Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Dark Tower
Author: Bottome, Phyllis, 1884-1963
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dark Tower" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                             THE DARK TOWER

                           BY PHYLLIS BOTTOME

                          WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
                           J. H. GARDNER SOPER


    NEW YORK
    THE CENTURY CO.
    1916

    Copyright, 1916, by
    THE CENTURY CO.

    Published, September, 1916



    Dauntless the slughorn to my lips I set,
    and blew "Child Roland to the dark tower came."
    --Robert Browning



    TO
    W. W. D. H.

    "God forbid that I should do this thing.

    If our time be come, let us die manfully for our brethren
    And let us not stain our honour."

    _I Maccabees, ix, 10._



[Illustration: "I shall never be dangerous for you, Miss Rivers," he
said gently]



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"I shall never be dangerous for you, Miss Rivers," he said gently

"You may have to take her as a daughter-in-law, though," Winn remarked
without turning round from the sideboard.

In his heart there was nothing left to which he could compare her

"I don't want a chance," whispered Claire

"You've got to live," said Winn, bending grimly over him; "You've got to
live!"



THE DARK TOWER



PART I



CHAPTER I


Winn Staines respected God, the royal family, and his regiment; but even
his respect for these three things was in many ways academic: he
respected nothing else.

His father, Admiral Sir Peter Staines, had never respected anything; he
went to church, however, because his wife didn't. They were that kind of
family.

Lady Staines had had twelve children. Seven of them died as promptly as
their constitutions allowed; the five survivors, shouted at, quarreled
over, and soundly thrashed, tore themselves through a violent childhood
into a rackety youth. They were never vicious, for they never reflected
over or considered anything that they did.

Winn got drunk occasionally, assaulted policemen frequently, and could
carry a small pony under each arm. Charles and James, who were in the
navy, followed in the footsteps of Sir Peter; that is to say, they
explored all possible accidents on sea or ashore, and sought for a fight
as if it were a mislaid crown jewel.

Dolores and Isabella had to content themselves with minor feats and to
be known merely as the terrors of the neighborhood, though ultimately
Dolores succeeded in making a handsome splash by running away with a
prize-fighting groom. She made him an excellent wife, and though Lady
Staines never mentioned her name again, it was rumored that Sir Peter
met her surreptitiously at Tattersall's and took her advice upon his
horses.

Isabella, shocked and outraged by this sisterly mischance, married, in
the face of all probability, a reluctant curate. He subsided into a
family living given to him by Sir Peter, and tried to die of
consumption.

Isabella took entire control of the parish, which she ruled as if it
were a quarter-deck. She did not use her father's language, but she
inherited his voice. It rang over boys' clubs and into mothers'
meetings with the penetration and volume of a megaphone.

Lady Staines heartily disliked both her daughters, and she appeared not
to care very deeply for her sons, but of the three she had a decided
preference for Winn. Winn had a wicked temper, an unshakable nerve, and
had inherited the strength of Sir Peter's muscles and the sledge-hammer
weight of Lady Staines's wit. He had been expelled from his private
school for unparalleled insolence to the head master; a repetition of
his summing up of that gentleman's life and conduct delighted his
mother, though she assisted Sir Peter in thrashing him for the result.

It may have contributed to his mother's affection for him that Winn had
left England at nineteen, and had reached thirty-five with only two
small intervals at home.

His first leave had kept them all busy with what the Staines considered
a wholly unprovoked lawsuit; a man whom Winn had most unfortunately felt
it his duty to fling from a bus into the street, having the weak-minded
debility to break his leg had the further audacity to claim enormous
damages. The Staines fought the case _en bloc_ with splendid zeal, and
fiery eloquence. It would probably have resulted better for their
interests if they had not defied their own counsel, outraged the
respectable minds of the jury, and insulted the learned judge. Under
these circumstances they lost their case, and the rest of Winn's leave
was taken up in the Family's congenial pursuit of laying the blame on
each other.

The second and more fatal visit heralded Winn's marriage. He had not had
time to marry before. It would not be true to say that women had played
no part in his experiences, but the part they had played was neither
exalted nor durable. They figured in his imagination as an inferior type
of game, tiresome when captured. His life had been spent mainly in
pursuit of larger objects. He had been sent straight from Sandhurst to
South Africa, where he had fought with violence and satisfaction for two
years, winning the D. S. O., a broken nose, and a cut across the face.
When the fighting was over, he obtained leave for a two-years' exploring
expedition into the heart of West Africa. Ten men had gone on this
expedition, and two survived. Winn never talked of these experiences,
but he once admitted to a friend that the early study of his sisters'
characters had saved him in many awkward moments. He had known how to
appeal to female savages with the unerring touch of experience.

From West Africa he was called to the Indian frontier, where he put in
seven years in variegated and extremely useful service. He received his
majority early, and disappeared for two years into Tibet, Manchuria, and
China. After that he came back to England for polo, and met Estelle
Fanshawe. She was lovely, gentle, intensely vain, and not very truthful.

Lady Staines disposed of her at once as "a mincing ninny." The phrase
aggravated Winn, and his fancy deepened. It was stimulated by the fact
that Estelle was the belle of the neighborhood and had a large supply of
ardent admirers. It was almost like running a race with the odds against
you. Winn was not a conceited man, and perhaps he thought the odds more
against him than they actually were. He was the second son of a man who
was immensely rich, (though Sir Peter was reported stingy to his
children). Everybody knew who the Staines were, while the Fanshawes
after every effort and with nearly every attraction had not become a
part of public knowledge. Besides, Estelle had been made love to for
some time, and Winn's way was undeniably different from that of her
other admirers.

He met her at a dance, and insisted upon dancing with her the whole
evening. He took her card away from her, and scored off all her
indignant partners. In the interval of these decisive actions he made
love to her in a steady, definite way that was difficult to laugh at and
impossible to turn aside.

When he said good-night to her he told her that he would probably come
and see her soon. She went away in a flutter, for his words, though
casual, had had a sharply significant sound; besides, he had very nearly
kissed her; if she had been more truthful, she would have said quite.

She didn't, in thinking it over, know at all how this had happened, and
she generally knew precisely how these things happened.

Lady Staines told her son at breakfast a few mornings later what she
thought of Miss Fanshawe.

"She's a girl," she observed, knocking the top off her egg, "who will
develop into a nervous invalid or an advanced coquette, and it entirely
depends upon how much admiration she gets which she does. I hear she's
religious, too, in a silly, egotistical way. She ought to have her neck
wrung."

Sir Peter disagreed; they heard him in the servants' hall.

"Certainly not!" he roared; "certainly not! I don't think so at all! The
girl's a damned pretty piece, and the man's one of my best tenants. He's
only just come, and he's done wonders to the place already. And I won't
have the boy crabbed for fancying a neighbor! It's very natural he
should. You never have a woman in the house fit to look at. Who the
devil do you expect your boys to marry? Negresses or bar-maids?"

"Gentlewomen," said Lady Staines, firmly, "unless their father's
behavior prevents them from being accepted."

Winn said nothing. He got up and began cutting ham at the sideboard. His
mother hesitated a moment; but as she had only roused one of her men,
she made a further effort in the direction of the other.

"The girl's a mean-spirited little liar," she observed. "I wouldn't take
her as a housemaid."

"You may have to take her as a daughter-in-law, though," Winn remarked
without turning round from the sideboard.

[Illustration: "You may have to take her as a daughter-in-law, though,"
Winn remarked without turning round from the sideboard]

Sir Peter grunted. He didn't like this at all, but he couldn't very well
say so without appearing to agree with his wife, a thing he had
carefully avoided doing for thirty years.

Lady Staines rose and gathered up her letters.

"You're of age," she said to her son, "and you've had about as much
experience of civilized women as a European baby has of crocodiles, and
you'll be just about as safe and clever with them. As for you, Peter,
pray don't trouble to tell me what you think of the Fanshawes in a
year's time. You've never had a tenant you haven't had a lawsuit with
yet, and this time you'll be adding Winn's divorce proceedings to your
other troubles. I should think you might begin to save toward the
damages now."

Sir Peter's oaths accompanied his wife across the dining-room to the
door, which her son opened ceremoniously for her. Their eyes crossed
like swords.

"If I get that girl, you'll be nice to her," Winn said in a low voice.

"As long as you are," replied Lady Staines, with a grim smile. He did
not bang the door after her, as she had hoped; instead, he went to see
the girl.



CHAPTER II


It was eleven o'clock when Winn arrived at the Fanshawes. Estelle was
barely dressed, she always slept late, had her breakfast in bed, and
gave as much trouble as possible to the servants.

However, when she heard who had called to see her, she sent for a basket
and some roses, and five minutes later strolled into the drawing-room,
with her hat on, and the flowers in her hands.

Her mother stayed in the garden and nervously thought out the lunch.

Winn seized the basket out of Estelle's hands, took her by the wrists,
and drew her to the window.

She wasn't frightened of him, but she pretended to be. She said, "Oh,
Major Staines!" She looked as soft and innocent as a cream-fed kitten.
Winn cleared his throat. It made him feel rather religious to look at
her. He did not of course see her as a kitten; he saw her approximately
as an angel.

"Look here," he said, "my name's Winn."

"You're hurting my wrists," she murmured. He dropped them. "Winn," she
said under her breath.

"I say," he said after a moment's pause, "would you mind marrying me?"

Estelle lifted her fine China blue eyes to his. They weren't soft, but
they could sometimes look very mysterious.

"Oh," she said, "but, Winn--it's so sudden--so soon!"

"Leave's short," Winn explained, "and besides, I knew the moment I
looked at you, I wanted you. I don't know how you feel, of course;
but--well--I'm sure you aren't the kind of girl to let a fellow kiss
you, are you, and mean nothing?"

Estelle's long lashes swept her cheeks; she behaved exquisitely. She
was, of course, exactly that kind of girl.

"Ah," she said, with a little tremble in her voice, "if I do marry
you--will you be kind to me?"

Winn trembled, too; he flushed very red, and suddenly he did the
funniest, most unlikely thing in the world: he got down on his knees
beside her, and taking both her hands in his, he kissed them.

"I'll be like this as much as ever you'll let me," he said gravely.

He had a great craving for sweetness, delicacy, and gentleness; he began
to tell her in little short, abrupt sentences how unworthy he was of
her, not fit to touch her really--he was afraid he'd been horribly
rough--and done lots of things she would have hated (he forgot to
mention that he'd ever done anything worth doing as well); he explained
that he didn't know any women a bit like her; there weren't any, of
course, _really_ like--but she knew what he meant. So that he expected
she'd have to teach him a lot--would she--if she didn't mind, and
overlook his being stupid?

Estelle listened thoughtfully for a few minutes, then she asked him if
he didn't think eight bridesmaids would be better than four?

He got up from his knees then.

He didn't like discussing the wedding, and he got bored very soon and
went away, so that Mrs. Fanshawe didn't need to have the special lunch
she had ordered, after all.

They were to have a very short engagement, and Estelle decided on four
bridesmaids and four pages; she was so small herself that children would
look prettier and more innocent.

There was something particularly charming about a young wedding, and
they were to have a celebration first--Estelle was most particular about
that--and a wedding breakfast afterwards of course. Winn was
extraordinarily kind to her; he let her settle everything she liked and
gave her exactly the ring she wanted--an immense emerald set with
diamonds. He wasn't in the least particular about where they spent the
honeymoon, after making a very silly suggestion, which Estelle promptly
over-ruled, that they might go to the East Coast and make a study of
fortifications.

He agreed that London would do just as well, with theaters, and he could
look up a man he knew at the War Office. Certainly they should go to the
Ritz if Estelle liked it; but it was rather noisy.

The one point he did make was to have a young officer he liked, who had
been with him in China, Lionel Drummond, as his best man, instead of
his cousin Lord Arlington. His brothers were out of the question, as he
couldn't have one without having a row with the other. Estelle wanted
Lord Arlington, but when she pressed the point, Winn gave her a most
extraordinary sharp look and said, "I thought I told you I wanted that
boy Drummond?" It was a most peculiar and disconcerting look, well known
in the Staines family. Trouble usually followed very quickly upon its
heels. Estelle shivered and gave in and was rewarded by a diamond
brooch.

This showed her how important shivering was going to be in her married
life.

The only really disagreeable time Estelle had during her engagement was
the short half hour in which Lady Staines fulfilled her maternal duties.

It was a rainy day and Lady Staines had walked two miles across the
fields in what looked like a cricket cap, and a waterproof.

She cleaned her boots as carefully as she could in the hall. They were
square-toed and hob-nailed and most unsuitable for a drawing-room.

Mrs. Fanshawe literally quailed before them. "You shouldn't have parquet
floors," Lady Staines remarked, holding out her hand; "in the country,
it's the ruin of them unless you wear paper soles," she glanced
searchingly at Mrs. Fanshawe's and Estelle's feet. "And that of course
is the ruin of your feet. Probably you've lived in London all your
lives?"

Mrs. Fanshawe found herself in the position of apologizing for what had
hitherto been her proudest boast. Lady Staines looked tolerantly around
her. "London's a poor place," she observed, "and very shoddy. When my
friends the Malverns lived here, they had old oak and rather nice
chintzes. I see you go in for color schemes and nicknacks. I hope
Estelle won't find Staines uncomfortable; however, she probably won't be
with us often."

She turned to her future daughter-in-law. "You are Estelle, my dear,
ain't you?" she demanded. "And I dare say you can't speak a word of
French in spite of your fine name. Can you?"

Estelle hesitated and blushed. "Not very much, I'm afraid," she
truthfully murmured. It flashed through her mind that with Lady Staines
you must be truthful if there was any possible chance of your being
found out.

"Hum!" said Lady Staines thoughtfully. "I can't see what people spend so
much on education for nowadays. I really can't! And you're going to
marry my second son, ain't you?" she demanded. "Well, I'm sure it's very
kind of you. All the Staines have tempers, but Winn's is quite the
worst. I don't want to exaggerate, but I really don't think you could
match it in this world. He generally keeps it, too! He was a nasty,
murderous, little boy. I assure you I've often beaten him till he was
black and blue and never got a word out of him."

Mrs. Fanshawe looked horrified. "But my dear Lady Staines," she urged,
"surely you tried kindness?"

Lady Staines shook her head. "No," she said, "I don't think so, I don't
think I am kind--very. But he's turned out well, don't you think? He's
the only one of my sons who's got honors--a 'D.S.O.' for South Africa,
and a C.B. for something or other, I never know what, in China; and he
got his Majority extraordinarily young for special services--or he
wouldn't have been able to marry you, my dear, for his father won't help
him. He doesn't get drunk as often as the other two boys, either; in
fact, on the whole, I should call him satisfactory. And now he's chosen
you, and I'm sure we're all very grateful to you for taking him in
hand."

Mrs. Fanshawe offered her visitor tea; she was profoundly shocked, but
she thought that tea would help. Lady Staines refused it. "No, thank you
very much," she said. "I must be getting back to give Sir Peter his. I
shall be late as it is, and I shall probably hear him swearing all down
the drive. We shall all be seeing more than enough of each other before
long. But there's no use making a fuss about it, is there? We're a most
disagreeable family, and I'm sure it'll be worse for you than for us."

Estelle accompanied her future mother-in-law to the door. She had not
been as much shocked as her mother.

Lady Staines laid her small neat hand on the girl's arm. She looked at
her very hard, but there was a spark of some kind, behind the hardness;
if the eyes hadn't been those of Lady Staines, they might almost have
been said to plead.

"I wonder if you like him?" she said slowly.

Estelle said, "Oh, dear Lady Staines, believe me--with all my heart!"

Lady Staines didn't believe her, but she smiled good-humoredly. "Yes,
yes, my dear, I know!" she said. "But how much heart have you got? You
see his happiness and yours depend on that. The woman who marries a
Staines ought to have a good deal of heart and all of it ought to be
his."

Estelle put on an air of pretty dignity. "I have never loved any one
before," she asserted with serene untruthfulness (she felt sure this
fact couldn't be proved against her), "and Winn believes in my heart."

"Does he?" said his mother. "I wonder. He believes in your pretty face!
Well, it is pretty, I acknowledge that. Keep it as pretty as you can."

She didn't kiss her future daughter-in-law, but she tapped her lightly
on the shoulder and trudged back with head erect through the rain.

"It's a bad business," she said to herself thoughtfully. "He's rushed
his fence and there's a ditch on the other side of it, deep enough to
drown him!"



CHAPTER III


Winn wanted, if possible, a home without rows. He knew very little of
homes, and nothing which had made him suppose this ideal likely to be
realized.

Still he went on having it, hiding it, and hoping for it.

Once he had come across it. It was the time when he had decided to
undertake a mission to Tibet without a government mandate. He wanted
young Drummond to go with him. The job was an awkward and dangerous one.
Certain authorities had warned Winn that though, if the results were
satisfactory, it would certainly be counted in his favor, should
anything go wrong no help could be sent to him, and he would be held
personally responsible; that is he would be held responsible if he were
not dead, which was the most likely outcome of the whole business.

It is easy to test a man on the Indian frontier, and Winn had had his
eye on Lionel Drummond for two years. He was a cool-headed, reliable
boy, and in some occult and wholly unexpressed way Winn was conscious
that he was strongly drawn to him. Winn offered him the job, and even
consented, when he was on leave, to visit the Drummonds and talk the
matter over with the boy's parents. It was then that he discovered that
people really could have a quiet home.

Mrs. Drummond was a woman of a great deal of character, very great
gentleness, and equal courage. She neither cried nor made fusses, and no
one could even have imagined her making a noise.

It was she who virtually settled, after a private talk with Winn, that
Lionel might accompany him. The extraordinary thing that Mrs. Drummond
said to Winn was, "You see, I feel quite sure that you'll look after
Lionel, whatever happens."

Winn had replied coldly, "I should never dream of taking a man who
couldn't look after himself."

Mrs. Drummond said nothing. She just smiled at Winn as if he had agreed
that he would look after Lionel. General Drummond was non-committal. He
knew the boy would get on without the mission, but he also seemed to be
influenced by some absurd idea that Winn was to be indefinitely trusted,
so that he would say nothing to stop them. Lionel himself was wild with
delight, and the whole affair was managed without suspicion, resentment,
or hostility.

The expedition was quite as hard as the authorities had intimated, and
at one point it very nearly proved fatal. A bad attack of dysentery and
snow blindness brought Lionel down at a very inconvenient spot, crossing
the mountains of Tibet during a blizzard. The rest of the party said
with some truth that they must go forward or perish. Winn sent them on
to the next settlement, keeping back a few stores and plenty of
cartridges. He said that he would rejoin them with Drummond when
Drummond was better, and if he did not arrive before a certain date they
were to push on without him.

They were alone together for six weeks, and during these six weeks Winn
discovered that he was quite a new kind of person; for one thing he
developed into a first-rate nurse, and he could be just like a mother,
and say the silliest, gentlest things. No one was there to see or hear
him, and the boy was so ill that he wouldn't be likely to remember
afterwards. He did remember, however, he remembered all his life. The
stores ran out and they were dependent on Winn's rifle for food. They
melted snow water to drink, and there were days when their chances
looked practically invisible.

Somehow or other they got out of it, the boy grew better, the weather
improved, and Winn managed, though the exact means were never specified,
to drag Lionel on a sledge to the nearest settlement, where the rest of
the party were still awaiting them.

After that the expedition was successful and the friendship between the
two men final. Winn didn't like to think what Mrs. Drummond would say to
him when they got back to England, but she let him down quite easily;
she gave him no thanks, she only looked at him with Lionel's steady eyes
and said, smiling a little, "I always knew you'd bring him back to me."

Winn did not ask Lionel to stay at Staines Court until the wedding. None
of the Staines went in much for making friends, and he didn't want his
mother to see that he was fond of any one.

The night before the wedding, however, Lionel arrived in the midst of an
altercation as to who had ordered the motor to meet the wrong train.

This lasted a long time because all the Staines, except Dolores, were
gathered together, and it expanded unexpectedly into an attack on
Charles, the eldest son, whose name had been coupled with that of a lady
whose professional aptitudes were described as those of a manicurist.
There was a moment when murder of a particularly atrocious and
internecine character seemed the only possible outcome to the
discussion--then Charles in a white fury found the door.

Before he had gone out of earshot Sir Peter asked Lionel what his father
would do if presented with a possible daughter-in-law so markedly frail?
Sir Peter seemed to be laboring under the delusion that he had been
weakly favorable to his son's inclinations, and that any other father
would have expressed himself more forcibly. Lionel was saved from the
awkwardness of disagreeing with him by an unexpected remark from Lady
Staines.

"A girl from some kind of a chemist's shop," she observed musingly. "I
fancy she's too good for Charles."

Sir Peter, who was fond of Charles, said the girl was probably not from
a chemist's shop; and described to the horror of the butler, who had
entered to prepare the tea-table, just what kind of a place she probably
was from.

Lady Staines looked at Winn, and said she didn't see that it was much
worse to marry a manicure girl than one who looked like a manequin. They
were neither of them types likely to do credit to the family. Winn
replied that, as far as that went, bad clothes and good morals did not
always go together. He was prepared apparently with an apt illustration,
when Isabella's husband, the Rev. Mr. Betchley, asked feebly if he might
go up-stairs to rest.

It was quite obvious to everybody that he needed it.

The next morning at breakfast the manicure girl was again discussed,
but in a veiled way so as not really to upset Charles before the
wedding.

Winn escaped immediately afterwards with Lionel. They went for a walk,
most of which was conducted in silence; finally, however, they found a
log, took out their pipes, and made themselves comfortable.

Lionel said, "I wish I'd seen Miss Fanshawe; it must be awfully jolly
for you, Winn."

Winn was silent for a minute or two, then he began, slowly gathering
impetus as he went on: "Well--yes, of course, in a sense it is. I mean,
I know I'm awfully lucky and all that, only--you see, old chap, I'm
frightfully ignorant of women. I know one sort of course--a jolly sight
better than you do--but girls! Hang it all, I don't know girls. That's
what worries me--she's such a little thing." He paused a moment. "I hope
it's all right," he said, "marrying her. It seems pretty rough on them
sometimes, I think--don't you--I fancy she's delicate and all that."
Lionel nodded. "It does seem rather beastly," he admitted, "their having
to have a hard time, I mean--but if they care for you--I suppose it
works out all right." Winn paid no attention to this fruitless optimism.
He went on with his study of Estelle. "She's--she's religious too, you
know, that's why we're to have that other service first. Rather nice
idea, I think, don't you, what? Makes it a bit of a strain for her
though I'm afraid, but she'd never think of that. I'm sure she's
plucky." Lionel also was quite sure Estelle must be plucky.

"Fancy you getting married," Lionel said suddenly. "I can't see it
somehow."

"I feel it funny myself," Winn admitted. "You see, it's so damned long,
and I never have seen much of women. I hope she won't expect me to talk
a lot or anything of that kind. Her people, you know, chatter like so
many magpies--just oozes out of 'em."

"We must be off," Lionel said.

They stood up, knocked the ashes out of their pipes, and prepared to
walk on.

It was a mild June day, small vague hills stretched behind them, and
before them soft, lawn-like fields fell away to the river's edge.

Everywhere the green of trees in a hundred tones of color and with
delicate, innumerable leaf shadows, laid upon the landscape, the
fragrance and lightness of the spring.

They were in a temperate land, every yard of it was cultivated and
civilized, immensely lived on and understood. None of it had been
neglected or was dangerous or strange to the eye of man.

Simultaneously the thought flashed between them of other lands and of
sharper vicissitudes; they saw again bleak passes which were cruel death
traps, and above them untrodden alien heights; they felt the solemn
vastness of the interminable, flawless snows. They kept their eyes away
from each other--but they knew what each other was feeling, adventure
and danger were calling to them--the old sting and thrill of an unending
trail; and then from a little hollow in the guarded hills rang out the
wedding bells.

Lionel looked a little shyly at his chief. "I wonder," he said, as Winn
made no response, "if we can ever do things--things together again, I
mean--I should like to think we could." Winn gave him a quick look and
moved hastily ahead over the field path toward the church. "Why the
devil shouldn't we?" he threw back at Lionel over his shoulder.



CHAPTER IV


Estelle's wedding was a great success, but this was not surprising when
one realized how many years had been spent in preparation for it.
Estelle was only twenty-three, but for the last ten years she had known
that she would marry, and she had thought out every detail of the
ceremony except the bridegroom. You could have any kind of a
bridegroom--men were essentially imperfect--but you need have only one
kind of ceremony, and that could be ideal.

Estelle had visualized everything from the last pot of lilies--always
Annunciation ones, not Arum, which look pagan--at the altar to the red
cloth at the door. There were to be rose-leaves instead of rice; the
wedding was to be in June, with a tent in the garden and strawberries.

If possible, she would be married by a bishop; if not, by a dean. The
bishop having proved too remote, the dean had to do. But he was a
fine-looking man, and would be made a bishop soon, so Estelle did not
really mind. The great thing was to have gaiters on the lawn afterward.

The day was perfect. Estelle woke at her usual hour in the morning, her
heart was beating a little faster than it generally did, and then she
remembered with a pang of joy the perfect fit of her wedding-gown
hanging in the wardrobe. She murmured to herself:

"One love, one life." She was not thinking of Winn, but she had always
meant to say that on her wedding morning.

Then she had early tea. Her mother came in and kissed her, and Estelle
implored her not to fuss, and above all not to get red in the face
before going to church, where she was to wear a mauve hat.

It was difficult for Mrs. Fanshawe not to fuss, Estelle was the most
expensive of her children and in a way the most important; for if she
wasn't pleased it was always so dreadful. There were half a dozen
younger children and any of them might do something tiresome.

Estelle arrived at the church five minutes late, on her father's arm,
followed by four little bridesmaids in pink and white, and four little
pages in blue and white. The effect was charming.

The village church was comfortably full, and with her eyes modestly cast
down Estelle managed to see that all the right people were there,
including the clergyman's daughters, whom she had always hated.

The Fanshawes and her mother's relations the Arnots had come down from
town. They all looked very prosperous people with good dressmakers and
tailors, and most of them had given her handsome silver wedding presents
or checks.

They were on one side of the church just as Estelle had always pictured
them, and on the other were the Staines and their relations. The Staines
had very few friends, and those they had were hard riding, hunting
people, who never look their best in satin. There was no doubt that the
Staines sitting in the front seat were a blot on the whole affair.

You couldn't tell everybody that they were a county family, and they
didn't look like it. They were too large and coarse, and took up far
too much room. There they sat, six big creatures in one pew, all
restless, all with big chins, hard eyes, jutting eyebrows, and a
dreadful look as if they were buccaneering. As a matter of fact they all
felt rather timid and flat, and meant to behave beautifully, though Sir
Peter needn't have blown his nose like a trumpet and stamped
simultaneously just as Estelle entered.

At the top of the aisle Winn waited for his bride; and his boots were
dusty. Standing behind him was the handsomest man that Estelle had ever
seen; and not only that, but the very kind of man she had always wished
to see. It made Estelle feel for a moment like a good housekeeper, who
has not been told that a distinguished guest was coming to dinner. If
she had known, she would have ordered something different. She felt in a
flash that he was the kind of bridegroom who would have suited the
ceremony.

He was several inches taller than Winn, slim, with a small athletic head
and perfectly cut Greek features; his face would have been a shade too
regular and too handsome if he had not had the very same hard-bitten
look in his young gray eyes that Winn had in his bright, hawk-like
brown ones. Lionel was looking at Estelle as she came up the aisle in a
tender, protective, admiring way, as if she were a very beautiful
flower. This was most satisfactory, but at least Winn might have done
the same. Instead of looking as if he were waiting for his bride, he
looked exactly as if he were holding a narrow pass against an enemy. His
very figure had a peculiarly stern and rock-like expression. His broad
shoulders were set, his rather heavy head erect, and when he did look at
Estelle, it was an inconceivably sharp look as if he were trying to see
through her.

She didn't know, of course, that on his way to church he had thought
every little white cloud in the blue sky was like her, and every lily in
a cottage garden. There was a drop of sardonic blood in him, that made
him challenge her even at the moment of achieved surrender.

"By Jove," he thought to himself, "can she be as beautiful as she
looks?"

Then the service began, and they had the celebration first, and
afterward the usual ceremony, perfectly conducted, and including the
rather over-exercised "Voice that Breathed o'er Eden." The dean gave
them an excellent, short and evasive address about their married duties,
a great deal nicer than anything in the Prayer Book, and the March from
Lohengrin took them to the vestry. In the vestry Winn began to be
tiresome. The vicar said:

"Kiss the bride," and Winn replied:

"No, thanks; not at present," looking like a stone wall, and sticking
his hands in his pockets. The vicar, who had known him from a boy, did
not press the point; but of course the dean looked surprised. Any dean
would.

The reception afterwards would have been perfect but for the Staines,
who tramped through everything. Estelle perpetually saw them bursting
into places where they weren't wanted, and shouting remarks which
sounded abusive but were meant to be cordial to cowering Fanshawes and
Arnots. It was really not necessary for Sir Peter to say in the middle
of the lawn that what Mr. Fanshawe wanted was more manure.

It seemed to Estelle that wherever she went she heard Sir Peter's
resonant voice talking about manure.

Lady Staines was much quieter; still she needn't have remarked to
Estelle's mother, "Well--I'm glad to see you have seven children, _that_
looks promising at any rate." It made two unmarried ladies of uncertain
age walk into a flower-bed.

Winn behaved abominably. He took the youngest Fanshawe child and
disappeared with him into the stable yard.

Even Charles and James behaved better than that. They hurled well-chosen
incomprehensible jokes at the clergyman's daughters--dreadful girls who
played hockey and had known the Staines all their lives--and these
ladies returned their missiles with interest.

It caused a good deal of noise, but it sounded hearty.

Isabella, being a clergyman's wife, talked to the Dean, who soon looked
more astonished than ever.

At last it was all comfortably over. Estelle, leaning on her father's
arm in pale blue, kissed her mother. Mrs. Fanshawe looked at the end
rather tactlessly cheerful. (She had cried throughout the ceremony,
just when she had worn the mauve hat and Estelle had hoped she
wouldn't.)

Mr. Fanshawe behaved much more suitably; he said to Winn with a
trembling voice, "Take care of my little girl," and Winn, who might have
said something graceful in reply, merely shook his father-in-law's hand
with such force that Mr. Fanshawe, red with pain, hastily retreated.

Lionel Drummond was charming and much appreciated everywhere; he
retrieved Winn from the stable yard when no one could guess where he
was, and was the first person to call Estelle, Mrs. Staines; he wound up
the affair with a white satin slipper.

When they drove off, Estelle turned toward Winn with shining eyes and
quivering lips. It was the moment for a judicious amount of love-making,
and all Winn said was:

"Look here, you know, those high-heeled things on your feet are
absolutely murderous. They might give you a bad tumble. Don't let me see
you in 'em again. Are you sure you're quite comfortable, and all that?"

He made the same absurd fuss about Estelle's comfort in the railway
carriage; but it was one of the last occasions on which he did it,
because he discovered almost immediately that however many things you
could think of for Estelle's comfort, she could think of more for
herself, and no matter how much care or attention was lavished upon her,
it could never quite equal her unerring instinct for her own
requirements.

After this he was prepared to be ardent, but Estelle didn't care for
ardor in a railway train, so she soon stopped it. One of the funny
things she discovered about Winn was that it was the easiest possible
thing to stop his ardor, and this was really odd, because it was not
from lack of strength in his emotion. She never quite discovered what it
did come from, because it didn't occur to her that Winn would very much
rather have died than offend or tire the woman he loved.

She thought that Winn was rather coarse, but he wasn't as coarse as
that!

Estelle had a great deal that she wanted to talk over about the wedding.
The whole occasion flamed out at her--a perfect project, perfectly
carried out. She explained to Winn at length who everybody was and how
there had been some people there who had had to be taken down, and
others who had had to be pushed forward, and her mother explained to,
and her father checked, and the children (it was too dreadful how they'd
let Bobby run after Winn), kept as much out of the way as possible.

Winn listened hard and tried to follow intelligently all the family
histories she evolved for him. At last after a rather prolonged pause on
his part, just at a point when he should have expressed admiration of
her guidance of a delicate affair, Estelle glanced at him and discovered
that he was asleep! They hadn't been married for three hours, and he
could go to sleep in the middle of their first real talk! She was sure
Lionel Drummond wouldn't have done any such thing. But Winn was old--he
was thirty-five--and she could see quite plainly now that the hair round
the tops of his ears was gray. She looked at him scornfully, but he
didn't wake up.

When he woke up he laughed.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I believe I've been to sleep!" but he didn't
apologize. He began instead to tell her some things that might interest
her, about what Drummond, his best man, and he, had done in Manchuria,
just as if nothing had happened; but naturally Estelle wouldn't be
interested. She was first polite, then bored, then captious. Winn looked
at her rather hard. "Are you trying to pay me back for falling asleep?"
he asked with a queer little laugh. "Is that what you're up to?" Estelle
stiffened.

"Certainly not," she said. "I simply wasn't very interested. I don't
think I like Chinese stories, and Manchuria is just the same, of
course."

Winn leaned over her, with a wicked light in his eyes, like a naughty
school boy. "Own up!" he said, laying his rough hand very gently on her
shoulder. "Own up, old lady!"

But has anybody ever owned up when they were being spiteful?

Estelle didn't. She looked at Winn's hand till he withdrew it, and then
she remarked that she was feeling faint from want of food.

After she had had seven chicken sandwiches, pâté de foie gras, half a
melon, and some champagne, she began to be agreeable.

Winn was delighted at this change in her and quite inclined to think
that their little "breeze" had been entirely due to his own awkwardness.
Still, he wished she had owned up.



CHAPTER V


It took Winn a month to realize that he had paid his money, had his shy,
and knocked down an empty cocoanut.

He couldn't get his money back, and he must spend the rest of his life
carrying the cocoanut about with him.

It never occurred to him to shirk the institution of marriage. The
church, the law, and the army stood in his mind for good, indelible
things. Estelle was his wife as much as his handkerchief was his
handkerchief. This meant that they were to be faithful to each other, go
out to dinner together, and that he was to pay her bills. He knew the
great thing in any tight corner was never under any circumstances to let
go. All the dangers he had ever been in, had yielded, only because he
hadn't.

It was true he had not been married before, but the same rule no doubt
held good of marriage. If he held on to it, something more bearable
would come of it. Then one could be out of the house a good deal, and
there was the regiment. He began to see his way through marriage as a
man sees his way through a gap in an awkward fence. The unfortunate part
of it was that he couldn't get through the gap unless Estelle shared his
insight.

He would have liked to put it to her, but he didn't know how; he never
had had a great gift of expression, and something had brought him up
very short in his communications with his wife.

It was so slight a thing that Estelle herself had forgotten all about
it, but to a Staines it was absolutely final. She had told the gardener
that Winn wanted hyacinths planted in the front bed. Winn hadn't wanted
a garden at all, and he had let her have her way in everything else; but
he had said quite plainly that he wouldn't on any account have
hyacinths. The expression he used about them was excessively coarse, and
it certainly should have remained in Estelle's memory. He had said, that
the bally things stank. Nevertheless, Estelle had told the gardener
that the master wanted hyacinths, and the gardener had told Winn. Winn
gazed at the gardener in a way which made him wish that he had never
been a gardener, but had taken up any other profession in which he was
unlikely to meet a glance so "nasty." Then Winn said quietly:

"You are perfectly sure, Parsons, that Mrs. Staines told you it was _my_
wish to have the hyacinths?" And the gardener had said:

"Yes, sir. She _did_ say, sir, as 'ow you 'ad a particler fancy for
them." And Winn had gone into the house and asked Estelle what the devil
she meant? Estelle immediately denied the hyacinths and the gardener.
People like that, she said, always misunderstand what one said to them.

"Very well, then," Winn replied. "He has lied to me, and must go. I'll
dismiss him at once. He told me distinctly that you had said I liked
them."

Estelle fidgeted. She didn't want the gardener to go. She really
couldn't remember what she'd said and what she hadn't said to him. And
Winn was absurd, and how could it matter, and the people next door had
hyacinths, and they'd always had them at home!

Winn listened in silence. He didn't say anything more about the gardener
having lied, and he didn't countermand the hyacinths; only from that
moment he ceased to believe a single word his wife said to him. This is
discouraging to conversation and was very unfair to Estelle; for she
might have told the truth more often if she had not discovered that it
made no difference to her husband whether she told it to him or not.

Estelle knew that her heart was broken, but on the whole she did not
find that she was greatly inconvenienced.

In an unhappy marriage the woman generally scores unless she is in love
with her husband. Estelle never had been in love with Winn; she had had
an agreeable feeling about him, and now she had a disagreeable feeling
about him, but neither of these emotions could be compared with
beaten-brass hot-water jugs, which she had always meant to have when she
was married.

If Winn had remained deeply in love with her, besides making things more
comfortable at meals it would have been a feather in her cap. Still his
cruelty could be turned into another almost more becoming feather.

She said to herself and a little later to the nearest clergyman, "I must
make an offering of my sorrow." She offered it a good deal, almost to
every person she met. Even the cook was aware of it; but, like all
servants, she unhesitatingly sided with the master. He might be in the
wrong, but he was seldom if ever in the kitchen.

They had to have a house and servants, because Estelle felt that
marriage without a house was hardly legal; and Winn had given way about
it, as he was apt to do about things Estelle wanted. His very cruelty
made him particularly generous about money.

But Estelle was never for a moment taken in by his generosity; she saw
that it was his way of getting out of being in love with her. Winn was a
bad man and had ruined her life--this forced her to supplement her
trousseau.

Later on when he put down one of his hunters and sold a polo pony so
that she could have a maid, she began to wonder if she had at all found
out how bad he really was?

There was one point he never yielded; he firmly intended to rejoin his
regiment in March.

The station to which they would have to go was five thousand feet up,
lonely, healthy, and quite unfashionable. Winn had tried to make it seem
jolly to her and had mentioned as a recommendation apparently that it
was the kind of place in which you needn't wear gloves. It was close to
the border, and women had to be a little careful where they rode.

Estelle had every intention of being careful; she would, she thought, be
too careful ever to go to the Indian frontier at all. She had often
heard of the tragic separations of Anglo-Indian marriages; it was true
that they were generally caused by illness and children, but there must
be other methods of obtaining the same immunities.

She had never had any difficulty with the doctor at home; she relied on
him entirely, and he had invariably ordered her what she wanted, after a
nice quiet talk.

Travers, the regimental doctor, was different, he looked exactly like a
vet, and only understood things you had actually broken. Still Estelle
put her trust in Providence; no self-respecting higher Power could wish
a woman of her type to be wasted on a hill station. Something would
happen to help her, and if not, she would be given grace to help
herself.

One day Winn came down to breakfast with a particularly disagreeable
expression. He said "good-morning" into his newspaper as usual without
noticing her pathetic little smile.

He only unburied himself to take his second cup of coffee, then he said,
without looking at her,

"It's a beastly nuisance, the War Office want me to extend my
leave--hanged if I do."

Estelle thanked Heaven in a flash and passed him the marmalade. She had
never dreamed the War Office could be so efficient.

"That shows," she said gracefully, "what they think of you!"

Winn turned his sardonic eyes towards her. "Thanks," he drawled, "I dare
say it's the kind of thing you'd like. They propose that I should stay
on here at the Staff College for another year and write 'em a damned red
tape report on Tibet." His irony, dropped from him. "If it was a job,"
he said in a low voice, "I'd go like a shot."

"Mightn't it mean promotion?" she asked a little nervously. Winn
shrugged his shoulders. "I can write anything they want out there," he
said gloomily. "All I want is ink! What I know I've got in my head, you
see. I'd take that with me."

"But you couldn't talk things over with them or answer their questions,
could you?" Estelle intelligently ventured. She had an intelligence
which ripened along the line of her desires.

"I could tell them anything they want to know in ten minutes!" said Winn
impatiently. "They don't want information, they want a straight swift
kick! They know what I think--they just want me to string out a lot of
excuses for them not to act! Besides the chief thing is--they'd have to
send for me, if there was a row--I know the ground and the other chaps
don't. I wish to God there'd be a row!"

Estelle sighed and gazed pathetically out of the window. Her eyes rested
on the bed where the hyacinths were planted, and beyond it to gorse
bushes and a corrugated iron shed.

They were at Aldershot, which was really rather a good place for meeting
suitable people. "What do you intend to do?" she asked, trembling a
little. Winn was at his worst when questioned as to his intentions; he
preferred to let them explode like fire-crackers.

"Do!" he snorted, "Write and tell 'em when they've got any kind of job
on the size of six-pence I'll be in it! And if not Tibet's about as
useful to draw up a report on--as ice in the hunting season--and I'm off
in March--and that's that!"

A tear rolled down Estelle's cheek and splashed on the tablecloth; she
trembled harder until her teaspoon rattled.

Winn looked at her. "What's up?" he asked irritably. "Anything wrong?"

"I suppose," she said, prolonging a small sob, "you don't care what I
feel about going to India?"

"But you knew we were always going out in March didn't you?" he asked,
as if that had anything to do with it! The absurd face value that he
gave to facts was enough to madden any woman. Estelle sobbed harder.

"I never knew I should be so unhappy!" she moaned. Winn looked
extremely foolish and rather conscience-stricken; he even made a
movement to rise, but thought better of it.

"I'm sure I'm awfully sorry," he said apologetically. "I suppose you
mean you're a bit sick of me, don't you?" Estelle wiped her eyes, and
returned to her toast. "Can't you see," she asked bitterly, "that our
life together is the most awful tragedy?"

"Oh, come now," said Winn, who associated tragedy solely with police
courts and theaters. "It's not so bad as all that, is it? We can rub
along, you know. I dare say I've been rather a brute, but I shall be a
lot better company when I'm back in the regiment. We must buck up,
that's all! I don't like to bother you about it, but I think you'd see
things differently if we had a kid. I do really. I've seen heaps of
scratch marriages turn out jolly well--when the kids began to come!"

"How can you be so disgustingly coarse!" shuddered Estelle. "Besides,
I'm far too delicate! Not that you would care if I died! You'd just
marry again!"

"Oh, no! I shouldn't do that," said Winn in his horrid quiet way which
might mean anything. He got up and walked to the window. "You wouldn't
die," he observed with his back turned to her. "You'd be a jolly sight
stronger all the rest of your life! I asked Travers!"

"Oh!" she cried, "you don't mean to tell me that you talked me over with
that disgusting red-faced man!"

"I don't talk people over," said Winn without turning round. "He's a
doctor. I asked his opinion!"

"Well," she said, "I think it was horrible of you--and--and most
ungentlemanly. If I'd wanted to know, I'd have found out for myself. I
haven't the slightest confidence in regimental doctors."

Winn said nothing. One of the things Estelle most disliked in him was
the way in which it seemed as if he had some curious sense of delicacy
of his own. She wanted to think of Winn as a man impervious to all
refinement, born to outrage the nicer susceptibility of her own mind,
but there were moments when it seemed as if he didn't think the
susceptibilities of her mind were nice at all. He was not awed by her
purity.

He didn't say anything of course, but he let certain subjects
prematurely drop.

Suddenly he turned round from the window and fixed his eyes on hers. She
thought he was going to be very violent, but he wasn't, he talked quite
quietly, only something hard and bright in his eyes warned her to be
careful.

"Look here," he said, "I've thought of something, a kind of bargain!
I'll give in to you about this job, if you'll give in to me about the
other! It's no use fighting over things, is it?

"If you'll have a kid, I'll stay on here for a year more; if you won't,
I'll clear out in March and you'll have to come with me, for I can't
afford two establishments. I don't see what else to offer you unless you
want to go straight back to your people. You'd hardly care to go to
mine, if they'd have you.

"But if you do what I ask about the child--I'll meet you all the way
round--I swear to--you shan't forget it! Only you must ride straight. If
you play me any monkey tricks over it--you'll never set eyes on me
again; and I'm afraid you'll have to have Travers, because I trust him,
not some slippery old woman who'd let you play him like a fish! D'you
understand?"

Estelle stared aghast at this mixture of brutality and cunning. Her mind
flew round and round like a squirrel in a cage.

She could have managed beautifully if it hadn't been for Travers.
Travers would be as impervious to handling as a battery mule. She really
wouldn't be able to do anything with Travers. He looked as if he drank;
but he didn't.

Of course having a baby was simply horrid; lots of women got out of it
nowadays who were quite happily married.

It was disgusting of Winn to suggest it when he didn't even love her.

But once she had one, if she really did give way, a good deal might be
done with it.

Maternity was sacred; being a wife on the other hand was "forever
climbing up the climbing wave," there was nothing final about it as
there was in being able to say, "I am the mother of your child!"

Her wistful blue eyes expanded. She saw her own way spreading out before
her like a promised land. "I can't," she said touchingly, "decide all
this in a minute."

He could stay on for two years at the War Office, and Estelle meant him
to stay without inconvenience to herself. He tried bargaining with her;
but her idea of a bargain was one-sided.

"I sometimes feel as if you kept me out of everything," she said at
last.

Estelle was feeling her way; she thought she might collect a few extras
to add to her side of the bargain.

Apparently she was right. Winn was all eagerness to meet her. "How do
you mean?" he asked anxiously.

"Oh," she said contemplatively, "such heaps of things! One thing, I
don't expect you've ever noticed that you never ask your friends to stay
here. I've had all mine; you've never even asked your mother! It's as if
you were ashamed of me."

"I'll ask her like a shot if you like," he said eagerly. Estelle was not
anxious for a visit from Lady Staines, but she thought it sounded better
to begin with her. She let her pass.

"It's not only your relations," she went on; "it's your friends. What
must they think of a wife they are never allowed to see?"

"But they're such a bachelor crew," he objected. "It never occurred to
me you'd care for them--just ordinary soldier chaps like me, not a bit
clever or amusing."

Estelle did not say that crews of bachelors are seldom out of place in
the drawing-room of a young and pretty woman. She looked past her
husband to where in fancy she beheld the aisle of a church and the young
Adonis, who had been his best man, with eyes full of reverence and awe
gazing at her approaching figure.

"I thought," she said indifferently, "you liked that man you insisted on
having instead of Lord Arlington at the wedding?"

"I do," said Winn. "He's my best friend. I meet him sometimes in town,
you know."

"He must think it awfully funny," said Estelle, sadly, "our never having
him down here."

"He's not that sort," said Winn. "He was my sub, you know. He wouldn't
think anything funny unless I told him to. We know each other rather
well."

"That makes it funnier still," said Estelle, relentlessly.

"Oh, all right," said Winn, after a moment's pause. "Have him down here
if you like. Shall I write to him or will you?"

"He's your friend," said Estelle, politely.

"Yes," said Winn, "but it's your idea." There was a peculiar look in his
eyes, as if he wanted to warn her about something. He went to the door
and then glanced back at her, apparently hoping that she had changed her
mind.

Estelle hadn't the faintest intention of changing her mind. She had
already decided to put sweet peas in Lionel's room and a marked copy of
"The Road Mender."

"You may as well ask him yourself," said Winn, "if you really want him
to come."



CHAPTER VI


It was time, Estelle felt, that the real things of life should come back
to her. She had had them before marriage--these real things--light,
swift, contacts with chosen spirits; friendships not untinged with a
liability to become something less capable of definition. But since her
marriage she had been forced into a world of secondary experiences.
Winn, to begin with, had stood very much in the way, and when he had
ceased to block the paths of sentiment she had not found a substitute.
At Aldershot, where they lived, there was an unspoken rule that brides
should be left alone. Women called, and men were polite, but when
Estelle began those delicate personal conversations which led the way to
deeper spiritual contacts she discovered that nothing followed. She
could not say that she found the men elusive; stone walls are not
elusive, but they do not lend themselves to an easy way across country.
As to women, theoretically Estelle desired their friendship just as
much as that of men; but in practice she generally found them
unsympathetic, and incapable of the finest type of intimacy. They did
not seem to know what the word devotion meant. Men did, especially young
men, though the older ones talked more about it. Estelle had already
seen herself after marriage as a confidante to Winn's young brother
officers. She would help them as only a good woman can. (She foresaw
particularly how she would help to extricate them from the influences of
bad women. It was extraordinary how many women who influenced men at all
were bad!) Estelle never had any two opinions about being a good woman
herself. She couldn't be anything else. Good women held all the cards,
but there was no reason why they shouldn't be attractive; it was their
failure to grasp this potentiality, which gave bad women their temporary
sway.

It was really necessary in the missionary career open to young and
attractive married women, to be magnetic. Up to a certain point men must
be led on, because if they didn't care for you in the right way you
couldn't do anything with them at all. After that point, they must be
gently and firmly stopped, or else they might become tiresome, and that
would be bad both for them and for you. Especially with a husband like
Winn, who seemed incapable of grasping fine shades, and far too capable
of dealing roughly and brutally with whatever he did grasp. There had
been a dress, for instance, that he simply refused to let Estelle
wear--remarking that it was a bit too thick--though that was really the
last quality it had possessed.

The question of congenial friendship was therefore likely to be a
difficulty, but Estelle had never forgotten Lionel Drummond. When she
stopped thinking about Winn except as an annoyance, it became necessary
for her to think of somebody else, and her mind fixed itself at once
upon her husband's friend. It seemed to her that in Lionel Drummond she
would find a perfect spiritual counterpart. She dreamed of a friendship
with him too deep for mere friendliness, too late for accepted love; and
it seemed to her exactly the kind of thing she wanted. Hand in hand they
would tread the path of duty together, surrounded by a rosy mist.

They might even lead Winn to higher things; but at this point Estelle's
imagination balked. She could not see Winn being led--he was too
truculent--and he had never in his tenderest moments evinced the
slightest taste for higher things. It would be better perhaps if they
simply set him a good example. He would be certain not to follow it.

She and Lionel would have terrible moments, of course. Estelle thrilled
at the thought of these moments, and from time to time she slightly
stretched the elastic of the path of duty to meet them. They would still
keep on it, of course; they would never go any further than Petrarch and
Laura. These historic philanderers should be their limit, and when the
worst came to the worst, Estelle would softly murmur to Lionel,
"Petrarch and Laura have borne it, and we must bear it too."

She became impatient for Lionel's arrival and bought a new and
exquisitely becoming blue chiffon dress. Both she and her maid were so
struck by her appearance that when Estelle heard Winn banging about at
the last moment in his dressing room, she knocked at his door. Even the
lowest type of man can be used as a superior form of looking glass. He
shouted "Come in!" and stared at her while he fumbled at his collar
stud; then he lifted his eyebrows and said "War-paint--eh?"

"I only wanted to remind you, dear," said Estelle patiently, "that the
key of the wine cellar is in my bureau drawer."

Lionel arrived before Winn had finished dressing. Estelle greeted him
with outstretched hands. "I am so very glad to see you at last," she
said in her softest, friendliest voice. "I think it will do Winn good to
have you here."

Lionel laughed shyly.

"I shouldn't have thought," he said, "that Winn would need much more
good."

"Ah, my dear fellow!" said Winn's voice behind him, "you don't know how
great my needs are. Sorry I couldn't meet you."

Estelle's beautiful, wavering eyes rested for a moment on her husband.
She had never known a man to dress so quickly, and it seemed to her an
unnecessary quality.

The dinner was a great success. Both men were absurdly gay. Winn told
good stories, laughed at Lionel, and rallied his young wife. She had
never seen him like this before, and she put it down to the way one man
sets off another.

Estelle felt that she was being a great success, and it warmed her
heart. The two men talked for her and listened to her; she had a moment
when she thought that perhaps, after all, she needn't relegate Winn to a
lower world.

They accepted with enthusiasm her offer to sing to them after dinner and
then they kept her waiting in the drawing-room for an hour and a half.

She sat there opposite a tall Italian mirror, quivering with her power,
her beauty, her ability to charm, and with nothing before her but the
empty coffee-cups.

She played a little, she even sang a little (the house was small) to
recall them to a sense of her presence, but inexplicably they clung to
their talk. Winn who at ordinary times seemed incapable of more than
disconnected fragments of speech was (she could hear him now and then
quite distinctly) talking like a cataract; and Lionel was, if anything,
worse. Her impatience turned into suspicion. Probably Winn was poisoning
his friend's mind against her. Perhaps he was drinking too much, Sir
Peter did, and people often took after their fathers. That would have to
be another point for Lionel and her to tackle. At last they came in, and
Lionel said without any attempt at an apology:

"We should love some music, Mrs. Winn."

Winn said nothing. He stuck his hands into his pockets, and stood in
front of the fireplace in a horribly British manner while she turned
over her songs. Estelle sang rather prettily. She preferred songs of a
type that dealt with bitter regret over unexplained partings. She sang
them with a great deal of expression and a slight difficulty in letting
go of the top notes. After she had sung two or three, Lionel said:

"Now, Winn, you sing."

Estelle started. She had never before heard of this accomplishment of
her husband's. It occurred to her now that Lionel would think it very
strange she hadn't, but he need never know unless Winn gave her away.
She need not have been afraid. Winn said quietly, as if he said it to
her every evening, "D'you mind playing for me, Estelle?" Then he
dragged out from under her music a big black book in which he had
painstakingly copied and collected his selection of songs.

He had a high, clear baritone, very true and strangely impressive; it
filled the little room. When he had finished, Lionel forgot to ask
Estelle to sing again. Winn excused himself; he said he had a letter or
two to write and left them.

"It's jolly, your both singing," Lionel said, looking at her with the
same admiring friendliness he had shown her before. She guessed then
that Winn had said nothing against her. After all, at the bottom of her
heart she had known he wouldn't. You can't live with a man for five
months and not know where you are safe.

Estelle smiled prettily.

"Yes," she said gently, "music is a great bond," and then she began to
talk to Lionel about himself.

She had a theory that all men liked to talk exclusively about
themselves, and it is certain that most men enjoyed their conversation
with her; but in this particular instance she made a mistake. Lionel
did not like talking about himself, and above all he disliked
sympathetic admiration. He was not a conceited man, and it had not
occurred to him that he was a suitable subject for admiration. Nor did
he see why he should receive sympathy. He had had an admirably free and
happy life with parents who were his dearest friends, and with a friend
who was to him a hero beyond the need of definition.

Still, he wouldn't have shrunk from talking about Winn with Estelle. It
was her right to talk about him, her splendid, perfect privilege. He
supposed that she was a little shy, because she seemed to slip away from
their obvious great topic; but he wished, if she wasn't going to talk
about Winn, she would leave his people alone.

She tried to sympathize with him about his home difficulties, and when
she discovered that he hadn't any, her sympathy veered to the horrible
distance he had to be away from it.

"Oh, well," said Lionel, "it's my father's old regiment, you know; that
makes it awfully different. They know as much about my life as I do
myself, and when I don't get leave, they often come out to me for a
month or two. They're good travelers."

"They must be simply wonderful!" Estelle said ecstatically. Lionel said
nothing. He looked slightly amazed. It seemed so funny that Winn, who
hadn't much use for ecstasy, should have married a so easily ecstatic
wife.

"I do envy you," she said pathetically, "all that background of home
companionship. We were brought up so differently. It was not my parents'
fault of course--" she added rather quickly. Something in Lionel's
expression warned her that he would be unsympathetic to confidences
against parents.

"Well, you've got Winn," he said, looking at her with his steadfast
encouraging eyes, "you've got your background now." He was prepared to
put up with a little ecstasy on this subject, but Estelle looked away
from him, her great eyes strangely wistful and absorbed. She was an
extraordinary exquisite and pretty little person, like a fairy on a
Christmas tree, or a Dresden china shepherdess, not a bit, somehow, like
a wife.

"Yes," she said, twisting her wedding ring round her tiny manicured
finger. "But sometimes I am a little anxious about him--I know it's
silly of me."

Lionel's shyness fell away from him with disconcerting suddenness. "Why
are you anxious?" he demanded. "What do you mean, Mrs. Winn?"

Estelle hesitated, she hadn't meant to say exactly what her fear was,
she only wanted to arouse the young man's chivalry and to talk in some
way that approached intimacy.

Everything must have a beginning, even Petrarch and Laura.

She found Lionel's eyes fixed upon her with a piercing quality difficult
to meet. He obviously wouldn't understand if she didn't mean
anything--and she hardly knew him well enough to touch on her real
difficulties with Winn, those would have to come later.

But she must be anxious about something--she was forced into the rather
meager track of her husband's state of health.

"I don't quite know," she mused, "of course he seems perfectly
strong--but I sometimes wonder if he is as strong as he looks."

Lionel brushed her wonder aside. "Please tell me exactly what you've
noticed," he said, as if he were a police sergeant and she were some
reluctant and slightly prevaricating witness.

She hadn't, as a matter of fact, noticed anything. "He sometimes looks
terribly tired," she said a little uncertainly, "but I dare say it's all
my foolishness, Mr. Drummond. I am afraid I am inclined to be nervous
about other people's health--" Estelle sighed softly. She often accused
herself of faults which no one had discovered in her. "Winn, I am sure,
would be the first to laugh at me."

"Yes, I dare say he would," said Lionel quietly. "But I never will, Mrs.
Winn." She raised her eyes gratefully to him--at last she had succeeded
in touching him.

"You see," Lionel explained, "I care too much for him myself."

Her eyes dropped. She had a feeling that Petrarch and Laura had hardly
begun like that.

The next few days were very puzzling to Estelle; nobody behaved as she
expected them to behave, including herself. She found Lionel always
ready to accept her advances with open-hearted cordiality, but she had
to make the advances. She had not meant to do this. Her idea had been
to be a magnet, and magnets keep quite still; needles do all the moving.
But this particular needle (except that it didn't appear at all soft)
might have been made of cotton wool.

And Winn wouldn't behave at a disadvantage; he was neither tyrannical
nor jealous. He left her a great deal to Lionel, and treated her with
good-natured tolerance in private and with correct attention before his
friend.

In theory Estelle had always stated her belief in platonic friendship,
but she had never been inconvenienced by having to carry it out. One
thing had always led to another. She had imagined that Lionel (in his
relations with her) would be a happy mixture of Lancelot and Galahad.
The Galahad side of him would appear when Lancelot became
inconvenient--and the Lancelot side of him would be there to fall back
upon when Galahad got too dull. But in their actual relation there
seemed to be some important ingredient left out. Of course Lancelot was
guilty and Estelle had never for a moment intended Lionel to be guilty,
but on the other hand Lancelot was in love with the Queen.

This quality was really essential.

Lancelot had had a great affection for the King of course, but that had
been subsidiary; and this was what puzzled Estelle most, was Lionel's
feeling for her subsidiary to his feeling for Winn?

Lionel was delightful to her; he waited on her hand and foot; he studied
all her tastes and remembered everything she told him. Could playing
polo with Winn, going out for walks in the rain, and helping to make
saddles in Winn's musty, smelling den appeal to him with greater force
than her society? He wasn't in love with any one else, and if men
weren't in love with any one else, they were usually in love with
Estelle. But with Lionel everything stopped short. They conversed
confidentially, they used each other's Christian names, but she was left
with the sensation of having come up against an invisible barrier. There
was no impact, and there was no curtness; there was simply empty space.
She was not even sure that Lionel would have liked her at all if she
hadn't been Winn's wife. As it was, he certainly wanted her friendship
and took pains to win it. It must be added that he won more than he took
pains to win. Estelle for the first time in her life stumbled waveringly
into a little love.

The visit prolonged itself from a week to a fortnight. Estelle did not
sleep the night before Lionel went. She tossed feverishly to and fro,
planning their parting. Surely he would not leave her without a word?
Surely there must be some touch of sentiment to this separation,
horrible and inevitable, that lay before them?

She remembered afterwards that as she lay in the dark and foresaw her
loneliness she wondered if she wouldn't after all risk the Indian
frontier to be near him? She was subsequently glad she had decided that
she wouldn't.

It was a very wet morning, and Lionel was to leave before lunch. Winn
went as usual into his study to play with his eternal experiments in
leather. Lionel went with him. She heard the two men laughing together
down the passage. Could real friends have laughed if they had minded
parting with each other?

She sat at her desk in the drawing-room biting nervously at her pen. He
was going; was it possible that there would be no farewell?

Just some terrible flat hand-shake at the door under Winn's penetrating
eyes.

But after a time she heard steps returning. Lionel came by himself.

"Are you busy?" he asked. "Shall I bother you if we talk a little?"

"No," she said softly. "I hoped you would come back."

Lionel did not answer for a moment. For the first time in their
acquaintance he was really a little stirred. He moved about the room
restlessly, he wouldn't sit down, though half unconsciously she had put
her hand on the chair beside her.

"Do you know," he said at last, "I've got something to say to you, and
I'm awfully afraid it may annoy you."

Was it really coming, the place at which he would have to be stopped,
after all her fruitless endeavors to get him to move in any direction at
all? It looked like it; he was very obviously embarrassed and flushed;
he did not even try to meet her eyes.

"The fact is," he went on, "I simply can't go without saying it, and
you've been so awfully good to me--you've let me feel we're friends." He
paused, and Estelle leaned forward, her eyes melting with encouragement.

"I am so glad you feel like that, Lionel," she murmured. "Do please say
anything--anything you like. I shall always understand and forgive, if
it is necessary for me to forgive."

"You're awfully generous," he said gratefully. She smiled, and put out
her hand again toward the chair. This time he sat down in it, but he
turned it to face her.

He was a big man and he seemed to fill the room in which they sat. His
blue-gray eyes fixed themselves on hers intently, his whole being seemed
absorbed in what he was about to say.

"You see," he began, "I think you may be making a big mistake. Naturally
Winn's awfully fond of you and all that and you've just started life,
and you like to live in your own country, surrounded by jolly little
things, and perhaps India seems frightening and far away." Estelle
shrank back a little; he put his hand on the back of her chair
soothingly. "Of course it must be hard," he said. "Only I want to
explain it to you. Winn's heart is yours, I know, but it's in his work,
too, as a man's must be, and his work's out there; it's not here at all.

"When I came here and looked about me, and saw the house and the garden
and the country, where we've had such jolly walks and talks--it all
seemed temporary somehow, made up--not quite natural, I can't explain
what I mean but not a bit like Winn. I needn't tell you what he is, I
dare say you think it's cheek of me to talk about him at all, I can
quite understand it if you do, only perhaps there's a side of him I've
seen more of, and which makes me want to say what I know he isn't--what
I don't think even love can make him be--he isn't tame!"

He stopped abruptly; Estelle's eyes had hardened and grown very cold.

"I don't know what you mean," she said. "Has he complained of my keeping
him here?"

Lionel pushed back his chair.

"Ah, Mrs. Winn! Mrs. Winn!" he exclaimed half laughingly, and half
reproachfully; "you know he wouldn't complain. He only told me that he
wasn't coming back just yet, and I--well, I thought I saw why he
wasn't."

"Then," she said, turning careful eyes away from him, "if he hasn't
complained, I hardly see why you should attack me like this. I suppose
you think I am as unnatural and--and temporary as our surroundings?"

Lionel stood up and looked down at her in a puzzled way.

"Oh, I say, you know," he ventured, "you're not playing very fair, are
you? Of course I'm not attacking you. I thought we were friends, and I
wanted to help you."

"Friends!" she said. Her voice broke suddenly into a hard little laugh.
"Well, what else have you to suggest to me about my husband--out of your
friendship for me?"

"You're not forgiving me," he reminded her gently, not dreaming what it
was she had been prepared to forgive. "But perhaps I'd better go on and
get it all out while I'm about it. You know it isn't only that I think
he won't care for staying on here, but I think it's a bit of a risk. I
don't want to frighten you, but after a man's had black water fever
twice, he's apt to be a little groggy, especially about the lungs.
England isn't honestly a very good winter place for him for a year or
two--"

Estelle flung up her head.

"If he was going to be an invalid," she said, "he oughtn't to have
married me!"

The silence that followed her speech crept into every corner of the
room. Lionel did not look puzzled any more. He stood up very straight
and stiff; only his eyes changed. He could not look at her; they were
filled with contempt. He gave her a moment or two to disavow her words;
he would have given his right hand to hear her do it.

"I beg your pardon," he said at last. "I have overstated the case if you
imagine your husband is an invalid. I think, if you don't mind," he
added, "I'll see if my things are ready."

"Please do," she said, groping in her mind for something left to hurt
him with. "And another time perhaps you will know better than to say for
my husband what he is perfectly competent to say for himself."

"You are quite right," Lionel said quietly; "another time I shall know
better." The rain against the windows sounded again; she had not heard
it before.

He did not come back to say good-by. She heard him talking to Winn in
the hall, the dogcart drove up, and then she saw him for the last time,
his fine, clear-cut profile, his cap dragged over his forehead, his eyes
hard, as they were when he had looked at her. He must have known she
stood there at the window watching, but he never looked back. She had
expected a terrible parting, but never a parting as terrible as this.
Mercifully she had kept her head; it was all she had kept.



CHAPTER VII


It was shortly after Lionel's departure that Estelle realized there was
nothing between her and the Indian frontier except the drawing-room
sofa. She fixed herself as firmly on this shelter as a limpet takes hold
upon a rock. People were extremely kind and sympathetic, and Winn
himself turned over a new leaf. He was gentle and considerate to her,
and offered to read aloud to her in the evenings.

Nothing shook her out of this condition. The baby arrived, unavailingly
as an incentive to health, and not at all the kind of baby Estelle had
pictured. He was almost from his first moments a thorough Staines. He
was never very kissable, and was anxious as soon as possible to get on
to his own feet. At eight months he crawled rapidly across the carpet
with a large musical-box suspended from his mouth by its handle; at ten
he could walk. He tore all his lawn frocks on Winn's spurs, screamed
with joy at his father's footsteps, and always preferred knees to laps.

His general attitude towards women was hostility, he looked upon them as
unfortunate obstacles in the path of adventure, and howled dismally when
they caressed him. He had more tolerance for his mother who seemed to
him an object provided by Providence in connection with a sofa, on
purpose for him to climb over.

Her maternal instinct went so far as to allow him to climb over it twice
a day for short intervals. After all he had gained her two years.

Estelle lay on the sofa one autumn afternoon at four o'clock, with her
eyes firmly shut. She was aware that Winn had come in, and was very
inconsiderately tramping to and fro in heavy boots. He seldom entered
the drawing-room at this hour, and if he did, he went out again as soon
as he saw that her eyes were shut.

Probably he meant to say something horrible about India; she had been
expecting it for some time. The report on Tibet was finished, and he
could let his staff work go when he liked.

He stood at the foot of her couch and looked at her curiously. Estelle
could feel his eyes on her; she wondered if he noticed how thin she
was, and how transparent her eyelids were. Every fiber in her body was
aware of her desire to impress him with her frailty. She held it before
him like a banner.

"Estelle," he said. When he spoke she winced.

"Yes, dear," she murmured hardly above a whisper.

"Would you mind opening your eyes?" he suggested. "I've got something I
want to talk over with you, and I really can't talk to a door banged in
my face."

"I'm so sorry," she said meekly; "I'm afraid I'm almost too exhausted to
talk, but I'll try to listen to what you have to say."

"Thanks," said Winn. He paused as if, after all, it wasn't easy to
begin, even in the face of this responsiveness. She thought he looked
rather odd. His eyes had a queer, dazed look, as if he had been drinking
heavily or as if somebody had kicked him.

"Well," she asked at last, "what is it you want to talk about? Suspense
of any kind, you know, is very bad for my heart."

"I beg your pardon," he said. "It was only that I thought I'd better
mention I am going to Davos."

"Davos!" She opened her eyes wide now and stared at him. "That snow
place?" she asked, "full of consumptives? What a curious idea! I never
have been able to understand how people can care to go there for sport.
It seems to me rather cruel; but, then, I know I am specially sensitive
about that kind of thing. Other people's pain weighs so on me."

"I didn't say I was going there for sport," Winn answered in the same
peculiar manner. He sat down and began to play with a paper-cutter on
his knee. "As a matter of fact, I'm not," he went on. "I've crocked one
of my lungs. They seem to think I've got to go. It's a great nuisance."

It was curious the way he kept looking at her, as if he expected
something. He couldn't have told exactly what he expected himself. He
was face to face with a new situation; he wasn't exactly frightened, but
he had a feeling that he would like very much to know how he ought to
meet it. He had often been close to death--but he had never somehow
thought of dying, he wasn't close to death now but at the end of
something which might be very horrible there would be the long affair of
dying. He hoped he would get through it all right and not make a fuss or
be a bother to anybody. It had all come with a curious suddenness. He
had gone to Travers one day because when Polly pulled he had an odd pain
in his chest. He had had a toss the week before, and it had occurred to
him that a rib might be broken; but Travers said it wasn't that.

Travers had tapped him all over and looked grave, uncommonly grave, and
said some very uncomfortable things. He had insisted on dragging Winn up
to town to see a big man, and the big man had said, "Davos, and don't
lose any time about it." He hadn't said much else, only when Winn had
remarked, "But, damn it all, you know I'm as strong as a horse," he had
answered, "You'll need every bit of strength you've got," and all the
way home Travers had talked to him like a Dutch uncle.

It was really funny when you came to think of it, because there wasn't
anything to see or even feel--except a little cough--and getting rather
hot in the evenings, but after Travers had finished pitching into him
Winn had written to Lionel and made his will and had rather wondered
what Estelle would feel about it. He hadn't wanted to upset her. He
hadn't upset her. She stared at him for a moment; then she said:

"How odd! You look perfectly all right. I never have believed in
Travers."

Winn mentioned the name of the big man.

"It does sound rather rot," he added apologetically. He still waited.
Estelle moved restlessly on the sofa.

"Well," she said, "what on earth am I to do? It's really horribly
inconvenient. I suppose I shall have to go back to my people for the
winter unless you can afford to let me take a flat in London."

"I'm afraid I can't afford that," said Winn. "I think it would be best
for you to go to your people for the winter, unless, of course, you'd
rather go to mine. I'm going down there to-morrow; I've written to tell
them. I must get my father to let me have some money as it is. It's
really an infernal nuisance from the expense point of view."

"I couldn't go to your people," said Estelle, stiffly. "They have never
been nice to me; besides, they would be sure to teach baby how to
swear." Then she added, "I suppose this puts an end to your going to
India."

Winn dropped his eyes.

"Yes," he said, "this puts an end to my going back to India for the
present. I've been up before the board; they're quite agreeable. In
fact, they've been rather decent to me."

Estelle gave a long sigh of relief and gratitude. It was really
extraordinary how she had been helped to avoid India. She couldn't think
what made Winn go on sitting there, just playing with the paper-knife.

He sat there for a long time, but he didn't say any more. At last he got
up and went to the door.

"Well," he said, "I think I'll just run up and have a look at the kid."

"Poor dear," said Estelle, "I'm frightfully sorry for you, of course,
though I don't believe it's at all painful--and by the way, Winn, don't
forget that consumption is infectious."

He stopped short as if someone had struck him. After all, he didn't go
to the nursery; she heard him go down the passage to the smoking-room
instead.



CHAPTER VIII


Sir Peter was having his annual attack of gout. Staines Court appeared
at these times like a ship battened down and running before a storm.

Figures of pale and frightened maids flickered through the long
passage-ways. The portly butler violently ejected from the dining-room
had been seen passing swiftly through the hall, with the ungainly
movement of a prehistoric animal startled from its lair.

The room in which Sir Peter sat burned with his language. Eddies of
blasphemous sound rushed out and buffeted the landings like a rising
gale.

Sir Peter sat in a big arm chair in the center of the room. His figure
gave the impression of a fortressed island in the middle of an empty
sea. His foot was rolled in bandages and placed on a low stool before
him; within reach of his hand was a knobbed blackthorn stick, a bell
and a copy of the "Times" newspaper.

Fortunately Lady Staines was impervious to sound and acclimatized to
fury. When Sir Peter was well she frequently raised storms, but when he
had gout she let him raise them for himself. He was raising one now on
the subject of Winn's letter.

"What's that he says? What's that he says?" roared Sir Peter. "Something
the matter with his lungs! That's the first time a Staines has ever
spoken of his lungs. The boy's mad. I don't admit it! I don't believe
it for a moment, all a damned piece of doctors' rubbish, the chap's
a fool to listen to 'em! When has he ever seen me catering to
hearse-conducting, pocket-filling asses!"

Charles was home on a twenty-four hours' leave--he stood by the
mantelpiece and regarded his parent with undutiful and critical eyes. "I
should say you send for 'em," he observed, "whenever you've got a pain;
why they're always hangin' about. Look at that table chock full of
medicines. 'Nuff to kill a horse--where do they come from?"

"Hold your infernal tongue, Sir!" shouted Sir Peter. "What do I have
'em for? I have 'em here to expose them! That's why--I just let them try
it on, and then hold them up to ridicule! Do you find I ever pay the
least attention to 'em, Sarah?" he demanded from his wife.

"Not as a rule," Lady Staines admitted, "unless you're very bad indeed,
and then you do as you like directly the pain has stopped."

"Well, why shouldn't I!" said Sir Peter triumphantly. "Once I get rid of
the pain I can do as I like. When I've got red hot needles eating into
my toes, am I likely to like anything? Of course not, you may just as
well take medicine then as anything else, but as to taking orders from a
pack of ill-bred bumpkins, full of witch magic as a dog of fleas, I see
myself! Don't stand grinning there, Charles, like a dirty, shock-headed
barmaid's dropped hair pin! I won't stand it! I can't see why all my
sons should have thin legs, neither you nor I, Sarah, ever went about
like a couple of spilikin's. I call it indecent! Why don't you get
something inside 'em, Charles, eh? No stamina, that's what it is!
Everybody going to the dogs in motor cars with manicure girls out of
their parents' pockets--! Why don't you answer me, Charles, when I speak
to you?"

"Nobody can answer you when you keep roaring like a deuced megaphone,"
said Charles wearily. "Let's hear what the chap's got to say for
himself, Mater."

Lady Staines read Winn's letter out loud in a dry voice without
expression; it might have been an account of a new lawn mower which she
held beneath it.

     "I've managed to crock one of my lungs somehow, but they say I've
     got a chance if I go straight out to Davos for six months. Ask the
     guv'nor if he'll let me have some money. I shall want it badly. My
     wife and the kid will go to her people. You might run across and
     have a look at him sometimes. He's rather a jolly little chap. I
     shall come down for the week-end to-morrow unless I hear from you
     to the contrary.

     "Your affectionate son,
     "WINN."

"I think that's all," said his mother.

"What!" shouted Sir Peter. He had never shouted quite like this before.
Charles groaned and buried his head in his hands. Even Lady Staines
looked up from the lawn mower's letter, which she had placed on the top
of Winn's; the medicine bottles sprang from the table and fell back
again sufficiently shaken for the next dose.

"Do you mean to tell me!" cried Sir Peter in a quieter voice, "that that
little piece of dandelion fluff--that baggage--that city fellow's half
baked, peeled onion of a minx is going to desert her husband? That's
what I call it--desertion! What does she want to go back to her people
for? She must go with him! She must go to Davos! She shall go to Davos!
if I have to take her there by the hair! I never heard of anything so
outrageous in my life! What becomes of domesticity? where's family life?
That's what I want to know! and is Winn such a milk and water noodle
that he's going to sit down under it and say 'Thank you!' Not that I
think he needs to go to Davos for a moment, mind you. Let him come here
and have a nice quiet time with me, that's what he wants."

"That's all very well, Father," said Charles. "But what you mean is you
don't want to fork out! If the chap's told to go to Davos, he's got to
go to Davos, and it's his own look-out whether he takes his wife with
him or not. Consumption isn't a joke, and I tell you plainly that if you
don't help him when he's got a chance, you needn't expect _me_ to come
to the funeral. No flowers and coffins and beloved sons on tombstones,
are going to make me move an inch. It'll be just the same to me as if
you'd shoved him under with your own hand, and that's all I've got to
say, and it's no use blowing the roof off about it!"

"You'd better go now, Charles," said Lady Staines quietly.

When Sir Peter had finished saying what he thought of Charles and what
he intended to do to the entail, Lady Staines gave him his medicine.

"Look here, Peter," she said, "this is a bad business about our boy."

Sir Peter met her eyes and nodded.

"Yes," he agreed, "a damned bad business!"

"We'd better get him off," she added after a moment's pause.

"It's all nonsense," grumbled Sir Peter, "and I told you from the first
you ought never to have let him marry that girl. Her father's the
poorest tenant I ever had, soft-headed, London vermin! He doesn't know
anything about manure--and he'll never learn. I shall cut down all his
trees as soon as I'm about again. As for the girl, keep her out of my
sight or I'll wring her neck. I ought to have done it long ago. How much
does he want?"

"Let's make it three hundred," Lady Staines said. "He may as well be
comfortable."

"Pouring money into a sieve," grumbled Sir Peter. "Send for the doctor
and bring me the medical dictionary. I may as well see what it says
about consumption, and don't mention the word when Winn's about. I
_will_ have tact! If you'd used common or garden tact in this house
before, that marriage would never have taken place. I sit here simmering
with it day in and day out and everybody else goes about giving the
whole show away! If it hadn't been for my tact Charles would have
married that manicure girl years ago. Bring me my check-book. It's
nothing but a school-boy's lark, this going to Davos. Why consumption's
a pin-prick compared to gout! No pain--use of both legs--sanguine
disposition. Where the hell's that medical dictionary? Ah, it's there,
is it--then why the devil didn't you give it me before?"

Sir Peter read solemnly for a few minutes, and then flung the book on
the floor.

"Bosh!" he cried angrily. "All old woman's nonsense. Can't tell what's
going on inside a pair of bellows--can they? Then why make condemned
asses of themselves, and say they can! Don't tell Charles I've written
this check--he's the most uncivil rascal we've got."



CHAPTER IX


It was odd how Winn looked forward to seeing Staines; he couldn't
remember ever having paid much attention to the scenery before; he had
always liked the bare backs of the downs behind the house where he used
to exercise the horses, and the turf was short and smelt of thyme; and
of course the shooting was good and the house stood well; but he hadn't
thought about it till now, any more than he thought about his braces.

He decided to walk up from the station. There was a short cut through
the fields and then you came on the Court suddenly, over-looking a sheet
of water.

It was a still November day, colorless and sodden. The big elms were as
dark as wet haystacks and the woods huddled dispiritedly in a vague
mist.

The trees broke to the right of the Court and the house rose up like a
gigantic silver ghost.

It was a battered old Tudor building with an air of not having been
properly cleaned; blackened and weather-soaked, unconscionably averse
from change, it had held its own for four hundred years.

The stones looked as if they were made out of old moonlight and thin
December sunshine. A copse of small golden trees, aspen and silver
birches made a pale screen of light beside the house and at its feet,
the white water stretched like a gleaming eye.

There wasn't a tree Winn hadn't climbed or an inch he hadn't explored,
fought over and played on. He wanted quite horribly to come back to it
again, it was as if there were roots from the very soil in him tugging
at his menaced life.

His mother advanced across the lawn to meet him. She wore a very old
blue serge dress and a black and white check cap which looked as if it
had been discarded by a jockey.

In one hand she held a trowel and in the other a parcel of spring bulbs.
She gave Winn the side of her hard brown cheek to kiss and remarked,
"You've just come in time to help me with these bulbs. Every one of
them must be got in this afternoon. Philip has left us--your father
threw a watering can at him. I can't think what's happened to the men
nowadays, they don't seem to be able to stand anything, and I've sent
Davis into the village to buy ducks. He ought to have been back long ago
if it was only ducks, but probably it's a girl at the mill as well."

Winn looked at the bulbs with deep distaste. "Hang it all, Mother," he
objected, "it's such a messy day for planting bulbs!" "Nonsense," said
Lady Staines firmly, "I presume you wash your hands before dinner, don't
you, you can get the dirt off then? It's a perfect day for bulbs as
you'd know if you had the ghost of country sense in you. There's another
trowel in the small greenhouse, get it and begin." Winn strode off to
the greenhouse smiling; he had had an instinctive desire to get home, he
wanted hard sharp talk that he could answer as if it were a Punch and
Judy show.

In his married life he had had to put aside the free expression of his
thoughts; you couldn't hit out all round if the other person wouldn't
hit back and started whining. Every member of the Staines family had
been brought up on the tradition of combative speech, the bleakest of
personalities found its nest there. Sometimes, of course, you got too
much of it. Sir Peter and Charles were noisy and James and Dolores were
apt to be brutally rough. They were all vehement but there were
different shades in their ability. Winn got through the joints in their
armor as easily as milk slips into a glass. It was Lady Staines and Winn
who were the deadly fighters.

They fought the others with careless ease, but they fought each other
watchfully with fixed eyes and ready implacable brains.

It was difficult to say what they fought for but it was a magnificent
spectacle to see them fight, and they had for each other a regard which,
if it was never tender, had every element of respect.

They worked now for some time in silence. Suddenly Lady Staines cocked a
wintry blue eye in her son's direction and remarked, "Why ain't your
wife going with you to Davos?" Winn hurled a bulb into the small hole
prepared for it before answering, then he said:

"She's too delicate to stand the cold."

"Is there anything the matter with her?" asked his mother.

Winn preferred to consider this question in the light of rhetoric and
made no reply. He wasn't going to give Estelle away by saying there was
nothing the matter with her, and on the other hand a lie would have been
pounced upon and torn to pieces. "Marriage don't seem to have agreed
with either of you particularly well," observed Lady Staines with a grim
smile.

"We haven't got your constitution," replied her son. "If either you or
Father had married any one else--they'd have been dead within six
months."

"Humph!" said his mother. "That only shows our sound judgment; we took
what we could stomach! It's her look-out of course, but I suppose she
knows she's running you into the Divorce Court, letting you go out there
by yourself? All those snow places bristle with grass widows and girls
who have outstayed their market and have to get a hustle on! Sending a
man out there alone is like driving a new-born lamb into a pack of
wolves!" Lady Staines with her eye on the heavily built and rather
leathery lamb beside her gave a sardonic chuckle. Winn ignored her
illustration.

"You needn't be afraid," he replied. "I'm done with women; they tempt me
about as much as stale sponge cakes."

"Ah!" said his mother, "I've heard that tale before. A man who says he's
done with women simply means one of them's done with him. Besides,
you're to be an invalid, I understand! An invalid man is as exposed to
women as a young chicken to rats. You won't stand a ghost of a chance.
Look at your father, if I left him alone when he was having an attack of
gout with a gray-haired matron of a reformatory, he'd be on his knees to
her before I could get back."

"You can take it from me," said Winn, "that even if I _should_ need such
a thing as a petticoat, I'd try a kind that won't affect marriage. I'll
never look at another good woman again--the other sort will do for me if
I can't stick it without."

"Don't racket too much," said Lady Staines, planting her last bulb with
scientific skill. "They say keeping women's very expensive up there--on
account of the Russian Princes."

"By the by," said Winn, "thanks for the money. Had any difficulty in
extracting it?"

"Not much," said Lady Staines, withdrawing to the lawn. "Charles got
rather in the way."

"Silly ass," observed Winn. "Didn't want me to have it, I suppose?"

"No, he did want you to have it," replied Lady Staines, "but he needn't
have been such a fool as to have said so. It nearly upset everything.
His idea was, you see, that if his father gave you something--he and
James would have to be bought off. So they were in the end, but they'd
have had more if he'd played his hand better."

Winn laughed. "Jolly to be home again," he remarked. "Dinner as usual?"

"Yes," said Lady Staines, "and don't forget one of the footmen's a
Plymouth Brother and mustn't be shocked. It's so difficult to get any
one nowadays, one mustn't be too particular. He said he could stand your
father by constant prayer, but he gave notice over Charles. Charles
ought to have waited till dessert to let himself go."

The dinner passed off well. Sir Peter and Winn had one never failing
bone of contention, the rival merits of the sister services. Sir Peter
expressed on every possible occasion in his son's presence, a bitter
contempt for the army, and Winn never let an opportunity pass without
pointing out the gorged and pampered state of the British Navy.

"If we'd had half the money spent on us, Sir, that you keep guzzling
over," Winn cheerfully threw out, "we could knock spots out of Europe.
The trouble with England is--she treats her sailors as if they were the
proud sisters--and we are shoved out like Cinderella into the scullery
to do all the dirty work."

"Pooh!" said Sir Peter, "work! Is that what you call it--takin' a horse
out for an hour or two, and shoutin' at a few men on a parade ground.
What's an army good for--even when it's big enough to be seen with the
naked eye and capable of attacking a few black savages with their
antiquated weapons. Why you're _safe_, that's what you are--dead safe!
Land's beneath you--immovable--you can get anywhere you want to as easy
as sliding down banisters! Targets keep still too! It's nothing to hit a
thing you can stand to fire at while _it_ stands still to _be_ fired at!
Child's play, that's what it is. Look at us, something up all the time,
peace or war. We've got the sea to fight--wind too--and thick weather.
We've got our pace to mind and if we ever did clinch up we'd have to do
our fighting at a rate that'd make an express train giddy--and running
after a target goin' as hard as we do! That's what I call something of a
service. No! No! The Army's played out. You're for ornament now, meant
to go round Buckingham Palace and talk to nurse-maids in the Park."

"Not many nurse-maids in the Kyber Pass," his son observed.

"Frontiers--yes, I dare say," snorted Sir Peter. "A few black rag dolls
behind trees popping at you to keep your circulation going, and you with
Maxims and all, going picnics in the hills and burning down villages as
easy as pulling fire-crackers--and half the time you want help from us!
Look at South Africa!"

They looked at South Africa for some time till the dessert came and the
Plymouth Brother thankfully withdrew. After that Winn allowed himself
some margin and Lady Staines leaned back in her chair, ate grapes and
enjoyed her coffee.

The conversation became pungent, savage and enlivened on Sir Peter's
part by strange oaths.

Winn kept to sudden thrusts of irony impossible to foresee and difficult
to parry.

They drank velvety ripe old port. Sir Peter was for the moment out of
pain and anxious to assert his freedom from doctors. The conversation
shifted to submarines. Sir Peter thought them an underhand and decadent
development suited to James, who was in command of one of them.

As to aëroplanes he said that as we'd now succeeded in imitating
infernal birds and fishes--he supposed we'd soon bring off reptiles the
kind of creature the modern young would be likely to represent best.

"We shall soon have the police crawling on their bellies up and down the
Strand hiding behind lamp-posts," finished Sir Peter. "Call that kind of
thing science! It's an inverted Noah's Ark! That's what it is! And when
you get it all going to suit yourself, there'll be another flood, and
serve you all damned well right. I shall enjoy seeing you drown!"

Winn replied that you had to fight with your head now and that people
who fought with their fists were about as dangerous as stuffed rabbits.

Sir Peter replied that in the end everything came down to blood, how
much you'd got yourself and how much you could get out of the enemy.

Lady Staines was slightly afraid of leaving them in this atmosphere, but
at last she reluctantly withdrew to the hall, where she listened to the
varying shades of Sir Peter's voice and decided they were on the whole
loud enough to be normal.

At eleven o'clock she and Winn between them assisted Sir Peter to bed.

This was a sharp and fiery passage usually undertaken by the toughest of
the gardeners.

Winn however managed extraordinarily well. He insisted on occasional
pauses and by a home truth of an appallingly personal nature actually
silenced his father for the last half flight.

Sir Peter breakfasted in his room.

He had had a bad night. He wouldn't, as he explained to his wife, have
minded if Winn had been a puny chap; but there he was, sound and strong,
with clear hard eyes, broad, straight shoulders and a grip of iron, and
yet Taylor, that little village hound of an apothecary, said once you
had microbes it didn't matter how strong you were--they were just as
likely to be fatal as if you were a narrow-chested epileptic.

Microbes! The very thought of such small insignificant creatures getting
in his way filled Sir Peter with fury. He had always hated insects. But
the worst of it was in the morning he didn't feel angry, he simply felt
chilled and helpless. His son was hit and he couldn't help him. It all
came back to that. There was only one person who could help a sick man,
and that person was his wife. Theoretically Sir Peter despised and hated
women, but practically he leaned on his wife as only a strong man can
lean on a woman; without her, he literally would not have known which
way to turn. His trust in her was as solid as his love for a good stout
ship. In every crisis of his life she had stood by his side, bitter
tongued, hard-headed, undemonstrative and his as much as any ship that
had sailed under his flag.

If she had failed him he would have gone down, and now here was his
son's wife--another woman--presumably formed for the same purpose,
leaking away from under him at the very first sign of weather.

He thought of Estelle with a staggered horror; she had looked soft and
sweet--just the woman to minister to a knocked-out man. The trouble with
her was she had no guts.

Sir Peter woke his wife up at four o'clock in the morning to shout this
fact into her ear. Lady Staines said, "Well--whoever said she had?" and
apparently went to sleep again. But Sir Peter didn't go to sleep:
Estelle reminded him of how he had once been done over a mare, a
beautiful, fine stepping lady-like creature who looked as if she were
made of velvet and steel, no vice in her and every point correct; and
then what had happened? He'd bought her and she'd developed a spirit
like wet cotton wool, no pace, no staying power. She'd sweat and stumble
after a few minutes run, no amount of dieting, humoring or whipping
affected her. She'd set out to shirk, and shirk she did--till he worked
her off on a damned fool Dolores had fortunately introduced him to--only
wives can't be handed on like mares--"Devil's the pity"--Sir Peter said
to himself, as he fell off to sleep. "Works perfectly with horses."

Winn came up-stairs soon after breakfast a little set and silent, to say
good-by to his father. Sir Peter had thrown his breakfast out of the
window and congealed the Plymouth Brother's morning prayers. He wanted
to get hold of something tangible to move circumstances and cheat fate,
but he couldn't think what you did do, when it wasn't a question of
storms or guns--or a man you could knock down for insubordination,
simply a physical fact.

He scowled gloomily at his son's approach. "I wish you weren't such a
damned fool," he observed by way of greeting. "Why can't you shake a
little sense into your wife? What's marriage for? I've been talking to
your mother about it. I don't say she isn't a confoundedly aggravating
woman, your mother! But she's always stuck to me, hasn't let me down,
you know. A wife ain't meant to do that. It's unnatural! Why can't you
say to her, 'You come with me or I'll damned well show you the reason
why--' That's the line to take!"

"A woman you've got to say that to isn't going to make much of a
companion," Winn said quietly. "I'd rather she stayed where she liked."

Sir Peter was silent for a moment, then he said, "Any more children
coming?"

"No," said his son, "nor likely to be either, as far as I'm concerned."

"There you are!" said Sir Peter. "Finicky and immoral, that's what I
call it! That's the way trouble begins, the more children the less
nonsense. Why don't you have more children instead of sitting sneering
at me like an Egyptian Pyramid?"

"That's my look-out," said Winn with aggravating composure. "When I want
'em, I'll have 'em. Don't you worry, Father."

"That's all devilish well!" said Sir Peter crossly. "But I _shall_
worry! Do I know more about the world or do you? Not that I want to
quarrel with you, my dear boy," he added hastily. "I admit things are
awkward for you--damned awkward--still it's no use sitting down under
them when you might have a row and clear the air, is it? What I want to
say is--why not have a row?"

"You can't have a row with a piece of pink silk, can you?" his son
demanded. "I don't want to blame her, but it's no use counting her in;
besides, honestly, Father, I don't care a rap--why should I expect her
to? My marriage was a misdeal."

Sir Peter shook his head. "Men ought to love their wives," he said
solemnly; "in a sense, of course, no fuss about it, and never letting
them know--and not putting oneself out about it! But still there ought
to be something to hold on to, and anyhow the more you stick together,
the more there is, and your going off like this won't improve matters.
Love or no love, marriage is a life."

Winn laughed again. "Life--" he said, "yes--well--how do I know how much
longer I shall have to bother about life?"

There was a silence. Sir Peter's gnarled old hands met above his
blackthorn stick and trembled.

Winn wished he hadn't spoken. He did not know how to tell his father not
to mind. He hadn't really thought his father would mind.

However, there they sat, minding it.

Then Sir Peter said, "I don't believe in consumption, I never have, and
I never shall; besides Taylor says Davos is a very good place for it,
and you're an early case, and it's all damned nonsense, and you've got
to buck up and think no more about it. What I want to hear is that
you're back in your Regiment again. I dare say there'll be trouble later
on, and then where'll you be if you're an invalid--have you ever thought
of that?"

"Yes--that'd be something to live for," Winn said gravely; "trouble."

"You shouldn't be so confoundedly particular," said his father. "Now
look at me--if we did have trouble where'd I be? Nowhere at all--old!
Just gout and newspapers and sons getting up ideas about their lungs,
but when do I complain?

"If you want another £50 any time--I don't say that I can't give it to
you--though the whole thing's damned unremunerative! There's the trap.
Well--good-by."

Winn stood quite still for a moment looking at his father. It might have
been thought by an observer that his eyes, which were remarkably
bright, were offensively critical, but Sir Peter, though he wished the
last moment to end, knew that his son was not being critical.

Then Winn said, "Well--good-by, Father. I'm sure I'm much obliged to
you." And his father said, "Damn everything!" just after the door was
shut.



CHAPTER X


It hadn't seemed dismal at first, it had only seemed quite unnatural.
Everything had stopped being natural when the small creature in lawn,
only the height of his knee, had been torn reluctantly away from its
hold on his trousers. This parting had made Winn feel as if something
inside him was being unfairly handled.

There was nothing he could get hold of in Peter to promise security, and
the only thing that Peter could grasp was the trousers, which had had to
be forcibly removed from him.

Later on Peter would be consoled by a Teddy Bear or the hearth brush,
but Winn had had to go before Peter was consoled, and without the
resources of the hearth brush.

Estelle wept bitterly in the hall, but Winn hadn't minded that; he had
long ago come to the conclusion that Estelle had a taste for tears, just
as some people liked boiled eggs for breakfast. He simply patted her on
the shoulder and looked away from her while she kissed him.

He had enjoyed starting from Charing Cross, intimidating the porters and
giving the man who registered his luggage dispassionate and unfavorable
pieces of his mind. But when he was once fairly off he began to have a
new feeling. It came over him when he was out of England and had crossed
the small gray strip of formless familiar sea--the sea itself always
seemed to Winn to belong much more to England than to France--so much so
that it annoyed him at Boulogne to have to submit to being thought
possibly unblasphemous by porters. He began to feel alone. Up till now
he had always seen his way. There had been fellows to do things with and
animals; even marriage, though disconcerting, had not set him adrift. He
had been cramped by it, but not disintegrated. Now what seemed to have
happened was that he had been cut loose. There wasn't the regiment or
even a staff college to fall back upon. There wasn't a trail to follow
or horses to gentle; his very dog had had to be left behind because of
the ridiculous restrictions of canine quarantine.

It really was an extraordinarily uncomfortable feeling, as if he were a
damned ghost poking about in a new world full of surprises. It was quite
possible that he might find himself among bounders. He had always
avoided bounders, but that had been comparatively easy in a world where
everybody observed an unspoken, inviolable code. If people didn't know
the ropes, they found it simpler to go, and Winn had sometimes assisted
them to find it simpler; but he saw that now bounders could really turn
up with impunity, for, as far as ropes went, it was he himself who would
be in the minority. He might meet men who talked, long-haired,
mysterious chaps too soft to kick or radicals, though if the worst came
to the worst, he flattered himself that he had always the resource of
being unpleasant.

He knew that when the hair rose up on his head like the back of a
challenged bull-dog, and he stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at
people rather straight between the eyes, they usually shut up.

He didn't mind doing this of course, if necessary; only if he had to do
it to everybody in the hotel it might become monotonous, and he had a
nervous fear that consumption was rather a cad's disease.

Fortunately he had got his skates, and he supposed there'd be toboggans
and skis. He would see everybody in hell before he would share a table.

It was curious how one could get to thirty-six and then suddenly in the
middle of nothing start up a whole new set of feelings--feelings about
Peter, who had, after all, only just happened, and yet seemed to have
belonged to him always; and his lungs going wrong, and loneliness, like
a homesick school-girl! Winn had never felt lonely in Central Africa or
Tibet, so that it seemed rather absurd to start such an emotion in a
railway train surrounded by English people, particularly as it had
nothing to do with what he looked upon as his home. His feeling about
leaving the house at Aldershot had been, "Thank God there aren't going
to be any more dinners!"

Still, there it was. He did feel lonely; probably it was one of the
symptoms of bad lungs which Travers hadn't mentioned, the same kind of
thing as the perfectly new desire to lean back in his corner and shut
his eyes.

He felt all right in a way, his muscles acted, he could easily have
thrown a stout young man with white eyelashes passing along the corridor
through the nearest window; but there was a blurred sensation behind
everything, a tiresome, unaccountable feeling as if he mightn't always
be able to do things. He couldn't explain it exactly; but if it really
turned up at all formidably later, he intended to shoot himself quickly
before Peter got old enough to care.

One thing he had quite made up his mind about: he would get well if he
could, but if he couldn't, he wasn't going to be looked after. The mere
thought of it drove him into the corridor, where he spent the night
alternately walking up and down and sitting on an extremely
uncomfortable small seat by a draughty door to prove to himself that he
wasn't in the least tired.

He began to feel rather better after the coffee at Basle, and though he
was hardly the kind of person to take much interest in mere scenery, the
small Swiss villages, with their high pink or blue clock-faced churches
made him wish he could pack them into a box, with a slice of green
mountain behind, and send them to Peter to play with.

After Landeck he smelt the snows, and challenged successfully the whole
shivering carriage on the subject of an open window. The snows reminded
Winn in a jolly way of Kashmir and nights spent alone on dizzy heights
in a Dak bungalow.

The valleys ceased slowly to breathe, the dull autumn coloring sank into
the whiteness of a dream. The mountains rose up on all sides, wave upon
wave of frozen foam, aiming steadily at the high, clear skies. The
half-light of the failing day covered the earth with a veil of silver
and retreating gold.

The valleys passed into silence, freezing, whispering silence. The moon
rose mysteriously behind a line of black fir-trees, sending shafts of
blue light into the hollow cup of mountain gorges. It was a poet's
world, Blake or Shelley could have made it, it was too cold for Keats.
Winn had not read these poets. It reminded him of a particularly good
chamois hunt, in which he had bagged a splendid fellow, after four
hours' hard climbing and stalking. The mountains receded a little, and
everything became part of a white hollow filled with black fir-trees,
and beyond the fir-trees a blue lake as blue as an Indian moonstone, and
then one by one, with the unexpectedness of a flight of glow-worms,
sparkled the serried ranks of the hotels. Out they flashed, breaking up
the mystery, defying the mountains, as insistent and strident as life.

The train stopped, and its contents spilled themselves out a little
uncertainly and stiffly on the platform. Instantly the cold caught them,
not the insidious, subtle cold of lower worlds, but the fresh, brusk
buffet of the Alps. It caught them by the throat and chest, it tingled
in ears and noses; there was no menace in it, and no weakness. It was as
compulsory as a policeman in a street fight.

Winn had just stepped aside to allow a clamorous lady to take possession
of his porter when he saw a man struggle into the light under a
lamp-post; he was carrying something very carefully in his arms.

Winn could not immediately make out what it was, but he saw the man's
face and read utmost mortal misery in his eyes; then he discovered that
the burden was a woman. Her hands were so thin that they lay like
broken flower petals on the man's shoulders; her face was nothing but a
hollow shell; her eyes moved, so that Winn knew she was alive, and in
the glassy stillness of the air he caught her dry whispering voice, "I
am not really tired, dearest," she murmured. In a moment they had
vanished. It struck Winn as very curious that people could love each
other like that, or that a dying woman should fight her husband's fears
with her last strength. He felt horribly sorry for them and impatient
with himself for feeling sorry. After all, he had not come up to Davos
to go about all over the place feeling sorry for strange people to whom
he had never been introduced. The funny part of it was that he didn't
only feel sorry for them, he felt a little sorry for himself. Was love
really like that? And had he missed it? Well, of course he knew he had
missed it, only he hadn't realized that it was quite like that.

Fortunately at this moment a German porter appeared to whom Winn felt an
instant simple antagonism. He was a self-complacent man, and he brought
Winn the wrong luggage.

"Look here, my man," Winn said smoothly, but with a rocky insistence
behind his words, "if you don't look a little sharp and bring me the
_right_ boxes with green labels, I shall have to kick you into the
middle of next week."

This restored Winn even more quickly than it restored his luggage. No
one followed him into the small stuffy omnibus which glided off swiftly
toward its destination. The hotel was an ugly wooden house in the shape
of a hive built out with balconies; it reminded Winn of a gigantic
bird-cage handsomely provided with perches. It was only ten o'clock, but
the house was as silent as the mountains behind it.

The landlord appeared, and, leading Winn into a brilliantly lighted,
empty room, offered him cold meat.

Winn said the kind of thing that any Staines would feel called upon to
say on arriving at a cold place at a late hour and being confronted with
cold meat.

The landlord apologized in a whisper, and returned after some delay with
soup. Nothing, not even more language, could move him beyond soup. He
kept saying that it was late and that they must be quiet, and he didn't
seem to believe Winn when Winn remarked that he hadn't come up there to
be quiet. Winn himself became quieter as he followed the landlord
through interminable passages covered with linoleum where his boots made
a noise like muffled thunder.

Everywhere there was a strange sense of absolute cleanliness and
silence, the subduing smell of disinfectant and the sight of padded,
green felt doors.

When Winn was left alone in a room like a vivid cell, all emptiness and
electric light, and with another green door leading into a farther room,
he became aware of a very faint sound that came from the other side of
the door. It was like the bark of a dog shut up in a distant cellar; it
explained the padding of the doors.

In all the months that followed, Winn never lost this sound, near or
far; it was always with him, seldom shattering and harsh, but always
sounding as if something were being broken gradually, little by little,
shaken into pieces by some invisible disintegrating power.

Winn flung open the long window which faced the bed. It led out to a
small private balcony--if he had to be out on a balcony, he had of
course made a point of its being private--and looked over all Davos.

The lights were nearly gone now. Only two or three twinkled in a narrow
circle on a sheet of snow; behind them the vague shapes of the mountains
hung immeasurably alien and at peace.

A bell rang out through the still air with a deep, reverberating note.
It was a reassuring and yet solemn sound, as if it alone were
responsible for humanity, for all the souls crowded together in the tiny
valley, striving for their separate, shaken, inconclusive lives.

"An odd place--Davos," Winn thought to himself. "No idea it was like
this. Sort of mix up between a picnic and a cemetery!"

And then suddenly somebody laughed. The sound came from a slope of
mountain behind the hotel, and through the dark Winn's quick ear caught
the sound of a light rushing across the snow. Some one must be
tobogganing out there, some one very young and gay and incorrigibly
certain of joy. Winn hoped he should hear Peter laughing like that later
on. It was such a jolly boy's laugh, low, with a mischievous chuckle in
it, elated, and very disarming.

He hoped the child wouldn't get hauled up for being out so late and
making a noise. He smiled as he thought that the owner of the voice,
even if collared, would probably be up to getting out of his trouble;
and when he turned in, he was still smiling.



CHAPTER XI


Dr. Gurnet's house was like an eye, or a pair of super-vigilant eyes,
stationed between Davos Dorf and Davos Platz.

It stood, a small brown chalet, perched high above the lake. There was
nothing on either side of it but the snows, the sunshine, and the sense
of its vigilance; inside, from floor to ceiling, there were neat little
cases with the number of the year, and in each year there was a
complete, exhaustive, and entertaining history of those who wintered,
unaware of its completion and entertainment, in either of the villages.
No eye but his own saw these documents, but no secret policeman ever so
controlled the inner workings of a culprit's mind. There was nothing in
Dr. Gurnet himself that led one to believe in his piercing quality. He
was a stout little man, with a high-domed, bald head, long arms, short
legs, and whitish blue eyes which had the quality of taking in
everything they saw without giving anything out.

Sometimes they twinkled, but the twinkle was in most cases for his own
consumption; he disinfected even his jokes so that they were never
catching. The consulting-room contained no medical books. There were two
book-shelves, on one side psychology from the physical point of view,
and in the other bookcase, psychology as understood by the leading
lights of the Catholic religion.

Dr. Gurnet was fond of explaining to his more intelligent patients that
here you had the two points of view.

"Psychology is like alcohol," he observed; "you may have it with
soda-water or without. Religion is the soda-water."

Two tiger skins lay on the floor. Dr. Gurnet was a most excellent shot.
He was too curious for fear, though he always asserted that he disliked
danger, and took every precaution to avoid it, excepting, of course,
giving up the thing which he had set out to do. But it was a fact that
his favorites among his patients were, as a rule, those who loved danger
for its own sake without curiosity and without fear.

He saw at a glance that Winn belonged to this category. Names were like
pocket electric lamps to Dr. Gurnet. He switched them on and off to
illuminate the dark places of the earth. He held Winn's card in his hand
and recalled that he had known a former colonel of his regiment.

"A very distinguished officer," he remarked, "of a very distinguished
regiment. Probably perfectly unknown in England. England has a
preference for worthless men while they live and a tenderness for them
after they are dead unless corrected by other nations. It is an odd
thing to me that men like Colonel Travers and yourself, for instance,
care to give up your lives to an empire that is like a badly deranged
stomach with a craving for unhealthy objects."

"We haven't got to think about it," said Winn. "We keep the corner we
are in quiet."

"Yes," said Dr. Gurnet sympathetically, "I know; but I think it would be
better if you had to think about it. Perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to
keep things quiet if they were more thoroughly exposed to thought."

Winn's attention wandered to the tiger skins.

"Did you bag those fellows yourself?" he asked. Dr. Gurnet smilingly
agreed. After this Winn didn't so much mind having his chest examined.

But the examination of his chest, though a long and singularly thorough
operation, seemed to Dr. Gurnet a mere bead strung on an extended
necklace. He hadn't any idea, as the London specialist had had, that
Winn could only have one organ and one interest. He came upon him with
the effect of bouncing out from behind a screen with a series of funny,
flat little questions. Sometimes Winn thought he was going to be angry
with him, but he never was. There was a blithe impersonal touch in Dr.
Gurnet, a smiling willingness to look on private histories as of less
importance than last year's newspapers. It was as if he airily explained
to his patients that really they had better put any facts there were on
the files, and let the housemaid use the rest for the kitchen fire; and
he required very little on Winn's part. From a series of reluctant
monosyllables he built up a picturesque and reliable structure of his
new patient's life. They weren't by any means all physical questions. He
wanted to know if Winn knew German. Winn said he didn't, and added that
he didn't like Germans.

"Then you should take some pains to understand them," observed Dr.
Gurnet. "Not to understand the language of an enemy is the first step
toward defeat. Why, it is even necessary sometimes to understand one's
friends."

Winn said that he had a friend he understood perfectly; his name was
Lionel Drummond.

"I know him through and through," he explained; "that's why I trust
him." Dr. Gurnet looked interested, but not convinced.

"Ah," he said, "personally I shouldn't trust any man till he was dead.
You know where you are then, you know. Before that one prophesies. By
the by, are you married?" Dr. Gurnet did not raise his eyes at this
question, but before Winn's leaden "Yes" had answered him he had written
on the case paper, "Unhappy domestic life."

"And--er--your wife's not here with you?" Dr. Gurnet suavely continued.
Winn thought himself non-committal when he confined himself to saying:

"No; she's in England with my boy." He was as non-committal for Dr.
Gurnet as if he had been a wild elephant. He admitted Peter with a
change of voice, and asked eagerly if things with lungs were hereditary
or catching?

"Not at present in your case," Dr. Gurnet informed him. "By the by,
you'll get better, you know. You're a little too old to cure, but you'll
patch up."

"What does that mean?" Winn demanded. "Shall I be a broken-winded,
cats'-meat hack?"

Dr. Gurnet shook his head.

"You can go back to your regiment," he said, "and do anything you like
bar pig-sticking and polo in a year's time. That is to say, if you do as
you are told for that year and will have the kindness to remember that,
if you do not, I am not responsible, nor shall I be in any great degree
inconsolable. I am here like a sign-post; my part of the business is to
point the road. I really don't care if you follow it or not; but I
should be desolated, of course, if you followed it and didn't arrive.
This, however, has not yet occurred to me.

"You will be out of doors nine hours a day, and kindly fill in this card
for me. You may skate, but not ski or toboggan, nor take more than four
hours' active exercise out of the twenty-four. In a month's time I shall
be pleased to see you. Remember about the German and--er--do you ever
flirt?"

Winn stared ominously.

"Flirt? No," he said. "Why the devil should I?"

Dr. Gurnet gave a peculiar little smile, half quizzical and half kindly.

"Well," he said, "I sometimes recommend it to my patients in order that
they may avoid the intenser application known as falling in love. Or in
cases like your own, for instance, when a considerable amount of
beneficial cheerfulness may be arrived at by a careful juxtaposition of
the sexes. You follow me?"

"No, hanged if I do," said Winn. "I've told you I'm married, haven't I?
Besides, I dislike women."

"Ah, there perhaps we may be more in agreement than you imagine," said
Dr. Gurnet, increasing his kindly smile. "But I must continue to assure
you that this avoidance of what you dislike is a hazardous operation.
The study of women at a distance is both amusing and instructive. I
grant you that too close personal relations are less so. I have avoided
family life most carefully from this consideration, but much may be
obtained from women without going to extremes. In fact, if I may say so,
women impart their most favorable attributes solely under these
conditions. Good morning."

Winn left the small brown house with a heart that was strangely light.
Of course he didn't believe in doctors any more than Sir Peter did, but
he found himself believing that he was going to get well.

All the morning he had been moving his mind in slow waves that did not
seem like thoughts against the rock of death; but he came away from the
tiger-skins and the flickering laughter of Dr. Gurnet's eyes with a
comfortable sense of having left all such questions on the doorstep. He
thought instead of whether it was worth while to go down to the rink
before lunch or not.

It was while he was still undecided as to this question that he heard a
little shriek of laughter. It ran up a scale like three notes on a
flute; he knew in a moment that it was the same laughter he had
listened to the night before.

He turned aside and found himself at the bend of a long ice run leading
down to the lake. A group of men were standing there, and with one foot
on a toboggan, her head flung back, her eyes full of sparkling mischief,
was the child. He forgot that he had ever thought her a boy, though she
looked on the whole as if she would like to be thought one. Her curly
auburn hair was short and very thick, and perched upon it was a round
scarlet cap; her mouth was scarlet; her eyes were like Scotch braes,
brown and laughing; the curves of her long, delicate lips ran upward;
her curving thin, black eyebrows were like question-marks; her chin was
tilted upward like the petal of a flower. She was very slim, and wore a
very short brown skirt which revealed the slenderest of feet and ankles;
a sweater clung to her unformed, lithe little figure. She had an air of
pointed sharpness and firmness like a lifted sword. She might have been
sixteen, though she was, as a matter of fact, three years older; but she
was not so much an age as a sensation--the sensation of youth,
incredibly arrogant and unharmed. The men were trying to dissuade her
from the run. It had just been freshly iced; the long blue line of it
curved as hard as iron in and out under banks of ice far down into the
valley. A tall boy beside her, singularly like her in features and
coloring, but weaker in fiber and expression, said querulously:

"Don't go and make a fool of yourself, Claire. It's a man's run, not a
girl's. I won't have you do it." It was the fatal voice of authority
without power.

Across the group her eyes met Winn's; wicked and gay they ran over him
and into him. He stuck his hands into his pockets and stared back at her
grimly, like a Staines. He wasn't going to say anything; only if she had
belonged to him he would have stopped her. His eyes said he could have
stopped her; but she didn't belong to him, so he set his square jaw, and
gave her his unflinching, indifferent disapproval.

She appeared after this to be unaware of him, and turned to her brother.

"Won't have it?" she said, with a little gurgle of laughter. "Why, how
do you suppose you can stop me? There's only one way of keeping a man's
run for men, and that's for girls not to be able to use it--see!"

She slipped her teasing foot off the toboggan and with an agile twist of
her small body sprang face downward on the board. In an instant she was
off, lying along it light as a feather, but holding the runners in a
grip of steel. In a moment more she was nothing but a traveling black
dot far down the valley, lifting to the banks, swirling lightning swift
back into the straight in a series of curves and flashes, till at the
end the toboggan, girl and all, swung high into the air, and subsided
safely into a snow-drift.

Winn turned and walked away; he wasn't going to applaud her. Something
burned in his heart, grave and angry, stubborn and very strong. It was
as if a strange substance had got into him, and he couldn't in the least
have said what it was. It voiced itself for him in his saying to
himself, "That girl wants looking after." The men on the bank admired
her; there were too many of them, and no woman. He wondered if he should
ever see her again. She was curiously vivid to him--brown shoes and
stockings, tossed hair, clear eyes. He remembered once going to an opera
and being awfully bored because there was such a lot of stiff music and
people bawling about; only on the stage there had been a girl lying in
the middle of a ring of flames. She'd showed up uncommonly well, rather
like this one did in the hot sunshine.

Walking back to the hotel he met a string of bounders, people he had
seen and loathed at breakfast. Some of them had tried to talk to him;
one beggar had had the cheek to ask Winn what he was up there for, and
when Winn had said, "Not to answer impertinent questions," things at the
breakfast-table--there was one confounded long one for breakfast--had
fallen rather flat.

He felt sure he wouldn't see the girl again; only he did almost at once.
She came into the _salle-à-manger_ with her brother, as if it belonged
to them. After two stormy, obstinate scenes Winn had obtained the
shelter of his separate and solitary table. The waiter approached the
two young things as they entered late and a little flushed; apparently
he explained to them with patient stubbornness that they, at any rate,
must give up this privilege; they couldn't have a separate table. He
also tried to persuade them which one to join. The boy made a blustering
assertion of himself and then subsided. Claire Rivers did neither. Her
eyes ran over the room, mutinous and a little disdainful; then she
moved. It seemed to Winn he had never seen anybody move so lightly and
so swiftly. There was no faltering in her. She took the room with her
head up like a sail before a breeze. She came straight to Winn's table
and looked down at him.

"This is ours," she said. "You've taken it, though we were here first.
Do you think it's fair?"

Winn rose quietly and looked down at her. He was glad he was half a head
taller; still he couldn't look very far down. She caught at the corner
of her lip with a small white tooth. He tried to make a look of
sternness come into his eyes, but he felt guiltily aware that he wanted
to give in to her, just as he wanted to give in, to Peter.

"Of course," he said, gravely, "I had no idea it was your table when I
got it from that tow-headed fool. You must take it at once, and I'll
make him bring in another one."

"He won't," said Claire. "He says he can't; Herr Avalon, the proprietor,
won't give him another; besides, there isn't room."

"Oh, I think he will," said Winn. "Shall I go over and bring your
brother to you? Won't you sit down?"

She hesitated, then she said:

"You make me feel as if I were being very rude, and I don't want to
drive you away. Only, you know, the other people here are rather awful,
aren't they?"

Winn was aware that their entire awfulness was concentrated upon his
companion.

"Please sit down," he said a little authoritatively. Her brother ought
to have backed her up, but the young fool wouldn't; he stood
shamefacedly over by the door. "I'll get hold of your brother," Winn
added, turning away from her. The waiter hovered nervously in their
direction.

"Am I to set for the three, sir?" he ventured. Claire turned quickly
toward Winn.

"Yes," she said; "why not? If you don't mind, I mean. You aren't really
a bit horrid."

"How can you possibly tell?" Winn asked, with a short laugh. "However,
I'll get your brother, and if you really don't mind, I'll come back with
him."

Claire was quite sure that she could tell and that she didn't mind.

The waiter came back in triumph, but Winn gave him a sharp look which
extracted his triumph as neatly as experts extract a winkle with a pin.
Maurice apologized with better manners than Winn had expected. He looked
a terribly unlicked cub, and Winn found himself watching anxiously to
see if Claire ate enough and the right things. He couldn't, of course,
say anything if she didn't, but he found himself watching.



CHAPTER XII


Winn was from the first sure that it was perfectly all right. She
wouldn't notice him at all. She would merely look upon him as the man
who was there when there were skates to clean, skis to oil, any handy
little thing which the other fellows, being younger and not feeling so
like an old nurse, might more easily overlook. Women liked fellows who
cut a dash, and you couldn't cut a dash and be an old nurse
simultaneously. Winn clung to the simile of the old nurse. That was,
after all the real truth of his feelings, not more than that, certainly
not love. Love would make more of a figure in the world, not that it
mattered what you called things provided you behaved decently. Only he
was glad he was not in love.

He bought her flowers and chocolates, though he had a pang about the
chocolates, not feeling quite sure that they were good for her; but
flowers were safe.

He didn't give her lilies--they seemed too self-consciously virginal, as
if they wanted to rub it in--he gave her crimson roses, flowers that
frankly enjoyed themselves and were as beautiful as they could be. They
were like Claire herself. She never stopped to consider an attitude; she
just went about flowering all over the place in a kind of perpetual
fragrance.

She enjoyed herself so much that she simply hadn't time to notice any
one in particular. There were a dozen men always about her. She was so
young and happy and unintentional that every one wanted to be with her.
It was like sitting in the sun.

She never muddled things up or gave needless pain or cheated. That was
what Winn liked about her. She was as fair as a judge without being
anything like so grave.

They were all playing a game, and she was the leader. They would have
let her break the rules if she had wanted to break them! but she
wouldn't have let herself.

Of course the hotel didn't approve of her; no hotel could be expected to
approve of a situation which it so much enjoyed. Besides Claire was
lawless; she kept her own rules, but she broke everybody else's. She
never sought a chaperon or accepted some older woman's sheltering
presence; she never sat in the ladies' salon or went to tea with the
chaplain's wife. On one dreadful occasion she tobogganed wilfully on a
Sunday, under the chaplain's nose, with a man who had arrived only the
night before.

When old Mrs. Stewart, who knitted regularly by the winter and counted
almost as many scandals as stitches, took her up on the subject out of
kindness of heart, Claire had said without meaning to be rude:

"I really don't think the chaplain's nose ought to be there, to _be_
under, do you?"

Of course, Mrs. Stewart did. She had the highest respect for the
chaplain's nose; but it wasn't the kind of subject you could argue
about.

For a long time Claire and Winn never really talked; she threw words at
him over her shoulder or in the hall or when he put her skates on or
took them off at the rink. He seemed to get there quicker than any one
else, though the operation itself was sometimes a little prolonged. Of
course there were meals, but meals belonged to Maurice, and Claire had
a way of always slipping behind him, so that it was really over the
skates that Winn discovered how awfully clever she was.

She read books, deep books; why, even Hall Caine and Marie Corelli
didn't satisfy her, and Winn had always thought those famous authors the
last words in modern literature. He now learned others. She gave him
Conrad to read, and Meredith. He got stuck in Meredith, but he liked
Conrad; it made him smell the mud and feel again the silence of the
jungle.

"Funny," he explained to Claire, "because when you come to think of it,
he doesn't actually write about the smell; only he's got it, and the
jungle feeling, too. It's quiet, you know, in there, but not a bit like
the snows out here; there's nothing doing up in this snow, but God alone
knows what's happening in the jungle. Odd how there can be two sorts of
quiet, ain't it?"

"There can be two sorts of anything," said Claire, exultantly. "Oh, not
only two--dozens; that's why it's all such fun."

But Winn was inclined to think that there might be more fun where there
were fewer candidates for it. There was, for instance, Mr. Roper.
Maurice was trying to work up for his final examination at Sandhurst
with Mr. Roper. He was a black-haired, polite man with a constant smile
and a habit of agreeing with people much too promptly; also he read
books and talked to Claire about them in the evening till every one
started bridge. Fortunately, that shut him up.

Winn was considered in Anglo-Indian clubs, where the standard of bridge
is high, to play considerably above it, and Claire played with a relish,
that was more instinctive than reliable; nevertheless, Winn loved
playing with her, and accepted Mr. Roper and Maurice as one accepts
severity of climate on the way to a treat. He knew he must keep his
temper with them both, so when he wanted to be nasty he looked at
Claire, and when Claire looked at him he wanted to be nice. He couldn't,
of course, stop Claire from ever in any circumstances glancing in the
direction of Mr. Roper, and it would have startled him extremely if he
had discovered that Claire, seeing how much he disliked it, had reduced
this form of communion to the rarest civility; because Winn still took
for granted the fact that Claire noticed nothing.

It was the solid earth on which he stood. For some months his
consciousness of his wife had been an intermittent recognition of a
disagreeable fact; but for the first few weeks at Davos he forgot
Estelle entirely; she drifted out of his mind with the completeness of a
collar stud under a wardrobe.

He never for a moment forgot Peter, but he didn't talk about him because
it would have seemed like boasting. Even if he had said, "I have a boy
called Peter," it would have sounded as if nobody else had ever had a
boy like Peter. Besides, he didn't want to talk about himself; he wanted
to talk about Claire.

She hadn't time to tell him much; she was preparing for a skating
competition, which took several hours a day, and then in the afternoons
she skied or tobogganed with Mr. Ponsonby, a tall, lean Eton master
getting over an illness. Winn privately thought that if Mr. Ponsonby was
well enough to toboggan, he was well enough to go back and teach boys;
but this opinion was not shared by Mr. Ponsonby, who greatly preferred
staying where he was and teaching Claire.

Claire tobogganed and skied with the same thrill as she played bridge
and skated; they all seemed to her breathless and vital duties. She did
not think of Mr. Ponsonby as much as she did of the toboggan, but he
gave her points. In any case, Winn preferred him to Mr. Roper, who was
obliged to teach Maurice in the afternoons.

If one wants very much to learn a particular subject, it is surprising
how much of it one may pick up in the course of a day from chance
moments.

In a week Winn had learned that Maurice and Claire were orphans, that
they lived with an aunt who didn't get on with Claire and an uncle who
didn't get on with Maurice, and that there were several cousins too
stodgy for words. Claire was waiting for Maurice to get through
Sandhurst--he'd been horribly interrupted by pleurisy--and then she
could keep house for him somewhere--wherever he was sent--unless she
took up a profession. She rather thought she was going to do that in any
case, because they would have awfully little money; and besides, not
doing things was a bore, and every girl ought to make her way in the
world, didn't Major Staines think so?

Major Staines didn't, and emphatically said that he didn't.

"Good God, no! What on earth for?" was how he expressed it. Claire
stopped short, outside the office door, just as she was going to pay her
bill.

"We shall have to talk about this," she said gravely. "I'm awfully
afraid you're a reactionary."

"I dare say I am," said Winn, who hadn't the faintest idea what a
reactionary was, but rather liked the sound of it. "We'll talk about it
as much as you like. How about lunch at the Schatz Alp?"

That was how they went to the Schatz Alp and had their first real talk.



CHAPTER XIII


Claire was not perfectly sure of life--it occurred to her at nineteen
that it might have in store for her certain surprises--but she was
perfectly sure of herself. She knew that she ought to have been a boy,
and that if she had been a boy she would have tried to be like General
Gordon. Balked of this ambition by the fact of her sex, she turned her
attention to Maurice.

It seemed to her essential that he should be like General Gordon in her
place, and by dint of persuasion, concentration of purpose, and sheer
indomitable will power she infected Maurice with the same idea. He had
made her no promises, but he had agreed to enter the army.

It is improbable that General Gordon's character was formed wholly by
the exertions of his sister, but Claire in her eagerness rather
overlooked the question of material. There was nothing in Maurice
himself that was wrong, but he belonged to a class of young men who are
always being picked up by "wrong 'uns."

He wanted a little too much to be liked. He was quite willing to be a
hero to please Claire if it was not too much trouble. Meanwhile he
expected it to be compatible with drinking rather more than was good for
him, spending considerably too much money, and talking loudly and
knowingly upon subjects considered doubtful.

If the world had been as innocent as Maurice, this program would in time
have corrected itself. But besides holes and the unwary, there are from
time to time diggers of holes, and it was to these unsound guides that
Maurice found himself oftenest attracted.

What he asked of Claire was that she should continue to believe in him
and make his way easy for him. She could fight for his freedom with a
surly uncle, but having won it, she shouldn't afterward expect a fellow
to do things with it which would end in his being less free.

Maurice really loved Claire, his idea of love being that he would
undeviatingly choose her to bear all his burdens. She managed the
externals of his life with the minimum of exertion to himself. She
fought his guardians; she talked straight to his opposers; she took
buffets that were meant for him to take; she made plans, efforts, and
arrangements for his comfort. Lots of things he wanted he could simply
not have had if she had failed to procure them.

Pushed beyond a certain point Maurice gave in, or appeared to give in,
and lied. Claire never admitted even to herself that Maurice lied, but
she took unusual pains to prevent his ever being pushed beyond a certain
point.

It was Claire who had managed the journey to Davos in the teeth of
opposition; but it was Maurice who would have no other guide than Mr.
Roper, a splendid army coach picked up at a billiard room in a hotel.
Now that they were at Davos, Claire became a little doubtful if, after
all, her uncle hadn't been right when he had declared that Bournemouth
would have done as well and been far less expensive. Then Winn came, and
she began mysteriously to feel that the situation was saved.

It wasn't that Winn looked in the least like General Gordon, but Mr.
Ponsonby had told her that he was a distinguished officer and shot
tigers on foot.

Claire was quite surprised that Winn had been so nice to her,
particularly as he hadn't appeared at all a friendly kind of person; but
she became more and more convinced that Winn was a knight errant in
disguise and had been sent by heaven to her direct assistance.

Claire believed very strongly in heaven. If you have no parents and very
disagreeable relatives, heaven becomes extremely important. Claire
didn't think it was at all the place her aunt and uncle vaguely held out
to her as a kind of permanent and compulsory pew into which an angelic
verger conducted the more respectable after death.

Everything Mr. and Mrs. Tighe considered the laws of God seemed to
Claire unlikely to be the laws of anybody except people like Mr. and
Mrs. Tighe; but she did believe that God looked after Maurice and
herself, and she was anxious that He should look particularly after
Maurice.

She determined that on the day she went to the Schatz Alp with Major
Staines she would take him into her confidence. She could explain the
position of women to him while they climbed the Rhüti-Weg; this would
give them all of lunch for Maurice's future, and she hoped without
direct calculations--because, although Claire generally had very strong
purposes, she seldom had calculations--that perhaps if she was lucky he
would tell her about tigers on the way down.

It was one of those mornings at Davos which seemed made out of fragrance
and crystal. The sun soaked into the pines, the sky above the tree-tops
burned like blue flame. It was the first time in Claire's life that she
had gone out all by herself to lunch with a grown-up man. Winn was far
more important than a mere boy, besides being a major.

She had been planning all the morning during her skating what arguments
she should use to Winn on the subject of women, but when she saw him in
the hall everything went out of her head. She only knew that it was a
heavenly day and that it seemed extraordinarily difficult not to dance.

It was a long walk up to the Schatz Alp; there were paths where the
pine-trees met overhead, garlanded with wreaths of snow, and the spaces
between the wreaths were as blue as love-in-a-mist, an old-fashioned
flower that grows in English gardens. Claire pointed it out to Winn.

"Only," she said, "up here there isn't any mist, is there?"

"No," said Winn, looking at her in a curious way; "as far as I can see,
there is none whatever. By the by, that particular flower you mention
isn't only called love-in-a-mist, it's also called devil-in-a-bush."

"But that's a pity," said Claire, decisively. "I like the other name
better."

She moved beside him with a buoyant, untiring step, without haste and
without effort. He told her that he would like to take her up into the
Himalayas. She would make a good climber. In his heart he knew there was
no place on earth to which he wouldn't like to take her. She was born to
be a man's comrade, observant, unexacting, level-headed. She was the
kind of girl you wouldn't mind seeing in a tight place if you were
there, of course, to get her out of it. Then he pulled himself up and
told himself not to be fanciful.

It was rather a fanciful morning: the day and the snowy hillside and the
endless, pungent sweetness of the sunny air were like a spell. He found
he was telling Claire about the things he used to do when he was a boy.
He went on doing it because the adventures of the Staines family made
her laugh.

He had not supposed that James, Charles, Isabella, Dolores, and he
himself were particularly funny before, but he was delighted to discover
their hidden gift. Claire wanted to hear everything about them, their
ponies, their dogs, their sharp disgraces, and their more wonderful
escapes and revenges; but she didn't want them to be punished, and Winn
had to hasten over those frequent and usually protracted disasters.

They had the woods to themselves; there was no sound at all except the
occasional soft drop of melting snow. Once they stood quite still
holding their breath to watch the squirrels skim from tree to tree as if
they were weaving the measures of a mystic dance. If it hadn't been for
the squirrels they might have been the only creatures alive in all the
silent, sparkling earth.

The mountains spread out around them with the reticent hush of
interrupted consciousness. They seemed to be on the verge of further
revelations, and were withheld from a last definite whisper only by the
intrusion of humanity.

"I know they could speak if they liked," Claire murmured. "What do you
suppose they'd say?"

"Let's have an avalanche and knock the silly blighters out of our valley
for good and all," Winn suggested.

Claire disposed of Davos with a wave of her hand.

"But they don't mind us, do they?" she urged. "Because we're so happy
and we like them so. Doesn't the air make you feel awfully funny and
happy?"

"Yes," Winn admitted; "but it's not all the air, you know."

Claire wanted to know what else it was; but as Winn didn't offer to
explain, she felt that perhaps she had better not ask.

They were near the top when Winn paused suddenly and said in a most
peculiar reluctant voice; "Look here, I think I ought to tell you."

He stumbled over the words and then added, "No, by Jove, that won't do!"

"Oh, don't let's tell each other things we ought!" Claire entreated.
"It's not the kind of morning for that. I meant to talk about lots of
really important subjects, but I'm not going to now. I may later, of
course; but just now I don't feel in the mood for being important."

Winn looked at her very hard, and then he said:

"But still you are rather important, you know."

"Then," she laughed, "I'm important enough to have my own way, aren't
I?"

Winn said nothing. He seemed to acquiesce that she was important enough
for that.

"Would you like to know," she asked, "what I'd really like for lunch?"
Winn said he would awfully, and by the time she had told him they had
reached the top, and the funicular appeared, disgorging people in front
of a big glass-covered restaurant.

Winn found the best and quietest table with the finest view. From it
they could see the valley down to Frauenkirch and up to Clavedel.

It was a splendid lunch, curiously good, with sparkling sweet wine,
which Claire loved, and Winn, secretly loathing, serenely shared because
of a silly feeling he had that he must take what she did.

After lunch they sat and smoked, leaning over the great clear view. They
could hear the distant velvety boom of the village clock beneath them.
Winn gripped his hand firmly on the table.

"I've got to damned well do it," he said to himself. He remembered that
he had had once to shoot a spy in cold blood, and that he used those
words to himself before he did it.

A couple passed close to their table. The woman was over-dressed, and
hung with all kinds of jingling chains and bangles; she was pretty, and
as she sat with her profile turned a little toward them she was
curiously like Estelle. This was his opportunity. It must come now; all
the morning it had lain in the back of his mind, behind delight, behind
their laughter, like some lurking jungle creature waiting for the dark.

"Do you see that woman," he asked Claire, "the pretty one over there by
the pillar? She's awfully like--"

Claire stopped him. "Pretty!" she cried. "Do you really think she's
pretty? I think she's simply loathsome!"

Winn checked himself hurriedly; he obviously couldn't finish his
sentence with "she's awfully like my wife."

"Well, she sets out to be pretty, doesn't she?" he altered it rather
lamely. Claire continued extremely scornful.

"Yes, I dare say," she admitted. "She may set out to be smart too, hung
round with things like a Christmas-tree, but she's as common as a
sixpenny bazaar. I'll tell you why I don't like her, Major Staines, and
who she reminds me of, but perhaps you think her pretty, too? I mean
that horrid woman, Mrs. Bouncing in our hotel?"

"But can't horrid women be pretty, too?" Winn ventured with meekness.

"No, of course not," said Claire, with great decisiveness. "Why, you
know horrid men can't be handsome. Look at Mr. Roper!" Winn was
uncertain if this point of knowledge had ever reached him; but he wasn't
at this time of day going to look at Mr. Roper, so he gave in.

"I dare say you're right," he said. "As a matter of fact, you know, I
never _do_ look at Roper."

"But that's not the reason," Claire went on, slightly softened by her
victory, "that I dislike her. I really dislike her because I think she
is bad for Maurice; but perhaps you haven't noticed the way he keeps
hanging about her. It makes me sick."

Winn admitted that he had noticed it.

"Still," he said, "of course if you hadn't proved to me that by being
horrid she couldn't be pretty, I should have supposed that he simply
hung about Mrs. Bouncing because she was--well, not precisely plain."

Claire looked doubtfully at him, but he wasn't smiling; he was merely
looking at her with sufficient attention.

"There are only two of us," she said in a low voice, "Maurice and me,
and I do so awfully want him to be a success. I don't think anybody
else does. I don't even know how much he wants it himself. You see,
Maurice is so young in many ways, and our people having died--he hasn't
had much of a chance, has he? Men ought to have fathers."

Winn listened intently; he always remembered anything she said, but this
particular opinion sank deep into the bottom of his heart: "Men ought to
have fathers."

"I've done the best I can," Claire went on, "but you see, I'm young,
too; there are lots of things I don't really know about life. I think
perhaps I sometimes believe too much that things are going to be jolly,
and that makes me a bad adviser for Maurice. Do you know what I mean?"

Winn nodded, but he determined that whether she expected or not, she
should have things jolly. He must be able to manage it. If one wanted a
thing as much as he wanted this, surely one could bring it off.

Hadn't he pulled off races on the scratchiest of polo ponies, when he
couldn't afford better, out of sheer intention? He had meant to win,
moved the pony along, and won. Was life less controllable than a shoddy
polo pony?

He set his mouth and stared grimly out over the sparkling snow. He did
not ask himself how a man with a wife hung round his neck like a
millstone was going to manage the perpetual happiness of a stray young
woman. He never asked himself questions or saw how things were to be
done, but when the crisis came his instinct taught him in a flash the
short cut to victory.

"Now," said Claire, unexpectedly, "you are looking awfully
dangerous--you do rather sometimes, you know--like a kind of volcano
that might go off."

Winn turned his eyes slowly toward her.

"I shall never be dangerous for you, Miss Rivers," he said gently.

He did not know how much he promised her or that he was already
incapable of keeping his promise. She looked away from him with smiling
lips and happy, mysterious eyes. She had known long ago that all the
force he had was as safe with her as if he had laid it in her hands;
safer than that, because he held it in his own--for her.

It seemed to Claire that you were only perfectly secure when you were
with a man who could be dangerous to everybody else, but always safe
for you.

"You will help me with Maurice?" she said softly. "Then I sha'n't feel
worried any more."

"I shouldn't let it worry me for a moment if I were you," Winn assured
her. "He hasn't come to much harm so far. He's young, that's all. I'll
keep my eye on him, of course."

Winn knew quite well what he would do with a subaltern of Maurice's
type. He would take him out shooting and put the fear of God into him.
If this were done often and systematically enough, the subaltern would
improve or send in his papers. But Davos did not offer equal advantages.
One could not get the fear of God everywhere on a tap; besides, there
was Mrs. Bouncing.

Claire turned suddenly toward him.

"I want Maurice," she said rather breathlessly, with shining eyes, "to
be a good soldier; I want him to be like you."

Winn felt a pang of fear; it was a pang that was half horrible pain, and
half passionate and wild delight. Was Claire perfectly safe? Why did
she want Maurice to be like him? It was Claire herself who banished his
fear; she added hastily:

"He really must get through Sandhurst properly."

Of course she hadn't meant anything. In fact, if she really had liked
him in any particular way she'd have been shot before she showed it.
What she wanted was simply the advice of an older man in the service. It
did not occur to Winn that Claire had been shot already without knowing
it.

He went on being reassured all the way back because Claire talked
persistently about tigers. Winn explained that once you thoroughly knew
where you were, there was no real danger in a tiger.



PART II



CHAPTER XIV


Winn discovered almost immediately that what assistance he could give to
Maurice would have to be indirect. He had not a light hand for weak,
evasive, and excitable people, and Maurice did not like to be driven off
the rink with "Better come along with me" or "I should think a good
brisk walk to Clavedel would be about your mark." Winn's idea of a walk
was silence and pace; he had a poor notion of small talk, and he became
peculiarly dumb with a young man whose idea of conversation was
high-pitched boasting.

When Maurice began telling stories about how he got the better of
so-and-so or the length of his ski-jumps, Winn's eyes became
unpleasantly like probes, and Maurice felt the élan of his effects
painfully ebbing away. Still, there was a certain honor in being sought
out by the most exclusive person in the hotel and Winn's requests,
stated in flat terms and with the force of his determination behind
them, were extraordinarily difficult to refuse.

It was Mr. Roper who gave Maurice the necessary stiffening. Mr. Roper
didn't like Winn, and though their intercourse had been limited to a
series of grunts on Winn's part, Mr. Roper felt something unerringly
inimical behind each of these indeterminate sounds.

"That man's a spoil-sport," he informed his pupil. Maurice agreed.

"But he's beastly difficult to say no to," he added. "You mean to
somehow, but you don't."

"I expect he's trying to manage you," Mr. Roper cleverly hinted.

This decided Maurice once and for all. He refused all further
invitations. He had a terror of being managed, and though he always was
managed, gusts of this fear would seize upon him at any effort to
influence him in any direction favorable to himself. He was never in the
least uneasy at being managed to his disadvantage.

Baffled in his main direction, Winn turned his mind upon the subject of
Mr. Roper. Mr. Roper was slippery and intensely amiable; these were not
the qualities with which Winn felt himself capable of direct dealing. He
would have liked to destroy Mr. Roper, and he thought that the situation
might eventually arrive at this point; but until it did, he saw that he
had better leave Mr. Roper alone. "You can't do anything with a worm but
tread on it," he said to himself, and in hotels people had to be careful
how they trod on worms. There was still Mrs. Bouncing, but a slight
study of that lady, which took place in the hall after dinner, put this
possibility out of the question. She called Winn a "naughty man" and
suggested his taking her tobogganing by moonlight.

Mr. Bouncing was a side issue, but Winn, despite his own marriage, held
the theory that men ought to look after their wives. He felt that if
there had been any question of other men he could have managed Estelle;
or, even short of managing Estelle, he could have managed the other men.
It occurred to him now that perhaps Mr. Bouncing could be led to act
favorably upon the question of his wife's behavior.

Mr. Bouncing could not walk at all; he could get out to the public
balcony in the sun, and when he was there, he lay with the "Pink 'Un"
and "The Whipping Post" on his lap and his thermometer beside him. All
he asked was that he should have his hot milk regularly four times a
day. He hardly talked to anybody at all. This was not because it made
him cough to talk--it didn't particularly; he coughed without being made
to--but because he had exhausted his audience.

There was only one subject left to Mr. Bouncing, and that was his
health; after he had told people all his symptoms, they didn't want to
hear any more and there was nothing left to talk about. So he lay there
in the sunshine thinking about his symptoms instead. There were a good
many of them to think about, and all of them were bad.

Mr. Bouncing was surprised when Winn sat down to talk to him, and he
explained to him at once exactly what the doctors thought of his case.
Winn listened passively, and came back the next day at the same time.

This surprised Mr. Bouncing still more, and little by little the
subjects between them widened. Mr. Bouncing still talked about himself,
but he talked differently. He told Winn things he had never told any one
else, and he was really pleased when Winn laughed at a joke he showed
him in "The Pink 'Un."

"You can laugh," he said almost admiringly. "I daren't, you know; that's
one of the things I'm told not to do, but I often wish some one would
come here and laugh at the jokes for me. It's quite an effort for me
sometimes not to burst out; and then, you see, hemorrhage! I knew a poor
chap who literally died of it--died of laughing. They might put that in
the 'Pink 'Un,' mightn't they?"

Winn said he thought one might die of worse things.

"Yes, I know," agreed Mr. Bouncing, "but I'm not going to be caught like
that. I dare say you don't know, but I believe I'm the worst case in the
hotel. I'm not _quite_ sure; that's what worries me. There's a Mrs.
Maguire who stays in bed. I've made all sorts of inquiries about her;
but people are so stupid, they don't know the right symptoms to ask
about, and I can't go in and look at her, can I? And my wife won't. She
says one death's-head is enough for her and I quite see her point.
Perhaps Mrs. Maguire's case is partly nerves. My wife thinks I'm very
nervous. So I am, you know, in a way. I have to be careful; but, Lord!
when I see the things people do up here! The risks they take! You, for
instance. I've seen you do heaps of things that are perfectly deadly;
and yet there you are getting better. Funny, isn't it?"

Winn said it was funny, but he supposed one must take his chance.

"Yes, I know; that is what people keep saying," Mr. Bouncing admitted.
"You can take it if you've got it; but my point is, if you haven't got
it, you can't take it, can you? Now, as far as I can see, looking back
from the start, you know, I never had a dog's chance. It's years since I
went out in a wind without an overcoat on, and once in the very
beginning I got my feet wet; but for the last five years I've been as
careful as a girl with a new hat. I think I shall live till the spring
if I don't get influenza. I hope you'll remember not to come near me if
you feel a cold coming on." Winn assured him that he would. "I asked
Dr. Gurnet the other day," Mr. Bouncing went on musingly, "if he thought
I should ever be able to walk to the post-office again--I used to get
there and back last winter, you know--but he wouldn't give me a direct
answer. He said he thought I could rely on the hotel porter. He's not
quite definite enough--Dr. Gurnet. I told him the other day how
difficult it was to get up in the morning, and he said, 'Well, then, why
not stay in bed?' But I'm not going to do that. I believe you go quicker
when you stay in bed. Besides, I should be dull lying there in bed. I
like to sit here and watch people and see the silly things they do. That
young boy you sit at table with--he won't come to any good. Silly! He
thinks my wife likes him, but she doesn't; it's just that she must have
her mind taken off, you know, at times, poor thing. I like to see her
amused."

"And what about you?" asked Winn. "It seems to me she might better spend
some of her time amusing you."

Mr. Bouncing pointed to the "Pink 'Un."

"I've got plenty to amuse me," he explained, "and you mustn't think she
doesn't look after me. Why, the other day--when I had the high
temperature, you know, and stayed in my room--she came to the door after
she'd been skating, and said, 'Still coughing?' That shows she noticed I
was worse, doesn't it?"

"I'm sure she must be awfully anxious about you," Winn assented with
more kindliness than truth. "But do you care for her knocking about so
with young Rivers and that chap Roper? It seems to me she's too young
and too pretty. If I were you, I'd call her in a bit; I would really."

Mr. Bouncing leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes. This always
made Winn a little uneasy, for when Mr. Bouncing's eyes were shut it was
so difficult to tell whether he was alive or dead. However, after a few
minutes he opened them.

"They are five minutes late with my hot milk," he said. "Do you mind
just getting up and touching the bell? And you've got such a sharp way
of speaking to waiters, perhaps you wouldn't mind hauling him over the
coals for me when he comes?" Winn complied with this request rapidly and
effectively, and the hot milk appeared as if by magic.

Mr. Bouncing drank some before he returned to the subject of his wife.

"Yes," he said, "I dare say you would call her in. You're the kind of
man who can make people come in when you call. I'm not. Besides, you
see, she's young; she's got her life to live, and, then, ought I to have
married her at all? Of course I was wonderfully well at the time; I
could walk several miles, I remember, and had no fever to speak of.
Still, there were the symptoms. She took the risk, of course--she was
one of a large family, and I had money--but it hasn't been very amusing
for her, you must admit."

Winn didn't admit it, because it seemed to him as if it had been
extremely amusing for Mrs. Bouncing, a great deal more amusing than it
had any right to be.

"Perhaps you think she oughtn't to have married for money," Mr. Bouncing
went on when he had finished the hot milk and Winn still sat there
saying nothing. "But you're quite wrong if you do. Money is the most
important thing there is--next to health of course. Health and
money--one's no use without the other, of course; but I don't honestly
think anything else really matters. I know what the chaplain says; but
he's always been quite strong."

"That's all very well," said Winn. "I'm not a religious man myself, but
people oughtn't to take something for nothing. If she's married you for
your money, she ought to be more with you. She's got the money, hasn't
she, and what have you got? That's the way I look at it."

Mr. Bouncing did not shake his head--he was too careful for that--but he
looked as if he were shaking it.

"That's one point of view, of course," he said slowly; "but how do you
know I want to have her more with me? She's very young and strong. I
expect she'd be exciting, and it wouldn't be at all good for me to be
excited.

"Besides, she has no sense of humor. I wouldn't dream of asking her to
laugh at my jokes as I do you. She wouldn't see them, and then I
shouldn't like to show her the improper ones. They're not suitable for
ladies, and the improper ones are the best. I sometimes think you can't
have a really good joke unless it's improper."

Winn did not say anything; but he thought that however limited Mrs.
Bouncing's sense of humor might be, she would have enjoyed the improper
ones.

Mr. Bouncing took out his thermometer.

"It is five minutes," he said, "since I've had the glass of milk, and I
think my tongue must have cooled down by now. So I shall take my
temperature, and after that I shall try to go to sleep. But I don't
believe you are really anxious about my wife; what you're worried about
is young Rivers. I've seen you taking him for walks, and it's no use
your worrying about him, because, as I've said before, he's silly. If he
didn't do one silly thing, he'd do another. However, he's selfish, too.
That's always something; he won't be so likely to come to grief as if he
were merely silly. It's his sister I should be worried about if I were
you."

"Why?" asked Winn without looking at him. Mr. Bouncing looked at Winn,
but he made no answer. He had already got his thermometer in his mouth.



CHAPTER XV


Winn had a feeling that he ought to keep away from her, but Davos was an
inconvenient place for keeping away. People were always turning up when
one least expected them, or one turned up oneself. Privacy and publicity
flashed together in the sunny air. Even going off up a mountain with a
book was hardly the resource it seemed; friends skied or tobogganed down
upon you from the top, and carried you off to tea.

Winn had an uneasy feeling that he oughtn't to go every morning to the
rink, though that was naturally the place for a man who was only allowed
to skate to find himself. It was also the place where he could not fail
to find Claire. There were a good many other skaters on the rink, too;
they were all preparing for the International Skating Competition.

The English, as a rule, stuck to their own rink, where they had a style
of skating belonging to themselves. Their style was perpendicular and
very stiff; it was by no means easy to attain, and when attained, hardly
perhaps, to the observer, worth the efforts expended. Winn approved of
it highly. He thought it a smart and sensible way to skate, and was by
no means a bad exponent; but once he had seen Claire skating on the big
rink, he put aside his abortive circling round an orange. It is
difficult to concentrate upon being a ramrod when every instinct in you
desires to chase a swallow. She wore, when she skated, a short, black
velvet skirt, white fox furs, and a white fur cap. One couldn't very
well miss seeing her. It did not seem to Winn as if she skated at all.
She skimmed from her seat into the center of her chosen corner, and then
looked about her, balanced in the air. When she began to skate he could
not tell whether the band was playing or not, because he felt as if she
always moved to music.

She would turn at first mysteriously and doubtingly, trying her edges,
with little short cuts and dashes, like a leaf blown now here and now
there, pushed by a draught of air, and then some purpose seemed to
catch her, and her steps grew intricate and measured. He could not take
his eyes from her or remember that she was real, she looked so
unsubstantial, eddying to and fro, curving and circling and swooping.
There was no stiffness in her, and Winn found himself ready to give up
stiffness; it was terrible the amount of things he found himself ready
to give up as he watched her body move like seaweed on a tide. Motion
and joy and music all seemed easy things, and the things that were not
easy slipped out of his mind.

After a time Maurice would join her to practise the pair-skating. He was
a clever skater, but careless, and it set Winn's teeth on edge to watch
how nearly he sometimes let her down. He would have let any other woman
down, but Claire knew him. She counted on his not being exactly where he
ought to be, hovered longer on her return strokes, pushed herself more
swiftly forward to meet him, or retreated to avoid his too impulsive
rushes. Winn was always glad when Maurice, satisfied with his cursory
practice, left her circling alone and unfettered like a sea-gull on a
cliff.

This was the time when he always made up his mind not to join her, and
felt most sure that she didn't care whether he joined her or not.

He had not talked with her alone since their lunch at the Schatz Alp
nearly a week ago. Every one of her hours was full, her eyes danced and
laughed as usual, the secretive bloom of youth hid away from him any
sign of expectation. He did not dream that every day for a week she had
expected and wanted him. She couldn't herself have explained what she
wanted. Only her gaiety had lost its unconsciousness; she was showing
that she didn't mind, she was not, now minding. It seemed so strange
that just when she had felt as if they were real friends he had
mysteriously kept away from her. Perhaps he hadn't meant all the nice
things he had said or all the nicer things he hadn't said at all, but
just looked whenever her eyes met his? They did not meet his now; he
always seemed to be looking at something else. Other men put on her
skates and found her quickest on the rink, and the other men seemed to
Claire like trees walking; they were no longer full of amusing
possibilities. They were in the way. Then one morning Winn, watching her
from a distance noticed that Maurice didn't turn up. Claire actually
looked a forlorn and lonely little figure, and he couldn't make up his
mind not to join her.

He skated slowly up to her.

"Well," he said, "where's Maurice? He oughtn't to be missing a good
skating morning like this?" It suddenly seemed to Claire as if
everything was all right again. Winn was there for her, just as he had
been on the Schatz Alp; his eyes looked the same, and the intentional
bruskness which he put into his voice was quite insufficient to hide its
eagerness.

"Oh," she said, "Major Staines, I didn't mean to tell anybody, but I
shall tell you of course. It's rather sickening, isn't it? Maurice
doesn't want to go in for the competition any more; he says he can't
spare the time."

"What!" cried Winn; "look here, let's sit down and talk about it." They
sat down, and the music and the sunshine spread out all round them.
Everything swung into a curious harmony, and left them almost nothing
to be upset about. "He can't throw you over like this," Winn protested.
"Why, it's only a fortnight off the day, and you're one of the tiptop
skaters."

Claire did not say what she knew to be true, that people had been saying
that too much to Maurice, and Maurice only liked praise that came his
own way.

"I think it's Mrs. Bouncing," she said dejectedly. "He's teaching her to
skate, but she'll never learn. She's been up here for years, and she
doesn't know her edges! It looks awfully as if he really liked her,
because Maurice skates quite well."

"I'm afraid I've been of very little use to you about Mrs. Bouncing,"
Winn said apologetically. "I thought Bouncing might help us, he's quite
a good chap; but I'm afraid he's too down in the mouth. Still, I think I
may be able to do something if things get to look really bad. Don't
worry about that, please. But, by Jove! this skating matter _is_
serious. What are you going to do about it?" Anything that stopped sport
seemed to Winn to be really serious; something had got to be done about
it. "Isn't there any one else up here not going in for it that you
could lick into shape?"

Claire shook her head doubtfully.

"They'd have to give up every bit of their time," she explained, "and
virtually hardly breathe. You see, pair-skating is really very stiff. Of
course, if I got a new man, I'd do most of the figures; but he'd have to
be there to catch me at the right times, and awfully steady on his
edges, and waltz of course."

"What about me?" Winn asked quietly.

"I'm steady on my edges, and I can waltz after a fashion, and I'd
promise not to breathe for a fortnight." He looked at her, and then
looked away quickly. He was a damned fool to have offered himself! How
on earth was he going to stand a fortnight with her when he could barely
keep himself in hand for five minutes?

"Oh," she said, "you!"

Afterward she said a good deal more, but Winn only remembered the way
she said "you," because her voice had sounded different, as if she had
found something she had wanted to lay her hands on. Of course what she
really wanted was to go in for the pair-skating; it was much the most
fun.

They began from that moment to go in for it. Winn had to speak to Dr.
Gurnet about the skating, because four hours wasn't enough, and Claire
insisted upon Dr. Gurnet's consent.

Dr. Gurnet had consented, though he had raised his eyebrows and said,
"Pair-skating?" and then he had asked who Major Staines had chosen for
his partner. Naturally Winn had become extremely stiff, and said, "Miss
Rivers," in a tone which should have put an end to the subject.

"Well, well!" said Dr. Gurnet. "And she's a woman, after all, isn't
she?" Winn ignored this remark.

"By the by," he said, "my friend's coming out in about a fortnight--the
one I told you about, Captain Drummond."

"I remember perfectly," said Dr. Gurnet; "a most estimable person I
understand you to say. In about a fortnight? The skating competition
will just be over then, won't it? I am sure I hope you and Miss Rivers
will both make a great success of it."

The fortnight passed in a sunny flash. On the whole Winn had kept
himself in hand. His voice had betrayed him, his eyes had betrayed him,
all his controlled and concentrated passion had betrayed him; but he
hadn't said anything. He had buried his head deep in the sands and
trusted like an ostrich to an infectious oblivion. He reviewed his
behavior on the way to the rink the day of the International.

It was an icy cold morning; the valley was wrapped in a thick blue mist.
There was no sunlight yet. The tops of the mountains were a sharpened
deadly white, colder than purity. As he walked toward the valley the
black fir-trees on the distant heights took fire. They seemed to be
lighted one by one from some swift, invisible torch, and then quicker
than sight itself the sun slipped over the edge and ran in a golden
flood across the mountains. The little willows by the lake-side turned
apricot; the rink was very cold and only just refrozen. It was a small
gray square surrounded by color. Winn was quite alone in the silence and
the light and the tingling bitter air. There was something in him that
burned like a secret undercurrent of fire. Had he played the game? What
about that dumb weight on his lips when he had tried to tell Claire on
the Schatz Alp about Estelle? He couldn't get it out then; but had he
tried again later? Had he concealed his marriage? Why should he tell her
anything? She wouldn't care, she was so young. Couldn't he have his bit
of spring, his dance of golden daffodils, and then darkness? He really
thought of daffodils when he thought of Claire. She wouldn't mind,
because she was spring itself, and had in front of her a great
succession of flowers; but these were the last he was going to have.
There wouldn't be anything at all after Claire, and he wasn't going to
make love to her. Good God! he wasn't such a beast! There had been times
this last fortnight that had tried every ounce of his self-control, and
he hadn't touched her. He hadn't said a word that damned yellow-necked,
hen-headed chaplain's wife couldn't have heard and welcome. Would many
fellows have had his chances and behaved as if they were frozen
barbed-wire fences? And she'd looked at him--by Jove, she'd looked at
him! Not that she'd meant anything by it; only it had been hard to have
to sit on the only decent feelings he had ever had and not let them rip.
And as far as Estelle was concerned, she didn't care a damn for him, and
he might just as well have been a blackguard. But that wasn't quite the
point, was it? Blackguards hurt girls, and he hadn't set out to hurt
Claire.

Well, there was no use making any song or dance about it; he'd have to
go. At first he had thought he could tell her he was married--tell her
as soon as the competition was over, and stay on; but he hadn't counted
on the way things grew, and he didn't think now he could tell her and
then hold his tongue about what he felt. If he told her, the whole thing
would be out; he couldn't keep it back. There were things you knew you
could do, like going away and staying away; there were others you were a
fool to try.

He circled slowly over the black ice surrounded by pink flames. It made
him laugh, because he might have been a creature in hell. Yes, that was
what hell was like, he had always known it--cold. Cold and lonely, when,
if you'd only had a bit of luck, you might have been up somewhere in the
sunlight, not alone. He didn't feel somehow this morning as if his
marriage was an obstruction; he felt as if it were a shame. It hurt him
terribly that what had driven him to Estelle could be called love, when
love was this other feeling--the feeling that he'd like to be torn into
little bits rather than fail Claire. He'd be ridiculous to please her;
he'd face anything, suffer anything, take anything on. And it wasn't in
the least that she was lovely. He didn't think about her beauty half as
much as he thought about her health and the gentle, tender ways she had
with sick people. He'd watched her over and over again, when she had no
idea he was anywhere near, being nice to people in ways in which Winn
had never dreamed before one could be nice. When people had nothing but
their self-esteem left them, no attractions, no courage, no health,
she'd just sit down beside them and make their self-esteem happy and
comfortable.

She needn't have been anything but young and gay and triumphant, but she
never shirked anybody else's pain. He had puzzled over her a good deal
because, as far as he could see, she hadn't the ordinary rules belonging
to good people--about church, and not playing cards for money, and
pulling people up. It wasn't right and wrong she was thinking of most;
it was other people's feelings.

He tried not to love her like that, because it made it worse. It was
like loving God and Peter; it mixed him all up.

He couldn't see straight because everything he saw turned into love of
her, and being with her seemed like being good; and it wasn't, of
course, if he concealed things.

The icy blue rink turned slowly into gold before he had quite made up
his mind what to do. Making up his mind had a good deal to do with
Lionel, so that he felt fairly safe about it. It was going to hurt
horribly, but if it only hurt him, it couldn't be said to matter. You
couldn't have a safe plan that didn't hurt somebody, and as long as it
didn't hurt the person it was made for, it could be counted a success.

Davos began to descend upon the rink, first the best skaters--Swedes,
Russians, and Germans--and then all the world. The speed-skaters stood
about in heavy fur coats down to their feet.

Claire came down surrounded by admirers. Winn heard her laugh before he
saw her, and after he had seen her he saw nothing else. She looked like
one of the fir-trees when the sun had caught it; she seemed aflame with
a quite peculiar radiance and joy. She flew toward Winn, imitating the
speed-skaters with one long swift stride of her skates.

"Ah," she cried, "isn't it a jolly morning? Isn't everything heavenly?
Aren't you glad you are alive?"

That was the kind of mood she was in. It was quite superfluous to ask if
she was nervous. She was just about as nervous as the sun was when it
ran over the mountains.

"There doesn't seem to be much the matter with you this morning," said
Winn, eying her thoughtfully.

The rink cleared at eleven and the band began to play.

The judges sat in different quarters of the rink so as to get the best
all-around impression of the skating. The audience, muffled up in furs,
crowded half-way up the valley, as if it were a gigantic amphitheater.

A Polish girl, very tall and slender, with a long black pigtail, swung
out upon the ice. She caught the music with a faultless steadiness and
swing. Her eyes were fixed on the mountains; her flexible hips and waist
swung her to and fro as easily as a winter bird hovers balanced on its
steady pinions. Out of the crowd her partner, a huge black-bearded
Russian, glided toward her, caught her by the waist, lifted her, and
flung her from side to side in great swirls and resounding leaps. Her
skirts flew about her, her pigtail swung round her in the air, her feet
struck the ice firmly together like a pair of ringing castanets. The
crowd shouted applause as he caught her by the wrists after a
particularly dazzling plunge into the empty air, and brought her round
to face them, her fixed eyes changed and shot with triumph. The dance
was over.

Then a succession of men skaters came forward, whirling, twisting,
capering with flying feet. Winn watched them with more astonishment than
pleasure.

"Like a ring of beastly slippery microbes!" he remarked to Claire.

"Yes," she said; "but wait." Half a dozen men and women came running out
on the rink; with lifted feet, hand in hand, they danced like flying
sunbeams.

Then a German pair followed the Polish. Both were strong, first-rate
skaters, but the man was rough and selfish; he pulled his girl about,
was careless of her, and in the end let her down, and half the audience
hissed.

Swedish, Norwegian, French pairs followed swiftly after. Then Claire
rose with a quickening of her breath.

"Now," she said, "you!" It was curious how seldom she said Major
Staines.

Winn didn't much care to do this kind of thing before foreigners.
However, it was in a way rather jolly, especially when the music warmed
one's blood. He swept her out easily to the center of the ice. For a
time he had only to watch her. He wondered what she looked like to all
the black-headed dots sitting in the sun and gazing. In his heart there
was nothing left to which he could compare her. She turned her head a
little, curving and swooping toward him, and then sprang straight into
the air. He had her fast for a moment; her hands were in his, her eyes
laughed at his easy strength, and again she shot away from him. Now he
had to follow her, in and out, to the sound of the music; at first he
thought of the steps, but he soon stopped thinking. Something had
happened which made it quite unnecessary to think.

[Illustration: In his heart there was nothing left to which he could
compare her]

He was reading everything she knew out of his own heart; she had got
into him somehow, so that he had no need to watch for his cue.

Wherever she wanted him he was; whenever she needed the touch of his
hand or his steadiness it was ready for her. They were like the music
and words of a song, or like a leaf and the dancing air it rests upon.
They were no longer two beings; they had slipped superbly, intolerably
into one; they couldn't go wrong; they couldn't make a mistake. Where
she led he followed, indissolubly a part of her.

They swung together for the final salute. It seemed to Winn that her
heart--her happy, swift-beating, exultant heart--was in his breast, and
then suddenly, violently he remembered that she wasn't his, that he had
no right to touch her. He moved away from her, leaving her, a little
bewildered, to bow alone to the great cheering mass of people.

She found him afterward far back in the crowd, with a white face and
inscrutable eyes.

"You must come and see the speed-skaters," she urged, with her hand on
his arm. "It's the thing I told you about most. And I believe we've won
the second prize. The Russian and Pole have got the first, of course;
They were absolutely perfect, but we were rather good. Why did you rush
off, and what are you looking like that for? Is anything the matter?
You're not--" her voice faltered suddenly--"you're not angry, are you?"

"No, I'm not angry," said Winn, recklessly, "and nothing's the matter,
and I'll go wherever you want and see what you want and do what you
want, and I ran away because I was a damned fool and hate a fuss. And I
see you're going to ask me if I liked it awfully. Yes, I did; I liked it
awfully. Now are you satisfied?" He still hadn't said anything, he
thought, that mattered.

"Oh, yes," she said slowly, "of course I'm satisfied. I'm glad you liked
it awfully; I liked it awfully myself."



CHAPTER XVI


The valley of the Dischmatal lies between two rather shapeless
mountains; it leads nowhere, and there is nothing in it.

Winn gave no reason for his wish to walk there with Lionel except that
it was a quiet place for a talk. They had been together for twenty-four
hours and so far they had had no talk. Lionel had expected to find a
change in Winn; he had braced himself to meet the shock of seeing the
strongest man he knew pitilessly weakened under an insidious disease. He
had found a change, but not the one he expected. Winn looked younger,
more alert, and considerably more vigorous. There was a curious
excitement in his eyes which might have passed for happiness if he had
not been so restless. He was glad to see Lionel, but that wasn't enough
to account for it. Winn looked ten years younger and he had something up
his sleeve.

Lionel had his own theory as to what that something might be, but he
wouldn't have expected it to make Winn look younger. He couldn't help
being afraid that Winn had found out Estelle. There had always been the
chance that he might never find her out; he was neither reflective nor
analytical, and Lionel was both. Winn might have been content simply to
accept her as lovely and delightful, an ideal wife--not a companion, but
a beautiful, fluttering creature to be supplied with everything it
wanted. If he had done that he wouldn't have waked up to the fact that
the creature gave him nothing whatever back--beyond preening its
feathers and forbearing to peck. Lionel respected and loved women, so
that he could afford to feel a certain contempt for Estelle, but he had
always feared Winn's feeling any such emotion. Winn would condemn
Estelle first and bundle her whole sex after her. Lionel hardly dared to
ask him, as he did at last on their way through Dorf, what news he had
of his wife.

"What news of Estelle?" Winn asked indifferently. "None particularly.
She doesn't like Peter's language. My people seem to have taken to him
rather, and I hear he's picked up parts of the Governor's vocabulary.
It'll be jolly hearing him talk; he couldn't when I left. Estelle's
taken up religion. It's funny, my mother said she would, before we were
married. My mother's got a pretty strong head; Estelle hasn't, she was
keen about the Tango when I left; but I dare say religion's better for
her; hers is the high church kind. Up there is the valley--funny sort of
place; it'll remind you of the hills--that's one reason why I brought
you out here--that and the hotel being like a fly paper. Davos is like
all the places where our sort of people go--fashion or disease--it don't
matter a penny which--they're all over the place itself, in and out of
each other's pockets, and yet get a mile or two out and nobody's in
sight. Funny how people like each other. I don't like 'em, you know. I
hate 'em."

In the early February afternoon the valley lay before them singularly
still and white. There were no fir-trees on the sides of the abrupt snow
slopes, and it took Winn some time to rediscover a faint pathway half
blotted out by recent snow.

A few minutes later the road behind them vanished, everything dropped
away from them but the snow, and the low gray skies. A tiny wind slipped
along the valley; it was strange not to see it, for it felt like the
push of a Presence, in the breathless solitude. A long way off Lionel
could hear a faint noise like the sound of some one choking.

It reminded him of the sound behind the green baize doors in the hotel.
It was just such a sound, suppressed, faint, but quite audible, that he
heard along the passages at night. He looked questioningly at Winn.

"That's a waterfall," said Winn; "most of it's frozen up but it leaks
through a little. There's a story about this place--I didn't mention it
to you before, did I?"

Lionel shook his head. Winn was not in the habit of telling him stories
about places. He had informed Lionel on one occasion some years ago,
that he thought legends too fanciful, unless they were in the Bible,
which was probably true, and none of our business. But Lionel had
already wondered if this change in Winn wasn't on the whole making him
more fanciful.

"I dare say," Winn began, "there's not a word of truth in it, and it's
perfectly pointless besides; still it's a queer place, this valley, and
what's particularly odd is, that though you can find it easily enough
sometimes, there are days when I'm blessed if it's there at all! Anyhow
I've gone wrong times out of number when I've looked for it, and you
know I don't usually go wrong about finding places. This is the middle
one of three valleys, count 'em backwards or forwards, whichever way you
like--but I give you my word, after you've passed the first, and take
the second turn, you'll find yourself in the third valley--or take it
the other way, you'll be in the first. It's made me jumpy before now,
looking for it. However, that hasn't anything to do with the story, such
as it is.

"They say that on New Year's eve, all the dead that have died in Davos
(there must be a jolly lot of 'em when you come to think of it) process
through the valley to the Waterfall. What their object is, of course,
the story doesn't mention--ghosts, as far as I can see, never have much
object, except to make you sit up; but they set out anyhow, scores and
scores of 'em.

"If it happens to be moonlight, you can see them slipping over the snow,
making for the waterfall as fast as they can hoof it, but none of them
look back--and if they were all your dearest friends you couldn't catch
a glimpse of their faces--unless, I suppose, you had the gumption to
start off by sitting up at the waterfall and waiting for 'em--which
nobody has, of course. The point of the story, if you can call it a
point, is that the last man in the procession isn't dead at all. He's a
sort of false spook of the living--taking his first turn in with
them--because as sure as fate he dies before the next year's out, and
when the other chaps have reached the waterfall, he stops short and
looks back toward Davos--that's how he's been spotted, and he's always
died all right before the end of the year. Rum tale, isn't it?"

"How did you get hold of it?" Lionel asked curiously. "It's not much in
your line, is it?"

"Well--I don't know," said Winn, taking out his pipe and preparing to
light it. "The last six months or so, I've thought a lot of funny
things. I came up here prepared to die; that's to say, I thought I'd got
to, which is as far as you can prepare for most things, but I'm not
going to die, as I told you yesterday, but what I didn't mention to you
then was that, on the whole, as it happens now, I'd jolly well rather."

"You mean," said Lionel, "that it's got too thick between you and
Estelle? I wish you'd tell me, old chap. I haven't an idea how it
stands, but I've been afraid ever since I stayed with you, that you'd
made a bit of a mistake over your marriage?"

"As far as that goes," said Winn, "I swallowed that down all right. It's
no use bothering about a thing that isn't there. It's what is that
counts. It counts damnably, I can tell you that. Look here, have you
ever had any ideas about love?"

"I can't say that I have," Lionel admitted cautiously. "Many. I dare say
I should like it if it came; and I've had fancies for girls, of course,
but nothing so far I couldn't walk off, not what people call the real
thing, I suppose. I've always liked women more than you have, and I
don't think you get let in so much if you honestly like 'em. I haven't
seen any one I particularly want to marry yet, if that's what you mean?"

"That's part of it," agreed Winn. "I supposed you'd been like that. I
shouldn't wonder if what you say about liking 'em being safer, isn't
true. I never liked 'em. I've taken what I could get when I wanted it. I
rather wish I hadn't now, but I can't say I was ever sorry before.
Even--Estelle--well, I don't want to be nasty about her--but it was only
different, I can see that now, because I knew I couldn't get what I
wanted without marrying her--still--I somehow think I'd made a kind of a
start that time--only I got pulled up too short. I dare say I quite
deserved it. That's no way of liking a woman. When you do _really_, you
know all the rest's been half twaddle and half greed. Your father and
mother are all right--so are mine really, though they do blow each
other's heads off--still, there's something there--you know what I
mean?"

"Something indestructible and uniting--" said Lionel quietly. "I've
often wondered about it."

"Well, I've never wondered about it," said Winn, firmly, "and I'm not
going to begin now. Still, I admit it's there. What I'm getting at is
that there's something I want you to do for me. You'll probably think
I'm mad, but I can't help that. It'll work out all right in the end, if
you'll do it."

"You can ask me anything you like," said Lionel, quietly; "any damned
thing. I don't suppose I'll refuse to do it."

The water broke into a prolonged gurgle under their feet; it sounded
uncannily like some derisive listener. There was nothing in sight at
all--not even their shadows on the unlighted snows.

"Well--there's a girl here," Winn said in a low voice; "it's not very
easy to explain. I haven't told her about Estelle; I meant to, but I
couldn't. I'm afraid you'll think I haven't played the game, but I
haven't made love to her; only I can't stay any longer; I've got to
clear out."

Lionel nodded. "All right," he said; "let's go wherever you like; there
are plenty of other snow places jollier than this."

"That isn't what I want," said Winn. "I want you to stay with her. I
want you to marry her eventually--d' you see? It's quite simple,
really."

"By Jove," said Lionel, thoughtfully; "simple, d' you call it? As simple
as taking a header into the mid-Atlantic! And what good would it do you,
my dear old chap, if I did? It wouldn't be you that had got her?"

"I dare say not," said Winn; "you don't see my point. She'd be all right
with you. What I want for the girl is for her to be taken care of. She
hasn't any people to speak of, and she's up here now with a rotten,
unlicked cub of a brother. I fancy she's the kind of girl that would
have a pretty hideous time with the wrong man. I've got to know she's
being looked after. D' you see?"

"But why should she marry?" Lionel persisted. "Isn't she all right as
she is? What do you want to marry her off for?"

"There'll be a man sooner or later," Winn explained. "There always is,
and she's--well, I didn't believe girls were innocent before. By God,
when they are, it makes you sit up! I couldn't run the risk of leaving
her alone, and that's flat! It's like chucking matches to a child and
turning your back on it.

"For after all, if a man cares about a girl the way I care about her, he
does chuck her matches. When I go--some one decent ought to be there to
take my place."

"But there isn't the slightest chance she'll like me, even if I happened
to like her," Lionel protested. "Honestly, Winn, you haven't thought the
thing out properly. You can't stick people about in each other's
places--they don't fit."

"They can be made to," said Winn, inexorably, "if they're the proper
people. She'll like you to start with, besides you read--authors. So
does she--she's awfully clever, she doesn't think anything of Marie
Corelli; and she likes a man. As to your taking to her--well, my dear
chap, you haven't seen her! I give you a week; I'll hang about till
then. You can tell me your decision at the end of it."

"That's another thing," said Lionel. "Of course you only care for the
girl, I see that, it's quite natural, but if by any chance I did pull
the thing off--what's going to happen to you and me, afterwards? I've
cared for that most, always."

A Föhn wind had begun to blow up the valley--it brought with it a
curious light that lay upon the snow like red dust. "I don't say I shall
like it," Winn said after a pause. "I'm not out to like it. There isn't
anything in the whole damned job possible for me to like. But I'd a lot
rather have it than any other way. I think that ought to show you what I
think of you. You needn't be afraid I'll chuck you for seeing me
through. I might keep away for a time, but I'd come back. She isn't the
kind of a woman that makes a difference between friends."

"Oh, all right," said Lionel after a pause, "I'll go in for it--if I
can."

Winn got up and replaced his pipe carefully, shaking his ashes out on to
the snow. "I'm sure I'm much obliged to you," he said stiffly.

The wind ran up the valley with a sound like a flying train. Neither of
them spoke while the gust lasted. It fell as suddenly as it came, and
the valley shrank back into its pall of silence.

It was so solitary that it seemed to Lionel as if, at times, it might
easily have no existence.

Lionel walked a little in front of Winn; the snow was soft and made
heavy going. At the corner of the valley he turned to wait for Winn, and
then he remembered the fanciful legend of New Year's eve, for he saw
Winn's face very set and white, and his eyes looked as if the presence
of death was in them--turned toward Davos.



CHAPTER XVII

Winn was under the impression that he could stand two or three days,
especially if he had something practical to do. What helped him was the
condition of Mr. Bouncing. Mr. Bouncing had suddenly retired. He had a
bedroom on the other side of Winn's, and a sitting-room connected it
with his wife's; but Mrs. Bouncing failed increasingly to take much
advantage of this connection. Her theory was that, once you were in bed,
you were better left alone.

Mr. Bouncing refused to have a nurse; he said they were disagreeable
women who wouldn't let you take your own temperature. This might have
seemed to involve the services of Mrs. Bouncing; but they were taken up
for the moment by a bridge drive.

"People do seem to want me so!" she explained plaintively to Winn in the
corridor. "And I have a feeling, you know, Major Staines, that in a
hotel like this it's one's duty to make things go."

"Some things go without much making," said Winn, significantly. He was
under the impression that one of these things was Mr. Bouncing.

Winn made it his business, since it appeared to be nobody else's, to
keep an eye on Mr. Bouncing: in the daytime he sat with him and ran his
errands; at night he came in once or twice and heated things for Mr.
Bouncing on a spirit lamp.

Mr. Bouncing gave him minute directions, and scolded him for leaving
milk exposed to the menaces of the air and doing dangerous things with a
teaspoon. Nevertheless, he valued Winn's company.

"You see," he explained to Winn, "when you can't sleep, you keep coming
up to the point of dying. It's very odd, the point of dying, a kind of
collapsishness that won't collapse. You say to yourself, 'I can't feel
any colder than this,' or, 'I must have more breath,' or, 'This lung is
bound to go if I cough much more.' And the funny part of it is, you do
go on getting colder, and your breath breaks like a rotten thread, and
you never stop coughing, and yet you don't go! I dare say I shall be
quite surprised when I do. Then when you come in and give me warm, dry
sheets and something hot to drink, something comes back. I suppose it's
life force; but not much--never as much as when I started the collapse.
I'm getting weaker every hour; don't you notice it? I never approved of
all this lying in bed. I shall speak to Dr. Gurnet about it to-morrow."

Winn had noticed it; he came and sat down by Mr. Bouncing's bed.

"Snowy weather," he suggested, "takes the life out of you."

Mr. Bouncing ignored this theory.

"I hear," he went on, "that you and your new friend have changed your
table. You don't sit with the Rivers any more."

"No," said Winn, laconically; "table isn't big enough."

"I expect they eat too fast," Mr. Bouncing continued; "young people
almost always eat too fast. You'll digest better at another table. You
look to me as if you had indigestion now."

Winn shook his head.

"Look here, Bouncing," he said earnestly, "I'm going off to St. Moritz
next week to have a look at the Cresta; I wish you'd have a nurse.
Drummond will run in and give an eye to you, of course; but you're
pretty seedy, and that's a fact. I don't like leaving you alone."

"Next week," said Mr. Bouncing, thoughtfully. "Well, I dare say I shall
be ready by then. It would be a pity, when I've just got you into the
way of doing things properly, to have to teach them all over again to
somebody else. I'm really not quite strong enough for that kind of
thing. But I'm not going to have a nurse. Oh, dear, no! Nurses deceive
you and cheer you up. I don't feel well enough to be cheered up. I like
somebody who is thoroughly depressed himself, as you are, you know. I
dare say you think I notice nothing lying here, but I've noticed that
you're thoroughly depressed. Have you quarreled with your friend? It's
odd you rush off to St. Moritz alone just when he's arrived."

"No, it isn't," said Winn, hastily. "He'll join me later; he's staying
here at my request."

Mr. Bouncing sighed gently.

"Well," he said; "then all I can say is that you make very odd requests.
One thing I'm perfectly sure about: if you go and look at the Cresta,
you'll go down it, you're such a careless man, and then you'll be
killed. Is that what you want?"

"I could do with it," said Winn, briefly.

"That," said Mr. Bouncing, "is because you're strong. It really isn't
nice to talk in that light way about being killed to any one who has got
to be before very long whether he likes it or not. If you were in my
place you'd value your life, unless it got too uncomfortable, of
course."

Winn apologized instantly. Mr. Bouncing accepted his apology graciously.

"You'll learn," he explained kindly, "how to talk to very ill people in
time, and then probably you'll never see any more of them. Experience is
a very silly thing, I've often noticed; it hops about so. No continuity.
What I was going to say was, don't be worried about young Rivers and my
wife. Take my word for it, you're making a great mistake."

"I am glad to hear you say so," Winn answered. "As a matter of fact, I
have at present a few little private worries of my own; but I'm
relieved, you think the Rivers boy is all right. I've been thinking of
having a little talk with that tutor of his."

"Ah, I shouldn't do that if I were you," said Mr. Bouncing, urgently;
"you're sure to be violent. I see you have a great deal of violence in
you; you ought to control it. It's bad for your nerves. There are things
I could tell you which would make you change your mind about young
Rivers, but I don't know that I shall; it would excite me too much. I
think I should like you to go down and telephone to Dr. Gurnet. Tell him
my temperature is normal. It's a very odd thing; I haven't had a normal
temperature for over three years. Perhaps I'm going to get better, after
all. It's really only my breathing that's troubling me to-night. It
would be funny if I got well, wouldn't it? But I mustn't talk any more;
so don't come back until I knock in the night. Pass me the 'Pink 'Un.'"
Winn passed him the "Pink 'Un" and raised him with one deft, strong
movement more comfortably up on his pillows.

"You've got quite a knack for this sort of thing," Mr. Bouncing
observed. "If you'd been a clever man, you might have been a doctor."

Mr. Bouncing did not knock during the night. Winn heard him stirring at
ten o'clock, and went in. The final change had come very quickly. Mr.
Bouncing was choking. He waved his hand as if the very appearance of
Winn between him and the open balcony door kept away from him the air
that he was vainly trying to breathe. Then a rush of blood came in a
stream between his lips. Winn moved quickly behind him and lifted him in
his arms.

Mr. Bouncing was no weight at all, and he made very little sound. He was
quite conscious, and the look in his eyes was more interested than
alarmed. The rush of bleeding stopped suddenly; his breathing was weaker
and quieter, but he no longer choked.

"Look here, old man," Winn said, "let me get your wife."

But Mr. Bouncing signaled to him not to move; after a time he
whispered:

"This is the first time I ever had hemorrhage. Most uncomfortable."

"Do let me get your wife!" Winn urged again.

"No," said Mr. Bouncing. "Women--not much good--after the first."

"Don't talk any more then, old man," Winn pleaded. "You'll start that
bleeding off again."

But Mr. Bouncing made a faint clicking sound that might have been a
laugh.

"Too late," he whispered. "Don't matter now. No more risks. Besides, I'm
too--too uncomfortable to live."

There were several pauses in the hemorrhage, and at each pause Mr.
Bouncing's mind came back to him as clear as glass. He spoke at
intervals.

"Not Rivers," he said, fixing Winn's eyes, "Roper--Roper." Then he
leaned back on the strong shoulder supporting him. "Glad to go," he
murmured. "Life has been--a damned nuisance. I've had--enough of it."
Then again, between broken, flying breaths he whispered, "Lonely."

"That's all right," Winn said gently.

"You're not alone now. I've got hold of you."

"No," whispered Mr. Bouncing, "no, I don't think you have."

There was no more violence now; his failing breath shook him hardly at
all. Even as he spoke, something in him was suddenly freed; his chest
rose slowly, his arm lifted then fell back, and Winn saw that he was no
longer holding Mr. Bouncing.



CHAPTER XVIII


He closed the balcony door; the cold air filled the room as if it were
still trying to come to the rescue of Mr. Bouncing. Winn had often done
the last offices for the dead before, but always out of doors. Mr.
Bouncing would have thought that a very careless way to die; he had
often told Winn that he thought nature most unpleasant.

When Winn had set the room in order he sat down by the table and
wondered if it would be wrong to smoke a cigarette. He wanted to smoke,
but he came to the conclusion that it wasn't quite the thing.

To-night was the ball for the international skaters--he ought to have
been there, of course. He had made Lionel go in his place, and had
written a stiff little note to Claire, asking her to give his dances to
his friend. He had Claire's answer in his pocket. "Of course I will, but
I'm awfully disappointed." She had spelled disappointed with two s's
and one p. Win had crushed the note into his pocket and not looked at it
since, but he took it out now. It wasn't like smoking a cigarette.
Bouncing wouldn't mind. There was no use making a fuss about it; he had
done the best thing for her. He was handing all that immaculate, fresh
youth into a keeping worthy of it. He wasn't fit himself. There were too
many things he couldn't tell her, there was too much in him still that
might upset and shock her. He would have done his best, of course, to
have taken care of her; but better men could take better care. Lionel
had said nothing so far; he had taken Claire skiing and skating, and
once down the Schatz Alp. When he had come back from the Schatz Alp he
had gone a long walk by himself. Winn had offered to accompany him, but
Lionel had said he wanted to go alone and think. Winn accepted this
decision without question. He knew Lionel was a clever man, but he
didn't himself see anything to think about. The thing was perfectly
simple: Lionel liked Claire or he didn't; no amount of being clever
could make any difference. Winn was a little suspicious of thinking. It
seemed to him rather like a way of getting out of things.

The room was very cold, but Winn didn't like going away and leaving Mr.
Bouncing. By the by he heard voices in the next room. He could
distinguish the high, flat giggle of Mrs. Bouncing. She had come back
from the dance, probably with young Rivers. He must go in and tell her.
That was the next thing to be done. He got up, shook himself, glanced at
the appeased and peaceful young face upon the pillow, and walked into
the next room. It was a sitting-room, and Winn had not knocked; but he
shut the door instantly after him, and then stood in front of it, as if
in some way to keep the silent tenant of the room behind him from seeing
what he saw.

Mrs. Bouncing was in a young man's arms receiving a prolonged farewell.
It wasn't young Rivers, and it was an accustomed kiss. Mrs. Bouncing
screamed. She was the kind of woman who found a scream in an emergency
as easily as a sailor finds a rope.

It wasn't Winn's place to say, "What the devil are you doing here, sir?"
to Mr. Roper; it was the question which, if Mr. Roper had had the
slightest presence of mind, he would have addressed to Winn. As it was
he did nothing but snarl--a timid and ineffectual snarl which was
without influence upon the situation.

"You'd better clear out," Winn continued; "but if I see you in Davos
after the eight o'clock express to-morrow I shall give myself the
pleasure of breaking every bone in your body. Any one's at liberty to
play a game, Mr. Roper, but not a double game; and in the future I
really wouldn't suggest your choosing a dying man's wife to play it
with. It's the kind of thing that awfully ruffles his friends."

"I don't know what you mean," said Mr. Roper, hastily edging toward the
door; "your language is most uncalled for. And as to going away, I shall
do nothing of the kind."

"Better think it over," said Winn, with misleading calm. He moved
forward as he spoke, seized Mr. Roper by the back of his coat as if he
were some kind of boneless mechanical toy, and deposited him in the
passage outside the door.

Mrs. Bouncing screamed again. This time it was a shrill and gratified
scream. She felt herself to be the heroine of an occasion. Winn eyed her
as a hostile big dog eyes one beneath his fighting powers. Then he said:

"I shouldn't make that noise if I were you; it's out of place. I came
here to give you bad news."

This time Mrs. Bouncing didn't scream. She took hold of the edge of the
table and repeated three times in a strange, expressionless voice:

"George is dead! George is dead! George is dead!"

Winn thought she was going to faint, but she didn't. She held on to the
table.

"What ought I to do, Major Staines?" she asked in a quavering voice.

Winn considered the question gravely. It was a little late in the day
for Mrs. Bouncing to start what she ought to do, but he approved of her
determination.

"I think," he said at last--"I think you ought to go in and look at him.
It's usual."

"Oh, dear!" said Mrs. Bouncing, with a shiver, "I never have seen a
corpse!"

Winn escorted her to the bedside and then turned away from her. She
looked down at her dead husband. Mr. Bouncing had no anxiety in his face
at all now; he looked incredibly contented and young.

"I--I suppose he really is gone?" said Mrs. Bouncing in a low voice.
Then she moved waveringly over to a big armchair.

"There is no doubt about it at all," said Winn. "I didn't ring up
Gurnet. He will come in any case first thing to-morrow morning."

Mrs. Bouncing moved her beringed hands nervously, and then suddenly
began to cry. She cried quietly into her pocket-handkerchief, with her
shoulders shaking.

"I wish things hadn't happened!" she sobbed. "Oh, dear! I wish things
hadn't happened!" She did not refer to the death of Mr. Bouncing. Winn
said nothing. "I really didn't mean any harm," Mrs. Bouncing went on
between her sobs--"not at first. You know how things run on; and he'd
been ill seven years, and one does like a little bit of fun, doesn't
one?"

"I shouldn't think about all that now," Winn replied. "It isn't
suitable."

Mrs. Bouncing shook her head and sobbed louder; sobbing seemed a refuge
from suitability.

"I wouldn't have minded," she said brokenly, "if I'd heated his milk. I
always thought he was so silly about having skin on it. I didn't believe
when he came up-stairs it was because he was really worse. I wanted the
sitting-room to myself. Oh dear! oh dear! I said it was all nonsense!
And he said, 'Never mind, Millie; it won't be for long,' and I thought
he meant he'd get down-stairs again. And he didn't; he meant this!"

Winn cleared his throat.

"I don't think he blamed you," he said, "as much as I did."

Mrs. Bouncing was roused by this into a sudden sense of her position.

"Oh," she said, "what are you going to do to me? You've always hated me.
I'm sure I don't know why; I took quite a fancy to you that first
evening. I always have liked military men, but you're so stand-offish;
and now, of course, goodness knows what you'll think! If poor old George
were alive he'd stand up for me!"

"I'm not going to do anything to hurt you, Mrs. Bouncing," said Winn,
after a short pause. "You'll stay on here, of course, till after the
funeral. We shall do all we can to help you, and then you'll go back to
England, won't you?"

"Yes," she said, shivering, "I suppose so. I shall go back to England. I
shall have to see George's people. They don't like me. Will--will that
be all?"

"As far as I am concerned," said Winn, more gently, "there is only one
thing further I have to suggest. I should like you to promise me, when
you leave here, to have nothing more to do with young Rivers. It's
better not; it puts him off his work."

Mrs. Bouncing reddened.

"Oh," she said, "I know; I didn't mean any harm by that. You can't help
young men taking a fancy to you, can you? At least I can't. It looked
better didn't it, in a way--you know what I mean. I didn't want people
to think anything. If only George hadn't been so good to me! I don't
suppose you can understand, but it makes it worse when they are."

It seemed to Winn as if he could understand, but he didn't say so.
Bouncing should have pulled her up. Winn always believed in people being
pulled up. The difficulty lay in knowing how to carry the process out.
It had seemed to Mr. Bouncing simpler to die.

"You'd better go to bed now," Winn said at last. "People will be up
soon. He died quite peacefully. He didn't want you to be disturbed. I
think that's all, Mrs. Bouncing."

She got up and went again to the bed.

"I suppose I oughtn't to kiss him?" she whispered. "I haven't any right
to now, have I? You know what I mean? But I would have liked to kiss
him."

"Oh, I don't believe he'd mind," said Winn, turning away.

Mrs. Bouncing kissed him.



CHAPTER XIX


Winn felt no desire to go to bed. He went out into the long, blank
corridor and wondered if the servants would be up soon and he could get
anything to drink. The passage was intensely still; it stretched
interminably away from him like a long, unlighted road. A vague gray
light came from the windows at each end. It was too early for the shapes
of the mountains to be seen. The outside world was featureless and very
cold.

There was no sound in the house except the faint sound behind the green
baize doors, which never wholly ceased. Winn had always listened to it
before with an impatient distaste; he had hated to hear these echoes of
dissolution. This morning, for the first time, he felt curious.

Suppose things had gone differently; that he'd been too late, and known
his fate? He could have stayed on then; he could have accepted Claire's
beautiful young friendliness. He could have left her free; and yet he
could have seen her every day; then he would have died.

Weakness has privileges. It escapes responsibility; allowances are made
for it. It hasn't got to get up and go, tearing itself to pieces from
the roots. He could have told her about Peter and Estelle and what a
fool he had been; and at the end, he supposed, it wouldn't have mattered
if he had just mentioned that he loved her.

Now there wasn't going to be any end. Life would stretch out narrow,
interminable, and dark, like the passage with the windows at each end,
which were only a kind of blur without any light.

However, of course there was no use bothering about it; since the
servants weren't up and he couldn't get any coffee, he must just turn
in. It suddenly occurred to Winn that what he was feeling now was
unhappiness, a funny thing; he had never really felt before. It was the
kind of feeling the man had had, under the lamp-post at the station,
carrying his dying wife. The idea of a broken heart had always seemed
to Winn namby-pamby. You broke if you were weak; you didn't break if you
were strong. What was happening now was that he was strong and he was
being broken. It was a painful process, because there was a good deal of
him to break, and it had only just begun. However, this was mercifully
hidden from him. He said to himself: "I dare say I'm run down and
fidgety with having had to sit up with Bouncing. I shall feel all right
to-morrow." Then the door behind him opened, and Lionel joined him. He
was still dressed as he had been when he came back from the ball some
hours earlier.

"Hullo!" he said. "I wondered if that was you; I thought I heard
something stirring outside. You weren't in your room when I came in.
Been with Bouncing?"

"Yes," said Winn; "he's dead. I'm looking for some coffee. These
confounded, tow-headed Swiss mules never get up at any decent hour. Why
are you still dressed? Nothing wrong, is there?"

"Well, I didn't feel particularly sleepy, somehow," Lionel acknowledged.
"Are you going to stand outside in this moth-eaten passage the rest of
the night, or will you come in with me and have a whisky and soda? You
must be fagged out."

"I don't mind if I do," Winn agreed. "We may as well make a night of
it."

For a few minutes neither of them spoke, then Winn said: "Had a jolly
dance?"

Lionel did not answer him directly; but he turned round, and met his
friend's eyes with his usual unswerving honesty.

"Look here, old Winn," he said, "it's up to you to decide now. I'll stay
on here or go with you, whichever you like."

"You like her, then?" Winn asked quickly.

"Yes," said Lionel, "I like her."

"Well, then, you'll stay of course," said Winn without any hesitation.
"Isn't that what we damned well settled?"

Lionel's eyes had changed. They were full of a new light; he looked as
if some one had lit a lantern within him. Love had come to him not as it
had come to Winn, bitterly, unavailingly, without illusion; it had
fallen upon his free heart and lit it from end to end with joy. He loved
as a man loves whose heart is clean and who has never loved before,
without a scruple and without restraint. Love had made no claims on him
yet; it had not offered him either its disappointments or its great
rewards. He was transformed without being altered. He simply saw
everything as glorious which before had been plain, but he did not see
different things.

"Yes," he said, "I know we talked about it; but I'm hanged if I'll try
unless I'm sure you are absolutely keen. I thought it all out
after--after I'd seen her, and it seemed to me all very well in the
abstract giving her up to another man and all that, but when it came to
the point, would you be really sure to want me to carry through? I've
seen her now, you know, and I'm glad I've seen her. I'll be glad always
for that, but it needn't go any further."

Winn looked past him; he was tired with the long night's strain, and he
had no white ideal to be a rapture in his heart. He loved Claire not
because she was perfection, but because she was herself. She was
faultless to Lionel, but Winn didn't care whether she was faultless or
not. He didn't expect perfection or even want it, and he wasn't the man
to be satisfied with an ideal; but he wanted, as few men have ever
wanted for any women, that Claire should be happy and safe.

"I've told you once," he said; "you might know I shouldn't change. I've
got one or two little jobs to see to about Bouncing's funeral. That
woman's half a little cat and half an abject fool. Still, you can't help
feeling a bit sorry for her. I dare say I can get things done by
lunch-time; then I'll drive over the Fluella. I'll put up at the Kulm;
but don't bother to write till you've got something settled. I'm not
going to mess about saying good-by to people. You can tell Miss Rivers
when I'm gone."

"Look here," Lionel urged, "you can't do that; you must say good-by to
her properly. She was awfully sick at your not turning up at the ball.
After all, you know, you've seen a lot of her, and she particularly
likes you. You can't jump off into space, as if you were that old chap
in the Bible without any beginning or any end!"

Winn stuck his hands in his pockets and looked immovably obstinate.

"I'm damned if I do," he replied. "Why should I? What's the use of
saying good-by? The proper thing to do when you're going away is to go.
You needn't linger, mewing about like somebody's pet kitten."

Lionel poured out the whiskey before replying, and pushed a glass in
Winn's direction; then he said:

"Don't be a fool, old chap; you'll have to say good-by to her. You don't
want to hurt her feelings."

"What's it to you whether I hurt her feelings or not?" Winn asked
savagely.

There was a moment's sharp tension. It dropped at the tone of Lionel's
quiet voice.

"It's a great deal to me," he said steadily; "but I know it's not half
as much to me as it is to you, old Winn."

"Oh, all right," said Winn after a short pause. "I suppose I'll say it
if you think I ought to. Only stand by if you happen to be anywhere
about. By the by, I hope I shall have some kind of a scrap with Roper
before the morning's over. I shall enjoy that. Infernal little beast, I
caught him out last night. I can't tell you how; but unless he's off by
the eight o'clock to-morrow, he's in for punishment."

Lionel laughed.

"All right," he said; "don't murder him. I'm going to turn in now. Sorry
about Bouncing. Did he have a bad time, poor chap?"

"No," said Winn, "not really. He had a jolly sight harder time living;
and yet I believe he'd have swopped with me at the end. Funny how little
we know what the other fellow feels!"

"We can get an idea sometimes," Lionel said in a queer voice, with his
back to his friend. Winn hastened to the door of his room. He knew that
Lionel had an idea. He said, as he half closed the door on himself:

"Thanks awfully for the whiskey."



CHAPTER XX


Unfortunately, Winn was not permitted the pleasure of punishing Mr.
Roper in the morning. Mr. Roper thought the matter over for the greater
part of an unpleasantly short night. He knew that he could prepare a
perfect case, he could easily clear himself to his pupil, he could stand
by his guns, and probably even succeed in making Mrs. Bouncing stand by
hers; but he didn't want to be thrashed. Whatever else happened, he knew
that he could not get out of this. Winn meant to thrash him, and Winn
would thrash him. People like Winn could not be manipulated; they could
only be avoided. They weren't afraid of being arrested, and they didn't
care anything about being fined. They damned the consequences of their
ferocious acts; and if you happened to be one of the consequences and
had a constitutional shrinking from being damned, it was wiser to pack
early and be off by an eight o'clock train.

Winn was extremely disappointed at this decision; it robbed him of
something which, as he thought, would have cleared the air. However, he
spent a busy morning in assisting Mrs. Bouncing. She was querulous and
tearful and wanted better dressmakers and a more becoming kind of
mourning than it was easy to procure in Davos. It seemed to Winn as if
she was under the impression that mourning was more important to a
funeral than a coffin; but when it came to the coffin, she had terrible
ideas about lilies embroidered in silver, which upset Winn very much.

Mr. Bouncing had always objected to lilies. He considered that their
heavy scent was rather dangerous. Mrs. Bouncing told Winn what everybody
in the hotel had suggested, and appeared to expect him to combine and
carry out all their suggestions, with several other contradictory ones
of her own.

During this crisis Maurice Rivers markedly avoided Mrs. Bouncing. He
felt as if she might have prevented Mr. Bouncing's death just then. It
was a failure of tact. He didn't like the idea of death, and he had
always rather counted oh the presence of Mr. Bouncing. He was afraid he
might, with Mr. Bouncing removed, have gone a little too far.

He explained his position to Winn, whom he met on one of his many
errands.

"One doesn't want to let oneself in for anything, you know," he
asserted. "I'm sure, as a man of the world, you'd advise me to keep out
of it, wouldn't you? It's different for you, of course; you were poor
Bouncing's friend."

Winn, whose temper was extremely ruffled, gave him a formidable glance.

"You get into things a bit too soon, my boy," he replied coldly, "and
get out of 'em a bit too late."

"Oh, come, you know," said Maurice, jauntily, "I'm not responsible for
poor old Bouncing's death, am I?"

"I don't say you are," Winn continued, without looking any pleasanter.
"Bouncing had to die, and a jolly good thing for him it was when it came
off; his life wasn't worth a row of pins. But I wasn't talking about
him; I was talking about her. If you really want my advice, I'll tell
you plainly that if you want to go the pace, choose women one doesn't
marry, don't monkey about with the more or less respectable ones who
have a right to expect you to play the game. It's not done, and it's
beastly unfair. D' you see my point?"

Maurice wondered if he should be thoroughly angry or not. Suddenly it
occurred to him that Winn was waiting, and that he had better see his
point and not be thoroughly angry.

"Yes, I dare say I did go a little far," he admitted, throwing out a
manly chest; "but between you and me, Staines, should you say our friend
Mrs. B. _was_ respectable or not?"

"She isn't my friend," said Winn, grimly; "but as she ought to be yours,
I'll trouble you to keep your questions to yourself."

The idea of being angry having apparently been taken out of Maurice's
hands, he made haste to disappear into the hotel.

Winn walked on into the village. It was the last time he intended to go
there. There was nothing peculiarly touching about the flat, long road,
with the rink beneath it and the mountains above. The houses and shops,
German pensions and crowded balconies had no particular charm. Even the
tall, thin spire of the church lacked distinction; and yet it seemed to
Winn that it would be difficult to forget. He stopped at the rink as he
returned to pick up his skates. He told himself that he was fortunate
when he discovered Claire, with Lionel on one side of her and Ponsonby
on the other; he had wanted the help of an audience; now he was going to
have one. Claire saw him before the others did, and skated swiftly
across to him.

"But why don't you put your skates on?" she said, pointing to them in
his hand. "You're not much good there, you know, on the bank."

"I'm not much good anywhere, as far as that goes," said Winn, quickly,
before the others came up. Then he said in a different voice, "I hope
you enjoyed your dance last night."

Claire paused the briefest moment before she answered him; it was as if
she were trying quickly to change the key in which she spoke in order to
meet his wishes, and as if she did not want to change the key.

"Yes, I did," she said, "most awfully. It was a heavenly dance. I was
so sorry you couldn't come, but Captain Drummond told me why."

Winn confounded Lionel under his breath for not holding his tongue; but
he felt a warmth stir in his heart at the knowledge that, no matter what
was at stake, Lionel would not suffer the shadow of blame to attach
itself to him. It had been one of Winn's calculations that Claire would
be annoyed at his disappointing her and think the less of him because
she was annoyed. He was not a clever calculator.

"Of course I understood," Claire went on; "you had to be with poor Mr.
Bouncing. It was just like you to stay with him." She had said a good
deal, considering that Mr. Ponsonby and Lionel were there. Still, Winn
did not misunderstand her. Of course she meant nothing.

"Well," he said, holding out his hand, "I'm extremely glad, Miss Rivers,
to have run across you like this, because I'm off this afternoon to St.
Moritz. I want to have a look at the Cresta."

Claire ignored his outstretched hand.

"Oh," she cried a little breathlessly, "you're not going away, are you?
But you'll come back again, of course?"

"I hope so, I'm sure, some day or other," said Winn. Then he turned to
Ponsonby. "Have you been down the Cresta?" he asked.

Mr. Ponsonby shook his head.

"Not from Church Leap," he replied. "I've got too much respect for my
bones. It's awfully tricky; I've gone down from below it. You don't get
such a speed on then."

"Oh, Major Staines, you won't toboggan?" Claire cried out. "You know you
mustn't toboggan! Dr. Gurnet said you mustn't. You won't, will you?
Captain Drummond, aren't you going with him to stop him?"

Lionel laughed.

"He isn't a very easy person to stop," he answered her. "I'll join him
later on, of course; but I want to see a little more of Davos before I
go."

"There isn't the slightest danger," Winn remarked, without meeting
Claire's eyes. "The Cresta's as safe as a church hassock. There isn't
half the skill in tobogganing that there is in skating. Good-by, Miss
Rivers. I never enjoyed anything as much as I enjoyed our skating
competition. I'm most grateful to you for putting up with me."

Claire gave him her hand then, but Winn remembered afterward that she
never said good-by. She looked at him as if he had done something which
was not fair.



CHAPTER XXI


Winn's chief objection to St. Moritz was the shabby way in which it
imitated Davos. It had all the same materials--endless snows, forests of
fir-trees, soaring peaks and the serene blueness of the skies--and yet
as Davos it didn't in the least come off. It was more beautiful and less
definite; the peaks were nearer and higher; they streamed out around the
valley like an army with banners. The long, low lake and the small,
perched villages, grossly overtopped by vulgar hotel palaces, had a far
more fugitive air.

It was a place without a life of its own. Whatever character St. Moritz
might once have had was as lost as that of the most catholic of evening
ladies in Piccadilly.

Davos had had the dignity of its purpose; it had set out to heal. St.
Moritz, on the contrary, set out to avoid healing. It was haunted by
crown princes and millionaire Jews, ladies with incredible ear-rings
and priceless furs; sharp, little, baffling trans-atlantic children
thronged its narrow streets, and passed away from it as casually as a
company of tramps.

There was this advantage for Winn: nobody wanted to be friendly unless
one was a royalty or a financial magnate. Winn was as much alone as if
he had dropped from Charing Cross into the Strand. He smoked, read his
paper, and investigated in an unaccommodating spirit all that St. Moritz
provided; but he didn't have to talk.

Winn was suffering from a not uncommon predicament: he had done the
right thing at enormous cost, and he was paying for it, instead of being
paid. Virtue had struck her usual hard bargain with her votaries. She
had taken all he had to give, and then sent in a bill for damages.

He was not in the least aware that he was unhappy, and often, for five
or ten minutes at a time, he would forget Claire; afterward he would
remember her, and that was worse. The unfortunate part of being made all
of a piece is that if you happen to want anything, there is really no
fiber of your being that doesn't want it.

Winn loved in the same spirit that he rode and he always rode to a
finish. In these circumstances and in this frame of mind, the Cresta
occurred to Winn in the light of a direct inspiration. No one could ride
the Cresta with any other preoccupation.

Winn knew that he oughtn't to do it; he remembered Dr. Gurnet's advice,
and it put an edge to his intention. If he couldn't have what he wanted,
there would be a minor satisfaction in doing what he oughtn't. The
homely adage of cutting off your nose to spite your face had never been
questioned by the Staines family. They looked upon a nose as there
chiefly for that purpose. It was a last resource to be drawn upon, when
the noses of others appeared to be out of reach.

There were, however, a few preliminary difficulties. No one was allowed
to ride the Cresta without practice, and it was a part of Winn's plan
not to be bothered with gradual stages. Only one man had ever been known
to start riding the Cresta from Church Leap without previous trials, and
his evidence was unobtainable as he was unfortunately killed during the
experiment. Since this adventure a stout Swiss peasant had been placed
to guard the approaches to the run. Winn walked up to him during the
dinner-hour, when he knew the valley was freest from possible intruders.

"I want you to clear off," he said to the man, offering him five francs,
and pointing in the direction of St. Moritz. The peasant shook his head,
retaining the five francs, and opening the palm of his other hand. Winn
placed a further contribution in it and said firmly:

"Now if you don't go I shall knock you down." He shook his fist to
reinforce the feebleness of his alien speech. The Swiss peasant stepped
off the path hurriedly into a snow-drift. He was a reasonable man, and
he did not grasp why one mad Englishman should wish to be killed, nor,
for the matter of that, why others equally mad, should wish to prevent
it. So he walked off in the direction of St. Moritz and hid behind a
tree, reposing upon the deeply rooted instinct of not being responsible
for what he did not see.

Winn regarded the run methodically, placed his toboggan on the summit
of the leap, and looked down at the thin, blue streak stretching into
the distance. The valley appeared to be entirely empty; there was
nothing visibly moving in it except a little distant smoke on the way to
Samaden. The run looked very cold and very narrow; the nearest banks
stood up like cliffs.

Winn strapped a rake to his left foot, and calculated that the instant
he felt the ice under him he must dig into it, otherwise he would go
straight over the first bank. Then he crouched over his toboggan, threw
himself face downward, and felt it spring into the air.

He kept no very definite recollection of the sixty-odd seconds that
followed. The ice rose up at him like a wall; the wind--he had not
previously been aware of the faintest draught of air--cut into his eyes
and forehead like fire. His lips blistered under it.

He felt death at every dizzy, dwindling second--death knotted up and
racketing, so imminent that he wouldn't have time to straighten himself
out or let go of his toboggan before he would be tossed out into the
empty air.

He remembered hearing a man say that if you fell on the Cresta and
didn't let go of your toboggan, it knocked you to pieces. His hands were
fastened on the runners as if they were clamped down with iron. The
scratching of the rake behind him sounded appalling in the surrounding
silence.

He shot up the first bank, shaving the top by the thinness of a hair,
wobbled sickeningly back on to the straight, regained his grip, shot the
next bank more easily, and whirled madly down between the iron walls. He
felt as if he were crawling slowly as a fly crawls up a pane of glass,
in a buzzing eternity.

Then he was bumped across the road and shot under the bridge. There was
a hill at the end of the run. As he flew up it he became for the first
time aware of pace. The toboggan took it like a racing-cutter, and at
the top rose six feet into the air, and plunged into the nearest
snow-drift.

Winn crawled out, feeling very sick and shaken, and as if every bone in
his body was misplaced.

"Oh, you idiot! You idiot! you unbounded, God-forsaken idiot!" a voice
exclaimed in his ears. "You've given me the worst two minutes of my
life!"

Winn looked around him more annoyed than startled. He felt a great
disinclination for speech and an increasing desire to sit down and keep
still; and he did not care to conduct a quarrel sitting down.

However, a growing inability to stand up decided him; he dragged out his
toboggan and sat on it.

The speaker appeared round a bend of the run. She had apparently been
standing in the path that overlooked a considerable portion of it.

She was not a young woman, and from her complexion and the hardness of
her thickly built figure she might have been made of wood.

She wore a short, strapped-in skirt, leather leggings, and a
fawn-colored sweater. Her eyes were a sharp, decided blue, and the rest
of her appearance matched the sweater.

Winn pulled himself together.

"I don't see, Madam," he remarked slowly, but with extreme
aggressiveness, "what the devil my actions have to do with you!"

"No," said the lady, grimly, "I don't suppose from the exhibition I've
just been watching, that you're in the habit of seeing farther than to
the end of your own nose. However, I may as well point out to you that
if you had killed yourself, as you richly deserved, and as you came
within an ace of doing, the run would have been stopped for the season.
We should all have been deprived of the Grand National, and I, who come
up here solely to ride the Cresta, which I have done regularly every
winter for twenty years, would have had my favorite occupation snatched
from me at an age when I could least afford to miss it."

"I haven't been killed, and I had not the slightest intention of being
so," Winn informed her with dangerous calm. "I merely wished to ride the
Cresta for the first time unobserved. Apparently I have failed in my
intention. If so, it is my misfortune and not my fault." He took out a
cigarette, and lit it with a steady hand, and turned his eyes away from
her. He expected her to go away, but, to his surprise, she spoke again.

"My name," she said, "is Marley. What is yours?"

"Staines," Winn replied with even greater brevity. He had to give her
his name, but he meant it to be his last concession.

"Ah," she said thoughtfully, "that accounts for it. You're the image of
Sir Peter, and you seem to have inherited not only his features, but his
manners. I needn't, perhaps, inform you that the latter were uniformly
bad. I knew your father when I was a girl. He was stationed in Hong-Kong
at the time and he was good enough to call me the little Chinese, no
doubt in reference to my complexion. Plain as I am now, I was a great
deal plainer as a girl, though I dare say you wouldn't think it."

Winn made no comment upon this doubtful statement; he merely grunted.
His private opinion was that ladies of any age should not ride the
Cresta, and that ladies old enough to have known his father at Hong-Kong
should not toboggan at all.

It was unsuitable, and she might have hurt herself; into these two
pitfalls women should never fall.

Miss Marley had a singularly beautiful speaking voice; it was as soft as
velvet. She dropped it half a tone, and said suddenly:

"Look here, don't do that kind of thing again. It's foolish. People
don't always get killed, you know; sometimes they get maimed. Forgive
me, but I thought I would just like to point it out to you. I could not
bear to see a strong man maimed."

Winn knew that it was silly and weak to like her just because of the
tone of her voice, but he found himself liking her. He had a vague
desire to tell her that he wouldn't do it again and that he had been
rather a fool; but the snow was behaving in a queer way all around him;
it appeared to be heaving itself up. He said instead:

"Excuse me for sitting down like this. I've had a bit of a shake. I'll
be all right in a moment or two." Then he fainted.

Miss Marley stooped over him, opened his collar, laid him flat on the
ground--he had fallen in a heap on his toboggan--and chafed his wrists
and forehead with snow. When she saw that he was coming round, she moved
a little away from him and studied his toboggan.

"If I were you," she observed, "I should have these runners cut a little
finer; they are just a shade too thick."

Winn dragged himself on to the toboggan and wondered how his collar came
to be undone. When he did it up, he found his hands were shaking, which
amazed him very much. He looked a little suspiciously at his companion.

"Of course," Miss Marley continued pleasantly, "I ought to have that
watchman discharged. I am a member of the Cresta committee, and he
behaved scandalously; but I dare say you forced him into it, so I shall
just walk up the hill and give him a few straight words. Probably you
don't know the dialect. I've made a point of studying it. If I were you,
I should stay where you are until I come back. I want you to come to tea
with me at Cresta. There's a particularly good kind of bun in the
village, and I think I can give you some rather useful tobogganing tips.
It isn't worth while your climbing up the hill just to climb down again,
is it? Besides, you'd probably frighten the man."

"Thanks," said Winn. "All right; I'll stay." He didn't want the Cresta
bun, and he thought that he resented Miss Marley's invitation; but, on
the other hand, he was intensely glad she was going off and leaving him
alone.

He felt uncommonly queer. Perhaps he could think of some excuse to avoid
the tea when she came back.

All the muscles of his chest seemed to have gone wrong; it hurt him to
breathe. He sat with his head down, like a man climbing a hill against a
strong wind. It was rather funny to feel ill again when he had really
forgotten he was up there for his health. That was what he felt--ill.

It was not nearly as painful a feeling as remembering Claire.
Unfortunately, it was very quickly followed by the more painful feeling.

When Miss Marley came back, he had the eyes of a creature caught in a
trap.

She took him to Cresta to tea, and it did not occur to Winn to wonder
why a woman who at forty-five habitually rode the Cresta should find it
necessary to walk at the pace of a deliberating snail. It was a pace
which at the moment suited Winn precisely.

On the whole he enjoyed his tea. Miss Marley's manners, though abrupt,
had certain fine scruples of their own. She showed no personal curiosity
and she gave Winn some really valuable tips. He began to understand why
she had so deeply resented his trifling with the Cresta.

Miss Marley was one of the few genuine workers at St. Moritz, a member
of the old band who had worked devotedly to produce the Monster which
had afterward as promptly devoured them. This fate, however, had not as
yet overtaken Miss Marley. She was too tough and too rich to be very
easily devoured. The Cresta was at once her child and her banner; she
had helped to make it, and she wound its folds around her as a screen
for her invisible kindnesses.

Menaced boys could have told how she had averted their ruin with large
checks and sharp reproofs. She had saved many homes and covered many
scandals. For girls she had a special tenderness. She had never been a
beautiful young girl, and she had a pathetic reverence for what was
frail and fair. For them she had no reproofs, only vast mercy, and
patient skill in releasing them from the traps which had caught their
flurried young senses; but for those who had set the traps she had no
mercy.

Miss Marley was not known for any of these things. She was celebrated
for fights with chaplains and sanitary inspectors, and for an inability
to give in to authority unless authority knew what it was about. She had
never once tried to please, which is the foundation of charm. Perhaps it
would have been a useless effort, for she was not born to please. She
was born to get things done.

After Miss Marley had talked to Winn for an hour, she decided to get him
to join the Bandy Club. He was the kind of man who must do something,
and it was obviously better that he should not again tempt fate by
riding the Cresta from Church Leap without practice. This course became
clearer to Miss Marley when she discovered that Winn had come up for his
health.

"Of course a fellow who wasn't seedy wouldn't have made an ass of
himself over riding the Cresta," Winn explained, eyeing her
thoughtfully.

He must have got somehow off his toboggan on to the snow, and he had no
recollection at all of getting there. Miss Marley said nothing to
enlighten him further. She merely suggested bandy. After dinner she
introduced Winn to the captain of the St. Moritz team, and at three
o'clock the next afternoon she watched him play in a practice-match.

Winn played with a concentrated viciousness which assured her of two
things: he would be an acquisition to the team, and if he felt as badly
as all that, it was just as well to get some of it worked off on
anything as unresponsive as a ball.

After this Miss Marley let him alone. She considered this the chief
factor in assisting the lives of others; and for nearly two hours a day,
while he was playing bandy, Winn succeeded in not remembering Claire.



CHAPTER XXII


Winn's way of playing bandy was to play as if there wasn't any ice. In
the first few practices it had the disadvantage of a constant series of
falls, generally upon the back of his head; but he soon developed an
increasing capacity of balance and an intensity of speed. He became the
quickest forward the St. Moritz team had ever possessed.

When he was following the ball he took up his feet and ran. The hard
clash of the skates, the determined onrush of the broad-built,
implacable figure, were terrible to withstand. What was to be done
against a man who didn't skate, but tore, who fell upon a ball as a
terrier plunges, eyeless and intent, into a rat-hole? The personal
safety of himself or others never occurred to Winn. He remembered
nothing but the rules of the game. These he held in the back of his
mind, with the ball in front of it.

All St. Moritz came to watch the great match between itself and Davos.
It was a still, cold day; there was no blue in the sky; the mountains
were a hard black and white and the valley very colorless and clear.
There was a hush of coming snow in the air, and the sky was covered by a
toneless, impending cloud.

The game, after a brief interval, became a duel between two men: Winn,
with his headlong, thirsty method of attack, and the champion player of
Davos, Mavorovitch, who was known as the most finished skater of the
season.

Mavorovitch never apparently lifted his skates, but seemed to send them
forward by a kind of secret pressure. He was a very cool player, as
quick as mercury and as light as thistledown. Winn set himself against
him with the dogged fury of a bull against a toreador.

"That man's not brave; he's careless," a St. Moritz potentate remarked
to Miss Marley. Miss Marley gave a short laugh and glanced at Winn.

"That's my idea of courage," she said, "carelessness toward things that
don't count. Major Staines isn't careless with the ball."

"A game's a game," the foreign prince protested, "not a prolonged
invitation to concussion."

"All, that's where your foreign blood comes in, Your Highness," argued
Miss Marley. "A game isn't a game to an Englishman; it's his way of
tackling life. As a man plays so he reaps."

"Very well, then," remarked her companion, gravely. "Mark my words,
Madame, your friend over there will reap disaster."

Winn tackled the ball in a series of sudden formidable rushes; he hurled
himself upon the slight form of Mavorovitch, only to find he had before
him a portion of the empty air. Mavorovitch was invariably a few inches
beyond his reach, and generally in possession of the ball.

Twice Winn wrested it forcibly from him and got half way up the ice,
tearing along with his skates crashing their iron way toward the goal,
and twice Mavorovitch noiselessly, except for a faint scraping, slid up
behind him and coaxed the ball out of his very grip. St. Moritz lost
two goals to nothing in the first half, and Winn felt as if he were
biting on air.

He stood a little apart from the other players, with his back turned to
the crowd. He wished it wasn't necessary always to have an audience; a
lot of people who sat and did nothing irritated him. Mavorovitch
irritated him, too. He did not like a man to be so quiet; the faint
_click_, _click_ of Mavorovitch's skates on the ice was like a lady
knitting.

The whistle sounded again, and Winn set upon the ball with redoubled
fury. He had a feeling that if he didn't win this game he was going to
dislike it very much. He tore up the ice, every muscle strained, his
stick held low, caressing the round, flying knob in front; he had got
the ball all right, the difficulty was going to be, to keep it. His mind
listened to the faint distant scraping of Mavorovitch's approach. Winn
had chosen the exact spot for slowing up for his stroke.

It must be a long-distance shot or Mavorovitch would be there to
intercept him, the longer, the safer, if he could get up speed enough
for his swing. He had left the rest of the players behind him long ago,
tossing some to one side and outflanking others; but he had not got
clear away from Mavorovitch, bent double, and quietly calculating, a few
feet behind him, the exact moment for an intercepting spurt: and then
through the sharpness of the icy air and the sense of his own speed an
extraordinary certainty flashed into Winn. He was not alone; Claire was
there. He called it a fancy, but he knew it was a certainty. A burning
joy seized him, and a new wild strength poured into him. He could do
anything now.

He drew up suddenly, long before the spot he had fixed upon as a certain
stroke, lifted his arm, and struck with all his might. It was a long,
doubtful, crossing stroke, almost incredibly distant from the goal.

The crowd held its breath as the ball rose, cutting straight above the
goal-keeper's head, through the very center of the goal.

Winn was probably the only person there who didn't follow its flight. He
looked up quickly at the bank above him, and met her eyes. She was as
joined to him as if they had no separate life.

In a moment it struck him that there was nothing else to do but to go to
her at once, take her in his arms, and walk off with her somewhere into
the snow. He knew now that he had been in hell; the sight of her was
like the sudden cessation of blinding physical pain.

Then he pulled himself together and went back to the game. He couldn't
think any more, but the new activity in him went on playing methodically
and without direction.

Mavorovitch, who was playing even more skilfully and swiftly, got the
better of him once or twice; but the speed that had given Winn room for
his great stroke flowed tirelessly through him. It seemed to him as if
he could have outpaced a Scotch express.

He carried the ball off again and again out of the mob of his
assailants. They scattered under his rushes like creatures made of
cardboard. He offered three goals and shot one. The cheering of the St.
Moritzers sounded in his ears as if it were a long way off. He saw the
disappointed, friendly grin of little Mavorovitch as the last whistle
settled the match at five goals to four against Davos, but everything
seemed cloudy and unreal. He heard Mavorovitch say:

"Spooner never told us he had a dark horse over here. I must say I am
disappointed. Until half-time I thought I should get the better of you;
but how did you get that devilish spurt on? Fierce pace tires, but you
were easier to tire when you began."

Winn's eyes wandered over the little man beside him.

"Oh, I don't know," he said good-naturedly; he had never in his life
felt so good-natured. "I suppose I thought we were getting beaten. That
rather braces one up, doesn't it?"

"Ah, that is you English all over," laughed Mavorovitch. "We have a
saying, 'In all campaigns the English lose many battles, but they always
win one--namely, the last.'"

"I'm sure it's awfully jolly of you to say so," said Winn. "You play a
pretty fine game yourself, you know, considerably more skill in it than
mine. I had no idea you were not English yourself."

Mavorovitch seemed to swim away into a mist of laughter, people receded,
the bank receded; at last he stood before her. Winn thought she was a
little thinner in the face and her eyes were larger than ever. He could
not take his own away from her; he had no thoughts, and he forgot to
speak.

Everybody was streaming off to tea. The rink was deserted; it lay a
long, gray shadow beneath the high, white banks. The snow had begun to
fall, light, dry flakes that rested like powder on Claire's curly hair.
She waited for him to speak; but as he still said nothing, she asked
with a sudden dimple:

"Where does this path lead to?"

Then Winn recollected himself, and asked her if she didn't want some
tea. Claire shook her head.

"Not now," she said decidedly; "I want to go along this path."

Winn obeyed her silently. The path took them between dark fir-trees to
the farthest corner of the little park. Far below them a small stream
ran into the lake, it was frozen over, but in the silence they could
hear it whispering beneath the ice. The world was as quiet as if it lay
in velvet. Then Claire said suddenly:

"Oh, why did you make me hurt him when I liked him so much?"

They found a bench and sat down under the trees.

"Do you mean you've sent Lionel away?" Winn asked anxiously.

"Yes," she said in a forlorn little voice; "yesterday I sent him away.
He didn't know I was coming over here, he was very miserable. He asked
me if I knew about you--he said he believed you wanted me to--and I
said, 'Of course I know everything.' I wasn't going to let him think you
hadn't told me. Why did you go away?"

He had not thought she would ask him that. It was as if he saw before
him an interminable hill which he had believed himself to have already
climbed.

He drew a deep breath, then he said:

"Didn't they talk about it? I wrote to her, the chaplain's wife I mean;
I hadn't time to see her, but I sent it by the porter. I thought she'd
do; she seemed a gossipy woman, kept on knitting and gassing over a
stove in the hall. I thought she was--a sort of circulating library, you
see. I tipped the porter--tow-headed Swiss brute. I suppose he swallowed
it."

"He went away the same day you did," Claire explained. "Nobody told me
anything. Do you think I would have let them? I wouldn't let Lionel, and
I knew he had a right to, but I didn't care about anybody's rights. You
see, I--I thought you'd tell me yourself. So I came," she finished
quietly.

She waited. Winn began to draw patterns on the snow with his stick, then
he said:

"I've been a bit of a blackguard not telling you myself. I didn't want
to talk about it, and that's a fact. I'm married."

He kept his face turned away from her. It seemed a long time before she
spoke.

"You should have told me that before," she said in a queer, low voice.
"It's too late now."

"Would it," he asked quickly, "have made any difference--about Lionel, I
mean?"

She shook her head.

"Not," she said, "about Lionel."

He bent lower over the pattern in the snow; it had become more
intricate.

"I couldn't tell you," he muttered; "I tried. I couldn't. That was why I
went off. You say too late. D'you mind telling me if you mean--you
care?"

Her silence seemed interminable, and then he knew she had already
answered him. It seemed to him that if he sat there and died, he
couldn't speak.

"Winn," she asked in a whisper, "did you go because of me--or because of
you?"

He turned round, facing her.

"Is that worrying you?" he asked fiercely. "Well, you can see for
yourself, can't you? All there is of me--" He could not finish his
sentence.

It was snowing heavily. They seemed intensely, cruelly alone. It was as
if all life crept off and left them by themselves in the drifting gray
snow, in their silent little corner of the unconscious, unalterable
world.

Winn put his arm around her and drew her head down on his shoulder.

"It's all right," he said rather thickly. "I won't hurt you."

But he knew that he had hurt her, and that it was all wrong.

She did not cry, but she trembled against his heart. He felt her
shivering as if she were afraid of all the world but him.

"I must stay with you," she whispered. "I must stay with you, mustn't
I?"

He tried not to say "always," but he thought afterward that he must have
said "always."

Then she lifted her curls and her little fur cap with the snow on it
from his shoulder, and looked deep into his eyes. The worst of it was
that hers were filled with joy.

"Winn," she said, "do you love me enough for anything? Not only for
happiness, but, if we had to have dreadful things, enough for dreadful
things?"

She spoke of dreadful things as if they were outside her, and as if they
were very far away.

"I love you enough for anything," said Winn, gravely.

"Tell me," she whispered, "did you ever even think--you liked her as
much?"

Winn looked puzzled; it took him a few minutes to guess whom she meant,
then he said wonderingly:

"My wife, you mean?"

Claire nodded. It was silly how the little word tore its way into her
very heart; she had to bite her lips to keep herself from crying out.
She did not realize that the word was meaningless to him.

"No," said Winn, gravely; "that's the worst of it. I must have been out
of my head. It was a fancy. Of course I thought it was all right, but I
didn't _care_. It was fun rather than otherwise; you know what I mean?
I'm afraid I gave her rather a rotten time of it; but fortunately she
doesn't like me at all. It's not surprising."

"Yes, it is," said Claire, firmly; "it's very surprising. But if she
doesn't care for you, and you don't care for her, can't anything be
done?"

There is something cruel in the astonishing ease with which youth
believes in remedial measures. It is a cruelty which reacts so terribly
upon its possessors.

Winn hesitated; then he told her that he would take her to the ends of
the world. Claire pushed away the ends of the world; they did not sound
very practical.

"I mean," she said, "have you got to consider anybody else? Of course
there's Maurice and your people, I've thought of them. But I don't think
they'd mind so awfully always, do you? It wouldn't be like robbing or
cheating some one who really needed us. We couldn't do that, of course."

Then Winn remembered Peter. He told her somehow that there was Peter. He
hid his face against her breast while he told her; he could not bear to
see in her eyes this new knowledge of Peter.

But she was very quiet about it; it was almost as if she had always
known that there was Peter.

Winn spoke very wildly after that; he denied Peter; he denied any
obstacles; he spoke as if they were already safely and securely married.
He explained that they had to be together; that was the long and short
of it. Anything else was absurd; she must see that it was absurd.

Claire didn't interrupt him once; but when he had quite finished, she
said consideringly:

"Yes; but, after all, she gave you Peter."

Then Winn laughed, remembering how Estelle had given him Peter. He
couldn't explain to Claire quite how funny it was.

She bore his laughter, though it surprised her a little; there seemed to
be so many new things to be learned about him. Then she said:

"Anyway, we can be quite happy for a fortnight, can't we?"

Winn raised his head and looked at her. It was his turn to be surprised.

"Maurice and I," she explained, "have to go back in two weeks; we've
come over here for the fortnight. So we'll just be happy, won't we? And
we can settle what we'll do afterward, at the end of the time."

She spoke as if a fortnight was a long time. Then Winn kissed her; he
did it with extraordinary gentleness, on the side of her cheek and on
her wet curls covered with snow.

"You're such a baby," he said half to himself; "so it isn't a bit of use
your being as old as the hills the other part of the time. There are
just about a million reasons why you shouldn't stay, you know."

"Oh, reasons!" said Claire, making a face at anything so trivial as a
reason. Then she became very grave, and said, "I _want_ to stay, Winn;
of course I know what you mean. But there's Maurice; it isn't as if I
were alone. And afterwards--oh, Winn, it's because I don't know what is
going to happen afterwards--I _must_ have now!"

Winn thought for a moment, then he said:

"Well, I'll try and work it. You mustn't be in the same hotel, though.
Fortunately, I know a nice woman who'll help us through; only, darling,
I'm awfully afraid it's beastly wrong for you. I mean I can't explain
properly; but if I let you go now, it would be pretty sickening. But
you'd get away; and if you stay, I'll do the best I can but we shall get
mixed up so that you'll find it harder to shake me off. You see, you're
awfully young; there are chances ahead of you, awfully decent other
chaps, marriage--"

"And you," she whispered--"you?"

"Oh, it doesn't matter a damn about me either way," he explained
carefully. "I'm stuck. But it isn't really fair of me to let you stay.
You don't understand, but it simply isn't fair."

Claire looked reproachfully at him.

"If I don't want you to be fair," she said, "you oughtn't to want to
be--not more than I do, I mean. Besides--Oh, Winn, I do know about when
I go! That's why I _can't_ go till we've been happy, awfully happy,
_first_. Don't you see, if I went now, there'd be nothing to look back
on but just your being hurt and my being hurt; and I want happiness! Oh,
Winn, I want happiness!"

That was the end of it. He took her in his arms and promised her
happiness.



PART III



CHAPTER XXIII


It seemed incredible that they should be happy, but from the first of
their fortnight to the last they were increasingly, insanely happy.
Everything ministered to their joy; the unstinted blue and gold of the
skies, the incommunicable glee of mountain heights, their blind and
eager love.

There was no future. They were on an island cut off from all to-morrows;
but they were together, and their island held the fruits of the
Hesperides.

They lived surrounded by light passions, by unfaithfulnesses that had
not the sharp excuses of desire, bonds that held only because they would
require an effort to break and bonds that were forged only because it
was easier to pass into a new relation than to continue in an old one.
Their solid and sober passion passed through these light fleets of
pleasure-boats as a great ship takes its unyielding way toward deep
waters.

Winn was spared the agony of foresight; he could not see beyond her
sparkling eyes; and Claire was happy, exultantly, supremely happy, with
the reckless, incurious happiness of youth.

It was terrible to see them coming in and out with their joy. Their
faces were transfigured, their eyes had the look of sleep-walkers, they
moved as through another world. They had only one observer, and to Miss
Marley the sight of them was like the sight of those unknowingly
condemned to die. St. Moritz in general was not observant. It had
gossips, but it did not know the difference between true and false,
temporary and permanent. It had one mold for all its fancies: given a
man and a woman, it formed at once its general and monotonous
conjecture.

Maurice might have noticed Claire's preoccupation, for Maurice was
sensitive to that which touched himself, but for the moment a group more
expensive and less second rate than he had discovered at Davos took up
his entire attention. He had none to spare for his sister unless she
bothered him, and she didn't bother him.

It was left to Miss Marley to watch from hour to hour the significant
and rising chart of passion. The evening after the Davos match, Winn had
knocked at the door of her private sitting-room. It was his intention
only to ask her if she would dine with some friends of his from Davos;
he would mention indifferently that they were very young, a mere boy and
girl, and he would suggest with equal subtlety that he would be obliged
if Miss Marley would continue to take meals at his table during their
visit. St. Moritz, he saw himself saying, was such a place for talk.
There was no occasion to go into anything, and Miss Marley would, of
course, have no idea how matters really stood. She was a good sort, but
he wasn't going to talk about Claire.

Miss Marley said, "Come in," in that wonderful, low, soft voice of hers
that came so strangely from her blistered lips. She was sitting in a low
chair, smoking, in front of an open wood fire.

Her room was furnished by herself. It was a comfortable, featureless
room, with no ornaments and no flowers; there were plenty of books in
cases or lying about at ease on a big table, a stout desk by the window,
and several leather-covered, deep armchairs. The walls were bare except
for photographs of the Cresta. These had been taken from every possible
angle of the run--its banks, its corners, its flashing pieces of
straight, and its incredible final hill. It was noticeable that though
there was generally a figure on a toboggan in the photograph, it never
happened to be one of Miss Marley herself. She was a creditable rider,
but she did not, to her own mind, show off the Cresta.

Her eyes met Winn's with a shrewdness that she promptly veiled. He
wasn't looking as if he wanted her to be shrewd. It struck her that she
was seeing Winn as he must have looked when he was about twenty. She
wondered if this was only because he had won the match. His eyes were
very open and they were off their guard. It could not be said that Winn
had ever in his life looked appealing, but for a Staines to look so
exposed to friendliness was very nearly an appeal.

"Mavorovitch has just left me," said Miss Marley. "You ought to have
heard what he said about you. It was worth hearing. You played this
afternoon like a successful demon dealing with lost souls. I don't think
I've ever seen bandy played quite in that vein before."

Winn sank into one of the leather armchairs and lighted a cigarette.

"As a matter of fact," he said, "I played like a fluke. I am not up to
Mavorovitch's form at all. I just happened to be on my game; he would
have had me down and out otherwise."

Miss Marley nodded; she was wondering what had put Winn on his game. She
turned her eyes away from him and looked into the fire. Winn was resting
for the first time that day; the sense of physical ease and her even,
tranquil comradeship were singularly soothing to him. Suddenly it
occurred to him that he very much liked Miss Marley, and in a way in
which he had never before liked any woman, with esteem and without
excitement. He gave her a man's first proof of confidence.

"Look here," he said, "I want you to help me."

Miss Marley turned her eyes back to him; she was a plain woman, but she
was able to speak with her eyes, and though what she said was sometimes
hard and always honest, on the present occasion they expressed only an
intense reassurance of good-will.

"When I came in," Winn said rather nervously, "I meant to ask you a
little thing, but I find I am going to ask you a big one."

"Oh, well," said Miss Marley, "ask away. Big or little, friends should
stand by each other."

"Yes," said Winn, relieved, "that's what I thought you'd say. I don't
know that I ever mentioned to you I'm married?"

"No," she answered quietly, "I can't say that you did; however, most men
of your age are married."

"And I've got a son," Winn continued. "His name is Peter--after my
father, you know."

"That's a good thing," she concurred heartily. "I'm glad you've got a
son."

"Unfortunately," said Winn, "my marriage didn't exactly come off. We got
hold of the wrong end of the stick."

"Ah," said Miss Marley, "that's a pity! The right end of the stick is, I
believe, almost essential in marriage."

"Yes," Winn acknowledged; "I see that now, of course. I was keen on
getting her, but I hadn't thought the rest out. Rather odd, isn't it,
that you don't get as much as a tip about how jolly a thing could be
till you've dished yourself from having it?"

Miss Marley agreed that it was rather odd.

Winn came back swiftly to his point.

"What I was going to ask you," he said, holding her with his eyes, "is
to sit at my table for a bit. I happen to have two young friends of mine
over from Davos. He's her brother, of course, but I thought I'd like to
have another woman somewhere about. Look better, wouldn't it? She's only
nineteen."

His voice dropped as he mentioned Claire's age as if he were speaking of
the Madonna.

"Yes," agreed Miss Marley, "it would look better."

"I dare say," said Winn after rather a long pause, "you see what I mean?
The idea is--our idea, you know--to be together as much as we can for a
fortnight. It'll be all right, of course; only I rather wondered if
you'd see us through."

"See you through being all right?" Miss Marley asked with the directness
of a knife-thrust.

"Well--yes," said Winn. "It would just put people off thinking things.
Everybody seems to know you up here, and I somehow thought I'd rather
you knew."

"Thank you," said Miss Marley, briefly.

She turned back to the fire again. She had seen all she wanted to see in
Winn's eyes. She saw his intention. What she wasn't sure about was the
fortnight. A fortnight can do a good deal with an intention.

Miss Marley knew the world very well. People had often wanted to use her
for a screen before, and generally she had refused, believing that the
chief safeguard of innocence is the absence of screens. But she saw that
Winn did not want her to be that kind of a screen; he wanted her to be
in the center of his situation without touching it. He wanted her for
Claire, but he wanted her also a little for himself, so that he might
feel the presence of her upright friendliness. He intensely trusted her.

There are people who intend to do good in the world and invariably do
harm. They enter eagerly into the lives of others and put their fingers
pressingly upon delicate machinery; very often they destroy it, more
seldom, unfortunately, they cut their own fingers. Miss Marley did not
belong to this type. She did not wish to be involved and she was
scrupulous never to involve others. She hesitated before she gave her
consent, but she couldn't withstand the thought that Claire was only
nineteen. She spoke at last.

"What you suggest," she said quietly, "is going to be rather hard for
you both. I suppose you do realize how hard? You see, you are only at
the beginning of the fortnight now. Unhappy men and very young girls
make difficult situations, Major Staines."

He got up and walked to the window, standing with his back to her. She
wondered if she had said too much; his back looked uncompromising. She
did not realize that she could never say too much in the defense of
Claire. Then he said, without looking round:

"We shall have to manage somehow."

It occurred to Miss Marley, with a wave of reassurance, that this was
probably Winn's usual way of managing.

"In any case," she said firmly, "you can count on me to do anything you
wish."

Winn expressed no gratitude. He merely said:

"I shall introduce her to you this evening."

Before he left Miss Marley he shook hands with her. Her hands were hard
and muscular, but she realized when she felt his grip that he must have
been extremely grateful.



CHAPTER XXIV


They went out early, before the sun was up, when the valley was an
apricot mist and the mountains were as white as snowdrops in the spring.
The head waiter fell easily into their habits, and provided them with an
early breakfast and a parcel for lunch. Then they drove off through the
biting, glittering coldness.

Sometimes they went far down the valley to Sils and on to the verge of
the Maloja. Sometimes they drove through the narrower valleys to
Pontresina and on into the impenetrable winter gloom of the Mortratsch
glacier. The end was the same solitude, sunshine, and their love. The
world was wrapped away in its winter stillness. The small Swiss villages
slept and hardly stirred. In the hot noonday a few drowsy peasants crept
to and from the barns where the cattle passed their winter life.
Sometimes a woman labored at a frozen pump, or a party of skiers
slipped rapidly through the shady streets, rousing echoes with their
laughter; but for the most part they were as much alone as if the world
had ceased to hold any beings but themselves. The pine-trees scented all
the air, the snow dripped reluctantly, and sometimes far off they heard
the distant boom of an avalanche. They sat together for long sunlit
hours on the rickety wooden balcony of a friendly hospice, drinking hot
spiced _glüwein_ and building up their precarious memories.

There were moments when the hollow present snapped under their feet like
a broken twig, and then the light in their eyes darkened and they ran
out upon the safer path of make-believe.

It was Winn who, curiously enough, began it, and returned to it
oftenest. It came to him, this abolishing of Estelle, always more easily
than it came to Claire. It was inconceivable to Claire that Winn didn't,
as a rule, remember his wife. She could have understood the tragedy of
his marriage, but Winn didn't make a tragedy of it, he made nothing of
it at all. It seemed terrible to Claire that any woman, bearing his
name, the mother of his child, should have no life in his heart. She
found herself resenting this for Estelle. She tried to make Winn talk
about her, so that she might justify her ways to him. But Winn went no
further in his expressions than the simple phrases, "She's not my sort,"
"We haven't anything in common," "I expect we didn't hit it off."
Finally he said, terribly, under the persistency of Claire's pressure,
"Well, if you will have it, I don't believe a single word she says."

"Oh, but sometimes, sometimes she must speak the truth!" Claire urged,
breathless with pity.

"I dare say," Winn replied indifferently. "Possibly she does, but what
difference does it make to me when I don't know which times?"

Claire waited a little, then she said:

"I wasn't thinking of the difference to you; I was thinking of the
difference to her."

"I tell you," Winn repeated obstinately, "that I don't care a hang about
the difference to her. People shouldn't tell lies. I don't care that for
her!" He snapped a crumb off the table. He looked triumphantly at
Claire, under the impression that he had convinced her of a pleasing
fact. She burst into tears.

He tried to take her in his arms, but for a moment she resisted him.

"Do you _want_ me to love Estelle?" he asked in desperation.

Claire shook her head.

"I'd like her--to be loved," she said, still sobbing.

Winn looked wonderingly at her.

"Well, as far as that goes, so would I," he observed, with a sardonic
grin. "There'd be some way out for us then."

Claire shook her head vehemently, but she made no attempt to explain her
tears. She felt that she couldn't alter him, and that when he most
surprised her it was wiser to accept these surprises than to probe her
deep astonishment.

He surprised her very often, he was in such a hurry to unburden himself
of all he was. It seemed to him as if he must tell her everything while
he had her. He expressed himself as he had never in his wildest dreams
supposed that any man could express himself to another human being. He
broke down his conventions, he forced aside his restraint, he literally
poured out his heart to her. He gave her his opinions, his religion, his
codes of conduct, until she began a little to understand his attitude
toward Estelle.

It was part of his exterior way of looking at the world at large. Up
till now people, except Lionel, had never really entered into his
imagination. Of course there were his servants and his dogs and, nearer
still, his horses. He spent hours telling her about his horses. They
really had come into his life, but never people; even his own family
were nothing but a background for wrangles.

He had never known tenderness. He had had all kinds of odd feelings
about Peter, but they hadn't got beyond his own mind. His tenderness was
beyond everything now; it over-flowed expression. It was the radical
thing in him. He showed her plainly that it would break his heart if she
were to let her feet get wet. He made plans for her future which would
have suited a chronic invalid. He wanted to give her jewels, expensive
specimens of spaniels, and a banking account.

She would take nothing from him but a notebook and a little opal ring.
Winn restrained his passion, but out of revenge for his restraint his
fancies ran wild.

It was Claire who had to be practical; she who had spent her youth in
dreams now clung desperately to facts. She read nothing, she hardly
talked, but she drew his very soul out to meet her listening soul. There
were wonders within wonders to her in Winn. She had hardly forced
herself to accept his hardness when she discovered in him a tolerance
deeper than anything she had ever seen, and an untiring patience. He had
pulled men out of holes only to see them run back into them with the
swiftness of burrowing rabbits; but nothing made him feel as if he could
possibly give them up.

"You can't tell how many new starts a man wants," he explained to
Claire; "but he ought to have as many as he can take. As long as a man
wants to get on, I think he ought to be helped."

His code about a man's conduct to women was astonishingly drastic.

"If you've let a woman in," he explained, "you've got to strip yourself
to get her out, no matter whether you care for her or not. The moment a
woman gets caught out, you can't do too much for her. It's like seeing a
dog with a tin can tied to its tail; you've got to get it off. A man
ought to pay for his fun; even if it isn't his fault, he ought to pay
just the same. It's not so much that he's the responsible person, but
he's the least _had_. That ought to settle the question."

He was more diffident, but not less decided, on the subject of religion.

"If there's a God at all," he stated, "He must be good; otherwise you
can't explain goodness, which doesn't pay and yet always seems worth
having. You know what I mean. Not that I am a religious man myself, but
I like the idea. Women certainly ought to be religious."

He hoped that Claire would go regularly to church unless it was
draughty.

It was on the Bernina, when they were nine thousand feet up in a blue
sky, beyond all sight or sound of life, in their silent, private world,
that they talked about death.

"Curious," Winn said, "how little you think about it when you're up
against it. I shouldn't like to die of an illness. That's all I've ever
felt about it; that would be like letting go. I don't think I could let
go easily; but just a proper, decent knock-out--why, I don't believe
you'd know anything about it. I never felt afraid of chucking it, till I
knew you, now I'm afraid."

Claire looked at his strong hands in the sunshine and at her own which
lay on his; they looked so much alive! She tried hard to think about
death, because she knew that some day everybody must die; but she felt
as if she was alive forever.

"Yes," she said; "of course I suppose we _shall_. But, Winn, don't you
think that we could send for each other then? Wouldn't that be
splendid?"

The idea of death became suddenly a shortening of the future; it was
like something to look forward to. Winn nodded gravely, but he didn't
seem to take the same comfort in it that Claire did. He only said:

"I dare say we could manage something. But you feel all right, don't
you?"

Claire laughed until something in his grave eyes hurt her behind her
laughter.

The sky changed from saffron to dead blue and then to startling rose
color. Flame after flame licked the Bernina heights. Their sleigh-bells
rang persistently beneath them. They drank their coffee hurriedly while
the sun sank out of the valley, and the whole world changed into an icy
light.

They drove off rapidly down the pass, wrapped in furs and clinging to
each other. They did not know what anything would mean when they were
apart. The thought of separation was like bending from a sunny world
over a well of darkness. Claire cried a little, but not very much. She
never dared let herself really cry because of what might happen to Winn.

It surprised him sometimes how little she tried to influence his future
life. She did not make him promise anything except to go to see Dr.
Gurnet. He wondered afterward why she had left so much to his discretion
when he had made so many plans, and urgent precautions for her future;
and yet he knew that when she left him he would be desperate enough to
break any promises and never desperate enough to break her trust in him.
Suddenly he said to her as the darkness of the pass swallowed them:

"Look here, I won't take to drink. I'd like to, but I won't." And Claire
leaned toward him and kissed him, and he said a moment later, with a
little half laugh:

"D'you know, I rather wish you hadn't done that. You never have before,
and I sha'n't be able to forget it. You put the stopper on to that
intention."

And Claire said nothing, smiling into the darkness.



CHAPTER XXV


Claire had never been alone with Miss Marley before; she had known her
only as an accompaniment to Winn; but she had been aware, even in these
partial encounters, that she was being benevolently judged. It must be
owned that earlier in the day she had learned, with a sinking of the
heart, that she must give up the evening to Miss Marley. When every hour
counted as a victory over time, she could not understand how Winn could
let her go; and yet he had said quite definitely: "I want you to go to
Miss Marley this evening. She'd like to talk to you, and I think you'd
better."

But something happened which changed her feelings. Miss Marley was a
woman despite the Cresta and there are times when only a woman's
judgment can satisfy the heart of a girl. Claire was startled and
perturbed by Maurice's sudden intervention. Maurice said:

"That chap Staines is getting you talked about. Pretty low down of him,
as I believe he's married." She was pulled up short in the golden stream
of her love. She saw for the first time the face of opinion--that
hostile, stupid, interfering face. Claire had never thought that by any
malign possibility they could be supposed to be doing wrong. She could
not connect wrong with either her love or Winn's. If there was one
quality more than another which had distinguished it, it had been its
simple sense of rightness. She had seen Winn soften and change under it
as the hard earth changes at the touch of spring. She had felt herself
enriched and enlarged, moving more unswervingly than ever toward her
oldest prayer--that she might, on the whole, be good. She hardly prayed
at all about Winn; loving him was her prayer.

If she had meant to take him away from Estelle or to rob him of Peter,
then she knew she would have been wrong. But in this fortnight she was
taking nothing from Estelle that Estelle had ever had, and she was doing
no harm to Peter. It would not be likely to do him any harm to soften
his father's heart.

Claire's morality consisted solely in the consideration of other people;
her instincts revolted against unkindness. It was an early Christian
theory much lost sight of, "Love, and do as you please," the safety of
the concession resting upon the quality of the love.

But to-night another idea had occurred to her, and she was very uneasy.
Was it really possible that any one could blame Winn? Her first instinct
had been sheer anger, and her anger had carried her past fear into the
pride of love. She had felt as if she wanted to confront the world and
defy it. If the world dared judge them, what did it matter? Their hearts
were clean. She was too young to know that under the world's judgments
clean hearts break even more easily than soiled ones.

But her mind had not rested there. She had begun to be afraid for Winn,
and with all her heart she longed to see him justified. What had he ever
done that he could be judged? He had loved her, spared her, guarded her.
He had made, he was making, inconceivable sacrifices for her. He was
killing not only his own joy, but hers rather than do her what he
thought a wrong.

She sat on a footstool in front of Miss Marley's wood fire, frowning at
the flames. Miss Marley watched her cautiously; there was a good deal
she wanted to say, but she hoped that most of it might be said by
Claire. A very careful talker can get a good deal expressed in this way;
impressions, to be permanent, must always come from the person you wish
to impress.

"Miss Marley," Claire began, "do you think it matters what people
_think_?"

Miss Marley, who invariably rolled her own cigarettes, took up a small
silver box, flattened the cigarette-paper out carefully, and prepared to
fill it before answering. Then she said:

"Very few people do think; that is generally what matters--absence of
thought. Speech without thought is responsible for most people's
disasters."

"But it can't matter what people say if it isn't true, can it?" Claire
persisted. "I mean--_nonsense_ can't _count_ against any one?"

"I'm rather afraid it does matter," said Miss Marley, lighting her
cigarette. "Nonsense is very infectious, and it often carries a good
deal of weight. I have known nonsense break people's hearts."

"Oh!" said Claire in a rising breath. She was wondering what it was like
to have a broken heart. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that
she was going to have one, half of one; but what really frightened her
was that the other half was going to belong to Winn.

"Could any one," she said under her breath, "think any harm of him? He
told me you knew all about us, and that I might talk to you if I wanted
to; but I didn't then. There didn't seem anything to say. But now I do
want to know; I want to know awfully what you think. If I asked him,
he'd only laugh or else he'd be angry. He's very young in some ways, you
know, Miss Marley--younger than I am."

"Yes," agreed Miss Marley; "men are always, to the end of their lives,
very young in some ways."

"I never thought," Claire went on breathlessly, "that people would dream
of blaming him because we were together. Why, it's so stupid! If they
only knew! He's so good!"

"If he's that," said Miss Marley, smiling into the fire, "you've
succeeded in making a saint of a Staines, a very difficult experiment! I
shouldn't advise you to run away too much with that idea, however."

"It isn't me; it's him," exclaimed Claire, regardless of grammar. "I
mean, after what Maurice said this afternoon--I don't know how to put it
quite--I almost wish we'd both been bad!"

Miss Marley nodded. She knew the danger of blame when a tug of war is in
progress, and how it weakens the side attacked.

"How can I explain to people," Claire went on, "what he's been like? I
don't know whether I've told you, but he went away almost directly he
found out he cared, before--long before he knew I cared, though he might
have known; and he left a message to tell me about his wife, which I
never got. But, oh, Miss Marley, I've never told him, I should have come
if I'd got it or not! I should really, because I _had_ to know if he
cared! So you see, don't you, that if either of us was wicked it was
me? Only I didn't _feel_ wicked; I really felt awfully good. I don't see
how you're to tell what's right if God doesn't let you know and people
talk nonsense."

"It's not," agreed Miss Marley, dryly, "particularly easy to know."

"And his wife doesn't care for him," Claire went on. "Fancy Winn's wife
not caring for him! Poor woman!"

"Why do you pity her?" Miss Marley inquired with interest.

"Well," said Claire, with a sudden dimple, "I was only thinking I
shouldn't like to be Winn's wife if he didn't care for me; and then I
was thinking that if he didn't, I'd make him!"

"Well, that effort doesn't seem required of you," said Miss Marley.

"No, but it only shows you that I'm much the most wicked, doesn't it?"
asked Claire, with some pride.

"The points against Winn," Miss Marley said gravely, "are his age, his
experience, and his wife. I feel bound to tell you that there are points
against him."

Claire frowned.

"Winn isn't really old," she explained, "because he's only done things
all his life--games or his work; it hasn't been people. People make you
old, especially when you are looking after them. He's never really grown
up; and as for experience, I don't think you experience anything unless
you care about it. It hurts me sometimes to hear him talk about his
wife. He's never _had_ her; he's only had me. I don't explain very well,
but I know it's true, because he told me things about loving which
showed me he'd never had anything before except dogs--and Peter; and
Peter's awfully young, and dogs can't answer back. You can't grow up on
dogs."

Miss Marley tacitly admitted the limitations of canine influence; but
she said:

"Still, you know, he's not kept to his own code; that's what one must
judge people by. I'm sure he'd tell you himself that a married man
should leave girls alone."

Claire thought for a moment, then she said:

"Yes, but he's gone deeper than his code now. Don't you think that
perhaps a smash, even of something you value, makes you grow? I don't
know how to put it quite, but if you never did what you thought wrong,
would you ever know how big right is? Besides, he hasn't gone on doing
it. Perhaps he _did_ start wrong in getting to care, but that only makes
it harder and finer, his stopping himself. Very few people, I think, but
Winn could stop themselves, and nobody but Winn could ever care--so
much." Her voice broke, and she turned away her head.

"What," said Miss Marley, rolling another cigarette, "are your plans?"

Miss Marley felt that she must give up first principles but she hoped
that she might still be able to do something about plans.

"We are going to drive over the Maloja to Chiavenna," said Claire;
"Maurice has a party to go with. We shall start by the earlier post, and
have lunch together at Vico-Soprano before he comes. And then when
Maurice comes we shall say good-by; and then--and then, Miss Marley,
I've been thinking--we mustn't meet again! I haven't told Winn yet,
because he likes to talk as if we could, in places awfully far away and
odd, with you to chaperon us. I think it helps him to talk like that
but I don't think now that we must ever meet again. You won't blame him
if I tell you something, will you?"

"No," said Miss Marley; "after what you've said to me to-night I am not
inclined to blame him."

"Well," said Claire, "I don't think, if we were to meet again, he would
let me go. We may manage this time, but not twice."

"Are you sure," asked Miss Marley, gently, "that you will manage this
time?"

Claire raised her head and looked at Miss Marley.

"Aren't you?" she said gravely. "I _did_ feel very sure."

"I'd feel a great deal surer," said Miss Marley, "if you didn't drive
down the pass. If you once set off with Winn, do you suppose he'll stop?
I am sure he means to now; in fact, his sending you up here to talk to
me proves it. He knows I sha'n't be much of a help to him in carrying
you off. But, my dear, I never knew any Staines stop, once he'd started.
As long as he is looking at the consequences for you, he'll steer clear
of them, he's looking at them now, but a moment will come when he'll
cease to look, and then everything will depend on you. I think your one
chance is to say good-by here, and to drive down the pass with Maurice.
He can dispose of his party for once."

The color left Claire's face, but her eyes never flinched from Miss
Marley's. After a time Miss Marley turned her head away; she could no
longer bear the look in Claire's eyes. It was like watching the face of
some one drowning.

"I don't want a chance!" whispered Claire.

[Illustration: "I don't want a chance," whispered Claire]

Miss Marley found her voice difficult to control, but she did control
it; she said:

"I was thinking of his chance. If he does you any harm, he won't forgive
himself. You can stop it; he can't possibly stop himself."

"No," said Claire. She didn't cry; she sat very straight and still on
her footstool in front of the fire. After a while she said in a curious
dragging voice: "Very well, then; I must tell him about the pass. Oh,
what shall I do if he minds! It's his minding--" She stopped, as if the
words broke something in her.

"Yes," said Miss Marley; "but he'll mind more if he ruins your life.
You see, you won't think you're ruined, but Winn will think so. He'll
believe he's ruined the woman he loves, and after a little time, when
his passion has ceased to ride him blind, he'll never hold up his head
again. You'll be responsible for that." It sounded cruel, but it was not
cruel. Miss Marley knew that as long as she laid the responsibility at
Claire's door, Claire would not think her cruel.

Claire repeated slowly after her:

"I should be responsible for that!" Then she said: "Oh, how silly laws
are! How silly! As if any one could be ruined who simply loved!"

"We should probably be sillier without laws," Miss Marley observed. "And
you must remember they have their recommendations: they keep silly
people comparatively safe."

"Safe!" said Claire. "I think that's the emptiest, poorest word there
is! Who wants to be safe?"

"You wouldn't think so if you had a child," said Miss Marley, quietly.
"You would need safety then, and you would learn to prize it."

Claire bowed her head into her hands.

"Oh, why can't I have one now! Why can't I?" she whispered brokenly.

Miss Marley bit her lips; she had hoped Claire was too young for this
particular stab.

"Because he'd think it wrong," said Miss Marley after a pause, "and
because of Peter. He's got that obligation. The two would clash."

Claire rose slowly to her feet.

"I'll just go and tell him about the pass," she said quietly. "When it's
over I'll begin to think; but I needn't really think till then, need I?
Because I feel as if I couldn't just now; it would stop my going on."

Miss Marley said that she was quite sure that Claire need not begin to
think at present and privately she hoped that, when that hour came,
something might happen which would deaden thought. She was thankful to
remember that the worst of feeling is always over before the worst of
thinking can begin. But Claire was too young to comfort herself with the
limitations of pain. She only knew that she must tell Winn about the
pass and seem for a moment at least, in his eyes, not to trust him.
Nevertheless, she smiled at Miss Marley before she left her, because she
didn't want Miss Marley to feel upset; and Miss Marley accepted this
reassurance with an answering smile until the door was shut.



CHAPTER XXVI


When Claire found Winn at the bridge-table she saw at a glance that he
was not in the mood for renunciations. His eyes had the hard, shining
stare that was the danger-signal of the Staines family. He shot a glance
at Claire as if she were a hostile force and he was taking her measure.
He was putting her outside himself in order to fight her. It was as if
he knew instinctively that their wills were about to clash. When the
rubber was over, he got up and walked straight to her.

"You put me off my game," he said grimly. "I can see you're up to
something; but we can't talk here."

"Let's talk to-morrow," she urged, "not now. I thought perhaps you'd
like to come and listen to the music with me; there is music in the
hall."

"You did, did you?" he replied in the same hard voice. "Well, you were
mistaken. Go up-stairs to my room and wait for me. It's number 28, two
or three doors beyond Miss Marley's sitting-room. I'll follow you."

An older woman would have hesitated, and if Claire had hesitated, Winn
would never have forgiven her. But her youth was at once her danger and
her protection.

She would rather have waited till to-morrow, because she saw that Winn
was in a difficult mood; but she had no idea what was behind his mood.
She went at once.

She had never been in Winn's room before, and as she sat down to wait
for him her eyes took in its neat impressive bareness. It was a narrow
hotel room, a bed in one corner, a chest of drawers, washstand, and
wardrobe opposite. By the balcony window were a small table and an
armchair. A cane chair stood at the foot of the bed.

Nothing was lying about. There were few traces of occupation visible;
only a pair of felt slippers under the bed, a large bath sponge on the
washstand, and a dressing-gown hanging on the nail behind the door. In
his tooth-glass by the bedside was a rose Claire had worn and given him.
It was put there with meticulous care; its stalk had been re-cut and its
leaves freshened. Beside it lay a small New Testament and a book on
saddles.

Winn joined her in exactly five minutes. He shut the door carefully
after him, and sat down on the cane chair opposite her.

"I thought you might like to know," he said politely, "that I have made
up my mind not to let you go."

Then he waited for Claire to contradict him. But Claire waited, too;
Claire waited longest. She was not sure what to say, and, unlike most
women, when she was not sure what to say, she said nothing. Winn spoke
again, but a little less quietly.

"It's no use your making a fuss," he stated, "or cutting up rough about
it and throwing morals at my head. I've got past that." He got up,
locked the door, and then came back. "I'm going to keep that door locked
until I make sure what you're up to."

"You needn't have done that," Claire said quietly. "Do you think I want
to leave you? If I did, I shouldn't be here. You can't make me do
anything I don't want to do, because I want exactly what you do."

Winn shot an appreciative glance at her; that was a good stroke, but he
wasn't going to be taken in by it. In some ways he would have preferred
to see her angry. Hostility is generally the sign of weakness; but
Claire looked at him with an unyielding tenderness.

"The question is," he said firmly, "can I make you do what we both want
and what you are holding back from? I dare say you've got good reasons
for holding back and all that, and I know I'm an out-and-out blackguard
to press you, but I've reached a place where I won't stand any more.
D'you see my point?"

Claire nodded. She was not angry, because she saw that Winn was fighting
her not because he wanted to be victorious over her, but because he was
being conquered by pain.

She was not going to let him be conquered by it--that, as Miss Marley
had said, was her responsibility--but it wasn't going to be easy to
prevent it. She was close against the danger-line, and every nerve in
her being had long ago become part of Winn. He was fighting against the
best of himself, but all that was not the best of Claire fought on his
side. Perhaps there was not very much that was not the best in Claire.
She hesitated, then she said:

"I thought you wanted me--to go. I think you really do want it; that's
why I'm going."

Winn leaned forward and took hold of both her wrists. "So I did," he
agreed; "but it isn't any good. I can't do it. I've thought it all
out--just what to do, you know--for both of us. I'll have to leave my
regiment, of course, but I can get back into something else all right
later on. Estelle will give me a divorce. She'll want to keep the child
away from me; besides, she'll like to be a public martyr. As for you and
me, you'll have to face rough music for a year or two; that's the worst
part of it. I'm sorry. We'll stay abroad till it's over. My mother will
help us. I can count on her."

"Winn, come here," said Claire. He came and knelt down beside her. She
put her hands on his shoulders and looked deep into his eyes. He tried
to keep them hard, but he failed.

"Don't try and get round me!" he said threateningly. "You'll make me
dangerous if you do. It isn't the least good!"

"Can you listen to what I say?" Claire asked quietly.

"I suppose so," said Winn, guardedly. "I love every bit of you--I love
the ground your chair's on--but I'm not going to give in."

"And that's the way I love you," she said. "I'd go with you to the
world's end, Winn, if I didn't love you so much and you'd take me there;
but you won't, for just the same reason. We can't do what would be
unfair; we shouldn't like it. It's no use, darling; we shouldn't like
it."

"That's all you know about it," said Winn, unappeasably. "Anyhow, we're
going to do it, whether you like it or not."

Then she took her hands away from his shoulders and leaned back in her
chair. He had never seen her look so frail and small, and he knew that
she had never been so formidably strong.

"Oh, no, Winn," she whispered; "I'm not. I'm not going to do it. If you
wanted it, if you really wanted it with all of you, you wouldn't be
rough with me; you'd be gentle. You're not being gentle because you
don't think it right, and I'm never going to do what you don't think
right."

Winn drew a deep, hard breath. He threw his arms round her and pressed
her against his heart.

"I'm _not_ rough," he muttered, "and you've got to do it! You've got to
give in!"

Claire made no answer. She only clung to him, and every now and then she
said his name under her breath as if she were calling to something in
him to save her.

Whatever it was that she was calling to answered her. He suddenly bowed
his head and buried it in her lap. She felt his body shake, and he began
to sob, hard, dry sobs that broke him as they came. He held her close,
with his face hidden. Claire pressed her hands on each side of his
temples, feeling the throbbing of his heart. She felt as if something
inside her were being torn to pieces, something that knocked its way
against her side in a vain endeavor to escape. She very nearly gave in.
Then Winn stopped as suddenly as he had begun.

"Sorry," he said, "but this kind of thing is a bit wearing. I'm not
going to unlock that door. Do you intend to stay all night here, or give
me your promise?" He spoke steadily now; his moment of weakness was
past. She could have gone then, but nothing would have induced her to
leave him while he cried.

"I don't intend to do either," Claire said with equal steadiness. "When
you think I ought to go, you'll let me out."

It struck Winn that her knowledge of him was positively uncanny.

"I don't believe," he said sharply, "you're only nineteen. I believe
you've been in love before!"

Claire didn't say anything, but she looked past him at the door.

Her look maddened him.

"You're playing with me!" he cried. "By Jove! you're playing with me!"
He caught her by the shoulders, and for a moment he believed that he was
going to kill her; but her eyes never wavered. He was not hurting her,
and she knew that he never would. She said:

"O my darling boy!"

Winn got up and walked to the window. When he came back, his expression
had completely changed.

"Now cut along to bed," he said quietly. "You're tired. Go--at once,
Claire."

This time she knew she ought to go, but something held her back. She
was not satisfied with the look in his eyes. He was controlled again,
but it was a controlled desperation. She could not leave him with that.

Her mind was intensely alert with pain; she followed his eyes. They
rested for a moment on the stand by his bed. He pushed the key across
the table toward her, but she did not look at the key; she crossed the
room and opened the drawer under the Bible.

She saw what she had expected to see. It was Winn's revolver; upon it
lay a snap-shot of Peter. He always kept them together.

Claire took out the revolver. Winn watched her, with his hands in his
pockets.

"Be careful," he said; "it's loaded."

She brought it to him and said:

"Now take all the things out of it." Winn laughed, and unloaded it
without a word. "Now open the window," she ordered, "and throw them into
the snow." Winn obeyed. When he came back she put her arms around his
neck and kissed him. "Now I'll go," she said.

"All right," agreed Winn, gently. "Wait for me in the cloak-room, and
I'll take you across. But, I say, look here--will you ever forgive me?
I'm afraid I've been a most fearful brute."

Then Claire knew she couldn't stand any more. She turned and ran into
the passage. Fortunately, the cloak-room was empty. She pressed herself
against a fur coat and sobbed as Winn had sobbed up-stairs; but she had
not his arms to comfort her. She had not dared to cry in his arms.

They walked hand in hand across the snow from his hotel to the door of
hers.

Claire knew that she could say anything she liked to Winn now, so she
said what she had made up her mind to say.

"Winn dearest, do you know what I came down for this evening?"

He held her hand tighter and nodded.

"I guessed," he said. "That was, you know, what rather did for me. You
mean you aren't going to let me come with you down the pass?"

"We mustn't," Claire whispered; and then she felt she couldn't be good
any more. It cost too much. So she added, "But you can if you like." But
there wasn't any real need for Claire to be good now; Winn was good
instead.

"No," he said; "it's much wiser not. You look thoroughly done up. I'm
not going to have any more of this. Let's breakfast together. You come
over at eight sharp and arrange with Maurice to take you down at ten.
That's quite enough for you."

Claire laughed. Winn stared at her, then in a moment he laughed, too.

"We'd better not take any more chances," he explained. "Next time it
might happen to us both together. Then you'd really be had! Thanks
awfully for seeing me through. Good night."

She went into the hotel without a word, and all her heart rebelled
against her for having seen him through.



CHAPTER XXVII


The hour of parting crept upon them singularly quietly and slowly. They
both pretended to eat breakfast, and then they walked out into Badrutt's
Park. They sat in the nearest shelter, hand in hand, looking over the
gray, empty expanse of the rink. It was too early for any one to be
about. Only a few Swiss peasants were sweeping the ice and Winn hardly
looked upon Swiss peasants as human.

He asked Claire exactly how much money she had a year, and told her when
she came of age what he should advise her to suggest to her trustees to
put it in.

Then he went through all the things he thought she ought to have for
driving down the pass. Claire interrupted him once to remind him about
going to see Dr. Gurnet. Winn said he remembered quite well and would
go. They both assured each other that they had had good nights. Winn
said he thought Maurice would be all right in a few years, and that he
didn't think he was shaping for trouble. He privately thought that
Maurice was not going to have any shape at all, but he omitted this
further reflection.

He told her how much he enjoyed his regiment and explained laboriously
how Claire was to think of his future, which was to be, apparently, a
whirl of pleasure from morning till night.

They talked very disconnectedly; in the middle of recounting his future
joys, Winn said:

"And then if anything was to happen to me, you know, I hope you'd think
better of it and marry Lionel."

Claire did not promise to marry Lionel, but she implied that even
without marriage she, like Winn, was about to pass into an existence
studded with resources and amusements; and then she added:

"And if you were to die, or I was, Miss Marley could help us to see each
other just at the last. I asked her about it." Despite their future
happiness, they seemed to draw more solid satisfaction out of this final
privilege.

The last ten minutes they hardly talked at all. Every now and then Winn
wanted to know if Claire's feet were warm, and Claire asked him to let
her have a photograph of Peter.

Then Maurice came out of the hotel, and a tailing party stood in the
open doorway and wondered if it was going to snow. The sleigh drove up
to the hotel, jingling in the gayest manner, with pawing horses. Winn
walked across the courtyard with her and nodded to Maurice; and Maurice
allowed Winn to tuck Claire up, because, after he'd looked at Winn's
eyes, it occurred to him that he couldn't do anything else.

Winn reduced the hall porter, a magnificent person in gold lace, with an
immense sense of dignity, to gibbering terror before the lift-boy and
the boots because he had failed to supply the sleigh with a sufficiently
hot foot-warmer.

Finally even Winn was satisfied that there was nothing more to eat or to
wear which the sleigh could be induced to hold or Claire agree to want.
He stood aside then, and told the man briefly to be off. The driver, who
did not understand English, understood perfectly what Winn meant, and
hastened to crack his whip.

Claire looked back and saw Winn, bare-headed, looking after her. His
eyes were like a mother's eyes when she fights in naked absorption
against the pain of her child.

He went on looking like that for a long while after the sleigh had
disappeared. Then he put on his cap and started off up the valley toward
Pontresina.

It had already begun to snow. The walk to Pontresina is the coldest and
darkest of winter walks, and the snow made it heavy going. Winn got very
much out of breath, and his chest hurt him. Every now and then he
stopped and said to himself, "By Jove! I wonder if I'm going to be ill?"
But as he always pushed on afterward with renewed vigor, as if a good
idea had just occurred to him, it hardly seemed as if he cared very much
whether he was going to be ill or not. He got as far as the Mortratsch
Glacier before he stopped.

He couldn't get any farther because when he got into the inn for lunch,
something or other happened to him. A fool of a porter had the
impertinence to tell him afterward that he had fainted. Winn knocked the
porter down for daring to make such a suggestion; but feeling remarkably
queer despite this relaxation, he decided to drive back to the Kulm.

He wound up the day with bridge and a prolonged wrangle with Miss Marley
on the subject of the Liberal Government.

Miss Marley lent herself to the fray and became extremely heated. Winn
had her rather badly once or twice, and as he never subsequently heard
her argue on the same subject with others, he was spared the knowledge
that she shared his political views precisely, and had tenderly provided
him with the flaws in her opponent's case.

When he went to bed he began a letter to Claire. He told her that he had
had a jolly walk, a good game of bridge, and that he thought he'd
succeeded in knocking some radical nonsense out of Miss Marley's head.
Then he inclosed his favorite snap-shot of Peter, the one that he kept
with his revolver, and said he would get taken properly with him when he
went back to England.

Winn stopped for a long time after that, staring straight in front of
him; then he wrote:

"I hope you'll never be sorry for having come across me, because you've
given me everything I ever wanted. I hope you'll not mind my having been
rather rough the other night. I didn't mean anything by it. I wouldn't
hurt a hair of your head; but I think you know that I wouldn't, only I
thought I'd just mention it. Please be careful about the damp when you
get back to England."

He stopped for half an hour when he had got as far as "England," and as
the heating was off, the room grew very cold; then he wrote, "I didn't
know men loved women like this."

After that he decided to finish the letter in the morning; but when the
morning came he crossed the last sentence out because he thought it
might upset her.



CHAPTER XXVIII


He had been afraid that Davos would be beautiful, but the thaw had
successfully dissipated its immaculate loveliness. Half of the snow
slopes were already bare, the roads were a sea of mud, and the valley
was as dingy as if a careless washerwoman had upset a basket of dirty
linen on her way to the laundry. All the sport people had gone, the
streets were half empty, and most of the tourist shops were shut. Only
the very ill had reappeared; they crept aimlessly about in the sunshine
with wonder in their eyes that they were still alive.

Winn had put up at the nearest hotel and made the earliest possible
appointment with Dr. Gurnet. Dr. Gurnet was obviously pleased to see
him, but the pleasure faded rapidly from his face after a glance or two
at Winn. The twinkle remained in his eyes, but it had become perceptibly
grimmer.

"Perhaps you would be so kind as to take off your things," he suggested.
"After I have examined you we can talk more at our ease."

It seemed to Winn as if he had never been so knocked about before. Dr.
Gurnet pounced upon him and went over him inch by inch; he reminded Winn
of nothing so much as of an excited terrier hunting up and down a bank
for a rat-hole. Eventually Dr. Gurnet found his rat. He went back to his
chair, sat down heavily, and looked at Winn. For rather an ominous
moment he was silent; then he said politely:

"Of course I suppose you are aware, Major Staines, of what you have done
with your very excellent chances?"

Winn shook his head doubtfully. He hadn't, as a matter of fact, thought
much lately about these particular chances.

"Ah," said Dr. Gurnet, "then I regret to inform you that you have simply
walked through them--or, in your case, I should be inclined to imagine,
tobogganed--and you have come out the other side. You haven't got any
chances now."

Winn did not say anything for a moment or two; then he observed:

"I'm afraid I've rather wasted your time."

"Pray don't mention it," said Dr. Gurnet. "It is so small a thing
compared with what you have done with your own."

Winn laughed.

"You rather have me there," he admitted; "I suppose I have been rather
an ass."

"My dear fellow," said Dr. Gurnet, more kindly, "I'm really annoyed
about this, extremely annoyed. I had booked you to get well. I expected
it. What have you been doing with yourself? You've broken down that
right lung badly; the infection has spread to the left. It was not the
natural progress of the disease, which was in process of being checked;
it is owing to a very great and undue physical strain, and absolutely no
attempt to take precautions after it. Also you have, I should say,
complicated this by a great nervous shock."

"Nonsense!" said Winn, briefly. "I don't go in for nerves."

"You must allow me to correct you," said Dr. Gurnet, gently. "You are a
human being, and all human beings are open to the effects of shock."

"I'm afraid I haven't quite played the game," Winn confessed, after a
short pause. "I hadn't meant to let you down like this, Doctor Gurnet. I
think it is due to me to tell you that I shouldn't have come to you for
orders if I had intended at the time to shirk them. You're quite right
about the tobogganing: I had a go at the Cresta. I know it shook me up a
bit, but I didn't spill. Perhaps something went wrong then."

"And why, may I ask, did you do it?" Dr. Gurnet asked ironically. "You
did not act solely, I presume, from an idea of thwarting my
suggestions?"

Winn's eyes moved away from the gimlets opposite them.

"I found time dragging on my hands, rather," he explained a trifle
lamely.

"Ah," said Dr. Gurnet, "you should have done what I told you--you should
have flirted; then you wouldn't have found time hanging on your hands."

Winn held his peace. He thought Dr. Gurnet had a right to be annoyed, so
he gave him his head; but he had an uncomfortable feeling that Dr.
Gurnet would make a very thorough use of this concession.

Dr. Gurnet watched Winn silently for a few moments, then he said:

"People who don't wish to get well don't get well; but, on the other
hand, it is very rare that people who wish to die die. They merely get
very ill and give everybody a great deal of highly unnecessary trouble."

"I'm not really seedy yet," Winn said apologetically. "I suppose you
couldn't give me any idea of how things are going to go--I mean how long
I've--" he hesitated for a few seconds; he felt as if he'd been brought
up curiously short--"I've got to live," he finished firmly.

"I can give you some idea, of course," said Dr. Gurnet; "but if you take
any more violent or irregular plunges, you may very greatly shorten your
time. Should you insist on remaining in your regiment and doing your
work, you have, I fancy, about two years more before a complete
breakdown. You are a very strong man, and your lung-tissue is tough.
Should you remain here under my care, you will live indefinitely, but I
can hold out no hope of an ultimate recovery. If you return to England
as an invalid, you will most undoubtedly kill yourself from boredom,
though I have a suggestion to make to you which I hope may prevent this
termination to your career. On the whole, though I fear advice is wasted
upon you, I should recommend you to remain in the army. It is what I
should do myself if I were unfortunate enough to have your temperament
while retaining my own brains."

"Oh, yes," said Winn, rising to go; "of course I sha'n't chuck the army.
I quite see that's the only sensible thing to do."

"Pray sit down again," said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, "and do not run away
with the idea that I think any course you are likely to pursue sensible
in itself. If you were a sensible man, you would not take personal
disappointment as if it were prussic acid."

Winn started.

"It isn't disappointment," he said quickly; "it was the only thing to
do."

"Ah, well," said Dr. Gurnet, "Heaven forbid that I should enter into a
controversy with any one who believes in moral finality! Sensible people
compromise, Major Staines; but do not be offended, for I have every
reason to believe that sensible people do not make the best soldiers. I
am asking you to remain for a few minutes further because there is one
other point to which I wish to draw your attention should you be able to
spare me the time?"

"All right," said Winn, with a short laugh; "I've got time enough,
according to you; I've got two years."

"Well, yes," said Dr. Gurnet, drawing the tips of his fingers carefully
together. "And, Major Staines, according to me you will--er--need them."

Winn sat up.

"What d' you mean?" he asked quickly.

"Men in my position," replied Dr. Gurnet, guardedly, "have very
interesting little side-lights into the mentality of other nations. I
don't know whether you remember my asking you if you knew German?"

"Yes," said Winn. "It went out of head; but now you speak of it, I do
remember."

"I am delighted," said Dr. Gurnet, blandly, "to have reconstructed your
brain-tissue up to that point. I had a certain reason for asking you
this question. I have a good many German patients, some French ones, and
a most excellent Belgian professor has placed himself under my care."

"Well, what about it?" asked Winn with some sharpness. He had an idea
that this queer fellow before him meant something.

"The Germans are an interesting nation," Dr. Gurnet proceeded without
hurrying, "and they have a universal hobby. I don't know whether you
have noticed, Major Staines, but a universal hobby is a very powerful
thing. I am sometimes rather sorry that with us it has wholly taken the
form of athletic sports. I dare say you are going to tell me that with
you it is not golf, but polo; even this enlarged idea does not wholly
alter my depression.

"With the Germans, you see, the hobby happens to be
man[oe]uvers--military man[oe]uvers. I understand that this spring
Alsace and Lorraine have taken on the aspect of one gigantic camp. Now,
Belgium," Dr. Gurnet proceeded, tapping Winn's knee with his
fore-finger, "is a small, flat, undefended country, and one of my French
patients informs me that the French Government have culpably neglected
their northern line of forts.

"I hear from my other friend, the Belgian professor, that three years
ago the Belgian Government ordered big fortress guns from Krupp. They
have not got them yet; but I do not believe Krupp is incapable of
turning out guns. On the contrary, I hear that Krupp has, in a still
shorter time, entirely renovated the artillery of the Austrian army."

Winn leaned forward excitedly.

"I say, sir," he exclaimed, "you ought to be in the intelligence
office."

"God forbid!" said Dr. Gurnet, piously. "Not that I believe in God," he
added; "but I cling to the formulated expletives.

"I should be extremely uncomfortable in any office. Besides, I have my
doubts as to the value of intelligence in England. It is so very rare
and so un-English. One suspects occasional un-English qualities drawn
together for government purposes.

"I merely mentioned these interesting national traits because I had an
idea, partly that you would respond to them, and partly that they are
going in an exceedingly short time to become manifest to the world at
large."

"You think we are going to have war?" asked Winn, his eyes sparkling.
"War!" He said the word as if he loved it.

Dr. Gurnet shrugged his shoulders and sighed, and spread out his rather
fat little hands.

"Yes, Major Staines," he said dryly, "I quite think we are going to have
war."

"Then I must get back to my regiment as quickly as possible," said Winn,
getting up.

"I shouldn't do that if I were you," said Dr. Gurnet. "I should advise
your remaining in England for three months, I think you will be used
quicker if you do that. War is unlikely to begin in India, and the
climate is deleterious in the summer months. And might I suggest the
carrying out of a few minor precautions? If you are to live efficiently
for two years, it will be highly necessary for you to carry them out."

Winn turned toward him eagerly.

"I'll do any bally thing you tell me to now," he said quickly.

Dr. Gurnet laughed, then he said:

"Go back to England, study German, and await your chance. Don't play any
more heavy games, don't lose your temper or try your heart, don't drink
or smoke or play billiards or sit in a room with a shut window. Take
plenty of good plain food and a certain amount of exercise. You are
going to be needed."

Winn drew a deep breath.

"It's a funny thing," he said, turning toward the door, "but somehow I
believe in you."

Dr. Gurnet shook hands with him cordially.

"In a sense, I may say," he observed, "in spite of your extremely
disappointing behavior, that I return the compliment. I believe in you,
Major Staines, only--" Dr. Gurnet finished the rest of the sentence
after the door had shut behind his patient. "Unfortunately, I am not
sure if there are quite enough of you."



CHAPTER XXIX


When the Staineses gave an entertainment it was to mark their contempt
for what more sensitive people might have considered a family
catastrophe.

They had given a ball a week from the day on which Dolores ran away with
the groom. A boat-race had been inaugurated upon the occasion on which
Winn lost his lawsuit; and some difficulty (ultimately overcome) between
James and the Admiralty had resulted in a dinner followed by fireworks
on the lawn.

When Winn returned from Davos, Lady Staines decided upon a garden party.

"Good God!" cried Sir Peter. "Do you mean to tell me I've wasted that
three hundred pounds, Sarah?" Sir Peter preferred this form of the
question to "Is my boy going to die?" He meant precisely the same thing.

"As far as I know," Lady Staines replied, "nobody ever dies _before_
causing trouble; they die after it, and add their funeral expenses to
the other inconveniences they have previously arranged for. Can't you
see the boy's marriage has gone to pot?"

"I wish you wouldn't pick up slang expressions from your sons," growled
Sir Peter. "You never hear me speaking in that loose way. Why haven't
they got a home of their own? You would ask them here--nurse, bottles,
and baby like a traveling Barnum's--and Winn glares in one corner--and
that little piece of dandelion fluff lies down and grizzles on the
nearest cushion--and now you want to have a garden party on the top of
'em! Anybody'd suppose this was a Seamen's Home from the use you put it
to! And of all damned silly ways of entertaining people, a garden
party's the worse! Who wants to look at other people's gardens except to
find fault with 'em?

"Besides, unless you want rain (which we don't with the hay half down)
it's tempting Providence. Nothing'll keep rain off a garden party except
prayers in church during a drought.

"What the hell do you expect to gain by it? I know what it all
means--Buns! Bands! high-heeled kick-shaws cutting up my turf! Why the
devil don't you get a Punch and Judy show down and be done with it?"

"Of course you don't like a garden party," said Lady Staines, smoothly,
"nor do I. Do you suppose I care to be strapped tight into smart stays
at my age, and walk about my own gravel paths in purple satin, listening
to drivel about other people's children? We must do something for the
neighborhood sometimes, whether they like it or not. That's what we're
here for--it's the responsibility of our position. Quite absurd, I know,
but then, most people's responsibilities are quite absurd. You have a
son and he behaves like a fool. You can leave him to take the
consequences of course if you like--only as some of them will devolve on
us, it is worth a slight effort to evade them."

"For God's sake, spit it out, and have done with it!" shouted Sir Peter.
"What's the boy done?"

Lady Staines sat down opposite her husband and folded her hands in her
lap. She was a woman who always sat perfectly still on the rare
occasions when she was not too busy to sit down at all.

"What I hoped would happen," she said, "hasn't happened. He's presumably
picked up with some respectable woman."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Sir Peter. "I never knew any one as
cold-bloodedly immoral as you are, Sarah. Did you want the boy to pick
up with a baggage?"

"Certainly," said Lady Staines. "Why not? I have always understood that
the Social Evil was for our protection, but I never believed it. No
woman worth her salt has ever wanted protection. It's men that want it.
They need a class of creature that won't involve them beyond a certain
point, and quite right too. Winn seemed to see this before he went
off--but he didn't keep it in mind--he ran his head into a noose."

"Has he talked to you about it?" asked Sir Peter, incredulously.

"I don't need talk," said Lady Staines. "I judge by facts. Winn goes to
church regularly, his temper is execrable, and he takes long walks by
himself. A satisfied man is neither irate nor religious--and has
nothing to walk off. Consequently it's a virtuous attachment. That's
serious, because it will lead to the divorce court. Virtues generally
lead to somebody trying to get out of something."

"Pooh!" Sir Peter grunted. "You've got that out of some damned French
novel. You must have virtue, the place has got to be kept up somehow,
hasn't it? If what you say is true--and I don't for a moment admit a
word of it--I don't see how you're going to sugar things over with a
couple of hundred people trampling up my lawn?"

"Estelle likes people," Lady Staines replied. "My idea is to make her a
success. I will introduce her to everybody worth knowing. I'll get some
of our people down from town. They'll hate it, of course; but they'll be
curious to see what's up. Of course they won't see anything. At the end
of the day, if it's all gone off well--I'll have a little talk with
Estelle. I shall tell her first what I think of her; and then I shall
offer to back her if she'll turn over a new leaf. Winn'll do his part
for the sake of the boy, if she meets him half way. I give religion its
due--he wants to do his duty, only he doesn't see what it is. He must
live with his wife. His prayers will come in nicely afterwards."

Sir Peter chuckled. "There's something in your idea, Sarah," he
admitted. "But it's a damned expensive process. All my strawberries will
go. And if it rains, everybody'll come into the house and scuttle over
my library like so many rabbits."

"I'll keep them out of the library," said Lady Staines, rising, "and I
shall want a hundred pounds."

She left the library after a short series of explosions, with a check
for seventy-five. She had only expected fifty.

The garden party was, if not a great success, at least a great crowd.

The village was entertained by sports in a field, backed by beer in
tents, and overseen by Winn with the delighted assistance of the younger
Peter.

Lady Staines, in stiff purple satin, strode uncomfortably up and down
herbaceous borders, exposing the ignorance of her fellow gardeners by a
series of ruthless questions.

Charles and James, who had put in an intermittent appearance in the hope
of a loan from Sir Peter, did their best to make things go. Charles had
brought down a bull terrier, and the bull terrier brought down, first
one of the donkeys that was to take part in the sports, but was
permanently incapacitated from any further participation either in sport
or labor, then two pet lap dogs, in a couple of sharp shakes on the
lawn, and crowned his career of murder with the stable cat, in an
outhouse where Charles had at last incontinently and a little
inconsiderately, as far as the cat was concerned, flung him.

Isabel and her husband had driven over from a neighboring parish.

Isabel liked garden parties. She made her way at once to a group of
clergy, her husband dangling meekly in her rear; and then told them in
her quarter deck style exactly what she thought ought to be done with
their parishes. Sir Peter remained in the library with the windows open
and his eye upon passing clouds.

Several of his friends joined him, and they talked about Ulster.

Everybody was at this time talking about Ulster.

Most of them spoke of it as people talk of a tidal wave in China. They
did not exactly wish the wave to destroy the whole of China, but they
would all have felt a little annoyed if it had withdrawn without
drowning anybody.

"The Government has been weak," said Sir Peter sternly; "as weak as a
soft-boiled egg! What Ireland wants is a firm hand, and if that's not
enough, a swift kick after it! Concession! Who wants concessions? A
sensible man doesn't make concessions unless he's trying to bluff you
into thinking he's got what he hasn't got, or is getting out of you what
he hasn't right to get!

"But people oughtn't to import arms. I'll go as far as that! It's
against discipline. Whether it's one side or the other, it ought to be
stopped.

"There'll be a row, of course--a healthy, blood-letting hell of a row,
and we shall all be the better for it! But I don't approve of firearms
being let loose all over the place--it's un-English. It only shows what
the poor devils at Ulster must have suffered, and be afraid of
suffering, to resort to it! That sort of thing is all very well in the
Balkans. My son Winn's been talking about the Balkans lately--kind of
thing the army's always getting gas off about! What I say is--let 'em
fight! They got the Turk down once, all of 'em together, and he was the
only person that could keep 'em in hand. Now I hear Austria wants to
start trouble in Serbia because of that assassination in June. What they
want to make a fuss about assassination in that family for I can't
think! I should look upon it as an hereditary disease and leave it at
that! But don't tell me it's anything to worry about compared to Ulster.
What's the danger of a country that talks thirteen languages, has no
non-commissioned officers, and always gets beat when it fights? Sarah!
Sarah! Get the people in for tea. Can't you see there's a shower coming?
Damn it all! And my second crop of hay's not in yet! That's what comes
of giving garden parties. Of course I'm very glad to see you all, but
you know what I mean. No shilly-shallying with the English climate's my
motto--it's the only dangerous thing we've got!"

Lady Staines disregarded this admonition. The light clouds above the
elms puffed idly in the heavy air. It was a hot bright day, murmurous
with bees and the idle, half notes of midsummer birds.

Estelle, in the most diaphanous of blue muslins, held a little court
under a gigantic mulberry tree. She had always intended marriage with a
Staines to be like this.

Winn was nowhere to be seen, and his mother plodded patiently to and fro
across the lawn, bringing a line of distinguished visitors to be
introduced to her.

They were kind, curt people who looked at Estelle rather hard, and asked
her absurd questions about Winn's regiment, Sir Peter's ships, and her
baby. They had no general ideas, but however difficult they were to talk
to, Estelle knew they were the right people to meet--she had seen their
names in magazines. None of her own family were there; they had all been
invited, but Estelle had preferred their remaining at home. She had once
heard Sir Peter refer to her father as "Old Moneybags." He had
apologized afterwards, but he might do it again.

Lady Staines was the only person who noticed the arrival of two
telegrams--they were taken to Charles and James, who were at that moment
in the refreshment tent opposite the claret cup. The telegrams arrived
simultaneously, and Charles said, "Good Lord!" and James said, "My hat!"
when they read the contents, with every symptom of surprise and
pleasure.

"I shouldn't have supposed," Lady Staines thought to herself, "that two
of my boys would have backed the same horse. It must be a coincidence."

They put the telegrams rather carefully away, and shortly afterwards she
observed that they had set off together in the direction of the village
sports.

The long golden twilight drew to a close, the swallows swooped and
circled above the heavy, darkened elms. The flowers in the long
herbaceous borders had a fragile look in the colorless soft air.

The garden party drifted slowly away.

Lady Staines stopped her daughter-in-law going into the house; but she
was destined never to tell her what she thought of her. Estelle escaped
Nemesis by the turn of a hair.

Sir Peter came out of the library prepared to inspect the lawn. "What's
up with those boys?" he demanded, struck by the unusual sight of his
three sons advancing towards him from the river, their heads bent in
talk, and not apparently quarreling.

Lady Staines followed the direction of his eyes; then she said to
Estelle, "You'd better go in now, my dear; I'll talk to you later."

Sir Peter shouted in his stentorian voice an appeal to his sons to join
him. Lady Staines, while she waited, took off her white kid gloves and
her purple bonnet, and deposited them upon the balustrades.

"What are you up to," demanded Sir Peter when they came within earshot,
"sticking down there by the river with your heads glued together like a
set of damned Guy Fawkeses--instead of saying good-by to your mother's
guests--who haven't had the sense to get under way before seven
o'clock--though I gave 'em a hint to be off an hour ago?"

"Helping villagers to climb greasy poles, and finishing a sack race,"
Charles explained. "Lively time Winn's been having down there--I had no
idea our second housemaid was so pretty."

"None of that! None of that!" said Sir Peter, sharply. "You keep to
bar-maids, young Charles--and manicure girls, though there ought to be
an act of Parliament against 'em! Still, I'll admit you can't do much
harm here--three of you together, and your mother on the front
doorstep!"

"Harm," said James, winking in the direction of his mother; "what can
poor chaps like us do--here to-day and gone to-morrow--Mother'd better
keep her eye on those near home!"

"Off to-night you might as well say!" remarked Charles, glancing at
James with a certain intentness.

"Why off to-night?" asked Lady Staines. "I thought you were staying over
the week-end?"

"Winn's put us on to something," explained Charles. "Awfully good show,
he says--on at the Oxford. Pretty hot stuff and the censor hasn't smelt
it out yet--we rather thought we'd run up to-night and have a look at
it."

Winn stuck his hands in his pockets, set his jaw, and looked at his
mother. Lady Staines was regarding him with steady eyes.

"You didn't get a telegram, too?" she asked.

"No," said Winn. "Why should I?"

"Not likely," said James, genially. "Always behindhand in the--"

"Damn these midges!" said Charles, hurriedly. James stopped with his
mouth open.

"Army, you were going to say, weren't you?" asked his mother, suavely.
"If you are my sons I must say you make uncommonly poor liars."

Sir Peter, whose attention had wandered to tender places in the lawn,
looked up sharply.

"What's that? What's that?" he asked. "Been telling lies, have they? A
nice way you've brought 'em up, Sarah! What have they been lying about?
A woman? Because if they have, I won't hear a word about it! Lies about
a woman are perfectly correct, though I'm hanged if I can see how they
can all three be lying about one woman. That seems a bit thick, I must
say."

To Sir Peter's surprise, nobody made any reply. Charles yawned, James
whistled, and Winn kept his eyes steadily fixed on Lady Staines.

"Those were orders then," Lady Staines observed in a dry quiet voice. "I
thought it very likely. I suppose it's Germany. I felt sure we should
have trouble with that excitable young man sooner or later. He had too
good an opinion of himself to be an emperor."

"Not Ulster!" exclaimed Sir Peter. "God bless my soul--not Ulster!"

"Oh, we can take on Ulster afterwards," said James reassuringly. "Now
we'll see what submarines can do; 'member the Japs?"

"Winn," said Lady Staines, "before you're off, say good-by to your
wife."

Winn frowned, and then he said, "All right, Mother," and left them.

It was a very still evening, the scent of new mown hay and the
mysterious sweetness of the starry white tobacco plant haunted the
delicate air.

Winn found Estelle lying down by the open window. He had not been in her
room for some time. He sat down by the sofa, and fingered the tassels at
her waist.

"Is anything the matter?" she asked coldly.

He had only himself to thank that she was cold--he knew that. He saw so
plainly now, all the mistakes he'd made, that the ones Estelle had made,
receded into the distance. He'd never been gentle to her. Even when he
thought he loved her, he wasn't really gentle.

Gentleness was superlative kindness, and no woman who had not had just
that sort of kindness from the man she married, could help being rather
nasty. He had owed it to Estelle--no matter whether she told him the
truth or not.

"Look here, Estelle," he began. "I want our boy to go to Charterhouse."

It wasn't exactly what he meant to say, but it was something; he had
never called Peter "our boy" before. Estelle did not notice it.

"Of course, I should prefer Eton," she said, "but I suppose you will do
as you like--as usual!"

Winn dropped the piece of tassel, but he persevered.

"I say," he began, "don't you think we've got rather off the track? I
know it's not your fault, but your being ill and my being away and all
that? I don't want you to feel sore about it, you know. I want you to
realize that I know I've been rather a beast to you. I don't think I'm
fitted somehow for domestic life--what?"

"Fitted for it!" said Estelle, tragically. "I have never known one happy
moment with you! You seem incapable of any kind of chivalry! I never
would have believed a man could exist who knew _less_ how to make a
woman happy! It's too late to talk of it all now! I've made my supreme
sacrifice. I've offered up my broken heart! I am living upon a higher
plane! You would never understand anything that wasn't coarse, brutal,
and low! So I shan't explain it to you. I know my duty, but I don't
think after the way you have behaved I really need consider myself under
any obligation to live with you again. Father Anselm agrees with me."

Winn laughed. "Don't you worry about that," he hastened to assure her,
"or Father Anselm either; there isn't the least necessity--and it wasn't
what I meant."

Estelle looked annoyed. It plainly should have been what Winn meant.

"Have as much of the higher plane as you like," he went on, "only look
after the boy. I'm off to London to-night, there's probably going to be
some work of a kind that I can do. I mayn't be back directly. Hope
you'll be all right. We can write about plans."

He stood up, hesitating a little. He had an idea that it would make him
feel less strange if she kissed him. Of course it was absurd, because
just to have a woman's arms round his neck wasn't going to be the least
like Claire. But he had a curious feeling that perhaps he might never be
alone with a woman again, and he wanted to part friends with Estelle.

"I wonder," he said, leaning towards her, "would you mind very much if I
kissed you?"

Estelle turned her head away with a little gesture of aversion.

"I am sorry," she said. "I shall not willingly allow you to kiss me, but
of course you are my husband--I am in your power."

"By Jove," said Winn, unexpectedly, "what a little cat you are!"

They were the last words he ever said to her.



CHAPTER XXX


For a time he could do nothing but think of his luck--it was astounding
how obstacles had been swept aside for him.

The best he had expected was that in the hurry of things he might get
back to India without a medical examination, in the hope that his
regiment would be used later. But his work at the Staff College had
brought him into notice, a man conveniently died, and Winn appeared at
the right moment.

Within twenty-four hours of his visit to the War Office, he was attached
for staff duty to a British division.

Then work closed over his head. He became a railway time-table, a
lost-luggage office, a registrar, and a store commissioner.

He had the duties of a special Providence thrust upon him, with all the
disadvantages of being readily held accountable, so skilfully evaded by
the higher powers.

Junior officers flew to him for orders as belated ladies fly to their
pin cushions for pins.

He ate when it was distinctly necessary, and slept two hours out of the
twenty-four.

He left nothing undone which he could do himself; his mind was
unfavorable to chance. The heads of departments listened when he made
suggestions, and found it convenient to answer with accuracy his sudden
questions.

Subordinates hurried to obey his infrequent but final orders; and when
Winn said, "I think you'd find it better," people found it better.

The division slipped off like cream, without impediment or hitch.

There were no delays, the men acquired their kit, and found their
railway carriages.

The trains swept in velvet softness out of the darkened London station
through the sweet, quiet, summer night into a sleepless Folkestone. The
division went straight onto the right transports; there wasn't a man, a
horse, or a gun out of place.

Winn heaved a sigh of relief as he stepped on board; his troubles as a
staff officer had only just begun, but they had begun as troubles
should always begin, by being adequately met. There were no arrears.

He did not think of Claire until he stood on deck and saw the lights
receding and the shadow that was England passing out of his sight.

He remembered her then with a little pang of joy--for suddenly he knew
that he was free to think of her.

He had thought of her before as a man registers a fact that is always
present to him, but in the interval since he had seen her his
consciousness of her had been increasingly troubled.

Now the trouble was fading, as England faded, as his old life was
fading.

He had a sense that he was finally freed. It was not like seeing Claire
again, but it was like not having to see anything else.

"Until I'm dead I'm hers, and after I'm dead I'm hers, so that's all
right," he said to himself. "I haven't got to muddle things up any
more."

The sea lay around them at dawn like a sheet of pearl--it was very empty
but for the gulls' wings beating to and fro out of the mist.

Winn had lived through many campaigns. He had known rough jungle tussles
in mud swamps, maddened by insects, thirst, and fever; he had fought in
colder, cleaner dangers down the Khyber Pass, and he had gone through
the episodic scientific flurries of South Africa; but France
disconcerted him; he had never started a campaign before in a country
like a garden, met by welcoming populations, with flowers and fruit.

It made him feel sick. The other places were the proper ones for war.

It was not his way to think of what lay before him. It would, like all
great emergencies, like all great calamities, keep to its moment, and
settle itself. Nevertheless he could not free his mind from the presence
of the villages--the pleasant, smiling villages, the little church
towers in the middle, the cobbled streets, the steep-pitched, gray roofs
and the white sunny walls.

Carnations and geraniums filled the windows, and all the inhabitants,
the solid, bright-faced people, had a greeting for their khaki guests.

"Voilà quelque choses des solides, ces Anglais!" the women called to
each other.

Winn found himself shrinking from their welcoming eyes. He thought he
hadn't had enough sleep, because as a rule a Staines did not shrink; but
when he slept in the corner of the hot jolting railway train, he dreamed
of the villages.

They were to attack directly they arrived at their destination. By the
time they reached there, Winn knew more. He had gathered up the hastily
flung messages by telegram and telephone, by flying cars and from
breathless despatch riders, and he knew what they meant.

They had no chance, from the first, not a ghost of a chance. They were
to hold on as long as they could, and then retreat. Part of the line had
gone already. The French had gone. No reinforcements were coming up.
There were no reinforcements.

They were to retreat turn and turn about; meantime they must hold.

They could hear the guns now, the bright harvest fields trembled a
little under the impact of these alien presences.

They came nearer and the sky filled with white puffs of smoke that
looked like glittering sunset clouds, and were not clouds. Overhead the
birds sang incessantly, undisturbed even by the occasional drilling of
an aëroplane.

In the plains that lay beneath them, they could see the dim blue lines
of the enemy debouching.

They made Winn think of locusts. He had seen a plague once in Egypt.
They came on like the Germans, a gray mass that never broke--that could
not break, because behind it there were more, and still more locusts,
thick as clouds, impenetrable as clouds.

You killed and killed and killed, and yet there were more clouds.

Every now and then it ran through his mind like a flame, that they would
spread this loathsome, defiling cloud over the smiling little villages
of France.

Fortunately there was no time for pity; there were merely the different
ways of meeting the question of holding on.

It was like an attempt to keep back a tide with a teaspoon.

Their guns did what they could, they did more than it seemed possible
guns could do. The men in control of them worked like maniacs.

It was not a time to think of what people could do. The men were falling
like leaves off a tree.

The skylarks and the swallows vanished before the villainous occupation
of the air. The infantry in the loosely built trenches held on,
breathless, broken, like a battered boat in a hurricane, stout against
the oncoming waves.

The stars came out and night fell--night rent and tortured, darkness
assaulted and broken by a myriad new lights of death, but still
merciful, reassuring darkness. The moment for the retreat had come.

It was a never-ending business, a stumbling, bewildering business. The
guns roared on, holding open indefatigably, without cessation, the way
of their escape.

Much later they got away themselves, dashing blindly in the wake of
their exhausted little army, ready to turn at command and hold again,
and escape again, and once more hold the unending blue lines, with their
unnumbered guns, unwinding like an endless serpent in their rear.

The morning showed them still retreating. Sometimes they were miles
ahead and could see nothing but the strangely different barred and
shivering villages, small settlements of terror, in an untroubled land.

There were no flowers flung upon them now, only hurried gasping
questions, "Are they coming?" "How far are they behind you?"

Sometimes they were halted for half an hour at a time, and sat in hedges
and ate, or meant to eat, and slept between the bites.

Occasionally they surprised small bands of wandering Uhlans, and if
there was time took them prisoners, and if there was no time, shot them
in rows against white walls.

Once they met a troop out of one of their own divisions, led by a
solitary subaltern of nineteen, with queer fixed eyes, who didn't know
who he was. All he could say, "I brought them out."

Despatch riders hurled themselves upon the Staff with orders; very often
they had conflicting orders; and they always had dust, trouble with
horses, trouble with motor ambulances, trouble with transport. Enraged
heroic surgeons achieving hourly physical miracles, implored with tears
to be given impossible things like time. Of course they couldn't have
time.

Then in the midst of chaos, orders would come to hold. The guns
unlimbered, the transports tore madly ahead. Everything that could be
cleared off down the road was cleared off, more rough trenches were dug,
more hot and sullen hours of waiting followed, and then once more the
noise, the helpless slaughter, the steady dogged line gripping the
shallow earth, and the unnumbered horde of locusts came on again, eating
up the fields of France.

Sometimes whole regiments entrained under the care of fatherly French
railway officials, curiously liable to hysteria on ordinary excursion
days, but now as calm as Egyptian Pyramids in the face of national
disaster. They pieced together with marvelous ingenuity the broken
thread of speech presented to them by the occasional French scholars
upon the British Staff; but more often still they shook polite and
emphatic heads, and explained that there quite simply were no trains.
The possible, yes; but the impossible, no. One could not create trains.
So the men went on marching. They did not like retreating, but they
moved as if they were on parade in front of Buckingham Palace, and when
they held, they fought as winners fight.

It was not until they reached the Marne that Winn found time to write to
Claire. "We are getting on very nicely," he wrote. "I hope you are not
worrying about us. We have plenty to eat, though we have to take our
meals a little hurriedly.

"There is a good deal of work to do.

"This war is the best thing that ever happened to me--bar one. Before I
came out I thought I should go to pieces. I feel quite free to write to
you now. I do not think there can be any harm in it, so I hope you won't
mind. If things do not seem to be going very well with us at first,
remember that they never do.

"Every campaign I ever went in for, we were short-handed to start with,
and had to fight against odds, which doesn't matter really if you have
the right men, but always takes longer and looks discouraging to
outsiders. The men are very good and I am glad the War Office let me
commandeer the boots I wanted--the kind they offered me at first
wouldn't have done at all for this sort of work. It is rather hard not
being with the men more, but the work is very absorbing, so I do not
mind as much as I did.

"I think the regiment will come out later, and they have promised to let
me go back into it. I am sorry about the villages. It's a pity the
Germans slopped over into France at all. I found two Uhlans yesterday in
a farmyard; they had been behaving badly, so I did them both in.

"One very seldom sees any of them, worse luck.

"I hope you are taking great care of yourself and not worrying. Your
loving Winn."

In the weeks that followed, Claire got many letters. They were short
letters, written in flying motors, in trains, in outhouses, in romantic
châteaux; but they all began in the same reassuring way. "I am very
well, and we are getting on quite nicely."

The Allied line was being flung out in wild curves and swoops like the
flight of a dove before a hawk; from Soissons up toward Calais they
fenced and circled.

They retook Rheims, they seized Amiens. Lille fell from them and Laon.

The battle of the Aisne passed by slow degrees out of their hands, and
the English found themselves fighting their extraordinary first fight
for Ypres. They stood between the Germans and the Channel ports as
thinly as a Japanese screen, between England and the Atlantic. The very
camp cooks were in the trenches.

Time fled like a long thunderous hour. It was a storm that flashed and
fell and returned again.

Winn was beginning to feel tired now. He hardly slept at night, and by
day his brain moved as if it were made of red-hot steel, flying rapidly
from expedient to expedient, facing the hourly problems of that wild and
wet October, how to keep men alive who never rested, who were too few,
who took the place of guns. He wrote more seldom now, and once he said,
"We are having rather a hard time, but we shall get through with it."

Fortunately all Englishmen are born with a curious pioneer instinct,
and being the least adaptable people in the world, they have learned the
more readily to adapt the changes of the hour.

They remade their external world, out of this new warfare.

They remade it at the cost of their lives in Flanders, in the face of
incredulous enemies and criticizing neutrals, painstakingly, without
science, doggedly out of their own wills. They held Ypres by a thread,
and when it seemed that nothing could keep it, one cold and dreadful day
along the Menin road came up their reinforcements.

First one group and then another of tall, dark people, silent footed as
falling leaves, turbaned black faces, eyes of appalling and unearthly
gravity, hearts half like a rock and half like a child, alien captive
people of another blood, took their place silently, regiment by regiment
blocking up the dreadful gaps with their guns, their rifles, and the
free gift of their lives.

"Lionel has come," Winn wrote, "and all my men. I never was so glad of
anything, but you. Send me all the warm things you can. The winter will
be quite jolly now when the men get used to the trenches. It's a funny
thing, but they've given me command of the regiment. I hadn't expected
it, but I've always liked handling Sikhs. Whatever happens, you'll
remember that I've been an awfully lucky chap, won't you?"



CHAPTER XXXI


Lionel and Winn talked of the regiment and the war; these two things
filled the exacting hours. In a world a very long way off and in the
depths of their hearts were England and Claire.

They spent three weeks in the trenches, blackened and water clogged and
weary.

It was the darkest time of a dark December, the water was up to their
waists, there was no draining the treacherous clay surfaces. The men
suffered to the limit of their vitality and sometimes passed it; they
needed constant care and watching. It had to be explained to them that
they were not required to give up their lives to spirits, in a land that
worshiped idols. Behind the strange lights and noises heralding death
there were solid people who ate sausages, and could be killed.

One or two small parties led in night attacks overcame the worst of
their fears.

Later on when the mud dried they could kill more; in the end all would
be killed, and they would return with much honor to their land of
sunshine.

To the officers who moved among them, absorbed in the questions of their
care, there was never any silence or peace, and yet there was a strange
content in the huddled, altered life of their wet ditch.

Every power of the will, every nerve of the body, was being definitely
used. Winn and Lionel felt a strange mood of exultation. They pushed
back difficulties and pierced insoluble problems with prompt escapes.
Only from time to time casualties dropped in upon them grimly,
impervious to human ingenuity.

In the quieter hours of the night, they crouched side by side
formulating fresh schemes and going over one by one the weak points of
their defenses.

They hadn't enough guns, or any reinforcements; they had no dry clothes.
The men were not accustomed to wet climates or invisible enemies.

They wanted more sand-bags and more bombs, and it would be better for
human beings not to be in trenches for three weeks at a time in the
rain.

They sat there pitting their brains against these obstacles, creating
the miraculous ingenuity of war. Personal questions dropped. Lionel saw
that Winn was ill beyond mending, but he saw it without definite
thought--it was one more obstacle in a race of obstacles. It wouldn't do
for Winn to break down. He fitted himself without explanations,
selflessly, with magnificent disinterestedness, into his friend's needs.
He was like a staff in the hand of a blind man.

Winn himself had begun to wonder, moving about in his sea of mud, how
much worse you could be before you were actually done. His cough shook
him incessantly, his brain burned, and his hands were curiously weak. He
was conscious that he had to repeat to himself all day long the things
he had to do; even then he might have forgotten if there had not been
Lionel. He might have forgotten to give orders. In spite of everything a
strange inner bliss possessed him which nourished him like food. He had
Claire's letters, they never failed him, they were as regular as the
beats of a heart. Something in him lived that had never lived before,
something that did not seem likely ever to die.

It was helping him as Lionel was helping him to get through things. What
he had to get through was dying. It was going to be quicker than the way
they had of dying in Davos, but it mightn't be quick enough; it might
drive him out of his last fight, back to an inconceivable stale world.

This must not happen. Lionel must live and he must die, where he was.
You could bully fate, if you were prepared to pay the price for it.

Winn was not sure yet what the price would be, he was only sure that he
was prepared to pay it.

They were to be relieved next day. The men were so worn out that they
could hardly move. Winn and Lionel found their own bodies difficult to
control; they had become heavy and inert from want of sleep, but their
minds were alive and worked with feverish swiftness, like the minds of
people in a long illness, when consciousness creeps above the level of
pain.

Winn had just returned from his evening round of the trenches. Lionel
was resting in his dug-out; he heard Winn's approach. Winn was coughing
again--a little choking, short cough.

He bent double and crouched down beside Lionel without speaking.

"Well," said Lionel, "to-morrow we'll be out of this. About time
too--with that cough of yours."

Winn was silent for a moment, then he said, "I suppose you know I'm
nearly done?"

Lionel bowed his head. "Yes," he muttered, "I suppose I know it."

After a pause Winn began again.

"There isn't much good talking, of course. On the other hand, you may as
well know what I feel. I've had tremendous luck in one way and another.
I never expected to get the regiment, for instance--and your coming out
here and all that. I've seen how jolly things could be."

"You haven't had them," said Lionel in a low voice. "The things you
wanted most, I mean. Your pitch was queered too soon."

"I don't know," said Winn, painstakingly. "In a sense, of course, you
haven't had things if you've only seen 'em. Still when you come to think
of it, you partly have. Look at the Germans; we've worked considerably
into them without seeing 'em, haven't we? What I mean is that I
appreciate goodness now; I see its point. Not that I'd have kept clear a
moment by myself. I hope you quite understand that? I've been a
blackguard and I'd have been a worse one if I'd had the chance. But I'm
glad I hadn't the chance now. I don't know that I'm putting the thing
straight--but you know what she's like? Thank God I couldn't alter her!"

They listened for a moment to the night. Their ears were always awake,
registering sounds from the sodden, death-ridden fields beneath them,
and above, but they heard nothing beyond the drip of the rain, an
occasional groan from a man tortured by rheumatism, and the long-drawn
scream of a distant shell.

"You can call yourself what you like," said Lionel at last. "I know what
you are, that's enough for me, and she knew it; that's one reason I got
to caring for her.

"I dare say that seems a rummy thing to you, to care for a woman
because she cares for another man. But it's a fact."

Winn moved uneasily. Then he said abruptly, "Look here, young 'un, I was
wrong before when I asked you to step in instead of me, but I'm not
wrong now. You can take it from me she'll marry you in the end. She's
young; be patient. I dare say she'll think for a time she's had enough,
but she hasn't. There's no good living a lonely life. We may both get
done in, of course. But I don't fancy we shall. I want you to promise me
not to get killed if you can help it.

"Keep away from me if you think I'm getting into trouble, because I
sha'n't be getting into trouble, I shall be getting out of it, d'you
see?"

The guns sounded nearer, a machine gun rattled sharply in their ears, as
if it had been let off in their dug-out.

"I sha'n't care for anybody else," said Lionel, quietly, "and I shall
wait all my life for her. As for not being killed--you don't want me to
shirk my job, of course; bar that, I sha'n't ask for trouble."

Winn said, "All right--then that's that! I'm going to sleep."

They neither of them slept.

It came very quickly and confusedly toward dawn. The silence was rent
across like a piece of torn silk. The crash of bombs, the peppery, sharp
detonation of rifles broke up the sullen air. Out of the dark, vague
shapes loomed, the trench filled with the sound of deep breathing and
scuffling, and the shriek of sudden pain.

Death and mud and darkness closed together.

It was all over in half an hour, the attack was driven out, and the men
moved uncertainly about, trying to discover their dead, and relieve
their wounded.

The dawn was gray and in the half light, Winn saw Lionel's eyes open and
shut; the blood was pouring from a hideous wound in his side.

"You've got to live," Winn said grimly, bending over him. "No damned
nonsense about it! You've got to live." Lionel's eyes closed again and
he knew nothing more of the rough bandaging, the endless waiting in the
sodden trench while Winn sat motionless beside him, watching his
flickering breath. In the hours of the interminable journey, Lionel
roused himself sometimes and heard again like a perpetual refrain,
"You've got to live." The motor ambulance jarred and bumped it, the
wheels of the train echoed it through the fever in his brain. He woke in
England knowing that he was going to live.

[Illustration: "You've got to live," said Winn, bending grimly over him;
"You've got to live!"]

A few hours later Winn went to see the general of his division. "I want
you to let me have another twenty-four in, sir," he explained. "They
won't expect an attack so soon. I know my men are not very fresh, but
it'll wake them up. They've stood a good lot. I've been talking to 'em.
They want to get a bit of their own back. That trench of theirs is too
near us in any case. They'd be better pushed back."

The general hesitated, but Winn's fiery sunken eyes held and shook him.

"Well, Staines," he said, "you know what you can do with your men, of
course. Have it your own way. When do you want to attack?"

"Soon as they've settled off to sleep," said Winn, "just to give 'em a
night-cap."

"Don't lose too many men," said the general, "and above all come back
yourself."

"That's as may be," said Winn. "If I can get the men over quietly in a
bit of mist, I sha'n't lose too many of 'em. I've told them if they're
too fagged to stand, they'd better fight. They quite agree about it."

Winn led the attack with the last of his strength, and in the fierceness
of his rage with life.

A white fog hung over the fields like the shadow of a valley filled with
snow.

The men fought like demons--strange shapes in the fog, with here and
there as the flames shot up, the flash of their black faces, set to
kill.

Winn's voice rallied and held them above the racket of the spitting
rifles, and the incessant coughing of the guns. It was the Staines voice
let out on a last voyage. To have gone back against it would have been
more dangerous than to go on against the guns.

They seized the trench and held it, there were no prisoners taken in the
dark, and after the first light they ceased to hear Winn's voice.

The sun came out and showed them all they had won, and what they had
lost.

Winn lay peacefully between the old trench and the new, beyond
resentment, beyond confusion, in the direct simplicity of death.

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dark Tower" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home