonthorn had stood and gazed at it almost malevolently.

"You abominable bastard."

Then, with an air of grave remorse he had raised his hat to the
poor thing.

"Apologies.  I withdraw that accusation."

A new hybrid iris had sent up its flower-spike, and the spearing
green buds were about to open, and Old Mischief knew that Mr.
Bonthorn visited the plant a dozen times a day.  Almost he seemed
as concerned as a husband over the labour of his wife and the
perfection of their progeny.  Old Mischief had a phrase to express
this mood.  He used it to Mrs. Martha.

"He's with flower."

Naturally, Mrs. Martha snubbed him.

But this bearded iris did not behave like the puce lady.  She put
forth a standard of exquisite lilac, and falls of a bluish-purple
etched with cerise, and when Bonthorn had on several occasions
taken his fill of gazing, he went into the garden-house and wrote a
name on a white wood label.  Mr. Osgood saw him plant that label in
the ground, and the Old Mischief in him smiled.

"I know what be written on that."

Assuredly he would read on that slip of wood the name of "Rachel,"
but when, seizing his opportunity, he toddled up on his short legs,
he found that his cunning had miscarried.

"Mrs. Binnie."

Well, wasn't that fantastical, to call a peach of a flower after a
poor, paralysed old woman!

But Mr. Osgood was yet more surprised when he saw Bonthorn cut that
green and succulent flower-spike and walk off with it like an angel
carrying a lily.  Never had Old Mischief known him treat one of the
new beauties with such ruthlessness.  Almost, it was Bolshevism.

Bonthorn carried his standard down the lane, and into the Mill
House kitchen where Rachel was making cakes.  He looked for Mrs.
Binnie, but Mary Bragg had put Robinia in her chair and wheeled her
out into the garden.

Bonthorn displayed his treasure.

"I found a name for it at once," and he nodded in the direction of
the garden.

Rachel's dark eyes smiled.

"Mrs. Binnie?"

"Could anything be better?"

He went out into the garden, and through the window Rachel watched
him present the offering to her mother.  She saw the spike of
flowers reposing on Mrs. Binnie's breast and shoulder rather like a
palm-branch, and she wondered whether her mother understood the
inwardness of that act.  Or was Mrs. Binnie just the child pleased
with some beautiful, bright object?  And, after all, did it matter?


4

On the Friday before Whit Sunday the cycle was completed by the
reappearance of Professor Prodgers and his red van.  The vehicle
trundled over the new bridge, with its front wheels showing a
distinct wobble, and diverging to the right without deigning to
supply a signal, caused itself to be covered with curses by the
driver of an express delivery van.

Mr. Prodgers did not protest against being called a sanguinary
pirate.  He had stopped his engine and got out and was observing
the altered appearance of the Mill House, and being himself the
victim of much newness, he gathered that progress had been at work.
The tree had gone, and so had the posts and chains, and the chairs
and tables, and the shady space that suggested that you should
loiter.

"Poor Mrs. B.  It comes to all of us.  Pills, idle pills!"

The door stood open and he walked in, and found himself in the
presence of a strange woman who was going about among the tables
and polishing cups and saucers with a glass-cloth.  She looked at
him as though he too needed a little polish, which he did, and
informed him that they did not open for teas until half-past three.

Mr. Prodgers said: "Quite so.  And is Mrs. Buck still here?"

Mary, blowing some specks of dust out of the bottom of a cup, asked
him a rather obvious question.

"Do you want to see Mrs. Buck?  Because, if you do, she doesn't see
people these days, not in the ordinary manner of speaking.  She had
a stroke three months ago."

Mr. Prodgers' round bun of a face looked a little crumpled.

"Had a stroke?  I'm sorry for that."

"So's everybody.  She just sits and makes noises."

"Does she.  But there is a lot of conversation that might be
included in the same category."

Miss Bragg eyed him as though she suspected him of waggery.

"You can see Miss Rachel.  She's in the kitchen.  But I expect we
are going to be busy."

Rachel, hearing voices and coming to investigate, discovered that
familiar figure and greeted it, but not as she would have greeted
it a year ago.  Possibly she was instantly aware of the little
man's shabbiness, of something crumpled and old in him.  His sallow
plumpness was less polished, his eyes more sunken.

"Hallo.  Mother will be pleased.  You're just in time for tea."

Mr. Prodgers moistened his lips and suddenly looked pathetic.

"Not forgotten me?  That's--that's fine.  I could do with a good
cup of tea."

Even his voice was a little more husky as though it was growing
tired of shouting at the world and exhorting it to buy his pills,
for the public was transcending Mr. Prodgers and his pills.  The
peasant mind was becoming penetrated by the Press, and a little red
van on wheels was not sufficiently impressive.

The public, if it proposed to be credulous, was minded to pin its
faith to print.

Rachel took him through into the kitchen.  Her mother was asleep in
the long chair in a far corner of the garden, and when the infant
was happily slumbering she could be left to her dreams.  Moreover,
Rachel had captured the impression that the professor was hungry,
for her impressions about people were more swift and sensitive than
of old.

She asked him: "Have you had any lunch?"

"Just a snack."

"You had better have something."

He did not refuse her offer, and if she had noticed a frayed and
dirty shirt-cuff, she also had been sensitive to the little gleam
in the eyes of the creature.  She sat him down to a plate of
pressed beef and ham and a salad with a brown teapot all to
himself, and she was soon wise as to his hunger.  His knife and
fork and his tongue were active together.

"Sorry to hear about your mother, my dear."

Rachel explained her mother's case to him.  She told him nothing
about herself and her six months in the wilderness.  Her hands were
busy while she talked, and when he had cleared up that first
helping she gave him a second.

"I see you have had changes outside."

"Yes, they cut off our frontage.  We had to adapt.  One can adapt,
you know."

The little man looked pensively into his tea-cup.

"Yes, that's so--when you're young.  And where's Rhoda?"

"O, Rhoda and Fred are married.  They have a baby.  Mother thinks
it the most wonderful baby that ever was."

"She would.  That's her secret."

Presently he was replete, and produced a very old briar pipe with a
much-charred bowl, and was given permission to smoke it, but he
preferred to take it out into the garden, and there he came upon
Mr. Bonthorn putting asters and snapdragons into a bed.  Bonthorn
was on one knee, and very busy with the trowel, and for the moment
he remained unaware of the imminence of Mr. Prodgers.  But Mr.
Prodgers recognized him, and reflected upon him.  Was this yet
another adaptation, and had the horticultural expert been compelled
to undertake jobbing gardening?  Or was the trowel the symbol of
romance, if not the emblem of the new republic?

Mr. Prodgers addressed him.

"Nice rain last night, sir."

That was the right remark to make to a gardener, and Bonthorn,
turning on his knee, looked up.  He had a very good memory for
personalities and faces, and the professor's figure fitted into a
memorable picture.

"Yes, just the right sort of rain.  So, you are down in Sussex
again."

Mr. Prodgers sucked at his pipe.

"Yes, in a manner of speaking--I am, though it's not quite the old
Sussex, sir.  Tripods on the Downs, and the police not quite so--
polite, and--"

He hesitated.  Meanwhile, Bonthorn remarked that "a great amount of
unnecessary fuss was being made about the steel pylons.  Why
quarrel with such improvisations when Brighton existed?  Or
Peacehaven?"

The professor reflected, watching Bonthorn's trowel, and then he
made a surprising remark.

"If I could plant pills on the public with a trowel, sir--"

He went on to explain that business was not what it was.  As a
little itinerant individualist he could not spend thousands of
pounds upon advertising in the press or by poster, and so make use
of mass suggestion, though his pills were as potent as any
proprietary preparation on the market.  "Everything gets into great
chunks--these days, sir.  You have to be stamped with a rubber
stamp, brand this--or brand that.  Tiptop Tea or Shell Oil, or
Soanso's Sardines.  The world's getting too built-up and too
official for poor old Uncle Remus.  I shall have to get off the
open road into some little burrow."

He crinkled up his broad nose.

"No use grousing.  In my small way I'm like the South Wales
coalfield or cotton.  Yes, my idea is to sell out and take a little
shack on one of the nice new roads, and sell ginger-beer and petrol
and cheap teas.  I might even keep bees.  I can't go on the dole.
Well, it's no use grousing.  There used to be a living in
phrenology, but bumps aren't considered these days.  No bumps on
the road, and plenty of buffer to your car.  I think I'll go and
have a word with Mrs. Binnie."

Robinia was awake, and her face lit up when she recognized him.

"Well--really."

The professor purloined a chair and sat down beside her, and became
talkative for both of them.  He gathered that she understood him
and found pleasure in listening to him.  He became facetious,
gallant, a little shabby creature who--in order to live--must laugh
and especially so at himself.

"Yes, I'm thinking of retiring.  Remember the Ten Commandments?
Fact is, you know, Mrs. B., you and I ought to have settled down
together.  I could have turned my old bus into a trade van, and
fetched your eggs and your bread and your groceries.  But then,
after all, I've only been a little old pirate on wheels, and
pirates are out of date.  You've got to be G.P.O. or L.G.O., or
something.  But don't forget I've made you the offer."

Mrs. Binnie laughed with him and at him.

"Well, really!"

And the exclamation was as apposite as ever.



XXXV


It was a summer of drought, but the Mill House valley possessed the
river and the greenness of its trees, and at the end of the long
evenings when her mother had been put to bed Rachel would walk
slowly up the lane to Yew End.  Sometimes Bonthorn met her in the
lane, and sometimes he would find her sitting under the cherry
tree, Rollo in her lap, for she and the Cairn were sympatica.  The
drought was making Bonthorn's day longer than hers, for she had to
give drinks to casual people, but Bonthorn's garden had to drink or
die.  The Yew End tanks were fed by a ram and pipe from the stream,
and in the cool of the evening Bonthorn and Old Mischief went to
and fro with cans and gave the green things water.  The old man had
felt the heat of the summer, and Bonthorn had hired a strong lad to
help, only to find that my lord had no intention of staying late to
water.  He wasn't such a fool, thank you.  His day finished at half-
past five, and at half-past five he departed regardless of parched
plants and an old man's tired back, so at the end of a week
Bonthorn sacked him.

At the close of the day and while waiting for her lover, Rachel
would lie in the deck-chair and dream, but if her mind wandered it
was conscious of things, the great beech tree, the tawny fields, a
full moon rising, a blue-black sky, the ingratiating paw of a dog
who remonstrated when she ceased to stroke his chin.  She was not
impatient with her lover because he loitered.  In becoming friends
with her own body she had ceased from impatience.  For that was how
she described it to herself: "I'm friends again with myself."  It
was as though she had lost her body and recovered it and slipped
with a shiver of ecstasy into the warm sheath.  And if life was a
little delicate and deliberate she had time to feel things with her
body, to walk with it and gaze with it, and touch and smell.  She
had ceased somehow from being the little, fussy objective creature
pulling a flower to pieces and finding nothing there.  A beautiful
subjectivity made her flesh of the world's flesh.  She could not
say why life had become so smooth and good, or why she found a
pleasure in doing things, or why everything had rhythm.  She could
say that she lived, and that living and loving sufficed her.

Bonthorn came down from the gate in the thorn hedge.  He was in his
shirt-sleeves, coat over arm, and in the cool dusk she still seemed
to hear the splashing of water.

She looked up at him.

"Tired, Nick?"

He bent down and kissed her.

"Good tiredness.  I've done the job.  Martha's bringing out some
tea."

He picked up the Cairn, and held the dog's little brown face an
inch from his own.

"Hallo, young fellow, a lot of work you do."

"But aren't they lovely--just because they don't?"

"Animals?"

"Yes."

"All play and no work, or all work and no play.  My lad, you missed
Eden.  Good old Adam."

He put Rollo back in her lap, and felt for the pipe in his pocket,
and suddenly he laughed.

"The thing is to stop asking too many questions.  Here's the moon
in her silver slippers.  Had a good day?"

She stroked the dog, and watched her lover.

"Isn't that a question?"

"Palpably.  Ask me another."

"No, I don't want to ask questions.  I feel I'm just lying in a
kind of cradle made of shadows, and everything's smooth and good."

He sat down beside her on the grass.

"Feeling part of life, what, part of things, in them--instead of
rushing about outside and round them.  Yes, that's it."

Martha brought their tea, and the obduracy of Martha had stooped to
other conquests and surrenders.  If she had served Mr. Bonthorn for
seven years, and was a jealous spirit about the house, she could
transcend her limitations.  Here was a virgin somehow wise, and if
Mr. Bonthorn must get married--well--there would be something
romantic about it, for in the orderly chest of drawers that was
herself where everything lay neatly starched and folded, Martha
kept a little sachet of sentiment.  She had heard those two
rambling over the cottage, and the intimate interplay of their
voices: "So, you would like this room for yours?"--"No, I won't
turn you out."--"But I shall be just as untidy in the one across
the passage."  And Martha had exclaimed to herself after the
fashion of Mrs. Binnie: "Well, really; a room each!"  For, to
Martha this was a new reflection upon marriage, though she was
persuaded to approve of it.  Was there any woman who would not
prefer to keep her things and some part of herself nicely laid
aside where a man did not come and rummage for socks and collars?
Meanwhile, Martha was preparing to give notice.  Another woman
about the house was not part of her philosophy.  And yet the
ultimatum dallied.

Bonthorn, squatting on the grass like a boy, was somehow wise as to
Martha's shadowy otherness.

"Tea at ten o'clock.  Martha always spoils me."

Rachel put the dog aside and sat up.

"Shall I pour out, Martha, or will you?"

Her voice was like a soft and tentative touch, and Martha remained
mistress of the teapot.

"Sugar?"

"Please."

Yes, life was a fantastic business!  Fancy--her--pouring out tea
for one of the Buck young women!  But then, a girl who stuck to her
mother and her job in these degenerate days!  She gripped the milk-
jug firmly.

"There won't be too much of this.  The cat's had his saucer."

That was final.

"I'll have mine without milk, Martha."

"There's enough, sir--if it's handled properly."

Rollo was to feel her authority.  Her squareness bent and gathered
him up.

"You come to bed, young man."

And she walked off into the darkness with the dog.

If Rachel had qualms about Martha she had no desire to air them on
this summer night, but it was Bonthorn who touched upon the problem
of Martha.

"You see, she has been here seven years.  She's a good soul.  And
after all--it is easier to manage the people who want to manage."

"Just how?"

"Why, let them manage--to a point.  Besides, after all, service is
one of the most precious commodities.  The Victorians got it cheap,
and didn't value it."

She was looking up through the foliage of the cherry.

"Yes, the woman's job, Nick.  And woman is in revolt against it, or
is supposed to be.  The eternal washing-up, keeping things clean.
And yet I suppose one might get just as bored pressing a button or
pulling a lever, and having all your music made for you, and
listening to little talks by Uncle Remus.  If Martha will stay with
us--"

"You'll bear with her?"

"O, yes.  Besides, isn't it rather rotten--this idea of always
going on strike when life leaves something on your doorstep?
Mother never went on strike."

He sipped his tea.

"I'm going to be sententious.  We get what we give."

The moonlight was touching her knees when the Stella Lacey clock
struck the half-hour.  She made a movement as though to rise, and
then sat still with her elbow resting on her lover's shoulder.  She
was very near to him, and yet apart, thinking her own thoughts and
letting herself be surprised by them.  She knew that a year ago the
prospect of living here in this green corner would have frightened
her.  Finality, boredom, surrendering to someone, being always with
the same man.  A house--!  She had loathed the idea of a house of
her own, the messy muddle of marriage, a sort of intimate slavery.
She had wanted to cut that out, to be herself, to travel, to be
both irresponsible and independent.  All the old sentimental stuff
about a home and a husband and a baby!  No; plenty of fun, plenty
of movement, with no one to hand you a time-table.  That had been
her ideal.

But she was so much older since she had got back into her body and
become friends with it.  Life seemed smooth and rich and deep.  She
got right into things and snuggled up in them.

She drew her arm softly across Bonthorn's shoulder.

"But you can't be yourself by being nothing but yourself."

He caught her hand as it trailed.

"You smooth, wise thing."

"Perhaps.  Time to go.  Must see she's all right."

He went with her down the lane to the Mill House.  That she slept
alone there with no one in the house but Mrs. Binnie sometimes
troubled him a little, and he would go and sit in the garden until
her window grew dark.  She had the key with her, and she opened the
door, and he followed her in.  A candlestick had been left on one
of the tables, and she struck a match and lit the candle.

Bonthorn waited while she went to the door of her mother's room,
and opened it very gently, and looked in.  Her motionless and
listening figure seemed part of the stillness of the house.  The
flame of the candle flickered, and the shadows moved with it.

She closed the door and came back to him.

"Asleep."

They spoke in whispers, standing close with the candle between
them.

"I'm always a little afraid, Nick, of that door.  Coming back--and
wondering--"

"Dear."

"Some day--O, yes, you understand.  She wants me--and I want her.
Yes, and you.  That's instinct--I suppose.  A woman wants to be
wanted.  All the rest is second-best--somehow, just make-believe."

She stood in the doorway with him for a moment, and the sharp,
vibrant notes of the Stella Lacey clock came down the valley.  And
suddenly she smiled.

"Eleven.  One more than the ten commandments!  Do you remember--?
O, but you weren't here.  You came in afterwards.  But you must go
now, Nick, you're tired."

Some impulse made him pass a finger through the flame of the
candle.

"I haven't moth wings.  There's something for you to think about.
Good night."



XXXVI


1

Rachel grew stronger.

Before the summer had passed she was able to lift her mother in and
out of bed, and Mrs. Binnie allowed herself to be so lifted.  For,
if Robinia had an eye and a soul for the miraculous, and a
vocabulary of two words with which to express herself, she could be
something of an enigma even to her daughter.  There were times when
she would lie and watch Rachel, and look pathetic as though she had
something to say that could not be said.  As Carver had prophesied,
she had her moods, her emotional moments, her infantile whims, but
never did she arrive at the naughtiness of the child.  She had been
given a little handbell to ring when she wanted anything, but the
tinkle of that bell was rarely heard.  She spent most of her time
lying like a very young child, watching things, but without showing
any desire to touch or to hold.

There were times when Rachel wondered what was passing behind the
half-closed shutters of that silent self.  Sometimes it troubled
her.  Sometimes it made her afraid.  How much did her mother feel?
Did she think, and if so--of what?  Were there gaps in that
consciousness, voids that remained unfilled, little human hungers
that could not be satisfied.  Did her mother feel lonely,
frightened?  And often, in moments of troubled tenderness she would
leave her work, and go and sit by Mrs. Binnie as though to let her
live presence flow in and fill any silent and empty crevice.

Was there something her mother wanted?

One day in the garden Mrs. Binnie kept making signs with one hand.
Her fingers suggested scribbling movements on the table beside her.

"What is it, mumsie?  You want to write?"

Robinia nodded her head.

Rachel brought her a writing-pad and a pencil, and she understood
at once that Mrs. Binnie had got what she wanted.  The pad was
arranged on Robinia's lap, and she began to make tentative dabs on
it with the pencil.  Meanwhile, Rachel was called away by Mary to
interview the grocer's roundsman who had arrived minus the week's
baking-powder.  She dealt with him and his prevarications, and
returning later to the flowery corner where her mother lay, she saw
Mrs. Binnie hold up the pad.

"Something for me to read?"

Mrs. Binnie gave two jerks of the head, and Rachel took the writing-
pad and saw scrawled on it in shaky capitals one poignant sentence:


         "I DON'T WANT TO BE A TIRESOME OLD WOMAN."


For a moment Rachel felt like hiding her face behind the pad.  She
was shocked, touched, challenged.  Was this an accusation of
failure, or had the light that was Mrs. Binnie given one of its
characteristic flickers?  But the sudden emotional impulse prompted
her.  She took the pencil from her mother's hand, and with a kind
of fierceness printed with black emphasis her large answer on the
page.  She dashed in three emphatic, heavy lines below it:


                    "YOU NEVER WILL BE."


She showed it to her mother, and then tore the sheet off and folded
it up, and slipped it between throat and dress.

"Never, do you understand?"

Mrs. Binnie understanding that she had hurt her daughter, put up a
hand.  She stroked Rachel's face, and then again possessed herself
of the writing-pad and pencil.  She made it plain that she had
other words to plant upon the page.  She gave Rachel a gentle push
with her hand.  It said: "Go away, but come back.  This is a solemn
business."

Rachel left her.  She did not go into the house, for this was one
of those moments when she did not wish to meet the eyes of any
other human creature.  She walked up the lane as far as Bonthorn's
gate in the holly hedge, and returning, stood on the new bridge,
and looked at the river.

But when she returned to her mother she discovered something almost
gaillard and coquettish in Mrs. Binnie's expression.  The writing-
pad was held out to her, and Rachel read her mother's eleventh
commandment printed in crude capitals:


                "I WANT YOU AND B. MARRIED."


Just that.


2

It was not merely to please Mrs. Binnie that Bonthorn and Rachel
became one flesh.  They did it partly to please themselves, and
quietly so in the parish church of Lignor, and returning to her who
had instigated the deed, stood on either side of Robinia's chair.

"We have done it, mother."

Mrs. Binnie's "Well--really" had the triumphant quality of the
Wedding March, and then--as was natural--she wept a little, and had
to be made much of.  But her Niobe mood was transient.  She made
them understand that she wished to share in the ritual of some
celebration, and that the scent of orange blossom mattered.  For,
with Rhoda and her husband arriving, Mrs. Binnie made secret signs
to Fred, and finding him collusive she scribbled on her writing-
pad: "Champagne."

Which, after all, was not a pagan gesture, but somehow reminiscent
of the Marriage at Cana, and Fred got into his car and driving to
the wine-merchant's at Lignor, returned with the precious bottle.
It was opened in Mrs. Binnie's presence, and all four of them stood
round her and performed the sacrament.

Afterwards, it was noticed that Mrs. Binnie folded her hands over
her bosom, closed her eyes, and went to sleep with such a look of
serenity and satisfaction on her small face that Rachel made signs
to the others.  "She's tired."  And they faded away, but to Rachel
her mother's tiredness was a folding of wings.  Something hovered
there above her on invisible pinions, the white bird with no spot
of blood upon it, a thing of exquisite sadness and joy, the
transfiguration of an instinct.

She touched her husband's arm.

"It has made her happy--somehow."


3

Yet, though their mystic flesh was one, their workaday selves
remained apart, and the world might comment on a marriage that was
so singularly situated.  Bonthorn cultivated his garden, and
dispatched plants to various purchasers, while his wife continued
to serve teas and play nurse to her mother.

For, that which had been a perfunctory affair, had become of
interest to Rachel, this little world of her own in which she
functioned.  It was her mother's show, and hers, and becoming so
much hers that she liked the handling of it, the planning and
ordering, the nice balance of supply and demand, the sublimated
sense of adventure.  She had begun by saying to herself: "So long
as she lives I'll keep her and myself," only to find that she was a
little in love with her half-world and its independence.  But not
aggressively so.  It gave her a sense of poise, of somehow adding
to the common store, of giving and getting.  She found herself less
conscious of that which she might have called drudgery, and more
aware of the nice fashioning of detail.  She liked to calculate and
to contrive, and to feel the little pull of the day's problem.

"How many people to-day?  I've budgeted for fifty," and when the
day gave her forty-eight she felt that she had her crossword puzzle
nicely squared.

The Mill House was paying.  She had to hire extra help, and a
bright young thing with a pleasant smile fluttered about among the
tables.  Even her account-book fascinated her.  She balanced it
weekly, and would show it to Bonthorn with an air of whimsical
gravity.

"It's becoming quite a good property, Nick."

Possibly he should have been jealous of her job, and yet he wasn't.
He did not say to her: "A woman's duty lies at home," and if they
had two homes--the strangeness of it somehow amused him.  Moreover,
while being somewhat apart they seemed more together and she was
his while being herself.

And one day she asked him that question.

"You are not jealous of my job, Nick?"

"Not yet."

"I'll give it up--if you--"

"If something should happen?"

"Yes, if something should happen."

But she had a little more cunning of the serpent in her than had
her husband.  She knew what it was to be on the edge of things, and
that while Bonthorn might talk about beauty, beauty and two-pence
three farthings do not harmonize.  He created new flowers, largely
for the love of them, while she--the daughter of her mother--did
things for money.  Her school of economics had been founded upon
necessity; it was neither academic nor humanistic; it was personal.

Bred in an England that was growing poorer while pretending to be
richer she had the younger generation's urge towards economics.
Money mattered, and supremely so, but unlike the mass of her
contemporaries she was ready to earn her money.  She liked the feel
of those shillings, the blossoming of her balance at the bank.  Yew
End could be beauty, the Mill House business.  In passing from one
to the other she satisfied the two persons in herself, that which
gave and that which got.

For Martha continued manageful at Yew End, and refrained from
giving notice, and Martha was an asset.

So, Rachel, sometimes seeing her man as the beloved boy playing a
game that would never be played for money, was content that it
should be so, while keeping a finger on the thread of reality.  He
had but one eye, she--two.  He was the most uneconomic person
imaginable, while she could play at profit and loss in the
interludes between her dreams.  She had her idea.

She put it to him one day.

"Nick, why shouldn't the Mill House--continue?"

He was tying up bundles of plants, and for the life of her--though
she concealed the truth fiercely, she knew that she would never be
interested in plants.  He straightened his back, and sometimes it
was a rather tired back.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, the Mill House is only a summer show, but it may bring us in
three hundred a year.  We could shut it up in the winter.  And part
of the winter is your slack time."

"A lot of work for you.  Do you think--?"

Her idea spread its petals.

"I rather like it--Nick.  It's my share in the show.  It would help
to pay for extra labour--if you want it."

Her smile was whimsical.

"And what about yourself?"

She met his smile and answered it.

"O, yes.  We might go abroad for a month or two in the winter.  I
do admit that I'd like--"

He went on working at his plants, and his face was grave.

"See things?  Well, why not?  Italy, Africa, Spain.  The English
winter can be pretty unintelligent.  Sun.  But you'll be paying."

She watched his hands.

"Would that hurt you, Nick, or offend you?"

His smile came back.

"Man--the master.  That's an obsolete notion."

But she snuggled up against him.

"No, not really.  Besides--it's rather delightful to play at making
plans, and all my plans might--well--just melt."

He looked at her for a moment as though asking himself the
question: "Are you wax or steel?"  And then he knew that she was
neither, and that he wished her to be neither a cloying sweetness,
nor the little autocrat in the home.  But she would always be more
wax than steel.

He laughed.


                    "BONTHORN & BONTHORN

               Horticulturists and Caterers."


"But my other job's more permanent, Nick."

"What's that?"

"The job of being your wife!"

He stared very hard at something, and then he kissed her.

"Now, according to our contemporaries--this should be irony.  But--
somehow--I think it is not."

Money.

Sometimes, when pouring the silver, and especially the Sunday
silver, into the cash-box and hiding the cash-box at the bottom of
a drawer, Rachel had a vision of her mother's hands busily
gathering up pieces of silver.  Anxiously, devotedly, but never
with miserliness, Mrs. Binnie's hands had collected pieces of
silver through the years.

What were her mother's views upon the whole competitive show as it
concerned woman?  It occurred to Rachel that her mother must have
gathered views, or rather secret prejudices and urges, little
intuitive yearnings that had been suppressed.  But what could her
mother express?  She sat and watched life like a little old child,
and you might infer that her impressions were the impressions of a
child.

Yet, on occasions, even in the rush of Sunday evening, Rachel would
find her mother's eyes watching her, two small points of light, or
slits of mystery, for there was a veil of mystery about Mrs.
Binnie.  It was possible to wonder whether she saw more than she
seemed to see, that she was aware of things below the surface of
your secret consciousness.  A little, voiceless, watchful creature,
less childlike than she appeared.

Occasionally, Rachel saw Mrs. Binnie scribbling on her writing-pad.
She had become more expert in the printing of capitals.  And Rachel
was to remember that autumn evening when in a kind golden dusk she
went to wheel her mother in, and found Robinia sitting up more
straight than usual.  She had something in her hand, an envelope,
and with an air almost of gentle severity she showed it to her
daughter.

And Rachel read:

"RACHEL.  TO BE OPENED WHEN I AM DEAD."


4

It happened less than a week after the incident of the closed
envelope.

It was Monday, and one of those misty mornings in October, when the
tops of the willows are like little yellow flames, with the trunks
below still shrouded in vapour.  Grass and hedges were drenched
with dew.

It was Rachel's custom to go to her mother's room directly she came
downstairs.  The door was left ajar, and the little hand-bell
placed on the table beside the bed.  Usually, Mrs. Binnie would be
awake, and ready to welcome Rachel with the flutter of a hand, but
on this October morning there was a stillness.

"Mother--"

In the half-light she touched a hand lying outside the bed-clothes.
It was cold, and the sudden chill of that contact seemed to rush to
her heart.  She bent down and put her face close to the face on the
pillow, and no breath touched her cheek.

She understood.  With a sense of infinite loss and of dry anguish
she went to the window, drew back the curtains and raised the
blind, and stood looking at that little figure that made a narrow,
white crease in the bed.  Yes, light.  A small, serene face sunk in
the hollow of the pillow.  Her hand touched the blind-cord, but no,
why shut out the light?  Mrs. Binnie did not belong to the
darkness.

She went and knelt for a little while beside the bed, and rising
she noticed the table with the bell upon it, and beside the bell
her mother's Bible.  A white edge protruded.  She picked up the
Bible, and opening it, found the envelope between the leaves.


  "RACHEL.  TO BE OPENED WHEN I AM DEAD."


She walked to the window with the envelope in her hands.  Before
opening it she looked at the misty trees with their tops in the
sunlight.  She unfolded the sheet of paper and read:


  "RACHEL--DEAR
  SELL THE MILL HOUSE AND GO TO YOUR HUSBAND."


She folded up the sheet, and stood looking intently and with a kind
of sorrowful tearfulness at the face upon the pillow.  Her mother's
last commandment!  And going out into the dew-wet lane she walked
between the brilliant hedges to Yew End.

She found Bonthorn in the garden, and instantly he seemed to know
that the end had come.  Her face and eyes were both tremulous and
calm.  She gave him the sheet of paper.

He read the words, and with lowered head, stood waiting before her.

She said: "It is finished.  She was wiser than I knew."



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia