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´╗┐Title: Nightfall
Author: Pryde, Anthony
Language: English
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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 "Nightfall" ***

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NIGHTFALL

by

ANTHONY PRYDE



CHAPTER I


"Tea is ready, Bernard," said Laura Clowes, coming in from the
garden.

It was five o'clock on a June afternoon, but the hall was so dark
that she had to grope her way.  Wanhope was a large, old-fashioned
manor-house, a plain brick front unbroken except in the middle, where
its corniced roof was carried down by steps to an immense gateway of
weathered stone, carved with the escutcheon of the family and their
Motto: FORTIS ET FIDELIS. Wistarias rambled over both sides,
wreathing the stone window-frames in their grape-like clusters of
lilac bloom, and flagstones running from end to end, shallow, and so
worn that a delicate growth of stonecrop fringed them, shelved down
to a lawn.

Indoors in the great hall it was dark because floor and staircase
and wall and ceiling were all lined with Spanish chestnut-wood,
while the windows were full of Flemish glass in purple and sepia
and blue.  There was nothing to reflect a glint of light except a
collection of weapons of all ages which occupied the wall behind
a bare stone hearth; suits of inlaid armour, coats of chainmail
as flexible as silk, assegais and blowpipes, Bornean parangs and
Gurkha kukris, Abyssinian shotels with their double blades,
Mexican knives in chert and chalcedony, damascened swords and
automatic pistols, a Chinese bronze drum, a Persian mace of the
date of Rustum, and an Austrian cavalry helmet marked with a
bullet-hole and a stain.

Gradually, as her eyes grew used to the gloom Laura found her way
to her husband's couch.  She would have liked to kiss him, but
dared not: the narrow mocking smile, habitual on his lips, showed
no disposition to respond to advances.  Dressed in an ordinary
suit of Irish tweed, Bernard Clowes lay at full length in an easy
attitude, his hands in his pockets and his legs decently extended
as Barry, his male nurse, had left them twenty minutes ago: a
big, powerful man, well over six feet in height, permanently
bronze and darkly handsome, his immense shoulders still held back
so flat that his coat fitted without a wrinkle--but a cripple
since the war.

Laura Clowes too was tall and slightly sunburnt,  but thin for
her height, and rather plain except for her sweet eyes, her silky
brown hair, and--rarer gift!--the vague elegance which was a
prerogative of Selincourt women.  She rarely wore expensive
clothes, her maid Catherine made most of her indoor dresses,
and yet she could still hold her own, as in old days, among
women who shopped in the Rue de la Paix.  This afternoon, in her
silk muslin of the same shade as the trail of wistaria tucked
in where the frills crossed over her breast, she might have gone
astray out of the seventeenth century.

"Tea is in the parlour," said Mrs. Clowes. "Shall I wheel you
round through the garden?  It's a lovely day and the roses are
in their perfection, I counted eighty blooms on the old Frau
Karl.  I should like you to see her."

"I shouldn't.  But you can drag me into the parlour if you like,"
said Bernard Clowes--a grudging concession: more often than not
he ate his food in the hall.  His wife pushed his couch, which
ran on cycle wheels and so lightly that a child could propel it,
into her sitting-room and as near as she dared to the French
windows that opened without step or ledge on the terrace
flagstones and the verdure of the lawn.  Out of doors, for some
obscure reason, he refused to go, though the garden was sweet
with the scent of clover and the gold sunlight was screened by
the milky branches of a great acacia.  Still he was in the fresh
air, and Laura hastily busied herself with her flowered Dresden
teacups, pretending unconsciousness because if she had shown the
slightest satisfaction he would probably have demanded to be
taken back. Her mild duplicity was of course mere make believe:
the two understood each other only too well: but it was wiser to
keep a veil drawn in case Bernard Clowes should suddenly return
to his senses.  For this reason Laura always spoke as if his
choice of a coffined life were only a day or two old.  Had he
said--as he might say at any moment--"Laura, I should like to
go for a drive," Laura would have been able without inconsistency
to reply, "Yes, dear: what time shall I order the car?" as though
they had been driving together every evening of their married
life.

"What have you been doing today?" Clowes  asked, sipping his tea
and looking out of the window.  He had shut himself up in his
bedroom with a headache and his wife had not seen him since the
night before.

"This morning I motored into Amesbury to change the library
books and to enquire after Canon Bodington. I saw Mrs. Bodington
and Phoebe and George--,"

"Who's George?"

"Their son in the Navy, don't you remember?  The Sapphire is in
dry dock--"

"How old is he?"

"Nineteen," said Mrs. Clowes.

"Oh.  Go on."

"I don't remember doing anything else except get some stamps at
the post office.  Stay, now I come to think of it, I met Mr.
Maturin, but I didn't  speak to him.  He only took off his hat to
me, Bernard. He is seventy-four."

"Dull sort of morning you seem to have had," said Bernard Clowes.

"What did you do after lunch?"

"With a great want of intelligence, I strolled down to Wharton to
see Yvonne, but she was out. They had all gone over to the big
garden party at Temple Brading.  I forgot about it--"

"Why weren't you asked?"

"I was asked but I didn't care to go.  Now that I am no longer in
my first youth these expensive crushes cease to amuse me."
Bernard gave an incredulous sniff but said nothing.  "On my way
home I looked in at the vicarage to settle the day for the school
treat.  Isabel has made Jack Bendish promise to help with the
cricket, and she seems to be under the impression that Yvonne
will join in the games.  I can hardly believe that anything will
induce Yvonne to play Nuts and May, but if it is to be done that
energetic child will do it.  No, I didn't see Val or Mr.
Stafford.  Val was over at Red Springs and Mr. Stafford was
preparing his sermon."

"Have you written any letters?"

"I wrote to father and sent him fifty pounds.  It was out of my
own allowance. He seems even harder up than usual.  I'm afraid
the latest system is not profitable."

"I should not think it would be, for Mr. Selincourt," replied
Bernard Clowes politely. "Monte Carlo never does pay unless one's
pretty sharp, and your father hasn't the brains of a flea.  Was
that the only letter you wrote?"

"Yes--will you have some more bread and butter?"

"And what letters did you get?"  Clowes pursued his leisured
catechism while he helped himself daintily to a fragile sandwich.
This was all part of the daily routine, and Laura, if she felt
any resentment, had long since grown out of showing it.

"One from Lucian.  He's in Paris--"

"With--?"

"No one, so far as I know," Laura replied, not affecting to
misunderstand his jibe.  Lucian Selincourt was her only brother
and very dear to her, but there was no denying that his career
had its seamy side.  He was not, like her father, a family
skeleton--he had never been warned off the Turf: but he was
rarely solitary and never out of debt. "Poor Lucian, he's hard
up too. I wish I could send him fifty pounds, but if I did he'd
send it back."

"What other letters did you have?"

Mrs. Clowes had had a sheaf of unimportant notes, which she was
made to describe in detail, her husband listening in his hard
patience.  When they were exhausted Laura went on in a hesitating
voice, "And there was one more that I want to consult you about.
I know you'll say we can't have him, but I hardly liked to refuse
on my own imitative, as he's your cousin, not mine.  It was from
Lawrence Hyde, offering to come here for a day or two."

"Lawrence Hyde?  Why, I haven't seen or heard of him for years,"
Clowes raised his head with a gleam of interest.  "I remember him
well enough though.  Good-looking chap, six foot two or three and
as strong as a horse.  Well-built chap, too.  Women ran after
him.  I haven't seen him since we were in the trenches together."

"Yes, Bernard.  Don't you recollect his going to see you in
hospital?"

"So he did, by Jove!  I'd forgotten that.  He'd ten days' leave
and he chucked one of them away to look me up.  Not such a bad
sort, old Lawrence."

"I liked him very much," said Laura quietly.

"Wants to come to us, does he?  Why?  Where does he write from?"

"Paris.  It seems he ran across Lucian at Auteuil--"

"Let me see the letter."

Laura give it over.  "Calls you Laura, does he?" Clowes read it
aloud with a running commentary of his own.  "H'm: pleasant
relationship, cousins-in-law. . . 'Met Lucian . . . chat about
old times'--is he a bird of Lucian's feather, I wonder?  He
wasn't keen on women in the old days, but people change a lot
in ten years . . . 'Like to come and see us while he's in
England . . . run over for the day'--bosh, he knows we should
have to put him up for a couple of nights! . . . 'Sorry to hear
such a bad account of Bernard'--Very kind of him, does he want
a cheque?  Hallo!  'Lucian says he is leading you a deuce of a
life.' Upon my word!"  He lowered the letter and burst out
laughing--the first hearty laugh she had heard from him for many
a long day.  Laura, who had given him the letter in fear and
trembling and only because she could not help herself, was
exceedingly relieved and joined in merrily.  But while she was
laughing she had to wink a sudden moisture from her eyelashes:
this glimpse of the natural self of the man she had married went
to her heart.  "Is it true?" he said, still with that friendly
twinkle in his eyes.  "Do I lead you the deuce of a life, poor
old Laura?"

"I don't mind," said Laura, smiling back at him.  She could have
been more eloquent, but she dared not.  Bernard's moods required
delicate handling.

"He's a cool hand anyhow to write like that to a woman about her
husband.  But Lawrence always was a cool hand. I remember the
turn-up we had in the Farringay woods when I was twelve and he
was fourteen.  He nearly murdered me. But I paid him out," said
Bernard in a glow of pleasurable reminiscence.  "He was too
heavy for me. Old Andrew Hyde came and dragged him off.  But
I marked him: he was banished from his mother's drawingroom for
a week--not that he minded that much . . . Aunt Helen was a
pretty woman.  Gertrude and I never could think why she married
Uncle Andrew, but I believe they got on all right, though she was
a big handsome woman--a Clowes all over--while old Andrew
looked like any little scrub out of Houndsditch.  Never can tell
why people marry each other, can you?" Bernard was becoming
philosophical.  I suppose if you go to the bottom it's Nature
that takes them by the scruff of the neck and gives them a gentle
shove and says 'More babies, please.' She doesn't always bring it
off though, witness you and me, my love.--  But I say, Laura, I
like the way you handed over that letter!  Thought it would do me
good, didn't you?  Look here, I can't have my character taken
away behind my back!  You tell him to come and judge for
himself."

"You'll get very tired of him, Berns," said Laura doubtfully.
"You always say you get sick of people in twenty-four hours: and
I can't take him entirely off your hands--you'll have to do your
share of entertaining him.  He's your cousin, not mine, and it'll
be you he comes to see."

"I shan't see any more of him than I want to, my dear, on that
you may depend," said Bernard with easy emphasis.  "If he
invites himself he'll have to put with what he can get.  But
I can stand a good deal of him.  Regimental shop is always
amusing, and Lawrence will know heaps of fellows I used to know,
and tell me what's become of them all.  Besides, I'm sick to
death of the local gang and Lawrence will be a change.  He's got
more brains than Jack Bendish, and from the style of his letter
he can't be so much like a curate as Val is."  Val Stafford was
agent for the Wanhope property.  "Oh,  by George!"

"What's the matter?"

Bernard threw back his head and grinned broadly with half shut
eyes.  "Ha, ha! by Gad, that's funny--that's very funny.  Why,
Val knows him!"

"Knows Lawrence?  I never heard Val mention his name."

"No, my love, but one can't get Val to open his lips on that
subject. Lawrence and I were in the same battalion.  He was there
when Val got his ribbon."

"Really?  That will be nice for Val, meeting him again."

"Oh rather!" said Bernard Clowes. "On my word it's a shame and
I've half a mind . . .. No, let him come: let him come and be
damned to the pair of them!  Straighten me out, will you?" He was
liable like most paralytics to mechanical jerks and convulsions
which drove him mad with impatience.  Laura drew down the
helplessly twitching knee, and ran one firm hand over him from
thigh to ankle.  Her touch had a mesmeric effect on his nerves
when he could endure it, but nine times out of ten he struck it
away. He did so now. "Go to the devil!  How often have I told
you not to paw me about?  I wish you'd do as you're told.  What
do you call him Lawrence for?"

"I always did.  But I'll call him Captain Hyde if you like--"

"'Mr.,' you mean: he's probably dropped the 'Captain.' He was
only a 'temporary.'"

"For all that, he has stuck to his prefix," said Laura smiling.
"Lucian chaffed him about it. But Lawrence was always rather a
baby in some ways: clocked socks to match his ties, and
astonishing adventures in jewellery, and so on.  Oh yes, I knew
him very well indeed when I was a girl.  Mr. and Mrs. Hyde were
among the last of the old set who kept up with us after father
was turned out of his clubs.  I've stayed at Farringay."

"You never told me that!"

"I never thought of telling you. Lawrence hasn't been near us
since we came to Wanhope and I don't recollect your ever
mentioning his name.  You see I tell you now."

"How old were you when you stayed at Farringay?"

"Twenty-two.  Lawrence and I are the same age."

"And you knew him well, did you?"

"We were great friends," said Mrs. Clowes, tossing a lump of
sugar out of the window to a lame jackdaw. She had many such
pensioners, alike in a community of misfortune.  "And, yes,
Berns, you're right, we flirted a little--only a little: wasn't
it natural?  It was only for fun, because we were both young and
it was such heavenly weather--it was the Easter before war broke
out.  No, he didn't ask me to marry him!  Nothing was farther
from his mind."

"Did he kiss you?"

Laura slowly and smilingly shook her head. "Am I, Yvonne?"

"But you liked the fellow?"

"Oh yes, he was charming.  A little too much one of a class,
perhaps: there's a strong family likeness, isn't there, between
Cambridge undergraduates?  But he was more cultivated than a good
many of his class.  We used to go up the river together and read
--what did one read in the spring of 1914?  Masefield, I suppose,
or was it Maeterlinck?  Rupert Brooks came with the war.  Imagine
reading 'Pelleas et Melisande' in a Canadian canoe!  It makes one
want to be twenty-two again, so young and so delightfully
serious."  It was hard to run on while the glow faded out of
Bernard's face and a cold gloom again came over it, but sad
experience had taught Laura that at all costs, under whatever
temptation, it was wiser to be frank.  It would have been easier
for the moment to paint the boy and girl friendship in neutral
tints, but if its details came out later, trivial and innocent
as they were, the economy of today would cost her dear tomorrow,
Her own impression was that Clowes had never been jealous of her
in his life.  But the pretence of jealousy was one of his few
diversions.

"I dare say you do wish you were twenty-two again," he said,
delicately setting down his tea cup on the tray--all his
movements, so far as he could control them, were delicate and
fastidious. "I dare say you would like a chance to play your
cards differently.  Can't be done, my, girl, but what a good
fellow I am to ask Lawrence to Wanhope, ain't I? No one can say
I'm not an obliging husband.  Lawrence isn't a jumping doll. He's
six and thirty and as strong as a horse.  You'll have no end of a
good time knitting up your severed friendship .. 'Pon my word,
I've a good mind to put him off. . I shouldn't care to fall foul
of the King's Proctor."

"Will you have another cup of tea before I ring"

"No, thanks . . . Do I lead you the deuce of a life, Lally?"

"You do now and then," said his wife, smiling with pale lips.

"It isn't that I'm sensitive for myself, because I know you don't
mean a word of it, but I rather hate it for your own sake.  It
isn't worthy of you, old boy.  It's so--so ungentlemanly."

"So it is.  But I do it because I'm bored.  I am bored, you know.
Desperately!" He stretched out his hand to her with such haggard,
hunted eyes that Laura, reckless, threw herself down by him and
kissed the heavy eyelids.  Clowes put his arm round her neck,
fondling her hair, and for a little while peace, the peace of
perfect mutual tenderness, fell on this hard-driven pair.  But
soon, a great sigh bursting from his breast, Clowes pushed her
away, his features settling back into their old harsh lines of
savage pain and scorn.

"Get away! get up! do you want Parker to see you through the
window?  If there's a thing on earth I hate it's a dishevelled
crying woman.  Write to Lawrence.  Say I shall be delighted to
see him and that I hope he'll give us at least a week. Stop.
Warn him that I shan't be able to see much of him because of
my invalid habits, and that I shall depute you to entertain
him.  That ought to fetch him if he remembers you when you were
twenty-two."

Laura was neither dishevelled nor in tears: perhaps such scenes
were no novelty to her.  She leant against the frame of the open
window, looking out over the sunlit garden full of flowers, over
the wide expanse of turf that sloped down to a wide, shallow
river all sparkling in western light, and over airy fields on
the other side of it to the roofs of the distant village strung
out under a break of woody hill.

"Are you sure you want him?  He used to have a hot temper when he
was a young man, and you know, Berns, it would be tiresome if
there were any open scandal."

"Scandal be hanged,"  said Bernard Clowes. "You do as you're
told."  His wife gave an almost imperceptible shrug of the
shoulders as if to disclaim further responsibility.  She was
breathing rather hurriedly as if she had been running, and her
neck was so white that the shadow of her sunlit wistaria threw a
faint lilac stain on the warm, fine grain of her skin.  And the
haggard look returned to Bernard's eyes as he watched her, and
with it a wistfulness, a weariness of desire, "hungry, and
barren, and sharp as the sea."  Laura never saw that hunger in
his eyes.  If he spared her nothing else he spared her that.

"You do as I tell you, old girl," his harsh voice had softened
again. "There won't be any row.  Honestly I'd like to have old
Lawrence here for a bit, I'm not rotting now.  He had almost four
years of it--almost as long as I had.  I'll guarantee it put a
mark on him.  It scarred us all. It'll amuse me to dine him and
Val together, and make them talk shop, our own old shop, and see
what the war's done for each of us: three retired veterans,
that's what we shall be, putting our legs under the same
mahogany: three old comrades in arms." He gave his strange,
jarring laugh. "Wonder which of us is scarred deepest?"



CHAPTER II


WANHOPE and Castle Wharton--or, to give them their due order,
Wharton and Wanhope, for Major Clowes' place would have gone
inside the Castle three times over--were the only country
houses in the Reverend James Stafford's parish.  The village
of Chilmark--a stone bridge, crossroads, a church with Norman
tower and frondlike Renaissance tracery, and an irregular line
of school, shops, and cottages strung out between the stream and
chalky beech-crested hillside occupied one of those long, winding,
sheltered crannies that mark the beds of watercourses along the
folds of Salisbury Plain.  Uplands rose steeply all along it
except on the south, where it widened away into the flats of
Dorsetshire.  Wharton overlooked this expanse of hunting country:
a formidable Norman keep, round which, by gradual accretion, a
dwelling-place had grown up, a history of English architecture
and English gardening written in stone and brick and grass and
flowers.  One sunny square there was, enclosed between arched
hedges set upon pillars of carpenters' work, which still kept the
design of old Verulam: and Yvonne of the Castle loved its little
turrets and cages of singing birds, and its alleys paved with
burnet, wild thyme, and watermints, which perfume the air most
delightfully, not passed by as the rest, but being trodden upon
and crushed.

Wanhope also, though modest by comparison, had a good deal of
land attached to it, but the Clowes property lay north up the
Plain, where they sowed the headlands with red wheat still as
in the days of Justice Shallow.  The shining Mere, a tributary
of the Avon, came dancing down out of these hills: strange
pastoral cliffs of chalk covered with fine sward, and worked by
the hands of prehistoric man into bastions and ramparts that
imitated in verdure the bold sweep of masonry.

Mr. Stafford was a man of sixty, white-haired and of sensitive,
intelligent features.  He was a High Churchman, but wore a felt
wideawake in winter because when he bought it wideawakes were
the fashion for High Churchmen.  In the summer he usually roved
about his parish without any hat at all, his white curls flying
in the wind.  He was of gentle birth, which tended to ease his
intercourse with the Castle.  He had a hundred a year of his own,
and the living of Chilmark was worth 175 pounds net.  So it may
have been partly from necessity that he went about in clothes at
which any respectable tramp would have turned his nose up: but
idiosyncrasy alone can have inspired him to get the village tailor
to line his short blue pilot jacket with pink flannelette.  "It's
very warm and comfortable, my dear," he said apologetically to his
wife, who sat and gazed at him aghast, "so much more cosy than
Italian cloth."

On that occasion Mrs. Stafford was too late to interfere, but as
a rule she exercised a restraining influence, and while she lived
the vicar was not allowed to go about with holes in his trousers.
After her death Mr. Stafford mourned her sincerely and cherished
her memory, but all the same he was glad to be able to wear his
old boots.  However, he had a cold bath every morning and kept
his hands irreproachable, not from vanity but from an inbred
instinct of personal care.  Yvonne of the Castle, who spoke her
mind as Yvonne's of the Castle commonly do, said that the fewer
clothes Mr. Stafford wore the better she liked him, because he
was always clean and they were not.

Mr. Stafford had three children; Val, late of the Dorchester
Regiment, Rowsley an Artillery lieutenant two years younger,
and Isabel the curate, a tall slip of a girl of nineteen.  They
were all beloved, but Val was the prop of the family and the
pride of his father's heart.  Invalided out of the Army after
six weeks' fighting, with an honourable distinction and an
irremediably shattered arm, he had been given the agency of the
Wanhope property, and lived at home, where the greater part of
his three hundred a year went to pay the family bills.  Most of
these were for what Mr. Stafford gave away, for the vicar had no
idea of the value of money, and was equally generous with Val's
income and his own.

Altogether Mr. Stafford was a contented and happy man, and his
only worry was the thought, which crossed his mind now and then,
that Chilmark for a young man of Val's age was dull, and that the
Wanhope agency led nowhere.  If Val had been an ambitious man!
But Val was not ambitious, and Mr Stafford thanked heaven that
this pattern son of his had never been infected by the vulgar
modern craze for money making. His salary would not have kept him
in luxury in a cottage of his own, but it was enough to make the
vicarage a comfortable home for him; and, so long as he remained
unmarried, what could he want more, after all, than the society
of his own family and his kind country neighbours?

Rowsley, cheerfully making both ends meet in the Artillery on an
allowance from his godmother, was off his father's hands.
Isabel?  Mr. Stafford did not trouble much about Isabel, who was
only a little girl.  She was a happy, healthy young thing, and
Mr. Stafford was giving her a thoroughly good education.  She
would be able to earn her own living when he died, if she were
not married, as every woman ought to be.  (There was no one for
Isabel to marry, but Mr. Stafford's principles rose superior to
facts.)  Meantime it was not as if she were running wild: that
sweet woman Laura Clowes and the charming minx at the Castle
between them could safely be left to form her manners and see
after her clothes.

One summer afternoon Isabel was coming back from an afternoon's
tennis at Wharton.  Mrs. Clowes brought her in the Wanhope car as
far as the Wanhope footpath, and would have sent her home, but
Isabel declined, ostensibly because she wanted to stretch her
legs, actually because she couldn't afford to tip the Wanhope
chauffeur.  So she tumbled out of the car and walked away at a
great rate, waving Laura farewell with her tennis racquet.
Isabel was a tall girl of nineteen, but she still plaited her
hair in a pigtail which swung, thick and dark and glossy, well
below her waist.  She wore a holland blouse and skirt, a sailor
hat trimmed with a band of Rowsley's ribbon, brown cotton
stockings, and brown sandshoes bought for 5/11-3/4 of Chapman,
the leading draper in Chilmark High Street.  Isabel made her own
clothes and made them badly.  Her skirt was short in front and
narrow below the waist, and her sailor blouse was comfortably but
inelegantly loose round the armholes.  Laura Clowes, who had a
French instinct of dress, and would have clad Isabel as Guinevere
clad Enid, if Isabel had not been prouder than Enid, looked after
her with a smile and a sigh: it was a grief to her to see her
young friend so shabby, but, bless the child! how little she
cared--and how little it signified after all!  Isabel's poverty
sat as light on her spirits as the sailor hat, never straight,
sat on her upflung head.

Isabel knew every one in Chilmark parish.  Pausing before a knot
of boys playing marbles: "Herbert," she said sternly, "why
weren't you at school on Sunday?" Old Hewett, propped like a
wheezy mummy against the oak tree that shaded the Prince of
Wales's Feathers, brought up his stiff arm slowly in a salute to
the vicar's daughter. "'Evening," said Isabel cheerfully, "what a
night for rheumatics isn't it?"  Hewitt chuckled mightily at this
subtle joke. "'Evening, Isabel," called out Dr. Verney, putting
up one finger to his cap: he considered one finger enough for a
young lady whom he had brought into the world.  Isabel knew every
one in Chilmark and every one knew her.  Such a range of
intensive acquaintance is not so narrow as people who have never
lived in a country village are apt to suppose.

Past the schoolhouse, past the wide stone bridge where Isabel
loved to hang over the parapet watching for trout--but not
tonight, for it was late, and Isabel after a "company tea" wanted
her supper: by a footpath through the churchyard, closely mown
and planted with rosebushes: and so into the church, where, after
dropping a hurried professional curtsey to the altar, she set
about her evening duties. Isabel called herself the curate, but
she did a good deal which is not expected of a curate, such as
shutting windows and changing lesson-markers, propping up the
trebles when they went astray in the pointing of the Psalms,
altering the numbers on the hymn-board, writing out choir papers,
putting flowers in the vases and candles in the benediction
lights, playing the organ as required and occasionally blowing
it. . . . Before leaving the church she fell on her knees, in
deference to Mr. Stafford and the text by the door, and said a
prayer.  What did she pray?  "O Lord bless this church and all
who worship in it and make father preach a good sermon next
Sunday. I wish I'd been playing with Val instead of Jack, we
should have won that last set if Jack hadn't muffed his
services. . . .  Well, this curate was only nineteen."

And then, coming out into the fading light, she locked the north
door behind her and went off whistling like a blackbird, if a
blackbird could whistle the alto of Calkin's Magnificat in B
flat. . . . Five minutes climbing of the steep brown floor of
the beechwood, and she was out on uplands in the dying fires of
day.  It had been twilight in the valley, but here the wide plain
was sunlit and the air was fresh and dry: in the valley even the
river-aspens were almost quiet, but here there was still a sough
of wind coming and going, through the dry grass thick set with
lemon thyme and lady's slipper, or along the low garden wall
where red valerian sprouted out of yellow stonecrop.

A wishing gate led into the garden, and Isabel made for an open
window, but halfway over the sill she paused, gazing with all her
soul in her eyes across the vicarage gooseberry bushes.  That
grey suit was Val's of course, but who was inside the belted coat
and riding breeches?  "Rows-lee!" sang out Isabel, tumbling back
into the garden with a generous display of leg.  The raiders rose
up each holding a handful of large red strawberries melting ripe,
and Isabel, pitching in her racquet on a sofa, ran across the
grass and enfolded her brother in her arms.  Rowsley, dark and
slight and shrewd, returned her hug with one arm, while carefully
guarding his strawberries with the other--"You pig, you perfect
pig!" wailed Isabel.  "I was saving them for tea tomorrow,
Laura's coming and I can't afford a cake.  Oh joy, you can buy me
one!  How long can you stay?"

"Over the week end: but I didn't come to buy you cakes, Baby. I
haven't any money either. I came because I wanted you to buy me
cakes."

"O well never mind, I'll make one," Isabel joyously slipped her
hand through Rowsley's arm. "Then I can get the flour from the
baker and it won't cost anything at all--it'll go down in the
bill. Well give me one anyhow, now they're picked it would be a
pity to waste them." She helped herself liberally out of Val's
hand.  "Now stop both of you, you can't have any more."

She linked her other arm in Val's and dragged her brothers out of
the dangerous proximity of the strawberry beds.  Val sat down on
a deck chair, one leg thrown over the other, Rowsley dropped at
full length on the turf, and Isabel doubled herself up between
them, her arms clasped round her knees.  "How's the Old Man?" she
asked in friendly reference to Rowsley's commanding officer.
"Oh Rose, I knew there was something I wanted to ask you.  Will
Spillsby be able to play on the Fourth?"  Spillsby, a brother
subaltern and a famous bat, had twisted his ankle at the nets,
and Rowsley in his last letter had been uncertain whether he
would be well enough to play the Sappers at the annual fixture.

Happily Rowsley was able to reassure his young sister: the ankle
was much better and Spillsby was already allowed to walk on it.
Isabel then turned her large velvet eyes--gazelle eyes with a
world of pathos in their velvet gloom on her elder brother.
"Coruscate, Val," she commanded.  "You haven't said anything at
all yet.  We should all try to be bright in the home circle.  We
cannot all be witty, but-Ow!  Rowsley, if you pull my hair I
shall hit you in the--in the place where the Gauls fined their
soldiers if they stuck out on parade.  Oh, Val, that really isn't
vulgar, I found it in Matthew Arnold!  Their stomachs, you know.
They wouldn't have fined you anyhow.  You look fagged, darling--
are you?"

"Not so much fagged as hungry," said Val in his soft voice. "It's
getting on for nine o'clock and I was done out of my tea. I went
in to Wanhope, but Laura was out, and Clowes was drinking whisky
and soda. I cannot stand whisky at four in the afternoon, and
Irish whisky at that.  There'll be some supper going before long,
won't there?"

"Not until half past nine because Jimmy has his Bible class
tonight."  Jimmy was Mr. Stafford: and perhaps a purist might
have objected that Mrs. Clowes and Yvonne Bendish had not done
all they might have done to form Isabel's manners. "I'm so sorry,
darling," she continued, preparing to leap to her feet.  "Shall I
get you a biscuit?  There are oatmeals in the sideboard, the kind
you like, I won't be a minute--"

"Thanks very much, I'd rather wait.  Did you see Mrs. Clowes
today? Clowes said she was at the Castle."

"So she was, sitting with Mrs. Morley in an angelic striped
cotton.  Mrs. Morley was in mauve ninon and a Gainsborough hat.
Yvonne says Mr. Morley is a Jew and made his money in I. D. B.'s,
which I suppose are some sort of stocks?" Neither of her brothers
offered to enlighten her, Rowsley because he was feeling
indolent, Val because he never said an unkind word to any one.
Isabel, who was enamoured of her own voice flowed on with little
delay: "If he really is a Jew, I can't think how she could marry
him; I wouldn't. Mrs. Morley can't be very happy or Laura
wouldn't go and talk to her.  Laura is so sweet, she always sits
with people that other people run away from.  Oh Val, did Major
Clowes tell you their news?" Isabel might refer to her father as
Jimmy and to Rowsley's commander as the Old Man, but she rarely
failed to give Bernard Clowes his correct prefix.

"No--is there any?"

"Only that they have some one coming to stay with them.  Won't he
have a deadly time?" Isabel glanced from Val to Rowsley in the
certainty of a common response. "Imagine staying at Wanhope!
However, he invited himself, so it's at his own risk.  Perhaps
he's embarrassed like you, Rose, and wants Laura to feed him.
It's rather fun for Laura, though--that is, it will be, if Major
Clowes isn't too hopeless."

Strange freemasonry of the generations!  Mr. Stafford's children
loved him dearly and he was wont to say that there were no
secrets at the vicarage, yet they lived in a conspiracy of
silence, and even Val, who was mentally nearer to his father's
age, would have been loth to let Mr. Stafford know as much as
Isabel knew about Wanhope.  It was assumed that Val's job was the
very job Val wanted.  Mr. Stafford had indeed a suspicion that it
was not all plain sailing:  Bernard Clowes retained just so much
of the decently bred man as to be courteous to his wife before a
mere acquaintance, but the vicar came and went at odd hours, and
he observed now and then vague intimations--undertones from
Bernard himself, an uncontrollable shrinking on Laura's part, an
occasional hesitation or reluctance in Val--which hinted at
flying storms.  But Val, the father supposed, could make
allowance for a cripple: Bernard was so much to be pitied that no
man would resent an occasional burst of temper!  And there his
children left him. The younger generation can trust one another
not to interfere, but when the seniors strike in, with their cut
and dry precedents and rule of thumb moralities, who knows what
mischief may follow?  Elder people are so indiscreet!

"It's a cousin of Major Clowes,"  Isabel continued, "but they
haven't met for years and years--not since the war.  Laura knows
him too, she met him before she was married and liked him very
much indeed.  She's looking forward to it--that is, she would be
if she had spirit enough to look forward to anything."

"Clowes never said a word to me about it," remarked Val.

"Didn't he?" Isabel unfolded herself and stood up. "That means he
is going to be tiresome.  I must run now, it's five past nine.
Which will you both have, cold beef or eggs?"

"Oh, anything that's going," said Val.

"Eggs," said Rowsley, "not less than four.  Without prejudice to
the cold beef if it's underdone.  Hallo!"

"What?"

"What's the matter with your skirt?"

"Nothing," said Isabel shortly.  She screwed her head over her
shoulder in a vain endeavour to see her own back.  "It's
perfectly all right."

"It would be, on a scarecrow." Isabel stuck her chin up.  "Have
you been over to the Castle in that kit, Baby?  Well, if Yvonne
won't give you some of her old clothes, you might ask the
kitchenmaid."

"The kitchenmaid has more money than I have," said Isabel
cheerfully.  "Is it so very bad?  It's clean anyway, I washed and
ironed it myself."

"It looks very nice and so do you," said Val. Isabel eyed him
with a softened glance: one could rely on Val to salve one's
wounded vanity, but, alas!  Val did not know home-made from
tailor-made. Reluctantly she owned to herself that she had more
faith in Rowsley's judgment.  "It seems rather short though," Val
added. "I suppose you will have to go into long frocks pretty
soon, won't you, and put your hair up?"

"Oh bother my hair and my dresses!" said Isabel with a great
sigh.  "I will pin my hair up when I get some new clothes, but
how can I when I haven't any money and Jim hasn't any money and
neither of you have any money?  Don't you see, idiot," this was
exclusively to Rowsley, "when I pin my hair up I shall turn into
a grown up lady?  And then I shall have to wear proper clothes.
At present I'm only a little girl and it doesn't signify what I
wear. If any one will give me five pounds I'll pin my hair up
like a shot.  Oh dear, I wonder what Yvonne would say if Jack
expected her to outfit herself for five pounds? I do wish some
one would leave me 10,000 pounds a year.  Get up now, you lazy
beggar, come and help me lay the supper.  It's Fanny's evening
out."

She pulled Rowsley to his feet and they went off together leaving
Val alone on the lawn: good comrades those two, and apparently
more of an age, in spite of the long gap between them, than
Rowsley and Val, who was the eldest by only eighteen months.  And
Val sat on alone, while stains of coral and amber faded out of
the lavender sky, and a rack of sea clouds, which half an hour
ago had shone like fiery ripples, dwindled away into smoke--mist
--a mere shadow on the breast of the night. Stars began to
sparkle, moths and humming cockchafers sailed by him, a chase of
bats overhead endlessly fell down airy precipices and rose in
long loops of darkling flight: honeysuckle and night-scented
stock tinged with their sweet garden perfume the cool airs from
the moor.

Val lit a cigarette, a rare indulgence.  If cigarettes grew on
gooseberry bushes Val would have been an inveterate smoker, but
good Egyptians were a luxury which he could not often afford
The Wanhope agency was ample for his needs, though underpaid as
agencies go: but there was Rowsley, always hard up, uncomplaining,
but sensitive, as a young fellow in his position is sure to be, and
secretly fretting because he could not do as other men did: and there
was Isabel, for whom Val felt the anxiety Mr. Stafford ought to have
felt, and was trying to make the provision Mr. Stafford ought to have
made: and then there was the vicar himself, who laid out a great deal
of money in those investments for which we are promised cent per cent
interest, but upon a system of deferred payment.

Tonight however Val lit a cigarette, and then a second, to the
surprise of Isabel, who saw the red spark on the lawn.  She
thought her brother must be tired, and perhaps it really was the
long day without food that made him so restless in mind and so
uneasy.  Bernard Clowes had been more than usually cranky that
afternoon.  Even the patient Val had had thoughts of throwing up
his job when the cripple made him go through his week's accounts,
scrutinizing every entry and cross-examining him on every
transaction in such a tone as the head of a firm might employ to
a junior clerk suspected of dishonesty.  It was Bernard's way:
it meant nothing: but it was irksome to Val, especially when he
could not soothe himself by dropping into Laura's quiet parlour
for a cup of tea.  Yet his irritation would not have lingered
through a cigarette if Isabel's news had not revived it.  This
cousin of Bernard's!  Val had not much faith in any cousin of
Bernard Clowes: nor in the kindness of life.

Val was a slight, fair, pleasant-looking man of eight or nine and
twenty, quiet of movement, friendly-mannered and as inconspicuous
as his own rather worn grey tweeds: one of a class, till he
raised his eyes: and then?  There was something strange in Val's eyes
when they were fully raised, an indrawn arresting brilliance
difficult to analyse: imaginative and sympathetic, as if he were at
home in dark places: the quality of acceptance of pain.

Adepts in old days knew by his eyes a man who had been on the
rack.  Stafford had been racked: and by the pain that is half
shame, the keenest, the most lacerating and destructive of
wounds.  He had suffered till he could suffer no more, and
tonight in the starlit garden he, suffered still, without hope,
or rebellion, or defence.

Indoors Rowsley and Isabel, with the rapidity of long use, laid
the cloth, and Isabel fetched cold beef from the larder and
butter and eggs from the dairy, while Rowsley went down the
cellar with a jug and a candle and drew from the cask a generous
allowance of beer.  "Come along in, old Val," said Isabel,
reappearing at the open window, "You and Rose are both famishing
and I'm not," this was a pious fiction, "so you can begin and
I'll wait for Jimmy.  I dare say he's gone wandering off
somewhere and won't be in till ten."

Val came across the dark, cool lawn and climbed over the window
sill.  A shabby room, large and low: a faded paper, grey toning
to blue: a carpet of faded roses on a grey ground: the shaded
Dresden lamp and roselit supper table shining like an island in
a pool of shadow, and those two beloved heads, both so dark and
smooth and young, tam cara capita!  Neither of them suspected
that Val was unhappy.  His feeling for them was more fatherly
than fraternal, and Rowsley, strange to say, fell in with Val's
attitude, coming to his brother for money as naturally as most
young men go to their parents.  Val sat at the head of the table
because Mr. Stafford could not carve.  "There!" said Isabel,
giving him his plate.  "Mustard?  I've just made it so you
needn't look to see if it's fresh.  Watercress: I picked it
myself.  Lettuce.  Cream and vinegar and sugar.  Beer.  Now do
you feel happy?  Lord love you, dear, I like to see you eat."

She sat on the arm of Mr. Stafford's mahogany chair.  "What time
do you want breakfast? Seven o'clock?  Major Clowes wouldn't come
down at seven if he were your agent.  Can you get back to tea
tomorrow?  Laura may bring the cousin up to tea with her and she
wants him to meet you."

"Very good of her.  Why?"

"Oh, because he was in the Army too and all through the war.  He
went out with the first hundred thousand.  He's much older than
you are--the same age as Laura.  Oh, wait a minute!" exclaimed
Isabel in the tone in which a Frenchwoman says Tenez. I forgot.
She thinks you must have met him, Val."

"Possibly," said Val.

"Was he in the Dorchesters?" asked Rowsley--much more
interested than his brother,  no doubt because he was not so
hungry as Val, who was giving all his attention to his supper.

"No, in the Winchesters," said Isabel.  "Do I mean the
Winchesters,   Val?  What was Major Clowes' old regiment?"

"Clowes was in the Wintons."

Isabel nodded. "Then so was the cousin.  And Laura says he was
out there when the Wintons were in the next bit of trench north
of the Dorchesters.  He was there when--when you were wounded."
Such was Val Stafford's modesty that in the family circle it was
not in etiquette to refer in other terms to that famous occasion.

"I don't remember any fellow named Clowes and I never knew
Bernard Clowes had a cousin out there," said Val, mixing himself
a salad.

"Oh, his name isn't Clowes.  It's Ryde or Pride or something like
that.  I'm sorry to be so vague, but Jack Bendish and Yvonne and
Mrs. Morley were all talking at once.  Lawrence Pied--Fried--"

"Lawrence Hyde?"

"Yes, that's it!  Then you really do remember him?"

"Er--yes.   Is that lamp smoking, Rowsley?  You might turn it
down a trifle, I can't reach."

"Let me, let me?--  What was he like?"

"Who--Hyde?  Oh," said Val vaguely, "he was like the rest of us
--very tired."

"Tired?" echoed Isabel with a blank face, "but, Val darling, he
couldn't have been only tired!  What should you think he was like
when he wasn't tired?"

"That is a question I have occasionally asked myself," Val
answered with his faint indecipherable smile.  "My dear child,
I only saw him once or twice.  He was a senior captain and
commanded his company. I was a very junior lieutenant."

"Still he was there at the time," reflected Isabel. "O Rose! if
he's anything like nice, which is almost past praying for in
Major Clowes' cousin, let's beguile him into the gooseberry
bushes and make him tell us all about it!  Val is very dear to
his family, but no one, however tenderly attached to him, could
call him a brilliant raconteur.  Now Mr. Hyde won't have any
modest scruples.  Val, if there is a slug in that lettuce I wish
you would say so. It would hurt my feelings less than for you to
sit looking at it in a stony silence.  Was he good-looking?"

"Possibly he might be," said Val, "when he scraped the dirt off."
 After a moment he added, "He was very decent to me."

"Was he?  Then he was nice?"

"Gnat,"  said Rowsley from the middle of his third egg.  Isabel
rounded him indignantly.

"I'm not gnatting!  I'm not asking Val anything about himself, am
I? Val can't possibly mind telling me about another man in
another regiment.  You eat your eggs, there's a good boy, before
they get cold.--  Laura says the Dorchesters dined the Winchesters
once when they were in billets.  Was that when you and Mr. Hyde
were there?"

"Captain Hyde," Val corrected his young sister.  "Yes, we both
graced the festive board.  It was too festive for me.  We had
Buszard's soup and curried chicken and real cream, and more
champagne than was good for us.  But it was not on that occasion
that Hyde was so decent to me.  The day I--the day Dale went
down--" Rowsley nodded to him as he raised his glass of beer to
his lips--"thank you, Rose.--  As I was saying, that evening I
ran across Hyde between the lines.  The Dorsets and Wintons had
gone over the top together, and he had been left behind with a
bullet in his chest.  I was done to the world, but he had some
brandy left and shared it with me.  If it had not been for Hyde I
should never have brought Dale in."

"Well, I've never heard that before," said Rowsley to his fourth
egg.

Isabel was silent, and her eyes in the shadow of a momentary
gravity were the eyes of a woman and not of a child.  She raised
them to look out at the evening sky, indigo blue against the
lamplit interior, or faintly primrose in the west, and wondered
for the thousandth time why it was still such an effort to Val to
refer to his brief military experience.  Soft country noises came
in, peaceful and soothing: the short shrill shriek of a bat, the
rustle of a branch of rose-leaves moving like a hand over the
window panes, a faint breathing of wind from the moor.  Surely
the scar of war ought to be healed by now!  Isabel kept these
thoughts to herself: young as she was, her solitary life--for
a woman alone among men is always to some extent solitary--had
trained her to a clear perception of what had better not be said.

"When is Hyde coming?" asked Val, going on with his salad.

"Tomorrow, didn't you hear me say Laura is going to bring him
here to tea?  He's staying at his own place, Farringay--I think
from the way Laura spoke it is what one calls a place--and they
expect him by the morning train.  Laura's to meet him in the
car."

"Did you ask her to bring him in to tea,"  said Rowsley, frowning
over the marmalade jar, "when Val is safe to be out and you
didn't know I should be here?"

"Yes: oughtn't I to have?"

"No."

"Is there anything else you would like to speak to me about?"
said Isabel after a pregnant silence. "Dear Rowsley, you seem
determined to look after my manners and morals!  I asked him to
please Laura. She's nervous of Major Clowes.  Jack and Yvonne
are coming too."

"Oh I don't see that it signifies," said Val.  Mrs. Clowes
wouldn't have accepted if it weren't all right. I don't see that
you or I need worry if she doesn't.  Isabel is old enough to pour
out tea for herself.  In any case, as it happens, you'll be here
if I'm not, and I dare say Jimmy will look in for ten minutes."

"You are sweet, Val," said Isabel gratefully.

"Oh I don't say Rowsley's not right!  Prigs generally are: and
besides now I come to think of it, Laura did look faintly amused
when I asked her. But these stupid things never occur to me till
afterwards!  After all, what am I to do?  I can't manufacture a
chaperon, and it would be very bad for the parish if the vicar
never entertained.  And it's not as if Captain Hyde were a young
man; he's thirty-six if he's a day."



CHAPTER III


When the sea retreats after a storm one finds on the beach all
sorts of strange flotsam.  Bernard Clowes was a bit of human
wreckage left on the sands of society by the storm of the war.
When it broke out he was a second lieutenant in the Winchester
Regiment, a keen polo player and first class batsman who rarely
opened a book.  He was sent out with the First Division and
carried himself with his usual phlegmatic good humour through
almost four years of fighting from Mons to Cambrai.

In the March break-through he had his wrist broken by a rifle-bullet
and was invalided home, where he took advantage of his leave to get
married, partly because most of the men he knew were already married,
and partly to please his sister. There were no other brothers, and
Mrs. Morrison, a practical lady, but always a little regretful of her
own marriage with Morrison's Boot and Shoe Company, recommended him
with the family bluntness to arrange for an olive branch before the
Huns got him.

Laura, a penniless woman two years his senior and handicapped by
her disreputable belongings, was not the wife Gertrude Morrison
would have chosen for him: still it might have been worse, for
Laura was well-born and personally irreproachable, while Clowes,
hot-blooded and casual, was as likely as not to have married a
chorus-girl.  If any disappointment lingered, Gertrude soothed
it by trying over in her own mind the irritation that she would
be able to produce in Morrison circles: "Where he met her?
Oh, when she was staying with her married sister at Castle
Wharton . . . .Yvonne, the elder Selincourt girl, married into
the Bendish family."

Bernard did not care a straw either for the paternal handicap or
for the glories of the Wharton connection.  He took his
love-affair as simply as his cricket and with the same bold
confidence. Laura was what he wanted; she would fit into her
surroundings at Wanhope as delicately as an old picture fits
into an old frame, and one could leave her about--so he put
it to himself--without fear of her getting damaged.  When Tom
Morrison, shrewd business man, dropped a hint about the rashness
of marrying the daughter of a scamp like Ferdinand Selincourt,
Bernard merely stared at him and let the indiscretion go in
silence.  He can scarcely be said to have loved his bride, for
up to the time of the wedding his nature was not much more
developed than that of a prize bull, but he considered her a
very pretty woman, and his faith in her was a religion.

So they were married, and went to Eastbourne for their honeymoon:
an average match, not marked by passion on either side, but
destined apparently to an average amount of comfort and good
will.  They had ten gay days before Laura was left on a victoria
platform, gallantly smiling with pale lips and waving her
handkerchief after the train that carried Bernard back to the
front.

Five months later on the eve of the Armistice he was flung out
of the service, a broken man, paralysed below the waist, cursing
every one who came near him and chiefly the surgeons for not
letting him die.  No one ever desired life more passionately than
Bernard desired death.  For some time he clung to the hope that
his mind would wear his body out.  But his body was too young,
too strong, too tenacious of earth to be betrayed by the renegade
mind.

There came a day when Clowes felt his youth welling up in him
like sap in a fallen tree: new energy throbbed in his veins, his
heart beat strong and even, it was hard to believe that he could
not get off his bed if he liked and go down to the playing fields
or throw his leg over a horse.  This mood fastened on him without
warning in a Surbiton hospital after a calm night without a
sleeping draught, when through his open window he could see green
branches waving in sunlight, and hear the cries of men playing
cricket and the smack of the driven ball: and it was torture.
Tears forced their way suddenly into Bernard's eyes.  His nurse,
who had watched not a few reluctant recoveries, went out of the
room.  Then his great chest heaved, and he sobbed aloud, lying
on his back with face unhidden, his wide black eyes blinking at
the sweet pale June sky.  No chance of death for him: he was good
for ten, twenty, fifty years more:  he could not bear it, but it
had to be borne.  He tried to pull himself up: if he could only
have reached the window!  But the arms that felt so strong were
as weak as an infant's, while the dead weight of his helpless
legs dragged on him like lead.  The only result of his struggle
was a dreadful access of pain.  Reaction followed, for he had
learnt in his A B C days not to whimper when he was hurt, and by
the time the nurse returned Clowes had scourged himself back to
his usual savage tranquillity.  "Can I have that window shut,
please?" he asked, cynically frank. "I used to play cricket
myself."

Laura Clowes in this period went through an experience almost
equally formative. Two years older than Bernard, she was also
more mature for her years and had developed more evenly, and from
the outset her engagement and marriage had meant more to her then
to Bernard, because her girlhood had been unhappy and they provided
a way of escape.  Her sister Yvonne had met Jack Bendish at a
race-meeting and he had fallen madly in love with her and married
her in a month in the teeth of opposition.  That was luck--heaven-sent
luck, for Yvonne on the night before her marriage had broken down
utterly and confessed that if Jack had not saved her she would have
gone off with the first man who asked her on any terms, because she
was twenty-nine and sick to death of wandering with her father on the
outskirts of society.  Subsequently Yvonne had after a hard fight won
a footing at Wharton for herself and her sister, and there Laura had
met Clowes, not such a social prize as Jack, but rich and able to
give his wife an assured position.  She was shrewd and realized that
in himself he had little to offer beyond a handsome and highly
trained physique and a mind that worked lucidly within the limits of
a narrow imagination but she was beyond all words grateful to him,
and he fascinated her more than she realized.

The ten days at Eastbourne opened her eyes.  Bernard enjoyed
every minute of them and was exceedingly pleased with himself
and proud of his wife, but for Laura they were a time of heavy
strain.  Innocent and shy, she had feared her husband, only to
discover that she loved him better than he was capable of loving
her.  Laura was not blind.  She understood Bernard and all his
limitations, the dangerous grip that his passions had of him,
his boyish impatience, his wild-bull courage, and his inability
to distinguish between a wife and a mistress: she was happiest
when he slept, always holding her in his arms, exacting even in
sleep, but so naively youthful in the bloom of his four and
twenty summers, and, for the moment, all her own.  She loved him
"because I am I--because you are you," and her tenderness was
edged with the profound pity that women felt in those days for
the men who came to them under the shadow of death.  It was her
hope that the strong half-developed nature would grow to meet her
need.  It grew swiftly enough: in the forcing-house of pain he
soon learned to think and to feel: but the change did not lead
him to his wife's heart.

Laura had married a man of a class and apparently normal to a
fault: she found herself united now to incarnate storm and
tempest.  The first time she saw him at Surbiton, he drove her
out in five minutes with curses and insult.  Why?  Laura,
wandering about half-stunned in the visitors' room, had no idea
why.  She stumbled against the furniture: she looked at the
photographs of Windermere and King's College Chapel and the
Nursing Staff on the walls: she took up Punch and began to read
it.  Laura was no dreamer, she had never doubted that her husband
would rather have the use of his legs again than all the feminine
devotion in the world, but she had hoped to soothe him, perhaps
for a little while to make him forget:  it had not crossed her
mind that her anguish of love and service would be rejected.
Enlightenment was like folding a sword to her breast.

By and by his nurse came down to her, a young hard-looking woman
with tired eyes.  She had little comfort to give, but what she
gave Laura never forgot, because it was the truth without any
conventional or sentimental gloss.  "You're having a bad time
with him, aren't you?" she said, coldly sympathetic.  "It won't
last.  Nothing lasts.  You mustn't think he's left off caring for
you.  I expect he was very fond of you, wasn't he?  That's the
trouble. Some men take invalid life nicely and let their wives
fuss over them to their hearts' content, but Major Clowes is one
of those tremendously strong masculine men that always want to be
top dog.  Besides, you're young and pretty, if you don't mind my
saying so, and you remind him of what he's done out of . . .
Twenty-four, isn't he?  Don't give way, Mrs. Clowes,  you've a
long road before you; these paralysis cases are a frightful
worry, almost as bad for the friends as they are for the patient;
but if you play up it'll get better instead of worse.  He'll get
used to it and so will you.  One gets used to anything."

Even so: time goes on and storms subside.  Bernard Clowes came
out of the hospital and he and his wife settled down on friendly
terms after all. "It's not what you bargained for when you
married me," said the cripple with his hard smile. "However, it's
no good crying over spilt milk, and you must console yourself
with the fact that there's still plenty of money going.  But I
wish we'd had a little more time together first." He pierced her
with his black eyes, restless and fiery.  "I dare say you would
have liked a boy.  So should I.  Nevermind, my girl, you shan't
miss much else."

Wanhope, the family property, was buried deep in Wiltshire, three
or four miles from a station.  Laura liked the country: Wanhope
let it be, then: and Wanhope it was, with the additional
advantage that Yvonne was at Castle Wharton within a stroll.
Laura liked a wide house and airy rooms, a wide garden, plenty of
land, privacy from her neighbours: all this Wanhope gave her, no
slight relief to a girl who had been brought up between Brighton
and Monte Carlo. The place was too big to be run without an
agent?  No drawback, the agent: on the contrary, Clowes looked
out for a fellow who would be useful to Laura, a gentleman, an
unmarried man, who would be available to ride with her or make a
fourth at bridge--and there by good luck was Val Stafford ready
to hand.  Born and reared in the country, though young and
untrained, Val brought to his job a wide casual knowledge of
local conditions and a natural head for business, and was only
too glad to squire Laura in the hunting field.  For Laura must
hunt: as Laura Selincourt she had hunted whenever she was offered
a mount, and she was to go on doing as she had always done.
Laura would rather not have hunted, for the freshness of her
youth was gone and the strain of her life left her permanently
tired, and she pleaded first expense, then propriety.  "Don't be
a damned fool," replied Bernard Clowes.  So Laura went riding
with Val Stafford.

"Come in," said Major Clowes in a rasping snarl, and Laura came
into her husband's room and stumbled over a chair.  The windows
were shuttered and the room was still dark at eleven o'clock of a
fine June morning.  Laura, irrepressibly annoyed, groped her way
through a disorder of furniture, which seemed, as furniture
always does in the dark, to be out of place and malevolently full
of corners, and without asking leave flung down a shutter and
flung up a window.  In a field across the river they were cutting
hay, and the dry summer smell of it breathed in, and with it the
long rolling whirr of a haymaking machine and its periodical
clash, most familiar of summer noises.  And the June daylight lit
up the gaunt body of Bernard Clowes stretched out on a water
mattress, his silk jacket unbuttoned over his strong, haggard
throat.  "Really, Berns," said Laura, flinging down a second
shutter, "I don't wonder you sleep badly.  The room is positively
stuffy!  I should have a racking headache if I slept in it."

"Well, you don't, you see," Bernard replied politely.  "Stop
pulling those blinds about.  Come over here." Laura came to him.
"Kiss me," said Clowes, and she laid her cool lips on his cheek.
Clowes received her kiss passively: even Laura,  though she
understood him pretty well, never was sure whether he made her
kiss him because he liked it or because he thought she did not
like it.

"Where are you off to now?" asked Clowes, pushing her away: "you
look very smart. I like that cotton dress.  It is cotton, isn't
it?" he rubbed the fabric gingerly between his finger and thumb.
"Did Catherine make it?  That girl is a jewel. I like that gipsy
hat too, it's a pretty shape and it shades your eyes.  I call
that sensible, which can't often be said for a woman's clothes.
You have good eyes, Laura, well worth shading, though your figure
is your trump card.  I like these fitting bodices that give a
woman a chance to show what shape she is.  All you Selincourt
women score in evening gowns.  Yvonne has a topping figure,
though she's an ugly little devil.  She has an American
complexion and her eyes aren't as good as yours.  Where did you
say you were going?"

"To the station to meet Lawrence. I promised to fetch him in the
car."

"Lawrence?  So he's due today, is he?  I'd forgotten all about
him.  And you're meeting him?  Oh yes, that explains the dress
and hat,  I thought you wouldn't have put them on for my
benefit."

"Dear, it's only one of the cotton frocks I wear every day, and I
couldn't go driving without a hat, could I?"

"Can't conceive why you want to go at all."  Laura was silent.
"If Lawrence must be met, why can't Miller go alone?" Miller was
the chauffeur.  "Undignified, I call it, the way you women run
after a man nowadays.  You think men like it but they don't."

Laura wondered if she dared tell him not to be silly.  He might
take it with a grin, in which case he would probably relent and
let her go: or--?  The field of alternative conjecture was wide.
In the end Laura, whose knee was still aching from her adventure
with the chair, decided to chance it.  But--perhaps because they
were suffused with irritation--the words had no sooner left her
lips than she regretted them.

"I won't have it." Bernard's heavy jaw was clenched like a
bloodhound's. "It's not decent running after Hyde while I'm tied
here by the leg. I won't have you set all the village talking.
There's the Times on my table.  Stop. Where are you going?"

"To ring the bell.  It's time Miller started. You don't want your
cousin to find no one there to meet him--not even a cart for his
luggage."

"He can walk.  Do him good: and Miller can fetch the luggage
afterwards.  You do as I tell you.  Take the Times.  Sit down in
that chair with your face to the light and read me the leading
articles and the rest of the news on Page 7. Don't gabble: read
distinctly if you can--you're supposed to be an educated woman,
aren't you?"

Poor Laura had been looking forward to her drive.  She had taken
some innocent pleasure in choosing the prettiest of her morning
dresses, a gingham that fell into soft folds the colour of a
periwinkle, and in rearranging the liberty scarf on her drooping
gipsy straw, and in putting on her long fringed gauntlets and
little country shoes.  Her husband's compliments made her wince,
Jack Bendish had eyes only for his wife, Val Stafford's
admiration was sweet but indiscriminate: but she remembered
Lawrence as a connoisseur.  And worse than the sting of her own
small disappointment were the breaking of her promise to
Lawrence, the failure in hospitality, in common courtesy.

And for the thousandth time Laura wondered whether it would not
have been better for Bernard, in the long run, to defy his
senseless tyranny.  He was at her mercy: it would have been easy
to defy him.  Easy, but how cruel!  A trained nurse would have
made short work of Bernard's whims, he would have been washed and
brushed and fed and exercised and disregarded--till he died
under it?   Perhaps.  It was safer at all events to let him go
his own way.  He could never hope to command his regiment now:
let him get what satisfaction he could out of commanding his
wife!  She would have preferred a form of sacrifice which looked
less like fear, but there was little sentiment in Bernard, and
love must not pick and choose.  For it was love still, the old
inexplicable fascination: in the middle of one of his tirades,
when he was at his most wayward, she would lose herself in the
contemplation of some small physical trait, the scar of a burn on
his wrist or the tiny trefoil-shaped birthmark on his temple, as
if that summed up for her the essence of his personality, and
were more truly Bernard Clowes then his intemperate insignificance
of speech. . . . Even when others suffered for it she yielded to
Bernard, because she loved him and because he suffered so infinitely
worse than they.

For denial maddened him.  He raised himself on his arm, crimson
with anger, his chest heaving under the thin silken jacket which
defined his gaunt ribs--"Sit down, will you, damn you?" Because
Laura believed that she and she only stood between  her husband
and despair, she yielded and began to read out the Times leader
in a voice that was perfectly gentle and placid.

Bernard sank back and watched her like a cat after a mouse.  He
was under no delusion: he knew she was not cowed or nervous, but
that the spring of her devotion was pity--pity ever fed anew by
his dreadful helplessness: and it was this knowledge that drove
him into brutality.  The instincts of possession and domination
were strong in him, and but for the accident that wrenched his
mind awry he would probably have made himself a king to Laura,
for, once her master, he would have grown more gentle and more
tender as the years went by, while Laura was one of those women
who find happiness in love and duty: not a weak woman, not a
coward, but a humble-minded woman with no great opinion of her
own judgment, who would have liked to look up to father, brother,
sister, husband, as better and wiser than herself. But in his
present avatar he could not master her: and Clowes, feeling as
she felt, seeing himself as she saw him, came sometimes as near
madness as any man out of an asylum.  He was not far off it now,
though he lay quiet enough, with not one grain of expression in
his cold black eyes.

The 11:39 pulled up at Countisford station, and Lawrence Hyde got
out of a first class smoking carriage and stood at ease, waiting
for his servant to come and look after him.  "There'll be a car
waiting from Wanhope, Gaston--"

"Zere no car 'ere, M'sieu--ze man say."

"What, no one to meet me?" Evidently no one: there were not half
a dozen people on the flower-bordered platform, and those few
were country folk with bundles and bags.  Lawrence strolled out
into the yard, hoping that his servant's incorrigibly lame
English might have led to a misunderstanding.  But there was no
vehicle of any kind, and the station master could not recommend a
cab.  Countisford was a small village, smaller even than
Chilmark, and owed the distinction of the railway solely to its
being in the flat country under the Plain.  "But you don't mean
to say," said Lawrence incredulous, "that I shall have to walk?"

But it seemed there was no help for it, unless he preferred to
sit in the station while a small boy on a bicycle was despatched
to Chilmark for the fly from the Prince of Wales's Feathers; and
in the end Lawrence went afoot, though his expression when faced
with four miles of dusty road would have moved pity in any heart
but that of his little valet.  Hyde was one of those men who
change their habits when they change their clothes.  He did not
care what happened to him when he was out of England, following
the Alaskan trail in eighty degrees of frost, or thrashing round
the Horn in a tramp steamer, but when he shaved off his beard,
and put on silk underclothing and the tweeds of Sackville Street,
he grew as lazy as any flaneur of the pavement.  Gaston however
was not sympathetic. He was always glad when anything unpleasant
happened to his master.

Leaving Gaston to sit on the luggage, Lawrence swung off with his
long even stride, flicking with his stick at the bachelor's
buttons in the hedge.  He could not miss his way, said the
station master: straight down the main road for a couple of
miles, then the first turning on the left and the first on the
left again.  Some half a mile out of Countisford however Lawrence
came on a signpost and with the traveller's instinct stopped to
read it:

              WINCANTON              8 M.
              CASTLE WHARTON         3 1/2 M.
              CHILMARK               3 M.

So ran the clear lettering on the southern arm.  Eastwards a much
more weatherbeaten arm, pointing crookedly up a stony cart track,
said in dim brown characters: "CHILMARK 2 M." Plainly a short cut
over the moor!  Better stones underfoot than padded dust: and
Lawrence struck uphill swiftly, glad to escape from the traffic
of the London road.  But he knew too much about short cuts to be
surprised when, after climbing five hundred feet in twice as many
yards--for the gradients off the Plain are steep--he found
himself adrift on the open moor, his track going five ways at
once in the light dry grass.

He halted, leaning on his stick.  He was on the edge of the
Plain: below him stretched away a great half-ring of cultivated
country, its saliencies the square tower of a church jutting over
a group of elms, or the glint of light on a stream, or pale
haystacks dotted round the disorderly yard of a grange--the
tillage and the quiet dwellings of close on a thousand years.
On all this Lawrence Hyde looked with the reflective smile of an
alien.  It touched him, but to revolt.  More than a child of the
soil he felt the charm of its tranquillity, but he felt it also
as an oppression, a limitation: an ordered littleness from which
world-interests were excluded.  He was a lover of art and a
cosmopolitan, and though the lowland landscape was itself a piece
of art, and perfect in its way, Hyde's mind found no home in it.
Yet, he reflected with his tolerant smile, he had fought for it,
and was ready any day to fight for it again--for stability and
tradition, the Game Laws, the Established Church, and the
rotation of crops.  He was the son of an English mother and had
received the training of an Englishman.  A rather cynical smile,
now and then, at the random and diffident ways of England was the
only freedom he allowed to the foreign strain within him.

And when he looked the other way even this faint feeling of
irritation passed off, blown away by the wind that always blows
across a moor, thin and sweet now, and sunlit as the light curled
clouds that it carried overhead through the profound June blue.
Acres upon acres of pale sward, sown all over with the blue of
scabious and the lemon-yellow of hawkweed, stretched away in
rolling undulations like the plain of the sea; dense woods hung
massed on the far horizon, beech-woods, sapphire blue beyond the
pale silver and amber, of the middle distance, and under them a
puff of white smoke from a passing train, or was it the white
scar of a quarry?  He could not be sure across so many miles of
sunlit air, but it must have been smoke, for it dissolved slowly
away till there was no gleam left under the brown hillside.  Here
too was stability, permanence: the wind ruffling the grass as it
had done when the Normans crossed their not far distant Channel,
or rattling over hilltops through leather-coated oak groves which
had kept their symmetry since their progenitors were planted by
the Druids.  Here was nothing to cramp the mind: here was the
England that has absorbed Celt, Saxon, Fleming, Norman,
generation after generation, each with its passing form of
political faith: the England of traditional eld, the beloved
country.

In the meanwhile Lawrence had to find Chilmark.  He had neither
map nor compass and was unfamiliar with the lie of the land, but,
mindful of the station master's directions to go south and turn
twice to the left, he shaped a course south-east and looked for a
shepherd to ask his way of.  At present there were no shepherds
to be seen and no houses; here and there a trail of smoke marked
some hidden hamlet, sunk deep in cup or cranny, but which was
Chilmark he could not tell.  Down went the track, plunging
towards a stream that brawled in a wild bottom: up over a rough
hillside ruby-red with willowherb: then down again to a pool
shaded by two willows and a silver birch, and lying so cool and
solitary in its own cloven nook, bounded in every direction by
half a furlong of chalky hillside, that Lawrence was seized with
a desire to strip and bathe, and sun himself dry on the brilliant
mossy lawn at its brink.  But out of regard for the Wanhope lunch
hour he walked on, following a trickle of water between reeds and
knotgrafis, till in the next winding of the glen he came on a
house: only a labourer's cot, two rooms below and one above, but
inhabited, for smoke was coming out of the chimney.  Lawrence
turned up a worn thread of path and knocked with his stick at the
open door.

It was answered by a tall young girl with a dirty face, wearing a
serge skirt pinned up under a dirty apron.  The house was dirty
too: the smell of an unwashed, unswept interior came out of it,
together with the wailing of a fretful baby.  "I've missed my
way on the moor," said Lawrence, inobtrusively holding his
handkerchief to his nose. "Can you direct me to Chilmark?"

"Do you mean Chilmark or Castle Wharton?  Oh Dorrie, don't cry!"
She lifted the babe on her arm and stood gazing at Lawrence in a
leisured and friendly manner, as if she wondered who he were. "It
isn't far, but it's a long rambling village and there are any
number of paths down.  And if you want the Bendishes--" Evidently
she thought he must want the Bendishes, and perhaps Lawrence's
judgment was a little bribed by her artless compliment, for at
this point he began to think her pretty in an undeveloped way:
certainly she had lovely eyes, dark blue under black lashes,
which reminded him of other eyes that he had seen long ago--but
when?  He could not remember those wistful eyes in any other
woman's face.

"I'm making for Wanhope--Major Clowe's house."

"Oh, but then you must be Captain Hyde," exclaimed Miss
Stafford:  "aren't you? that Mrs. Clowes was expecting."

"My name is Hyde.  No one met me at the station" in spite of
himself Lawrence could not keep his grievance out of his voice
"so, as there are no cabs at Countisford, I had to walk."

"Oh! dear, how sad: and on such a hot day too!  You'll be so
tired." Was this satire?  Pert little thing!  Lawrence was
faintly amused--not irritated, because she was certainly very
pretty: what a swan's throat she had under her holland blouse,
and what a smooth slope of neck!  But for all that she ought to
have sirred him.

"So you know Mrs. Clowes, do you?" He said with as much
politeness as a little girl deserves who has lovely eyes and a
dirty face.  It had crossed his mind that she might be one of the
servants at Wanhope: he knew next to nothing of the English
labouring classes, but was not without experience of lady's
maids.

"Yes, I know her," said Isabel.  She hung on the brink of
introducing herself--was not Captain Hyde coming to tea with her
that afternoon?--but was deterred by a very unusual feeling of
constraint.  She was not accustomed to be watched as Hyde was
watching her, and she felt shy and restless, though she knew not
why.  It never entered her head that he had taken her for Dorrie
Drury's sister.  She was dressed like a servant, but what of
that?  In Chilmark she would have remained "Miss Isabel" if she
had gone about in rags, and it would have wounded her bitterly to
learn that she owed the deference of the parish rather to her
rank as the vicar's daughter, who visited at Wanhope and Wharton,
than to any dignity of her own.  In all her young life no one had
ever taken a liberty with Isabel.  And, for that matter, why
should any one take a liberty with Dorrie Drury's sister?
Isabel's father would not have done so, nor her brothers, nor
indeed Jack Bendish, and she was too ignorant of other men to
know what it was that made her so hot under Hyde's eyes.  "But
you'll be late for lunch. Wait half a minute and I'll run up with
you to the top of the glen."

Lawrence watched her wrap her charge carefully in a shawl, and
fetch milk from the dresser, and coax till Dorrie turned her
small head, heavy with the cares of neglected babyhood, sideways
on the old plaid maud and began to suck.  Apparently he had
interrupted the scrubbing of the kitchen floor,  for the tiles
were wet three quarters of the way over, and on a dry oasis stood
a pail, a scrubbing brush, and a morsel of soap.  Among less
honourable odours he was glad to distinguish a good strong whiff
of carbolic.

Isabel meanwhile had recovered from her little fit of shyness.
She pulled off her apron and pulled down her skirt (it had been
kilted to the knee), rinsed her hands under a tap, wiped her face
with a wet handkerchief, and came out into the June sunshine
bareheaded, her long pigtail swinging between drilled and slender
shoulders.  "Yours are London boots," she remarked as she
buttoned her cuff.  "Do you mind going over the marsh?"

"Not at all."

"Not if you get your feet wet?" Lawrence laughed outright.  "But
it's a real marsh!" said Isabel offended: "and you're not used to
mud, are you?  You don't look as if you were." She pointed down
the glen, and Lawrence saw that some high spring, dammed at its
exit and turned back on itself, had filled the wide bottom with a
sponge of moss thickset with flowering rush and silken fluff of
cotton grass.  "There's no danger in summertime, the shepherds
often cross it and so do I.  Still if you're afraid--"

"I assure you I'm not afraid," said Lawrence, looking at her so
oddly that Isabel was not sure whether he was angry or amused.
Nor was Lawrence.  She had struck out of his male vanity a
resentment so crude that he was ashamed of it, ashamed or even
shocked?  He was not readily shocked.  A pure cynic, he let into
his mind, on an easy footing, primitive desires that the average
man admits only behind a screen.  Yet when these libertine
fancies played over Isabel's innocent head they were distasteful
to him:  as he remembered once, in a Barbizon studio, to have
knocked a man down for a Gallic jest on the Queen of Heaven
although Luke's Evangel meant no more to him than the legend of
Eros and Psyche.  But one can't knock oneself down--more's the
pity!

"Oh, all right," said Isabel impatiently.  He was watching her
again!  "But do look where you're going, this isn't Piccadilly.
You had better hold my hand."

Lawrence was six and thirty.  At eighteen he would have snatched
her up and carried her over: at thirty-six he said: "Thanks very
much," touched the tips of her fingers, let them fall. . . .
Unfortunately however he weighed more than Isabel or the
shepherds, and, half way across, the green floor quietly gave way
under him: first one foot immersed itself with a gentle splash
and then the other--"Oh dear" said Isabel, seized with a great
disposition to laugh. Lawrence was not amused.  His boots were
full of mud and water and he had an aching sense of injured
dignity.  The bog was not even dangerous: and ankle-deep,
calf-deep, knee-deep he waded through it and got out on the
opposite bank, bringing up a cloud of little marsh-bubbles on his
heels.  Isabel would have given all the money she had in the
world--about five shillings to go away and laugh, but she had
been well brought up and she remained grave, though she grew very
red.

"I am so sorry!" she faltered, looking up at Lawrence with her
beautiful sympathetic eyes (one must never say I told you so).
"I never thought you really would go in.  You must be very heavy!
Oh! dear, I'm afraid you've spoilt your trousers, and it was all
my fault.  Oh! dear, I hope you won't catch cold.  Do you catch
cold easily?"

"Oh no, thanks.  Do you mind showing me the way to Wanhope?"

Isabel without another word took the steep hillside at a run. In
her decalogue of manners to refuse an apology was an unpardonable
sin.  How differently Val would have behaved!  Val never lost his
temper over trifles, and if anything happened to make him look
ridiculous he was the first to laugh at himself.  At this time in
her life Isabel compared Val with all the other men she met and
much to his advantage.  She forgot that Lawrence was not her
brother and that no man cares to be made ridiculous before a
woman, or rather she never thought of herself as a woman at all.

She pointed east by south across the Plain.  "Do you see that
hawk hovering?  Carry your eye down to the patch of smoke right
under him, in the trees: those are the Wanhope chimneys.  If you
go straight over there till you strike the road, it will bring
you into Chilmark High Street.  Go on past Chapman the draper's
shop, turn sharp down a footpath opposite the Prince of Wales's
Feathers, cross the stream by a footbridge, and you'll be in the
grounds of Wanhope."

"Thank you," said Lawrence, "your directions are most precise."
He had one hand in his pocket feeling among his loose silver:
tips are more easily given than thanks, especially when one is
not feeling grateful, and he was accustomed to pay his way
through the world with the facile profusion of a rich man.  Still
he hesitated: if he had not the refined intuition that would have
made such a blunder impossible to Val Stafford, he had at all
events enough intelligence to hesitate.  There is a coinage that
is safer than silver, and Lawrence thought it might well pass
current (now that she had washed her face) with this fair
schoolgirl of sixteen, ruffled by sun and wind and unaware of her
beauty.  He would not confess to himself that the prospect of
Isabel's confusion pleased him.

He bent his head, smiling into Isabel's eyes. "You're a very kind
little girl.  May I--?"

"No," said Isabel.

The blood sprang to her cheek, but she did not budge, not by a
hair's breadth.  "I beg your pardon," said Lawrence, standing
erect. He had measured in that moment the extent of his error,
and he cursed, not for the first time, his want of perception,
which his ever-candid father had once called a streak of
vulgarity. Defrauded of the pleasure he had promised himself
from the contact of Isabel's smooth cheek, he grew suddenly very
tired of her.  Young girls with their trick of attaching
importance to trifles are a nuisance!

He forced a smile.  "I beg your pardon, I had no idea--  I see
you're ever so much older than I thought you were.  Some day I
shall find my way up here again and you must let me make my peace
with a box of chocolates." He raised his hat--he had not done so
when she opened the door--and swung off across the moor, leaving
the vicar's daughter to go back and scrub Mrs. Drury's floor as
it had never been scrubbed before in its life.  The honours of
the day lay with Isabel, but she was not proud of them, and her
face flamed for the rest of the morning.  "You're worse than
Major Clowes!" she said violently to the kitchen tap.



CHAPTER IV


"How do?" Bernard Clowes was saying an hour later.  "So good of
you to look us up."

Lawrence, coming down from his own room after brushing his muddy
clothes, met his cousin with a good humoured smile which covered
dismay.  Heavens, what a wreck of manhood!  And how chill it
struck indoors, and how dark, after the June sunshine on the
moor! Delicately he took the hand that Clowes held out to him--
but seized in a grip that made him wince.  Clowes gave his curt
"Ha ha!"

"I can still use my arms, Lawrence.  Don't be so timid, I shan't
break to pieces if I'm touched.  It's only these legs of mine
that won't work.  Awkward, isn't it?  But never mind that now,
it's an old story.  You had a mishap on the moor, the servants
tell me?  Ah! while I think of it, let me apologize for leaving
you to walk from the station.  Laura, my wife, you know, forgot
to send the car.  By the by, you know her, don't you?  She says
she met you once or twice before she married me."

Like most men who surrender to their temperaments, Lawrence was
as a rule well served by his intuitions.  Now and again they
failed him as with Isabel, but when his mind was alert it was a
sensitive medium.  He dropped with crossed knees into his chair
and glanced reflectively at Bernard Clowes, heu quantum
mutatus. . . . When the body was wrecked, was there not nine
times out of ten some corresponding mental warp?  Bernard's
fluent geniality struck him as too good to be true--it was not
in Bernard's line: and why translate a close friendship into
"meeting once or twice"? Was Bernard misled or mistaken, or was
he laying a trap?--Not misled: the Laura Selincourt of Hyde's
recollection was not one to stoop to petty shifts.

"'Once or twice?'"  Lawrence echoed: "Oh, much oftener than that!
Mrs. Clowes and I are old friends, at least I hoped we were.  She
can't be so ungracious as to have forgotten me?"

"She seems to have, doesn't she?"  Bernard with his inscrutable
smile let the question drop.  "Just touch that bell, will you,
there's a good fellow? So sorry to make you dance attendance--
Hallo, here she is!"

Laura had been waiting in the parlour, under orders not to enter
till the bell rang.  She had heard all, and wondered whether it
was innocence or subtlety that had walked in and out of Bernard's
trap.  She remembered Hyde was much like other fourth-year
University men except that he was not egotistical and not shy:
he had altered away from his class, but in what direction it was
difficult to tell: there was no deciphering the pleasant
blankness of his features or the conventional smile in his black
eyes.

"I haven't seen you for fourteen years," she said, giving him her
hand.  "Oh Lawrence, how old you make me feel!"

"Shall I swear you haven't changed?  It would be a poor
compliment."

"And one I couldn't return.  I shouldn't have known you, unless
it were by your likeness to Bernard."

"Am I like Bernard?" said Lawrence, startled.

"That's a good joke, isn't it?" said Clowes. "But my wife is
right.  If I were not paralysed, we should be a good bit alike."

Under the casual manner, it was in that moment that Hyde saw his
cousin for what he was: a rebel in agony.  There was a tragedy at
Wanhope then, Lucian Selincourt had not exaggerated.  Though
Lawrence was not naturally sympathetic, he felt an unpleasant
twinge of pity, much the same as when his dog was run over in the
street: a pain in the region of the heart, as well defined as
rheumatism.  In Sally's case, after convincing himself that she
would never get on her legs again, he had eased it by carrying
her to the nearest chemist's: the loving little thing had licked
his hand with her last breath, but when the brightness faded out
of her brown eyes, in his quality of Epicurean, Lawrence had not
let himself grieve over her.  Unluckily one could not pay a
chemist to put Bernard Clowes out of his pain!  "This is going to
be deuced uncomfortable," was the reflection that crossed his
mind in its naked selfishness.  "I wish I had never come near the
place. I'll get away as soon as I can."

Then he saw that Bernard was struggling to turn over on his side,
flapping about with his slow uncouth gestures like a bird with a
broken wing. "Let me--!" Laura's "No, Lawrence!" came too late.
Hyde had taken the cripple in his arms, lifting him like a child:
"You're light for your height," he said softly.  He was as strong
as Barry and as gentle as Val Stafford.  Laura had turned
perfectly white.  She fully expected Clowes to strike his cousin.
She could hardly believe her eyes when with a great gasp of
relief he flung his arm round Hyde's neck and lay back on Hyde's
shoulder.  "Thanks, that's damned comfortable--first easy moment
I've had since last night," he murmured: then, to Laura, "we must
persuade this fellow to stop on a bit.  You're not in a hurry to
get off, are you, Lawrence?"

"Not I. I'll stay as long as you and Laura care to keep me."

"I and Laura, hey?"

Bernard's flush faded: he slipped from Hyde's arm.

"H'm, yes, you're old friends, aren't you?  Met at Farringay?
I'd forgotten that." He shut his eyes.  "And Laura's dying to
renew the intimacy.  It's dull for her down here. Take him into
the garden,  Lally.  You'll excuse me now, Lawrence, I can't talk
long without getting fagged.  Wretched state of things, isn't it?
I'm a vile bad host but I can't help it.  At the present moment
for example I'm undergoing grinding torments and it doesn't amuse
me to make conversation, so you two can cut along and disport
yourselves in any way you like. Give Lawrence a drink, will you,
my love? . . . . Oh no, thanks, you've done a lot but you can't
do any more, no one can, I just have to grin and bear it. Laura,
would you mind ringing for Barry?   I'm not sure I shall show up
again before dinner-time.  It's no end good of you, old chap, to
come to such a beastly house. . ."

He pursued them with banal gratitude till they were out of
earshot, when Lawrence drew a deep breath as if to throw off
some physical oppression.  Under the weathered archway, down the
flagged steps and over the lawn. . . . How still it was, and how
sweet!  The milk-blooms in the spire of the acacia were beginning
to turn faintly brown, but its perfume still hung in the valley
air, mixed with the honey-heavy breath of a great white double
lime tree on the edge of the stream.  There were no dense woods
at Wanhope, the trees were set apart with an airy and graceful
effect, so that one could trace the course of their branches; and
between them were visible hayfields from which the hay had
recently been carried, and the headlands of the Plain--fair
sunny distances, the lowlands bloomed over with summer mist, the
uplands delicately clear like those blue landscapes that in early
Italian pictures lie behind the wheel of Saint Catherine or the
turrets of Saint Barbara.

"A sweet pretty place you have here. I was in China nine weeks
ago.  Everlasting mud huts and millet fields.  I must say there's
nothing  to beat an English June."

"Or a French June?" suggested Laura, her accent faintly sly.
"Lucian said he met you at Auteuil."

"Dear old Lucian!  He seemed very fit, but rather worried about
you, Laura--may I call you Laura?  We're cousins by marriage,
which constitutes a sort of tie.  Besides, you let me at
Farringay."

"Farringay. . . . What a long while ago it seems!  I can't keep
up any pretence of juvenility with you, can I?  We were the same
age then so we're both thirty-six now.  Isn't it strange to think
that half one's life is over?  Mine doesn't seem ever to have
begun.  But you wouldn't feel that: a man's life is so much
fuller than a woman's.  You've been half over the world while
Berns and I have been patiently cultivating our cabbage patch.
I envy you: it would be jolly to have one's mind stored full of
queer foreign adventures and foreign landscapes to think about in
odd moments, even if it were only millet fields."

"I've no ties, you see, nothing to keep me in England.  Come to
think of it, Bernard is my nearest male relative, since my father
died five years ago."

"I heard of that and wanted to write to you, but I wasn't sure of
your address"

"I was in Peru.  They cabled to me to come home when he was taken
ill, but I was up country and missed it.  The first news I had
was a second cable announcing his death.  It was unlucky."

"For both of you," said Laura gently, "if it meant that he was alone
when he died." Sincere herself, Mrs. Clowes exacted from her friends
either sincerity or silence, and her sweet half-melancholy smile
pierced through Hyde's conventional regrets. He was silent, a little
confused.

They were near the river now, and in the pale shadow of the lime
tree Laura sat down on a bench, while Hyde threw himself on a
patch of sunlit turf at her feet.  Most men of his age would have
looked clumsy in such an unbuttoned attitude, but Hyde was an
athlete still, and Laura, who was fond of sketching, admired his
vigorous grace.  She felt intimate with him already: she was not
shy nor was Lawrence, but this was an intimacy of sympathy that
went deeper than the mere trained ease of social intercourse: she
could be herself with him: she could say whatever she liked.
And, looking back on the old days which she had half forgotten,
Laura remembered that she had always felt the same freedom from
constraint in Hyde's company: she had found it pleasant fourteen
years ago, when she was young and had no reserves except a
natural delicacy of mind, and it was pleasant still, but strange,
after the isolating adventure of her marriage.  Perhaps she would
not now have felt it so strongly, if he had not been her
husband's cousin as well as her friend.

She sat with folded hands watching Lawrence with a vague, observant
smile.  Drilled to a stately ease and worn down to a lean hardihood
by his life of war and wandering, he was, like his cousin, a big,
handsome man, but distinguished by the singular combination of black
eyes and fair hair.  Was there a corresponding anomaly in his
temperament?  He looked as though he had lived through many
experiences and had come out of them fortified with philosophy--that
easy negative philosophy of a man of the world, for which death is
only the last incident in life and not the most important. Of
Bernard's hot passions there was not a sign.  Amiable?  Laura fancied
that so far as she was concerned she could count on a personal
amiability: he liked her, she was sure of that, his eyes softened
when he spoke to her.  But the ruck of people?  She doubted whether
Lawrence would have lost his appetite for lunch if they had all been
drowned.

The pleasant, selfish man of the world is a common type, but she
could not confine Lawrence to his type.  He basked in the sun:
with every nerve of his thinly-clad body he relinquished himself
to the contact of the warm grass: deliberately and consciously he
was savouring the honied air, the babble of running water, the
caress of the tiny green blades fresh against his cheek and hand,
the swell of earth that supported his broad, powerful limbs.
This sensuous acceptance of the physical joy of life pleased
Laura, born a Selincourt, bred in France, and temperamentally out
of touch with middle-class England.

Whether one could rely on him for any serviceable friendship
Laura was uncertain.  As a youth he had inclined to idealize
women, but she was suspicious of his later record.  Good or bad
it had left no mark on him.  Probably he had not much principle
where women were concerned.  Few of the men Laura had known in
early life had had any principles of any sort except a common
spirit of kindliness and fair play.  Her brother was always
drifting in and out of amatory entanglements--the hunter or the
hunted--and he was not much the worse for it so far as Laura
could see.  Perhaps Hyde was of the game stamp, in which case
there might well be no lines round his mouth, since lines are
drawn by conflict: or perhaps a wandering life had kept him out
of harm's way.  It made no great odds to Laura--she had not the
shrinking abhorrence which most women feel for that special form
of evil: it was on the same footing in her mind as other errors
to which male human nature is more prone than female, a little
worse than drunkenness but not so bad as cruelty.  From her own
life of serene married maidenhood such sins of the flesh seemed
as remote as murder.

The strong southern light broke in splinters on the dancing
water, and was mirrored in reflected ripplings, silver-pale,
tremulous, over the shadowy understems of grass and loosestrife
on the opposite bank.  "And I never gave you anything to drink
after all!" said Laura after a long, companionable silence.  "Why
didn't you remind me?"

"Because I didn't want it.  Don't you worry: I'll look after
myself. I always do.  I'm a charming guest, no trouble to any
one."

"At least have a cigarette while you're waiting for lunch!  I'm
sorry to have none to offer you."

"Don't you smoke now?  You did at Farringay."

"No, I've given it up. I never much cared for it, and Bernard
does so hate to see a woman smoking. He is very old-fashioned in
some ways."

"And do you always do as Bernard likes?" Lawrence asked with an
impertinence so airy that it left Laura no time to be offended.
"--It was a great shock to me to find him so helpless.  Is he
always like that?"

"He can never get about, if that's what you mean." It was not all
Hyde meant, but Laura had not the heart to repress him; she felt
that thrill of guilty joy which we all feel when some one says
for us what we are too magnanimous to say for ourselves.  "He
lies indoors all day smoking and reading quantities of novels."

"Fearfully sad.  Very galling to the temper.  But there are a lot
of modern mechanical appliances, aren't there, that ought to make
him fairly independent?"

"He won't touch any of them."

"Sick men have their whims.  But can't you drag him out into the
sun?  He ought not to lie in that mausoleum of a hall."

"He has never been in the garden in all our years at Wanhope."

Lawrence took off his straw hat to fan himself with.  It was not
only the heat of the day that oppressed him.  "Poor, wretched
Bernard!  But I dare say I should be equally mulish if I were in
his shoes.  By the by, was he really in pain just now?"

"Really in pain?" Laura echoed.  "Why--why should you say that?"
She no longer doubted Lawrence Hyde's subtlety.  "'He's
constantly in pain and he scarcely ever complains."

"Oh? I didn't know one suffered, with paralysis."

"He has racking neuritis in his shoulders and back."

"That's bad.  I'm afraid he can't be much up to entertaining
visitors.  Does he hate having me here?"

"No! oh no!  I know he sometimes seems a little odd," said poor
Laura, wishing her guest were less clear-sighted: and yet before
he came she had been hoping that Lawrence would divine the less
obvious aspects of the situation, and perhaps, since a man can do
more with a man like Bernard than any woman can, succeed in
easing it.  "But can you wonder?  Struck down like this at five
and twenty! and he never was keen on indoor interests--sport and
his profession were all he cared about.  Please, Lawrence, make
allowances for him--he had been looking forward so much to your
coming here!  A man's society always does him good, and you know
how few men there are in this country: we have only the vicar,
and the doctor, and Jack Bendish and people who stay at the
Castle.  And if you only realized how different he was with you
from what he is with most people, you would be flattered!  He
won't let any one touch him as a rule, except Barry,  whom he
treats like a machine.  But he was quite grateful to you--he
seemed to lean on you."

"Did he?"

She had made Lawrence feel uncomfortable again in the region of
the heart, but he was deliberately stifling pity, as five years
ago, in a Peruvian fonda, he had subdued his filial tenderness
and grief.  He was not callous: if he had had the earlier cable
he would have sailed for home without delay.  But since Andrew
Hyde was dead and would never know whether his son wept for him
or not, Lawrence set himself to repress not only tears but the
fount of human feeling that fed them.  He had dabbled enough in
psychology to know that natural emotions, if not indulged, may
only be driven down under the surface, there to work havoc among
the roots of nerve life.  Lawrence however had no nerves and no
fear of Nemesis, and no inclination to sacrifice himself for
Bernard, and he determined, if Wanhope continued to inspire these
oppressive sensations to send himself a telegram calling him
away.

He changed the subject.  "It's a long while since I've heard
stockdoves cooing.  And, yes, that's a nightingale.  Oh, you
jolly little beggar!" His face fell into boyish creases when he
smiled. "Do you remember the nightingales at Farringay?  Laura--
may I say it?--while rusticating in Arden you haven't forgotten
certain talents you used to possess.  The dress is delightful,
but where the masterhand appears is in the way it's worn.  That
carries me back to Auteull."

"Nonsense!" said Laura, changing her attitude, but not visibly
displeased.

"Oh I shan't say don't move"  Lawrence murmured.  "The slippers
also. . . . Are there many trout in this river, I wonder?  Hallo!
there's a big fellow rubbing along by that black stone!   Must
weigh a cool pound and a half. I suppose the angling rights go
with the property?"

"You can fish all day long if you like: the water is ours, both
sides of it, as far south as the mill above Wharton and a good
half-mile upstream.  The banks are kept clear on principle,
though none of us ever touch a line.  The Castle people come
over now and then: Jack Bendish is keen, and he says our sport
is better than theirs because they fish theirs down too much.
Val put some stock in this spring."

"Val?"

"You seem to fit in so naturally," Laura smiled, "that I forget
you've only just come.  Val is Bernard's agent, and I ought not
to have omitted him from our list of country neighbours, but he's
like one of the family.  Bernard wants you, to meet him because
he was near you in the war.  But I don't know that you'll have
much in common: Val was very junior to you, and he's not keen on
talking about it in any case.  So many men have that shrinking.
Have you, I wonder?"

"I'm afraid I don't take impressions easily. Didn't your friend
enjoy it?"

"He had no chance.  He had only six or seven weeks at the front;
he was barely nineteen, poor boy, when he was invalided out.
That was why Bernard offered him the agency--he was delighted to
lend a helping hand to one of his old brother officers."

"Wounded?"

"Yes, he had his right arm smashed by a revolver bullet.  Then
rheumatic fever set in, and the trouble went to the heart, and he
was very ill for a long time.  I don't suppose he ever has been
so strong as he was before.  What made it so sad was the splendid
way he had just distinguished himself," Laura continued.  She
gave a little sketch of the rescue of Dale, far more vivid than
Val had ever given to his family.  "Perhaps you can imagine what
a fuss Chilmark made over its solitary hero!  We're still proud
of him.  Val is always in request at local shows: he appears on
the platform looking very shy and bored.  Poor boy!  I believe he
sometimes wishes he had never won that embarrassing decoration."

"What's his name?"

"Val Stafford.  Why--do you remember him?"

"Er--yes, I do," said Lawrence.  He took out his cigar case and
turned from Laura to light a cigar.  "I knew a lot of the
Dorchesters. . . Amiable-looking, fair boy, wasn't he?"

"Middle height, and rather sunburnt.  But that description fits
such dozens!  However, I'm taking you up to tea there this
afternoon, if the prospect doesn't bore you, so you'll be able to
judge for yourself.  He has a young sister who threatens to be
very pretty.  Are you still interested in pretty girls, M. le
capitaine?"

"Immensely." Hyde lay back on one arm, smoking rather fast. "I
see no immediate prospect of my being bored, thanks.  Rather fun
running into Stafford again after all these years! I shall love a
chat over old times."  He raised his black eyes, and Laura
started.  Was it her fancy, or a trick of the sunlight, that
conjured up in them that sparkle of smiling cruelty, gone before
she could fix it?  "You say he doesn't care to talk about his
military exploits?  He always was a modest youth, I should love
to see him on a recruiting platform.  Wait till I get him to
myself, he won't be shy with me.  Did you tell him I was coming?"

"I told his sister Isabel, who probably told him. I haven't seen
him since, he hasn't happened to come in; I suppose the hay
harvest has kept him extra busy--Dear me! why, there he is!"

In the field across the stream a young man on horseback had come
into view.  Catching sight of Laura he slipped across a low
boundary wall, his brown mare, a thoroughbred, changing her feet
in a ladylike way on the worn stones, and trotted down to the
riverbank, raising his cap.

"Coming in to lunch, Val?" Laura called across the water.

"Thank you very much, I'm afraid I shan't have time."

"But you haven't been in since Sunday!"  Laura's accent was
reproachful.  "Why are you forsaking us?  We need you more than
the farm does!"

Val's pleasant laugh was the avoidance of an answer.  "So sorry!
But I can't come in now, Laura: I have to go over to Countisford
to talk to Bishop about the new tractor, and I want to get back
by teatime.  Isabel tells me you're bringing Captain Hyde up to
see us." He raised his cap again, smiling directly at Lawrence,
who returned the salute with such gay good humour that Laura was
able to dismiss that first fleeting impression from her mind.
So this was Val Stafford, was it?  And a very personable fellow
too! Hyde had not foreseen that ten years would work as great a
change in Val as in himself, or greater.

"I was going to call on you in due form, sir, but my young
sister hasn't left me the chance.  You haven't forgotten me, have
you?"

"No, I remember you most distinctly.  Delighted to meet you
again."

"Thank you.  The pleasure is mutual.  Now I must push on or I
shall be late."

"He can use his arm, then," said Lawrence, as Val rode away,
jumping his mare over a fence into the road.  "Shaves himself and
all that, I suppose?  He rides well."

"A great deal too well! and rides to hounds too, but he ought not
to do it, and I'm always scolding him.  He can't straighten his
right arm, and has very little power in it.  He was badly thrown
last winter, but directly he got up he was out again on Kitty."

"Living up to his reputation." Lawrence flicked the ash from his
cigar.  "I should have known him anywhere by his eyes."

"He has kept very young, hasn't he?  An uneventful life without
much anxiety does keep people young," philosophized Laura.  "I
feel like a mother to him.  But you'll see more of him this
afternoon."

"So I shall," said Lawrence, "if he isn't detained at
Countisford."



CHAPTER V


The reason why Lawrence found Isabel scrubbing Mrs. Drury's
floor was that Dorrie's pretty, sluttish little mother had been
whisked off to the Cottage Hospital with appendicitis an hour
earlier.  She was in great distress about Dorrie when Isabel,
coming in with the parish magazine, offered to stay while Drury
went to fetch an aunt from Winterbourne Stoke.  When Drury drove
up in a borrowed farm cart, Isabel without expecting or receiving
many thanks dragged her bicycle to the top of the glen and pelted
off across the moor.  Her Sunbeam was worn and old, so old that
it had a fixed wheel, but what was that to Isabel?  She put her
feet up and rattled down the hill, first on the turf and then on
the road, in a happy reliance on her one serviceable brake.

Her father was locked in his study writing a sermon: Isabel
however tumbled in by the window.  She sidled up to Mr. Stafford,
sat on his knee, and wound one arm round his neck.  "Jim
darling," she murmured in his ear, "have you any money?"

"Isabel," said Mr. Stafford, "how often have I told you that I
will  not be interrupted in the middle of my morning's work?  You
come in like a whirlwind, with holes in your stockings--"

Isabel giggled suddenly.  "Never mind, darling, I'll help you
with your sermon.  Whereabouts are you?  Oh!--'I need not tell
you, my friends, the story we all know so well'--Jim, that's
what my tutor calls 'Redundancy and repetition.' You know quite
well you're going to tell us every word of it.  Darling take its
little pen and cross it out--so--with its own nasty little
cross-nibbed J--"

"What do you mean by saying you want money,"  Mr. Stafford
hurriedly changed the subject, "and how much do you want?  The
butcher's bill came to half a sovereign this week, and I must
keep five shillings to take to old Hewitt--"

"I want pounds and pounds."

"My dear!" said Mr. Stafford aghast.  He took off his spectacles
to polish them, and then as he put them on again, "If it's for
that Appleton boy I really can't allow it.  There's nothing
whatever wrong with him but laziness"

"It isn't for Appleton.  It's for me myself."  Isabel sat up
straight, a little flushed.  "I'm growing up.  Isn't it a
nuisance? I want a new dress!  I did think I could carry on till
the winter, but I can't.  Could you let me have enough to buy one
ready-made?  Chapman's have one in their window that would fit me
pretty well.  It's rather dear, but somehow when I make my own
they never come right.  And Rowsley says I look like a scarecrow,
and even Val's been telling me to put my hair up!"

"Put your hair up, my child?  Why, how old are you? I don't like
little girls to be in a hurry to turn into big ones"

"I'm not a little girl," said Isabel shortly.  "I'm nineteen."

"Nineteen? no, surely not!"

"Twenty next December."

"Dear me!" said Mr. Stafford, quite overcome. "How time flies!"
He set her down from his knee and went to his cash box.  "If Val
tells you to put your hair up, no doubt you had better do it." He
paused.  "I don't know whether Val said you ought to have a new
frock, though?  I can't bear spending money on fripperies when
even in our own parish so many people--" Some glimmering
perception reached him of the repressed anguish in Isabel's eyes.
"But of course you must have what you need.  How much is it?"

"1. 11. 6."

"Oh, my dear!  That seems a great deal."

"It isn't really much for a best dress," said poor Isabel.

"But you mustn't be extravagant, darling," said Mr. Stafford
tenderly.  "I see other girls running about in little cotton
dresses or bits of muslin or what not that look very nice--much
nicer on a young girl than 'silksand fine array.' Last time
Yvonne came to tea she wore a little frock as simple as a
child's"

"She did," said Isabel.  "She picked it up in a French sale.  It
was very cheap--only 275 francs."

"Eleven pounds!" Mr. Stafford held up his hands.  "My dear, are
you sure?"

"Quite," said Isabel. Mr. Stafford sighed. "I must speak to
Yvonne.  'How hardly shall they...'"  He took a note out of his
cash box. "Can't you make that do--?" he was beginning when a
qualm of compunction came upon him.  After all it was a long time
since he had given Isabel any money for herself, and there must
be many little odds and ends about a young girl's clothing that
an elderly man wouldn't understand.  He took out a second note
and pressed them both hurriedly into Isabel's palm.  "There! now
run off and don't ask me for another penny for the next
twelvemonth!" he exclaimed, beaming over his generosity though
more than half ashamed of it.  "You extravagant puss, you! dear,
dear, who'd have a daughter?"

Isabel gave him a rather hasty though warm embrace (she was
terribly afraid that his conscience would prick him and that he
would take the second note away again), and flew out of the
window faster than she had come in.  The clock was striking a
quarter past one, and she had to scamper down to Chapman's to buy
the dress, and a length of lilac ribbon for a sash, and a packet
of bronze hairpins, and be back in time to lay the cloth for two
o'clock lunch.  If it is only for idle hands that Satan finds
mischief, he could not have had much satisfaction out of Isabel
Stafford.

Soon after four Mrs. Clowes stepped from her car, shook out her
soft flounces, and led the way across the lawn, Lawrence Hyde in
attendance.  The vicarage was an old-fashioned house too large
for the living, its long front, dotted with rosebushes, rising up
honey-coloured against the clear green of a beech grove.  There
are grand houses that one sees at once will never be comfortable,
and there are unpretentious houses that promise to be cool in
summer and warm in winter and restful all the year round: of such
was Chilmark vicarage, sunning itself in the afternoon clearness,
while faded green sunblinds filled the interior with verdant
shadow, and the smell of sweetbrier and Japanese honeysuckle
breathed round the rough-cast walls.

Isabel had laid tea on the lawn, and Mrs. Clowes smiled to herself
when she saw seven worn deck chairs drawn up round the table; she was
always secretly amused at Isabel in her character of hostess, at the
naive natural confidence with which the young lady scattered
invitations and dispensed hospitality.  But when Isabel came forward
Laura's covert smile passed into irrepressible surprise.  She raised
her eyebrows at Isabel, who replied by an almost imperceptible but
triumphant nod.  In her white and mauve embroidered muslin, her dark
hair accurately parted at the side of her head and drawn back into
what she called a soup plate of plaits, Isabel no longer threatened
to be pretty.  Impelled by that singularly pure benevolence which a
woman who has ceased to hope for happiness feels for the eager
innocence of youth, Laura drew her close and kissed her.  "My sweet,
I'm so glad," she whispered. A bright blush was Isabel's only answer.
Then Mrs. Clowes stepped back and indicated her cavalier, very big
and handsome in white clothes and a Panama hat: "May I introduce--
Captain Hyde, Miss Stafford," with a delicate formality which
thrilled Isabel to her finger-tips.  Let him see if he would call her
a little girl now!

Lawrence recognized Isabel at a glance, but he was not abashed.
He scarcely gave her a second thought till he had satisfied
himself that Val Stafford was not present.  Lawrence smiled, not
at all surprised: he had had a presentiment that Val, the modest
easy-going Val of his recollections, would be detained at
Countisford: too modest by half, if he was shy of meeting an old
friend!  Rowsley Stafford was doing the honours and came forward
to be introduced to Lawrence, a ceremony remarkable only because
they both took an instantaneous dislike to each other.  Lawrence
disliked Rowsley because he was young and well-meaning and the
child of a parsonage, and Rowsley disliked Lawrence because a
manner which owed some of its serenity to his physical advantages,
and his tailor, and his income, irritated the susceptibilities of
the poor man's son.

Poor men's sons were often annoyed by Lawrence Hyde's manner.
Not so Jack Bendish, sprawling in a deck chair which had no
sound pair of notches: not so his wife, Laura's sister, Yvonne of
the Castle, curled up on a moth-eaten tigerskin rug, and clad in
raiment of brown and silver which even Mr. Stafford would not
have credited to Chapman's General Drapery and Grocery Stores.
Isabel was innocently surprised when the Bendishes found they had
met Captain Hyde in town.  Laura's smile was very faintly tinged
with bitterness: she knew of that small world where every one
meets every one, though she had been barred out of it most of her
life, first by her disreputable father and then by the tragedy of
her marriage: Rowsley pulled his tooth-brush moustache and said
nothing.  He was young, but not so young as Isabel, and there
were moments when he felt his own footing at the Castle to be
vaguely anomalous.

However, the talk ran easily.  Lawrence, as was inevitable, sat
down by Yvonne Bendish: she did not raise an eyelash to summon
him, but it seemed to be a natural law that the rich unmarried
man should sit beside her and talk cosmopolitan scandal, and show
a discreet appreciation of her clothing and her eyes.  Meanwhile
the other four conversed with much greater simplicity upon such
homely subjects as the coming school treat and the way Isabel had
done her hair, Rowsley's regimental doings, and a recent turn-up
between Jack Bendish as deputy M. F. H. and Mr. Morley the Jew.

Bernard Clowes had described Mrs. Jack Bendish as a plain little
devil, but as a rule the devilry was more conspicuous than the
plainness.  She was a tall and extremely slight woman, her
features insignificant and her complexion sallow, but her figure
indecorously beautiful under its close French draperies.  And yet
if she had let Lawrence alone he would have gone over to the
other camp. How they laughed, three out of the four of them, and
what marvellous good tea they put away!  The little Stafford girl
had a particularly infectious laugh, a real child's giggle which
doubled her up in her chair.  Lawrence had no desire to join in
the school treat and barnyard conversation, but he would have
liked to sit and listen.

"If no one will have any more tea," said Isabel, jumping up and
shaking the crumbs out of her lap, "will you all come and eat
strawberries?"

"Isn't Val coming in?" asked Laura.

"Not till after five.  He said we weren't to wait for him: he was
delayed in getting off.  He sent his love to you, Laura, and he
was very sorry."

"His love!" said Yvonne Bendish.

"My dear Isabel, I'm sure he didn't," said Laura laughing.

"Kind regards then," said Isabel: "not that it signifies, because
we all do love you, darling.  Val's always telling me that if I
want to be a lady when I grow up I must model my manners on yours.
Not yours, Yvonne."

"After that the least I can do is to wait and give him his tea
when he does appear," said Laura. "It's very hot among the
strawberry beds, and I'm a little tired: and I haven't seen Val
for days."

"No more have I," said Yvonne in her odd drawl, "and I'm tired
too."  Mrs. Jack Bendish was made of whipcord: she had been
brought up to ride Irish horses over Irish fences and to dance all
night, after tramping the moors all day with a gun.  "I'll stay with
you and rest.  Jack, you run on.  Bring me some big ones in a cabbage
leaf.  And, Captain Hyde, you'll find them excellent with bread and
butter." By which Lawrence perceived that his interest in the other
camp had not gone unobserved, and that was the worst of Yvonne:
but--and that was the best of Yvonne: there was no tinge of spite in
her jeering eyes.

So the sisters remained on the lawn, and Jack Bendish, a
perfectly simple young man, walked off with Rowsley to pick a
cabbage leaf.  Isabel was demureness itself as she followed with
Captain Hyde. The embroidered muslin gave her courage, more
courage perhaps than if she could have heard his frank opinion of
it.  "The trailing skirt of the young girl," said Miss Stafford
to herself, "made a gentle frou-frou as she swept over the velvet
lawn." A quoi revent les junes filles?  Very innocent was the
vanity of Isabel's dreams.  She was not strictly pretty, but she
was young and fresh, and the spotless muslin fell in graceful
folds round her tall, lissome figure.  To the jaded man of the
world at her side . . . .  Alas for Isabel!  The jaded man of
the world was a trifle bored: he was easily bored.  He liked
listening to Miss Stafford's artless merriment but he had no
desire to share in it; what had he to say to a promoted
schoolgirl in her Sunday best?

He began politely making conversation.  "What a pretty place this
is!" It seemed wiser not to refer even by way of apology to the
indiscretion of the morning.  "You have a beautiful view over the
Plain.  Rather dreary in winter though, isn't it?"

"I like it best then," said Isabel briefly.  "Don't you want any
strawberries?" She indicated the netted furrows among which
little could be seen of Rowsley and Jack Bendish except their
stern ends.

"No, thanks, I had too much tea." Isabel checked herself on the
brink of reminding him that he had eaten only two cucumber
sandwiches and a macaroon.  In Lawrence Hyde's society her
conversation had not its usual happy flow, she felt tonguetied
and missish.  "How close you are to the Downs here!" They were
following a flagged path between espalier pear trees, and beds of
broccoli and carrots and onions, and borders full of old standard
roses and lavender and sweet herbs and tall lilies; at the end
appeared a wishing gate in a low stone wall, and beyond it,
pathless and sunshiny, the southern stretches of the Plain.  "Are
you a great gardener, Miss Isabel?"

"Some," said Isabel. "I look after my pet vegetables.  The
flowers have to look after themselves.  My father has eruptions
of industry."  She overflowed into a little laugh.  "We don't
encourage him in it.  He had a bad attack of weeding last spring,
and pulled up all my little salads by mistake."  Now that small
tale, she reflected, would have tickled Jack Bendish, but Captain
Hyde, though he smiled at it dutifully, did not seem to be
amused.

"Oh bother you!" Isabel apostrophised him mentally.  "You're not
the grandson of a duke anyhow. I expect you would be nicer if you
were."

She folded her arms on the gate and gazed across the Plain.  The
village below was not far off, but they could see nothing of it,
buried as it was in the river-valley and behind a green arras of
beech leaves: in every other direction, far as the eye could see,
leagues of feathery pale grass besprinkled with blue and yellow
flowers went away in ribbed undulations, occasionally rolling up
into a crest on which a company of fir trees hung like men on
march.  The sun was pale and smudged, the sky veiled: on its
silken pallor floated, here and there, a blot of dark low cloud,
and the clear distances presaged rain.

"May I--?" Lawrence took out his cigarettes. Isabel gave a
grudging assent.  She could not understand how any one could be
willing to taint the sweet summering air that had blown over so
many leagues of grass and flowers.  "Dare I offer you one?"
Lawrence asked, tendering his case.  It was of gold, and bore his
monogram in diamonds. Isabel eyed it scornfully.  Jack Bendish's
was only silver and much scratched and dinted into the bargain.
Now Jack Bendish was the grandson of a duke.

"'No thank you," said Miss Stafford.  "I detest smoking."

 To this Lawrence made no reply at all, no doubt, thought Isabel,
because he did not consider it worth one.  She was proportionally
surprised and a trifle flattered when he replaced the cigarette
to which he had just helped himself. "'The young girl had not
realized her own power.  She was only just coming into her
woman's kingdom.  Her heart beat faster and a vermilion blush
dyed her pale cheek."' Isabel's favourite authors were Stevenson
and Mr. Kipling, but her mental rubric insisted on clothing itself
in the softer style of Molly Bawn.

"I don't detest other people's smoking," she explained in a
rather penitent tone.

"Let's get out on the downs," said Lawrence.  He swung the gate
to and fro for her, then took off his hat and strolled slowly by
her side through the rustling grass.  "Really," he said, more to
himself than to her, "there are places in England that are very
well worth while."

"Worth while what?"

"Er--worth coming to see.  I suppose there isn't much shooting
to be had except rabbits." He swung an imaginary gun to his
shoulder and sighted it at a quarry which seemed to Isabel to be
equally imaginary.  "See him?  Under that heap of stones left of
the beech ring." Isabel's vision was both keen and practised, but
she saw nothing till the rabbit showed his white scut in a
flickering leap to earth.

"You have jolly good eyes," she conceded, still rather
grudgingly.

"So have bunnies, unluckily.  Major Clowes tells me there's
pretty good shooting over Wanhope. I suppose your brother looks
after it, for of course Clowes can do nothing.  It was a great
stroke of luck for my cousin, getting hold of a fellow like Val."

"I don't know about that.  It was a great stroke of luck for
Val."

"I want so much to meet him.  I'm disappointed at missing him this
afternoon. I remember him perfectly in the army, though he was
only a boy then and I wasn't much more myself.  He must be close
on thirty now.  But when I met him this morning it struck me he
hadn't altered much."  Isabel, looking up eager-eyed, felt
faintly and mysteriously chilled.  Was there a point of cruelty
in Hyde's smile? as there was now and then in his cousin's: she
had seen Bernard Clowes watching his wife with the same secret
glow.

"Val is old for his age," she said.  "He always seems much older
than my other brother, although there are only two or three years
between them."

"Probably his spell in the army aged him.  It must have been a
formative experience."

This time Isabel had no doubt about it, there was certainly a
touch of cruel irony in Hyde's soft voice.  Her breath came fast.
"Why do you say that": she cried--"say it like that?"

The smile faded: Lawrence turned, startled out of his self-possession.
"Like what?"

"As if you we're sneering at Val!"

"I?--  My dear Miss Isabel, aren't you a little fanciful?"

Isabel supposed so too, on second thoughts: how could any man
sneer at a record like Val's: unless indeed it were with that
peculiarly graceless sneer which springs from jealousy?  And,
little as she liked Captain Hyde, she could not think him weak
enough for that. She blushed again, this time without any rubric,
and hung her head.  "I'm sorry! But you did say it as if you
didn't mean it.  Perhaps you think we make too much fuss over
Val?  But in these sleepy country villages exciting things don't
happen every day.  I dare say you've had scores of adventures
since that time you met Val.  But Chilmark hasn't had any.  That
makes us remember."

"My dear child," said Lawrence with an earnest gentleness foreign
to his ordinary manner, "you misunderstood me altogether.  I
liked your brother very much.  Remember, I was there when he won
his decoration--" He broke off.  An intensely visual memory had
flashed over him.  Now he knew of whom Isabel had reminded him
that morning:  she had her brother's eyes.

"At the very time?  Were you really?  Do, do, do tell me about
it!  Major Clowes never will--he pretends he can't remember."

"Has Val never told you?"

"Hardly any more than was in the official account--that he was
left between the lines after one of our raids, and went back in
spite of his wound to bring in Mr. Dale.  He had to wait till
after dark?"  Lawrence nodded.. "And 'under particularly trying
conditions.' Why was that?"

"Because Dale was so close to the German lines. He was entangled
in their wire."

Isabel shuddered.  "It seems so long ago.  One can't understand
why such cruelties were ever allowed.  Of course they will never
be again." This naive voice of the younger generation made
Lawrence smile.  "And Val had to cut their wire?"

"To peel it off Dale, or peel Dale off it--what was left of him.
He didn't live more than twenty minutes after he was brought in."

"Did you know Dale?"

"Not well: he was in my cousin's company, not in mine."

"And was Val under fire at the time?"

"Under heavy fire.  The Boches were sending up starshells that
made the place as light as day."

"I can't understand how Val could do it with his broken arm."

"His arm wasn't broken when he cut their wires."

"Oh!  When was it then?"

Hyde flicked with his stick at the airy heads of grass that rose
up thin-sown out of a burnished carpet of lady's slipper.  His
manner was even but his face was dark.  "He had it splintered by
a revolver--shot on his way home, near our lines."

"Oh!  But the Army doctors said the shot must have been fired at
close quarters?"

"There, you see I'm not much of an authority,  am I?  No doubt,
if they said so, they were right.  The fact is I was knocked out
myself that afternoon with a rifle bullet in the ribs.  It was a
hot corner for the Wintons and Dorsets."

"Were you?  I'm sorry." Isabel ran her eyes with a touch of
whimsical solicitude over Hyde's tall easy figure and the
exquisite keeping of his white clothes.  Difficult to connect him
with the bloody disarray of war!  "Were you too left lying
between the lines?"

"With a good many others, English and German.

"There was a fellow near me that hadn't a scratch.  He was
frightened--mad with fear: he lay up in the long grass and wept
most of the day.  I never hated any one so much in my life.  I
could have shot him with pleasure."

"German, of course?"

Hyde smiled.  "German, of course."

"If he had been English he would have deserved to be shot," said
Isabel briefly: then, reverting to a subject in which she was far
more deeply interested, "Rowsley--my second brother--said I
wasn't to cross-examine you: but it was a great temptation,
because one never can get anything out of Val.  And after all
we've the right to be proud of him!  Even then, when every one
was so brave, you would say, wouldn't you, that Val earned his
distinction? It really was what the Gazette called it, 'conspicuous
gallantry'?"

"It was a daring piece of work," said Lawrence, reddening to his
hair.  He fought down a sensation so unfamiliar that he could
scarcely put a name to it, and forced himself on: "We were all proud
of him and we none of us forget it.  Don't tell him I said so,
though.  It isn't etiquette.  You won't think I'm trying to minimize
what Val did, will you, if I say that we who were through the
fighting saw so many horrible and ghastly things . . ."  Again his
voice failed.  He was aware of Isabel's bewilderment, but he was
seeing more ghosts than he had seen in all the intervening years of
peace, and they came between him and the sunlit landscape and
Isabel's young eyes.  War! always war! human bodies torn to rags in a
moment, and the flowers of the field wet with a darker moisture than
rain: the very smell of the trenches was in his nostrils, their odour
of blood and decay.  What in heaven's name had brought it all back,
and, stranger still, what had moved him to speak of it and to betray
feelings whose very existence was unknown to him and which he had
never betrayed before?

The silence was brief though to Lawrence it seemed endless.  He
drove the ghosts back to quarters and finished quietly: "Well, we
won't talk about that, it's not a pleasant subject.  Only give
Val my love and tell him if he doesn't look me up soon I shall
come and call on him.  We're much too old friends to stand on
ceremony."

"All right, I will," said Isabel.

There was a shrub of juniper close by, and she felt under its
sharp branches.  "Do you like honeysuckle?" She held up a fresh
sprig fragrant with its pale horns, which she had tracked to
covert by its scent.  Lawrence was not given to wearing
buttonholes, but he understood the friendly and apologetic
intention and inclined his broad shoulder for Miss Stafford to
pass the stem through the lapel of his coat.  Isabel had not
intended to pin it in for  him, but she was generally willing to
do what was expected of her.  She took a pin from her own dress
(there were plenty in it), and fastened the flower deftly on the
breast of Captain Hyde's white jacket.

And so standing before him, her head bent over her task, she
unwittingly left Lawrence free to observe the texture of her
skin, bloomed over with down like a peach, and the curves of her
young shoulders, a little inclined to stoop, as young backs often
are in the strain of growth, but so firm, so fresh, so white
under the thin stuff of her bodice:  below her silken plaits, on
the nape of her neck, a curl or two of hair grew in close rings,
so fine that it was almost indistinguishable from its own shadow.
Swiftly, without warning, Lawrence was aware of a pleasurable
commotion in his veins, a thrill that shook through him like a
burst of gay music.  This experience was not novel, he had felt
it three or four times before in his life, and on the spot, while
it was sending gentle electric currents to his finger-tips, he
was able to analyse its origin--item, to warm weather and
laziness after the strain of his Chinese journey, so much: item,
to Isabel's promise of beauty, so much: item, to the disparity
between her age and his own, to her ignorance and immaturity, the
bloom on the untouched fruit, so much more.  But there was this
difference between the present and previous occasions when he had
fallen or thought of falling in love, that he desired no victory:
no, it was he and not Isabel who was to capitulate, leaning his
forehead upon her young hand. . . . And he had never seen her
till that morning, and the child was nineteen, the daughter of a
country vicarage, brought up to wear calico and to say her
prayers!  more, she was Val Stafford's sister, and she loved her
brother.  Lawrence gave himself a gentle shake.  At six and
thirty it is time to put away childish things. "Thank you very
much.  Is that Mrs. Clowes calling us?"

It was Laura Clowes and Yvonne Bendish, and Lawrence, as he
strolled back with Isabel to the garden gate, had an uneasy
suspicion that the episode of the honeysuckle had been overseen.
Laura was graver than usual, while Yvonne had a sardonic spark in
her eye.  "I'm afraid it's no use waiting any longer, Isabel,"
said Laura.

"What do you think, Lawrence?  It's after six o'clock."

"Hasn't Val come?" said Isabel.

"No, he must have been kept at Countisford.  It's a long ride for
him on such a hot day.  Perhaps Mrs. Bishop made him stay to
tea."

"As if he would stay with any old Mrs. Bishop when he knew you were
coming here!" said Isabel scornfully.  "Poor old Val, I shan't tell
him how you misjudged him, he'd be so hurt.  But I'll send him down,
shall I, to see you and Captain Hyde after supper?--Tired?  Oh no,
he's never too tired to go to Wanhope."

She kissed Laura, gave Lawrence her sweetest friendly smile, and
returned to the lawn, where Yvonne had apparently taken root upon
her tigerskin.  Isabel heard Rowsley say, "Make her shut up,
Jack," but before she could ask why Yvonne was to be shut up the
daughter of Lilith had opened fire on the daughter of Eve.  "And
what did you think of Lawrence Hyde?" Mrs. Bendish asked,
stretching herself out like a snake and examining Isabel out of
her pale eyes, much the colour of an unripe gooseberry.  "Was he
very attractive?  Oh Isabel! oh Isabel!  I should not have
thought this of one so young."

Isabel considered the point. "I can't understand him," she said
honestly. "I liked parts of him.  He isn't so--so homogeneous as
most people are.

"Did he ask you for the honeysuckle?"

"No, I gave it to him for a peace offering.  I hurt his feelings,
and afterwards I was sorry and wanted to make it up with him.
But would you have thought he had any feelings? any, that is,
that anything I said would hurt?"

"Certainly not," from Rowsley.

"Any woman can hurt any man," said Yvonne.  "But, of course, you
aren't a woman, Isabel.  What was the trouble?"

"Oh, something about the war."

"No, my child, it wasn't about the war.  It was something that
stung up his vanity or his self-love.  Lawrence isn't a
sentimentalist like Jack or Val."  Here Jack Bendish got as far
as an artless "Oh, I say!" but his wife paid no attention.
"Lawrence never took the war seriously."

"But he did," insisted Isabel.  "He coloured all over his face--"

She paused, realizing that Mrs. Bendish, under her mask of
scepticism, was agog with curiosity.  Isabel was not fond of
being drawn out.  Lawrence had given her his confidence, and she
valued it, for with all her ignorance of society she had seen too
much of plain human nature to suppose that he was often taken off
his guard as he had been by her: and was she going to expose him
to Yvonne's lacerating raillery?  A thousand times no!  "I
misunderstood something he said about Val," she continued with
scarcely a break, and falling back on one of those explanations
that deceive the sceptical by their economy of truth.  "It was
stupid of me, and awkward for him, so I had to apologize."

"I see.  Come, Jack." Yvonne rose to her feet,  more like a snake
than ever in her flexibility and swiftness, and held Isabel to
her for a moment, her arm round her young friend's waist.  "But
if you pin any more buttonholes into Captain Hyde's coat," the
last low murmur was only for Isabel's ear, "he will infallibly
kiss you: so now you are forewarned and can choose whether or no
you will continue to pay him these little attentions."

Isabel was not disturbed.  She had early formed the habit of not
attending to Mrs. Bendish, and she unwound herself without even
changing colour.

"You always remind me of Nettie Hills at the Clowes's lodge," she
retorted.  "Mrs. Hills says she's that flighty in the way she
carries on, no one would believe what a good sensible girl she is
under all her nonsense, and walks out with her own young man as
regular as clockwork."



CHAPTER VI


And that evening Val Stafford came to pay his respects to his old
comrade in arms.  Lawrence had travelled so much that it never
took him long to settle down.  Even at Wanhope he managed within
a few hours to make himself at home.  A trap sent over to
Countisford brought back his manservant and an effeminate
quantity of luggage, and by teatime his room was strewn from end
to end with a litter of expensive trifles more proper to a pretty
woman than to a man.  Mrs. Clowes, slipping in to cast a
housewifely glance to his comfort, held up her hands in mock
dismay.  "You must give yourself plenty of time to dust all this
tomorrow morning, Caroline," she said to the house-maid.  She
laughed at the gold brushes and gold manicure set, the polished
array of boots, the fine silk and linen laid out on his bed, the
perfume of sandalwood and Russian leather and eau de cologne.
"And I hope you will be able to make Captain Hyde's valet
comfortable.  Did he say whether he liked his room?"

"I reelly don't know, ma'am,"  replied the truthful Caroline.
"You see he's a foreigner, and most of what he says, well, it
reelly sounds like swearing.

"Madame." It was Gaston himself, appearing from nowhere at
Laura's elbow, and saluting her with an empressement that was
due, if Laura had only known it, to the harmony of her flounces.
Laura eyed the little Gaston kindly.  "You are of the South,
are you not?" she said in her soft French, the French of a
Frenchwoman but for a slight stiffness of disuse: "and are you
comfortable here, Gaston?  You must tell me if there is anything
you want."

Gaston was grateful less for her solicitude than for the sound
of his own language.  When she had left the room he caught up a
photograph, thrust it back into his master's dressingcase, and
spat through the open window--"C'est fini avec toi, vieille
biche," said he: "allons donc! j'aime mieux celle-ci par
exemple."

But, though Laura laughed, it was with indulgence.  While Isabel
and Lawrence were conversing among the juniper bushes, the
Bendishes had given Mrs. Clowes a sketch of Hyde which had
confirmed her own impressions.  Although he liked good food and
wine and cigars, he liked sport and travel too, and music and
painting and books.  His eighty-guinea breechloaders were dearer
to him than the lady of the ivory frame.  Who was the lady of the
ivory frame?  Gaston would have been happy to define with the
leer of the boulevards the relations between his master and
Philippa Cleve.  Gaston had no doubt of them, nor had Frederick
Cleve; Philippa had high hopes; Lawrence alone hung fire.  If he
continued to meet her and she to offer him lavish opportunities
the situation might develop, for Lawrence was not sufficiently
in earnest in any direction to play what has been called the
ill-favoured part of a Joseph, but in his heart of hearts, this
Joseph wished Potiphar would keep his wife in order.  And,
strange to say, Yvonne was not far wide of the mark.  She
believed that Joseph was a sinner but not a willing one: and Jack
Bendish, a little astray among these feminine subtleties,
assented after his fashion--"Hyde's rather an ass in some
ways," he said simply, "but he's an all-round sportsman."

Thus primed, Laura was able to draw out her guest, and dinner
passed off gaily, for Bernard Clowes was no dog in the manger,
and listened with sparkling eyes to adventures that ranged from
Atlantic sailing in a thirty-ton yacht to a Nigerian rhinoceros
shoot.  Nor was Lawrence the focus of the lime-light-he was
unaffectedly modest; but when, in expatiating on a favourite
rifle, he confessed to having held fire till a charging
rhinoceros bull was within eight and twenty yards of him, Bernard
could supply the footnotes for himself. "I knew she wouldn't let
me down," said Lawrence apologetically.  "Ah! she was a bonnie
thing, that old gun of mine.  Ever shoot with a cordite rifle?"
Bernard shook his head.  "I'd like you to see my guns," Lawrence
continued, too shrewd to be tactful. "I'll have them sent down,
shall I? Or Gaston shall run up and fetch 'em. He loves a day in
town."

Under this bracing treatment Bernard became more natural than
Laura had seen him for a long time, and he stayed in the
drawingroom after dinner, chatting with Lawrence and listening to
his wife at the piano, till Laura thought the Golden Age had come
again.  How long would it last?  Philosophers like Laura never
ask that question.  At all events it lasted till half past nine,
when the sick man was honestly tired and the lines of no
fictitious pain were drawn deep about his mouth and eyes.

Mrs. Clowes went away with her husband, who liked to have her at
hand while Barry was getting him to bed, and Lawrence had
strolled out on the lawn, when a shutter was thrown down in
Bernard's room and Laura reappeared at the open window.
"Lawrence, are you there?" she asked, shading her eyes between
her hands.

"Here," said Lawrence removing his cigar.

"Will you be so very kind as to unlock the gate over the
footbridge?  If Val does look us up tonight he's sure to scramble
over it, which is awkward for him with his stiff arm."

She dropped a key down to Lawrence.  A voice--Bernard's called
from within, "Good night, old fellow, thanks for a pleasant
evening.  I'm being washed now."

The night was overcast, warm, quiet, and very dark under the
trees: there was husbandry in heaven, their candles were all out.
And by the bridge under the pleated and tasselled branches of an
alder coppice the river ran quiet as the night, only uttering an
occasional murmur or a deep sucking gurgle when a rotten stick,
framed in foam, span down the silken whirl of an eddy: but
down-stream, where waifs of mist curled like smoke off a grey mirror,
there was a continual talking of open water, small cold river voices
that chattered over a pebbly channel, or heaped themselves up and
died down again in the harsh distant murmur of the weir.  The
quantity of water that passed through the lock gates should have been
constant from minute to minute, but the roar of it was not constant,
nor the pitch of its note, which fell when Lawrence stood erect, but
rose to a shrill overtone when he bent his head: sometimes one would
have thought the river was going down in spate, and then the volume
of sound dwindled to a mere thread, a lisp in the air.  Lawrence was
observing these phenomena with a mind vacant of thought when he heard
footsteps brushing through the grass by the field path from the
village.  Val had come, then, after all!

Val had naturally no idea that any one was near him.  He had
reached the gate and was preparing to vault it when out of the
dense alder-shadow a hand seized his arm.  "So sorry if I
startled you."  But Val was not visibly startled.  "Mrs. Clowes
sent me, down to let you in."

"Did she?  Very good of her, and of you," returned Val's voice,
pleasant and friendly.  "She always expects me to walk into the
river.  But, after all, I shouldn't be drowned if I did.  Is
Clowes gone to bed?"

"He's on his way there.  Did you want to see him?"

"I'll look in for five minutes after Barry has tucked him up.
Have you been introduced to Barry yet?  He's quite a character."

"So I should imagine.  He came in to cart Bernard off, and did
something clumsy, or Bernard said he did, and Bernard cuffed his
head for him.  Barry didn't seem to mind much.  Why does he stay?
Is it devotion?"

"He stays because your cousin pays him twice what he would get
anywhere else.  No, I shouldn't call Barry devoted.  But he does
his work well, and it isn't anybody's job."

"I believe you," Lawrence muttered.

"Warm tonight, isn't it?  No, thanks, I won't have anything to
drink--  I've only just finished supper.  By the by, let me
apologize for my absence this afternoon.  I was most awfully
sorry to miss you, but I never got away from Countisford till
after half past five, and my mare cast a shoe on the way back.
Then I tried to get her shod in Liddiard St. Agnes, which is one
of those idyllic villages that people write books about, and
there I found an Odd-fellows' fete in full swing.  The village
blacksmith was altogether too harmonious for business, so not
being able to cuff his head, like your cousin, I was obliged to
walk home.

"Really'?  Have a cigar if you won't have anything else." Val
accepted one, and in default of a match Lawrence made him light
it from his own.  He was entirely at his ease, though the
situation struck him as bizarre, but he did not believe that Val
was at ease, no, not for all his natural manner and fertility in
commonplace.  Lawrence was faintly sorry for the poor devil, but
only faintly: after all, an awkward interview once in ten years
was a low price to pay for that night which Lawrence never had
forgotten and never would forget. He had an excellent memory,
photographic and phonographic, a gift that wise men covet for
themselves but deprecate in their friends.

Lawrence was no Pharisee, but he was not a Samaritan either.  He
had deliberately set himself to pull up any stray weeds of moral
scruple that lingered in a mind stripped bare of Christian ethic,
a task harder than some realize, since thousands of men who have
no faith in Christ practise virtues that were not known for
virtues by the Western world before Christ came to it.  But every
man is his own special pleader, and Lawrence, whose theory was
that one man is as good as another, retained a good hearty
prejudice against certain forms of moral failure, and excused it
on the ground that it was rather a taste than a principle. He
looked directly into Stafford's eyes as the red glow of the cigar
flamed and faded between the two heads so close together, and in
his own eyes there was the same point of smiling ironic cruelty
that Isabel had read in them--the same as Stafford himself had
read in them not so many years ago.  But apparently Stafford read
nothing in them now.

"Sit down, won't you? you've had a fagging day."  Lawrence
indicated the chairs left on the lawn.  "Hear me beginning to
play the host!  As a matter of fact, you must know your way about
the place far better than I do.  Although we're cousins, Bernard
and I have seen next to nothing of each other since we were boys
at school.  You, Val, must know him better than any one except
his wife.  I want you to tell me about him.  I'm in dangerous
country and I need a map."

"I should be inclined to vary the metaphor a little and call him
an uncharted sea," Val smiled as he threw one leg over the other
and settled himself among his cushions.  He was dead tired,
having been up since six in the morning and on his feet or in
the saddle all day.  "But I'm at your service, subject always to
the proviso that I'm Bernard's agent, which makes my position
rather delicate.  What is it you want to know?"

Since it was whether Clowes behaved decently to his wife,
Lawrence shifted in his chair and flicked the ash from his cigar.
"Imprimis, whether Bernard has a trout rod I can borrow.  I
didn't know there was any fishing to be had or I'd have brought
my own."

"You can have mine: I scarcely ever touch a line now.  Certainly
not in hay-harvest!  I'll send it down for you the first thing--"
Was it possible that he was as insouciant as he professed to be?

"Oh, thanks very much," Hyde cut in swiftly, but I couldn't
borrow yours.  I'll find out if Clowes can't lend me one."

"As you please." Stafford left it at that and passed on. "But I
don't fancy Bernard has ever thrown a line in his life, he is too
energetic to make a fisherman.  By the way, I suppose you won't
be staying any length of time at Wanhope?"

Lawrence smiled, the wish was father to the thought: that was
more like the Val of old times!

"That depends--mainly on my cousin, to be frank: I suspect he'll
soon get sick of having a third person in the house."

"Oh, probably.  But you needn't take any notice of that."
Lawrence looked up in surprise.  "But, perhaps, that is none of
my business.  Or will you let me give you one warning, since
you've asked for a map?  Don't be too prompt to take Bernard at
his word.  He may be very rude to you and yet not want you to go.
He sacks Barry every few weeks. In fact now I come to think of it
I'm under notice myself, for last time I saw him he told me to
look out for another job.  He said what he wanted was a practical
man who knew a little about farming."

"And you stay on?  Quite right, if it suits your book."
Unconsciously putting the worst construction on everything Val
said or did, Lawrence's conclusion was that probably Val, an
amateur farmer, was paid, like Barry, twice what he was worth in
the market.  "But it wouldn't suit mine.  However, I don't
imagine Bernard will try it on with me. I'm not Barry.  If he
hits me I shall hit him back."

"Oh, will you?" returned Val, invisibly amused. "I'm not sure
that wouldn't be a good plan.  It has at least the merit of
originality.  All the same I'm afraid Mrs. Clowes wouldn't like
it, she is a standing obstacle in the way of drastic measures."

"But why do you want me to stay?" Lawrence asked more and more
surprised.

"Well, here is what brought me up tonight, when I knew Bernard
would be on his way to bed.  Will you--" he leaned forward, his
hands clasped between his knees--"stick it out, whatever happens,
for a week or two, and keep your eyes open?  Life at Wanhope
isn't all plain sailing."

"Plain sailing for Bernard?"

"Or for his wife."

"You speak as the friend of the house who sees both sides?"

"They're forced on me."

"I'll stay as long as I'm comfortable," said Lawrence, cynically
frank.  "More I can't promise."

Val leant back with an imperceptible shrug.  He was disappointed
but not surprised: there was in Hyde a vein of hard selfishness--
not a weakness, for the egoism which openly says "I will consult
my own convenience first" is too scornful of public opinion to be
called weak, but an acquired defensive quality on which argument
would have been thrown away.  Val's arm dropped inert, he was
tired, not in body alone, but by the strain of contact with
another mind, hostile, and pitiless, and dominant.

And Lawrence also was content to sit silent, lulled by the rising
and falling murmur of the stream, and by that agreeably cruel
memory. . . .   He had no inclination to recall it to Val, but it
lent an emotional piquancy to their intercourse.  He had the whip
hand of Val through the past, and perhaps the present also.
Lawrence had been struck by Val's allusion to Mrs. Clowes.  He
was the friend of the house, was he?  Now the position of a
friend of the house who shields a wife from her husband is
notoriously a delicate one.

Val roused himself.  "Well, we'll drop this.  I must now say two
words on a different subject: I'd rather let it alone, and so I
dare say would you, but we shall meet a good deal off and on
while you're here, and it had better be got over.  I'm sorry if I
embarrass you--"

"Set your mind at rest," said Lawrence, silkenly brutal.  "You
don't embarrass me at all."

He threw away his cigar and got up laughing, and as Val also rose
Lawrence gently slapped him on the back. "I know what you're
driving at--that you've not forgotten that small indiscretion
of yours, or ceased to regret it.  Don't you worry, Val!  You
always were one of the worrying sort, weren't you?  But you need
never refer to it again, and I won't if you don't." Surely a
generous, a handsome offer!  But Stafford only touched with the
tips of his fingers the ringed and manicured hand of the elder
man.

"Thank you!  But I wasn't going to say anything of the sort.  The
fact is that for a long while I've been making up my mind to see
you some time when you were in England: there was no hurry,
because so long as my father's alive I can do nothing, but when I
heard you were coming to Wanhope the opportunity was too good to
be missed.  Railway fares," Val added with a preoccupied smile,
"are a consideration to me.  So don't walk away yet, Hyde,
please.  I have such a vivid recollection of the last time we met.
Between the lines at dawn.  Do you remember?"

"Everything, Val."

"You were badly hurt, but before you fainted you dragged a
promise out of me."

"Dragged it out of you?" Lawrence repeated: "that's one way of
putting it!"

"But I made some feeble resistance at the time," said Val mildly.
"My head wasn't clear then or for a long while after, but I had
a--a presentiment that it was a mistake.  You meant it kindly."
Had he?  Lawrence laughed.  He had never been able, to analyse
the complex of instincts and passions that had determined his
dealings with Stafford on that dim day between the lines.

"You were in a damned funk weren't you, Val?"

Stafford gave a slight start, the reaction of the prisoner under
a blow.  But apart from the coarse cynicism of it, which
irritated him, it was no more than he had foreseen, and from then
on till the end he did not flinch.

"Yes, anything you like: you can't overstate it. But my point is
that I gave you my parole.  Will you release me from it?"

"Good God!" said Lawrence.

He had never been more surprised in his life. "Come in: let us
talk this over in the light."



CHAPTER VII


Through the open windows of the drawingroom, where candlesticks
of twisted silver glimmered among Laura's old, silvery brocades,
and dim mirrors, and branches of pink and white rosebuds blooming
deliciously in rose-coloured Dubarry jars, the two men came in
together, Lawrence keenly on the watch.  But observation was
wasted on Stafford who had nothing to conceal, who was merely
what he appeared to be, a faded and tired-looking man of middle
height, with blue eyes and brown hair turning grey, and wellworn
evening clothes a trifle rubbed at the cuffs. It was difficult to
connect this gentle and unassuming person with the fiery memory
of the war, and Lawrence without apology took hold of Stafford's
arm like a surgeon and tried to flex the rigid elbow-muscles, and
to distinguish with his fingers used to handling wounds the hard
seams and hollows below its shrunken joint.  The action, which
was overbearing was by no means redeemed by the intention, which
was brutal.

"Surely after all these years you don't propose to confess, Val?"

"I should like to make some sort of amends."

"Too late: these things can never be undone."

"No, of course not.  Undone? no, nothing once done can be undone.

"But one needn't follow a wrong path to the bitter end.  You made
me give you that promise for the sake of discipline and morale.
But of the men who were in the trenches with us that night how
many are left?  Your battalion were pretty badly cut up at
Cambrai, weren't they?  And the survivors are all back in civil
life like ourselves.  If it were to come out now there aren't
twenty men who would remember anything about it: except of course
here in Chilmark, where they know my people so well."

"But you surely don't contemplate writing to the War Office?
I've no idea what course they would take, but they'd be safe to
make themselves unpleasant. I might even come in for a reprimand
myself!  That's a fate I could support with equanimity, but what
about you?  If I were you I shouldn't care to be hauled up for an
interview!"

"Really, if you'll forgive my saying so, I don't want to enter
into contingencies at all.  Give me my promise back, Hyde,
there's a good fellow, it's worth nothing now to anyone but the
owner."

"What about your own people?" said Lawrence, his hands in his
pockets, and falling unawares into the tone of the orderly room.
"You'll do nothing while your father's alive: I'm glad you've
sense enough for that: but what about your brother and sister?
You're suffering under some unpractical attack of remorse, Val,
and like most penitent souls you think of nothing but yourself."

"On the contrary, I shrink very much from bringing distress on
other people.  I'm well aware," said Val slowly, "that a man who
does what I've done forfeits his right to take an easy way out."

"An easy way?"

"Believe me, I haven't found the way you imposed on me an easy
one."

"Poor wretch!" said Lawrence under his breath.  Stafford heard,
perhaps he was meant to hear: and he glanced out over the dark
turf on which the windows traced a golden oblong, over the trees,
dark and mysterious except where the same light caught and
bronzed the tips of their branches.  In its glow every leaf stood
out separate and defined, clearer than by day through the
contrast of the immense surrounding darkness: and so it had been
in that bit of French forest years ago, when the wild bright
searchlights lit up its plague-spotted glades.  Civilians talk
glibly of courage and cowardice who have never smelt the odour
of corruption. . . .

"What's your motive?  Some misbegotten sense of duty?"

"Partly," said Val, turning from the window.  How like his eyes
were to his young sister's!  The impression was unwelcome, and
Lawrence flung it off.  "I ought never to have given way to you.
I ought to have faced Wynn-West and let him deal with me as he
thought fit.  After all, I was of no standing in the regiment.
A boy of nineteen--what on earth would it have signified?  I
was so very young."

Nineteen! yes, one called a lad young at nineteen even in those
pitiless days.  Under normal conditions he would have had two or
three years' more training before he was required to shoulder the
responsibilities and develop the braced muscles of manhood.

"Anyhow it's all over now--"

"No, you forget." A wave of colour swept over Val's face but his
voice was steady.  "Through me the regiment holds a distinction
it hasn't earned, and the distinction is in hands that don't
deserve to hold it. That isn't consonant with the traditions of
the service."

"Oh, when it comes to the honour of the Army--!" Lawrence jeered
at him.  "There speaks the soldier born and bred.  But I was only
a 'temporary.' Give me a personal reason."

"Well, I can do that too!  I hate sailing under false colours.
The good folk of Chilmark; my own people; Bernard, Laura . . . ."
Lawrence's eyes began to sparkle: when a man's voice deepens over
a woman's name--! "Oh, I dare say nothing will ever come of it,"
Val resumed after a moment: "my father may live another thirty
years, and by that time I should be too old to stand in a white
sheet.  Or perhaps I shall only tell one or two people--"

"Mrs. Clowes?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You would like to tell my cousin and his wife?"

"I should like to feel myself a free agent, which I'm not now,
because I'm under parole to you."

"And so you will remain," said Lawrence coldly.

"You mean that?"

"Thoroughly.  I've no wish to distress you, Val, but I'm no more
convinced now than I was ten years ago that you can be trusted to
judge for yourself.  You were an impulsive boy then with remarkably
little self-control: you're--forgive my saying so--an impulsive man
now, capable of doing things that in five minutes you would be
uncommonly sorry for.  How long would Bernard keep your secret?  If
I'm not much mistaken you would lose your billet and the whole county
would hear why.  The whole thing's utter rubbish.  You make too much
of your ribbon: you--I--it would never have been given if Dale's
father hadn't been a brass hat."

Stafford was ashy pale. "I know you think you're just."

"No, I don't. I'm not just, my good chap: I'm weakly, idiotically
generous.  In your heart of hearts you're grateful to me.  Now
let's drop all this.  Nothing you can say will have the slightest
effect, so you may as well not say it." He stood by Val's chair,
laughing down at him and gently gripping him by the shoulder.
"Be a man, Val! you're not nineteen now.  You've got a comfortable
job and the esteem of all who know you--take it and be thankful:
it's more than you deserve.  If you must indulge in a hair shirt,
wear it under your clothes.  It isn't necessary to embarrass other
people by undressing in public."

Thought is free: one may be at a man's mercy and in his debt and
keep one's own opinion of him, impersonal and cold.  With a faint
smile on his lips Val got up and strolled over to the piano.
"Hullo, what's all this music lying about?" he said in his
ordinary manner.  "Has Laura been playing?  Good, I'm so glad:
Bernard can hardly ever stand it.  See the first fruits of your
bracing influence!  Oh, the Polonaises . . ."  And then he in
his turn began to play, but not the melancholy fiery lyrics that
had soothed Laura's unsatisfied heart.  Val, a thorough musician,
went for sympathy to the classics.  Impulsive?  There was not
much impulse left in this quiet, reticent man, who with his old
trouble fresh on him could sit down and play a chorale of Bach or
a prelude of Mozart, subordinating his own imperious anguish to
the grave universal daylight of the elder masters.  Long since
Val had resolved that no shadow from him should fall across any
other life.  He had foresworn "that impure passion of remorse,"
and so keen an observer as Rowsley had grown up in his intimacy
without suspecting anything wrong.  Unfortunately for Val,
however, he still suffered, though he was now denied all
expression, all relief: the wounded mind bled inwardly.  It was
no wonder Val's hair was turning grey.

Lawrence, no mean judge of music, understood much--not all--of
the significance of Val's playing.  He was an imaginative man--
far more so than Val, who would have lived an ordinary life and
travelled on ordinary lines of thought but for the war, which
wrenched so many men out of their natural development.  But it
was again unfortunate for Val that the sporting instinct ran
strong in Captain Hyde.  He was irritated by Val's grave superior
dignity, and deep and unacknowledged there was working in him the
instinct of the bully, the love of cruelty, overlaid by layer on
layer of civilization, of chivalry, of decency, yet native to the
human heart and quick to reassert itself at any age: in the boy
who thrashes a smaller boy, in the young man who takes advantage
of a woman, in the fighter who hounds down surrendered men.

He settled himself in a chair close to the piano. "Val, I'm very
glad to have met you.  Having taken so much upon me," he was
smiling into Val's eyes, "I've often wondered what had become of
you.  This," he lightly touched Val's arm, "was a cruel handicap.
I had to disable you, but it need not have been permanent."

"Do you mind moving? you're in my light."

He shifted his chair by an inch or so.  "After all, what's a single
failure of nerve?  Physical causes--wet, cold, indigestion, tight
puttees--account for nine out of ten of these queer breakdowns.
At all events you've paid, Val, paid twice over: when I read your
name in the Honours List I laughed, but I was sorry for you.  The
sword-and-epaulets business would have been mild compared to that."

"Cat and mouse, is it?" said Val, resting his hands on the keys.

"What?"

"I'm not going to stand this sort of thing, Hyde, not for a
minute."

"I don't know what you mean," said Lawrence, reddening slowly to
his forehead.  But it was a lie: he was not one of those who can
overstep limits with impunity.  The streak of vulgarity again!
and worse than vulgarity: Andrew Hyde's sardonic old voice was
ringing in his ears, "Lawrence, you'll never be a gentleman."

"All right, we'll leave it at that.  Only don't do it again."
Lawrence was dumb.  "Here's Mrs. Clowes."

Val rose as Laura came in, released at length from attendance on
her husband. "I heard you playing," she said, giving him her hand
with her sweet, friendly smile. "So you've introduced yourself to
Captain Hyde?  I hope you were nice to him, for my gratitude to
him is boundless. I haven't seen Bernard looking so fit or so
bright for months and months!  Now sit down, both of you, and
we'll have cigarettes and coffee.  Ring, Val, will you--? it's
barely half past ten.

"I can only stay for one cigarette, Laura: I must get home to
bed."

"But, my dear boy, how tired you look!" exclaimed Laura.  "You do
too much--I'm sure you do too much.  He wears himself out,
Lawrence--oh! my scarf!" She was wearing a silver scarf over her
black dress, and as she moved it fluttered up and caught on the
chain round her throat. "Unfasten me, please, Val," she said,
bending her fair neck, and Val was obliged laboriously to
disentangle the silken cobweb from the spurs of her clear-set
diamonds, a process which fascinated Lawrence, whose mind was
more French than English in its permanent interest in women.
Certainly Val's office of friend of the family was not less
delicate because Laura, secure in her few years seniority,
treated him like a younger brother!  Watching, not Val, but Val's
reflection in a mirror,  Lawrence overlooked no shade of
constraint, no effort that Val made to avoid touching with his
finger-tips the satin allure of Laura's exquisite skin.  "Poor
miserable Val!" Suspicion was crystallizing into certainty.  "Or
is it poor Bernard?   No, I swear she doesn't know.  Does he know
himself?"

A servant had brought in coffee, and Lawrence in his quality of
cousin poured out two cups and carried them over to Laura and to
Val.  "Well, I'm damned!" murmured Lawrence as Val refastened the
clasp of the chain.  "Picturesque, all this.--  Here, Val, here's
your coffee."

"But do you know each other so well as that?" exclaimed Laura,
arching her wren's-feather eyebrows.

"I was an infant subaltern when Hyde knew me," said Val laughing,
"and he was a howling swell of a captain.  Do you remember that
night you all dined with us, sir, when we were in billets?  We
stood you champagne--"

"Purchased locally.  I remember the champagne."

"Dine with us tomorrow night," said Laura. "Do! and bring
Isabel." Lawrence gave an imperceptible start: for the last hour
he had forgotten Isabel's existence except when her eyes had
looked at him out of her brother's face.  "The child will enjoy
it, I never knew any one so easily pleased; and you and Lawrence
and Bernard can rag one another to your heart's content.  Yes,
you will, I know you will, Army men always do when they get
together; and you're all boys, even Bernard, even you with your
grey hair, my dear Val; as for Lawrence, he's only giving himself
airs."

"Yes, do bring your sister," said Lawrence. "She is the most
charming young girl I've met for years, if a man of my mature age
may say so.  She is so natural, a rare thing nowadays: the modern
jeune fille is a sophisticated product."

"Bravo, Lawrence!" cried Mrs. Clowes, clapping her hands.  "Now,
Val, didn't I tell you Isabel was going to be very, very pretty?
That's settled, then, you'll both come: and, to please me," she
looked not much older than Isabel as she took hold of the lapel
of Val's coat, "will you wear your ribbon?  I know you hate
wearing it in civilian kit!  But I do so love to see you in it:
and it's not as if there would be any one here but ourselves."

Lawrence swung round on his heel and walked away.  One may enjoy
the pleasures of the chase and yet draw the line at watching an
application of the rack, and it sickened him to remember that his
own hand had given a turn to the screw.  It had needed that brief
colloquy to let him see what Stafford's life was like at Wanhope,
and in what slow nerve-by-nerve laceration amends were being
made.  He admired the gallantry of Stafford's reply.

"My dear Laura, I would tie myself up in ribbon from head to foot
if it would give you pleasure.  I'll wear it if you like, though
my superior officer will certainly rag me if I do."

"No, I shan't," said Lawrence shortly.



CHAPTER VIII


"And now tell me,"  murmured Mrs. Clowes in the mischievously
caressing tone that she kept for Isabel, "did mamma's little girl
enjoy her party?"

"Rather!" said Isabel--with a great sigh, the satisfied sigh of
a dog curling up after a meal. "They were lovely strawberries.
And what do you call that French thing?  Oh, that's what a
vol-au-vent is, is it?  I wish I knew how to make it, but probably
it's one of those recipes that begin 'Take twelve eggs and a quart of
cream.' I wish nice things to eat weren't so dear, Jimmy would love
it.  Captain Hyde took two helps--did you see?--big ones!  If he
always eats as much as he did tonight he'll be fat before he's fifty,
which will be a pity.  He ate three times what Val did."

"Is that what you were thinking of all the time?  I noticed you
didn't say very much."

"Well, I was between Captain Hyde and Major Clowes, and they
neither of them think I'm grown up," explained Isabel.  "They
talked to each other over the top of me.  Oh no, not rudely,
Major Clowes was as nice as he could be" (Isabel salved her
conscience by reflecting that this was verbally true since Major
Clowes could never he nice), "and Captain Hyde asked me if I was
fond of dolls--"

"My dear Isabel!"

"Or words to that effect.  Oh! it's perfectly fair, I'm not grown
up, or only by fits and starts.  Some of me is a weary forty-five
but the rest is still in pigtails.  It's curious, isn't it?
considering that I'm nearly twenty.  Let's go through the wood,
my stockings are coming down."  Out of sight of the house in a
clearing of the loosely planted alder-coppice by the bridge, she
pulled them up, slowly and candidly: white cotton stockings
supported by garters of black elastic.  "After all," she
continued, "I'm housekeeper, and in common politeness we shall
have to dine you back, so I really did want to see what sort of
things Captain Hyde likes.  But it's no use, he won't like
anything we give him.  Not though we strain our resources to the
uttermost. Laura! would Mrs. Fryar give me the receipt for that
vol-au-vent? I don't suppose we could run to it, but I should
love to try."

"Mrs.  Fryar would be flattered," said Laura, finding a chair in
the forked stem of a wild apple-tree,  while Isabel sat plump
down on the net of moss-fronds and fine ivy and grey wood-violets
at her feet.  "But, my darling, you're not to worry your small
head over vol-au-vents!  Lawrence will like one of your own roast
chickens just as well, or any simple thing--"

"Oh no, Lawrence won't!" Isabel gave a little laugh.  "Excuse my
contradicting you, but Lawrence isn't a bit fond of simple
things.  That's why he doesn't like me, because I'm simple,
simple as a daisy.  I don't mind--much," she added truthfully.
"I can survive his most extended want of interest.  After all
what can you expect if you go out to dinner in the same nun's
veiling frock you wore when you were confirmed, with the tucks
let down and the collar taken out?  O! Laura,  I wish someone
would give me twenty pounds on condition that I spent it all on
dress!  I'd buy--I'd buy--oh,--silk stockings, and long
gloves, and French cambric underclothes, and chiffon nightgowns
like those Yvonne wears (but they aren't decent: still that
doesn't matter so long as you're not married, and they are so
pretty)!  And a homespun tailor-made suit with a seam down the
back and open tails: and--and--one of those real Panamas that
you can pull through a wedding ring: and--oh! dear, I am greedy!
It must be because I never have any clothes at all that I'm
always wanting some. I ache all over when I look at catalogues.
Isn't it silly?"

If so it was a form of silliness with which Mrs. Clowes was in
full sympathy.  In her world, to be young and pretty gave a woman
a claim on Fate to provide her with pretty dresses and the
admiration of men.  As for Yvonne, till she married Jack Bendish
she had never been out of debt in her life.  "No, it's the most
natural thing on earth," said Laura.  "How I wish--!"

"No, no," said Isabel hastily.  "It's very, very sweet of you,
but even Jimmy wouldn't like it: and as for Val I don't know what
he'd say!  Poor old Val, he wants some new evening clothes
himself, and it's worse for him than for me because men do so
hate to look shabby and out at elbows.  He's worn that suit for
ten years.  My one consolation is that Captain Hyde couldn't wear
a suit he wore ten years ago.  It would burst."

"Isabel!  really!  you ridiculous child, why have you such a
spite against poor Lawrence?  Any one would think he was a
perfect Daniel Lambert!  Do you know he's a pukka sportsman and
has shot all over the world?  Lions and tigers, and rhinoceros,
and grizzly bears, and all sorts of ferocious animals!  He's
promised me a black panther skin for my parlour and he's
persuaded Bernard to call in Dr. Verney for his neuritis, so I
won't hear another word against him!"

"Has he?  H'm. . . . No, I haven't any prejudice against him: in
fact I like him," said Isabel, smiling to herself.  "But he
reminds me of Tom Wallis at the Prince of Wales's Feathers.  Do
you remember Tom?   'Poor Tom,' Mrs. Wallis always says, 'he went
from bad to worse.  First it was a drop too much of an evening:
and then he began getting drunk mornings: and then he 'listed for
a soldier!' Not that Captain Hyde would get drunk, but he has the
same excitable temperament. . . .  Laura!"

"What is it?" said Mrs. Clowes, framing the young face between
her hands as Isabel rose up kneeling before her.  In the
quivering apple-tree shadow Isabel's eyes were very dark, and
penetrating and reflective too, as if she had just undergone one
of those transitions from childhood to womanhood which are the
mark and the charm of her variable age.  Laura was puzzled by her
judgment of Lawrence Hyde, so keen, yet so wide of the truth as
Laura saw it: "excitable" was the last thing that Laura would
have called him, and she couldn't see any likeness to Tom Wallis.
But one can't argue over a man's character with a child. "Why so
serious?"

"This evening, at dinner, weren't there some queer
undercurrents?"

"Undercurrents!" Laura drew her hands away. She looked startled
and nervous.  "What sort of undercurrents?"

"When they were chaffing Val about his ribbon. Oh, I don't know,"
said Isabel vaguely.  Laura drew a breath of relief. "I was sorry
you made him wear it.  But he'd cut his hand off to please you,
darling.  You don't really realize the way you can make Val do
anything you like."

"Nonsense," said Laura, but with an indulgent smile, which was
her way of saying that it was true but did not signify.  She was
no coquette, but she preferred to create an agreeable impression.
Always in France, where women are the focus of social interest,
there had been men who did as Laura Selincourt pleased, and the
incense which Val alone continued to burn was not ungrateful to
her altar.  "As if Val would mind about a little thing like
that."

Isabel shook her head.  "Perhaps you weren't attending.  Major
Clowes was very down on him for wearing it--chaffing him, of
course, but chaffing half in earnest: a snowball with a stone in
it.  Naturally Val wasn't going to say you made him--"

"No, but Lawrence did: or I should have cut in myself."

"Yes, after a minute, he interfered, and then Major Clowes shut
up, but it was all rather--rather queer, and I'm sure Val hated
it.  You won't make him do it again, will you?  Val's so odd.
Laura--don't tell any one--I sometimes think Val's very
unhappy."

"Val, unhappy?  You fanciful child, this is worse than Tom
Wallis! What should make Val unhappy?  He might be dull," said
Laura ruefully.  "Life at Wanhope isn't exciting!  But he's keen
on his work and very fond of the country.  Val is one of the most
contented people I know."

A shadow fell over Isabel's face, the veil that one draws down
when one has offered a confidence to hands that are not ready to
receive it.  "Then it must be all my imagination." She abandoned
the subject as rapidly as she had introduced it. "O! dear, I am
sleepy." She stretched herself and yawned, opening her mouth wide
and shutting it with a little snap like a kitten.  "I was up at
six to give Val his breakfast, and I've been running about all
day, what with the school treat next week, and Jimmy's new
night-shirts that I had to get the stuff for and cut them out,
and choir practice, and Fanny taking it into her head to make
rhubarb jam.  How can London people stay up till twelve or one
o'clock every night?  But of course they don't get up at six."

"Have a snooze in my hammock," suggested Laura. "I see Barry
coming, which means that Bernard is going off and I shall have to
run away and leave you, and probably the men won't come out for
some time.  Take forty winks, you poor child, it will freshen you
up."

"I never, never go to sleep in the daytime," said Isabel firmly.
"It's a demoralizing habit.  But I shouldn't mind tumbling into
your hammock, thank you very much." And, while Mrs. Clowes went
away with Barry, she slipped across to Laura's large comfortable
cot, swung waist-high between two alders that knelt on the river
brink.

Isabel sprawled luxuriously at full length, one arm under her
head and the other dropped over the netting: her young frame was
tired, little flying aches of fatigue were darting pins and
needles through her knees and shoulders and the base of her
spine.  The evening was very warm and the stars winked at her,
they were green diamonds that sparkled through chinks in the
alder leafage overhead: round dark leaves like coins, and
scattered in clusters, like branches of black bloom.  Near at
hand the river ran in silken blackness, but below the coppice,
where it widened into shallows, it went whispering and rippling
over a pebbly bottom on its way to the humming thunder of the
mill.  And in a fir-tree not far off a nightingale was singing,
now a string of pearls dropping bead by bead from his throat, now
rich turns and grace-notes, and now again a reiterated metallic
chink which melted into liquid fluting:

              Vogek im Tannenwald
              Pfeifet so hell:
              Pfeifet de Wald aus und ein,
         wo wird mein Schatze sein?
         Vogele im Tannenwald pfeifet so hell.

Isabel was still so young that she felt the beauty more deeply
when she could link it with some poetic association, and as she
listened to the nightingale she murmured to herself "'In some
melodious plot of beechen green with shadows numberless'--but
it isn't a beech, it's a fir-tree," and then wandering off into
another literary channel, "'How thick the bursts come crowding
through the leaves!  Eternal passion--eternal pain' . . . but I
don't believe he feels any pain at all.  It is we who feel pain.
He's not been long married, and it's lovely weather, and there's
plenty for them to eat, and they're in love . . . what a heavenly
night it is!  I wish some one were in love with me.  I wonder if
any one ever will be.

"How thrilling it would be to refuse him!  Of course I couldn't
possibly accept him--not the first: it would be too slow,
because then one couldn't have any more.  One would be like
Laura.  Poor Laura!  Now if she were in that tree"--Isabel's
ideas were becoming slightly confused--"it would be natural for
her to be melancholy--only if she were a bird she wouldn't care,
she would fly off with some one else and leave Major Clowes, and
all the other birds would come and peck him to death.  They
manage these things better in bird land."  Isabel's eyes shut but
she hurriedly opened them again.  "I'm not going to go to sleep.
It's perfectly absurd.  It can't be much after nine o'clock.  I
dare say Captain Hyde will come out before so very long . . . I
should like to talk to him again by myself.  He isn't so
interesting when other people are there. I wonder why I told
Laura he was getting fat?  He isn't: he couldn't be, to travel
all over the world and shoot black panthers.  And if he did take
two helps of vol-au-vent, you must remember, Isabel, he's a big
man--well over six feet--and requires good support.  He
certainly is not greedy or he would have tried to pick out the
oysters: all men love oysters.

"He was nice about Val's ribbon, too . . . wish I understood
about that ribbon.  Val was grateful: he said 'Thanks, Hyde'
while Major Clowes was speaking to Barry.  Laura isn't stupid,
but she never understands Val.  'Contented?' My dearest darling
Val!  If he were being roasted over a slow fire he would be
'contented' if Laura was looking on.  That's the worst of being
perfectly unselfish: people never realize that you're unselfish
at all.  Wives don't seem to hear what their husbands say.  Often
and often Major Clowes is absolutely insulting to Val, before
Laura and before me.  But Laura always looks on Val as a boy.
Perhaps if Captain Hyde hears it going on he'll interfere and
shut Major Clowes up as he did tonight.  He can manage Major
Clowes . . . which is clever of him! 'A strong, silent man'--as
a matter of fact he talks a good deal. . . . But I loved him for
sitting on Major Clowes.  I'd rather he were nice to Val than to
me.

"But he might be nice to me too. . . .

"He was, yesterday afternoon.  How he coloured up! He was
absolutely natural for the minute.  That can't often happen.
People who don't like giving themselves away are thrilling when
they do."

Another yawn came upon her.

"O! dear, I really mustn't go to sleep.  What a lulling noise you
make, you old river!  I don't think I can get up at six tomorrow.
This hammock is as comfortable as a bed.  'The young girl
reclined in a graceful attitude, her head pillowed on her slender
hand, her long dark lashes entangled and resting on her ivory
cheek.' Well, they couldn't rest anywhere else: unless they were
long enough to rest on her nose. 'Her--her breathing  was soft
and regular . . .'"  It became so.  Isabel slept.

Val would rather have owed no gratitude to a man he disliked so
much as Hyde.  When Bernard was wheeled away, an interchange of
perfunctory civilities was followed by a constrained silence,
which Val broke by rising.  "Hyde, if you'll excuse me, I'll say
five words to Bernard before Barry begins getting him to bed.
There's a right of way dispute going on that he liked me to keep
him posted up in."

"Do," said Lawrence vaguely. He brushed past Val and escaped into
the garden.

Lawrence was enjoying his stay at Wanhope, but tonight he felt
defrauded, though he knew not why.  He had had an agreeable day.
In the morning Jack Bendish had appeared on horseback and Lawrence
had ridden over with him to lunch at Wharton, a sufficiently amusing
experience, what with the crabbed high-spirited whims of Jack's
grandfather and the old-fashioned courtesy of Lord Grantchester, and
Yvonne's romantic toilette: later Laura had joined them and they had
played bowls on the famous green: in the cool of the evening he had
strolled home with Laura through the fields.  Dinner too had been
amusing in its way, the wines were excellent, the parlour maid waited
at table like a deft ghost, and he recognized in Mrs. Fryar an artist
who was thrown away alike on Bernard's devotion to roast beef and
Val's inability to remember what he ate.  Yet Lawrence was left
vaguely discontented.

Bernard's manner to Val had set his teeth on edge.  Bernard could
have meant no harm: no one had ever known the truth except
Lawrence and Val, and possibly Dale with such torn shreds of
consciousness as H. E. and barbed wire had left him: but in all
innocence Bernard had set the rack to work as deftly as Lawrence
could have done it himself.  Lawrence pitied--no, that was a
slip of the mind: he was not so weak as to pity Stafford, but
their intercourse was difficult, genant.

And Isabel Stafford too: Clowes had left her out of the
conversation as though she were a child, and though Lawrence
tried to bring her in she remained, so to say, in the nursery
most of the time, speaking when she was spoken to but without any
of her characteristic freshness and boldness.  She was the
schoolgirl that Clowes expected her to be.  Her very dress
irritated Lawrence, as if he had seen a fine painting in a tawdry
frame, or a pearl of price foiled by a spurious setting.  He had
not felt any glow at all, and was left to suppose his fancy had
played him a trick.  Disappointing! and now there was no chance
of revising his impression, for apparently she had gone away with
Laura--who should have known better than to leave Captain Hyde
to his own devices.  But probably Miss Stafford had refused to
face the men alone: it was what a little shy country girl would
do.

Isabel's arm hanging over the edge of the hammock, and pearly
white in the dark, was his first warning of her presence.  He
crossed the wood with his hunter's step and found her lapped in
dreams, the starlight that filtered between the alder branches
chequering her with a faint diaper of light and shade.  Only the
very young can afford to be, seen asleep, when the face sinks
back into its original repose, and lines and wrinkles reappear in
the loss of all that smiling charm of expression which may efface
them by day.  Laura, asleep, looked old and haggard.  But Isabel
presented a blank page, a face virginally pure, and candid, and
lineless: from the attitude of her young body one would have
thought she was constructed without bones, and from her serenity
it might have been a child who slept there in the June night, so
placidly entrusting herself to its mild embrace.  Vividly aware
that he had no right to watch her, Lawrence stood watching her,
though afraid at every breath that she would wake up: it was hard
to believe that even in her sleep she could remain insensible of
his eyes.  Here was the authentic Isabel, the girl who had
enchanted him on the moor: the incarnation of that classic beauty
by which alone his spirit was capable of being touched to fine
issues.  The alder branches quivered, their clusters of black
shadow fell like an embroidered veil over the imperfections of
her dress, but what light there was shone clear on her head and
throat, and the pearly moulding of her shoulder, based where her
sleeve was dragged down a little by the tension of her weight
upon it.  All the mystery of womanhood and all its promise of
life in bud and life not yet sown lay on this young girl asleep
in the starshine.  Lights flashed up in the house, figures were
moving between the curtains: Laura had left Bernard, soon she
would come out into the garden and call to Isabel, and Isabel
would wake and his chance be lost.  His chance?  Isabel had
rashly incurred a forfeit and would have to pay.  The frolic was
old, there was plenty of precedent for it, and not for one moment
did Lawrence dream of letting her off.  A moth, a dead leaf might
have settled on her sleeping lips and she would have been none
the wiser, and just such a moth's touch he promised himself, the
contact of a moment, but enough to intoxicate him with its
sweetness, and the first--yes, he believed it would be the
first: not from any special faith in Isabel's obduracy, but
because no one in Chilmark was enough of a connoisseur to
appreciate her.  Yes, the first, the bloom on the fruit, the
unfolding of the bud, he promised himself that: and warily he
stooped over Isabel, who slept as tranquil as though she were in
her own room under the vicarage eaves.  Lawrence held his breath.
If she were to wake?  Then?--Oh, then the middleaged friend of
the family claiming his gloves and his jest!  But Lawrence was
not feeling middle-aged.

"O! dear," said Isabel, "I've been asleep!"

She sat up rubbing her eyes.  "Laura, are you there?" But no one
was there.  Yet, though she was alone, in the solitude of the
alder shade Isabel blushed scarlet.  "What a ridiculous dream!
worse than ridiculous, What would Val say if he knew?  Really,
Isabel, you ought to be whipped!" She slipped to her feet and
peered suspiciously this way and that into the shadowy corners of
the wood.  Not a step: not the rustle of a leaf: no one.

Yet Isabel's cheeks continued to burn, till with a little
frightened laugh she buried them in her hands. "O! it was--
it was a dream--?"



CHAPTER IX


Lawrence's reflections when he went to bed that night were more
insurgent and disorderly than usual.  In his negative philosophy,
when he shut the door of his room, it was his custom to shut the
door on memory too--to empty his mind of all its contents except
the physical disposition to sleep.  He cultivated an Indian's
self-involved and deliberate vacancy.  On this his second night
at Wanhope however--Wanhope which was to bring him a good many
white nights before he was done with it--he lay long awake,
watching the stars that winked and glittered in the field of his
open window, the same stars that were perhaps shining on Isabel's
pillow. . . .

Isabel: it was on her that his thoughts ran with a tiring
persistency against which his common sense rebelled.  A kiss!
what was it after all?  A Christmas forfeit, a prank of which
even Val Stafford could have said no worse than that it was
beneath the dignity of his six and thirty years:  only too
flattering for such a little country girl, sunburnt, simple, and
occasionally tongue-tied.  The lady of the ivory frame (whom
Lawrence had fished out of her seclusion and set up on his
dressing table, to the disgust of Caroline: who was a Baptist,
and didn't care to dust a person who wore so few clothes), the
lady of the ivory frame was far handsomer than Isabel, or at
least handsome in a far more finished style.

Lawrence had the curiosity to get out of bed and carry Mrs. Cleve
to the window.  Yes, she certainly was an expensive luxury, this
smiling lady, her eyes large and liquid, her waved hair rippling
under its diamond aigrette, her rather wide, eighteenth century
shoulders dimpling down under a collar of diamonds to the half
bare swell of her breast: and for an amateur of her type she was
charming, with her tired, sophisticated glance and her fresh
mouth, like a rouged child: but it was borne in on Lawrence that
she was not for him.  He had kissed her two or three times, as
occasion served and she seemed to desire it, but he had never
lain awake afterwards, nor had his heart beaten any faster, no,
not even in the summerhouse at Bingley when she was fairly in his
arms.  He pitched the photograph into a drawer.  Frederick Cleve
was safe, for him.

Strolling out on the balcony,  Lawrence folded his arms on the
balustrade.  The night was hot: perhaps that was why he could not
sleep.  By his watch it was ten minutes past two.  The moon was
near her setting.    She lay on her back with tumbled clouds all
round her: mother & pearl clouds, quilted, and tinged with a
sheen of opal.  He wondered whether Bernard was asleep: poor
Bernard, lying alone through the dreary hours.   Perhaps it was
because Lawrence was not at all like a curate that Bernard had
already made his cousin free of certain dark corners which Val
had never been allowed to explore.  "My wife?  She's not my
wife," Clowes had said, staring up at Lawrence with his wide
black eyes.  "She's my nurse."  And he went on defining the
situation with the large coarse frankness which he permitted
himself since his accident, and which did not repel Lawrence, as
it would have repelled Val or Jack Bendish, because Lawrence
habitually used the same frankness in his own mind.  There was
some family likeness between the cousins, and it came out in
their common contempt for modern delicacy, which Bernard called
squeamishness and Lawrence damned in more literary language as
the Victorian manner.

The moon dipped lower over the trees while Lawrence took one of
his sharp turns of self-analysis.  Most men live in a haze, but
Lawrence was naturally a clear thinker, and he had neither a warm
heart nor a sentimental temperament to blind him.  Cleve was
safe: but with his Rabelaisian candour and cultivated want of
scruple Lawrence reflected that Cleve had been anything but safe
at Bingley.  Whence the change?  From Isabel Stafford!  Lawrence
shrugged his shoulders: he was accustomed to examine himself in a
dry light of curiosity, and no vice or weakness shocked him,  but
here was pure folly.

What was he doing at Wanhope?  "I'm contracting attachments," he
reflected, unbuttoning his silk jacket to feel the night air cool
on his chest, a characteristic action: wind, sunshine, a
wandering scent,  the freshness of dew, all the small sensuous
pleasures that most men neglect, Lawrence would go out of his way
to procure.   "I'm breaking my rule." Long ago he had resolved
never to let himself get fond of any one again, because in this
world of chance and change, at the mercy of a blindly striking
power, the game is not worth the candle: one suffers too much.

As for Miss Stafford, one need not be a professed stole to draw
the line at a little country girl, pious to insipidity and simple
to the brink of silliness.  Here Lawrence, not being one of those
who deny facts when they are unwelcome, caught himself up: she
was not insipid and her power over him was undeniable.  Twice
within forty-eight hours she had defeated his will, and what was
stranger was that each time he had surrendered eagerly, feeling
for the moment as though it didn't matter what he said or did
before Isabel.--It was at this point of his analysis that Lawrence
began to take fright.  "You rascal," he said to himself, "so that's
why you're off Mrs. Cleve, is it?  What is it you want--to marry the
child?  You would be sick to death of her in six weeks--and haven't
you had enough of giving hostages to Fortune?"

Hostages to fortune: that pregnant phrase frightens men who fear
nothing else in heaven or earth.  But not one of Hyde's friends
knew that he had ever given fortune a hostage.  He was not
reserved as a rule: indeed he was always willing to argue creed
and code with a frankness rare in the self-conscious English
race: he was never shy and there was little in him that was
distinctively English.  But he was too subtle and inconsistent
for the average homogeneous Englishman, and not even the comrades
of trench and tent knew much about his private life.  Lawrence
was one of those products of a high civilization which have in
them pretty strong affinities with barbarism,--but always with a
difference.  The noble savage tortures his enemy out of hate or
revenge: Lawrence, more sophisticated in brutality, was capable
of doing it by way of a psychological experiment.  The savage
takes a short cut from desire to possession:  Lawrence though his
blood ran hot curbed it from caution, because in modern life
women are a burden and a drag.

This was the trained and tempered Lawrence Hyde, a personage of
great good humour and numitigable egoism.  This was the companion
of easy morals with whom Lawrence was on familiar terms.  But on
that first white night at Wanhope Lawrence grew dimly aware of
the upheaval of deeper forces, as if his youth were stirring in
its grave.  When Laura Clowes smiled at him with her gallant
bearing: when Bernard gripped his hand in wishing him good night:
when Val in the middle of the psychological experiment pierced
him with his grave tired eyes, all sorts of feelings long dormant
and believed to be dead came to life in Lawrence: pity, and
affection, and remorse and shame.  "Hang the fellow!" Lawrence
reflected.  "He's too like his sister.  And Isabel?  She is a
child."  Whose voice was it that answered, "This is the woman I
have been waiting for all my life?"

And then, turning at bay, he came to a sufficiently cynical
conclusion.  "No nonsense!" he said to himself.  "Your trouble is
that she's twenty and you're six and thirty, which is a dangerous
age.  But you don't want to marry her, and there's no middle
course.  Fruit defendu, mon ami: hands off!  If you can't be
sensible you'll have to shift out of Wanhope and compromise on
Mrs. Cleve."

The rain held off, and after breakfast--a cheery meal at which
Bernard for the first time for many months appeared dressed and
in a good temper--Lawrence fulfilled the main duty of a guest by
going for a walk.

He came by footbridge and field path into the High Street, where
he was immediately buttonholed by the vicar.  Lawrence had a
fixed idea that all priests were hypocrites: they must be, since
as educated men they could not well believe the fables they were
paid to teach!  But it was hard to associate hypocrisy with Mr.
Stafford, whose fond ambition it was to nail Lawrence Hyde to
lecture on his Chinese travels before the Bible Class.  "Oh, nothing
religious," he explained, holding his victim firmly by the coat as
Lawrence edged away.  "Only half an hour's story-telling to put a few
new ideas into their heads--as if you were talking to a young brother
of your own.  I'm always trying to get them to emigrate, but they
need a great deal of shoving."  Lawrence said they could not emigrate
to China, and, further, that he didn't regard them as brothers.  "How
narrow you are, some of you University men!" sighed Mr. Stafford.
"What a concept of society!  But," brightening, "you're not so bad as
you're painted.  Come, come! a fifth-of-August recruit can't very
well deny that we're all brothers in arms?" Before Lawrence escaped
he was not sure that he hadn't pledged himself to an address on
"Fringes of the Empire," with special reference to the C.U.M.C.A.

It was too sunny to fish, but the trout lured him, and from the
cross-roads by the stone bridge he struck into a footpath that
led upstream into the hills, behind whose green spurs Chilmark
before long was out of sight.  Here it was lonely country.
Sometimes on a headland the sun flashed white over a knot of
labourers, scything the hay where no machine could go: sometimes
a shepherd's cote gleamed far off above the pale wattlings of a
fold:  but as he wound on--and on into the Plain there was no
sign of man in all the hot landscape, and no motion but the
bicker of the stream over its stony bed, and the hum of insect
life busy on its millions of dark and tiny vibrant wings.  Not a
breath of wind stirred among these grassy valleys, and Lawrence,
feeling warm, had sat down by a pool under a sapling birchtree,
when he heard a step on the path.  It was Isabel Stafford.

He had hardly seen her again overnight, for Val had carried his
young sister away before ten o'clock.  He waited for her in the
rare shadow of the birchtree, a tall powerful figure in a white
drill suit of the tropics, his fair skin and black eyes shaded by
a wide Panama hat.  Isabel as she drew near was vexed to find
herself blushing.  She was a little shy of Captain Hyde, a little
averse to meet his sparkling eyes.

"Isn't it hot?" she said, frankly wiping her face with a large
handkerchief.  "This is a favourite pool of mine, I often sit
here when I come this way.  I never saw such beautiful dragonflies,
did you?  They must be nearly as big as hummingbirds."

Over the brown mirror of the pool a troop of great dragonflies
were ceaselessly darting to and fro, their metallic wings making
a faint whirr as they looped in blinding mazes through the air
that glowed blue with their splendour.  "Very beautiful," said
Lawrence.

"Are you out for a walk?  I'm on my way to Wancote." Here panic
fell on Isabel, the panic that lies in wait for young girls: if
he were to think she thought he ought to offer to escort her!
"I'm late, I must go on now.  Good-bye!"

Lawrence stood looking down at her, impassive, almost sombre, but
for the hot glow in his eyes.  His caution had gone overboard.
"Mayn't I come too?"

"Oh. . . ."

"Do let me."

"If you--if you like."

The valley narrowed as it receded, the upland air began to
sparkle with a myriad prismatic needles that glittered from the
wings of flies and beetles, and from dewdrops on patches of turf
still as grey as hoarfrost in the shadow on the edge of a wood,
and from wayside hollies whose leaf-points were all starred in
silver.  The blue bow overhead was stainless, not a cloud in it
nor a mist: azure, azure, and unfathomable, like the heart of
man, or the justice of God.--Isabel was not shy now but alert
and radiant, as if she had caught a sparkle from the air: and
expansive, as women are when they are sure of pleasing.  "'For
the jaded man of the world at her side, the young girl's rustic
freshness was her chief charm.  She was so different from the
beautiful but heartless mondaines he had known in Town.  No
diamonds glittered round her slender throat, and her hands,
though small and well-shaped, were tanned by the summer sun.  But
for the jaded-man-of-the-world, weary of sparkling epigram or
caustic repartee, her simple chatter held a fascination of its
own.' I don't believe," reflected Isabel, coming down mentally to
plain prose, "he'd mind if I talked to him about the dinner or
last week's washing bill."

She did not in fact enter on any such intimate topic, but
conversed sedately about parish politics and the beauties of the
Plain.  "This is a very lonely part," she said, "there are
scarcely any houses.  I'm taking the magazine to one of Major
Clowes' shepherds.  It's rather interesting going there.  He's
mad."

"Mad!"

"As a March hare.  He's perfectly harmless of course, and an
excellent shepherd.  In lambing time he looks after the ewes like
a mother, Val says his flock hardly ever lose a lamb.  But he's a
thrilling person to district-visit.  Last time I went he had the
Prince of Wales staying with him."

"Why on earth don't they put him in an asylum?"

"Do you know much about country villages?" Isabel enquired.  "I
thought not.  They never put any one in an asylum till after he's
got into trouble, and not always then if he doesn't want to go:
just as they never build a bridge over a level crossing till one
or two people have been killed.  We had a woman in Chilmark that
was much madder than poor dear Ben is.  She took a knife out of
her drawer once when I was there and told me she was going to cut
her throat with it.  She made me feel the edge to see how sharp
it was.  At last she cut the children's throats instead of her
own, and then they put her away, but none of them died and she's
out again now. She's supposed to be cured.  You see a County
asylum doesn't keep people longer than it must because the money
comes out of the rates."

"Do you mean to say," Lawrence fastened on the point that struck
him most forcibly, "that your father lets you go to such places
by yourself?"

"Oh yes: why not?  He would think it showed want of faith to
prevent me.  He's very sensible about things like that," said
Isabel without affectation.  "There are always typhoid and
diphtheria about in the autumn, but Jimmy never fusses.  It
wouldn't be much use if he did, with him and Val always in and
out of infected houses."

"Pure fatalism--" said Lawrence, hitting with his stick at the
flowers by their path.  "Your brother ought to put his foot
down--" Isabel seized his arm.

"Take care!--  There was a bee in it.  You really are most
careless Captain Hyde! I shan't take you for any more walks if
you do that.  I dare say it was one of my own bees, and he had
the very narrowest escape!  And Val wouldn't dream of interfering.
Ben and I are the best of friends.  Besides, it's Mrs. Janaway I
really go to see, poor dear,  she don't ever hear a bit o' news from
week's end to week's end.  Wouldn't you be glad to see me," her eyes
were destitute of challenge but not of humour, "if you lived three
miles deep in the Plain, alone with your husband and the Prince of
Wales?"

"I should be delighted to see you at any time."

Isabel, not knowing what to do with this speech, let it alone.
"And the dog: I mustn't forget the dog.  They have a thoroughbred
Great Dane.  Mr. Bendish gave Ben the puppy because it was the
worst of the litter and they thought it would die: but it didn't
die--no animal does that Ben gets hold of--and he's too fond of
it now to part with it, though a dog fancier from Amesbury has
offered him practically his own price for it."

"I should like to see the Dane."

"Well, you will, if you come with me.  There's the cottage."

They had turned a bend and the head of the dale lay before them,
a mere dimpling depression between breasts of chalky grass.  Set
close by the way on a cross-track, which forded the brook by
stepping stones and went on over the downs to Amesbury, stood a
small, square, tumbledown cottage, its door opening on primeval
turf, though behind it a plot of garden enclosed in a quickset
hedge provided Mrs. Janaway with cabbages and gooseberries and
sour apples and room to hang out the clothes.

"Ben won't be in, but Billy will be looking after Clara.  Billy
is no good with the sheep, but he's death on tramps.  In fact if
I weren't here it wouldn't be too safe for you to go to the door.
A Dane can pull any man down: I've heard even Jack Bendish say he
wouldn't care to tackle him--"

Even Jack Bendish!  Lawrence smiled.  He felt the prick of
Isabel's blade, it amused him, automatically he reacted to it,
she made him want to fight the Dane first and Jack Bendish
afterwards--but he retained just too much of the ascendancy of
his six and thirty years to gratify her by self-betrayal.
"You're a very brave young lady," he said cheerfully, "but if I
were Val--"

He stopped short.  From the cottage window,  now not twenty yards
off, there had come a burst of the most appalling screams he had
ever heard in his life, the mechanical screaming of mortal agony.
Isabel went as white as chalk and even Hyde felt the blood turn
cold at his heart.  Next moment the door was torn open and out of
it came a big red-bearded man, dressed in a brown tweed jacket
and velveteen trousers tied at the knees, and prancing high in a
solemn jig.  In one hand he held up an iron stake and in the
other a rag of red and black carpet . . . the body of a woman in
a black dress, her arms and legs hanging down, her face a scarlet
mask that had ceased to scream.

"Keep back, Isabel," said Lawrence: then, running across the
turf, "Drop that, Janaway! drop her!" in the hard authoritative
voice of the barrack square.  With the fitful docility of the
mad, Janaway obeyed, and directly he did so Lawrence checked and
stood on the defensive, taking a moment to collect his wits--he
had need of them:  he had to make his head guard his hands.  He
was a tall powerful man, but so was the shepherd: to offset
Hyde's science, Janaway was mad and would be stopped by no
punishment short of a knock-out blow: and Lawrence carried only
an ordinary walking-stick, while Janaway had hold of an upright
from a bit of iron railing, five feet long and barbed like a
spear.

"If he whacks me over the head with that or jabs it into my
stomach, I'm done," Lawrence thought, and pat to the moment
Janaway, his mouth open and his teeth bare, rushed on him and
struck at his eyes.  Lawrence parried and sprang aside: but his
arm was jarred to the elbow.  "That was a close call.  Ha! my
chance now . . ."  Like a flash, as Janaway turned, Lawrence
ran in to meet him body to body, seized him by the lapels of his
coat, pinned down his arms, set one foot against his thigh, and
with no great exertion of strength, by the Samurai's trick of
falling with one's enemy, heaved him up and shot him clean over
his own shoulder: then, as they dropped together, struck with his
wrist a paralysing blow at the base of the spine.  Janaway's yell
of fury was choked into a rattling groan.

Lawrence was up in a twinkling, but the shepherd lay where he had
fallen, and Lawrence let him lie: he knew that, so handled, the
victim could be counted out of action, perhaps for good and all.
He stood erect, breathing deep.  Ben could wait, but what of Mrs.
Ben?  He was shocked to find Isabel already at her side on the
reddened turf.

Mechanically Lawrence picked up his stick before he went to join
her. Clara was huddled up over a pool of blood, her head between
her knees: not a pleasant sight for a young girl.  But Isabel,
though white and trembling, was collected.  "I can't feel her
heart, I--I'm afraid--"

She broke off.  Her glance had travelled beyond Lawrence and her
features were stiffening into a mask of fear.  "Oh, the dog, the
dog!"  she pointed past him.  "Billy, Billy, down, sir!"

From some eyrie on the hillside the Dane had watched without
emotion the legitimate spectacle of his master beating his
mistress: in the war of the sexes, a dog is ever on the man's
side.  But when the tables were turned Billy went to the rescue.
He was coming round the corner of the cottage when Isabel caught
sight of him, travelling in great bounds at the pace of a wolf,
but silent.  Lawrence had but just time to swing Isabel behind
him before the Dane leapt for his throat.  Lawrence struck him
over the head, but the blow glanced: so sudden, so thundering
came the impact that Lawrence all but went down under it: and
once down. . . .

The great jaws snapped one inch from his cheek, and before the
Dane could recover Lawrence had seized him by the throat and
fought him off.  Then Lawrence set his back against the cottage
wall and felt safer.  A second blow got home, and spoilt Billy's
beauty for ever:  it laid open his left eye and the left side of
his jaw. Undaunted, the Dane gave himself an angry shake, which
spattered Lawrence with blood, and gathered his haunches for a
second spring.  But by now Lawrence had clubbed his stick and was
beating him about the head with its heavy knobbed handle.  Swift
as the dog was, the man was swifter: they fought eye to eye, the
man forestalling every motion of the dog's whipcord frame:
Lawrence's blood was up, he would have liked to fight it out
bare-handed.  They would not have been ill-matched, for when the
Dane reared Lawrence overtopped him only by an inch or so, and
the weight of the steelclad paws on his breast tore open his
clothes and pinned him to the wall.  But Lawrence thrashed him
off his feet whenever he tried to rise, till at length the lean
muzzle sank with a low baffled moan.

Even then there was such fell strength in him that Lawrence dared
not spare him, and blow rained on blow.--"Don't kill him," said
Isabel.  "Put this over his head."

Lawrence took the length of serge she gave him and with
characteristic indifference to danger stooped over the dog, whose
spirit he admired, and tried to swathe his head in its heavy
folds.  But, torn, blinded, baffled, the Dane was undefeated.  He
wrenched his jaws out of their mufflings and rolled his head from
side to side, snapping right and left.  "Oh Billy," cried Isabel,
"you know me, lie down, dear old man!" A pure-bred dog when sight
and hearing are gone will recognize a familiar scent.  In an
agony of pity Isabel flung her arm over the heaving shoulders--

"Don't!" Lawrence dragged her off, but too late: the Dane's teeth
had snapped on her wrist.   The next moment he was lying on his
side with his brains beaten out.  Lawrence was willing to spare
his own enemy but not Isabel's.

"Oh," said Isabel, shivering and moaning, "oh, my poor old
Billy!"

"Damn your poor old Billy," said Lawrence: "let me look at your
arm."

He carried her indoors, leaving Janaway and his wife and the Dane
lying scattered on the sunlit turf.  He did not care one straw
whether they lived or died.  In the little front parlour, neat
and fresh with its window full of white muslin and red geraniums,
he laid Isabel on a sofa and rolled up her sleeve: the flesh was
not much torn but the Dane's fangs had sunk in deep and clean.
"How far are we from a doctor?"

"Four miles.  Why?  Billy wasn't mad.  I shall be all right
directly.   May I have some water to drink?"

"Curse these country hamlets," said Lawrence.  He could not carry
her four miles, nor was she fit to walk so far: but to fetch help
would mean an hour or so's delay.  He went into the kitchen to
filla tumbler from the pump, and found an iron wash-bowl in Clara
Janaway's neat sink, and a kettle boiling on the hob beside a
saucepan of potatoes that she had been cooking for dinner.
Isabel sat up and took the glass from his hand.

"I'm so sorry," she murmured, raising her beautiful dark eyes in
a diffident apology. "It was all my own fault." Lawrence slipped
a cushion under her head and drew her gently down.  "Oh, thank
you!  But please don't trouble about me. I do feel rather queer."
Lawrence thought it probable.  He had been bitten by a dog
himself and knew how horribly such a wound smarts.  "It was all
so--so very dreadful.  But I shall be all right directly.. Do go
back to the others: I'm afraid poor Clara--oh!   oh, Captain
Hyde!  What are you doing?"

"Set your teeth and shut your eyes," said Lawrence "it won't take
long.  Your beloved Billy wasn't a nice animal to be bitten by.
No, he wasn't mad, but his teeth weren't very clean, and we don't
want blood poisoning to set up.  Steady now." He pressed his lips
to her arm.

Isabel's hand lay lax in his grasp while he methodically sucked
the wound and rinsed his mouth from her tumbler.  He hurt her,
but she had been bred to accept pain philosophically.  "Is it
done?" she asked meekly when he released her.  "Not any more?"

"No, that's enough.  Now for a drop of warm water." He bathed the
wound thoroughly and in default of a better dressing bound it up
with his own handkerchief.  "I wish I had some brandy to give
you, but there isn't a drop in the place.  Your estimable friend
appears to have been a teetotaller.  I don't doubt he was a
pattern of all the virtues.--  But for that matter I couldn't give
the child publichouse stuff.--  Now, my little friend, if you'll
lie quiet for five minutes, I'll see what's going on outside."

"Please may I have my skirt?"

"Your what?"

"My serge skirt."

It had not struck Lawrence till then that she was dressed in a
white muslin blouse and a pink and blue striped petticoat.  "Do
you mean to say that was your skirt you gave me to tie up the
dog's head in?"

"I hadn't anything else," said Isabel still more apologetically,
and blushing--she was feeling very guilty, very much ashamed of
the trouble she had given: "and you don't know how fond Ben was
of Billy!"

"Oh, damn Billy!" said Lawrence for the second time.

He went out into the summer sunshine.  The dog, the fallen man,
the fallen woman, not one of  them had stirred a hair.  All was
peaceful and clear in every note of black and white and scarlet
on the turf plat where they lay as if on a stage, in their green
setting of dimpled hillside and beech grove and marsh.  There was
a sickly smell in the hot bright air which carried Lawrence back
to the trenches.

He went to examine the human wreckage.  No need to examine Billy
--his record for good or ill was manifestly closed: and Lawrence
had a sickening suspicion that Mrs. Janaway too had finished with
a world which perhaps had not offered her much inducement to
remain in it.  He lifted her up and laid her down again in a
decent posture, straightening her limbs and sweeping back her
clotted grey hair: no, no need to feel for the pulse in that
faded breast from which her husband had partly torn away the
neatly darned stuff bodice, so modest with its white tucker and
silver Mizpah brooch.  Lawrence composed its disorder with a
reverent hand, spreading his own coat over her face.

He went on to Ben, and was frankly disappointed to find that Ben
was not dead--far from it: he gave a deep groan when Lawrence
rolled him over: but it was a case of broken arm and collarbone,
if not of spinal injury as well.  Lawrence found a length of line
in the yard--Clara's clothes-line, in fact--and knotted it into
a triple cord, for, though no sane man could have got far in such
a state, it was on the cards that Janaway in his madness might
scramble up and wander away on the downs.  So Lawrence lashed him
hand and foot, and Ben blinked and grinned at the sun and
slavered over his beard.

It was while thus employed that Lawrence began to wonder what
would have happened if Isabel had come to Wancote alone.  She
might have run away.  But would she, while Ben was engaged in
carpet-beating?  Not she!  Lawrence was not a fanciful man: but
the red and grey remains of Clara Janaway would have set the
visualizing faculty to work in the mind of a ploughboy.  After
tying the last of a dozen knots, reef knots and none too loose,
he went to the back of the cottage where Isabel could not see him
and was swiftly and violently sick.

After that he felt better.  There was a pump in the yard, and he
rinsed his head and hands under it, and washed off as best he
could the stains of the fight, and re-knotted his scarf and shook
himself down into his disordered clothes before going back to
Isabel. And then it was that Isabel received of him a fresh
impression as though she had never known him before, one of those
vivid second impressions that efface earlier memories.

Val had always held paternal rank, Captain Hyde had been
introduced as Val's late superior officer, and so Isabel had
accepted him as Val's contemporary, of the generation before her
own.  But framed in the sunlit doorway, a very tall handsome man
in undress, his coat thrown off, his trousers belted on his lean
flanks, his wet shirt modelling itself over his powerful throat
and shoulders and sticking to his ribs,  Hyde might have been
only six or seven and twenty: and certainly his manner was not
middle-aged!  Val's language was refined enough for a curate, and
even Rowsley in his young sister's presence never went beyond a
sarcenet oath; but Hyde's frank fury was piquant to Isabel's not
very decorous taste.  When he came in, her pain and faintness
began to diminish as if a stream of warm fresh life were flowing
into her veins.

"Are you better, Miss Isabel?"

"Ever so much better, thank you.  Is--is Clara--?"

Cool, grave, and tranquil, Lawrence took her hand.  "Clara is
dead."  He felt her trembling, and found a form of consolation
which would have been slow to occur to his unprompted fancy.
"Better so, isn't it?  She wouldn't have been very happy after her
husband's trying to kill her."

"No, she wouldn't want them to put him in an asylum," Isabel
agreed, but in a subdued voice.  "Did you forget my skirt?"

"No, but it was rather in a mess with the unfortunate Billy, and
I'm afraid you'll have to do without it.  I'm going to take you
home now.  You can walk, can't you, with my help?  I'd like to
carry you a few steps, till we're out of sight of the cottage.
Put your arm round my neck." Isabel hesitated.  She had been
frightened out of her life and still felt cruelly shaken, but her
quick sense of the ridiculous protested against this deference
paid to her when she wasn't really hurt and it was all her own
fault.  What would Val have said?  But apparently Captain Hyde
was less exacting than Val.  "Ah! let me: it is an ugly little
scene outside and I don't want you to be haunted by it."

She resigned herself.  She had not yet begun to feel shy of
Lawrence, she was a child still, a child with the instincts of a
woman, but those instincts all asleep.  They quickened in her
when she felt the glow of his life so near her own, but there was
a touch of Miranda in Isabel, and no cautionary withdrawal
followed.

And Lawrence?  The trustfulness of a noble nature begets what it
assumes.  One need not ask what would have become of Miranda if
she had given her troth to an unworthy Ferdinand, because the
Mirandas of this world are rarely deceived.  Hyde was but a
battered Ferdinand.  He was a man of strong and rather coarse
fibre who had indifferently indulged tastes that he saw no reason
to restrain.  But he was changing: when he carried Isabel across
the sunlit grass plot, her beautiful grave childish head lying
warm on his shoulder, he had travelled far from the Hyde of the
summer house at Bingley.

"My word!" said Yvonne Bendish, startled out of her drawl.  "Is
it you,  Isabel?" She reined in and sat gazing with all her eyes
at the couple coming down the field path to Chilmark Bridge.
"Have you had an accident?  What's happened?"

"Excuse my hat," said Lawrence with rather more than his habitual
calm.  "How lucky to have met you.  There has been a shocking
business up at Wancote.  Perhaps you would take Miss Stafford
home?  She should be got to bed, I think."

Mrs. Jack Bendish was not soon ruffled, nor for long.  "Lift her
in," she said.  "Sorry I can't make room for you too, Captain
Hyde, you are as white as a ghost.  Very upsetting, isn't it? but
don't worry, girls of her age turn faint rather easily.  Her arm
hurt? . . ."  She pointed down the road with her whip.  "Dr.
Verney lives at The Laburnus, on the right, beyond the publichouse.
If you would be so kind as to send him up to the vicarage?"

She whipped up her black ponies and was gone.  Lawrence was
grateful to her for asking no questions, but he would rather have
taken Isabel direct to Val.  Romance in bud requires a delicate
hand.  Now Mrs. Jack Bendish had all the bourgeois virtues except
modesty and discretion.



CHAPTER X


The Wancote affair made a nine days' wonder in the Plain.  Indeed
it even got into the London papers, under such titles as "A
Domestic Tragedy" or "Duel with a Dog": and, while the Morning
Post added a thumbnail sketch of Captain Hyde's distinguished
career, the Spectator took Ben as the text of a "middle" on "The
Abuse of Asylum Administration in Rural Districts."

Lawrence himself, when he had despatched Hubert Verney to the
vicarage, would have liked to cut his responsibility.  But it
could not be done: first there was the village policeman to run
to earth and information to be laid before him, and then, since
Brown's first flustered impulse was to arrest all concerned from
Lawrence to Clara Janaway,  Lawrence had to walk down with him to
Wharton to interview Jack Bendish, as both the nearest magistrate
and the nearest sensible man.  But after pouring his tale into
Jack's sympathetic ear he felt entitled to wash his hands of the
affair.  Instead of going back to Wanhope with the relief party
he got Bendish to drop him at the field path to Wanhope: and he
slipped up to his room by a garden door, bathed, changed, and
came down to lunch without trace of discomposure.  Gaston,
curtly ordered to take his master's clothes away and burn them,
was eaten by curiosity, but in vain.

Even before his cousin, Lawrence did not own to his adventure
till the servants had left the room.  If it could have been kept
dark he would not have owned to it at all.  He did so only
because it must soon be common property and he did not care to be
taxed with affectation.

When, bit by bits his story came out across the liqueur glasses
and the early strawberries, Major Clowes laid his head back and
roared with laughter.  Lawrence was annoyed: he had not found it
amusing and he felt that his cousin had a macabre and uncomfortable
sense of humour.  But Bernard,  wiping the tears from his eyes,
developed unabashed his idea of a good joke.  "Hark to him!  Now
isn't that Lawrence all over?  What! can't you run down for
twenty-four hours to a hamlet the size of Chilmark but you must
bring your faics divers in your pocket?"

"It isn't my fault if you have dangerous lunatics at large," said
Lawrence, helping himself daintily to cream.  "If this is a
specimen of the way things go on in country districts, thank you,
give me a London slum.  The brute was as mad as a hatter.  He
ought to have been locked up years ago.  I can't conceive what
Stafford was about to keep him on the estate."

"All very fine," Bernard chuckled, "but I'd lay any odds Ben
didn't go for Mrs. Ben till he saw you coming."

"Adventures are to the adventurous," Laura mildly translated the
bitter jest.  Her mission in life was to smooth down Bernard's
rough edges.  "But that is too ugly, Berns.  You oughtn't to say
such a thing even in fun.  It was no fun for Lawrence."

"I don't object to an occasional scrap," said Lawrence.  "But
this one was overdone." He shivered suddenly from head to foot.

"Hallo, old man, I didn't know you had a nerve in your body!"
said Bernard staring at him.

Lawrence went on with his strawberries in an ungenial silence.
He was irritated by his momentary self betrayal. If he had cared
to explain it he would have had to confess that though personally
indifferent to adventures he disliked to have women mixed up in
them.  He was glad when Laura with her intuitive tact changed the
conversation, not too abruptly.

"All modern men have nerves.  I should think Lawrence had as few
as any, but it must have been a frightful scene.  I must run up
after lunch and see Isabel.  Poor child!  But she's wonderfully
brave.  All the Staffords were brought up to be stoical: if they
knocked themselves about as children they were never allowed to
cry.  Mr. Stafford is a fanatic on the point of personal courage.
Val told me once that the only sins for which his father ever
cuffed him were telling fibs and running away."

"Did he get cuffed often?" Lawrence enquired.

"Shouldn't wonder," said Bernard. "Val's one of your nervy men."

"Not after he was ten years old," said Laura smiling.  "But as a
little boy he was always in trouble.  Not the wisest treatment,
was it? for a delicate, sensitive child."

"Miss Isabel is not nervous," said Lawrence. "She is as cool a
young lady as I have ever seen. I believe she still owes me a
grudge for hitting Billy so hard." He dipped his fingers
delicately into his finger bowl.  "No, no more, thanks.  Did I
tell you that the brute of a Dane bit her?"

"Bit Isabel!"

"Made his teeth pretty nearly meet in her forearm.  She was
trying to soothe the dear dog.  Mr. Stafford's theories may be
ethically beautiful, but I object to their being carried to
extremes.  Frankly, I should describe your young friend as
idiotically rash," said Lawrence with a wintry smile.  "I
couldn't prevent her doing it because I hadn't the remotest
notion she was going to do it.  The Dane was practically mad with
rage.  I could have cuffed her myself with pleasure.  It was a
wild thing to do and not at all agreeable for me."

"But, my dear Lawrence, that is one way of looking at it!" Laura
protested, amused by his cool egoism, though she took it with the
necessary grain of salt.  "Bitten by that horrible dog?  My poor
Isabel! she loves dogs--I don't suppose she stopped to consider
her own feelings or yours."

"She ought to have had more sense."

"Hear, hear!" said Bernard.  "Half the trouble in the world comes
from women shoving in where they're not wanted.  It's a pleasure
to talk to you, Lawrence, after lying here to be slobbered over
by a pack of old women.  I always exclude you, my dear," he
nodded to Laura, "but the parson twaddles on till he makes me
sick, and Val's not much better.  What's a woman want with
courage?  Teach her to buy decent clothes and put 'em on
properly, and she's learning something useful.  I'll guarantee
Isabel only got in the way. But you, Lawrence," he measured his
cousin with an admiring eye, much as a Roman connoisseur might
have run over the points of a favourite gladiator, "I should have
liked to see you tackle the Dane.   You're a big chap--deeper in
the chest than I ever was, and longer in the reach.  What's your
chest measurement?--  Yes, you look it.  And nothing in your hand
but a stick?  By Jove, it must have been worth watching!  Hey,
Laura?"

"Bernard, you are embarrassing!  You will make even Lawrence shy.
But, yes," Laura laid her hand on Hyde's arm: "I should have
liked to watch you fight the Dane."

How long was it since any one had spoken to Lawrence in that warm
tone of affection?  Not since his father died.  From time to time
Mrs. Cleve or other ladies had flattered his senses or his
vanity, but none of them had ever looked at him with Laura's kind
admiring eyes.  Perhaps after all there was something to be said
for family life!  Tragic wreck as Clowes was, he would have been
far more to be pitied but for his wife: their marriage, crippled
and sterilized, was yet--as Lawrence saw it--a beautiful
relation.  Suppose he stood in that relation to Isabel?  Sitting
at table in the cool panelled diningroom, his careless pose
stiffening under Laura's touch, Lawrence for the first time began
to wonder whether he would not gain more in happiness than he
would lose in freedom if he were to make the child his wife.

"To make the child his wife." He was not really more of an egoist
than the average man, but he did assume that if he wanted her he
could win her.  His mistress was very young: it was her rose of
youth and her unquelled spirit that charmed him even more than
her beauty: and she had not sixpence to her name, while he was a
rich man.  He did not, as Bernard would have done, go on to plume
himself on his magnanimity, or infer that Isabel's gratitude
would give him a claim on her fealty over and beyond the Pauline
duty of wives.  In the immediate personal relation Lawrence was
visited by a saving humility.  But on the main issue he took, or
thought he took, a practical view.  A man in love cannot soberly
analyse his own psychological state, and Lawrence did not know
that he had fallen in love with Isabel at first sight or that the
germ of matrimonial intentions had lain all along in his mind.
Here and now he believed that he first thought of marrying her.

Then he would have to stay on at Wanhope.   And court Isabel
under the eyes of all Chilmark?  Under Bernard's eyes at all
events; they were already watching him.  Lawrence was irritated:
whatever happened, he was not going to be watched by his cousin
and chaffed and argued over and betted on.  In most points
indifferently frank, Lawrence was silent as the grave where sex
came into play.

"Thank you." He touched with his lips the hand that Laura had
innocently laid on his wrist.  "It can't really be fourteen
years, Laura, since you were staying at Farringay."

"Flatterer!" said Laura, smiling but startled, and rising from
her chair.  "This to an old married woman!"

"Ah! when I remember that I knew you before this fellow did--!"

"Here, I say," came Bernard's voice across the table, riotously
amused, "none o' that! none o' that!"

"Penalty for having a charming wife," laughed Lawrence, in his
preoccupation blind and deaf to danger signals.  He rose to open
the door for Laura.  "By the by, if you go to the vicarage this
afternoon, I'll stroll up with you, if I may.  I suppose I owe
the young lady that much civility!"

"I can't: I'm busy," said Laura hastily.  "That is, I don't know
what time I shall get away.  Go by yourself, don't wait for me."

"Rubbish," said Bernard.  "Much pleasanter for both of you to
have the walk together.  Lawrence doesn't want to go alone, do
you?" ("Rather not," said Lawrence heartily.) "And I don't want
you here, my love, if that's the trouble, I can't have you tied
to the leg of my sofa."

Later, when Lawrence had gone out on the lawn to smoke, Bernard
recalled Laura.  She came to him.  He took hold of her wrist and lay
smiling up at her.  "Nice relationship, isn't it, cousins-in-law?
So free and easy.  You--.  I watched you pawing him about.  So
affectionate.  He felt it too.  Did you see the start he gave?  He
twigged fast enough.  Think you can play that game under my nose, do
you?  So you can.  I don't care what you do. Take yourself off now
and take him with you."

"Don't pinch my wrist below the cuff, Bernard," said his wife. "I
can't wear gloves at tea."

"You can stop out all night for all I care," said Clowes.  "I'm
sick of the sight of you."

Then Laura knew that the Golden Age was over.

Isabel had refused to go to bed.  She had no nerves: she saw life
in its proper colours without refraction.  The dreadful scene at
Wancote had made its full impression on her, but she was not
beset like Hyde by visions of what might have been.  Still she
was tired and subdued, and when Verney had dressed her arm she
announced her intention of spending the afternoon in the garden
out of the way of kind enquiries: and she settled herself on an
Indian chair behind a thicket of lilac and syringa, while Val and
Rowsley and Yvonne brought books and cushions and chocolate and
eau de cologne to comfort beauty in distress.

But she had reckoned without the wicket gate in the garden wall,
which Lawrence let himself in by.   He caught sight of her as he
crossed the lawn and came up to her bare-headed.  "How are you?"
he asked without preface.  "Better now?"

His informality went against the grain of Isabel's taste: he had
no right to presume on a forced situation: with what fastidious
modesty Val would have drawn back!  She was tired, and she did
not want to be reminded of what had happened in the morning.  She
shut up her book, but kept a finger in the place.  "Thank you.
I'm sorry the others are all out."

"Mrs. Clowes sent me on ahead."

For the second time she had made Lawrence redden like a girl, and
his easy manner deserted him.  Isabel unconsciously let the book
slip from her hand.  The lives of the Forsythe family were less
absorbing than her own life when this fiery dramatic glow was
shed over it.  A singular smile flitted over her lips: "Well, you
may as well sit down now you are here," she observed.  Lawrence
sat down in a deck chair and Isabel's smile broadened: she was
laughing at him and teasing him with her eyes, though what she
said remained conventional to the point of primness.  "Is Laura
coming to see me?  How sweet of her!  But what a pity she
couldn't come with you!  Why couldn't she?"

"I believe she stayed to look after my cousin."

"How is Major Clowes?  Did he have a good night and was he in a--
was he cheerful today?"

"So-so: he's not a great talker, is he?"

Isabel's speaking face expressed dissent.   "Perhaps not when
he's in a good temper.  Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm always forgetting
he's your cousin."

"I'm prone to forget it myself.  I've seen so little of him."

 "('Though the blase-man-of-the-world had seen thousands of
superbly beautiful women in elegant creations by Paquin or Worth,
his gaze was riveted as by a mesmeric attraction on the innocent
young girl in her simple little white muslin frock, with her
lissome ankles and slim, sunburnt hands.')  Laura said you had
been a great traveller.  Shall you settle down in England?"

"Not unless I marry."

Isabel declined this topic, on which Mrs. Jack Bendish would have
expatiated.  "Laura says you have a lovely old house in
Somersetshire.  It must be jolly to have an ancestral house."

"Mine is not ancestral," said Lawrence amused. "My father bought
it forty years ago at the time of the agricultural depression.
It belonged to some county people--Sir Frank Fleet--who
couldn't afford to keep it up.  It is a lovely place, Farringay,
but it's full of Fleet ghosts and the neighbourhood doesn't let
me forget that I'm an alien."

"But how absurd! how narrow-minded!" exclaimed Isabel. "Houses
must change hands now and then, and I dare say your father was a
better landlord than the Fleets were.  Besides, see how much worse it
might have been!  There's Wilmerdings, here in Chilmark, that the
Morleys have taken: his name isn't Morley at all, Yvonne says it's
Moss in the City: but they foreclosed on the Orr-Matthews' mortgage
and turned them out, and that darling old place is delivered over to
a horrid little Jew!"

"Poor Morley!" said Lawrence laughing.  "I am a Jew myself."
Isabel was stricken dumb.  "I thought I had better tell you than
let you hear it from some one else.  No, don't apologize! these
things will happen, and I'm not deeply hurt, for I refuse to call
sibb with a Moss-Morley. I should never foreclose on any one's
mortgage.  My mother was an Englishwoman and my father was a
Levantine--half Jew, half Greek.  Have you never heard of Andrew
Hyde the big curio dealer in New Bond Street?  He was commonly
known as old Hyde-and-seek.  The Hyde galleries are famous.  As I
remember him he was a common-looking little old man with a
passion for art."

"Well, I'm sorry I said such a stupid thing," said Isabel, still
very red, "not because of hurting your feelings, for it isn't
likely that anything I said would do that--but because it was
stupid in itself, and narrow-minded, and snobbish.  It'll be a
lesson to me.  All the same, it's interesting."  She had
forgotten by now that she was an innocent-young-girl and Lawrence
a blase-man-of-the-world, and had slipped into a vein of intimacy
which was fast charming Lawrence out of all his caution.  "I
suppose you take after your father, and that's why you're so
unlike Major Clowes.  He is a Clowes, but you're a Hyde."

"What does that mean?"

Isabel waited a moment to think it out.  "You're more of a
cosmopolitan; I expect you have a passion for art too, like your
father. Major Clowes hasn't.  He doesn't care two pins for the
beauty of his old swords and daggers, he cares only for getting
all the different sorts.  You, perhaps, might care almost too
much." Lawrence dropped his eyes.  "And you vary more, you're
not always the same,  you have more facets: one can see you've
done all sorts of things and mixed with all sorts of people. I
suppose that's why you're so easily bored--I don't mean to be
rude!"

"At the present moment I am deeply interested.  Go on: it charms
me to be dissected to my face,  and by such an able hand."

"No: it's absurd and I never meant to begin it.  Of course I
don't know a bit what you're like."

"God forbid!" Lawrence murmured:--"Guess away and I'll tell you
if you're right."

"You won't play fair.  You won't own up and you'll get cross if I
do."

"Not I, I have the most amiable temper in the world."

"Now I wonder if that's true?" said Isabel, scrutinizing him
closely.  "Perhaps you wouldn't often take the trouble to get in
a wax.  Oh well," surrendering at indiscretion, "then I guess
that you care for very few people and for those few very much."

"Missed both barrels.  I like any number of people and I
shouldn't care if I never saw one of them again."

Isabel laughed. "I said you wouldn't play fair."

"Don't you believe me?"

"No, of course not.  You wouldn't say it if it were true."

Lawrence drew a deep breath and looked away.  Their nook of turf was
out of sight of the house,  sheltered from it behind a great thicket
of lilac and syringa, which walled off the lawn from the kitchen
garden full of sweet-smelling currant bushes and apple-trees laden
with green fruit.  The sleepy air was alive with gilded wasps, and
between the stiffly-drooping apple-branches, with their coarse
foliage, and the pencilled frieze of stonecrop and valerian waving
along the low stone boundarywall, there was a dim honey-coloured
expanse that stretched away like an inland sea, where, the afternoon
sunshine lay in a yellow haze over brown and yellow and blue tracts
of the Plain.  Nothing was to be heard but the drone of wings near at
hand and the whirr of a haycutter far down in the valley.  No one was
near and summer lay heavy on the land.

"I did care once. . I had a bad smash in my life when I was
little more than a boy." He dragged a heavy gold band from his
finger.  "That was my wedding ring."

"Oh ... I'm sorry!" faltered Isabel.  She was stunned by the
extraordinary confidence.

"I married out of my class.  It was when I was at Cambridge.  She
was a beautiful girl but she was not a lady.  Her father was a
tobacconist in the Cury, and Lizzie liked to serve in the shop.
As she didn't want to lose her character nor I my degree, we
compromised on secret nuptials. I took a house for her in Newham
where I could go and visit her. I ought not to tell you the rest
of the story."

"Oh yes, you can," said Isabel simply. "I hear all sorts of
stories in the village."

So childish in some ways, so mature in others, she saw that
Lawrence was longing to unbosom himself, and her instinct was to
listen quietly, for, after all, this, though the strangest, was
not the first such confidence that had been poured into her ear.
She and her brother Val were alike in occasionally hearing
secrets that had never been told to any one else.  Why?  Probably
because they never gave advice, never moralized, never thought of
themselves at all but only of the friend in distress. Isabel took
Hyde's hand and held it closely, palm to palm.  "Tell me all
about it."

"There was another fellow at Trinity who had been in the Sixth at
Eton with me, a year older than I was, a very brilliant man and
as hard as nails: Rendell, his name was: an athlete, a tophole
centre-forward, with a fascinating Irish manner and blazing blue
eyes.  To him I told my tale, because we were Damon and Pythias,
and I couldn't have kept a secret from him to save my life.  I
was an ingenuous youngster in those days: never was such a pal as
my pal!  He saw me through my marriage and afterwards I took him
with me once or twice to Myrtle Villa: it may illuminate the
situation if I say that it made me all the prouder of Lizzie when
I saw Rendell admired her: never was such an idyll as my manage a
trois! Unluckily, one evening when I turned up unexpectedly I
found them together."

"Oh! . . . What did you do?"

"Nothing.  There was nothing to be done. I wasn't going to ruin
myself by divorcing her.  Luckily the war broke out and Rendell
and I both enlisted the next day.  He was killed fighting by my
side at Neuve Chapelle, and I had the job of breaking the news to
Lizzie.  She was royally angry, poor Lizzle: told me I had no
right to be alive when a better man than myself was dead. I
agreed: Rendell was--the better man, though he didn't behave
well to me.  He died better than he lived.  Out there it didn't
seem to matter much.  He died in my arms."

"Did you forgive your wife?"

"I never lived with her again, if that's what you mean.  If I had
been willing, which I wasn't, she never would have consented.
She had the rather irrational prejudices of her type and class,
and persisted in regarding me, or professing to regard me, as
answerable for Rendell's death.  It wasn't true," said Lawrence,
turning his eyes on Isabel without any attempt to veil their
agony.  "If I'd meant to shoot him I should have shot him to his
face.  But I'd have saved him if I could.  How on earth could any
one do anything in such a hell as Neuve Chapelle?  That week
every officer in my company was either killed or wounded.  But
Lizzie had no imagination.  She couldn't get beyond the fact that
I was alive and he was dead."

"What became of her?"

"I'm sorry to say she went to the bad.  She had money from both
of us, but she spent it in public houses--didn't seem to care
what happened to her after losing Arthur: a wretched life: it
ended last January with her death from pneumonia after measles.
That was what brought me back to England; I couldn't stand coming
home before."

"Was it a relief when she died?"

"No, I was sorry," said Hyde.  His wide black eyes, devil-driven
beyond reticence, were riveted on Isabel's: apparently she no
longer existed for him except as the Chorus before whom he could
strip himself of the last rag of his reserve.  "It brought it all
back.  I was besotted when I married her, and I remembered all
that when I saw her dead. I forgot the other men.  It was just as
it was when Arthur died.  I couldn't do anything for him, and he
was in agony: he was shot through the stomach: it didn't seem to
matter then that he had robbed me of Lizzie.  I couldn't even get
him a drop of water to drink.  He died hard, did Rendell.  It
wasn't true, what Lizzie said.  I'd have given my life for him.
But I couldn't even make it easy for him to go."

"Poor Rendell," said Isabel softly, "and poor you!  Oh, I'm so
sorry--I'm so sorry!"

She was not afraid of Hyde now nor shy of him, she felt only an
immense pity for him--this man who for no conceivable reason and
without the slightest warning had flung the weight of his
terrible past on her young shoulders.  She longed to comfort him.
But he was inaccessibly far away, isolated, his voice rapid and
hard and clear, his manner normal: every nerve stripped bare but
still rigid.  Inexperienced as she was, Isabel had a shrewd idea
of his immediate need.  She took up the ring that Lawrence had
wrenched off and slipped it on his finger again.

"Don't do that," said Lawrence starting: "why do you do that?"

"But I shall love to see you wear it," said Isabel. "It's the
sign that you've forgiven them both."

"Have I?"

"Of course you have.  You loved them too much not to forgive."

"It is true.  But I hate myself for it," said Lawrence.  "I hate
your etiolated Christian ethics.  I don't believe in the
forgiveness of sins.  The complaisant husband, O God!  If I'd had
the spirit of a man, I should have shot Arthur the night--that
night--. . . .

 "But you loved him," said Isabel, "and your wife too.  You felt
revenge and hate and passion, but love was stronger: and love is
nobler than hate.  They betrayed you, but you never betrayed
them.  It wasn't unmanly of you, it was defeat and dishonour for
them, not for you, when Rendell, after that great wrong he had
done you, when you tried to make it easy for him to go."

"May I--?" said Lawrence.

He leaned his face down on her open palms, and she felt the tears
that she could not see.  He could not control them, and indeed
after the first racking agony, when he felt as though his will
were being torn out of him by the roots, he made no effort to
control them, releasing Isabel and dropping at full length upon
the turf.  Nothing else, no torment of his own thoughts, not
Rendell's last pangs nor his wife's beauty young again in death
had ever made Hyde weep: if Rendell had died hard, Lawrence had
lived equally hard, locking up his frightful trouble in his own
breast, escaping from it when he could, cursing it and fighting
against it when it threatened to overpower him.  But now he
surrendered to it and acknowledged to himself that it had broken
his life.  And he felt no shame, not one iota, nothing but a
profound soulagement: the proud reticent man, too vain to shed
tears in his own room alone, wept voluntarily before Isabel,
uncovering for her pity the wounds not only of grief but of rage
and humiliation.

Such an outbreak would have been impossible in a man of pure
English blood, and in a pure Oriental it would have manifested
itself differently, but Isabel had truly said of Hyde that his
temperament was not homogeneous: the mixed strain in him betrayed
him into strange incongruities of strength and weakness.  Isabel
shut her eyes to incongruity.  She gave him without stint the
pitying gentleness he thirsted for.  She refused now to contrast
him with her brother.  Certainly Val's judgment would have been
cutting and curt.  But just?  Hardly.  By instinct Isabel felt
that her brother's clear, sane, English mind had not all the
factors necessary for judging this collapse.

Her imagination was at work in the shadow: "'the night--that
night. . . ." How do men live through such hours?  She saw Lizzie
as a chocolate-box beauty, but redeemed from hebetude by her
robust youth: able to attract Hyde by his love of luxury and to
hold him by main force: uneducated, coarse, and cruel, but not
weak.  What a disastrous marriage! doomed from the outset, even
if no Rendell had come on the scene.  Isabel dismissed Rendell
rather scornfully: in that night at Myrtle Villa she felt pretty
sure that the duel had been fought out between husband and wife:
the very staging of it, picturesque for Lizzie Hyde and tragic
for her husband, must for the entrapped lover have taken a frame
of ignominious farce. A gleam shot through Isabel's eyes-as she
imagined Rendell trying to face Hyde, and Hyde sparing him and
sending him away untouched.  No, no! as between the two men, the
honours lay with Hyde.

But as between him and Lizzie?  There the reckoning was not so
easy.  His wife had set scars on him that would never wear out.
Dimly Isabel guessed that since coming out of her destructive
hands Hyde himself could be both coarse and cruel: the seed of
brutality must have been in him all along, but Myrtle Villa had
fertilized it.  If he married again, what would be required of
Lizzie's successor?  A strange deep smile gave to Isabel's young
lips the wisdom of the women of all the ages. Love that gives
without stint asking for no recompense: love that understands yet
will not criticize nor listen to criticism: love that dares to
deny its lover for his own sake.

After collapse came quiescence, and, after a long quiescence,
revival.  Hyde raised himself on his arm and felt for his
handkerchief--indifferent to Isabel's observation, or soothed by
it:  his features were ravaged.  Isabel drenched her own
handkerchief in Mrs. Bendish's eau-de cologne and gave it him,
dripping wet.  "Take this, it will do you  good."

"Thank you" said Lawrence, exhausted and subdued.

Becoming gradually rather more composed, he raised his eyes
again.  "What must you think of me? It is beyond apology.  Will
you ever forgive me?"

"There's nothing to forgive: I'm not hurt."

"You're rather young to hear such a history as mine."

She blushed.  "Val says it doesn't matter what one knows so long
as one doesn't think about it in the wrong way." With her sweet
friendly smile, she touched with her fingertip the lapel of his
coat: an airy gesture, but there was a fire as well as sweetness
in Isabel, and for his life Lawrence could not repress a start.
"You mustn't mind me, Captain Hyde.  You needn't mind, because
you couldn't help it.  One can keep a secret for twenty years but
not for ever, and for confessor I suppose any woman will do
better than a man, won't she?  It's not as though I should ever
tell any one else: I never will, I promise you that.  You'll go
away and never see me again, and it'll be as though no one knew
or as though I were dead."

Touching innocence!  Did she indeed imagine that after such a
scene . . .?

"But I do not care two straws," said Lawrence, "so spare your
consolations!  On the contrary, it has been a great relief to me.
It's as if you had unlocked a door.  The prisoner you have set
free thanks you.  I was only afraid it might have been too much
for you, but you're made of strong stuff.  Yet I don't suppose
you ever saw a man weep before: well, you've seen it now: mon
Dieu, mon Dieu, but I am tired!  But you've let yourself in for a
considerable responsibility."

"For what?"

"For me.  Do you think it can ever again be the same between us?"
On one knee by Isabel's chair, Hyde laughed down at her with his
brilliant eyes, irreticent and unsparing of timidity in others.
"Do you think I could have leaned my head on any hands but
yours?"

He came too near, he touched her.  Isabel had gone through a
great deal that day, but, with the cruel and sordid history of
Hyde's married life fresh in her mind, none of the material
horrors at Wancote had produced in her such a shuddering recoil
as now.  His wife had not been dead six months!  "Captain Hyde,
how dare you?"

"I beg your pardon."

Lawrence drew himself up, a good-humoured  smile on his lips: but
they were pale.  "I--I didn't mean to hurt you," faltered
Isabel, as the tension of his silence reached her.  What right
had she, a young girl, to impose her own code of delicacy on a
man of Hyde's age and standing?--Lawrence looked at her
searchingly and his eyes changed, the sad irony died out of them,
and rapidly, imperceptibly, he returned to his normal manner.

"Nor I to frighten you.  Why, what a child it is, after all!
Yes, your hands are strong, but they aren't practised yet.  Never
mind, you shall forget or remember anything you like, except this
one thing which it pleases me and may please you to remember that
I'm very glad you know the worst and weakest of me--"

"Isabel, are you there?"

Thus daily life revenges itself on those who forget its
existence.

"That is Val's voice," said Lawrence.  He stood up, no longer
pale.  "Heavens, I can't face him!"

"Oh dear!" said Isabel in dismay.  She was no more anxious for
them to meet than Lawrence was,  but Val's footstep on the turf
was dangerously near.  But he was making for the middle of the
lilac-hedge, for the red rose archway and the asphalt walk
between reddening apple trees: and Isabel was sitting near the
end, close to the garden wall.  She flew out of her chair, held
up a branch while  Lawrence squeezed between the wall and the
lilacs,  and flew back and curled up again.  The lilac leaves had
not finished twinkling and rustling when  Val appeared.

"How are you, invalid?  I came home early on purpose to look
after you." He was in well-worn grey  riding clothes, booted and
spurred, his whip in one hand and his gloves in the other: a
slight,  cool, well-knit figure of low tones and half-lights.
"Have you had a quiet afternoon?"

"So-so," said Isabel, crimson.

"You look flushed, my darling," said Val tenderly.  He sat down
at the foot of Isabel's Indian chair and laid a finger on her
wrist. "You don't  feel feverish, do you?" The light click of the
wicket gate, which meant that Lawrence was safely off the
premises, enabled Isabel to say no with a sigh of relief.  "It
must be the hot weather.  Hallo! what have we here?"

He held up the gold cigarette case which had dropped from Hyde's
coat when he was lying on the grass.

"Some of Mrs. Bendish's property by the look of it," remarked
Val. "Diamonds, begad!  I should have thought Yvonne had better
taste.  But it must be hers, though the cipher doesn't seem to
have a B in it.  I'll guarantee it isn't Rosy's."   He slipped it
into his pocket.  "I'll give it to Jack, I shall see him tonight
at the vestry-meeting."

"It belongs to Captain Hyde."

"How do you know?"

"He's been here this afternoon."

"How long did he stay?"

"What time is it?--  An hour and twenty minutes."

"What brought him?" said Val, bewildered.

Isabel was mute. . . "I don't know what you're talking about,
Isabel.  Has he been with you all that time?  Very stupid of him
when I particularly wanted you to have a quiet afternoon.  When
did he go?"

"He has only just gone."

"Just gone? I never saw him."

"He went by the wicket gate."

"But I came in by the wicket gate myself!" said Val.  His kind
serene eyes rested on his sister without a shadow of any thought
behind surprise.

"I left the mare with Rowsley in the village."

Isabel sat up suddenly and wound her arms round Val's neck. "I
sent him away when I heard you coming.  He dodged you behind the
lilacs. I didn't want to tell you he'd been here.  I never should
have told you if you hadn't found that case."

"You got rid of him--  This minute?  Because I came--?  Isabel!"
Stafford held her off.  "It is not possible--!  Listen to me: I
will have an answer.  I know Hyde.  Has he said anything to
offend you?"

"No! no! oh Val, don't be so angry!"

"Lucky for him," said Val, drawing a long breath and sitting down
again, his whip across his knee.  "My dear little sister, you
mustn't make mysteries out of nothing at all!  I'm sorry I
startled you, but you startled me: I didn't know what to make of
it. Hyde has not a very good name. . . . In fact I'd rather you
didn't see too much of him unless Rose or I were there: it was
cheek of him to come up this afternoon when I was out, considering
that he scarcely knows you: but I suppose he thinks the Wancote show
gives him right of entry.  That is the sort of thing a chap like Hyde
does think.  Now begin again and tell me what it's all about."

"Oh, nothing, Val, nothing!" said Isabel, laughing, though the
tears were not far from her eyes.  "I didn't know you could get
in such a wax if you tried!  It's as you say, a little mystery of
nothing at all.  I'd tell you like a shot if I could, but I can't
because it would be breaking a promise."

"Hyde had no earthly right to make you promise."

"It was of my own accord."

"It is all wrong," said Val.  "Promises and silly secrets between
a child like you and a fellow like Hyde!"  He was more grave and
vexed than Isabel had ever seen him.  "There must be no more of
it."

"There won't if I can help it!" said Isabel.  "I like Captain
Hyde--yes, I do: I know you don't, and I can quite see that he's
what Rose would call a bit of an outsider, but I'm sorry for him
and there's a great deal I like in him.  But I don't want to see
him again for years and years." She gave a little shiver of
distaste: if anything had been wanting to heighten the reaction
of her youth against Hyde's stained middle age, the evasions in
which he had involved her would have done it.  "Now don't scold
me any more!  I'm innocent, and I feel rather sad.  The world
looks unhomely this afternoon.  All except you!  You stay there
where I can watch you: you're so comfortably English, so nice and
cool and quiet!  There's no one like you, no one: the more I see
of other people the more I like you!  I'm so glad you don't wear
linen clothes and a Panama hat and rings.  I'd give you away if
you did with half a pound of tea.  No, it's no use asking me any
more questions because I shan't answer them: a promise is all the
more binding if one would rather not keep it.  No, and it's no
use fishing either, I can keep a secret as well as you can--"

She broke off before the white alteration in Val's face.

"Has--.

"No," said Isabel slowly: "no, he never mentioned your name."



CHAPTER XI


"Val"

"M'm."

"I say"

"What, then?"

"What's all this about the Etchingham agency?"

Val Stafford, smoking a well-earned pipe some hours later in the
evening sunlight on the vicarage lawn, looked up at his brother
over the Chronicle with a faint frown.  "Who?"

"Ah! who?" said Rowsley, squatting cross-legged on the turf.

"Jack began on it this afternoon, and I had to switch him off, for
I didn't care to own that it was news to me."

"There's nothing in it at present."

"The duke has offered me the management of his Etchingham
property," said Val unwillingly. "Oh no, not to give up Bernard:
Etchingham, you see, marches with Wanhope and the two could be
run together.  He was awfully nice about it: would take what time
I could give him: quite saw that Wanhope would have to come
first."

"How much?"

"Four hundred and an allowance for a house.  Five, to be precise,
which is what he is giving Mills: but of course I couldn't take
full time pay for a part-time job."

Rowsley whistled.

"Yes, it would be very nice," said Val, always temperate.  "It
would practically be 300 pounds, for I couldn't go on taking my
full 300 pounds from Bernard.  I should get him to put on a young
fellow to work under me."

"It would make a lot of difference to you, even so."

"To us," Val corrected him.  "Another pound a week would oil the
wheels of Isabel's housekeeping.   And--" he hesitated, but
having gone so far one might as well go on--"it would enable me
to do two things I've long set my heart on, only it was no use
saying so: give you another hundred and fifty a year and insure
my life in Isabel's favour.  It would lift a weight off my mind
if I could do that.  Suppose I were to die suddenly--one never
knows what would become of her?  She'll be able to earn her own
living after taking her degree in October, but women's posts are
badly paid and it's uncommonly hard to save.  Oh yes, old boy, I
know you'd look after her!  But I don't want her to be a drag on
you: it's bad enough now--you never grumble, but I know what
it's like never to have a penny to spare.  Times have changed
since I was in the Army, but nothing alters the fact that it's
uncommonly unpleasant to be worse off than other fellows. I hate
it for you--all the more because you don't grumble.  It is a
constant worry to me not to be able to put you in a better
position."

Rowsley had been too long inured to this paternal tenderness to
be sensible of its touching absurdity on the lips of a man not
much older than himself.  But he was not a selfish youth, and he
remonstrated with Val, though more like a son than a brother.
"Yes, I dare say, but where do you come in? A stiff premium for
Isabel and 50 pounds for Jim and 150 pounds for me doesn't leave
much change out of 300 pounds!"

"Oh, I've all I want.  Living at home, I don't get the chance of
spending a lot of pocket money."

"Why don't you close at once?"

"Because I can't get an answer out of Bernard. I've spoken to him
but he won't decide one way or the other.  And he's my master,
and I can't take on another job if he objects.  That's why I kept
it dark at home: what's the good of raising hopes that may be
disappointed?"

"Pity you can't chuck Bernard and take on Etchingham and the
five hundred."

"I should never do that," said Val in the rare tone of decision
which in him was final.  "After all these years I could never
leave Bernard in the lurch.  I owe him too much."

"As if the boot weren't on the other leg!" Rowsley muttered.  He
was not mercenary--none of Mr. Stafford's children were: he saw
eye to eye with Val in Val's calm preference of six to eight
hundred a year: but when Val carried his financial principles
into the realm of sentiment Rowsley now and then lost his temper.
His brother smiled at him, amused by his irritation, unmoved by
it: other men's opinions rarely had any weight with Val Stafford.

"Pax till it happens, at all events!  Honestly I don't think
Bernard means to object: he's been all smiles the last day or
two--Hyde's coming has shaken him up and done him good--"

"Oh!  Hyde!"

Val let fail his paper and looked curiously at Rowsley, whose
tone was a challenge.  "What is it now?"

"Do you like this chap Hyde?"

"That depends on what you mean by liking him.  He's not a bad
specimen of his class."

"What is his class?  Do you know anything of his people?"

"Of his family I know little except that he has Jew blood in him
and is very well off," Val could have told his brother where the
money came from, but forbore out of consideration for Lawrence,
who might not care to have his connection with the Hyde Galleries
known in Chilmark.  "He came here because Lucian Selincourt asked
him to see if he could do anything for Bernard."

"I can't see Hyde putting himself out of his way to oblige Mr.
Selincourt."

"If you ask me, Rose, I should say he had only just got back to
England and was at a loose end.  But there was a dash of good
nature in it: he's genuinely fond of Mrs. Clowes."

"So I gathered," said Rowsley.  His tone was pregnant.  Val sat
silent for a moment.

"What rubbish!  He hasn't seen her for eight or ten years."

"Since her marriage." Val shrugged his shoulders.  "Sorry, Val,
but I cannot see Hyde staying on at Wanhope out of cousinly
affection for Bernard Clowes.  It must be a beastly uncomfortable
house to stay in.  Nicely run and all that, and they do you very
well, but Bernard is distinctly an acquired taste.  Oh, my dear
chap!" as Val's silence stiffened, "no one suggests that Laura's
ever looked at the fellow!  But facts are facts, and Hyde is--
Hyde.  I'm not a bit surprised to hear he has Jew blood in him,"
Rowsley continued, warming to the discussion: he was a much
keener judge of character that the tolerant and easy-going Val.
"That accounts for the arty strain in him.  Yvonne says he's a
thorough musician, and Jack told me Lord Grantchester took to him
because he knew such a lot about pictures.  Well, so he ought!
He's a Londoner.  What does he know of the country?  Only what
you pick up at a big country-house party or a big shoot!  He's
not the sort of chap to stay on at Wanhope for the pleasure of
cheering up across-grained br--a fellow like Bernard.  Yes, he's
talking of staying on indefinitely: is going to send to town for
one of his confounded cars. . . .  And what other woman is there
in Chilmark that he'd walk across the road to look at?"

"I'm not sure you're fair to him."

Rowsley turned up to his brother an amused, rather sweet smile.
"Val, you'd pray for the devil?"

"Oh, Hyde isn't a devil! I came pretty close to him ten years
ago.  He has a streak of generosity in him: no one knows that
better than I do, for I'm in his debt.  What?  Oh! no, not in
money matters: is that likely?  But he's capable of . . .
magnanimity, one might call it," Stafford fastidiously felt after
precision: "no, he wouldn't pursue Laura; he wouldn't make her
life harder than it is already."

"He might propose to make it easier." Rowsley threw a daisy at a
cockchafer and missed it.  "You and I are sons of a parsonage.
We shouldn't run off with a married lady because it would be
against our principles." His thin brown features were twisted
into a faint grimace.  Rowsley, like Val, possessed a satirical
sense of humour, and gave it freer play than Val did.  "It's so
difficult to shake off early prejudices.  When Fowler and I were
at the club the other day, we met a horrid little sweep who waxed
confidential.  I said I couldn't make love to a married woman if
I tried, and Fowler said he could but held rather not, and we
walked off, but as I remarked to Fowler afterwards the funny
thing was that it was true.  I don't see anything romantic in the
situation.  It strikes me as immoral and disgusting.  But Hyde
wouldn't take a narrow view like mine.  He has to live up to his
tailor."

"Oh, really, Rose!" Val gave his unwilling laugh.  "You're like
Isabel, who can't forgive him for sporting a diamond monogram."

"No, but I'm interested.  I know Jack's limitations, and Jimmy's,
and yours, but Hyde's I don't know, and he intrigues me," said
Rowsley, lighting a cigarette with his agile brown fingers.
"Now I'll tell you the way he really strikes me.  He's not a bad
sort: I shouldn't wonder if there were more decency in him than
he'd care to get credit for.  But I should think," he looked up
at Val with his clear speculative hazel eyes, "that he's never in
his life taken a thrashing.  He's always had pots of money and
superb health.  I know nothing, of his private concerns, but at
all events he isn't married, and from what Jack says he's sought
safety in numbers.  No wife, no kids, no near relations--that
means none of the big wrenches.  No: I don't believe Hyde's ever
taken a licking in his life."

"You sound as if you would like to administer one."

"Only by way of a literary experiment," said Rowsley with his
mischievous grin.  He was of the new Army, Val of the old: it was
a constant source of mild surprise to Val that his brother read
books about philosophy, and psychology, and sociology, of which
pre-war Sandhurst had never heard: read poetry too, not Tennyson
or Shakespeare, but slim modern volumes with brown covers and
wide margins: and wrote verses now and then, and sent them to
orange-coloured magazines or annual anthologies, at which Val
gazed from a respectful distance.  "I don't owe him any grudge.
I'm not Bernard's dry-nurse!"

Val turned a leaf of his paper, but he was not reading it.

"I rather wish you hadn't said all this, Rowsley.  It does no
good: not even if it were true."

"Val, if it weren't such a warm evening I'd get up and punch your
head.  You're a little too bright and good, aren't you?  Yvonne
Bendish says it, and she's Laura's sister."

"Yvonne would say anything. I wish you had given her a hint to
hold her tongue.  She may do most pestilent mischief if she sets
this gossip going."

"It'll set itself going," said Rowsley.  "And, though I know the
Bendishes pretty well, I really shouldn't care to tell Mrs. Jack
not to gossip about her own sister.  You might see your way to
it, reverend sir, but I don't."

"If it came to Bernard's ears I wouldn't answer for the
consequences."

"Won't Bernard see it for himself?"

"If I thought that," said Val, "if I thought that. . . .

"You couldn't interfere, old man," said Rowsley with a shrewd
glance at his brother.  "Your hands are tied."

"H'm: yes, that's true." It was much truer than Rowsley knew.  "I
don't care," said Val, involuntarily crushing the paper in his
hand: "I would not let that stand in my way: I'd speak to Hyde."

"Are you prepared to take high ground? I can't imagine any one
less likely to be amenable to moral suasion, unless of course
you're much more intimate with him than you ever let on to me.
Perhaps you are," Rowsley added.  "He certainly is interested in
you."

"Hyde is?"

"Watches you like a cat after a mouse.  What's at the root of it,
Val?  Is it the original obligation you spoke of?  I'm not sure
that I should care to be under an obligation to Hyde myself.
Hullo,  are you off?" Val had risen, folding the newspaper,
laying it carefully down on his chair: in all his ways he was as
neat as an old maid.

"I have to be at the managers' meeting by half past eight, and
it's twenty past now."

Watching his brother across the lawn, Rowsley cudgelled his
brains to account for Val's precipitate departure.  The pretext
was valid, for Val was always punctual, and yet it looked like a
retreat--not to say a rout.  But what had he said to put Val to
flight?

Present at the managers' meeting were Val, still in breeches:
Jack Bendish in a dinner jacket and black tie: Garrett the
blacksmith, cursorily washed:  Thurlow, a leading Nonconformist
tradesman: and Mrs. Verney the doctor's wife.  Agenda: to instruct
the Correspondent to requisition a new scrubbing brush for the
Infants' School.  This done and formally entered in the Minutes by
Mrs. Verney,  the meeting resolved itself into a Committee of Ways
and Means for getting rid of the boys' headmaster without falling
foul of the National Union of Teachers; but these proceedings, though
of extreme interest to all concerned, were recorded in no Minutes.

The meeting broke up in amity and Bendish came out into the
purple twilight, taking Val's arm.  It was gently withdrawn.
"Neuritis again?"  said Jack.  "Why don't you try massage?" He
always asked the same question, and, being born to fifteen
thousand a year, never read between the lines of Val's vague
reply.  Val had a touch of neuritis in his injured arm two nights
out of seven, but he could not find the shillings for his train
fare to Salisbury, far less the fees of a professional masseuse.
Bendish, who could have settled that difficulty out of a week's
cigar bills, would have been shocked and distressed if Val had
owned to it, but it was beyond the scope of his imagination,
though he was a thoughtful young man and quietly did his best to
protect Val from the tax of chauffeurs and gamekeepers.  He
understood that poor men cannot always find sovereigns.  But he
really did not know that sometimes they cannot even find
shillings.  Tonight he said, "I can't think why you don't get a
woman over to massage you," and then, reverting to the peccant
master,  "Brown's a nuisance.  He has a rotten influence on the
elder boys.  He's thick with all that beastly Labour crowd, and I
believe Thurlow's right about his goings on with Warner's wife,
though I wasn't going to say so to Thurlow. I do wish he'd do
something, then we could fire him. But we don't want a row with
the N.U.T."

"You can't fire a man for his political opinions."

"Why not, if they're wrong?" said Bendish placidly.

His was the creed that Labour men are so slow to understand
because it is so slow to explain itself: not a blind prejudice,
but the reasonable faith of one who feels himself to belong to an
hereditary officer caste for whom privilege and responsibility go
hand in hand.  And an excellent working rule it is so long as
practice is not divorced from theory: so long as the average
member of the governing class acts up to the tradition of
government, be he sachem or daimio or resident English squire.
It amused Val: but he admired it.

"Brown is a thorn in Jimmy's side," he remarked, dropping the
impersonal issue. "I never in my life heard a man make such a
disagreeable noise on the organ. I tackled him about it last
Sunday.  He said it ciphered, but organs don't cipher in dry
weather, so I went to look at it and found three or four keys
glued together with candle grease."

"Filthy swine!  Are you coming round to Wanhope? I have to call
in on my way home, my wife's dining there."

Val made no reply.  "Are you coming up or not?  You look fagged,
Val," said Bendish affectionately. "Anything wrong?"

"No: I was only wondering whether I'd get you to take a message
for me, but I'd better go myself."

Bendish nodded.  "Just as you like.  Have you settled yet about
the Etchingham agency?"

"No, I'm waiting for Bernard."

"Hope you'll see your way to accepting.  My only fear is that it
would throw too much work on you; you're such a conscientious beggar!
but of course you wouldn't do for us all the odd jobs you do for poor
Bernard.  Seems to me," Jack ruminated, "the best plan would be for
you to have a car.  One gets about quicker like that and it wouldn't
be such a fag.  There's that little green Napier roadster, she'd come
in handy if we stabled her at Nicholson's."  He added simply, to
obviate any possible misunderstanding, "Garage bills our show, of
course."

"Thanks most awfully," said Val, accepting without false pride.
"I should love it, I do get tired after being in the saddle all
day.  It would more than make up for the extra work."

They were crossing the Wanhope lawn as he spoke, on their way to
the open French windows of the parlour, gold-lit with many
candles against an amethyst evening sky.  Laura, in a plain black
dress, was at the piano, the cool drenched foliage of Claude
Debussy's rainwet gardens rustling under her magic fingers.
Bernard was talking to Mrs. Jack Bendish, for the sufficient
reason that she disliked him and disliked talking to any one
while Laura played.  Her defiant sparkle, her gipsy features, her
slim white shoulders emerging from the brocade and sapphires of a
sleeveless bodice cut open almost to her waist, produced the
effect of a Carolus Duran lady come to life and threw Laura back
into a dimmed and tired middle age.  Jack's eyes glowed as they
dwelt on her.  His marriage had been a trial to his family, but
no one could deny that Yvonne had made a success of it, for Jack
worshipped her.--Lawrence, leaning forward in his chair, his
forehead on his hand to shield his eyes from the light, looked
exceedingly tired, and probably was so.

"Queer chap Hyde," said Bendish to Val as they waited on the
grass for the music to finish.  "Can't think what he's stopping
on for."

"Oh, Jack, for heaven's sake don't you begin on that subject!"

"Hey?  Oh!  No, by Jove.  Seems a shame, doesn't it?" returned
Bendish, taking the point with that rapid effortless readiness of
his class which made him more soothing to Val than many a
cleverer man.  "It all says itself, so what's the good of saying
it?  All the same I shan't be sorry when Hyde packs his movin'
tent a day's march nearer Jerusalem."  And with a casual wink at
Val he stepped over the threshold.  His judgment, so vague and
shrewd and sure of itself, represented probably the kindest view
that would be taken in Chilmark.

Their entrance broke up the gathering.  Jack carried off his
wife, and Barry appeared to wheel Bernard away to bed.  With a
word to Laura, Val followed the cripple to his room.  The Duke
was pressing for an answer, and long experience had taught Val
that for Bernard one time was as good as another: it was not
possible to count on his moods.  And there was not much to be
said; all pros and cons had been thrashed out before; the five
minutes while Barry was out of the room fetching Bernard's
indispensable hot-water bottles would give Val ample time to
secure Bernard's consent.--Laura had scarcely finished putting
away her music when Val came back, humming under his breath the
jangled tune that echoes night in the streets of Granada.  Laura
glanced at Lawrence, who had gone into the garden to smoke and
was passing and repassing the open window: no, he could not hear.
"Well, Val?"

"Let me do that for you, shall I?" said Val, lightly smiling, at
her. "Your ottoman has a heavy lid."

"Have you spoken to Bernard?"

"I have."

"And it's all right?"

"Yes" said Val, deftly flinging diamond-wise a glittering Chinese
cloth: "is that straight?--that is, for me.  I shan't take the
agency."

"Val!"

"Bernard agrees with me that the double work would be too heavy.
Of course I should like the money and I'm awfully sorry to
disoblige Lord Grantchester and Jack, but one has one's
limitations, and I don't want to knock up."

"It is too bad--too bad of Bernard,". said Laura, lowering her
voice as Lawrence lingered near the window.  "He doesn't half
deserve your goodness to him."

"Bosh!" said Val laughing.  "Where do these candlesticks go?  In
my heart of hearts I'm grateful to him.  I'm a cowardly beggar,
Laura, and I was dreading the big financial responsibility.  Oh
no, Bernard didn't put any pressure on me: simply offered me the
choice between Etchingham and Wanhope."

"They would pay you twice what you get from Bernard.  Oh, Val, I
wish you would take it and throw us over!"

"That's very unkind of you."

"Is this definite?"

"Quite: Bernard had thought it well over and made up his mind.  I
shouldn't speak to him about it if I were you."

"I shan't. I couldn't bear to."

"Bosh again--excuse me.  I must go home. Good-night, dear." He
held out his hand, wishing, in the repressed way that had become
a second nature to him, that Laura would not wring it so warmly
and so long.  In the first bitterness of disappointment--so much
the keener for his unlucky confidence to Rowsley--Val could not
stand sympathy.  Not even from Laura?  Least of all from Laura.
He nodded to her with a bright careless smile and went out into
the night.

But he had still one more mission to perform before he could go
home to break the bad news to Rowsley: a trying mission under
which Val fretted in repressed distaste. He came up to Lawrence
holding out the gold cigarette case.  "You dropped this at our
place when you were talking to my sister this afternoon."

"Did I?" Lawrence slipped it into his pocket. His manner was
perfectly calm.  "Thanks so much.--I hadn't missed it."  He had
no fear of having been betrayed, in essentials, by Isabel.

"I don't want to offend you," Val continued with his direct
simplicity of manner, "but perhaps you hardly realize how young
my sister is."

"Some one said she was nineteen, but why?"

"I don't know what you said to her, probably nothing of the
slightest consequence, but she's only a child, and you managed to
upset her.  To be frank, I didn't want her to see any one this
afternoon.  Oh, she's all right, but her arm has run her up a bit
of a temperature, and Verney wants her to keep quiet for a few
days.  It'll give her an excuse to keep clear of the inquest too.
This sounds ungrateful as well as ungracious, when we owe you so
much, but there's no ingratitude in it, only common sense."

"Oh, damn your common sense!" exclaimed Lawrence.

It was as laconic a warning-off as civility allowed: and it
irritated Lawrence beyond bearing to be rebuked by young
Stafford, whose social life stood in his danger, whom he could at
pleasure strip to universal crucifying shame.  But there was
neither defiance nor fear in Val: tranquil and unpretentious, in
his force of character he reminded Lawrence of Laura Clowes.  She
too had been attacked once or twice that evening by her husband,
and Lawrence had admired the way in which she either foiled or
evaded the rapier point, or took it to her bosom without
flinching.  This same silken courage, it seemed, Val also
possessed.  Both would stand up to a blow with the same grave
dignity and--perhaps--secret scorn.

Minutes passed.  Val waited because he chose not to be the first
to break silence, Lawrence because he was absorbing fresh
impressions with that intensity which wipes out time and place.
He was in the mood to receive them: tired, softened, and
quickened, from the tears of the afternoon.  After all Val was
Isabel's brother and possessed Isabel's eyes!  This drew Lawrence
to him by a double cord: practically, because it is inconvenient
to be on bad terms with one's brother-in-law, and mystically,
because in his profound romantic passion he loved whatever was
associated with her, down to the very sprig of honeysuckle that
she had pinned into his coat.  But for this cord his relations
with Stafford would have begun and ended in a casual regret for
the casual indulgence of a cruel impulse.  But Isabel's brother
had ex officio a right of entry into Hyde's private life, and,
the doors once opened, he was dazed by the light that Val let in.

It was after ten o'clock and dews were falling, falling from a
clear night.  "One faint eternal eventide of gems," beading the
dark turf underfoot and the pale faces of roses that had bloomed
all day in sunshine: now prodigal of scent only they hung their
heads like ghosts of flowers among dark glossy leaves.  Stars
hung sparkling on the dark field of heaven, stars threw down
their spears on the dark river fleeting to the star-roofed
distant Channel.  Stream and grass and leaf-buds were ephemeral
and eternal, ever passing and ever renewed, old as the stars, or
the waste ether in which they range: the green, sappy stem, the
dew-bead that hung on it, the shape of a ripple were the same now
as when Nineveh was a queen of civilization and men's flesh was
reddening alive in osier cages over altar fires on Wiltshire
downs. And all the sweetness, all the romance of an English
midsummer night seized the heart of Lawrence, a nomad, a returned
exile, and a man in love--as if he had never known England
before.

Or her inhabitants either!  Lawrence, without country, creed,
profession, or territorial obligation, was one of those sons of
rich men who form, in any social order, its loosest and most
self-centred class.  In his set, frank egoism was the only motive
for which one need not apologize.  But in Chilmark it was not
so. Far other forces were in play in the lives of the Stafford
family, and Laura Clowes, and Lord Grantchester and his wife and
Jack Bendish.  What were these forces?  Lawrence thought in
flashes, by imagery, scene after scene flitting before him out of
the last forty-eight hours.  Homespun virtues: unselfishness,
indifference to money values, the constant sense of filial,
fraternal, social responsibility . . . the glow in Jack's eyes
when they rested on his wife: Verney's war on cesspools: Leverton
Morley as scoutmaster: the Chinese lecture: rosebushes in the
churchyard, by the great stone cross with its list of names
beginning "George Potts, Wiltshire Rifles, aged 49," and ending
"Robert Denis Bendish, Grenadier Guards, aged 19: Into Thy Hands,
O Lord": old, old feudal England, closeknit, no pastoral of easy
virtues, yet holding together in a fellowship which underlies
class disunion: whose sons, from days long before the Conquest,
have always desired to go to sea when the cuckoo sang, and to
come home again when they were tired of the hail and salt
showers, because they could not bear to be landless and lordless
men. . . .

[Footnote]

     "Swylce geac mona geomran reorde, singe sumeres
     weard, sorge beade bittre in breosthord; pset se
     beorn ne wat, secg esteadig, hwset pa sume dreoga,
     pe pa wrseclastas widost lecga! . . . . pince him
     on mode pset he his monndryhten clyppe and cysse
     andon cneo lecge honda and heafod; ponne onwsecne,
     gesihp him beforan fealwe wegas, bapian brimfuglas."

     "Even so the cuckoo warns him with its sad voice,
     Summer's warden sings foreboding sorrow, bitter grief
     of heart.  Little knows the prosperous fellow what
     others are doing who follow far and wide the tracks
     of exile . . . Then dreams the seafarer that he clasps
     his lord and kisses him, and on his knee lays hand and
     head; but he awakes and sees before him the fallow
     waterways and the sea-fowls bathing."

[End of Footnote]


Lawrence flung off the impression with a jerk of his shoulders,
as if it were a physical weight.  It was too heavy to be endured.
Not even to marry Isabel was he going to impose on his own
unbroken egoism the restricting code of a country village.

"You are a dreamer, Val!  Why don't you throw over Bernard and
take the Etchingham agency?  Yes, I heard every word you said to
Laura: you made a gallant effort, but the facts speak for
themselves, and your terminological inexactitudes wouldn't
deceive a babe at the breast.  Bernard pays you 300 pounds a year
and orders you about like a groom, Grautchester would give you
six and behave like a gentleman.  But no, you must needs stick to
Bernard, though you never get any thanks for it!  You're an
unpractical dreamer."

"I don't know what on earth you're talking about."

"And you're all in it together, damn you!"  Lawrence broke out
with an angry laugh.  "It's all equally picturesque--feudal's
the word!  I never knew anything like it in my life and I
wouldn't have believed it could continue to exist.  What do you
do with gipsies?  evict 'em, I suppose."  He flung a second
question at Val which made the son of a vicarage knit his brows.

"As a matter of fact there's a house in Brook Lane about which
Bendish and I are a good deal exercised in our minds at the
present moment . . . and the percentage of children born too soon
after marriage is disastrous.    You're all out, Hyde.  Nothing
could be more commonplace than Chilmark, believe me: life is like
this all over rural England, and it's only from a distance that
one takes it for Arcadia."

"Folly," said Lawrence.  "Good God, why should you exercise your
simple minds over the house in Brook Lane?  Ah! because the men
who go to it are your own men, and the parsonage and the Castle
are answerable for their souls." Val, irritated, suggested that
if Hyde's forebears had lived in Chilmark since the time when
every freeman had to swear fealty, laying his hands between the
knees of his lord, Hyde might have shared this feeling.  "But
they didn't," said Lawrence, drily. "My grandfather was a
pawnbroker in the New Cut."

"Then perhaps you're hardly in a position to judge."

"Judge? I don't judge, my good fellow--I'm lost in admiration!
In an age of materialism it's refreshing to come across these
simple, homespun virtues. I didn't know there was a man left in
England that would exist, for choice, on three hundred a year.
Are you always content with your rustic ideals, Val?  Haven't you
any ambition?"

"I?" said Val.

"'Carry me out of the fight,'" quoted Lawrence under his breath.
"I swear I forgot."

Silence fell again, the silence on Lawrence's part of continual
conflict and adjustment, and on Val's mainly of irritation.
Lawrence talked too much and too loosely, and was over-given to
damning what he disliked--a trick that went with his rings and
his diamond monogram.  Val was not interested in a townsman's
amateur satire; in so far as Lawrence was not satirical, he had
probably drunk one glass more of Bernard's' champagne than was
good for him!  In the upshot, Val was less disinclined to credit
Rowsley than half an hour ago.

Lawrence roused himself.  "About your sister: I was sorry
afterwards to have stayed so long.  She seemed none the worse for
it at the time, but no doubt she ought to keep quiet for a bit.
Will you make my excuses to her?"

"I will with pleasure."

"And will you allow me to tackle Bernard about the agency?"

"To--?"

"If you won't resent my interfering? I can generally knock some
sense into Bernard's head.  It's an iniquitous thing that he
should take advantage of your generosity, Val."

Stafford was completely taken by surprise.  "I'd rather--it's
most awfully kind of you," he stammered, "but I couldn't trespass
on your kindness--"

"Kindness, nonsense!  Bernard's my cousin: if your services are
worth more in the open market than he pays you, it's up to me to
see he doesn't fleece you.  Otherwise you might ultimately chuck
up your job, and where should we be then?  In the soup: for he'd
never get another man of your class--a gentleman--to put up
with the rough side of his tongue.  No: he must be brought to
book: if you'll allow me?"

Val's disposition was to refuse; it was odious to him to accept a
favour from Hyde.  But pride is one of the luxuries that poor men
cannot afford. "I should be most grateful.  Thank you very much."

"And now go to bed: you're tired and so am I.  I've had the devil
of a hard day." He stretched himself, raising his wrists to the
level of his shoulders, luxuriously tense under the closefitting
coat. "I shall hope to see your sister again after the inquest."

"Yes," said Val, hesitating: "are you staying on, then?"

"As you advised."

"You'll be very bored."

"No, I've fallen in love." Val gave a perceptible start.  "With
the country," Lawrence explained with a merry laugh.  "Rustic
ideals. Don't misjudge me, I beg: I have no designs on Mrs.
Bendish."

"Hyde . . .

"Well, my dear Val?"

"Give me back my parole."

"Not  I."

"You're unjust and ungenerous," said Val with repressed passion.
"But I warn you that I shall interfere none the less to protect
others if necessary.  Good-night."

Lawrence watched him across the lawn with a bewildered
expression.  But he forgot him in a minute--or remembered him
only in the association with Isabel which brought Val into the
radius of his good will.



CHAPTER XII


"Hadow's bringing out a new play," remarked Lawrence, looking up
from the Morning Post.  "A Moore comedy, They're clever stuff,
Moore's comedies: always well written, and well put on when Hadow
has a hand in it.  You never were a playgoer, Bernard."

"Not I," said Bernard Clowes.  He and his guest were smoking
together in the hall after breakfast, Lawrence imparting items of
news from the Morning Post, while Bernard, propped up in a
sitting attitude on the latest model of invalid couch, turned
over and sorted on a swing table a quantity of curios mainly in
copper, steel, and iron.  Both swing-table and couch had been
bought in London by Lawrence, and to his vigorous protests it was
also due that the great leaved doors were thrown wide to the
amber sunshine: while the curios came out of one of his Eastern
packing-cases, which he had had unpacked by Gaston for Bernard to
take what he liked.  Lawrence's instincts were acquisitive, not
to say predatory.  Wherever he went he amassed native treasures
which seemed to stick to his fingers, and which in nine cases out
of ten, thanks to his racial tact, would have fetched at
Christie's more than he gave for them.  Coming fresh from foreign
soil, they were a godsend to Bernard, who was weary of collecting
from collectors' catalogues.  "Can I have this flint knife?
Egyptian, isn't it?  Oh, thanks awfully, I'm taking all the
best."  This was true.  But Lawrence, like most of his nation,
gave freely when he gave at all.  "No, I never was one for plays
except Gilbert and Sullivan and the 'Merry Widow' and things like
that with catchy tunes in 'em.  Choruses."  He gave a reminiscent
laugh.

"Legs?" suggested Lawrence.

"Exactly," said Bernard, winking at him.  "Oh damn!"  A mechanical
jerk of his own legs had tilted the table and sent the knife
rolling on the floor.  Lawrence picked it up for him, drew his
feet down, and tucked a rug over his hips.

"Mind that box of Burmese darts, old man, they're poisoned.--  I
used to be an inveterate first-nighter.  Still am, in fact, when
I'm in or near town.  I can sit out anything from 'Here We Are
Again' to 'Samson Agonistes.' To be frank, I rather liked
'Samson':  it does one's ears good to listen to that austere,
delicate English."

"How long would these take to polish one off?"

"Ten or twelve hours, chiefly in the form of a hoop.  No, Berns,
I can't recommend them." He drew from its jewelled sheath and put
into Bernard's hands a Persian dagger nine inches long, the naked
blade damascened in wavy ripplings and slightly curved from point
to hilt.  "That would do your trick better.  Under the fifth rib.
I bought it of a Greek muleteer, God knows how he got hold of it,
but he was a bit of a poet: he assured me it would go in 'as soft
as a kiss.' For its softness I cannot speak, but it is as sharp
as a knife need be."

"Sharper," said Bernard, his thumb in his mouth.

"You silly ass, I warned you!--  I should rather like to see this
Moore play.  I suppose Laura never goes, as you don't?"

"I don't stop her going, as you jolly well know.  She's welcome
to go six nights a week if she likes."

"She couldn't very well go alone," Lawrence ignored the scowl of
his host.  "Tell you what: suppose I took her tonight?  I could
run her up and down in my car, or we could get back by the
midnight train.  Would the feelings of Chilmark be outraged?"

"What business is it of Chilmark's?  If I'm complaisant, that's
enough," said Bernard, his features relaxing into a broad grin.
"I may be planked down in a country village for the rest of my
very unnatural life, but I'll be shot if I'll regulate mine or my
wife'& behaviour by the twaddle they talk!  I'll have that
dagger."  Slipping it slowly into its sheath he watched it travel
home, the supple female curve gliding and yielding as a woman
yields to a man's caress.  "Voluptuous, I call it.  Under the
left breast, eh?"  He drew it again and held it poised and
pointing at his cousin.  "Come, even I could cut your heart out
with a gem of a blade like that." Lawrence held himself lightly
erect, his big frame stiffening from head to foot and the pupils
of his eyes dilating till the irids were blackened.  "Call
Laura."  Bernard sheathed the dagger again and laid it down.
"She's out there snipping away at the roses.  Why can't she leave
'em to Parker?  She's always messing about out there dirtying her
hands, and then she comes in and paws me.  Call her in."

Lawrence escaped into the sunshine.  He had not liked that moment
when Bernard had held up the dagger, nor was it the first time
that Bernard had made him shiver, but these vague apprehensions
soon faded in the open air.  It was a sallow sunshine, a light
wind was blowing, and the lawn was spun over with brilliancies of
gossamer and flecked with yellow leaflets of acacia and lime.
Little light clouds floated overhead, sun-smitten to a fiery
whiteness, or curling in gold and silver surf over the grey of
distant hayfields.  In the borders the velvet bodies of bees hung
between the velvet petals, ruby-red, of dahlias.  There had been
no frost, and yet a foreboding of frost was in the air, a
sparkle, a sting--enough to have braced Lawrence when he went
down to bathe before breakfast, standing stripped amid long
river-herbage drenched in dew, a west wind striking cold on his
wet limbs: sensations exquisite so long as the blood of health
and manhood glowed under the chilled skin!  It was early autumn.


Time slips away fast in a country village, and Lawrence remained
a welcome guest at Wanhope, where Chilmark said--though with a
covert smile--that Captain Hyde had done his cousin a great deal
of good.  Bernard was better behaved with Lawrence than with any
one else, less surly, less unsociable, less violently coarse:
since June there had been fewer quarrels with Val and Barry and
the servants, and less open incivility to Laura.  He had even
let Laura give a few mild entertainments, arrears of hospitality
which she was glad to clear off: and he had appeared at them in
person, polite and well dressed, and on the friendliest terms
with his cousin and his wife.

Lawrence knew his own mind now.  It was because he knew it that
he held his hand: meeting Isabel two or three times a week,
entering into the life of the little place because it was her
life, fighting Val's battle with Bernard--and winning it--
because Val was her brother.  When he remembered his collapse he
was not abashed: shame was an emotion which he rarely felt: but
he had gone too far and too fast, and was content to mark time in
a more rational and conventional courtship.

But a courtship under the rose, for before others he hid his love
like a crime, treating Isabel as good humoured elderly men treat
pretty children.   Where the astringent memory of Lizzie came
into play, Lawrence was dumb.  The one aspect of that fiasco
which he had not fully confessed to Isabel--though only because
it was not then prominent in his mind--was its scorching, its
lacerating effect on his pride.  But for it he would probably
have flung discretion to the winds, confided in Laura, in
Bernard, in Val, pursued Isabel with a hot and headstrong
impetuosity: but it had left the entire tract of sex in him one
seared and branded scar.

Even when they were alone together, which rarely happened--Val
saw to that--he had as yet made no open love to her: it was
difficult to do so when one was never secure from interruption
for ten minutes together.  Of late he had begun to chafe against
Val's cobweb barriers.  Three months is a long time! and patience
was not a virtue that came natural to Lawrence Hyde.

He found Laura cutting off dead roses, a sufficiently harmless
occupation, one would have thought: a trifle thinner, a trifle
paler than when he came: and were those grey threads in her brown
hair?

"Berns wants you," said Lawrence.  "I've done such an awful
thing,  Laura--"

Again that flash of imperfect perception!  What was going on
under the surface at Wanhope, that Laura should turn as white as
her handkerchief?   He hurried on as if he had noticed nothing.
"Bernard and I have been laying our heads together.  Do you know
what I'm going to do?  Run you up to town to see the new Moore
play at Hadow's."

"Delightful!" Already Laura had recovered herself: her smile was
as sweet as ever, and as serene.  "Was it your idea or Bernard's?"

"Mine. . . I say, Laura: Bernard is all right, isn't he?"

"In what way, all right?"

Lawrence reddened, regretting his indiscretion.  "I've fancied
his manner queer, once or twice."

"There is a close connection, of course, between the spine and
the brain," said Laura quietly.  "But my husband is perfectly
sane. . . . Oh my dear Lawrence, of course I forgive you! what is
there to forgive? I only wish I could come tonight, but I'm
afraid it can't be managed--"

"She says it can't be managed," said Lawrence,  standing aside
for Laura to pass in.  "Pitch into her, Bernard.  Hear her talk
like a woman of sixty!  Are you frightened of the night air,
Laura?  Or would Chilmark chatter?"

"It might, if you and I went alone," Laura smiled.

"Make up a party then," suggested Lawrence.  "Get the Bendishes
to come too."

She shook her head.  "They're dining with the Dean."

"And decanal dinner-parties can't be thrown over."  When he made
the suggestion, Lawrence had known that the Bendishes were dining
with the Dean.  "Some one else, then."

"Whom could I ask like this at the last moment?   No, I won't
go--thank you all the same.  I'm not so keen on late hours and
long train journeys as I used to be.  Go by yourself and you can
tell us all about it afterwards.  Berns and I shall enjoy that as
much as seeing it ourselves.  Shan't we, Berns?"  Clowes gave a
short laugh: he could not have expressed his opinion more clearly
if he had called his wife a fool to her face.

"You weren't so particular before you married me, my love.  When
you ran that French flat with Yvonne you jolly well knew how to
amuse yourself."

"Girls do many things before they're married," said Laura
vaguely.  "I know better now."

"Oh, you know a lot.  She ought to go, Lawrence. It'll do her
good.  Now you shall go, my dear, that's flat."

Lawrence began to wish he had held his tongue.  He had his own
ends to serve, but, to do him justice, he had not meant to serve
them at Laura's expense.  But he had still his trump card to
play. "Surely we could find a chaperon?" he said gently, ignoring
Bernard. "What about the Staffords?  Hardly in Val's line,
perhaps.  But the child--little Miss Isabel--won't she do?"

To his relief, Laura's eyes lit up with pleasure.  "Isabel? I
never thought of her!  Yes, she would love to come!--But, if she
does, she must come as my guest.  You would never have asked her
of your own accord, and the Staffords are so proud, I'm sure Val
wouldn't like you to pay for her."  Again Bernard's short,
sardonic laugh translated the silence of his cousin's constraint
and dismay.

"Hark to her!  I'll sort her for you, Lawrence.  She shall go,
and you shall be paymaster.  Yes, and for the Stafford brat too.
Lawrence and I don't understand these modern manners, my dear.
When we take a pretty woman out we like to do the treating.  Now
cut along and see about the tickets, Lawrence.  You can 'phone
from the post office."

Lawrence had secured a box ten days ago, but he strolled out,
thinking that the husband and wife might understand each other
better when alone.  As soon as he was out of earshot Bernard
turned on Laura and seized her by the wrist, his features
altering, their sardonic mask recast in deep lines of hate.
"Why wouldn't you go up alone?  That's what he wanted.  Why have
you saddled him with the little Stafford girl?  You can't take
her to dine in a private room."

"It was because I foresaw this that I refused.  Why do you
torment yourself by forcing me to go?"

"I?  What do I care?  Do you think I should shed many tears if
you walked out of the house and never came back?  Think I don't
know he's your lover? you're uncommonly circumspect with your
stable door! . . . A woman like you! Look here." He picked up the
Persian dagger.  "See it? That's been used before. I should like
to use it on you. I should like to cut your tongue out with it.
Don't be afraid, I'm not going to stab you."

"Afraid?" said his wife with her serene ironical smile.   "My
dear Bernard, you tempt me to wish you were."

"Oh, not before tonight.  Jolly time you'll have tonight, you and
Lawrence . . . I can only trust you'll respect the Stafford
child's innocence."

"Bernard!  Bernard!"

"Don't you Bernard me.  You can't take me in. Stop.  Where are
you off to now?"

"To tell Lawrence not to get the tickets.  I shan't go with him."

"You will go with him," said Bernard Clowes, his fingers
tightening on her wrist.  "Stop here: come closer." He locked his
arm round her waist. "Is he your lover yet, Lally?  Tell me: I
swear I won't kill you if you do.  Are you on the borderland of
virtue still, or over it?"

"Let me go," said Laura, panting for breath under his clenched
grip.  "I will not answer such questions.  You know you don't
mean one word of them.  Take care, you're tearing my blouse.  Oh,
that frightful war! what has it done to you, to turn you from the
man I married into what you are?"

"What am I?"

"A madman, or not far off it.  End this horrible life: send him
away.  It's killing me, and as for you, if you were sane enough
to understand what you're doing, you would blow your brains out."

"Likely enough," said Bernard Clowes.

He let her go.  "Come back to me now, Laura."  His wife leant
over him, unfaltering, though she had known for some time that
she was dealing with the abnormal.  "Kiss me." Laura touched his
lips.  "That's better, old girl.  I am a cross-grained devil and
I make your life a hell to you, don't I?  But don't--don't leave
me.  Don't chuck me over.  Let me have your love to cling to.  I
don't believe in God, I don't believe in any other man, often
enough I don't believe in myself, I feel, I feel unreal . . . ."
He stopped, shut his eyes, moved his head on the pillow, and felt
about over his rug with the blind groping hands of a delirious,
almost of a dying man.  Laura gathered them up and held them to
her heart.  "That's better," said Bernard, his voice gaining
strength as he opened his eyes on the beautiful still face bent
over him.  "Just now and again, in my lucid moments, I do--I do
believe in you, old girl.  You are just the one thing I have
left.  You won't forsake me, will you, ever? not whatever I do to
you."

"Never, my darling."

"Seems a bit one-sided, that bargain," said Bernard.

He lay perfectly still for a little while, his great hands softly
pressed against his wife's firm breast.

"And now get your hat and trot up to the village with Lawrence.
Yes, I should like you to go tonight.  It'll do you good.  Give
you a breath of fresh air after your extra dose of sulphur.  Yes,
you shall take Isabel.  Then you'll be safe: I can't insult you
if you and Lawrence weren't alone.   Now run along, I've had
enough emotions.  But don't forget.  Laura," he spoke thickly and
with effort, turning his head away as he pushed her from him
"yes, get out, I've had enough of you for the present--but don't
forget all the same that you're the one thing on earth that ever
is real to me."

Isabel was up a ladder in the orchard picking plums.  Waving her
hand to Laura and Lawrence Hyde, she called out to them to look
the other way while she came down.  It must be owned that neither
Laura nor Lawrence obeyed her, and they were rewarded, while she
felt about for the top rung, with an unimpeded view of two very
pretty legs.  Lawrence really thought she was going to fall out
of the tree, but eventually she came safe to earth, and
approached holding out a basket full of glowing fruit.  "Though
you don't deserve them," she said reproachfully, "because I could
feel you looking at me.  I did think I should be safe at this
hour in the morning!"

"Do I see Val?" said Laura, screwing up her eyes to peer in
through the slats of the green jalousies.  "I'll go and talk him
round, while you break the news to Miss Stafford.  Such do's,
Isabel! You don't know what dissipations are in store for you, if
only Val will say yes."  She like every one else elevated Val to
the parental dignity vice Mr. Stafford deposed.


"He's come in for some lunch.  He'll love to have you watch him
eat," said Isabel.  "What's it to be, Captain Hyde?  A picnic?"

Isabel's imagination had never soared beyond a picnic.  When
Lawrence unfolded the London scheme her eyes grew round with
astonishment and an awed silence fell on her.  "Oh, it won't
happen," she said, when she had recovered sufficiently to reply
at all.  "Nothing so angelically wonderful ever would happen to
me.  I'm perfectly certain Val will say no.  Now we've settled
that, you can tell me all about it, because of course you and
Laura will go in any case."

"But that's precisely what we can't do." Gently and imperceptibly
Lawrence impelled her through the rose archway into the kitchen
garden, where they were partly sheltered behind the walls of
lilacs, a little thinner than they had been in June but still an
effective screen.  He had not found himself alone with Isabel for
ten days. Since Val was with Laura, Lawrence drew the rather
cynical conclusion that he could count on a breathing space, and
he wondered if Isabel too were glad of it. She was in a brown
cotton dress, her right sleeve still tucked up high on her bare
arm: a rounded slender arm not much tanned even at the wrist, for
her skin was almost impervious to sunburn.  Above the elbow it
was milk-white with a faint bloom on it, in texture not like
ivory, which is a dead, cold, and polished material, but like a
flower petal, one of those flowers that have a downy sheen on
them,  white hyacinths or tall lilies. Lawrence fixed his eyes on
it unconsciously but so steadily that Isabel became aware of his
admiration.  She blushed and was going to pull down her sleeve,
but checked herself, and turning a little away, so that she could
pretend not to know that he was looking at her, raised her arm to
smooth her hair, lifting it and pushing a loosened hairpin into
place. After all . . . This was Isabel's first venture into
coquetry.  But it was half unconscious.

"Why can't you? oh, I suppose people would be silly.  Major
Clowes himself is silly enough for anything.  Oh, I'm so sorry,
I always forget he's your cousin!  Is that why you want me to
go?"

"No."

She laughed.  "Never mind, you'll soon find some one else.  What
play is it?"

"'She Promised to Marry.'"

"Oh ah, yes: that's by Moore, who wrote 'The Milkmaid' and
'Sheddon, M.P.' I've read some of his things.  I liked them so, I
made Rowsley give me them for my last birthday.  They're quite
cheap in brown paper. O! dear, I should love to see one of them
on the stage!" Isabel gave a great sigh.  "A London stage too!
I've never been to a theatre except in Salisbury.  And Hadow's is
the one to go to, isn't it?  Where they play the clever plays
that aren't tiresome.  Who's acting tonight?"

"Madeleine Wild and Peter Sennet."

"Have you ever seen them?"

 Lawrence laughed outright.  "I was at their wedding.  Madeleine
is half French: I knew her first when she was singing in a cafe
chantant on the Champs Elysees.  She is dark and pretty and Peter
is fair and pretty, and Peter is the deadliest poker player that
ever scored off an American train crook."

"Oh," said Isabel with a second sigh that nearly blew her away,
"how I should love to know actors and actresses and people who
play poker!  It must make Life so intensely interesting!"

Behind her badinage was she half in earnest?  Lawrence's eye
ranged over the old pale walls of the vicarage, on which the
climbing roses were already beginning to redden their leaves:
over the lavender borders: over the dry pale turf underfoot and
the silver and brown of the Plain, burnt by a hot summer.  The
fruit that had been green in June was ripe now, and down the
Painted-Lady apple-trees fell such a cascade of ruby and
coral-coloured apples, from high sprig to heavy bole, that they
looked like trees in a Kate Greenaway drawing.  But there was no
other change.  Life at Chilmark flowed on uneventful from day to
day.  He did not admonish Isabel to be content with it.  "Should
you like to live in Chelsea?"

Isabel shut her eyes.  "I should like fifteen thousand a year and
a yacht.  Don't tell Jimmy, it would break his heart.  He says
money is a curse. But he's not much of a judge, dear angel,
because he's never had any.  What's your opinion--you're rich,
aren't you?  Has it done you any harm?"

"Oh, I am a fairly decent sort of fellow as men go."

"But would you be a nobler character if you were poor?" Isabel
asked, pillowing her round chin on her palm and examining
Lawrence apparently in a spirit of scientific enquiry.  "Because
that is Jimmy's theory, and merely to say that you're noble now
doesn't meet the case.  Do you do good with your money?"

"No fear! I encourage trade.  I've never touched second rate
stuff in my life."

"Oh, you are different!" Isabel exclaimed.  They had been using
words for counters, to mean at once less and more than they said,
but under his irony she penetrated to a hard material egoism, as
swiftly as he had detected in her the eternal unrest of youth.
"Val was right."

"What saith the Gospel according to St. Val?"

"That you were only a bird of passage."

 Lawrence waited a moment before replying.  "Birds of passage
have their mating seasons."  Once more Isabel, not knowing what
to make of this remark, let it alone.  "But I should like to
possess Val's good opinion.  What have I done to offend him?
Can't you give me any tips?"

"It isn't so much what you do as what you are. Val's very, very
English."

"But what am I?"

"Foreign," said Isabel simply.

"A Jew?  Yes, I knew I should have that prejudice to live down.
But I'm not a hall-marked Israelite, am I? After all I'm half
English by birth and wholly so by breeding." Isabel was betrayed
into an involuntary and fleeting smile.  "Hallo! what's this?"

"Oh, Captain Hyde--"

"Go on."

"No: it's the tiniest trifle, and besides I've no right."

"Ask me anything you like, I give you the right."

Isabel blushed.  "You must be descended from Jephthah!--  O! dear,
I didn't mean that!"

"Never mind," said Lawrence, unable to help laughing.  "My
feelings are not sensitive.  But do finish--you fill me with
curiosity.  What shibboleth do I fail in?"

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  "Englishmen don't wear
jewellery," murmured Isabel apologetic.

"Sac a papier!" said Lawrence.  "My rings?"

 He stretched out his hand, a characteristic hand, strong and
flexible, but soft from idleness and white from Gaston's daily
attentions: a diamond richly set in a cluster of diamonds and
emeralds sparkled on the second finger, and a royal turquoise
from Iran, an immense stone the colour of the Mediterranean in
April, on the third.  "Does Val object to them?  Certainly Val
is very English.  My pocket editions of beauty!  That diamond was
presented by one of the Rothschilds in gratitude for the help old
Hyde-and-seek gave him in getting together his collection of
early English watercolours: as for the other, it never ought to
have left the Persian treasury, and there'd have been trouble in
the royal house if my father had worn it at the Court.   Have you
ever seen such a blue?  On a dull railway journey I can sit and
watch those stones by the hour together.  But Val would rather
read the Daily Mail"

"Every one laughs at them: Jack and Lord Grantchester, and even
Jimmy."

"And you?" said Lawrence, taking off the rings:--not visibly
nettled, but a trifle regretful.

Isabel knit her brows.  "Can a thing be very beautiful and
historic, and yet not in good taste?--  It can if it's out of
harmony: that's what the Greeks never forgot.  Men ought not to
look effeminate--  Oh! O Captain Hyde, don't!"

Lawrence, standing up, had with one powerful smooth drive of the
arm sent both rings skimming over the borders, under the apple
trees, over the garden wall, to scatter and drop on the open
moor. "And here comes Mrs. Clowes, so now I shall learn my fate.
I thought Val would not leave us long together.--  Well, Val, what
is it to be?  May the young lady come?"

Isabel also sprang up, changing from woman to child as Lawrence
changed from deference to patronage.  Their manner to each other
when alone was always different from their manner before an
audience.  But this change, deliberate in Lawrence, had hitherto
been instinctive and almost unconscious in Isabel.  It was not so
now, she fled to Val and to her younger self for refuge.  What a
fanfaronade!  Why couldn't Captain Hyde have put the rings in his
pocket?  But no, it must all be done with an air--and what an
air!  Rings worth thousands--historic mementoes--stripped off
and tossed away to please--!  And at that Isabel, enchanted and
terrified, bundled the entire dialogue into the cellars of her
mind and locked the doors on it.  Later,--later,--when one was
alone!  "Oh, Val, say I may go!" she cried, clasping her hands on
Val's arm, so cool and firm amid a spinning world.

[Footnote]

What actually happened later that afternoon was that Isabel, who
had a practical mind, spent three-quarters of an hour on the moor
hunting for the rings.  The turquoise she found, conspicuous on a
patch of smooth turf: the other was never recovered.

[End of Footnote]

"You may," said Val laughing.  He disliked the scheme, but was
incapable of refusing Laura Clowes: he gave her Isabel as he would
have given her the last drops of his blood, if she had asked for them
in that low voice of hers, and with those sweet eyes that never
seemed to anticipate refusal.  There are women--not necessarily the
most beautiful of their sex--to whom men find it hard to refuse
anything.  And, consenting, it was not in Val to consent with an ill
grace.  "Certainly you may, if Captain Hyde is kind enough to take
you!"  Stafford's lips, finely cut and sensitive, betrayed the
sarcastic sense of humour which he ruled out of his voice: perhaps
the less said about kindness the better!  "But do look over her
wardrobe first, Laura: I'm never sure whether Isabel is grown up or
not, but she could hardly figure at Hadow's in her present easy-going
kit--"

He stopped, because Isabel was trying to waltz him round the
lawn. In her reaction from a deeper excitement, she was as
excited as a child.  She released Val soon and hugged Laura
Clowes instead, while Lawrence, looking on with his wintry smile,
wondered whether she would have extended the same civility to him
if she had known how much he desired it. . . . There were moments
when he hated Isabel.  Was she never going to grow up?

Not at present, apparently.  "What must I wear, Laura?  Do people
wear evening dress?  Where shall we sit?  What time shall we get
back?  How are you going?  What time must I be ready?  Will you
have dinner before you go or take sandwiches with you?"--how
long the patter of questions would have run on it is hard to say,
if the extreme naivete of the last one had not drowned them in
universal laughter, and Isabel in crimson.

Mrs. Jack Bendish rode up while they were talking, slipped from
her saddle, and threw the reins to Val without apology, though
she knew there was no one but Val to take the mare to the stable.
Yvonne was the only member of the Castle household who presumed
on Val's subordinate position.  She treated him like a superior
servant.  When she heard what was in the wind her eyes were as
green as a cat's.  "How kind of Captain Hyde!" she drawled, as
Lawrence, irritated by her manner, went to help Val, while Isabel
was called indoors by Fanny to listen to a tale of distress,
unravel a grievance, and prescribe for anemia.  "Some one ought
to warn the child."

"Warn her of what?"

"Has it never struck you that Isabel is a pretty girl and
Lawrence a good looking man?"

"But Isabel is too intelligent to have her head turned by the
first handsome man she meets!"  Yvonne looked as though she found
her sister rather hopeless.  "Dear, you really must be sensible!"
Laura pleaded.  "It's not as if poor Lawrence had tried to flirt
with her.  He never even thought of asking her for tonight till I
suggested it!" This was the impression left on Laura's memory.
"She isn't the sort of woman to attract him."

"What sort of woman would attract him, I wonder?" said Mrs. Jack,
blowing rings of smoke delicately down her thin nostrils.

"Oh, when he marries it will be some one older than Isabel, more
sophisticated, more a woman of the world. I like Lawrence
immensely, but there is just that in him: he's one of the men who
expect their wives to do them credit."

"Some one more like me," suggested Yvonne. "Or you." Her face was
a study in untroubled innocence.  Laura eyed her rather sharply.
"But Lawrence isn't a marrying man.  He won't marry till some
woman raises the price on him."

"You speak as if between men and women life were always a duel."

"So It is."  Laura made a small inarticulate sound of dissent.
"Sex is a duel.  Don't you know"--an infinitesimal hesitation
marked the conscious forcing of a barrier: cynically frank as she
was on most points, Mrs. Bendish had always left her sister's
married life alone:--"that--that's what's wrong with Bernard?  Oh!
Laura!  Simpleton that you are. . .  I'm often frightfully sorry
for Bernard.  It has thrown him clean off the rails.  One can't
wonder that he's consumed with jealousy."

In the stillness that followed Yvonne occupied herself with her
cigarette.  Mrs. Clowes was formidable even to her sister in her
delicately inaccessible dignity.

"Had you any special motive in saying this to me now, Yvonne?"

"This theatre business."

"I don't contemplate running away with Lawrence, if that is what
you mean."

"Wish you would!" confessed Mrs. Bendish frankly.  "Then Bernard
could divorce you and you could start fair again.  I'm fed up
with Bernard.  I'm sorry for him, poor devil, but he never was
much of a joy as a husband, and he's going from bad to worse.
Think I'm blind?  Of course he's jealous.  High dresses and lace
cuffs aren't the fashion now, Lal."

Her sister slowly turned back the frill from her wrist and
examined the scarlet stain of Bernard's finger-print.  "Does it
show so plainly?  I hope other people haven't noticed.  Bernard
doesn't remember how strong his hands still are."

"Doesn't care, you mean."

"Do you want me quite naked?" said Laura. "Well, doesn't care,
then."

Yvonne was not accustomed to the smart of pity.  She winced under
it, and her tongue, an edge-tool of intelligence or passion, but
not naturally prone to express tenderness, became more than ever
articulate.  "Sorry!" she said with difficulty, and then, "Didn't
want to rake all this up.  But I'm fond of you.  We've always
been pals, you and I, Lulu."

"Say whatever you like."

"Then--" she sat up, throwing away her cigarette-"I'm going to
warn you.  All Chilmark believes Lawrence is your lover."

"And do you?"

"No.  I know you wouldn't run an intrigue."

"Thank you."

"But Jack and I both think, if you don't want to cut and run with
him, you ought to pack him off.  Mind, if you do want to, you can
count me in, and Jack too.  I'm not religious: Jack is, but he's
not narrow.  As for the social bother of it--marriage is a
useful institution and all that, but it's perfectly obvious that
one can get--over the rails and back again if one has money.
There aren't twenty houses (worth going to) in London that would
cut you if you turned up properly remarried to a rich man."

"Are you . . . recommending this course?"

"I'd like you to be happy."

"And what about Bernard?"

"Put in a couple of good trained nurses who wouldn't give him his
head as you do, and he'd be a different man by the spring."

"He certainly would," said Laura drily.  "He would be dead."

"Not he.  He's far too strong to die of being made uncomfortable.
As a matter of fact it would do him all the good in the world,"
pursued Yvonne calmly.  "He cries out to be bullied.  What's so
irritating in the present situation is that though you let him
rack you to pieces you never give him what he wants!  You don't
shine as a wife, my dear."

"It will end in my sending Lawrence away," said Laura with a subdued
sigh.  "I didn't want to because in many ways he has done Bernard so
much good; no one else has ever had the same influence over him;
besides, I liked having him at Wanhope for my own sake--he freshened
us up and gave us different things to talk about, outside interests,
new ideas.  And after all, so far as Bernard himself is concerned,
one is as good as another.  He always has been jealous and always
will be.   But if all Chilmark credits us with the rather ignominious
feat of betraying him, Lawrence will have to go."

"Lawrence may have something to say to that."

"He's not in love with me." Yvonne's eyes widened in genuine
scepticism.--"Oh dear, as if I shouldn't know!" Laura broke out
petulantly.  Might not Yvonne have remembered that, in the days
when they were living together in a French appartement, Laura's
experience had been pretty nearly as wide as her own?  "He is
not, I tell you! nor I with him.  But, if we were, I shouldn't
desert Bernard. I do not believe in your two highly trained
nurses. I don't think you much believe in them yourself.  They
might break him in, because nurses are drilled to deal with
tiresome and unmanageable patients, but it would be worse for
him, not better.  He rebels fiercely enough now, but if I weren't
there he would rebel still more fiercely, and all the rage and
humiliation would have no outlet.  You want me to be happy?  We
Selincourts are so quick to seize happiness!  Father did it . . .
and Lucian does it:  dear Lulu!  We both love him, but it's
difficult to be proud of him.  Yet he has good qualities, good
abilities.  He's far cleverer than I am, and so are you," Laura's
tone was diffident, "but oh, you are wrong in thinking so much of
mere happiness.  There is an immense amount of pain in the world,
and if one doesn't bear one's own share it falls on some one
else.  My life with Bernard isn't--always easy," she found a
momentary difficulty in controlling her voice, "but he's my
husband and I shall stick to him.  The more so for being deeply
conscious that a different woman might manage him better.  No I
don't mind your saying it.  Oh, how often I've felt the truth of
it!  But, such as I am, I'm all he has."

"You're a thousand times too good for him.  Why are you so good?"

"I'm not good and no more is Lulu."  Mrs. Bendish sighed,
impressed perhaps by Laura's alien moralities, certainly by her
determination.  "However, if you won't you won't, and in a way
I'm glad, selfishly that is, because of Jack's people.  But in
that case, dear girl, do get rid of Lawrence!  The situation
strikes me as fraught with danger.  One of those situations where
every one says something's sure to happen, and then they're all
flabbergasted when it does."

"Bernard is not a formidable enemy," said Mrs. Clowes drily.
"But, yes, Lawrence must go.  I'll speak to him tomorrow."

"Why not today?"

"It would spoil our evening."

"Give it up."

"And disappoint Isabel?"

"I don't like it."

"Nor I. But I was forced into it, and I can't break my word to
Lawrence and the child.  After all, there's no great odds between
today and tomorrow.  What can happen in twenty-four hours?"



CHAPTER XIII


In after life, when Isabel was destined to look back on that day
as the last day of her youth, she recalled no part of it more
clearly than wandering up to her own room after an early tea to
dress, and flinging herself down on her bed instead of dressing.
She slept next to Val.  But while Val's room, sailor-like in
its neatness, was bare as any garret and got no sun at all,
Isabel's was comfortable in a shabby way and faced south and west
over the garden: an autumn garden now, bathed in westering
sunshine, fortified from the valley by a carved gold height of
beech trees, open on every other side over sunburnt moorland pale
and rough as a stubble-field in its autumn feathering of light
brown grasses and seedling flowers aflicker in a west wind.
Tonight however Isabel saw nothing of it, she lay as if asleep,
her face hidden in her pillow: she, the most active person in the
house, who was never tired like Val nor lazy like Rowsley!
Conscience pricked her, but she was muffled so thick in happiness
that she scarcely felt it: the fancies that floated into her mind
frightened her, and yet they were too sweet to banish: and then
after all were they wrong?

Always on clear evenings the sun flung a great ray across her
wall, turning the faded pale green paper into a liquid gold-green
like sunlit water, evoking a dusty gleam from her mirror, and
deepening the shadows in an old mezzo tint of Botticelli's Spring
which was pinned up where she could gaze at it while she brushed
her hair.  The room thus illumined was that of a young girl with
little time to spare and less money, and an ungrown individual
taste not yet critical enough to throw off early loyalties.
There were no other pictures, except an engraving of "The Light
of the World," given her by Val, who admired it.  There was a
tall bookcase, the top shelves devoted to Sweet's "Anglo-Saxon
Reader," Lanson's "Histoire de la litterature Francaise," and
other textbooks that she was reading for her examination in
October, the lower a ragged regiment of novels and verse--"The
Three Musketeers," "Typhoon," "Many Inventions," Landor's
"Hellenics," "with fondest love from Laura," "Une Vie" and "Fort
comme la Mort" in yellow and initialled "Y.B." There were also a big
table strewn with papers and books, and a chintz covered box-ottoman
into which Isabel bundled all those rubbishing treasures that people
who love their past can never make up their weak minds to throw away.
She examined them all in the stream of gold sunlight as if she had
never seen them before.  It was time to get up and arrange her hair
and change into her lace petticoats. If she did not get up at once
she would be late and they would lose their train.  And it seemed to
her that she would die if they lost their train, that she never could
survive such a disappointment: and yet she could not bring herself to
get up and give over dreaming.

And what dreams they were, oh! what would Val say to them?--And
yet again after all were they so wicked?--They were incredibly
naif and innocent, and so dim that within twenty-four hours
Isabel was to look back on them as a woman looks back on her
childhood.  She was not ignorant of the mysteries of birth and
death.  She had lived all her life among the poor, and knew many
things which are not included in school curricula, such as the
gentle art of keeping children's hair clean, how to divide a
four-roomed cottage between a man and wife and six children and a
lodger, and what to say when shown "a beautiful corpse": but she
had never had a lover of her own.  There were no marriageable men
in Chilmark--there never are in an English village--and she was
too young for Rowsley's brother officers, or they were too young
for her.  She had dreamed of fairy princes (blases-men-of-the-world,
mostly in the Guards or the diplomatic service), but it was never
precisely Isabel Stafford whom they clasped to their hearts--no, it
was LaSignora Isabella, the star of Covent Garden, or the Lady Isabel
de Stafford, a Duke's daughter in disguise.  And Lawrence came to her
in the mantle of these patrician ghosts.

But--and at this point Isabel hid her face on her arm--he was no
ghost: he knew what he wanted and he meant to have it: and it was a
far cry from visionary Heroes to Lawrence Hyde in the flesh, son of a
Jew, smelling of cigar-smoke, and taking hold of her with his large,
fair, overmanicured hands.  A far cry even from Val or Jack Bendish:
from the cool, mannered Englishman to the hot Oriental blood.  When
people were engaged they often kissed each other . . . but when it
came to imagining oneself . . . one's head against that thick
tweed . . . no . . . it must be one of the things that are safe to do
but dangerous to dream of doing.  Oh, never, never!--But she had been
trained in sincerity: and was this cry sincere?  Her mind was chaos.

And yet after all why dangerous?  Even Laura, Val's adored Laura,
had been engaged twice before she married Major Clowes: as for
Yvonne, Isabel felt sure she had been kissed many times, and not
by Jack Bendish only.  Such things happen, then! in real life,
not only in books.  As for the cigars and the valet . . . and
Val's warnings . . . one can't have all one wants in this world!
It contains no ideal heroes: what was it Yvonne had once said?
"Every marriage is either a delusion or a compromise." And Isabel
had shortcomings enough of her own: she was irritable, lazy,
selfish: read novels when she ought to have been at her lessons:
left household jobs undone in the certainty that Val, however
tired he was, would do them for her: small sins, but then her
temptations were small!  Take it by and large, she was probably
no better than Captain Hyde except for want of opportunity.  And
how he would laugh if he heard her say so!

She liked him for laughing.  She had been brought up in an
atmosphere of scruple.  Her father overworked his conscience,
treating a question of taste as a moral issue, and drawing no
line between great and small--like the man who gave a penny to a
beggar and implored him not to spend it on debauchery.  Charity
and a sense of fun saved Val, but if more lenient to others he
was ruthlessly stern to himself.  Lawrence blew on Isabel like a
breath of sea air.  In her reaction she liked his external
characteristics, his manner to servants, his expensive clothes
and boots, all the signs of money spent freely on himself.

She even liked his politics.  Isabel had been brought up all her
life to talk politics.  Mr. Stafford was a Christian Socialist, a
creed which in her private opinion was nicely calculated to
produce the maximum of human discomfort: and from a conversation
between Hyde and Jack Bendish she had learnt that Hyde was all of
her own view.  There was no nonsense about him--none of that
sweet blind altruism which, as Isabel saw it, only made the
altruist and his family so bitterly uncomfortable without doing
any good to the poor. The poor?  She knew intuitively that
servants and porters and waiters would far rather serve Hyde than
her father.  Mr. Stafford longed to uplift the working classes,
but Isabel had never got herself thoroughly convinced that they
stood in need of uplifting.  Her practical common sense rose in
arms against Movements that tried to get them to go to picture
galleries instead of picture palaces. Why shouldn't they do as
they liked?   Does one reform one's friends?  Captain Hyde would
live and let live.

And he was rich.  Few girls as cramped as Isabel could have
remained blind to that wide horizon, and she made no pretence of
doing so: she was honest with herself and owned that she had
always longed to be rich.  No one could call her discontented!
her happy sunny temper took life as it came and enjoyed every
minute of it, but her tastes were not really simple, though Val
thought they were.  She had long felt a clear though perfectly
good-humoured and philosophic impatience of her narrow scope.
Hyde could give her all and more than all she had ever desired--
foreign countries and fine clothes, books and paintings, and
power apparently and the admiration of men . . . Isabel Hyde
. . . Mrs. Lawrence Hyde . . . .smiling she tried his name under
her breath . . .and suddenly she found herself standing before
the mirror, examining her face in its dusky shallows and asking
of it the question that has perplexed many a young girl as
beautiful as she--"Am I pretty?" She pulled the pins out of her
hair and ran a comb through it till it fell this way and that
like an Indian veil, darkly burnished and sunset-shot with
threads of bronze.  "Lawrence has never seen it loose," she
reflected: "surely I am rather pretty?" and then "Oh, oh, I shall
be late!" and Isabel's dreams were drenched and scattered under
the shock of cold water.

Dreamlike the run through the warm September landscape: dreamlike
the slip of country platform, where, while Lawrence took their
tickets, she and Laura walked up and down and fingered the tall
hollyhocks flowering upward in quilled rosettes of lemon-yellow
and coral red, like paper lanterns lit by a fairy lamplighter on
a spiral stair: and most dreamlike of all the discovery that the
Exeter express had been flagged for them and that she was
expected to precede Laura into a reserved first class carriage.
It was not more than once or twice in a year that Isabel went by
train, and she had never travelled but third class in her life.
How smoothly life runs for those who have great possessions!  How
polite the railway staff were!  The station master himself held
open the door for the Wanhope party.  Now she knew Mr. Chivers
very well, but in all previous intercourse one finger to his cap
had been enough for young Miss Isabel.  Certainly it was
agreeable, this hothouse atmosphere.  "Shall you feel cold?"
Lawrence asked, and Isabel, murmuring "No, thank you," blushed in
response to the touch of formality in his manner.  She felt what
women often feel in the early stages of a love affair, that he
had been nearer to her when he was not there, than now when they
were together in the presence of a third person.  She had grown
shy and strange before this careless composed man lounging
opposite her with his light overcoat thrown open and his crush
hat on his knees, conventionally polite, his long legs stretched
out sideways to give her and Laura plenty of room.

And Lawrence on the journey neither spoke to her nor watched her,
though Isabel shone in borrowed plumes.  There had been no time
to buy clothes, and so Val, though grudgingly, had allowed Laura
and Yvonne to ransack their shelves and presses for Cinderella's
adornment.  But one glance had painted her portrait for him, tall
and slender in a long sealskin coat of Yvonne's which was rulled
and collared and flounced with fur, her glossy hair parted on one
side and drawn back into what she called a soup-plate of plaits.
Once only he directly addressed her, when Laura loosened her own
sables.  "Do undo your coat, won't you?  It's hot tonight for
September."

"I'm not hot, thank you," said Isabel stiffly: but slowly, as if
against her will, she opened the collar of her coat and pushed it
back from her young neck and the crossed folds of her lace gown.
The gown was very old, it had indeed belonged to Laura Selincourt: it
was because Laura loved its soft, graceful, dateless lines that it
had survived so long. She had seized on it with her unerring tact:
this was right for Isabel, this dim transparency of rosepoint
modelling itself over the immature slenderness of nineteen: and she
and her maid Catherine and Mrs. Bendish had spent patient hours
trying it on and modifying it to suit the fashion of the day.  Laura
had refused to impose upon Isabel either her own modish elegance or
Yvonne's effect of the arresting and bizarre.  "Isn't she almost too
slight for it?"  Yvonne had asked, and Laura for all answer had
hummed a little French song--

          'Mignonne allons voir si la rose
           Qui ce matin avoit desclose
           Sa robe de pourpre au soleil
           A point perdu ceste vespree
           I as plis de sa robe pourpree
           Et son teint au votre pareil . . .'

She discerned in Isabel that quality of beauty, noble, spirited,
and yet wistful, which requires a most expensive setting of
simplicity.  And that was why Isabel opened her coat.  If Captain
Hyde had admired her in her Chilmark muslin, what would he think
of flounce and fold of rose-point of Alencon under Yvonne's
perfumed furs?  And then she blushed again because the yearning
in his eyes made her wonder if he cared after all whether she
wore lace or cotton.  Everything was so strange!

Strangest of all it was, to the brink of unreality, that Laura
evidently remained blind.  But Laura was always blind.  "Why, she
never even sees Val!" reflected Isabel scornfully.  And yet--
suppose Isabel were deceiving herself?  What if Captain Hyde were
not in earnest?  But her older self comforted her child's self:
careless was he, and composed?  "You were not always so composed,
Lawrence," in her own mind the elder Isabel mocked him with her
sparkling eyes.

Waterloo, lamplit and resonant: the pulsing of many lamps, the
hurry of many steps, the flitting by of many faces under an arch
of gloom: dark quiet and the scent of violets in a waiting car.

"What a jolly taxi!" Isabel exclaimed.  "I never was in a taxi
like this before.  Is it a more expensive kind?"

"My dear Lawrence, you certainly have the art of making your life
run on wheels!" said Laura smiling.  "How many telegrams have you
sent today?"

"If you do a thing at all you may as well do it in decent
comfort," Lawrence replied sententiously. "Half past seven;
that'll give us easy time!  I booked a table at Malvani's, I
thought you would prefer it to one of the big crowded shows."

"Are we going to have supper--dinner I mean--at a restaurant?"
asked Isabel awestruck.

Laurance smiled at her with irrepressible tenderness.  "Did you
think you weren't going to get anything to eat at all?" He
forbore to remind her of her unfortunate allusion to sandwiches--
for which Isabel was grateful to him.  "Aren't you hungry?"

"Oh yes: but then I often am.  Is Malvani's a very quiet place?"

Lawrence looked at Laura with a comical expression.  "What an ass
I was!  Wouldn't the Ritz have been more to the point?"

"Never mind, sweetheart," said Laura.  "Malvani's isn't dowdily
quiet.  It's the smartest of the smart, and there are always a
lot of distinguished people in it.  Dear me, how long it is since
I've dined in town!  Really it's great fun, I feel as if I had
come out of a tomb--" she checked herself: but she might have
been as indiscreet as she liked, for her companions were not
listening.  Laura was faintly, very faintly startled by their
attitude--Hyde leaning forward in the half-light of the brougham
to button Isabel's glove--but she was soon smiling at her own
fancy. "Poor Isabel, poor simple Isabel!" She was only a child
after all.

A child, but a very gay and winning child, when she came into
Malvani's with her long swaying step, direct glance, and joyous
mouth.  A spirit of excitement sparkled in Isabel tonight, and
every movement was a separate and conscious pleasure to her: the
physical sensation of walking delicately, the ripple of her skirt
over her ankles, the poise of her shoulders under their
transparent veil. . . . Laura saw a dozen men turn to look after
the Wanhope party, and took no credit for it, though not long ago
she had been accustomed to be watched when she moved through a
public room.  But now she was better pleased to see Isabel
admired than to be admired herself.

As they neared their reserved table a man who had been sitting at
it rose with an amused smile. "Have you forgotten who I am,
Laura?"

"One might as well be even numbers," Lawrence explained.  "So, as
I knew Selincourt was in town, I wired to him to join us."

A worn, fatigued-looking, but not ungentle rake of forty,
Selincourt had stayed once at Wanhope, but the visit had not been
a success: indeed Laura had been thankful when it ended before
host and guest threw the decanters at each other's heads. That
she was pleased to see him now there could be no doubt: she had
taken him by both hands and was smiling at him as if she would
have liked to fling decorum to the winds and kiss him.  Lawrence
also smiled but with a touch of finesse.  His plan was working.
Laura was going to enjoy herself: bon! he was truly fond of Laura
and delighted to give her pleasure.  But by it he would be left
free to devote himself to Isabel.

It was to this end that he had planned the entire expedition.  At
Chilmark they met continually in the same setting, and he had no
means of printing a fresh image of himself on her mind, but here
he was free of country customs, a rich man among his equals, an
expert in the art of "doing oneself well"--one of those who rule
over modern civilization by divine right of a chequebook and a
trained manner.  Isabel had been brought up by High Churchmen,
had she?  Let them test what hold they had of her!  Every aspect
of their journey and of the supper-table at Malvani's, with its
heady music and smell of rich food and wines, had been calculated
to produce a certain effect--an intoxication of excitement and
pleasure.  And he set himself to stamp his own impression on
Isabel, naming to her, in his soft, isolating undertones, the
notable men and women in the room, describing their careers,
their finances, even their scandals--it amused him to watch her
repress a start.  It amused him still more to stand up and shake
hands when the immense body and Hebraic nose of an international
financier went by with two great ladies and a cabinet minister in
tow.  "One of my countrymen," Hyde turned to Isabel with a
mocking smile. "I am a citizen of no mean city.  Those--" with an
imperceptible jerk of the head--"would lick the dust off his
boots to find out what line the Jew bankers mean to take in the
Syrian question.  They might as well lick mine."

"Why, do you know?" breathed Isabel.

"Verily, O Gentile maiden." Lawrence grinned at her over his
champagne.  "I lunched Raphael last time I was in town and he
told me all about it. But I shouldn't tell them.  It isn't good
for Gentiles to know too much about Weltpotitik. That's our
show." He leant back in his chair and his hot eyes challenged her
to call him a dirty Jew.

Selincourt caught his last remark and looked him up and down with
a twinkling glance.  He no longer wondered why Lawrence had spent
his summer in the tents of Kedar--so differently do brothers
look on their own and other men's sisters.  But he knew men and
things pretty well, and at a moment when Laura was speaking to
Isabel he looked straight at Lawrence and touched his glass with
a murmured, "Go slow, old man." The elder man had seen instantly
what neither Mrs. Clowes nor Isabel had any notion of, that under
his easy manner Hyde's nerves were all on edge.  Lawrence started
and stared at him, half offended: but after a moment his good
sense extorted a grudging "Thanks." It warned him to be grateful
for the hint, and he took it: a second glass of champagne that
night would infallibly have gone to his head.

A darkened theatre, fantastically decorated in scarlet and
silver: a French orchestra already playing a delicate prelude: a
lively audience--a typical "Moor" audience--agreeably ready to
be piqued and scandalized as well as amused.

All the plays Isabel had ever seen were Salisbury matinees of
"As You Like It" and "Julius Caesar." It was not by chance that
Hyde introduced her tonight to this filigree comedy, so cynical
under its glittering dialogue.  He could find no swifter way to
present to her le monde ou l'on s'amuse in all its refined and
defiant charm.  He liked to watch her laugh, he laughed himself
and gave a languid clap or two when Madeleine Wild made one of
her famous entries, but his main interest was in his plan of
campaign.

Yet chance can never he counted out.  When the lights went up
after the first act Lawrence found himself looking directly
across the rather small and narrow proscenium at a lady in the
opposite box.  Who the devil was it?--The devil, with a
vengeance!  It was Mrs. Cleve.



CHAPTER XIV


Conscious to his fingertips that Selincourt was watching him with
an amused smile, Lawrence returned Mrs. Cleve's nod with less
than his usual ease.  Her eye ranged on from Selincourt, to whom
she waved a butterfly salute, over the rather faded elegance of
Laura Clowes and the extremely youthful charms of Isabel:
apparently she did not admire Lawrence's ladies: she spoke to her
cavalier, an elderly, foreign-looking man with a copper complexion
and curly dark hair, and they laughed together.  What ensued between
them was not difficult to follow.  She made him a request, he rolled
plaintive eyeballs at her, the lady carried her point, the gentleman
left the box.  Then--one saw it coming--she leaned forward till the
diamonds in her plenitude of fair hair sparkled like a crown of
flame, and beckoned Lawrence to join her.

He cursed her impertinence.  Apart from leaving Isabel, he did
not want to talk to Mrs. Cleve: he had forgotten her existence,
and it was a shock to him to meet her again.  Good heavens, had
he ever admired her?  That white blanc-mange of a woman in her
ruby-red French gown, cut open lower than one of Yvonne's without
the saying of Yvonne's wiry slimness?  Remembering the summerhouse at
Bingley Lawrence blushed with shame, not for his morals but for his
taste:  he was thankful to have gone no further and wondered why he
had gone so far.--He had not yet realized that during three months
among women of a different stamp his taste had imperceptibly modified
itself from day to day.

But she had been his hostess.  Impossible to refuse: and with a
vexed word of apology to Laura he went out.  "Dear me, what an
opulent lady!" said Laura with lifted eyebrows.  "Who's your
friend, Lulu?"

Lucian drily named her.  "Queen's Gate, and Sundays at the
Metropole.  They're shipping people, which is where the diamond
ta-ra-ras come from.  Oh yes, there's a husband, quite a nice
fellow, crocked in the Flying Corps. No, I don't know who the
chap is she's got with her.  Some dusky brother.  Not Cleve." He
fell silent as Lawrence appeared in the opposite box.

It was an odd scene to watch in dumbshow.  Mrs. Cleve shook
hands, and Lawrence was held for more than the conventional
moment. He remained standing till she pointed to her cavalier's
empty chair: then dropped into it, but sat forward leaning his
aim along the balcony, while she, drawn back behind her curtain,
was almost drowned in shadow except for an occasional flash of
diamonds, or an opaque gleam of white and dimpled neck.  An
interlude entirely decorous, and yet, so crude was the force of
Philippa's personality, one would have had to be very young, or
very innocent, to overlook her drift.

"Well, my darling," said Laura, "and what do you think of
Madeleine Wild?" She did not wish Isabel to watch Mrs. Cleve.
"Is she as nice as your Salisbury Rosalind?"

"Angelical!" said Isabel.  "And isn't it luck for me, Royalty
coming tonight?  I've never seen any one Royal before.  It's one
of those evenings when nothing goes wrong."

Was not Isabel a trifle too guileless for this wicked world?  She
prattled on, Selincourt and Laura lending an indulgent ear,
Selincourt, like any other man of his type, touched by her
innocence, Laura faintly irritated: and meanwhile Isabel through
her black lashes watched, not the Duchess of Cumberland's rubies,
but those two in the opposite box.  Between it and her stretched
a beautiful woodland drop-scene, the glitter of the stalls, and
the murmur of violins humming through the rising flames of the
Feuerzauber . . . presently the Fire Charm eddied away and the
lights went down, yet still Lawrence sat on though the interval
was over.  Across the semi-dark of a "Courtyard by Moonlight" it
was hard to distinguish anything but the silhouette of his hand
and arm, and Mrs. Cleve's fair hair and immense jewelled fan.
What were they saying to each other in this public isolation
where anything might be said so long as decorum was preserved?

Selincourt gave a little laugh as the curtain rose. "An old
flame," he whispered to Laura, not dreaming that Isabel would
understand even if she heard.

"What's an old flame?" asked Isabel, examining him with her
brilliant eyes.

"Feuerzauber," said Selincourt readily.  "It means fire spell.
It's often played between the acts."

"Lucian, Lucian!" said his sister laughing.

"I don't know much about music," said Isabel. "Was it well
played?"

"Ah! I know a lot about music," said Selincourt, looking at her
very kindly.  "No, it was rottenly played.  But some fellers
can't tell a good tune from a bad one."

Lawrence did not return till the middle of the third act, and
offered no apology.  He looked fierce and jaded and his eyes were
strained.  "Past eleven," he said, hurrying Laura into her coat
while the orchestra played through the National Anthem, for which
Selincourt stood stiffly to attention.  "No time for supper, our
train goes at 11:59, I hate first nights, the waits between the
acts are so infernally long." Laura's eyebrows, faintly arched,
hinted at derision.  "Oh, it dragged," said Lawrence impatiently.
"Let's get out of this."

It was a clear autumn night: the air was mild, and stars were
burning overhead almost as brightly as the lamps in Shaftesbury
Avenue.  What a chase of lamps, high and low, like fireflies in a
wood: green as grass, red as blood, or yellow as a naked flame!
What a sombre city, and what a fleeting crowd!  Isabel had never
seen midnight London before.  Coming out into the hurrying street
roofed with stars, she was seized by an impression of a solitude
lonelier than any desert, and dark, like the terror of an eerie
sunset or a dry storm on the moor.

"These taxis are waiting for us," Lawrence had come up behind her
and his hand was on her arm. "Will you bring your sister,
Selincourt?--  Miss Isabel, will you come with me?"

"Oh but--!" said Laura, startled. She was responsible to Val for
Isabel, and she was not sure that either Val or Isabel would
welcome this arrangement.

"Thank you," said Isabel, obediently getting into the second cab.

"Better come, dear," said Selincourt with a shrug, and Laura
yielded, for it would have been tiresome to make Isabel get out
again, and after all what signified a twenty minutes' run?  Yet
after the Cleve incident she did not quite like it.  Nor did
Selincourt; Hyde's overbearing manner set his teeth on edge; but
the gentle Lucian would sooner have faced a loaded rifle than a
dispute.   He agreed with Laura, however, that her fair Arcadian
was a trifle too innocent for her years.

Alone with Isabel, Lawrence took off his hat and ran his fingers
through his thick fair hair, so thick that it might have been
grey, while the deep lines round his mouth began to soften as
though fatigue and irritation were being wiped away.  "Thank
heaven that's over."

"I've enjoyed every minute of it," said Isabel smiling.  "Thank
you, Captain Hyde, for giving me such a delightful treat!  If I
weren't sleepy I should like to begin again."

"Oh, don't get sleepy yet," said Lawrence.  He pulled up the fur
collar of her coat and buttoned it under her chin.  "I can't have
you catching cold, or what will Val say?  You aren't used to
driving about in evening dress and we've a long run before us.
And how I have been longing for it all the evening, haven't you?
I didn't know how to sit through that confounded play.  Yes, you
can take in Selincourt and Laura but you can't take me in. I know
you must have hated it as much as I did. But it's all right now."
Sitting sideways with one knee crossed over the other, his face
turned towards Isabel, without warning he put his arm round her
waist.  He had determined not to ask her to marry him till he was
sure of her answer, but he was sure of it now, intuitively sure
of it . . . the truth being that under his impassive manner
impulse was driving him along like a leaf in the wind.  "I love
you, Isabel, and you love me.  Don't deny it."

"Don't do that," said Isabel: "don't hold me."

"Why not? no one can see us."

"Take your arm away.  I won't have you hold me. No, Captain Hyde,
I will not.  I am not Mrs. Cleve."

"Isabel!" said Lawrence, turning grey under his bronze.

"O! I oughtn't to have said that," Isabel murmured.  She hid her
face in her hands.  "Oh Val--  I wish Val were here!"

"My darling," they were among the dark streets now that border
the river, and he leant forward making no effort to conceal his
tenderness, "what is there you can't say to me or I to you?
You're so strange, my Isabel, a child one minute and a woman the
next, I never know where to have you, but I love the woman more
than the child, and there's nothing on earth you need be ashamed
to ask me.  Naturally you want to be sure. . . . But there was
nothing in it except that I hated leaving you, there never has
been; I can't discuss it, but there's no tie, no--do you
understand?"

"Yes."

"Then, dearest darling of the world, what are you crying for?"

"I'm not crying." She tried to face him, but he was too old for
her, and mingling in his love she discerned indulgence, the
seasoned judgment and the fixed view.  Struggling in imperfect
apprehensions of life, she was not yet master of her forces--
they came near to mastering her.  In his eyes it was natural for
her to be jealous.  But she was not jealous.  That passion can
hardly coexist with such sincere and cool contempt as she had
felt for Mrs. Cleve.  What had pierced her heart and killed her
childhood in her was terror lest Lawrence should turn out to have
lowered himself to the same level.  She knew now that she loved
him, and too much to care whether he was Saxon or Jew or rich or
poor, but he must--he must be what in her child's vocabulary she
called "good," or if not that he must at least see good and bad
with clear eyes: sins one can pardon, but the idea of any
essential inferiority of taste was torture to her.  And meanwhile
Lawrence wide of the mark began to coax her. . "My own," his arm
stole inside her coat again, "there's nothing to get so red
about! Come, you do like me--confess now--you like me better
than Val?"

"No, no," Isabel murmured, and slowly, though she had not
strength to free herself, she turned her head away.  "If you kiss
me now I never shall forgive you."

"I won't, but why are you so shy?  My Isabel, what is there to be
afraid of?"

"You," Isabel sighed out.  He was gratified, and betrayed it.  "No,
Lawrence, you misunderstand. I am not--not shy of you . . ."  Under
his mocking eyes she gave it up and tried again.  "Well, I am, but
if that were all I shouldn't refuse . . . I should like you to be
happy.  Oh! yes, I love you, and I'd so far rather not fight, I'd
rather--" she waited a moment like a swimmer on the sand's edge, but
his deep need of her carried her away and with a little sigh she
flung herself into the open sea--"let you kiss me, because I don't
want anything so much as to make you happy, and I believe you would
be, and besides I--I should like it myself.  But I must know more.
I must know the truth.  She--Mrs. Cleve--"

"I've already given you my word: do you think I would lie to
you?"

"No, I don't; they say men do, but I'm sure you wouldn't.  I
don't believe you ever would deceive me. But there have been
other women, haven't there, since your wife left you?" Lawrence
assented briefly.  At that moment he would have liked to see Mrs.
Cleve hanged and drawn and quartered.  "Other women who were--
who--with whom--"

"Must you distress yourself like this?  Wouldn't it do if I
promised to lay my record before Val, and let him be judge?"

"Would you do that?"

"If you wish it."

"Wouldn't you hate it?"

Lawrence smiled.

"And I should hate it for you,", said Isabel. "No: no one can
judge you for me and no one shall try.  I know you better than
Val ever would. No, if you're to be humiliated it shall be before
me and me only."  She brought the colour into his face.  "There
have been others, Lawrence?"

"My dear, I've lived the life of other men."

"Do all men live so?"

"Pretty well all."

"Does Val?"

He shrugged his shoulders.  "His facilities are limited!"

"He did once--might again?"

"Couldn't we confine the issue to ourselves?"

"Are you afraid of my misjudging Val? I never should: my dearest
darling Val is a fixed standard for me, and nothing could alter
the way I think of him."

"Don't challenge luck," Lawrence muttered.

"I'm not, it's true.  I'm surer of Val than I am of myself, or
you, or the sun's rising tomorrow.  All I want is to cheek you by
him."

"Val is genuinely religious and a bit of an ascetic.  I have no
doubt that his life is now and will continue to be spotless.  But
that it was always so is most unlikely.  Army subalterns during
the war were given no end of a good time.  And quite right too,
it was the least that could be done for us: and the most, in nine
cases out of ten: personally I had no use for munition workers in
mud-coloured overalls, but I still remember with gratitude the
nymphs who decorated my week end leaves."

Isabel shivered: the hand that he was holding had grown icy cold.

"There, you see!" said Hyde with his saddened cynicism.  "You
will have it all out but you can't stand it when it comes.  You
had better have left it to Val: not but what I'd rather talk to
you, but I hate to distress you, and you're not old enough yet,
my darling, to see these trivial things--yes, trivial to nine-tenths
of the world: it's only the clergy, and unmarried women, and a small
number of hyper-sensitives like Val, who attach an importance to them
that they don't deserve.  But you're too young to see them in
perspective.  Try to do it for my sake.  Try to see me as I am."

"Well, show me then."

But what he showed her was not himself but the aspect of himself
that he wished her to see--a very different matter.  "I'm too
old for you.  I'm the son of a Jew, and a Houndsditch Jew at
that.  But I'm rich--what's called rich in my set--and when I
marry I shan't keep my wife dependent on me.  Ah! don't
misunderstand me--yours is a rich manysided nature, and you're
too intelligent to underrate the value of money.  It means a wide
life and lots of interests, books, pictures, music, travel,
mixing with the men and women best worth knowing.  You're
ambitious, my dear, and as my wife you can build yourself up any
social position you like.  Farringay's not as big as Wharton, but
on my soul it's more perfect in its way.  I've never seen such
panelling in my life, and the gardens are admittedly the most
beautiful in Dorsetshire.  There are Sevres services more
precious than gold plate, and if you come to that there's gold
plate into the bargain.  Can't I see you there as chatelaine,
entertaining the county!  You'll wear the sapphires my mother
wore; the old man couldn't have been more happily inspired,
they're the very colour of your eyes.  And there'll be no price
to pay, for since I'm a Jew and a cosmopolitan, and not a country
squire, you'll keep your personal freedom inviolate.  You'll give
what you will, when you will, as you will.  Any other terms are
to my mind unthinkable--a brutalizing of what ought to be the
most delicate of things.  Heavens, how I hate a middleclass
English marriage!  Ah! but I'm not so accommodating as I sound,
for you won't be a grudging giver; you're not an ascetic like
Val, there's passion in you though you've been trained to repress
it, you'll soon learn what love means as we understand it in the
sunny countries. . . . Isabel, my Isabel, when we get away from
these grey English skies you won't refuse to let me kiss
you. . ."

Isabel had ceased to listen.  Without her own will a scene had sprung
up before her eyes: an imaginary scene, like one of those romantic
adventures that she had invented a thousand times before--but this
was not romantic nor was she precisely the heroine. A foreign hotel
with long corridors and many rooms: a door thoughtlessly left ajar:
and through it a glimpse of Lawrence--her husband--holding another
woman in his arms.  It was lifelike, she could have counted the buds
embroidered on the girl's blouse, their rose-pink reflected in the
hot flush on Hyde's cheek and the glow in his eyes as he stooped over
her.  And then the imaginary Isabel with a pain at her heart like the
stab of a knife, and a smile of inexpressible self-contempt on her
lips, noiselessly closed the door so that no one else might see what
she had seen, and left him. . . . It would all happen one day, if not
that way, some other way; and he would come to her by and by without
explanation--she was convinced that he would not lie to her--smiling,
the hot glow still on his face, a subdued air of well-being diffused
over him from head to foot--and then?  The vision faded; her
clairvoyance, which had already carried her far beyond her
experience, broke down in sheer anguish.  But reason took it up and
told her that she would speak to him, and that he would apologize and
she would forgive him--and that it would all happen again the next
time temptation met him in a weak hour.

Faithful? it was not in him to be faithful: with so much that was
generous and gallant, there was this vice of taste in him which
had offended her that first morning on the moor and again at
night in Laura's garden, and which now led him to make love to
her when she was under his protection and while the scent of Mrs.
Cleve's flowers still clung to his coat.  And what love! if he
had simply spoken to her out of his need of her, one would not
have known how to resist, but it was he who was to be the giver,
and what he offered was the measure of what he desired--a lesson
in passion and a liberal allowance. . . .

"O no, no, no, I can't!" Isabel cried out, turning from him.
"Yes, I love you, but I don't trust you, and I won't marry you.
I'm too much afraid."

"Afraid of me?"

"Afraid of the pain."

"What pain?"

"And the--wickedness of it." Lawrence, frozen with astonishment--he
had foreseen resistance,  but not of this quality--let fall her hand.
"Yes, we'll part now.  We can part now.  I love you, but not too much
to get over it in a year or so; and you?  you'll forget sooner,
because I'm not worth remembering."

"Forget you?"

"Oh! yes, it's not as if you really cared for me; you wouldn't
talk to me of money if you did.  But I suppose you've known so
many. . . . Val warned me long ago that you had not a good name
with women."

"Val said that?  Val!"

"And now you're angry with Val; I repeat what I oughtn't to
repeat, and make mischief.  Lawrence, this isn't Val's doing; it
isn't even Mrs. Cleve's: it's my own cowardice.  I daren't marry
you."

"But why not?"

"You're not trying to be good."

"The language of the nursery defeats me, Isabel."

She flushed.  "That means I've hurt you."

"Naturally."

"I can't help it." That was truer than he realized, for she could
hardly help crying. She could not soften her refusal, because she
was so shaken and exhausted by the strain of it that she dared
not venture on more than one sentence at a time.

"I'm very sorry."

"But as my wife you could be as 'good' as you liked?"

"You would not leave me strength for it."

"I should corrupt you?"

"Yes, I think you would deliberately tempt me. . . . I think you
have tonight."

"Do you care for no one but yourself?" he flung at her in his
vertigo of humiliation and anger.

"No: I care for God."

"For God!" Lawrence repeated stupidly: "what has that to do with
your marrying me?"

He heard his own betise as it left his lips, and felt the
immeasurable depth of it, but he had not time to retract before
every personal consideration was wiped from his mind by a cry
from Isabel in a very different accent--"Lawrence! oh! look at
the time!"

She pointed to the dial of an illuminated clock, hanging high in
the soft September night.  It was eight minutes to twelve.  "What
time did you say our train went?"

They were in Whitehall.  Lawrence caught up the speaking tube.
"Waterloo main entrance--and drive like the devil, please, we're
late."

"I thought we had plenty of time?"

"So we had: so much so that I told the man to drive round and
round for a bit."

"And have we still time?"

"No."

"We shan't lose the train?"

"Unless it's delayed in starting, which isn't likely."

"Will the others go on and leave us?"

"Hardly!"

"You don't mean that Laura won't get home till tomorrow?  Oh!"

"No.  But don't look so frightened, no one will blame you--the
responsibility is mine entirely."

Isabel's lip curled.  It was for Laura that she felt afraid and
not for herself, and surely he might have guessed as much as
that!  "Did you do it on purpose?"

"No."

"I beg your pardon.  That was stupid of me."

"Very," said Lawrence with his keen sarcastic smile.

At Waterloo he sprang out, tossed a sovereign to the driver, and
made Isabel catch up her skirts and run like a deer.  But before
they reached the platform it was after twelve and the rails
beyond were empty.  Selincourt and Laura were waiting by the
barrier, Selincourt red with impatience, Laura very pale.

"Are you aware you've lost the last train down?" said the elder
man with ill-concealed anger, as Lawrence, shortening his step,
strolled up in apparent tranquillity with Isabel on his arm.
"What on earth has become of you?  We've been waiting here for
half an hour!"

"We were held up in the traffic," said Lawrence deliberately.
Isabel turned scarlet.  The truth would have been insupportable,
but so was the lie.  "Although it was no fault of mine, Laura,
I'm more sorry than I can say.  Will you let me telephone for my
own car and motor you down? I could get you to Chilmark in the
small hours--long before the first morning train."

Laura hesitated: but Selincourt's brow was dark. The streets that
night had not been unusually crowded, ample time had been allowed
to cover any ordinary delay, and Isabel was cruelly confused. In
his simple code Hyde had committed at least one if not two
unpardonable sins--he had neglected one of the ladies in his
care if he had not affronted the other.

"That wouldn't do at all," he said with decision. "You've been
either careless or unlucky once, Lawrence.  It might happen
again."

It was a direct challenge, and cost him an effort, but it was not
resented.  "It would not.  From my soul I regret this contretemps,
Lucian.  Do you settle what's to be done: you're Laura's brother, I
put myself unreservedly in your hands."

"My dear fellow!" the gentle Lucian was instantly disarmed.
"After all we needn't make a mountain out of a molehill--they'll
know we're all right, four of us together!"

"At all events it can't be helped," said Mrs. Clowes, smiling at
Lawrence with her kind trustful eyes, "so don't distress
yourself.  My sweet Isabel too, so tired!" she took Isabel's cold
hand. "Never mind, Val won't let your father worry, and we shall
be home by ten or eleven in the morning. It is only to go to an
hotel for a few hours.  Come, dear Lawrence, don't look so
subdued! It wasn't your fault, so you mustn't trouble even if--"

"Even if what?"

"Even if Bernard locks the door in my face," she finished
laughing.  "He'll be fearfully cross! but I dare say Val will go
down and smooth his ruffled plumage."



CHAPTER XV


"I do not like all this running about to places of amusement,"
said Mr. Stafford, rumpling up his curls till they stood on end
in a plume.  "If you or Rowsley were to visit a theatre I should
say nothing.  You're men and must judge for yourselves.  But
Isabel is different. I have a good mind to put my foot down once
and for all.  An atmosphere of luxury is not good for a young
girl."

He stretched himself out in his shabby chair; a shabby, slight
man, whose delicate foot, the toes poking out of a shabby
slipper, looked as if it were too small to make much impression
however firmly put down.  Val, smoking his temperate pipe on the
other side of the diningroom hearth, temperately suggested that
the amount of luxury in Isabel's life wouldn't hurt a fly.

"One grain of strychnine will destroy a life: and one hour of
temptation may destroy a soul for ever."  Val bowed his head in
assent.  "Why are we all so fond of Isabel?  Because she hasn't a
particle of self-consciousness in her.  A single evening's
flattery may infect her with that detestable vice."

"She must grow up some time."

"More's the pity," retorted the vicar.  "Another point: I'm not
by any means sure I approve of that fellow Hyde.  I doubt if he's
a religious man."  Val brushed away a smile.  "He comes to church
with Laura pretty regularly, but would he come if her influence
were removed?  I greatly doubt it."  So did Val, therefore he
prudently held his tongue. "I hate to be uncharitable," continued
Mr. Stafford "but I doubt if he is even what one narrowly calls a
moral man.  Take Jack Bendish, now one can see at a glance that
he's a good fellow, right-living and clean-minded.  But Hyde
doesn't inspire me with any such confidence. I know nothing of
his private life--"

"Nor do I," said Val rather wearily.  "But what does any man know
of another man's private life?  If you come to that, Jim, what do
you know of Rowsley's--or mine?"

"Pouf, nonsense!" said Mr. Stafford.

At his feet lay a small black cat, curled up in the attitude of a
comma.  Before going on he inserted one toe under her waist,
rapidly turned her upside down, and chucked her under her ruffled
and indignant chin.

"Val, my boy, has any one repeated to you a nasty bit of gossip
that's going about the village?"

"This violence to a lady!" Val held out his hand and made small
coaxing noises with his lips.  But Amelia after a cold stare
walked away and sat down in the middle of the floor, turning
her back and sticking out a refined but implacable tail.  "There
now! you've hurt her feelings."

"Of course there's nothing in it--on one side at least.  But I
can't help wondering whether Hyde . . . . our dear Laura would
naturally be the last to hear of it.  But Hyde's a man of the
world and knows how quickly tongues begin to wag.  In Laura's
unprotected position he ought to be doubly careful."

"He ought."

"But he is not.  Now is that designed or accidental?  We'll allow
him the benefit of the doubt and call it an error of judgment.
Then some one ought to give him a hint."

"Some one would be knocked down for his pains."

"D'you think he'd knock me down?" asked Mr. Stafford, casting a
comical glance over his slender elderly frame.

"Hardly," said Val laughing.  "But--no, Jim, it wouldn't do.
Too formal, too official."  His real objection was that Mr.
Stafford would base his appeal on ethical and spiritual grounds,
which were not likely to influence Lawrence, as Val read him.
"But if you like I'll give him a hint myself.  I can do it
informally; and I very nearly did it as long ago as last June.
Hyde is amenable to treatment if he's taken quietly."

Mr. Stafford, by temperament and training a member of the Church
Militant, clearly felt a trifle disappointed, but he had little
petty vanity and accepted Val's amendment without a murmur. "Very
well, if you think you can do it better!  I don't care who does
it so long as it's done." The clock struck.  "Half past eleven is
that?  Isabel can't be home before four.  Dear me, how I hate
these ridiculous hours, turning night into day!"  As some
correspondents put the point of a letter into a postscript, so
the vicar in returning to his Church Times revealed the peculiar
sting that was working in his mind.  "And I don't--  I do not like
Isabel to make one of that trio--in view of what's being said."

"She is with Mrs. Clowes," said Val shortly, and colouring all
over his face.  Fling enough mud and some of it is sure to stick!
If his unworldly father could think Laura, though innocent, so
far compromised that Isabel was not safe in her care, what were
other people saying?  Val got up.  "I shall walk down and smoke a
pipe with Clowes.  He won't go to bed till they come in."

The beechen way was dark and steep; roosting birds blundered out
from overhead with a sleepy clamour of alarm-notes and a great
rustle of leaf-brushed wings; one could have tracked Val's course
by the commotion they made.  On the footbridge dark in alder-shadow
he lingered to enjoy the cool woodland air and lulling ripple
underfoot.  Not a star pierced to that black water, it might have
been unfathomably deep; and though the village street was only a
quarter of a mile away the night was intensely quiet, for all
Chilmark went to bed after closing time.  It was not often that Val,
overworked and popular, tasted such a profound solitude.  Not a leaf
stirred: no one was near: under golden stars it was chilling towards
one of the first faint frosts of the year: and insensibly Val relaxed
his guard: a heavy sigh broke from him, and he moved restlessly,
indulging himself in recollection as a man who habitually endures
pain without wincing will now and then allow himself the relief of
defeat.

For it is a relief not to pretend any more nor fight: to let pain
take its way, like a slow tide invading every nerve and flooding
every recess of thought, till one is pierced and penetrated by
it, married to it, indifferent so long as one can drop the mask
of that cruel courage which exacts so many sacrifices.  Val was
still only twenty-nine.  Forty years more of a life like
this! . . . Lawrence had once compared him to a man on the rack.
But, though Lawrence knew all, Val had never relaxed the strain
before him: was incapable of relaxing it before any spectator.
He needed to be not only alone, but in the dark, hidden even from
himself: and even so no open expression was possible to him, not
a movement after the first deep sigh: it was relief enough for
him to be sincere with himself and own that he was unhappy.  But
why specially unhappy now?

Midnight: the church clock had begun to strike in a deep whirring
chime, muffled among the million leaves of the wood.

That trio were in the train now, Isabel probably fast falling
asleep, Hyde and Laura virtually alone for the run from Waterloo
to Chilmark.

A handsome man, Hyde, and attractive to women, or so rumour and
Yvonne Bendish affirmed. If even Yvonne, who was Laura's own
sister, was afraid of Hyde! ... Well, Hyde was to be given the
hint to take himself off, and surely no more than such a hint
would be necessary?  Val smiled, the prospect was not without a
wry humour.  If he had been Hyde's brother, what he had to say
would not have said itself easily.  "Let us hope he won't knock
me down," Val reflected, "or the situation will really become
strained; but he won't--that's not his way."  What was his way?
The worst of it was that Val was not at all sure what way Hyde
would take, nor whether he would consent to go alone.  A handsome
man, confound him, and a picked specimen of his type: one of
those high-geared and smoothly running physical machines that are
all grace in a lady's drawingroom and all steel under their
skins.  What a contrast between him and poor Bernard! the one so
impotent and devil-ridden, the other so virile, unscrupulous, and
serene.

Val stirred restlessly and gripped the rail of the bridge between
his clenched hands.  His mind was a chaos of loose ends and he
dared not follow any one of them to its logical conclusion.  What
was he letting himself think of Laura?  Such fears were an insult
to her clear chastity and strength of will.  Or, in any event,
what was it to him?  He was Bernard's friend, and Laura's but he
was not the keeper of Bernard's honour. . . . But Hyde and
Laura . . . alone . . . the train with its plume of fire rushing
on through the dark sleeping night. . . .

"In manus tuas . . ."  Val raised his head, and shivered, the
wind struck chill: he was tired out.  Yet only a second or so had
gone by while he was indulging himself in useless regrets for
what could never be undone, and still more useless anxiety for a
future which was not only beyond his control but outside his
province as Bernard's agent.  That after all was his status at
Wanhope, he had no other.  It was still striking twelve: the last
echo of the last chime trembled away on a faint, fresh sough of
wind. . . . A lolloping splash off the bank into the water--what
was that?  A dark blot among ripples on a flat and steely
glimmer, the sketch of a whiskered feline mask . . . Val made a
mental note to speak to Jack Bendish about it: otters are bad
housekeepers in a trout stream.

"Hallo!  Good man!" Major Clowes was on his back in the
drawingroom, in evening dress, and playing patience.  "I've tried
Kings, Queens and Knaves, and Little Demon, and Fair Lucy, and
brought every one of 'em out first round.  Something must be
going to happen." With a sweep of his arm he flung all the cards
on the floor. "What do you want?"

"A pipe," said Val, going on one knee to pick up the scattered
pack.  "I looked in to see how you were getting on.  Aren't you
going to bed?"

"Not before they come in."

"Nor will Jimmy, I left him sitting up for Isabel.  You're both
of you very silly, you'll be dead tired tomorrow, and what's the
object of it?"

"To make sure they do come in," Bernard explained with a broad
grin.  Val sprang up: intolerable, this reflection of his own
fear in Bernard's distorting mirror!  "Ha ha!  Suppose they
didn't?  Laura was rather fond of larks before she married me.
She was, I give you my word--she and the other girl.  You
wouldn't think it of Laura, would you?  Butter wouldn't melt in
her mouth.  But she might like a fling for a change.  Who'd blame
her?  I'm no good as a husband, and Lawrence is a picked
specimen.  Quelle type, eh?"

"Very good-looking."

"'Very good-looking!'" Bernard mocked at him. "You and your Army
vocabulary!  And I'm a nice chap, and Laura's quite a pretty
woman, and this is a topping knife, isn't it, and life's a jolly
old beano--  Pity I can't get out of it, by the by: if physiology
is the basis of marriage, those two would run well in harness."

"There's an otter in the river," remarked Val, examining the
little dagger, the same that Lawrence had given Bernard.  "I
heard him from the bridge.  They come down from the upper
reaches.  Remind me to tell Jack, he's always charmed to get a
day's sport with his hounds." He laid the dagger on a side-table.

"Have one of my cigars?  You can't afford cigars, can you? poor
devil!  They're on that shelf.  Not those: they're Hyde's." Val
put back the box as if it had burnt his fingers.  "Leaves his
things about as if the place were a hotel!" grumbled Major
Clowes. "That's one of his books.  Pick it up. What is it?" Val
read out the title.  "Poetry?  Good Lord deliver us!  Do you read
poetry, Val?"

"I occasionally dip into Tennyson," Val replied, settling himself
in an easy chair.  "I can't understand modern verse as a rule,
it's too clever for me, and the fellows who write it always seem
to go in for such gloomy subjects.  I don't like gloomy books, I
like stuff that rests and refreshes you.  There are enough sad
things in life without writing stories about them. I can read the
'Idylls of the King,' but I can't read Bernard Shaw."

"Nor anybody else," said Bernard.  He fixed his eyes on Val: eyes
like his cousin's in form and colour, large, and so black under
their black lashes that the pupil was almost indistinguishable
from the iris, but smouldering in a perpetual glow, while Hyde's
were clear and indifferent.  "You're a good sort to have come
down to look after me.  I don't feel very brash tonight.  Oh Val!
oh Val! I know I'm a brute, a coarse-minded, foul-mouthed brute.
I usedn't to be.  When I was twenty-five, if any man had said
before me what I say of Laura, I'd have kicked him out of his own
house.  Why don't you kick me?"

"I am not violent."

"Ain't you?  I am." He flung out his arm. "Give me your hand."
Val complied, amused or touched: as often happened when they were
alone,  he remained on the borderline.  But it was taken in no
affectionate clasp.  Bernard's grip closed on him, tighter and
tighter, till the nails were driven into his palm.  "Is that
painful?" Clowes asked with his Satanic grin.  "Glad of it.  I'm
in pain too.  I've got neuritis in my spine and I can't sleep for
it.  I haven't had any proper sleep for a week.--Oh my God, my
God, my God! do you think I'd grumble if that were all?  I can't,
I can't lie on my back all my life playing patience or fiddling
over secondhand penknives!  I was born for action.  Action, Val!
I'm not a curate.  I'd like to smash something--crush it to a
jelly."  Val mincingly pointed out that such a consummation was
not far off, but he was ignored.  "Oh damn the war! and damn
England too--what did we go to fight for?  What asses we were!
Did we ever believe in a reason?  Give me these ten years over
again and I wouldn't be such a fool.  Who cares whether we lick
Germany or Germany licks England?  I don't."

"I do."

Bernard stared at him, incredulous.  "What--'freedom and
honour' and all the rest of it?"

"In a defensive war--"

"Oh for God's sake!  I've just had my supper."

"--any man who won't fight for his country deserves to be shot."

"You combine the brains of a rabbit with the morals of a eunuch."

Val crossed his legs and withdrew his cigar to laugh.

"Ah! I apologize." Clowes shrugged his shoulders. "'Eunuch' is
the wrong word for you--as a breed they're a cowardly lot.  But
I used the term in the sense of a Palace favourite who swallows
all the slop that's pumped into him.  'Lloyd George for ever and
Britannia rules the waves.' Dare say I should sing it myself if
I'd come out covered with glory like you did."

"I met Gainsford today.  He says the longacre fences ought to be
renewed before winter.  Parts of them are so rotten that the
first gale will bring them down."

"Damn Gainsford and damn the fences and damn you."

"Really, really!" Val stretched himself out and put his feet up.
"You're very monotonous tonight."

"And you, you're tired: I wear you both out, you and Laura--and
yet you're the only people on earth. . . . Why can't I die?
Sometimes I wonder if it's anything but cowardice that prevents
me from cutting my throat.  But my life is infernally strong in
me, I don't want to die: what I want is to get on my legs again
and kick that fellow Hyde down the steps.  What does he stop on
here for?"

"Well, you're always pressing him to stay, aren't you?  Why do
you do it, if this is the way you feel towards him?"

"Because I've always sworn I'd give Laura all the rope she
wanted," said Clowes between his teeth.  "If she wants to hang
herself, let her.  I should score in the long run.  Hyde would
chuck her away like an old shoe when he got sick of her."   There
was a fire not far from madness burning now in the wide, dilated
eyes.  "Afterwards she'd have to come back, because those
Selincourts haven't got twopence between the lot of them, and if
she did she'd be mine for good and all.  Hyde would break her in
for me."

"You don't realize what you're saying, Berns, old man.  You
can't," said Val gently, "or you wouldn't say it.  It is too
unutterably beastly."

"Ah! perhaps the point of view is a bit warped," Bernard returned
carelessly to sanity.  "It shocks you, does it?  But the fact is
Laura has the whip hand of me and I can't forgive her for it.
She's the saint and I'm the sinner.  She's a bit too good. If
Hyde broke her in and sent her home on her knees, I should have
the whip hand of her, and I'd like to reverse the positions.  Can
you follow that?  Yes! A bit warped, I own. But I am warped--
bound to be.  Give the body such a wrench as the Saxons gave mine
and you're bound to get some corresponding wrench in the mind."

"That's rank materialism."

"Bosh! it's common sense.  Look at your own case!  Do you never
analyze your own behaviour?  You would if you lay on your back
year in year out like me.  You're maimed too."

"No, am I?" Val reached for a fourth cushion. "Think o' that,
now."

"Or you wouldn't be content to hang on in Chilmark, riding over
another man's property and squiring another man's wife.  The shot
that broke your arm broke your life.  You had the makings of a
fine soldier in you, but you were knocked out of your profession
and you don't care for any other.  With all your ability you'll
never be worth more than six or seven hundred a year, for you've
no initiative and you're as nervous as a cat.  You're not married
and you'll never marry: you're too passive, too continent, too
much of a monk to attract a healthy woman.  No: don't you flatter
yourself that you've escaped any more than I have. The only
difference is that the Saxons mucked up my life and you've mucked
up your own.  You fool! you high-minded, over-scrupulous
fool! . . . You and I are wreckage of war, Val: cursed, senseless
devilry of war.--  Go and play a tune, I'm sick of talking."

Val was not any less sick of listening.  He went to the piano,
but not to play a tune.  Impossible to insult that crippled
tempest on the sofa with the sweet eternal placidities of Mozart
or Bach.  His fingers wandered over the lower register,
improvising, modulating from one minor key to another in a cobweb
of silver harmony spun pale and low from a minimum of technical
attention.  For once Bernard had struck home.  "The shot that
broke your arm broke your life." Stripped of Bernard's rhetoric,
was it true?

Val could not remember the time when his ambition had not been
set on soldiering: regiments of Hussars and Dragoons had deployed
on his earliest Land of Counterpane: he had never cared for any
other toys.  But as soon as war was over he had resigned his
commission, a high sense of duty driving him from a field in
which he felt unfit to serve.  He had pitilessly executed his own
judgment: no man can do more.  But what if in judgement itself
had been unhinged--warped--deflected by the interaction of
splintered bone and cut sinew and dazed, ghost-ridden mind?  Have
not psychologists said that few fighting men were strictly normal
in or for some time after the war?

If that were true, Val had wasted the best years of his life on a
delusion.  It was a disturbing thought, but it brought a sparkle
to his eyes and an electric force to his fingertips: he raised
his head and looked out into the September night as if there was
stirring in him the restless sap of spring.  After all he was
still a young man.  Forty years more!  If these grey ten years
since the war could be taken as finite, not endless: if after
them one were to break the chain, tear off the hair shirt, come
out of one's cell into the warm sun--then, oh then--Val's
shoulders remembered their military set--life might be life
again and not life in death.

"What the devil are you strumming now?"

"Tipperary."

"That's not much in your line."

"Oh! I was in the Army once," said Val. "You go to sleep."

He had his wish.  The heavy eyelids closed, the great chest rose
and fell evenly, and some--not all--of the deep lines of pain
were smoothed away from Bernard's lips.  Even in sleep it was a
restless, suffering head, but it was no longer so devil-ridden as
when he was talking of his wife.  Val played on softly: once when
he desisted Bernard stirred and muttered something which sounded
like "Go on, damn you," a proof that his mind was not far from
his body, only the thinnest of veils lying over its terrible
activity.  David would have played the clock round, if Saul would
have slept on.

Saul did not. He woke--with a tremendous start, sure sign of
broken nerves: a start that shook him like a fall and shook the
couch too.  "Hallo!" he came instantly into full possession of
his faculties: "you still here?  What's the time? I feel as if
I'd been asleep for years.  Why, it's daylight!" He dragged out
his watch.  "What the devil is the time?"

Val rose and pulled back a curtain.  The morning sky was full of
grey light, and long pale shadows fell over frost-silvered turf:
mists were steaming up like pale smoke from the river, over whose
surface they swept in fantastic shapes like ghosts taking hands
in an evanescent arabesque: the clouds, the birds, the flowers
were all awake.  The house was awake too, and in fact it was the
clatter of a housemaid's brush on the staircase that had roused
Bernard. "It's nearly six o'clock," said Val.  "You've had a long
sleep, Berns.  I'm afraid the others have missed their train."

"Missed their train!"

"First night performances are often slow, and they mayn't have
been able to get a cab at once.  It's tiresome, but there's no
cause for anxiety."

"Missed their train!"

"Well, they can't all have been swallowed up by an earthquake!
Of course fire or a railway smash is on the cards, but the less
thrilling explanation is more probable, don't you think, old
man?"

"Missed the last train and were obliged to stay in town?"

"And a rotten time they'll have of it.  It's no joke, trying to
get rooms in a London hotel when you've ladies with you and no
luggage."

"You think Laura would let Hyde take her to an hotel?"

"Well, Berns, what else are they to do?" said Val impatiently.
"They can't very well sit in a Waterloo waitingroom!"

"No, no," said Clowes.  "Much better pass the night at an hotel.
Is that what you call a rotten time?  If I were Lawrence I should
call it a jolly one."

Val turned round from the window.  "If I were Hyde," he said
stiffly, "I should take the ladies to some decent place and go to
a club myself.  You might give your cousin credit for common
sense if not for common decency!  You seem to forget the
existence of Isabel."

"Oh, all right," said Bernard after a moment.  "I was only
joking.  No offence to your sister, Val, I'm sure Laura will look
after her all right.  But it is a bit awkward in a gossippy hole
like Chilmark. When does the next train get in?"

No man knows offhand the trains that leave London in the small
hours, but Val hunted up a timetable--its date of eighteen
mouths ago a pregnant commentary on life at Wanhope--and came
back with the information that if they left at seven-fifteen they
could be at Countisford by ten.  "Too late to keep it quiet," he
owned.  "The servants are a nuisance.  But thank heaven Isabel's
with them."

"Thank heaven indeed," Bernard assented.  "Not that I care two
straws for gossip myself, but Laura would hate to be talked
about.  Well, well!  Here's a pretty kettle of fish.  How would
it be if you were to meet them at the station?  I suppose they're
safe to come by that train?  Or will they wait for a second one?
Getting up early is not Laura's strong point at the best of
times, and she'll be extra tired after the varied excitements of
the night."

Val examined him narrowly.  His manner was natural if a trifle
subdued; the unhealthy glow had died down and his black eyes were
frank and clear.  Nevertheless Val was not at ease, this natural
way of taking the mishap was for Bernard Clowes so unnatural and
extraordinary: if he had stormed and sworn Val would have felt
more tranquil.  But perhaps after the fireworks of last night the
devil had gone out of him for a season?  Yet Val knew from
painful experience that Bernard's devil was tenacious and wiry,
not soon tired.

"They might," he said cautiously, "but I shouldn't think they
will.  Laura knows you, old fellow.  She'll be prepared for a
terrific wigging, and she'll want to get home and get it over."
A dim gleam of mirth relieved Val's mind a trifle: when the devil
of jealousy was in possession he always cast out Bernard's sense
of humour, a subordinate imp at the best of times and not of a
healthy breed.  "Besides, there's Isabel to consider.  She'll be
in a great state of mind, poor child, though it probably isn't in
the least her fault.  By the bye, if there's no more I can do for
you, I ought to go home and see after Jim.  He expressed his
intention of sitting up for Isabel, and I only wonder he hasn't
been down here before now.  Probably he went to sleep over his
Church Times, or else buried himself in some venerable volume of
patristic literature and forgot about her.  But when Fanny gets
down he'll be tearing his hair."

"Go by all means," said Bernard.  "You must be fagged out, Val;
have you been at the piano all these hours?  How you spoil me,
you and Laura!  Get some breakfast, lie down for a nap, and after
that you can go on to Countisford and meet them in the car."

"All right!" In face of Bernard's thoughtful and practical good
humour Val's suspicions had faded.  "Shall I come back or will
you send the car up for me?" Neither he nor Clowes saw anything
unusual in these demands on his time and energy: it was
understood that the duties of the agency comprised doing anything
Bernard wanted done at any hour of day or night.

"I'll send her up.  Stop a bit." Clowes knit his brows and looked
down, evidently deep in thought.  "Yes, that's the ticket.  You
take Isabel home and send Lawrence and Laura on alone.  Drop them
at the lodge before you drive her up.  She'll be tired out and
it's a good step up the hill.  And you must apologize for me to
your father for giving him so much anxiety.  Lawrence must have
been abominably careless to let them lose their train: they ought
to have had half an hour to spare."

"He is casual."

"Oh very: thinks of nothing but himself.  Pity you and he can't
strike a balance!  Good-bye.  Mind you take your sister straight
home and apologize to your father for Hyde's antics.  Say I'm
sorry, very sorry to mix her up in such a pickle, and I wouldn't
have let her in for it if it could have been avoided.  Touch the
bell for me before you go, will you?  I want Barry."

Val let himself out by the window and the impassive valet
entered.  But it was some time before Bernard spoke to him.

"Is that you, Barry? I didn't hear you come in."

"Now what's in the wind?" speculated Barry behind his
professional mask.  "Up all night and civil in the morning?  Oh
no, I don't think."

"Shall I wheel you to your room, sir?"

"Not yet," said Clowes.  He waited to collect his strength.
"Shut all those windows." Barry obeyed.  "Turn on the electric
light . . . .Put up the shutters and fasten them securely . . . .
Now I want you to go all over the house and shut and fasten all
the other ground floor windows: then come back to me."

"Am I to turn on the electric light everywhere, sir?" Barry asked
after a pause.

"Where necessary.  Not in the billiard room; nor in Mrs. Clowes'
parlour."   Barry had executed too many equally singular orders
to raise any demur.  He came back in ten minutes with the news
that it was done.

"Now wheel me into the hall," said Clowes. Barry obeyed.  "Shut
the front doors. . . . Lock them and put up the chain."

This time Barry did hesitate.  "Sir, if I do that no one won't be
able to get in or out except by the back way: and it's close on
seven o'clock."

"You do what you're told."

Barry obeyed.

"Now wheel my couch in front of the doors."

"Mad as a March hare!" was Barry's private comment.  "Lord, I
wish Mr. Stafford was here."

"That will do," said Clowes.

He settled his great shoulders square and comfortable on his
pillow and folded his arms over his breast.

"I want you to take an important message from me to the other
servants.  Tell them that if Mrs. Clowes or Captain Hyde come to
the house they're not to be let in.  Mrs. Clowes has left me and
I do not intend her to return.  If they force their way in I'll
deal with them, but any one who opens the door will leave my
service today.  Now get me some breakfast.  I'll have some coffee
and eggs and bacon.  Tell Fryar to see that the boiled milk's
properly hot."

Barry, stupefied, went out without a word, leaving the big couch,
and the big helpless body stretched out upon it, drawn like a bar
across the door.



CHAPTER XVI


It was a fatigued and jaded party that got out on the platform at
Countisford.  The mere wearing of evening dress when other people
are at breakfast will damp the spirits of the most hardened, and
even Lawrence had an up-all-night expression which reddened his
eyelids and brought out the lines about his mouth.  Isabel's hair
was rumpled and her fresh bloom all dimmed.  Laura Clowes had
suffered least: there was not a thread astray in her satin waves,
and the finished grace of her aspect had survived a night in a
chair.  But even she was very pale, though she contrived to smile
at Val.

"How's Bernard?" were her first words.

"All serene. He slept most of the time. I was with him, luckily.
We guessed what had happened.  You missed your train?" In this
question Val included Lawrence.

"It was my fault," said Lawrence shortly.  It was what he would
have said if it had not been his fault.

"It was nobody's fault!" cried Laura.  "We were held up in the
traffic.  But Lawrence is one of those people who will feel
responsible if they have ladies with them on the Day of Judgment,
won't you, Lawrence?"

"I ought to have left more time," said Lawrence impatiently.
"Let's get home."

In the car Val heard from Laura the details of their
misadventure.  Selincourt had waited with the women while
Lawrence secured rooms for them in a Waterloo hotel: when they
were safe, Lawrence had gone to Lucian's rooms in Victoria
Street, where the men had passed what remained of the night in a
mild game of cards.  They had all breakfasted together by
lamplight at the hotel, and Selincourt had seen his sister into
the Chilmark train.  Nothing could have been more circumspect--
comically circumspect! between Selincourt and Isabel and the
chambermaid, malice itself was put to silence. But Lawrence was
fever-fretted by the secret sense of guilt.

At the lodge gates Val drew up.  "It's preposterous, but I'm
under Bernard's express orders to drive Isabel straight home. I
don't know how to apologize for turning you and Hyde out of your
own car, Laura!"  No apology was needed, Laura and Lawrence knew
too well how direct Bernard's orders commonly were to Val.
Lawrence silently offered his hand to Mrs. Clowes.  The morning
air was fresh, fog was still hanging over the river, and the sun
had not yet thrown off an autumn quilting of cloud.  Touched by
the chill of dawn, some leaves had fallen and lay in the dust,
their ribs beaded with dark dew: others, yellow and shrivelling,
where shaken down by the wind of the car and fluttered slowly in
the eddying air. Laura drew her sable scarf close over her bare
neck.

"What I should like best, Lawrence, would be for you to go home
with Isabel and make our excuses to Mr. Stafford.  Would you
mind?  Or is it too much to ask before you get out of your
evening dress?"

"I should be delighted," said Lawrence, feeling and indeed
looking entirely the reverse.  "But Miss Isabel has her brother
to take care of her, she doesn't want me." Isabel gave that
indefinable start which is the prelude of candour, but remained
dumb.  "I don't like to leave you to walk up to Wanhope alone."
This, was as near as in civilized life he could go to saying
"to face Clowes alone."

"The length of the drive?" said Laura smiling. "I should prefer
it.  You know what Berns is."  This was what Lawrence had never
known. "If he's put out I'd rather you weren't there."

"Why, you can't imagine I should care what Bernard said?"

Laura struck her hands together.-"There! There!" she turned to
Val, "can you wonder Bernard feels it?"

"I beg your pardon," said Lawrence from his heart.

"No, the contrast is poignant,'' said Val coldly.

"Dear Val, you always agree with me," said Laura.  "Take Captain
Hyde home and give him some breakfast.  I'd rather go alone,
Lawrence: it will be easier that way, believe me."

It was impossible to argue with her.  But while Val wheeled and
turned in the wide cross, before they took their upward bend
under the climbing beechwood, Lawrence glanced over his shoulder
and saw Mrs. Clowes still standing by the gate of Wanhope,
solitary, a wan gleam of sunlight striking down over her gold
embroideries and ivory coat, a russet leaf or two whirling slowly
round her drooping head: like a butterfly in winter, delicate,
fantastic, and astray.

Breakfast at the vicarage was not a genial meal.  Val was anxious
and preoccupied, Isabel in eclipse, even Mr. Stafford out of
humour--vexed with Lawrence, and with Val for bringing Lawrence
in under the immunities of a guest.  Lawrence himself was in a
frozen mood.  As soon as they had finished he rose: "If you'll
excuse my rushing off I'll go down to Wanhope now."

"By all means," said Mr. Stafford drily.

"Good-bye," said Isabel, casting about for a form of consolation,
and evolving one which, in the circumstances, was possibly
unique:  "You'll feel better when you've had a bath."

"I'll walk down with you to Wanhope" said Val.

"You?  Oh! no, don't bother," said Lawrence very curtly.  "I can
manage my cousin, thanks."

But Val's only reply was to open the door for him and stroll with
him across the lawn.  At the wicket gate Hyde turned: "Excuse my
saying so, but I prefer to go alone."

"I'm not coming in at Wanhope.  But I've ten words to say to you
before you go there."

"Oh?" said Lawrence.  He swung through leaving Val to follow or
not as he liked.

"Stop, Hyde, you must listen.  You're going into a house full of
the materials for an explosion.  You don't know your own danger."

"I dislike hints.  What are you driving at?"

"Laura."

"Mrs.  Clowes?"

"Naturally," said Val with a faint smile.  "You know as well as I
do how pointless that correction is.  You imply by it that as I'm
not her brother I've no right to meddle.  But I told you in June
that I should interfere if it became necessary to protect
others."

"And since when, my dear Val, has it become necessary?  Last
night?"

"Well, not that only: all Chilmark has been talking for weeks and
weeks."

"Chilmark--"

"Oh," Val interrupted, flinging out his delicate hands, "what's
the good of that?  Who would ever suggest that you care what
Chilmark says?  But she has to live in it."

The scene had to be faced, and a secret vein of cruelty in
Lawrence was not averse from facing it. This storm had been
brewing all summer.--They were alone, for the beechen way was
used only as a short cut to the vicarage.  Above them the garden
wall lifted its feathery fringe of grass into great golden boughs
that drooped over it: all round them the beech forest ran down
into the valley, the eye losing itself among clear glades at the
end of which perhaps a thicket of hollies twinkled darkly or a
marbled gleam of blue shone in from overhead; the steep dark path
was illumined by the golden lamplight of millions on millions of
pointed leaves, hanging motionless in the sunny autumnal morning
air which smelt of dry moss and wood smoke.

"And what's the rumour?  That I'm going to prevail or that I've
prevailed already?"

"The worst of it is," Val kept his point and his temper, "that
it's not only Chilmark.  One could afford to ignore village
gossip, but this has reached Wharton, my father--Mrs. Clowes
herself.  You wouldn't willingly do anything to make her unhappy:
indeed it's because of your consistent and delicate kindness both
to her and to Bernard that I've refrained from giving you a hint
before.  You've done Bernard an immense amount of good.  But the
good doesn't any longer counterbalance the involuntary mischief:
hasn't for some time past: can't you see it for yourself?  One
has only to watch the change coming over her, to look into her
eyes--"

"Really, if you'll excuse my saying so, you seem to have looked
into them a little too often yourself."

Val waited to take out his case and light a cigarette.  He
offered one to Hyde--"Won't you?"

"No, thanks: if you've done I'll be moving on."

"Why I haven't really begun yet.  You make me nervous--it's a
rotten thing to say to any man, and doubly difficult from me to
you--and I express myself badly, But I must chance being called
impertinent.  The trouble is with your cousin.  If you had heard
him last night. . . .  He's madly jealous."

"Of me?  Last night?" Lawrence gave a short laugh: this time he
really was amused.

"Dangerously jealous."

"There's not room for a shadow of suspicion.  Go and interview
Selincourt's servant if you like,  or nose around the Continental."

"Well," said Val, coaxing a lucifer between his cupped palms,
"I dare say it'll come to that.  I've done a good deal of
Bernard's dirty work.  Some one has to do it for the sake of a
quiet life.  His suspicions aren't rational, you know."

"I should think you put them into his head."

"I?" the serene eyes widened slightly, irritating Lawrence by
their effect of a delicacy too fastidious for contempt.  For this
courtesy, of finer grain than his own sarcasm, made him itch to
violate and soil it, as mobs will destroy what they never can
possess.  "Need we drag in personalities?  He was jealous of you
before you came to Wanhope.  He fancies or pretends to fancy that
you were in love with Mrs. Clowes when you were boy and girl.
We're not dealing with a sane or normal nature:  he was
practically mad last night--he frightened me.  May I give you,
word for word, what he said?  That he let you stay on because he
meant to give his wife rope enough to hang herself."

"What do you want me to do?" said Lawrence after a pause.

"To leave Wanhope."

More at his ease than Val, in spite of the disadvantage of his
evening dress, Lawrence stood looking down at him with brilliant
inexpressive eyes.  "Is it your own idea that I stayed on at
Wanhope to make love to Laura?"

"If I answer that, you'll tell me that I'm meddling with what is
none of my business, and this time you'll be right."

"No: after going so far, you owe me a reply."

"Well then, I've never been able to see any other reason."

"Oh?  Bernard's my cousin."

"Since you will have it, Hyde, I can't see you burying yourself
in a country village out of cousinly affection.  You said you'd
stay as long as you were comfortable.  Well, it won't be
comfortable now!  I'm not presuming to judge you.  I've no idea
what your ethical or social standards are.  Quite likely you
would consider yourself justified in taking away your cousin's
wife.  Some modern professors and people who write about social
questions would say, wouldn't they, that she ought to be able to
divorce him: that a marriage which can't be fruitful ought not to
be a binding tie?  I've never got up the subject because for me
it's settled out of hand on religious grounds, but they may not
influence you, nor perhaps would the other possible deterrent,
pity for the weak--if one can call Bernard weak.  It would be an
impertinence for me to judge you by my code, when perhaps your
own is pure social expediency--which would certainly be better
served if Mrs. Clowes went to you."

"Assuming that you've correctly defined my standard--why should
I go?"

Val shrugged his shoulders.  "You know well enough.  Because Mrs.
Clowes is old-fashioned; her duty to Bernard is the ruling force
in her life, and you could never make her give him up.  Or if you
did she wouldn't live long enough for you to grow tired of her--
it would break her heart."

"Really?" said Lawrence.  "Before I grew tired of her?"

He had never been so angry in his life.  To be brought to book at
all was bad enough, but what rankled worst was the nature of the
charge.  Sometimes it takes a false accusation to make a man
realize the esteem in which he is held, the opinions which others
attribute to him and which perhaps, without examining them too
closely, he has allowed to pass for his own.  Lawrence had
indulged in plenty of loose talk about Nietzschean ethics and the
danger of altruism and the social inexpediency of sacrificing the
strong for the weak, but when it came to his own honour not Val
himself could have held a more conservative view.  He, take
advantage of a cripple?  He commit a breach of hospitality?  He
sneak into Wanhope as his cousin's friend to corrupt his cousin's
wife?  What has been called the pickpocket form of adultery had
never been to his taste.  Had Bernard been on his feet, a strong
man armed, Lawrence might, if he had fallen in love with Laura,
have gloried in carrying her off openly; but of the baseness of
which Val accused him he knew himself to be incapable.

"Really?" he said, looking down at Val out of his wide black
eyes, so like Bernard's except that they concealed all that
Bernard revealed.  "So now we understand each other.  I know why
you want me to go and you know why I want to stay."

"If I've done you an injustice I'm sorry for it."

"Oh, don't apologize," said Lawrence laughing. His manner
bewildered Val, who could make nothing of it except that it was
incompatible with any sense of guilt.

"But, then," the question broke from Val involuntarily, "why did
you stay?"

"Why do you?"

"I?"

"Yes, you.  Did it never strike you that I might retort with a tu
quoque?"

"How on earth--?"

"You were perhaps a little preoccupied," said Lawrence with his
deadly smile. "I suggest, Val, that whether Clowes was jealous or
not--you were."

"I?"

"Yes, my dear fellow:" the Jew laughed: it gave him precisely the
same satisfaction to violate Val's reticence, as it might have
given one of his ancestors to cut Christian flesh to ribbons in
the markets of the East: "and who's to blame you?  Thrown so much
into the society of a very pretty and very unhappy woman, what
more natural than for you to--how shall I put it?--constitute
yourself her protector?  Set your mind at rest.  You have only
one rival, Val--her husband."

He enjoyed his triumph for a few moments, during which Stafford
was slowly taking account with himself.

"I'm not such a cautious moralist as you are," Lawrence pursued,
"and so I don't hold a pistol to your head and give you ten
minutes to clear out of Wanhope, as you did to mine.  On the
contrary, I hope you'll long continue to act as Bernard's agent.
I'm sure he'll never get a better one.  As for Laura, she won't
discover your passion unless you proclaim it, which I'm sure
you'll never do.  She looks on you as a brother--an affectionate
younger brother invaluable for running errands.  And you'll
continue to fetch and carry, enduring all things from her and
Bernard much as you do from me.  When I do go--which won't be
just yet--I shan't feel the faintest compunction about leaving
you behind.  I'm sure Bernard's honour will be as safe in your
hands as it is in mine."

And thus one paved the way to pleasant relations with ones
brother-in-law.  The civilized second self, always a dismayed and
cynical spectator of Hyde's lapses into savagery, raised its
voice in vain.

"You seem a little confused, Val--you always were a modest chap.
But surely you of all men can trust my discretion--?"

"That's enough," said Val.  He touched Hyde's coat with his
finger-tips, an airy movement, almost a caress, which seemed to
come from a long way off.  "Lawrence, you're hurting yourself
more than me."

It was enough and more than enough: an arrest instant and final.
Later Lawrence wondered whether Val knew what he had done, or
whether it was only a thought unconsciously made visible; it was
so unlike all he had seen of Val, so like much that he had felt.

It put him to silence.  Not only so, but it flung a light cloud
of mystery over what had seemed noonday clear.  Since that first
night when he had watched in a mirror the disentangling of
Laura's scarf, Lawrence had entertained no doubt of Val's
sentiments, but now he was left uncertain.  Val had translated
himself into a country to which Lawrence could not follow him,
and the light of an unknown sun was on his way.

Lawrence drew back with an impatient gesture.  "Oh, let's drop
all this!" The civilized second self was in revolt alike against
his own morbid cruelty and Val's escape into heaven: he would
admit nothing except that he had gone through one trying scene
after another in the last eighteen hours, and that Val had paid
for the irritation produced successively by Mrs. Cleve, Isabel, a
white night, and a distressed anxious consciousness of unavowed
guilt.  "We shall be at each other's throats in a minute, which
wouldn't suit either your book or mine--you've no idea, Val, how
little it would suit mine!  I'm sorry I was so offensive.  But
you wrong me, you do indeed; I'm not in love with Laura, and, if
I were, the notion of picking poor Bernard's pocket is absolutely
repugnant to me.  Social expediency be hanged!  What! as his
guest?--  But let's drop recrimination; I had no right to resent
what you said after forcing you to say it, nor, in any case, to
taunt you . . . I beg your pardon: there! for heaven's sake let's
leave it at that."

"Will you release me from my parole?"

"Yes, and wish to heaven I'd never extracted it. I had no right
to impose it on you or to hold you to it.  But don't give
yourself away, Val, I can't bear to think of what you'll have to
face.  It will be what you once called it--crucifixion."

"No, freedom," said Val.  "After all these years in prison." He
put up his hand to his head. "The brand--the--What's the
matter?" Lawrence had seized his arm.  "Am I--am I talking
rubbish?  I feel half asleep.  But one night's sitting up
aughtn't to--  Oh, this is absurd! . . ."

Lawrence waited in the patience of dismay.  It was no excuse to
plead that till then he had not known all the harm he had done;
men should not set racks to work in ignorance of their effect on
trembling human nerves.

"That's over," said Val, wiping his forehead.  "Sorry to make a
fuss, but it came rather suddenly.  Things always happen so
simply when they do happen."

"Are you going to confess?"

"Oh yes.  I ought to have done it long ago.  In fact last night I
made up my mind to break my parole if you wouldn't let me off,
but I'd rather have it this way.  Remains only to choose time and
place: that'll need care, for I mustn't hurt others more than I
can help.  But I wouldn't mind betting it'll all be as simple as
shelling peas.  The odds are that people won't believe half I
say.  They'll have forgotten all about the war by now, and
they'll make far too much allowance for my being only nineteen."

"And for a voluntary confession: that always carries great
weight. They would judge you very differently if it had come out
by chance.  Rightly, too: if you're going to make such a
confession at your time of life, it will be difficult for any one
to call you a coward."

"Thank you!" Val shrugged his shoulders with the old indolent
irony.  "But moral courage was always my long suit."

"How young you still are!" said Lawrence smiling at him, "young
enough to be bitter.  But you're under a delusion.  No, let me
finish--  I'm an older man than you are, I've seen a good deal of
life, and I had four years out there instead of six weeks like
you.  So far as I can judge you never were a coward.  Thousands
and hundreds of thousands of men broke down like you, but they
were lucky and it wasn't known, or at all events it wasn't
critical.  Their failure of nerve didn't coincide with the
special call to action.  You would have redeemed yourself if you
had been able to stick to your profession.  You have redeemed
yourself: and you'd prove it fast enough if you got the chance,
only of course in these piping times of peace unluckily you
won't." He coloured suddenly to his temples.  "Good God, Val! if
there were any weakness left in you, could you have mastered me
like this?"



CHAPTER XVII


The quickest way to Wanhope was by High Street and field path.
But Lawrence to avoid the village entered the drive by the lodge,
through iron gates over which Bernard had set up the arms and
motto of his family: FORTIS ET FIDELIS, faithful and strong.
Winding between dense shrubs of rhododendron under darker
deodars, the road was long and gloomy, but Lawrence was thankful
to be out of sight of Chilmark.  He hurried on with his light
swinging step--light for his build--his tired mind vacant or
intent only on a bath and a change of clothes, till in the last
bend, within a hundred yards of Wanhope he came on Mrs. Clowes.

He never could clearly remember his first sight of her, the shock
was too great, but as he came up she put out her hands to him and
he took them in his own.  She was still in her evening dress but
without cloak or fur, which had probably slipped off her
shoulders: they were bare, and her beautiful bodice was torn.
"Oh, here you are," she said with her faint smile.  "I was afraid
you would come by the field." She looked down at herself and made
a weak and ineffective effort to gather her loosened laces
together.  "I'm--I'm not very tidy, am I?"

Lawrence was carrying an overcoat on his arm.  He put her into
it, and, as she did not seem able to cope with it, buttoned it
for her.  "What has happened, dear?"

"Bernard has turned me out," said Laura with the same piteous,
bewildered smile.  "Indeed he never let me in.  I went home soon
after you left me. The door was shut, I tried the window, but
that was shut too, so I had to go back to the door.  I couldn't
open it and I rang.  He answered me through the door, 'Who's
there?'"  She ended as if the motive power of speech had died
down in her.

"And you--?"

"Oh, I said, 'It's I--Laura.'"

"Go on, dear," Lawrence gently prompted her.

"I said 'I'm your wife.' He said 'I have no wife.' And he called
me--coarse names, words I couldn't repeat to any one. I couldn't
answer him.  Then he said 'Where's Hyde?  Are you there, Hyde?'
and that you were a coward or you wouldn't stand by and hear him
calling me a--what he had called me. So I told him you weren't
there, that you had gone back with Isabel and Val.  He said:
after you had had all you wanted out of me--I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing.  Go on, dear: tell me all about it."

"But ought I to?" said Laura, raising her dimmed eyes to his
face.  "It's such a horrible story to tell a man, especially the
very man who--I feel so queer, Lawrence: don't let me say
anything I ought not!"

"Laura dear, whatever you say is sacred to me. Besides, I'm your
cousin by marriage, and it's my business to think and act for
you: let me help you into this alley." A little further on there
was a by-path through the shrubberies, and Lawrence drew her
towards it, but her limbs were giving way under her, and after a
momentary hesitation he carried her into it in his arms.  "There:
sit on this bank.  Lean on me," he sat down by her.  "Is that
better?"

"Oh yes: thank you: I'm so glad to be out of the drive," said
Laura, letting her head fall, like a child, on his shoulder.  "I
seem to have been there such a long while. I didn't know where to
go.  Once a tradesman's cart drove by, the butcher's it was: you
know Bernard gets so cross because they will drive this way to
save the long round by the stables.  He stared at me, but I
didn't know what to do."  Lawrence repressed a groan: it would be
all over the village then, there was no help for it.  "Where was
I to go in these clothes?  I did wish you would come, I always
feel so safe with you."

Lawrence silently stroked her hair.  His heart was riven.  "So
safe?" and this was all his doing.

"Was the door locked?"

"Yes."

"And he refused to open it?"

"No, he did open it."

"He did open it, do you say?"

"Yes, because--oh, my head."

"You aren't hurt anywhere, are you?" asked Lawrence, feeling cold
to his fingertips.

"No, no," she roused herself, dimly sensible of his anxiety,
"it's only that I feel faint, but it's passing off.  No, I don't
want any water!  I'd far rather you stayed with me.  It's such a
comfort to have you here." Lawrence was speechless.  Her hands
went to her hair.  "Oh dear, I wish I weren't so untidy!  Never
mind, I shall be all right directly: it does me more good than
anything else just to tell you about it."

"Well, tell me then."

"The door was locked," she continued languidly but a thought more
clearly, "and the chain was up and Bernard's couch was drawn
across inside.  He must have got Barry to wheel it over.  When I
begged him to let me in he unlocked the door but left it on the
chain so that it would only open a few inches. I tried to push my
way in, but he held me back."

"Laura, did he strike you?"

"No, no," said Laura with greater energy than she had yet shown.
Lawrence drew a breath of relief.  He had felt a horrible fear
that her faintness might be the result of a blow or a fall.  "Oh,
how could you think that?  All he did was to put his hand out
flat against my chest and push me back."

"But your dress is torn" said Lawrence, sickening over the
question yet feeling that he must know all.

"His ring caught in it.  These crepe de chine dresses tear if you
look at them."

"Well, did you give it up after that?"

"No, oh no: I never can be angry with Berns because it--it isn't
Berns really," she glanced up at Lawrence with her pleading eyes.
"It's a possession of the devil.  He suffers so frightfully,
Lawrence: he never ceases to rebel, and no one can soothe him but
me.  So that I hadn't the heart to leave him.  You'll think it
poor-spirited of me, but I--I can't help loving the real
Bernard, a Bernard you've never seen.  So I waited because--I
never can make Yvonne understand--I am so sorry for him: he
hurts himself more than me--"

Lawrence started.  The echo struck strangely on his ear. "I
understand."

"You always understand.  So I tried again; I said: would he at
least let me go to my room and change my clothes and get some
money.  But he said it was your turn to buy my clothes now.  When
I'd convinced myself that he was unapproachable, I thought of
trying to get in by a side door or through the kitchen.  It would
have been ignominious, but anything was better than standing on
the steps; Bernard was talking at the top of his voice, and the
maids were at the bedroom windows overhead.  I didn't look up but
I saw the curtains flutter."

"Servants don't matter much.  But you did quite right.  What
happened?"

"He held me by the arm as I turned to go, and told me that all
the doors and windows were locked and that he had given orders
not to admit me: not to admit either of us."

"Either you or--?"

"Yourself.  If we liked to stay out all night together we could
stay out for ever."

"And then?"

"Don't ask me." She shuddered and drooped, and the colour came up
into her face, a rose-pink patch of fever.  "I can't remember any
more."

"He must have gone raving mad."

"He is not mad, Lawrence.  But he has indulged his imagination
too long and now it has the mastery of him," said Laura slowly.
"It's fatal to do that.  'Withstand the beginning: after-remedies
come too late.' Ever since you came he's been nursing an
imaginary jealousy of you: though he knew it was imaginary, he
indulged it as though it were genuine: and now it has turned on
him and got him by the throat.  Oh, he is so unhappy?  But what
can I do?"

What, indeed?  Lawrence, recalling Val's warning, subdued a curse
or a groan.  "A house full of the materials for an explosion."
And he had lived in that house--blind fool!--week after week
and had noticed nothing!  "Why--why did no one warn me before?"
he stammered.  "My poor Laura!  Why didn't you send me away?"

"But if it hadn't been you it would have been someone else!" said
Mrs. Clowes simply.  "At one time it was Val: then it was Dr.
Verney's junior partner, who attended me for influenza while Dr.
Verney was away: and once it was a young chauffeur we had, who
happened to be a University man.  I did get rid of him, because
he found out, and that made everything so awkward.  But I
couldn't get rid of Val, and in many ways I was most unwilling to
let you go,--you did him so much good.  But I'd made up my mind
to turn you out: Yvonne was at me--" she paused--"yes, it
really was only yesterday!  I promised her to speak to you this
morning.  Well, I've done it!"

"Did you explain to Bernard that Selincourt and Isabel were with
us all the time?"

"He talked me down."

"He must be made to listen to reason."

"He won't: not yet.  Later, perhaps, but not in time to save the
situation.  Never mind, you're not married, and if he does
divorce me people will only say 'Another Selincourt gone wrong.'"
A dreary and rather cynical gleam of humour played over Laura's
lips. "I'm sorry mainly for Yvonne, Jack's people are so
particular; they hated the marriage, and now, when she's lived it
all down and made them fond of her, I must needs go and
compromise myself and drag our wretched family into the mud
again!"

"Good heavens! he can't propose to divorce you?"

"He said he would."

Bit by bit it was all coming out, the cruel and sordid drama
played before an audience of housemaids, as one admission led to
another and her strength revived for the ordeal.  Lawrence
shuddered and sat silent, trying to gauge the extent of the
mischief.  "What can I do?" said Laura.  She looked down at
herself and blushed again.  "I do feel so--so disreputable in
these clothes. I haven't even been able to wash my face and hands
or tidy my hair since I left the hotel."

"Have you been wandering about in the drive all this time?"

"I suppose so.  I was afraid to go into the road in such a
pickle."

"These infernal clothes!" Lawrence burst out exasperated.  Their
wretched plight was reduced to farce by the fact that they were
locked out of their bedrooms, unable to get at their wardrobes,
their soaps and sponges and brushes, his collars, her hairpins,
all those trifles of the toilette without which civilized man can
scarcely feel himself civilized.  Most of these wants the
vicarage could supply; but to reach the vicarage they had to
cross the road.  Lawrence got up and stood looking down at Laura.
"Can you trust your maid?"

"Trust her? I can't trust her not to gossip.  She's a nice girl
and a very good maid, but I've only had her a year."

"Silly question!  One doesn't trust servants nowadays.  My man's
a scamp, but I can depend on him up to a certain point because I
pay him well.  Anyhow we must make the best of a bad job.  If I
cut straight down from here I shall get into the tradesmen's
drive, shan't I?"

"But you can't go to the back door!"

"Apparently I can't go to the front," said Lawrence with his
wintry smile.  He promised himself to go to the front by and by,
but not while Laura was shivering in torn clothes under a bush.

"But what are you going to do?"

"Simply to get us a few necessaries of life.  You can't be seen
like this, and you can't stand here forever, catching cold with
next to nothing on: besides, you've had no food since five
o'clock this morning--and not much then."

"But the servants--if they have orders--"

"Servants!" He laughed.

"But you don't mean to force your way in?"

"Not past Bernard, dear.  Don't be afraid: I shall skulk in by
the rear."

It was easy to say "Don't be afraid": doubly easy for Lawrence,
who had never known Bernard's darker temper.  But there was no
coward blood in Mrs. Clowes, and she steadied herself under the
rallying influence of Hyde's firm look and tone.

"Go, then, but don't be long.  And, Lawrence promise me. . ."

"Anything, dear."

"You won't touch Bernard, will you?"  Lawrence was dumb, from wonder,
not from indecision.  "No one can do that," said Laura under her
breath.  "Oh, I know you wouldn't dream of it.  But yet--if he
insulted you, if he struck you . . . if he insulted me. . . ?"

"No, on my honour."

He touched her hand with his lips--a ceremony performed by
Lawrence only once beforehand in what different circumstances!--
and left her: more like a winter butterfly than ever, with her
shining hair, pale face, and gallant eyes, and the silver threads
of her embroidered skirt flowing round her over the sunburnt
turf.

Wanhope was an old-fashioned house, and the domestic premises
were much the same as they had been in the eighteenth century, except
that Clowes had turned one wing of the stables into a garage and
rooms for the chauffeur.  He kept no indoor menservants except Barry,
the groom and gardener living in the village, while three or four
maids were ample to wait on that quiet family.  Pursuing the
tradesman's drive between coach-house, tool shed, coal shed, and
miscellaneous outbuildings, Lawrence emerged on a brick yard, ducked
under a clothes-line, made for an open doorway, and found himself in
the scullery.  It was empty, and he went on into a big old-fashioned
kitchen, draughty enough with its high roof and blue plastered walls.
Here, too, there was not a soul to be seen: a kettle was furiously
boiling over on the hob, a gas ring was running to waste near by,
turned on but left unlit and volleying evil fumes.  His next
researches carried him into a flagged passage, on his right a sunlit
pantry, on his left a dingy alcove evidently dedicated to the
trimming of lamps and the cleaning of boots.  He began to wonder if
every one had run away.  But no: a sharp turn, a couple of steps, and
he came on an inner door, comfortably covered with green baize,
through which issued a perfect hubbub of voices all talking at once.
He listened long enough to hear himself characterized by a baritone
as a stinking Jew, and by a treble as not her style and a bit too gay
but quite the gentleman, before he raised the latch and stepped in.

His appearance produced a perfect hush.  Except Barry and his own
valet they were all there, the entire domestic staff of Wanhope:
and to face them was not the least courageous act that Lawrence
had ever performed.  It was a large, comfortable room, lit by
large windows overlooking the kitchen garden; a cheerful fire
burnt in the grate this autumn morning, and in a big chair before
it sat a cheerful, comely person in a print gown, in whom he
recognized Mrs. Fryar the cook.  Gordon the chauffeur, a
pragmatic young man from the Clyde, in this levelling hour was
sitting on the edge of the table with a glass of beer in his
hand.  Caroline, the Baptist housemaid, held the floor: she was
declaiming, when Lawrence entered, that it was a shame of Major
Clowes and she didn't care who heard her say so, but apparently
Lawrence was an exception, for like all the rest she was
instantly stricken dumb as the grave.

Lawrence remained standing in the open doorway.  He would have
given a thousand pounds to be in morning attire, but no
constraint was perceptible in the big, careless, impassive figure
framed against the sunlit yard.

"Are you Mrs. Clowes's maid?" he singled out a tall, rather
stiff, quiet-looking girl in the plain black dress of her
calling.  "Is your name Catherine? I want to speak to you."

She stood up--they were all standing by now except Gordon--but
she looked at him very oddly, as if she were half frightened and
half inclined to be familiar. "I suppose you can tell me where
my lady is, sir?"

"She is waiting for you," said Lawrence. "I say that I want to
speak to you by yourself.  Come in here, please." Catherine
continued to look as if she felt inclined to flounce and toss her
head, but under his cold and steady eyes she thought better of it
and followed him into the pantry. Lawrence shut the door.

"I'd have gone to my lady, sir, if I'd known where she was."

"You're going to her now," said Lawrence.  "I want you, please,
to run up to her room and fetch some clothes, the sort of clothes
she would wear to go out walking: you understand what I mean?  A
jacket and dress and hat, walking boots, a veil--" Catherine
intimated that she did understand: much better than any
gentleman, her smile implied.

"Perhaps," she suggested, "what you would like is for me to pack
a small box for her, sir?  My lady will want a lot of things that
gentlemen don't think of: underskirts and--"

"Good God, what do I care?" said Lawrence impatiently.  "No,
nothing of that sort: take just what she wants to change out of
evening dress into morning dress.  It'll be only for a few hours.
Go and get them, and be as quick and quiet as you can.  Say
nothing to Major Clowes." He laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Are you a decent girl, I wonder?"

She drew up and for the first time looked him straight in the
eyes. "If you mean, sir, that you're going to take my poor lady
away, why, I think it's high time too.  I was always brought up
respectable, but when it comes to a gentleman calling his own
married wife such names, why, it's time some one did interfere.
I heard him with my own ears call her a--"

"That'll do," said Lawrence.

"And struck her, that he did, which you ought to know," Catherine
persisted eagerly: "put his arm out through the door and gave her
a great blow! and it's not the first time neither.  Many's the
night when I've undressed my lady but perhaps you've seen for
yourself--"

She stopped short and put her hand over her mouth.

"Go and get the things," said Lawrence, "then wait for me in the
yard."

Catherine retired in disorder and Lawrence followed her out.  He
found Barry waiting to speak to him.  "Where's my man?" Lawrence
asked. "Send him to me, will you?"

"Beg pardon, sir, but are you going to speak to Major Clowes?"

"Why?"

Barry looked down.  "His orders was that you weren't to be
admitted, sir."

"How is Major Clowes?"

"Very queer.  I took it on myself to send for the doctor, but he
was out: but they sent word that he'd step round as soon as he
came in.  I'd have liked to catch Mr. Val, but he slipped off
while I was waiting on the Major."

"But Major Clowes isn't ill?"

"Oh no, sir.  But I don't care for so much responsibility."

"Shall I have a look at him?"

"Oh no," a much more decided negative. "I wouldn't go near the
Major, sir, not if I was you."

"Why, what's the matter with him?" Lawrence asked curiously.  But
Barry refused to commit himself beyond repeating that the Major
was very queer, and after promising to send Val to the rescue
Lawrence dismissed him, as Gaston came hurrying up.  Something
suspiciously like a grin twinkled over the little Frenchman's
face when he found his master waiting for him on the sill of
Caroline's pantry, silhouetted against row on row of shining
glass and silver, and wearing at noon-day the purple and fine
linen, the white waistcoat and thin boots of last night.  But his
French breeding triumphed and he remained, except for that one
furtive twinkle, the conscientious valet, nescient and urbane.
Lawrence did not give him even so much explanation as he had
given Catherine.  "Is there a back staircase?" he asked, and
then, "Take me up by it.  I'm going to my room."

Gaston led the way through the servants' hall. Lawrence,
following, had to fight down a nausea of humiliation that was
almost physical: he had never before done anything that so
sickened him as this sneaking progress through the kitchen
quarters in another man's house.  At length Gaston, holding up a
finger to enjoin silence, brought him out on the main landing
overlooking the hall.

There was no carpet on the polished floor but Lawrence when he
chose could tread like a cat.  He stepped to the balustrade.  It
was as dark as a dark evening, for the great doors were still
fast shut, and what scanty light filtered through the painted
panes was absorbed, not reflected, by raftered roof, panelled
walls, and Jacobean stair.  But as he grew used to the gloom he
could distinguish Bernard's couch and the powerful prostrate
figure stretched out on it like a living bar.  Bernard's arms
were crossed over his breast: his features were the colour of
stone: he might have been dead.

Lawrence was startled.  But he could do no good now, and the
Frenchman was fidgeting at his bedroom door.  Later . . .

Secure of privacy Gaston's decorum relaxed a trifle, for it was
clear to him that confidences must be at least tacitly exchanged:
M'sieur le captaine could not hope to keep him in the dark, there
never was an elopement yet of which valet and lady's maid were
not cognizant. Like Catherine, "You wish I pack for you, Sare?"
he asked in his lively imperfect English.  He was naturally a
chatterbox and brimful of a Parisian's salted malice, even after
six years in the service of Captain Hyde, who did not encourage
his attendants to be communicative.

Lawrence was tearing off his accursed evening clothes. (All day
it had been the one drop of sweetness in his bitter cup that he
had borrowed Lucian's razor and shaved in Lucian's rooms.) "Get
me a tweed suit and boots."

Gaston frowned, wrinkling his nose: if M'sieur imagined that that
nose had no scent for an affair of gallantry--!  But still he
persisted, even he, though the snub was a bitter pill: himself a
gallant man, could allow for jaded nerves.  "You wish I pack,
yes?" he deprecated reticence by his insinuatingly sympathetic
tone.

"No," said Lawrence, tying his tie before a mirror.  "I'm coming
back."

"'Ere?  Back--so--'ere, m'sieur?"

"Yes, before tonight."

It was more than flesh and blood could stand. "Sir Clowes 'e say
no," remarked Gaston in a detached and nonchalant tone, as he
gathered up the garments which his master had strewn over the
floor. "'E verree angree.  'E say 'Zut! m'sieur le captaine est
parti!--il ne revient plus.'"

"Gaston." The Frenchman turned from the press in which he was
hanging up Lawrence's coat.  "You're a perfect scamp, my man,"
Lawrence spoke over his shoulder as he ran through the contents
of a pocketbook, "and I should be sorry to think you were
attached to me.  But your billet is comfortable, I believe: I pay
you jolly good wages, you steal pretty much what you like, and
you have the additional pleasure of reading all my letters.  Now
listen: I'm coming back to Wanhope before tonight and so is Mrs.
Clowes.  I'm not going to run away with her, as Major Clowes gave
you all to understand.  What you think is of no importance
whatever to any one, what you say is equally trilling, but I
don't choose to have my servant say it: so, if you continue to
drop these interesting hints, I shall not only boot you out, but"
--he turned "I shall give you such a thrashing in the rear,
Gaston--in this direction, Gaston--that you won't be able to
sit down comfortably for a month."

"M'sieur is so droll," murmured Gaston, removing himself with
dignified agility and an unabashed grimace.

Lawrence let himself out by the back stairs again and the kitchen
--now in a state of great activity, the gas ring lit and
preparations for lunch going on apace--and forth into the yard.
Out in the open air he drew a long breath: safe in tweeds and a
felt hat, he was his own man again, but he felt as though he had
been wading in mud.  The mystified Catherine followed him at a
sign into the drive. There Hyde stood still.  "Take that path to
the left.  You'll find your mistress waiting for you.  Help her
to dress, and tell her I shall be at the lodge gates when she's
ready.  And, Catherine--"

He paused, feeling an almost insuperable distaste for his job.
But it had to be done, the girl must not find him tight with his
money: that she would hold her tongue was beyond expectation, but
if well tipped at least she might not invent lies.  It went
against the grain of his temper to bribe one of Bernard's maids,
but fate was not now consulting his likes or dislikes.  He thrust
his hand into his pocket--"Look after your mistress, will you?"

The respectably brought up Catherine turned scarlet. She put her
hand behind her back. "I'm sure, sir, I don't want your money to
make me do that!"

"If you prick us shall we not bleed?" It was the first time that
Lawrence had ever discovered a servant to be a human being: and
his philosophical musings were chequered, till he moved out of
earshot, by the clamour of Catherine's irrepressible dismay.
"Oh madam!"  he heard, and, "Well, if I ever-!" and then in a
tone suddenly softened from horror to sympathy, "there now,
there, let me get your dress off . . . ."  From Mrs. Clowes came
no answer, or none audible to him.

Laura joined him in ten minutes' time, neatly dressed, gloved,
and veiled, her hair smoothed--it had never been rough so far as
Lawrence could observe--her complexion regulated by Catherine's
powder puff.  "Are you better?" said Lawrence, examining her
anxiously: "able to walk as far as the vicarage?"

"The vicarage?"

"Wharton's too far off.  You're dead tired:  You'll have to lie
down and keep quiet.  Isabel will look after you." It speaks to
the complete overthrow of Lawrence's ideas that for the last hour
he had not recollected Isabel's existence. "And we shall have to
wait till Bernard raises the siege: one can't bawl explanations
through a keyhole.  Besides, I must wire to Lucian." He slipped
his hand under her arm.  "Would you like this good girl of yours
to come with you?"

"I will come, madam, directly I've fetched my hat," said
Catherine eagerly.  "You must have some one to look after you,
and your hair never brushed and all."

But Laura shook her head, Catherine must not defy her master.
"If you want to please me," she said not without humour "--I
can't help it, Lawrence--try to look after Major Clowes.  You
had better not go near him yourself, because as you know he isn't
very pleased with me just now, but see that Mrs. Fryar sends him
in a nice lunch and ask Barry to try to get him to eat it. I
ordered some oysters to come this morning, and Major Clowes will
enjoy those when he won't touch anything else."

Catherine watched her lady up the road with a disappointed eye.
It was a tame conclusion to a promising adventure.  Although
respectably brought up, her sympathies were all with Captain Hyde:
she had foreseen herself, the image of regretful discretion,
sacrificing her lifelong principles to escort Mrs. Clowes to
Brighton, or Switzerland, or that place where they had the little
horses that Mr. Duval made such a 'mysterious joke about--it would
have been amusing to do foreign parts with Mr. Duval.  But when Laura
took the turning to the vicarage Catherine was invaded by a creeping
chill of doubt.  Was it possible that Captain Hyde was not Mrs.
Clowes's lover after all?

"I know which I'd choose," she said to Gordon. "I've no patience
with the Major.  Such a way to behave! and my poor lady with the
patience of an angel, putting up and putting up--  No man's worth
it, that's what I say."

"Well, it is a bit thick," said Gordon: "calling his own wife a--"

"Mr.  Gordon!"

The son of the Clyde was a contentious young man, and a jealous
one.  "You didn't seem to mind when the French chap was talking
about a fille de joy.  What d'ye suppose a fille de joy is in
English? but there's some of us can do no wrong."

"French sounds so much more refined," said Catherine firmly.



CHAPTER XVIII


Inaction was hard on Lawrence.  He hated it: and he was not used
to it: his impulse was to go direct to Wanhope and break down the
door: but it was not to be done.  When he reached the vicarage
Mr. Stafford had gone out after an early lunch to take a wedding
in Countisford, while Val had been obliged to ride over to a
neighbouring farm.  Leaving Laura to Isabel, who startled him by
her cool "So Major Clowes has done it at last?" he hurried down
to the post office to telephone to Selincourt (aware on his way
that every eye was staring at him: no doubt the tale was already
on every lip), but Selincourt too was out, and he had to be
content with despatching colourless duplicate telegrams to his
rooms and club.  From a hint let fall during the night he was
aware that no more than the most laconic wire would be needed,
but he fretted under the delay, which meant that Selincourt could
not arrive before six o'clock.  After that he would have liked to
go to Wharton, but dared not, for, though Jack's grandfather was
what Yvonne called a Romantic, the Grantchesters were old-fashioned
straightlaced people who had better not hear of the scandal till it
was over.  No, till Selincourt and Val appeared there was no more to
be done, and Lawrence, returned to the vicarage and flung himself
into a chair to wait. He dreaded inaction: inaction meant thought:
and thought meant such bitter realities as he knew not how to stand
up against: but what he liked or disliked was no longer to the point.

In that easy-going household, where comfort was obtained at the
expense of appearances, there was always a diningroom fire in
cold weather, and on this September morning the glow of the
flames had a lulling effect.  Dead tired, he dropped asleep, to
be roused by the feeling that there was some one in the room.
There was, it was Isabel; and in the drugged heaviness that
follows daylight slumber Hyde simply held out his arms to her in
oblivion of last night.  "Oh, oh!" said Isabel smiling at him
and touching his palms with the tips of her fingers, "were you
dreaming of me?"  Hyde drew back, a deep flush covering his face.
What had changed Isabel? she was pure fascination.  "I've been
watching you a long time while you were asleep. I thought you
would never wake.  You're so, so tired!  Here's a cup of coffee
for you."

"Thank you," said Lawrence, entirely subdued.

He still felt half dazed: confused and shy, emotions the harder
to disguise because they were so unfamiliar: and restless under
Isabel's merry eyes.  How near she was to him, the leaping flames
flinging a dance of light and shadow over her silk shirt, and the
bloom on her cheek, and the dark hair parted on one side (a
boyish fashion which he had always disliked) and waved over her
head! So near that without rising he could have pressed his lips
to that white throat of hers. . . . Last night it had been beauty
clouded, beauty averse, but this morning it was beauty in the
most delicate and derisive and fleeting sunlight of pleasure; and
the temperament of his race delivered Lawrence hand and foot into
its power.  The deep waters went over him and he ceased to
struggle--"Isabel," he heard himself saying in a level voice but
without his own volition, "should you mind if I were to kiss
you?"

What a banality to ask of a woman, his second self scoffed at
him: a woman who should be kissed or left alone, but never asked
for a kiss!

"Not very much," said Isabel, presenting her smooth cheek.  "Not
if it would do you any good."

Oh irony, oh disenchantment!  "Thank you."  He curbed his passion
and sat still.  "I am not Val."

"Shut your eyes then."

He held his breath: the thick beating of his heart was like a
muffled hammer.

"This isn't the way I kiss Val."

"Isabel!" exclaimed Lawrence.  He held out his arms again but
they closed on the empty firelight: she had gone dancing off, the
most fugitive, the most insubstantial of mistresses, nothing left
of her to him but the memory of that moth's wing touch.

"Isabel,  come here!" He, sprang to his feet.  From the other end
of the room Isabel turned round, wistful, her head bent, glancing
up at him under her eyelashes.

"Oh must you have me?--all of me?  Oh Lawrence!--well then--"

She advanced step by step, slowly.  Lawrence waited, convinced
that if he tried to seize her she would be gone, such a vague
thistledown grace there was in her slender immaturity.  He waited
and Isabel came to him, drifted into his arms, was lying for a
moment on his breast, and then, "Let me go: dearest, don't hold
me!"

He kept her long enough to ask "But are you mine?"

"Yes," said Isabel, sighing.

"This is a grudging gift, Isabel."

"Oh no," she whispered, "not grudging.  All my heart: all of me.
Only don't hold me, I'm still afraid."

"Of me?"

"Yes: now are you triumphant?" She escaped.

"Will you sit down in a chair, you sprite, and let me kneel at
your ladyship's feet?"

"No--yes--No, you too sit down." Then as Lawrence, enchained,
relapsed into the deep easy chair by the fire, she came behind
and leant over him, wreathing her arms over his shoulders.
"There: now lie still: so: is that cosy for you?  Now will you go
to sleep?"

"Circe . . ."

"You don't feel as though you were going to sleep."

"Mon Dieu!" Lawrence murmured under his breath.

"Don't say that," her voice was so soft that it was like the
voice of his own heart speaking to him, "it isn't a proper reply
to make when a lady says she loves you."

"Oh! provided that you do love me--!"

She took his temples between her fingertips and again her
enchanting caress brushed his lips. Lawrence lay helpless.  It
was like receiving the caresses of a fairy: a delight and a
torment, a serenity and a flame.  "I love you.  I will marry you.
I shall be a most exacting wife, 'December when I wed.' Very soon
you'll wish you had never set eyes on me.  You'll have to marry
Val too and all the family." Her long lashes were fluttering
against his cheek. "As you're thirty-six and I'm only nineteen,
you'll have to be very docile or I shall tell you you're
ungenerous."

"Presuming on my income, as you said--was it last night?"

"When you were free.  Does it seem so long ago?" She gave a
little laugh, airy and sweet. "Oh poor Benedict!  Would you like
to cry off?  Let me see: you may scratch any time before I tell
Val, which will be when he comes in at five o'clock.  Now then?"

This mention of Val was like a dash of cold water, and Lawrence
tried to rouse himself.  "Will you be serious for half a second,
you incarnation of mischief?"

"No--yes--no, I don't want to be serious," she turned in his
arms and the Isabel of last night pierced him with her dark,
humid, brilliant eyes.  "I want to forget.  Make me forget!"

"Forget what?"

"Other women."

"There are no other women, Isabel."

"There have been.--Lawrence!" the scent of the honeysuckle
pinned into her blouse seemed to narcotize all his senses with
its irresistible sweetness, "you will be true to me, won't you?
You won't love other women now?  Say you never wanted to kiss any
of them so much as--  Oh!" Drunk with her Circean cup, Hyde was
more than willing to convince her, but in a fashion of his own.
Isabel gave a little sigh and faded out of his clasp: he tried to
seize her but she was gone, leaving only the scent of bruised
petals and the memory of a silken contact.  "You're so--so
stormy," the gossamer voice mocked him with its magic of youth
and gaiety. "Val says--"

"Isabel, I'm sick of that formula.  You're going to marry me, not
Val."

"--You're not one-third English."

"I've lived in countries where they knew how to manage women,"
Lawrence muttered.

"With a whip?"

"No."

"What a pity!"

"No, the other method is more effective."

"You terrify me," her eyes were sparkling now like a diamond.
"Don't fling any more of those dark threats at me or I shall
never marry you at all.  Some day you'll be madly jealous of me like
Major Clowes--you are like him: you could be just as brutal: and I'm
not like Laura--and you'll lure me out of England and wreak a
mysterious vengeance."

"I wish we were out of England now."

"So do I.  Oh Lawrence, I'd sell my soul to go to Egypt!"

"Red-hot days and blue sands in the moonlight.  Shall I take you
there for our honeymoon?"

"Or Spain: or Sicily: or what about Majorea?--  Let's slip off
alone in a nom de plume and an aeroplane to some place where no
one ever goes, all roses and lemon thyme and honey-coloured
cliffs and a bay of blue sea--"

"Should you like to be alone with me?"

"Yes ... why not?"

"Good!" said Hyde laughing.  "I see no reason if you don't." He
put his hand before his eyes, which were throbbing as though he
had looked too long at a bright light.  But Isabel pulled down
his wrist.  "Don't do that.  I like to watch your eyes.  I allow
no reserves, Lawrence.  And isn't it rather too late to lock the
door?  I've seen you--"

"Isabel!" He freed himself and stood up. "I beg your pardon, but
you must not--  I can't stand--" His face was burning.  Isabel had
not realized--it is difficult for a young girl to realize,
convinced of her own insignificance--how deeply his pride had
been cut overnight, but she was under no delusion now.  He was
hot with shame and anger, and had to wait to fight them down
before he could go on.  "Nineteen are you--or nine?  I can't
play with you today.  Make allowance for me, dearest!  I'm in a
most difficult position.  I've done incalculable mischief, and,
to tell you the truth, I shouldn't have chosen to raise this
subject again till I'm clear of it.  Your people may very fairly
object.  My cousin is threatening a divorce action.  He's mad:
and no decent lawyer would take his case into court: but the fact
remains that poor Laura has been turned out of doors, and for
that I am, in myself-centred carelessness, to blame.  You won't
misunderstand me, will you, if I say that while this abominable
business is hanging over me we can't be formally engaged?  Val
must be told--nothing would induce me to keep him in the dark
for an hour.  But for all that I shan't know how to face him.
What! ask him for you, and in the same breath tell him that Laura
has been turned adrift because I've compromised her?  If I were Val
there'd be the devil and all to pay.  In the meantime I must--I
must be sure of you.  But you change like the wind: last night you
refused me, and to-day . . ."  He walked over to the window and stood
looking out into the garden, fighting down one of those tremendous
storms of memory which swept over him from time to time and made the
present seem absolutely one with the past.

"What's the matter?"

He turned, but his voice was thick.  "Last time I trusted a woman
she betrayed me."

"You're thinking of your wife."

"I often think of her," Hyde said savagely, "and wonder if all
women are tarred with the same brush."

"Oh, that is brutal," said Isabel, paling: "but you're tired
out."

It was true, he was too tired to rest: heartsick and ashamed,
painfully aware of the immense harm he had done and uncertain how
to mend it.  This sense of guilt was the more harassing because
he was not in the habit of regretting his actions, good or bad:
but now he could no longer fling off responsibility: it was
riveted on him by all the other emotions which Wanhope had
evoked, pity for Bernard, and affection for Laura, and humility
before Val.

Among the lilacs a robin was singing his delicate and bold
welcome to autumn, and over the window a branch of red roses
nodded persistently and rhythmically in a draught of wind.
Lawrence stood looking out into the garden of which he saw
nothing, and Isabel, watching him, felt tears coming into her own
eyes, the tears of that unnerving pity which a woman feels for
the man she loves, when she has never before seen him in defeat
or depression.  No wonder he thought her fickle!  How could he
read what was dark to her?

Isabel had not deliberately altered her mind in the night.  She
had lain down free and risen up bond, waking from sound sleep,
the sleep of a child, to find that the silent inner Court of
Appeal had reversed her verdict while she slept.  Her first
thought had been, "I'm going to marry Lawrence!" For he needed
her: that was what she had forgotten last night: by his parade of
wealth he had defeated his own ends, but, her first anger over,
she had realized that one should no more refuse a man for being
rich, than accept him.  Far other were the grounds on which that
decision had to be made.  It had been pity that carried Isabel
away.  Perhaps in any case she could not have held out for long.

Did she expect to be happy?  Scarcely, for she did not trust him
enough to be frank with him.  Sophisticated men soon tire of candid
women: it was in this faith that Isabel had clouded herself in such
an iridescence of mystery and coquetry, laughing when she felt more
inclined to cry, eluding Lawrence when she would rather have rested
in his arms.  Roses and steel: innocence in a saffron scarf:
ascendancy won and held only by surrender: such was to be the life of
the woman who married Lawrence Hyde, as she had seen it long ago on a
June evening, and as, with some necessary failings for human
weakness, she carried it out to the end. If any moralities at all
were to be fulfilled in their union, it was for her to impose them,
for Hyde had none.  Within the limits of his code of honour he would
simply do as he liked.  And with nine-tenths of her nature Isabel
would have liked nothing better than to shut her eyes and yield to
him as all her life she had yielded to Val, for she too loved red
roses and sunshine and the pleasure of the senses: but her innermost
self, the warder of her will, would rather have died than yield, she
the child of an ascetic and trained in Val's simple code of duty.

But there should be compromise: one must not--one need not--cheat
him of the pride of his manhood.  Isabel's heart ached for
her lover.  She could not defend herself against him any longer,
and in her yielding the warder of her will whispered, "You may
yield now.  Not to be frank with him now would be unfair as well
as unkind."

She came softly to him in the window, and instantly by some
change of tension Lawrence discovered to his delight that Circe
had vanished.  His mistress was his own now, a girl of nineteen
who had promised to be his wife, and he was carried beyond doubt
or anger by the rush of tenderness which went over him when he
began to taste the sweetness of his victory.  "Have I won you?"
he whispered, his voice as unsteady as a boy's in his first
passion. "You won't fail me?"

"Oh never! never!"

"You have the most beautiful eyes in the world.  I believe one
reason why I always secretly liked Val was that his eyes reminded
me of yours.  I can't stand it when he looks at me under your
eyelashes.  I always want to say 'Here take it Val.'"

"Take what?"

"Anything he wants.  I'm going to extend a protecting wing over
my young brother-in-law.  He shall not, no, I swear he shall not
come to grief. I can't stand it, he's too like you.  When did you
first fall in love with me?"

"When did you?"

"The night you went to sleep in the garden at Wanhope."

"Oh! when you kissed me?"

"When I--?"

Isabel was speechless.

"How do you know I kissed you, Isabel? I thought you were
asleep."

"So I was," said Isabel, blushing deeply. "Oh! Captain Hyde, I
wasn't pretending!  But I woke up directly after, and heard a
rustling in the wood, and I--I knew, don't ask me: I could feel
-"

"This?"

"Yes," Isabel murmured, resigning herself.

"How strange!" said Lawrence under his breath. "You were asleep
and you felt me kiss you?"

She looked up at him through her eyelashes. "Is that so strange?"

"Rather: because I never did kiss you."

"Not?"

"No: I bent over you to do it, but you were so defenceless and so
young, I didn't dare.--  Isabel! my darling! what have I done?"

The first days of love are supposed to be blind days, but too
often they are days of overstrained criticism, when from very
fear each sees slips and imperfections even where they do not
exist.  The discovery that she had misjudged Hyde was an
exquisite joy to Isabel.  This trivial, crucial scruple, of
morality or taste, whichever one liked to call it, was the sign
of a chastity of mind which could coexist, it seemed, with the
coarse and careless sins that he had never denied.  After all no
marriage on earth is perfect, and husbands as well as wives have
to make allowances; but as years go on, and affection does its
daily work, the rubs are less and less felt, till the time comes
when deeper wisdom can look back smiling on the fears of youth.
Isabel at nineteen did not possess this wisdom but she had youth
itself.

The flames crackled low on the hearth: the wind, a small autumn
wind, piped weakly round white wall and high chimneypot: outside
in the garden late roses were shedding their petals loosened by a
touch of frost in the night.  "Tears because you mistrusted me?"
said Hyde in his soft voice.  "But why should the Gentile maiden
trust a Jew?"



CHAPTER XIX


Riding back from Liddiard St. Agnes in the low September
sunshine, Val became aware of something pleasantly pictorial in
the landscape.  It was a day when the hills looked higher than
usual, the tilt of the Plain sharper, the shadows a darker umber,
the light clearer under a softly-quilted autumn sky.  When he
crossed a reaped cornfield, the pale golden stalks of stubble to
westward were tipped each with a spark of light, so that all the
upland flashed away from him toward the declining sun.

In his own mind there was a lull which corresponded with this
clear quietness of Nature: a pleasant vacancy and a suspension of
personal interest, so that even his anxiety about Laura was put
at a little distance, and he could see her and Bernard, and
Lawrence himself, like figures in a picture, hazed over by a kind
of moral sunlight--the Grace of God, say, which from Val's point
of view shapes all our ends:

          I do not ask to see
          The distant scene: one step enough for me,

this courage came to Val now without effort, and not for himself
only, which would have been easy at any time, but for Laura in
her difficult married life, and for those other beloved heads on
which he was fated to bring disgrace--his father, Rowsley,
Isabel: come what might, sorrow could not harm them, nor fear
annoy.  How quiet it was! the quieter for the wrangling of rooks
in the border elms, and for the low autumn wind that rustled in
the hedgerows: and how full of light the sky, in spite of the
soft bloomy clouds that had hung about all day, imbrowning the
sunshine! far off in the valley doves were grieving, and over the
reaped and glittering cornstalks curlews were flying and calling
with their melancholy--shrill wail, an echo from the sea, while
small birds in flocks flew away twittering as he rode up, and
settled again further on, and rose and settled again, always with
a clatter of tiny wings.  Evening coming on: and winter coming
on: and light, light everywhere, and calm, over the harvest
fields and the darkened copses, and the far blue headlands that
seemed to lift themselves up into immeasurable serenities of sky.

It was lucky for Val that he was able to enjoy this quiet hour,
for it was soon over.  When he crossed the turf to the diningroom
window, the fire had burnt down into red embers and not much
light came in from out of doors under that low ceiling, but there
was enough to show him Isabel in Lawrence's arms.  Fatality!  He
had not foreseen it, not for a moment: and yet directly he saw it
he seemed to have known it all along.  After a momentary
suspension of his faculties, during which his ideas shifted much
as they do when an unfamiliar turns into a familiar road, Val
tapped on the glass and strolled in, giving his young sister one
of his light teasing smiles.  "Am I to bestow my consent,
Isabel?"

"Oh Val!--  Don't be angry, or not with Lawrence anyhow, it wasn't
his fault."

Isabel disengaged herself but without confusion. Her brother
watched her in increasing surprise. Rosy and sparkling, she
seemed to have grown from child to woman in an hour, as after a
late spring the first hot day brings a million buds into leaf.

"Are you startled?" she asked, holding up her cheek for a kiss.

"Not so much so as I should have been twenty-four hours ago.  No,
I didn't guess--not a bit; I suppose brothers never expect
people to want to marry their sisters.  We know too much about
you."

"Better run off to the nursery, Isabel," said Lawrence.  Isabel
made him a little smiling curtsey eloquent of her disdain--it
was so like Captain Hyde to be saucy before Val!--and slipped
away. When Lawrence returned after holding open the door for her,
he found a certain difficulty in meeting Val's eyes.

"And this then is the mysterious attraction that has kept you at
Wanhope all the summer?  Wonderful!  What will Mrs. Jack say?
But I suppose nineteen, for forty, has a charm of its own."

Lawrence was not forty.  But he refused to be drawn.  "She is
very beautiful."

"Oh, very," Val was nothing if not cordial.  "But her face is her
fortune. I needn't ask if you can keep her in the state to which
she's accustomed," his eye wandered over the dilapidated vicarage
furniture, "or whether your attentions are disinterested.
Evidently you're one of those men who like their wives to be
dependent on them--  Dear me!"

"Damn the money!" said Lawrence at white heat.  "Jew I may be,
but it's you and Isabel that harp on it, not I."

"Come, come!" Val arched his eyebrows.  "So sorry to ruffle you,
but these questions are in all the etiquette books and some one
has to ask them.  If you could look on me as Isabel's father--?"

It was too much.  Angry as he was, Lawrence began to laugh.  "No,
I won't look on you as Isabel's father," he had regained the
advantage of age and position, neutralized till now by Val's
cooler self-restraint. "I won't look on you as anything but a
brother-in-law; a younger brother of my own, Val, if you can
support the relation.  Won't you start fresh with me?  I've not
given you much cause to think well of me up to now, but I love
Isabel, and I'll do my best to make her happy.  I might find
forgiveness difficult if I were you, but then," for his life he
could not have said whether he was in earnest or chaffing Val,
"I'm a Jew of Shylock's breed and you're a Christian."

"But, my dear fellow, what is there to forgive?  We're only too
delighted and grateful for the honour done us: it's a brilliant
match, of course, far better than she could expect to make." A
duller man than Lawrence could not have missed the secret silken
mischief.  "And to me, to all of us, you're more than kind; it's
nice to feel that instead of losing a sister I shall gain a
brother."

"You are an infernal prig, Val!"

"Oh," said Val, this time without irony, "It's easy for you to
come with an apology in one hand and a cheque in the other."

He turned away and stood looking out into the garden.  In the
lilac bushes over the lawn Isabel's robin was still singing his
winter carol, and the atmosphere was saturated with the smell of
wet, dead leaves, the poignant, fatal smell of autumn. "There's
winter in the air tonight," said Val half aloud.

"What?" said Lawrence startled.

"I say that life's too short for quarrelling." He held out his
hand.  "But be gentle with her, she is very young.--  Yes, what is
it, Fanny?"

"Major Clowes's compliments, sir, and he would be glad to see
Captain Hyde as soon as convenient."

At Wanhope half an hour later the sun had gone down behind a bank
of purple fog, and cloud after cloud had put off its vermilion
glow and faded into a vague dimness of twilight: house and garden
were quiet, except for the silver rippling of the river which
went on and on, ceaselessly fleeting over shallows or washing
along through faded sedge.  These river murmurs haunted Wanhope
all day and night, and so did the low river-mists: in autumn by
six o'clock the grass was already ankle deep and white as a field
of lilies.

The tall doors were wide open now: no lamps were lit, but a big
log fire blazed on the hearth, and through the empurpled evening
air the house streamed with flame-light, flinging a ruddy glow
over leafless acacia and misty turf.  Stretched on his couch in a
warm and dark angle by the staircase, Clowes was busy with his
collection, examining and sorting a number of small objects which
were laid out on his tray: sparks of light winked between his
fingers as iron or gold or steel turned up a reflecting edge. His
face as white as his hands, the wide eyes blackened by the
expansion of their pupils, he looked like a ghost, but a ghost of
normal habits, washed and shaved and dressed in ordinary tweeds.

"Hullo, Bernard."

"Good evening, Lawrence.  Oh, you've brought Val and--
Selincourt, is it?  What years since we've met, Selincourt!  Very
good of you to come down, and I'm delighted to see you, one can't
have too many witnesses.  Mild evening, isn't it?  Leave the
doors open, Val, Barry has made up an immense fire, big enough
for January.  Now sit down all of you, will you?  I shan't keep
you long."

Propped high on cushions, he lay like a statue, his huge
shoulders squared against them as boldly as if he were in the
saddle.  Lawrence, so like him in frame and colouring, stood with
his back to the hearth: Selincourt with his tired eyes and grey
hair sat near the door, one hand slipped between his crossed
knees: Val preferred to stay in the background, a spectator,
interested and deeply sympathetic, but a trifle shadowy.  They
were three to one, but the dominant personality was that of the
cripple.

"It's with you, Lawrence, that I have to do business.  You passed
last night with my wife."

The heavy voice was deadened out of all heat except grossness.
How had Clowes spent the last twelve hours?  In reliving over and
over again his wife's fall: defiling her image and poisoning his
own soul with emanations of a diseased mind, from which
Selincourt, a straightforward sinner, would have turned in
disgust.  Men of strong passions like Bernard need greater
control than Bernard possessed to curb what they cannot indulge:
and a mind full of gross imagery was nature's revenge on him for
a love that had been to him "hungry, and barren, and sharp as the
sea." But for the friend, the brother, and the lover it was
difficult to grant him such allowances as would have been made by
a physician.

"That'll do," said Lawrence, raising his hand.  "Your wife is
innocent.  Send any one you like to the hotel--private detective
if you like--and find out what rooms Miss Stafford and Laura
had, or whether Selincourt and I stayed five minutes in the place
after the ladies went upstairs."

"So Laura said this morning."

"There's no loophole for suspicion. I went back with Selincourt
to his rooms and we sat up the rest of the night smoking and
playing auction piquet.  He won about five pounds off me.  Ask
him: he'll confirm it."

"That's what he came for, isn't it?" Bernard smiled.  "My good
chap, think I don't know that if you gave him a five pound note
to do it Selincourt would hold the door for you?"

Selincourt's pale face was scarlet.  "I say she shall not return
to him!" he broke out loudly.  "If this is a specimen of what
he'll say to us, what does he say to her?"

"No offence, no offence,'' Bernard bore him down, insolent and
jovial. "'The Lord commended the unjust steward.' I foresaw that
Lawrence would lie through thick and thin, and if I'd given it a
thought either way I should have known you'd be brought down to
back him up.  And quite right too to stand by your sister--the
more so that all you Selincourts are as poor as Church rats and
naturally don't want your damaged goods back on your hands.  But
don't get huffy, keep calm like me.  You deny everything,
Lawrence. Quite right: a man's not worth his salt if he won't lie
to protect a woman.  Laura also denies everything.  Quite right
again: a woman's bound to lie to save her reputation.  But the
husband also has his natural function, which is to exercise a
decent incredulity.  Perhaps it's a bit difficult for you to
enter into my feelings.  You're none of you married men and you
don't know how it stings a man up when his wife makes him a--
Hallo!"

"What?"

"What's the matter with you?"

"Go on," said Lawrence, flinging himself into a chair: "if you
have a point, come to it.  I'm pretty well sick of this."

"So it seems," said Bernard staring at him.  "Is it the good
old-fashioned English word that you can't stomach?  All right, after
tonight I shan't offend again.  That's my point and I'm coming to
it as fast as I can.  I won't have any one of the lot of you near
me again except Val: I acquit him of complicity: he probably
believes Laura innocent.  Don't you, Val?"

"There's no evidence whatever against her, outside your
imagination, old man."

"You're in love with her yourself," Bernard retorted brutally.
Val started, it was the second time in twelve hours.  "Oh! think
I haven't seen that?  There's not much I don't see, that goes on
around me.  Cheer up, I'm not really jealous of you.  Laura never
cared that for you.  She was my wife for ten days, after all: it
takes a man to master her."

"What he wants is a medical man," said Lawrence to Selincourt in
a low voice.  He dared not look at Val.

"After tonight neither Selincourt nor you, Lawrence nor your lady
friend will darken my doors again.  Try it on and I'll have you
warned off by the police."

"Bernard, you over-rate the attractions of your society."

"Pass to my second point. I don't propose to divorce Laura."

"You couldn't get a divorce, you ass: you've no case."

"But equally I don't propose to take her back. If she lives alone
and conducts herself decently I'll make her an allowance--say
four or five hundred a year.  If she lives with a lover or tries
to force her way in here I won't give her a stiver.  Now,
Selincourt, you had better use your influence or you'll have her
planted on you directly Lawrence gets sick of her.  If she goes
from me to Lawrence she can go from Lawrence on the streets for
all I--shut that door, Val!--Keep her out!"

"Laura! go away!" cried Selincourt. The scene was rising into a
nightmare and his nerves shivered under it.  But he was too late.
The wide doorway had filled with people: Laura with her satin
hair, her flying veil, her ineffaceable French grace of air and
dress: Isabel bare-headed, very pale and reluctant: and Mr.
Stafford, who had come down to exercise a moderating influence in
the direction of compromise.  Isabel edged round towards
Lawrence, while Mr. Stafford stood glancing from one to another
with keen authoritative eyes, waiting a chance to strike in.  But
Laura after her long sleep had recovered her fighting temper and
was no longer content to remain a cipher in her own house.  She
smiled and shook her head at Lucian, reddening under her dark
skin.

"Bernard, have they told you the truth yet?  No, I thought not,
Lawrence was too shy." High spirited, for all her sensitiveness,
she laid her slight hand on her husband's wrist.  "Did you think
if Lawrence stayed on at Wanhope it must be because he admired
me?  You forget that there are younger and prettier women in
Chilmark than I am.  Lawrence is going to marry Isabel.  It's a
romantic tale," was there a touch of pique in Laura's charming
voice? "and I'm afraid they both of them took some pains to throw
dust in our eyes.  I've only this moment learnt it from Isabel."
Yes, undeniably a trace of pique.  Women like Laura, used to the
admiration of men however innocent, cannot forego it without a
sigh.  She did not grudge Isabel her happiness or even envy it,
and she had never believed Lawrence to be in love with herself,
and yet this courtship that had gone on under her blind eyes
produced in her a faint sense of irritation, of male defection
that had made her look a little silly.  She was aware of it
herself and faintly amused and faintly ashamed.  "My time for
romantic adventure has gone by.  Oh my poor Berns, you forget
that I'm thirty-six!"

Here was the authentic accent of truth.  Clowes heard it, but he
had got beyond the point where a man is capable of saying "I was
wrong, forgive me."  At that moment he no longer desired Laura to
be innocent, he would have preferred to justify himself by
proving her guilty.  "Take your damned face out of this," he
said, enveloping her in an intensity of hate before which Laura's
delicate personality seemed to shrivel like a scorched leaf.
"Take it away before I kill you." He struck her hand from his
wrist and dashed himself down on the pillow, his great arms and
shoulders writhing above the marble waist like some fierce animal
trapped by the loins.  "Oh, I can't stand it, I can't stand
it . . ."

"Oh dear, this is awful," said Selincourt weakly.  He got up and
stood in the doorway.  Despair is a terrible thing to watch.  Not
even Lawrence dared go near Bernard.  It was the priest, inured
to scenes of grief and rebellion, who came forward with the cold
strong common sense of the Christian stoic.  "But you will have
to stand it," said Mr. Stafford sternly, "it is the Will of God
and rebellion only makes it worse.  After all, thousands of men
of all ranks have had to bear the same trial and with much less
alleviation.  You know now that your wife is innocent and is
prepared to forgive you." It did not strike Mr. Stafford that men
like Bernard Clowes do not care to be forgiven by their wives.
There was no confessional box in Chilmark church.  "You have
plenty of interests left and plenty of friends: so long as you
don't alienate them by behaving in such an unmanly way.  Lift
him, Val.--  Come, Major Clowes, you're torturing your wife.  This
is cowardice--"

"Like Val's, eh?"

"Like--?"

"Like your precious Val behaved ten years ago."   Clowes raised
himself on his elbows.  "Aha! how's that for a smack in the eye?"

"Val, my darling lad," said Mr. Stafford, stumbling a little in
his speech, "what--what is this?"

"Poor chap!" Clowes gave his curt "Ha ha!" as he reached out a
long arm to turn on all the lights.  "Who was that chap, Hercules
was it, that pulled the temple on his own head?  By God, if my
life's gone to pieces, I'll take some of you with me.  You, Val,
I was always fond of you: tell your daddy, or shall I, what you
did in the Great War?"

"Bernard. . . ."

"Can't stand it, eh?  But, like me, you'll have to stand it.
Come, come, Val, this is cowardice--"

"Lawrence, don't touch him: let it come."

But no one dared touch Clowes.  "Before his sister!" Selincourt
muttered.  He had no idea what was coming but Val's grey pallor
frightened him.  "And the old man!" Lawrence added with clenched
hands.  Clowes ignored them both.  He held the entire group in
subjection by sheer savage force of personality.

"Simple little anecdote of war.  Dale, you remember, was a
brother officer of mine.  He was shot in a raid and left hanging
on the German wire. In the night when he was dying another chap
in our regiment, that had been lying up all day between the lines
with a bullet in his ribs, crawled across for him.  The Boches
opened fire but he got Dale off and started back.  Three quarters
of the way over they found a third casualty, a subaltern in the
Dorchesters.  This chap wasn't hurt but he was weeping with fear.
He had gone to ground in a shellhole during the advance and
stayed there too frightened to move.  The Winchester man was by
now done to the world.  He kicked the Dorchester to his feet and
ordered him to carry on with Dale.  The Dorchester pointed out
that if he turned up without a scratch on him, he would probably
be shot by court martial, so the other fellow by way of pretext
put a shot through his arm. 'Now you can tell 'em it was you who
fetched Dale.' 'Oh I can't, I'm frightened,' says the Dorchester
boy.  'By God you shall,' says the other, 'or I'll put a second
bullet through your brains.' Now, Val, you finish telling us how
you did the return trip in tears with Dale on your shoulders and
Lawrence at your heels chivying you with a revolver."

"You unutterable devil," said Lawrence under his breath, "who
told you that?"

Bernard grinned at him almost amicably.  He had got one blow home
at last and felt better. "Why, I've always known it.  Dale told
me himself.  He lived twenty minutes after you got him in."

"Val," said Mr. Stafford, "this isn't true?"

"Perfectly true, sir."

Undefended, unreserved, stripped even of pride, Val stood up
before them all as if before a firing party, for the others had
involuntarily fallen back leaving him alone. . . . To Lawrence
the silence seemed endless, it went on and on, while through the
open doorway grey shadows crept in, the leafy smell of night and
the liquid river-murmur so much louder than it could have been
heard by day.  Suddenly, as if he could not stand the strain any
longer, Val covered his eyes with his hands.  The movement, full
of shame galvanized Lawrence into activity.  But he had not the
courage to approach Val.  He had but one desire which was to get
out of the house.

"Bernard, if you weren't a cripple I'd put the fear of God into
you with a stick"  He stood near the door eyeing his cousin with
a cold dislike more cutting than anger.  "You're as safe as a
woman. But I'm through with you.  I'll never forgive you this,
never.  I'm going: and I shall take your wife with me." He
turned.  "Come, Laura--"

"Take care, Lawrence!" cried Isabel.

She spoke too late.  Bernard's hand was already raised and a
glint of steel shone between his fingers.  No one was near enough
to disarm him.  Unable to move without exposing Laura, Lawrence
mechanically threw up his wrist on guard, but the trick of
Bernard's left-handed throw was difficult to counter, and
Lawrence was bracing himself for a shock when Val stepped into
the line of fire.  Selincourt uttered an exclamation of horror,
and Val reeled heavily.  "For me!" said Lawrence under his
breath.  He was by Val in a moment, bending over him, tender and
protecting, an arm round his shoulders.  "Are you hurt, Val?
What is it, old man?"

Stafford had one hand pressed to his side.  "He meant it for
you," he said, grimacing over the words as if he had not perfect
control of his facial muscles.  "Take care.  Ah! that's better."
Selincourt with a sweep of his arm had sent the remaining
contents of the swing-tray flying across the floor.  There was no
need of such violence, however, for the devil had gone out of
Bernard Clowes now.  Deathly pale, his eyes blank with startled
fear, his great frame seemed to break and collapse and he turned
like a lost child to his wife: Laura--Laura . . ."

"I'm here, my darling." In panic, as if the police were already
at the door, Laura fell on her knees by the low couch.  Come what
might he was still her husband, still the man she loved, to be
defended against the consequences of his own acts irrespective of
his deserts.  There was much of the wife but more of the mother
in the way she covered him with her arms and breast.  "No one
shall touch you, no one.  It was only an accident, you never
meant it, and besides Val's only a little hurt--"

Val, still with that wrenched grimace of pain, turned round and
leant against Lawrence.  "Get me out of this," he said weakly.
"Invent some story.  Anything, but spare her.  Get me out, I'm
going to faint."

Between them, Lawrence and Selincourt carried him out and laid
him on the steps.  No one else paid any attention.  Laura was
taken up with Bernard.  Mr. Stafford had shuffled over to the
fire and was stooping down to warm his fingers while Isabel tried
brokenly to soothe the anguish from which old and tired hearts
rarely recover.  She was more frightened for him than for Val,
and the grief she felt for him was a grief outside herself, which
could be pitied and comforted, whereas the blow that had fallen
on Val seemed to have fallen on her own life also, withering
where it struck.  She suffered for her father but with Val, and
this intensity of communion hardened her into steel, for it
seemed as weak and vain to pity him as it would have been to pity
herself if she like him had fallen under the stress of war.  The
weak must first be served--later, later there would be time to
pity the strong.

She did not realize that for Val, whom instinctively she still
classed among the strong, time and opportunity were over.  He
fainted before they got him out into the air, and his hand fell
away from his side, and then they saw what was wrong.  He had
been stabbed: stabbed with the Persian dagger that Lawrence
himself had given Bernard.  Val had taken it under his left
breast, and it was buried to its delicate hilt.  When Lawrence
opened his coat and shirt there was scarcely any blood flowing:
scarcely any sign of mischief except his leaden pallor and the
all-but-cessation of his pulse.  "Internal haemorrhage," said
Lawrence.  He drew out the weapon, which came forth with a slow
sidelong wrench of its curved blade: a gush of blood followed,
running down over Val's shirt, over his shabby coat, over the
steps of Wanhope and the dry autumn turf.  Lawrence held the lips
of the wound together with his hand.  "Go and find Verney, will
you?  Mind, it was an accident.  Don't be drawn into giving any
details.  We must all stick to the same story."

"But--but" Selincourt could not frame a coherent question with
his pale frightened lips: "you don't--you can't think--"

"That he's dying?  He won't see another sun rise."

"But do they--do they--in there--understand?"

"Oh for them," said Lawrence with his bitter ironical smile, "he
died five minutes ago."

This then was the end.  Waiting in the autumn twilight with Val's
head on his arm Lawrence tried to retrace the steps by which it
had been reached.  Bernard's revenge had struck blind and wild as
revenge is apt to strike, but it had helped to bring the wheel
full circle.  Val's expiation was complete.  In his heart
Lawrence knew that his own was complete also.  In breaking Val's
life he had permanently scarred his own.

And the night when it had all begun came back to him, a March
night, quiet and dark but for the periodical fanbeam of an enemy
searchlight from the slope of an opposite hill: a mild rain had
been falling, falling, ceaselessly, plashingly, over muddy
ploughland or sere grass, over the intricacy of trenchwork behind
the firing lines and the dreary expanse of no man's land between
them: falling over wire entanglements from which dangled rags of
uniform and rags of flesh: falling on faces of the unburied dead
that it was helping to dissolve into, their primal pulp of clay.
War! always war! and no theatre of scarlet and gold and cavalry
charges, but a rat's war of mud and cold and fleas and unutterable,
nerve-dissolving fatigue.  Not far off occasionally the rustle of
clothes or the tinkle of an entrenching tool, as a sleeper turned
over or the group sentry shifted arms on the parapet; and always in a
lulling undertone the plash of rain on grass or wire, and the heavy
breathing of tired men.  For four years these nocturnal sounds of war
had been familiar in the ears of Lawrence Hyde.  He could hear them
now, the river-murmur repeated them.  And then as now he had taken
young Stafford's head on his arm, the boy lying as he had lain for
eighteen hours, immovable, the rain running down over his face and
through his short fair hair.

He had failed . . . Lawrence recalled his own first near glimpse
of death, a fellow subaltern hideously killed at his side: he had
turned faint as the nightmare shape fell and rose and fell again,
spouting blood over his clothes: contact with elder men had
steadied him.  By night and alone?  Well: even by night and alone
Lawrence knew that he would have recovered himself and gone on.
It was no more than they all had to fight through, thousands of
officers, millions of men.  Val had failed. . . . Yet how vast
the disproportion between the crime and the punishment!  Endurance
is at a low ebb at nineteen when one's eyelids are dropping and one's
head nodding with fatigue.  Oh to sleep--sleep for twelve hours on a
bed between clean sheets, and wake with a mind wiped clear of bloody
memories! . . . memories above all . . . incommunicable things that
even years later, even to men who have shared them, cannot be
recalled except by a half-averted glance and a low "Do you
remember--?" like frightened children holding hands in the dark of
the world. . . . Had any one of them kept sane that night--those
many nights? . . . But how should a civilian understand?

He felt Val's heart.  It was beating slower and slower.  If one
could only have one's life over again! but the gods themselves
cannot recall their gifts.



CHAPTER XX


It was one March evening six mouths later, one of those warm,
still, sunshot-and-grey March evenings when elm-root are blue
with violets and the air is full of the faint indeterminate scent
of tree flowers, that Lawrence brought his bride home to
Farringay.  March weather is uncertain, and he preferred to go
where he could be sure of comfort, while Isabel, having once
consented to be married, left all arrangements to him.  It was
eight o'clock before they reached the house, and Isabel never
forgot the impression which it made on her when she came in out
of the bloomy twilight; warm and dim and smelling of violets that
were set about in bowls on bookcase and cabinet, while the flames
of an immense wood fire on an open hearth flickered over the blue
and rose of porcelain or the oakleaf and gold of morocco.  She
stood in the middle of an ocean of polished floor and looked
round her as if she had lost her way in it, till Lawrence came to
her and kissed her hands.  "Isabel, do you like the look of your
new home?"

"Very much.  Thank you."

"May I take off your furs for you?" Getting no answer he took
them off.  Framed in the sable cap and scarf that Yvonne had
given her Isabel still parted her hair on one side, a fashion
which Lawrence had grown to admire immensely, but her young
throat and the fine straight masque of her features were thin and
she had lost much of her colour since the autumn.  Lawrence held
her by the wrists and stood looking down at her, compelling her
to raise her eyes, though they soon fell again with a flutter of
the sensitive eyelids.  "Are you tired, sweetheart?"

"Oh no, thank you."

"Cold?"

"Not now."

"Frightened?"

"A little."

"You wouldn't rather I left you for a little while?"

Isabel almost imperceptibly shook her head, but with a shade of
mockery in her smile which prevented Lawrence from taking her in
his arms.  "Am I an unsatisfactory wife?  Will you soon be tired
of me?  No, not yet," she said, moving away from him to put down
her gloves and muff.  "I've hardly had time to thank you for my
presents yet.  Oh Lawrence, how you spoil me!"  She held up her
watch to admire the lettering on its Roman enamel.  "'I.H.' Does
that stand for me--am I really Isabel Hyde?  And are those
sapphires mine, and can I drink my tea out of this roseleaf
Dresden cup?  It does seem strange that saying a few words and
writing one's name in a book should make so much difference."

"Regretful?"

"A little oppressed, that's all.  I shall soon get used to it.
If you were not you I should hate it.  But there's something
essentially generous and careless in you, Lawrence, that makes it
easy to take from you.  Come here." He came to her.  "Oh, I've
made you blush!" said Isabel, naively surprised.  Under her rare
and unexpected praise he had coloured against his will.  "Oh
foolish one!"  She kissed him sweetly.  "Lawrence, are you sorry
Val died?"  Lawrence freed himself and turned away.  It was six
months since Val's death, but he still could not bear to think of
it and he had scarcely spoken of it to Isabel.

There had been no protracted farewell for Val.  He had died in
Lawrence's arms on the steps of Wanhope without recovering
consciousness, while Verney stood by helpless, and Isabel, by a
stroke of irony, tried to convince poor agonized Laura Clowes
that the law should not touch her husband.  It had not done so.
He had been saved mainly by the unscrupulous concerted perjury of
Lawrence and Selincourt, who swore that Val had stumbled and
fallen by accident with the dagger in his hand, while Verney
confined himself to drily agreeing that the wound might have been
self-inflicted. In the absence of any contrary evidence the lie
was allowed to pass, but perhaps it would hardly have done so if
it had not been universally taken for a half-truth.  The day
before the inquest there appeared in the Gazette a laconic notice
that Second Lieutenant Valentine Ormsby Stafford, late of the
Dorchester Regiment, had been deprived of his distinction on
account of circumstances recently brought to light.  After that,
no need to ask why Val should have had a dagger in his hand!  A
jury who had known Val and his father before him were not anxious
to press the case; and perhaps even the coroner was secretly
grateful for evidence which spared him the pain of calling Mr.
Stafford.

Except in Chilmark, the scandal scarcely ran its nine days, but
there of course it raged like a fire, and no one was much
surprised when the vicar resigned his living and crept away to a
bed-sittingroom in Museum Street, a broken old man, to spend the
brief remainder of his life among black letter texts and
incunabula.  He could have borne any sin in the Decalogue less
hardly than a breach of the military oath.  He stopped Isabel,
Rowsley, Lawrence himself when they tried to plead for Val. "I
am not angry," he said feebly.  "If my son were alive I wouldn't
shut my door on him.  But it's better as it is." He even tried to
persuade Isabel to break with Lawrence.  "Captain Hyde is an
honourable man and no doubt considers himself bound to you, so
you mustn't wait for him to release himself.  It is very sad for
you, my dear, but you belong to a disgraced family now and you
must suffer with the rest of us."  Isabel agreed, and returned
her engagement ring.  Followed a rather fiery scene, in which
Lawrence lost his temper, and Isabel wept: and finally Mr.
Stafford, finding Lawrence obdurate, broke down and owned that
his one last wish was to see his daughter happily married.  He
refused to take her to Bloomsbury.  She stayed with Rowsley or at
the Castle till Lawrence brought her to Farringay.

So there were changes at Chilmark, for the parish went to a
hot-tempered Welshman with a wife and six children, and Wanhope was
let to an American steel magnate, and Mrs. Jack Bendish, always
mischievous when she was unhappy, embroiled them with each other
first and then quarrelled with both.  Yes, Wanhope was let: a
fortnight after Val's death Major Clowes went by car to Cornwall
with his wife for a change of air after the shock. He was
reported to have stood the journey very well, but Laura's letters
were not expansive.

Nor was Isabel: nor any other of those who had been eyewitnesses
of the tragedy at Wanhope.  The memory of it cast a shadow and a
silence.  Lawrence had never discussed it with Isabel; nor with
Selincourt, except in a hurried whispered interchange of notes to
avoid discrepancy in their evidence; nor with Bernard . . . the
murderer.  Since the night when he carried Val dead over the
vicarage threshold Lawrence had not seen his cousin.  He had seen
Laura and tried to comfort her, but what could one say?  It was
murder.  Had it not been for Laura he would have left Clowes to
stand his trial.  Even for her sake he would not have kept the
secret if Rowsley, to whom alone it was revealed, had not given
his leave, in the dim blinded room where revenge and anger seemed
small things, and Val's last words, almost unremarked at the
time, took on the solemn force of a dying injunction.  The grey
placidity of Val's closed eyelids and crossed hands was the last
memory that Lawrence would have chosen to evoke on his wedding
night.

"Come and get warm," said Isabel.  She saw that she had startled
and distressed her husband, and she drew him down into an immense
armchair by the fire, a man's chair, spacious and soft.  "Is
there room for me too?"  She slipped into it beside him and threw
her arms round his neck.  Lawrence held her lightly and
passively. Not once during their engagement had she so
surrendered herself to him for more than a moment, and he dared
not take advantage of his opportunities for fear of losing her
again.  But Isabel smiled at him with shut eyes.  "All my heart,"
she murmured; "don't be afraid, I'm not going to slip through
your fingers now . . . I love you too, too much . . . Val would
say it was wrong to care so much for any one."

Val again!  Lawrence lifted her eyelashes with his finger.
"Isabel, why are you haunted by Val now?  I don't want you to
think of any one but me."

"Are you jealous of the dead?"

"Not I!" his voice rang out harsh with passion: "with you in my
arms why should I be jealous of any one in heaven or earth?"

"Val would say that was wrong too. . . . Lawrence, do you
remember your first wedding night?"

"Well enough."

"Was Lizzie beautiful?"

"I thought so then. She was a tall, well-made piece: black hair,
blue eyes, buxom and plenty of colour. I was shy of her because--
it's a curious fact--she was my first experience of your sex:
but she was not shy with me, though I believe she too was--
technically--innocent.  Even at the time I was conscious of
something wanting--some grace, some reserve, some economy of
effect.  She was of a coming-on disposition, very amorous and
towardly."

"Val would call that coarse."

"Probably.  Do you object?  You asked for it."

"Not a bit.  I don't mind your telling me any thing that's a
fact.  Bad thoughts are different, but facts, good or bad, coarse
or refined, are the stuff the world's made of, and why should we
shut our eyes to them? I like to take life as it comes without
expurgation.  Lawrence, Lizzie never had any children, did she?"

"By me?"

"Yes."

"No, our married life didn't last long. I should have warned you,
my dear, if I had had any responsibilities of that description."

"So you would--I forgot that." Isabel lay silent a moment,
nestling her closed eyelids against his throat.  "Lawrence, my
darling, I don't want to hurt you; but tell me, did she have any
children after she left you?"

"Yes--one, a boy: Rendell's."

"What became of him after Rendell died?"

"When it became impossible to leave him with Lizzie I sent him to
school.  He spends his holidays with my agent here at Farringay.
He's quite a nice little chap, and good looking, like Arther, and
by the gossip of the neighbourhood I'm supposed to be his father.
Do you mind leaving it at that?  It's no worse for him and less
ignominious for me."

"Nothing in what I've heard of your married life is ignominious
for you.  So you brought up Rendell's child?  Essentially generous
. . . . Kiss me."  Isabel's pale beauty glowed like a flame.  A
Christian malagre lui and very much ashamed of it, Lawrence gave
her the lightest of butterfly kisses, one on either eyelid.  "Oh,
I suppose you'll say I am--what was it?--towardly too,"
murmured Isabel.  "Don't you want to kiss me?" He shook his head.
Isabel, a trifle startled, opened her eyes, but was apparently
satisfied, for she shut them again hurriedly and let her arm fall
across them.  "We'll go and see Rendell's boy tomorrow.  You
shall take me. I can say what I like to you now, can't I? . . .
Shall you like to have one of our own?"

"Isabel, Isabel!"

"But it's perfectly proper now we're married!  Oh Lawrence, it'll
so soon come to seem commonplace--  I want to taste the
strangeness of it while I'm still near enough to Isabel Stafford
to realize what a miracle it'll be.  Our own! it seems so strange
to say 'ours.'"

"I don't want any brats to come between you and me."

"Aren't you always in your secret soul afraid of life?"

"Afraid of life--I?"

"You have no faith . . . Everything we possess--your happiness,
our love, the children you'll give me--don't you hold it all at
the sword's point?  You're afraid of death or change?"

"Yes."

"How frank you are!" Isabel smiled fleetingly. "Aren't there any
locked doors?--no?--I may go wherever I like ?--Lawrence, are
you sorry Val's dead?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, not Val again!"

"One locked door after all?"

"I was fond of him," said Lawrence with difficult passion.  "He
told me once that I broke his life, it was no one's doing but
mine that he had to go through the crucifixion of that last hour
at Wanhope, and he was killed for me." He left her and went to
the window, flung it up and stood looking out into the night.
"I'd have given my life to save him.  I'd give it now--now."

"I heard from Laura this morning."

"I wonder she dared write to you."

"Major Clowes is wonderfully better.  He drives out with her
every day and mixes with other people in the sanatorium and makes
friends with them.  He's been sleeping better than he has ever
done since his accident."

"Good God!"

"He has been having a new massage treatment, and there's just a
faint hope that some day he may be able to get about on
crutches."

Lawrence had an inclination to laugh.  "That's enough," he said,
shuddering.  "I don't want to hear any more."

"She sent a message to you."

"Well, give it to me, then."

"'Don't let Lawrence suppose that Bernard has gone unpunished.'"

"He should have stood his trial," said Lawrence thickly.  "It was
murder."

He understood all that Laura's laconic message implied.  Bernard
reformed was Bernard broken by remorse: if he had shot himself--
which was what Lawrence had anticipated--he would have deserved
less pity.  Yet Lawrence would have liked some swifter and less
subtle form of punishment.

Out of doors in the garden an owl was hooting and the night air
breathed on him its perfume of lilac and violets.  How quiet it
was and how fragrant and dim! one could scarcely distinguish
between the dewy glimmer of turf and the dark island-like
thickets of guelder-rose and other flowering shrubs.  It was one
of those late spring nights that are full of the promise of
summer; but for Val there were no summers to come.  His death had
been as quiet as his life and without any struggle; his head on
Lawrence's arm, he had stretched himself out with a little sigh,
and was gone.  Lawrence with his keen physical memory could still
feel that light burden leaning on him.  Isabel too had memories
she was afraid of, the watch ticking on the dead man's wrist was
one of them.  Many tears had been shed for Val, some very bitter
ones by Yvonne Bendish, but none by Lawrence or by Isabel.  It
was murder: a flash of devil's lightning, that withered where it
struck.

Isabel turned in her chair to watch her husband.  He had brought
her straight into the drawingroom without staying to remove his
leathern driving coat, which set off his big frame and the
drilled flatness of his shoulders; everything he wore or used was
expensive and fashionable.  There came on her suddenly the
impression of being shut up alone with a stranger, a man of whom
she knew nothing except that in upbringing and outlook he was
entirely different from her and her family.  The room seemed
immense and Hyde was at the other end of it.  Suddenly he turned
and came striding back to Isabel.  Her instinct was to defend
herself.  She checked it and kept still, her arms and hands
thrown out motionless along the arms of the chair in which her
slight figure was lying in perfect repose.  Lawrence tenderly
took her head between his finger-tips and kissed her mouth.
"Why did you raise a ghost you can't lay?" he said.  "My cousin
killed your brother." Isabel smiled at him without moving.  Her
eyes were mysteriously full of light.  Lawrence knelt down and
threw his arms round her waist and let his head fall against her
bosom.  What strength there was in this immature personality
neither yielded nor withdrawn!  Lawrence was entirely disarmed
and subdued.  He uttered a deep sigh and gave up to Isabel with
the simplicity of a child the secret of his tormented restlessness.
"I am unhappy, Isabel."

"I know you are, my darling, and that's why I raised the ghost.
What is it troubles you?"

"My own guilt.  I never knew what remorse meant before, but your
Christian ethics have mastered me this time. I had no right to
extract that promise from Val."

"No.  Why did you?  It seems so motiveless."

"Because it amused me to get a man into my power." Isabel felt
him shuddering.  "Is this what you call the sense of sin?  I used
to hear it described as a theological fiction.  But it tears
one's heart out.  Bernard killed him: but who put the weapon into
Bernard's hand?"

"Val did."

"I don't understand you."

"The original fault was Val's, and you and Major Clowes were
entangled in the consequences of it. Let us two face the truth
once and for all!  Val can stand it--can't you, Val? . . . He
broke his military oath.  He deserved a sharp stinging punishment,
and if you had reported him he would have had it; perhaps a worse one
than you exacted, except for that last awful hour at Wanhope, and for
that Major Clowes, not you, was responsible.  Oh, I won't say he
deserved precisely what he got! because judgment ought to be
dispassionate, and in yours there was an element of cruelty for
cruelty's sake; wasn't there?  You half enjoyed it and half shivered
under it . . ."

"More than half enjoyed it," said Hyde under his breath.

"But I do not believe that was your only motive.  I think you
were sorry for Val.  Haven't I seen you watching him at Wanhope?
with such a strange half-unwilling pity, as if you hated yourself
for it.  Oh Lawrence, it's for that I love you!"  Lawrence shook
his head. He had never been able to analyse the complex of
feelings that had determined his attitude to Val.  "Well, in any
case it was not your fault only.  A coward is an irresistible
temptation to a bully."

"Do you call Val a coward?  Nervous collapses were not so
uncommon as you may have gathered from the Daily Mail."

"Did Major Clowes describe the scene truthfully?"

"Yes."

"Did you ever break down like Val?"

"I was older."

"There were plenty of boys of nineteen, officers and men.  Did
you ever know such another case so complete, so prolonged?"

"I've commanded a firing party."

"For cowardice?"

"For cowardice."

"A worse exhibition than Val's?"

"Isabel, you are pitiless!"

"Because Val deserves justice not mercy.  It's his due: he died
to earn it."

Hyde was silent, not thoroughly understanding her.

"He wasn't a coward when he died," said Isabel with her sweet
half melancholy smile.  "He fought under a heavy handicap, and
won: he paid his debt, paid it to the last farthing; and now do
you grudge him his sleep?  'He hates him, that would upon the
rack of this tough world stretch him out longer. . . .'"  Her
beautiful voice dropped to a murmur which was almost lost in the
rustling of flames on the hearth and the stir of wind among
budded branches in the garden.

The clock struck ten and Lawrence raised his head.  "It's growing
late, Isabel.  Aren't you tired?"

"A little. I got up at five to say good-bye to all the animals."

"All the--?"

"My cocks and hens and Val's mare and Dodor and Zou-zou and
Rowsley's old rabbits.  They're at the Castle, don't you
remember?  Jack Bendish offered to take charge of them when we
turned out of the vicarage."

"I hope you put your pinafore on," said her husband.

He took her by the hands and raised her to her feet, and Isabel
with irreproachable docility began to collect her scattered
belongings, her sable scarf and mull and veil.  Lawrence
forestalled her. "Mayn't I even carry my own gloves?" Isabel
pleaded.  "No, you're so slow," said Lawrence laughing down at
her. Isabel's cheeks flew their scarlet flag before the invading
enemy.  "Isabel," Lawrence murmured, "are you shy of me?"

"A little.  I'm only twenty," Isabel excused herself.

"And I'm not gentle. I shall brush the bloom off. . . . Yet I
love the bloom."

He went to close the window.  A breath of night wind shook
through the bushes on the lawn and blew off a snow of petals
through the soft air.  He was not a believer in the immortality
of the soul, but tonight he would have given much to know that
Val was near him, a spirit of smiling tenderness.  But no: the
night was empty of everything except moonlight and petals and the
sighing of wind over diapered turf. Youth passes, and beauty, and
bloom: it is of the essence of their sweetness that they cannot
last.  Yet, while they last, how sweet they are!





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