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


Title: Kitty
Author: Warwick Deeping
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1000381.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2010
Date most recently updated: August 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: Kitty
Author: Warwick Deeping



CHAPTER I


I


Mrs. St. George looked out into Cardigan Square.  The high,
Georgian window framed a picture that was seen in winter and in
spring, in autumn and in summer, and so familiar had it become to
her that it seemed to possess no more than a casual significance.
But on this April day, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen,
Mrs. St. George saw the square like a face strange with sudden
emotion, or a landscape sad with the young greenness of a wintry
spring.  Standing in the middle of the room she saw this strip
framed by the window, the familiar details, the gradations of the
vista, the wood-paved roadway touching the kerb of the flagged
path, the black railings of the garden, the young green of
sprouting lilacs and privets, the kind of blue-grey gloom hanging
in the sooty shrubberies, the thin green of the London grass, the
maculated trunks of the old plane-trees, the spread of their tops,
the vague redness of the houses beyond, and above it all a square
panel of sky.  On this April day a south-west wind moved the
branches of the plane-trees; sudden sunshine was followed by sudden
shadow; the wet trees would glisten or grow black.

"Abominable!"

She uttered the word aloud, and it was a strange word for so cold
and so self-contained a woman to utter.  She had been standing
there for quite five minutes, holding a letter that had changed the
familiar sameness of her outlook upon this London square.  She was
a tall woman, handsome, fiftyish or more, with one of those firm
white faces, and lips that close decisively over very regular
teeth.  Someone had once called her an Arctic Juno.  Her wavy, fair
hair had a fallacious softness.  Her eyes were very blue.

In a corner, on the right of one of the windows, stood a big
bureau, mahogany, capacious and solid.  Clara St. George was a
woman of affairs, and all her multifarious letters and papers were
kept under perfect control.  With a deliberate and yet sudden
movement she approached her desk, placed her son's letter on the
writing-pad, and glanced at a card upon which various telephone
numbers were neatly recorded.  The telephone was attached to the
wall beside her desk.  She rang up the exchange.  There was
something characteristic of her in the way in which she put out a
hand and took down the receiver.  The gesture was possessive.
Always and firmly she had grasped the desired object and uttered
decisively the word "mine."

"Exchange--are you there?  Give me 10097."

She waited.  Her blue eyes looked out at the sudden sunlight in the
tops of the plane-trees.  She stood very still.  Never yet had she
allowed her body or her emotions to be hurried.

Her eyes grew more hard and attentive.

"Hallo--!  Is that Sir Murray Hurder's?  Yes.  O, it is you, Sir
Murray.  Mrs. St. George speaking.  I have just heard that they are
sending my son out to the front.  What?  Yes, to France.  It's
disgraceful.  They have passed him as fit.  You have known him
since he was ten--"

She paused and stood listening, lips pressed to a pale hardness.

"Shocked--?  Naturally.  It's abominable.  What, nothing can be
done?  Yes, of course, I understand--This brutal business--"

She hung up the receiver.  She glanced at her son's letter which
she had placed on the blotting-pad.  Her face expressed resentment.
For twenty years or so she had possessed her son, and possessed him
as she had never possessed his father.  He had never escaped from
her firm, white hands--and now--!  This abominable war had seized
him, and after three years of confident security!  He had been a
delicate child; he was supposed to have a "heart"; he had been
given a home-service job with one of the home-service battalions in
East Anglia.  She had come to regard him as so blessedly unfit and
safe.

Those wretched Germans and their March offensive!  This
exasperating war, with its brutal interferences, its sudden
snatching at that which was hers!

She crossed the room and rang the bell, and stood looking out into
the familiar square.  She was afraid, but she would not let herself
acknowledge it.  She had been a Smythe, and the Smythes had always
stood erect and met life's impertinences with fine composure.  And
England of 1918 was so full of impertinences, in its shops and its
taxis, in its railway-trains, even in the departments of the Inland
Revenue.

"Cummins--I expect Mr. Alex to-morrow.  He is coming home on leave
before going to the front."

Cummins' benign spectacles glimmered.  She had known Mr. Alex at an
age when he could fall up or down steps and blood his knees.  She
had called him her "Lamb."  She looked both frightened and shocked.

"Mr. Alex going out--madam!"

Mrs. St. George answered her with a slight and dignified movement
of the head.


II


The young green of the year shivered.

Alex St. George had been walking hard for half an hour as though
trying to overtake a sense of warmth, but the spring day had no
heart in it.  The thorn hedges were powdered with young leaves,
but, overhead, elms groped blackly at a grey sky.  It was a land of
elms, towering and melancholy, with the grass looking like a shabby
coat, and the young wheat tinged yellow.  Young St. George walked
as though he had an east wind blowing in his face, but no east wind
blew.  It was one of those raw, dead days.

And he was afraid.  He carried with him a horrible sense of
emptiness, in spite of a good lunch at the battalion "mess" at the
"King's Head" in Letchford, and a tot of rum in his coffee.  He had
come out to get warm, and because he felt too restless and
miserable to do anything but walk.  It seemed to him that he could
go on walking interminably along any muddy road in this raw, grey
England; for it was England, though the young green of it had for
him a kind of anguish.

At the top of a hill where a flint cottage stood between two
converging lanes, he turned aside to lean upon a field gate, and to
stare at a brown and cloddy piece of plough-land.  In the garden of
the cottage a very old pear-tree had smothered itself in blossom,
and its whiteness was like the glare of snow against the blue-grey
gloom of the landscape.  Young St. George could see Letchford town
streaking the valley with a thin redness, and over it hung a mist
of smoke.  It looked very still and silent.  A robin sang
plaintively in the cottage garden.

O, this England, this sodden, grey, beautiful, secure, mist-smudged
England!  And the spring was coming!

Young St. George's chin came to rest upon his crossed arms.  His
eyes stared.  He had very expressive eyes set rather wide in a
broadish, sensitive face.  He was a boy who flushed easily.  At
school they had called him "Alice."

But on this April day his face had a greyness.  His eyes stared;
his nostrils looked pinched.

For the crisis had been so sudden.  It had found him so unprepared,
so flabbily and comfortably secure, so sure that he would not have
to face the bloody business out yonder.  It had shocked him.  He
had felt as though someone had pulled him out of a warm bed at
three o'clock on an icy morning.  He was a little, whimpering boy.
He wanted to cry out--"Mother--I'm afraid."

For--somehow--he felt that they had not treated him fairly, these
doctor men who had allowed him to play in khaki for three years,
and then had started to hustle him out into all that horror.  Had
he but known--!  He would have felt more resigned to it, more
ready.  He had been very ready to go in the beginning, but for
three years or more they had allowed him to assume the conviction
of a comfortable unfitness.

He looked up at the white pear-tree.  It seemed to mock him like a
girl wearing a white garland.


III


Mrs. St. George sat waiting at her drawing-room window.  Her
limitations were so well concealed from the eyes of the average man
and woman that almost it might be said that she was without
limitations.  She cherished a sense of personal dignity, being a
woman who looked into no other mirror but her own, and seeing
herself in it as Mrs. St. George of No. 77 Cardigan Square, and
Melfont St. Georges in the county of Dorset.  Her dignity had
known no falterings, possibly because no impediments had placed
themselves successfully in the path of it.  She drove her emotions--
such as they were--like a team of horses under perfect control.

Even when her husband had been carried in from the hunting-field
with a broken back, she had sat with a kind of rigid and consenting
calmness beside his bed.

"It's rather rough on me, Clara--"

She could remember his wide eyes looking up at her, and suddenly he
had turned his face away, and had died strangely and silently
without giving her another look or word.  That she had failed him
in that hour of his bewildering and dreadful darkness seemed to
have been beyond her understanding.  She did not understand men,
the eternal boy in man; she had not understood her husband.  Poor,
easy, impulsive Charlie St. George!  Even at the last she had not
understood his look of appeal, or heard the muttered cry of
"Mother."  It had not been a happy marriage.  She had been so cold
and so dominant.

She sat and waited for her son.  She watched a sandy-coloured cat
stalking sparrows in the sooty shrubberies of the square's garden.
She had possessed her son, or thought that she had possessed him,
as she had never possessed her husband, and so confident had her
cry of "Mine" become, that in this crisis, when tumultuous
circumstances were sweeping her son away from her control, she sat
as she had sat beside her dying husband's bed.  She disliked
emotion; she was afraid of it; she suppressed it.  Anger she would
allow herself upon occasions, the anger of a cold and self-
cherishing egoist.  She realized her crisis, and yet did not
realize it in its completeness.  Neither did she realize that if
one particular emotion is allowed righteous expression, while other
emotions are suppressed, that one emotion may become infinitely
dangerous.  Always, she felt so right when she was angry.  Her
anger could be a cold blast from which more warmly blooded people
shrank and retreated.  It had been a very successful emotion, and
perhaps that is why it had always seemed so right.

She was angry now.  She was angry with the war, and with the
Germans, and with the doctors, and also most strangely angry with
her son.  She had a feeling that somehow he should have contrived
to continue physically unfit.  She detested interference--
interference of any kind.  She resented any affair being taken out
of her very capable hands.  When she sat on a committee--and she
sat on many--she sat on them in other respects.  She was both a St.
George and a Smythe.

She was angry with poor Cummins, for Cummins had come into the room
with a suggestion of undisciplined emotion.

"Mr. Alex's room, madam; shall I light a fire?"

"Of course--light a fire."

"But cook says, madam--"

"The cook--!"

"There is less than a hundredweight of coal--"

"Very well, it is April, and Mr. Alex is a soldier."

She sat and watched that sandy-coloured cat intent upon its feline
adventures.  It suggested a sequence of thoughts, compensating
reflections.  Yes, Alex was still very much hers.  He had not been
stalked and captured by some young feline creature.  He had not
lapsed into one of those disastrous war marriages.  If he was going
out to France he was going out wholly hers.  She did not want Alex
to marry.  She could presume that without her consent he would not
be able to marry.  He had no profession.  The property was hers for
life.  She allowed her son five hundred a year and, of course--some
day--But all that was a very long way off, and she need not
consider it.  She did not consider it.


IV


Mr. St. George's taxi turned into Cardigan Square.  A brown kit-bag
and a green canvas valise were piled beside the driver, and Mr. St.
George sat with his little white cane between his knees, and his
eyes looking out at the trees and the houses.

He could see No. 77, its green area railings, white steps, mahogany
door, brass knocker, white window-sashes, old gold curtains.  It
looked just as it had looked when as a youngster of seven he had
played in the square garden, and trundled a hoop across a roadway
innocent of taxis, and had fallen up the white steps and blooded
one of his knees.  And old Cummins--dear old Cummins--had picked up
her "Lamb," and carried him up to the bathroom.

Yes--the house was just the same, and yet how different, because
the world was different, and he was going out to France, and he was
afraid.  He could not get warm.  And it seemed to him that No. 77
had a new, flat, chilly surface, an air of austerity.  It looked
all buttoned up to the chin in its smoky brickwork.

He got out of the taxi.  Someone had been waiting, for the door
opened immediately and he saw the glimmer of Cummins's round
spectacles, and the two patches of bright colour over her high
cheek-bones.  The taxi-man was handling the kit-bag and valise, and
doing it cheerfully, a thing that he would not have done for a
civilian.

"Hallo--Cummins--"

Cummins's face had a tremulous look.

"O--Mr. Alex--"

He was still her "Lamb."  She wanted to put her arms round him and
call him "my dear."  He had been such a lovable child.  And he was
going out to the front, and she felt quite sure that he was not fit
to go.

"Mater in--?"

"Upstairs, sir--"

The passage-hall gave him an impression of darkness.  He laid his
cap and stick on the oak table, and heard the tall clock with the
brass face ticking as it had always ticked.  He saw the stairs, and
the red pile carpet and the brass rods, and the faded "prints"
hanging on the cream walls.  The taxi-man was breathing hard over
the luggage.

"Carry it up, sir?"

"Will you--?  I'd be obliged to you--"

The man shouldered the valise, and Cummins came to take Mr. Alex's
British warm.  She felt towards him just as she had felt when she
had helped him off with his little overcoat when he had come back
from school.  She wanted to burst into tears.

"Better show the chap up, Cummins."

"Yes, Mr. Alex--"

"And pay him, will you?  Here's some money.  Give him a two-bob
tip.  I'll go on up."

He ascended the stairs, and they felt soft under his feet, and yet
everything about the house had a strangeness.  It was so quiet, so
muffled--and somehow it felt so cold.  On the landing the same oak
chest with its heraldic panels stood under the landing window, with
the same blue-and-white faience bowl upon it.  The old gold
curtains framed a view of the square.

He opened the drawing-room door.  His mother was seated at her
desk, with letters and papers spread under her hands.  She rose.
She stood beside her chair, a restrained and dignified figure,
acknowledging no impulse, and no hurried breathing, her white face
apparently serene.  There was no lighting up of her eyes.

She said:

. . . "Well--you are a little late--"

For a moment they stood looking at each other, and in that moment
something seemed to die away out of the son's eyes.  It was as
though a shadow had passed over his face.  He gave a faint smile.
He seemed to move forward with a slightly self-conscious
awkwardness.  He went and kissed his mother on the cheek.

"Yes--just a bit.  Trains--not what they were."

"Quite--"

"I've got six days--"

"Yes--so you said.  I've waited for tea.  Will you ring--my dear?"

He seemed to give her a momentary, flinching glance, and then went
and rang the bell.  His eyes had a sudden, inward look.  It was as
though he had been running towards some expected pleasure and had
been flung back by a closing door.  He had a feeling of bafflement,
emptiness.  That miserable and dolorous chilliness that he carried
about inside him seemed to spread till he felt it in his spine and
in his feet.  He glanced at the brass tea-tray, sat down, and
picked up the poker, and prodded the fire.

"Not quite so cold as it has been--"

Mrs. St. George had resumed her seat at her desk, and was
addressing an envelope.

"No--distinctly warmer.  But cool--I'm afraid, my dear, we can't
manage a fire in your room--"

"O--that's all right, mater."

"These restrictions are rather boring--"

"Very."

He stole a look at her.  He saw her pen give that final, decisive
streak below the address upon the envelope.  He wondered.  He had a
kind of frozen feeling.  Why didn't--?  But then he remembered that
his mother had never stooped to impulse, that he had never run and
clung about her knees, that always her pale head had been carried
high in the air, unbendingly.  But--did she not know--or
understand--?  How a chap felt--?  How--he--felt?  But--then--
of course--gentlemen--English public-school boys--

He stared at the fire.  He stretched out his hands to it, while
Mrs. St. George blotted the envelope and affixed a stamp with
perfect precision in the right upper corner.

No--she would not allow emotion to intrude upon such an occasion.
It was un-English, or un-English according to her code.  Emotion
was a nuisance, unseemly, like a kettle boiling over or a common
child screaming.  It did not help things.  It upset your dignity.
And after all, dignity was essential, calmness in the face of
undisciplined circumstance.  Dignity was of use.  It carried you
through awkward moments.  She was not going to harrow her son or
herself, make things worse by sentimentalizing over them.  It made
things seem worse than they were.  She would send her son to France
just as she had sent him off to school.  For somehow it seemed to
her that she would feel more sure of getting him back if she let
him go as though the war was a gentlemanly and sedate business, not
to be taken with tears and a gulp.


V


Mrs. St. George dined at eight.

Everything was the same as it had always been.  Cummins, when she
was not handling dishes or clearing away plates, stood by the
Hepplewhite sideboard.  The same portraits of the same St. Georges
looked down from the walls upon mother and son.  "Waterloo St.
George," in his guardsman's coat, smiled that half-ironical smile.
There was the same silver on the table, the forks with the St.
George monogram, the Regency salt-cellars, mustard-pots and
pepperets, the same white service with the blue border.  Red and
white tulips filled the wedgwood vase in the centre of the table.
The old gold curtains, drawn over the closed shutters, seemed to
emit a soft glow.

Embarrassment made a third at the table.  To Cummins, Mr. Alex
looked all eyes; he seemed to have no appetite; she noticed that he
glanced often at his mother as though interrogating that coldly
handsome and impassive face.


VI


About a quarter past nine Cummins heard the front door slam.  She
paused in the act of drying a glass tumbler, and supposed that Mr.
Alex had gone out, and she allowed herself to wonder where he had
gone and why.  She was worried about her "Lamb."  She could not
forget that face of his at the dinner-table, with its wide and
restless eyes, and its air of flinching from something.

To Cummins her mistress was just Mrs. St. George, Mr. Alex's
mother, a figure that had grown so familiar that Cummins had ceased
to wonder at it, but on this April night Cummins did wonder.  It
seemed to her that her mistress was a very unusual woman, so
astoundingly cold and self-possessed, so unlike the kind of mother
you expected to see upon the films or the stage.  At dinner she
behaved as though there was no war, and Mr. Alex had just come down
from Oxford--

"She's a queer one," was Cummins' comment.  "You'd think she was
made of marble."

Cummins finished her washing up and her putting away, and left her
pantry to sit by the fire and talk to the cook.  There were no
other servants in the house in the April of 1918, for the under-
maid was on munitions, and the man-servant had joined up in 1915.
Cummins and the cook exchanged confidences, while upstairs Mrs. St.
George sat at her desk, and glanced through the notes she had made
at certain of her committee meetings.  She believed in being
occupied, even when her son had left her with unaccountable
suddenness, and had gone out mumbling that he was going to try and
buy some cigarettes.

"May find a shop open."

"Most unlikely.  Air-raids, remember--"

But he had gone out, and she had heard the slamming of that door.

Ten o'clock struck, and Mr. Alex had not returned, and the cook,
yawning behind a fat red hand, declared that she was going to bed,
but Cummins did not feel like bed.  She was going to wait up for
Mr. Alex; she knew that he had no latchkey; she ascended to the
hall, and after turning off the lights, sat down on the oak chair
by the window.  She pulled aside a fold of the heavy curtains, and
raising the blind for a couple of inches, peered out into the
square.  It looked black as a piece of sable velvet, but above the
tops of the houses opposite, the sky was pricked thick with stars.

"No moon--thank the Lord," said Cummins, feelingly.

But where was Mr. Alex?  The tall clock went on ticking, and the
square was as silent as a graveyard, its windows curtained up, its
pavements deserted, and Cummins began to have an unpleasant, creepy
feeling.  She dropped the blind, and rearranged the curtains, and
rose and turned on one of the lights.  The hands of the clock stood
at half past ten.

Cummins sat there and heard eleven strike.  Mrs. St. George's hour
for retiring was eleven, but the drawing-room door above remained
shut.

And then, just when the large hand of the clock was on the quarter
Cummins heard footsteps.  They came along the side walk; they were
rather hurried and irregular footsteps.  There was a pause; someone
stumbled against one of the steps; she could hear a hand groping
and feeling at the door.

She went and opened it.  She had to catch him by the arm.  He
swayed; he leaned against her; his cap was awry.

"Legs--l'legs--all--funny--somehow.  C-ummins.  I--so--sorry--"

She closed the doorway gently.

"O--Mr. Alex--my dear--"

"M-mater--gone to bed?"

"No."

Drunk though he was, he looked scared.

"Shouldn't have let go--like this--She--she wouldn't--"

"Ssh--my dear; you ought to be in bed."

She got him across the hall and up the first flight of stairs.
"Ssh--my dear--!"  But there was no need for her to suggest
silence, for Alex St. George, drunk though he was, had no desire to
meet his mother.  His getting drunk had been a sort of human
protest.  It had made him feel warm.

"Softly--old Cummins--"

But Cummins's surreptitious shepherding of her "Lamb" to his
bedroom where a key could be turned in a lock, and excuses offered
from behind a closed door, was not to be permitted.  The drawing-
room door opened when Cummins and Mr. Alex were preparing to ascend
the second flight of stairs, and Mrs. St. George came out upon the
landing.



CHAPTER II


I


At No. 7 Vernor Street, somewhere between Piccadilly and Pall Mall,
Mrs. Sarah Greenwood kept a tobacco shop.

No. 7 was a flat-faced London house, stuccoed and painted cream,
its window-sashes and sills a dull chocolate, and its private door
to the right of the shop of the same colour as the window-frames.
The shop was small but double-fronted, with a glass door in the
middle.  Upon a black fascia board was painted in letters of gold,
"S. Greenwood, Cigar Merchant."

Mrs. Greenwood and her two daughters, Corah and Kitty, lived above
the shop.

Vernor Street had a faded and mellow distinction of its own, a
lingering flavour as of Parma violets and pomaded heads.  It
suggested the hansom-cab and the silk hat, and had a sedan chair
appeared in it on some dim evening the windows of Vernor Street
might have expressed no surprise.  Mayfair, or the male part of
Mayfair, still shopped here at old establishments that had known
the "Georges" and in the planting of herself in Vernor Street Mrs.
Sarah Greenwood had accepted risks and shown great good sense.  She
was a doctor's widow.  Her husband, who had practised within
shouting distance of the Whitechapel Road, and who had been what
has been called a "Sixpenny Healer," had died suddenly of pneumonia
some seven years before the war, leaving his widow with some £800
in Colonial stock, and two young daughters.  Hence, the adventure
of No. 7 Vernor Street, and the insinuating of a little, solid,
courageous body between a military bootmaker's and a military
tailor's.  Mrs. Sarah, shrewdly daring, had come and seen and
conquered.  She had realized the power of a personality.  She had
fitted herself into Vernor Street as nicely as a nut into its
shell.

For Vernor Street still eschewed cheapness.  It had a certain
distinguished, shabby rightness; it was in the midst of "club-
land"; it gave scope for the persuasions of a personality.  It did
not glitter; it did not co-operate; it did not pile itself to the
skies and fly the flags of half the nations, and advertise itself
as a sort of cosmopolitan truck-shop.  It was English and
individual, and in Vernor Street there was no more individual
person than Mrs. Sarah.  She had a reputation, and two pretty
daughters.

For, in coming to Vernor Street Mrs. Sarah Greenwood had realized
that the mere selling of cigars and pipes and cigarettes was but a
part of the business; what mattered was how and to whom you sold
them.  She knew how to strike the right note, or what was still
better--to strike no note at all.  Hence, the shop window of No. 7
Vernor Street had neither too much in it nor too little--and what
was there was of the best.  It could be called a gentleman's
window, containing a selection of cigar boxes, cedar-wood cabinets,
a dozen or so briar pipes of the highest quality, a few boxes of
cigarettes.  For Mrs. Sarah had arrived at that position when she
did not need to rely upon her shop window.  She was a person.  It
would be no exaggeration to say that quite thirty per cent. of the
officers who had gone out with the Expeditionary Force in 1914 had
known Mrs. Sarah Greenwood.

And with the coming of the Great War Mrs. Sarah had become a still
more notable and successful woman.  She had sold cigars and given
of her wisdom and her humour to the old army, and in the nature of
things her name had become known to the new.  She was a great
little woman, a piece of old England.  Officers home on leave came
to meet and to sit in the red divan behind the shop, brass hats,
red hats, blue hats, plain second lieutenants, guardsmen, riflemen,
gunners, cavalry-men.  She was a cheerful person to visit.  She
understood men.  She had such vitality.  You had only to look at
those roguish dark eyes in the round face with its broad blunt nose
that had a way of wrinkling itself up, to feel--somehow--that life
was a great business.

As some old warrior put it: "She fills you up."

She had such a heart in her.  She stood about five feet high, and
her hair was as black as a crow's back.  Her mouth was big and red
and expressive.  She had the kindest and the shrewdest of tongues,
and a fine sense of humour.  She could flatter and she could scold,
but there was not a shred of the shrew in her.

"Business is business--"

It was.  She was doing big business.  How often were the words
spoken in overseas messes: "O--you can get them at Sarah's--Vernor
Street--you know."  The army mail-bags carried her packets into all
sorts of odd places, French and Flemish farmhouses, dug-outs,
headquarter messes.  Women came to No. 7 Vernor Street, wives,
sisters, and others.  "I want to send some cigars out--"

Yes--through all those years Mrs. Sarah and her daughters had been
kept very busy.

She was a solid woman, and nowhere else had her solidity expressed
itself more fundamentally than in the bringing up of her daughters.

Her text had been "No Nonsense."  She had sent them both to goodish
schools, and had yet contrived to keep them soundly hers.  They had
a share in the business, and though comely young women, they shared
their mother's sense and solidity.  Adoration was not a word much
used in the Greenwood vocabulary, but Mrs. Sarah had deserved and
been given something that was better than adoration.


II


Kitty Greenwood was opening the shop.  She had unlocked the iron
grill that was drawn at night across the glass-fronted door, and
having pushed it to one side, she stood in the doorway, and looked
up and down Vernor Street as though she found Vernor Street as good
to look at as an English garden.  There had been rain in the night,
and the air was fresh.  The sun, climbing beyond the spire of St.
James's church, drew a band of yellow light along one half the
street.  Across the way Fream's Hotel was pulling up its blinds.  A
hotel porter in black trousers and a dark blue waistcoat was
watering the two clipped standard bay-trees that grew in green tubs
on either side of the hotel entrance.

An officer, brushing his hair at one of the windows of "Fream's,"
bent forward to look at Kitty Greenwood.  She stood about as high
as her mother, five feet or so; she had a bobbed head of honey-
coloured hair with some darker shadowings intermixed with it; at a
little distance her eyes looked black in the glowing roundness of
her face.  She was a solid little person, with a beautiful throat,
and a chin that had a white firmness.  She stood confidently upon
her small feet.  If she guessed that she was being looked at from
the windows of Fream's Hotel, she was not disconcerted or intrigued
by the scrutiny.  She had grown accustomed to being looked at by
all sorts of men, oldish men, young men, bold men, hungry men.  And
it is possible that she had come to understand that to many of
these poor lads she was golden fruit, the more desirable because
death might pluck life from their lips any moment.  She had been
kind to men, but without desiring to give herself to any one of
them.  She had a exceptional sturdiness.  And in the shop she could
be something of a little autocrat.  There was no nonsense about
Kitty.

A voice came to her from within--the voice of the charwoman busy in
the divan.  It said something about cigarette-ends and matches and
the carpet.  It was full of cheerful Cockney complaints.

"These young gents--!  You'd think--"

Kitty replied to the voice.

"They--don't--think, Mrs. Higgins.  They don't want to think--"

There were sounds of brushings.

"All over the cushions, too.  You'd think as how--"

"Yes, six of them, Mrs. Higgins--they went back to the front this
morning."

"O--lord--Wictoria!--Pore lads--!"

Yes, six young scallywags, hard-bitten youngsters, with strained
blue eyes!  Her mother had a soft place in her heart for such
scallywags; she was kinder to them than Kitty was, for Kitty had a
sense of order, and like many little women she stood upon her young
dignity.  Mrs. Sarah had collected a whole battalion of scallywags,
and mothered them, and somehow kept them from going where they
might have gone.  Yes, her mother was a dear.  She seemed to
understand--

Though Kitty did not know that a very stately old fellow, with one
of those fine, simple English faces had spoken of Mrs. Sarah as "A
moral force."  Not that he used those very words.  What he did say
was that Mrs. Sarah was worth a whole trainful of padres.

"She's--so--human, my dear fellow.  She knows--"

So Kitty re-entered the shop, and taking a little feather dusting-
brush from a shelf under the counter, began to set it whisking
about among the cigar boxes and over the glass cases full of pipes
and cigarette-holders.  She loved the shop.  She liked its order,
its neatness, its polished cases and cabinets, its mahogany and its
glass, the shelves full of boxes and drums of cigars, the
cigarettes--gold-tipped and cork-tipped, lying in their little
boxes, the sleek unsoiled pipes.  She was a very clean young
creature, supremely healthy within and without.  The war had not
blurred her outlines.

Presently she went to examine the till.  She was less decorative
and more practical than her sister Corah, and the till and its
contents were Kitty's particular concern.  She checked its contents
twice a day, withdrew and locked away the superfluous cash, and saw
to it each morning that there was a proper supply of change
available.  She liked her paper money clean and uncrumpled, and
kept the pounds and ten-shilling notes neatly clipped in separate
packets.  Half-crowns, florins, shillings, sixpences had each a
compartment, and her copper money lived in a flat brown cigar box.
The charwoman had finished tidying the divan, and had closed the
door that separated the divan from the shop.  The door had a long
mirror attached to it, and Kitty, after sliding a pile of florins
back into the till, happened to glance in the direction of this
mirror.

She saw a figure reflected in it.

It was but one of the thousands of figures that had impressed their
images upon that mirror, the reflection of a young officer in
khaki, slim in the leg, and rather slightly built about the
shoulders.  He stood in the doorway, but there was a hesitancy in
his attitude.  There was something about his eyes--

Kitty closed the till.  She had a feeling that she had only to say
"Shoo--!" and that figure in the doorway would disappear like a
vagrant shadow, and for a moment she continued to look into the
mirror.  She had seen thousands of faces, stolid faces, raw faces,
shrinking faces, faces that were wilfully gay or helplessly
overcast.  Sometimes she had met eyes that had given her little
qualms.

But--this face--somehow--was different from all the others, though
why it was different she could not say.  She realized that the eyes
were looking at her.  They had a kind of wide, appealing dumbness.

She turned.

"Good morning."

He seemed to flinch slightly.  His right hand jerked itself upwards
in a salute.

"I want some cigarettes--straight-cuts--"

He took three steps into the shop.

"Virginian?"

"Please."

"What--kind?"

"O--anything--I--Gold Flake will do."

"How many?"

"O--fifty."


III


She looked out several boxes for him to choose from, and his eyes
remained fixed upon her with a peculiar and questioning intentness.
They followed all her movements, and watched both her face and her
hands.  She had been stared at before with the same kind of
hungriness; she was conscious of it, and yet this young man's
hungriness had a quality of its own.  He looked pinched and cold.
It was as though he had been shivering in a raw wind, and had seen
the glow of a fire and had come in to it.  His eyes seemed to
discover in her a beautiful, human warmness, a glow, a something
that was disastrously sweet and poignant and beyond him.

She said:

"What about these?  Taylor's Navy Cut?"

He nodded, his glance falling suddenly to her hands.

"Thank you.  Yes--they'll do."

And she thought:  "Yes, most of them drink too much, poor lads."
But her impression of him as a feverish celebrant almost instantly
corrected itself.  He looked very new and clean, and rather
fragile; he was wearing no flashes; and she missed in him that
slightly coarsened air, a heaviness that characterized the men who
had seen active service.  Their faces appeared smudged as though a
heavy hand had pressed upon their youthfulness, and rubbed out or
blurred the more delicate lines.  She had a feeling that this boy
with the wide and startled eyes was very new to it all.

He brought out a ten-shilling note, and as he handed it to her she
noticed that his fingers communicated a fine tremor to the crisp
piece of paper.

"Very cold--still."

She handed him the change.  She said that she thought it was a
beautiful day, and he looked at her as though she were mocking him.

"O--yes--I suppose so."

It was April, and to him she seemed a part of April, with her skin
like apple-blossom, and her eyes like sloes, and as beautifully
tantalizing as the young green of the year.  He stood silently
staring at a round rubber mat on the counter, as though not knowing
how to go or to stay.  His face had what she might have described
as a naked look.  He seemed to loiter as though warming himself at
a fire.

"Home on leave?"

Those startled eyes of his met hers.

"Yes.  Going out next week."

"First time?"

"Yes."

His eyes fell again.  He unbuttoned the flap of a pocket and
slipped the cigarette box into it, and fumbled at the button.  She
glanced at his badges.  Infantry, yes.  She must have known the
badges of every regiment in the army.  And suddenly she found
herself on the edge of a most poignant pity for him, nor had any
other man moved her to such compassion.  She felt that he was quite
unfit for the brutal business out yonder.  In that little red and
white room behind the shop Kitty had heard men blurt things out.
You might be able to talk to a shopgirl as you could not talk to
your mother.

Things were apt to happen either very slowly or very suddenly
during the war, nor was Kitty Greenwood thistledown.  That a
strange lad should walk into her mother's shop at half past eight
on an April morning and rouse such an impulse of pity in her was
both extraordinary and natural.  Air-raids had brought the
incredible to your very doorstep.  She did not question the
impulse.  There was nothing and everything to keep him standing
there, and it was obvious to her that he was loth to go.

She picked up a little glass tray full of cigarettes, and held it
out to him.

"Had breakfast?"

"O--yes."

He glanced at her face before taking a cigarette, nor did the
glance question her modesty; it seemed to search below the surface
for some deeper solace, a gentle warmth that would breathe near him
in the night of his dread.

"Thank you.  I have got six days."

He began to fumble in a pocket, but she was ready with a match
before his ineffectual fingers could produce a box.

"Here you are."

She had very pretty white hands, plump but not too plump, with
soft, blunt finger-tips.  Men should be wary of pointed fingers.
Her head came no higher than his shoulder but her sturdiness made
him appear the fragile figure.  She offered him the match flame,
and as he bent to light the cigarette, she studied his face.

"Thank you."

His eyes met hers.  Not often had she been looked at in that way,
with a sensitive, dumb, startled shyness.  It changed an impulse
into what--was--perhaps--the most deliberate act of her life.

"London's a lonely place.  Hundreds of boys come in here--just to
talk.  Talking seems to help--"

She was aware of the surprise in his eyes, and something more than
surprise.  It was as though she had opened a door to a shivering
dog.  And she went and opened the door of the divan.  She said:
"You can smoke that cigarette in there--if you like.  My mother
will be down in a minute."  He walked into the divan, and she
followed from behind the counter, leaving the door open.  He stood.
He took off his cap.  She noticed that he remained standing until
she sat down on the red-cushioned sofa.  He took one of the chairs,
and bending forward, rested his elbows on his knees, but his
attitude did not suggest repose.  He was very nervous, and his
nervousness infected her in a most strange way for she became
conscious of this little red and white room as a place full of
ghosts, the ghosts of men who had sat on those cushions, and whose
red blood had been spilt over yonder.  Dead lads, dust, a few
tarnished buttons and rotting khaki!  Something cried out in her.
She glanced sideways and almost fearfully at the boy beside her.
He--too--perhaps?

And suddenly he spoke.

"It's very peaceful in here--somehow."


IV


She understood.  His startled eyes, and his air of dumb and
inarticulate appeal revealed him to her.  He wanted to talk to
someone, to talk as he had never talked before, to empty himself
and his fear.  She had a feeling that he had no one to whom he
could talk, or who would understand the things he had to say.  He
was afraid, and dared not say so.  He had to pretend, and he was
not doing it very well.  He was both afraid and ashamed of his
fear, but not so ashamed of it as to wish to hide it completely.

"Staying at an hotel?"

He started; he had gone off into a sort of overcast reverie.

"No--at my mater's.  Cardigan Square."

"You are out early."

"I woke up early.  Felt I wanted to walk.  My name is St. George."

"Mine's Greenwood--Kitty.  My mother owns this business."

"O," he said, and brooded.

She wondered how long he had been in the army, and how it was that
he had not been out before.  She thought that he did not look very
strong; he had one of those delicate, clear skins that freckle
easily; the texture of him had too sensitive a fineness.  It seemed
to show in his hair and his hands.

And then he surprised her.  She had grown accustomed to the many
franknesses of the war, an honesty that could be almost brutal.
Either you had no skin at all, or a skin that was thickened and
less sensitive.

He was holding his cigarette between the first and second finger,
and watching the smoke rising from it in a thin thread.

"Funny, isn't it, that our class holds a cigarette like this, and
the common chaps hold it with a thumb and finger?  I sometimes wish--
But that's neither here nor there.  May I tell you something?"

She nodded.  She seemed to be growing more and more serious.

"Anything--you like."

"I went home drunk last night.  First time in my life.  A rotten
thing to do."

Again she was aware of that deep stirring of her compassion.

"O--that might depend--" she said.

"On why--or how?"

"Of course."

"It shocked my mater.  She's always so--perfectly right."

"Was she shocked?"

"Awfully.  But--I say--I ought not to be talking like this--I don't
know what you must think--"

She looked at him for a moment, knitting up her straight, broad
forehead, and then she rose and closed the door.

"If I understand--That makes it all right, doesn't it?"

He stared up at her with those wide eyes of his.

"You mean--you understand--why?"

She nodded.

"Why not?  The war's a beastly business.  I know.  And if you like--
you can tell me--"

His head went down.

"But I simply can't tell you.  I can't tell anyone.  It's too--"

She sat down nearer to him.

"Yes, you can.  You can tell me.  In fact--I think I know."

He seemed to flinch as though she had touched some acutely
sensitive and hidden wound.

"You know?"

"You are feeling rather bad--about going out there."

He stared at her for a moment.

"Good Lord, do I look as bad as that?"

"O--no."

But he was horrified.  He sat with his head between his hands,
staring at the carpet.

"But I must do.  You must have seen.  Everybody must see.  When I'm
out in the street I see people looking at me and thinking--'That
fellow's afraid.'  And--my God--it's true.  I never knew that I--
And it's horrible, so horribly humiliating--"

She sat very still.

"It's natural.  I've seen scores of men--who dreaded going out--And
they were afraid of their own fear.  You won't feel so bad about it--
perhaps--now that someone knows."

His head remained down.

"But you must--despise me."

"No--not for a moment.  Isn't every man afraid?  Of course.  I have
heard a V.C. boy say--here in this very room--that any man who said
that he didn't know what fear was, was either a liar or a fool."

"Thank you," he said.  "But--I wish--" and lapsed into silence, for
having come out of his dark cupboard, the black hole of his
unconfessed terror, he seemed to become acutely conscious of her as
a woman, a sturdy little person with very dark and fearless eyes,
and a glowing head, and a warm white skin.  She had spoken of the
day as a day of beauty, and suddenly he seemed to have his head in
the sunlight.  She had become to him a thing of beauty, a live,
warm, human creature who somehow understood how a man felt.  A girl
in a shop!  But then--!  And he was sitting there within a yard of
her, alive to the glow and the mystery of her.

"You have been awfully good to me."

"O, not a bit."

He looked at her shyly, but with slightly more confidence, and with
a very definite homage in his eyes.

"Queer that I should have wandered in here?  Almost as though it
was meant--"

"Perhaps it was meant.  I think there is somebody in the shop."

When she opened the door Alex saw a tall officer with a very red
face and a white moustache, and three rows of ribbons on his tunic,
and crossed swords and two stars on his shoulder-straps.  He stood
in the middle of the shop; he gave the little figure in the green
knitted coat a slight bow! he both smiled and looked at her like
the very great gentleman that he was.

"Well--Miss Kitty--I want a box of my usuals--if you please."

Mrs. St. George's son sat and listened to those two pleasant
voices.  He threw quick and sensitive glances round the little
room.  It was strange how some rooms affected you, and this back
room, with its red walls and white paint and red cushions, made you
feel snug and warm and safe.  Extraordinary chance--his drifting in
here!  He supposed that he ought to be going, but he did not want
to go.  No, not at all.  In fact, his overcast mood threatened to
return when he imagined himself out in the street and alone.  Yet,
he ought to go back to his mother, his much-shocked mother who was
always so right.

He saw the general raise his hand to his cap, and disappear through
the shop doorway.  So a general could salute Miss Kitty Greenwood.
Quite right.  And Kitty was looking in at him with very intent dark
eyes.  He had become more than a chance and casual man sitting on
her mother's sofa.  Something had happened, and it had happened to
them both.

"General Gratton.  He knew me when I had my hair down."

"Fine old boy.  One of the sahibs."

"Most of them are like that."

She came into the room, and he looked up at her like a shy
supplicant.

"I suppose I ought to be going.  I suppose you'll be busy."

"We are always busy."

"Would you mind--if I stayed a little longer?  It's so--so restful
in here."

She appeared to be considering something.  She turned and looked
through the doorway into Vernor Street.

"The sun's shining.  We generally have quite a crowd here."

He stood up.  He thought that she was gently hinting.  He was just
as ready to efface himself.  But she remained standing in the
doorway.  She put up her hand and touched her hair.

"One gets a little tired of crowds.  Sometimes--I take a day off.
You see--my mother and my sister--"

His wide eyes gave a kind of eager flicker.

"You couldn't--could you?--I mean--I have had no one to talk to.
And you've been so awfully--"

She looked at him steadily.

"I don't go out--"

"No; of course not.  I really didn't mean.  Not for a moment.
Please believe--"

"Sit down," she said, "I'll tell the others.  I'll go and put on a
hat."


V


When Kitty opened the door of the upstairs sitting-room she saw her
mother sitting, as Mrs Sarah always sat after breakfast, settled
well back in an arm-chair between the fireplace and the near
window.  Her mother had worked hard, and loved her comfort, and
being a comfortable woman no one ever grudged it to her.  Her
daughters would tuck a tuffet under her feet.  The Greenwoods' was
not a sentimental household, but when a woman understood her
daughters as Mrs. Sarah understood them she had a claim to
consideration.  Youth loves where it likes.

"That you, poppet?  Poor young Ryder's dead."

Always before reading the news Mrs. Sarah would glance through the
casualty lists, not from morbidity of mind, but because she had a
motherly eye upon so many of the men out there, and had had them
sitting and laughing upon her red cushions.  Poor lads!  And hardly
a day would pass without her having to utter that refrain--"Poor So-
and-so's been killed."  She would give her head a kind of defiant
shake, and look just what she was--a bit of old London and old
England, a sturdy fighter, no slobbering pacifist.  "Damn the
Germans!  Carry on."

She was a strong and a solid little woman, with a massive head well
set on a fine throat.  She had a bosom.  Her glossy black hair,
without a grey streak in its coiled profusion showed the sheen of a
great vitality.  Her jocund eyes, and her broad and humorous nose
expressed courage.  She enjoyed life, and perhaps that was why she
understood other lives, and the souls of men who were losing their
lives out yonder.

Kitty closed the door.

"Mother, I'm going out to-day."

Mrs. Sarah laid the paper on her knees.  She knew that when Kitty
made such an announcement there was a very good reason for it.
There was nothing flighty or inconsequential about Kitty.  Her
younger daughter was a determined little person, very much her
mother's daughter, less decorative than Corah with her large, dark
and slightly languid comeliness.

"Quite so, poppet.  Anyone downstairs?"

"Yes, a boy."

"Officer?"

"Going out for the first time, and feeling rather bad about it.
And--in a way--so am I."

"You!"

"Yes; I am."

Mrs. Sarah said nothing for a moment.  Her solid stillness was a
counterpoise to the sturdy frankness of her daughter.  They
understood each other.  But this was unexpectedly sudden,
especially in Kitty.

"Well--you know, my dear."

"I do."

"That's right."

"Can you manage?"

"Corah will be down in ten minutes.  I'll go downstairs."

"You'll find him in the divan.  His name is St. George.  He lives
in Cardigan Square.  I'll go and put on my hat."


VI


Mrs. Sarah, knowing men as she did, could sum a man up by the way
he rose from the sofa, and when Alex St. George got up rather
hurriedly, and stood with a slight stoop of shy courtesy, Mrs.
Sarah had him catalogued.  Having a dignity of her own she liked a
lad who had breed and good manners, and if he were shy so much the
better.  Bull-headed youth is both dull and tiresome.  She smiled
at Kitty's protégé, and held out a hand.

"I'm Mrs. Greenwood.  Kitty has gone to put on a hat."

Astonishing situation!  But was any situation astonishing during
the war?  Alex met Mrs. Sarah's hand to find its grasp firm and
reassuring.  He was aware of her as a solid person in black who
smiled, and who appeared to accept his presence in the red and
white room as the most natural of happenings.  He had a moment of
self-questioning panic.  Was he making a fool of himself, going out
with a girl who was a complete stranger, a girl whose mother kept a
shop?  Would not his own mother regard the incident as an
alternative to too much whisky?

Mrs. Sarah sat down.

"Smoke--if you like--"

He too sat down, but on the very edge of the sofa.  He looked at
Mrs. Sarah with his wide, dark eyes.

"It's awfully good of--Miss--Greenwood--"

"Kitty--is--good," said her mother.

"I hope I'm not--"

He found his words arrested by Mrs. Sarah's inevitable smile.

"O, you are what we call a gentleman, Mr. St. George.  And although
we keep a shop--"

"Yes, of course; I--"

"Everything is a little unusual--these days, my dear.  The thing is
not to worry too much."

He stared at her.  He had a sudden feeling that his panic mood of
the moment ago had been both caddish and a little ridiculous.  He
liked Mrs. Sarah, and liked her at once, and immensely, without
being able to say why.  Was it her solidity?  She looked so alive
and real and compact.  She gave you a sense of cohesion and
continuity; she made you feel that--after all, life was a solid
business, full of heart and courage; she looked as indestructable
as London; when she smiled you knew that there must be things worth
smiling at.  Alex was not old enough to explain his impression by
saying that both Mrs. Sarah and her daughter were strong animals,
little women of superb vitality who could emit from their vigorous
entities wholesome and potent suggestions.

Deprecatingly he said:  "I think I worry too much."

She accepted the statement.

"The way one's made, Mr. St. George.  Plum pudding or jelly.  Don't
quarrel with yourself--"

He laughed.

"Jelly!  That's good.  But so long as the jelly keeps its shape--
even if it quakes--?"

"Exactly.  Here's Kitty.  Well, you two young things know how to
spend the day--I suppose."

Kitty looked up at the man.

"I dare say we shall find out."



CHAPTER III


I


As Kitty had said, it was a beautiful day, and they sat on a seat
in Queen's Walk, and saw the white clouds going over the high
houses.  The lilac buds were turning from gold to green, and on the
grass the sunlight came and went.  The windows of the houses would
glimmer and grow dark, like eyes, smiling or serious.

And it seemed to Alex St. George that the anguish of the young year
was less greenly poignant, and that the air was warmer, and that
under this open, April sky the girl beside him was even more
pleasant to behold.  Her very littleness appealed to him, her glow,
her perfect skin.  Yet, though physically she was like a ripe and
wholesome fruit she was more to him than a mere sensuous image.

For he was out of love with himself, and when a man is out of love
with himself his desire to be loved becomes urgent and childlike.
He wanted to give and to receive devotion.  He knew now that he had
been out of love with himself for the last two years, ever since
the Somme had begun to swallow men, and he had seen other fellows
go out, while he had accepted safety.  He had accepted it too
easily, just as he had accepted the domination of his mother.  Yet,
deep down in him, there had been inward conflict, repressed, but
simmering below the surface, awaiting its chance to emerge, and
when the chance had come he had found himself a potential coward.
It had shocked him.  He had allowed himself to be wrapped up in a
sense of security.  The doctors had found him fit, or fit enough to
bear a share in the last ruthless winnowing.  And then fear had
come, and self-questionings and a dread of his own fear, and a
sense of shame.  What if he failed out there, and found himself a
martial misfit, a shirker, a rotter?

"You wouldn't sit on this seat with me if you knew."

But she was sitting there as though it had become the one place in
the world for her.

"How do you know?"

"I--must--tell you."

He felt that he had to tell her, to put himself right with her, to
strip off those years of shame, and now begin anew.  For he was
ashamed of them, though he had been officially secure.  He had not
been able to tell his mother.  He had begun to be aware of
harbouring a vague feeling of resentment against his mother.

"Will you listen?"

"I'm here to listen."

He glanced at her serious and attentive face.  She was looking up
at the houses.  He saw the white line of her throat, and her firm
little chin.

"You'll despise me."

"No, not if you tell me."

His eyelids flickered.  Why--if he told her--would she think
differently?  Would it make things different--between them?  And
she already had for him a strange nearness--a something--

"I have been serving for more than three years.  I wasn't supposed
to be fit.  They didn't send me out."

"Well, wasn't that their business?"

"Yes--but I ought not to have let myself get stuck at home.
Coddled and protected.  And then when they did push me out--I
seemed to get panic.  And I couldn't tell anybody--not even my
mother."

He watched her face.  What a glowing face she had!  It was so firm
and yet so soft.  And that honey-coloured hair of hers seemed to
emit a kind of light from under the brim of her little black hat.

Turning her head, and looking him straight in the eyes, she asked:

"Why couldn't you tell your mother?"

"Why--?  O--well, there are some people you don't tell things to.
But I oughtn't to discuss my mater--"

"Quite right.  But now that you are going out--"

She paused on the last word, as though prompting him.

"Isn't it--final?  When one realizes that a thing has got to be--"

He nodded.

"I think I want someone to believe in me."

She made a little movement as of drawing near to him.  She
understood that he wanted to feel someone near him, or she guessed
it.  They had known each other less than three hours, and yet the
surprising knowledge had come to her that she could care as Kitty--
Mrs. Sarah's daughter--might be expected to care.  It would be a
very determined caring.

"Supposing someone did believe--?"

"If someone could--!"

"Or if you could believe that someone could."

"You couldn't."

"You haven't asked me."

Impulsively he touched her arm.

"If you could--I wouldn't mind.  You must think me a such weak
beast--"

"I don't.  You've had the pluck to tell me this.  I suppose it cost
you something."

And suddenly she stood up.

"Let's walk.  Walking's good."

They wandered across the Green Park.  Ten inches shorter than young
St. George she walked along the middle of the path, looking
straight before her as though some objective had come into view and
she meant to reach it.  The sunlight played upon the fronts of the
Piccadilly houses.  She knew her Green Park and her St. James's,
and her Hyde Park as a London child knows them, but to-day they
seemed both smaller and more spacious.  The noise of the traffic
was confusedly impersonal.  As for Mr. Alex St. George she was
aware of him as a shy, freckled, rather loose-limbed boy loping
along beside her like a dog that had suddenly attached itself.  She
was not at all conscious of him as a young man whose mother had a
house in Cardigan Square, or any difference there might be in their
social positions or their worldly wealth.  He was the eternal boy
in trouble, her counterpart, her contrast, wilting where she was
sturdy, yet not without a sensitive courage of his own.  She was
thinking of his mother, and his refusal to discuss his mother, his
mother who was always so right.  So Mrs. St. George was that sort
of woman!  Already Kitty's square little chin was setting itself
towards an inward confronting of Mrs. St. George.

Arriving at Hyde Park Corner, they stood by the railings while a
line of traffic passed.

"Let's go and look at the Serpentine."

"Yes--let's.  I used to sail boats there."

"And you wore a sailor suit?"

"I did.  Now we can get across."

He put out a shepherding arm that curved close to her but did not
touch her, and on the other side she gave him a serious and upward
smile.

"You are more all right than you think you are."

"No--I'm not.  Unless--"

"Unless what?"

He prevaricated.

"Let's get across to the other side of the Row."

"Unless what?" she repeated.

He looked beyond the trees into the hazy London distance.

"Supposing I can't believe in myself--unless--?"

"Someone else believes?"

"That's it.  A pretty shameful confession."

"But aren't we all more or less like that?  Some more, some less.
How do you like the hat I'm wearing?"

He glanced at her hat.

"It seems just--the--hat."

"Sure?"

"Quite."

"Well--that makes me feel good friends with my hat.  You see?"

He smiled down at her.

"I say--you are rather extraordinary.  You seem to get right at
things."

"I'm older than you are."

"I wonder?"

"Twenty-four."

"So am I."

"Well, we'll leave it at that.  I have been working for six years."

"Must you?"

"Must I!  I like it.  Up at half past six and cooking the
breakfast.  Ours is a cheerful place.  How did you like my mother?"

"Immensely."

"Everybody does.  She's a dear.  Had a pretty tough fight for it--
you know, keeping and educating two girls after my father died."

"What was your father?"

"A doctor in the East End.  He didn't leave much money.  But we do
pretty well these days."

"I'm glad."

He was looking at her more and more attentively, and with a growing
and inward delight that grew out of the misery of the last few days
like a young plant out of the soil.  Wasn't she unique; wasn't the
whole adventure unique?  But he did not think of it as an
adventure.  He had a natural seriousness.  He was one of those
young souls who must look up to something or to somebody, a lovable
lad, quite without side, and still very young.  In civil life he
would be full of enthusiasms for a book, or a play, or a landscape,
and at this moment in his life his enthusiasm had discovered Kitty.
She was worth it, but how much worth it she was he did not yet
know.  Nor was he merely a nice lad who fell into love and out of
it with dreadful facility.  Chance had brought her to him at a
moment when he had felt so out of love with himself that his own
service revolver had suggested a weak way out.  In a way she drew
him as a capable and warm-hearted young nursemaid draws a troubled
and too-sensitive child.

They were standing by the Serpentine, watching the wind and the
sunlight upon the water, when he asked her a question.

"I say--may I call you Kitty?"

"I think so."

"Thanks awfully.  And would you let me take you out to lunch?"

"But doesn't your mother expect you back to lunch?"

Instantly a clouded look came into his eyes.

"I don't want to go back there yet.  I want to feel alive."


II


Mrs. St. George had neither the magnanimity nor the wisdom of a
certain good friend of hers who--when an only son got himself
engaged to a hospital nurse--rang up the girl, "my deared" her, and
asked her to lunch.

She had viewed the war from a distance, and yet she had done her
duty by the war, short of encouraging her son to rush over yonder
into the bloody reality of it.  In a sense she had made the war her
own, and allowed it to give expression to a number of her
prejudices.  She had a capable, cold head, a passion for putting
people and things in order, and for keeping them in order; she
looked well on a platform and could speak with chilly reasonableness.

But the spirit of her activities was repressive, the prevention of
this, and the prevention of that.  There were all sorts of things
that she would have liked to repress, anything that had the smell
of sex, of impulse, of animal naturalness.  Had she had her way she
would have prohibited everything that tended to raise life's
temperature, the whisky distilleries and the breweries, the
nightclubs, the music-halls, the picture-theatres.  She would have
made Piccadilly Circus as chaste and chilly as the North Pole.

On that day in April she returned to No. 77 Cardigan Square about
half-past twelve.  She walked, very properly having laid up her car
and sent her chauffeur to join the Mechanical Transport section of
the A.S.C.  She had been presiding on some committee or other that
dealt efficiently with the herd's inefficiencies.

That was Mrs. St. George's misfortune.  It was not what she did,
but the way she did it, and why she did it, that put her social
pies and puddings into cold storage.  No doubt this fool world
would be the better for being ruled by a dictatorship of the
biological mind, by a wisdom that is both kind and ruthless and
impartial.  Mrs. St. George was not impartial.  She objected to
certain other women giving birth to babies--but also she had tried
to keep her son at home.

She trod slowly up the three very white steps, and slipped her
latchkey into the big room door.  Cummins met her in the hall, a
mutely hostile Cummins.

"Is Mr Alex in?"

"No, madam."

Mrs. St. George had not seen her son that morning.  He had
breakfasted early and had disappeared.  No doubt he had felt
thoroughly ashamed of himself after the lapse of yesterday, and to
Mrs. St. George it seemed quite proper that Alex should be feeling
a little shy of her.

"Lunch at one, Cummins."

"Yes, madam."

"I expect Mr. Alex back to lunch.  The Canteen Committee meets here
at three."

"Very good, madam."

"We shall use the dining-room.  Have the chairs arranged round the
table."

She went upstairs and sat down at her desk.  This desk was a war
product.  She was a woman of affairs, and she kept this desk and
her affairs in perfect order.  One recess was full of neat little
notebooks nicely labelled "Canteen"--"Prisoners of War"--"Care of
Men on Leave"--"Married Women"--"Allowances"--"Vigilance."  She had
some notes to make, and withdrawing one of the little books, she
opened it and made her entries, and returning it to its place in
the recess, she sat and looked out of the window.  Yes, no doubt
Alex was feeling seriously ashamed.  No doubt he would come back
and apologize, sit up like a good dog, and wave his paws in the
air.  It was abominable that he should have to go out there to
France.  He really was not fit for it.  If his own mother did not
know that, who could know it?  But, then, after all, she could
congratulate herself on the fact that Alex had not got mixed up
with women or made one of those disastrous war marriages.
Marriage?  O, yes, some day, but she hoped to be able to select the
girl for him.  But--why marriage?  Why should Alex marry?  He was
dependent on her.  He had left Oxford to join the army.  He had no
profession; he was not trained to earn an income.  She allowed him
five hundred a year.  She could allow him a thousand.  But if he
married--?  Or wanted to marry?  And suddenly she drifted off into
what was for her strange and dubious speculation.  She wanted to
keep Alex under her hand, much as she kept this desk of hers.  She
could not see anything in marriage that could make him half so
comfortable as he could be in No. 77 Cardigan Square.  She knew
quite well that she would try to keep him from getting married,
just as she had tried to keep him in England.  He had always been a
tractable and obedient child.

Cummins broke her reverie.

"It is one o'clock, madam.  Will you wait for Mr. Alex?"

"I will wait a quarter of an hour, Cummins."

But Mrs. St. George lunched alone.  Obviously, Alex's contrition
was serious and proper.  She did not visualize him sitting at a
little table in a Soho restaurant, opposite a compact little person
with a glowing face and hair, and serious wise eyes.  How could
she?  How could so much happen in one morning?  Kitty, the daughter
of Mrs. Sarah who sold tobacco, cigarettes and cigars, was below
Mrs. St. George's horizon.

Alex's mother presided at her committee meeting, dismissed it, and
sat down alone to a rationed tea.  She was becoming slightly
annoyed with the persistence of her son's penitence, and when,
about half past five, she heard the front door close, she was in
something of the mood of the woman who smacks her safely restored
lost child just to give relief to her feelings.  Alex should have
returned to lunch.  She had nicely timed the period that should be
allowed him for contrition.

She listened.  She expected him to come up at once to the drawing-
room, but he did not come.  She got up and rang the bell.

"Is that Mr Alex, Cummins?"

"Yes, madam."

"Where is he?"

"In the dining-room, madam."

She did not tell Cummins to inform Mr. Alex that his mother was
upstairs and expecting him.  She sat down by the window and waited,
and Cummins went below.  She peeped into the dining-room and saw
her "Lamb" standing at one of the windows overlooking the square.
He did not hear her, and Cummins softly withdrew.  It was possible
that Mr. Alex did not wish to hear anybody.  When she had opened
the door to him he had walked in with a "Hallo, Cummins," and an
air of supreme detachment.  The pupils of his eyes had shown two
little blurs of light.  And Cummins had seen and wondered.  She had
said nothing, nor flicked the queer exultation from that dreaming
face with a "Your mother is upstairs, sir.  She expected you to
lunch."  No, Cummins had withdrawn herself into further wonderings.
Mr Alex had come back with a strange, new face.  Another sort of
intoxication but not the intoxication of yesterday!

Some twenty minutes passed before young St. George went upstairs.
He hesitated outside the drawing-room door, and then suddenly
turned the handle.

"Hallo, mater."

They looked at each other.  His mother received the impression that
there was something different about him.  He did not appear
contrite; far from it; he looked rather happy.

"I expected you to lunch, Alex."

"Sorry, mater.  I met a friend, and we had lunch out."

She waited.  She expected him to say something apologetic about
yesterday, but he did not look apologetic.  He stood there staring
out of the window; his eyes were very bright; a smile seemed to
flicker about his lips.

She was annoyed.  One of her favourite ways of opening a discussion
was by saying--"I'm not an exacting woman."  She said--"I don't
think it was considerate of you--to leave me alone like this--
especially after what happened yesterday."

He gave her a queer, quick look.  He had been about to tell her
something, but now she would not be told.  He went nearer to the
window.  His face had grown suddenly and strangely stubborn.

"I'm sorry, mater, but you didn't understand."

And then he walked out of the room, and left her feeling icily
offended.  Not understand?  She!


III


Kitty returned to No. 7 Vernor Street about half past five.  She
found Corah in charge of the shop.

"Mother in?"

"Yes--upstairs."

Mrs. Sarah was having tea.  She had waited half an hour for Kitty,
but when no Kitty had appeared she had sat down to read a novel,
and eat nut-cake or some abomination that the food-shortage had
imposed upon the people at home.  She was not worrying about Kitty.
Her daughters were two responsible and level-headed young women,
each of whom owned a latchkey, for Mrs. Sarah contended that if
a girl was not to be trusted with a latchkey--well--as a mother
you had somehow failed.  Mrs. Sarah did not dwell with the
suppressionists.  She had smacked her daughters well and wisely in
their early days, and that had sufficed.

Kitty came into the room as though nothing had happened, and took
off her hat, and saw her mother still crumbling cake of a dismal
and branny dryness.

"O, you poor dear!"

For Mrs. Sarah did enjoy sweet things, cream buns, and chocolate
cakes, and macaroons.

"Had a good time, poppet?"

"Very."

Kitty sat down, and Mrs. Sarah went on crumbling cake.  The old
adage held.  Ask no leading questions and you will be told no lies,
but Mrs. Sarah had improved upon that somewhat cynical saying.
Smile and don't fuss and the truth will come and sit in your lap.
Kitty looked just a little flushed, and her eyes had a peculiar,
bright seriousness.

"Had tea, poppet?"

"Yes, we had tea at Rumpelmayer's."

Her mother noticed the "we."  Kitty had not been addicted to
plurals.  Always she had shown a preference for the independent and
satisfying "I."

"A nice boy--that.  Nice manners."

Kitty got up and stood by the window.  She could see Fream's Hotel,
and the stone spire and the old blackened red walls and grey ashlar
quoins of St. James's church.  The sun was striking the gold vane
and the stone ball at the top of the spire.  Half a dozen plane-
trees showed a powdering of green.  How things seemed to change!
Or--rather--it was you or your mood that changed.

Meanwhile Mrs. Sarah had finished her dry cake, and had laid aside
her book.  She knew that some things happen very suddenly.

"Mother," said Kitty, "I don't know yet--but I think--"

"Serious, poppet?"

"Just as serious as it could be."

"You sudden thing--come and kiss me."



CHAPTER IV


I


No war marriage was more singular than Kitty Greenwood's, for no
marriage was ever more sudden and yet more deliberate.  She went to
it with widely open eyes, and consent in each beat of her vigorous
little heart.  Alex St. George needed her.  And in loving him she
knew that there was a need to be assuaged, a fear to be fought, a
courage to be made whole.

They were married before a Registrar early on the morning of Alex
St. George's last day in England, and it was wholly their own
affair, without applause or interference.  Mrs. St. George knew and
suspected nothing.

That was life's reply to the suppressionist.  Her son came and went
during those days of his leave; they sat down together in the
presence of the portraits of the dead St. Georges; they appeared
the conventional mother and son.  For two days Mrs. St. George had
stood upon her dignity, and yet when her son came home to her one
night, and with a mute gentleness kissed her, she misunderstood his
gentleness.

"Sorry, mater, about the other night."

She mistook gentleness for docility.  Alex was out and about a good
deal, meeting hypothetical friends, but in spite of his absences
she conceived him to be very much hers, the beloved son possessed
and dominated.  To her he was what she wished him to be, and not
what he was.  She had no knowledge of what was passing in his mind,
no glimmerings of insight, nor did she guess that he had grown
older, and could look at her almost dispassionately, yet with a
young kindness.  Poor old mater!  He had no wish to tell her about
Kitty, at least not yet, for life was his for the moment, to be
shared with no one but Kitty, and instinctively he knew that his
mother would misunderstand it all, and that were he to tell her,
the romance of those few days would be torn to tatters.  Nor was it
fear that kept him from telling her.  His insight had been
quickened; he was exercising a sensitive young restraint; he looked
at both these women, his mother and his wife, and seemed to realize
that during those last few days they had to be kept apart.

On the night before the day of their marriage these two young
people did debate the problem of Mrs. St. George.  Kitty walked
backed with him to Cardigan Square, and they wandered round it in
darkness.  No. 77 was as dark as the square, a house muffled up
against all mischances, and in passing it Kitty had qualms.

"Is it quite fair to her?"

But almost with passion he pleaded for silence.  "It's our show.
You don't know my mother--Kitty.  She'd spoil it.  And to me--it's
rather sacred.--I know it sounds ungenerous.  In a way it's not
fair to either of you."

"In a way it isn't."

"But you'll trust me.  I shall write and tell her directly I get
across.  It's not because I'm afraid to tell her now."

"Sure?"

"Quite sure.  I'm so proud of you--"

She held his arm.

"Well--I feel that the last hours are mine.  I'm not going to give
them up.  I'm not marrying your mother."

She did not dwell upon the obvious assumption that she would be
left behind to face the resentment of a woman who was always so
right.  For there would be resentment.  "My son has been
entangled."  Undoubtedly that might be the cry, but Kitty did not
wish that cry to resound on her marriage morning.  She shut her
lips and squared her chin.  She was a rather fearless little
person.

"The moment's mine--ours."

He was so sure that he could make it right, but that was for the
future to decide, and Kitty grasped the present and left to-morrow
to look to itself.  She was both practical and very warm hearted.
She was both mother and mistress; she had come to him as an immense
inspiration, and she knew it; she suggested, she strengthened, she
consoled.  She would be life and love at his elbow out there in
France.  And he mattered to her very dearly; she made him realize
it, and in making him realize it she helped him to be a man.


II


It was Mrs. Sarah who--in the face of these sudden happenings--
displayed the most unexpected of attitudes.  One mother did not
know, and the other refused to know more than the essentials, and
she had her reasons.  As a responsible woman Mrs. Sarah might have
mounted her responsibility, and demanded a proper publicity, but
she did nothing of the kind.  Having formed her own opinion of
young St. George, and knowing her daughter as she did, she refused
either to meddle or to advise.  There are occasions when youth is
best left without interference.

On the morning of the particular day Mrs. Sarah kissed her
daughter, and pushed four five-pound notes into Kitty's vanity-bag.
Lads are apt to be short of funds.

"You may find that useful.  Mind you--my dear--I don't know
anything about the other side of the picture."

Kitty was trying on a hat.

"You mean--his mother and No. 77?"

"Exactly.  I have as much right to assume that I'm almost as
ignorant as she is.  It's your affair, and his, poppet."

Kitty turned and looked at her mother.  Mrs. Sarah was smiling, but
how much there was behind that smile Kitty could guess.

"You are a dear.  You have loved me all these years, and then when
I go off like this--"

"I go on loving you, poppet.  I did what you are doing.  Besides,
I'm not losing you all at once."

"You'll never lose me.  You couldn't.  You've never tried to clutch
at us."

They held each other close for half a minute.  Mrs. Sarah's face
was all creases, and Kitty's eyes were wet.

"There--there," said her mother.  "You'll know how to spend the
day.  It's his last day, poor lad."

"We are going out into the country."

Though Kitty did not fully appreciate the scope of her mother's
shrewdness, for Mrs. Sarah had looked into Debrett, and cast a
considering glance at Cardigan Square.  O, yes, there would be
storms.  The mildest of women might be expected to resent an
alliance between Vernor Street and Cardigan Square, and young St.
George's mother--judging by his reservations--was not a mild woman.
O, very well!  If one mother flew to arms, the other mother could
be ready for her, and able to assert that she--Mrs. Greenwood--had
had no more to do with the romance than had Mrs. St. George.  Even
less so.  Moreover, Mrs. Sarah was not going to apologize for
Kitty.  By no means.  The man who was marrying Kitty was a damned
lucky fellow.  Other mothers could sit up and take notice.  If any
favours were being conferred, that wholesome and sturdy and lovable
young person--her daughter--was conferring them.

Which--as a matter of fact--was true, though none of the potential
disputants were likely to realize how true it was, until other
things had happened.

The day was kind, one of those illusive and sunny days inserted
into the wet, raw greyness of an English April.  Married just an
hour, they took a train to Dorking, and walked out to Wootton
Hatch.  They lunched there, Kitty in a jade-green jumper and a
black skirt, her head the colour of an autumn lime leaf.  Their
feet touched under the table, and their eyes touched glances above
it.  Her solid little face glowing devoutly contrasted with his
freckled and more mobile lightness; he smiled much more than she
did; her very dark eyes, glimmering now and again, were--in the
main--immensely serious.

"Mrs. St. George!"

He glanced at her ring.  Very solemnly in the train and in an empty
first-class carriage she had kissed that ring.

"That's what it means to me--you.  I have had dozens of men silly
about me.  That's why this is so serious."

"Dozens!"

"O, don't be afraid.  I am as new as this ring.  I have never cared
for anybody before."

"Not a soul?"

"No, not like this."

Afterwards they wandered up to Leith Hill where the gorse was
aflame among the pines, and sat on a grass slope below the brick
tower, and looked out over all that peaceful country.  Its soft
greens melted into a still softer blue; the downs were very dim in
the distance; the Sussex woods black and brown in the pale
sunlight.  Birds sang.

"You wouldn't think," said he.

She sat close to him.  There were a few other people there, but who
cared?  Why should one care?  His left arm encircled her, her hand
grasping the strap of his Sam Browne belt.  His right arm lay
across her shoulders, and his fingers touched her hair.

"You have been good to me."

"Because I wanted to, dear lad.  When you come back--"

She was aware of a sudden stillness, a tenseness.

"When you come back--"

She repeated the words with deliberation and conviction, gazing
steady-eyed at England spread below her.

"It can't last for ever.  Suppose you will go on working?"

"Of course."

"The mater allows me five hundred a year.  Then--there is my pay.
There's no need, you know--unless--"

"I like it.  Besides--I'm going to help mother--till you come back.
Besides, haven't you thought--?"

"Of course I've thought.  You have made me think.  You're so
splendidly independent."

"Am I?"

"You have taught me--tons--in a week.  If I come back--"

"When--you come back."

"I shall have to get a job of some kind.  A man ought to have a
job."

"He must."

"We couldn't live on--"

Her strong little arm contracted.

"Not for a moment.  I wouldn't.  I don't mind having to put up with
things, our own things.  We have got to run our own show, Alex."

"You dear," he said, and kissed her.

The nature of his job, his ability to fill a niche in the social
scheme of things--lay with the future.  It would have to be faced,
and so would the woman who had a passion for bossing people.  Kitty
had not married Alex St. George for his mother's money, and she had
no intention of being bossed by his mother.  No, not for a moment.
But Kitty had a happy and determined way of putting any future
problem away in a cupboard and turning the key on it until that
particular problem had to be taken out and put in the oven.  She
could concentrate on the present.  She did not go round to-morrow's
corner to look for trouble.  When she met it she would square her
chin at it.

"I can send you home ten pounds a week--you know."

"You need not send me a farthing unless you want to."

"Of course I shall want to."

"Then--I'll bank it.  It may come in useful later on.  I have a
banking account of my own."

"Have you?"

"Corah and I have a share in the business.  I bank with the Midland
in Haymarket."

He seemed to think it wonderful that she should have a banking
account of her own.  In fact, everything about his young wife was
wonderful to Alex St. George.  She had such sense, such a head on
her shoulders, and such a comely head and such plump and pretty
shoulders.  And she understood him.  By God--how she understood
him!  How was it?

He asked her, and she twisted her fingers into his belt.

"O--I don't know!  Directly I saw you--It's caring, I suppose.  And
I'm not exactly a fool."


III


On the way back to Dorking it was agreed between them that Alex
owed part of his last evening to his mother.

"She will be wondering--Kitty."

"What did you tell her?"

"Nothing.  I just said that I should be out most of the day."

Half-way down the steep hill from Wootton Hatch, and under the bare
boughs of the beeches, he caught his wife suddenly and held her
close.

"Kitty--I wish--"

She showed more gentleness than passion.  Passion exhausts.  The
finer tenderness burns with a steady flame.

"This wax can't last much longer.  I'll write to you every day."

He kissed her, and stood at gaze.

"I'm thinking of to-morrow.  You will be at Victoria?"

"Of course."

"And if my mother comes--?  Shall I tell her?  You two left alone
on the platform.  What do you think?"

"If she comes--tell her."

"I will," he said.

But for him the unshadowed delight of the day had passed.  The dusk
seemed to rise about him.  She felt his increasing silence, a
tenderness that was poignant and inarticulate, and in an empty
carriage of the homeward train they sat very close, holding hands.
His eyes had that troubled and widely open look as he stared out of
the window at the moving landscape, while she--more and more
conscious of his young sadness--became more and more maternal and
protective.  She sat with one little fist clenched.  That creamy
face of hers with its glow of colour seemed to express an
indomitable obstinacy.  It was Kitty against the world-war, against
death, against fear, against everything.  Her sturdy vitality
seemed to sit up and confront fate and all fate's possible
mischances.  She had the look of a very determined child, clutching
a beloved toy and refusing to relinquish it.  She squared her chin
at the unknown.

She became wilfully cheerful.

"I have three hundred pounds saved.  I don't see why I shouldn't be
thinking about furniture."

Pathetic reality!  They clung to it, both of them.  They began to
plan, as though the constructing of that plan gave them a little
sense of security.  It was a sand-castle raised by two children on
the edge of the thundering deep.

"We'll get a little flat.  I could go on working, Alex, while you
are making your job."

"I couldn't let you do that."

"Why not?  It will be our show.  One thing this war has done, it
has blown away a lot of humbug."

"You are perfectly wonderful."

"But--about our flat?"

They talked of it as they walked across St. James's Park with the
sunset glowing behind them.  They might have been picking flowers
on the edge of a battle-field.  Then, the houses overshadowed them
in the darkening streets, a little moan of anguish sounded in the
heart of each.

"If only it could be now!"

No. 7 Vernor Street surprised them.  The shutters were up; Mrs.
Sarah had understanding; she had shut up her house for the evening
against the khaki crowd.  Upstairs supper was laid.  Alex St.
George found himself kissing Mrs. Sarah, and feeling a little hot
about the eyes.  Dark Corah gave him a languid, kind hand, and had
nothing to say.  Kitty had gone to take off her hat.

After supper and its wilful animation, he found himself taking a
cheerful leave.  Again he kissed Mrs. Sarah--there was something
comforting in kissing that solid woman--and shaking hands with the
languid, kind Corah.  He and Kitty were outside on the landing, and
the door was closed.  He was aware of Mrs. Sarah talking behind
that door like a sympathetic and smothering orchestra.

Husband and wife clung together.

"I want something before I go--"

"Yes, dear," and her voice was full of soothing consent.

"I want to see your room.  May I?  Just for a minute.  Where you
sleep, you know.  I'd like to be able to think--"

She took him up to her room.  It was like herself, small and
compact and wholesome, with no frills, but smelling of some
perfume.  An oak-framed bed stood behind the door, with a blue
nightdress-case on the pillow.  There were no dresses or hats to be
seen, nothing but two pairs of little shoes placed neatly side by
side under the dressing-table.  Kitty was a tidy person.  The blind
was down; and she had drawn the heavy blue curtains across the
window.

"Oh--my darling--!"

She closed the door, and turned off the light.  They lay on the bed
together, his head against her throat, her arms round him.  She
could feel him trembling.

"Kitty--I can't--somehow--not now.  I feel it wouldn't be--Oh, my
dear, my dear."

She stroked his head.

"You are not selfish, laddie."

"O--yes I am.  But I don't want anything now--but--just--you--"

"I know."

"Sometimes it makes one happier to hold back.  You have put some
grit into me."

"You're fine, my dear," she said, "you're fine."

So there was no consummation of their marriage in the ultimate
sense.  He gave her something greater by not taking when she was
ready to give.  They just lay close in each other's arms, and
kissed, and made a passionate, dear murmuring, and then suddenly he
drew apart and stood up and, holding her hand, kissed the ring on
it.

"Kitty--I'm strong now.  I shall--think--of all you have done to
me."

She caught his head in her warm arms and held him so for a moment,
as though protecting him and praying over him.

"Things will be all right."

She went down the stairs with him and out into the street.  They
held hands.  She walked as far as the hat shop at the corner of
Vernor Street, and they stood for a moment under an unlighted lamp.

"To-morrow, Kitty."

"To-morrow."


IV


On that last day there was a break in the ice of Mrs. St. George's
stoicism.

Alex had gone off soon after breakfast.  He had kissed her, and
there had been something in that kiss of his that had troubled her
coldness, a secret warmth, a silent--and young--compassion.  It was
as though the youth in him had left her with the thought--"Poor
mater, she's so frozen up.  She misses things."  For that is one of
the puzzles of life, how much other people feel, and what they
feel, and between Mrs. St. George and her son a barrier had always
existed.  Sometimes as a child Alex had wondered about his mother.
She had been so unplayful.  Always he had been more ready to run to
Cummins--but not in his mother's presence.

He had not told her where he was going, and he had not turned up at
lunch, and his mother had noticed that a cover had not been laid
for him.

"Did Mr. Alex tell you he would be out?"

"Yes, madam."

So, he had told Cummins!  Was it that he had forgotten to tell his
mother, or had he not troubled to tell her?  It was very
discourteous of him.  And to leave her alone like this on his last
day.  She was coldly offended, wounded, perplexed.  This
secretiveness, this air of independent casualness was new in him,
or she thought it new, and she was angered by it.  That was her
great misfortune.  She was one of those congealed women who seem to
mistrust all emotion, and to slam a door in the face of emotional
expression, but emotion of some sort is inevitable.  Suppressed in
one direction, it will break out in another, and in Clara St.
George's case it took the form of anger.  That was the one flame
that seemed to colour her ice.

She allowed herself to be angry; anger was the one wine that she
would drink, and this particular emotion had developed a devilish
facility.  She did not know the strength and the fierceness of the
creature.  For years she had had no cause for a live and primitive
anger, and like a woman who has kept a tame leopard in her house,
she played with the cat-like, couchant thing.

Her son's last day!  And what was he doing with it?

She felt that she had every right to be angry, and that anger was
her misfortune, for anger was her wine, filling her with a feeling
of flushed rightness.  She kept tea waiting for half an hour, but
no Alex appeared, and she sat down at her desk and attempted to
write letters.  She had a moment of suspicion.  Could it be
possible that there was a girl?  But--then--what girl?  On his
previous leaves she had not known him particularly interested in
any woman, and so sure was she of her controlling hands that even
at the last hour she did not seriously suspect the existence of a
woman.  It was just thoughtlessness, or restlessness, or
excitement.  The war had made people so excitable.

So she waited.  And her anger grew chilled.  She waited for him as
she sometimes had waited for his father--frigid, accusing,
confident.  It would never have entered her head that it was
possible for a mother to be pitied by her son, or that Alex would
ever come to pity her.  Pity and pride may be incompatible.  She
associated pity with condescension, and that anyone might stoop to
her was unthinkable.


V


About half past six Mrs. St. George heard the ringing of the front-
door bell.  She was sitting in front of the fire reading the
English Review, she rose, made a movement towards the door, turned
and resumed her seat.

Cummins let Mr. Alex in.

"Hallo, Cummins."

His face had what Cummins described as "A funny hazy look."  He
smiled both at her and beyond her.

"Mother in?"

"Upstairs, sir.  You'll be in to dinner, sir?"

"Of course."

He left his cap and cane and gloves on the hall table, and went
very slowly up the stairs.  It had been a day of emotion, and he
was in an emotional mood, and very ready to be touched by things,
and moved by a sudden impulse.  He loitered on the stairs.  It
became more obvious to him that he had left his mother alone all
day, and on his last day.  Poor old mater!

And suddenly he decided to tell her.  It would be ungenerous not to
tell her, and perhaps she would take it better on this last
evening.  He would blurt it out and get it over.  He wanted her to
share his emotion.  For his impulse was largely unselfish, a sudden
turning to his mother, a feeling for her and with her.

He opened the drawing-room door, and saw her sitting in front of
the fire with that blue-covered magazine in her hands.

"Sorry, mater; I'm afraid I'm rather late."

She appeared to finish the paragraph that she was reading, before
she turned her head.  She had meant to reproach him.  She had
reproached and chided the unseen son, but when he appeared before
her in the flesh she suffered from one of those sudden and wilful
congealings.  She froze.  She did not say any of the things she had
intended to say.  She became a woman of cold and perverse
constraints and inept yet withering silences.

"Yes--you are a little late."

He moved to the hearthrug, and stood there with the confession
faltering self-consciously.

"Been seeing friends.  They kept me."

She was coldly furious with him and his friends, but all that she
said was--"The fire's rather low.  Will you put some more coal on?
Not too much.  We have to be careful."

She did not see his face go blank--and then become stubborn, for
she was not looking at him, and he turned and bent down, and with a
pair of small tongs transferred half a dozen lumps of coal from the
copper coal-pot to the fire.  His back expressed a negative
blankness.  His eyes had a closed-up look.

"The week has gone very quickly.  I've ordered a taxi from Prout's
place."

His mother's nostrils quivered.

"Yes, very quickly.  Cummins knows about breakfast."

He replaced the tongs and stood up, but kept his back towards her.

"No need for you to bother, mater, unless--"

She said very decisively--"I shall be down to breakfast."

"I meant--the station."

"I shall not come to the station."

"Yes--much better."

"I think one can leave that."

She did not say to whom Victoria Station should be left, but her
tone implied it, and her son caught the implication.  One left
Victoria Station to the crowd, to common women, to the crudely
emotional, to people who were not ashamed of kissing and hugging,
to poor little snivelling girls.  And he felt both hot and cold,
for to him that place full of the wide-eyed woe of women and the
cheerfulness of stiff-faced men meant Kitty, Kitty who could clasp
your head in her arms, and make you feel prayed over and protected.

"O--damn," he thought, "I wish--"

But what did he wish?  That his mother was the kind of woman who
could be left on that station platform holding Kitty's hand?  How
simple and human and right that would seem.  But Kitty, Mrs.
Sarah's daughter, Mrs. Sarah who kept a tobacco shop in Vernor
Street, though she was a doctor's widow!  How right that shop might
appear to him, and how wrong it might appear to his mother!

"I think I would rather you saw me off here, mater."

She answered with a slight and consenting movement of the head.
She had gone back to consider that other possibility.  Could there
be a girl?

"Men prefer it--our men."

"O, quite so," he said; "makes one feel rather a fool.  I asked
Cummins to pack for me.  There is only my valise.  I expect she has
done it."

"Ring and see."

"No--I'll go and look."

Left alone for five minutes she sat and stared at the fire.  Should
she go to the station?  Did he wish to keep her from going to the
station?  For if he did she would go.  Yet she could not believe in
the existence of a love affair, for she was sure that he would have
told her about it.  She believed that he had always told her
everything.  It was a mother's right to know everything.

He came back more at ease.

"Quite all right.  I shall only have to put my slacks in and roll
it up last thing."

He stood looking down at the fire.

"I'll write directly I get across, mater."


VI


At six o'clock next morning it was raining.  Mrs. St. George was
down before her son, and Cummins unexpectedly wept over the bacon
and eggs as she was placing the silver chafing-dish on the table.

Mrs. St. George looked at her sharply.

"Cummins, don't be hysterical."

It was an inarticulate and unhappy meal, and to Alex the taxi
appeared as a vehicle of escape.  Standing at the window he saw the
rain glistening on the black roof of the Cab, and the plane-trees
and the lilacs all wet, and he thought of yesterday, and the
sunlight on that English landscape.  How far away yesterday seemed,
and Leith Hill, and the pearl-grey downs.

His mother did not go with him to the front door.  He had a last
glimpse of her standing between the breakfast-table and the
fireplace, watching him with those very blue eyes of hers that
seemed to him to be for some unknown reason strangely stern.  Her
heart-burn was a resentful emotion, penetrated by an inarticulate
anger against happenings over which she had no control.

She remained there motionless, until the taxi had driven away.  She
did not go to the window.  She heard Cummins close the front door.
She realized that Cummins was making moist sounds in the hall.  "O,
my lamb, we'll never see you again--perhaps."  And Mrs. St. George
went out to her with a face of sudden fury.

"Don't be an hysterical fool, woman."


VII


Through the April rain Alex St. George was carried towards Kitty.
She was waiting for him there outside the booking-office, wearing
the jade-green jumper and the little black hat of yesterday.  Her
right hand grasped the handle of a wet umbrella.

There was no holding back about Kitty.  When he got out of the taxi
she put her arms up round his neck and took and gave kisses.  Who
cared?  This English railway station was a human place.

"Kitty," he said, and that was all.

He felt desolate and he felt happy.  When he had reserved a seat in
the Pullman-car, they stood together on the crowded platform,
contemplating each other, all eyes, but blind to all else.  Scores
of other men and women were equally blind.  They saw nothing--
perhaps--but one face.

"I'll write every day," said she.  "I--know--you will be all
right."

"I shall.  Have you got that photo?"

She had it in her little bag, and she gave it to him, and he tucked
it away in a breast-pocket of his tunic.

"You're there, Kitty.  It makes me feel good."

Her eyes had a burning solemnity, but they were tearless.

"Take your seats," came the cry.

They clung together for a moment.  He scrambled in, and hurried to
his window.  He managed to smile.  She stood there with a white,
grave face, sturdy and small, looking at him intently.  The train
moved off, and her white face seemed to glide away, those solemn
and intent eyes smiling slightly.

St. George sat back in his seat.

"O, damn," he thought, "I wish--"

The train was full of such inarticulate wishes.



CHAPTER V


I


When Mrs. Sarah was not busy in the shop, her favourite place was a
chair by one of the sitting-room windows, and from this window she
could see the blackened redness of St. James's church, and the grey
spire rising above the plane-trees.  Across the way the windows of
Fream's Hotel confronted her, lavish with white paint and old-rose
curtains, and shadowy comings and goings.  The window-sill being a
low one Mrs. Sarah had a good view of Vernor Street, and the
passing of the khaki caps, bowlers, "Trilbys" and cloth caps.
Vernor Street was a male thoroughfare, and Mrs. Sarah had
discovered the essential sameness of the male.  They were
calculable creatures.  To a gossip who had exclaimed--"Oh, all men
are awful!" she had replied--"All men are--just--men, only some of
them are more so."

She was a comfortable woman.  She did not expect a man to be a
hero, or a little St. Paul, or a devoted husband and father, or an
infallible fool.  She knew man to be a creature of patches, and she
preferred him not to be a humbug.  She liked a good dinner, and did
not deny it, and a well-grilled chop, and asparagus, and
chocolates, and a good-looking boy or girl, and fine manners that
are fine because they are gracious and kind, and a well-brushed top-
hat, and clothes that come out of Savile Row.  If the Prince of
Wales was to be seen anywhere, she made a point of seeing him.
"The dear!"  She had liked young Alex St. George.  He, too, was a
boy who could blush.

But Alex was in France--Kitty had had two letters from him, and
Mrs. Sarah was waiting for Cardigan Square to send up some signal,
though it might be a storm-cone that would be hoisted.  Yes, that
was quite probable.  But if Mrs. St. George was a woman of good
temper as well as of good family, Vernor Street and Cardigan Square
might avoid vulgarity, though warmth was hardly to be expected.  So
Mrs. Sarah sat and waited.  Mrs. St. George should be allowed the
first move; it was her privilege; it might be a gracious one.

"Well, my dear, I think it will be up to her.  And she's a
gentlewoman."

Kitty, being younger and more concerned than her mother, was a
little less patient.  It was given her to wonder about Alex's
mother, and her attitude towards the shadowy Mrs. St. George was
human and practical.  She was quite ready to be friends with Alex's
mother; in fact--she was ready to respond to a more formal gesture,
for Alex's sake, for her own sake, for everybody's sake.  Rows are
destructive and unbusinesslike, and Kitty was a businesslike little
person.  But condescension would not be welcomed.  She would allow
Mrs. St. George a mother's reluctance, but if there was any
magnanimity in Alex's mother, Kitty would make the most of that
magnanimity.  She had seen a photo of Mrs. St. George--Alex had
shown it to her--and the portrait had left Kitty with the
impression of compact, firm-lipped strong-mindedness.  Still--
strong-mindedness had its virtues; you should know where you stood
with a woman who knew her own mind.  But would any woman know her
own mind--or know it impartially--on such an occasion?

It so happened that Kitty did get a glimpse of Mrs. St. George in
the flesh before there had been any parley between Vernor Street
and Cardigan Square.  Kitty, the young wife, going to look at the
house where her young husband had lived, saw Mrs. St. George come
out and descend the steps of No. 77.  And Kitty stood and watched
her walk away, and found in Mrs. St. George's method of progression
no promise of Mrs. St. George's being a "Stooping Lady."  Not at
all.  Kitty described it to herself as the progress of a very
dignified woman walking in a procession.  Yes, and at the head of
it.  The upper part of the figure moved with a kind of rigid
gliding motion, as though carried along on invisible wheels.  She
held herself stiff as a post.

Kitty mentioned the coincidence to Mrs. Sarah.

"There doesn't look much bend about her."

"Sure it--was--the lady, poppet?"

"O--yes--I saw her face.  Just like her photo.  She makes a good
picture."

If Mrs. Sarah loved that room above the shop, Kitty loved it also.
It might contain a lot of shabby furniture, but its associations
were by no means shabby.  It associated itself with comings back
from school, and buttered toast and muffins, and a tuffet on the
hearthrug in front of a blazing fire, and Mrs. Sarah's happy way
with people.  There was not a piece of furniture in the room that
was not an old friend, from the mahogany sideboard, with its two
cupboards, to the immense old sofa covered in green cretonne.  The
room had a white and woolly hearthrug that was shaken out of the
window at an hour when Vernor Street was empty of headgear.  The
carpet was a rose-coloured Axminster, somewhat worn, in the
doorway.  The sofa held a number of cushions, red, blue, and black.
There were two upholstered basket chairs that creaked when Mrs.
Sarah sat down in them.  The girls preferred the sofa or the
hearthrug, and Kitty's favourite perch in winter was the plum-
coloured tuffet in front of the fire.  Her sturdy little back did
not appear to need adventitious proppings.  Corah, taller by seven
inches, and dark and willowy, liked to curl up in a corner.

This room was home, detached from the shop and the divan, and very
rarely did a man ascend to it.  The Greenwoods were clannish, and
this sitting-room was their castle in the highlands.  The three
women of the sitting-room were not the women of the divan and the
shop; there was the downstairs face and the upstairs face.  Men
have to be both humoured and kept in order.

In a black and gold cash-box kept in the top right-hand drawer of
her chest of drawers, and concealed under a green scarf and a
handkerchief sachet, Kitty had locked away five letters from her
husband.  Five letters in six days, addressed to Mrs. Alex St.
George, c/o Mrs. Greenwood, 7 Vernor Street, S.W.  And such
letters!  She was not a sentimental young woman; she asked for more
than sentiment, and Alex's letters gave her the realities.  He
wrote to her as he had talked, as though they were sitting on a
seat in Queen's Walk or lying on the turf of Leith Hill.  He was in
love with her as she wanted to be loved.  He depended on her.
Standing no higher than his shoulder, she was yet a compact, human
buttress.

He wrote fairly cheerfully, and the first two letters came from a
base camp.  Later he wrote that he had been posted to a battalion
of the--Division.  He was going up to join his unit; they were in
the line somewhere.

He told her that she had given him back his self-respect and his
courage.  He called her his "Beloved," and she bent a grave little
head over his letters, reading them over again before she switched
off the light at night.  They reposed under her pillow, to be
locked away in the morning.  She took her gold ring very seriously.

To the crowd of officer boys she was Kitty no longer, but Mrs. Alex
St. George.  She had no snobbery.  She was mated.

The third letter had contained a significant piece of news.

"I wrote to my mother yesterday.  I told her everything, how fine
you have been to me.  I asked her to go and see you at once, or to
ask you to see her--"

He sounded so confident.  He was realizing the nearness of death,
and seemed to think that the people at home would realize as he
did, and be uplifted.  But did he realize how shocked Cardigan
Square might be?  Kitty realized it; she was neither anxious nor
eager; she remained upon the alert.

Mrs. St. George might find herself in a difficult situation, but
Kitty was ready to give her a fair field.  Mrs. St. George had only
to behave like a gentlewoman.  And she should have no cause to
regret it.

Kitty felt that she owed something to Alex's mother.  She did owe
something.  She was the young and the unexpected wife in
possession.


II


Sons who tell their mothers everything a week too late can count on
provoking maternal exasperation.  Granted that youth can be very
exasperating, and that Mrs. St. George was not an average mother,
and that Alex told his tale with sentimental and frank ruthlessness.
For nothing can be more ruthless than the young male, especially
when it writes letters under the stress of strong emotion, and
writes them to a woman who has no facility for experiencing any sort
of emotion save that of anger.

Mrs. St. George was more than angry; she was shocked; she was
furious.  And her anger was her misfortune.  At this moment in her
life when so much depended upon a magnanimous self-restraint, she
allowed herself to become a kind of Brünhilde of a woman.  This one
strong vital emotion, kept like an animal in a cage, and allowed
out upon proper occasions to administer a pat of the paw to a
servant or a shopman, broke out beyond control.  She made no
attempt to control it.  She let her one wild beast of an emotion
go.  It ceased to be a dignified emotion.

The deceit of the thing!

Never having been a woman who could regard life as a romantic
affair, and having no warmth of compassion in her that could help
to temper her condemnation of romance as mere sex foolishness, she
felt immediately right with her anger.  She allowed it to distort
and colour the whole affair.  She got it at once into her
obstinate, cold head that Alex had been ambuscaded.  He had been
ashamed to tell her.  Of course he had been ashamed to tell her.

But a shopgirl!  O, this abominable war!  It uncovered all the
rawness of life, and reduced gentlemen to the level of shopgirls.
And she had been congratulating herself on the fact that Alex had
been spared one of these war entanglements.  A shopgirl!  Had Mrs.
St. George been able to use the word "woman" she would have been so
much nearer to understanding the situation.

She raged.  She assumed at once that her son had been trapped by
cheap people, these Greenwoods, tobacconists.  Anger itself is apt
to be a cheap and sordid emotion, and in Mrs. St. George there
should have been a heritage of self-restraint, and of cold, wise
graciousness.  She should have behaved like a gentlewoman, and she
didn't.  She behaved like a common woman, but without any of the
common woman's redeemings and excuses.

The whole thing was vulgar and abominable.  It was the old tragi-
comedy.  Her son had been made to compromise himself, and then had
been hustled into marriage.  Not so mad--of course;--from the
Greenwood point of view.  A nice piece of speculation, or rather--
the acquiring of gilt-edged securities.  What a sordid business!
And her son!  And he could sit down and write to her a fool's
letter full of crude sentiment.  "I want you to be kind to Kitty."

Mrs. St. George rang up Prout's garage, and ordered a taxi.  Yes,
she would go and see these people.


III


Mrs. St. George discharged her taxi at the upper end of Vernor
Street.  She had not walked down Vernor Street for some twenty
years, and the last time had been when she and Alex's father--up
from the country--had stayed for a week at Fream's Hotel.  Some of
the male St. Georges still put up at "Fream's," which had a
reputation of its own, and was both new and old fashioned.  Mrs.
St. George walked down Vernor Street on the same side as "Fream's,"
and when she came level with the two bay-trees in their green tubs,
she saw her "shop" over the way.  S. Greenwood, Cigar Merchant.

A tobacconist's!  The very place in which you would expect an
entanglement to be staged.  And as Mrs. St. George paused outside
Fream's Hotel, a couple of laughing officer boys came out of Mrs.
Sarah's shop.  One of them waved a hand.  So that was the sort of
place it was, promising something fluffy and interesting behind the
counter, a fly-paper of a shop.  Mrs. St. George--in her anger--
allowed her prejudices to jump at every conclusion.

She crossed the road.  Being a gentlewoman she was able to carry
her anger as a gentleman should carry his liquor.  She entered the
shop, and both shop and divan happened to be empty.  Corah was
behind the counter.

"Mrs. Greenwood--I think?"

Corah observed her with shrewdness.

"Yes."

"Miss Greenwood lives here?"

"I'm Miss Greenwood."

"Miss Kitty Greenwood?"

"No--that's my sister.  But her name is St. George.'

"So I have heard.  I am Mrs. St. George."

Corah might be dusky and languid, but she was no fool.  It was
impossible for a daughter of Mrs. Sarah's to be a fool.  She had
discussed possible happenings with her mother, and she smiled, and
came round from behind the counter.

"Alex's mother.  I'm so glad."

Mrs. St. George stared.  This elder Greenwood girl had what Mrs.
St. George called "a good appearance"; and she was neither
embarrassed nor too polite.

"It's your sister whom I wish to see."

Corah's smile died away, but her placidity remained.

"I am afraid that Kitty is out for the moment, but she will be back
any minute.  My mother is upstairs.  I know that she will be glad
to see you."

"Yes--I think that I had better see your mother."

She pivoted slowly, surveying the shop.  Her blue glance penetrated
to the divan.  Red cushions?  Ah, of course!  Red cushions!
Exactly!  And then, a Major-General in a hurry, entering with
elderly cheer, fractured that icy silence.

"O--Corah--my dear--a box of 'Green Howards'."

He looked at the lady, and he looked at Miss Greenwood, catching
the frost from them, he stood very stiffly waiting for his
cigarettes.

"Put them down to me--please."

He departed, and Corah spoke to Mrs. St. George, but without
looking at her.

"General Charteris is an old friend of ours.  Now, will you come
upstairs, please?"

Mrs. St. George was silent, but her silence answered--"I--quite--
understand."


IV


Contrasts both attack and repel.

Mrs. Sarah, standing there with her face all pleasant crinkles as
she smiled, and her black eyes very bright, met the crisis and Mrs.
St. George with impartial solidity.  It is probable that she was
instantly aware of a clashing of contrasts.  She knew at once that
she was not going to like Mrs. St. George any more than Mrs. St.
George was going to like Mrs. Sarah.  It was ice and fire, air and
water, cold blood and warm blood, white meat and red.  No two women
could have been more different, and more antipathetic, and Mrs.
Sarah, realizing an intuitive dislike, suppressed that most
dangerous feeling.

She smiled.

"Please sit down."

Mrs. St. George moved to the sofa.  She was very deliberate.  She
had taken stock of Mrs. Sarah, as a stoutish, short, broad-faced
woman with a sleek black head, a bosom, and a humorous and rather
spreading nose.  Yes, rather a coarse-fibred person, but, like the
daughter downstairs--betraying no embarrassment.  Mrs. St. George
had expected it to be otherwise, and to find these people saucily
on the defensive, or eager to please.  She was in a hurry with her
prejudices, but behind these prejudices--and whipping them forward--
was her anger wielding a scourge.

There was a pause, a significant pause, like a deep drawing of the
breath after a plunge into cold water.  Mrs. Sarah, taking one of
the arm-chairs, was very conscious of the chilliness of the
atmosphere, and of the peculiar bright blueness of Mrs. St.
George's eyes.  And that mouth, and those regular and cold
features, and the polished tip of that narrow nose!  Mrs. Sarah
knew the type.  It had hands that clutched.  It was morality
personified.

But Mrs. Sarah continued to smile, and that was to her advantage.

She said--"Are we to congratulate each other?"

Her way of beginning was unexpected.  She began with humour, and a
touch of roguishness, as a woman of the world might be expected to
open such a discussion.  She saw a momentary stare of surprise in
the blue eyes.  Obviously, Mrs. St. George had not expected such a
question.  And what did it suggest--familiarity, an impertinent and
challenging friendliness, irony, stupidity?

She replied with another question.

"Would you mind telling me how long my son and your daughter had
known each other--?  You see--"

Mrs. Sarah sat with folded hands.

"Oh--about a week--I think."

Mrs. St. George appeared to respond with a slight movement of the
head.

"As I expected.  Do you mind--if I am perfectly frank with you--
Mrs. Greenwood?"

"As mother to mother!"

"If you care to put it that way.  Obviously--my son--who is very
young--"

"The same age as my daughter--"

"But--then--I may observe--that a girl of twenty-four--"

"I agree.  My daughter manages her own affairs--"

"And this affair--!"

Mrs. Sarah made a little grimace.

"Are we--going to say--such things to each other?  Wouldn't it be
better--?"

She saw Mrs. St. George's lips retract slightly in a smile that was
not a smile.

"I had no desire to stress the obvious.  My son--was not frank with
me.  The first time--Naturally, one was moved to infer--"

"Yes--one is.  I quite understand.  But--as a matter of fact, Mrs.
St. George--I might have interfered, and I did not.  Please wait a
moment.  I happen to be rather fond of my daughter.  She's got a
lot of character.  No--she's not--what you might infer.
Appearances--I keep a shop.  I do pretty well.  My girls have been
well educated.  We respect ourselves."

She looked straight at Mrs. St. George with a kind of imperturbable
good humour, and Mrs. St. George looked out of the window.  She had
met the unexpected.  She was up against a solidity, a common sense,
a humorous wisdom that met and restricted her prejudices.  She was
more angry than ever, and her anger was being baulked.  She was
having to repress it in the presence of this stout and smirking
person who seemed to assume an attitude of rightness.  And Mrs. St.
George had lived with the impression that her own rightness was the
only rightness.

She said--"But isn't a mother bound to consider--?"

Mrs. Sarah took her up.

"Of course.  It's my daughter and your son.  My daughter works for
her living.  I should like to know--whether your son--?"

They crossed glances.

"My son hasn't a penny."

"You misunderstand me.  The question is--can he earn a living?  If
you are looking at it as a business proposition--"

Mrs. St. George thought she saw an unguarded flank.

"That's inconceivable.  I am a woman of property.  Let us be
perfectly frank.  The property is mine for life.  If I choose to
allow my son--"

Mrs. Sarah smiled.

"Can't we ignore the property?  You see, Mrs. St. George, you don't
know my daughter.  She's rather an independent little person.  She
didn't marry your son--for an allowance.  Believe me--that's true.
She married him because she wanted to, and because he wanted her
to.  That's the human bedrock.  I don't know that I am so pleased
about it as I might be.  But--we mothers--"

She paused.  She had put the hot metal of the supreme test into
Mrs. St. George's hand.  Were they going to be mothers in the
gracious, human sense, or were they going to spit at each other
like a couple of cats on a wall?  The decision was with Mrs. St.
George.  She had but to make a magnanimous gesture, and Mrs. Sarah
would reply to that gesture.  She was not expecting Mrs. St. George
to be pleased about the marriage, or to pretend that she was
pleased, but only to make the best of it, and behave like a woman
of sense.  She was ready to allow Cardigan Square its prejudices;
she had a respect for all that Cardigan Square was supposed to
stand for, but Vernor Street was not without its traditions.

She waited.  While sitting on the sofa Mrs. St. George had pulled
off her gloves, and Mrs. Sarah saw that she was proposing to put
them on again.

"Perhaps you would like to see Kitty?"

And then Mrs. St. George, still looking out of the window, let her
anger get the better of her.

"Is it--necessary?"

She had done the unpardonable thing.  She had sneered.  She had let
her venom escape, and Mrs. Sarah, with all the douceness and
patience and good humour gone from her face, got up from her chair.

"Yes--it is necessary.  I insist on your seeing my daughter."

She went to the door, opened it, and closed it with a kind of
restrained emphasis.  Mrs. St. George heard her calling--"Kitty--I
want you."



CHAPTER VI


I


Insistence!  A closed door!

Mrs. St. George put on one glove, and rising from Mrs. Sarah's
sofa, went and stood at one of the windows.  Yes, she supposed that
she had better see the girl, and get it over.  For a thoroughly
intolerant woman the situation was sufficiently exasperating.  Nor
had Vernor Street behaved as she had expected it to behave, or
allowed itself to be overrun by the wheels of her chariot.  Mrs.
St. George might be a very angry woman, but she was somewhat a
woman of the world, and a part of her had to admit that this stout
and coarse-fibred person had behaved better--than--O--well--better
than she had wished her to behave.

Meanwhile, dignity--dignity!  Though she did allow herself some
curiosity as to the face and the figure and the manner of her
daughter-in-law.  She did not think of Alex's wife as a daughter-in-
law, but as an interloper, an adventuress, a little mess of sexual
interference.

Yes, she had sneered.  But was she not justified in feeling bitter?
She stood at the window looking towards the plane-trees and the
church, but all that she saw was a plan in ruins, the carefully
cherished authority of the mother challenged by a young woman who
served in a shop.  She looked out past Vernor Street--and beyond
Cardigan Square.  She was thinking of Melfont St. George's let to
an American for fourteen years, of her ruthless economics, of her
wiping out of the debts of her son's father.  The lease of Melfont
had another two years to run, and she had seen herself returning
there with Alex.  Her anger felt a sob in its throat.  She saw the
green valley, the fish-ponds, the park full of old trees, the house
with its white portico, the high woods behind it and sheltering it
from the north.  She saw it as a stately place with shining water.
Its dignity was dear to her, the dignity of its old walled gardens
and yew hedges, its peacocks, its lawns, its ancient trees.  She
seemed to hear the cupola clock striking the hour, the wings of the
white pigeons beating the air, and the discordant cries of the
peacocks.  And she realized that she was standing above a tobacco
shop, and that her son had married a girl who belonged to the shop.

How impossible!

But what was she going to do about it?  Shrug her shoulders and
accept the situation?  Allow the nice schemings of twenty years to
be reduced to ridicule?  Could she see herself living at Melfont
with a little common creature as her son's wife?  Surrender?
Compromise?  But why should she?  These people had captured her
son, but Alex was still her son.  Had she not to think of his
future?  If--he survived--?

She stood twisting her glove.  In her cold, fierce way she
suffered, but not with resignation.  No, she would fight.  She had
every right to fight, ruthlessly, and with every weapon, for her
son's sake, for the sake of his future--his future as she had
planned it.  This abominable war, with its shocks and interferences!

Yes, she would see the girl.  That woman had been right in
insisting upon it.  No doubt the girl was impossible, and there was
a part of Mrs. St. George that was eager to magnify the impossible.
She was shaping her attitude.  She would refuse to compromise, and
the more impossible her son's wife should be, the more right would
her attitude of no compromise appear.

Money!  She controlled the purse.  These people were
commercialists, though Mrs. Sarah might protest that they were not.
They had thought her son was good value, but if one altered the
ticket from fifty guineas to twopence half-penny would not that
broad-nosed woman with the bosom and the smile appreciate the
difference?  Also--her daughter?  Value indeed!

As for Alex, he was only a boy.  He had fallen to a moment's
infatuation, a war excitement, a sex spasm that would be bitterly
regretted.  A year hence--if he lived--he would be seeing his
shopgirl as a shopgirl, a cheap thing, and boring because of its
essential cheapness.  He would be saying to her--"Mother, I was
mad."

Yes, she would not assist his madness.  She would make a stand for
his sanity, for the inevitable reaction.  Had not the war taught
one the virtues of ruthlessness?

But what a long time that girl was in appearing!  Mrs. St. George
glanced at the black marble clock on the mantelpiece and realized
that she had been left alone in the room for more than a quarter of
an hour.  Well, the debt was accumulating.  She felt that she had
herself under control.  She sat down on the sofa, feeling more and
more determined to leave these Greenwood people no illusions.

She supposed that her son's wife was dressing herself up for the
interview, inside and out.  As if it mattered!


II


Half an hour before Mrs. Sarah's closing of that door Kitty had
been sitting on a seat in Queen's Walk where she and Alex had sat
on the morning of their entering into each other's lives.  She had
had a letter from him, and she had taken it out with her into the
open air, away from all stuffiness, for it was a letter through
which reality blew.

"Kitty--I'm afraid--"

Her heart answered that cry.  He had poured out the truth to her in
that letter, and yet it was by no means a contemptible letter, but
in its way very touching and rather fine.  He was afraid--most
damnably afraid, and yet he was able to love and to laugh.  She
fastened upon that note of humour, and pondered it.  "If you had
seen me do a dive into a shell-hole right on top of a few poor
beggars who had managed to get hold of a 'dixie' of tea.  I upset
the dixie and the precious tea.  They were awfully decent about it.
I had a packet of cigarettes, and I passed them out."  He said that
the men were awfully decent.  There was fear--of course--
underneath, but not the sort of fear he had expected.  Faces were
stiff.  "And the chaps--my fellow-officers--do their jobs.  That is
what gets me, Kitty.  It's humiliating and it's splendid.  I may be
in a devil of a funk, but I am managing to carry on.  I think my
chief terror is--the fear of letting myself and other people down."
She nodded her head over this.  If he were feeling like that he
would go on feeling in the right way.  She did not want him to
write like a humbug.  Wives should know, and be able to help.  And
she was helping--"You are here--always, most vividly so.  Do you
remember your putting your arms round my head?  Well--when the
shelling is rather bad I have a feeling that your arms are over my
head."  That made her eyes deepen, and her fists clench themselves
firmly.  She was protecting him, yes, the sensitive, lovable,
frightened, striving boy in him.  Nor was he wholly and selfishly
introspective.  "I suppose one ought not to tell you a lot of this.
I ought to pretend--But it does help me so, Kitty.  Don't think me
a craven little beast.  You have been so good to me.  It helps.  I
can shove my head against a sandbag, and feel--It helps to be
believed in.  I suppose it's because I believe in you--so utterly.
One must--you know.  It's splendid when you can--"

No, she had no fault to find with that letter.  It went right to
her heart and to her head.  It made her feel deep and good and sad
and yet strangely happy.  It made her feel that she wanted to fling
herself to him out yonder in brave and burning words.  Upsetting
that tea, and handing out his cigarettes, and seeing the pathos and
the humour of it!  O, he was all right; he was made of human stuff,
and she loved him.  Heavens, how she loved him! with her square
head and her stout heart.


III


Kitty stood in the doorway.

"I'm sorry I have kept you waiting."

Mrs. St. George remained on the sofa, for with Kitty had entered
another unexpectedness, a voice and a face and a figure other than
Mrs. St. George had foreseen.  She had been waiting for a second
Corah, a tall young person, smart, good looking, and self-assured,
and she found herself regarding this little bunch of a girl.  For
that was the descriptive phrase that came into Mrs. St. George's
mind, a bunch of a girl, a little, square, dumpty thing with amber-
coloured head, and two very dark eyes staring at you out of a
round, fruit like face.  Mrs. St. George was surprised, puzzled and
antagonized.  What--in the name of Eros--had Alex seen in this
little, undistinguished creature?

She said--"You did not expect me.  I thought it best to see you.  I
do not wish there to be any misunderstanding."

Kitty closed the door.

"I'm sure there need not be."

She came forward into the room, reminding Alex's mother of a
stubborn, bright-eyed child who was not in awe of anybody.

"I hope you mean what I mean, Mrs. St. George."

She took off her hat and placed it on the table.  She had Alex's
last letter screwed up in her hand.

"I'm afraid not."

"O!  That's a pity."

"That may be a question of one's point of view."

"Of course.  One sees what one wants to see.  And I know--that it
must seem--rather sudden."

She sat down in one of the arm-chairs.  She appeared quite frank
and unembarrassed, and only concerned with the marriage as her
marriage.  She reminded Mrs. St. George of the mother, but Kitty
did not smile.  She had an air of immense seriousness.  Was this
another form of adroitness?

"Certainly--most sudden.  But it was not so much the haste--"

She would have said "unseemly haste."  And how immovably the girl
sat and stared!

"Well--we hadn't much time--"

"But the deceit--"

"I was quite ready for you to be told."

"Indeed!  Do you suggest--?"

"I'm not suggesting anything.  Alex didn't want you to be told--"

"Isn't that rather suggestive?  He was ashamed."

Kitty's dark eyes seemed to flicker momentarily.

"You shouldn't have said that."

"But I do say it."

"Then I'll tell you--why Alex did not want you to be told.  He did
not want our last days spoiled.  I should not have said that--if
you had not used that word--"

They exchanged stares.  And Mrs. St. George was unpleasantly aware
of the fact that the daughter was being no more apologetic than the
mother had been.  And Kitty had dealt her a blow, and she would
carry the bruise for many days.  But it was this little sturdy
creature's air of rightness--

"I'm afraid that explanation--does not convince me.  Isn't it
obvious--that you were in such a hurry--"

Kitty got up and went and sat on the window-sill.  The one obvious
thing to her was that Mrs. St. George was a very unpleasant woman
in a very unpleasant temper.  Prejudiced!  Yes, stiff with
prejudice and resentment.  Kitty had been ready to allow her some
resentment, but not the production of insults.

"If you say these things--it is not going to make it easier."

Mrs. St. George found a smile, and such a smile.

"Did I lead you to infer--?  Surely not.  I came here to make it
plain--that--on no conditions--"

"O--I see," said Kitty, grave as fate.  "Well, it's a pity.  I'm
your son's wife.  I married him because I was in love with him.
That's the long and short of it."

Such was her philosophy, and Mrs. St. George began to insinuate a
hand into a very crumpled glove.  The solemnity of the child!  A
little, persistent, and plausible creature, speaking of Alex with a
possessive familiarity; and every time that Kitty had spoken of
Alex Mrs. St. George had felt an inward and cold shudder as though
Kitty had mispronounced her son's name.

"I am afraid it is--as you say--the long and short of it.  I
thought it right to see you--"

"Would you tell me--?  Did you make up your mind--before you came
here--?"

Mrs. St. George tried irony.

"You can imagine a mother--who has been lied to--as quite
unprejudiced."

"You are not being fair to me, Mrs. St. George.  I am trying to be
fair to you."

'"Fair--!"

There was an ironical upward glance of the blue eyes, but Kitty was
busy with Alex's letter, smoothing it out on her knee.  She said:

"Wait--please.  I do mean something to your son.  You don't believe
it.  I'll show you something I wouldn't show to anybody else, his
last letter.  Please read it."

She crossed the room, but since Mrs. St. George did not put out a
hand, she slid the letter into her lap.

"Perhaps it will help you to understand.  I'll leave you alone to
read it."

So, Kitty went upstairs and sat on her bed.  She wondered what Mrs.
St. George would make of that letter.  Certainly, it might hurt her
a little, but surely if she had any heart in her at all, if she
cared as she ought to care, she would try and be fair.  But did
Alex's mother want to be fair?  And Kitty's fists were clenched
under her chin.  She felt that she would know Mrs. St. George by
the way she reacted to that letter.  It was Kitty's judgment of
Solomon.

At the end of ten minutes she returned to the sitting-room.  The
letter was lying on the table.  Mrs. St. George stood by the window
with her back to the door, and it seemed to Kitty that her long
back had an uncompromising straightness.

She turned, and her face was quite expressionless.  It suggested
nothing but a dead, white glare.

"I'm sorry.  Please understand--that for my son's sake I can't
recognize this marriage."

She passed Kitty and went towards the door, and Kitty let her go.
She was saying to herself that Mrs. St. George was a bad woman, as
bad as she could be.



CHAPTER VII


I


It was the letter of her son's to his young wife that had made
Clara St. George ruthlessly conscious of herself as a very much
wronged woman.

Her ruthlessness was the trouble.  Kitty, in giving her that letter
to read, had given her her woman's opportunity, a humiliating and
difficult opportunity no doubt, but to humble herself and ask
herself questions was not Clara St. George's way.  She accepted the
insult.  That little, dumpty, honey-headed thing had not only
stolen her son, but she had gone out of her way to prove how
thoroughly she had stolen him.

That letter!  All--"Kitty--Kitty," and protecting arms and
sentimental rhetoric--and not a word about his mother in it.  The
ingratitude of men, their crass sex blindness!

She walked.  She walked at a great pace, gliding along like the
bust of a pale and outraged Juno carried in a State festival.  She
found herself in Hyde Park.  It was a beautiful spring day, but she
felt like winter, ruthless, hurrying to shrivel all succulent green
growth.  She sat down for a while by the Serpentine, and hated
every live thing that moved in the sunshine, the ducks, the
children, the impudent and assertive sparrows.  Those Greenwood
people were like London sparrows.

For undoubtedly she had lost her son, and she raged over it.  She
did not ask herself why she had lost him, and had she asked herself
that question her answer would have been prejudiced and wilful.
Alex was like his father.  All these years she had laboured to
efface the father in the son, to impose the mother on him, and in
one short week he had recapitulated all those irresponsible
characteristics.  He had come home drunk, he had got himself into a
legalized mess with a girl, and he was writing her cowardly,
emotional letters.  Fear!  A St. George afraid, and saying so--to
the daughter of a woman who kept a shop!  Crying--"Kitty--Kitty"--
when he should have been crying--"Mother."

Ah--there was the wound, but she would not let it bleed.  Not she!
She covered it with clean linen and ice.  She set her teeth.  She
would fight for her son and get him back; and how she did it she
did not care.  To have to humiliate herself by competing with a
girl like that, a little common thing, a little bit of buttered egg
on toast!  Abominable!  But was not this consciousness of outrage
in her favour?  It absolved her from all compunction.  She could
treat these Greenwoods as they deserved to be treated, meet
adroitness with subtlety, use the knife on the knots they had tied.
She had every right to be ruthless, maternally ruthless.

She walked home.  She let herself into No. 77.  Cummins met her
with a confiding face.

"There's a letter, madam."

It was lying on the hall table.  She picked it up, and passing by
Cummins like a north wind, she went upstairs to the drawing-room
and read that letter.

It made her feel worse.  He wrote about Kitty.  "For my sake, mater
dear, I know you will like her.  She's so understanding and plucky--"

It was as though he had dashed icy water over her bosom.  She
caught her breath.  She reached for the telephone on her desk, and
rang up the exchange.

"Put me on to No. 1999--Central."

She waited.

"Hallo!"

"Hallo.  Is that Mr. Furnival's?  This is Mrs. St. George speaking,
Cardigan Square.  Is Mr. Furnival in?  What?  Gone out to lunch.  I
want to see him very particularly this afternoon.  Busy?  But he
must see me.  He can expect me at half-past two.  Write it down.
Mrs. St. George will call at half-past two.  Very well."

She hung up the receiver.


II


Mr. Furnival smiled.

"O, very well, Carter; I'll see her at two-thirty."

For a man who had spent a great part of his life trying to save
people from making fools of themselves, or in preventing them from
quarrelling, he had retained a surprisingly sanguine outlook upon
men and things.  He knew that it was not the law that many of his
clients needed, but logic with a flavour of human kindness.  People
were so quick at getting up on their hind-legs, and a great part of
Mr. Furnival's time had gone in getting them down again--with
dignity.

He sat down at his untidy desk.  He filled a pipe; he dared to and
did smoke in his office.  He had to smoke, otherwise the business
of life would overwhelm him; he made himself smoke and go slow.  He
was one of those city fathers of 1918, with two junior partners and
three clerks away at the war, and his rooms full of eager but
haphazard women, and his wife still weeping her eyes out for a boy
who had been killed three months ago.  Like Mr. Britling--John
Furnival was seeing it through.  His hair was a little greyer, his
pink face a shade more blue, his finger-nails not quite so
meticulously cared for.  There were times when he had tobacco ash
on his waistcoat.

"O, damn the woman--!"

Why did she want to bother him when he was up to the eyes in
worries, his own and other people's?  He was very familiar with
Mrs. St. George and her affairs.  A woman who was always in trouble
about nothing, she came and demanded advice and then went home and
did the very thing you had advised her not to do, generally because
it was the thing that she wanted to do.

"Another squabble with that fellow down at Melfont."

Yes, he supposed it was that, and he left it at that.  He grabbed
some papers, and rang a bell, and began dictating letters to a girl
clerk, puffing at his pipe and thinking--behind it all--that he did
wish poor Mary could get to sleep without tears.  Yet there were
occasions when his own blue eyes would look a little blurred and
heavy.  Poor lad!  Blown to bits at nineteen!  Well, anyway, the
boy could not have known much about it.  And yet the fact that Dick
had not suffered seemed to be no consolation to his mother.

But--how--could it be?  What a lot of kind and self-humbugging rot
one talked!

At twenty minutes past two he put out his pipe, and asked the girl
clerk to open the window.

"For my sins--I must smoke, Miss Jones."

"Why shouldn't you, sir?" said she.

He knew that Clara St. George would be punctual.  She was.
Personally he preferred the sort of woman who was not so
heartlessly true to time.  She came into his private room like a
still, white squall that would not allow itself to break.  As
usual, she glanced a little despairingly at his untidy desk.  Could
a man with so poor a love of order be considered wholly efficient?
He guessed that she could smell stale tobacco smoke.  She was not a
woman to be propitiated by an open window.

He had risen from his chair.  His freshness had a slightly shrunken
look, like that of a ruddy apple that has been stored in a dry
place, but Mrs. St. George did not observe it.

She sat down.

"I shall keep you an hour."

"My dear lady--!"

"An hour."

He glanced half-whimsically towards the door.

"No disturbance until I ring, Carter."

"Very well, sir."

He sank slowly into his chair, turning up his coat-tails.

"Well--nothing very serious--I hope?"

She flung the news--so to speak--on his desk.

"Alex has married a shopgirl."

By Jove, so it was as serious as that!  Knowing Clara St. George as
he did he realized how mercilessly serious it must be to her.  He
could find her both freezing and raging on the other side of his
desk.  She was dignity--the supreme maternal ego--outraged.

He said--"My dear lady, these things will happen.  Tell me about
it."

She told him.  She was both cynical and ruthless.

She painted it all in black and white, with a touch of red splashed
in when she spoke of Mrs. Sarah.  Impossible people, adventuresses--
and worse.  A tobacco shop that was probably a war-brothel.  Full
of red cushions and young animals in khaki.  And two flashy girls,
and an old fat, smirking procuress of a mother.  Alex had been
trapped.  There had been concealment, collusion.  He had not told
her, no--not till he had reached France.  He had been ashamed to
tell her.  Obviously.  And now he was trying to pretend--

Mr. Furnival listened, and watched her, and jotted down a few
notes, and examined his finger-nails.

"Trying to make the best of it--is he."

He had to break in somewhere, make head against the north-east wind
of her declaiming.

"The best of it--!"

She drew herself up.

"Well--one has to sometimes."

He was finding her a little more exasperating than usual, and life
was not quite so mellow as it had been before the war.  He was
overworked and inclined to be irritable.  He found himself thinking
of her as a woman who had a live son, while poor Mary--his wife--
But this would not do.  He had a duty even to the most exacting of
clients.

"Something must be done--"

"But if the marriage is legal--"

"I don't question its legality.  Those women are sufficiently
clever."

Not for a moment did Mr. Furnival believe that these Greenwood
people were all that she declared them to be, for when a woman is
in a rage--especially a woman like Mrs. St. George, you halve her
statements and still discover exaggeration.

"I want this marriage annulled."

"But, my dear lady, it can't be done.  Besides, there are other
points of view--Alex's."

"His present point of view.  O, no doubt.  But, you see, one can
alter that."

She smiled like a frosty morning, and Mr. Furnival felt that he
ought to turn up his collar.

"Tell me exactly what you mean."

"I can cut off his allowance."

"O, I shouldn't do that," and there was feeling in his voice.
"Besides--would it be fair--?"

"I can alter his point of view--with regard to this girl.  At
present--he thinks her--Isn't it obvious--that when he realizes
that she is shop--soiled--"

Mr. Furnival sat up in his chair.

"You are going to suggest that to him?"

"Certainly."

"But--my dear lady--consider--"

"I shall do what is right.  I have seen these people.  I shall have
the house watched."

She had drawn off her gloves and laid them neatly folded in her
lap, and at this point it occurred to Mr. Fnrnival to ask her why--
exactly--she had come to him, and what she expected him to do.

She replied at once:  "I want it arranged."

"By me?"

She stared.

"Don't lawyers do such things--or arrange for them to be done?"

He answered her with some sharpness.

"No doubt.  But I won't.  I will go and see these people if you
like--with a perfectly open mind."

She gave him a glare of scorn.  Of what use was a lawyer with an
open mind?  He did not seem to appreciate her point of view, the
mother's point of view.  She laid great emphasis upon the mother's
point of view.

"As a man of the world--do you realize--how impossible this
marriage is--?"

"It may seem impossible, but it appears to be a fact."

She talked on and over him.  She drew a picture of Alex two years
hence, a disillusioned Alex, bored with this little dumpty
creature, an Alex who would, in fact, be Alexander St. George,
Esq., of Melfont St. George in the county of Dorset.  The St.
Georges were "county."  How could you expect a tobacconist's
daughter to share such a position, and to rise to it?

Patiently, he put before her a view of the situation as it was or
appeared to be, and not as she wished it to be.  Why not try and
make the best of it?--for by making the best of it you might avoid
the worst.  Though he was shrewd enough to realize--before the hour
had passed--that Clara St. George did not want to make the best of
it.  She wanted her son.

He descended to platitudes, conscious of all the business that he
had to get through before dinner-time.  "Think it over.  Don't be
in a hurry.  One regrets haste.  If you like--I will go and see
these people."  No, she did not think that was necessary.  She had
not much use for a man with an open mind.  Moreover, he had become
aware of a gradual silence, and a reflecting look upon her face, as
though she had emptied herself of words.  He knew quite well that
he had not convinced her, and that she would go away and do the
thing she intended to do.

He pushed back his chair, and she rose.

"This has been a very great shock to me."

"Of course."

In the lift she repeated to herself those last words of his.  "Of
course!"  She stepped out of the lift and walked quickly away, down
the steps, and out into a crowded street.  Her face and eyes had an
icy sheen.  "Of course."  Why had she not seen it before in that
way?  She had been too-much upset.  It was not the marriage that
she must attack, but her son's faith in the girl he had married.
The marriage could remain provided that Alex was brought to feel
that he could not and would not live with his wife.

"Of course!"

He would be both married and not married.  He would be hers.  No
other woman could interfere.  All that she had to do was to destroy
his affection for and his faith in Kitty.


III


She sat down and wrote to her son.


"MY DEAR BOY--

"I don't think you can have realized what a shock this news would
be to me.

"Why did you not tell me before it happened?  Was it quite fair of
you not to tell me?  I think I have felt the concealment, the lack
of confidence, more than anything else.

"Let us be quite honest with one another.  Just at present I am so
perplexed--so troubled--that I cannot bring myself to any decision--
I mean--whether to be glad or sorry--FOR YOUR SAKE.  I am thinking
of you all the time, Alex, of your future, and all that is best--
for your future.

"I called on the Greenwoods--with a perfectly open mind.  I must
say that I was a little astonished by the attitude they have
adopted.  They met me with hostility.  The girl seems very young.
The mother, well--I'm afraid Mrs. Greenwood annoyed me by the way
she spoke of you.  I admit that I came away saying that I could not
recognize the marriage.

"I think--under the circumstances--that this was the only dignified
attitude that I could adopt.  I adopted it for your sake as well as
for my own.  I think Mrs. Greenwood and her daughter ought to
realize how finely and honourably you have behaved.  At present I
don't think they quite realize it as they should.  I suppose a girl
who lives so much in the atmosphere--of young men home on leave--
may have a rather flattering idea--of herself--

"No--I am not bitter.  But I must ask you--Alex--to give me time.
I am your mother.  I feel most terribly responsible; I have a
conscience.  I am not a woman who is easily convinced, but I must
be convinced--one way or the other--before I can make up my mind.

"Remember, my dear boy, that you are the only son I have.  God
guard you and keep you--"


It was a good letter, adroitly sincere, and yet containing its
little drop of poison.  "The atmosphere of young men home on
leave."  She posted it, and sat down to wait, and Alex, reading two
letters in a little red-tiled Flanders' bedroom, was at pains to
reconcile them.  On the whole he had to confess that the mater had
taken the news rather well.

As for Kitty's letter--it puzzled him a little.  She said so much
less about his mother than she might have said.

"I am afraid she is dreadfully upset about it, dear.  And yet I can
understand.  It is so difficult for a mother to realize that a girl
can care--as I care.  Let us leave it there--at present.  I care--
and you care, and that is all that should matter.  If you hadn't a
penny I should care just the same."

He could look out of the window at a Flemish orchard in bloom.  The
grass was green.  Somewhere, in the far distance--there was a
rumbling.

He felt troubled, a little depressed.  Surely two women who could
write two such letters were not going to quarrel about him when he
was in the thick of the most devastating quarrel the world had
known?  No doubt it was hard for his mother to realize--Moreover, a
fellow had to confess that the mater had an autocratic way with
her.  She may have made Vernor Street feel a little on its dignity.

As for Kitty having a swollen head--that was nonsense.

He would write a perfectly frank letter to his mother, and try to
make her understand what Kitty was to him.  Surely, it would only
be a question of time, and of two people knowing each other a
little better?  You might expect a little ice to begin with, and
his mother could not be described as an impulsive woman.

But he did feel a little chilled.  That grass looked so coldly
green.  And the apple blossom was beautiful, poignantly beautiful.
And those damned guns kept hammering away over yonder!


IV


Mr. Furnival belonged to a club in St. James's Street, and he
confessed that as the war dragged on his affection for that corner
of the City of Westminster grew more deep and old-mannish.  So many
things had been lost to him in the war: friends, his son, that
sense of security that is so precious to a man who has passed his
fiftieth year, and faith in the essential betterment of progress.
Mr. Furnival had kept his pink cheeks, but his beliefs and opinions
were paler than they were.  He was conscious of flux, change, a
surge of newness that was very raw and strange.  Therefore--perhaps--
he loved clubland the better.  What consoling names!  Whites,
Almacks, the Bath, the Carlton, the solid old Reform.  You walked
along Pall Mall, and entered into some place of pleasant and
spacious security.  You felt England round you, your own particular
England.  You sat intimately in some familiar chair, and saw the
sunlight on London plane-trees.  Cool, calm solidity, like that of
Cornish caves on a still day, admitting the blue sea, but
changelessly.  The fruit was very raw on the trees these days, and
Mr. Furnival hated raw fruit.

Young St. George's marriage--for instance!  But ought one to let
one's teeth be set on edge by such rawness?  Ought not one to
remain mellow, yes, in spite of the sugar shortage?  Vernor Street
was not very far away, and Mr. Furnival, smoking a cigar, and
watching the white head of one of the old club-servants, felt moved
towards Vernor Street.  Why not call there, not as Mrs. St.
George's lawyer, but as her son's friend?  Hang it all, he had
known the boy in an Eton suit.

For life was still coloured for him by the spilt blood of his son,
and though the decade's mood might be a very raw one, Mr. Furnival
cherished his compassion.  He felt more kindly towards Clara St.
George's son, and towards all the lads out yonder, and towards all
young things.  He was not suffering, like many men on the wrong
side of fifty, from an attack of renewed youth which could make him
jealous of these young men.  He was profoundly touched and troubled
by his wife's tears.

So, he put on an irreproachable top-hat, and a pair of wash-leather
gloves, and left his club for Vernor Street.  It may be that Mrs.
Sarah was not wholly unknown to him--at least by reputation.  He
found her in her shop; it was the slack time of the day; the war
was still at its lunch.

He raised his hat to her.

"Mrs. Greenwood, I believe?"

Mrs. Sarah smiled at him.  She liked an English face such as Mr.
Furnival's, and especially so under that glossy hat.

"Yes, I'm Mrs. Greenwood."

"My name's Furnival.  I'm an old friend of Alex St. George's."

Mrs. Sarah continued to smile.

"And of Mrs. St. George's?"

"No.  I don't think I can call myself a friend of Mrs. St.
George's.  I have not attained--"

"It must be rather like climbing Mont Blanc, Mr. Furnival."

They understood each other from the first.  They were two
Londoners, two very English souls, and for ten minutes Mr. Furnival
sat on one of the red cushions, and was conscious--while sitting on
it--of Mrs. St. George's utter lack of the sense of humour.  Mrs.
Sarah sat on another red cushion, effacing it completely under the
solidity of her skirts.

"You are going to have trouble," said Mr. Furnival.  "As a friend
of Alex's--and as one who happens to know--"

Mrs. Sarah thanked him.

"This may be Canaan to you, Mr. Furnival."

"Not at all.  I may be inquisitive, but I am not a spy.
Quarrelling is such a waste of time and energy."

"It's more than that.  It's a pity.  If Mrs. St. George could see
it like that--without seeing red!  As it happens, I am rather proud
of my girls.  If a young fellow like Alex gets a girl who is good
and wholesome and healthy, with a head on her shoulders and a
pretty one at that--what--in the name of the Prophet--?"

Mr. Furnival said:  "Exactly.  My boy was killed three months ago.
That rather cramps the fussiness of one's social style.  I would
very much like to meet Alex's wife."

"And I--Mr. Furnival--would like you to meet her."

He was taken upstairs.  He was introduced to Kitty.  He sat on a
chair, holding his hat and gloves, while Mrs. Sarah returned to the
shop, but presently he had put his hat and gloves on the table, and
was lighting a cigarette.  And Kitty sat there rather like a solemn
child, talking to him very seriously about Alex.  She understood
Alex from cap-badge to field-boots, and Mr. Furnival began to
realize why it was that she understood him as she did.

He had come with an open mind; he went away with a prejudiced one.

"After all," he thought, "it ought to be humanly possible to make
the best--of that."



CHAPTER VIII


I


Kitty sometimes wondered whether any woman had put on record how
women felt during the war, not as men expected them to feel, but as
they did feel.  So much of it--of course--was just playing up to
your particular man, as she was playing up to Alex, because he
needed it, and needed it more than most men did.  Moreover, there
were men, hordes of them, whom no woman was required to pity, men
who had got back into fine, elemental happenings, and who never
before had felt so male, however much they might grouse or play for
pity.

On the whole she was moved to pity the women more than the men,
that is to say the women to whom the war mattered.  There were
many to whom it did not matter a damn.  They--too--had their
excitements.  Nor did Kitty pity herself, though she lived--so to
speak--at the end of a telephone wire, one ear turned Francewards
while the other ear was carrying on.

There were times when you could hardly believe that the war was
happening, yes--even after nearly four years of it.  You got out of
bed with the sun shining, and dressed yourself, and came down to
the orderly details of an orderly day.  You dusted things, and sat
down to breakfast, and saw the sun shining, and heard the coming
and going in the street.  The day seemed so normal.  And suddenly
the war would get you.  Perhaps you would hear the morning paper
thrown down with a flop on the shop floor by some casual and
indispensable urchin.  Or the thought would rush into your mind--
"Will there be a letter to-day?"  And if there was no letter?  You
felt a little more restless and strung up; you seemed to be
listening for something.  You found yourself a little sharper in
the tongue, and were suddenly sorry for it.  If there had been an
air raid in the night you made a point of shrugging your shoulders.
Perhaps you remarked that it was worse for the fellows over there.
But was it?  Kitty had her doubts.  Her feeling of suspense was not
an uncomplicated emotion.  It was like a three-headed beast
crouching in a dark corner.

She was afraid of Alex's death, afraid of his fear, and afraid--in
a way--of his mother, though she would not have described her
waiting upon Mrs. St. George's silence as fear.  It worried her.
What was the woman going to do?  They had not seen her again, or
heard from her, and the only hintings she received came to Kitty in
one or two of Alex's letters.  Mrs. St. George was very much upset;
his mother was a woman who took things very seriously; it was a
question of time.  Would Kitty be patient?  He knew that it was
asking a great deal of her--but for his sake--Mothers were mothers.
He said--and she believed him--that he felt a little ashamed of
having to write as he did.  It was humiliating; but she was not to
feel about it in that way.  She was the finest little woman on
God's earth, and when he came home on leave everything would be put
right.  He needed her more than ever, her, and her only.

Well, that was what mattered.  But she took herself and life much
more seriously than she, had done as Kitty Greenwood.  She was Mrs.
Alexander St. George, with a young husband at the front, and a non-
conforming mother-in-law somewhere in the background, but it was
the vagueness of this background that troubled Kitty very
considerably.  Being a sturdy and somewhat practical person she
liked to know where she was.  Dramatic and bothering situations
were very well on the stage, but in real life--no.  None the less,
she refused to be rattled.  She remembered the essentials.  She
kept her eyes on the one human figure.

He needed her; he needed her letters, and never--perhaps--did any
man at the front receive more humanly comforting and wise little
letters.  If she let herself go there was her sturdy, common-sense
self at the back of it.  At home she escaped into practical
interests, wholesome daily activities.  She wore her heart much
deeper.  She talked less to the young men, and more to the older
ones.  She was kinder to them all, but with the kindness of a
little matron.  Sometimes she would catch some elderly and
responsible warrior looking at her with a whimsical but wise
twinkle.  She took herself as a married woman very seriously, and
to a certain type of old boy--the best type of old boy--her
seriousness was very charming.

"That's a lucky young beggar--your son-in-law," said one of them,
who had become a man after ceasing to be a snob.

Mrs. Sarah agreed with him.

"It is a pity his mother doesn't think so."

"Doesn't she?"

"No.  But she'll regret it."

"I hope so.  After all--"

"You need not apologize for her," said Mrs. Sarah.  "I often wonder
if Balaam apologized to his ass.  Did he?  I forget.  Kitty's worth
a whole cartload of anything that Mrs. St. George could produce.
She's my daughter, and I ought to know.  Besides, I'm no pauper."

She wasn't.  Some people happened to know what her turnover was in
the Vernor Street shop, also that she had invested some three
thousand pounds in War Loan.  Her girls had their own banking
accounts.  She had brought them up on figures, figures with a
personal rotundity and significance.  She could remember Kitty at
the age of seventeen, lying flat on the hearthrug, with her little
cash-box, and an account book, and a stumpy pencil.

"I suppose some people would call us profiteers.  Let 'em.  We give
value."

"My dear," said one of her gossips, "Vernor Street will have helped
us to win the war.  Encouraged our moral, you know.  Lots of poor
devils have felt better for sitting on your cushions and being
smiled at."

"We have tried to smile."

"That's it.  A flip of cheerfulness.  Any woman can go and look
solemn in a committee-room.  And you don't advertise."

"Well--that's my theory.  Some one has to carry on.  I could have
put my girls into munition works or the V.A.D.  They have had their
choice.  They preferred to stay with me and carry on."

"Good business," said her gossip.  "I'm not worried about the war.
I'm worried about what's going to happen after the war."

"Ah," said Mrs. Sarah, "that's it.  I suppose half the world will
be a little bit drunk for the next ten years.  Swollen-headed.  It
will be the plain people who carried on who will do the carrying
on.  Apply the ice--you know."

She sat solidly on her chair.  She invested in War Loan, but she
invested in other things as well.

"When the hero-stunt is finished--we shall all have to get back to
our figures.  Profit and loss, my dear.  Half the world will be
wanting something for nothing or I'm no prophet.  But you can't run
a business on those lines, nor marriage, nor an Empire, nor a cat's
home.  We shall see."

She kept her eyes and her ears open, and so did Kitty.  The way to
make money is to be in the know; also, to be able to see round the
corner.  Men who were supposed to know were found to be chatting in
Mrs. Sarah's divan, and it was from overhearing two such
authorities gossiping about money matters that Kitty took to
speculation.

"Buy 'Cobbolds'; buy every shred of 'Cobbolds' you can lay your
hands on."

"Something in it?"

"It's bound to boom when the war's over.  I happen to know--You see--
I'm--"

Kitty pondered those words.  She know the prophet to be a man of
some substance, but she discussed both the prophet and the prophecy
with her mother.

"What's your opinion of Major Drysdale?"

"In what way, my dear?"

"As a business man--a man who might be expected to know."

"Pretty sound man--I should say."

"I heard him advising Colonel Howard to buy 'Cobbolds'."

"'Cobbolds?'  'Cobbolds.'  Let's see."

"Silk aren't they?"

Mrs. Sarah patted her forehead.

"Wait a bit--wait a bit.  Skirts going up.  Every little flapper--
Stockings.  Something in it.  Of course--"

That is how Kitty came to buy "Cobbolds."  She bought £300 worth of
Ordinary Shares, at a market price of 16s. 6d. a share.  Mrs. Sarah
put in five hundred, Corah an odd hundred or so.  If Major Drysdale
was in the know, well--why not make use of his knowingness?  He was
not the sort of man to advise a brother officer to buy a pup.
Kitty deposited the stock certificate with her bankers.  She did
not foresee the fact that those shares were going to be somebody's
salvation a year or more hence.

But if she could be adventurously practical, she could be just as
active in the matter of sentiment, though she did not think of it
as sentiment when she trained down to Dorking nearly every Saturday
and trudged out to Leith Hill.  Sitting on a turf slope and looking
southwards over all that rolling country with its marching woods
and stippling of trees she felt herself as physically near to Alex
as she could be.  He was over yonder, beyond those dim downs and
the sea, a little live figure somewhere in that brown multitude of
men.  Her man.  She would sit and stare, and feel and think.
Sometimes the sky was clear, or white winged, or overcast, but it
was full of the great question, the question that so many women
were asking the unknown:  Will he come back?  Kitty wanted her man
to come back; the whole of her wanted him.  There were other women
who secretly hoped that some man might not come back.  The war
might be a liberator as well as a tyrant.

Meanwhile it was June, and she hung suspended between two points of
the unknown.  Her two wires stretched from somewhere in France and
from No. 77 Cardigan Square.  Cardigan Square had remained
unpleasantly silent, unpleasantly so because of Kitty's summing up
of Mrs. St. George as a bad woman, in that she was hard and
suspicious and unmovable.  A woman with a frozen backbone.  Kitty
had been prepared for a certain amount of rigidity; she had been
ready to allow Mrs. St. George the stiffness, her prejudices;
Cardigan Square could not help itself any more than Vernor Street
could help itself, and Kitty had been ready to help Alex's mother.

And since Mrs. St. George's silence had continued, Kitty had begun
to stiffen herself in response to Clara St. George's rigidity.  Her
sturdiness was prepared to resist--though what exactly she might
have to resist she did not know.  Actually she appeared to be the
young woman in possession, therefore--if Mrs. St. George
contemplated aggression, it would develop into an attempt to evict
the young woman in possession.

But how?


II


Meanwhile, Mrs. St. George was rationalizing her motives and the
actions that were to spring from them.  Badness, as Kitty
understood it, may be nothing more than a person's power of self-
persuasion, her knack of dressing up her particular devil in a
white surplice, and sending it out upon a sacred quest.  The end
justified the means.  That Clara St. George was able to become a
fanatic in her attempt to reconvert and recover her son was no more
unnatural than the eating of a breakfast.  Good women can be
ruthless.  Prejudices become principles.  We all try to do what we
want to do, and some try more successfully and more remorselessly
than others.  Religion may assist the egoist, that fine, cold sense
of rightness.

Mrs. St. George had made up her mind.

She wanted her son.

Kitty was a bad woman, an ingenious little honey-pot, the daughter
of that fleshly person Mrs. Sarah.  Therefore Kitty could be
treated as a bad woman, without compunction, and without
consideration.  The greedy little shopgirl must be made to
disgorge.

Alex had to be liberated.  That was obvious.  But how complete the
liberation was to be might depend upon how much liberation would
assist the mother in recovering control of her son.  She used the
moralities with an a-moral mind.  The moralities and her prejudices
seemed to coincide, which was useful.  She was going to try and
destroy her son's faith in his wife because she--Mrs. St. George--
had convinced herself that Kitty must be a wanton.  Having made
that assumption and translated it into fact, she realized that she
had to impose that assumption upon Alex.  She had to prove to her
son that his wife was no better than she ought to be, and had been
in that state when he had married her.  Having pulled his marriage
down about his ears and extracted him from the ruins, she would
then be able to consider the possible reconstruction--as she wanted
things reconstructed.

She was not seen again by Mr. Furnival.  The obstacle of the open
mind was circumvented.  She visited instead a certain firm of
solicitors who were experts in the handling of such delicate and
indelicate matters.  She interviewed the senior partner, a florid,
bald-headed, genial person who had an excellent digestion, a nice
taste in wine.

"My son has contracted a mésalliance."

Mr. Test, of Test & Crabtree, preferred simpler language.

"Got himself into a mess.  Exactly.  And you want him out of it.
What's the woman?"

"A shopgirl in a tobacco shop frequented by officers.  A place with
a lounge and red cushions.  You can infer--most probably--"

"Red cushions!"

His geniality increased.

"Dubious, eh?  Flashy.  And you have good reason to believe--?"

"I have every reason to believe that my son was imposed upon and
trapped.  But I want evidence, convincing evidence--"

"Evidence that is convincing to you, Mrs. St. George?"

"Evidence that will be convincing to him."

He understood her.

"Am I to understand that action will be taken?"

"Of course--my son--when he realizes--what the girl is--"

Blandly, he pointed out that the investigation was being inspired
by a third party, which might be a little unusual and dangerous.
Vernor Street might react.  The responsible and interested person
was Mrs. St. George's son.  Even sons did not always approve of
interference.

She replied with one of her blue glances.

"I consider myself responsible for my son.  I have a right to be
interested.  Surely it is possible to have discreet investigations
instituted, to collect evidence--"

He waggled his eyeglass at her.

"Possible--yes.  With discretion.  Without alarming anybody.  Is
that the idea?"

"Certainly."

"So--that you might have--a nice little dossier ready--in case--But
by the way--what is--if I may ask--your present attitude towards
your son?"

"I have told him my mind is open, but that at present he must allow
me time to reflect--"

"You have not recognized the marriage?"

"No."

"Your son believes--that you are thinking it over."

"Yes."

"And these Greenwood people?"

"The women are not fools."

"You mean--they expect hostility?"

"I imagine so.  But I am giving them no provocation, no hint."

"I see.  You remain in the background, ostensibly to decide whether--
for your son's sake--?"

"Exactly.  One should be deliberate--I think.  One does not want to
give the impression of haste, or of anger, or of prejudice.  I want
my son to understand that I have taken my time, that I have been
thorough and deliberate."

"So much more convincing--"

"Exactly.  I shall be able to say--'I wanted to be sure, before I
opened your eyes.'  That is why--"

"I quite understand," said Mr. Test.


III


So, in her letters to her son, she behaved herself with careful
self-restraint and discretion.  Almost, she made it appear that the
marriage had not happened, or if it had happened she was still
keeping it judicially poised between heaven and hell.  She dropped
no poison.  She wanted to possess his confidence before she began
to administer her poison in carefully measured doses that could be
adroitly increased.  She had to remember that if Vernor Street were
forewarned it might prepare an antidote.

She wrote to Alex every day.  She sent him parcels, books,
magazines.  She was the devoted and unchanging mother.  That he was
in danger, that he was no more hers than the mischances of the war
might allow, seemed to have the effect of stiffening her secret
ruthlessness.  The less she had, the more firmly did her grip
tighten upon what she had.  She looked at life as a woman might
look out of her window on a frosty day, to see everything covered
with rime, and the brown leaves glued to the grass, and the soil
caked in the beds about drooping wallflowers.  She was the sort of
woman who would have thrown out crumbs to the birds, not because
she loved birds, but just for the sense of power that it gave her.
Never once did she attempt or contrive to put herself into her
son's place or to see life with his eyes.

She shrank from contact with raw emotion, drew in her skirts.  She
had never known fear, and could not understand it in her son.  In
fact--she was sceptical about fear.  It was an emotional state, a
part of that emotionalism that had hurried him into this marriage,
and no doubt the girl had used all the emotions and played upon
them.  Protecting arms--indeed!  Her nostrils would grow a little
pinched.  She preferred the use of the word "neurotic."  She shut
up Eros in a cupboard.  She was the firm, cold, capable nurse.

She wrote other letters to all the various St. Georges and Smythes.
She gave them the news with dignity and discrimination.  "Poor dear
Alex had committed a deplorable blunder.  But of course--this war--!
No one is normal."  She hinted--that if her son was spared to
her--she hoped to see him recover his normality when the war was
over.  The further implications she did not discuss, but they could
be inferred.

Old Jermyn St. George, who hated her, chortled considerably over
the news.  He had loved his brother and had resented his sister-in-
law's attitude of rightness.  Poor old Charlie had never had a
chance.

"Great.  Young Alex seems to be getting some back for his father.
I hope that girl has the right stuff in her."

He replied with ironical robustness to Clara's letter.

"I have no quarrel with new blood, if it is warm and wholesome.
Let me know if anything babyish is expected.  I'll offer myself as
god-father."

Jermyn had always been a person with the mentality of a Georgian
squire.

But he wrote to Alex and congratulated him, and was given an
address in Vernor Street.  He visited Vernor Street when he
happened to be in town.  He kissed Kitty.  He would have kissed
Mrs. Sarah.  He was delighted with Mrs. Sarah.  "By Jove, that's a
woman!"



CHAPTER IX


I


When Alex came home on sudden leave early in August, Mrs. St.
George was caught at a disadvantage.  He had not warned her of his
coming, for he had been pulled out of a trench somewhere in front
of Arras, and had been bundled off to Boulogne, wearing his best
tunic, a bulging haversack, and an excited face.  He had managed to
send off a wire to Kitty, but he had not wired to his mother.

Kitty met him at Victoria, and from the moment that he saw her he
thought of nothing else for the next twelve hours.

"I've reserved a room at the 'Astor.'"

"O, great!  Kitty, I'm so frightfully happy."

He looked browner, fitter and stronger, though there was a
something in his eyes that called up her compassion.  He appeared
both more resolute and more frightened, and though the fear in him
had been kept chained up and chattering in a dark corner, at times
it managed to look out of his eyes.

In the taxi they sat very close.  She could feel him trembling to
the spell in her.  He put his face close to her hair.

"You do smell sweet."

A little laugh and a little clinging.

"We won't bother about anybody else to-night?"

"No--O, no.  I haven't told the mater.  It's you, Kitty."

So, Mrs. St. George had no knowledge of her son being in London,
and lying in the arms of his young wife.  It was a night of little
passionate struggles and tender consummations, and of murmurings
and intimate chatter, until sleep covered them both with a tired
silence.  Their plans revived with the morning.  Alex sat up, and,
bending over her, stroked her hair.

"Kitty, I'd like to spend four or five days somewhere down the
river, would you?"

"Love it."

He was a little shy in the morning, and she liked this shyness.

"I know just the place."

"You seem to know everything."

"There's a jolly old inn about a mile from Maleham, we'll wire
them."

"Rather.  After breakfast.  I say, the sun is shining."

And then his face fell a little.

"There's the mater.  Must go this morning."

He looked at her appealingly.

"She's been--rather--O, you know what I mean.  Will you come?"

Kitty sat up and kissed him.

"Of course, if you wish it."

"You great little woman.  I've been thinking--that if we went
together--"

They went, and Cummins opened the door of No. 77 to them.

"Well--I never--Mr. Alex!"

"Cummins, this is my--Mrs. Alex St. George.  Leave, yes; rather
sudden.  Cummins and I are very old friends, Kitty.  Aren't we,
Cummins?"

"I should say so, sir.  Glad to see you, madam."

He was both nervous and excited, and the women, after glancing in a
friendly but questioning way at each other, looked at him.

"Is my mother in?"

"Upstairs, sir, writing letters."

"We'll go into the dining-room, and give her a surprise.  Will you
tell her, Cummins?  Mr. and Mrs. Alex St. George."

Cummins went upstairs, but she did not hurry.  Mr. Alex's marriage
was news to her, an astounding piece of news, but she had to
suppose that it would not be so astounding to her mistress.
Because Mrs. St. George must have known, and remained silent about
it.  No, Cummins did not suppose that Mrs. St. George had liked it;
she was not the sort of woman to like it.  And how long had Mr.
Alex been married?  Pretty little thing, too, with nice eyes.  Yes,
and with a will of her own, by the look of her.

Cummins did not know what a bombshell she was casting when she
opened the drawing-room door and made her announcement.  Mrs. St.
George was writing a letter, and it happened to be a letter to
Messrs. Test & Crabtree on certain information she had received
from them.

"Mr. Alex is downstairs, madam, with Mrs. Alex."

Cummins never forgot the look on Mrs. St. George's face as she
turned in her chair.  Her mistress's face seemed to grow all
pinched and old; the eyes flared for a moment, and then became ice.

"What?"

"Mr. Alex, madam, home on leave; rather sudden, it seems, and Mrs.
Alex with him.  Mr. Alex wished me to say--"

Mrs. St. George rose from her chair.

"It--is--very sudden.  Will you ask Mr. Alex to come up here?  Mr.
Alex--not--"

"Only--Mr. Alex, madam?"

"Certainly."

Cummins closed the door, and looking frightened, went downstairs.
She was no fool.  She knew that the message she had been given to
deliver partook of the nature of an ultimatum to Mr. Alex and of an
affront to his wife.  Cummins was too much of a partisan and too
soft-hearted for the proper delivering of ultimata and affronts.
What was she going to do about it?  The dining-room door was half
open, and she had made a noiseless approach over the thick hall
carpet.  She put her head round the edge of the door, and saw those
two young things standing side by side at the farther end of the
room.  They had their backs turned; they were looking up at the
portrait of the Waterloo St. George.  The St. George of the Great
War had his arm round his wife's waist.

"Over here is my father."

They moved together, and Cummins drew back her head.

"You are like him, Alex."

Kitty was looking very solemn in the presence of the St. George
portraits.  To her they appeared as the hostile faces of dead
grandees, scrutinizing the little modern creature, this
tobacconist's daughter.  She was daring them and her husband's
mother.  She was trying not to feel self-conscious in the presence
of a possible attack.  She had glanced at herself in a mirror, and
had found little to quarrel with in her hat and dress.  The
daughter of Mrs. Sarah knew how to dress.

But the big, cold room, with its portraits and its atmosphere of
aloofness!  She realized Mrs. St. George in it, and the Alex whom
she did not know, the Alex of Melfont St. George's and Cardigan
Square.  The war Alex was hers.  She felt his arm round her.  And
what a long time his mother was taking to come downstairs.

She said:

"You all look such tall people."

Cummins, peeping through the hinge-crack of the door, saw the
sudden downward glance young St. George gave at the serious and
glowing face, as though his wife was the most wonderful thing in
the world to him just then; which she was.

"No--I'm blessed if I'll take in that message," said Cummins to
herself, and tiptoed to the top of the kitchen stairs.  "Let her
take it herself--if she can't feel better than that.  She can sack
me if she likes."

She went below and poured her rebelliousness and its inspiration
into the ears of the cook and the between-maid.  She was in the
midst of it when the drawing-room bell rang.

Cummins sat down in a chair and took off her spectacles.

"She can ring.  I'm not going up.  I don't care.  She wants to ask
me.  Why can't she come downstairs like a mother and a lady?"


II


Mrs. St. George was asking herself much the same question, but as a
mother, and an angry woman, and not as Cummins's "lady."  She stood
by the Adam fireplace, very tall and straight, still waiting for
Cummins to answer the bell, and wondering why she did not answer
it.  She rang the bell a second time, keeping her finger on it for
fully fifteen seconds, but the lack of response from below left her
to tackle her own problem.

She walked to one of the windows, and looked down into the square,
but with eyes that saw nothing of any happenings there.  What was
she going to do?  Descend or let Alex come up to her?  And
supposing he brought the girl up with him?  She did not wish to see
Kitty; she imagined that this sudden intrusion had been conceived
and planned by Kitty; it was a piece of bluff, an attempt to make
Mrs. St. George put her cards on the table.  Emotional bluff,
perhaps!  And Alex had gone to his wife before coming to his
mother!  No, she would not go downstairs to them; she would wait;
Alex should come up to her.

She resumed her seat at her desk and with every appearance of
impartial calmness went on with the writing of her letter.  Yes, an
attitude of calmness, a severe and judicial dignity.  She could say
to him--"My dear boy, I am not acting from spite or pique or
prejudice.  I have considered--this marriage--deliberately.  For
the sake of your future happiness I refuse to recognize it.  Some
day I think you will agree with me."  She would let herself go as
far as that, but no further, and she was wise.  She would exercise
restraint.  Silence, a dignified and kind silence, can be very
suggestive.  It might make him wonder, ask himself questions, look
at his tobacconist's daughter with enlightened attention.

In the dining-room below Alex was growing restless.  It was like
waiting for zero hour, and wishing it would arrive.

"I wonder what's happened to the mater."

He looked at Kitty, and Kitty gave him a serious and faint smile.

"Go up and see."

"Will you--?"

"No, I'll wait here."

He hesitated; he betrayed a sudden impatience, but it was not
inspired by his wife.

"I say--it makes me feel mean.  Cummins must have told her.  I'll
go and see."

He hurried up the stairs, while Kitty stood in the midst of the
family portraits, knowing that the battle was to be joined, and
that it was to be fought by two women who would not see each other,
but who would remain in different rooms.  Alex was the field of
battle, Alex and his emotions, his impulses, his sense of
rightness, his weakness and his generosity.  Two women drew him
different ways.  She pressed her teeth against her under lip,
listened and waited.  She was glad that he had had that night with
her.  What could the other woman do and offer?

Alex was in the drawing-room.

"Mother!  Didn't Cummins tell you--?"

There seemed to be a pause.  Mrs. St. George was laying down her
pen, and turning to look at her son.

"Yes, Cummins told me--"

"But--mother--!  You might--"

She met him with a sort of cold yet affectionate serenity.  She was
admirable.

"Alex--I can't admit--I'm sorry, my dear boy, but I have my reason.
You are my reason--"

"But, mater, you must see my wife--"

"My dear, I cannot see her.  Please realize--that I feel
responsible.  I know what I am doing.  I have had time to consider--
I have considered--"

"But, mater, I ask you--"

"My dear, you can ask me anything but that.  I--and this house are
the same; everything is the same--but that."

And then she saw her son as the son of his father.  He behaved just
as Charlie St. George had behaved on certain rare occasions.  He
went very white; his face looked twisted; his eyes lit up and out.

"Mother, it is not fair.  You shouldn't put me in a corner like
this.  I'm in earnest.  It's not fair to either of us.  Kitty is my
wife."

His mother remained perfectly still.

"I am not thinking of your wife, Alex; I am thinking of you."

His whiteness changed to red.

"But--I--have to think of her.  It's not fair.  It's an insult."

"My dear," she said, "I'm sorry--"

"You know that I--"

"Alex, a man has to choose.  I think I know quite well how you will
choose.  We disagree.  But I am your mother, and shall always be
your mother.  Nothing will change me.  But--some day--"

He stared at her, and then turned sharply to the door.

"I shan't regret it--never.  You won't understand.  You won't give
her a chance.  It's just snobbery."

"No, my dear, not snobbery--but loyalty--"

"Loyalty!"

"To a tradition.  The tradition--that a girl should be--what a man--"

But he made a sort of inarticulate sound, and went out and closed
the door.  Kitty heard him descending the stairs; he came slowly.
She went out into the hall and met him.  Her face had a grave,
white shine.

"I know, dear; I don't mind."

He caught her and kissed her.

"You dear; you great little woman."

They went out of the house together holding hands.


III


At the "Astor" a telegram was waiting for them from the "Bear" at
Malcham.

"Room reserved for you."

Kitty said:  "Shall we go--this afternoon?  I'd love to go."

He folded up the telegram, and on his face was a little inward
smile.

"It's green and quiet down there.  I want to forget.  I shall--with
you."

Afterwards there was lunch with Mrs. Sarah at Vernor Street, a Mrs.
Sarah who asked no questions and raised no problems, but who gave a
man his leave as he wanted to have it--poor lad.  After that they
did an hour's hurried shopping; Alex needed some pyjamas, a few
collars, and a new tie; also, he bought Kitty chocolates and would
have bought her anything on earth that she might have asked for,
had he been able to afford it.  But she would not let him buy her
many things.  "After the war, my dear, we may need all our money."
He accepted this as wisdom; he felt her to be as wise as she felt
him to be carelessly generous.  Always, probably, he had had plenty
of money.  She noticed that he was nice to the people behind the
counter, and considerate, much more considerate than a girl would
have been.

Standing beside him as his mate, the young wife who had known his
embraces, she was yet more aware of him as a stranger.  During the
war the mere physical relationship became so easy, a rather
primitive act, begun and consummated in haste, when all physical
states could be so transient.  You took what the day gave, and more
than it could give--if you were greedy, and Kitty was not greedy.
But this man of hers, what was he?  How would they stand to each
other when the spoilt children and the young heroes had become very
ordinary young civilians?  Though Alex was not ordinary, because he
was hers, and because she had felt responsible for him almost from
the moment when she had seen his reflection in the mirror of the
Vernor Street shop.

She had to realize her Alex, and that was what Maleham was to be to
Kitty; conscious, deliberate realization.  They drove from Maleham
station in an ancient waggonette, down a lane that ended at the
river.  Here stood the Bear Inn, black and white under elms and
chestnuts, with an orchard going down to the water, all green and
still and empty, a place to make you yawn, or dream, or weep.  But
once upon a time--men--men in grey frocks had accomplished things
at Maleham; they had built the stone tithe-barn in the meadow
across the lane where ash-trees threw a flickering shade; a gable-
end of their refectory still pricked an ancient ear; but the grey
monks were dead and forgotten, and since their day Maleham had
accomplished little that had endured.

To the moderns, Maleham was the "Bear," green willows, the river,
empty meadows, overshadowing beechwoods on the hills, beer, boats,
a restful greenness to the few, secret week-ends to others.  To
Kitty, Maleham was Alex's desire, and her need to know her Alex, a
secret corner where she would have him all to herself, to be loved
and realized and studied.  Kitty was a Londoner; she had no
particular passion for green grass as such, or for dewy meadows, or
moonlight among the willows.  The grey monks had accomplished
sanctity, a scheme of living that was theirs, and Kitty--the modern--
was all for accomplishment.  She was not a dreamer, and if she had
day-dreams, they were practical and human and wholesome; she had no
cobwebs in her head.

But Alex was a dreamer, and her virtue lay in her being able to
realize him as a dreamer.  He could lie on his back under a tree,
and look at the sky and see something where there seemed to be
nothing.  She wanted Alex, though why she wanted him she did not
quite know.  The need was not merely physical.  It had begun with
compassion.  But she would go on wanting him; she was quite as
possessive as Mrs. Clara, only more humanly so.  Then for the
moment he was wholly hers in this green and secret corner, yet, to
Kitty, Maleham was no more than a half-way house.  She had to keep
her Alex and to know him, to make him hers in a way other than that
of sleeping together.  She understood that marriage had to be a
communion of heads, as well as of hearts and hands.

Deliberately, she set out to make him hers.  She had begun to
realize how little mercy she might expect from Alex's mother, and
so it was necessary for her to mean more to Alex than his mother
did.  That was obvious.  She had not had Mrs. Sarah for her mother
without being made wise as to men and their ficklenesses.  She
herself was not fickle, or she did not feel that she would be
fickle because she was built on sturdy and enduring lines.  She was
not easily bored.  So much of the fickleness--the desire for change--
is the result of boredom, of an uncertain and a flickering
vitality.

This husband of hers, this man-boy, what was he?  What did he
believe in, what did he desire, what were his objects and his
ambitions, if he had any?  What were his habits and appetites, and
his prejudices and his tricks?  For everybody had their tricks.
There was the Alex that she knew, the wide-eyed, freckled and
rather sensitive creature, with a mouth that was not too firm, and
a skin that was girlish.  He was a clean lad, what people of his
own class would call a nice lad.  He might be something of a child,
lovable, but a little indefinite.

What was the real Alex like?  What would the grown, post-war Alex
be, if there was to be a post-war Alex?  She clenched her fists and
swore that there should be a post-war Alex.  And then she felt that
she had to find out.  She had to go behind his mother and his
father, behind those St. George portraits, behind Cardigan Square,
and Melfont St. George's back to the essential man in him.


IV


In confronting the future--that very hypothetical future in which
the sex experience and the war and their honeymoon would be no more
than incidents--Kitty showed the courage and the broad sagacity
that she had inherited from Mrs. Sarah.

She did penetrate Alex.  In those few days at Maleham she found out
as much about him as it was possible for her to discover.  He was a
dreamer, and he was a little indolent.  He liked to lie under a
tree or at the bottom of a punt, or to idle along the towing-path
under the willows.  He would stare at the water or the sky; he
liked to talk, to get into some secret green corner and sprawl with
his head on her lap and talk with his eyes looking up at her while
she stroked his hair.

They did a great deal of talking.  He had a natural frankness that
was very appealing, and an extraordinarily sweet temper.  They
discussed his mother, and the problem of her hostility, for
obviously it had to be discussed.

"Of course--it will come all right; it must do.  She will have to
realize.  I've been glad, and I've been sorry."

"Mothers can be jealous creatures.  Even--if I had been someone
else.  But then--our shop!  I trapped you--my dear--"

"You saved my self-respect."

She looked over him towards the river.

"She will never believe that.  But why are you glad?"

"It has brought us together, hasn't it, Kitty? as nothing else
could have done, made us know each other.  You have been so very
fine about it.  I'll make it up to you."

She knew that he was utterly sincere; his devotion was vivid and
impulsive.

"So long as you want me, and go on wanting me," she said, "there
will be nothing for us to fear."

Behind all this greenness, beyond the gently gliding water and
those summer fields, she felt his dread of the war, his dread of
going back.  She held his fear in her arms, and that was her
justification and her joy.  She knew that he wanted to forget, as
much as it was possible to forget, and with all her strength and
her tenderness she set herself to help him to forget.

What a boy he was!  A dear boy.  She felt herself to be as much his
mother as his wife.  She would let her consciousness dwell upon him
as he lay with his head in her lap.  She began to know every bit of
the external part of him, the way his hair grew, that one big
freckle over the right eyebrow, how his glances seemed to lose
themselves in space, his warm, eager and rather uncertain mouth,
the delicate texture of his skin.  He appealed to her as a very
transparent thing, a creature of swift responses, sensitive, not
too clever, but lovable--O, very lovable.  His very flexibility
appealed to her sturdiness.  In a way he was weak, in that he was
easily and generously influenced, but if he was moved in the right
way he had a certain sensitive strength.  He would be big with big
people, and rather inarticulate and helpless with the forcefully
mean and the greedy.  He had his principles, but he would be
inclined to let the unprincipled rush him off his feet and submerge
him.

There was one place on the river that he particularly loved.  They
would punt up-stream, tie up under some willows, and climb out to a
grass bank that lay screened by old thorn-trees.  Across the still
water lay other meadows, secret and empty, stretching to the
immense and silent greenness of towering beechwoods.  There was the
blue sky, and the passing clouds, and a few cattle, and an old
farmhouse away on the left, red and white among some trees.
Swallows skimmed.  Sometimes they saw the blue flight of a
kingfisher.

There seemed to be comfort for him in those fields; they were as
pleasant and as reassuring as Kitty's lap.  So peaceful and
unstressed.

"It would be rather jolly to farm after the war.  How would you
like it?"

He drew her hands down under his chin.

"Sounds so peaceful, doesn't it?  Growing things, instead of
destroying them."

She understood him, and how those green fields appealed to him.
Like thousands of older men, soldiers by force of circumstance, he
loved to call up into his mind a vision of peaceful living.  It
gave him, somehow, a sense of security; it made him feel that the
vision of the afterwards was the permanent thing, the war a ghastly
interlude.  Also it helped him to believe that he would survive.

Kitty could not imagine herself on a farm, but she let him have his
vision.

"I'm a London sparrow, my dear.  Should I have to learn to milk?"

He thought not.  His notion of farming was a very gentlemanly one.
You walked about with a gun; or rode, and consulted with your
bailiff.

"That wouldn't be necessary.  We'd keep a car, and a horse or two."

"Would it pay?"

"The farm?  Of course, we should have to go into all that.  If the
mater--"

She looked down into his rather too trustful eyes.

"Boy, we must remember that we may have to stand on our own feet.
If your mother--"

She saw his eyelashes flicker.

"O, she'll come round; she must.  You see, all the money is hers as
long as she lives.  My father left it that way.  I often wonder--He
died rather suddenly."

"How, dear?"

"Hunting."

Her intimate mind-picture of Alex grew.  She had begun to realize
him as one of those men who like to be gently coerced.  His very
good nature, indolent and happy, waited upon life as upon a trusted
nurse.  Mrs. Sarah had told her that many men were like that, and
good men, too.  "Ride a beast of a horse, my dear, and yet come
home and leave a woman to handle the reins."  Well, it might be so
with Alex.  He seemed to trust her better than he trusted himself.
There was nothing bustling about him; he had no swagger; he was no
cave-man.  Kitty would have fought a cave-man tooth and nail.

She loved him as he was.  At night his head came so easily on to
her plump shoulder, or into her bosom.  She was more strongly sexed
than he was.  Her arms gripped tighter.

Even in those most intimate moments he was a little shy and
sensitive.  Always things would be sensitive between them.  He had
asked:  "May I--?  You are so wonderful, somehow."  Yes, she loved
him as he was.  She had her own poise, her compact dignity, her
love of accomplishment.  A boisterous male thing, taking her and
life for granted, would have clashed with her sense of personal
efficiency.

At all events, she had taken some of her philosophy on credit from
Mrs. Sarah.  She had not had the complete experience that would
prove to her what children some men are, and that your successful
woman and wife thinks of them as beloved children.  Kitty would
reach the other side of a problem before Alex had been conscious of
it as a problem, and would be ready waiting for him, to applaud his
solution of the problem if he solved it in the right way.  A man's
footsteps may be planted in the footmarks that the woman has
trodden.  She may remain quite still during his male outbursts, his
moments of accomplishment, even though they be the mere smashing of
toys.


V


Thus, under the beams of the Bear Inn and the willows and orchard
trees, Kitty learnt to know her Alex.  Though her problem was not
only to know him, but to keep him, in spite of the war, in spite of
his mother, in spite of Melfont St. George's.

What were the possibilities?  Alex might be killed.  But her strong
little arms thrust this possibility away.  It seemed to her that
his mother, and all those St. George and Smythe people, were more
menacing than the war, and especially his mother.  Such women can
command powers of coercion: they can distort.

Had not old Jermyn St. George said to Mrs. Sarah--"She'll never
forgive you.  She's a sort of glass woman with an electric bulb for
a heart.  I know her.  She'll try to get her boy back."

Yes, and all those other and various St. Georges, would they not
rally round Alex's mother?  In refusing to recognize this marriage
they would exert pressure, a slow and sinister pressure, upon an
impressionable nature.  Pressure can distort an object and a
situation.  It might distort Alex's ultimate impression of what his
marriage was and might be.

No, Mrs. St. George and Alex's people must recognize her.  She must
compel recognition, make so sure of herself as his wife that she
would leave them no alternative.

"If I have a baby," she thought.

A child was a solid human fact.  You could not poison it, or
distort its rightness, or argue its existence away.  A child would
be so final.

She smiled in the darkness over Alex's sleeping head.

But what a silly business!  And a baby might be a bit of a
complication.  It would mean two children, Alex and it.  Yet five
years hence, perhaps, the St. Georges would have accepted her, and
made it their affair to forget that they had quarrelled with Vernor
Street.  They would refer to her as a doctor's daughter.  They
might even approve of her as a wife and mother at Melfont St.
George's.

Yes, Melfont St. George's!  She felt herself quite capable of
rising or descending to Melfont St. George's, of managing Melfont
St. George's, of realizing herself as Mrs. Alexander St. George.
Of course!  She was a daughter of Mrs. Sarah.

And she loved Alex, and she would go on loving him,

She touched his sleeping head gently with her lips.



CHAPTER X


I


Three days before the end of young St. George's leave they left
Arcady for London, returning to an anonymous niche in the Astor
Hotel, a kind of hole in a cliff, and here the wind of the world's
happenings seemed to blow so keenly that Kitty could feel her man's
soul shivering.  He had hated leaving Maleham.  In the train his
eyes had had that old frightened look.

"Happiest week of my life, Kitty."

She had sat very close to him.

"O, there will be other weeks like that--weeks when there will be
no going back."

It was plain to her that the hotel troubled him, for it was full of
the brown flux of the war, a great cage in which the human senses
were both scourged and imprisoned.  At dinner he looked at the men
and women as though he saw them raw, naked emotions sitting at
tables, and eating, and drinking, and lusting, and laughing.  He
had imagination, and that was part of his trouble, and why he was
what the doctors called a "martial misfit."  He had seen dead men,
mangled men.  The war gave you horrible moments when you saw things
as they might be, a bloody head instead of a champagne bottle on a
table, or a woman--a woman like that dark little thing over there--
being embraced by a brown corpse.

He said to Kitty:  "Beastly place, this.  Makes you feel you are at
a station--saying good-bye."

She saw his eyes strangely big and vague across the table.

"We can leave to-morrow."

"I'd rather.  Funny, you look all dim, and your voice seems a long
way off."

That night he had one of those monstrous dreams that tortured some
men during the war.  She woke to find him struggling and uttering
wild words; for some moments he struggled even with her; one of his
elbows struck her mouth and bruised her lip.

"Dear, it's all right, I'm here."

She held him fast.

"Kit--O--my God--I--thought--"

"There, my darling, put your head here."

He lay in her arms, trembling and panting, while she comforted him
with the warm strength of her little body.  He was hers.  Never
before had she felt him so much hers.  But next morning he saw
blood on the pillow, and her wounded mouth.

"Kitty--how--?  Did I--?"

She was standing barefooted by the bed.  She seemed to glow in her
white gown.

"Nothing--"

"O, my dear."

He went down suddenly on his knees and embraced her, pressing his
head against her warm body.

"What a rotter I am!  Getting scared--even in a dream--and hurting
you--"

"It hasn't hurt me," she said, "my dearest."

But she loved the hotel no more than he did.  It was she who
packed, while she sent him to pay the bill; she ordered a taxi; she
took him to Vernor Street, and that night he slept with her in her
own little room.  And he slept well, though she lay awake for a
long while in the intimate narrowness of that little bed, feeling
him as her human purpose in life.  Also, she was thinking of
something that she would have to say to him on the morrow.

She said it while they lay awake together with the light diffusing
itself dimly through the blind and the curtains.

"You must go and see your mother."

He did not answer at once.

"Yes, I know.  It's beastly of me--but I don't want to see her.  It
might have been so different."

"It may be different--"

"Of course--It must be--"

"But not quite as you think, dear.  You see, if I have a baby--"

She was aware of his face turning quickly and coming close to hers.

"Kitty!  Good Lord, I hadn't thought of it, somehow.  Of course.
I'll tell her--that.  Shall I?  It ought to make her realize--"

"I think you might tell her.  Perhaps--"

Alex kissed his wife.

"It must," he said.

Not till the afternoon did Alex set out for Cardigan Square.  A
newspaper boy was running along Vemor Street, shouting the news of
Haig's great drive on the Somme, and Alex bought a paper.  He
turned to glance up at Mrs. Sarah's window, and saw his wife's
honey-coloured head there.  He fluttered the paper at her.

"Great news!  More prisoners--thousands of prisoners.  They seem to
have got them on the run."

"It's coming at last--Victory."

He took the paper with him to Cardigan Square, with Kitty's
"Victory" running in his head.  There was a little murmur of
victory in the air, and it gave him confidence, and a new hope, and
he needed confidence for that meeting with his mother.  Surely she
would relax a little when he told her--?  Even the plane-trees in
the square seemed green and big with the news, and the sparrows
more cocky.  He stood on the familiar steps and rang the bell.

An under-maid opened the door.

"My mother in?"

"Yes, sir.  She has a lot of ladies with her, though."

"A committee-meeting.  I'll wait in the dining-room.  Where's
Cummins?"

"Cummins has gone, sir."

"Gone!"

"Nearly a week ago, sir."

His face clouded over.  He went into the dining-room, and sitting
down by one of the windows, began to read the paper, but from the
welter of news emerged the fact that Cummins, dear old Cummins, had
left them after all these years.  Cummins, with her plain and
pleasant face, and the kindly glimmer of her spectacles.  Had she
gone of her own free will, or had his mother sacked her?  If so--it
was rather abominable.

He waited.  Three-quarters of an hour passed before the committee
came down the stairs and dispersed itself with a busy and cheerful
chatter.  Alex stood at the window.  When the hall was empty, he
went out and up the stairs, taking his paper with him as though the
good news in it continued to give him confidence.  The drawing-room
door was shut.  He opened it and saw his mother sitting at her
desk, just as she had been sitting there on that day when she had
refused to see Kitty.  How changeless she was!  Nothing seemed to
have changed.  Only old Cummins had gone.

He stood in the doorway.

"Not disturbing you, mater?"

He saw her chin, and the straight line of her forehead under her
neat fair hair.

"Oh--it is you, Alex.  Come in.  I have a few notes to make."

Her voice was level and austerely kind.  She spoke and behaved as
though nothing had happened, as though she had seen him less than
an hour ago.  She went on with her writing.  He sat down in an arm-
chair behind her, and re-opened his paper, and felt chilled and
weary.  Five minutes passed.  She began to sort out her papers and
to put them away.

"The news is very gratifying to-day."

"You have heard," he said.

She continued to talk over her shoulder.

"Mrs. Grey brought in a paper.  Have you seen one?"

"I bought one on the way here."

"Splendid news--Those wretches have had a terrible beating.  Most
encouraging--too--after what happened in the spring.  And with the
Americans, too, arriving by the hundred thousand."

She talked on, easily, coldly, with admirable composure.  She asked
no questions.  She did not ask him where he had been, or what he
had been doing, or what he was going to do.  It was as though a
certain person and a certain situation did not exist, and she was
ready and able to ignore everything outside No. 77 Cardigan Square.
She might be giving him to understand that he was her son, and that
when he entered her house he was nothing but a son.

But the man in her son protested.  Always she had treated him like
this.  He could remember boyish protests, moments of young passion
congealed by her saying quite calmly, "Your hair is very untidy; go
and brush it."  But this was no childish protest to be crushed, and
he began to be full of an eager resentment against her studied
concealment of all curiosity.  Why didn't she ask him--?  Why
didn't she give him the inevitable opening?

"I've been down in the country, mater."

"Have you?"

"Down at Maleham."

"On the river--I think."

Her voice was bright and busy, like notes neatly and clearly struck
on a piano.  He wished she would stop fiddling with the papers on
her desk.

"Yes, we stayed at the 'Bear.'  The weather was perfect.  Kitty and
I--"

She spoke over her shoulder.

"I do not wish to hear anything--about your marriage--"

"But--mater--I have got to talk to you about it.  Why can't you
take it seriously?"

"I take it so seriously, Alex, that for me it does not exist."

He felt himself flushing, growing angry.

"But it will have to exist.  It's possible--that Kitty and I may
have a child."

She turned her chair at that, and looked at him with a blank, blue
stare.  She had actually forgotten that there might be a child!  It
was monstrous and absurd, but she had forgotten it, and after that
one steady stare at her son, she turned again to her desk, and
extricating some papers from a pigeon-hole, began to handle them.
Her voice, when she used it again, was not unlike the crackling of
paper.

"I'm sorry--but I should be inclined to regard that as a disaster--"

"Mother--!"

He was on his feet.

"What do you mean?"

"If it is your child, Alex."

"But--why?  Don't you realize, mater, that it would prove--?"

She seemed to be considering the paper in her hand.

"It might prove nothing."

"Mother--that's nonsense--I don't understand what you mean."

"You are very blind, my dear.  But just at present I do not wish to
discuss the matter--more intimately.  Later--perhaps--when you are
a little less blind."

He walked up and down the room once or twice, and then came back to
his chair.

"Supposing I'm killed?"

She seemed to consider some point before returning the papers to
their pigeonholes.  She felt the need for pausing, for reviewing
the problem.  Had his blurting out of the fact that his wife might
have a child altered the position?  Could it not be used--?

"I have a feeling, my dear boy, that you will not be killed.
Please don't harrow me.  Isn't that rather unfair?"

"Sorry, mater."

"I have feelings.  I am trying to control them--for your sake--"

"But you said--"

"Well?"

"That I was blind.  What d'you mean?"

She rose; she moved to the window and stood looking down into the
square.

"I don't wish to enlarge--at present.  You have given me very
little time--my dear.  You go back--"

"The day after to-morrow."

"Exactly.  Sometimes--even a mother--may wish--to be remembered--
and to forget--You'll stay to dinner?"

"Of course."

"Thank you, my dear.  Won't you let me forget--just for a few hours--?"

"I will, mater--but I don't understand--"

"Perhaps--some day--you will, my dear boy."


II


At tea he asked his mother what had become of Cummins, and she told
him that Cummins had been dismissed for impertinence and neglect of
her duties, but she did not tell him the true reason.  She sat
there in black and white, with the August sunlight touching her
soft fair hair, a very comely woman admirably gowned within and
without.  She talked about the war, and the changes that the war
was producing in the manners and the mentality of the populace, but
even her conversation suggested concealment.  She kept life and the
realities veiled like some French madame in a pâtisserie shop who
keeps her cakes covered with muslin.  Or perhaps she suggested
secrets preserved in ice.  But the impression that she gave to her
son was one of concealment, of something smothered away, of a
figure behind a curtain, of a little dagger hidden in a muff.

After tea she said that she had more letters to write, and he went
out and walked.  He walked round and round the square, remembering
that night when he had circled it like a humiliated human beast in
a cage.  Old Cummins had let him in--kind old Cummins.  He was
sorry that she had gone.  Why had she gone?  Why was his mother
making all this mystery about her refusal to recognize or even to
consider his marriage?  She seemed to be concealing something.  She
was so superior and serene about it, so confident in a way that
made him uneasy.  No doubt she objected to Kitty and to Kitty's
mother, and to the tobacco shop, and to the whole atmosphere of
Vernor Street; and his blindness--as she described it--his
blindness to the social complications.  But he was not blind to
them.  He loved Kitty; he was happy with Kitty; he liked Mrs.
Sarah; he felt at home in Vernor Street, much more so than in
Cardigan Square.  Was it due to the war?  Would he not feel just as
much at home with Kitty after the war, if there was to be an after
the war?  He and Kitty would have a home of their own somewhere.
And would he care very much if all his relatives and his mother's
friends left him alone with Kitty?  He did not think so.  Besides,
things were going to be different after the war; the change was in
the air.  Why did not his mother recognize it?  It was she who was
blind, wilfully blind.

But argue as he would, he could not dispel this impression of his
mother as of a woman hiding behind a curtain, nor would she
withdraw that curtain or suffer him to put it aside.  What was it
that she was concealing behind it?  Nothing but her prejudices, her
understandable hostility?  He could not escape from the feeling
that there was something more.

What was it?

He was conscious of a desire to discover the whole of it before he
went back to France.

And then he found himself at his mother's table, and it seemed so
familiar and yet so strange.  He saw the same silver, the same
glass, the Worcester dinner-service, the Sheffield plate dishes,
his own silver table napkin ring with his initials on it.  And
flowers, mauve and white asters, looking as though they were made
of wax and had bloomed lifelessly in the vases for the last ten
years.  His mother's face and figure, too, had the quality of wax.
She wore her black silk dress, and a rope of pearls; her skin had a
waxiness, though the tip of her nose showed that slightly reddened
and polished sheen that associated itself with the arctic blue of
her eyes.  Yes, just as though she had come in on a frosty morning.
Always he had been a little afraid of his mother, afraid of those
blue eyes and the high light on the tip of her nose.

It was a rather dreadful meal.  Everything was so changeless and
correct; everything matched and balanced.  He was made to think of
Vernor Street, and of the unconventional but efficient ease of Mrs.
Sarah's table, where one vegetable dish had a green border and the
other a blue one, and the salt-cellars were odd, and you helped
yourself and got up to cut bread if you wanted it.  And Mrs. Sarah
eating as though she enjoyed her food, which she did.  He had never
heard his mother say that she liked a particular sweet or savoury.
She ate rather as a wax figure might be expected to eat.

What a contrast, too, to that noisy cheeriness in France, where you
drank whisky out of cheap tumblers or tin mugs, and the tablecloth
might be an army blanket.

"Will you have some Sauterne, Alex?  I am afraid there is no
whisky."

He drank Sauterne.  He was feeling abominably restless and on edge.
He was conscious of his chair and of his knife and fork.  He talked
in snatches.  And all the while he was telling himself that he must
have it out with his mother before he went back to Kitty.  He owed
it to Kitty.  This atmosphere of a concealed crisis was
intolerable.

Afterwards he followed her upstairs to the drawing-room and drank
his coffee there, standing by the open window and making a tinkling
sound with his coffee-spoon.  The evening was superb.  The tops of
the plane-trees were a deep green under a sky that seemed stretched
like a blue-black velarium above the tops of the houses.  Even the
privets and hollies and shabby lilacs in the gardens took to
themselves a mystery and a softness.  He stood at gaze.  A big star
pierced the sky high up in the deepening blue.  Something in him
seemed to attach itself to that point of silver.  Suddenly he was
moved to speak.

"Mother--"

She was at her desk, still busy with some of those eternal papers
of hers, though he doubted whether she could see to read them in
the dusk.

"I have never said I was sorry."

Her figure gave him a sense of stillness.

"In your letter, Alex."

"Yes, in that letter.  But I have never said it.  Perhaps you were
waiting--"

"In what way are you sorry?"

"For not telling you before I went to France.  Perhaps you will
forgive me."

"I have forgiven you--that," she said.

He waited.  He had stood before her in the dusk like a warm-hearted
child that had said, "Mother, I'm sorry."  He had offered her a
sudden impulsive sonship, the chance of a new relationship, a more
significant intimacy.  Would she accept it?  Would she put aside
that curtain?  She was his mother.  This going back to France would
be different from the other going; he had experienced deeper
emotions; he was more of a man.  He did not want to leave wounds
behind him, a misunderstanding that could not be healed.

But the silence continued, though he heard the rustling of her
papers.  What was she going to say?  Surely she would say
something?  He heard her push back her chair.  She rose.

"It is getting too dark to see.  Please ring the bell, Alex."

He rang it.

"Jeffreys had better close the shutters and draw the curtains, so
that we can have the lights."

The maid appeared, and shut out the green-grey trees, the blue-
black sky, and the star.

"Smoke--if you like, Alex."

He brought out his cigarette-case, and with his face averted, lit a
cigarette.


III


Kitty noticed the change in him.  He came back to her that night
with a troubled and silent look.  She asked no questions.  She
gathered that his mother had given him no comfort, but she did not
think that it was Mrs. St. George's merciless rigidity that had
brought that look to his eyes.  "Only two more nights"; his eyes
said just that to her, and her heart understood.

On the last day he showed a silent gentleness, as though all that
was happening in him was too complex and too poignant to be put
into words.  He was too deeply conscious of his feelings to be
articulate; a sorrowful sadness possessed him.  But he showed
himself to her in flashes, little human tendernesses.

"Where do you sit, Kitty, when you write to me?"

"O, just here."

"Show me."

She got out the writing-pad and sat down at the end of the table
with her back to the fireplace, and posed herself as though she
were writing one of her letters to him.

"Just like this."

"I want to be able to see you.  Write."

She went through the dumb-show of writing, and he stood and looked
at her as though he were printing a memory, stamping it in vivid
detail upon his consciousness.  Her head of wavy and honey-coloured
bobbed hair bent itself over the table.  A left fist rested with
its knuckles on the edge of the page.  She held the pen between a
plump forefinger and thumb.  She gave the impression of great
intentness, of serious concentration; he could imagine her frowning
or smiling gently as she raised her head and stared steadily at a
Landseer engraving on the opposite wall.

"Now--I shall always see you like that."

"It's generally--at night."

"And the light shines over your hair.  I sit anywhere I can, on a
box, on the edge of my bunk, or at a civilized table, if we are in
billets.  Sometimes there is a little bit of garden left--and you
can lie on a patch of grass.  It's good to be able to feel you can
see people."

He was the more passive of the two.  He had returned to the shadow
of the world's fear; she could feel the shadow of it upon him,
chill and speechless, and being active, even in her emotions, she
went into the shadow with him as though her glowing head and the
warmth of her steadfast little body could disperse some of the
darkness.  Or--at least--she would be with him in the darkness.
She understood it all, those swiftly passing hours, his gentle and
melancholy restlessness, the way he would keep glancing at his
wrist-watch.

She made him take her out into the park, and they sat on the same
seat in Queen's Walk.  They had it to themselves.  She sat beside
him with an air of solemn wakefulness, as though she were keeping a
vigil with him.  He rested his elbow on his knees, and, bending,
stared at the gravel, and prodded it aimlessly with his stick.  He
talked in snatches.

"Hope old Grimshaw will still be there."

"Why not, laddie?"

"O, things happen so quickly, you know.  Grimmy's such a good
chap."

She gathered that Grimshaw or "Grimmy" was a comfort to him, and
she made him talk about Grimshaw, and was able to piece together a
picture of her husband's particular friend.  "One of those stout,
cheery chaps, you know, always pink in the face--even when things
are pretty bloody.  He has helped me no end.  It wouldn't be the
same, somehow, in B Company if Grimmy weren't there.  Such a heart
in him."  Her gratitude went out to Lieutenant Grimshaw, that
stocky, fatherly youngster, with his square red face and his dark
eyes.  So stout in the leg was he that the set of his puttees was a
bit of a problem.  He had a very red mouth and very black hair, and
a voice that was like his face, full of deep colour.  Strong, too!
Alex had seen him pick up a six-foot sergeant wounded in a narrow
trench, and carry him to where the stretcher-bearers could deal
with him.  And the buttons were always coming off Grimmy's tunic.
Alex had seen him tied up with a boot-lace.

"He's good to be with.  He's such a sport.  Helps you to be a
sport.  It isn't easy--sometimes."

She gave him a deep, maternal look.

"But you are a sport."

"I try to be," he said, prodding hard at the gravel.


IV


He could not sleep that night.  He neither wished to nor could,
with that watch ticking away the heart-beats, and something
unexpressed in him struggling for expression.  They sat side by
side in the narrow bed, leaning against each other, his right arm
about her body, her left arm over his shoulder.  The room was
completely dark.

He talked.  His voice had a hushed and intimate seriousness.  It
was as though he were seeing himself and describing himself to her,
his temperamental unfitness, the horror of his fear, its
humiliation.

He said:  "It's horrible to talk like this, but yet telling you
seems to help me.  One has to try and do the pretending out there."

"Never pretend with me."

She put her mouth to his shoulder.

"If it helps, tell me anything.  All men are afraid, aren't they?
Only the fools--and you are not a fool.  It's only human to be
afraid."

"It's the--meanness--of it--"

She felt him grow rigid as though resisting the ghastly temptation
to be mean.

"Horrible!  That unaccountable fear.  Makes you sly--almost.  All
the decent, honourable feelings you've grown up with seem to drop
like water out of a burst paper bag.  You're just a cunning,
shivery creature ready to bolt into a hole--and leave someone else
to do the dirty job.  And I'm not mean, naturally; that's what
shocked me so."

"Of course you're not mean, laddie.  You feel things more."

"I wish I didn't.  I have done things--once or twice--that made me
feel sick and cold afterwards--and then hot with shame.  I have
been ready to snarl at Grimmy because I thought he had picked the
safest corner in a dugout.  As if he would!  And once--when a
strafe was on--I sent my servant--I have sat like a paralyzed rat
in a corner and left my sergeant to carry on--when I ought to have
been--O, you can't think how I hated myself, loathed myself--"

She held him fast.

"But you have stuck it, laddie.  You have not gone sick.  You--are--
doing your job."

She felt him relax a little.

"Yes.  And I'm doing it better.  Though I don't like it any better.
It's the meanness of fear that gets me, that makes me set my teeth,
though my heart's pumping.  I feel cold all over.  I say to myself--
'Damn you--don't be mean.'"

It was her turn to pour out whispered words.  She told him that he
had two enemies to face instead of one, and that she was proud of
him for making such a fight of it.  Yes, and for feeling as he did,
and telling her about it.  She said that he was showing more
courage than the men who had no imagination and were less
sensitive, and less generous, too, perhaps.

He kissed her mouth.

"Dear mouth--for saying such things.  But you do help me out there.
Most fellows are supposed to be more windy when they get married,
but I am different.  I'm always thinking of you.  You seem to be
there sometimes.  It's my faith in you, Kitty.  I can think of you
with such confidence.  You're such a dear, plucky, wholesome little
woman.  I feel that you couldn't do a mean, cheap thing, and it
helps me to overcome that horrible meanness.  It's good to be able
to think like that.  It's like one's belief in a God--or something
that's finer and bigger than we are."

She answered with awed earnestness.

"I'll try never to fail you, laddie.  I'm loving you all the time."


V


She saw him off from Victoria.  The sun was shining, and he managed
to smile at her, but it was a smile that made her want to catch his
head in her arms.

She knew how he was feeling, but she kept her courage in her eyes.
"It can't be long now.  The tide has turned, laddie."

He both looked at her, and yet could not bear to look.

"I shall see you when you are writing your letters."

"I'll write to-night."

A whistle blew, and he held her for a moment.

"I think you're my religion, Kitty--I won't--"

"No, you'll not be," she said, "you'll not be."



CHAPTER XI


I


Fream's Hotel in Vernor Street had lost some of its distinguished
shabbiness during the war.  It had been an hotel with traditions,
and it had held to those traditions and to its old-fashioned
Regency furniture, until the death of Queen Victoria had symbolized
the spreading of a gradual newness.  "Fream's" had offered brass
candlesticks and slippers to its county people from Sussex and
Hampshire and Dorset twenty years after most hotels had forgotten
that such a practice had existed.  With the passing of "Vicky" all
kinds of solemn fustiness, the lumber of two generations, had been
bundled out into the Street, though "Fream's" had retained its
comfortable, solid, and county tradition.  Long, lean men of the
county breed and dowdy women who were somebodies, and had not to
put on clothes or to take them off in order to assure the world
that they were somebodies, still went in and out of its
unpretentious doorway.  But with the war a change had come.
"Fream's" was painted and redecorated.  Like some middle-aged woman
suddenly infected with the war excitement, it had taken to lipstick
and powder-puff, shortened its skirts, and become a little demode.
The same sort of people stayed there, but they were different, and
they stayed there with a difference.  The hotel register had learnt
to shut an eye.

"Fream's" was full of khaki.  It associated itself with the war's
red-faced, hard-eyed hurry to get its adventures, and to get them
somehow or somewhere, but it still retained its tradition of
wholesome discretion.  It was not blatant in its second youth; it
might be accommodating, but it prescribed limits.  Nice people
still went there.

So that when Mrs. Clara St. George drove to "Fream's" one day in a
taxi, and intimated to the manager that she had to be provided with
a room for a week, as she was giving all her servants a holiday,
she ostensibly was not departing from what might have been a
Melfont St. George tradition.  The manager, of course, knew nothing
of her motives.

"We are rather full, madam.  There is a room on the second floor
that will be vacant on Tuesday."

"Let me see it."

The manager took her up in person.  It was a room overlooking
Vernor Street, not actually opposite Mrs. Sarah's, but about twenty
yards lower down.  The occupant of the room was out, an officer on
leave, an untidy, flashy sort of person, judging by the rare
clutter, and a pair of purple and orange striped pyjamas flung
anyhow upon the unmade bed.  The manager apologized for the state
of the room.  Officers on leave were late risers.

Mrs. St. George was standing at the window, and looking diagonally
across the street at the cream strip of painted brickwork that was
Mrs. Sarah's.  She was not paying much attention to the manager.

"The room is rather small."

"On Thursday, madam, I might be able to manage--"

"O, this will do--perhaps.  Is the street very noisy at night?"

"Very little traffic after eight o'clock, madam.  We are off the
main routes."

"You can reserve me this room from the Tuesday."

She arrived on the Tuesday, between tea and dinner, with one trunk,
a suitcase and a hat-box, and she came down to dinner in a hat.
She gave the head-waiter a one-pound note.  "I should like that
little table in the corner.  I want to be quiet."  Beacham had been
head-waiter at "Fream's" for fifteen years, and he knew his English
gentlewoman, and especially the aristocratic and sometimes
eccentric gentlewoman up from her place in the country.  "I think I
can arrange it, madam."  She appropriated the table, and sat down
with her back to the room.  She had a large mirror on her left, and
in it she could see the whole dining-room reflected.

The chambermaid on the second floor noticed that Mrs. St. George
spent a great deal of her time in her bedroom.

She rarely went out.  She kept her door locked.  She sat in an arm-
chair by the window, with the muslin curtains drawn, her gaze
directed diagonally downwards at the doorway of Mrs. Sarah's shop.
She kept a notebook and a pencil in her lap.  She sat there for
hours, deliberately vigilant, and learning to recognize many of the
men in khaki who entered that shop more than once.  When she had
classed a man as a habitué, she would time the length of his stay,
and make a note of it.

Occasionally she saw one of the girls, and on the first occasion
that she saw Kitty, her face sharpened to a vivid alertness.  Her
eyes resembled two points of blue light.  Kitty was dressed in
black, and wore a black hat with a sapphire-coloured wing in it.
She came out of the shop with the air of a young woman who had some
definite purpose in view, and without pausing, walked down the
opposite pavement.  Mrs. St. George stood up, and leaning forward,
looked down at her, seeing the little sturdy figure foreshortened.
She looked at Kitty, and the contours of Kitty, with the eyes of a
sage-femme.

No, the little figure below looked virginal.  She carried her
shortish skirt as a young girl carries it.  Mrs. St. George had a
glimpse of her glowing, vivid face.  No baby there, no morning
squeamishness, no significant something.  And four months or so had
elapsed since their marriage, and Alex had hinted--rather
definitely--

Mrs. St. George sat down.  Yes, that baby business was a painting
of the lily, middle-class sentimentality used as that class might
be expected to use cheap scent.  Or was it possible that the girl
had taken care to be on the safe side?  Or, had she felt a little
uncertain four months ago, and had found Alex and an abrupt
marriage doubly reassuring?  Mrs. St. George saw what she wanted to
see, and her answer to any questions that she asked was like the
answer in a French conversation book, waiting there to be read.

For, certainly, she had her justifications.  Had she put on the
spectacles of an impartial observer, she would still have felt
compelled to ask herself why dozens of officers entered Mrs.
Sarah's shop during the day, and why a proportion of them stayed
there long enough to sample half of the brands of cigarette that
the shop supplied.  And Mrs. St. George was not impartial.  The
back of her mind was occupied by red cushions, and two pretty
girls, and a fat and sniggering old woman, and a collection of
loafing men who were--well--just men.  It all seemed so obvious.
Moreover, she had received confidential reports from Messrs. Test &
Crabtree, and they had reinforced her determination to believe the
very worst of No. 7 Vernor Street.

As old Test had put it, puffing out his lips and then sucking them
in--"Dubious sort of establishment--very.  We have had it under
observation for a month or more--now.  Nothing definite,
sufficiently definite yet.  And one has to be aware of assuming the
obvious."

To Clara St. George the atmosphere of Mrs. Sarah's establishment
was as obviously definite as the yellow rawness of a London fog.
She could assume all that went on there behind those painted walls.
High jinks!  Abominable rowdiness.  She was quite sure that men
sneaked out of the house after dark.  She had heard voices--rowdy
voices--coming from an upper window; she felt convinced that they
had come from Kitty's particular window.

On Mrs. St. George's third evening at "Fream's" Corah came to dine
with an officer, a captain wearing the ribbon of the Military
Cross, and black and white chessboard flashes.  Mrs. St. George
recognized the girl's reflection in the mirror, but Corah did not
recognize Mrs. St. George.  She was not expecting to see Alex's
mother in the "Fream" dining-room, tucked away in a rather badly
lit corner, and with her back turned to the room.  Corah was in
evening dress, a cerise-coloured frock; she was going to a dance.

Mrs. St. George enjoyed her dinner.  She remained at her table
until Corah Greenwood and her soldier had left.

But she had a piece of good fortune towards the end of her stay at
"Fream's," if the distorting of an infantile coincidence can be
called fortunate.  She saw Kitty leave No. 7 Vernor Street with an
officer, a stout, thick-set, red-faced young man with very black
hair.  They were out together fully two hours, and when they
returned--the officer followed her in!  He stayed an hour.  The
same thing happened next day, only he called for Kitty after the
shop was shut.  They came back as dusk was falling.  Mrs. St.
George did not dine that night.  She saw that thick-set, husky
young man follow Kitty in through Mrs. Sarah's private doorway.

Mrs. St. George put her hat on, and going down, walked up and down
Vernor Street.  It was half-past ten before the man emerged from
No. 7.  A girl let him out.  Mrs. St. George happened to be within
a few yards of the door.  The street was very dark.

"So-long, Kitty--"

"Good night, Grimmy."

Could anything be more obvious!  The girl had lovers.  Mrs. St.
George returned to her hotel.


II


Lieutenant Grimshaw was unfortunately home on leave, with
instructions from Alex to see Kitty and Mrs. Sarah, and to take
Kitty out to a show if he cared to.  Mr. Grimshaw turned up at No.
7 Vernor Street with his black hair very smooth, and wearing a new
tunic, and introduced himself.

"I'm Grimmy--you know.  Lots of love from Alex."

He was welcomed, especially by Kitty, who regarded this ruddy,
cheerful young man as the nearest thing to Alex, a walking mirror
in which she could catch a glimpse of Alex reflected.  He was part
of the life over there, part of Alex's life.  She felt grateful to
Grimshaw.

"Good of you to come, very.  Mother's upstairs.  You are one of the
family, you know."

He looked down at Kitty with his mischievous black eyes.

"Well--I have heard a lot about you, got quite used to your photo.
Feels good to see you, though."

She took him upstairs to Mrs. Sarah, who placed him in her
catalogue, but on a page that was starred.  He sat on the sofa
beside her, and had her laughing before he had uttered ten words.

"Well, we're mopping up old Fritz.  You'll have Alex back again in
no time."

He was like a winter sun, round and red and glowing.  His
cheerfulness was not a pose; he could not help it.  He was the most
direct and trenchant thing in khaki that Kitty had met.  He enjoyed
the war, and said so.

"Great business.  Better than sitting in my old pater's office down
in Exeter, and trying to look solemn over a lot of dirty documents.
That's what I've got to go back to."

The thing that astonished Kitty was that the round, muscular, ruddy
creature understood Alex, for understand him he did.  There was a
sort of affectionate twinkle in his eyes when he spoke of St.
George, and Kitty made him talk about her husband.  They went for a
ride on the top of a bus, and had tea somewhere in Hammersmith, and
walked all the way back.

"Alex takes things so damned seriously."

"I know he does.  Some men are made that way.  He told me you
helped him a lot."

"O, stuff!  Alex is one of those chaps who does things on his
nerves.  Did he tell you about that raid--just before I came
across?"

"Something about carrying a man in?"

"Yes, jolly plucky.  It's the fellow who has to make himself do
things--Finest sort of pluck--I mean.  I'm just a bit of beef."

"You're a dear," she said, and looked proud and a little fierce.

"O--I don't know about that.  Glad you think so.  Alex is all
right, you know.  I father him a bit."

"Go on fathering him, Grimmy.  It makes me feel better.  I want him
to come back."

"Alex wants to come back.  Don't blame him."

On the second day Lieutenant Grimshaw had supper with them, and
kept them all laughing till half past ten, when he departed to his
hotel.  Exeter and a devoted family expected him on the morrow.  He
promised to come and see them again at No. 7 on his way back from
leave.

"That's a good lad," said Mrs. Sarah.

He was.  But someone else was colouring Grimmy Grimshaw and others
to look like raw flesh, and was putting them all in a letter--a
most murderous letter.


III


It was like steel, that letter, deliberately and ruthlessly
tempered.  As a proof of her deliberation, it may be said that Mrs.
St. George took a week to compose it, building it up sentence by
sentence, polishing and improving.  Dispassionately and lucidly
written, and tinted with a kind of elevated affection, like the
glow of sunlight upon icy peaks, it was devilishly clever.  It
assumed a duty, the carrying out of a devoted responsibility.  It
spoke as from a marble and maternal throne.  "My dear boy--I am
writing this for your sake."  She did not accuse--she judged and
condemned.  She gave her son facts, or what she had every right to
assume to be facts.  She said:  "I was determined to be sure.  I
set out to convince myself of the truth before I took this most
serious step.  I realized that I had no right to open your eyes
unless I knew that I was showing you the truth.  I have had the
evidence of my own senses.  I have not left the collecting of
evidence wholly to others."

Translated from the Smythian tongue, it set out starkly just what
Mrs. Sarah was, and her house, and her daughters.  She did not call
No. 7 Vernor Street a brothel but the word was there none the less,
trailing between every sentence.  Mrs. Greenwood's daughters
received men; you could call them lovers, if that sort of thing was
love.  The girl Kitty had exploited her son's sense of chivalry.
But behind his back--!  Rowdiness, men coming and going, sneaking
out after dark, that old mother smirking over the business.  A
truly horrible establishment, tainted, sly, treacherous.

Clara St. George said nothing of the letter to her lawyers.  She
kept it by her for some days after she had completed it.  She knew
the risk she was taking, that she might be provoking a violent and
unsavoury row that could be translated to the law courts.  These
women of Vernor Street might fight.

She would let them.  She thought she could produce enough evidence
to tar and feather Mrs. Sarah's establishment.  Her purpose was to
destroy Alex's faith in his wife.  A case in the courts would not
tend to perpetuate a beautiful and foolish illusion, an act of war-
madness.

Moreover, she had convinced herself that she was in the right, and
any impartial observer looking at the affair through Clara St.
George's eyes would have agreed that she was right.  Life is a
question of points of view.  Mrs. St. George had her own belvedere--
or malvedere, if you care for a play upon words.

She posted that letter on a serene September afternoon, walking to
the nearest post office with the fatal thing in her hand.  She
slipped it into the box with deliberate, cool fingers.  She had a
faint smile on her face as she walked away.



CHAPTER XII


I


Alex's man, one Private Dipper--a Cockney with a queer long
crinkled nose and a receding chin, had improvised a shelter for his
officer under the branches of an apple-tree that grew on a grass
bank beside the road.  Dipper excelled in improvisations of all
sorts; he was an ingenious and busy creature, moving about on long
flat feet attached to legs that were calfless.  He talked with a
cheerful snuffle, and kept the stump of a cigarette tucked between
his left ear and his crinkly black hair that refused to be
disciplined.  In cold weather he was apt to develop a dewdrop at
the end of his nose.

A ground sheet and some odd lengths of German telephone wire had
gone to the making of the shelter, a spidery contrivance erected
against possible rain.  That the September sky was clear and
innocent was no concern of Dipper's.  He was interested in his
eternal improvisations.

Lieutenant St. George sat under the apple-tree, and looked under
the level sunlight at a piece of recovered France.  B Company mess--
a triangle of three officers--had taken its tea in the corner of a
little wood of young oaks and birches a hundred yards down the
road.  The battalion was lying out for the night.  At dawn they
were to attack the village of Surenne, passing through the
battalion that held the ground in front of them.  Tanks were to
share in the attack.  It was to be a silent, stealthy, sudden
affair, unpreceded by gunfire.

Dipper was showing great cheerfulness, perhaps because his officer
was looking less cheerful.  These stealthy affairs appealed to the
Cockney's ingenious temperament.  It made him think of sneaking out
in plimsolls and kidding some "cop."

"Jerry don't like these catch-me-round-the-corner shows, sir.  Not
'alf, 'e'll do a bunk.  Windy.  A few bloody machine-guns spittin'
for two minutes.  The rattle of our bloomin' ol' sardine-tins puts
'im rite orf it."

Probably it would be so.  The war had changed.  Jerry had become a
somewhat slinking and surreptitious person, swearing and scratching
on occasions like a mad cat, but apt to vanish over the wall.  He
was leaving things behind him: guns, dead, wounded, prisoners,
yellow-faced French civilians, girls with no heels to their boots,
white sheets floating over houses and out of the windows, mute,
bewildered, shabby villages.  Dipper and his like had their tails
very much up, scrawling chalked notices on captured guns.

That the temper and compass of a man's courage should vary from day
to day was one of those intimate and surprising discoveries that
many a man made for himself during the war.  The "I" in him blew
hot and cold; it shivered one day and laughed the next; nor did it
take its mood from the environment of the moment.  Fear might come
to you at night in some French village far behind the lines, and
moving with cold and pattering feet upon the tiled floor, stand
motionless beside your bed.  It was as though courage, and the
animal heat of it waxed and waned under the stress of the war,
glowing and growing dim, as though some inward hand were turning
the wick of a lamp.  Those periods of dimness and of cold gloom
were to many men hours of horror and torment.  They saw themselves
lying dead and stiff and sharp-faced in some trench, or perhaps
they saw themselves worse than dead, disembowelled, ripped open,
faceless horrible and mutilated monstrosities.  And Alex St. George
knew these fluctuations.  He had one of these moods of indescribable
and chilly gloom upon him now as he sat in the evening's light of
that late September day, and looked across those empty and derelict
fields.

And why?

He could say that he had missed Grimshaw, and the vivid and vital
suggestiveness of the man.  Grimshaw always seemed to give him
something that he lacked.  He had hoped to have Grimmy by him in to-
morrow's show, Grimmy should have been back from leave yesterday;
he had got held up somewhere on his way up, perhaps in that awful
Somme country that lay behind them over yonder where the sun was
setting.

Alex's glances had a flickering restlessness.  He saw things very
vividly, with a sharpness that seemed to suggest a curious finality--
just as you saw a landscape before rain.  The captured German
howitzer in the field over there, like some huge and stumpy black
beast with its snout poking at the sky; a broken tree splintered in
the middle with its leafy top trailing on the ground; the roofs and
gables of some village rising above hedges and fruit trees, with a
great white sheet still floating from the church tower, a couple of
tanks covered with brushwood on the edge of a wood; two of his men
sitting on a bank with their shirts off, hunting for lice.  The
landscape seemed to end in the sunset and a blue-grey desolation.
Full of men it might be, of lorries, mules, and transport horses
all toiling eastwards, and yet it seemed empty.  As empty as he was
feeling, for his eyes saw himself in it.

"Post ought to be up with the rations, sir."

Dipper's husky voice sounded very far away.  Letters?  Yes,
letters.  St. George had his wife's last three letters buttoned up
in one of the breast-pockets of his tunic.  Kitty's letters, dear,
warm, human documents.  As he sat there he tried to fix his
consciousness on Kitty, to absorb the thought of her into himself,
to be and to feel like Kitty.  Almost he could pray to Kitty; he
could kneel and feel those solid and protecting little arms of hers
about his head.  The thought of her steadied and warmed him.

For, to have great faith in someone is to have faith in one's self,
and Alex had faith in Kitty.  He believed in her reality.  She
seemed to be with him as a real presence under the most impossible
and incongruous conditions, in some crowded hut in the thick of the
war's most silly and exasperating and terrifying noises, under the
stars in a black sky when a bombing plane boomed overhead.  He
hated those German bombing planes, because they reminded him that
she might be in danger.

He would try to warm his soul and his courage before the glow of
her reality.  He would think of her fine warm body and how he had
lain with her in bed, and had listened to her breathing and felt
the soft movements of her bosom.  He thought of her hair and her
dimpled shoulders, and the way she would put her two hands over his
head.  He thought of her writing those letters, sitting squarely at
the table with its red cloth, the soft solidity of her, her round
face giving him the impression of a glowing seriousness.  He had
always been in love with her seriousness, and those two very dark
eyes under the straight, low forehead, and the mop of gold-brown
hair.  Honest eyes, steady eyes, eyes that did not lie to you.  And
her air of deliberation, her fearlessness!  The war had made men
cry out for the human shape in woman, but St. George's cry had been
for more than a physical outline.  He had the temperament that is
called sensitive, and credulous.  He wanted to idealize things.
And he had idealized Kitty, the daughter of Mrs. Sarah who kept a
tobacco shop in Vernor Street.  And sometimes a sensitive intuition
clings rightly to a belief in spite of the world's tarnished
wisdom.

He clung to the consciousness of Kitty.  It would help him through
that detestable dawn when he would get up and go forward into the
chilly greyness.  Mist over the fields--perhaps, and the misty
figures of your men plodding behind over sodden grass.  And the
sudden "clack-clack" of German machine-guns, or the infernal
rending thunder of a barrage.

He pressed his clasped hands between his knees.

"I promised her and myself that I would not be mean," he thought.

Yes, he would get up and go forward into the greyness wherein would
lie the village of Surenne, a little village full of fruit trees
and dim white houses.  He would be alone in front of his platoon,
but he would not feel alone, in front of his platoon, but he would
not feel alone.  Even at such a moment he could be conscious of
Kitty, the little woman whose arms--

Private Dipper's husky voice broke his reverie.

"Letters, sir.  Two for you."


II


Private Dipper knew as much about Mr. St. George as one man can
know about another when he has brought in his shaving-water and
made his bed, and cleaned his boots and watched his face, day in
and day out, for the best part of four months.  Dipper was a kind
soul.  He had his sentimental moments; he could make music on a
mouth-organ and not being married and having no mother living, he
would get up at "company" sing-songs and give way to husky emotion
over the singing of wives and mothers.  He felt protective towards
his officer, and he behaved towards him as though he had lived
three London lives before Mr. St. George had begun to live his one.

He knew that Mr. St. George liked to be left alone when he was
reading those particular letters that came to him addressed in a
round and very legible hand.  His officer would have a certain look
on his face "all shining-like."  Private Dipper had seen Mrs. St.
George's photo.  He had let it be known in B Company that Mr. St.
George's missis looked a "bit of all rite."

The war was simple so far as the emotions were concerned, and yet
so subtle in suggesting the complex inter-association of these very
emotions.  Man might marvel at himself, but the very intricacies of
his deeper make-up were beyond him.  Private Dipper went off to try
and scrounge some cigarettes, leaving his officer under the apple-
tree reading his letters.  When he returned some twenty minutes
later, in possession of three gaspers, the figure under the apple-
tree had disappeared.

The bank bounding the road was some six feet high, too high for
Private Dipper to see over it.  Its top cut the trunks of a dozen
or so old fruit trees--pears and apples--that made up a small
orchard belonging to a cottage of timber and white plaster that had
been wrecked by a shell.  Dipper had explored the cottage in search
of a possible billet, but the shell, having exploded inside it and
made it a vast disorder of torn laths and furniture and timber and
plaster, Private Dipper had found the place too complicated a ruin
and beyond his improvisations.  He stood there, vaguely alert,
lighting a cigarette.  Mr. St. George might have gone for a walk,
for officers did go for walks during the war, and Mr. St. George
had a fondness for prowling about by himself.  He was what Dipper
described as "a dreamy kid."

The Cockney had taken six pulls at his cigarette when he heard a
peculiar sound coming from the other side of the high grass bank.
The sound was peculiar by reason of its unexpectedness, and not
because of its original quality.  Private Dipper's spiky face
sharpened attentively.  He gave a sidelong upward glance at the
grass bank.

A moment later he was on the top of it, and looking down into the
orchard.  His little dark eyes seemed to grow narrow under the brim
of his steel hat.  Blimy!  He did not utter that most eloquent
word, but his face expressed it.

He saw the coarse grass, the old trees with their twisted and
thickened trunks and the long shadows they threw, and the brown
crater of a shell-hole with clods of earth scattered about it.  Mr.
St. George was lying on his right side under one of the trees.  He
lay in the shadow, with a bar of sunlight across his legs.  He
looked all twisted.

Private Dipper slithered down into the orchard.

"Gawd, sir, you ain't been 'it?  I 'eard no shell."

Mr. St. George raised himself on a stiff arm.

"No, Dipper; it's all right."

Dipper was staring at that patch of something on the grass.

"Was it your tea, sir?  Something's disagreed with you."

"I don't know.  I've been sick."

"I can see you 'ave, sir."

Also, he could see Mr. St. George's face, and it carried Dipper's
thoughts back to bank holidays at Southend-on-Sea, and people going
gaily for a sail, and coming back yellow and shrunken.

"'Adn't you better see the M.O., sir?"

"No, I'm all right, Dipper, now."

"You look pretty cheap, sir."

"O, I'm all right--I'll lie here for awhile.  You might get me my
trench-coat."

Dipper went for the coat, and returning with it and spreading it on
the grass, suggested that Mr. St. George should lie on it.

"Just slip your arms into the sleeves, sir."

In helping him, he touched one of Alex St. George's hands.

"Lord love a duck, but you're cold, sir."

"Just a bit, Dipper.  Being sick makes you like that.  I shall be
all right in five minutes.  Thanks--"

"Couldn't you take a little drop of whisky?  I'll run along to the
mess."

"No; I'll just lie here, Dipper.  Don't worry, that's a good chap."

But there are occasions when a man feels that he has a right to
worry and to disobey orders, and having tucked Mr. St. George up in
his trench-coat and put his haversack under his head, Dipper went
down the road to where B Company mess sat upon empty ammunition
boxes under a young oak tree.  Captain Horner of B Company was
squatting on a box, writing a letter.  A little, stout man, going
prematurely bald, with very round blue eyes, he stared at St.
George's servant.

"Beg pardon, sir."

"What do you want?"

Horner had a natural abruptness, and the war had emphasized it.  A
bustling manner, a curt, snappy voice, and two staring blue eyes
were part of the war reaction, natural qualities that had become
over-emphasized by self-suggestion, and the habit of giving orders,
and the suppression of certain indescribable physical qualms.

"Mr. St. George's been took queer, sir."

"Queer?"

Queer was a vague and unsatisfying word, and Captain Horner
disliked vagueness.  It wasted your time.

"What d'you mean?"

"Mr. St. George 'as been sick, sir."

"Sick!"

"'E's as cold as a bit of boiled fish.  Says 'e don't want to see
the M.O.  Says 'e'll be all rite, sir."

"Well, what about it?"

"Thought you ought t'know, sir."

"I'll come and have a look at him--in ten minutes."

"Mr. St. George didn't want no fuss made."

Captain Horner snapped his blue eyes at Private Dipper.  He wished
to finish his letters, to keep his multifarious worries and
responsibilities at arm's-length for five minutes.

"I'll come along."

"Right, sir."

Private Dipper saluted and departed on his flat feet.

Captain Horner continued to scribble for two minutes, but becoming
more and more conscious of Second-Lieutenant Sandys, who was
sitting on another ammunition box with his back against the trunk
of a birch-tree.  Mr. Sandys' feet were pushed out; he had very big
feet.  He sucked at his pipe, and watched Captain Horner's pencil.
He was waiting for something to be said, and Captain Horner became
more and more oppressed by his consciousness of Sandys' ironical
attention.  He looked across at his junior; his blue eyes had a
sulky glare; he did not like Sandys; in the war it was not
comforting to have near you a man who possessed one of those
narrow, superior faces, a man who sneered.

"Well?" said Captain Horner's stare.

Mr. Sandys drew in his long legs.

"Pity Grimshaw hasn't turned up.  To-morrow's show."

"Quite."

Horner snapped both eyes and lips.  Deliberately he folded up his
letter, slipped it into an envelope, fastened the flap, wrote the
address and signed the envelope.

"Tell Morgan to take the mail down to H.Q.--will you?"

Sandys nodded.

"And don't be so bloody superior.  See."

And rising on his stout legs, and giving his round body a sort of
heave, he walked out of the wood and down the road towards the
orchard and the shell-smitten cottage.

Dipper, standing in the roadway, pointed the Captain over the bank.
The glance that passed between the two men contained the beginnings
of a smile, a smile in which mere mirth was merged into the
largeness of a tacit human understanding.  "'E's only a kid," said
the private's eyes, and Captain Horner went over the bank and down
into the orchard where the son of Clara St. George was sitting
propped against a tree.  A strange vacant face raised itself and
was touched by the evening sunlight.  It had a flaccidity, a
whiteness, and wide and gentle eyes.

"Hallo--George."

St. George made a movement as though to get up.  He might have been
a man who had been knocked out by a heavy body blow, and was still
feeling an emptiness and a bewilderment.  Captain Horner stood over
him, with his feet wide apart, staring kindly.

"Don't get up, old chap.  You look rather cheap.  What's the
matter?"

He was aware of those wide, wavering eyes.

"Nothing, sir.  I have been--a bit--sick.  I'm all right now."

"Sure?"

"Quite."

"You don't look it, George."

He bent down, and with a big red hand gripped St. George's wrist.

"You're cold, man."

"Am I?  It's nothing.  Something must have upset me.  I was quite
all right.  Shall be all right again soon."

"You had better let the M.O. have a look at you."

"No, really,--there is nothing the matter.  I shall be perfectly
fit--for the show."

Captain Horner straightened his round body, and looked bothered.

"What about some dinner--?"

"I don't think I'll touch any food."

And suddenly his flaccid, empty face seemed to grow tense and
frozen.  Pressing an arm against the trunk of the fruit tree he
raised himself up, and stood on his feet.  His eyes had a fixed and
anxious look, as though he was not sure of his balance.

"Quite all right, Skipper, thanks.  Think I might stroll back with
you and have a whisky.  Might do me good."

Horner eyed him kindly.

"Right you are.  Nothing like a little drink--sometimes."

St. George staggered, and then stood still for a moment at the
bottom of the grass bank, and Horner was ready with an expectant
hand.

"Feel a bit squeamish--still?"

"O, quite all right now."

He walked down the road to the wood, moving with a suggestion of
conscious effort, a man not quite sure of his legs--or of anything.


III


Some twenty-four years ago, in the "blue room" at Melfont St.
George's, a woman had given birth to a son.  She had suffered
perhaps more than most women suffer, but her pain had been
physical, pangs of creation and of birth, while a September sun had
risen steadily over the Melfont beechwoods, and played with fingers
of light upon the great fish-pond in the green hollow below the
house.  It is said that women are more tolerant of pain than men,
but the pangs of Clara St. George's labour were to be passed with a
far more bitter anguish to her son.  She had made alive, and in
seeking to keep, she had stooped to kill.  For what was it that she
had wounded?  What was it that bled?  She had no knowledge of how
he spent that night, lying stiff and still, staring straight up at
the sky, while his men slept where they lay.  He could not sleep.
He had no wish for sleep.  He lay and waited, trying to draw about
his love the shades of a rent illusion.  How much did he believe,
and how little?

If only he could speak to her, touch, see!  But this horrible
helplessness!  To know that you might never know the truth!  To be
there waiting--like a beast for the slaughter-house, an intelligent
quivering creature!  To have to get up and go forward in the grey
of the dawn, without hope, without the warmth of an illusion, with
dull dread in your feet, and eyes that were empty!  O, what a hell,
a woman-made hell!  How much did he believe, and how little?

He kept looking at his watch, with its hour-points and hands dimly
glowing.  That watch had ticked away the hours beside their bed.
He felt so empty.  He was not conscious of fear; he felt too cold
and too empty and too little alive to suffer fear.  He lay like a
man waiting for the end of something, the striking of a particular
hour, some final and fatal act.  He might never see his wife again;
he might never be able--O, this damnable and filthy doubt!
Helpless--?  He was as helpless as a wretch tied to a stake on the
seashore, and waiting for the grey sea to rise.

Would the night never pass!  He felt so cold, so cold in his
stomach.

Twice he got up, and walked up and down on the grass beside the
road.  He heard men snoring, blissful animals, stolid souls.  The
night was very still and grey, full of the new strange secrecy of
the war's explicit.  Not a Véry light, not the sound of a gun
anywhere.  He almost wished that he could hear that familiar clack-
clack of a German machine-gun.  It would mean that some live man
was awake.  He felt so dead.

He climbed the bank to the orchard, and wandered aimlessly about
among the fruit trees.  What a place, what a night, what an
emptiness!

He glanced at his wrist-watch.  Three o'clock.  He supposed that
over there in London Kitty was asleep.

His heart cried out:  "Kitty, O--Kitty!"

It could not be true.  He leaned against the trunk of a tree, and
gripped it with his arms, tried--as it were--to clasp to him the
conviction that it could not be true.  If only he had had Grimmy
with him, someone to whom he could talk.

Later, a kind of flaccid calmness came to him.  He felt very cold
and strangely inert.  He was conscious of nothing but that cold
ache under his ribs; he was not conscious of his limbs.  Almost, it
was as though he did not care, had not the heart to care.

He went and lay down again under the tree.  He lay there for an
hour.  Presently there came a sense of stealthy movement, of dim
shapes going to and fro.  He heard a voice, subdued but
authoritative; men stirred, coughed, muttered.  The time had come;
he rose with a sense of vague relief, as though something had been
strangling him, a clutching hand.  He had to act and to think.  He
heard his name called--"Mr. St. George."

Quietly he answered:  "All right--I'm ready."


IV


They went forward towards the village of Surenne.  He saw it
against the horizontal greyness of the sky, lying at the top of a
gradual and grassy slope, a few little white houses, some poplars,
a queer slate-blue church spire.  It had the softness of a pastel,
and so had the sky, and the grass, and the trees.  The landscape
looked empty and peaceful and still, and he wondered at its
stillness, and at himself, and at the war, and at the day that was
being born.  Over there on his right four tanks were roaring, and
pushing their formidable and eager snouts up the hill.  He did not
seem to hear the noise the creatures made, nor the dull, quick
plodding of the men behind him.

Not a bullet, not a shell!

He realized with a kind of strange anger that the Germans must have
decamped from Surenne.  The attack was a punch delivered at the
empty air.  Was it that he asked for tumult, opposition, noise, the
stress of violent happenings, physical anguish?  But this
stillness!

He was aware of voices, fragments of words and sentences--"He's
done a bunk"--"Poor old Jerry"--"I could do with a hot breakfast."
He swung on over the dew and grass.  They came to little gardens,
trees, the backs of the cottages; he went on like a sleep-walker up
a narrow passage between two white plaster walls; he found himself
in the village street.  Emptiness, save for a tank cruising up it,
its snout in the air like an alert nose.

He was standing under a house when he heard that German shell in
the air.  It came as certain shells came, with a personal and
paralysing directness.  It was his shell.  He did not throw himself
down as the bunch of men behind him did.  One of them had a glimpse
of Mr. St. George going down on his knees and covering his head
with his arms.

The shell struck the roof of the house, just above him, A piece of
wall, pushed out by the explosion, slanted over and fell upon the
kneeling figure.



CHAPTER XIII


I


Kitty St. George crossed Cardigan Square.  She paused for a moment
on the paved path that skirted the garden railings, and let a taxi
pass, and in pausing, her eyes raised themselves to the windows of
No. 77.  She was going to No. 77.  She had a letter to show to the
other woman who was waiting for news from France.  She stood in the
shadow of a plane-tree, a little figure in black, staring steadily
at those windows.  Her round white chin seemed to jut out as she
stood considering the case of this other woman whom the war had
touched.

Yes, that was the problem.  Had it touched her?  Had it touched her
in the way that it would have touched nine women out of ten?  Had
she, too, sat and stared at that black curtain of uncertainty which
was twitched aside momentarily and from time to time by an unknown
and official hand?  Had she sat and waited and wondered, like a
child shut up in the dark?

Kitty stood back against the railings.  She was thinking too of the
pitiful and helpless thing that was her husband, a mere bundle of
live tissues, an unconscious body passed from place to place, like
a drop of dew running along the complex threads of the war's web.
It was coming nearer and nearer.  She had heard of that inert,
stunned thing from St. Omer, Le Touquet, Boulogne.  It would be
carried back across the sea to her, a mere body that could not move
or speak, more helpless than a baby, without memory, a vacant soul.
How much had the other woman been touched by the thought of it?

Her two hands grasped firmly a black and gold bag.  She had two
letters in that bag, one of them written to her by Grimshaw, the
good Grimmy who had arrived in the village of Surenne less than an
hour after Alex's wounding.  "Grimmy" had gone through his friend's
pockets before Alex had been carried to the dressing-station; he
had walked beside the stretcher to the dressing-station; he had
talked to the M.O. in charge of it.

"I grabbed these letters out of poor old Alex's pockets.  Rather a
hateful idea--other people reading one's letters.  I thought you
ought to have them.  Don't worry too much.  The doctor man sounded
quite hopeful.  I still feel very sorry that I wasn't there when
the thing happened."

Dear good "Grimmy."  Of course he had not read the letters, and he
did not know what he had sent to her.  Three of them were letters
of hers written to her husband; the fourth was the other fatal
letter from the mother to her son.

Kitty grasped her bag and crossed the road towards the door of No.
77.  She rang the bell, and when the door was opened by a maid, she
walked in past the girl.

"Mrs. St. George is in?"

Yes, Mrs. St. George was in.

"She expects me.  Shall I go straight up?  The drawing-room, I
suppose?"

The girl had a vacant face; she asked a perfunctory question.

"What name, please?"

"O, you need not bother.  I'll go straight up."

She did not think of her act as a piercing of the other woman's
defences, of a chance seized for close combat, for her mood was one
of pity rather than anger.  She had that abominable letter in her
bag.  She had been shocked by it, and by the righteous meanness of
it, she had shown it to nobody.  She had felt a little bigger than
her normal self after the heat of her anger had passed.  She was so
full of the thing that had happened to Alex that somehow she found
that she had no room in her for the lesser sorts of anger.  Just as
Alex had striven against meanness, so would she.  Nor had she
thought the matter out.  She had obeyed a sudden courageous impulse
that had urged her to go and face this woman and spread this letter
before her, and to say:  "I know.  You have wounded me--almost
beyond forgiveness.  But what are you and I now?  Isn't there
something bigger for us to do?"

It was an act of courage.  She opened the door, and saw the other
woman seated at her desk in the right-hand window.  The sunlight
touched her soft hair, and made a halo of it, and beyond her the
autumn trees of the square floated gold, green and still.  Kitty
saw a pointed chin turned.  A voice said sharply:  "What is it,
Parker?"

Kitty closed the door.

"I have come to show you a letter."

She walked forward and sat down in a little, low armchair, with her
handbag in her lap, and as she sat down Mrs. St. George stood up.
She showed no astonishment.  She remained looking down at Kitty as
she might have looked at a governess who had come to be
interviewed.

"Mrs. Greenwood's daughter--?  Of course."

Kitty pulled off her gloves.  She was deliberate.  She opened her
black and gold bag, drew out a letter, and held it out to Alex's
mother.  And she watched Mrs. St George's eyes.

Mrs. St. George did not move.

"Is it necessary?  I mean--?"

Her eyes were on the letter.  She drew back a little, and very
slowly--with almost conscious slowness--sat down.

"I thought you would like to read it.  It was written by a fellow-
officer of Alex's--to me."

They sat regarding each other for a moment, but they seemed to look
at each other through a sheet of glass.  Something that was
transparent but impenetrable separated them.  Almost it might be
said that they watched each other like a couple of women with a
window between them.

"From a brother officer of my son's?"

"Mr. Grimshaw.  Will you read it?"

She watched Mrs. St. George's eyes, and seeing them brightly blue
yet veiled with many suspicions, she withdrew the letter, and
returned it to her bag.

"I thought you might like to read it.  Mr. Grimshaw took all Alex's
letters and posted them to me."

She drew another letter from her bag, and let it lie on her lap.

"There was this one."

Mrs. St. George sat very still.  The sunlight struck beams of light
from an antique rose diamond ring that she was wearing.  There were
little glints of the same light in her eyes.  She remained poised
like a figure in a tableau vivant.  Kitty saw her through glass, a
woman shut up in a cabinet, cold and watchful and still.

Kitty unfolded the letter.

"You see?  It came back to me.  He must have read it just before he
went into action.  He had it in his pocket--when that shell--It
must have been very horrible for him--because--"

She paused.  She was at white heat now, and her eyes never left the
mother's face.  What would this woman say, this woman sealed up in
glass?

She saw Mrs. St. George's lips move.

"May I ask why you have come here?"

She did not look at Kitty, but straight over Kitty's head.  She did
not see the quality of that firm, round face or gauge its glowing
solidity, or how the dark eyes grew more round and deep and
inexorable.

"Because--I--mattered to your son.  Because this letter is not
true.  Because--"

Still looking over Kitty's head Mrs. St. George rose and went
towards the window.  She made no sound as she moved with that
gliding walk of hers.  She stood looking down into the square where
yellow leaves were beginning to colour the grass.

"Perhaps you will excuse me--but I think we shall never agree--"

She pushed back her hair from forehead with a gesture as of
smoothing something out.

"How can we agree?  If you wish me to be frank.  Perhaps--too--it
would be better."

"As in this letter?"

"Exactly.  I was well advised.  I cannot withdraw anything, for I
believe that there is nothing to withdraw."

"You mean--that you believe--all that you wrote about me?"


II


Kitty sat squarely in her chair, clutching her black and gold bag,
and looking like a little firm-faced and determined Madonna.  She
had become conscious of the room's oppressiveness, of its large and
luxurious and stuffy hostility, as of the heavy hand being placed
upon her mouth.  There were a hundred things she wanted to say,
indignant and generous and passionate things, but they struggled
together within her in inarticulate confusion.  She felt sealed up
in this airless room, with a woman who stood at a closed window and
with an air of detached attention watched the autumn leaves
falling.

What manner of woman was this, so smooth, so cold, so invulnerable?
Had you screamed at her, she would have turned to look at you with
impassive intelligence and an air of making allowances for a little
common creature who did not know how to behave.  And there was a
part of Kitty that wanted to scream, to make a human and
understandable noise.  She wanted to break the glass case of this
woman's stiffling composure, to push her fists through the window.

But she held herself in; it would not do to let go, and she knew
it.  She clutched her bag.  She said:

"I'm sorry, but what you wrote is not true.  I did not come here to
make a scene.  I have been trying to believe that you did not want
to think that what you wrote was true.  That would make things so
hopeless for both of us, wouldn't it?"

Mrs. St. George did not move.

"You asked me why I came here.  I came because I'm not the sort of
woman you think I am, because I am thinking all the time of Alex,
and of what I am to him, and what he is to me.  Because--I am
something to him."

She paused, her eyes looking very black in the firm pallor of her
face.  It was as though she had thrown a stone at a window, and was
waiting to see whether the the glass would crack, or the window be
thrown open by some hand of live indignation.  Mrs. St. George made
no sign.

"I thought that after what had happened you might meet me.  It did
not seem possible that you could repeat these lies, the abominable
things that you said about my mother.  I'm thinking of Alex; I'm
thinking of him as he is now.  You must be thinking, too--"

Her ungloved hand twisted the velvet bag.

"You must be thinking.  You know--how--he is coming back to us.
Does it make no difference?"

Mrs. St. George turned sharply and looked at her.

"Surely it does--But not--"

"How then--"

"To his mother--"

Kitty's eyes widened.  She had the look of a live creature
smothering beneath words, inarticulate, voiceless utterances.

"I was ready to tear up that letter."

She stood up suddenly.  She crossed to Mrs. St. George's desk and
laid her bag and gloves on it.  She stood a moment staring at the
papers on the desk.  Then her fingers felt for the letter that she
had put back into the bag.

She said:  "You have written those vile things to him about me.
You say you still believe them.  You do not love Alex as I love
him.  If you did, you would know how impossible it would have been
for me to be what you think."

She turned to gaze and stood waiting, but Alex's mother, with a
long pale hand laid along one cheek, seemed lost in a veiled and
considering silence.  She was still the woman in her case of glass,
flawless and untouchable.

"Is that--really--why you came here?"

She spoke softly--as to the glass of the window--or to the space of
the sky beyond it.

"I cannot believe that.  I agree that the situation has changed.
To be frank--my son is not--what--he was."

Kitty faced her; her little body seemed to enlarge itself, and to
grow more square and solid.

"You can say that to me?  Well, will you look, please?"

She tore the folded letter across, placed the halves together and
tore them across, deliberately and with a kind of leisurely but
firm gentleness.  She threw the pieces into the waste-paper basket
beside the desk.

"You won't believe me even now--I suppose--when I have torn up what
you wrote to him and given you back the pieces.  I was ready--But
that's all.  I shall not ask you again."

She picked up her bag and gloves, and went out of the room and down
the stairs, and let herself out into the square.  She closed the
door gently.  Mrs. St. George, still standing at the window, saw
the little figure cross the square and disappear behind the iron
railings and the smutty lilacs and privet hedges.

She remained there for awhile with her hand to her cheek.  Her eyes
seemed absorbed in contemplating some, inward scheme, a picture of
herself and her son, a picture from which the face of her son's
wife was blotted out.


III


Mrs. Sarah had been to Highbury, and Highbury was to Mrs. Sarah
what the trees and the green spaces of the Villa Borghese are to
Rome.  Yes, in spite of motor-buses, and the fading glories of
Upper Street, and the increasing noise and a spreading mouldy
shabbiness.  Mrs. Sarah had been born in Highbury; she had been
married from Highbury, and when Mrs. Sarah went to Highbury, it was
to see Jenny, and to leave some question to be answered by Jenny's
husband, who was managing clerk to a firm of solicitors in Austin
Friars.

Jenny Parsons was a stout body, like her sister, but brown where
Mrs Sarah was black, and less active on her legs.  She had the same
rather flattened and humorous nose, but she had not been able to
live up to her nose, or down to it, as Mrs. Sarah had.  She had a
few airs and graces and a good many Victorian reticences.  She
liked lace curtains at her windows, and would have preferred to
wear a veil.

Mrs. Jenny could not refer to herself or to her nose as Mrs. Sarah
referred to them.

"I got it in Upper Street, my dear, poking my face against the shop
windows.  They were shops in those days.  Do you remember that
little toy shop near the station?  Gone now--of course."

Mrs. Sarah loved Highbury and the Fields, and Upper Street, and the
respectable dinginess of the Grove, and the Old Dickens's houses,
and Canonbury Tower.  Her love could include even the Holloway
Road.  She went to Highbury and to Jenny when she wanted a gossip,
or was feeling bothered, or had some speculative inspiration to be
passed on to Bob Parsons for his consideration.  Bob Parsons was
also her tipster.  He was one of those dry, long men with acute
noses who seem capable of detecting the smell of the sea before the
Yarmouth train has reached Suffolk.  Mrs. Sarah liked to spread
herself on Jenny's sofa, and to loosen herself generally, and to
air her varied British views, to be a Londoner of the Londoners, a
woman whose secret inclination would have led her to shop in St.
Paul's Churchyard.

"Get money.  Go on getting money.  It's like putting on weight, my
dear, at a certain time of life, pleasant and comfortable.  When
people say some things about money, don't you believe them.
Blessed are the poor.  But are they?  Let's be honest."

On this October day, Mrs. Sarah had been to Highbury to talk of
Kitty and Kitty's affairs, and the problem of a woman who had a
steel rod in her back instead of a spine, and of a poor lad smashed
up in France.  She poured out herself to Jenny, and the pourings
were ample and rich, a Roman fountain splashing wine instead of
water.  She had a good many things to say about Kitty.  There was
that in Mrs. Sarah that recognized the makings of a great woman in
Kitty.

"One blessed thing, my dear, no baby's expected."

Jenny agreed that this was a blessing.

"For as far as I can see, Kitty will have a grown-up baby to nurse.
Poor lad.  But she'll do it.  She hasn't said so, but she'll do it.
We Greenwood women--Jenny--don't let our men down.  But how long is
it going to last?"

Mrs. Parsons breathed heavily.

"You don't know?"

"Not yet."

"What a tax--and a young girl.  I have always said--Sarah--and I
always do say--that good health is half marriage--"

"So it is.  But if Kitty has to shoulder the other half--"

"She's a determined little thing."

"Determined!  You should have seen her--at the age of six--when
Corah tried to play with her doll."

So, Mrs. Sarah kissed her sister, and trudged off down Highbury
Grove in an atmosphere of autumnal wetness and dead leaves, and
caught a bus by Highbury station.  She was not worrying; she was
not of the worrying sort; she got into the bus of life and sat down
and felt solid and sure of herself.  Hence her plumpness, and that
merry eye that found time to look at the world and twinkle.  She
believed in all the things that Mr. Bernard Shaw loves to scoff at,
but had he blown ever so hard he would not have shifted Mrs. Sarah.
She was a solid woman and no feather.

Vernor Street was full of the dusk when Mrs. Sarah reached it, that
vapourish London dusk, hazing the lights and hiding the tops of the
high houses.  Also, it seemed full of whisperings and rumours, of a
people's elation, of a sky that was clearing.  Wonderful things
were happening out yonder, but Mrs. Sarah was not thinking of the
end of the war; she was thinking of her daughter married to a
paralysed boy of five-and-twenty, and of what there would be for
supper.

Corah was in the shop, and Mrs. Sarah went upstairs and into the
room where Kitty was sitting at the table where she was accustomed
to sit when she wrote her letters.  Her elbows were on the table,
her two fists under chin.  She sat in the gathering dusk, facing it
and the future, and all the sudden problems that the future had
erected in front of her stubborn little chin.  A helpless husband,
how helpless she did not know.  But more than that, for when a
woman like Mrs. St. George could persuade herself to write such a
letter, a letter so abominable, and so responsibly clever--

Kitty looked at her mother.  Each face was dim to the other, but
between these two women there was an extraordinary sympathy.  To
Kitty her mother was real; she brought reality and liveness into
that unlit room.  Mrs. Sarah made no obvious remarks upon the
absence of light.  If Kitty chose to sit like that in the darkness
she must have a very good reason for it.  Mrs. Sarah just sat down
in her favourite chair, took off her hat, and leaning forward, laid
it on the table.

Kitty's fists remained under her chin; she sat and stared.  She
said:  "I've been to Cardigan Square."

Mrs. Sarah's silence was like a bosom.

"I'll tell you why I went.  I had not told you.  I thought there
might be no need.  It's like this."

She paused.

"I would never have believed that there could be such a woman.  You
see--she wrote a letter about me--about us--to Alex.  It must have
reached him just before he was wounded.  Grimmy found it in Alex's
pocket, and sent it back to me."

Mrs. Sarah was sitting very still, but her stillness was a very
live stillness.

"A letter, poppet--"

"I took it back to her and tore it up.  I thought--O--well--she's a
bad one."

"Tell me--just what was in that letter."

And Kitty told her.

It was then that Mrs. Sarah let out a wholesome and human--"Damn."
Her stillness vanished.

"What!  She wrote that of you--!  Give me my hat, my dear, I'm
going out."

She was a heavy woman and slow in rising, and before she could gain
her feet, Kitty was upon her with arms and head.

"O--mumsie, no--it's no good.  I know.  I--I want to say my
prayers."

She was on her knees, her bosom on Mrs. Sarah's knees, her face
looking up.

"Hold my head, mumsie.  I want to think.  I have been thinking so
hard, and things won't come right--somehow.  O, that's good."

Mrs. Sarah was trembling just a little.  She was a woman with large
passions, not like that other woman.  She pressed the girl's head
between her hands.

"Let it out, poppet.  I'm here.  I'm a solid person."

Kitty grasped her mother's wrists.

"Mumsie, I've wanted to scream."

How long they remained like that neither of them knew, but no one
disturbed them, and the room grew darker, and the life of Vernor
Street made a murmuring outside the window.  And presently they
were speaking to each other not as mother and daughter, but as two
women who whisper together of intimate dear things.  Kitty's elbows
were on her mother's knees.

"I have got to get him back, mumsie.  He belongs to me.  He can't
have believed--And I don't care what he is, he's mine; he counted
on me."

Mrs. Sarah kissed Kitty's hair.

"We Greenwood women don't let our men down.  As for that--"

But she did not say what she thought of Mrs. St. George.  She said
things that were more helpful--practical human, sensible things.

"We'll have him here--of course.  That's obvious.  When the doctors
will let him come.  Poor lad.  I don't suppose it is as bad as we
think.  Take life as it comes, my dear, day in--day out.  Things
have a way of getting themselves sorted."

Kitty's strong little arms went suddenly round Mrs. Sarah's neck.

"Mother--you're the dearest--that ever was.  You're so live--You--"

Mrs. Sarah's solidity seemed faintly to quiver.

"I'm not a tin goddess, my dear; I'm human.  And that's that."


IV


Meanwhile, at Cardigan Square, Mrs. St. George, all in black and
wearing her pearls, was waiting at her desk, holding a telephone
receiver.  She sat very still, but her stillness was that of a
coiled spring.

She was trying to place herself in touch with a certain important
person, just before his dinner-hour.  Doctors and persons of
importance can be trapped at such an hour, though there are people
who delay the capture until the animal in man is fed.  Mrs. St.
George did not do that.  Food made no difference to her beyond
adding slightly to the high light upon the tip of her nose.

She caught her fish, deflecting him towards her voice, and she
could make it a persuasive voice when she chose, the voice of a
sweet woman.

"O, is that Sir Malcolm--?  Yes, yes, this is Mrs. St. George.  It
seems such a shame to trouble you.  But I'm so worried.  You will
let me know, won't you?--directly my boy reaches England--and where
he is."

A clear kind voice was heard to say that he--Sir Malcolm Strode--
had given special instructions in the matter, and something sinuous
and eager showed itself in Mrs. St. George's attitude as she
listened.  She unbent to that kind and important voice; her rigid
spine became flexible.

"Thank you so much.  How kind you are!  It means so much.  I want
to see my boy--at once--You are trying to have him sent to
Poynter's Hill?  O, how considerate.  O--Sir Malcolm, just one
moment--I suppose in a week or two I can have him here?  What?
Supposed to be in hospital?  Yes--I know.  Red tape.  But the war
is going to be over, and he can have every attention here.  You
think it could be arranged?  Yes.  If he is quite unfit and likely
to be so--for some time--Resign his commission--after he has been
wounded?  You think it might be arranged?  Yes, yes.  I'm so
grateful.  Forgive me for bothering you.  Yes--good-bye."



CHAPTER XIV


I


Mrs. St. George had influence.  She knew people who knew other
people who had only to say a few words or write a chit, and doors
were conveniently opened.  For regulations are fences erected to
control the mass of unimportant citizens, who are passed in and out
like cattle, good, orderly cattle.  Mrs. St. George had the right
to the private door; she had inherited that right, though somewhere
back in the past her men had earned it for her.  Hence she had news
of Alex's a full two days before Kitty heard of her husband's
arrival in England.

Mrs. St. George borrowed a friend's car and drove to Poynter's
Hill.  She sat very erect, with a calmness of confident haste.  She
saw the red building, hideous and hard, detach itself from a group
of autumnal trees, though other eyes might have fancied that the
trees apologized and stood aside.  "We hid it as long as possible
from you.  Here--it is."  But a mother hurrying to see her stricken
son, and to prepare the way for the possessing of him, needs no
apologies for the landscape.

Her way was made easy.  She was led along corridors, great white
tubes of hygiene and cleanliness.  In a ward that contained four
beds, and four red screens neatly balancing each other, she found
her son.

She had not prepared herself for what she might see, for she had no
imagination.  That she was shocked, as deeply shocked as it was
possible for her to be, goes without saying, but her emotions were
like the clashing of ice in a floe.  That was her misfortune.

She sat down beside the iron bedstead, and reached for one of the
hands that lay on the red coverlet.

"My dear boy--"

He stared at her, and the quality of his stare caused her to
experience a slight and icy shudder.  His wide eyes were absolutely
empty.  They did not recognize her, but what was more terrible than
the lack of recognition was their utter emptiness.  There was not
even a glimmer of curiosity in them.  They saw and did not seem to
see.

"Alex, my dear, don't you know me?"

She bent over him, and all that happened was that her head seemed
to throw a slight shadow across his face.  She drew back.  She was
supremely shocked.  She did not know what to do, or say, or think.
She was conscious of a cold indignation, but indignation against
what!  Her emotion--such as it was--could help neither her nor him,
though had she sat and wept and patted that inanimate hand, she
might have helped herself.  And suddenly she grew rigid.  She sat
and stared at her son's eyes and was aware of them staring back at
her unblinkingly.  She struggled with the sheer clumsiness, the
almost absurd incongruity of the situation.  She felt baffled.

It was this sense of bafflement that caused her to react as she
did.  Suddenly she knew herself to be in a white rage, seething
with a passion to possess, to seize and carry off this inanimate
thing.  He belonged to her; he had belonged to her for twenty-four
years.  She was not a woman who had ever clutched her baby, but in
some strange way she was urged to clutch her son.  She thought but
vaguely of Kitty for the moment.  She was just a cold woman, an
egoist, a flame with the glow of the Northern Lights.

She became aware of people standing behind her, a doctor and a
nurse.  They had stood waiting with a sort of kind detachment.  She
turned in her chair and looked at the doctor's face.  It was round
and pink, a downy face, carrying a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.

She knew somehow and at once that this man was afflicted with a
florid desire to please.  He looked solemn and responsible and
kind, and was facile.  She said in a dry and self-controlled voice--

"This is very terrible."

The doctor blinked sympathetically.

"Does he understand--?  Nothing?"

"I am afraid--nothing, at present."

"But will he--?"

She saw the round face grow vaguely pink under her gaze.

"O, I think so.  I have seen quite a number of cases, complete
apathy, loss of memory, some paralysis."

"But not permanent?"

"No, or not wholly so.  One has to be--a little--guarded."

"Exactly."

She turned again and looked at her son.  The rage to possess was
becoming formative and articulate.  She looked at him consciously
and purposefully as hers.

"You cannot say how long--?"

"Sometimes--the change is quite sudden.  Just like switching on a
light."

"I see," she said, and mused a moment, aware of the fact that those
two eyes had closed, and that the face of her son had an
extraordinary passivity.

The nurse went round to the other side of the bed and smoothed a
sheet.

"It would not hurt him to be moved--I suppose?"

The round, bland forehead wrinkled itself slightly,

"Moved?  But you see--this is a special hospital, and officers--"

"I know.  I am not asking about your regulations."

"O, quite possible--I think.  If expert nursing--"

"Thank you.  I wondered.  Of course--I do not intend--"

"No."

"He would be much better here--naturally, until--I quite
understand.  I am sure you are all very kind."

She kissed her son on the forehead, and he did not open his eyes.
She re-entered her car and was driven away from the red hideousness
of Poynter's Hill, her thoughts full of an orderly haste, blown
steadily across her consciousness like clouds moved by a north
wind.  She knew now exactly what she had to do; she had her pots
and pans ready to her hand; she was a good organizer.  And she
wasted no time.  She set about putting her plan into action with
the bleak white haste of a blizzard.  She did not drive direct to
Cardigan Square.  She stopped the car at the end of Westminster
Bridge and directed the chauffeur to drive her to the particular
hotel where Sir Malcolm Strode served his country.  She clove her
way to the holy of holies.  She was urgent and coldly passionate.
She talked Sir Malcolm over.  He reacted to her maternal suggestion
that he should persuade other people to arrange things for her.  He
was tired and busy, and she was asking him to do for her what was
human and reasonable.

Drinking her tea before the drawing-room fire, she considered the
multifarious details of her plan, and jotted them down in a
notebook.  She paraded before her mind the person and temperament
of the family physician, one--Dr. Dazely--who lived in Wigmore
Street, a bland man with a round head, who was very particular
about his clothes, and whose wife had social ambitions.  Mrs. St.
George needed a bland man, a man who could be persuaded to accept
her rulings, and who had soft and well-soaped hands.  She thought
that Dr. Dazely was just the man for her.  She rang him up after
tea and asked him to dine with her.  She told him that she wanted
all his advice and support and co-operation.

He came.  He was a large man with two rather ambiguous brown eyes
tucked deeply into a plump and pallid face.  He was a little over-
tailored, and his manners were like his clothes.  He was too
impressively polite.  He gave the impression that he always wore
patent-leather boots and wash-leather gloves, because the feet and
the hands of his immediate ancestors had been of common clay.  His
speech was flowing, a bouquet, for he could not forget that his
grandfather had kept a fish shop somewhere in the Midlands.

Mrs. St. George gave him half a bottle of the best Burgundy, and
two glasses of old port.  She knew her man.  She apologized for not
asking Mrs. Dazely, but hoped that both the doctor and his wife
would dine with her next week.  She told Dr. Dazely just as much as
she thought it was good for him to know.  She painted a picture.

She wanted him to take charge of her son's case.  She wanted his
advice as to the conversion of her drawing-room into a nursing-
room, or rather a nursery, for her paralyzed son.  She wanted the
best and most reliable male nurse in London.

Dr. Dazely looked politely blank over the procuring of a male
nurse.

"Dear lady--but they are not to be had.  Almost impossible--just at
present."

"It cannot be impossible.  You can get me one."

"I'll ring up the agencies and the institutes I go to."

"I want a particular kind of man, patient but strong-minded.  I do
not mind what I pay."

Her energy blew like a north wind, and for the next two or three
days it continued in that quarter.  She had her drawing-room pulled
to pieces and transformed into a bedroom, transferring herself and
her desk and her papers to a room that overlooked the garden.  She
had new patent locks fitted to the street and area doors, and one
to the room that was to be a grown man's nursery.  Once a day she
rang up Sir Malcolm Strode.  She made inquiries about motor
ambulances.  She sent Dr. Dazely down to Poynter's Hill to see her
son and the medical officer in charge of the case, cautioning him
to say nothing about Alex's probable removal.

Energized by her, Dr. Dazely produced from somewhere one Leaper--a
male nurse.  He came to be interviewed by Mrs. St. George at ten
o'clock on a November morning.  He had a square, pale face above a
square body, a baldish head, two accommodating pale blue eyes, and
a lower jaw that--opening and closing as on a hinge--worked like a
trap.  His voice was husky.  He had much assurance, but could
temper it, and control a rather impertinent loquacity.  He called
Mrs. St. George "Madam" on every possible occasion.

Mrs. St. George observed his boots, his collar and his tie.  He
wore that knobby sort of boot that associates itself with tender
feet, but his boots were well polished.  In spite of his dubious,
pale eyes, his references were excellent.

He told Mrs. St. George that he had specialized in the nursing of
mental cases.

Reading both the references and the man, she said that this would
be a case of unusual responsibility.  It might include more than
nursing.  It might demand the keeping at arm's length of
undesirable persons and influences.

Mr. Leaper understood her at once.  His pale blue eyes were full of
intelligence.

"I have had experience, madam.  I have had to protect some of my
gentlemen.  You can rely on my discretion."  She did not push the
matter any further, but she did state that efficient service would
receive substantial recognition.  She called it a gratuity; she
named a figure.  And she saw something more in the pale blue eyes
like a snaky thing uncoiling itself behind glass.  She struck at
the thing at once, not to kill, but to contain it in a proper
service.

"I shall expect you to show every kindness to my son.  It will be a
very sad and difficult life--for him."

Mr. Leaper made a little bowing movement in his chair.  He had a
smile that came and went as though pulled with a string, and when
he smiled his square fat face seemed to perspire.

"I'm naturally kind, madam.  One is of no use--in my profession--
without it."


II


When Kitty came to Poynter's Hill and was shown that figure
screened off in the corner of the brown and white ward, she stood
for a moment with her eyes looking down at her husband, seeing all
that Mrs. St. George had seen, and more, and seeing it differently.
She had a moment of caring as she had never cared before.  There
was that in her which went out to him, and hovered, wondering at
itself, and losing itself in poignant wonder.  She was conscious of
the two persons in herself.  The nurse had warned her, but how can
emotion be warned off, or the shock of seeing things as they are?

She sat down.  She spoke to him.

"Alex dear, it's Kitty."

His ears were as fast closed to her voice as his eyes were to her
face.  Even while uttering those words she had been somehow aware
of their pathetic futility.  He did not understand, could not
understand.  There was an immense silence, uncrossable space
between them.  His eyes just stared.

She felt appalled.  She was aware of a sense of horror, not of him,
but of his helplessness and of all that it might mean.  She saw to-
day, to-morrow and the next day, and that vacant face and those
flaccid motionless hands.  She was afraid, but with such a passion
of warm fear that she was able to rise above it.  Her heart rushed
to the rescue.  All her sturdiness seemed to stiffen with a new
obstinacy.

She drew her chair close to the bed and sat holding one of his
hands.  She observed him with a kind of tender and intimate
calmness, a sacred compassion.  She felt herself being wedded a
second time to something that was helpless and pitiful.  She saw
him somehow as her business in life, her job, her justification.
If she thought of all the sacrifices, the difficulties, the
baulkings, the wearinesses, that might lie before her in the
future, she thought of them with that strange consecrated courage
of which some women--and especially little women--are capable.

She did not speak another word.  She sat holding his inert hand and
holding it hard.  She was no more than a gentle and determined
presence.

But she talked to herself.  She said things to herself that would
be repeated to no living creature.  She was alone with a helpless
child.  And before she left, she did get something from that vacant
face, a little flickering smile, not of recognition, but of vague
pleasure, the kind of smile an infant gives when its new senses are
pleased by a bright object or a soft sound.  It went to her heart.
It made her conception real.  It made her feel as a young mother
feels.

She bent down and kissed him.


III


Afterwards she talked to the man with the gold spectacles.  He was
guarded and worded.  He tried to be as comforting as professional
caution would allow him to be.  He was very cautious.  "It is what
we call a stupor.  Last?  Well, I hope not; often there is a sudden
clearing of the mind."

She asked him what the afterwards might be, and he looked a little
bothered, like a wise owl in broad daylight.

"O, he may be quite normal.  Mentally.  Yes.  But we cannot be
sure.  One does not like to make promises.  At present--I suspect--
a possible paraplegia."

He had to explain the word to her.  It meant paralysis of the legs.

"He will not be able to walk?"

"O, we don't know yet.  It depends on organic changes, how much
injury there has been to the spinal cord.  We shall be more sure of
that later."

He did not say anything to Kitty of Mrs. St. George's visit, or of
his interview with Dr. Dazely, and she went back to Vernor Street
steady-eyed, and clasping the helpless body of her love.  She was
full of courage.


IV


Mrs. Sarah often asked herself in after-years what might have
happened if Kitty had not gone down with influenza on the day after
her visit to Poynter's Hill.  It was the influenza of 1918, sudden,
prostrating, venomous, and for two days at least Kitty was almost
beyond worrying about anything.  She lay in confusion and the
dullness of high fever, and Mrs. Sarah nursed her, for no other
nurse was to be had.

Yet Kitty could blurt out--"Have you been?"  And Mrs. Sarah had to
go to Poynter's Hill and look at Alex, and be looked at vacantly by
him, and feel more bothered than she had ever felt in her life
before.  Heavens! but what was Kitty going to make of that poor,
brainless, paralyzed thing?  What a marriage!  What a problem!

On the fourth day Kitty threw off the fever.  She seemed to fling
it out of the bed with a pair of wilful hands.  She insisted on
sitting up, with two round black eyes in a face of chalk.  She was
indignant.  It was no time to be ill.

Mrs. Sarah was packed off again to Poynter's Hill, and discovered
blankness.  Mr. St. George had been moved.  Yes, yesterday, by
ambulance to his mother's house.  But, surely, his wife had been
notified?

Mrs. Sarah said things to herself, and also to the matron.

"It's a plot.  What right had she to have him moved?"

But it was a very disturbed and angry Mrs. Sarah who returned to
Vernor Street, and to Kitty.  She found herself repeating the same
refrain.  "She's got him.  Damn her, she's got him!"  And what was
she going to say to Kitty?

She felt very hot and tired.  She sat down on the red settee in the
divan and told Corah to shut up the shop.

"And get me a glass of port, my dear, and a biscuit."

Corah looked a little anxiously at her mother.

"You have caught Kitty's 'flu."

"Not a bit of it, my dear.  I'm tired, and in a hell of a temper.
That woman has walked off with Alex, carried him off like a mouse.
Damn her!  She's used some back-door key."

"Taken him away from the hospital?"

"Just that.  She's in possession.  She's got the goods, and is
sitting on them.  Damned clever of her.  But what the hell am I to
say to Kitty?"

She took off her hat and fanned herself.

"Come.  I mustn't use this language.  At my age--!  Get me that
glass of port, poppet, there's a dear."

When she had attained to a sufficient state of coolness, mental and
physical, Mrs. Sarah talked it over with Corah, who had a more
impartial head than either her mother or her sister.  It seemed to
Corah that it was a question for the lawyers to deal with.  Mrs.
St. George had succeeded in impounding a son; you could not very
well enter a house by force and carry off a helpless and paralyzed
man, and if you did--what were you to do with him?  Obviously, Mrs.
St. George was no fool.  The woman who happened to be in possession
of Alex was the woman in power.

Mrs. Sarah, still looking very angry, had to agree.

"I shall go up and see Bob Parsons.  Kitty has her rights as a
wife.  But I shan't tell her just yet."

So, for two days, Mrs. Sarah and Corah dissembled, and Mrs. Sarah
went to Highbury, and staying to dinner, laid the case before Mr.
Robert Parsons, who considered it over the bowl of his pipe.

He said it was an awkward business.  He would like to take an
opinion.

"Take the best opinion in London, Bob.  I'll pay."

At last she told Kitty, a Kitty who was sitting up in bed in a jade-
green jacket, looking thin and white, "Just like a determined
little saint in a glass window"--as Mrs. Sarah put it.

"Alex has been moved, poppet."

And to Kitty came one of those instant revelations.  She seemed to
know what was in her mother's mind.

"She's got him?"

"Yes, my dear.  I'm afraid she has."



CHAPTER XV


I


Of many things--sentimental and otherwise--that happened after
Clara St. George's recovery of her son, Vernor Street had not and
could not have complete knowledge.  Kitty's head went back to her
pillow for seven more days, and during her relapse, Mrs. Sarah--who
pitied both the victims of this marriage--opposed herself to Mrs.
St. George, who pitied neither.  But she was met by a woman as
determined as herself, and one who had organized all the advantages
of position and prestige, and who stood on the battlements of her
strong tower and challenged interference.  Mrs. Sarah might ring
the bell of No. 77 Cardigan Square.  A little brass grill had been
let into the front door through which visitors could be inspected,
and Mr. David Leaper--having assumed the duties of confidential man-
servant as well as those of male nurse, and having been sent to
inspect and familiarize himself with the persons of Kitty and her
mother--had repulsed Mrs. Sarah from behind a locked door with
those apocryphal words--"Not at home."

That little brass grill sobered Mrs. Sarah.  It symbolized the
other woman's seriousness.  It made Mrs. Sarah feel that somehow
she was back in the Middle Ages when young girls were shut away
behind high walls.  It was ridiculous and it was appalling.  She
let herself go to sister Jenny.

"Think of it, my dear!  A woman fitting a thing like that to her
front door!  In these days, too, when you can get into a taxi and
go and get married all in ten minutes.  But it shows how little we
have changed.  There are plenty of women who would be Bloody Marys
if there were no Bow Street."

Baffled and barred out, and unable to come to personal grips with
the woman in possession, Mrs. Sarah had to fall back upon Mr.
Robert Parsons and the Law.  She too had a dignity of her own, and
a proper sense of it.

"I'm blessed if I am going to stand on her doorstep."

She wrote a letter to Mrs. St. George and sent it by registered
post.  It was a letter of common sense and of some dignity.  She
received no reply.

She sat down and wrote a second letter.  She said:

"Are we going to settle this matter like reasonable women, or is it
to be a question for the lawyers?  I have as much right to think of
my daughter as you have to think of your son.  Heaven knows this
marriage looks like being a rather tragic business without our
making a Montague and Capulet affair of it."

This time she received a reply.

"Mrs. St. George begs to inform Mrs. Greenwood that her lawyers are
Messrs. Test & Crabtree of Lincoln's Inn."

When she had received this letter and looked at Kitty who was
sitting up in bed with an air of white determination, Mrs. Sarah
went to Highbury.  She sat in a tapestry chair, with her feet on a
white hearthrug, in front of a comfortable fire, and talked to her
sister.  Later she was to talk to brother Bob.

"Of all the preposterous situations!  And yet--it is pretty
pitiful, my dear--for both these young things.  If I didn't feel
the pity of it I should feel inclined to say to Kitty--'Cut your
losses and clear out.  This marriage is bad business.'"

Mrs. Jenny was conventional, but gently so.

"Marriage is marriage."

"It is, and it isn't, my dear.  But in Kitty's case--it's the one
big business.  We Greenwoods don't like to be beaten.  I have a
feeling that she will go right through with it, to the end--bitter
or not bitter.  Though what is she going to get out of it?"

Mrs. Jenny supposed that Kitty might yet get everything out of it.
Women did--somehow.

Mrs. Sarah looked grim.

"That's what the men like to say.  Sweet, devoted womanhood!  But,
confound it!--we are such mixtures.  You wouldn't say--would you?--
that there was a little of the man in Kitty, and yet there is.  She
is one of those who wants her job, and will have it--before God and
the devil.  Well, what time do you expect Bob back?"

"You'll hear his key in the lock at six.  There never was a man of
more regular habits."

"In spite of the war--and Armistice night!"

"We sat in front of the fire on Armistice night."

"Did you, now.  Well, I don't know that you weren't wiser than the
people who went to Piccadilly Circus."

Mr. Robert Parsons returned at six.  He was a dry, dusty-coloured
man with a stoop; his eyes seemed lost under languid eyelids.
Strangers frequently made the mistake of thinking that they had a
slow and easy man to deal with in Mr. Parsons; in the face of
aggression he would appear to droop, but at the proper moment his
eyes would open; he would uncurl himself; his long blunt nose would
appear to enlarge.  In the early stages he would allow the other
people to do the talking.  No, Mr. Parsons was a very sound man.
He knew how to make the most of his cards.

After supper, sitting deep in a comfortable chair, dryly self-
confident, he gave Mrs. Sarah a considered opinion upon Kitty's
case.  He advised an action in the Probate and Divorce division for
the restitution of conjugal rights, while endeavouring to bring out
in the course of the proceedings the facts, and to get such relief
as to access and maintenance as the law might be disposed to give.
Also, the parties interested in the husband might under pressure
deem it advisable to compromise.

Kitty was entitled to maintenance, but she could not compel her
husband to live with her, or force her presence upon him against
his will.  And at present he seemed to have no assets and no will.
Just so.

Kitty had no claim upon Mrs. St. George.  The son appeared to be
entirely dependent on the mother, but Alex St. George would
presumably be entitled to some compensation or disability allowance
as an officer, and this should extend to his wife.  Nor was Kitty
the legal guardian of her husband.

Mrs. Sarah listened with an air of solidity.

"So it comes to this.  She's got him--and she can keep him, unless
we bring an action.  And she would do her best to dirty our linen."

"No doubt she would."

"And as to conjugal rights, the poor lad's not capable--"

"That seems to be the position.  It is a rather unusual position.
We might get the marriage annulled."

Mrs. Sarah squared her shoulders.

"That's for Kitty to decide.  I don't think the law gets us very
much further, Robert, thanks all the same.  We'll wait to see what
Kitty's got to say."


II


Meanwhile, Alex St. George lay and stared at life like a very young
child, as though trying to understand it.  He stared at his mother;
he stared at Leaper; he stared at Dr. Dazely, and appeared
particularly interested in the doctor's monocle.  He could move his
arms, but not his legs, but seeing that his mentality was still
that of an infant the paralysis of his legs did not concern him.
He had no speech, and was mostly mute, but would make occasional
and friendly noises.  He showed a desire to finger things, and even
to put them into his mouth.  He had to be washed and dressed and
fed.  He had forgotten completely how to do things for himself.

Leaper had an oily and cheerful kindness.  He was the sinuous and
persuasive autocrat.  He called Mr. St. George "sir," though he
might just as well have addressed him as "it."

"Now, sir, chin up a little--if you please."

He shaved his patient each morning with a safety-razor, for Dr.
Dazely had been very particular in his warnings that Mr. St. George
must not be allowed to be in the possession of any cutting
implement.  The lathering of his face seemed to puzzle and interest
Mr. St. George.  He would dabble his fingers in it, and examine the
white froth that adhered to his finger-tips, and sometimes he would
taste it.  He made attempts at conversation, exclamatory noises
that sounded like "Goo," and "Da."

Leaper encouraged these noises.  He was facetious, and his
facetiousness contained a bland contempt.

"Quite so, sir.  Goo, goo.  I agree with you ab-so-lutely.  Now--
for a little towel."

Mrs. St. George would come and sit in the transformed drawing-room
that had become an elaborate and costly nursery.  Her favourite
place was by one of the windows and she sat there rather like a
woman on guard.  Her whole attitude expressed a cold and possessive
tranquillity; she would sit there for an hour on end, watching
Cardigan Square, and her son, like a white cat with round blue
eyes, strangely and possessively satisfied.  It was a silent room.
Even as a young mother she had had no baby-talk, and to her man-
baby's pathetic gooings and daaings, she would extend a calm and
consenting tolerance.  Whether she wanted him other than he was it
would be difficult to say.  Sometimes she sat by the fire and
purred with the consciousness of complete possession.  She had
purchased the most expensive gramophone that could be bought, and a
set of popular records.  She would rise and place a record on the
disc, adjust the needle with deliberate and precise fingers, and
let the room fill with sound.  Tunes familiar to thousands of
homesick men were repeated in that special room, "Roses in
Picardy," "I'm in Love," "Fancy your fancying me."  Alex would
listen wide-eyed; he liked these melodious noises; sometimes he
would smile, and glance about the room as though wondering how and
whence the sounds originated.

Sometimes she showed him pictures, the kind of pictures that are
shown to a child.

For Dr. Dazely had said:

"If the mentality remains as it is--he will have to be re-educated.
Yes, everything.  He will have to begin over again like an infant.
Learn to talk and to read and to dress himself."

But Mrs. St. George was in no hurry.  She seemed to revel in the
cold glow of complete possession.  Never was a child or a grown man
more wholly his mother's.  He was her prisoner; he had no will of
his own, no purpose that could clash with hers.  Never had she been
so complete an autocrat.

For she was the woman in possession.  She felt that she had those
other women beaten and baffled; they could not storm her house and
carry off this poor paralyzed thing; she doubted whether--after a
little grim dissuasion--they would want to do so.  Mr. Test had
thrust out his lower lip and looked at her archly.  There was no
doubt that she had done a very clever thing.

"Discourage 'em, Mrs. St. George, and go on discouraging 'em.
Leave the legal part of it to me.  If they try to work up a case,
we can obstruct 'em at every turn.  We can go on obstructing until
they are tired and their purses are empty.  Worry them; make 'em
realize that it's a bad business, a poor speculation.  When they
realize that there is nothing to be got out of it--You take me?"

She did.

"I want them--eliminated."

He looked at her slyly.

"How much so?  You still wish--?"

"A divorce would be final."

Nursing a stout knee, he ruminated.

"Yes--I think the wife would have a case, if she chose to plead
that her husband was incapable of fulfilling the contract.  Beat
'em first, and then dangle a bone.  They may be precious glad to
get the bone and go off with it.  Meanwhile--if they try to make
trouble--I'll give them obstruction--and more obstruction."

Yes, she thought that she had Vernor Street shut up.  She could sit
and contemplate the gradual closing of an unpleasant episode that
had ended with the war.  If necessary she could re-express herself
in the re-education of her son.  What an opportunity for a woman of
five-and-fifty!  To have her son given back to her as a grown man
to be moulded, recast, treated as flexible metal!  A son who might
never be complete, and so all the more hers.  She compounded with
her pride; her pride should be in possession.

He should have every opportunity, of course.  She would give him
every advantage that did not clash with her prejudices.  She could
make life easy for him, fatally easy.

She spoke very seriously to Dr. Dazely.

"Are you--perfectly--satisfied?"

Dr. Dazely was not.  The case was an extremely responsible one;
that is to say he had accepted his responsibility with well-
tailored seriousness.  He said that he would like Sir Isidore
Browne to see Mr. St. George.  Sir Isidore's opinion was the very
last thing in opinions.

Mrs. St. George agreed.  Sir Isidore Browne was called in--an
abrupt little man with a huge nose separating two sharp and
irritable little eyes.  He passed an hour with Dr. Dazeley beside
Alex St. George's bed.  They sang a duet over him, Dr. Dazely
booming and fluting, Sir Isidore snapping like a mandolin.  They
disentangled the complexities of the case, its possible neuropathic
aspects, its electrical reactions, its mental phenomena.  They
spoke of stupor and amnesia.  Mr. St. George had an undoubted
paraplegia.  There was definite spasticity of the lower limbs.  The
knee jerks were exaggerated, especially the left one.  Babinski's
sign was present.

Sir Isidore probed the case like a bird tapping with a hard but
sensitive beak.

"We must have the spine X-rayed."

Dr. Dazely fluted consentingly.

"Yes, we must have him X-rayed."

"The point is--how much of all this is organic and how much of it
is functional.  There--is--an organic lesion.  The war has given us
some extraordinary examples of hysteria.  As for the mental
condition--it may change quite suddenly."

"I have warned his mother.  It may be a case for re-education."

"Possibly.  But I have seen the normal personality restored by some
shock, emotional or otherwise.  If there is no change we ought to
try hypnosis."

"Would you suggest it to Mrs. St. George?"

Sir Isidore made the suggestion, but Mrs. St. George received it
with dislike and suspicion.  Hypnosis implied surrender--and
interference.  She had thought it tarnished with charlatanry.  But
if modern hypnosis was scientific and professional, was it not also
dangerous and too personal?  She mistrusted the reaction of another
personality upon the personality of her son.  Deep down in her was
the consciousness that if there was any hypnotizing to be done--it
was she herself who wished to do it.

"I would prefer to wait.  Let us see whether a change for the
better does not come naturally."

Sir Isidore was a busy man and apt to be impatient.

"Very well, very well, the case is in Dr. Dazely's hands.  He
understands it perfectly."

Which was true, but Dr. Dazely did not quite understand the
inwardness of Mrs. St. George.


III


The solving of problems is supposed to be the prerogative of the
very clever, but in the solving of the problems of our human
relationships, love, compassion and understanding are still
supreme.  Yes, and in spite of the highbrows, and the very clever
people who are clever because they have ceased to care seriously
about anything, and because their organs have lost the warmth and
the flush of the adventure of digestion.  Hence, when Kitty rose
from her bed, and began to feel hungry, she tore down the logic of
the law as though she had put her hands to a pair of curtains that
kept out the light and the air.

She refused to be legal.  Having listened to all that Uncle Robert
had to say, and heard his arguments, she swept the whole clutter
aside.  If she was going to fight for the possession of her husband
she would fight in her own way.

Mr. Robert Parsons, dryly kind and requiring everything to be in
order, asked her what she could do; and she sat and stared at the
table-cloth with obstinate solemnity.  She stared at a particular
ink-stain that she had made one day when writing to Alex.

"That's for me to find out."

She was more open with her mother.  She said:

"I am not going to fight her in that way.  It seems to me to be the
wrong way to go about it.  I don't know, but I feel that there are
some things about which one can't quarrel in public.  I'm not going
to scuffle with her, as though we were two women squabbling over a
bargain at a draper's sale.  I care too much.  That's reality."

She could not say more; she had no more to say for the moment, but
Mrs. Sarah understood.  Kitty was not going to soil her linen; she
had no intention of recovering it draggled from under Mrs. St.
George's feet.  She was full of a conscious reverence for her
marriage as it had happened to her.  She was thinking of Alex as
she had seen him at Poynter's Hill.  Her love was silent, and
reflective and determined; it did not rush out to scream and scold
and argue.  Her argument was locked up inside her, but it was very
much alive, a gradual growth.  She was one of those little women
who can watch and wait.

Calmly she went back for the time being to the shop and her work.
She seemed to carry a hidden lamp, and the flame that she tended
burned within.  She kept her dignity.  She was very conscious of
the fact that the life of Vernor Street had changed, and was still
changing.  The war was over, with its tenseness and its terror and
its physical excitements, though a desire for these excitements
remained.  Men in khaki and out of it came into the shop--but they
came differently.

Some of them were in quest of adventure.  They suggested dances and
little suppers; they bored her; man had lost the supreme
significance of the soldier; nor could she pity these lads as of
old.  Her pity was turned like a beam of light upon that other
figure.  It bothered her to have idle young men lolling about in
the divan, or trying to be seductive across the counter.  All this
smelt of the war, and the war was over.  Also, it was possible that
Mrs. St. George had spies in Vernor Street.

Kitty suggested to her mother that the divan should be closed, and
it was closed.  A card bearing the word "Private" in big black
letters was tacked to the door, and when one or two Breezy Berties
tried to walk through that notice, Mrs. Sarah dealt with them.

The closing of the divan marked the end of an epoch.  The room of
the red cushions had had its justification during the war, but when
Mrs. Sarah closed it, she could do so with confidence.  She had
made money.  She could talk of selling the business, but when she
did talk of it, and of the social advantages of being a lady at
large, Kitty's little fist came down.

"Not on any account.  Besides--you would be miserable.  I can see
you in a villa at Surbiton."

Mrs. Sarah wrinkled up her broad and human nose.

"I'm a Londoner, my dear.  No getting away from it.  But when you
and Corah have homes of your own I may go to Highbury.  Highbury
isn't what it was--but it pulls me.  Besides--"

"You will always be wanted."

"Somehow, my dear, I think I shall.  And that reminds me.  I'm not
going to die with all my rings on my fingers.  No sense in that.
When you and Corah want it, there will be a nice little sum for
both of you.  Every girl ought to have some money of her own.  So
you see."

"I see all sorts of things," said the daughter.

And once a week either she or Corah were seeing the face of Alex's
jailor, Mr. David Leaper, who came to buy cigarettes and to take a
look round.  He was a confidential person.  It was he who reported
to Mrs. St. George that the divan had been closed, and that her
son's wife was still serving in the shop.

In fact, Mr. Leaper got to know Kitty very well by sight, though
she knew him only as a rather soapy person with a sudden smile, who
came to buy a certain brand of cigarette.  She saw so many
unlikeable men that Mr. Leaper was without distinction.  But one
December day, standing at a window in the midst of a yawn, Leaper
caught sight of that little figure with its back to the railings of
Cardigan Square.  His mouth seemed to shut with a snap.  He drew
back a step and stood watching.  He expected to see "That yellow-
headed young woman," as he called her, advance to ring the bell of
No. 77.

But Kitty did nothing of the sort.  She stared at the house for
half a minute, as though she was looking right through the walls
into the heart of it, and then she moved away.  She had been
conscious of a moment of inspiration.  Something in her had cried
out "Of course."

Mr. Leaper reported the incident to Mrs. St. George.

"That young woman, madam, has been hanging about."

Mrs. St. George did not appear to be troubled by the incident.  She
knew that Kitty might stand there all day, but that her son could
not get to the window, and that had he been able to reach the
window and see his wife he would not have recognized her.  His
memory had not returned.  It is possible that his mother hoped that
it would never return.


IV


That was Kitty's point, the live core of her problem.  She had
realized it gradually, and then with a final and complete
suddenness, and on that December afternoon when Leaper saw her
standing by the railings of Cardigan Square, she took the problem
away with her to Queen's Walk, and sat with it on the same old
seat.  A huge red sun was descending into a bank of grey vapour;
the fronts of the houses were flushed with the sunset; the grass
had a bluish tinge.  And the vividness of the London sunset matched
the vividness of her inward realization of things.

If Alex remained the Alex of Poynter's Hill--then he was lost to
her.  He would remain in the house of his mother, remembering
nothing of his marriage, and of its intimate moments.  The Alex who
was her husband would be dead.  Mrs. St. George would have regained
her child.

Yes--if--?

But if his memory returned, if the old Alex came back to that
paralyzed body--what then?  He would remember her, and that letter.
And still he would be like a helpless child in that other woman's
lap, to be coerced and persuaded and fed as his mother would wish
him to be fed.

"I must get him away from her," she thought.

But how?  And to what purpose?  And supposing she were to succeed
in recovering her husband, was she to take him to Vernor Street, to
a back room overlooking brick walls and chimney-pots, to a home
that was not hers in the sense that a woman desires a house to be
hers?  It would be like shutting up a poor, brown-eyed rabbit in a
hutch.

Her inspiration grew.  It even seized something from the possessive
cleverness of Mrs. St. George.

"I must do something, make something.  I must have a place to take
him to."

From that moment her increasing purpose began to shape itself.



CHAPTER XVI


I


Hanging in what had been the drawing-room of No. 77 Cardigan
Square, in a recess between the fireplace and one of the windows,
was a painting in oils framed in a ponderous frame of gold.  Mrs.
St. George had won this picture in a raffle at a bazaar.  It had
been painted by an artist of some note, one Waterfield, who would
spend his springs daubing among the Italian lakes, and who liked
his colour plastered on like whipped cream.  This particular
picture showed you a crimson rhododendron flowering in a huge stone
jar against a dark sheaf of cypresses.  The artist had been
intoxicated by the gorgeousness of the massed blossoms, and had let
the colour erupt upon his canvas.  And yet in spite of its
floweriness it had a massive quality that was increased by the
heaviness of the frame.

About twelve o'clock on a December night this picture snapped its
wire, and came down with a crash upon a little table loaded with
bric-à-brac.  Leaper, sleeping in a little odd room across the
landing, heard the noise, but not being a very bold person, in
spite of his prominent jaw, he sat circumspectly on the edge of his
bed.  If burglars were in the house--!

But in the bedroom on the floor above Mrs. St. George had been
roused by the crash.  She was a woman of courage.  Moreover, the
silence that had followed the fall of the picture was broken by a
sudden outcry.

Some one was shouting wildly.

Mrs. St. George hurried into a dressing-gown, and descended the
stairs.  She had a vision of Leaper switching on the light on the
landing below, and wearing a grey flannel sleeping-suit.  The
outcry continued.  Almost it suggested the screaming of a terrified
child waking suddenly from a nightmare.  But the voice produced
sounds that were intelligible.

"Where am I--Kitty--Kitty--"

Leaper got first to the door, but he was not allowed to enter.

"No, stay outside.  I will see."

He had opened the door.  He gave a push to it, and stood aside, and
she went in as though he had ceased to exist for her.  She closed
the door.  The cries from the bed continued.  He heard her switch
on the lights.  There was a moment of silence.

"Alex--my dear boy--"

"Mother!"


II


A sudden reopening of the door caught Leaper in the act of
withdrawing from a position of too intimate a curiosity.  He drew
himself up like a soldier coming to attention.  He was aware of the
fixity of Mrs. St. George's gaze.  Blue-eyed, she was confronting
the storm that had burst suddenly in the house, a woman blown about
by the wind, yet unconfused by it.  She had an air of gripping
something, of holding herself rigid, while she steered her purpose.

"You can go back to bed."

That was all she said to him, and he went.  But even when the
clothes were pulled up under his chin, he continued to listen like
a man overawed and dominated by the skirling of the wind.  He had
heard things, words, fragments of anguish blown about like sea-
scud.  Behind that smile and that snapping jaw, he was a rather
soft and succulent creature, greedy and obsequious, a little
emotional.  There are certain sensitive and organic spasms that are
beyond a man's control, and Leaper had shivered.  He had felt a
coldness down his spine.

Those outcries, those gropings of a man suddenly dragged up into
the light!  He had heard Mr. St. George panting.  "What's happened?
I--I can't move my legs.  How--how--!"  And then--suddenly--Mr. St.
George had been sick with all the sounds of an immense nausea.  And
between the retchings and groanings there had been words.  "O!--
Lord--O, my God!--I remember.  It wasn't true--what you wrote in
that letter--mother?  You know what I mean.  Say it wasn't true.  I
got it--just before--But where was it?  I was being sick--just like
this--under a tree--"

Leaper shivered slightly in his bed.  He could picture Mrs. St.
George grabbing a basin, and holding Mr. Alex's head.  And that
voice of hers, like a steady and controlling hand exerting
pressure.  O, yes, she was in control of the situation, a most
efficient woman, a formidable woman--


III


Mrs. St. George sat holding her son's head against her shoulder.
It was a most conventional attitude, but, to her, feeling elemental
was to be outside the conventions.  She spoke soothingly.  She had
turned off the ceiling lights, and left the shaded globe burning on
the table beside the bed.  Like most women of her type--and they
are legion--she was the incarnation of a purpose.  She urged and
she guided.  She was not so much conscious of her son as a
separate, quivering, human entity, as of something that was
attached to her, something that had come out of her body.  She
wanted to possess him, to contain him--mentally if not physically.

"Don't be afraid.  Let things come easily.  Of course--the shock of
it--"

Both her voice and her arm exerted pressure.  He had become quiet.
His recovered consciousness, thrown suddenly to the surface, had
ceased to cry out and to struggle.  It floated, relaxed and
bewildered.

"But--mother, I want to know about--things."

She said:  "My dear, of course you do.  But there is no hurry.
Just try and lie still."

And all the while she was striving towards the creating of her
woman's impression, to stamp it indelibly upon the wax of his
recovered consciousness.  She was doing what all of us do, and if
challenged--fiercely deny the doing of it.  She understood that the
first impression might be of supreme significance.  The thing had
to be done delicately; she was no charwoman with a brush.

"I want to hear about--things."

"What things--dear?"

"About--how I came here."

"I brought you here from the hospital."

"And the war?"

"The war is over."

The news seemed to astound him.

"We won--?  They gave in?"

"Yes."

"How long have I been--like I was?"

"For weeks.  Ever since--"

She felt a trembling of his body, and she took one of his hands.
She was moved; her inward qualms were fierce and combative.

"My dear," she said; "don't worry.  Let things come easily.  I'm
here; I shall always be here."

His hand lay limply in hers.  She was aware of a new silence.  It
made her think of a little dark hollow like an empty sack into
which you could drop what you pleased.  There were questions which
he dared not ask, but he was breathless to ask them.  His
reawakened consciousness was all interrogation.  It was a raw
surface that asked to be covered.  And this raw surface was her
opportunity.  She was aware of all this--as women can be--and
feeling the urge of her own awareness.

She said:  "Don't you think you could go to sleep?"

His answer was immediate and poignant.

"I've been asleep all these weeks.  Has--she--been here to see me?"

"No."

The word slipped out.  She was committed to it, and to feel
committed is to feel the more convinced.  She was right, she
insisted on being right; she clutched her rightness and her son.

"Not once?"

"Once--at the hospital."

She gave the impression that these facts were being dragged from
her.  She felt out of breath with her effort, for an effort it was.
She showed emotion.

"Alex--dear, don't ask these questions to-night.  Try and go to
sleep.  Leave things over--I'll sit here."

He was silent for some moments.  He seemed to be slipping down into
a stupor of realization.

"Only once.  But--mater, hasn't she tried?"

Mrs. St. George grew rigid.

"My dear, I won't talk of this to-night.  I refuse to talk about
it.  I have got you back--from the war.  I won't have--these--these--
sordid facts--"

He gave a kind of quiet little moan, and turned his head so that
his face lay against her bosom.


IV


At eight o'clock next morning Leaper came softly into the room to
pull up the blinds and let in the greyness of a December morning.
He too looked grey, though he wore a suit of blue serge.  He moved
softly, with an ingratiating discretion, and even his handling of
the blinds was tactful.

Turning, he found the eyes of the man in the bed fixed on him, and
Leaper unhinged his smile.

"Good morning, sir.  I'm Leaper, sir.  I look after you."

Mr. St. George did not reply.  He lay very flat in the bed, and his
eyes went to the familiar windows, and the outline of the naked
trees in the square.  Leaper's smile disappeared and came again.
He was sorry for the man in the bed, as sorry as his profession
would allow him to be.

"Would you like a cup of tea, sir?"

Mr. St. George's glance wandered about the room.

"How long have I been here?"

"Some weeks, sir."

"Were you in the war?"

"No, I was just too old, sir.  And I was wanted badly--at home.
Yes, I'll clear up all that mess, sir, presently."

For the man in the bed was looking at the picture where it still
lay face downwards on the floor, together with the various objects
it had knocked off the table.

"That's what brought me back."

"Yes, sir.  Strange coincidence.  If I may offer my congratulations--"

Mr. St. George's eyes seemed to open very wide; the lids made a
flickering movement.  And suddenly those eyes grew moist.

"Thanks.  But--not much--to be congratulated--"

Leaper, looking shocked, went swiftly out of the room, mumbling
something about a cup of tea.

When he had gone, Mr. St. George lay still for a while, staring at
the ceiling.  He was aware of his fears and strangely unashamed of
them.  They blurred the white surface of the ceiling; but what did
it matter, for was not everything blurred, confused, horrible?  He
was conscious of a weight inside his head.  His whole head felt
heavy, too heavy to be raised from the pillow.  But could he raise
it?  He made the attempt, and found that he could, and going yet
further, dug his elbows into the bed, and managed to raise himself
a little.  But his legs?  They lay there stretched out like a
couple of sandbags, and suddenly he fell back, letting his head
sink deep into the pillow.  He turned his head so that his face was
half-hidden in the pillow.  He caught a fold of the case between
his teeth, and lay rigid, trying to stifle a part of him that
wanted to shout for help.  And the cry that rose on him was for
"Kitty--Kitty."

He remained like that for a minute.  The lower jaw relaxed; he
turned his head slowly, and lay again looking up at the ceiling, at
that blank white surface.  His face had an extraordinary tremulous
wistfulness.  He seemed to be whispering, but without making a
sound.  A man's phrase--a war phrase--seemed to trickle into his
head.  Everything was na poo, a wash-out.  His marriage--He felt
empty, like a body without a stomach.  His head began to ache.

Leaper came in with the tea.  It was an obsequious and persuasive
Leaper who encouraged him to drink it.

"That's it, sir.  You'll feel better, sir.  Do you think you could
bear to be shaved, sir, presently?"

"Leave me alone for a bit, will you, there's a good chap."

"Certainly, sir."

"I want to think--try to."

"Of course, sir.  I've brought up a little handbell, sir.  I'll put
it here.  If you want me--"

"All right.  Is--my--Mrs. St. George up yet?"

"No, sir; I think not, sir.  Here's the bell, quite handy.  And
what time would you like your breakfast, Sir?"

"O, any time, Leaper."

Leaper had left Mr. St. George less than five minutes when the
handbell was rung and the male nurse hurried in to see what Mr. St.
George's need was.

"I want to write a letter."

"A letter, sir?"

"Get me some note-paper.  Do you happen to have a fountain-pen?"

"I have, sir."

Leaper bustled about.  He had to raise Mr. St. George in bed, and
prop him up with an additional cushion or two.

"How's that, sir?"

"Splendid.  I'll ring again when I want you, Leaper."

He wrote his letter to Kitty.  It was very simple and straight, the
kind of letter that he might have written to her had nothing of
this happened to him.  Its message was--"Kitty, I want you.  I'm in
the dark; I'm lost.  Where are you?"  When he had fastened up the
envelope, he remembered that he had neither stamps nor money.  But
what did that matter?  He rang the bell for Leaper, and lay looking
at the address on the envelope, "Mrs. Alex St. George, No. 7 Vernor
Street."

"Yes, sir?"

Leaper stood in the doorway.

"Put a stamp on this for me, Leaper, will you, and post it at
once."

"At once, sir?"

"Yes, please."

"Certainly, sir."

Alex St. George let himself sink down in the bed, much as though he
had accomplished some notable thing, and could do no more for the
moment.  His head ached and he felt full of a dull confusion.  The
effort of writing that letter, those three minutes of mental and
emotional concentration, had exhausted him.  He heard the shutting
of the door, and he closed his eyes.  He thought--"She must come to
me now.  If she cares--she will come.  But why didn't she come
before?  That letter--?  O--impossible!  And yet!  And yet?"  He
felt more and more confused and weary--Meanwhile, Leaper was
standing on the landing with the letter in his hand, and Mrs. St.
George was descending the stairs.  Leaper did not offer to show her
the letter, but he stood and held it so that she could not fail to
see it.  The responsibility would not be his.

She saw it instantly, but she did not at once betray her seeing of
it.  She spoke in a controlled, maternal voice.

"Is Mr. St. George awake?"

"Yes, madame.  He has had a cup of tea."

"I meant to have been down sooner.  I was very tired.  I was with
him till four o'clock.  He fell asleep.  What is that, Leaper?"

He handed her the letter, and his voice was subdued.

"Mr. St. George has just written it, madam.  He asked me to post
it."

She looked at the address on the envelope.  Her face had an
attentive calmness.  She moved on to the next flight of stairs,
making a sign to Leaper.  He followed her down to the dining-room,
where the table was laid for breakfast.  She told him to shut the
door.  She stood in front of the fire, looking down at it.

"Leaper, your other responsibility begins to-day.  Do you remember
what I said to you?"

She seemed to fascinate him with her complete calmness.

"Yes, madam.  Undesirable people--"

"Quite so.  My son must be protected--from these people.  Any
letters--such as this one--"

Deliberately she bent down and put the letter on the fire, watching
it blacken and curl and burn.  No words were needed.  Leaper
understood; he backed softly to the door.

"Excuse me, madam--but what am I to tell Mr. St. George if he asks
me?"

She spoke as though giving him an order.

"If Mr. St. George asks you--you will of course tell him that you
posted that letter."


V


For two days Alex St. George lay and watched the rain come down.
The grey of the December sky did not cease to empty itself upon the
tops of the plane-trees, and the man in the bed felt the drip of it
inside his head.  He was suffering from a mental confusion.  His
thoughts seemed to drift about in a fog with a sense of difficulty
and distress.  The realization of what he was and what he might be
lay heavy upon him, pressing him down into a pulp of lethargy and
depression.

The one glowing point in this confusion was his thought of that
letter to Kitty.  If she was lost at sea, this was the one light
that remained.  And so he lay and waited, unable to do anything,
with a head that ached, and thoughts that drifted vaguely.  He
could make no effort of any kind; he felt even more helpless in the
presence of his mother; her blue eyes looking down at his seemed to
congeal and to render him mute.  There were moments when he wanted
to tell her--"I have written to Kitty.  I want to see Kitty;" but
he had not the will-force inside him.  His lips could not even
begin to shape the words.

Dr. Dazely came.

Alex liked Dr. Dazely.  He was soft and sententious and kind,
dangerously kind.  He demanded no effort.  His large white face and
fluty voice were soporific.

"Don't worry, my dear sir.  Perfect rest--perfect rest.  Leave
everything to us."

To Mrs. St. George Dr. Dazely said that it was imperative that her
son should be sheltered from all excitement.

"In these cases--you know--the mentality cannot be considered
normal.  Months, perhaps, a question of months.  They are apt to be
irritable, moody, emotional.  I want him to be wrapped up in cotton
wool."

She asked for nothing better than counsel such as this.  She would
apply the cotton wool; she would shut out the world, and all
jarring emotions; she felt that she had been justified in burning
that letter.

She asked Dr. Dazely to give very definite instructions to Leaper.
Such orders--professionally given--would reinforce her own, and Dr.
Dazely did so.  Mr. St. George was to be humoured in every way, as
a sick child is humoured, but behind this humouring was to be
careful and kind restraint.  No letters, no visitors, no
excitements.

"Cotton wool, Leaper, cotton wool."

Meanwhile, Mr. St. George lay and waited.  That speck of light in
his confused world still glimmered.  On the third day he asked
Leaper questions, but he asked them like a sick man, with a kind of
deprecating gentleness.

"No letter for me, Leaper?"

"No, sir."

"No one has called?"

"No one.  Only Dr. Dazely, and one or two ladies."

"What kind of ladies?"

"Elderly ladies, sir, friends of Mrs. St. George."

There was a pause, and Alex's fingers picked nervously at the
bedclothes.

"You posted that letter, Leaper?"

"Which letter, sir?"

"The one I wrote--that morning."

"Of course, sir."

On the evening of that third day, while his mother was below--
dining--Mr. St. George called Leaper to him.  He was very restless;
his eyelids flickered; his hands could not keep still.

"I want to write another letter, Leaper."

"You oughtn't to tire yourself, sir."

"I must write it."

Leaper shrugged the shoulders of his soul, and humoured him.  It
was a scrawl of a letter, excited, pathetic, hardly legible, and
when it was finished and fastened up, it was placed in Leaper's
large damp hand.

"At once--Leaper.  Don't tell anybody."

Leaper went out of the room, and Alex St. George lay and listened.
He heard the opening and closing of the front door, but he could
not know that Leaper had indulged in a piece of make-believe, and
was tiptoeing into the dining-room.  Mrs. St. George was alone.
Without a word, and as though the thing was burning his fingers,
Leaper placed the letter on the table beside her plate.

She looked at it, and said nothing, but later that evening she rang
for the male nurse.  She was seated at her desk; she held something
crisp and white in her right hand.

She said:  "Loyal service is appreciated."

She passed him four five-pound notes.


VI


And Alex St. George lay and waited, with toys and luxuries
beginning to accumulate about him.  Two ingenious tables had
arrived, that could be swung across the bed and tilted at any
angle, and with one of these tables on either side he had only to
stretch out a hand to turn on a gramophone or pick up a book or a
magazine.  There were no less than a dozen magazines on a table.
He was allowed to smoke, but the silver cigarette-box that
contained the different brands of cigarettes made him think too
much of Vernor Street.  He had fruit and flowers within reach, jig-
saw puzzles, writing-materials, papers, tobacco, matches,
chocolates, a morning and evening paper.  Twice a day Leaper
massaged his paralyzed legs.  He had his nails manicured.  He could
watch the flames of a cheerful fire leaping in the grate.

His mother's kindness smothered him.  It smelt of flowers and
fruit, and of the finest of soaps.  It showed him all the world in
pictures; it gave him music to which he could not dance.  He could
draw the softest of crimson-covered down quilts up under his chin,
and yet he lay inert and was dully conscious of a helpless crave in
him, of an increasing sadness.  He was like a man slipping slowly
down a well, while the little circle of light up above grew less
and less, and as it diminished he began to realize the nature of
the surrounding darkness.  Kitty had not come to him; she had not
replied to either of those two letters; therefore--all that his
mother had charged her with--He tried to struggle against an
increasing loss of faith in her, but his struggles were not those
of a normal man; he was weak, far weaker than his normal self; he
was irritable; he had moments of anger when he told himself that he
did not care.

But one afternoon, when the windows were darkening, and the plane-
trees in the square were growing dim, his mother found him in
tears.  She pushed a table aside, and drawing up a chair, sat down,
bending over him.  He jerked his face away, but he began to blurt
out scalding words.

"It's true what you wrote.  She hasn't been; she hasn't written.  I
couldn't have believed it."

Mrs. St. George laid a hand on his head

"My dear--"

She shivered inwardly, for her purpose was ice.

"Why--why--?"

It was the little wailing boy who cried to her.

"Alex--I had better speak.  Isn't it obvious?  She saw you once,
the difference in you.  And then--I suppose--"

He seemed to cower down in the bed.

"Mater--how horrible!"

"My dear--I'm sorry--"

She was sorry; she was being wounded, shocked, but she set her
teeth.  She was in the right a thousand times in the right; she was
being cruel to be kind; she would hold him from these women, from
that deplorable war madness.

"Alex, my dear, do you remember--I used to tell you that you were
blind?  It hurts you now--to see.  But it would hurt you more--"

He turned suddenly to her in the dusk that wavered with the flicker
of the fire.

"Have they done nothing--?"

"The girl came to see me--once--but before she had seen you at
Poynter's Hill.  The mother tried to see me--afterwards.  I'm a
rich woman, Alex--and you--"

She made herself meet his dim, wide eyes.  They were frightened
eyes.

"Is it--that she didn't want me any more--when I was like that--?"

Mrs. St. George was silent, and her silence was the most eloquent
and the most comprehensive of answers.



CHAPTER XVII


I


Meanwhile, Kitty clasped her problem much as she had held her
husband's head in her arms.  She took it to bed with her, and it
kept her awake, and she woke with it in the morning, and it sat
squarely at the breakfast-table staring at the bacon dish or the
pot of marmalade.  Certainly it was a devil of a problem.  She was
alone with it; she had brushed the lawyers aside.

But the chief difficulty remained in that she had no knowledge of
her husband's condition, and whether she was to plan for an infant
or for a man.  Alex was shut up in his mother's house, and she was
shut out of it.  She could presume from the fitting of that grille
to the front door, and from Mrs. Sarah's experience, that it would
not be possible for her to surprise the defences of No. 77.  It was
a ridiculous situation, an exasperating situation.  She could watch
the house and see who went in and out.  Assuredly a doctor would be
one of the visitors to No. 77, and she would have every right to
accost the doctor who was in charge of her husband's case, and to
question him.  Letters--of course--would be useless.  If Mrs. St.
George was as determined as she--Kitty--knew herself to be, then
all letters to Alex would be censored, and the forbidden ones
stopped.

She had decided to waylay Alex's medical man when an unexpected
ally appeared at No. 7 Vernor Street, even Mr. Jimmy Grimshaw,
demobilized, but still in khaki for a month, and spending a week in
town before solemnly incarcerating his cheerful and warlike soul in
the city of Exeter.  He came in, red and smiling, more polished
than usual, to grip her hand across the cigars and cigarettes.

"Jimmy--"

She glowed.  She looked into his droll, ironical, honest eyes, and
held his hand firmly.

"The very man I want."

"Good business.  How's old Alex?  I suppose--"

"I want to tell you about Alex.  They have taken him away from me,
Jimmy."

She took Mr. Grimshaw upstairs, and Corah went down to take charge
of the shop.  Mrs. Sarah was out shopping.  Kitty made Grimmy sit
down in the best chair, the chair that had been re-sprung and re-
upholstered since Armistice Day; she pushed a box of cigarettes at
him, and taking one herself, rolled a tuffet into the middle of the
hearthrug, and sat down.

"I want you to go and see Alex for me, Grimmy."

"Right-o.  Some hospital?"

"No, at his mother's.  I had better tell you all about it, Grimmy.
I know you will believe that I am telling you the truth."

Jimmy Grimshaw did know something about women; or rather--he had
that peculiar male flair for divining the real inwardness of a
woman.  He was not concerned with woman as a creature of emotional
subtleties or aesthetic or intellectual tendencies; he was
concerned with the good 'uns and the wrong 'uns, the givers and the
takers.  He was a young man of a good deal of self-assurance.  He
sat back and smiled, and kept quiet, and watched Kitty.  She told
him the amazing story, and he believed it, just as stoutly as he
believed in the reality of that solid little figure on the tuffet,
with the glow of the firelight on its determined face.  Kitty was
no wrong'un, and she was very much up against it.

He said:  "What a damned shame!  Do you mean to tell me that she
has got poor old Alex shut up?"

"She has shut him in--and she has shut me out."

"But, my dear Kitty, such things aren't done in a civilized
country."

"But they are done.  You remember those letters you sent back to
me?"

"Of course."

She had the most difficult part of the confession before her, but
she went through it with deliberate courage, while Mr. Grimshaw sat
tapping a khaki leg with a cane.  He looked just a little more red
in the face.  His fighting temperament kept step with Kitty's.
Under his breath he was referring to Mrs. St. George in the
language of the fighting male, as a red she-dog--language that
would grow less colourful and more chaste in that Exeter office.

"So--you see--Grimmy," she was saying, "I don't know whether he is
as I saw him at Poynter's Hill, or whether his memory has come
back.  I want to find out."

His dark eyes lit up.

"But aren't you going to fight?"

"Of course I'm going to fight, but in my own way; I have had my
legal opinion, and I've turned it down, Grimmy--"

He sat and stared at her.

"Well, what am I to do?"

"I want you to go and see Alex.  Most probably they will let you
see him.  And you can come back and tell me."

He gave a last smack to his leg.

"Right-o.  I'll go--at once.  I'll raid their defences.  By Jove,
what a woman!"

"She's right--in her way," said Kitty; "just as right as I am in
mine."

He must have hurried, for he was back with her in a little over the
hour, sitting in front of the fire, and looking sobered.

He told Kitty that he had taken a taxi both ways.  Yes, he had not
found it easy to enter the house; they had kept him waiting on the
steps--a fellow with a bad breath had spoken to him through a
confounded little squint-hole in the door.  Almost incredible,
what?  Mrs. St. George had come in person and had parleyed with
him.  "Oh, Mr. Grimshaw?  Yes, Alex has often spoken of you."  She
had allowed him to be admitted like a visitor into a prison, you
know, or into a private lunatic asylum.

At this point he filled and lit a pipe, for a cigarette was too
flimsy to satisfy his feelings.  He did not look at Kitty; he
stared at the fire.

"Fine house--you know.  Carpets like grass, and lots of old
pictures.  She took me upstairs.  O, yes, but before she did that I
was scrutinized and given my orders.  It was most important that
poor old Alex should not be excited.  Doctor's orders.  She said I
might stay five minutes."

He blew smoke, and watched a waft of it go up the chimney.

"She went up the stairs in front of me, and somehow I felt like
part of a procession--"

"Grimmy," said Kitty suddenly, with her fists in her lap, "tell me
what I want to know."

He nodded his head.

"Sorry.  Alex is compos mentis--as sane as you or I.  But--my
lord--!"

"What?"

"He nearly fell out of bed at me.  His room is like a sort of toy
shop, or a stall at a bazaar--every sort of gadget.  I seemed to be
wading through books and magazines and gramophone records, and
bowls of flowers.  It smelt like a greenhouse, full of soft fug.
But--she--was there--"

"All the time?"

"You bet.  She sort of smothered him down on the pillows.  I was
made to sit about two yards off while she commanded the bed.  Very
formal--I can assure you.  She had a hand on his pulse--so to speak--
all the time.  And that fellow with the flat teeth and the breath
was just outside the door.  I felt muzzled--as though I had a gas-
mask on."

He puffed smoke in silence for some seconds.

"We chatted like a couple of polite old ladies at a tea-party.  I
couldn't say--If I had blurted out--anything--And old Alex lay and
looked at me.  The thing that got me--was his eyes."

Kitty's fists were under her chin.

"Just how?"

"Frightened eyes--my dear--seemed to stand out of his head, with
the whites showing all round them.  As if he were wanting to shout
for help--and couldn't.  They made me feel funny."

She glanced at Grimshaw's square profile.

"Dear old Grimmy!  So--it was just like that.  And you came away."

"I did.  I had one handshake.  His hand was like a soft and bulgy
kid-glove.  No heart in it.  He wanted to say things and couldn't,
and I had half a mind to blow up.  But--after all--I might have
been like a bull in a china shop.  She marched me out of the room
and down the stairs.  She was as polite as hell.  How long was I
staying in London?  A few days--only.  And going back to
civilization and work?  It was kind of me to come and see Alex.  He
was not allowed to see visitors.  Whether she suspected me, I don't
know, but I am pretty sure that that fellow with the breath would
be told not to let me inside the house again.  And that's--that.
You've got a problem, Kit."

She stared at the fire.

"I have," she said.

He caught her smiling the strangest of smiles.

"But now, I do know--where I am, Grimmy.  It's not all fog.  You've
helped me--no end."

"Wish I could see it like that," said he.


II


But in dispelling her uncertainty as to her husband's mental state,
Jimmy Grimshaw had drawn aside a curtain.  Kitty could look through
the windows of that first-floor room and see Alex lying in bed,
helplessly the son of his mother, and surrounded by her multifarious
persuasions.  Most vividly was she conscious of his frightened eyes,
and just as Grimshaw had described them, the eyes of a dumb man
unable to call for help.

Yes, it was very obvious that Mrs. St. George had been exercising
powers of mental suggestion as well as her opportunities for
physical control, but Kitty decided to test her enemy's defences,
and the alertness and spirit of the defenders.  She began by
posting a letter to her husband, and when it remained unacknowledged,
she sent him a registered letter, which was no more successful.
Her next move was to dispatch a reply-paid telegram. The reply
consisted of three words--"Sender not known."  After these repulses
she walked to Cardigan Square, dropped a letter into the letter-box
of No. 77, rang the bell, and waited.

The panel of the grill was slipped to one side.

"Yes--what do you want--please?"

It was Leaper's voice.  She said:  "I have put a letter in the box
for Mr. St. George.  Will you please see that he gets it?"

The grill was closed, but she remained on the doorstep, listening
to the sounds of retreating footsteps.  Presently she heard someone
else come to the door and unlock the letter-box, and she felt sure
that the person who extracted that letter was Mrs. St. George.  All
her messages to Alex were anticipated.

She returned to Vernor Street.  She went up to her room, took off
her hat and sat down on the bed.  She faced the situation as she
would have faced a mirror, determined to see everything in it, even
to the very spot she might find on her chin.

She realized Alex's helplessness.  Either everything was being kept
from him, or it was served up to him specially cooked and
flavoured.  She had to assume complete concealment or studied
distortion.  He knew nothing, or knew too much.

No longer was he the Alex of Maleham, or the Alex who had sat
beside her in this little bed, but a paralyzed, bedridden child,
exposed to any sort of suggestion, coerced, drugged, fooled,
whispered to.  He was like a plant in a greenhouse, neatly tied to
a stick, and made to grow in the direction of the light--the light
that his mother chose to admit.  His helplessness was complete.  It
looked out at her from his dumb and frightened eyes.

He was helpless--too--in every other way.  He had not a penny of
his own.  She supposed that he was entitled to some pension or
allowance if he claimed it, but would he be allowed to claim it?
Mrs. St. George would not see the necessity.  Obviously, his mother
would prefer to hold him as her pensioner.  He was paralysed in the
legs; he had no profession, no weapon, no power to make money.

"O, poor lad!"

She could look at the problem through his eyes.  She could see its
pitiful and humiliating features.  It made her hot and angry and
fiercely compassionate.  Already she was beginning to suspect that
the other woman might not want him to be other than he was, that
she might be planning to keep him as he was.  A paralyzed child!  A
man--shorn of his manhood, pulped, emasculated, enervated, confined
in a hot-house!  He might grow soft and flabby and fat, a decadent
thing, a consenting creature, sucking at the sweet things this
woman gave him.

Kitty rose from the bed.

"It is up to me.  It is my job."


III


A Londoner does not go to Leith Hill in January, and sit upon the
wet turf and look out over far horizons, but Kitty began to visit
places almost as unexpected as Leith Hill.  She had talked the
matter over with her mother, and they had sat down together before
the Vernor Street fire, and gone into ways and means.  That Mrs.
Sarah approved of the adventure and was ready to help in financing
it, proved how much she loved a large and human gesture, and how
solid her faith was in her daughter.  And--after all--that other
woman was reading them a lesson in thoroughness.  It was not a mere
question of window-dressing, or of amateur gardening in a backyard,
with a packet of this and a packet of that, and a few nasturtiums
to cover the lapses.  There were to be no lapses in Kitty's
progress, though she was putting the cart before the horse.

"I could sell out my 'Cobbolds.'"

The ordinary shares of Messrs. Cobbold & Co., were showing some
vitality, and Mrs. Sarah would not hear of Kitty selling out.  Mrs.
Sarah brought out a little black ledger, the Book of the Dooms, and
with a page of a financial journal spread upon the table, she and
Kitty went into ways and means.  Mrs. Sarah enjoyed figures.  When
she scribbled down an 8, it was as rotund and as solid as herself.

"I can back my fancy," she observed, "just as well as the woman of
Cardigan Square can back hers.  Supposing I put down a thousand,
poppet, to begin with."

"I'll pay you five per cent."

"Is it likely!"

"O--yes--I will.  If I am to go into business--let it be business."

Mrs. Sarah closed the little black ledger, and wrinkled up her
nose.

"You can put five per cent. back into the show, my dear.  Besides,
you won't be able to live on air for the first six months.  Here am
I--a fat old woman--with seven thousand or so--without counting the
business--I have been saving money hard.  I have had one or two
lucky speculations.  Don't be in a hurry.  But you won't be."

Kitty scribbled figures on a blotting-pad.

"I'm in a hurry--but I shan't lose my head."

"I can allow you two hundred and fifty a year while you are working
yourself in."

"I'll pay it back."

"If you are made that way.  But what do you think I saved money
for?  Just to sit on it like an old hen on a china egg?  Hardly."

"Mother," said Kitty, with a sudden stare, "you are about the
dearest thing that ever was.  If life is giving instead of grabbing--"

"One has to grab to give, my dear, sometimes.  I did not learn my
economics at a university.  I learnt them in Bethnal Green and
Westminster.  You go ahead."


IV


Kitty went ahead, but her progress was deliberate if adventurous.
She--too--took a motor-bus to Highbury, and on two evenings talked
solid, material business with Uncle Robert, who found it quite
unnecessary to discourage Kitty as he had to discourage so many
enthusiasts, young and old.  She had ideas beyond hat shops and
chicken farms.  In fact, he was a little astonished at the scope
and the thoroughness of her preparations.  She had ideas, quite a
number of ideas, but they were ordered and logical.  She had no
intention of sowing all her seeds with a sweep of the hand, and
expecting them all to germinate and produce impossible results.

She said:  "I know one has got to take risks, but it seems to me
that you have got to know just when to take them.  When you think
you see a certainty, and the other fellow hasn't begun to think
about it at all--"

Mr. Parsons nodded over his pipe.

"But I am not going to risk my bed and my roof.  The first little
place I get into must be solid, a safe thing--however small.  I
shall look down at the thing inside and out before I put my money
down.  One ought to be able to look ahead."

"Just what your mother did."

"Quite so.  But if you hear--of any little business--being up for
sale.  Lawyers do?"

"We do.  Any particular district?"

"On the river--if possible.  I want to get in before the rush
comes.  I am doing some investigating--myself."

"You don't mind--what sort of business?"

"Something that I can run myself--keep in my own hands--"

For Kitty was remembering Maleham, the Maleham of those seven green
and quiet days when she had learnt to know her Alex, the cloud
watcher, the idler under trees, the sensitive boy-man of a husband.
He was her contrast.  She was touched by the very things in him
which she had not--his dreaminess, his little irresponsibilities,
his too easy generosities.  She might have a Frenchwoman's capacity
for business, but she had what the majority of Frenchwomen do not
appear to possess--romantic affection as well as animal affection.
The shadows in her shop would have that indefinable quality of
mystery; her fields would be more than orderly and productive
chessboards under an illogical sky.  She had Maleham in her mind,
not Maleham itself, but something a little like it, and with more
life to it, the life of the river, of that inimitable old Thames
that is English of the English from Oxford to The Nore.  Almost
like a mother she remembered her man's love of trees and green
places, and waving grass and sun-dappled backwaters, and the
sweeping silver of broad reaches, and the poplars and the sound of
the wind in them.  He had loved to watch beasts browsing knee-deep
in meadows, and the sickled wings of swallows cutting the air, and
the sunlight of the shadow upon the beechwoods.  He had talked of
farming.

What did he or she know of farming?  Nothing.  But she had in her
mind a picture of some little place where she could be busy while
he would have his river, his green spaces and his trees.  Yes, if
she should win him back, rescue him from that luxurious misery, she
would wish him to lie where he could look at the sky and the river.
There is laughter in life, laughter that wells up from nowhere.
Such laughter would not come to him in Cardigan Square.

And so, like a little sturdy person, clasping her basket of love
and of shrewd practical endeavour, she went in search of her new
Maleham, her Isle of Apples that was to be more than an island of
dreams.  She had one supreme advantage, she knew what she wanted,
and she was the daughter of Mrs. Sarah.



CHAPTER XVIII


On a grey and muggy day, with the river a foot above its summer
level, and flowing like oil, Kitty discovered Shelford.  She had
received a hint from Uncle Robert, who had picked up some gossip
while lunching in the city with the managing clerk of a firm of
solicitors who dealt largely in real estate.  Mr. Parsons had
communicated with Vernor Street.  "An odd bit of property at
Shelford--on the market.  Place called Vine Cottage.  What one
would describe as a job lot, I imagine.  I thought you might like
to look at it."  Kitty took the train to Staines.  At half-past ten
in the morning she was in conversation with a depressed and leaden-
eyed purveyor of punts and boats who, wearing a dirty old white
sweater, grey trousers, and gum-boots, was moving about with a
paint-pot.

"Have you a motor-boat for hire?"

A motor-boat for hire in January, with the river as dead as a stuck
eel, and the Armistice less than three months old!  The boat-owner
looked at her sourly.  Even pessimism seemed mute in him.

"What do you think!"

She said:  "I want to go down to Shelford and look at it from the
river.  I want to be left at Shelford.  Have you got a boat?"

The man glanced at his boat-house as though he had a grudge against
it.

"Boats!  O, yes, we've been very busy with boats!  They don't eat
their heads off like 'orses."

"Well, I want one.  How far is it to Shelford?"

"Three mile or less.  But I ain't got a man; not even a damned
boy."

She said:  "Well, aren't you a man?  How much do you want?"

He got out a boat and sculled her down to Shelford, and the
exercise seemed to loosen his congealed figure so that he grew more
conversational in a jerky and discursive fashion.  He had a
grievance.  The war had changed everything; nothing would ever be
the same again, not even the river.  As for the boys, of all the
arrogant, impertinent, spoilt young brutes!  Yes, even the boys
were profiteering!  He would pause now and again and let the boat
glide, and fix his depressed and aggravated eyes on Kitty.  "You
may believe or--or not, but you'll never see Boulter's Lock like it
used to be."  She let him talk, and won her first glimpse of
Shelford over a swinging shoulder and the bulge of a dirty white
sweater.  She saw Shelford as a redness beside the brimming river,
a clustering of old leafless trees, a green ascent rising to black
beechwoods.  She saw the square stunted tower of the church, a
little lighter in its greyness than the sky, the red Georgian
houses, the black and white of the Ship Inn, the queer old cottages
and bits of garden.  It lay all on the south bank; the northern
bank showed her nothing but meadows and trees, and the Ferry Inn
where Ferry Lane came down to the river.  It seemed to float to her
over the water.

The man lay on his sculls, and looked morosely over his left
shoulder.

"It's dead," he said, "dead as a damned rat."

She smiled faintly.  She was looking at something that pleased her,
but she wanted him to talk.

"After the war--you mean."

"I do.  Why--on a Sunday--you'd see boats putting in there--by the
dozen.  And the Abbot's Close full of cars.  And Bunt's boat-house
there quite lively.  Shut up now.  He used to do quite a nice lot
of boat-building.  Broke--broke to the world.  And all because of
those silly pigs of Germans--"

His lugubriousness had a meaning for her.

"Do you know a place called Vine Cottage?"

"That's Vine Cottage.  Next to Bunt's boat-house.  Used to do quite
well with teas--in a small way.  I've seen half a dozen tables
there on a Sunday afternoon."

Kitty saw the place as a low, rambling, reddish cottage, shaped
like a letter L, and dipping its garden into the river.  There were
fruit trees, and two or three old yews, a stretch of grass, and a
derelict-looking summer-house.  Two chimney-stacks stood up red and
square.  The roof tiles were the colour of old rusty iron.  The
small windows blinked from white frames.  A vine, roses and
wistaria struggled up the walls, and in autumn a Virginia creeper
splashed one gabled end a vivid crimson.  Between the garden and
the boat-house a magnificent plane-tree rose, piping from its trunk
a great spray of greyish branches.

"Floods ever reach there?" asked Kitty.

"Never knew them to reach the house.  I've known them reach Bunt's
boat-house, because he cut into the bank for his level.  Looks a
bit homesick--this time of year.  Want me to land you at the ferry
steps?"

"Please."

He landed her at the steps, and she found herself in Lime Walk
between rows of pollarded lime-trees.  Her impulse was to wander
and to explore before viewing Vine Cottage, and she walked on into
the open space that was known as Abbot's Close, where three old
Georgian houses with white doors and architraves and window-sashes
faced the Ship Inn.  Abbot's Hostel, a Charles II foundation,
embracing a little cobbled courtyard, lay on the west of the Close.
Here were more lime-trees, and Kitty stood under one of them and
looked at the Ship Inn.  It appeared whiter than it was, and being
a woman she had an eye for blinds and curtains and the significance
of such details.  She decided to have lunch at the Ship Inn, and
test its imagination; she believed in imagination as a business
asset; imagination created opportunities.

She wandered on.  She explored what appeared to be the main street
of Shelford, until it languished into two rows of workmen's
cottages; she examined the shops.  They were so obvious, as obvious
as the brussels sprouts in the greengrocer's baskets, or the
peaches and tinned fruit in the grocers' window.  There was no
gleam of a "Come hither" in the eyes of these shops; they offered
you no sense of adventure; they aroused no curiosity; and Kitty,
pausing outside the window of the local draper's, and scrutinizing
the hats, knew at once what was wrong with them.

"You old maid of a shop!"

For, after all, if you did not succeed in interesting people, and
in picquing their curiosity, they would come dully into your shop
and ask without imagination for the dull stuff you offered them.
"Three penn'orth of vinegar, please."  You and they remained dull,
trading the obvious, and your turnover became as slothful as a
change of posture in bed.  The thing was to have a different kind
of carrot to dangle in front of the nose of the ass of habit, and
to dangle it differently.

She walked on to look at the sturdy old church, with its yews and
its great cedar, and at the rectory, planted among trees behind a
high red-brick wall.

"That's old England," she reflected.  "And there's a new England
coming.  Bound to be.  That fellow in the boat could not see three
miles down the river.  If people wanted to play--before the war,
surely they'll be wanting to play twice as hard after four years of
war.  We are starving for play.  And my play is going to be--?  O,
well!"

She smiled at the church tower and turned to walk down River Lane.
It ran parallel to the Thames, and fifty yards of it and of little
old houses and odd shops brought her to some gardens and an
orchard, and opposite the orchard stood Vine Cottage.  It had a
board up "For Sale.  Apply Within."  It had a queer little white
porch perched on two slim white legs.  It was both cottage and
shop, showing to the passers in the lane a long, low, old-fashioned
shop window full of tired articles--cigarettes, tins of tobacco,
cheap pipes, boxes of chocolates with the ribbon faded, jars of
sweets, picture postcards.  "Everything and nothing," as Kitty
described it.  She stood back in the lane, and examined the red
walls, the windows and the roof.  The place looked solid.  It had
that English cosiness, a ripe lightness.  It gave you the feeling
that it had grown there.

She was offered two doors of entry, the green one with the brass
knocker under the porch, and the white shop door with its two glass
panels.  She chose the shop door.  A bell tinkled.  She stepped
down six inches to worn, brown linoleum.  She saw untidy shelves,
and a counter covered with white American cloth, on it a pair of
scales and a bottle of bull's-eyes.  A woman came through a door
from the back, and looked at Kitty as though she had come to
collect a subscription.

She was a very tired woman, completely colourless, with one of
those dusty skins, and pale lips crimped over prominent teeth.  Her
fair hair was dragged back as though some hand seized it each
morning with relentless and worrying haste.  She stooped.  She had
one of those faces that never smile.  Her pale eyes suggested that
life was tiresome, and so properly dull that to indulge in a smile
was an impropriety.

She stared at Kitty.  She did not speak, but her eyes asked the
question:  "Well, what d'you want?  I'm in a hurry."

She was one of those unfortunate creatures who are always full of
haste, chasing their own little bobs of hair.  Kitty said:  "Good
morning!  Are you Miss Ives?  I have an order to view."

She produced the order, and Miss Ives looked at it as though she
had in her red and skinny finger a doubtful cheque.

"It's very early.  The beds--!"

"O, never mind.  I shan't mind.  If you are busy--perhaps I can
look round?"

As if a woman of Miss Ives's propriety would let you poke about her
house--alone!

"If you will sit down for five minutes--please."

"Supposing I look at the garden--till you are ready?"

"O, the garden!  If you wish to."

With agitation and fluster and worried ill-humour, she almost
pushed Kitty down a tile-paved passage into the garden.  She
slammed the garden door, though time is not economized by the
slamming of doors.  She had said something about having lodgers to
cook for.  And Kitty walked down to the river, and turned to stand
and stare.  Enlightened staring is a necessity, and to do it you
must stand very still.

Yes, she liked the little funny old place; she had liked it from
the first glance; she continued to like it in spite of that feather
broom of a woman.  But mere liking was not sufficient; she had to
examine it with one eye on its business possibilities, and the
other eye on Alex.  The garden was an untidy stretch of grass, with
here and there an old fruit tree, or a weed patch that had been a
flowerbed.  On pacing it out she found it to possess a river
frontage of some hundred and twenty feet.  Her measurements stopped
at a laurel hedge, until she realized that the ground beyond the
hedge also belonged to Vine Cottage.  She traversed a gap in the
hedge and made a discovery.

She was looking up towards the other limb of the L-shaped cottage,
and towards a ground-floor window, a wonderful window, spacious and
strangely peaceful.  It seemed to stretch from wall to wall.  It
gazed with steadfast tranquillity at the river, and the trees and
fields across the river; it looked along this little secret strip
of garden between the laurel hedge and a high old red-brick wall.
She walked up to the window and looked at it.  The present
furnishings of the room or its purpose did not matter.

She drew her breath and held it.

"Just the room for him."

It was.  She could see him lying in that nappy window, or in the
piece of garden, sheltered, but not too much so.  He would have his
trees and his river.  And if this room had a garden door of its
own?

It had one.  She found a green door opening upon a narrow brick
path.  She smiled and returned to the river; she looked up and down
the river with eyes of imagination; she saw boats coming and going.
She saw also a rotting landing-stage with two broken boards on it.
She strolled along and looked over the fence dividing the garden
from Bunt's boat-house and yard.  It looked derelict.  She had both
her eyes and her imagination on the big white boat-house with its
tarred roof.  Already she was wanting that boat-house, and
wondering if Bunt was a person, a live entity to be bargained with.

She returned to the cottage, and walked round it, looking at the
gutters and pipes and the putty in the windows.  She was staring
hard at a cracked pane of glass when a pair of red knuckles rapped
on the window.  She saw Miss Ives's hurried face, with its hair
slipping back.

"I'm ready for you now."

Kitty went in.

The interior of the cottage was full of Miss Ives, and Miss Ives's
sister, and Miss Ives's two lodgers and their various hastes and
untidinesses, for Miss Ives appeared to have infected the whole
place with the muddled disorder of a hurried soul.  There were
fussinesses, an impression of dishevelled things bundled hastily
into drawers and cupboards.  The prevailing tints of the paint and
papers were heavy green and brown, gloomy colours, toning with the
faint smell of cabbage boiling in the kitchen.

Miss Ives stood in the centre of what was called the drawing-room,
and with clasped yet fidgety hands snapped out the necessary
details.

"Three sitting-rooms, four bedrooms, kitchen, scullery and offices.
Company's water, gas, electric light.  Shop,--and stock.  We want
£1,150 for the cottage, and £150 for the stock--and goodwill."

Kitty was looking at the green wallpaper, a sort of tapestry affair
with brown and purple splodges upon it.  She herself--from a
cursory glance, would have valued Miss Ives's stock at twopence-
halfpenny, and Miss Ives's goodwill at nothing.

She said:  "Is there a bathroom?"

No, there was no bathroom, and Miss Ives fidgeted, and held the
door open.

"You would like to see--everything, I suppose?"

"Yes, everything.  But--first--that room with the big window."

Miss Ives led her to that room, informing Kitty as she went--and
jerking her words out between prominent teeth--that her lodgers
used that room, that they were untidy young men, that they would
push the chairs about and wear holes in the carpet.  Kitty,
forgetting Miss Ives for the moment stood by the broad window, and
let herself feel what she wanted to feel.  The little house was
unhappy and it could be so happy.  It seemed to cry out to her--"O,
take her away, do take her away.  She's always pinching me, and
pulling my hair, and slamming doors, and giving me boiled cabbage.
I'm a happy little house, really."  And Kitty mused.  She saw the
walls stripped, and the painted gloom burnt away, and creams and
buffs and roses lighting and warming the interior.  She liked the
long room with the window.  She could see other things in it, and
Alex.

"Now the bedrooms--please, and the kitchen."

She saw them, though Miss Ives behaved as though she was exposing
some part of her own nakedness to a very young doctor; but Kitty
did not pity Miss Ives.

"Of course--it's absurdly cheap--at the price we are asking."

Kitty maintained her solid reserve.  Silence bears heavily upon a
chatterer.  And business is business.  She saw the bedrooms, and
the kitchen, and another Miss Ives who looked even larger and more
faded than her sister.  Even in the pulling on of a glove pressure
can be exerted.  Kitty showed no eagerness; she was impartial and
calm.

"I don't think I need see the stock in the shop.  I have several
places to choose from.  It's a nice little place--in its way--but
then--"

She began her departure.

"Have you any local agents here?"

Miss Ives snapped at her.

"Tutt & Crewdson, in the High Street."

"Thank you.  I'm afraid I've taken up a lot of your time.  Good
morning."

She left Miss Ives under the impression that she had no intention
of buying.

But Kitty went to Messrs. Tutt & Crewdson.  She saw Mr. Crewdson, a
busy well-oiled little man with a bald head and a shoehorn nose.
She was admitted to an inner office.  She was deliberate and at her
ease.

"I have been looking at Vine Cottage.  I had the address from your
London representatives.  The price is too high."

Mr. Crewdson soaped his hands.

"Well--of course--madam--if that is your view--"

"It is.  And the stock--is shop-soiled and stale.  The whole place
would need doing up."

"Little properties like Vine Cottage," said Mr. Crewdson--and was
interrupted.

"It's a derelict business.  I want a live one.  But--I might
consider--yes, in spite of the disadvantages.  I want someone else
to see it.  We are looking at a number of places.  Supposing you
give me the first refusal--for three days."

Mr. Crewdson hemmed and ha'ed a little, and tried a few
exaggerations and inexactitudes, and then decided that it might be
done.  Kitty gave her name and address, and a reference to her
solicitors and her bankers--who--of course--were also Mrs. Sarah's
bankers.

"You can wire me--if any other offer arrives.  Meanwhile--I shall
be looking round--"

Mr. Crewdson conducted her to the door.  He had susceptibilities,
and they had fallen to Kitty.

"I hope we shall do business, madam.  Good morning."

On the following day Mrs. Sarah came down to Shelford with her
daughter, a Mrs. Sarah who was finding a renewed youth in combat.
For if the other woman had erected a fortress, she--Mrs. Sarah--was
now ready to offer a broad back to her daughter for the scaling and
spoiling of that fortress.  For as she said to Kitty in the train--
"Fighting's always been my line, poppet.  If it is to be a question
of money--well, well, I talked about a thousand.  I'll go to three,
and further--if needs be.  I shall keep on the shop.  No Highbury
for me--yet.  Besides, now that Corah is going to marry a fellow
who can make fifteen hundred a year or more--I can put on airs.
I've more margin.  I shall have to get hold of two good girls for
the shop--"

They came to Shelford by train, Shelford being on a branch line
from Weybridge.  They did not propose to interview Miss Ives; not a
bit of it; that would not do.

"Softly--walkee, my dear."

They managed to hire a boat at the ferry steps, and were rowed up
and down the Shelford river-front like a couple of Amazons
reconnoitring before a landing.  They observed things, but did not
discuss their observations before the boatman.

Said Mrs. Sarah, when they were again on shore, and walking up the
lane:

"Quite right, Kittums, there's not another possible site on the
Shelford front--but that boat-house.  You ought to have that boat-
house.  We must find out about this man Bunt."

They discovered a carpenter repairing a gate, who was able to tell
them about Bunt.  Bunt was dead, and his business had died before
him.  Mrs. Bunt lived in Cherry Lane at a place called Prospect
Cottage--second on the left--after you had passed the church.  It
was Mrs. Sarah who sought out and interviewed the widow, and
finding her an approachable person, opened overtures.  Mrs. Bunt
confessed that she had thought of selling the land and the boat-
house; one or two people had been nibbling.  She said that she had
been advised to ask £300 for it.  Yes, freehold--of course.  And
what did Mrs. Sarah want it for?

Mrs. Sarah had her answer ready.  She said that she was looking for
a nice site where she might be able to build a bungalow for a
married daughter whose husband had been badly wounded in the war.
Mrs. Bunt was sympathetic, but she stuck to her £300.  Moreover,
she would like to be advised.

Mr. Frampton--a solicitor--in the Abbot's Close--looked after her
affairs for her.

Mrs. Sarah attacked.

"Well--come and see your lawyer."

She believed in snatching her chestnut while it was hot, and she
was so successful with her fingers that before the day was out she
had agreed to buy and Mrs. Bunt to sell that piece of freehold land
with all buildings erected upon it, for the sum of £300.

She and Kitty had tea at the Ship Inn.  These two strong little
women had walked all over Shelford, and exhausted Shelford, but not
themselves.  Mrs. Sarah ordered buttered toast, and looking greatly
cheerful, reviewed the situation.  They had the room to themselves.

"We have got a cinch on them, my dear, as the Yanks say.  We'll
offer a thousand for Vine Cottage and £50 for the stock!  They are
asking £1,300.  It's not worth that.  If they kick we can say
'Right, we have bought the ground next door.  We can build--if we
want to.  Meanwhile--there is our offer of £1,050.'"

"I don't want to be hard on the woman," said Kitty.

"Don't pity your neighbour, my dear, so long as he has a fence to
stand behind.  Meanwhile--"

She ate buttered toast.

"Yon have a head and an eye, poppet.  That's the only possible
place on the Shelford river-front.  And nearly two hundred yards of
frontage.  Why, even if the adventure weren't to come off, we have
got our value.  And more than that.  In two years--I'll swear--we
could sell at a good profit.  You'll have a monopoly.  The thing is
to be ahead of the others."

Kitty stirred her tea.

"What about this place?  Possible rivals."

"I don't think so," said Mrs. Sarah.  "Did you see the man who runs
it?"

"The man with the red face?"

"Just so," said her mother.  "A boozer.  That takes fifty per cent.
off him.  Besides--look at the crockery--and those curtains."

It turned out as Mrs. Sarah had expected.  Miss Ives was offered
£1,050, though Messrs. Tutt & Crewdson received the offer with
hauteur, but after three days of negotiation, Mrs. Sarah's figures
were accepted, for she had been able to say:  "Well, there you are.
That's our offer.  We have the land, and personally I'm in favour
of building, so it is not particularly important to us.  There's
our offer.  We will let it stand for three days."  Miss Ives, too
flurried a person to deal with Mrs. Sarah's phlegm, and quite sure
that if a house was built next door the value of Vine Cottage would
be depreciated, and afraid of losing what appeared to be a
certainty, and not being very stoutly encouraged by Messrs. Tutt &
Crewdson, who were thinking of their commission and standing in
with the people who appeared to have money to spend,--Miss Ives
gave in, on the understanding that she was to be allowed to occupy
Vine Cottage for a month--rent free.  So it was all written down--
"Occupation on Februrary 14th."

Kitty was just a little sorry for Miss Ives, Mrs. Sarah not at all
so.  She described Miss Ives as a woman who had never been able to
make herself or any man comfortable, a chair with the springs
sticking through the cushions.  "Not enough padding, my dear.  If I
were a man I'd have nothing to do with a bony woman."

Meanwhile, Kitty sat down at the Vernor Street table, and did much
scribbling of figures.  She had her cottage and her land, but that
was only the beginning of things.  She had to think of painting and
decorating, and furnishing, and the restocking of the shop, and
what she was going to do with Bunt's boat-house, and how she was
going to do it.  She would need chairs and tables and crockery, a
new landing-stage, a super-gramophone, floor-boarding, bunting,
Chinese lanterns, treillage.  The garden would have to be made gay
and sleek and attractive.  Also, she would have to live, and
perhaps to help a paralyzed husband.  She would need a strong girl
in the house.  It was probable--too--that she might have to hire a
handy man to look after the garden and the fittings, to handle
boats, and make himself generally useful.

She prepared a number of estimates and budgets.  She travelled down
to Shelford and interviewed local decorators and a local builder.
She found the local builder a difficult person.  He wanted to ask
her £95 for adapting Bunt's boat-house for the purpose that she
required.

She and Mrs. Sarah sat down to the figures.

"Don't niggle, my dear," said the mother.  "It is better to be a
little broad in the beam."

It was Mrs. Sarah who suggested a £500 mortgage on Vine Cottage.
The property had cost them £1,350.  There would be the lawyer's
fees, etc.  £300 could be set aside for decoration, constructional
alterations, and new fitments.

"Call it £1,700--all told.  A £500 mortgage will reduce it to
£1,200.  I'll stock the shop for you from here.  Supposing I lay
out £1,500, that will leave you with £300 to live on and work with
for the first year, not counting the interest on your Cobbold
shares.  They may turn up trumps.  Now what can you live on?"

"Fifteen shillings a week," said Kitty promptly.

"There may be three of you.  Call it £3 a week.  Say £150 a year.
You will want a man for the summer months, say £2 a week for twenty
weeks.  He'll get tips.  Six per cent. on a £500 mortgage--£30.
That makes £220 in all.  Then there will be coal and gas and
electric light, and rates--about £15 a year, I think they said; and
clothes and sundries, and insurance.  And one has to remember the
doctor.  It will be a bit of a squeeze."

"O--I can stand it," said Kitty, "I'm going to work like a little
horse.  I can make a lot of things myself.  Most of the cakes.
This is my--job."

"Heavens!" said Mrs. Sarah suddenly, "we have forgotten the
furniture.  Well, you can have your bedroom furniture.  I must put
my £1,500 up to £1,600.  Seems to me we had better be going to
sales.  I have a nose for a bargain."



CHAPTER XIX


I


Always there were flowers in Alex St. George's room, violets,
narcissi, pots of red and white hyacinths, and the perfume of them
pervaded his mother's purpose.  These innocent things brought into
that sealed room a gentle sense of languor.  They smelt of the hot-
house and the florist's shop, and never having known the sharp blue
naked sky and the winds, they seemed to the man in the bed
artificial and sapless, waxen things, like himself, shut up behind
glass.  Their language was not of the woods and the fields.

Somehow they made him sad, sadder than he need have been, sadder
than he was.  They, too, were paralyzed things, planted in pots or
thrust into vases.  His room was heavy with the scent of them, but
he grew used to that, and did not notice it, but Leaper, stealing
in first thing in the morning, would twitch his nostrils.

"Smells like a funeral."

For to Mrs. St. George's son those January days were full of a
tired melancholy, and the new-born year was like a grey sea
sleeping.  He saw the rain come down; he knew the outline of every
plane-tree that was visible, the shape and the number of the
chimney-pots that could be seen and counted from where he lay.
There were red chimney-pots and clay-coloured chimney-pots, and
galvanized tubes and funnels, and chimney-pots with cowls that
swung to and fro when the wind blew, looking like the helmets of
faceless ghost-soldiers.  He knew everything in the room--the
cracks in the plaster of the ceiling, the way the shadows crept
across the wall when the winter sun was shining.  There seemed to
be nothing else for him to know, nothing more than he could know.

It was a grey and quiet month, and he lay in the grey trough of a
depression, sunk so deep in it that it seemed to be all his world.
Certainly, things happened, but they always happened in the same
way and at the same time.  There were the comings and goings of his
mother, Leaper, and Dr. Dazely.  He liked Leaper and he hated him;
he was so dependent on Leaper, but sometimes when Leaper was
massaging his legs he would feel a sudden uncontrollable desire to
pick up something and dash it against that flat and baldish head.
He knew the very smell of Leaper, a moist odour, and associated
other smells with him, the scent of shaving soap and bay-rum, the
smell of his sponge.  There were times when the very nearness of
Leaper made him conscious of a sense of nausea.  He wanted to open
the windows wide, but he could not get near a window.

There were nights, too, when he had dreams, horrible and repulsive
dreams, and he would wake sweating and shivering.

As for his mother, she came in and out, and brought him things, and
arranged flowers, and sat and gazed with those blue eyes of hers
until he could have cried out to her--"Don't--don't," or have
hidden his face in his pillow.  He was most strangely afraid of his
mother.  She made him think of a priestess gliding noiselessly into
some holy of holies, and arranging flowers round an altar.  She
made him think of a white and windless flame burning, a flame that
would never go out.  When he talked to her it was with a sense of
effort, as though the silence of the room was glass, and he was
picking up a hammer and cracking it.

Sometimes he would ask for the windows to be opened more widely.

"I'd like to hear the noise of the traffic."

But she had such a watchful look.  It was as though she was
watching for something in him to bleed to death.  He was conscious
of the heavy and perfumed presence of her kindness.  She was
overlaying her child, stifling a part of its life, smothering a
whispering desire.

Yes, she smothered him with kindness.  She gave him everything that
it was possible for her to give him, everything save life, and
movement and joy.  He could not complain; he could not show
ingratitude; he was becoming wax in her hands, or a piece of soft
pulp.  He knew it, and yet could not struggle.  He lay and
consented.

She would turn on the gramophone, and when he wept over one of the
tunes, she--with a sudden look of stark severity--stopped the
machine, and came and stood beside his bed.

"My dear, you must not give way--"

Did she know that he was bored, so bored that he wished himself
dead?

Yes, certainly things happened.  Though her son could not walk, he
could be provided with new clothes, and Tylor's of Savile Row sent
their representative with a selection of patterns and a tape-
measure and a sympathetic manner.  Alex lay and fingered the
patterns, thinking--"What is the use?"  The pomp of youth had
passed from his life--that--and Kitty.  He had become a wilful
pessimist with regard to his wife, repressing the instinctive surge
of faith in her that rose in him from time to time, for like some
experience thrust down into his subconsciousness an elemental faith
in her survived.  When the boxes of shirts and ties and pyjamas and
collars and a selection of silk dressing-gowns were sent from
Maybury's in New Bond Street, he made a languid examination of the
merchandise, and remembered with a pang how he had bought pyjamas
before going down to Maleham.  Green, wistful Maleham, would he see
it again?  Did he wish to see it again?

But he had begun to loathe his bed.  He appealed to Dr. Dazely,
that bland and kind collusionist.

"Can't I get out of this--and have a chair by the window?"

Dr. Dazely polished his monocle with a cream silk handkerchief.

"Would you like to sit by the window?"

What a fool question!

But Dr. Dazely was no fool, nor was he a complete Agag.  You could
not come daily to sit by Alex St. George's bed without developing a
liking for the lad, a feeling for that something in his wide eyes,
and Dr. Dazely was not satisfied.  He spoke of Alex with
sententious solicitude to Mrs. St. George.

"He ought to be interested as much as possible."

She asked him, with convincing frankness, to tell her what she
could do that she had not already done.  And he bowed to her.

"You have been a wonderful mother, quite wonderful.  My advice has
been--'Perfect rest, physical and mental.'  But the time will come
when he will need stimulus.  He must be roused--little by little.
He will have to be helped to adapt--"

She listened like the perfect mother.

"Of course.  What do you advise?"

"I think we might begin by letting him have a long chair by the
window."

"Yes."

"Later, we can promote him to an invalid's chair so that he can
move himself about the room.  When the spring comes I suggest that
you take him down to some quiet place by the sea, or into the
country, where he can be wheeled out--or trundle himself about."

She agreed.  She was beginning to think that she had shaken off
those Vernor Street women, and that Alex at Cromer or Torquay would
be as securely hers as Alex shut up in Cardigan Square.

"Anything else that you can suggest?"

"Interests--you know--hobbies--compatible with his condition.  He
must be persuaded to develop interests.  Just at present--of course--
I do not advise too much mental strain.  But so perfect a mother--"

She smiled upon her bland adviser.

"Music--for instance.  He has the hands of a pianist--"

"Splendid.  The very thing.  Even a banjo.  And he might interest
himself in languages--though just at present I should advise banjo
lessons, or the collecting of foreign stamps.  If my language is
somewhat figurative--dear lady."

"Admirably put," said she.  "I realize the necessity for
gradualness.  He has to collect a new body of interests."

"And you will help him.  Who could do it better?"

He departed, feeling warm within, pulling on his yellow gloves, the
discreet and fashionable physician.  But he would have done better
if he had thought more of giving "the poor lad" a new pair of legs
instead of a re-educated and bottle-fed soul.


II


There were people who spoke of Mrs. St. George's "beautiful
devotion."  They agreed to discover in her new sympathies,
delicacies, softnesses.  They admired her courage and her pride,
and especially the complete silence that she had cast over her
son's domestic tragedy.  For she had let it be understood that
there had been a tragedy, one of those unfortunate war-
entanglements, but that she had no intention of discussing it with
anybody.  She was loyal to her son.  In the opinion of her
relatives she had behaved as a Smythe and a gentlewoman, for all
the Smythes were to be found in the same family pew.

A very unsubtle rendering of this particular study!  Old Jermyn
St. George, trumpeting in his coarse way through the brass of
the conventions, was like an elephant squirting water over
irreproachable linen.

"Call it devotion!  Bosh!  She's just a white cat with her mouse."

Perhaps she was, and a cat complacently sure of her own rightness.
We are adepts at self-persuasion, some of us more so than others,
and Mrs. St. George had ceased to need self-persuasion.  She was
not a woman who lit candles and then blew them out again.  With
success well alight, shadows flee, and the path becomes clearer.
She was confident with a gliding, beneficent, inexorable
confidence.  She had snatched her son from the jaws of a
mésalliance, and if she had to carry him in her own jaws in the
doing of it was that cruelty?

To do her justice she had never thought of it as cruelty.

She was fulfilling a function, enthroning a responsibility.  Any
qualms that she may have suffered in the beginning disappeared, and
lingered as vague and unpleasant memories that were attached to
those Vernor Street women.  The taint--if there was a taint--was
theirs.  She had been able to rid herself of any self-accusation by
dumping it upon Mrs. Sarah's doorstep.  She had done it very
thoroughly.  By the end of January she was qualmless.

In possessing her son, in subjecting him to a complete and
enervating luxury, in treating him like a pet dog, she did not seem
to realize that she was making him something less than a man.  She
was giving him both Sybaris and Croton.  Even when providing him
with artificial interests she was suggesting that he should learn a
few tricks and grin and gibber over them.  And all the while she
was committing murder.  She ignored the very essence of his
manhood, the urge of nature, the truth that a man must get things
for himself or sicken and die, and that if things are got for him
vicariously he will cease to desire them.  The spirit of northern
manhood is the spirit of striving.

Even when his long chair was placed on wooden blocks in the window,
and Leaper lifted him from the bed to the chair, his mother would
sit for hours at the window, sharing the life of the square with
him.  He was not to see it alone and by himself; he was to see
nothing of his own.  She seemed to distrust the things he might see
unless she saw them also, even the yellow crocuses in the grass of
the gardens, the swelling of the leaf-buds, the lilacs glimmering
in the sunlight, the taxis, the people, the very sparrows.

She noticed that he was growing very silent.  He would lie for an
hour without speaking, staring with vague eyes at everything and
nothing.  Books had ceased to interest him.  And sometimes she
would talk in order to make him talk, though they said nothing to
each other that mattered.  She considered that it was good for him
to talk, as it was good for him to have banjo lessons and twang
strings.  Mrs. St. George twanged strings.


III


One Mr. Sidney Mocato, a gentleman with a tinge of yellow in his
skin, and large and staring eyes, came daily to give Mr. St. George
banjo lessons.  They made so cheerful a noise together that Leaper
felt moved to walk upon his toes and snap his fingers, though his
business was to wait outside the door and listen to any
conversation that might pass between Mr. Mocato and his pupil, for
Leaper had had it impressed upon him that the women at Vernor
Street were not to be forgotten.

But these banjo lessons were a mere crackling of thorns under a
pot.  They relieved the tedium and gave some sense of stir to the
stagnant hours.  Yet they had an unexpected and unexplained effect
upon Alex St. George, for after them he would show a peculiar
irritability, as though Mr. Mocato's fingers had been picking at
his nerves.  His irritability would spend itself on Leaper; more
and more he was beginning to dislike the male nurse, and to feel a
prickling of the skin when the man touched him.

As it happened Leaper had a pair of new boots that squeaked.

"For God's sake--take those boots off, man."

"Why, sir?  What's wrong, sir?"

"They squeak."

"Do they, sir?"

"What!  Haven't you noticed it?"

No, Leaper had not noticed it.  He had developed a professional
insensibility, and having done the same things for years, he had
been dulled to the reactions his activities might produce in the
persons upon whom he exercised them.  A case was a case; moods were
moods.  It might have astonished him to know that there were parts
of him, tricks of his, that roused in Alex St. George a sensitive
disgust.  Leaper had hair growing in his ears and nostrils; his
skin had a greasiness; also, he had a habit of sniffing--But
chiefly Alex St. George loathed Leaper's hands; he was so dependent
on those hands, and he hated being touched by them.  They had a
clamminess--

Yet, though Leaper did not understand the inwardness of Mr. St.
George's moods, he was aware of them as moods, and had the sense to
warn his mother.  When steam begins to escape from the safety-valve--

"I think he is a little tired of sticking in stamps, madam.  If I
may say so, madam, it would do him good to have a little company."

She had had this measure in her mind.  That Leaper should have
suggested it was an impertinence, but an impertinence that had to
be borne, for Leaper had his uses, nor could he be discarded
prematurely.  Yes, no doubt it would do Alex good to see people,
people who would amuse him, the right sort of people.  She chose
them with discretion.  They were to brighten and emphasize the
"atmosphere" she was collecting about her paralyzed son; they were
to be of the right class and temper, such untarnished sunlight that
the yellow fog of Vernor Street should be convinced of cheap gloom.
For a woman of her position some of her thinking was very crude--
"If I show him a pretty girl or two--"  That is to say, she thought
of her son's mind as a sort of stereoscopic cabinet into which you
pushed pretty pictures.

She gave a series of little tea-parties, and having selected her
pretty pictures, took them upstairs to show to Alex, whom Leaper
had dressed in one of his Savile Row suits.  She also introduced a
selection of mothers, and one or two tame young men who had not
taken part in the war.  Yet these little causeries were not a
success.  The young things might sit about on the "club fender" and
on odd chairs and tuffets, and smoke cigarettes, and turn on the
gramophone, but Alex's wide eyes--with the sensitive swim of the
dark pupils--saw something that his mother did not see.

"I'd rather they did not come, mater."

"My dear boy--!"

"You see--when they turn on the gramophone they want to dance.  How
can they--in my room!"

"You are too sensitive," she said.  "You must make an effort--I'm
sure the little Hartley girl--"

"O--Maisie--!"

He looked profoundly bored--and more than bored.

"She sits and stares at me.  I'm a hero.  That's her pose.  And I
don't like the colour of her hair.  I know she's a nice flapper--"

"My dear boy--I thought--Is there anything that you want--?"

He flared--just as his father would have flared.

"Damn it--I want a new pair of legs--Sorry, mater, but I get--so--
so touchy lying here."

She was offended, but she had the sense not to tantalize him with
further displays of youth.

"They tire me," he said; "I feel so infernally old."

So, still thinking of him as a stereoscopic cabinet into which you
introduced pictorial matter, she set about choosing older and more
faded pictures.  She brought in one or two relatives when they
happened to be in town, Uncle Sam, otherwise the Very Rev. Samuel
Smythe, Archdeacon of Blandchurch, who was staying at the Langham,
and old Havelock St. George, a major-general.

The Archdeacon was sandy, like his name, though why the name Samuel
should be associated with sandiness requires some ethnological
explanation.  He came and sat beside his nephew's chair, and looked
at him as he might have looked at a baby.  "Now what am I to say to
this--?"  But he was a kind soul, if too thin-lipped, and having
spent many years exercising archidiaconal functions, he was as
careful as a cat.  He walked round things softly, never brushing
against a reality; realities are delicate china, and so
disconcerting when smashed.

His philosophy was one of compensations.  He loved that particular
word.  He soaped life with it, till it was all smooth and sudded.

"It might have been your eyesight, my dear boy."

And when the young man replied:  "I rather wish it had been my head--"
his uncle looked shocked.

"Come--come--we must not talk like that.  Try and think of the
compensations--"

He stated them full and at length, and with much kindness, till his
sandy face seemed to swim before Alex's eyes like that of the cat
in "Alice in Wonderland."  But what dreams--what a cobweb of words!
Young St. George lay and gripped the arms of his invalid's chair,
till even the grips seemed to slide away under his uncle's spume of
words.  But this sort of thing was not fair.  When you had lost the
use of your legs and could not get up and run away, people came and
stared and talked and preached until you were moved to use the old
virile words of the war.  "O, go to hell!"  But how could you tell
an archdeacon to go to hell?  And if you sent him to heaven?  Well,
he might continue to talk of compensations.

Old General Sir George was more stimulating.  He was somewhat deaf,
and full of abrupt "What-whats."  His very bright eyes looked out
of his face that was red and contradictory.  He had been an
inspector or something during the war, one of those explosive men
who when they saw that a certain structure had been made round,
asked you why you had not made it square.  He questioned Alex about
his legs, and pinched them even.  He seemed to disbelieve in their
paralyzed state.  "Suppose you try to use 'em?"

"Well, you can't begin to try, uncle--"

"Good Lord--man--why not?  They feel solid enough--"

"I have massage and electricity."

"You do.  Who's your doctor?  I'll have a talk to your mother."

It is possible that this explosive person might have been of some
use to Alex had Havelock not gone downstairs and quarrelled with
Alex's mother.  They disagreed, and the General could never digest
any sort of disagreement.  Moreover, he had spent a great part of
his life interfering with other people's postures and plans and
positions, and interference can be very distasteful to a woman who
knows her own mind.  Mrs. St. George was not going to have her son
made square when she wanted him round, and Uncle Havelock was told
that without sympathy and understanding a man is as nothing.  But
he gave her a flying shot--both barrels--as he went out of the
room.

"If you keep him tucked up like that--he'll get into bad habits and
take to nipping--When a man's bored--Besides, you have cut him off
from his woman."

Very coarse creatures--men, so obsessed by their appetites, and
always imagining that the man across the table has just the same
thirsts and passions.  She shut out old Havelock--also the vulgar
suggestion that her son might develop into something sottish and
decadent.  He would have neither the money nor the opportunity; she
had him in a glass case.

Meanwhile, the one member of the family--old Jermyn St. George--who
might have been of human use to Alex, was laid up at Torquay for
the winter with what he called a "wet chest."


IV


Those who remember the spring of 1919 will recall the slush and the
bitterness of its beginning, and its sudden and perfect flowering,
but for young St. George the spring was not yet, thought he lay and
thought of it with a little whisper of yearning.  For how many men
yearned for the coming of that first spring after the war, for a
greenness that was unplastered with blood, and a singing of birds
that did not tear at the heart-strings.  So, Alex St. George lay
and yearned for it, but with a languor of melancholy, and a desire
that seemed to lie in a deep trench and wait for some flower to
bend down and nod its head at him.  For May would be the May of a
year ago, and yet so different, with a pang in the heart of it.  If
he thought of fruit blossom and the yellow broom, and wild
hyacinths blue sheeted in the beechwoods, he thought too of a
woman.  The spring was Kitty, and he could not bear to think of
Kitty, for the thought of Kitty was most strangely disturbing.
Strange--because he had a primeval faith in her instinct in the
soil of him, and ready to burst through into the sunlight with the
inevitableness of the spring.  It lay there beneath his languor,
beneath the dead leaves of a young pessimism.  There were times
when he would feel it stirring as the winds blew warmer.

It made him cry out; it turned him into a scribbler of verses, a
young Solomon, a cryer up of vanities--vanities.  He wrote from his
bed and from his chair, looking out at the warm crocuses in the
grass of the square.  He thought of himself as a little Heine, a
man for whom the roses of Shiraz would bloom no more.

Leaper took note of it.  Mr. St. George was writing poetry,
something that went "Dumpty-dumpty--dumpty--dum--Dumpty--dum--dum
dumpty."  Now, what did this mean?  In the spring, a young man's
fancy?--Well, it seemed harmless enough, and it was poor--
grizzling stuff, for Leaper continued to get a glimpse of some of
it.  It talked of grass and leaves that were dead even while they
were green, and a cloud of gold that grew grey in the passing of
five minutes.  It asked if the roses were as red as the roses of
yesterday.  There was a something about a place called Maleham, a
something with a tear in it.

Leaper stroked his chin--as he stroked it after shaving.  He
stroked Mr. St. George's chin in just the same way, and Mr. St.
George could have bitten his clammy fingers.

"Treacly stuff."

But when a young man wrote of himself lying in a living grave, and
of a dying soul in a dead body, ought not other people to be
informed?  The doctor--for instance?  You had a right to observe
things and to reflect upon how they might affect your own
particular position.  And Leaper, having extracted two or three
sheets of very melancholy rhyming, showed them to Dr. Dazely.

"You may believe me or not, sir, but it's my opinion that it's time
he went out of doors."

Dr. Dazely was so much of the same opinion that he consulted with
Mrs. St. George, and Mrs. St. George's car was taken out of dock
and a chauffeur engaged.  The car was a limousine, and there was
the problem of getting Alex into it.  Something would have to be
done, though it was not easy to get things done in the early months
of 1919, but by means of bribery and persuasion Mrs. St. George did
contrive to persuade a firm of coach-builders to prepare a plan and
to undertake the necessary adaptations.

Also, it would appear that the Greenwood girl--Mrs. St. George
always thought of Kitty as the Greenwood girl--had vanished from
Vernor Street.  Leaper still bought cigarettes there.  He made
guarded inquiries about the other little lady.  He was told that
she had gone to take up a situation in the country.

Mrs. St. George felt coldly triumphant.



CHAPTER XX


I


Kitty--of course--was at Shelford, and very busy effacing the
memory of Miss Ives from the heart of Vine Cottage.

She began by lowering the blind of the shop and pinning a notice
upon it--"This shop will be reopened later," but she did not say
that it might differ from the shop of Miss Ives's days.  Kitty was
not attaching very great significance to the shop; it might be of
use to her, and it might not; it might prove an infernal nuisance.
Meanwhile, she set to work.  It did not matter to her whether
February blew and hailed or snowed.  The river might look like
ruffled lead, and Shelford as dead as a drowned water-vole.  She
gazed beyond the vicissitudes of the winter.  She had her eyes on
the days when the poplars would make a grey and pleasant shivering,
and the grass would be green, and boats would come and go, and
swans would float gracefully.

The furniture from her Vernor Street bedroom came down in a van,
and she set up the bed in one of the bedrooms overlooking the
river.  She turned up her sleeves and got to work, but her labours
were full of nicely calculated schemings.  She had decided that the
upper rooms could be left untouched for the time being, so far as
paper and paint were concerned, but she attacked them with
scrubbing-brush and bucket.  But downstairs matters were very
different.  The long room with the big window, the passages and the
parlour behind the shop were to be rose and cream.  The rather
greasy and dark little kitchen needed a new whiteness.  She called
in a local decorator, a little bun-faced man with bright eyes; a
laconic fellow.

"I want this work doing at once."

He blinked and looked at her with a kind of depressing kindness.

"Easier said than done, miss.  I've got three old men and two
boys."

She told him just why she wanted the work done as speedily as
possible, and the direct simplicity of her purpose was more potent
than a week's wheedling.

"I have to make a home for my husband.  He has come back from the
war--paralyzed."

This was a good human argument, and Kitty's decorator rubbed his
trousers, glanced at walls and doors with his bright eyes, and made
calculations.

"There will have to be a lot of stripping.  You see all this old
stuff--"

She said:  "Supposing I did the stripping?  Not to shorten your
job, but to save your old men's time."

He was looking at a cracked ceiling, but when she made this offer,
he looked directly at her.

"You've got to get right down to the plaster.  You'd want steps and
a plank.  It's a dirty job."

"No job's dirty when you are in earnest."

"That's so."

He meditated.

"I could lend you a plank and a couple of step-ladders, and a
stripping-knife."

"That's very good of you," said she.

The step-ladders and a plank arrived next day in a hand-cart, and
Kitty got to work.  For three days she lived on tea and boiled eggs
and sardines, and bread and jam.  Each night she worked well into
the small hours; she used up a number of candles, but she stripped
the old papers from the two rooms, the passage and the kitchen.
She made a bonfire of the debris in the garden.  And when the
lender of the step-ladders saw the result of her labours he nodded
a hard round head.

"Hope the chaps back from the war will do as well.  I've got the
wall paper and the paint.  I'll put my men in to-morrow."

They were quiet, decent old fellows, and steady workers, and while
they used paste and paint-brushes and stopping-knives, Kitty cut
out and hemmed curtains.  Mrs. Sarah had sent down a roll of green
casement cloth that she had picked up as a bargain, and if ever a
woman loved a bargain, it was Mrs. Sarah.  She had much joy these
days.  Having engaged a girl to help Corah with the shop, she felt
herself free to hunt bargains at all times and everywhere, and she
hunted them from Hampstead to Croydon.  Mr. Robert Parsons notified
her of any sale that came within his ken, and so did various
auctioneers and estate agents.  There were parts of No. 7 Vernor
Street that began to look all cluttered up like a dealer's shop,
and Kitty's empty bedroom resembled a warehouse.  And when she was
not bargain hunting, Mrs. Sarah would go down to Shelford and
trudge from the station with some monstrous parcel under her arm.
Arriving hot and smiling and crinkling up her expressive nose, she
would unpack all sorts of plunder, a bundle of table-knives, or
electro-plated forks, towels, pillow-cases, a bedspread, a dozen
tumblers, fire-irons, tablecloths, a set of enamelled saucepans, a
cushion or two, and what not.  Life still had an immense zest for
her, life and all its accessories.  She was as busy as a child
helping to build a sand-castle, or a colonist erecting a
blockhouse.  Vine Cottage was both a nest and a fortress--Kitty's
fortress.

Kitty, in a blue print frock, with her mop of honey-coloured hair
like a halo of health and vigour, scrubbed paint and the interiors
of cupboards, and stood on boxes to fasten up clips for the curtain
rods, or ran downstairs periodically to see how her old men were
getting on, or to make tea for them.  She would come back to Mrs.
Sarah with some of the flush of the rose-coloured wallpaper in her
skin.

"It's beginning to look lovely.  They have finished the long room."

"It's going to be a duck of a place, poppet.  You will want a lot
of tea-tables in the garden."

"I ought to be able to get a carpenter to make them.  White tops
and green legs."

"Yes, plenty of colour," said her mother, "plenty of colour.
People will want it after four years of khaki.  Wouldn't be a bad
idea to get some of those big umbrellas--red and blue.  And deck
chairs.  I must keep my eyes open for deck chairs."

So, Vine Cottage was full of pleasant noises, and human stirrings,
and the old men working below heard the voices of the women who
were busy above.  "Makes you think of a couple of cats purring,"
said one whose white beard stuck out like the horn of a new moon.
The little house took on a feeling of happiness, and Kitty grew
happy in it with a sturdy and sanguine hopefulness.  It did not
make her feel strange to sleep there all alone.  You heard the
river running, and perhaps the wind in the trees, and all those
queer little sounds that a house collects about itself.  She had
her particular happy moments in the day, and one of them was when
she sat on a box in her bedroom and drank her tea, and watched a
February sun trailing a net of gold across the river.  She was
beginning to know the river and to love it, in its grey moods, and
its frosty moods, and its mornings of mist when the trees seemed
hung with vapour.  She would look across at the level meadows and
the willows and the poplars, and especially at a row of Lombardy
poplars glistening like spires when the sunlight fell on them in a
certain way.  She was full of the sweet and secret joy of
possession, the joy of a woman, of a bird in the building of a
nest.  It was not for nothing that she had the breast and shoulders
and hips of a woman.

Another happy moment came when her old men had gone, and she could
wander about downstairs quite alone with herself and her cottage.
The flush of the new papers and the creaminess of the fresh paint
spread from room to room, and, ignoring step-ladders and planks and
trestle-tables and paint-pots, she would stand and visualize her
rooms as they were to be.  Particularly the long room, the room of
her great expectations.  She would sit on the window-sill with the
river and the sunset behind her, looking--with her perfect skin--as
fresh as the new paint, her eyes like two sloes, her chin thrust
out.  Yes, she wanted a camel-coloured carpet for this room.  The
bed should be over there.  And in the daytime Alex should have a
long chair by the window, and lie and look at the river and across
it to those quiet meadows.

Sometimes--with a hand laid along one cheek, she would sit and
wonder whether he would be happy here?  Were men ever satisfied
unless they were doing things, playing games, or setting out to
capture or kill something?  Was there no adventure in the
capturing to one's self?  But to lie still and do nothing but read
of what other people had done or were doing!  Would he or any man
be content with that?  Would she want him to be content with it?

Her face would take on a white and brooding seriousness.  She was
an active little person; she was the daughter of Mrs. Sarah.  She
had experienced Alex's indolence; she knew that he could sit and
stare.  But was she going to let him sit and stare in the
hypothetical and near future for which she was preparing?  Men and
children have to be kept amused.  Yes, she might have to exercise
patience, a dear and solicitous cunning.  It is possible that she
realized even in those days that Alex might have to be re-made--
that he might be difficult.  But then--the making of Alex and the
making of a living man were the two halves of her apple.  She was
like a wise child with a doll from whose body the sawdust has been
leaking, and a bleeding doll does not inspire a feeling of self-
righteousness in your potential mother.  Never would she be a prig
in her attitude towards her husband.


II


Two days before her old men were due to leave her Kitty had to
consider further matters, the near arrival of her furniture, and
the state of the Vine Cottage garden.

Now the garden was to be the shop window, her picture-poster, and
Kitty knew something of shop windows.  With your shop window you
had to catch and hold the eyes and the curiosity behind the eyes of
the people who passed up and down your street.  The river was to be
Kitty's street.  As she said to her mother--"I can't compete with
Fred Karno, at least not yet--but I can get people looking.  And
after getting them to look I have got to get them to land."  In
brief, she wanted that garden to be gay and cheerful and alluring.
She wanted it to be a live picture-poster, vivid and compelling.
She was ready to let herself go considerably over that garden, and
even the big white boat-house next door.  A garden implied a
gardener.  She spoke to her old men on the subject during their
dinner-hour, when they sat on a plank in the shop and drank the tea
she had warmed up for them.

They discussed it as matters of simple importance are discussed by
men of their class, not for the doing of a favour but for the
supplying of a need.  The young men were beginning to come back to
Shelford, but Kitty did not want a young man about the place, nor
did her chorus of old men acclaim youth.  And for once in a way
they were right, for already the ex-soldier was showing himself to
be in many cases a man who had lost the habit of work.  Her chorus
discussed possible individuals.  There was Tom this and Fred that.
It was he of the sickle beard who remembered Old George.

"Yes, Old George."

"He might be the man for you, miss.  But he was always such a chap
for chopping and changing."

They called him Old George Venables, though he was ten years
younger than the youngest of them.  He lived in Mill Lane.  He had
served for a year in a Labour Battalion in France.  He was married,
but had no children.

Kitty wanted to know more of George Venables.  Why this fickleness,
this "chopping and changing?"  She was in search of a reliable man,
not a leaf blowing about on a puddle.

"O--it's not in 'is 'abits, miss.  He likes variety, does Old
George, a bit o' this and a bit o' that."

"You mean--in his work?"

That was so.  Old George was a quick-change artiste in the world of
labour.  As he of the sickle beard put it:  "He'll do a bit of
gardening one month, and then a job of rough painting.  Next week
you'll see him mending a fence.  Summer-times he used to take on
with Mr. Bunt next door as boatman.  He could do a bit of boat-
building, too.  Variety.  George is all for variety."

"Is he a steady man?"

"O, yes, steady enough."

The three old men exchanged glances.  It appeared that Old George
had a wife who was crippled with rheumatism.  It had been a
childless marriage, and as in many such marriages all the devotion
had gone to one person.  Old George was devoted to his wife; she
had been a fine strong woman, and now that she was crippled her man
could not do enough for her.  Yes, Old George was steadfast.  It
appeared to Kitty that the man with a passion for variety was held
in peculiar affection by these other men.

He did not drink?  Bless you--no!  You never saw Old George inside
a pub.  All his spare money went to his wife; it had been spent
upon doctors and quack medicines and magical gold rings warranted
to cure rheumatism in a month.  It appeared that at home he did a
great deal of the house work, and most of the week's washing.
"Won't let her put her hands in water, miss, or stand about hanging
up the washin'."  Also, he kept a piece of garden, and half a dozen
hens, and a hutch of rabbits.  Yes, Old George was a bit of a
character.

She sent a message to Mr. Venables by the mouth of one of her old
men, and at nine o'clock next morning Old George turned up at Vine
Cottage.  He stood about five feet seven; he had a straw-coloured
and drooping moustache, downy hair on his cheeks, and a pair of
clear blue eyes.  They were extraordinarily honest eyes, and full
of that rare English kindness.  His face suggested to Kitty a blend
of the walrus and the brown spaniel.  The sleeves of his coat were
patched at the elbows; he wore khaki trousers; he was meticulously
clean.

She said to him:  "I am wanting a man who can turn his hand to
anything.  I hear you can do most things.  I can't afford to pay
very high wages, but I'll pay you as much as I can, and more
perhaps when I can afford it.  I am making a home and trying to
make a living--to keep my husband, who was badly hurt in the war."

He looked at her fixedly with his blue eyes.  He was an
inarticulate creature, as such men often are.  His hands were more
capable than his tongue.

"What sort of work, miss?"--for he, like her three old men--could
not remember somehow to call her "ma'am."

She took him out into the garden.

"I want this little garden to be the brightest thing on the river
anywhere between Staines and Shepperton.  I'll tell you why.  I am
going to give teas and dances.  I want to make people in boats stop
here.  So you see--"

He was very deliberate.  His blue eyes seemed to take in this and
that, and her and the river, and the hypothetical boating-parties.
Various he might be, but he had an eye for the practical; he could
develop an enthusiasm for what was practical.

He said that there might be something in it, but where were her
people going to dance?

She pointed to the big white boathouse.

"There--"

"But there's no floor to it."

"Exactly.  That is where the practical man comes in.  We have to
put in a floor, and cut away some of the walls and put in trellis
and bright curtains, and make it pretty."

"It would cost money."

"Of course.  I'm not spoiling the job for the price of a pot of
paint."

"Going to keep any boats?"

"I might keep two or three, and a punt or two."

"There's that other shed," said he; "I know Bunt's old place--
inside out; let's go and have a look."

She had him interested.  She had touched that which lay behind his
dog-like eyes--an inherent hankering after variety, adventure, a
certain boyishness that had never been satisfied.  She had made a
way for herself through the fence separating the two pieces of
ground, and she had the key of the boat-house with her.  She gave
him the key.

"I don't want it talked about--yet."

He nodded.

"You'll hear enough gossip without startin' it.  Lucky for you,
miss, the house is on a brick standing, and good brickwork, too.  I
helped to mix the mortar--so I ought to know."

He unlocked one of the pair of double doors, and stood measuring
the interior with his eyes.  She left him alone for the moment.  He
rubbed his nose, and pushed his cap back, took out a knife and
jabbed here and there at the timber framing.  She saw the back of
his neck wrinkle as he looked up at the roof.

"Cost a bit of money to floor this in, miss."

"I know."

"Straightforward job--though.  Could do it--myself.  You'd need a
few brick pillars down the middle to carry the joists.  You wanted
the walls open in places, did you say?"

"Yes, for light.  They could be filled in with trellis or curtains,
couldn't they?"

"Easy."

He stroked his nose with finger and thumb, as though stroking it
assisted the flow of ideas.

"But you'd have to shut 'em up in bad weather.  Rain would drive
in.  Besides--if you let a gale of wind into a place like this--the
roof might lift.  Simple as pie--though.  Use the wood you cut out
for shutters."

"How much would the floor cost, Mr. Venables?"

"Timber's up.  Have to get prices.  You'd want good boards, too--
tongued and grooved stuff--I reckon."

He reached the door and stood looking at a black shed that stood
under the summer shade of three big chestnut-trees.

"You could keep a couple of boats and a punt in there.  Needs a
little pitching and tarring.  And the river staging ain't exactly
reassuring.  But then--a bit at a time."

They stood looking at each other.  He waited.  She named the sum
she was able to pay him, and then he made a suggestion.

"Suppose I were to put in full time, miss, till the place is
shipshape.  Afterwards you wouldn't be wanting me the whole week,
perhaps."

"Week-ends--chiefly."

"That's so.  I could do a bit here, and a bit somewhere else."

"As long as I'm sure of you, Mr. Venables, when I want you."

"You could be sure of that, miss."

She gave him her confidence from that moment, and she was wise in
the giving of it, for in the days that followed Old George never
let her down.


III


At the end of a March day that had seen the furniture carried into
Vine Cottage by two vanmen assisted by Old George, Kitty was drawn
to stand by the big window and watch the windy sunset blown about
beyond the branches of the poplars.  She looked down across that
strip of grass between the laurel hedges and the high red-brick
wall, and its greenness--dipping into the ruffled silver of the
river--seemed a pathway for her thoughts.  The men had gone.  They
had been very patient men, careful of the new paint and paper, and
obedient to the autocratic enthusiasms of the little thing in the
blue linen dress.  "No--farther this way, please.  No--I think we
will try it over there."  Probably they had understood that there
was something sacramental in the placing of individual pieces of
furniture, and Mrs. Sarah, who was very much present, had given
them beer money.

So, Vine Cottage was dressed and garnished, a nest lined and ready,
and Kitty stood at the window and looked at the sunset over the
river.  Her little world was ready, but at the end of a happy day
she had felt her little world's sudden emptiness.  She had done so
much and got so little.  You might caress things with hands and
glances, and yet they might remain an empty bed and an untrodden
carpet, unalive, lacking their full significance.  She was tired.
From somewhere came the tapping of a hammer, the indefatigable
mother tacking up a curtain valance in one of the bedrooms.

Kitty put her arms up over her head.  She knelt down and pressed
her firm little bosom against the low window-shelf.  The red of the
sky was changing to slate and purple; a blackness seemed to unfurl
itself across the river.  She heard a blackbird calling.  And
suddenly her mother came into the room and stood between the door
and the bed, and for a moment neither woman moved.

Then Kitty said:  "I'm--I'm glad I did not have a baby."

Her arms slipped down; her head seemed to droop a little.

"I haven't even begun--yet, mother.  I haven't even--"

Mrs. Sarah's face became strangely distorted.  She was still a very
strong woman--in spite of her age--and she went and picked up her
daughter.  She carried her to the bed, and sitting down on it and
making a lap, she nursed her child, and she nursed her with a kind
of fierceness.

"Hold on tight, poppet, hold tight.  Things come--when we want them--
Sure.  Didn't I get what I wanted?"

Kitty clung to her.

"O--I'm tired--somehow.  I seem to have been walking all day--and I
haven't got any farther.  How do I know--?  It may be just a doll's
house I'm playing with."

"It might be--my dear," said her mother, "if you were a doll.
Which you're not."



CHAPTER XXI


I


On that same March day there were other storms.  A north-east wind
blowing a sky to tatters above the stately sequestrations of
Cardigan Square made the plane-trees rock and the windows rattle.
People lost their hats and chased them.  Feminine figures seemed
troubled concerning their shortening petticoats while young St.
George lay at a window and watched them.  He, too, was troubled.
It was as though the north-east wind had blown a weight of rotting
leaves away, and uncovered a corpse, but yet a thing that was not
quite a corpse.

Though, in the sense that ennui is death, Clara St. George's son
had come very near to death.  The sweet, soft pulp of him had
ceased to tremble even in verse.  He had had a week of lethargy, of
extreme stagnation.  He had lain and stared, or fingered things as
though he neither knew the use of them nor cared to use them.  He
had given Leaper no trouble.  Almost it had begun to appear that
Mrs. St. George had done her work so thoroughly and reduced the man
in her son to such pulp that he was both cured and killed.

When Leaper carried up Mr. St. George's lunch, a nicely browned
sole, a ham omelet, and a sponge custard, Mr. St. George looked
consideringly at the soft stuff and refused it.  Leaper had lifted
the lids of the hot dishes.

"I don't want it.  Take it away."

"Just try a little of this, sir."

He smiled, wheedling the child like a superior nurse, and next
moment Mr. St. George had sworn at him.

"Damn you, take it away."

Leaper's jaw fell on its hinge.

"Sir--!"

"Why--the hell--don't you bring me up something to bite at, a good
red steak?  This pap--!"

"I'll tell the cook, sir."

"Do."

Leaper was thinking of his own dinner.  If his patient chose to be
peevish, well--Leaper had known patients far more peevish than Mr.
St. George, patients who had had the dirty habits and the
mischievous trickiness of monkeys.  He was ordered to take away
that toothless lunch, and to bring up a good crusty piece of bread
and some Cheshire cheese.  He was told to push both the bed-tables
close to the chair, and to hand Mr. St. George his pair of field-
glasses.

"Very well, sir," said Leaper.

Gentlemen had to be humoured, and if it amused Mr. St. George to
use a pair of field-glasses to watch the sparrows in the square,
and a cat out hunting, and the faces and the ankles of the girls
and women who happened to pass across it, well and good.

Mrs. St. George was lunching with a friend at Claridge's.  Her son
ate his bread and cheese with the look of a man munching in prison.
Leaper had noticed a wideness of Mr. St. George's eyes, a dark and
dilated shadowiness of the pupils, as though the March wind had
blown apart a pair of wavering curtains.  And in very truth--it
had.

For consciousness is a variable state, and especially so in
sensitive people.  It may narrow its field, or suddenly expand,
reaching out beyond and above its utilitarian limits, and Alex St.
George's consciousness had contracted under the pressure of
monotony.  A man may be so fatally bored that his attention to life
may degenerate into mere vacant gazing.  So, Alex would spend his
hours watching sparrows busy over a gift of God, the droppings of a
horse; or some prowling cat, or the smoke slanting from the
chimneys.  He had lain sunk in a little pit of apathy.  Nothing
happened, nothing that mattered.  And then had come this March
wind, blustering, shouting, bursting doors open with the swing of
its barbarian shoulders.  It carried a whip--this wind--and it had
whipped him, made the crouching, staring man in him start up with a
cry of anger and of pain.  The world was alive.  The spring was
coming, coming with a March madness--


II


Leaper had finished his dinner, and was giving his blue serge suit
a brush and a flick before going out for his daily walk, with a
mongrel dog that he kept in a neighbouring mews, when he heard a
crash in Mr. St. George's room.  He stood listening, clothes-brush
poised over his left shoulder.  There was another crash, an echoing
bump on the floor.

Leaper rushed up the stairs.

The electric table-lamp beside the bed toppled over--and smashed
its globe upon the floor as Leaper threw the door open.  He stood
and stared, his lower jaw fallen like the hinged jaw of a
ventriloquist's dummy.  Mr. St. George was still throwing things,
anything that he could lay his hands upon.  His mouth was open as
though to shout, but no sound came from it.  His furious activity
had a kind of dreadful silence.

Leaper found his own voice.

"Mr. St. George--sir--!"

He believed for the moment that his patient had gone mad.  The
cheese-plate, whirled like a discus, struck the mirror above the
mantelpiece, starred and cracked it, and fell to smash upon the
fire-irons.  A book hit a picture fair and square and brought the
glass splintering down.  The gramophone lay overturned on the
floor.

"Mr. St. George, sir--Mr. St. George--!"

He edged round the end of the bed, dodging a book that went by.

"Mr. St. George, sir, not that, sir, that's ink, sir."

But the ink-bottle, flying like Luther's shot at the devil, spent
itself in a blue splodge upon the wall, and Leaper, dodging in,
grabbed the cheese knife that was lying upon one of the tables.  He
had had his eye on that knife from the moment that he had entered
the room.  Meanwhile, there was nothing more to throw, and Mr. St.
George sat and panted, with a redness at the back of his widely
dilated pupils.  He began to shout; he was amazingly excited,
voluble, almost incoherent.  His hands gripped the arms of his
chair; his hair looked all blown about as by a wind.

"Smashing things--what!  Bloody fine show.  By God--how I have
wanted to smash things.  I'd smash every damned thing in the house.
You too--you--"

He went off into sudden laughter.

"Put the wind up you--grabbing that knife!  You've got a front-line
face.  It's the March wind.  Why, man--I believe--What do I
believe?  You can't guess, can you?  O, go to hell."

Leaper, having slipped the knife into his pocket, made soothing
noises, and moved deprecating hands.

"That's all right, sir.  You have had a real fine beano, sir.
Smashed things.  Splendid, sir!"

He found Mr. St. George's eyes fixed on him with a strange, flaring
look.

"You don't know--"

"No, sir--"

The voice became a harsh cry.

"By God, man! get me out of this.  I can't stand it--I can't stand
any more of it--"

"Of course, sir--Now just you lie down.  The car will be ready to-
morrow, sir.  We'll get you out--"

Suddenly Mr. St. George collapsed, and lay back with closed eyes
and hands that opened and closed with little jerks.  His face went
white.  And Leaper, considerably scared, hurried out to the
telephone on the landing, and rang up Dr. Dazely and Mrs. St.
George.


III


Mrs. St. George was the first to arrive.  She came in with her dish
of ice, and very erect, to meet the emergency, her colour
heightened by the wind.  Her blue eyes stared.

"My dear boy--what is this?"

Leaper had touched nothing.  My lady should see the wreckage and be
properly impressed by it, for even Leaper had a dog's sympathy with
another dog who was kept chained to his kennel; and she saw it all--
the broken glass, the starred mirror, that explosive patch of ink
upon the wall.  But chiefly she was conscious of her son as an
inert figure lying back in the cushioned chair by the window.

"My dear Alex--!"

Her voice protested.  "Why?  Why this absurd violence?"

"I was fed up with things."

She sat down.  She said--"You must learn to control yourself," and
became aware of his eyes looking at her momentarily with a veiled
quietude which she took to be sulkiness.  She sat there, and with
an austere and correct kindness scolded him, and gave him a number
of admirable reasons to prove that such behaviour was unjustified.
He said never a word.  He lay and looked out into the square.  His
silence appeared to accept her scoldings, and she saw in him no
more than a sullen child, mute and unconfessedly ashamed of a rage-
storm.  She did not detect resistance in him, or appreciate the
quality of his silence, or suspect that the soul of him was looking
out at her from under drooping and sly eyelids.  He was controlling
himself.  A new self-restraint had come to him after that outburst,
and with it a new vision.  Inwardly he had broken his chain.  He
had had a sudden startling glimpse of life out there.  With eyes
closed he had set his teeth and made a new profession of faith.
His--"I believe" had come like the March wind.  Yet--even without
this belief, he could have said fiercely to his mother--"I don't
care.  I want life and I want her.  I don't care what she has been.
If she were a harlot--I should want her.  She's alive.  And I'm
alive."

But he said nothing.  He lay and clasped a new and secret
exultation, a subtle sense of adventure.  His attitude was that of
a person who had realized that escape was both desirable and
possible, and every fibre of his new aliveness tingled with
opposition.  But he opposed her with silence.  It may be that he
had begun to suspect and that his sudden and violent physical
confession of faith had torn his docility to tatters.  He both
believed and disbelieved.  He was in silent and deep revolt.  He
was ready to conspire, but in secret.  He did not say that he was
sorry.  "A man must smash things--sometimes."  His mother made it
plain to him that she considered such barbarisms to be childish.


IV


Dr. Dazely put in an appearance an hour later.  He saw, he heard,
he questioned.  He polished the situation as he would have polished
his monocle with a silk handkerchief, and then looked through it
like a polite and sympathetic family adviser.  Obviously Mr. St.
George had had an attack of hysteria--O, yes, hysteria was not a
feminine monopoly.  Also, it was a war product, a very real
problem.  The whole of Europe was just a little hysterical at the
moment.  Reaction, you know, after four years of tension and
terror.

He said:  "We must get him out.  He wants movement, the wind on his
face."

Mrs. St. George knew that the coach-builders had promised the car
for to-morrow.

"Well--send him out--with Leaper.  Not too far at first.  And if
you will excuse me--"

He aimed at diplomacy.

"Let him go--quite alone.  People--yes--even the best of friends--
yes, even you, dear lady, devoted as you are.  Let him feel the
wind--and movement.  And then--perhaps--in a month's time--St.
Leonards--or Bournemouth--or one of those little places on the
Dorset coast."

Mrs. St. George accepted his suggestions.


V


The car was ready next day, and the first time for some four months
Alex St. George emerged from No. 77 Cardigan Square, being carried
downstairs in a carrying-chair by Leaper and the chauffeur.  The
coach-builders had so adapted the bodywork that a long door would
allow an invalid to be lifted into the car, and laid on the seat
with his legs supported upon cushions.  Mrs. St. George attended.
She carried a rug.  It was she who tucked her son in.  A speaking-
tube had been fitted, and the flexible end of it with its
mouthpiece hung clipped within reach of Alex's hand.  She pointed
it out to him.

"If you should feel tired--"

He nodded slightly.

"Thanks mater--"

She smiled and bent to kiss him.

"This is--quite--an adventure for you--I have told them not to go
too far, nor too fast."

They set out, with Leaper beside the driver.  They drove to Putney
Bridge, and across it, and climbed the hill to Wimbledon Common.
The March sky was all movement of masses of white cloud hurrying,
of sudden sunlight and of sudden shadow.  A wind was blowing; Alex
could see the leafless branches swaying, and gorse bushes quaking,
but he was shut away from the wind.  He felt that he had but
exchanged one glass case for another, and that this car was nothing
more than a cabinet on wheels.  The slim birch-trees were agitated
as the trees and bushes are blown and shaken in a film.  He was
seeing life on the screen; he was not part of it.  But--wait--!
Somehow--he would manage to get the wind and the rain in his face.
There had been no more storms.  He had shown them all a deep
docility.  He looked at the back of Leaper's head with its
colourless hair tending to curl over his coat collar.  Damn the
fellow!  His hair needed cutting.

They pulled up on the Common.  It was splashed with sunlight and
shadow.  Leaper came and opened a door and putting on his smile,
was unctuously attentive.

"Not feeling tired, sir?"

"No."

"Warm enough, sir?"

"Quite."

"We thought we would be turning back, sir, now."

Mr. St. George nodded, and Leaper closed the door.  The simile of
the glass case on wheels was re-emphasized.  Obviously, he was shut
up in a cabinet, and Leaper was the curator.  As they returned down
Putney Hill it occurred to him to wonder what would happen were he
to shout an order through the speaking-tube--"Drive me to Vernor
Street."  Almost, his right hand trembled towards the mouthpiece,
but the impulse was restrained by a wisdom that was learning to
wait.  No, he had a better idea than that; he was not going to
betray to them his March aliveness; he had been thinking things
out; he had a letter in his mind, and he would keep it secreted in
his mind until he could snatch his opportunity.

His mother met him as he was being carried into the house.

"Enjoyed it, my dear?"

He smiled upwards, and yet not directly at her.

"Rather."


VI


Mr. St. George's electric reading-lamp was out of order.  It had
suffered during the March storm, and though Leaper--who rather
fancied himself as an electrician--had tinkered with it, the lamp
refused to glow.  There were reasons why it did not glow, but
Leaper was left in the darkness.  The light plug was close to the
bed, and within reach of Mr. St. George's hands, and with a rubber
tobacco pouch covering a hand that held a pair of nail scissors Mr.
St. George had tampered with the plug.

An electrician was sent for.  In 1919 no one hastened to work.  The
expected electrician did not arrive for three days.  He appeared on
the afternoon of the fourth day, a sulky young man, sharp nosed,
with a face scarred with acne.  Mrs. St. George was attending a
committee-meeting; Leaper had gone for his afternoon walk.

A maid knocked at Mr. St. George's door.

"Yes--what is it?"

"A man to see to the electric light, sir."

Mr. St. George's eyes grew very alive in an interested face.

"O--send him in."

The electrician was admitted, wearing a hat.  He had the 1919 mood
upon him when a certain type of man set out to make himself
vehemently awkward and uncomforting everywhere and on all possible
occasions, a sulkily aggressive young man nursing a world's
grievance.  Alex gave him a "Good afternoon," and the electrician
replied with a stare.  He was all bristles.  Here was a rich young
rotter slacking in a long chair, one of the world's parasites, a
creature nicely washed and tailored.

He put his black handbag on the bed.

"I think--it's the plug that's wrong."

The young man opened his bag.

"That's my job.  You can leave it to me."

He extracted tools and laid them on the bed.  He felt rude and he
was rude.  His very movements conveyed a jerky scorn.

Alex said:  "I'm sorry to trouble you, but I'm paralyzed; I can't
use my legs.  I wonder if you would pass me that writing-pad."

The young man darted a sharp glance over his shoulder.  He seemed
to hesitate for a moment.  The tip of his tongue came out and
moistened his lips.

"Got servants--haven't you?"

"Yes--but I don't want to trouble them."

The electrician was looking for a bell.  He moved across the room
towards the fireplace.  He slouched; he reached out a hand.

"Wait a moment," said the voice from the chair.

Alex saw the sharp, supercilious smile.

"If you can ring the bell for me you can chuck over that writing-
pad.  It's on that table.  As one ex-soldier--to another--"

The man crossed to the table, and did as Alex had suggested.  He
chucked the writing-pad; it alighted with a smack on the bedtable
beside the chair.

"I wasn't in the army.  No such fool."

"Thank you," said Alex.

There was silence between them.  Alex wrote a letter, while the
electrician began to test the lamp, and then to fiddle with the
wall plug.  He made occasional and scornful noises, but mostly he
was silent, vehemently silent.

Presently he said:  "What dashed sort of fool has been messin'
about with this thing?"

The other's voice was cheerful.

"I have."

"You!"--and in the inflection added--"you would."

"I messed it up on purpose."

"O, did you."

"You're my lucky number--you know."

The electrician was on his knees.  Curiosity gave to his face a
sort of sharp and sinister smirk.

"I don't--think!  What's on?"

"I want you to put a stamp on a letter and post it for me when you
go out."

"Don't you own a stamp in a place like this?"

"I haven't a stamp, and I haven't any money--I'm not supposed to
want any.  I'm not supposed to do any work.  Damn it, man, I'd give
ten years of my life to be down on my knees like you are, fiddling
with that thing."

The young man stared.

"Never did a day's work--I suppose--?"

"Look here," said Alex, leaning over the arm of the chair; "if you
saw a man lying smashed up at the bottom of a hole, you'd help him.
O--yes--you would.  It wouldn't matter--You'd just jump down
without thinking.  And you would be doing me a favour.  I haven't
the price of a stamp on me.  I'm not going to offer you my fountain-
pen or a packet of cigarettes.  I dare say you might want to spit
in my face.  But--damn you--post this letter."

"Be damned to you--too," said the man, "but I will."



CHAPTER XXII


I


Never was a letter more strangely stamped and posted.  It was
delivered at No.7 Vernor Street next morning, and since Mrs. Sarah
was breakfasting in bed, the letter was placed on her tray and
carried up by the woman who came in to light fires, cook the
breakfast and make the beds.  The letter was addressed to Mrs. Alex
St. George, and when Mrs. Sarah recognized the handwriting she
seemed to break out into a sudden heat.

"When did this come?"

"First post."

Mrs. Sarah pushed the tray at the woman.

"Here, take this; put it on the chest of drawers.  I must get up at
once.  I'll manage some breakfast while I'm dressing.  And find me
a taxi, will you, Florrie--there's a good woman."

"This hinstant?"

"Yes, he can wait."

In her comings and goings between the combining of a toilet and a
breakfast, Mrs. Sarah found time to hurry out on to the landing and
to call her elder daughter.  She told a sleepy Corah the news, a
Corah who came out of her room looking prettily dishevelled and
excited.

"Not really?"

"I'm going straight down to Shelford.  Not trusting it to the post.
Besides"--and she gave one of her human smirks--"I want to know
what's inside it.  Simply bursting--"

She was at Shelford at half-past ten.  She found a taxi outside the
station, and climbing in with an air of solid haste, she gave the
man the address.  "Vine Cottage.  Know it?  I'm in a hurry."  In
fact, she sat erect on the seat, refusing to lean back against the
cushions, a stout woman who had the appearance of being out of
breath.  On pulling up at Vine Cottage she told the man to wait.
"May want you again.  Anyway--I pay."  She found the green front
door unlocked and went in, calling to her daughter.  They met in
the passage.  She seemed to push the letter at Kitty with both
hands.

"Came this morning.  Read it.  I've got a taxi waiting if we should
want it--"

Kitty looked at the letter.  The flash of a sudden emotion seemed
to withdraw itself into her eyes.  She turned and walked back into
the kitchen, and Mrs. Sarah did not follow her.  In the kitchen
Kitty had been busy lining the cupboard shelves with clean white
paper, and the scissors lay on the table.  She sat down at the
table, with her elbows resting upon it; she held the envelope
between her two hands and looked at it; she seemed to look at it a
long while.

With a quick thrust of the right hand she reached for the scissors,
slit the envelope, drew out the letter, read it, and when she had
read it she sat for a time, staring.  Her face, very white over the
opening of the letter, regained its colour, and with it its warm
creaminess and its bloom.  The lips, pale from being pressed firmly
together, ripened suddenly like red fruit.

Mrs. Sarah had betaken herself to the long room with the big
window.  With her philosophy of "Don't fuss" she understood the
virtues of occasional solitude.  She sat down on the bed and
reproved it for its creakings.  "What's--your--trouble?  No need
for--you--to feel flustered."  There was no doubt as to her own
agitation; it was absurd and it was splendid.  She felt like a
Dutch ketch full of cargo rolling in a heavy sea.  She found a very
clean handkerchief and wiped her face, and got up with an air of
solid serenity and straightened a picture, though she could not
decide after making the adjustment whether the thing really did
hang straight.  Her emotions were clamorous and crowded, emotions
that had to be smacked and told to sit still.  What a long time the
girl was--

Then she heard Kitty's voice.

"Mother."

Mrs. Sarah sailed down the passage to find Kitty closing the
kitchen window and fastening the catch.  The letter had
disappeared, and the papers had been cleared away.

"He wants me.  I'm just locking up."

She was solemn as fate, full of sudden practical preoccupations,
and Mrs. Sarah had to button up all that emotion, and did it, and
was proud of it, and proud of Kitty, too.

"A good thing I kept the taxi."

"Yes."

Kitty was locking the garden door.

"It's as I thought.  He had none of my letters.  They stopped his.
He smuggled this one out by a man who came to see to the electric
light."

She stood a moment, rapt, a woman with the words of a love-letter
in her heart, and anger in her eyes.

"I'll never forgive her.  I know what to do now.  I'll go and pack
my bag.  Venables can keep an eye on the place.  He's at work on
the boat-house."

She went upstairs, leaving her mother sitting on a kitchen chair
with the air of a solid rock emerging from the swell of a passing
wave.  Kitty meant business, and she was Mrs. Sarah's daughter.
Mrs. St. George had better look to her defences.

"Now--I just wonder how she will do it?" thought Mrs. Sarah,
immensely intrigued--"I just wonder!  But she will do it.  I'm glad
I'm alive."


II


That afternoon it rained, but gently so, for the day had a moist
tranquillity, dispersing moisture out of a dove-grey sky.  The
pavements and the roadway were darkened by the wetness, and the
branches of the plane-trees glistened.  The grass in the gardens
looked more green and though the crocuses lay prone in their paling
shrouds, daffodils were spearing upwards.  Sparrows chirped and
fussed.  Spring had put out a hand and drawn a curtain and let a
breath of balminess into this London square where a man lay at a
window and waited.

Mrs. St. George had remained at home.  She had come to join her son
and was sitting in an arm-chair before the fire, reading some
pamphlet or other that was anti-this or anti-that.  Her back was
towards Alex.  He could see the crown of her fair head rising like
a pale sun above the blue horizon of the chair's back; he listened
to her regular turning of the pages; he was so nervous and so
tensely strung that he was afraid of infecting her with his
nervousness.  He wanted her there in that chair, anywhere but at a
window.  He felt that he would rage at her were she to get up and
impose her interference upon the anguish of a secret suspense.  He
was terribly excited and keeping still.  Almost he had been
counting the minutes of daylight that were left to him.  Would
anything happen?  He pretended to read and to watch the comings and
goings in the square.  His mother was a stranger interposing the
menace of her presence between him and a possible freedom, a frost
ready to fall, a female Pluto capable of dragging him back into the
underworld.  He knew now what an escape into the air and the
sunlight would mean to him--joy, the joy of a wholesome living, of
touching the live flesh.  It would mean an escape from the house of
a slow decadence, of desires slowly soiled by an insidious
perversion, of habits twisted into deformity.  Yes, escape from a
scented, warmed, slimed existence when you lay abed with your own
hot youth and felt the helplessness of it.

And out there--somewhere--was Kitty, a little live thing with arms
and breasts and lips and a soul.  He saw his salvation in her.  She
would protect him from a dreaded uncleanness even as she had
covered his head and his fear with her arms.  He was a man to be
rescued, and he knew it.

But would she come?  Had that sulky devil posted that letter?  Did
she care now?  Could she forgive?

He had no god to whom he could pray, nothing to which he could
hold save to the feet of that great grey figure of compassion,
human and yet dim, shaping itself from the world's doubts and
disillusionments and the dead bones of dead beliefs.  For--if we
cannot pity each other, then indeed is consciousness but a dung-
heap in which maggots swarm.

But Kitty came.  She appeared in Cardigan Square at about half-past
three on that wet afternoon, a little figure in a dark blue rain
coat, skirting the high iron railings of the garden.  She carried
an open umbrella.  Immediately opposite the house she paused, and
dipping her open umbrella, stood at gaze, her eyes searching the
windows.

Alex gave one glance at the top of his mother's head.  He leaned
towards the window, and waved a hand.  He was sure that the eyes in
that distant face were fixed upon his window.  He waved again, and
she made a dipping movement with her umbrella.  She nodded.  To
Alex her face was like a little glowing disc of very bright light.

He felt faint.  The whole of him seemed to have passed suddenly out
through his eyes.  With his face close to the glass of the window
he saw her raise her umbrella and move slowly away.  Was she going
and so soon?  Or was there a method in her movement?  He watched
her disappear round the railings; he reached for his field-glasses.
Mrs. St. George rustled the paper of her pamphlet.

He felt a sudden anger against his mother.  Surely she was not
going to get up and come to the window?  He saw her head move; she
bent and poked the fire, and sat poised for a moment, holding the
poker.  Then she put it down, and lay back in her chair.  Alex
breathed.

He was able to turn again to the window.  His throat felt tight and
dry, and he knew that he was trembling.  He saw Kitty reappearing.
She had circled the gardens.  Her umbrella was up, and this time he
noticed that she was carrying what appeared to be a large flat
cardboard box done up in whitish-brown paper.  He raised the field-
glasses to discover that there were words hand-printed on the flat
face of the parcel; he focussed the glasses; he found that he could
distinguish the words.

He was conscious of a burst of inward applause.  The cleverness of
it--the simplicity!  This--was--Kitty.  She paused over there, her
umbrella screening her face.  He read.

"No letters reached me till the last.  Door shut--always.  I wrote
often.  Same as ever.  Just waited.  Make sign if you can read.
Here--below--to-night--about 6.30."

He reached for the tassel of the spring blind and managed to grasp
it.  He saw her umbrella lowered.  He drew the blind sharply down,
and let it slide up again.  He did this twice.  Her umbrella dipped
twice in response.

Mrs. St. George made a sudden movement.  She turned her head.

"What--are--you doing, Alex?"

He answered her with a note of gaiety.

"Seeing if the blind sticks, mater.  It stuck yesterday.  Wish the
rain would stop.  You can't see anything but umbrellas."


III


There came into Alex St. George's mind a memory that recalled
another instance of his mother's interference--a memory of a pretty
housemaid named Rose and of himself--a boy of ten--romping
together, and of his mother coming upon them suddenly like a cat
surprising two young birds.  He had never forgotten the look on his
mother's face.  He had been taken into her bedroom to be told that
"Gentlemen did not romp with servants."  He had had a feeling that
his mother had been shocked, that something in her had been
outraged; she had made him feel ashamed without his being able to
understand his shame.  And Rose had been snipped off with a pair of
scissors and tossed out of the house.

He lay and looked at the top of his mother's head.  He discovered
to his great surprise that he was less angered by his mother's lies
than by his own acceptance of her lies.  He had been nothing of a
man.  He had allowed her to treat his faith in Kitty as she had
treated the girl Rose--to hustle it out of the house into the
street.  Yes, he thought that he understood it all now.  She had
felt outraged by his passion for Kitty.  She had feared the sex in
her son, and her natural impulse had been to take a whip to any
woman who was dangerous.  Her glances had whipped that rosy-faced
housemaid.  And had she had her way she would have whipped Kitty,
and with contumely and clamour have driven her naked down Regent
Street.

But--good God--!

He was immensely shocked.  He found himself looking with curiosity
and some fear at the top of his mother's head.  What an outrage she
had conceived, and how ruthlessly she had carried it out!  She had
treated him as something less than a child.  She had hired people
to lie to him.  She had insulted him with Leaper.  She had
purloined his letters.  It seemed incredible, but he knew it to be
true.

His anger against Leaper was bitter, being reinforced by the smell
of the man, and by the thought of his smiling, superior slyness.
Faugh!  To have been touched and handled by Leaper, fooled by
Leaper, lied to by Leaper!

He lay very still.

He heard a movement on the landing.  The clock had struck four.
The door opened, and he heard Leaper's voice, and caught a glimpse
of that hinged smile and of those pale and suborned blue eyes.

"Shall I bring up tea for two, madam?"

Mrs. St. George sat forward in her chair.

"Yes, for two, Leaper."

She gave the order with casual calmness; she rose; she walked to
the other window.  She seemed unaware of her son's silence, and of
the vehemence of it, or of the deep humiliation he had discovered
in her treachery.  He lay with every sensitive outlet closed
against her.  He felt that he hated her.

Tea was brought in and the tray placed on the occasional table by
the fire.  Mrs. St. George returned to the fire and sat down.  She
poured out her son's tea, and Leaper stood to carry it to him.

"Toast, sir?"

If ever the outraged child in a man conceived an impulse Alex St.
George's impulse was to dash the cup of tea in Leaper's face.  But
he did nothing of the kind.  He asked for a clean handkerchief; he
wiped the rim of the cup and the spoon.  He ate his buttered toast
with an air of controlled disgust.


IV


Between tea and dinner they left him alone.  He noticed that the
rain had ceased, and that a soft, blurred light seemed to be
spreading over the square.  The upper sash of the window was open
for an inch or two, and he made an attempt to raise the lower sash,
and found that he could do it.  He closed it again.  He had some
paper and a pencil on his table, and using a book as a pad he sat
and wrote a letter, and when he had finished it he folded up the
sheet and slipped it into the breast-pocket of his coat.

Leaper, coming in to turn on the lights, was told rather sharply to
leave the room in darkness.

"Just as you please, sir."

He closed the door with a suave carefulness, and Mr. St. George lay
back on his cushions, and watched the square hang out its network
of lights.  If life had a new mystery this London night might have
as many meanings for him as there were lighted windows in Cardigan
Square.  Taxis came round-eyed out of the darkness to disappear
into the darkness.  He realized that he was afraid of his mother,
more afraid of her than he had been as a child.  He was so very
conscious of his helpless legs.  He was a prisoner, but a prisoner
trembling at the thought of a possible escape, and his manhood
clamoured for freedom.  He had let himself become something less
than a man, and the coming of Kitty had made him both glad and
ashamed.  He had been deeply moved.  His excitement--holding itself
rigid and silent--was asking for action.  He even thought of trying
to drag himself out of the room and down the stairs, and out into
the square.  And how damnably absurd it all seemed.

He was waiting for a clock to strike the half-hour.  He leaned over
and placed his face close to the window, and though the square was
none too well lit he felt sure that he could distinguish a figure
waiting over there by the railings.  A dish of fruit stood on the
table, for he was fond of fruit, and liked to have it by him.  He
chose an orange.  He took the letter from his pocket, wrapped it
round the orange and tied up the whole in his handkerchief.  Then
he raised the lower sash of the window.

The figure over there detached itself from the railings.  A taxi
passed, and when it had disappeared round the square Alex jerked
the orange out into the night.  He heard it fall with a soft thud.
Holding to the window-ledge he drew himself as close as possible to
the window and was able to see a woman's figure dart across the
road and stoop to pick up something.  He heard a soft whistle.


V


Kitty carried her treasure round the square to a street lamp on the
farther side of it.  She unfastened the handkerchief, and
unwrapping the sheet of paper, pushed orange and handkerchief into
the pocket of her raincoat.  The orange had been split by the fall,
and had exuded some juice on to the sheet of paper.  Taking out her
husband's handkerchief, she dabbed it carefully.  She smoothed out
the creases.  She found that she was able to read his letter.


"Kitty--dearest--I must speak to you.  I can't write all that I
have to say.  I think I know everything now.  Bless you for coming.
I've felt horrible and glorious.  I must speak to you, get to you--
somehow.  I'm no better than a prisoner here.  But they take me out
in the car now.  The day after to-morrow I'll ask them to drive me
down to Ockham on the Guildford road.  Do you happen to know the
'Swan' at Ockham?  It stands all alone by a big pool.  I'll get
them to stop there.  I'll send the men in for their tea, and have
mine brought out to me.  If you could manage to be there--O, my
dear, do try.  I've been a weak, sick beast all these months--"


She looked up at the lamp, and then she pressed her cheek against
the cold iron of the pillar.  She felt just a little faint.  Her
chance had come.



CHAPTER XXIII


I


During the thirty-six hours that followed, Alex built and filled
for himself a little Chamber of Horrors in which each figure was a
fear.  He had chosen a particular day, because he happened to know
that Aunt Ermentrude was in town and that his mother was lunching
with her; but at the last moment his mother might decide to drive
with him.  He was afraid of the car breaking down, of Kitty being
unable to come, or of her missing the rendezvous.  He spent his
time and his temperament in chasing straws.  At Ockham, Leaper and
the chauffeur might fail to give him his opportunity.  He might
consider the bribing of Leaper--but what had he to bribe him with?
Moreover, he so loathed the man that he detested the idea of
compounding with him.

On the day of the drive his blind rose on a sunny morning.  He was
both glad and afraid.  His mother might be tempted by the fine
weather.  She might give orders for the car to pick her up after
lunch at Aunt Ermentrude's hotel, and assume her place beside him
as though she was taking part in a procession.  Her glances treated
the features of a landscape as though its face was the face of a
vast and anonymous proletarian crowd.  She might remain beside him
at Ockham while tea was carried out to the car.  The anti-climax
would be too maddening.

He passed a morning of abominable restlessness, and in assuming a
casual apathy.  Had he dared to, he would have fussed about his
clothes, and his hair, and the particular tie that Leaper was to
select for him.  His appetite for life had become suddenly fierce
and voracious.

He had been starved.  At a quarter to one Mrs. St. George was
driven off in the car.  Supposing she kept it?  His luncheon-tray
arrived and he made one or two casual remarks to Leaper.

"We'll leave about two."

"Rather early, sir."

"Yes--but I want to go through Richmond Park.  We'll have tea at
Ockham."

He had no appetite for lunch.  He finicked with it, being worried
to death by his mother's taking of the car.  He felt cut off,
marooned.  He watched the square, and when at last he saw the big
blue car gliding round the curve of the gardens, and the chauffeur
putting out a hand to indicate to other traffic that he was about
to pull over to the off kerb, Alex felt hot and weak.  His heart
was thumping.  The car was there.  But had his mother given Sandys
any orders?  He dared not ask.  He was still in doubt about it when
the two men carried him downstairs, and lifted him into the car.
He asked Sandys a jocular question, a perfectly foolish question.

"You don't mind stretcher-cases, Sandys?"

"Hope you won't be that always, sir."

"Suppose I ought to have a nurse in the empty seat?"

"Might do better, sir."

The door was closed, and as it closed Alex felt a little jar of
relief and exultation.  His mother was not coming, and he sang out
to Sandys:

"Take me through Richmond Park."

The chauffeur raised an acknowledging hand.

In Oxford Street it seemed to Alex that the noise of the traffic
sounded a triumphant note.  The engine drummed.  No doubt he would
have found the pandemonium of Paris, and the devastating discords
of Rome, splendidly stimulating after the muffled monotony of that
overheated room, for his mother was a chilly mortal, and even when
coal was rationed she liked her fire half up the chimney.  He asked
for noise, movement, the clash of cymbals, youth and its jazz band.
They went down Park Lane.  At Buckingham Gate the interweavings of
the traffic, the red buses, the dark taxis, the coloured cars,
filled him with wide-eyed delight.  He glanced sideways at a
policeman on point duty and loved him.  Knightsbridge was a flowing
river.  He looked at the shops and was thrilled, especially by
those windows that were full of feminine provocations.

For he was going to see Kitty, to speak with Kitty, to touch Kitty.
He was absorbed in the contemplation of Kitty as a woman, as a
creature live and warm with lips and hands.  He was approaching her
as a lover, and in the sensuous mood of a man home on leave.  He
did not think of Kitty as a contriving, planning, purposeful
intelligence, as a personality separate and individual, as a little
Joan of France solidly upon the earth.  To him she was just Kitty,
woman to his man, soft flesh to be touched and worshipped.  She was
a bright object, fruit, flowers.  Kitty, the wife, and her
preoccupations and proposings were unforeseen.  It was an April
day, and he thought of her mouth and its kisses.

So, they drove him through Richmond Park, a fragment of old England
where trees still gather green spaces about them, and man and deer
may drink of other things, even of solitude.  He made them pull up
for five minutes, and Leaper got out and lit a cigarette, and
looked about him with the disapproving air of the man who sleeps
with his window shut, for to the Leapers solitude is a kind of sin.
He came and stood beside Mr. St. George.

"Feeling comfortable, sir?"

"Quite."

The perfunctory question having been asked and answered, Leaper
stood regarding the green spaces, and made a pointing movement with
the stump of a cigarette.

"There ought to be 'ouses here.  Waste of a good building site.
Nice place for a garden city."

Mr. St. George seemed lost in a long stare.

"I think we'll be getting on."

With Kingston and Surbiton behind them they ran along the black
stretch of the Portsmouth road, through Esher to Cobham, with the
April sunlight hanging in the darkness of the pine-trees.  They
came to Wisley with its rusty heather and dead bracken and its
Scotch firs.  The sky was full of freedom and the drifting of
clouds, but Alex was looking at neither the clouds nor the trees.
He watched the road.  It rose, descended again very gradually,
swept past the opening of a by-road, and curving, showed water
glimmering beyond the dark trunks of the trees.  The opening curve
uncovered the redness of the Swan Hotel, with an open space between
it and the pool, and half a dozen cars standing there.  They pulled
up outside the "Swan," Sandys backing the car off the road till the
tail lamp was within a yard of a hedge.

Alex, all eyes, was looking for Kitty, a little figure half hidden
somewhere on the edge of the water or among the trees.  He
scrutinized the cars.  They were empty.  Two or three chauffeurs
were gossiping by the hotel doorway.  A dusty-looking Ford van
stood a little apart, its driver--wearing an old army greatcoat--
leaning vacantly over the wheel.  There was no sign of Kitty.

Leaper came to the door.

"Tea, sir?"

"Yes, bring me some out on a tray."

"Very well, sir."

"You and Sandys can go in and get tea in the hotel.  Here's a ten-
shilling note.  There's no hurry."

"Thank you, sir.  I'll have tea brought out first."

Mr. St. George was wondering whether Leaper had detected in him any
signs of excitement.  He was trembling on his cushions.  He was
afraid, afraid that his wife had failed him.


II


Leaper carried out Mr. St. George's tea, brown teapot, white cup
and saucer, milk-jug and sugar-basin, three pieces of white bread
and butter, and two slabs of cherry cake.  He arranged the tray on
Mr. St. George's knees.

"Comfortable, sir?"

"Quite.  Go in and get your tea, Leaper.  I shall be all right here
for half an hour."

His excitement was intense.  He watched Leaper disappear into the
hotel before he attempted to pour out his tea, and when he did
attempt it a tremulous hand slopped the tea into the white saucer.
The moment had arrived; he was out of doors, alone, and unwatched.
But where was Kitty?  Would she appear suddenly, walking calmly
towards him, pretending to be casual and surprised?  Had this April
day lips and a heart?

Yet nothing happened.  He began to drink his tea and to eat his
bread and butter, feeling himself on the edge of a childish
desolation, of a horrible anti-climax.  He had not noticed the Ford
van drawn up close under some young Scotch firs about twenty yards
away on his left.  The driver in the khaki overcoat was getting
down into the road.  He went to the back of the van and opened the
doors.  A man emerged like a terrier backing out of a rabbit hole,
straightened himself, and smiled with blue eyes above a flaxen
brush of a moustache.  A girl in a black hat and a dark blue
raincoat followed him.

She went straight to the St. George car, the two men remaining
where they were, watching her.  She opened the door.  She took the
tray from Alex's knees, and placed it on the running-board close to
the near front wing.  She looked at her husband; she had a face of
immense seriousness.

"I've come for you."

He was all eyes.  He looked rather like a child to whom something
surprising and wonderful was happening.  He smiled and nodded.  He
said, "Kitty, we've got twenty minutes."

She possessed one of his hands and held it, while she waved to Old
George and the driver of the van.

"I'm kidnapping you.  I shan't need twenty minutes."

His eyes ceased to be the eyes of a child.  He caught the spirit of
adventure; he understood it, but in his own way and not as the
woman in her understood it.

"O, great--!  What--what a jest!"

She gave him one quick stare of the eyes, a look in which an
unasked question was unveiled, and then covered.  His face was
bright with excitement, hers white with the glow of her most
serious endeavour.

"We'll lift you out," she said.

The two men came up, and between them they lifted Mr. St. George
out of the car.  A rug, caught in the transit, trailed on the road,
and Kitty, pulling it free, tossed it back into the car.  She had
rugs of her own.  Running to the van she looked back to make sure
that no interference was developing; she climbed into the van and
turned to help the two men with her husband.  There were two
cushions, a rug, and some sacking on the floor of the van.  They
lifted Alex in heels first, and laid him on the cushions.  Kitty
half knelt and half sat beside him.  The driver closed the van
doors, started the engine, ascended to his seat, and Old George
climbed up beside him.  The van swung out from under the trees,
swerved to the left, and disappeared with its characteristic Ford
song in the direction of Cobham.

Some fifteen minutes later Leaper strolled out, lighting a
cigarette.  He was close to the car before he noticed the absence
of Mr. St. George, and the abandoned tea-tray balanced on the
running-board.  His lower jaw fell open with the cigarette adhering
to the lower lip.  He stared at the tray; he noticed that the cup
was half full of tea, and that a slice of unfinished bread and
butter remained on the plate.

"Good God--he's got up and walked!"

An equally astonished Sandys joined him in the contemplation of an
apparent miracle.

"But if he has walked--where is he?"

Two chauffeurs were craning their heads under the bonnet of a car,
and Leaper hailed them.  "Seen my young gentleman anywhere?"

No, they had not, and that was the most astonishing part of the
affair.  No one appeared to have observed Kitty in the act of
kidnapping her husband.


III


Crouching beside him in that narrow space she felt the van
gathering speed, but nothing but its utmost speed would satisfy
her.  She bent across and touched Old George.

"Tell him to drive--to drive like hell."

Alex was smiling up at her.  The adventure and the humour of it
remained with him, but to Kitty it was no study in humour; she
could not and would not see it as such.  In the half darkness of
the closed van, with a canvas screen dropped between her and the
two men in front, she saw her husband as a helpless thing, how
helpless she did not know.  Moreover, though her whole consciousness
enveloped him, he was not the Alex of Maleham.  There was a
strangeness.

His head seemed very low on the floor, and she doubled the cushion
under it.  His face was vaguely whimsical.

"You haven't kissed me, Kitty."

Nor had she.  The recovery of him had been an affair of quivering
nostrils and clenched hands, but now she bent over him and pressed
her lips to his.  She was serious enough in her kissing when she
stooped to it.  She gave more than he gave.  It left them both a
little breathless.

"I've got you," she said.

He held one of her hands.  His face made her think of a light
shining uncertainly in a wind.  The gust of her had troubled him,
ruffled his self-consciousness, for if he had thought of her
sensuously, she had thought of him and for him.  That was the
difference.

"Where are we going?"

"Home."

"What, Vernor Street?"

"No, our home.  I've made it."

His eyes widened, and at that moment the van swung sharply into a
by-road where an old white lodge and an oak gate stood in a smother
of trees.  The suddenness of the turn overbalanced her and flung
her away from him against the side of the van.  He laughed; he drew
her back, but she did not laugh.  He seemed to question her
solemnity.  His eyes warmed.

"Nearly over then--Kitty.  But what a jest!  What's it, a cottage?"

"Yes, a cottage, on the river."

"And we're going there?  I say, isn't this--priceless!  How did you
get it?"

"I found it.  It's just a little place.  I hope--"

She was bending over him, and suddenly he realized that she was
weeping.  His laughing, April mood lay and stared.  He was shocked
and he was astonished.  He did not understand her tears and their
suddenness; perhaps no man would have understood them.  But he was
deeply moved.  He had a feeling of having failed her somehow.  He
put up a hand and touched her face.

"Kitty."

She seized his hand.

"O--I--I hope--"

"My dear--I know I must have hurt you horribly.  I haven't been
myself.  Things--But I'll try to tell you--all about it.  A weak
rotter--whimpering in a bed.  I've been so--"

She crouched, staring at the canvas side of the van, and he looked
up at her like a sensitive child dismayed and astonished by its
mother's tears.

"I didn't believe it, not really, not when I came to myself.  But I
was so damned helpless and miserable.  I--"

She seemed to catch her breath.  Her face quivered like light lying
upon leaves that are disturbed by a passing shadow and a little
breeze.  She bent over him till her mouth was close to his.

"If you hadn't believed, it would have been just the same.  I want
things real--I want to feel--"

His arms went round her.

"Real--!  That's a wonderful word--like you."

"Things can be too real."

She puzzled him.  Real and too real!

"We've got each other.  Tell me about--the little place you've
made."

But she could not speak for a moment.  He had said "place" not
"home."  He did not realize her yet.  She pressed her forehead
against his cheek; she seemed in the midst of some strong and
silent spasm.  She said--"It's on the river.  It has a garden.
It's not a bad little place--"

"I'll love it.  Sure to."

Her spasm seemed to harden.

"We have got to try--make a living--you know.  I've worked it all
out.  I don't mind what I do.  You'll try to help me--"

"Of course--"

He lay still.  His intuitions reached out vaguely.  He divined in
her something that doubted, and a devotion that thrust with two
passionate hands to push the doubt away.  But what did she doubt?

"Kitty--I'll try to back you up.  I'll--"

Suddenly she sat up and looked at him.  It was as though she saw
him very clearly, and all that he was and might be and could not
be.  And she was filled with a great compassion, and a fear.


IV


With the help of George Venables she put her husband to bed in the
long room with the big window.  She had prepared everything with
such care.  She had placed the bed so that he could see the river
and the strip of garden between the laurel hedge and the high red-
brick wall, and the trees and meadows beyond the river.  There was
a hot bottle in the bed.  She remembered, too, his shyness and her
own, and that he had nothing with him but the clothes he lay in,
and at the last moment she laid a flannel night-shirt on the bed.
She had bought the material and made two of these shirts.

"George will help you to change."

She left them to it, and went out into the garden where the setting
sun was stroking the grass and the river with fingers of gold.  It
was a gentle evening, soft and warm and still, and the river
swelled by like quicksilver, save where the sunlight lay yellow
upon it.  A thrush was singing on the top of the big plane-tree,
and from across the river where the meadows were covering
themselves with a pearly grey mist a second thrush made an echo.
And Kitty stood and gazed, with the sunlight on her face.  The buds
of the fruit trees were swelling.  Old George had been very busy in
the garden, and tufts of polyanthus were lacing the beds with
velvet.  Daffodils were out.  Soon there would be wallflowers,
myosotis, arabis, and pansies.  The grass, rolled, battered, and
cut with a mower acquired at a sale, had begun to look sleek.  Even
the big boat-house had an April air, with its panels of treillage
painted green, and its weather-boarding white.

She had done so much, and yet she felt that she had done so little.
Would he be happy here?  What would he ask of life and of her?  He
was both a man and a child.  Almost, she would have to carry him in
her arms while bearing the burden for both of them.  But if he was
happy she could do it.

With a last look at the garden she went in.  She lit the gas stove
in the kitchen and put on the kettle.  She heard Old George in the
passage, and she called to him.

"George--"

"Ma'am."

"Have you managed?"

She was aware of his dog-like face with its kind trustful eyes, and
she was glad of him.  He had shown a gentleness and a delicacy that
had touched her.

"I want things.  I can't leave him--just now."

He understood her at once, and the things that were needed.

"He'll be wanting a shave in the morning."

"Could you go out and buy a razor.  You'll know.  The shops won't
be shut yet."

He smiled and nodded.

"I'm used to lifting, ma'am.  He's too heavy for you.  I can come
in and do it.  I've done a bit of nursing."

She blessed him.

"You're a good man, George.  I've got so much--"

"I can always spare a minute," said he.

She sent him off with a ten-shilling note, and loitered for a
moment in the kitchen before going down the passage to her
husband's room.  Her own hesitation surprised her.  She had more
courage than most women, but she discovered a sudden fear of that
room now that it was empty no longer, but held the very heart of
her enterprise.  She stood in the passage, conscious of herself and
of her undreamed-of vacillations.  Why was she afraid?  Why did she
hesitate?  Was it that she had a vague dread of being hurt in
there?

She made a sudden movement.  She went and opened the door.  She had
a smile on her face, and she looked quickly towards the bed, and
saw the light of the setting sun playing upon it.  He turned
himself on his side as she entered, and his eyes had a kind of warm
eagerness.

"Kitty--"

She closed the door.  She paused there for a moment.  Her eyes
waited.  She knew that she was wondering what he would say to her,
and that the woman in her craved for certain words, a particular
response.  She had worked so hard.

He held out a hand and repeated that cry--"Kitty."

Her face seemed to grow grave.  She moved across the room, but
avoiding the bed, placed herself by the window.  She looked through
it and saw all that she had planned for him to see, the grass, the
flowers, the river, the trees.  It was just a little dim to her.
She was yearning for him to say a certain thing, and since he did
not say it she felt strangely mute.

"I have sent George out to buy a few things.  How's the bed?"

"O, jolly comfortable.  But, Kitty, come here--"

She turned and saw his face.  It had a shine on it, a kind of
hunger in the eyes, and for a moment she hesitated, and then went
to him as though some clenched purpose held her back.  She sat down
on the edge of the bed.  She felt his arms round her, drawing her
down.

"Kit--"

He pulled her close and began to kiss her as he had never kissed
her before, and to make intimate, tender murmurings.  She felt his
warm breath and the quick beating of his heart.  She knew what his
kisses and his claspings meant.  They made her hot and they left
her cold.  She was aware of a dolorous and poignant struggle going
on within her, of the two women in her wanting and refusing to
want.  She was both mother and wife, and more mother than wife on
that fateful evening.

"Kit--I've got you.  You darling--"

She gave him passionate kisses for a moment, realizing the maleness
of his cry, and the male blindness of him.  Yet ought not she to be
satisfied?  The struggle in her was a pain, a mother-pang.  He
seemed to be pulling her over the edge of her devoted self-
restraint, and slowly she set out to free herself with a gradual
and wise gentleness.  She played with him, while asking herself if
she could always play with him like this.

"My dear.  But there's such a lot to do.  Kitty's got to be a busy
young woman--"

His eyes had a hurt look.

"Must you?  Just now?"

She made herself laugh.  She patted his head.

"Well--I'm all alone."

"But haven't you got a servant?"

"Not yet.  We're two church mice at present.  And, heavens!--I left
the kettle on my gas stove!  If it boils over--"

She escaped, and a part of her felt in tatters.  But why couldn't
he realize--?  Did not men realize--?


V


She was very busy all that evening, and she made herself feel and
seem even busier than she was, but all the things that she had seen
herself doing so easily and with such sweet complacency cost her an
inward effort.  She was realizing her problem.  It had uncovered
itself to her in one flash when Alex had pulled at her like a
spoilt and eager child clamouring for physical satisfactions.  Yes--
and yes--She might want them just as much as he did, but she
wanted something more from him than that.  She had done so much,
and she had so much more to do; her head and her heart were full of
contrivings, and he had not said a word about the home she had got
together.  He appeared to have accepted it as a child accepts a
tiny house built out of a box of bricks.  And when old George
Venables returned with a cheap safety-razor and a shaving brush and
a rubber sponge, she realized how utterly her husband was on her
hands.  He had no clothes save the clothes that he had come in.
Everything would have to be provided.

She squared herself to it.  She was full of a deep compassion; even
his childish maleness touched her while it hurt.  She prepared his
supper, and carried it in prettily on a tray with a little jug full
of purple and gold polyanthus.  She showed him gaiety, smiles.

"It may be a bit of a picnic, Alex."

He was a little silent, vaguely uneasy, like a child who has been
baffled.  She made allowances within herself.  How could she expect
him to be the same man after all that had happened to him?
Possibly she divined in him a pathetic greediness, a desire to
snatch at satisfactions that had been out of his reach.

Later, she had to do other things for him, very intimate things,
and she did them with a chaste and deliberate dignity.  She had
divined their necessity.  It was like doing things for a child, but
for a child who was both awkward and self-conscious and full of
uneasy preoccupations.  She tried to make her ministrations seem as
natural as the bringing of his food.  She made herself talk.  But
she was aware of him as another personality, of a beloved but short-
sighted creature watching her and thinking its own thoughts,
uneasily sensitive, sensuously alive.

He was both shy and bold.  She brought him some books, and placed a
lighted candle on a table beside the bed.

"I have to wash up."

He picked up one of the books and opened it perfunctorily,

"You'll come back soon?"

"I'll put you to bed."

While washing up she felt suddenly very tired, not physically so,
but with an overpowering, inward tiredness.  She finished her work.
She went back to her husband's room.  He appeared to be reading.
She carried a chair to the bedside; she was yearning for
companionship, and understanding; she wanted him to talk, and to be
able to talk to him as a sympathetic, intelligent mate.  She did
not want him to bear things, but she did want to feel that he
understood them.

He put the book away.  He caught her wrist; he pulled her towards
him.  His eyes had a tense, strained look.

"Kitty, aren't you going to sleep with me?  I think--I--can--manage--"

She felt strangely shocked, overwhelmed, but she rose above it.
She bent over him suddenly; she took his head in her arms.  She
poured herself out; she said to him things of intimate and sacred
meaning.  She tried to soothe and to caress, while she denied.

"My dear--not now--not yet.  It isn't because--I'm cold.  But think--"

She became aware of a sensitive sullenness in him, something that
both consented and would not consent.  His arms grew slack.  And in
trying to feel what ailed him, his baulkings, his disappointments,
and perhaps his shame, she held him closer.

"O--my little boy--my man--"

His responses were as slack as his arms.  He seemed immensely
grieved with himself and with her.  He became deplorably mute.

She kissed him and drew away.  Her lips were quivering.

"I'll put this bell here.  If you ring--I shall hear, I'll come at
once--"

He lay and stared at the ceiling.

"O--I shall be all right.  I shan't bother you--"

She went to her bed feeling torn and weary.



CHAPTER XXIV


I


Alex St. George lay and gazed at the river slipping past the strip
of grass between the laurel hedge and the red-brick wall.  In the
centre of this sloping lawn a round flower-bed wore a coronet of
red and white daisies, and claret-coloured and yellow polyanthus.
Sometimes--but not often--a boat passed across the strip of water
that was visible to the man in the chair.  Beyond it the vista
broadened into the grey-green meadows and the still, leafless
trees.

At six o'clock he had heard Kitty moving overhead.  His waking mood
had not been a happy one, and his wife's movements had seemed to
emphasize his own complete helplessness.  Insensibly he had become
accustomed to thinking of himself as helpless.  At half-past six
Kitty had come down the stairs and gone into the kitchen.  Fifteen
minutes later she had appeared with an early cup of tea and two
pieces of thin bread and butter.  She had bent down and kissed him.

"Slept well, boy?"

"Not so very well.  You should not have bothered about this."

"Is it a bother?"

Something in her eyes had disconcerted him.  She had appeared to
stand aside looking at him with a gentle and considering aloofness,
and then she had slipped away, and he had fallen into a strange,
sulky stare.  He had pitied himself.  His April mood had passed in
the night.  He had felt himself something less than a man.

At eight o'clock George Venables had come in to help him dress
before lifting him from the bed to the long cane chair in the
window.  There had been very little conversation between them; Old
George was shy and critical, and Alex discomfited.

At half-past eight Kitty had brought him his breakfast--tea, toast,
two rashers of bacon, a poached egg, butter and marmalade.  She had
placed the tray on his lap.

"Can you manage, dear?"

"O--perfectly."

He had felt himself weighed down by a voiceless and overwhelming
self-depreciation.  His self-humiliation had become wilful.  It had
made him look sulky.  It had desolated him and her.  He seemed to
be saying to himself--"I'm a useless wretch.  She has to fetch and
carry for me, to treat me like a child.  I'm nothing but a
nuisance.  Why did I let her bring me here--?"

She had come to take his tray away.  He had shown her a drooping
lassitude; he had not said that he had enjoyed his breakfast.  He
had not enjoyed it; he had been ready to choke over it.

"I shall have to leave you, boy, for awhile."

"Of course.  That's all right."

He lay and looked at the river.  It moved, and he could not.  He
became conscious of the chair, that he needed another cushion, that
he was uncomfortable within and without.  It was not so good a
chair as the one at Cardigan Square.  Miserable beast that he was
to feel it to be less comfortable!  He grovelled in self-
humiliation, and threw away the last shreds of his self-respect,
and felt his stomach like a twisted knot in a bag of emptiness.  He
said:  "I know what I am.  That shell ought to have finished it.
I'm not fit even to be a husband.  I haven't the right to be a
husband."

He heard Kitty coming.  She had a bright, grave face.

"Anything I can get you, Alex?"

He moved himself.

"Could I have another cushion?"

She found another cushion, and with great gentleness placed it
where it was needed, and her gentleness made him acutely and
uncouthly miserable.  Why should she have to do all this?  Why
should he have to ask--?

And he had nothing to say to her.  She went out from him with a
bright, firm face, telling herself that this mood of his was a
natural reaction.  He had flopped, and it was part of her problem
to rescue him from such flounderings, and to fill him with new
interests, and a recreated self-respect.  She realized that somehow
she would have to find things for him to do.  But how unexpected
life was!  She had imagined things happening so differently.

So--she endured during that first day.  She went about her work
with a patient and determined face.  She made beds, cleaned,
cooked, consulted with Old George and a jobbing carpenter who were
laying down the new floor in the boat-house.  Old George's eyes
seemed to watch her like the eyes of a dog.  He knew what sickness
was.  That young chap in there wanted the corners of his mouth
pulling up.

Kitty's mouth was a straight line.  When her work was done she went
in to sit with her husband.  She felt all his soreness, the wilful
accentuations of his depression, his poor moody self-humiliation.
She tried to make him talk.  She was saying to him in her heart--
"O, my dear, don't let yourself go down like this.  Talk to me.
Let things out.  You can say everything to me.  I want you to be
happy.  I don't mind so long as you are happy--"

Her patience held.  At five o'clock Old George came in with brushed
coat and washed hands to lift Alex back to his bed, and remembering
that Old George had an invalid of his own Kitty sent him home when
he had done the lifting for her.  But she went to the front door
with Old George; he did some of her shopping for her.

"Can you buy me two pairs of socks and a shirt?"

"Yes, ma'am; I'll get 'em at Draper's."

"You are very kind, George.  It's good of you to do that lifting.
He's so very helpless."

Old George had a quaint way of looking wisely and sadly down his
broad nose.

"When you've got to lift things with your heart, miss, as well as
with your hands, it comes a bit heavy."

She went back to her husband and undressed him; she slipped the
flannel nightshirt over his head and smoothed it under him; she did
for him those various intimate things.  And under her careful hands
his lassitude seemed to increase; he appeared to grow more helpless
and more voiceless.

"It's going to be an awful bore for you--doing all this."

That was as far as he would go.

"Do you think so?" she asked him.

She made a little laugh of it, yet--almost she could have smacked
him for making a moan over so obvious a necessity.  Why did he not
accept the obvious, and having made the best of it, prepare to rise
above it with a smile?  Why did he not blurt out his soul to her,
and so make the immediate problem easier for them both?  She was
very tired.  To be cheerful for two is peculiarly exhausting, even
more exhausting than bearing the noise of chattering fools.  She
felt the need of being alone for awhile, quite alone with her own
human problem.  She went out into the garden and walked up and down
on the grass beside the river, with the same thrush singing on the
same tree while a gentle dusk descended.  She felt rather
miserable.  For what an anticlimax was this after all her sturdy
waitings and contrivings!  And yet--surely--it was only a phase?
He was too sensitive.  He gave way to things; he wilted.  But she
must refuse to let him wilt or to give way to peevish self-pity.
She would have to make him interested, insist on his being
interested.

O, poor lad!

She went in again full of pity, the pity that one feels for some
one particular person.  It filled her, and sustained her.  She
busied herself with his little dinner, for he had had his dinner at
Cardigan Square, and he should have it now.  She let her curiosity
travel to Cardigan Square.  Mrs. St. George!  What rages, what
puzzlements, what a wigging of servants!  Telephonings here and
there!  Yes, she--the wife--had got him; she held his body, but
what of the real him, the man, the sick and peevish child?  Yes,
she would still have to go on fighting and smiling and enduring.
Such a battle was not won in three days.

That evening she went in and sat beside his bed.  She had
determined to talk to him about the cottage and their future, her
plans, money and how they were to get it.  She wondered if he
realized that money had to be made.  He had never lacked money,
comforts, toys.  He had never had to work, or to strike his fist
against life's fundamentals.  Work or starve!  Get money, or be an
underling, to be pushed into crowded corners.

She had nothing of the socialist in her composition; she despised
the socialist idea as her mother despised it; she was ready to
strive for what was hers.

She said to him:  "How do you like my carpet, boy?  It took me a
month to find it."

He looked rather vaguely at the carpet.

"Jolly nice.  Where did you get it?"

"At a sale.  I can tell you it was a great game, my dear, getting
this little place furnished."

"Must have been."

His vagueness continued.  It was the vagueness of the sick, and
sensitive introvert with the skin of his consciousness turned
inwards.  He was full of his self-depreciations, wilful abasements.
He persisted in feeling a worm, a dull and unimpressive worm.

"Don't you want to hear all about it?"

"About--what?"

"Well, we have to make a living.  It ought to be great fun making a
living.  Are you any good at arithmetic?"

He raised his hands and let them fall, and the gesture expressed
his mood.  "I'm no good at anything.  I shall never be good at
anything."  She looked hard at him, and smothered something, and,
pressing her lower lip against her teeth, went on with her talking.
She caught herself feeling like a schoolmistress, and talking like
one, and he lay and listened like a listless child.  Never had life
seemed so pitiful and so provoking.  Her pity had an edge of
exasperation.  He was making no effort to understand her or even to
listen.

She said--with vehement self-restraint:  "You are tired, my dear."
And he nodded.  His eyes had a wide and vacant expression.  He
seemed to be incapable of fixing his attention upon any subject, or
of rising above the dead level of the day's despondency.

"Poor old lad."

She bent down and kissed him, and tears came into his eyes.

"I'll not worry you any more to-night."

But the day's mothering had left her discouraged and very weary,
and she went to her bed very much in need of her own mother.  She
wanted to let herself go to somebody, to press her head against
Mrs. Sarah's splendid and warm solidity.


II


And next day Mrs. Sarah came.  Kitty had sent her mother a telegram
on the morning of the second day, and Mrs. Sarah having looked good
over it, had remained with infinite discretion at No. 7 Vernor
Street.  Vine Cottage and Alex were Kitty's affair, and a wise
woman should be in no hurry to dip a spoon in her daughter's broth.
Let these two young things possess the two first days together, and
find each other, and sort out the recovered threads of their
interwoven future.

Alex heard Mrs. Sarah enter the cottage.  He heard her voice and
Kitty's voice, and the sounds seemed to embrace and mingle and to
flow away into the kitchen and to become muffled there.  He lay and
listened.  He discovered in himself a little and unexplained fear
of Mrs. Sarah; the cottage was made different by her coming into
it.  She had a boisterousness, a brevity, a hearty vigour that
disturbed even at a distance the stagnation of his self-pity.  He
had been letting himself float in a despondency that was like the
green slime.  It is even possible that he had become to like it a
little.  It was so effortless.  It responded to his emotions, and
damped them down, and suffered the vibrations to die away into
succulent gloom.

Mrs. Sarah's voice stirred other vibrations.  She seemed to be
talking very hard and fast, and with a gaillard, and buoyant
vehemence.  She was enjoying herself; she had every right to enjoy
herself and Kitty.  Yes, she, Mrs. Sarah, had had a visit from Mrs.
St. George.

"Bless you--I know I may be a vulgar old woman--my dear, but I do
enjoy life.  Yes--she arrived yesterday like a white squall.  She
accused me of having Alex in the house.  Did I know anything of
Alex and his whereabouts?  Of course not!  Really, I think I
treated her rather well, poppet.  I took her all over the house.  I
felt like old Foch with the Germans at his knees.  She was furious,
but she kept it in."

"So she does not know yet?"

"She has been to the police.  But what can she do?"

"She may try to remove him by force when she finds out that I have
Alex here."

"I think not, my dear.  That would mean housebreaking.  Rather too
large an order even for Mrs. St. George.  Besides--the lad has a
voice of his own--now."

Kitty sat down on a kitchen chair, with her elbows on the kitchen
table.  She looked out of the window.

"I wish he had," she said.

Alex could still hear the two voices, but their notes had dropped
to an intimate and subdued murmuring.  No doubt they were
discussing him, and what was to be done with him, and the burden of
him.  And so they were.  His sensitiveness had too thin a skin, or
rather--it picked up too many sensations of the same order.

Presently he heard the opening of a door, and a sudden enlarging of
the two voices.  They sounded very cheerful.  Obviously Mrs. Sarah
was coming to see him, and he flinched from the imminence of her
vigorous solidity.  He was like an absurd and peevish child; he
would like to have hidden himself under the bedclothes.

Mrs. Sarah came in.  She was alone.  She closed the door, and
crossing to the bed, sat down sideways on the foot of it with an
air of friendly and triumphant good humour.

"Well--here we are."

She did not mince matters.  She assumed that her son-in-law found
himself in the best of all possible worlds.  The romance was still
a romance.  And wasn't Kitty wonderful!

He had to agree, though his self-depreciation resented the glare of
his wife's goodness.

"Did it all herself, my dear.  Even stripped the old paper off the
walls.  And here you are--launched on the adventure.  A nice little
home, and a nice little game to play at making a living.  O, you'll
do it between you!  You'll back up your little wife."

He felt like a flat cold fish ready to scuffle away down into the
mud away from the glow of Mrs. Sarah's enthusiasm.  What an
abominably cheerful woman it was!  And he was realizing himself to
be a mere parasite, a sucking thing, dependent upon his wife for
every sort of humiliating little ministration.  Where was the
triumph?

He felt himself sinking through the bed when Mrs. Sarah got up from
it, and returned to her daughter and her daughter's affairs.  He
heard the women's voices mingle again.  They appeared to drift out
into the garden and into the illusion of light that an April day
provided.

Mrs. Sarah was speaking.

"You have taken the measurement of the passage and doorways?  I'll
get it--straight away--and order it to be sent down.  Yes, have a
doctor in, a young one, one who's not too soft.  What, my dear?  A
good smacking.  Take it early.  It's kinder in the end.  It might
do him all the good in the world, poor lad."


III


There were three doctors practising in and about Shelford, and Dr.
Drake was George Venables' recommendation.  Old George had no very
great faith in the medical profession, but Dr. Drake had been to
the war and was home again, and was supposed to be clever with his
hands.  So Kitty sent for Dr. Drake, and he came in a small grey
car, a short, thick-set, bright-eyed man with a face that was both
droll and imperturbable.  He had a smile; he was laconic; and he
could keep still.  He sat in Kitty's parlour, and listened to all
that she had to say, and asked her a few pointed questions.  He
inspired her with her confidence from the very first, and she
showed him a good sense by giving him her confidence in return.

"Well, let's have a look at him.  Do you mind if I see him alone?"

"I leave it to you."

He looked at Alex very thoroughly.  He sat on the edge of the bed
and talked and observed his patient.  He had retained the abrupt
and realistic outlook of the war, and he was one of those men who
might retain it to the end of his days, and remain on the crest of
youth's wave.  Nothing but the real would satisfy him, that and the
search for it.  He looked straight ahead.  He belonged to a
generation that refused to be impressed by long words, or by
parental shibboleths or the wisdom of the ancients.  He had a sort
of whimsical, kind ruthlessness.  To him life was like a relay-
race: you snatched the baton from the failing hand of the past, and
sped ahead without looking back till some other racer took the
baton front you.  What did that matter!  Speed, the getting there,
were the things that mattered.

He was instantly interested in Alex.  Here was a case, a young
machine out of gear, a double disharmony, physical and mental.  So,
when his examination was over, he sat on Alex's bed and talked to
him with a whimsical cheeriness that was as subtle as the trained
hand of the surgeon.  He watched Alex's eyes and his mouth, and his
movements, or his lack of movement.  He refrained from being too
aggressively inquisitive--at least--to begin with.  He had learnt
to know his types, and to generalize about them, and at the same
time he was alive to the falseness of easy generalizations.  Man
and his consciousness appear so incoherent now that the doubting
Edwardians have followed the comfortably earnest Victorians into
their coffins.  We--of the new age sometimes wish to be in earnest,
but about what?  Drake had found nothing to be in earnest about
save his job.  You left the New Paganism and the New Psychism to
the talkers.  Even with a new eruption of the barbarians--of the
mechanical mob--you would still hope for your super-scientist, a
new Messiah with a light-ray or a death-ray, who, by pressing a
button in his laboratory, could efface all mobs and mobbishness.
Drake talked to Alex as he had talked to young officers during the
war.  It was the voice of the M.O.--man addressing man.

"Well, my lad, what are you going to do to amuse yourself?"

It was a question that Alex found difficult to answer.  Here was
another visitor who was as cheerful as Mrs. Sarah, but cheerful
with a difference.

"I don't know, doc.  I'm so jolly helpless."

"So you will be, my lad, if you let yourself feel like that.
You'll get a fatty head and a fatty heart."

Alex's eyelids flickered.

"I'm nothing but a sort of parasite."

"Rot, my lad.  We shall have to find you something to do, even if
it is nothing but peeling potatoes."

He gave Alex's shoulder a grip, looking down at him with kind
ruthlessness, and went out to speak with Kitty.  He found her in
the kitchen making cakes, and he sat down on a kitchen chair, and
told her to go on with her cake-making.

"I have had a thorough look at your husband, Mrs. St. George.  I
should like to watch him for a time.  These cases can be rather
complicated.  He's apt to get depressed about himself."

She looked at the solid and imperturbable face across the table.
Dr. Drake's skin had a dustiness.  He had very little facial
expression, but when you met his wary, grey-black eyes you felt the
man's vitality coiled like a spring behind them.

"Very depressed.  I'm worried about it."

"Quite right.  He must not be allowed to feel like that.  It's
insidious; it's like a drug habit.  We must get him out of it."

He observed her, and she observed him in return.  A little smile
seemed to pass between them.

"I mustn't be--too--easy?"

"Exactly.  Rouse him.  Get his self-respect kicking.  Try and find
him something to do, something that will make him feel that he is
being of use."

She nodded.

"I'll try.  We are not very well off, doctor.  I shall have to make
a living here."

"Don't worry about my fees.  You'll manage.  What are you going to
do?"

"Give teas and dances.  My idea is to get hold of the river people.
I've worked it all out."

He smiled with his eyes, and getting up, looked at her with shrewd
kindness.

"Excellent idea.  Fine exercise--dancing.  I'll prescribe it for
some of my patients and send them on to you.--By the way--rub his
legs well twice a day, and be careful about his skin.  But don't
dwell too much on those legs of his; you understand?  I'll drop in
again in two or three days' time."



CHAPTER XXV


I


Kitty heard the wind in the trees, and the uneasy lapping of the
river.  She had come out by the passage door into the garden,
locking the door after her and taking the key, and as though moved
by the wind and an impulse of her own she went round to the window
of her husband's room.  April, turned tempestuous, buffeted the
laurel hedge behind her.  In the greyness of the dusk the river had
a look of haste, and the western sky was pale primrose, and against
this paleness blue-black clouds smudged themselves.  The big plane-
tree sang a song of its own.  In the flower-beds the wallflowers
bent to the wind.

She looked in at the window.  She had lit a candle for him, and
left him cigarettes and a book on the table beside the bed.  She
had said--"I must rush down the village.  That idiot Fuller forgot
to send the tea."  She had seen a whimpering resignation in his
eyes.  What need was there for her to tell him where she was going
and why?

Yes, the candle was burning and he was reading the book she had
left him.  She saw eight white fingers outlined against the dark
cover.  The colours of the room were dim but recognizable, the red
walls, the white paint, the biscuit-coloured carpet, the apple-
green bedspread, and yet the room impressed her as a fabric that
had faded.  It had been so vivid to her on the day of his coming,
and now it seemed blurred, covered with a dusty sadness.

She slipped away.  She was conscious of a sudden passionate rage
against life, a clenching of her fists, a setting of her chin.
Something would have to be done.  She could not allow him to go on
behaving like a moody and hysterical child; he would have to be
shaken out of his humours.  Her fingers touched the latch of the
door that opened from the garden into the lane.  She opened the
door, closed it with vehement self-restraint and stood for the
moment holding the iron handle.  She was aware of the fresh green
surface of the door dimmed to blackness by the dusk.  The wind
rushed over the river and made a roaring in the elms and the
chestnuts, a potent and a vigorous wind, and it stirred a response
in her.

She hurried up Shelford Lane, keeping to the middle of the road.
Windows were being lit up.  She saw a big coarse, red hand drawing
down a blind.  A few children came scuffling and screaming under
the pollarded limes, and one of them--a little oafish boy--
blundered against her.  She thrust him off--and with such
impatience that he lurched against a tree and remained there for a
moment mute and astonished.  Yes, life was boiling up in her, a
rage against childishness.  By the church a man was turning the
handle of a car that refused to start, and she observed the
resentful jerks of his hunched shoulders.  A thing that refused to
start!  The windows of the Ship Inn were like yellow eyes blinking
in the wind.  It looked a frowsy place, like a slovenly woman in a
hurry.  Sounds came from it, voices, a silly laugh given with a
mouth wide open and a head lolling back.  She went on to the
grocer's.  She found the window blinds being lowered.  Her words
were as curt as her entry.  The man who served her with a take it
or leave it face, that had not yet recovered from the war, was made
to feel the gustiness of her impatience.

She hurried back.  The lane was both darker and more patched with
light.  The wind made a roaring in the trees; a star shone here and
there between the racing clouds.  She had reached the door in the
wall when she noticed a figure leaning against the white shutters
of the Vine Cottage shop.  She was suspicious.  She walked on.  The
figure that had propped itself against her shutters remained
attached to them with a loutish casualness.  She looked at it
carefully and with a deliberation that should have made it
uncomfortable.

The figure spat.

"I've got a girl, miss, thanks."

He saw her eyes in the dusk, very round and gleaming.  Yes, men
were abnormally precious in these days, and even a Surrey lout had
a rude quip ready, and a sense of his sexual importance.  He had
nothing to do but to lean against a wall and wait for the female to
come to him.  She turned and walked back to the garden door.  Yes,
life was boiling up in her.  She had wondered whether that loafing
figure had had any significant connection with Cardigan Square, for
she knew that her days of concealment must come to an end.  And she
was conscious of a feeling of exasperation.  Some day--no doubt--
his mother would arrive, and she--Kitty--would have nothing to show
her but a figure of a failure, a whimpering child who refused to be
happy.

She opened the door, and in closing it the latch pinched one of her
fingers.

"Damn!" she said; "yes--damn!"

She was the daughter of Mrs. Sarah, and her reactions had a like
vitality and vigour.  She locked the door, and passed round the
cottage to realize that the long window was in darkness.  What did
it mean?  He had blown out the candle.  He was lying there in the
darkness, adding it to his self-made gloom, wrapping himself in it.
Her anger was at her lips.  She felt that she must rouse him out of
this lassitude before the intervention of his mother.  She must be
able to show the other woman--

She passed on.  She let herself in and relocked the door; she
turned on the kitchen lights; she tossed her packet of tea on to
the table.  She took off her hat and her raincoat.  Now for it!
She was quivering.  She went down the passage to his room and
opened the door, and saw the window dimly grey.  In the bed there
was a movement.

"What, all in the dark?"

His voice came dully.

"Don't turn on the light, Kitty.  I have something to say."

"O?"

She closed the door.

"What's the matter?"

"I can't stay here, Kitty."

She moved a little way into the room.

"How is that?"

"It's too--too shameful.  I can't let you scrub and scrape for me,
wear yourself out.  It's nothing but drudgery--I'd rather--"

She went quietly to the window and stood looking out at the dim
garden and the river.

"You would rather go back to Cardigan Square?"

"It would make it easier for you, Kitty."


II


Her silence was like a bubble blown from a pipe.  It swelled, it
floated into the air, and then it burst.

She turned on him.  She went quickly to the foot of the bed, and
putting her two hands to the iron bar of the frame, she let the
muscles of her arms and chest strain against it.  She said:

"Very well, go back.  I've done everything that could be done.  I
have worked for weeks getting this little home ready.  I have tried
to think of everything.  But you have no pluck--"

The tension of her arms made the bed quiver, conveying to it the
vibrations of her little body's anger.

"You just lie there and grouse.  You haven't made an effort to help
me or to help yourself.  I shouldn't mind the work and the worry.
After all--one's got to work, and worries are like the poor--I
waited for you.  I waited for you when you didn't believe in me.  I
went on believing.  I thought you would have the courage to make
the best of the best I could give you.  For--I have given you my
best--"

He was voiceless.  She could see his dim face looking up at her
with its wide and sensitive eyes.  She felt them to be frightened
eyes, but she went on striking.

"You had better go back.  I can't help you if you won't try to help
yourself.  What's the use?  I brought you here because I wanted you
to be happy--and I wanted to be happy, too.  We might have been.
I'll write to your mother to-morrow.  She can send her car--"

She gave the bed a shake, though she was not conscious of doing it,
and going quickly to the door, she got herself out of the room, and
closed the door after her.  She leant against it.  Her anger had
passed like the wind, leaving her strangely exhausted.  She felt
that she could sink to the floor, but she would not let herself
sink; she stiffened her knees; she listened.  In the room there was
absolute silence, a shocked, bewildered silence.  It made her yearn
and it made her despair, but she smothered her yearnings, gave her
head a shake, and walked down the passage into the kitchen.  She
found herself staring at the packet of tea.  She seized it, ripped
it open, clutched the red canister from the shelf and emptied the
tea into it.  She lit the gas stove.  She filled the kettle at the
sink, turning the tap full on, and letting the water splash over.
What did it matter?  She could have taken all the crockery from the
shelves and smashed it with a wild and delicious violence.  But
suddenly she held herself in.  She wiped the kettle with an old
dishcloth, and placed it on the stove, and saw that the gas was
burning neither too high nor too low.  She was saying things to
herself--"Hold tight.  Don't be hysterical.  It all depends on
you."  And with a deliberate calmness she set about preparing her
husband's dinner, collecting her plates and dishes, a tin of
sardines, bread, butter, a bottle of preserved fruit; custard
powder, the little saucepan containing his coffee.  She grew calm,
inexorable--

And suddenly she heard the tinkling of his handbell.  The sound
came out of the dark silence appealingly.  She stood still.  She
compelled herself to ignore it; she went on with her work.


III


Twenty minutes passed, and Kitty was whipping up some custard in a
little white basin when she heard him calling.

"Kitty--Kitty--"

She paused.  She remained very still for some moments in that
brightly lit little kitchen; she looked at the clock on the
mantelpiece; she drew a deep breath and went on with the whipping
of the custard.  But she was all ears, quick with suspense and with
her wonderings as to the virtue of her castigations.  How much of a
man was he?  Would he accept her silence, or had she roused in him
a spirit that could be remorseful and urgent and proud?

Again she heard him calling--"Kitty--Kitty," and the appeal in his
voice could not be questioned.  She went and washed her hands at
the sink and dried them on the roller towel behind the door, and a
sudden exultation tingled in her, even to her finger-tips.  She
remembered to turn off the tap of the gas stove.  She walked slowly
down the passage and opened his door.

"Did you call?"

The room was in darkness, and out of the darkness his voice seemed
to grope towards her.

"Kitty--what a beast I've been--"

That cry of his seemed to be in her own body.  She was with him
instantly, bending over him in the darkness, passionate,
triumphant, yet celebrating no selfish victory.

"O--my dear--"

He had found one of her hands and was kissing it.

"I don't want to go back--Don't send me away.  I know now.  I've
been such an utter rotter.  I want to talk.  Hold my head, hold my
head like you used to do."

She lay beside him on the bed, and held his head in her arms.

"Say everything--I shall understand--"

She felt his face against her bosom, and his voice came muffled.

"I was so ashamed--but--I suppose--it was weak of me.  I know now--
if you will let me stay--I'll never be like that again.  I promise.
I've been through hell, and come through on the right side.  I want
to help.  Can't I help--somehow--"

She put her lips to his head.

"Of course--lots of things.  But smiling and being happy helps
most.  Don't you see--A woman doesn't mind work--when she's happy
and someone else is happy.  Why, just think.  This is our own
little show, out very own little show, boy.  It's like playing a
great game.  It's going to be so exciting--"

He held her close.

"Kitty, you're a great little woman.  I won't let you down again.
I promise--O--I'm happy--happy.  Something has happened inside me.
I was so shocked, so scared--I'll begin now--and to-morrow--I'll--
There must be lots of things--If I could get about a bit--"

She said:  "You shall.  There is one of those wheeled chairs
coming.  You will be able to trundle yourself about."

"O--great!  But I want to hear about things.  Tell me about things,
everything--"

She pressed his head.

"There's your dinner--I must get it ready.  But after dinner--"

She felt him make a happy stirring in her arms.  Then he lay still;
he was looking at the dim window.

"Kitty, some things one can't help, but there are things one can.
Grousing's cowardly.  I'll keep smiling--"


IV


After a dinner which she shared with him, bringing up a little
table and sitting beside his bed, they passed what was perhaps the
happiest evening of their lives.  She had drawn the curtains across
the window and turned on a shaded light above the bed.  The
melancholy candle was discarded.  She sat beside him, leaning
against the pillows, with a writing pad on her knees.  She was
going to draw plans and pictures for him.

But he said:

"I want to look at the room, our room."

He raised himself in bed; he looked about him with a sensitive,
smiling eagerness, and with a new life in his eyes.

"Isn't it--pretty.  It's the prettiest room--I like the shape.  And
then--that window--and the river."

"That's why I took the cottage."

"Did you?  By God--dear--I'll try and deserve it."

With his head against her shoulder she made play with a stumpy
pencil, drawing plans on the writing pad.  They chattered like two
children, and with tongue and pencil she described the cottage and
the garden.  "Here's the lawn where we can serve teas.  And here's
the boat-house.  We have let in more light by cutting out panels in
the walls, and fixing trellis or curtains.  The floor is half
finished; it measures forty feet by twenty.  I thought of having a
big gramophone with a large trumpet."

He exclaimed with sudden excitement--"I say, I've had banjo
lessons.  I can vamp quite well, and I've a sense of time.  I can
be the band, a drum and a pair of cymbals, and a bit of banjo
thrown in to help the gramophone."

She hugged him.

"Splendid!  Of course you can.  Old George is going to look after
the boats, and I shall have a girl in to help with the teas.  Now--
I wonder what we shall make--?"

She began to scribble figures, and he watched the jottings of her
pencil.

"I thought of charging 1s. for tea alone, 2s. 6d. for tea and
dancing.  A good tea will cost me somewhere about 8d.  That would
leave a profit of 1s. 10d. on each dance tea.  We shall have to get
a licence, and there will be the tax.  Of course--if the thing goes
well--we might put up the price."

And then he too desired a pencil and a piece of paper, and they
scribbled in chorus, and chattered, and conceived sudden
inspirations.

"Say twenty couples every Saturday and Sunday, Kit.  Twenty couples
at 3s. 6d. profit per couple, a hundred and forty shillings, seven
pounds each week-end.  But how many week-ends?"

"Allow twenty."

"That's £40 a year."

He stared gravely at the sum figured on paper.  It was not very
impressive.  She took up the chant.

"Yes, but there will be the odd teas on ordinary days.  And we may
get parties.  Call it £200.  And if I open the shop--"

"How much can we live on?"

"We must try and do it on £300 including wages.  I have a little
money of my own; my 'Cobbold' shares have doubled.  I had £300 in
them."

"By Jove," said he, "what an ass I am!  Of course I've some money
lying at Cox's.  And then there will be my gratuity.  I wonder if
it is too late to do anything about a disability pension?  But I
must have two or three hundred lying at Cox's, not counting my
gratuity--"

"Dear boy--"

"I'll write to them to-morrow.  I can bring the money into our
show.  We must pay your mother--she's been a brick."

"O, mother's not worrying."

He had another inspiration.

"I say, I could keep the accounts, couldn't I?  I'll be bandmaster
and book-keeper, and all sorts of things.  Great!  If only I can be
of some use--"

She was happy.  And when she went to her little room and drew back
the curtains and opened the window, she saw that the sky had
cleared, and that the stars were showing.  She leaned out into the
night.  She heard the wind in the trees, and saw the ruffled river
dimly swelling by.  The night smelt sweet.  O, happy moments, and
quiet breathing!  She knew that she need not fear his mother, nor
perhaps--any woman.



CHAPTER XXVI


I


To Alex St. George the window of his room suddenly enlarged itself.
There seemed more of the sky to be seen, more of the river and of
the meadows and trees beyond it, more of the life of the birds busy
with the year's increase.  The old red wall sunned itself.  The
wallflowers in the round bed in the centre of the strip of grass
were unfolding from the swelling green of their buds petals of
maroon and of yellow.  For we carry our own world about with us,
and as Alex's consciousness enlarged itself and caught the
sensitive urge of the spring, so did the window grow more
wonderful.  He felt that he had a heart, muscles, hands.  He was a
young bird on a bough.

To Old George, coming in to lift him from bed to chair, he showed a
face of acceptance and of freshness.

"I say, when I get my wheeled chair, George, do you think that
there is anything I could find to do down at the boat-house?"

A smile slipped from Old George's blue eyes and seemed to trickle
down his broad nose.

"Sure of finding something, sir, if you look for it."

Wholesome fellow--George, and happy with his hands.  He went out
caressing his big blond moustache, considering the things that
might be accomplished by a man who had lost the use of his legs.
Yes, there were things that Mr. Alex could do, but would it not be
more exciting for Mr. Alex to discover them for himself?  Surely!
A child should be encouraged to make or find its own toys.  The
little plutocrats of the nursery--sallow stuff!  The tappings of
Mr. Venables' hammer resounded under the hollow roof.

By some happy coincidence the wheeled chair arrived in a crate that
very morning.  Kitty had it carried to the grass under her
husband's window, and she unpacked it there after Old George had
knocked out the side of the crate.  There was a mass of paper and
string and straw bands, and as she worked, with Alex watching her,
she thought of this chair as a chariot of victory.

"I'm going to try it."

She pushed her honey-coloured bobbed head through the open window,
and her eyes were mischievous.

"All right.  And--afterwards--"

She got into the chair and trundled herself along the path, and
then took a turn over the grass, encircling the flower bed.

"It's quite easy."

His eyes were bright and eager.

"Let me try.  Put me into it."

The side door opening out upon the bricked path was wide enough to
admit the chair, and Kitty, having wiped the wheels with a duster,
pushed the chair in.  Old George was stuffing straw and paper back
into the crate.  He went in to help.  They inserted Alex into his
overcoat, placed him in the wheeled chair, and stood regarding him
like a couple of pleased parents.

"What about a cushion?"

He had an intent, purposeful look.

"No, it's jolly comfortable.  But won't the wheels be rather hard
on the carpet?"

"O, never mind the carpet."

She went out, giving Old George a beckoning look with her eyes, and
he, following her, rubbed a thoughtful nose.  Outside she
whispered, and received a smiling, sidelong stare, for Old George
understood.  He returned to his boat-house, and she to her kitchen.

Meanwhile, Alex's face had taken on the intent expression of a
child interested in some new problem.  Very carefully he moved
himself about the long room, avoiding the furniture, and trying
such simple experiments as bringing himself alongside the table or
bed.  He tried going forwards and backwards, turning, stopping at a
particular spot.  He was a little flushed.  And presently the open
door giving on to the brick path inevitably offered itself and the
adventure of the wider world beyond.  He eyed it, measured it.  He
trundled himself towards it.  There would not be much space to
spare between the wheels and the doorposts.  Moreover the doorway
had a raised ledge or sill, and at the first attempt--not hitting
the sill squarely with both wheels--the chair swerved and jammed
itself between the posts.  He backed out and tried again, and again
got himself pinched in the doorway.  But at the third attempt, with
his hands working hard at the wheels, he propelled the chair over
the sill, and found himself on the brick path.

He was breathing hard; his face had a flush of triumph.  He had
accomplished something.

"Good business!  I'm outside."

He felt that he had a sky over his head that he could regard as his
own, and an earth that was new and yet his.  And the sun was
shining, and he let himself rest there for a minute in the
sunlight, before going on his voyage of exploration.  He trundled
himself down beside the laurel hedge, found the opening in it, and
appeared in the garden, seeing it for the first time with an
intimate realization of its personal meaning, a green and flowery
way between the faded redness of the old cottage and the stately
glide of the river.  He looked up at the great plane tree; he bent
down and touched the grass with his fingers.

His wife was on the watch.  She saw him coming along the lower
path, his figure darkened by having the sunlit surface of the river
for a background.  He was leaning forward in the chair, moving
himself rather slowly, but with a suggestion of purposeful haste.
He seemed to be pressing forward into new country, youth chained
but eager.

He turned the chair abruptly and faced the cottage.  He called out
to her.

"Kitty, where are you?"

She showed herself at the window, and he waved.

"I'm out."

His pride was as obvious as a child's, and his showing off before
her had pathos and naïveté.  Here was the old, lovable Alex.

"Come out, Kitty.  Let's go round."

She came out to him, and her movements seemed to have a happy
gliding smoothness.  She did not touch the chair, but left him to
his own devices and the zest of his own endeavour.  But she praised
him.

"You can manage it--already."

"O--I'll manage all sorts of things--I want to see the boat-house;
I want to see everything.  Come along.  But don't help me; I want
to feel responsible."

She had no intention of helping him unless he could not help
himself, but she walked beside the chair between it and the river,
like a young mother accompanying a child that is learning to
toddle.  Her impulse was to say--"Be careful of the river," but she
did not say it; she was careful not to fuss his striving and
renascent manhood.

"This way."

Between the Vine Cottage garden and the boat-house, where an
opening had been cut in the fence, Old George had made a temporary
path of half-bricks and cinders.  There were two yards or so of
soft and boggy bumpiness, and Alex's chair showed a disinclination
to advance.  Kitty watched him fight his way through, straining
like a determined child to attain its object.  He got through that
soft patch, and she wanted to bend down and kiss him.


II


Having cast his eyes over their Canaan, and pushed his chair as far
as the great chestnut trees beyond the black shed, he turned back
and came to rest outside the boat-house where Old George and the
jobbing carpenter were at work.  Kitty left him there, for she had
cooking to do, and he sat and watched the jobbing man clamping
floor boards together before nailing them to the joists.  Old
George had half a dozen boards laid across three short pieces of
timber and was smearing some brown stuff on them with a long-
handled brush.

Alex watched him with the air of a child in a perambulator watching
some other child actively and satisfyingly busy.

"I say--George--!"

"Sir--"

"What's that stuff?"

"Creosote, sir.  Giving the under sides of the boards a dressing
before we nail 'em down."

"Couldn't I do that?  If the boards were laid out here--"

"Don't see why you shouldn't, sir."

In fact there was no reason why Mr. St. George should not swab
creosote over the timber provided that the ground was prepared for
him, and somebody exercised a little ingenuity.  Old George,
choosing a spot where the ground was fairly flat, arranged four
twelve foot boards side by side, and poured out a supply of
creosote into a tin with a wire handle.

"If I put the tin on the boards, sir."

"I can lift it with the brush--and move it along as I work."

"You can."

Old George returned to the particular job upon which he had been
engaged before he had taken up the tar brush--the manufacture of a
number of solid, garden tables, but he kept an interested watch
upon Alex.  Mr. St. George had the tar brush across his knees, the
wet end of it projecting well away and clear of the chair.  He
manoeuvred himself into position at the end where Old George had
placed the tin of creosote, and having got himself just where he
wanted to be, he began methodically to brush on the brown stuff.

"Work it well in, sir," said Mr. Venables.

"Right you are."

When he had covered as much of the timber as he could reach, he
slipped the end of the brush under the wire handle and moved the
tin, laid the brush handle across his knees, and transferred
himself and the chair to a new position.  His new move took him too
far, and he could not reach the tin with the brush, and had to
reverse and readjust matters.

"Better have an old sack over your knees, sir."

"Right-o--"

Old George noticed that Alex made no more mistakes in altering the
position of his chair.  Now and again he would pause and look at
the boat-house or dancing pavilion with an air of wonder and
satisfaction.  "Just"--as Old George put it to himself--"as though
he were a kid and wanted to lick the new paint off it."  For,
certainly, Kitty's dance-house had begun to possess a bright green
and white glamour, with the black roof over-hanging it sufficiently
at the eaves to give a shadow-band, and the new white floor showing
through the squares of the panels of green treillage.  And Alex was
thinking--"If I were Kitty--I'd have purple curtains.  That would
make a good colour scheme, white, green and purple.  And the garden
umbrellas ought to be yellow."  Meanwhile he had finished
creosoting the first lot of floor-boards, and like a hungry bird
was calling for more.  Old George supplied him.  But the child was
full of questions.

"I say, when it rains and blows--won't the dancing floor get wet?"

"O, we've got shutters to bolt over the panels."

"I see.  What's that you're making, George?"

"A garden table.  She wants a dozen to dot about the place.  I've
made three.  The next job will be to paint 'em."

"Couldn't I do that?"

"Don't see why you shouldn't, sir.  Two good coats over an
undercoat."

"What colour?"

"White tops and green legs."

"Is painting difficult, George?"

"Not when you've got the hang of it, sir, and have learnt to be a
bit bold with your brush.  Most amateurs start as though the brush
were going to bite 'em.  They finnick about with it, and try to
smear the paint on like gum."

"A bold and dashing style is better, George, what?"

"When you've earned the right to be bold, sir."

Vine Cottage dined at half-past twelve, and Kitty was frying half a
dozen sausages when she heard the scullery door thrown open.  There
were sounds of someone and something coming in, bumpings,
manoeuvrings, a creaking of springs.  She left the gas-stove for a
moment, taking her frying pan with her, and saw through the doorway
Alex adjusting his chair so that he could reach the brass taps over
the sink.

"It's me--"

Which was obvious, as obvious as his bad grammar and the enterprise
of the moment, and his inability to reach the soap dish which was
attached by a nail to the tiled wall.  She went in and placed a
cake of yellow soap within his reach.

"Can you manage, boy?"

"Rather.  This chair's lovely.  Right--I can get at the towel.  I
say--that smells good."

"Sausages, real vulgar sausages and mashed potatoes."

"Splendid."

"And a suet pudding and treacle."

"I've a hunger.  I say--I can wheel myself up to the kitchen table.
Save a lot of trouble.  You won't have to carry things about."

She returned with her frying-pan to the gas-stove, and they talked
to each other through the open doorway to the accompaniment of
splashing water and sizzling sausages.

"What have you been doing, boy?"

"Creosoting floorboards."

"Have you?"

"And I'm going to paint the garden tables.  I say--the dancing
pavilion looks lovely.  Black and white and green.  I've been
thinking about the colour of the curtains."

"O!  What's your taste?"

"Purple.  A good rich purple."

She stood with her head slightly tilted, turning sausages with an
attentive fork.

"Purple?  That's it--absolutely it.  Clever boy!  Believe you've
more idea of colour than I have.  I'm too fond of pinking things."

"I say--that's sporting of you, Kit."

"Why?"

"Taking suggestions."

"Isn't it a partnership?  We are doing it together."

"You're a dear.  And about the garden umbrellas."

"Yes."

"Seems to me they ought to be yellow."

"Then we'll have them yellow."


III


The April sunlight pouring in, lit up all that end of the kitchen
table where these two sat opposite each other, enjoying those
nicely browned sausages.  Alex was hungry, and in appreciating his
hunger and the way in which he was disposing of the food she had
cooked Kitty felt possessed by a sense of security.  Life was a
solid business, as solid as suet pudding, but it had to be nicely
cooked.  Her ideals rested upon a foundation of sound, material
facts, but given her foundations she could spread a surprising pair
of gossamer wings.  For, to a woman matter is both matter and
symbolism, and Kitty, feeling the sun on her tawny head and being
aware of the disappearance of those sausages, became conscious of
her throne.  Here and now was her opportunity, the moment of the
making of a notable gesture.  Five minutes ago her head had been
empty of any such thought, but here were the facts, the points of
attachment for the main threads of her web.

She said: "Alex, we ought to let your mother know."

She had surprised him.  He put down his knife and fork and looked
at her across the table.  A moment ago he had been a simple
creature placidly eating.

"Let her know?"

She nodded.  She had a smooth, sleek air.  One side of her round
face flowed in the sunlight like the sunward half of an apple.

"Why not?"

His face had lost its look of physical contentment.  He had become
self-conscious.  His next glance at her was upward, tentative,
slightly anxious.

"But need we?"

She placed another sausage on his plate.

"Isn't it--inevitable?  Besides--we have nothing to fear.  She must
be trying to find out.  Much more dignified for us--"

He seemed to crouch slightly in his chair.  His silence had a kind
of breathlessness.  His eyes had grown very dark, as though they
were absorbing some new impression of her.

"You'll let her come here--and see me?"

"Of course--"

"After the way--?"

"Well--I owe it to myself--and to you."

He went on with his dinner, but it was obvious to her that he was
consuming other food.  And he was silent.  He allowed her to change
the plates, and to place a wedge of pudding before him.  She pushed
a glass dish filled with golden syrup within his reach, and he
stared at it for a moment before dipping a spoon.

"I'd much rather she didn't come."

"So would I.  But then--"

He held the spoon over his plate and let the syrup loop itself in
patterns over the pudding.

"I haven't forgiven her yet.  She--she was ready to make a rotter
of me.  I've been seeing things--rather clearly, Kit.  It's pretty
awful to have to think such things about one's mater--I'd like to
forget--"

She was watching him with an inward, consoling smile.

"So we can.  What does it matter--now?  One burns or buries one's
rubbish, boy.  Let's get it over."

His face expressed sudden relief.

"Yes, let's get it over.  But I must say--it's jolly fine of you,
Kitty.  Shall I write, or will you?"

"I'll write.  I'll ask her to come and see us."

"By George," said he suddenly, jabbing at his pudding; "if you had
wanted to give her one back."

She reached for the golden syrup.

"Sometimes--one does--without wanting to--How's the pudding?  I'm a
little out of practice with my puddings."


IV


Mrs. St. George brooded for two days over Kitty's letter.  It said
so little, and it said so much, but had Alex's mother been a woman
with any sense of humour, or one capable of giving way to a
generous impulse--she would have felt less inwardly ravaged.  She
had been made to appear ridiculous.  She could neither laugh, nor
weep, nor swear.  Though inwardly and violently raging she had to
button herself up against ridicule, against the inquisitive glances
of her servants, and the complacent curiosity of her friends.  Only
to herself could she let herself go, and she did let herself go.
In the privacy of her own mind she behaved like a dishevelled fury.
She saw in that letter of Kitty's nothing but the gesture of a
gloating little housemaid stretching out a hand to the vanquished.
A little, butter-headed thing being melodramatically magnanimous!
And that sly and succulent old mother sniggering down her broad
nose!  Vulgar people, impossible people, triumphant people!

Refusing ridicule, she had to consume her own anger.  She could
sack Leaper and Sandys, and she did sack them; she hastened to
inform the police that she had troubled them unnecessarily.  She
could produce dew upon the polite forehead of Dr. Dazely.  He
offered her bromide both in a bottle and in his sympathy, and she
would accept neither.  She said:  "I shall keep my boy's room just
as it is.  He may need it when that girl has reduced him to--a
state--of degradation."

Dr. Dazely made suave noises.

"I suggest that he still needs treatment.  I should be quite
willing--"

But his blandness had ceased to be of use.  She gave him one of her
effacing stares.

"No, no interference, please.  I have tried.  Let him explore the
alternative."

Certainly she was a woman of remarkable consistency, though to any
other woman a man less bland than Dr. Dazely might have exclaimed:
"Drink your medicine, dear lady, drink it down and have done with
it.  The bitterer the pill--"

She did not reply to Kitty's letter.  She was in no fit temper to
reply to it.  She felt dishevelled after the icy blowing of her
rage, and she knew the need of tidying her hair and composing her
blue glances.  As to going to see these two at their cottage at
Shelford--well--such a visit would have to be reconnoitred.  She
found herself in an absurd and a monstrous dilemma.  She had
assured her son that he had married a harlot, and her son had gone
back to his harlot.

Yes, dignity and yet more dignity.  It would not do for her to
allow that her glass case had been broken.  She must look in her
mirror and consider the distinctions of the woman of the world.
She would assume the dignity of a too-devoted mother, and having
dressed herself in this pose she went out to meet the world.  She
processed with the same rigid back, and the same blue glare in her
eyes.  She appeared at committee meetings; she was seen at the
theatre, and driving in her car with a newly-engaged chauffeur at
the wheel.  She made a point of visiting people whom she knew were
eager to snigger, and she effaced the veriest incipience of a
snigger.  She wrote to the various Smythes and St. Georges, giving
them the impression that she was letting youth have its way, but
that she remained the mother in the background.

She left Alex's room untouched.  She made a point of using it
herself, and receiving people in it.  She sat in her chair like a
woman of glass.  To the people who wished to see her wounded--and
they were not a few--she displayed a cool, calm candour.

"My son is living with his wife.  They have a little place on the
river.  But I like to keep this room--just as it is--"

She implied that some day he would need it and her, though had she
been a woman with any emotional facility she would have packed half
the contents of the room into a van and sent them down to Vine
Cottage.  He needed them now.  But she did not send him so much as
a pair of trousers.  With one movement of the hand she could have
responded with human gesture to that letter of Kitty's.  She had
her chance and missed it, because she was determined to remain
dangerous to Kitty.  She would accept no judgment of Solomon.

She persisted in believing all that she wished to believe, and her
opinion of Kitty and of No. 7 Vernor Street had not changed one
iota.  She had suffered a defeat, but she still had resources.  And
at the end of a week of public parades, and a calculated flouting
of her own world's inclination to think of her as "Poor Clare St.
George," she went to see her lawyer.


V


Every case should have its nice point, but the point of Mrs. St.
George's argument shaped itself rather like a cypher, and old Test,
pushing out his lips and sucking them in again, admitted that there
was nothing to be done.  "You've no case, no case at all.
Obviously."

Mrs. St. George was quite aware of the fact that she had no case.
It was superfluous of Mr. Test to point out to her that if there
had been irregularities in the young person's past--he emphasized
the "if"--Alex had condoned them.  He was living with his wife.  He
had every right to live with his wife.  It was a proof of social
virtue.

And then that long sly mouth of Mr. Test's curled itself
expressively, and his eyes glimmered at Mrs. St. George.

"By the way--what are they living on?"

"Not on me.  Alex may have a little money at his bank.  It won't
last long."

Mr. Test seemed to snap his eyelids under his arched grey eyebrows.
The facial movement said "Exactly."  He smiled at Mrs. St. George;
she amused him; her ruthlessness had a fascination.  He picked up
the trend of her schemings.

"The wife wrote to you."

Mrs. St. George produced Kitty's letter, and after reading it, he
sucked in his long lips.  He considered it to be a very proper
letter.  But--then--of course no statement could be accepted on its
face value.  You searched for the ulterior motive.

"She holds out a hand.  A conciliatory letter.  Which means--or
should mean--that her position is not quite so strong as it appears
to be."

He gave Mrs. St. George one of his rogue's glances.

"Funds--eh--funds!  That's it--probably."



CHAPTER XXVII


I


Each generation may throw down some of the fences erected by its
fathers.  "O, humbug," and there is a push of the foot, and youth
takes a shortcut, while elderly people talk of Bolshevism and the
decay of manners.  Not that the short cut may get youth there, but
it is youth's way, and Dr. Gordon Drake's short cuts were sometimes
embarrassing.  They cut across the formalities and social delays.
He had no use for door-bells, or knockers and sulky servants.  He
walked in.

He would pull up that little grey car of his, slam the door, walk
rapidly on his short, busy legs across a pavement or up a garden
path, and push in.  He appeared suddenly in bedrooms with a kind of
cheery ruthlessness that ignored the set of a lace cap or the
disorder of a dressing-table.  He appeared there in the Vine
Cottage kitchen when Kitty was rolling out pastry and dusting it
from a flour dredger.  He gave her a nod and a smile.

"Hallo--I see you've got him going."

No doubt she had.  For Alex could be seen through the kitchen
window, seated in his chair on the grass, with a paint pot
ingeniously slung over a forked stick, a sack over his knees, and
one of old George's garden tables nicely placed.  Brush in hand he
was painting the top of the table, bending forward, and completely
absorbed in the work.

"O, yes, he's splendid.  I knew he would be."

She and Dr. Drake might belong to the same generation, but the
fences that a woman penetrates may not be those that are chosen by
a man.  It is possible that a woman is more cautious and more
subtle in her penetrations.  And Kitty gave Dr. Drake a glance that
had a gleam of sacred fire in it.  It was both defensive and
aggressive; it warned the world that though she had had cause to
pity her husband no one else had or should have the right to do so.
A man's pride and hers were realities.

"You do hate ringing bells," said she.

Dr. Drake observed her with his air of whimsical and ruthless good
humour.

"Wastes time.  People want to be so confoundedly private.  But you
have been doing some suggesting."

She gave him a veiled look.  "What's that?"

"Stimulation--unadvertised, a tot of rum in the tea."

"I don't believe in spirits."

He replied with a faint smile.  He might be as sharp as a scalpel,
but his very sharpness cut so quickly through some of the fine
tissues of life that he sometimes failed to observe them.  But he
could admire this sturdy little woman with her warm throat and her
fearless dark eyes.  It is possible that he thought her much too
good for her mate.

"Everything all right?"

"Quite," said she.

"I'll go out and have a word with him."

"Do."

He went out into the garden, and she heard the two voices, Alex's
boyish and a little excited, Drake's deliberate and faintly
superior.  She turned to look.  Drake was bending forward to
examine the top of Alex's table.

"Quite professional, my lad, quite professional."

And Kitty gave a little scowl at his flat and self-confident back.

"Damn you, don't treat him like a child."

No one heard her, and as she watched the two men she realized that
Alex was not conscious of being treated like a child, and something
that she had always known about him seemed to become more vividly
known.  It evoked a spasm of tenderness.  The real Alex, the Alex
of Maleham, and of that paint pot was a very lovable creature.  Dr.
Gordon Drake might be as efficient as hell, but it was a cold hell.
And she smiled.

For Alex had put his brush into the paint pot, had backed his chair
away from the table, and was trundling himself in the direction of
the dancing pavilion.

"Come on, doc.  I'll show you."

And Dr. Gordon Drake was following him rather with the air of one
humouring a child.  Kitty, stroking her cheek, left a dusting of
flour upon it.  The ruthless realist was not laughter proof, nor
was his hair so sleekly groomed that it could not be tweaked.  For
somehow--to the young wife at the window the child in Alex laughed
at the topical droll hardness of the other man.  Youth can be alive
and impudently alive.  There is a difference.

Which carried the day on to Mrs. Sarah, and an afternoon train from
Waterloo, a Mrs. Sarah who joined Alex in the garden and joined in
this game, not trespassing upon his sand-castle, but spading away
at one of her own.  She put on a pair of spectacles, and with a rug
over her knees, hemmed tablecloths.  They got on capitally
together, while Kitty went out and did some shopping, for Mrs.
Sarah had discovered the secret of eternal youth.

Though, had she applied herself to putting her wisdom into writing,
her aphorisms might have lost some of their expressiveness.

Perfume, appetite, taste, desire.  Yes, that elusive yet essential
perfume that is dissipated so easily, especially in cities.  The
impulse to bury your nose in any bunch of flowers.  But--always--a
tantalizing incompleteness, a few grapes bobbing out of reach.

"The shop window, my dear, and a fur coat at fifty guineas, and
three and sevenpence in your purse!  Only don't get nasty about it.
Get going."  Or "Salmon at so much a pound, and you--going home
with a couple of kippers.  But meaning--some day--to get the
salmon."

Yes, that was what Mrs. Sarah symbolized, a healthy body from the
country, an eternal desire for something or other, a wholesome
hunger that is never surfeited.  And when you grew a little stout
and short of breath, happiness could be found in desiring other
things, different things, perhaps things for your children or your
friends, and in making a back for the youngsters to climb on.
Though not too much of a back.  Youngsters should get scratched in
gathering their own blackberries.

And here was English Kitty getting things, and luring her lad after
her to play the great game of getting and living!

Mrs. Sarah, squinting down her broad nose, threaded a needle, and
then glanced at Alex's table, and praised its new glossiness.

"I always did like the smell of paint."

"Did you?"--and he dipped a brush.

"Makes me feel young.  Paint pots come out with the spring, and so
do wallflowers.  That's a nice green."

"Yes, isn't it.  The legs are a bit of a business.  What I do is--
paint the top first, and let it dry, and then I turn the thing
upside down on a box."

"Nothing like using your wits, my dear."

For Alex was using his wits, and if more of the postwar
neurasthenics had had Kitties to stimulate them, the failures would
have been less dismal and less obvious.  He was discovering a
multitude of jobs.  He cleaned knives, boots, silver, saucepans; he
washed up dishes, peeled potatoes, and split firewood.  Kitty had
discovered him trundling about with a carpet-sweeper, and he most
ingeniously contrived to make his own bed.

"I say--Mrs. Sarah--"

"Yes, my dear."

"I find I've got over three hundred pounds at Cox's.  That's going
to be a help, isn't it?"

"Of course, my dear."

"I want to back Kitty up--for all I'm worth."

"Well, you're doing it.  Keep smiling my dear.  People don't smile
half enough, you know."

He sat back to observe his table, and found it good.

"I say--it seems we are going to have trouble about getting those
garden umbrellas."

"Think so--?"

"Kitty says--she's going to one of the stores next week.  They
ought to be yellow--a nice bright yellow.  Show up well from the
river, and make a nice colour scheme.  I'm rather a knut on colour,
Mrs. Sarah."

"You've got ideas."

"O, only bits of ideas.  Kitty's got the brain--I mean--for
managing and looking ahead.  Isn't she a wonder?"

"She's happy," said Mrs. Sarah.

Alex, lifting the paint pot to him, and stirring the paint with a
stick, looked very gravely at its greenness.

"You really think she is--?  I'm such a responsibility--But--I'm
most awfully happy--"

"Go on like that, my dear."

He gave a flushed, shy, kindling glance.

"You've been awfully good to us--I can say things to you--somehow.
O, and has Kitty told you about the china--the plates and cups--I
mean--for the show?"

"No, not yet."

"We thought of having what they call cottage ware, cream coloured
stuff with red cherries on it.  Nice, and simple--but chic.  Just a
little original.  The thing is to be rather original--isn't it?
Makes people feel they are getting something a little unusual."

Mrs. Sarah crinkled up her nose.

"That's--it.  You go on getting original ideas, my dear."

He blushed.

"Really?  And--O--I say--I've got another idea.  We are going to
call our show 'Kitty's.'  And I've thought of having a big notice-
board put up somewhere down the river.  Believe I could paint it
myself--something like this--'Come and Dance at Kitty's at
Shelford.  Watch for the Yellow Umbrellas.'"

"That's a very good idea," said Mrs. Sarah.  "Watch for the yellow
umbrellas.  That's the touch!  Bless you; isn't life a game!"


II


The vicissitudes of that first post-war spring were not unlike the
moods of the men who returned to a land that was not full of
heroes.  If the voice of the yellow dog was heard in it, and the
snarl of the ex-munitioneer, the weather, too, had its wild
moments.  Snow on the chestnut blossom and on the young green of
the year.  A howling blizzard in May.

But Alex went on with his painting, just as Kitty went on with her
cooking and her cleaning and her planning.  If it rained, Alex
trundled himself into the completed dance-house, and with papers
spread on the new floor, continued to paint a whole family of
garden tables, chairs and benches.  He had developed a passion for
painting everything and anything.  Mrs. Sarah declared that he was
longing to repaint Old George.

"Never you mind, my dear.  It's going to be a great time for
talkers.  You get on with the job."

She had a curious and human understanding of the world situation,
and not as it was staged at Versailles.  She assured her intimates
who came to gossip with her at No. 7 that the world was like a mob
of boys let out of school.  They wanted to play, while somebody
else did the paying.  Quite natural of course--but not business.
Yes, and the loutish minded might want to play rather roughly, with
no rules to the game, and be ready to foul kick the other fellow if
the other fellow appeared to be the possessor of a better pair of
boots.

Well, let 'em play.  If there had to be a post-war madness, the
madder it was--the sooner it would be done with.  Men might be
fools, but on the whole they were rather decent fools, especially
in England.  If you could manage to suppress the foul kickers on
both sides--Meanwhile, the world would want to rush to the river
and the roads and the sports grounds and the dancing-floors, and
Kitty--with some prescience--had erected her booth beside one of
the paths that might be chosen by the rushing herd.

But April had washed her face early and assumed a smile on the day
when Mrs. St. George ordered out her car and drove down to Shelford
to spy out the land.  She might visit Vine Cottage, and she might
not.  She came to gather impressions.  Her man, judging himself to
be in the centre of Shelford when he saw the Ship Inn and the
church, turned his car into Abbot's Close and pulled up beside the
pollarded lime-trees.  He left his seat and opened the door.

"Shelford, madam."

Mrs. St. George descended.  She was in black.  A sentimental person
might have seen in her a woman about to visit a grave.

"You can wait here, Barter."

"Yes, madam."

A man in a white apron was painting the rectory gate.  Mrs. St.
George crossed the road and asked to be directed to Vine Cottage,
and was told to take the first turning on the left, but before
taking it she strolled down Limes Walk to the river.  She stood and
looked at the river.  It was crimped with sunlight and wind
dappled, and it made a prattling against the black side of the
ferry-boat that lay at the ferry steps.  The trees were filling
with young green.  An idle fellow was throwing a stick for an
eager, yelping retriever who disturbed Mrs. St. George's dignity by
coming and shaking himself within a yard of her person.  Even the
post-war dogs had neither manners nor consideration.

She turned and walked slowly down the lane.  She looked at the
little old red houses, cottages and shops, so individual and so
English, and at the trees and the flowering shrubs sunning
themselves above the red brick walls of the three Georgian houses
whose gardens came down to the Lane.  She had occasional glimpses
of the river.  The fruit trees in the orchard opposite Vine Cottage
were breaking into blossom.  A weeping willow in the garden next to
Kitty's home spread like a fountain of pale gold.

Mrs. St. George had come to Vine Cottage.  She read the name
painted in white letters on the green door in the garden wall.  She
walked deliberately as far as the shop window.  The white blind was
down, and two or three decrepit flies--survivors of the winter--
were crawling on the white surface.  She looked at the fascia board
above the shop window and in fresh white lettering she read the
inscription "Kitty."

She stared very hard at it for some seconds.  Her blue eyes had a
deliberate, cold brightness.  So this was the place!  It included a
shop, an unopened shop, Kitty's shop.  Another argument--perhaps?
A hint--a suggestion?  But why not "Kitty St. George?"  Was the St.
George held nicely in reserve?  There were the two doors offering
to compromise with the visitor the glass-fronted shop-door screened
by a white curtain, and the green door under the white hood of the
porch.

Mrs. St. George thought it a poor, poky, little place tucked away
in a lane!  Yes, its pokiness was obvious, impudent yet apologetic.
To Mrs. St. George, Vine Cottage seemed to stand like the
conventional housemaid, making the most of a clean apron and a pert
assertion of respectability.  A flimsy place, a poor, thin little
piece of bluff.  And there was something in Clara St. George that
exulted.  If she had hoped--well--here was her hope, a thing of
pasteboard that might be crumpled and pushed over.  The other
woman's defences?  How flimsy!  You maintained a chilly, staring
silence until such a moment as the apron should go up over the
housemaid's head.  You spoke calmly of a month's wages.

She glittered.  She walked to the porch, and put a gloved finger on
the black bell-push.  She heard the burr of the bell somewhere in
the interior of that impertinent little house.  She smiled.  She
was conscious of a feeling of cold and delicate curiosity.


III


It happened to be on Monday morning, and Kitty had been at her wash-
tub, and was putting the linen through the wringer when the bell
rang.  She said--"Damn."  Monday morning is always Monday morning,
and washing is washing, but she dried her hands on the roller
towel, and went to the front door just as she was, in blue print
frock and white apron.  Her sleeves were rolled up, and her hands
and forearms retained the pinkness of the hot suds and water.

She opened the door and discovered Mrs. St. George.

Now, of the two faces, Kitty's was the one to change its
expression.  She had opened the door rather with the air of a busy
young woman resenting interruption when the clothes line was
waiting for her linen, but the substitution of one expression for
another was so swift and so natural that Mrs. St. George was still
registering conflicting impressions when Kitty spoke.

"Please come in.  It's washing day, but I'm sure you won't mind.
Alex is in the garden."

She stood to one side, smiling and holding the door open.  Her eyes
looked straight up and out at Mrs. St. George.  She had the glow of
the wash-tub upon her, and within her--under that perfect skin--
other glowings.  She showed to Mrs. St. George a compact and
deliberate dignity, a surface that Alex's mother would prefer to
have stigmatized as base metal--mere brass.

"I wondered when we should see you."

She shone, and the rays of her played upon Mrs. St. George's casket
of glass.  It was a peculiar moment for them both, charged with
sudden self-realizations, a vivid piecing together of emotional
fragments, a balancing of strains and stresses.  Mrs. St. George
glided into the passage, and as she did so she thought--"I'm
welcome here--for a reason!  Now--shall we keep our masks on?"  She
looked along the length of cheap brown linoleum covering the
passage floor.  Kitty was closing the door.  It seemed to her that
she and Mrs. St. George were meeting on the beach of a desert
island after a night of shipwreck had interrupted them in the thick
of a fine and strenuous quarrel.  "Mrs. St. George--I believe--?"--
"Ah, how do you do.  My daughter-in-law--I presume."  They were
both figures of glass suspended in mid air, and cushioned against
clashings by a consciousness of previous impacts.  Yes, there had
been that interruption.  Was it to be mutually and tacitly
recognized?

"Please--excuse me."

Without any appearance of haste Kitty slipped past Alex's mother,
and threw open the door of the sitting-room.  It was the plainest
and the least successful of her rooms, for she had economized in
the furnishing of it in order that Alex's room might have the best
that she could give.  It was very much a second-hand room, full of
bargains, though the curtains were bright and new.

"Please come in here."

She watched Mrs. St. George move down the passage.  She was
reminded of a woman of height and of social altitude walking down
and out of a shop to a waiting car.  She was made to feel that here
were no commitments.  The formalities were to be cherished.  And so
she let Mrs. St. George pass in, and closed the door, and turned an
armchair--that was one of Mrs. Sarah's bargains--towards the light.
Very deliberately Mrs. St George sat down in it--as though giving
the chair time to hold its breath and bear the honour, while Kitty
stood for a moment, aware of Alex's mother observing things as a
certain type of woman observes them, without any appearance of
troubling to observe.  The very carpet, Axminster and second-hand,
showed unashamedly a bold bare spot close to Mrs. St. George's
toes.

"We are just straight.  It was so difficult getting furniture.  But
we've managed."

She sat down on the loose-covered sofa, in the very middle of it
and between two large pink roses, as though occupying the centre of
her stage.

"Quite a nice bright view.  And quite a good piece of garden."

Mrs. St. George's eyes looked through and beyond her.

"So I observe--"

"And above flood level.  It really was rather a bargain.  Shall I
call Alex--?"

"Presently.  So--you purchased--?"

"Yes.  My mother advanced the money."

"Indeed."

"You see, she has some property."

There was a pause, and a pause that was deliberate on the part of
Alex's mother.  She sat very straight in her chair.  She asked no
questions, but she sat there like an interrogation framed in the
flesh, judicial, an examiner, waiting for her son's wife to produce
answers.  She had known how to make many people feel self-conscious
and uncomfortable.  She could exert a silent pressure that squeezed
from the more sensitive and less restrained nervous chatterings and
explainings and excuses.  Kitty should burst like a squeezed orange
and extrude the pips and the juice.  But Kitty continued to sit
there in the middle of the sofa without any sign of responding to
pressure or of being inconvenienced by it, her eyes fixed steadily
upon Mrs. St. George's.

She said: "Yes, we are managing.  I have a little money of my own,
and Alex has a little.  We are going to give teas and dances to
river parties.  And possibly I shall re-open the shop.  Alex is
getting on splendidly.  His doctor is very pleased with him."

Mrs. St. George replied with a slight inclination of the head.

"Alex is there in the garden.  He has a wheel chair now.  If you
stand up you will be able to see him."

Again there was a short pause, but Mrs. St. George did not move a
muscle.  It was Kitty who stood up.

"I'm sure you would like to speak with Alex alone.  I have left my
washing.  It has to go through the wringer.  Perhaps, while I'm
finishing it you would like to go out into the garden."

She gave Mrs. St. George a confident smile.

"You don't mind, do you?  I shan't be very long, but at present I
haven't a girl to help me.  The door at the end of the passage
leads into the garden.  These old places are full of doors."


IV


Mrs. St. George was left seated and alone.  A woman of many
isolations, loving her own cold self, she had never felt the need
of people, nor wished to have them too intimately near her.  She
had resembled a white cat on a fur rug in front of her own fire.
Or, life had been an ivory keyboard to be played upon with cold
calm fingers, and always she had preferred to play music of her own
composing.  A most solitary woman, she had never known the snugness
of true solitude, that aloneness with one's warm and purring self,
but in that room of Kitty's she did experience what was for her a
sense of isolation and of loneliness.  She still wore her mask but
beneath it there were quiverings, a shiver of chilly self-
questioning.  She had been bereft of something.  This little,
butter-headed thing had appeared so solid and confident, though
this air of confidence might be bluff, the ostentatious opening of
a door, a studied frankness.  Kitty had appeared less flimsy than
her house, a little stubborn creature warm with the warmness of her
youth and its labours.

But teas provided for river parties!  A shop!  And her son?

And, suddenly, Mrs. St. George stood up; she walked to the window;
her alert, hard eyes appeared to surround themselves with a number
of fine lines.  She saw her son.  He was seated in his chair on the
grass above the river, painting away at one of the many garden
tables.  He wore no hat.  His back was turned towards the cottage.

Something stirred in his mother, a sudden cold passion to
repossess, the same passion that had quickened in her when she had
seen him lying like an idiot child in his bed at Poynter's Hill.
She turned and going out into the passage, opened the garden door.
She opened it very gently, and left it open behind her.  She
stepped on to the grass and went slowly down the gradual slope,
noiselessly gliding.


V


Even a Mrs. St. George stores memories, and Alex's mother had one
memory of her son's childhood that had never failed to rouse in her
a vague and resentful consciousness of life as a thing apart, a
fluid substance that had slipped through her fingers.  And now on
this April day, her son behaved as he had behaved as a child, a
child happily absorbed in some fascinating game of its own and
resenting interruption.  His mother's interruptions had signalled
interference.  She surprised the grown child.  She saw him glance
round and up at her with a quick frown of eagerness and fear, his
eyes open very wide.

"Mater--!"

And then his face changed almost as quickly as Kitty's face had
changed in the Vine Cottage doorway.  It clouded over with a kind
of brittle sullenness.  He sat very still for a moment.  Then he
placed his brush carefully in the paint pot, raised himself up in
his chair, and looked sideways at his mother's knees.

"Doing a bit of painting.  Does Kitty know you're here?"

Mrs. St. George stood like Lot's wife.  Once again she was being
given her chance to liquefy herself, but there was that in her
which was its own congealer.  She looked down at her son's table as
she had looked upon some of his toys.

"I have seen your wife.  She asked me to come out.  I am here to
see--"

Her son looked up at her with a sudden blankness.  It was as though
many emotions moved in him, but not one of them could reach the
surface and find expression.  Or perhaps these many emotions
neutralized each other.  His face had a helplessly frozen look, and
when he spoke it had the effect of stammering.

"Sorry--there isn't a chair.  Won't you--call Kitty."

His mother's arms were rigid at her sides.  Something was happening
in her.  One hand--the right--opened and closed its fingers with a
slow, spasmodic jerkiness.

"Is there any need?  I have come to see--"

His head jerked upwards.  She saw his eyes alive with a sudden,
vivid brightness.

"Mater, I'm awfully happy here--I've never been so happy before--If
you're worrying--"

The glass shell of her was starred and cracked.



CHAPTER XXVIII


I


Mr. Jermyn St. George was back in town with a chest as dry as his
humour.  When he walked into the smoking-room of "Hacketts," and
found Thompson, the senior club-servant, tidying up the journals
and magazines on one of the tables, Mr. Jermyn St. George
experienced a very distinct thrill.  Never had a man enjoyed life
more astutely than he had.  May was in Pall Mall, and Thompson,
straightening up with a flash of brass buttons, smiled all over his
wise round face at Mr. Jermyn St. George.

"Very glad to see you, sir."

He was glad, and so was Mr. Jermyn.

"Very glad to be back, Thompson.  Any news?"

"Nothing of importance, sir.  Sir Jonathan Crust's dead, sir."

"Ha--is he!  Then--I shan't play musical chairs with him any more
for that place by the window.  And how are you, Thompson?"

"I am very well, sir."

"You always are--and you always look it."

Old Jermyn sat down in his favourite chair by one of the windows
overlooking Pall Mall.  It was earlyish, and the big room--empty
and noiseless--and lined with books between its high windows,
seemed to envelop old Jermyn with velvet arms.  He stretched
himself.  His brick-red face, with its very white hair above its
dark and mischievous eyes, expressed ironical contentment.  He
looked at the people passing on the opposite pavement.  Somewhere a
quill pen scratched soberly, a sound full of so many mellow
associations that it fretted no old English nerves.  He looked at
the books, at the solid chairs and sofas tinted like old rust on a
door hinge, at the central writing-table with its neat cases of
club stationery, at the huge turkey carpet dimly glowing.

"Damn it," he thought, "with care--I ought to have another ten
years.  Life's good."

He had the appearance of one of those man fated to live for ever.
His red face, with its dark, jocund eyes, looked imperishable.  He
was still so full of amiable devilry.  He could not resist the
pulling of a leg, or even legs that were made to be looked at
rather than to be pulled, and postwar England was developing the
apotheosis of the leg.

"Glad I've lived long enough to see it.  Youth's going to show us a
few things."

He was full of chuckles, beneficent chuckles.  Life had treated him
well; it would have treated him kindly had he been a tramp.  And he
sat there and basked in the winter of his wellness, and saw the
sunlight on the faces of the tall houses, and thought of the cigar
he would smoke presently, and the people whom he would see.  Yes,
he was going to enjoy himself.  Life still pulled.

There was young Alex--!  And his mother!  His mouth twisted itself
humorously.  He was the one St. George to whom Mrs. Clara had not
communicated the news of her son's defection, but old Jermyn knew
about it.  He had a way of getting to know about everything.
Certainly the details were not complete, but the filling in of the
details would provide him with some nice amusement.  He would go
and hear for himself and see.  Not that Clara would be pleased to
see him.  O, not at all!  He had never treated her with what she
had considered to be a proper respect.  He had once told her that
she had no sense of humour.  Unforgivable frankness!

And Mrs. Sarah--and the young people?  His jocund eyes twinkled at
the thought of Mrs. Sarah!  Assuredly he would stroll round after
lunch when he had finished his cigar, and enjoy a gossip with that
inimitable woman.

No. 7 Vernor Street was but a comfortable toddle, especially for an
old buck who wore check trousers and a grey felt hat, and kept to
the sunny side of the pavement.  Old Jermyn had lunched well.  His
cigar had been a good one, and when he came to No. 7 and found
Corah still serving behind the counter he felt that he had many
years to live.

"Well, my dear, how's everybody?"

Everybody appeared to be in the best of health and in the best of
tempers, and old Jermyn asked himself upstairs where Mrs. Sarah was
reading a novel and eating chocolates out of a box.  She put aside
the novel, but not the chocolates.  She was in high humour; she was
welcoming the one St. George who could enjoy a jest, and who had
remained a bachelor.  Mr. Jermyn understood the why and the
wherefore of things.

He sat down as though sitting down in her presence was a sacred yet
humorous act.

"Well--well--how's our little swashbuckler?  I hear she has torn
our little Alex out of the arms of 'Cardigan Square'."

Mrs. Sarah passed him the box.

"Have one."

"Dare I?  But tell me all about it.  I have been scenting something
epic."

Mrs. Sarah could tell a tale, and to tell a tale to Mr. Jermyn St.
George was an inspiration in itself.  Beside, what a tale it was!
He enjoyed the hearing of it almost as much as she enjoyed the
telling of it; he sat there smiling like a gentlemanly old faun,
his jocund eyes full of mischief; while his lean face seemed to
grow more red under his very white hair.

"Kidnapped him--did she!  Fancy kidnapping your own husband.
Splendiferous!  And what has happened since, alarums and
excursions?"

He had to hear all about Vine Cottage, and Kitty's dance-house and
Alex's jazz-band, and the yellow umbrellas, and all the
adventurousness of a young wife with a husband tied to a wheeled
chair.  Old Jermyn enjoyed every bit of it.  It was a great
business.  He seemed to hear the clash of cymbals and the rub-a-dub
of a drum.  He pulled droll and whimsical grimaces.

"Splendiferous!  And how has the good lady taken it?"

Mrs. Sarah believed that Mrs. St. George had taken it very badly.

"You see, Mr. Jermyn, she went down there thinking she might find
Alex in the mopes, and sighing for the flesh-pots.  She found him
as happy as a sandboy.  By the way--what is a sandboy?"

"Haven't the faintest idea," said old Jermyn.  "But I do know that
I shall go down to Shelford to-morrow.  When does Kitty's show
start?"

"They are thinking of opening on the last Saturday in May."

"And what are you doing?"

Mrs. Sarah looked sly.

"Preparing a party.  O--I can pull a few strings."

"I bet you can.  Same here.  The last Saturday in May.  My dear
lady, we must squeeze the grape.  And I must charter a steamboat,
or something.  We must give them a send off.  Why, it's a public
duty, a salute to youth."

"So it is," said Mrs. Sarah.  "It's nothing short of a revolution.
A real, live St. George beating a drum!"

The heart of Old Mischief--as someone had christened him--was as
sound as Alex's drum.  On leaving No. 7 Vernor Street he had
proposed returning to his club, but his puckishness intervening, he
hailed a taxi and told the man to drive him to No. 77 Cardigan
Square.  He would call upon Clara St. George; she would give him
tea, and indications.  His eyelids narrowed over twinkling eyes.
He felt moved to observe Clara, to peer at her from amid the leaves
of his puckishness.  Poor Clara, a woman who could with such cold
consistency lie herself into so ironical a dilemma!  But old
Jermyn's dealings in mischief were not malevolent.  He sat in the
taxi, swaying slightly, his gloved hands resting on the silver top
of his cane, his grey hat set at an angle.  He had always said that
good women were the very devil.  They would try and lie you out of
your own particular hell into their own particular heaven.  But
what a holy mess many of them made of their heaven!  Poor Clara!
Always she had appeared to be incapable of laughter, a woman who
could not loosen her stays--

There had been times when Mr. Jermyn had felt actively venomous
towards Clara.  She had mishandled men and things so cruelly.
Never had she allowed her men to play.  And now she was sitting
alone at the foot of her North Pole in a little world of
repressions, while the young life she had helped to create flowed
apart through other and adventurous seas.  The woman who had wanted
everything for herself and who had got it--to a point, now was not
wanted.

Platitudes!  Were parents always to be big fools like their
children?  Pompous fools?  Old Jermyn's eyes were not unkind, but
he was full of curiosity, a humorous and prying Pan, piping his way
through the woods, and throwing swift, pagan glances at all
creatures that went naked, and loved to dance.  What foolishness
was cradled when life refused to dance!  Those rigid people, those
correct and wickedly self-conscious people who would not or could
not loosen their girdles!  People whose mothers had worn bustles,
and leg of mutton sleeves, and whose seemly skirts had brushed the
pavements!  Buttoned up people, obsessed by the eternal,
uncompromising and egregious "I."

The taxi swerved towards the pavement below the solemn front of No.
77, and as Mr. Jermyn reached out a hand towards the window strap,
a young thing went by with short skirts trembling above a pair of
silk stockinged legs.  And such legs!

Old Jermyn raised his hat to them.

"Salve--juventus--!"

Surely the Bishop's Apron was a flag that had been hauled down, and
in its place the world would fly an audacious, scampering
petticoat?


II


Mrs. St George was at home.

She did not pretend to pleasure at seeing Jermyn, but she gave him
a cold hand.  She received him in Alex's room, where the bed still
stood covered by a black and gold silk quilt, and the long chair by
the window and the gramophone and the banjo remained like the toys
of a dead child.  The room and its contents provoked comment, but
Mr. Jermyn made no comments, and asked no questions.  He used his
eyes.  He observed the fire burning in the grate and his sister-in-
law's chair drawn close to it, though the May sun was shining.

He sat down.

"Well, 'Dora' is not dead yet.  How have you managed for coal?"

She made some very perfunctory reply to this very platitudinous
question.  She had never been able to understand Jermyn's
reputation for wit; she had failed to discover it; always he had
talked to her as though he was cracking nuts and throwing the
shells into the fire.

"Torquay appears to have suited you."

Jermyn had many things to say concerning the climate of Torquay.
He could be as prolix as any club bore when he pleased.  Meanwhile,
he was observing his sister-in-law.  She was different; she was as
rigid as ever, but with the rigidity of a woman who had been ill.
She gave him the impression of a woman who had had something broken
inside her, and who was afraid to move lest the cracked pieces
should fall apart.  And she looked cold, physically cold; she sat
close up to the fire, and unconsciously she would stretch out her
hands to it.  Old Jermyn was reminded of his own description of her
as a woman with an electric bulb installed inside her in lieu of a
heart.  And the glass bulb had been cracked!

He was conscious of a feeling of pity.

For, damn it, the woman was lonely, with a horrible, inhuman
loneliness.  There was no doubt about it.  The very room shivered,
and that empty bed and the forsaken toys were full of frozen
pathos.  What a mess she had made of things!  She had concocted her
freezing mixture, and here she was dabbling her own cold feet in
it.

He could not help glancing at that bed and that chair, and she was
very well aware of his glances.  She said--"I prefer to keep the
room as it was."

Old Jermyn felt his heart give a kind of jerk, but before he could
make any answer a maid appeared with the tea-tray.  It was arranged
before the fire between them, and Mrs. St. George's precise hands
became occupied with its contents.  Her eyes looked less blue;
almost they were the eyes of an old woman, dulled and dimmed.  She
seemed to have lost some of her cold, staring self-confidence.

"O--these servants!"

The girl had forgotten the sugar, and the voice of Clara St. George
betrayed an unexpected querulousness.  Old Jermyn was startled.
Never before had he discovered querulousness in her.  Always she
had been so decisive and so sure.

He got up and rang the bell.

"Now that the war is over--we forget things.  There will be a
regular stampede to forget certain things.  But not sugar--as a
rule."

Her face remained chilled and peevish.

"There's no gratitude," she said.

"What is gratitude?"

His jocund eyes challenged her with whimsical kindness, but she was
away wandering in her own sleety world, and when the maid came in
she spoke to her with a kind of absent curtness.

"Sugar--Thomas."

The girl's face was sullen.

"Holy Christopher!" thought old Jermyn, "will this woman never
learn how to ask for sugar, or how to get it?"

He sipped his tea, and thought of Alex, and wondered whether his
sister-in-law would speak of her son and of that little ménage down
at Shelford.  Why couldn't she let things out, loosen the girdle?
These matriarchal women!  And to his surprise she did let things
out, but only certain things, and she let them out in her own way.
She was falsely frank.  She still persisted in twisting the
realities.  She made a display of being impersonal, and behind it
her personal persistence loomed like a stark white cliff.

She said: "I realize that Alex must explore the alternatives.  I'm
allowing him that.  I dare say you have heard a good deal.  I would
rather not discuss the possibilities.  Men are such creatures of
impulse.  Sex--you know.  It has always seemed to me so--so very
unpleasant.  One would have preferred to have saved him the
experiment."

Old Jermyn stirred his tea.

"My God, woman," he thought; "what is life but an experiment?"

But when he left her he went back to his club and sat in a chair in
the silent, sombre library and looked out at the green lilacs and
the budding plane-trees in the Carlton gardens.  He had brought
away with him an impression of Clara St. George that was like a
thin perfume clinging to his consciousness, an unpleasant perfume.
He sniffed it reflectively.  Like many other scents, it evoked
memories, suggestions, associations of ideas in time and place.  It
led him towards the inwardness of that lonely woman, and in the
dimness he thought that he could distinguish her fundamental
outlines.  Yes, she was like a fundamentalist driven to the last
ditch, incapable of surrender or of compromise, still furiously
determined to dominate and to possess.  She would hurl all the old
and the new invectives--"Heretic"--"Blasphemer"--"Atheist"--
"Corrupter of Youth"--"Materialist"--"Free Lover"--"Anarchist"--
"Bolshevist."  She wanted to see all newness fail, to censor it off
the earth.

"By Jove! that's it," he thought; "she's waiting to see these young
things fail.  She's praying for them to fail.  She's watching for
their little ship to split upon the rocks."

Old Jermyn was sure of it.  It was to be her show or nobody's.  Her
hands were ready to clutch and to hold.  The little ship of youth
might founder.  Perhaps there would be a cry for help, perhaps not.
But she would be there, ready to pounce upon her opportunity.  It
might be that she would regain control, or a kind of control that
would satisfy her egotism.  She might be able to humiliate those
other women.

Yes, she was like the rest of them, the popes, the priests, the
academic people, the little prigs of schoolmasters.  She wanted to
cry--"My show, hands off it," and to make of her "show" a little
state religion or a professional monopoly.  She wanted to play
Joshua.  She wanted to take life and youth and to suppress in them
all those vital and insurgent forces that boil upwards, and while
doing it to assume that the right and the duty were wholly hers.
All other people were poisonous charlatans, outsiders, frequenters
of swill-tubs.  She had the eyes of the wilfully blind.  She
refused to look into the streets or the dormitories or the kitchen
or the workshop.  She was like your supersurgeon who has no use for
anything but to cut it out.  She would have removed sex as she
would have removed the vermiform appendix.

Old Jermyn stretched out his legs, and tweaked the knees of his
trousers.

Yes, it was essential that Kitty's little enterprise should not
fail.  It must not fail.  For youth goes over the top and carries
the lines of the future.

"Dash it," he said to himself; "didn't Clara give him a body when
she bore him?  And aren't our bodies as--inevitable--as our souls?
Man might be as essentially clean as the animals--but for the
repressionists.  Paul, and all the pedagogues, and the academic
prigs!  For ever messing about with gloved fingers, and holding
their noses, and sprinkling things with disinfectants.  Makes me
think of those stuffy old sick-rooms when they used to shut all the
windows and splash carbolic about.  We may not have the Victorian's
moral drive--whatever that was--but hang it--I do think we're more
honest."


III


But in his study of the fundamentalist in Mrs. St. George old
Jermyn had not exhausted her possibilities, or got quite to the
root of things.  His reading of her was incomplete, which was not
surprising, for Clara St. George was realizing tendencies--cravings
in herself that were unexpected.

She was rather like a woman in her nightdress walking about a cold
and empty house at three o'clock in the morning.  She was realizing
the house's emptiness, the thinness of the garment that she wore,
and the impersonal deadness of the furniture.  Possibly she had
knocked her shins against sharp edges.  But the chill was upon her,
a human shiver, a gradual appreciation of the fact that she was
alone, utterly alone, and that no one would come to her.  She might
cry out and ring bells, but the house would remain empty and
silent.

She had insisted on living in this house in her own way, like a
schoolmistress, and youth had fled from it.  She was not wanted.
She was not necessary.

Yes, she was waiting for Kitty to fail; she prayed--if prayer is
selfish desire--for those two young things to fail.  She was ready
to do anything that might force them upon the rocks.  She wanted to
see youth helpless and at her mercy, because--in her cold and
chilly craving--she wanted youth back in her house.  She was face
to face with that most ghastly of ghosts, that is also the most
terrifying of realities--the knowledge that she was necessary to no
one.

For then--a woman suddenly feels old, and hears in her empty house
footsteps--other footsteps.  Death is on the stairs.


IV


Meanwhile, old Jermyn went down to Shelford and saw his young
things at work.  Shelford had grown green.  Trees threw flickering
green reflections upon the river; the horizon, deep with the year's
mystery, seemed to gather about youth and its doings like the trees
of a wood.  Fruit blossom dropped on the grass.  Red tulips stood
jaunty and straight, and wallflowers let their perfume drift over
the blue of the myosotis.  The buds were big on the vine, Old
Jermyn felt warmed by the sun.  Always--at this season of the year
when the cuckoo began to call he would think of old Chaucer and the
Pilgrims--"When April with his showres soote."  Silly old cuckoo,
beloved cuckoo!  Why quarrel with the ingenious and questionable
proclivities of the bird?  Things happen because they happen.  Why
go about like a little fussy old maid of a schoolmaster trying to
rap life over the knuckles with a ruler?  "The cuckoo is a
reprehensible and unsocial bird, my boys.  Don't ask about the egg.
Eggs are products that should interest us only at the breakfast-
table.  All other eggs are addled.  They are--because I say so."

Old Jermyn chuckled.

He found young Alex blowing toots on a clarinet.  He had bought a
clarinet.  He was practising on it, preparing for ragtime.  Also,
he had a drum and a pair of cymbals.

Kitty was unpacking crockery, those cream-coloured cups and saucers
and plates with red cherries on them, fit for any blackbird to peck
at.

Old Jermyn became absorbed into the adventurousness of Vine
Cottage.  Stay to lunch?  Of course he would.  He was going to stay
all day.  He sat and tapped Alex's drum, while Alex attempted a fox-
trot on the clarinet, and did not attempt it so badly.  But the
dance-pavilion was the Hall of the gods, with its white walls and
green treillage and purple curtains, and its brown border to its
polished floor.

"That's one of my jobs--polishing," said Alex; "I trundle up and
down in my chair with a polishing mop."

Old George was sent to fetch the gramophone with its big green
trumpet.  The music was turned on.  Old Jermyn slithered a few
steps, and then caught hold of Kitty.

"Uncle hasn't danced for years."

He bobbed up and down with Kitty, bending his knees in the old
style, his jocund eyes dancing also in his very red face.  He got
out of breath.

"By Jove!" he said--"By Jove!  Silly old cuckoo!"

Everything was shown to him, and everything explained.  Old Jermyn
had an eye for colour and for atmosphere; at one period of his life
he had collected pictures--English water-colours--and he suggested
that he should like to get a glimpse of Shelford and of Vine
Cottage from the river.  Kitty's punt and a skiff were lying at the
new landing-stage that Old George and his jobbing friend had
erected, and Kitty took Mr. Jermyn out in the skiff, for she still
felt amateurish when handling a punt-pole.  She sculled well into
mid-stream, and kept the skiff in position with an occasional
movement of the sculls.  Mr. Jermyn, with the rudder-lines under
his arms, surveyed Vine Cottage and its garden.  The yellow
umbrellas had been erected and the green and white tables arranged
as for a dress rehearsal.

"We like our colour instant and vivid, my dear, these days.  You've
got it."

"That's Alex," she said; "I should have gone wrong with the
umbrellas and the curtains.  He and Old George--our man--have been
working out colour schemes for the garden.  That's our shop window--
you know."

"Of course," and old Jermyn twirled one of the rudder-lines like a
boy swinging a chestnut on a string; "you have to catch the eye,
and you do.  The red brickwork of the cottage, and the green sweep
of the grass.  The yellow dots of the umbrellas.  And then--your
dance-room, black and white with its touches of purple and green,
under the massive green of these old chestnuts.  You catch the eye
at once--and please it.  What about the garden?"

"Red geraniums and lobelia in great splashes."

"My word!  That's--"

"So Alex says--Victorian.  But there are reasons.  You want
something vivid, he says, and as Old George says--something that
goes on blooming.  It is going to cost us rather a lot, but Old
George is raising the lobelia in a little house he has--George is a
treasure."

"Are you going to have a board up?"

"Yes, by the chestnuts.  And two other boards, one above and one
below the village.  I've arranged that.  Alex's idea.  'Come and
dance at Kitty's.'"

Old Jermyn nodded.

"Row me down-stream--a little way, will you?"

She sculled him as far as Shelford Park, where the beech-trees were
coming into leaf, and Mr. Jermyn's dark eyes glanced hither and
thither, but he remembered to steer.  The river seemed to swell
like soft and liquid glass, and he felt the sun warm on his knees,
and heard a cuckoo calling in the green valley.

"England," he thought, "and these young English, the new English--
God bless them!"

And then he asked Kitty a question.

"What about the band?"

She sculled gently, her eyes on his face.

"We are doing the best--we can.  Alex is so keen--"

"The band's important--very.  You know how picksome people are.
And your show--must be--"

Her eyes seemed to darken a little.

"We've talked it over.  We could hire a piano.  Alex would have
liked a piano and violin, and he could vamp in with the drum and
cymbals, and a banjo or clarinet.  But--then--you see--"

"Look here," said old Jermyn, twiddling a rudder-line; "you ought
to have a real good little band for week-ends.  The gramophone
might do for casual people on other days.  Suppose I supply a piano
fellow and a violinist for the season.  I dare say I could get hold
of them in town, and they would have to come down and practise with
Alex--"

He smiled at her shrewdly under his white eyebrows.

"You mean it--?"

"Of course."

She let her right scull float, and held out a hand to him.

"You are the only one of the family--who seems to understand--"

"My dear--I'm not to be thanked.  This show of yours isn't an
ordinary show.  It's--"

His thin old hand grasped her young one,

"It's--a bit of heroism."



CHAPTER XXIX


I


There were moments when Alex sat in his chair in the garden, and
forgot his paint-brush or his ragtime, and allowed his thoughts and
glances to wander where they pleased.  The world had changed for
him, not only because the sun shone strenuously during those May
days, but because he was different and saw things differently.  For
fear had gone out of him, the fear that makes a man restless and
furtive, and too talkative or too silent.  His eyes seemed to have
sunk back into his head.  Kitty had noticed what she would have
described as the deepening of his eyes.  He looked at the world
about him as though he could look at it calmly and without hurry,
and like a child whose confidence has been restored, and who has
learnt to know that the voices of the interferers and the
repressionists will not be raised to spoil his game.  There was no
schoolmaster to cry, "St. George, what are you doing?  Wasting your
time!  Stand up and construe this passage."  He had a curious
feeling of having found himself, the intimate, real self that had
been hiding in shrubberies and dark corners.  Or, he had been
playing a game of hide-and-seek with the world, and Kitty had run
out from somewhere and caught him.

He had a new sense of security.  This little world was so real--
real grass, real water, real trees and flowers.  He had begun to
love it, both as a child and as a man.  All the details of life had
become so full of absorbing interest, of adventures, ingenuities,
triumphs, little excitements.  It was an adventure to discover some
way of doing a thing that had appeared impossible, especially with
such a fellow-enthusiast as Kitty, who made him feel that she was
saying--"Boy, that's splendid."  Even his love had changed.  It
seemed to grow more deep and wide-eyed during that month of May; it
was unashamed devotion, a turning of the face to the beloved, to a
little woman who seemed so warm and wise and steadfast that he was
full of a devout wonder.  He did not ask himself how or why it was
possible; he lived with the consciousness that it was possible.

Besides, she was such a little bit of mischief.  She didn't bore a
fellow, or make him feel foolish.  She liked doing things, and
getting them done.  Her eyes might look love, but, by George!--that
bobbed head of hair of hers was crisp with common sense.  She was a
young woman who would not be afraid to smack her baby.  She had no
cant.

And there--was the river.  In other days Alex had thought of the
river--well--as the river, a generalized stretch of water,
something that flowed, or upon which you floated.  His acceptance
of life had been as casual and as superficial as his acceptance of
the river, but now he was sitting beside the river day by day, and
discovering in it all manner of moods and variations, its changing
sheens and flecks of colour and rufflings and responses.  Its mood
seemed infinite.  Its life had a mysterious subtle texture, and yet
always it was the river.

It taught him to observe, to infer, to question, and to think.  It
persuaded him to float, not upon a flux of daydreams, but upon a
river of reality.  He felt that he was beginning to know a little,
and to know himself in knowing it.  It suggested life, the flow of
experiences, reactions, impressions which make up consciousness.
In looking at the river he began to look into the mirror of his own
consciousness.

He discovered strange reflections, or reflections that seemed
strange because of their freshness.  He saw Kitty.  She was like a
big burr of yellow light, a kind of central radiance.  He saw his
mother--a thin and broken and wavering image, disturbed and
disturbing.  And in a vague way he began to see himself as he had
been and as he was, and also his relation to other things.  That is
to say he was discovering "values," a word that he had picked up
from an article in a magazine and which he had adopted.  It
sufficed him for the moment.  Also--the "real," though when he
tried to define the "real" he found himself in difficulties.  All
that he could say was that some conditions, feelings, impressions
were more vivid and satisfying than others.  The present seemed to
him so much more real than the past.  There seemed to him to be a
film of unreality overlying his schooldays, and his Oxford days.
What was it?  A film of convention?  The unreflecting acceptance of
a scheme, an order, a class mood?  He had been a shadow at school,
or perhaps--an automaton.  There had been the proper thing to do
and to say, the correct clothes to wear.  Always there had been
repression.  If you were sensitive and queer, and you wanted to
play a game of your own, then you were an outsider, contending
against some social cult.  And the upholders of the cult crushed
you.

But here--at Shelford--playing this new game of life, he felt
exquisitely free.  Yes, in spite of his useless legs.  Even a minus
quantity appeared to have its value!  Or was it that the something
that you hadn't, inspired you to make more use and to obtain more
delight from the something that you had?  Your mind was free.  Yes,
he felt the intimate "I" of himself to be far freer.  It had not
been free at school, or at Oxford, or during the war.  Always there
had been--the repressionists.  The world called it discipline.  But
was not the only discipline worth having that which you learnt to
impose upon yourself, not the cult of a caste, but a way of life
that was good for you, because it was good for you and for the
people who mattered?  He knew that if he hurt Kitty he would hurt
himself.  That was the beginning of his morality, or his religion.
Not to refrain from doing a certain thing because the eternal
schoolmaster orders you not to do it, but to find out for yourself
why it should not be done.  To forget the schoolmaster and to
become yourself.

Sometimes he talked of these matters to Kitty, but Kitty was more
interested in the concrete than in the abstract.  She not only
wanted to hit her ball, but to hit it in the right way, and Mrs.
Sarah had been an admirable instructress.  Theories of life did not
appeal to her as did the practice of it.

"You've got to run your own show."

She was so full of frank--"I don't know"--or "Does it matter?" that
Alex was forced to meet her on practical ground.

"But how did you learn things?  You seem to have such a sense of
value."

She would look at him with her steady, fearless eyes.

"Learn things--?  Well, from mother mostly.  Or worried them out
myself.  Doesn't one?"

"But--at school--"

"O--at school--!"

She appeared to retain a sturdy contempt for the school that had
educated her.

"When you see the necessity--"

"Necessity--?"

"A piece of plate glass between you and something in the shop
window you want.  Nothing like that for setting your wits working.
Was there anything at school you wanted--so badly--that you--?"

He laughed.

"Only--to get out of the class-room--mostly."

"Same here.  Holidays were the times when I learnt things--the
things that are of use.  Mother would let me help in the shop.  And
I used to puddle about in the kitchen.  And when you make a horrid
sticky mess of your first cake--and try to eat it!  Mother ate a
slice of mine--Jolly sporting of her.  And after that--I had to
conquer cake-making--or--"

"Die--!"

"Not quite die--my dear; have indigestion."

Always--they returned to the practical, though to a woman the doing
of things may be symbolical, and Kitty--the utilitarian--might also
be Kitty a pragmatical mystic.  She, too, could stand and look down
into the still water and see herself and Alex in it, but for the
moment the thing that mattered was their show.  You could not build
nests in the air.  Foundations.  And after the foundations--
elaborations.  But she could understand the pathos of Alex's
paralyzed legs, and applaud with tenderness his creating of a new
mobility both of mind and of body.  But would he always be
paralyzed like this?  Was it final?  She had tackled Dr. Drake on
the subject, and Dr. Drake's replies were guarded.  "I'm watching
him--I'm not quite sure--yet."

Meanwhile, Vine Cottage showed great activity.  Mr. Jermyn had
found his musicians, ex-soldiers both of them, the pianist a little
monkey of a fellow with an artificial leg, the violinist a tall
fair boy who smiled whenever the violin was tucked under his chin.
They came down to Shelford to practise together.  A hired piano had
been installed in the dance-pavilion, and here Alex and his two
assistants made music.  They combined well.  At the end of the week
they were playing with dash and devilry, the ruffle-headed pianist
bumping up and down in his chair, the violinist giving little jerks
and swayings, Alex beating syncopations on his drum and breaking in
with cymbals or banjo or clarinet.  He had a very nice sense of
time.  Also--he had a voice--and would indulge in bursts of song.

"Plenty of devil--you chaps."

Sometimes Kitty would come in and try steps and judge the speed of
their playing, and whenever she appeared Alex's band seemed to whip
itself up for a spurt.  Ragtime drifted alluringly over the river.
Old George bedding out geraniums now that all danger of frost had
passed, found himself showing a tendency to prod the earth with his
trowel in time to the music.  It was a merry noise.

And Kitty had found her strong girl--strong, but deft and comely--
to help with the teas.  They were to wear black, with jade-green
aprons, black stockings and green shoes.  Details mattered.  And in
a meadow above and in a meadow below Shelford men were erecting two
big white boards facing the river--"Come and dance at Kitty's.
Look for the Yellow Umbrellas."

Shelford gossiped not a little.  It was critical and it shook a
head.  "That young woman at Vine Cottage--Dances?  Where are the
people to come from?  She ought to have tried this trick up at
Maidenhead."  Most of them were more or less sure that the young
woman would fail, though she had a paralyzed husband to keep.
Plucky of her--no doubt.  But Shelford proposed to grant her one
season, and at the end of it there would be yellow umbrellas for
sale.


II


Meanwhile, in Mayfair Mrs. Sarah and old Jermyn were conspiring
together.

Mrs. Sarah had put up a notice in her shop, and above it a coloured
poster that she had found someone to paint for her.  You saw the
river, and two people dancing, and two other people having tea
under a yellow umbrella.


                    KITTY'S AT SHELFORD!

            TAKE A BOAT OR A CAR AND DANCE THERE

               SPECIAL ORCHESTRA AT WEEK-ENDS.

                         IT'S CHIC.


But Mrs. Sarah was more potent and persuasive than her poster.  She
entangled quite a number of her old patrons and talked them into
sympathetic attention.  Kitty was a plucky little beggar--by Jove!
A paralyzed husband, an ex-officer!  Yes, certainly--these two
young things deserved encouragement.  "Well, be a dear, and do it,"
was Mrs. Sarah's refrain.  Also, accepting a hint, she made Alex
draw a large-sized map of Shelford, showing the exact position of
"Kitty's," and how to get there.  It gave you the route by train,
by river, and by road.

Old Jermyn--too--had his circle.  Had he been a bore his circle
might have resented his activities, but when old Jermyn said that a
thing was good you had a feeling that it was good.  He had a
reputation.  He was a complete worldling.  He got hold of young
this and young that, and he did not neglect the female element.
"You make young Tom Somebody drive you down to Shelford.  Good
floor, good band.  Quite an original sort of show.  An ex-officer--
with no legs--playing the drum."

But Mrs. Sarah and old Jermyn went beyond instigation.  That first
Saturday was to be the dramatic day.  Not only must your shop have
its window dressed, but it must be full of people.  Start a crowd
to attract a crowd.  Play upon the imitativeness of the human
animal.  Persuade people to exclaim--"I say--that's a posh show.
Look how it's going!  Come along, let's cut in."

So, they conspired together.  Mr. Jermyn chartered a motor-launch,
and invited a dozen people to fill it.  There was to be champagne
on the launch.  Mrs. Sarah booked three large cars, and made up a
party, and it was no undistinguished party either: it included a
baronet and a young old major-general.  Another score or so of
sympathizers had promised to go by road or river.  But Mrs. Sarah
did not lay too pronounced an emphasis upon sympathy.  She hinted
very broadly that there was value at Shelford, and good value.


III


Old Jermyn was writing a letter.  He sat at the large, square
writing-table in the centre of the smoking-room at "Hackett's," and
scratched away with a quill pen between pauses that suggested that
the letter upon which he was engaged was something of a poser.  He
had made three attempts and each time a sheet had been crumpled up
by a lean hand and dropped in the wastepaper basket beside him.  He
made nervous, fidgety movements, much to the annoyance of another
member who was at work on the other side of the table.  What was
the matter with J. G.?  Why couldn't he get that letter finished,
and stop his scratchings and his fidgetings?

After dropping the third crumpled paper ball into the wastepaper
basket Jermyn got up, crossed the room, and rang the bell.  He
stood thinking, and softly tweaking his long nose.  Should he write
that letter or should he not?  What were his motives in writing it?
O--confound his motives--he would write it!  After all--it was
giving the woman a human opening, and if she chose to take it--well
and good.

Thompson's brass buttons glittered in the doorway.

"Yes, sir?"

"Bring me a glass of sherry, Thompson."

"Yes, sir."

With the glass of sherry beside him on the table old Jermyn
attacked for the fourth time.  He blew his nose vigorously into a
silk handkerchief, a trumpet sound that compelled his vis-à-vis to
stare at him truculently.  The scratchings recommenced.


"DEAR CLARA--

"Alex and his wife are giving their first show on Saturday week.  I
have chartered a launch to take a party down to add to the gaiety
of the send-off.  I shall be delighted if you will join my party.
May I say that our appearance will be of the nature of a surprise.

"If you should decide to join us I will let you know the final
arrangements later.  We shall probably train or drive to Hampton,
and pick up the launch there.

"Sincerely yours.

"JERMYN."


He closed the envelope, purchased a stamp from Thompson, and
dropped the letter in the club letter-box.  His attitude towards it
was from that moment one of "I wonder?"  He was giving Clara St.
George her chance gracefully to hold out a human hand.  But would
she do it?  Did she wish to do it?

Her reply came to him at the club next day.  He read it, standing
by one of the windows overlooking Pall Mall.  She refused.  She
gave no reasons for her refusal, and she did not thank him.

Old Jermyn tore up the letter, and crossing the room, deposited the
pieces in a wastepaper basket.  He walked back to the window, and
rattling the keys in his pocket, looked down at the traffic in Pall
Mall.

"What a pity," he thought, "that some backs won't bend."


On the Monday of that particular week Alex suddenly became
interested in weather reports, though the glass stood at fair and
the sun climbed daily out of the east into a cloudless sky.  Very
early there would be a white mist covering the river and the
meadows, and from his bed Alex could watch the gold-green tops of
the poplars on the farther bank catching the sun's rays while the
river and the meadows remained dew-drenched and grey.  He woke very
early, and lay on his back--thinking, and waiting for Old George to
come and help him dress, and get him into his chair.

His first question would be--"What do you think of the weather,
George?  Going to last?"

George was a cautious prophet.  Did not Henley Regatta always
produce rain?  Also--when the local committee had fixed the date of
the Shelford Flower Show you could prepare to get out your
umbrella.

"Looks all right, sir, at present."

"It must be fine on Saturday, George."

"I hope it will be, sir."

It was on the Tuesday morning that Old George asked that most
innocent of questions.  He was helping Mr. Alex on with his
trousers.

"How many people do you expect on Saturday, sir?"

"O!" said Alex, "it will only be the first day, you know.  One
can't expect--"

But that question of Old George's, and his own vaguely apologetic
reply to it, seemed to open before Alex a vista of the absurd and
the impossible.  It was the beginning of a panic mood, a mood that
he tried to conceal most carefully from Kitty.  How many people--
indeed!  Would there be any people?  And as his panic mood enlarged
itself he began to think of Shelford as an obscure and potty little
place miles from anywhere, a place to which no one would come.  He
shivered at the thought of Shelford's obscurity and its isolation.
Vine Cottage and its dance-pavilion and its garden full of tables
and its yellow umbrellas seemed to diminish and grow dim, until it
was no larger and more convincing than a little reflection seen in
the polished bowl of a spoon.  The great adventure shrivelled to an
absurdity.  He and his band!  He could hear himself tooting away on
his clarinet, like some sedulous fool piping in the middle of a
ploughed field.  Preposterous optimists--!  With all their little
capital buried in a garden on the banks of the Thames, while a
voice cried in the wilderness--"O, come and dance, do--come and
dance."

That was Alex's cry.  He would trundle out in his chair, and make a
tour of the whole property, and scrutinize all their little stock-
in-trade, with an eagerness that tried to convince itself that the
adventure was not impertinent and absurd.  He became exquisitely
worried over seeming omissions and deficiencies.  What a pity the
wallflowers were over!  And those confounded geraniums would not be
in bloom.  And he couldn't hurry them up.  Couldn't Old George put
out something or other--pansies--?  He grew fussy about the dancing-
floor; he spent hours in the place, polishing with his mop.  He
worried about the band.  Supposing either Banks or Summervell fell
sick at the last moment, or missed a train, or left the violin in
the luggage-rack?

He made sudden panicky discoveries.

"I say, we've forgotten that people might come in cars."

They had, for their eyes had been fixed on the river, so pasteboard
was obtained, and Alex printed notices--"Entrance"--"This way to
Kitty's"--"Dance Teas," and Old George was instructed to post up
these notices on a bracket and on the outer face of the garden
door.

Then, as to provisions?  How many loaves of bread, and how many
cakes?

"I'm going to prepare for two dozen people, boy."

Twenty-four people!  It seemed a vast number.  Were there twenty-
four people in all England who would take it into their heads to
drop out of the sky upon the green grass of Vine Cottage?  It was
unbelievable, and yet Kitty had a calm, go-ahead face.  He
marvelled at her phlegm, or at what he took to be her phlegm, for
he had not divined the fact that Kitty was as worried as he was.
She, too, had her own particular secret panic.  Yet her little
round face seemed to lose none of its glowing solidity.  At meals
they talked with every appearance of cheerfulness.  They played up
to each other and to the spirit of the adventure.

"Of course--one can't expect--"

"Not the first day--"

"We've got to wave a flag and make a cheerful noise."

"That's it.  We'll keep playing all the afternoon.  I'll thump that
drum, Kit.  But Mrs. Sarah and Corah--"

"There'll be Uncle Jermyn--too--"

He forced a laugh.

"They'll have to go on eating teas all the afternoon if no one else
comes.  But--of course--"

On the Thursday evening, after supper, she missed him.  She had
washed up and put the cups and plates away, but instead of helping
her as he usually did, he had wheeled his chair out into the
garden.  She looked out of the window, and saw the afterglow dying
along the river and the trees growing black, and the green of the
grass changing to grey.  The stillness of the sky seemed reflected
in the stillness of the river, and as she looked through the glass
of the window at the glassy water she felt suddenly and poignantly
alone.  She was alone.  But at the age of five-and-twenty youth
will not allow or does not realize that there is a loneliness that
is complete and individual.  She wanted to snuggle up to some warm
human thing, her mate.  She felt tired, chilled, a little afraid.

She went out into the garden, calling "Alex."  He did not answer
her, and in the silence and the stealth of the dusk she too grew
silent.  She went softly like a sturdy little disembodied spirit--
if one can conceive of a disembodied spirit being sturdy.  She
looked behind the laurel hedge, and along the grassy slope, but it
was close under the overhanging blackness of the big chestnut trees
that she found him.  He was sitting in his chair within a yard of
the river, staring at it.  Even in the dusk his glance had a
strange fixity.

She did not utter a word.  She went and knelt down beside the
chair, and put her arm round him.  She wanted his arm round her.
She wanted to feel--

He turned and looked down at her.  Their faces were very close in
the dusk, and for the first time in his life he divined something
of Kitty, of the woman, of that warm courage that burns bravely and
then suddenly grows dim.  Her eyes were downcast, hidden. And it
seemed to him that she was bending under some burden of loneliness,
or of some unexpressed and inexpressible distress.

"Kit--I've been thinking--"

And suddenly he put both arms round her head and held it close.

"I've been thinking.  It's going to be all right.  I don't know
why, but it is--"

She pressed her face against his coat.

"O, Alex, O--my dear!  We've got each other, haven't we?"



CHAPTER XXX


I


On the morning of the great day Alex woke at five.  He had asked to
have the blind left up and the curtains undrawn, and sitting up in
bed he saw the river shimmering and the poplars painted with
sunlight as though some one had streaked them with a mighty brush.
The day was fine.

Confound those legs of his!  He wanted to be up and about; he would
have liked a plunge and a swim; but since such activities were
impossible he lay on his back and listened for the first sound of
Kitty's movements in the room above.  She too, would be early, and
Old George was coming at seven instead of at eight to cut the grass
and give the garden a final polish.  Friday had been a day of
excitements, for by the first post a letter had arrived from Mrs.
Sarah in which she had advised Kitty to prepare teas for three
dozen people.  "Better be on the safe side.  I'm bringing one or
two friends myself."

But busy as that Saturday morning proved it gathered an atmosphere
of naive solemnity, as though someone were going to be married or
buried early in the afternoon.  Kitty and her girl were busy in the
kitchen cutting bread and butter, and arranging plates of cakes,
and polishing crockery, and assembling a small regiment of teapots--
each pot prepared with a charge of tea.  Milk-jugs stood in a row
on the kitchen dresser.  There were thirty-six plates of cakes,
fancy cakes and good plum cake; the whole place seemed to overflow
with cake, and the shop counter was pressed into service.  You
could not arrange dishes on the floor.  Old George was mowing and
sweeping and trimming verges, and bending down to pull up odd
weeds.  Alex spent an hour polishing the dance-floor, and at the
end of that operation, finding nothing else to do, he trundled all
over the place in his chair looking for stray untidinesses, odd
shavings or scraps of paper, or the cigarette-ends distributed at
large by the jobbing carpenter.

By twelve o'clock everything was shipshape.  The yellow umbrellas
were up; a dozen or more tables with white cloths were decorated
with cherry-splashed plates and cups and saucers.  Kitty had
inspected each teaspoon.  Old George had gone home to put on his
Sunday clothes.

The tension relaxed.  The excitement--denied further outward
activity--was driven inwards--and looked restlessly out of two
pairs of eyes--and disorganized completely two young people's
appetite for lunch.  Every table and shelf and chair in the cottage
appeared to be occupied by dishes of cakes and of bread and butter.
Teapots possessed the scullery table, and Kitty was frowning
inwardly over the capacity of her kettles to supply sufficient hot
water.

The midday meal was perfunctory and disjointed, a fragmentary
affair.  They ate it in the shop off the top of a packing-case; the
meal consisted of sardines, and bread and cheese and tea.  Neither
Alex nor his wife had any appetite.

He kept glancing at his wrist-watch.

"Those chaps ought to be here."

He was thinking of the musicians, while Kitty was concerned about
her kettles.

"I hope there won't be a rush.  If Annie gets flustered."

Yet neither of them could believe in the chances of a rush.  That
sense of haste and of suspense crowded itself into the feeling of
emptiness that possessed their two interiors.

At half-past one Kitty rushed up to dress, to change her blue linen
for black crêpe and a jade-green apron, black silk stockings, and
green shoes.  Alex was dressed.  He took himself and his chair out
into the garden, steering his way past dishes of cake.  He arrived
in the shade of one of the yellow umbrellas.  It felt very hot--
somehow, and he kept wiping his hands in a very clean handkerchief.
The river was as empty as a road in the suburbs at eight o'clock on
a Sunday morning.  Not a boat!  But where were Banks and
Summervell?  Surely the fellows had not missed their train?  And
Old George ought to be back from his dinner.  Confound it--how hot
it was!

Then Kitty appeared, looking cool and pink and most astonishingly
pretty.  She had a vividness--a something, and Alex gave his chair
a turn, and looked up at her out of very wide eye.

"I say--you look--ripping--"

She gave him a queer little drifting smile, and touched his cheek
with the fingers of her left hand.  "No boats--yet."

"Not one--damn them!"


II


Whole hours seemed to pass before anything in the shape of a boat
appeared upon the river.  Had the whole of London and Suburbia gone
dry?

The first boat that came into view roused them to a tremulous yet
restrained excitement.  The orchestra had arrived, and was making
desultory and musical noises in the pavilion.  Kitty stood by
Alex's chair.  They watched that boat.  It was a double sculler,
with two female figures in the stern; it came slothfully up past
the ferry; the sculling was not very good; two stoutish backs clad
in Oxford shirts swung sedulously.  One of the scullers wore a
floppy white canvas hat; the other was bald.

"O--my God!" said Alex.

The boat had drawn level with Vine Cottage, and two elderly men
resting on their sculls stared across the water at "Kitty's."
Their faces seemed to express nothing but hot vacancy.  The two
women--

"O, my God," said Alex again, very softly, "uncles and aunts!"

That boat was a shock to them.  It picked up its sculls and went
plodding seriously on.  It seemed to leave ripples of incipient
discouragement behind it, a Noah's ark of a boat.

Kitty rearranged the cups on one of the tables.

"They can't--all--be like that."

Like water-beetles oaring themselves upon the stippled silver of
the river came other boats, boats in which prewar blazers and gay
jumpers and light blouses reintroduced the world to colour.  Punts--
too--full of red and white and blue cushions, and casual and
reclining youth poled lazily along.  They came and gazed and
passed, though now and again a boat or a punt would seem to pause
and falter, and a man and a girl would exchange a word or two.
"Hallo--dancing!"  But though the lure was dangled, it was neither
compelling nor complete.  And Kitty stood beside one of her tables
under the great plane-tree, and heard Alex's band strike up.  Clash--
bang!  A merry noise.  But she looked at those occasional people
paddling or poling by, and wished herself a tyrant, a little
empress, or a giantess who could reach out a hand and pluck those
humans out of their boats and thrust them into the dance-house like
chickens into a coop.  "Dance, damn you!  Dance in my house."  Her
little firm chin jutted out, and in her eyes was a kind of anger--

She went to the pavilion and stood in the doorway.  The orchestra
played ragtime furiously, with drummings and clashings.  Where was
Mrs. Sarah?  Where was everybody?  And suddenly the music ceased,
though she did not realize that it had ceased until she found Alex
in his chair beside her.  He was pointing; his face was flushed and
excited.

"Look, it's coming here--That launch."

How absurd of her not to have noticed it!  But there it was, a very
white launch with a gilded prow and a Union Jack floating from the
staff at the stern, leaving diverging lines of swell behind it as
it made its gradual glide towards Kitty's landing-stage.  Someone
was standing up in the launch, a man in a dove-grey coat and white
flannel trousers, his hat raised above a head of superlative
whiteness.

"Uncle Jermyn--!  And people--quite a crowd--!"

"The dear!"

Her eyes ceased to look resentfully at the river.  She waved.

"I'll go and meet him.  Better start up--boy."

"Right-o--rather--I should think so.  Dear old Jermyn--"

Kitty had "Dear old Jermyn" in her eyes as she went down to the
landing-stage where Old George was ready with a boat-hook.  The
launch was full of faces, smiling faces.  Mr. Jermyn, still
standing, and as much master of the situation as though he were a
ship's captain and the launch his barge, made a circular movement
with his hat.

"My party--Mrs. Alex St. George.  Mrs. Alex St. George--my party."

She gave the whole launch a dispersed smile.

"I'm Kitty--I'm very glad to see you all.  The band's playing."

Hardly had she seen them landed and in progress towards the
pavilion, and squeezed old Jermyn's fingers, than Mrs. Sarah
appeared from somewhere with a little crowd of followers.  Mrs.
Sarah was in great spirits.  She kissed Kitty, and appeared ready
to kiss Mr. Jermyn.  "O my dear--a car had a puncture.  But here we
are.  Not all strangers--either.  You know Sir Maurice--and General
Rideout--I--am--enjoying myself."

It was a little bewildering, but it was splendid, and Kitty--having
smiled at everybody, clutched a round tea-tray and a consciousness
of her duties, and extricating herself, rushed in to her kettles.
It was essential that she should not lose her head or allow the
girl Annie to lose hers.  Dignity, precision, no rushing about as
though the situation had surprised you.  She hoped that Annie was
not a heavy breather.

"All the kettles--"

Annie had a placid surface.  She had assisted at functions, quite
creditable functions.

"Two are boiling, miss; the other's on the sing."

"O, splendid!"

"Shall I fill up?"

"Wait.  When they begin to sit down at the tables.  Get the cakes
and the milk and sugar, and the bread and butter out first.  O--
here's mother."

Mrs. Sarah had removed her hat, and was unfurling a white lace
apron.

"I'm on this job, too, poppet.  They're dancing--they're dancing
already.  The band's A1.  I pay for all my crowd, you know."

But before she became absorbed in the serving of teas Kitty went
down to the dance-house and looked through one of the panels of
treillage.  The orchestra was in full cry; about a dozen couples
were dancing, and for a moment Kitty had a glimpse of her husband
sitting in his chair beside the piano.  He was laughing, head
thrown back as he played and watched the dancers.  The pianist
jigged on his stool; the tall fair boy with the violin gave little
flicks of the head, and swaggered with his shoulders.  Alex, a
drumstick in either hand, would lean over and strike a clashing
blow upon the cymbals, and laugh, and catch the laughing eyes of
the dancers.

She loved him.

He had such an air of triumph.  He was so enjoying the show, and
his drum and his cymbals.  It seemed to delight him to see these
people dancing, and dancing as though they enjoyed it, though he
himself would never be able to dance.  But his youth danced with
them, and wished them well.  Those flickering drumsticks danced on
the ass skin.  The clash of the cymbals urged and challenged and
applauded.  "Go it--you people.  Splendid!  Life's worth living."

She threw a little unseen kiss to him and hurried back to her tea-
tables.  She was happy; yet she was two women in one body, and
while one of them dealt with teapots and hot-water jugs and plates
of bread and butter and gave and accepted gay patter, the other
moved with a kind of inward sacramental solemnity.  She was the
little priestess of the show.  The yellow umbrellas glowed.  The
river seemed to swell proudly past.  Under the great plane-tree the
shadows lay in a chequer of gold.  She saw all her bright tables,
and the well-dressed people, and heard the music and the voices.
She saw Mrs. Sarah everywhere, and herself as a figure of inward
dreaminess, and felt a kind of smooth and drowsy rustling of the
leaves of her secret soul.  Even when Old George came to her and,
impressively whispering, informed her that three other boats had
pulled in and that he had sold ten more tickets, the words did not
seem real.


III


As old Jermyn wrote in his diary--for he was a Pepysian soul and
kept a diary--"Studying life is like trying to study the interior
of a room by looking through the keyhole.  We all squint through
keyholes," and when he wrote these words he was thinking of Clara
St. George, But he did not know that on that particular day Mrs.
Clara had stooped to her keyhole.  That it showed her other things
than she wished to see was neither here nor there.  It was a
surreptitious keyhole, and she might have been discovered peering
through it had not the people on the other side of the door been
full of their own affairs.

Mrs. St. George ordered out her car on that Saturday afternoon, and
was driven down to Shelford.  Her man had orders to park the car
under the lime-trees opposite the Ship Inn.  Mrs. St. George left
her car under the young green foliage and went upon her way, her
way being Shelford Lane.  She walked as far as Vine Cottage, and
saw three empty cars drawn up close to the orchard fence, and three
chauffeurs leaning against the fence, and smoking cigarettes.  She
read the notices posted upon the cottage; she heard sounds of
music.

But Shelford Lane offered her no peephole.  Vine Cottage and its
garden defended itself with a brick wall, and a thick thorn hedge,
and the old entrance to Bunt's boat-house had been boarded up.  So
Mrs. St. George retraced her steps.  She did not see herself as
Death at the feast--if there was a feast.  Her surreptitiousness
sought to discover the fullness or emptiness of the tables.  She
had come down in search of a fiasco.  But there was the river; she
had remembered the river, and on the river her keyhole would be a
large one.  She turned to the left under the lime-trees and past
red may-trees and golden laburnum pendant over old red walls, and
found herself at the ferry.  A boat to be hired?  Assuredly.  A man
in a dirty sweater had three boats and a punt idly nosing at the
landing-stage.  The lady would need a boatman?  He shouted to a
youth who was baling water out of a shabby old black punt.

"'Arry, you're wanted."

Mrs. St. George took to the river.  To the youth's question--"Want
to go up or down, m'um?" she gave an answer that made it appear
that she had no particular prejudices.  "O--up--I think."  But she
did tell the youth not to hurry and to keep well out in the middle
of the river, and he--having no interest in anything beyond the
receipt of a possible tip at the end of the excursion, responded to
her wishes.  He looked either at her knees or over one of his own
shoulders.  He may have thought her an unusual person in a boat.
She did not look like the Thames on a Saturday afternoon.  She sat
there like a gentlewoman driving down Piccadilly in the days when
gentlewomen sat erect, their stays well boned, and with bonnets
upon their heads.

The lad did notice that the lady looked somewhat fixedly at Vine
Cottage and its garden and its dance-house.  Here was a diversion,
something to stare at, and he lay slouching for some seconds on his
sculls, listening to the music of Kitty's orchestra.  He made a
remark to the lady, referring to Kitty as "The young woman whose
husband was on officer chap who couldn't walk."  He added that
things seemed a bit gay over there, gayer than Shelford had
expected them to be, but the lady made no reply.  She sat there as
though he had produced no sort of noise that had any meaning for
her, and he resumed his sculling.  It was very hot on the river,
with a silvery glare stretched like a sheet of silk between the
green of the trees and fields, and the lady put up a dark blue
sunshade and held it so that the lad saw nothing but the curve of
her chin.

But she had seen all that Mr. Jermyn St. George would have wished
her to see, that gay little garden crowded with bright figures, the
white launch and the boats lying by the bank, the yellow umbrellas,
the crowded tables, the vivid little dance-house with its movement
and its music.  Not only was Kitty's window dressed, but her shop
was full.  And Mrs. St. George's peephole had showed her a
miniature brilliant with colour, a green ground stippled with
success, a little modern fête gallante.  Youth triumphant or if not
quite triumphant, making a brave show.

She was sculled on through the glare past the towering chestnuts
and the meadows beyond where pollarded willows shimmered in the
heat, and under her blue sunshade her face had a staring pallor.
Her rigidity was complete.  She suffered the lad to scull her a
quarter of a mile up-stream before telling him to turn.  She seemed
to sit in the midst of a stiff and stricken silence, and when again
she broke that silence the lad had no knowledge of the tremendous
effort that it cost her.

"Row close in.  I want to see--that dancing."

She had to rend those words out of herself.  She sat erect, holding
her sunshade so that her face was hidden, but when the boat glided
over the green reflection of the chestnut-trees, she raised her
sunshade very slightly.

"Stop a moment."

Her voice had a dry breathlessness.  She was looking under the blue
edge of her sunshade into the interior of Kitty's dance-house.
There was no music for the moment.  She saw a few girls and men
sitting or standing.  She saw the piano, the violinist raising his
bow, Alex in his wheeled chair, the drum, the yellow halo of the
cymbals.  And suddenly her son's arms were raised.  She saw his
upturned laughing face.  The sticks fell.  Clash--bang!  Men and
girls glided out--

She kept her sunshade lowered after that.  She told the lad to row
her back to the ferry.  She saw neither Kitty in her green apron
busy among the tables, nor the stout figure of Mrs. Sarah--that
impossible woman--She disembarked and paid for her boat, and gave
the lad a shilling.  She went straight to her car.

"Home."

Over Cardigan Square lay the sloth of a Saturday afternoon when the
plane-trees assume a green silence that is almost solid.  Houses
threw sharp shadows, and overhead a blue sky pearled itself with
heat.  Mrs. St. George's car came to rest in the midst of this
silence.  The chauffeur got down and opened the door.  She looked
at nothing; her blue eyes had a peculiar fixed stare.  She crossed
the pavement like a stiff figure propelled on invisible wheels.
She ascended the steps, and with a rigid deliberation opened her
bag and took out her latchkey.

She opened the door and closed it.  She stood in the hall.  It
seemed to her very dark.


IV


It was nine o'clock when the yellow umbrellas were taken in, and
the dance-house closed by Mr. Venables, and all the tables cleared.
The white launch and the cars had departed Londonwards two hours
ago, and the sun had set, and the river was black and still, but
gone was its sense of emptiness.  The scullery table was piled high
with crockery waiting to be washed.

"We'll leave it to-night," said Kitty.

She sent Annie home.  She wanted to be alone with the result of the
days endeavours, to clasp her bouquet, to bury her nose in it.  And
Alex was still out there in his chair, circulating among the
tables, and removing tablecloths and carefully folding them.  She
put her hands to her forehead.  She was both tired and beyond being
tired; the secret climax of the day throbbed in her; the laughing,
kindly crowd had gone and left her the day's consummation.

She went to the door and felt the cool of the dusk, and a freshness
as of falling dew.

"Boy--"

"Hallo--!"

"Time for supper.  We've earned it."

He came trundling towards her over the grass, his lap full of
folded cloths.

"Supper--?  O, we'll picnic--I say--Kit, what a day!"

She ran forward and, meeting his chair, stopped it with her hands
on the wheels, and leaning forward, kissed him.  There was surprise
in her kisses, fragrance, a quality of warmth and of abandonment.

"What a day!  And no picnic supper--either."

He looked at her a little breathlessly, divining in her a sudden
attack that was more than tenderness.  She seemed to emit a glow,
to exhale a perfume of sweet surrender.  Her glances were both shy
and intimate.

"How's that?" he asked.

"Uncle Jermyn left a hamper."

"For us."

"Champagne and iced salmon--The dear--!"

"What a sportsman!  Kit--I'm hungry--I'm--"

"I'm hungry and I'm thirsty.  Boy, let's celebrate.  They've gone.
It's just you and I--"


V


At eleven o'clock that night Vine Cottage showed two lighted
windows towards the river, an upper and a lower light, and over the
carpet of the upper floor bare feet pattered softly.  Kitty was in
her nightdress, a white and filmy thing laced at the elbows and the
throat.  Two candles were burning on the dressing-table, and a
little pile of clothes lay on a chair.  She stood for a minute or
two at her dressing-table, using a powder puff, but more for the
perfume of the powder than for the pearling of her skin.  She
powdered her arms, slipping back the laced sleeves.  She took the
stopper from a small cut-glass scent bottle containing Parma
Violets, and pouring a drop or two into a hollowed hand, rubbed the
scent into her hair.  A little lace cap hung on one of the wooden
pillars supporting the mirror, and she adjusted the cap upon her
honey-coloured head, patting and pulling it with intimate fingers.
She slipped her arms into a green chiffon dressing-jacket.

Deliberately she blew out one of the candles and pulled up the
blind.  The window was open wide.  She leaned out with her elbows
on the sill like a shy, feline thing rubbing itself softly against
the velvet of the night.  The night was very dark, but not so dark
that she was unable to distinguish the details of her property, the
dim river bounding it, the great plane-tree--a towering and restful
presence, the white tables, two old fruit trees, a path winding
between the lawns, three round flower beds, the compact blackness
of the laurel hedge.  A creeper, the cottage vine, had pushed young
shoots into the opening of the window, picking up the light upon
the leaves of a lucid and transparent greenness.  Kitty plucked two
of the leaves and tucked the stalks under the lace border of her
cap.

A gesture, imaginative, prettily pagan!  Her taking of the lighted
candle was both more symbolical and more purposeful.  The upper
window grew dark towards the river, but as the little white figure
descended the stairs, lighting itself to that other room, its limbs
and body might have been seen dimly glowing beneath the texture of
the crêpe de Chine.



CHAPTER XXXI


I


Nothing stands still, and though Kitty was neither a physicist nor
a psychologist, she had a feeling that life had to go backwards or
forwards, up or down.  She had a sense of dimensions, a native
appreciation of all that is relative.  Your business waxed or
waned; your bank balance ebbed and flowed; also, she knew, that
important as a bank balance is, there are considerations that
transcend it.

Manhood, for instance, and childhood, and the sum of the reactions
that make for the state we call happiness.  And always you must be
chasing or wishing to chase the butterfly on the other side of the
hedge, or to possess yourself of apples that are not yours, but
might be.  There is no standing still.  You may pause to get your
breath, or to realize your inspiration.  You may clasp your love,
but the clasping of it may not make it more yours unless you
realize that a bosom should give milk.

As the surprising success of their venture became apparent,
comparative though it might be, and she counted the shillings and
pence, her attention seemed to shift to another problem and to
ponder it.  She had a pause for quiet breathing.  She was able
to estimate her husband's incompleteness, his almost dear
incompleteness, full of touching and naive expedients though it
was.  She had to ask herself the obvious question.  Was she to be
content with that incompleteness, or to suffer him to be content
with it?

But to begin with--regarding the success of "Kitty's."  It had its
ups and downs during the first few weeks, but like the chart of a
rising temperature as the peaks grew less pronounced, the curve
joining troughs and peaks ran at a higher level.  No doubt the
Sabbatarians would have been shocked, but on each Sabbath evening
Kitty and Alex felt moved to gasp and exult and to hug each other.
The show was succeeding.  Touch wood, but it was!  And why?  But
who could say?  No doubt some half a dozen streams of influence had
converged to produce the flow.  For on four consecutive Saturdays
Mr. Jermyn St. George and his party had turned up in a launch.
Mrs. Sarah--too--in a car--with Mr. This or Sir Somebody That.  The
pressure that Mrs. Sarah had been able to exert was surprising.
When she took a leap her ripple marks spread far and wide.  Corah
too and her prospective husband--a brisk fellow earning his fifteen
hundred a year--touched other circles.  But all these partial
impulses would have been of no lasting account had not Kitty's show
persuaded the Thames that her show was "it."

For, in certain cliques it became an accepted opinion that
"Kitty's" was chic, and therefore the chic thing to do was to
take a boat or a car and dance there.  The show was a "posh"
one, or whatever topical term you chose to apply to it.  No doubt
there were happy coincidences, a fortunate concatenation of
circumstances, but had the fruit lacked bloom and colour no bird
would have come to peck at it.  Had there been no yellow umbrellas,
and indifferent music and a bad floor, Alex might have possessed
six paralyzed legs, and youth would have lingered for an afternoon
and ruthlessly disposed of him and his bad music.  "Poor old chap,
but an absolute dud with the drum.  No earthly--you know."  Youth
would have left it at that, and if Alex did not know it, Kitty did.
She too was young and she could be ruthless, and she used youth and
its selfishness and its little superficial clevernesses to help her
show.  She knew that certain of the casual young men who came to
Shelford were Fortunate Youths, young Solesby for instance who had
the sleekest head and the most unruffled self-assurance of any
young man about town, and who would let you know what was posh and
chic and mignon and what wasn't.  He happened to feel interested
for a couple of months in a little woman with dark eyes and a
devilishly taking head of tawny hair.  Kitty was smooth to young
Solesby and his clique.  She knew the commercial value of the sort
of man who collects women or is collected by them.  They asked for
something unusual, a dinner served in a cellar with the waiters
dressed as sweeps, or a species of Daphne and Chloe show in the
country where lambs bleated.  They served a purpose.

But chiefly did Kitty rely upon the average man and girl, the
suburban people who came and saw and danced, and went home and told
their friends: "There's a jolly little place at Shelford."  She was
wise in the creating of an immediate and happy impression.  She
would find time to go down to the landing-stage when a boat pulled
in, and meet people with a smile and a "Glad to see you."  She
contrived to create an atmosphere of casual and happy friendliness.
Her smile carried.  And behind his drum and cymbals, or while
twanging his banjo, Alex was no less happy in suggesting
irresponsible light laughter.  He nodded at people, had a smile for
the new-comers.  "That's it, enjoy yourselves."  Clash, bang!
Youth's jazz band would step off with a gaillard and joyous
swagger.  In those days the melancholy and mooing saxophone had not
produced a universal cacophony.  And Alex loved his show, and
laughed, and people laughed with him.

There came a day in July when the lawns and dance-house were so
crowded that Kitty began to wonder how to control her success.
There were a dozen cars parked in the lane, and boats lay along the
bank like horses packed in a stable.

Mrs. Sarah was down from town.  She knew success when she saw it,
and how to seize the proper moment for a nice reaction to
circumstance.

"Raise your price, poppet."

"But--supposing--"

"Do you know the tale of a man who bought a warehouse full of
shirts, and opened a shop, and offered them for sale at five and
sixpence a shirt?"

"Haven't heard it."

"He sold some three shirts in a week.  Something was wrong,
obviously.  So he reversed the tickets and marked them at half a
guinea.  And trade boomed."

So Kitty put up a notice which stated that owing to the crowded
success of the show the management felt itself compelled to raise
its prices.  In the future the Thé Dansant would cost four
shillings.

For a week she was just a little anxious, but Mrs. Sarah's moral of
the shirts appeared to apply also to the running of a dance-house
on the river.  The popularity of "Kitty's" seemed to increase.  It
became more "posh" than ever.

She laughed, and Alex laughed, and Old George's tips increased.  He
was making very good money, and had invested thirty shillings in
some new and miraculous cure for his wife's chronic rheumatism.

On Monday mornings the management of "Kitty's" would sit down in
the kitchen and check its receipts.  At the new rate of four
shillings the week-end takings were showing an average profit of
twelve pounds.  During the week they were netting three or four
pounds from casual people who danced to the strains of the big.
gramophone reinforced by a gentler tapping of the drum and cymbals.
Three hundred pounds or so for the season.  But then Mr. Jermyn was
financing the band!

"Not so bad."

They were agreed that it was not so bad, and that the re-opening of
the shop would be a superfluous impertinence.  Alex was prejudiced
against the shop, for Kitty had enough to do.

And there were times when he would wriggle a little in his chair,
and though he made no moan about it, Kitty was wise as to those
wrigglings.

"You always have to sit, boy."

He smiled.

"I do wish sometimes I had a spare seat."

She commissioned Mrs. Sarah to buy for him the best air cushion
that could be bought in London.


II


But in other respects Kitty's husband was less in need of an air
cushion.  No doubt the conducting of a dance orchestra is not a
very distinguished occupation for an ex-public school boy and an
Oxford man, and there were plenty of people who agreed with his
mother and the suppressionists that Alex had lost caste.

The Archdeacon of Blandchester was one of the deplorers.  Man of
compromises though he was, he was a great writer of letters, and in
the columns of The Times or the Morning Post he would appeal to the
Smythian world to deal with the New Paganism or the New Something
or Other by sitting down heavily upon it.  He was not unlike that
other and more distinguished "Soapy Sam" whom Huxley rent so
ruthlessly.  He wrote sympathetically to Clara St. George,
appealingly to Alex, reprovingly to old Jermyn, for the lights of
the dance-house upon the Thames were not to be concealed, and
Jermyn had helped to light them.  Alex flushed up hotly over the
avuncular letter, and uttered youth's cry in the face of the
eternal suppressionist--"The old hum-bug!"  Mr. Jermyn, jocund of
eye, took it upon himself to reply for both of them, and in his
most puckish strain.


"MY DEAR SAM,--

"I know that you and your world hold that nothing is sinful
provided it is not seen.  O, yes--you do--my dear fellow, though
you don't allow it, and though the unseen may be concealed under a
Bishop's apron.  Is it that you object to a young man trying to
earn his living by beating a drum on a Sunday, or is it that you
object to all drums other than your own particular and private drum--?
Etc.--"


But polemics apart, when a man makes a success of some human
endeavour, even though it be the teaching of a dog to waltz, or the
persuading of a suppressionist to look at life honestly with both
eyes, he is better for it, and Alex was the better for the
successful beating of his drum.  He had his part in the show, un-
Smythian though it might be.  He sat for hours in a chair and
helped to give the world something that it asked for, and his self-
respect was most visibly increased.  Kitty was aware of his new
texture; it showed in his eyes, in the firmer lines of his face.
His voice--even--had a happier and a stronger resonance.  He was
helping to earn money; he had ceased to suggest to himself that he
was a poor, parasitical creature with two useless legs.

Yet, such an amelioration was relative.  It did not satisfy the
soul of this practical and sturdy little person who had a way of
looking ahead and of asking questions.  And she was asking Dr.
Drake the most searching of questions.  Why this--why that?  Was it
not possible--?

For there were moments when she would look at Alex as a mother
looks at a crippled child, and furiously refuse to believe that his
paralysis was final.  He was so alive.  It appeared to her that he
had developed amazingly during the last three months.  He was more
of a man than she had ever known him to be, and, to her, the word
man implied a courage that was quiet and inward, patience, good
temper, a philosophy that had a quick and whimsical smile.  He was
facing realities, the realities of their new young world.  He was
symbolical of youth wounded in the war, raising a stricken but
laughing head, and uttering the old cry "Cheerio.  Things might be
much worse."

But might they not be better?

She watched him trundling about in his chair.  He had become an
expert in the handling of that chair, and his various ingenuities
never failed to rouse in her a feeling of quick tenderness.  Seeing
him there in the garden she would sometimes feel moved to cry--"Boy--
get up and walk.  You--can--walk."  It was as though her own
sturdy vitality yearned to leap into his body and to quicken it and
to make it whole.

She pressed Dr. Drake hard.

"Surely--there must be something--"

Drake had been making inquiries as to pensions.  It appeared that
the authorities might insist upon Alex entering a recognized
military hospital, and upon his remaining there for observation and
treatment.  It might be a question of months--many months.  But
when the proposal was put to Alex his face crinkled up like a
child's.

"I don't want to go, Kit.  I'd be miserable.  It wouldn't do me any
good."

She was very grave.

"Perhaps I ought to let you go."

"I'll go--if you think I ought to."

But she did not want him to go.  She had a wisdom of her own, and
she pressed Dr. Drake with still more persistence.  He--too--was
afraid of realities.  He had taken the trouble to motor over to a
certain hospital where he had a friend upon the staff.  He asked
questions.  The particular friend was just a little unorthodox.  He
had realized that the mind of man was--"Like a Chinese puzzle, my
dear chap.  One of those things one twiddles at or gives a shake
to, and something happens.  I have had one or two extraordinary
results."  Dr. Drake wanted to be told.  "Well, I've shocked them,
staged a mental concussion.  And things happened."

So, Dr. Drake stood at the window of Kitty's sitting-room and
watched Alex weeding a flower bed with an ingenious contrivance of
his own, an old dinner fork lashed to the end of a bamboo cane.

"The question is--?"

Kitty watched Dr. Drake's eyes.

"The question is--just how much is he paralyzed?  If it's a mixture
of the functional and the organic--"

"Put it into plain English."

"The paralysis may be only partial.  There is paralysis, and the
paralysis that exists may be dominating--suppressing--the part of
him that might--walk.  Do you take me--?"

"You mean he can't walk, because he thinks he can't walk?"

"Half and half.  He thinks the whole of him can't walk--because
part of him can't.  It's a possibility."

"I want to test it," said she.  "And how?"

Dr. Drake fingered his collar and tie.

"Some kind of shock, perhaps.  Supplying him with so sudden and
urgent a need for walking--that he might--An emotional shock.
Something of that kind."

She was silent.


III


Meanwhile, the "Woman of Cardigan Square" as he called her, had
become to Jermyn St. George almost a figure of pathos.  He knew
that she knew of the success of "Kitty's," comparative and
impermanent as that success might be, for he had made it his affair
to keep her acquainted with these happenings.  Regularly once a
week he would emerge from a taxi, and stand waiting with his back
to the big mahogany door, surveying the square which was but one
cube in the mosaic of his beloved London.  The quality of his
welcome never ceased to intrigue him.  "We meet like cat and dog,"
he wrote in his diary, "but like cat and dog who have agreed to
respect claws and teeth."  Mrs. St. George never made it appear
that she was glad to see him.  She was, and she wasn't.  He came
from the enemy's camp, and yet there was for her a curious and
contradictory challenge in these meetings.  She rather resembled a
woman of severe niceness compelling herself to read a novel that
was supposed to be unpleasant.  Not that old Jermyn was unpleasant
to her.  They fenced with each other, but with perfect good
manners.

Yet she would not unbend.

And old Jermyn would sit there in that room that had been Alex's,
and stir his tea, and think--

"Woman--it would be so easy!  You have only to utter half a dozen
words, and everything would be different, you, your son, your son's
wife.  As it is--you have lost him.  Never will you recover
anything but a little part of him--and yet--"

He was sorry for her, quite profoundly sorry, and surprised to find
himself so sorry.  She did not deserve sympathy; she had behaved
like the very worst sort of religious fanatic; she had displayed
the qualities of a "Bloody Mary."  Yet, in a way, she was as
pathetic as that most hateful of Queens, that sour-souled
suppressionist, deserted by her husband, surrounded by an odour of
burnt flesh.  Clara St. George would have been capable of burning
and of torturing; she had burnt and tortured; she had been ready to
shut up her son in the Iron Virgin of her own egoism.  Such women
persist, and also--such men.  There are priests who would still
fire the faggots--if they dared.

But she gave Jermyn the impression of a woman who had suddenly
grown old: her eyes had a dry hardness, and her pale skin looked as
though it would crack over her nose and cheekbones.  Her rigidity
remained, but it hung a little wrinkled over a shrunken self-
confidence.  That she was a very miserable woman sitting erect
before a dying fire was as plain to him as the futility of her
attitude of no-surrender.  Also, she did not or would not allow
herself to realize how crushingly life had defeated her.  She might
have been one of the bitter Puritan women watching the London crowd
howling mad over the return of Charles II; amazed, shocked,
scandalized, quite unable to understand that though the
suppressionist has his uses, his bones will be thrown out into the
charnel house when they have clogged life sufficiently to provoke
the eternal and positive reaction.  She sat there frozen with
obstinacy.  She remained wilfully apart while live and wonderful
things were happening to her son.

"There shall be no spring but my spring."

Hence she was making for herself a perpetual winter.

Once--only--was he able to provoke her into discussing her attitude
to her son's present and his future.  It appeared that Alex had
sinned against her sacrosanct conventions; he had mixed his
classes; he had allowed himself to become involved with the cheap
and the vulgar.  And such a ménage promised to produce the
inevitable shabby ending.  What else could you expect?  When a man
became déclassé the fly in the web of a little shrewd adventuress?
Besides--there was the mother--

Jermyn had to disagree.

"A doctor's widow--"

"From Whitechapel--"

"Still--he was a doctor.  And the woman was left high and dry with
two daughters, and she had to do something--"

"O--yes--something--"

She tightened up her lips.  She would not discuss Mrs. Sarah.  The
very thought of the woman disturbed her like a bad odour, or some
piece of hireling insolence.

"And then--the girl.  The whole atmosphere.  So hopelessly cheap.
I have a right to my prejudices.  Prejudices are in the blood.  You
don't seem to be one of us, Jermyn.  You seem to have--"

"Back-slided.  I won't force the retort."

She gave a slight twitch of the shoulders.

"So--impossible--the whole business.  Besides--there is Melfont.  I
was taking up Melfont again next year.  I can afford it."

He looked at her with a queer, glittering irony.  So--Melfont was
to have been the ultimate stage, with Alex as the correct son and
the country gentleman.  He had no quarrel with Melfont as Melfont,
or with the ideal of the English country gentleman.  Life had
painted a very pleasant and admirable picture in this green
England, but it was a fading picture, like some old, sad, dim,
loyal portrait of a Cavalier.  Moreover, the brisk hot blood and
the spleen of the Georgian days had cooled to a negative
correctness.  If the future was to have its aristocracies, why not
from the loins of such little women as Kitty?  Melfont was a
tradition, and traditions were grassing over.

"Well--why not afford it--?"

She opened her eyes very wide.

"For myself--?  O--possibly--But there could be no--no continuity.
I had intended--"

He wanted to say to her--"Why not make the best of it?  The best is
a great deal better than you will allow.  Alex's wife is a plucky
and capable little woman.  She seems to be just the woman for him."
But he did not say these things.  If Clara St. George was not
capable of saying them to herself--well--they were better left
unsaid.  Moreover, the war seemed to have opened a chasm, and
Melfont St. George's was on the other side of the chasm.  It would
belong to Clara St. George so long as she lived, and youth asks for
something of its own.  It demands its own show.

All that he could say to her was--"Well, take up Melfont again.  It
will give you an interest," but he realized even while he was
making the suggestion that Clara St. George could not dissociate
Melfont from Alex.  She wanted her country house and her country
gentleman.  She wanted to order both her property and her son just
as in the old days she had ordered Melfont and her husband.  The
situation was impossible.  Kitty had made it impossible.  And it
was Kitty who mattered.

Meanwhile he had remained in correspondence with Mr. Samuel who was
still full of deplorings, and urgently declaring that life is a
serious business, and that Jermyn appeared to be incapable to
taking it seriously.  The Archdeacon was willing to recognize the
marriage, but he was unwilling to recognize the Sabbath drum, and
this product of the New Paganism.  These two young people should be
removed from Shelford.  It was impossible that providence and
circumstances would succeed in removing them.  Samuel was convinced
that Clara would be willing to provide her son with an allowance
upon which Alex and his wife would be able to recover a certain
social rightness in some quiet country place.

Mr. Jermyn chuckled.  Sam was not an out-and-out suppressionist.
He must have his cake iced with compromise.  But Jermyn, having
exercised his puckishness, wrote a last letter, a letter that met
with no reply.


"DEAR SAM--

"I believe you are something of an ornithologist.  I have just been
reading Hudson's 'Birds and Man.'  In it he states that the
jackdaws at Wells are divided into two clans, the daws who dwell
about the cathedral and the daws who dwell in the Ebor Rocks.  He
quotes the local opinion that a young daw taken as a pet from the
Ebor Rocks is a more lively and more intelligent and more amusing
bird than a cathedral daw.  Can you explain this phenomenon?
Surely it is not possible that the odour of sanctity--and the
serene atmosphere of a cathedral close can be held responsible for
producing a bird of less intelligence--?"



CHAPTER XXXII


I


For some days Kitty carried Dr. Drake's words in her head.  "An
emotional shock."  Or, she saw those words painted upon her
consciousness like large black letters upon the white surface
of a cinematograph screen, preparing the "house" for dramatic
happenings.  An emotional shock?  But if she was prepared to try so
drastic an experiment how and where was it to be staged?  On the
river, or in her garden?  And where upon this most placid summer
Thames between the red walls of Hampton and the green spaces of
Runneymede was an emotional shock to be sought for?

Her imagination explored all manner of expedients.  Should she
pretend to be ill, suddenly and acutely ill?  And she laughed.

"I--do--set a value on myself!"

But over the making of cakes for her dance teas, or while shaking
and cuffing pillows she searched continually for possibilities,
some dramatic situation.  How and where?  Should she tell him--?
But no--That would not be quite fair, nor might it prove--

And suddenly her inspiration came to her.  The Vine Cottage punt
had been leaking and Mr. Venables had been busy with red lead and a
putty knife, and she went down to the river about sunset on a hot
August day to assure herself that the punt had ceased to take in
water.  To her came the shouts of children playing some game in the
lane.  An intense and horizontal glow lay for a space upon the
river and the fields, and upon Shelford's chimney-stacks and roofs
and trees.  The lawns had a tinge of gold in their greenness.  The
beds of geranium and lobelia blazed red and blue as though lit by
lamps hidden beneath the flowers.  In the massive foliage of the
chestnut-trees the light splintered itself into diffused
glimmerings.  The patterning on the bank of the great plane was
mapped out with extraordinary distinctness.

She was staring at the punt.  She saw that the floorboards were
dry.  As though satisfied her glance lifted and dwelt upon the
river, and the river had such a stillness and a brilliancy that it
made her think of liquid light.  She looked towards the sun, or the
half of it--a great, glowing dome rising above the level of the
meadows.  She was watching the diminishing of this great half
circle when the idea came to her.

She gave her head a toss and a shake.  Of course!  How obvious!
She smiled as Mrs Sarah might have smiled.

"I suppose it's cheek--but would anything else--?"


II


She made her plans with characteristic thoroughness.  She chose her
day--a Tuesday.  She told the girl Annie that she could take the
day off.  On the evening of the Monday she went to see Dr. Drake.

"I want to feel sure--that it would not do him any harm."

For the first time since she had known him she saw Dr. Drake's face
lose its expression of imperturbable dustiness.  He stared very
hard at her.  He pressed his lips together.

"I don't think so--it's a brain wave.  But you can--?"

"O--yes--I can--And I shan't have much on."

"I think I'd like to be--about."

"But I shouldn't want you--"

"I realize that.  Supposing--"

"Say ten o'clock on Tuesday--to-morrow.  The front door will be
open, and no one about.  You can slip in--and watch.  But I don't
want you to interfere--unless--"

"O--it's your show, Mrs. St. George.  I'll be there--to take off my
hat to you in private."

Early on the morning of the Tuesday, before Alex had been lifted
from the bed to his chair, she took Old George aside; in fact she
took him to look at the punt.

"I want you to be out of the way, George, this morning--about ten
o'clock."

Mystified but sympathetic, for he would have attempted to bury
himself in one of the geranium beds had she asked him to do so, he
expressed a desire to have this state of "out of the wayness" more
clearly defined.

"D'you mean you want me to go home, or just to be messing about out
o' sight?"

"Out of sight, George.  And if you should hear Mr. Alex shouting--
don't come rushing out--"

"No--miss."

"At least--not at once.  But I'd like you to keep an eye on Mr.
Alex--"

"An eye--"

"In case--he tries to do anything dangerous.  You'll understand--
when you see--"

"About ten o'clock, miss?"

"That's it."

"There's a board in the dance-house floor that wants a touch with
the plane.  I shall be in there, looking through one of the bits of
trellis."

Kitty and her husband breakfasted in the kitchen.  She gave him
bacon and eggs, and she could have sung a poem over her frying-pan;
and saluted that English dish with the humorous fervour of Punch's
poet.

"Bacon and eggs, masculine eggs!"  And eggs rhymed with legs.

She was excited, and determined to appear as calm as the loaf of
bread upon the table, but she broke one egg in transferring it from
the frying pan to the dish.

"Bother--"

Alex was reaching for the mustard pot, and his face expressed
nothing but the healthy satisfaction of a man proposing to enjoy a
masculine breakfast.

"All right--I'll take the broken one."

"No, you won't; I did it."

"Toss you for it."

"Don't be silly."

She sat down and began to pour out his tea.  She had assumed an air
of casual, workaday brightness.  She gave her bobbed head a shake.

"O--I say--boy, I'm going to have a shot at poling the punt this
morning.  It's absurd--living on the river--and not being able--"

"But I thought you could."

"I'm a duffer--still.  I have had one or two tries--"

"When I wasn't looking!"

"Well, you can look this morning.  Expect I'll go round and round."

"Don't lose the pole."

"I'll take a paddle with me in case I do.  If one can't manage
one's own punt--"

Afterwards he helped her to wash up the breakfast things, and then
wheeled himself out into the garden with the morning paper tucked
in beside him.  Kitty had other preparations to make.  With sudden
matronly foresight she put on her oldest woollen jumper, and a pair
of cotton stockings, and shabby white canvas shoes.  She laid out a
complete change of clothes.  She made up the beds.  She looked out
of her window and saw Alex on one of the lawns, and about four
yards from the river's edge, smoking a pipe and reading the paper.
Not a boat was to be seen upon the river.  The poplars fringing the
farther meadows shimmered in the sunlight.

She looked down at her husband with a considering and critical
curiosity that was suffused with tenderness.  What would be the
ultimate significance of this experimental splash?  What did she
mean to him?  Was she of sufficient importance?  Would the shock be
so instant, so convincing, and so powerful that it would prove--?

And supposing it proved that he could not move those helpless legs
of his, or was not instinctive man enough to move them?  O, but if
he could he would.  Surely?

She appeared in the garden.  She called to him casually.

"Any news?"

"Nothing much."

"I'm going off now.  I want to see if I can pole across to the
other side."

She went along to where the punt was moored, glancing into the
dance-house on her way, and meeting Old George's intent blue eyes.
She unfastened the punt, stepped into it, and unshipped the pole.
Alex's newspaper lay across his knees; he was watching her, and
with a toss of the head she pushed the punt out from the bank.

There was very little stream running, and she poled out into deep
water.

"Now," she thought--"now!"

She could see his eyes.  They watched her attentively, but with no
anxious flicker, for no doubt the day's prospect had a placid
smoothness, flowing seawards like the river on a sunny August
morning.  In one hand he held the bowl of his pipe.  She fancied
that he was rather amused by her amateurish thrustings, and by the
devious progress of the punt.

Purposely missing the river bottom with the pole she went over and
under with a very creditable splash.  Yet even while the sound of
her own splash was in her ears she heard a cry.  She came up with a
shake of the head, and over the crumpled water saw her husband's
chair empty, and the white newspaper lying beside it on the grass.
He was on his feet within a yard of the river.  He seemed to sway.
He was shouting and flapping his arms.  "George--George, help!"

Her instant exultation was shot through with fear.  He might leap
in or fall in.  She struck out shorewards while the punt went
drifting; she called to him:

"Boy--I'm all right--I'm all right."

She swam with all her soul and body towards the green slope, and as
his face grew more and more distinct it seemed to assume an
expression of staring bewilderment, of gradual surprise.  It was as
though he was only just realizing that he had walked, that he was
on his feet.

"Boy--I'm all right."

And suddenly she saw him sit down abruptly on the grass like a very
young child collapsing in the middle of one of its first attempts
to toddle.  He looked most absurdly astonished.  He felt the grass
with his hands, and then put them to his head.  His eyes stared at
her tawny, swimming head.

She reached the shallow water and climbed out dripping, her eyes
ashine under her mop of wet hair.  She felt like warm air, buoyed
up by an immeasurable exultation, even while he was looking at her
with a sort of infinite and breathless solemnity.

"Kitty--I've walked--!"

"My dear--"

"O--my God--but did I do it?  I--was--scared--"

She knelt down beside him and drew his head against her wet warm
body.

"O--my dear--!  You did.  You must have done."

He was trembling.  Both of them were trembling.  They did not see
Old George putting off in a boat to recover the punt and the pole,
and carefully looking in any direction but theirs.

"Kitty--my darling--you're all wet--Go and change."

"But--"

"You'll catch cold.  I--I want to think.  I'll just sit here till
you come back.  Be quick--I did walk.  I must have walked."

She kissed his head, and quickly rose.

"You'll get up and walk, boy, when I come back.  O--how--
wonderful!"

She ran in.  There was sudden moisture in her eyes other than that
which came from the wetness of her hair.  And as she rushed into
the cottage she saw Drake standing in the kitchen doorway; he drew
back into the passage but pushed out an abrupt hand.

"Great!  You've done it.  I saw."

She held his hand for a second, and then fled up the stairs to drag
off her wet clothes and slip into dry ones.  She was breathlessly
hurrying to return to the garden, and to the consummation of an
emotional shock, and to convince herself and him that the thing had
happened.


III


Glancing from her bedroom window Kitty saw that Alex had not moved.
He had remained sitting there on the grass within a yard of the
river, and his stillness seemed to suggest fear, a dread lest he
should find that the almost miraculous thing could happen but once,
and would not happen a second time.  Or was he waiting for her?

She ran down the stairs.  She had a glimpse of Dr. Drake standing
by the window of the sitting-room, and she paused in the doorway
and spoke in a whisper.

"You will leave him to me."

His smile was whimsical.

"Of course--Your show.  But I want to see.  Get him up on his feet
again at once.  It's absolutely--necessary."

As if she did not know!

But had life ever been so thrilling or so full of wise happenings?
He heard her coming over the grass, and turning a quick head looked
up at her over his shoulder.  His forehead showed a pucker of
conscious effort, and his eyes had that anxious and wide prominence
that had so appealed to her during the war.

"I'm going to try now."

She stood looking down.

"Shall I help?"

"No--please.  I want to try and move."

"Of course you can.  I'm sure."

Supporting himself with his hands resting on the grass he made his
first effort.  Almost she could feel him making that effort.  The
right leg gave a twitch; the foot slid over the grass as the limb
bent at the knee.  She saw his face flush up, and a look of
infinite relief rush into his eyes.

"I can--"

"Splendid!  Now--the--other."

But he was less successful with the left leg; it stuck out stiffly,
and though he was able to flex the foot on the leg, the limb would
not come up.  "Seems stiff--somehow."

He could roll the foot to and fro, and move the toes, and she knelt
down, and grasping the leg, flexed the leg slightly, encountering a
rigidity, a sense of resistance.

"But you can move it.  Not quite so well as the other--perhaps.
But you can."

He said suddenly: "I'm going to get up."

She did not offer to help him.  She knelt and watched, aware of his
intent and purposeful face, understanding that he did not ask for
interference even from her.  He turned slowly until he was half
prone and supporting himself on his arms.  He got on one knee--the
right knee.  His eyes had a stare of preoccupation; they did not
see her praying, devoted, maternal little face.

He had difficulty with that stiff leg, but slowly, using his arms,
he raised himself till he was crouching, balanced on one foot, and
Kitty's hands gripped her skirt, for their impulse was to fly out
and help him.  She held her breath.  And with a sudden effort he
straightened himself, his hands coming to rest upon the right knee
so that the arms assisted in the upthrust of his body.  He was
standing.

"I've done it."

She too rose, but slowly, with the air of a woman rising from
prayer.

"You have done it."

He appeared just a little unsteady, but never had she seen his face
so determined.  It had a set pallor.

"I'm going to walk."

He put out his right foot, and she saw that when he tried to move
the left leg he found movement difficult.  He had both to swing and
to drag it forward with a kind of jerky, circular motion, but he
managed to get it forward.  His hands were clenched, and she could
hear him breathing.  She went with him step to step as he walked
very slowly and tentatively over the grass.

"Kit--I can."

And suddenly he seemed to falter, and she caught him, but the
faltering did not come from a failing of his confidence.  It was
emotional, the trembling of an overcharged joy, an exultation that
felt choked and stifled.

"O--Kit--I can.  I'm--not--not--I shan't be such a beastly drag--"

Old George, who had been looking through one of the dance-house
windows, got suddenly down upon his knees.


IV


Ever afterwards they called that day the "Day of Walking."  For
Alex would do nothing but walk, going up and down the grass, and
dragging that stiff leg with a swinging movement, and a slight roll
of the body.  Hardly could he be persuaded to rest.

"You mustn't do too much."

"I'm not tired, Kit.  Come along, I must show Old George."

She had to humour his great happiness and his passion to express it
in movement.  No longer was he a legless creature, but a man-child
setting out to possess a new world, and exulting in it.  "O, Kit, I
can hardly believe it."  She made him lean upon the back of his
wheeled chair and push it before him.  "You can rest on it."  In
turn he humoured her.  He pushed the chair before him, leaning some
of his weight on it, and talking to her in short and eager
sentences.  He said that it was difficult for him to realize--Nor
could he understand how it was that he had allowed his legs to
assume themselves to be paralyzed.  And now--after all these
months!  He supposed that there was some explanation, and that Dr.
Drake could explain it.  "By Jove, won't he be astonished."  He
propelled the wheeled chair along the broad grass path to the dance-
house, his head very much in the sunlight.

"Never thought I should walk along here, Kit."

He called to Old George who had remained busy in the dance-house,
or pretending to be busy.

"George, come and see something, man."

George came and saw.  He had an air of sheepish, staring benignity.

"Well I never, sir--!  It's a good business--"

He could say no more.  The simpler, warmer-hearted sort of Saxon is
an inarticulate creature who is eloquent only with his eyes, or
with a few words strung between blunt silences, or with a grab of
the hand.

"You won't be needing that chair much more, sir."

And Kitty was even more silent than the men, for her child had
walked, and the physical act had for her many implications.  She
watched him with a kind of devoted, grave intentness.  She had a
feeling that she was both less hers and more hers, for it was she
who had done this thing, though she would never let him know that
it had been done with a purpose.  She was able to divine the future
as a period of new possibilities and readjustments.  He would be--
in some ways--less intimately and dearly dependent upon her.  He
would be, able to go his own way, or what might appear to be his
own way.  And yet--

At least she made him come and sit under the shade of the plane-
tree, but he asked not to sit in the wheel chair.

"I want to feel that I have done with it--Kitty."

So she carried out a Windsor chair from the kitchen, and planted it
firmly, and stood behind to steady it while he made his first
attempt at sitting down.  The left leg was still the difficulty,
sticking out stiffly like a wooden limb, and compelling him in
sitting down to adopt a sideways movement.

"This bally old leg--!"

She touched his cheek lingeringly with her fingers.  Never would
her grown child be so helpless and the same.

"It's bound to get much better.  Boy, I'm going to send off two
telegrams."

"Telegrams!  Who to?"

"Mother and Mr. Jermyn."

"Kit," said he, "do you know--I feel--that I want to show off!"


V


Mr. Jermyn St. George was in Scotland, growing yet more red and
lean upon somebody's grouse moor, but Mrs. Sarah arrived at
Shelford by the 3.40 train.  Her solidity cast an emphatic shadow
on the paved path outside the red brick booking-office.  No taxi
was to be had.  Taxis, like the manners of the multitude, were apt
to be lacking during the post-war period, so Mrs. Sarah proceeded
to walk.  The afternoon was extremely hot.  The blue of the sky
burned above a dusty and a rather shabby Shelford, a Shelford that
needed new paint, and many new window blinds, and new awnings over
its shops.  The heat hung in a haze over the beeches of Shelford
Park.  The river shimmered; even the poplars were breathless and
still.

Mrs. Sarah, being of a comfortable amplitude--felt the heat, but of
what use was the Ship Inn in these days of the bureaucrat and of
diluted beer.  She persevered.  Where there was shade, either of
house or tree, she availed herself of it.  She perspired.  She
arrived at Vine Cottage with a flushed face and a moist forehead,
but with an air of incorruptible, physical optimism.

Kitty was putting the kettle on the gas stove when she heard Mrs.
Sarah's ring.  She had had premonitions.  She hurried down the
passage to open the door, and seeing the round, red, cheerful face
under the black hat, felt that life was good business.

Behind the closed door she fell upon her mother.  They embraced,

"You dear, you do look hot."

"I--am--hot."

"You walked--?"

"It seems to be a walking day, poppet.  When your wire came--"

Kitty pressed her chin against her mother's shoulder.

"It's been a great day.  I fell out of the punt--on purpose--but
he's not to know that--and when he saw me in the water--"

"He found his legs.  Good lad!  My dear, it's almost like Armistice
Day all over again.  I knew--somehow--"

But Kitty had one of her pregnant silences.  She held her mother
with both hands, and let her head slip a little lower.  Had there
ever been so solid and satisfying a body as Mrs. Sarah's?

"I know.  I've wanted this, and now it's happened--I feel that I've
lost something.  He's in the garden now--practising walking.  One
leg is not much good.  But he'll be different.  It's almost as
though I'd seen a child grow up all in a day."

Mrs. Sarah exerted pressure.

"Why--of course--poppet.  But when a woman makes a baby or a man--
well--it's just as much her business.  It's as much your job now as
ever--or should be.  Have you told his mother?"

"Not yet."

"I would tell her at once."

"I--?"

"Yes, you.  Write a letter.  I'll post it in town tonight."



CHAPTER XXXIII


I


Clara St. George was a woman who took more pleasure in the
receiving of letters than in the reading of them, and who exercised
discrimination in the handling of her correspondence.  She
understood that letters arrived and saluted you as a person of some
distinction, as a gentlewoman whose patronage was worthy of record
in the world's ledgers.  She liked large envelopes, and paper of
rich texture, either glossed like ivory or of a fine matted
dullness, but tinted note-paper she would not tolerate.  A crest on
the flap of an envelope gave her the same sense of inward
satisfaction as did one of the rings on her fingers.  Circulars she
regarded as polite attentions from an anonymous commercial world.
Appeals from charitable societies made her remember that there were
people who could stand hat in hand at the bottom of her steps and
wait upon her bounty.

Her morning's mail was never inconsiderable.  It would be placed
upon her breakfast-table, some two inches to the left of a white
plate with a blue border, and before commencing her meal she would
take up the pile of letters, circulars, and bills and sort them,
arranging them in little groups or hierarchies.  She was influenced
by the texture of the envelopes.  A letter with a crest was given a
place apart.  The middle-class fry were paraded just beyond the
silver toast-rack.  Circulars and bills were made to withdraw
beyond the Regency salt-cellar and mustard-pot.  She opened the
more debonair letters first.  Circular and bills might be glanced
at towards the end of the meal, and relegated at her leisure to her
desk or the wastepaper basket.

But on this August morning her normal procedure was altered by a
particular envelope of a greyish-blue colour that lay on the top of
the pile, an envelope obviously without breeding or traditions, and
originating from some cheap letter-book.  The colour damned it.
Also, Mrs. St. George happened to recognize her daughter-in-law's
handwriting, and her eyes seemed to reflect the chill of that grey-
blue paper.

She held the letter poised for a moment.  A fried sole was waiting
on the silver entrée dish.  And the morning sunlight striking
aslant across the long and spacious room with all its faded and
mellow richness, lit up the portrait of the Waterloo St. George.
His red coat blazed, and above it an amused and sardonic face
looked down.  Woman, woman, yes, but not that sort of woman!
Milord would not materialize himself and descend from his picture-
frame for the sake of a neo-Georgian gentlewoman.

With a quick thrust of a small table-knife Alex's mother opened the
grey-blue envelope.  Her hands expressed a superfine fastidiousness
as she extracted the sheet, unfolded it, and read.

It was a very short letter.


"DEAR MRS. ST. GEORGE,

"I think you ought to see Alex.

"Yours faithfully,

"KITTY ST. GEORGE."


II


If it is true that we believe that which we wish to believe, then
Alex's mother rushed too rapidly to her conclusions, though as a
woman of the world she did explore the various possibilities.  She
ate her breakfast a little more hurriedly than usual, with that
letter of Kitty's propped against the milk-jug.  She continued to
glance at it as though trying to penetrate its inwardness.

Obviously, all was not well with her son, and she was conscious of
a little chilly stirring of exultation, but mingled with it were
inclinations that were more elemental.  Her blue eyes stared.  It
could not be that the couple were in need of funds, for Kitty's
venture had proved provokingly successful, nor did it seem likely
that her daughter-in-law was touting for future favours.  "I think
you ought to see Alex."  Ought!  An impertinent word.  And yet
might it not be a momentous word?  Did it not mean that all was not
well with Alex, or that Alex's wife had discovered the disadvantages
of supporting a helpless husband?  The young women of the day were
quickly bored.  And if Alex was ill--?

That--too--was understandable.  Had not Mrs. St. George foreseen
the possible denouement?  To take a delicate and paralyzed man from
his sheltered corner, to plunge him into the thick of cheap
excitements, to persuade him to try and do too much?  And the shock
of sex?  Yes, these coarse-fibred women might have been too heavy-
handed, too vulgarly clever.  Something had happened.  Was it not
probable that there had been a sudden flaming up of the old
trouble, an extension of the paralysis?  That war wound, quiescent
but unhealed, had flared up afresh, and this piece of grey-blue
paper was a fluttering signal of distress.

Had she not foreseen it, and waited for it?  A degradation physical
and mental.  And she sat very still for some minutes, a woman whose
possessive passion exulted, while from this very exultation exuded
a cold and viscous emotion.  Her fingers curved themselves to
clutch and to hold.  Was it not possible that she might yet recover
the helpless body of her son, or at least recover the realization
of him, as a victim sacrificed upon the wrack of a coarse young
woman's appetite?  She could think of it as a tragedy.  Yes, and as
a tragedy that would leave her standing severely and supremely
right, and able to look down like accusing and intervening fate
upon these interlopers.  She could say--"I knew.  See what you have
done.  Had you but left him with me--"

The cold sparkle of her revived.  She was the Clara St. George of a
year ago when she rose from her chair to ring the bell.  When the
maid appeared she found her mistress standing at one of the windows
with the sunlight shining upon her hair, a woman who looked taller
than her normal self.

"Is Bates downstairs?"

"Yes, madam."

"Tell him to have the car at the door in half an hour."

"Yes, madam."

So sure was she, and so worldly wise in her sureness, that during
the drive to Shelford she began to consider the possible urgencies
of her son's relapse.  She might find him in bed, with a worried
and impatient young wife standing aggressively upon the defensive,
trying to convince herself and the world that she had done
everything for the best.  Young women are human, and especially
those young women bred in the various Vernor Streets, rapid wenches
who ask for quick and material results.  Mrs. St. George's cynicism
was catholic.  She understood that a helpless husband may inspire
ennui--and what was marriage but a compromise?  She sat and looked
at the passing landscape, but without paying any attention to it,
and had the trees plucked up their roots and walked she might have
remained in self-absorbed unawareness.  She was intently gazing
upon a picture of her own painting in which a young man lay
helplessly upon his back while a resentful and emotional young
woman was on the brink of betraying the fact that she had made a
very indifferent bargain.

Bates, pulling up the car by Shelford church, was ordered through
the speaking-tube to drive down Shelford Lane.

"Vine Cottage.  On the right."

She rapped on the glass when the car came level with the garden
wall, but she sat and waited for Bates to get down and open the
door.  She descended.  She rang Kitty's bell.  If she felt any
emotion or curiosity she did not show it.  She waited with her back
to the door, her eyes very still in an inexorable and fateful face.

The door opened.  Mrs. St. George turned very slowly.  She saw her
son's wife wearing that inevitable blue linen dress, but somehow
looking very dewy and glowing.  What a complexion the girl had!

She said: "I had your letter this morning.  I came at once."

Kitty's eyes seemed to quiver with some inward light.  She stood
back, and Mrs. St. George passed in as though Kitty and the door
were surfaces to be flattened against the wall.

"What--has happened?"

Kitty had closed the door.  She had picked up the vibrations of
this other woman's voice as she would have gathered the
significance of a stare or a smile.  And Mrs. St. George had never
looked less smileless.

"If you will come into the sitting-room--"

In the narrow passage with its brown linoleum Kitty held her words.
She went first into the shabby but pleasant little room.  She
pulled back one of the green curtains and stood looking out.  A
voice behind her said--"My son is ill?"

Kitty turned quickly.  Her face seemed to express sudden laughing
surprise; her very hair seemed tremulous with a laughter that rose
like luminous bubbles from other deeps.  But in her eyes there was
a solemnity.

"Ill?  O--no.  If you will look--"

She stood aside from the window rather like an artist who uncovers
a picture, or some little priestess withdrawing a curtain.  She,
too, looked out of the window at her husband who was standing by
one of the flower beds.

"Alex can walk."


IV


Mrs. St. George stood and gazed.  Her face and figure had an
extraordinary immobility as her eyes watched her son walk from one
flower-bed to another, helping himself with a stick which he held
in his left hand.  She saw him bend down and pick off a faded
bloom, and his unexpected liveness seemed to paralyze her.  Almost
she appeared incapable of speech or of movement.  Her eyes followed
the figure of her son, but her head remained quite still between
her shoulders.  Her son was walking, and his gait had something of
pathos and drollness, suggesting the stiff-legged limp of an
injured bird.  He moved his arms a good deal as though helping
himself with a flutter of wings.

Kitty said: "It happened yesterday morning.  I always felt that it
would happen.  But it's very wonderful."

Mrs. St. George's head moved.  It gave a sudden and jerky twist to
the right.  Her eyes glanced at her daughter-in-law's face, and
there was hatred in her eyes.  Never had Alex's mother hated her
son's wife as she hated her at that moment.

And yet--!

She looked again through the window.  Alex had turned to the river.
Some very young and playful impulse stirred in him; he was beating
the air with his stick; he made an absurd and irresponsible attempt
at a dance-step, and the toe of that dragging left foot caught in
the grass.  For a moment he looked like toppling over.

"O--my dear!"

Kitty's hands went out.  She had an air of momentary breathlessness.
Then she stood still.  She said--

"I thought he was going to fall.  Isn't he splendid!  I can't keep
him still.  He's always trying--"

She glanced at Mrs. St. George's face and saw something that
astonished her, a sudden blurring of the blue eyes, a wincing of
the precise mouth.  Kitty had the impression that she was watching
a face falling into ruins, a rigid white edifice crumbling, the
face of a woman grown suddenly old and almost feeble.

Something caught in Kitty's throat.

"Won't you go out to him?"

She stood and watched Mrs. St. George walk out of the room like a
woman who could not distinguish objects very clearly.  She brushed
against the door.  She got out into the passage, and Kitty heard
her fumbling at the catch of the garden door.  She waited.  She saw
Alex's mother appear upon the lawn, and then Kitty turned away, but
she could not help hearing what those two said to each other.

"O--my dear boy--!"

"Mater--!"

Silence held for a moment, and then Alex's voice was heard again.

"Mater--Kitty did it.  She fell out of the punt, and I just found
myself on my legs.  That's how it happened.  Just like that."



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia