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

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


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

Title: Elizabeth's Campaign
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Elizabeth's Campaign" ***

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



ELIZABETH'S CAMPAIGN

by

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

Author of _Lady Rose's Daughter_, _Missing_, etc.

Frontispiece in Color by C. Allan Gilbert

1918



[Illustration: ELIZABETH]



     TO THE DEAR AND GALLANT
             MEMORY
               OF
            T. S. A.
  PASSCHENDAELE, OCTOBER 11, 1917



FOREWORD

This book was finished in April 1918, and represents
the mood of a supremely critical moment in the war.

M. A. W.



ELIZABETH'S CAMPAIGN



CHAPTER I


'Remember, Slater, if I am detained, that I am expecting the two
gentlemen from the War Agricultural Committee at six, and Captain
Mills of the Red Cross is coming to dine and sleep. Ask Lady
Chicksands to look after him in case I am late--and put those
Tribunal papers in order for me, by the way. I really must go
properly into that Quaker man's case--horrid nuisance! I hope to be
back in a couple of hours, but I can't be sure. Hullo, Beryl! I
thought you were out.'

The speaker, Sir Henry Chicksands, already mounted on his cob
outside his own front door, turned from his secretary, to whom he
had been giving these directions, to see his only daughter hurrying
through the inner hall with the evident intention of catching her
father before he rode off.

She ran down the steps, but instead of speaking at once she began to
stroke and pat his horse's neck, as though doubtful how to put what
she had to say.

'Well, Beryl, what's the matter?' said her father impatiently. The
girl, who was slender and delicate in build, raised her face to his.

'Are you--are you really going to Mannering, father?'

'I am--worse luck!'

'You'll handle him gently, won't you?' There was anxiety in the
girl's voice. 'But of course you will--I know you will.'

Chicksands shrugged his shoulders.

'I shall do my best. But you know as well as I do that he's a queer
customer when it comes to anything connected with the war.'

The girl looked behind her to make sure that the old butler of the
house had retired discreetly out of earshot.

'But he can't quarrel with _you_, father!'

'I hope not--for your sake.'

'Must you really tackle him?'

'Well, I thought I was the person to do it. It's quite certain
nobody else could make anything of it.'

Privately Beryl disagreed, but she made no comment.

'Aubrey seems to be pretty worried,' she said, in a depressed tone,
as she turned away.

'I don't wonder. He should have brought up his father better. Well,
good-bye, dear. Don't bother too much.'

She waved her hand to him as he made off, and stood watching him
from the steps--a gentle, attaching figure, her fair hair and the
pale oval of her face standing out against the panelled hall behind
her.

Her father went his way down a long winding hill beyond his own
grounds, along a country road lined with magnificent oaks, through a
village where his practised eye noted several bad cottages with
disapproval, till presently he slackened his horse's pace, as he
passed an ill-looking farm about half a mile beyond the village.

'Not a decent gate in the whole place!' he said to himself with
disgust. 'And the farm buildings only fit for a bonfire. High time
indeed that we made Mannering sit up!'

He paused also to look over the neighbouring hedge at some fields
literally choked with weeds.

'And as for Gregson--lazy, drunken fellow! Why didn't he set some
village women on? Just see what they've done on my place! Hullo,
here he is! Now I'm in for it!' For he saw a slouching man coming
rapidly towards him from the farmyard, with the evident intention
of waylaying him. The man's shabby, untidy dress and blotched
complexion did not escape Sir Henry's quick eye. 'Seems to have
been making a night of it,' was his inward comment.

'Good-day, Sir Henry,' said the farmer, laying a hand on Chicksands'
bridle, 'I wanted a word with you, sir. I give you fair warning, you
and your Committee, you'll not turn me out without a fight! I was
never given no proper notice--and there are plenty as 'll stand by
me.'

The voice was thick and angry, and the hand shook. Sir Henry drew
his horse away, and the man's hold dropped.

'Of course you had every notice,' said Sir Henry drily.

'I hadn't,' the man persisted. 'If the letters as they talk of were
sent, I never saw 'em. And when the Committee came I was out--on
business. Can't a man be out on his lawful business, Sir Henry,
instead of dancin' attendance on men as know no better than he? The
way this Government is doing things--you might as well live under
the Czar of Russia as in this country. It's no country this for
free men now, Sir Henry.'

'The Czar of Russia has come to grief, my man, for the same reason
that you have,' said Sir Henry, gathering up the reins, 'for
shirking his duty. All very well before the war, but now we can't
afford this kind of thing.'

'And so you've told the Squire to turn me out?' said the man
fiercely, his hands on his sides.

'You've had no notice from Mr. Mannering yet?'

'Not a word.'

'But you've heard from the Inspection Committee?'

The man nodded.

'But it's not they as can turn me out, if the Squire don't agree.'

There was a note of surly defiance in his voice.

'I don't know about that,' said Sir Henry, whose horse was getting
restive. 'My advice to you, Gregson, is to take it quietly, pull
yourself together, and get some other work. There's plenty going
nowadays.'

'Thank you for nothing, Sir Henry. I've got plenty to advise
me--people as I set more store by. I've got a wife and children,
sir, and I shan't give in without a fuss--you may be sure of that.
Good-day to you.'

Sir Henry nodded to him and rode off.

'He'll go, of course,' reflected the rider. 'Our powers are quite
enough. But if I can't get Mannering to send the notice, it'll be a
deal more trouble. Hullo, here's some one else! This is another pair
of boots!'

He had scarcely turned the corner beyond the farm when another man
came running down the sloping field, calling to him. Sir Henry
pulled up his horse again. But his aspect had changed, and his voice
took another note.

'Did you want to speak to me, Adam? A nice day, isn't it?'

'I saw you, Sir Henry, from the top of the field, talking to Gregson
in the road, and I thought perhaps you'd let me have a few words
with you. You know, sir, this is awfully hard lines.'

Sir Henry looked impatient, but the man who had spoken to him was a
fine specimen of young manhood--broad-shouldered, clear-eyed, with a
natural dignity of manner, not at all a person to be brushed aside.

'I'm sure you can't defend Gregson, Adam,' said Sir Henry, 'you--one
of the best farmers in the district! I wish they had put you on the
Inspection Committee.'

'Well, they didn't,' said the other, perhaps with a slight emphasis.
'And there's many of us feel, I can assure you, as I do. Gregson's a
poor creature, but he hasn't had quite fair play, Sir Henry--that's
what we feel. And he's been fifteen years on his place.' The man
spoke hesitatingly, but strongly. There was a queer, suppressed
hostility in his pleasant blue eyes.

'Fifteen years too long,' interrupted Sir Henry. 'I tell you, Adam,
we can't afford now to let men like Gregson spoil good land while
the country's likely to go hungry! The old happy-go-lucky days are
done with. I wonder whether even you recognize that we're fighting
for our lives?'

'I know we are, Sir Henry. But if the war makes slaves of us what
good will it do if we do win it?'

Sir Henry laughed. 'Well, Adam, you were always a Radical and I was
always a Conservative. And I don't like being managed any more than
you do. But look at the way I'm managed in my business!--harried up
and down by a parcel of young fellows from the Ministry that often
seem to me fools! But we've all got to come in. And this country's
worth it!'

'You know I'm with you there, sir. But why don't you get at the
Squire himself? What good have he or his agent ever been to anybody?
You're a landlord worth living under; but--'

'Ah! don't be in too great a hurry, Adam, and you'll see what you
will see!' And with a pleasant salute, his handsome face twitching
between frowns and smiles, Sir Henry rode on. 'What trade unionists
we all are--high and low! That man's as good a farmer as Gregson's a
vile one. But he stands by his like, as I stand by mine.'

Then his thoughts took a different turn. He was entering a park,
evidently of wide extent, and finely wooded. The road through it had
long fallen out of repair, and was largely grass-grown. A few sheep
were pasturing on it, and a few estate cottages showed here and
there. Sir Henry looked about him with quick eyes. He understood
that the Inspection Sub-Committee, constituted under the Corn
Production Act, and on the look-out for grass-land to put under the
plough, had recommended the ploughing up of all this further end of
Mannering Park. It carried very few sheep under its present
management; and the herd of Jersey cattle that used to graze it had
long since died out. As for the game, it had almost gone--before the
war. No use, either for business or play!

Then--on this early autumn day of 1917--Sir Henry fell to musing on
the vast changes coming over England in consequence of the war. 'Who
would ever have believed that we--_we_ should put ourselves to
school as we have done? Military service, rations, food-prices, all
our businesses "controlled," and now our land looked after! How much
of it has come to stay? Well, it won't affect me much! Ah! is that
the Rector?'

For a hundred yards ahead of him he perceived a clerical figure,
spare and tall, in a wideawake hat, swinging towards him. The
September sun was westering, and behind the approaching man lay
broad stretches of wood, just showing here and there the first
bronze and purple signs of autumn.

The Rector, recognizing the solitary rider, waved his hand in
welcome, and Sir Henry pulled up. The two men, who were evidently
personal friends, exchanged greetings.

'You're going to the Hall, Sir Henry?' said the Rector.

Sir Henry described his business.

The Rector shook his head reflectively.

'You haven't announced yourself, I hope?'

'No, I took that simple precaution. I suppose he's already pretty
savage?'

'With whom? The Committee? Yes, you won't find him easy to deal
with. But just at present there's a distraction. His new secretary
arrived some weeks ago, and he now spends his whole time, from
morning till night, dictating to her and showing her his things.'

'Secretary? A woman? Good heavens! Who is she?'

'A great swell, I understand. Oxford First Class in Mods, Second in
Greats. I've only just seen her. A striking-looking person.'

'Why isn't she in France, or doing munition work?' growled Sir
Henry.

'I don't know. I suppose she has her reasons. She seems patriotic
enough. But I've only exchanged a few words with her, at a very
hurried luncheon, at which, by the way, there was a great deal too
much to eat. She and Pamela disappeared directly afterwards.'

'Oh, so Pamela's at home? What's the name of the new woman? I
suppose she's to chaperon Pamela?'

'I shouldn't wonder. Her name is Miss Bremerton.'

'Beryl declares that Pamela is going to be a beauty--and clever
besides. She used to be a jolly child. But then they go to school
and grow up quite different. I've hardly seen her for a year and a
half.'

'Well, you'll judge for yourself. Good luck to you! I don't envy you
your job.'

'Good Lord, no! But you see I'm Chairman of this blessed show, and
they all fixed on me to bell the cat. We want a hundred acres of the
Park, a new agent, notices for three farmers, etcetera!'

The Rector whistled. 'I shall wait, on tiptoe, to see what happens!
What are your powers?'

'Oh, tremendous!'

'So you have him? Well, good-day.'

And the Rector was passing on. But Sir Henry stooped over his
horse's neck--'As you know, perhaps, it would be very inconvenient
to my poor little Beryl if Mannering were to make a quarrel of it
with me.'

'Ah, I gathered that she and Aubrey were engaged,' said the Rector
cordially. 'Best congratulations! Has the Squire behaved well?'

'Moderately. He declares he has no money to give them.'

'And yet he spent eighteen hundred pounds last week at that Christie
sale!' said the Rector with a laugh. 'And now I suppose the new
secretary will add fuel to the flame. I saw Pamela for a minute
alone, and she said Miss Bremerton was "just as much gone on Greek
things as father," and they were like a pair of lunatics when the
new vases came down.'

'Oh, blow the secretary!' said Sir Henry with exasperation. 'And
meanwhile his daughters can't get a penny out of him for any war
purpose whatever! Well, I must go on.'

They parted, and Sir Henry put his cob into a sharp trot which
soon brought him in sight of a distant building--low and
irregular--surrounded by trees, and by the wide undulating slopes
of the park.

'Dreadfully ugly place,' he said to himself, as the house grew
plainer; 'rebuilt at the worst time, by a man with no more taste
than a broomstick. Still, he was the sixteenth owner, from father to
son. That's something.'

And he fell to thinking, with that half-ironic depreciation which he
allowed to himself, and would have stood from no one else, of his
own brand-new Georgian house, built from the plans of a famous
American architect, ten years before the war, out of the profits of
an abnormally successful year, and furnished in what he believed to
be faultless taste by the best professional decorator he could find.

'Yet compared to a Mannering, what do I mean to the people here?
You scarcely begin to take root in this blessed country under half a
century. Mannering is exceedingly unpopular; the people think him a
selfish idler; but if he chose he could whistle them back with a
hundredth part of the trouble it would take me! And if Aubrey wanted
to go into Parliament, he'd probably have his pick of the county
divisions. Curious fellow, Aubrey! I wonder exactly what Beryl sees
in him?'

His daughter's prospects were not indeed very clear to a mind that
liked everything cut and dried. Aubrey Mannering was the Squire's
eldest son; but the Squire was not rich, and had been for years past
wasting his money on Greek antiquities, which seemed to his
neighbours, including Sir Henry Chicksands, a very dubious
investment. If Aubrey should want to sell, who was going to buy such
things at high prices after the war? No doubt prices at
Christie's--for good stuff--had been keeping up very well. That was
because of war profits. People were throwing money about now. But
when the war industries came to an end? and the national bills had
to be paid?

'The only thing that can't go down is land,' thought Sir Henry, with
the cheerful consciousness of a man who had steadily year by year
increased what had originally been a very modest property to
something like a large estate.

Mannering had plenty of that commodity. But how far had he dipped
the estate? It must be heavily mortgaged. By decent management
anybody, no doubt, might still bring it round. 'But Aubrey's not the
man. And since he joined up at the beginning of the war the Squire
won't let him have a voice in anything. And now Desmond--by George,
the twins are nineteen this month!--Desmond'll be off directly. And
then his father will be madder than ever.'

By this time the ugly house was near at hand, and the thick woods
which surrounded it had closed about the horse and rider.

'Splendid timber,' thought Sir Henry, as he rode through it,
measuring it with a commercial eye, 'but all past its prime, and
abominably neglected.... Hullo! that looks like Pamela, and the new
woman--the secretary!'

For two ladies were coming down the drive towards him, with a big
white and tan collie jumping round them. One of them, very tall and
erect, was dressed in a dark coat and skirt, reasonably short, a
small black toque, and brown boots and leggings. The close-fitting
coat showed a shapely but quite substantial figure. She carried a
stick, and walked with a peculiarly rapid and certain step. The
young girl beside her seemed by comparison a child. She wore a white
dress, in keeping with the warm September day, and with it a dark
blue sports coat, and a shady hat. Her dress only just passed her
knees, and beneath it the slender legs and high heels drew Sir
Henry's disapproving eye. He hated extravagance in anything. Beryl
managed to look fashionable, without looking _outré_, as Pamela did.
But he reined up to greet her with ready smiles.

'Well, Pamela, jolly to see you at home again! My word, you've
grown! Shall I find your father in?'

'Yes, we left him in the library. May I introduce Miss
Bremerton--Sir Henry Chicksands.' The girl spoke with hurried
shyness, the quick colour in her cheeks. The lady beside her bowed,
and Sir Henry took off his hat. Each surveyed the other. 'A
strong-minded female!' thought Sir Henry, who was by no means
advanced in his views of the other sex.

'The strong-minded female,' however, was not, it seemed, of the
talkative kind. She remained quite silent while Pamela and Sir Henry
exchanged some family gossip, with her ungloved hand caressing the
nose of the collie, who was pressing against her with intrusive
friendliness. But her easy self-possession as contrasted with
Pamela's nervousness was all the time making an impression on Sir
Henry, as was also the fact of her general good looks. Not a
beauty--not at all; but, as the Rector had said, 'striking.'

As for Pamela, what was the matter with the child? Until Beryl's
name was mentioned, there was not a smile to be got out of her. And
it was a very fleeting one when it came. Desmond's name fared a
little better. At that the girl did at last raise her beautiful
eyes, which till then she had hardly allowed to be seen, and there
was a ray in them.

'He's here on leave,' she said; 'a few days. He's just got his
Commission and been accepted for the artillery. He goes into camp
next week. He thinks he'll be out by January.'

'We must certainly manage to see him before he goes,' said Sir Henry
heartily. Then turning to Miss Bremerton with the slightly
over-emphatic civility of a man who prides himself on his manners in
all contingencies, he asked her if she was already acquainted with
the Mannering neighbourhood.

Miss Bremerton replied that it was quite unknown to her. 'You'll
admire our trees,' said Sir Henry. 'They're very fine.'

'Are they?' said the lady rather absently, giving a perfunctory
glance to the woods sloping away on her right towards a little
stream winding in the hollow. Sir Henry felt a slight annoyance. He
was a good fellow, and no more touchy as to personal dignity than
the majority of men of his age and class. But he was accustomed to
be treated with a certain deference, and in Miss Bremerton's manner
there was none whatever.

'Well, good-bye, Pamela. I mustn't miss your father. When are you
coming over to see Beryl?'

'How am I to get there?' said the girl with a sudden laugh.

'Oh, I see, you've got no petrol allowance?'

'How should we? Nobody's doing any war work here.'

There was an odd note in the speaker's voice.

'Why don't you join Beryl in her canteen work?' said Sir Henry
abruptly.

'I don't know.'

'She wants help badly. She passes your gate on her way to Fallerton.
She could pick you up, and bring you back.'

'Yes,' said Pamela. There was a pause.

'Well, good-bye, dear,' said Sir Henry again, and with a ceremonious
bow to Pamela's companion, he rode on--meditating on many things.

       *       *       *       *       *

'The Squire's in, Sir Henry, but--well, he's very busy.'

'Never mind, Forest. I must see him. Can you find some one to take
my horse round?'

The grey-haired butler looked perplexed.

'I've only got my own small boy, Sir Henry. There's two more of our
men gone this morning. I don't know if you'll trust him. He's a good
boy.'

'Send him along, Forest. My beast's a lamb--you know him. But look
here, Forest'--Sir Henry dismounted, bridle in hand. 'Don't give the
Squire notice that I'm here, if you can help it, till you announce
me.'

The butler, who, in spite of his grey hair, was a square-set,
vigorous-looking fellow, might be said, in reply, to have given the
Squire's visitor a wink. At any rate a look of understanding passed
between the two. The butler went quickly back into the house, and
re-emerged with a boy, who was the small image of his father, to
whom Sir Henry cheerfully gave up his cob. But as Forest led the way
through the outer hall he stopped to say:

'The Squire's not alone, sir. There was a gentleman arrived just as
Miss Pamela went out. But I don't think he'll stay long.'

'Who is he?'

'Can't say, sir. He's lodging in the village, and comes to see the
Squire's collections sometimes.'

They were now in a long passage running along the eastern front of
the house to a large room which had been added to its southern end,
in order to hold the Squire's library and collections. Midway the
butler turned.

'You've heard, Sir Henry, about Mr. Desmond?'

'Yes, Miss Pamela told me.'

'Mr. Desmond says he'll be in France by January. He's as pleased as
possible, but it's a deal sooner than Mr. Mannering hoped.'

'Well, we've all got to take our chance in this war,' said Sir Henry
gravely. 'And the artillery is a bit safer than the infantry. You
know my son Arthur's a gunner.'

'I hope he's all right, sir?'

'Well, he's still on light work. He comes home this week for a bit.
He was gassed at Ypres a year and a half ago, and had a bullet taken
out of his chest about two months since. But he is nearly fit
again.'

The butler expressed his sympathy with a complete absence of shyness
or servility, then threw open a door at the end of the passage,
announcing, 'Sir Henry Chicksands, sir.'

'_D-mn_!' said a voice loudly within.

Sir Henry gave an involuntary start. Another look passed between
him and Forest, amused or interrogative on the visitor's part,
non-committal on the butler's.

       *       *       *       *       *

The library of Mannering Hall as Sir Henry Chicksands entered it
presented a curious spectacle. It was a long, barn-like room,
partly lined with books, and partly with glass cases, in which
Greek vases, Tanagra figures, and other Greek and Etruscan
antiquities, all carefully marked and labelled, were displayed. A
few large tables stood at intervals on the shabby carpet, also
laden with books and specimens. They conveyed an impression of
dust and disorder, as though no housemaid had been allowed to
touch them for weeks--with one exception. A table, smaller than
the rest, but arranged with scrupulous neatness, stood at one side
of the room, with a typewriter upon it, certain books, and a rack
for stationery. A folded duster lay at one corner. Pens, pencils,
a box of clips, and a gum-pot stood where a careful hand had
placed them. And at a corner corresponding to the duster was a
small vase of flowers--autumnal roses--the only flowers in the
room.

But the various untidy accumulations, most of which seemed to be of
old standing, had been evidently just added to by some recent
arrivals. Four large packing-cases, newly opened, took up much of
what free space was left on the floor. The straw, paper, and
cottonwool, in which their contents had been packed, had been tossed
out with a careless or impatient hand, and littered the carpet.
Among the litter stood here and there some Greek vases of different
sizes; in particular, a superb pair, covered with figures; beside
which stood the owner of Mannering, talking to an apparently young
man with an eye-glass, who was sitting on the floor closely
examining the vases. The Squire turned a furrowed brow towards his
approaching visitor, and putting down a small bronze he had been
holding raised a warning hand.

'How do you do, Chicksands? Very sorry, but I'm much too filthy to
touch. And I'm horribly busy! These things arrived last night, and
Mr. Levasseur has kindly come over to help me unpack them. Don't
know if you've met him. Mr. Levasseur--Sir Henry Chicksands.'

The man on the floor looked up carelessly, just acknowledging Sir
Henry's slight inclination. Sir Henry's inner mind decided against
him--at once--instinctively. What was a stout fellow, who at any
rate _looked_ as though he were still of military age, doing with
nonsense of this sort, at four o'clock in the day, when England
wanted every able-bodied man she possessed, either to fight for her
or to work for her? At the same time the reflection passed rapidly
through his mind that neither the man nor the name had come up--so
far as he could remember--before the County Tribunal of which he was
Chairman.

'Well, Chicksands, what do you want with me?' said the Squire
abruptly. 'Will you take a chair?' And he pointed to one from which
he hastily removed a coat.

'I have some confidential business to talk to you about,' said Sir
Henry, with a look at the dusty gentleman among the straw.

'Something you want me to do that I'll be bound I shan't want to do!
Is that it?' said Mannering with vivacity.

He stood with his hands on a table behind him, his long spare frame
in a nervous fidget, his eyes bright and hostile, and a spot of red
on either thin cheek. Beside Chicksands, who was of middle height,
solidly built, and moderately stout, with mental and physical
competence written all over him, the Squire of Mannering seemed but
the snippet of a man. He was singularly thin, with a slender neck,
and a small head covered with thick hair, prematurely white, which
tumbled over his forehead and eyes. He had the complexion of a girl,
disproportionately large nose, very sharply and delicately cut as to
bridge and nostril, and a mouth and chin which seemed to be in
perpetual movement. He looked older than Sir Henry, who was verging
on sixty, but he was in fact just over fifty.

Sir Henry smiled a little at the tone of the Squire's question, but
he answered good-humouredly.

'I believe, when we've talked it over, you won't think it
unreasonable. But I've come to explain.'

'I know, you want me to give Gregson notice. But I warn you I'm not
the least inclined to do anything of the kind.' And the speaker
crossed his arms, which were very long and thin, over a narrow
chest, while his eyes restlessly countered those of Sir Henry.

Chicksands paused a moment before replying.

'I have a good many papers here to show you,' he said at last,
mildly, drawing a large envelope half-way from the inner pocket of
his coat to illustrate his words, and then putting it back again.
'But I really can't discuss them except with yourself.'

The Squire's eyes shot battle.

'It's the war, of course,' he said with emphasis; 'it's all the war.
I'm told to do things I don't want to do, which affect my personal
freedom, and other people's, because of a war I don't believe in,
never asked for, and don't approve of. Here's Levasseur now, a
clever fellow, cleverer than either you or me, Chicksands, and he's
no more patriotic than I am. You talk to him!'

'Thank you, I'm too busy,' said Sir Henry sharply, his face
stiffening. 'Where can you see me, Mannering? I'm rather pressed for
time. Is the smoking-room free?' And with a marked avoidance of any
concern with the gentleman on the floor, who had by now risen to his
feet, Sir Henry made an impatient movement towards a door at the
further end of the library which stood ajar.

Levasseur looked amused. He was a strongly-built, smooth-shaven
fellow, with rather long hair, and the sallow look of the
cigarette-smoker. His eyes were sleepy, his expression indolent or
good-natured.

'Oh, I'll make myself scarce with the greatest pleasure,' he said
civilly. 'I can stroll about the park till you're ready for me
again,' he added, turning to the Squire. 'Lovely day--I'll take a
book and some cigarettes.' And diving into an open box which stood
near he filled his cigarette-case from it, and then looked round him
for a book. 'Where's that copy of the _Anthology_? That'll do
nicely.'

The Squire burst into a laugh, observing Sir Henry.

'He's over military age, Chicksands.'

'I suppose so,' said Sir Henry stiffly.

'But only by six months, when the Act passed. So he's _just_ escaped
you.'

'I've really no concern whatever with Mr. Levasseur's affairs.' Sir
Henry had flushed angrily. 'Is it to be here, or the smoking-room?'

'Ta-ta! See you again presently,' said Levasseur. 'Ah, there's the
book!' And diving to the floor for a hat and a book lying beside it,
he made off, lighting a cigarette, with a laughing backward glance
towards the Squire and his companion.

'Well, now, what is it?' said Mannering, throwing himself with an
air of resignation into a low arm-chair, and taking out a pipe.
'Won't you smoke, Chicksands?'

'Thank you, I've had my morning's allowance. Hullo! Who did that?
What an awfully fine thing!'

For suddenly, behind the Squire's head, Chicksands had become aware
of an easel, and on it a charcoal sketch, life-size, of a boy, who
seemed about eighteen or nineteen, in cricketing dress.

The Squire looked round.

'What, that sketch of Desmond? Haven't you seen it? Yes, it's jolly
good. I got Orpen to do it in July.'

Now that Sir Henry had once perceived the drawing it seemed to him
to light up the whole place. The dress was the dress of the Eton
Eleven; there was just a suggestion of pale blue in the sash round
the waist. But the whole impression was Greek in its manly freedom
and beauty; above all in its sacrifice of all useless detail to one
broad and simple effect. Youth, eager, strong, self-confident, with
its innocent parted lips, and its steadfast eyes looking out over
the future--the drawing stood there as the quintessence, the
embodiment, of a whole generation. So might the young Odysseus have
looked when he left his mother on his first journey to hunt the boar
with his kinsfolk on Mount Parnassus. And with such an air had
hundreds of thousands of English boys gone out on a deadlier venture
since the great war began, with a like intensity of will, a like
merry scorn of fate.

Sir Henry was conscious of a lump in his throat. He had lost his
youngest son in the retreat from Mons, and two nephews on the Somme.

'It's wonderful,' he said, not very clearly. 'I envy you such a
possession.'

The Squire made no reply. He sat with his long body hunched up in
the deep chair, a pair of brooding eyes fixed on his visitor.

'Well, what is it?' he said again, in a voice that was barely civil.



CHAPTER II


Sir Henry had been talking some time. The Squire had not interrupted
him much, but the papers which Sir Henry had presented to him from
time to time--Government communications, Committee reports, and the
like--were mostly lying on the floor, where, after a perfunctory
glance at them, he had very quickly dropped them.

'Well, that's our case,' said Sir Henry at last, thrusting his hands
into his pockets and leaning back in his chair, 'and I assure you
we've taken a great deal of trouble about it. We shouldn't ask you
or anybody else to do these things if it wasn't vitally necessary
for the food-supply of the country. But we're going to have a narrow
squeak for it next spring and summer, and we _must_ get more food
out of the land.'

Whereupon, in a manner rather provokingly reminiscent of a public
meeting, Sir Henry fell into a discourse on submarines, tonnage, the
food needs of our Allies, and the absolute necessity for undoing and
repairing the havoc of Cobdenism--matters of which the newspapers of
the day were commonly full. That the sound of his own voice was
agreeable to him might have been suspected.

Mr. Mannering roughly broke in upon him.

'What was that you said about ploughing up the park?'

'We ask you to break up fifty acres of it near the Fallerton end,
and perhaps some other bits elsewhere. This first bit is so far
from the house you'll never notice it; and the land ought to do very
well if it's properly broken and trampled down.'

The Squire sat up and began to tick things off on the fingers of his
left hand.

'Let me understand. You want me to give three of my farmers notice
to quit--Gregson first of all--for bad farming; you ask me to plough
up fifty acres of my park; and you have the goodness to suggest that
I should cut some of my woods.'

Sir Henry realized that possibly a strain on his temper was coming,
but he felt sure he could stand it.

'That is what we suggest--for your own advantage and the country's.'

'And pray who are "_we_"? I don't yet understand that clearly.'

'"We,"' said Sir Henry patiently, 'are the County War Agricultural
Committee, formed for the express purpose of getting more food out
of the land, and so making these islands self-supporting.'

'And if I refuse, what can you do?'

'Well, I'm afraid,' said Sir Henry, smiling uncomfortably, 'we can
act without you.'

'You can turn out my farmers, and plough my land, as you please?'

'Our powers are very wide.'

'Under--what do you call the beastly thing?--"Dora"--the Defence of
the Realm Act?'

Sir Henry nodded.

The Squire rose and began to pace up and down, his hands under his
coat-tails, his long spider legs and small feet picking their way in
and out of the piles and boxes on the floor. At last he turned
impetuously.

'Look here, Chicksands, I shall not give that man warning!'

Sir Henry surveyed the lanky figure standing opposite to him.

'I should be very sorry, Mannering, to see you take that course,' he
said, smiling and amiable as before. 'In some ways, of course, I am
no more in love with some of the Government's proceedings than you
are. We landlords may have to defend ourselves. I want, if I may say
so, to keep your influence intact for the things that really matter.
You and I, and all the other Brookshire landlords, may have, at some
point, to act together. But we shall resist unreasonable demands
much more easily if we accept the reasonable ones.'

The Squire shook his head. The suave tone of the speaker had clearly
begun to rasp his nerves.

'No! You and I have really nothing in common. You may take it from
me that I shall not give these men notice. What happens then?'

'The Government steps in,' said Sir Henry quietly.

'And turns them out? Very well, let them. And the park?'

'We are, of course, most anxious to consult you.'

'Excuse me, that's nonsense! I refuse--that's flat.'

Sir Henry shrugged his shoulders. His tone became a trifle colder.

'I can't believe that you will refuse. You can't deny--no sensible
man could--that we've simply got to grow more food at home. The
submarines have settled that for us.'

'Who brought the submarines upon us? The politicians! No
politicians, no war! If it hadn't been for a pack of idiots called
diplomats making mischief abroad, and a pack of incompetents called
politicians unable to keep their heads at home, there'd have been no
war. It's Russia's war--France's war! Who asked the country whether
it wanted a war? Who asked _me_?' The Squire, standing opposite to
Sir Henry, tapped his chest vehemently.

'The country is behind the war,' said Chicksands firmly.

'How do we know? How do you know? I've as much right to an opinion
as you, and I tell you the country is sick and tired of the war. We
are all dying of the war! We shall all be paupers because of the
war! What is France to me, or Belgium? We shall have lost men,
money, security--half the things that make life worth living--for
what?'

'Honour!' said Sir Henry sharply, as he got on his feet.

'_Honour_!' sneered Mannering--'what's honour? It means one thing to
me and another to you. Aubrey bangs me over the head with it. But
I'm like the Doctor in the Punch and Judy show--he thinks he's
knocked me flat. He hasn't. I've a new argument every time he comes.
And as for my daughters, they think me a lunatic--a stingy lunatic
besides--because I won't give to their Red Cross shows and bazaars.
I've nothing to give. The income tax gentlemen have taken care of
that.'

'Yet you spend on this kind of thing!' Sir Henry pointed to the
vases. He had grown a little white.

'Of course I can. That's permanent. That's something to mend the
holes that the soldiers and the politicians are making. When the
war's become a nightmare that nobody wants to remember, those little
things'--he pointed to a group of Greek bronzes and terra-cottas on
a table near--'will still be the treasures of the world!'

In the yeasty deep of Sir Henry's honest mind emotions were rising
which he knew now he should not long be able to control. He took up
his hat and stick.

'I'm sorry, Mannering, that I have not been able to convince you.
I'm sorry for your point of view--and I'm sorry for your sons.'

The words slipped out of his mouth before he knew.

The Squire bounded.

'My sons! The one's a fire-eater, with whom you can't argue. The
other's a child--a babe--whom the Government proposes to murder
before he has begun to live.'

Sir Henry looked at the speaker, who had been violently flushed a
minute earlier, and was now as pale as himself, and then at the
sketch of Desmond, just behind the Squire. His eyes dropped; the
hurry in his blood subsided.

'Well, good-bye, Mannering. I'll--I'll do what I can to make things
easy for you.'

The Squire laughed angrily.

'You'll put on the screws politely? Thank you? But still it will be
_you_ who'll be putting the screw on, who'll be turning out my
farmers, and ploughing up my land, and cutting down my trees.
Doesn't it strike you that--well, that--under the circumstances--it
will be rather difficult for Aubrey and Beryl to keep up their
engagement?'

The Squire was sitting on the edge of the table, his thin legs
crossed, his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets. Sir Henry coloured
hotly.

'You gave your consent to their engagement, Mannering.'

'Yes, but I propose to withdraw it,' said the Squire coolly.

Sir Henry's indignation kept him cool also.

'You can't play ducks and drakes with young people's lives like
that. Even you can't do that.'

'I can. I can withdraw my consent.'

'Because you mean to fight the County War Committee, of which I am
Chairman?'

'Precisely. The situation is too difficult,' said the Squire with
sparkling eyes. 'The young people will no doubt see it for
themselves.'

'Pshaw! Nonsense!' cried Sir Henry, finally losing his temper.
'Aubrey is long since of age and his own master.'

'Perhaps, but he is an extravagant fellow, who likes money and
spends it. And if he is his own master, I am the master of the
estate; there is no entail.'

Chicksands laughed aloud.

'So because I come on a mission to try and save you friction and
trouble, you are going to avenge yourself on your son and my
daughter?'

'I merely point out the properties,' said the Squire provokingly,
his legs dangling.

There was a pause. Sir Henry broke it with dignity, as he turned
away.

'I think we had better break off this discussion. I cannot--I do
not--believe you will carry out what you say. But if you do, I shall
stand by the young people.'

'No doubt!' said the Squire, who seemed to bristle from head to
foot. 'Well, good-bye, Sir Henry. Sorry your visit has not been more
agreeable. Forest will look after you.' And ringing the bell
vehemently as he passed the fireplace, the Squire walked rapidly to
the door and threw it open.

Chicksands passed through it, speechless with indignation and, if
the truth were told, bewilderment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Squire shut the door upon his adversary, and then, with his
hands on his sides, exploded in a fit of laughter.

'I always knew I must be rude to the old boy some time,' he said,
with the glee of a mischievous child. 'But, ye gods, how his
feathers drooped! He looked like a plucked cockatoo as he went out.'

He stood thinking a moment, and then with a look of sudden
determination he went to his writing-table and sat down to it.
Drawing a writing-pad towards him, he wrote as follows:

     'MY DEAR AUBREY--Your future father-in-law has just been
     insulting and harrying me in ways which no civilized State had
     ever heard of before the war. He is the Chairman of a
     ridiculous body that calls itself the County War Agricultural
     Committee, that lays absurd eggs in the shape of sub-Committees
     to vex landlords. They have been going about among my farmers
     and want me to turn out three of them. I decline, so I suppose
     they'll do it for me. And they're going to plough up a lot of
     the park--without my leave. And Chicksands is the head and
     front of the whole business. He came here to-day to try and
     coax me into submission. But I would neither be coaxed nor
     bullied. I've broken with him; and if my children stand by me
     properly, they'll break with him too. I really don't see how
     you're going to marry Beryl after this. At least, I shall
     certainly not help you to do it, and if you defy me you must
     take the consequences. The whole world's gone mad. My only
     consolation is that I have just got some new Greek things, and
     that Levasseur's helping me unpack them. However, it's no good
     talking to you about them. You wasted all your time at
     Cambridge, and I doubt whether you could construe a bit of
     Euripides to save your life.

     'Of course if you want to talk this over, you had better run
     down. I have got a new secretary--came here six weeks ago--a
     topping young woman--who reads Greek like a bird. But her
     quantities are not always what they should be. Good-bye.--Your
     affectionate father,

     'EDMUND MANNERING.'

Having finished the epistle he read it over with a complacent
countenance, put it up and stamped it. Then he looked at his watch.

'What a long time that young woman's been away! I told her to take
two hours off, but of course I didn't mean it. That was just my
excessive politeness. D-mn my politeness. It's always getting in my
way. I forget that women are naturally lazy. I daresay she was a bit
fagged. But if she's interested in her work, what does that matter?
I wonder whether she's looked out all these references?'

And walking over to the one neat table In the room he surveyed it.
There were some sheets lying on it mostly covered with an excellent
Greek script, which he turned over. Suddenly he swooped on one of
them.

'Hullo! That line's wrong. Won't scan. Trusted to her memory, I
suppose. Didn't look it up. And yesterday I caught her out in her
accents. Women play the devil with accents. But she writes a pretty
Greek. Eh? What?' For he had become aware of the re-entry of
Levasseur, who was standing at his elbow.

''Fraid I can't stay now,' said that person. 'I've promised to pick
up some wounded at the station to-night.'

'You--wounded!--what do you mean?' said the Squire, turning upon
him.

Levasseur's large, thin-lipped mouth showed what seemed an habitual
grin.

'I'd been getting so unpopular, it was becoming a nuisance. Line of
least resistance, you understand. Now everybody's quite civil again.
And I like chauffing.'

'A mere bit of weakness!' grumbled the Squire. 'Either you keep out
of the war, or you go into it. You'd better go off to a camp now,
and get trained--and shot--as quickly as possible--get done with
it.'

'Oh no,' laughed the other. 'I'm all for middle courses. If they'll
let me go on with my book, I don't mind driving a few poor fellows
now and then!'

The Squire looked at him critically.

'The fact is you're too well fed, Levasseur, or you look it. That
annoys people. Now I might gorge for a month, and shouldn't put on a
pound.'

'I suppose your household is rationed?'

'Not it! We eat what we want. Just like the labourers. I found an
old labourer eating his dinner under a hedge yesterday. Half a pound
of bread at the very least, and he gets as much for his supper, and
nearly as much for his breakfast. "I shall eat it, Squire, as long
as I can get it. There's nowt else _packs_ ye like bread." And quite
right too. Good word "pack."'

'What'll he do when he can't get it?' laughed Levasseur, taking up
his hat.

'Stuff! This food business is all one big _blague_. Anyway the
Government got us into the war; they're jolly well bound to feed us
through it. They will, for their own necks' sake. Well, good-night.'

Levasseur nodded in response, with the same silent, aimless grin,
and disappeared through the garden door of the library.

'Queer fellow!' thought the Squire. 'But he's useful. I shall get
him to help catalogue these things as he did the others. Ah, there
you are!'

He turned with a reproachful air as the door opened.

The westerly sun was coming strongly into the library, and shone
full on the face and figure of the Squire's new secretary as she
stood in the door-way. He expected an apology for an absence just
five minutes over the two hours; but she offered none.

'Pamela asked me to tell you, Mr. Mannering, that tea was ready
under the verandah.'

'Afternoon tea is an abominable waste of time!' said the Squire
discontentedly, facing her with a Greek pot under each arm.

'Do you think so? To me it's always the pleasantest meal in the
day.'

The voice was musical and attractive, but its complete
self-possession produced a vague irritation in the Squire. With his
two former secretaries, a Cambridge man and a spectacled maiden
with a London University degree, he had been accustomed to play the
tyrant as must as he pleased. Something had told him from the very
beginning that he would not be able to tyrannize over this newcomer.

But his quick masterful temper was already trying to devise ways of
putting her down. He beckoned her towards the table where she had
left her work, and she went obediently.

'You've got that line wrong.' He pointed to a quotation from the
_Odyssey_. 'Read it, please!'

She read it. He stopped her triumphantly.

'No, no, you can't make that long!' He pointed to one of the Greek
words.

Her fair skin flushed.

'But indeed you can!' she said eagerly. 'Merry quotes three parallel
passages. I have them in one of my notebooks.' And she began to
search her table. Mannering stopped her ungraciously.

'Of course there's always some learned fool behind every bad
reading. Anyway, what do you say to those accents?' He pointed
severely to another line of her Greek. This time Miss Bremerton's
countenance changed.

'Oh dear, what a blunder!' she said in distress, as she bent over
her pages. 'I assure you I don't often do anything as bad as that.'

Mannering was secretly delighted. His manner became at once all
politeness.

'Don't worry yourself, please. We all make mistakes.... You have a
beautiful Greek handwriting.'

Miss Bremerton took the compliment calmly--did not indeed seem to
hear it. She was already scratching out the offending words with a
sharp penknife, and daintily rewriting them. Then she looked up.

'Pamela asked me to go back to her. And I was to say, will you come,
or shall she send tea here?'

'Oh, I'll come, I'll come. I've got something to say to Pamela,'
said the Squire, frowning. And he stalked in front of her along the
library passage, his brilliant white hair gleaming in its shadows.
It was well perhaps that he did not see the amusement which played
round Elizabeth Bremerton's handsome mouth as she pursued him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tea was laid on a flagged walk under a glazed pergola running along
part of the southern wall of the house. Here Pamela was sitting
waiting, with a basket of knitting on her knee which she put out of
sight as soon as she heard her father's step. She had taken off her
hat, and her plentiful brown hair was drawn in a soft wave across
her forehead, and thickly coiled behind a shapely head. She was very
young, and very pretty. Perhaps the impression of youth
predominated, youth uncertain of itself, conscious rather of its own
richness and force than of any definite aims or desires. Her
expression was extremely reserved. A veil seemed to lie over her
deep, heavy-lidded eyes, and over features that had now delicacy and
bloom, but promised much more--something far beyond any mere girlish
prettiness. She was tall and finely made, and for the school
tableaux in which she had frequently helped she had been generally
cast for such parts as 'Nausicaa among her maidens,' 'Athene
lighting the way for Odysseus and Telemachus,' 'Dante's Beatrice,'
or any other personage requiring dignity, even a touch of majesty.
Flowing skirts, indeed, at once made a queen of her. It was evident
that she was not at her ease with her father; nor, as yet, with her
father's new secretary.

The contrast between this lady and Pamela Mannering was obvious at
once. If Pamela suggested romance, Elizabeth Bremerton suggested
efficiency, cheerfulness, and the practical life. Her grandmother
had been Dutch, and in Elizabeth the fair skin and yellow-gold hair
(Rembrandt's 'Saskia' shows the type) of many Dutch forebears had
reappeared. She was a trifle plump; her hair curled prettily round
her temples; her firm dimpled chin and the fair complexion of her
face and neck were set off, evidently with intention, by the plain
blouse of black silky stuff, open at the neck, and showing a modest
string of small but real pearls. The Squire, who had a wide
knowledge of jewels, had noticed these pearls at once. It seemed to
him--vaguely--that lady secretaries should not possess real pearls;
or if they did possess them, should carefully keep them to
themselves.

He accepted a cup of tea from his daughter, and drank it absently
before he asked:

'Where's Desmond?'

'He went to lunch at Fallerton--at the camp. Captain Byles asked
him. I think afterwards he was going to play in a match.'

The same thought passed through the minds of both father and
daughter. 'This day week, Desmond will be gone.' In Pamela it
brought back the dull pain of which she was now habitually
conscious--the pain of expected parting. In her father it aroused an
equally habitual antagonism--the temper, indeed, of ironic
exasperation in which all his thinking and doing were at the moment
steeped. He looked up suddenly.

'Pamela, I have got something disagreeable to say to you.'

His daughter turned a startled face.

'I have had a quarrel with Sir Henry Chicksands, and I do not wish
you, or Desmond, or any of my children, to have any communication
henceforth with him, or with any of his family!'

'Father, what _do_ you mean?'

The girl's incredulous dismay only increased the Squire's
irritation.

'I mean what I say. Of course your married sisters and Aubrey will
do what they please, though I have warned Aubrey how I shall view it
if he takes sides against me. But you and Desmond are under my
control--you, at any rate. I forbid you to go to Chetworth, and your
friendship with Beryl must be given up.'

'Father!' cried his daughter passionately, 'she is my best friend,
and she is engaged to Aubrey.'

'If they are wise, they will break it off. Family quarrels are
awkward things. And if Aubrey has any feeling for his father, he
will be as angry as I am.'

'What _has_ Sir Henry been doing, father?'

'Taking my own property out of my hands, my dear, giving notice to
my farmers, and proposing to plough up my park, without my consent.
That's all--just a trifle. But it's a trifle I shall fight!'

The Squire struck the arm of his chair with a long and bony hand.

'Why, it's only because they _must_!' said the girl half scornfully,
her breath fluttering. 'Think what other people put up with,
father. And what they do! And we do _nothing_!'

Every word was said with difficulty, torn out of her by the shock of
her father's statement. The Squire stared at her threateningly a
little, then quieted down. He did not want a wrangle with Pamela, to
whom in general he was not unkind, while keeping a strict rule over
her.

'Do nothing? What should we do? As if the war did not bleed us at
every turn already. I warn you all I shan't be able to pay the
income tax next year. Mannering will be sold up.' And thrusting his
hands again into his pockets, he looked gloomily before him, over a
piece of ill-kept garden, to the sloping park and blue interlacing
hills that filled the distance.

Elizabeth Bremerton put down her teacup, glanced at the father and
daughter, and went discreetly away, back to the library and her
work.

Pamela hesitated a little, but at last moved nearer to him, and put
a hand on his arm.

'Father! I dreadfully want you to let me do something!'

'Eh, what?' said Mannering, rousing himself. 'Don't try and coax me,
child. It doesn't answer.'

'I don't want to coax you,' said the girl proudly withdrawing her
hand. 'It's a very simple thing. Will you let me go and do day work
at the new Hospital, just across the park? They want some help in
the housework. There are fifty wounded men there.'

'Certainly not,' said Mannering firmly. 'You are too young. You have
your education to think of. I told you I engaged Miss Bremerton to
give you two hours' classics a day. When we've arranged these pots,
she'll be free. You must also keep up your music. You have no time
for housemaiding. And I don't approve of housemaiding for my
daughter.'

'The nicest girls I know are doing _anything_--scrubbing, washing
up, polishing bath-taps, making swabs, covering splints,' said
Pamela in a low voice. 'There are two of the Joyce girls at this
hospital, just my age. Of course they don't let you do any
nursing--for months.'

'Lord Entwhistle may do what he likes with his girls. I propose to
do what I think best with mine,' said Mannering as he rose.

Then the girl's passion broke out.

'It's _horrible_, father, that you won't do anything for the war, or
let me do anything. Oh, I'm _glad_'--she clenched her hands as she
stood opposite him, her beautiful head thrown back--'I'm thankful,
that you can't stop Desmond!'

Mannering looked at her, frowned, turned abruptly, and went away
whistling.

Pamela was left alone in the September evening. She betook herself
to an old grass-grown walk between yew hedges at the bottom of the
Dutch garden, and paced it in a tumult of revolt and pain. Not to go
to Chetworth again! not to see Beryl, or any of them! How cruel! how
monstrously unjust!

'I shan't obey!--why should I? Beryl and I must manage to see each
other--of course we shall! Girls aren't the slaves they used to be.
If a thing is unjust, we can fight it--we ought to fight
it!--somehow. Poor, poor Beryl! Of course Aubrey will stick to her,
whatever father does. He would be a cur if he didn't. Desmond and I
would never speak to him again!... Beryl'll have Arthur to help
her, directly. Oh, I _wish_ I had a brother like Arthur!' Her face
softened and quivered as she stood still a moment, sending her
ardent look towards the sunset. 'I think I shall ask him to advise
me.... I don't suppose he will.... How provoking he used to be! but
awfully kind too. He'll think I ought to do what father tells me.
How can I! It's wrong--it's abominable! Everybody despises us. And
Desmond's dying to be off--to get away from it all--like Aubrey. He
hates it so--he almost hates coming home! It's _humiliating_, and
it's not our fault!'

Such cries and thoughts ran through her as she walked impetuously up
and down, in rebellion against her father, unhappy for her girl
friend, and smarting under the coercion put upon her patriotism and
her conscience. For she had only two months before left a school
where the influence of a remarkable head-mistress had been directed
towards awakening in a group of elder girls, to which Pamela
belonged, a vivid consciousness of the perils and sufferings of the
war--of the sacredness of the cause for which England was fighting,
of the glory of England, and the joy and privilege of English
citizenship. In these young creatures the elder woman had kindled a
flame of feeling which, when they parted from her and their school
life--so she told them--was to take practical effect in work for
their country, given with a proud and glad devotion.

But Pamela, leaving school at the end of July for the last time,
after a surfeit of examinations, had been pronounced 'tired out' by
an old aunt, a certain Lady Cassiobury, who came for long periodical
visits to Mannering, and made a show of looking after her
motherless niece. Accordingly she had been packed off to Scotland
for August to stay with a school friend, one of a large family in a
large country house in the Highlands. And there, roaming amid lochs
and heather, with a band of young people, the majority of the men,
of course, in the Army--young officers on short leave, or
temporarily invalided, or boys of eighteen just starting their cadet
training--she had spent a month full of emotions, not often
expressed. For generally she was shy and rather speechless, though
none the less liked by her companions for that. But many things sank
deep with her; the beauty of mountain and stream; the character
of some of the boys she walked and fished with--unnoticed
sub-lieutenants, who had come home to get cured of one wound, and
were going out again to the immediate chance of another, or worse;
the tales of heroism and death of which the Scotch countryside was
full. Her own mood was tuned thereby to an ever higher and more
tragic key. Nobody indeed of the party was the least tragic.
Everybody walked, fished, flirted, and laughed from morning till
night. Yet every newspaper, every post, brought news of some death
that affected one or other of the large group; and amid all the
sheer physical joy of the long days in the open, bathed in sun and
wind, there was a sense in all of them--or almost all of them--that
no summer now is as the summers of the past, that behind and around
the laughter and the picnicking there lay the Shadow that darkens
the world.

One gorgeous evening of gold and purple she was sitting by a
highland stream with a lad of twenty, throwing ducks and drakes into
the water. She was not at all in love with him; but, immature as she
was, she could not help seeing that he was a good deal in love with
her. He had been in uproarious spirits all the afternoon, and then
somehow he had contrived to find this moment alone with her.

'Well, it'll be good-bye to-morrow, or perhaps to-night,' he had
said, as he flung yet another stone into the river, and she clapped
her hands as she counted no less than six skips along the smooth
water.

'And then no leave for a long time?'

'Well, I'd been ten months without any before.'

'Perhaps we'll meet here again--next year.'

'I don't expect it,' he said quietly.

Her startled eyes met his full.

'It'll be worse fighting this winter than last--it'll go on getting
worse till the end. I don't look to coming back.'

His tone was so cheerful and matter-of-fact that it confused her.

'Oh, Basil, don't talk like that!' was all she could find to say.

'Why not? Of course it's better not to talk about it. Nobody does.
But just this afternoon--when it's been so jolly--here with you, I
thought I'd like to say a word. Perhaps you'll remember--'

He threw another stone, and on the moor beyond the stream she heard
the grouse calling.

'Remember what?'

'That I was quite willing,' he said simply. 'That's all. It's worth
it.'

She could say nothing, but presently her hand dropped its pebble and
found its way into his, and he had held it without saying a word for
a little while. Then after dinner, with no good-bye to her, he had
disappeared by the night train to the south.

And that had been the spirit of all of them, those jolly, rampagious
lads, plain or handsome, clever or slow. Two of them were dead
already. But the one who had thrown ducks and drakes was still, so
far as she knew, somewhere in the Ypres salient, unscathed.

And after that she had come home to the atmosphere created by her
father's life and character, in this old house where she was born,
and in the estate round about it. It was as though she had only just
realized--begun to realize--her father's strangeness. His
eccentricities and unpopularity had meant little to her before. Her
own real interests had lain elsewhere; and her mind had been too
slow in developing to let her appreciate his fundamental difference
from other people.

At any rate her father's unpopularity had been lately acute, and
Pamela herself felt it bitterly, and shrank from her neighbours and
the cottage people. When Desmond came home with a D.S.O., or a
Victoria Cross, as of course he would, she supposed it would be all
right. But meanwhile not a single thing done for the war!--not a
_sou_ to the Red Cross, or to any war funds! And hundreds spent on
antiquities--thousands perhaps--getting them deeper and deeper into
debt. For she was quite aware that they were in debt; and her own
allowance was of the smallest. Two hundred and fifty a year, too,
for Miss Bremerton!--when they could barely afford to keep up the
garden decently, or repair the house. She knew it was two hundred
and fifty pounds. Her father was never reticent about such things,
and had named the figure at once.

'Why wasn't Miss Bremerton doing something for the war? _Greek_
indeed! when there was this fearful thing going on!' And in the
evening air, as the girl turned her face towards the moonrise, she
seemed to hear the booming of the Flanders guns.

And now Miss Bremerton was to do the housekeeping, and to play tutor
and chaperon to her. Pamela resented both. If she was not to be
allowed to scrub in a hospital, she might at least have learnt some
housekeeping at home, for future use. As for the Greek lessons, it
was not easy for her to be positively rude to any one, but she
promised herself a good deal of passive resistance on that side. For
if nothing else was possible, she could always sew and knit for the
soldiers. Pamela was not very good at either, but they did something
to lessen the moral thirst in her.

Ah, there was the library door. Miss Bremerton coming out--perhaps
to propose a lesson! Pamela took to flight--noiseless and
rapid--among the bosky corners and walks of the old garden.

Elizabeth emerged, clearly perceiving a gleam of vanishing white in
the far distance. She sighed, but not at all sentimentally. 'It's
silly how she dislikes me,' she thought. 'I wonder what I can do!'

Then her eye was caught by the tea-table still standing out in the
golden dusk, which had now turned damp and chilly. Careless of
Pamela not to have sent it away! Elizabeth examined it. Far too many
cakes--too much sugar, too much butter, too much everything! And all
because the Squire, who seemed to have as great a need of economy as
anybody else, if not more, to judge from what she was beginning to
know about his affairs, was determined to flout the Food
Controller, and public opinion! What about the servants? she
wondered.

Perceiving a little silver bell on the table she rang it and waited.
Within a couple of minutes Forest emerged from the house. Elizabeth
hesitated, then plunged.

'Take away the tea, please, Forest. And--and I should like to
consult you. Do you think anybody wants as much tea and cakes in
war-time?' She pointed to the table.

Forest paused as he was lifting the silver tray, and put it down
again. He looked at the table; then he looked at the lady opposite.

'We servants, Miss, have never been asked what _we_ think. Mr.
Mannering--that's not his way.'

'But I may ask it, mayn't I, Forest?'

Forest's intelligent face flamed.

'Well, if we've really to speak out what we think, Miss--that's Cook
and me--why, of course, the feeding here--well, it's a scandal!
that's what it is. The Master will have it. No change, he says, from
what it used to be. And the waste--well, you ask Cook! _She_ can't
help it!'

'Has she been here long, Forest?'

'Fifteen years.'

'And you?'

'Twenty-two, Miss.'

'Well, Forest,' Miss Bremerton approached him confidingly, 'don't
you think that you, and Cook, and I--you know Mr. Mannering wishes
me to do the housekeeping--well, that between us we could do
something?'

Forest considered it.

'I don't see why not, Miss,' he said at last, with caution. 'You can
reckon on me, that's certain, and on Cook, that's certain too. As
for the young uns, we can get round them! They'll eat what they're
given. But you'll have to go careful with the Squire.'

Miss Bremerton smiled and nodded. They stood colloguing in the
twilight for ten minutes more.



CHAPTER III


'I say, Pamela, who _is_ this female, and why has she descended on
us?'

The speaker was Desmond Mannering. He was sitting on the edge of a
much dilapidated arm-chair in the room which had been the twins'
"den" from their childhood, in which Pamela's governess even, before
the girl's school years, was allowed only on occasional and
precarious footing. Here Pamela dabbed in photography, made
triumphant piles of the socks and mittens she kept from her father's
eye, read history, novels, and poetry, and wrote to her school
friends and the boys she had met in Scotland. Ranged along the
mantelpiece were numbers of snapshots--groups and single
figures--taken by her, with results that showed her no great
performer.

At the moment, however, Pamela was engaged in marking Desmond's
socks. She was very jealous of her sisterly prerogative in the
matter of Desmond's kit, and personal affairs generally. Forest was
the only person she would allow to advise her, and one or two
innocent suggestions made that morning by her new chaperon had
produced a good deal of irritation.

Pamela looked up with a flushed countenance.

'I believe father did it specially that he might be able to tell
Alice and Margaret that he hadn't a farthing for their war
charities.'

'You mean because she costs so much?'

'Two hundred and fifty,' said Pamela drily.

'My hat!--and her keep! I call that mean of father,' said Desmond
indignantly. 'You can't go tick with a secretary. It means cash.
There'll never be anything for you, Pam, and nothing for the garden.
The two old fellows that were here last week have been turned off,
Forest tells me?'

'Father expects me to do the garden,' said Pamela, with rather
pinched lips.

'Well, jolly good thing,' laughed her brother. 'Do you a lot of
good, Pam. You never get half enough exercise.'

'I wouldn't mind if I were paid wages and could spend the money as I
liked.'

'Poor old Pam! It is hard lines. I heard father tell the Rector he'd
spent eighteen hundred at that sale.'

'And I'm ashamed to face any of the tradesmen,' said Pamela
fiercely. 'Why they go on trusting us I don't know.'

Desmond looked out of the window with a puckered brow--a slim figure
in his cadet's uniform. To judge from a picture on the wall behind
his head, an enlarged photograph of the late Mrs. Mannering taken a
year before the birth of the twins--an event which had cost the
mother her life--Desmond resembled her rather than his father. In
both faces there was the same smiling youthfulness, combined--as
indeed also in Pamela--with something that entirely banished any
suggestion of insipidity--something that seemed to say, 'There is a
soul here--and a brain.' It had sometimes occurred, in a dreamy way
to Pamela, to connect that smile on her mother's face with a line in
a poem of Browning's, which she had learnt for recitation at
school:

               This grew; I gave commands;
          Then all smiles stopped together.

Had her mother been happy? That her children could never know.

Desmond's countenance, however, soon cleared. It was impossible for
him to frown for long on any subject. He was very sorry for 'old
Pam.' His father's opinions and behaviour were too queer for words.
He would be jolly worried if he had to stay long at home, like
Pamela. But then he wasn't going to be long at home. He was going
off to his artillery camp in two days, and the thought filled him
with a restless and impatient delight. At the same time he was more
tolerant of his father than Pamela was, though he could not have
told why.

'Desmond, give me your foot,' Pamela presently commanded.

The boy bared his foot obediently, and held it out while Pamela
tried on a sock she had just finished knitting on a new pattern.

'I'm not very good at it,' sighed Pamela. 'Are you sure you can wear
them, Dezzy?'

'Wear them? Ripping!' said the boy, surveying his foot at different
angles. 'But you know, Pam, I can't take half the things you want me
to take. What on earth did you get me a Gieve waistcoat for?'

'How do you know you won't be going to Mesopotamia?'

'Well, I don't know; but I don't somehow think it's very likely.
They get their drafts from Egypt, and there's lots of artillery
there.'

Pamela remembered with annoyance that Miss Bremerton had gently
hinted the same thing when the Gieve waistcoat had been unpacked in
her presence. It was true, of course, that she had a brother
fighting under General Maude. That, no doubt, did give her a modest
right to speak.

'How old do you think she is?' said Desmond, nodding in the
direction of the library.

'Well, she's over thirty.'

'She doesn't look it.'

'Oh, Desmond, she does!'

'Let's call her the New Broom--Broomie for short,' said Desmond.
'Look here, Pam, I wish you'd try and like her. I shall have a
dreadful hump when I get to camp if I think she's going to make you
miserable.'

'Oh, I'll try,' said the girl with dreary resignation. 'You know I'm
not to see Beryl again?' She looked up.

Her brother laughed.

'Don't I see you keeping to that! If Aubrey's any good he'll marry
her straight away. And then how can father boycott her after that?'

'He will,' said Pamela decisively.

'And if father thinks I'm going to give up Arthur, he's jolly well
mistaken,' said the boy with energy. 'Arthur's the best fellow I
know, and he's been just ripping to me.'

The young face softened and glowed as though under the stress of
some guarded memory. Pamela, looking up, caught her brother's
expression and glowed too.

'Beryl says he isn't a bit strong yet. But he's moving heaven and
earth to get back to the front.'

'Well, if they don't give him enough to do he'll be pretty sick.
He's no good at loafing.'

There was silence a little. Outside a misty sunshine lay on the
garden and the park and in it the changing trees were beginning to
assume the individuality and separateness of autumn after the
levelling promiscuity of the summer. The scene was very English and
peaceful; and between it and the two young creatures looking out
upon it there were a thousand links of memory and association.
Suddenly Desmond said:

'Do you remember that bother I got into at Eton, Pam?'

Pamela nodded. Didn't she remember it? A long feud with another
boy--ending in a highly organized fight--absolute defiance of tutor
and housemaster on Desmond's part--and threatened expulsion. The
Squire's irritable pride had made him side ostentatiously with his
son, and Pamela could only be miserable and expect the worst. Then
suddenly the whole convulsion had quieted down, and Desmond's last
year at Eton had been a very happy one. Why? What had happened?
Pamela had never known.

'Well, Arthur heard of it from "my tutor." He and Arthur were at
Trinity together. And Arthur came over from Cambridge and had me out
for a walk, and jawed me, jawed "my tutor," jawed the Head, jawed
everybody. Oh, well no good going into the rotten thing,' said
Desmond, flushing, 'but Arthur was awfully decent anyway.'

Pamela assented mutely. She did not want to talk about Arthur
Chicksands. There was in her a queer foreboding sense about him. She
did not in the least expect him to fall in love with her; yet there
was a dim, intermittent fear in her lest he might become too
important to her, together with a sharp shrinking from the news,
which of course might come any day, that he was going to be married.
She had known him from her childhood, had romped and sparred with
him. He was the gayest, most charming companion; yet he carried with
him, quite unconsciously, something that made it delightful to be
smiled at or praised by him, and a distress when you did not get on
with him, and were quite certain that he thought you silly or
selfish. There was a rumour which reached Mannering after the second
battle of Ypres that he had been killed. The Chicksands' household
believed it for twenty-four hours.

Then he was discovered--gassed and stunned--in a shell-hole, and
there had been a long illness and convalescence. During the
twenty-four hours when he was believed to be dead, Pamela had spent
the April daylight in the depths of the Mannering woods, in tangled
hiding-places that only she knew. It was in the Easter holidays. She
was alone at Mannering with an old governess, while her father was
in London. The little wrinkled Frenchwoman watched her in silence,
whenever she was allowed to see her. Then when on the second morning
there came a telegram from Chetworth, and Pamela tore it open,
flying with it before she read it to the secrecy of her own room,
the Frenchwoman smiled and sighed. 'Ca, c'est l'amour!' she said to
herself, 'assurément c'est l'amour!' And when Pamela came down
again, radiant as a young seraph, and ready to kiss the apple-red
cheek of the Frenchwoman--the rarest concession!--Madame Guérin did
not need to be told that Arthur Chicksands was safe and likely to be
sound.

But the Frenchwoman's inference was premature. During the two years
she had been at school, Pamela had thought very little of Arthur
Chicksands. She was absorbed in one of those devotions to a
woman--her schoolmistress--very common among girls of strong
character, and sometimes disastrous. In her case it had worked well.
And now the period of extravagant devotion was over, and the girl's
mind and heart set free. She thought she had forgotten Arthur
Chicksands, and was certain he must have forgotten her. As it
happened they had never met since his return to the front in the
autumn of 1915--Pamela was then seventeen and a schoolgirl--or, as
she now put it, a baby. She remembered the child who had hidden
herself in the woods as something very far away.

And yet she did not want to talk about 'Arthur,' as she had always
called him, and there was a certain tremor and excitement in her
mind about him. The idea of being prevented from seeing him was
absurd--intolerable. She was already devising ways and means of
doing it. It was really not to be expected that filial obedience
should reign at Mannering.

       *       *       *       *       *

The twins had long left the subject of the embargo on Chetworth, and
were wrangling and chaffing over the details of Desmond's packing,
when there was a knock at the door.

Pamela stiffened at once.

'Come in!'

Miss Bremerton entered.

'Are you very busy?'

'Not at all!' said Desmond politely, scurrying with his best Eton
manners to find a chair for the newcomer. 'It's an awful muddle, but
that's Pamela!'

Pamela aimed a sponge-bag at him, which he dodged, and Elizabeth
Bremerton sat down.

'I want to hold a council with you,' she said, turning a face just
touched with laughter from one to the other. 'Do you mind?'

'Certainly not,' said Desmond, sitting on the floor with his hands
round his knees. 'What's it about?' And he gave Pamela's right foot
a nudge with his left by way of conveying to her that he thought her
behaviour ungracious. Pamela hurriedly murmured, 'Delighted.'

'I want to tell you about the servants,' said Elizabeth. 'I can't do
anything unless you help me.'

'Help you in what?' said Desmond, wondering.

'Well, you know, it's simply scandalous what you're all eating in
this house!' exclaimed Elizabeth, with sudden energy. 'You ought to
be fined.' She frowned, and her fair Dutch complexion became a
bright pink.

'It's quite true,' said Pamela, startled. 'I told father, and he
laughed at me.'

'But now even the servants are on strike,' said Elizabeth. 'It's
Forest that's been preaching to them. He and Cook have been drawing
up a week's _menu_, according to the proper scale. But--'

'Father won't have it,' said Pamela decidedly.

'An idea has occurred to me,' was Elizabeth's apologetic reply.
'Your father doesn't come in to lunch?'

'Happy thought!' cried Desmond. 'Send him in a Ritz luncheon, while
the rest of you starve. Easy enough for me to say as I'm off--and
soldiers aren't rationed! We may be as greedy pigs as we like.'

'What do you say?' Elizabeth looked at Pamela. The girl was
flattered by the deference shown her, and gradually threw herself
into the little plot. How to set up a meatless day for the
household, minus the Squire, and not be found out; how to restrict
the bread and porridge allowance, while apparently outrunning
it--knotty problems! into which the twins plunged with much laughter
and ingenuity. At the end of the discussion, Elizabeth said with
hesitation, 'I don't like not telling Mr. Mannering, but--'

'Oh no, you can't tell him' said Pamela, in her most resolute tone.
'Besides, it's for the country!'

'Yes, it's the country!' echoed Elizabeth. 'Oh, I'm so glad you
agree with me. Forest's splendid!'

'I say, Broomie's not bad,' thought Desmond. Aloud he said,
'Forest's a regular Turk in the servants' hall--rules them all with
a rod of iron.'

Elizabeth laughed. 'He tells me there was a joint of cold beef last
night for supper, and he carried it away bodily back into the
larder. And they all supped on fried potatoes, cheese, oatcake and
jam! So then I asked him whether anybody minded, and he said the
little kitchen-maid cried a bit, and said she "was used to her
vittles and her mother would be dreadfully put out." "'_Mother_!'
says I, 'haven't you got _a young man_!' And then I give her a real
talking to about the war. 'You back your young man,' I said, 'and
there's only one way as females can do it--barring them as is in
munitions. Every bit of bread you don't eat is helping to kill
Boches. And what else is your young man doin'? Where do you say he
is? Wipers? You ask him. He'll tell you!' So then we were all nice
and comfortable--and you needn't bother about us downstairs. _We're_
all right!"'

'Good old Forest!' laughed Desmond, delighted. 'I always knew he was
the real boss here. Father thinks he is, but he can't do without
Forest, and the old boy knows it.'

'Well, so that's agreed,' said Elizabeth demurely, as she rose. 'I
naturally couldn't do anything without you, but so long as your
father gets everything that he's accustomed to--'

'I don't see quite what you're going to do about dinner--late
dinner, I mean?' said Pamela pensively.

Elizabeth beamed at her.

'Well, I became a vegetarian last week, except for very occasional
break-outs. Fish is a vegetable!'

'I see,' reflected Pamela. 'We can break out now and then at dinner,
when father's got his eye on us--'

'And be pure patriots at lunch,' laughed Miss Bremerton, as she
opened the door. 'Au revoir! I must go back to work.'

She vanished. The brother and sister looked at each other.

Desmond gave his opinion.

'I believe she's a good sort!'

'"Wait and see,"' said Pamela pompously, and returned to her
packing.

       *       *       *       *       *

The preceding conversation took place during a break in Elizabeth's
morning occupations. She had been busily occupied in collecting and
copying out some references from Pausanias, under the Squire's
direction. He meanwhile had been cataloguing and noting his new
possessions, which, thanks to the aid of his henchman Levasseur, had
been already arranged. And they made indeed a marvellous addition to
the Mannering library and its collections. At the end of the room
stood now a huge archaic Nikê, with outstretched peplum and soaring
wings. To her left was the small figure, archaic also, of a
charioteer, from the excavations at Delphi, amazingly full of life
in spite of hieratic and traditional execution. But the most
conspicuous thing of all was a mutilated Erôs, by a late Rhodian
artist--subtle, thievish, lovely, breathing an evil and daemonic
charm. It stood opposite the Nikê, 'on tiptoe for a flight.' And
there was that in it which seemed at moments to disorganize the
room, and lay violent and exclusive hold on the spectator.

Elizabeth on returning to her table found the library empty. The
Squire had been called away by his agent and one of the new
officials of the county, and had not yet returned. She expected him
to return in a bad--possibly an outrageous temper. For she gathered
that the summons had something to do with the decree of the County
War Agricultural Committee that fifty acres, at least, of Mannering
Park were to be given back to the plough, which, indeed, had only
ceased to possess them some sixty years before. The Squire had gone
out pale with fury, and she looked anxiously at her work, to see
what there might be in it to form an excuse for a hurricane.

She could find nothing, however, likely to displease a sane man. And
as she was at a standstill till he came back, she slipped an
unfinished letter out of her notebook, and went on with it. It was
to a person whom she addressed as 'my darling Dick.'

    'I have now been rather more than a month here. You can't
    imagine what a queer place it is, nor what a queer employer I
    have struck. There might be no war--as far as Mannering is
    concerned. The Squire is always engaged in mopping it out, like
    Mrs. Partington. He takes no newspaper, except a rag called the
    _Lanchester Mail_, which attacks the Government, the Army--as
    far as it dare--and "secret diplomacy." It comes out about once
    a week with a black page, because the Censor has been sitting on
    it. Desmond Mannering--that's the gunner-son who came on leave a
    week ago and is just going off to an artillery camp--and I,
    conspire through the butler--who is a dear, and a patriot--to
    get the _Times_; but the Squire never sees it. Desmond reads it
    in bed in the morning, I read it in bed in the evening, and
    Pamela Mannering, Mr. Desmond's twin, comes in last thing, in
    her dressing-gown, and steals it.

    'I seem indeed to be living in the heart of a whirlwind, for the
    Squire is fighting everybody all round, and as he is the least
    reticent of men, and I have to write his letters, I naturally,
    even by now, know a good deal about him. Shortly put, he is in a
    great mess. The estate is riddled with mortgages, which it would
    be quite easy to reduce. For instance, there are masses of
    timber, crying to be cut. He consults me often in the naïvest
    way. You remember that I trained for six months as an
    accountant. I assure you that it comes in extremely useful now!
    I can see my way a little where he can't see it at all. He
    glories in the fact that he was never any good at arithmetic or
    figures of any kind, and never looked at either after "Smalls."
    The estate of course used to be looked after in the good
    old-fashioned way by the family lawyers. But a few years ago
    the Squire quarrelled with these gentlemen, recovered all his
    papers, which no doubt went back to King Alfred, and resolved to
    deal with things himself. There is an office here, and a small
    attorney from Fallerton comes over twice or three times a week.
    But the Squire bosses it. And you never saw anything like his
    accounts! I have been trying to put some of them straight--just
    those that concern the house and garden--after six weeks'
    acquaintance! Odd, isn't it? He is like an irritable child with
    them. And his agent, who is seventy, and bronchitic, is the
    greatest fool I ever saw. He neglects everything. _His_ accounts
    too, as far as I have inspected them, are disgraceful. He does
    nothing for the farmers, and the farmers do exactly as they
    please with the land.

    'Or did! For now comes the rub. Government is interfering,
    through the County Committee. They are turning out three of Mr.
    Mannering's farmers by force, because he won't do it himself,
    and ploughing up the park. I believe the steam tractor comes
    next week. The Squire has been employing some new lawyers to
    find out if he can't stop it somehow. And each time he sees them
    he comes home madder than before.

    'Of course it all comes from a passionate antagonism to the war.
    He is not a pacifist exactly--he is not a conscientious
    objector. He is just an individualist gone mad--an egotistical,
    hot-tempered man, with all the ideas of the old _régime_, who
    thinks he can fight the world. I am often really sorry for
    him--he is so preposterous. But the muddle and waste of it all
    drives me crazy--you know I always was a managing creature.

    'But one thing is certain--that he is a most excellent scholar.
    I knew I had got rusty, but I didn't know how rusty till I came
    to work for him. He has a wonderful memory--seems to know every
    Greek author by heart--and a most delicate and unerring taste. I
    thought I should find a mere dabbler--an amateur. And it takes
    all I know to do the drudgery work he gives me. And then he is
    always coming down upon me. It delights him to find me out in a
    howler--makes him, in fact, quite good-tempered for twenty
    minutes.

    'As to the rest of the family, there is a charming boy and
    girl--twins of nineteen, the boy just off to an artillery camp
    after his cadet training; the girl extremely pretty and
    distinguished, and so far inclined to think me an intruder and a
    nuisance. How to get round her I don't exactly know, but I
    daresay I shall manage it somehow. If she would only set up a
    love-affair I could soon get the whip-hand of her!

    'Then there is the priceless butler, with whom I have already
    made friends. I seem to have a taste for butlers, though I've
    never lived with one. He is fifty-two and a volunteer, in stark
    opposition to the Squire, who jeers at him perpetually. Forest
    takes it calmly, seems even in a queer way to be attached to his
    queer master. But he never misses a drill for anybody or any
    weather, and when he's out, the under-housemaid "buttles" for
    him like a lamb. The fact is, of course, that he's been here for
    twenty years, and the Squire couldn't get on for a day without
    him, or thinks he couldn't. So that his position is, as you may
    say, strongly entrenched, and counter-attacks are useless.

    'The married daughters--Mrs. Gaddesden, who, I think, is an
    Honourable, and Mrs. Strang--are coming to-morrow to see their
    brother before he goes into camp. The Squire doesn't want them
    at all. Ah, there he comes! I'll finish later...'

       *       *       *       *       *

The Squire came in--to use one of the Homeric similes of which he
was so fond--'like a lion fresh from a slain bull, bespattered with
blood and mire.' He had gone out pale, he returned crimson, rubbing
his hands and in great excitement. And it was evident that he had by
now formed the habit of talking freely to his secretary. For he went
up to her at once.

'Well, now they know what to expect!' he said, his eyes glittering,
and all his thick hair on his small peaked head standing up in a
high ridge, like the crest of a battle-helmet.

'Who are "they"?' asked Elizabeth, smiling, as she quietly pushed
her letter a little further under the blotting-paper.

'The County Council idiots--no, the Inspector fellow they're sending
round.'

'And what did you tell him?'

'That I should resist their entry. The gates of the park will be
locked. And my lawyers are already preparing a case for the High
Court. Well--eh!--what?'--the speaker wound up impatiently, as
though waiting for an immediate and applauding response.

Elizabeth was silent. She bent over the Greek book in front of her,
as though looking for her place.

'You didn't think I was going to take it lying down!' asked the
Squire, in a raised voice. Her silence suggested to him afresh all
the odious and tyrannical forces by which he felt himself
surrounded.

Elizabeth turned to him with a cheerful countenance.

'I don't quite understand what "it" means,' she said politely.

'Nonsense, you do!' was the angry reply. 'That's so like a woman.
They always want to catch you out; they never see things simply and
broadly. You'd like to make yourself out a fool--[Greek: nêpia]--and
you're not a fool!'

And with his hands in his pockets he made two or three long strides
up to the Nikê, at the further end of the room, and back, pulling up
beside her again, as though challenging her reply.

'I assure you, sir, I wasn't trying to catch you out,' Elizabeth
began in her gentlest voice.

'Don't call me "sir." I won't have it!' cried the Squire, almost
stamping.

Then Elizabeth laughed outright.

'I'm sorry, but when I was working in the War Trade Department I
always called the head of my room "sir."'

'That's because women _like_ kow-towing--[Greek: doulosunên
anechesthai]!' said the Squire. Then he threw himself into a chair.
'Now let's talk sense a little.'

Elizabeth's attentive look, and lips quivering with amusement which
she tried in vain to suppress, and he was determined not to see,
showed her more than willing.

'I suppose you think--like that fellow I've just routed--that it's
a uestion of food production. It isn't! It's a question of
_liberty_--_versus_ bondage. If we can only survive as slaves, then
wipe us out! That's my view.'

'Wasn't there a bishop once who said he would rather have England
free than sober?' asked Elizabeth.

'And a very sensible man,' growled the Squire, 'though in general
I've no use for bishops. Now you understand, I hope? This is going
to be a test case. I'll make England ring.'

'Are you sure they can't settle it at once, under the Defence of the
Realm Act?'

'Not they!' said the Squire triumphantly. 'Of course, I'm not
putting up a frontal defence. I'm outflanking them. I'm proving that
this is the worst land they could possibly choose. I'm offering them
something else that they don't want. Meanwhile the gates shall be
locked, and if any one or anything breaks them down--my lawyers are
ready--we apply for an injunction at once.'

'And you're not--well, nervous?' asked Miss Bremerton, with a
charming air of presenting something that might have been
overlooked.

'Nervous of what?'

'Isn't the law--the new law--rather dreadfully strong?'

'Oh, you think I shall end in the county gaol?' said the Squire
abruptly. 'Well, of course'--he took a reflective turn up and
down--'I've no particular wish just now for the county gaol. It
would be an infernal nuisance--in the middle of this book. But I
mean to give them as much trouble as I can. I'm all right so far.'

He looked up suddenly, and caught an expression on his secretary's
face which called him to order at once, though he was not meant to
see it. Contempt?--cold contempt? Something like it.

The Squire drew himself up.

'You've made the arrangements, I suppose, for to-morrow?'

He spoke curtly, as the master of the house to a dependent.

Elizabeth meekly replied that she had done everything according to
his directions. Mrs. Gaddesden was to have the South rooms.

'I said the East rooms!'

'But I thought--' Elizabeth began, in consternation.

'You thought wrong,' said the Squire cuttingly. 'Do not trouble
yourself. I will tell Forest'

Elizabeth coloured crimson, and went on with her work. The Squire
rang the bell. But before Forest could answer it, there was a quick
step in the passage, and Desmond came bursting in.

'Pater, I say! it's too fine! You can't frowst all day at this
nonsense. Come out, and let's shoot those roots of Milsom's. He told
me yesterday there were five or six coveys in his big field alone.
Of course everybody's been poaching for all they're worth. But
there's some left. Forest'll get us some sandwiches. He says he'll
come and load for you. His boy and the garden boy'll do for
beaters.'

The Squire stood glumly hesitating, but with his eye on his son.

'Look here,' said Desmond, 'I've only got two days!'

Elizabeth could not help watching the boy--his look at his father,
the physical beauty and perfection of him. The great Victory at the
end of the room with her outstretched wings seemed to be hovering
above him.

'Well, I don't mind,' said the Squire slowly.

Desmond gave a laugh of triumph, twined his arm in that of his
father, and dragged him away.

       *       *       *       *       *

     'DEAR BELOVED DICK--I must just finish this before dinner. Oh,
     how I like to think of you at Baghdad, with trees and shade,
     and civilized quarters again, after all you've gone through.
     Have you got my letters, and those gauze things I sent you for
     the hot weather? They tell me here they're right. But how's one
     to know? Meanwhile, my dear, here are your mother and sister on
     their knees to you, just to be told what you want. Try and want
     something!--there's a dear.

     'Mother's fairly well--I mean as well as we can expect after
     such an illness. My salary here enables me to give her a proper
     trained nurse, and to send Jean to school. As to the rest,
     don't trouble about me, old man. Sometimes I think it was my
     pride more than anything else that was hurt a year ago. Anyway
     I find in myself a tremendous appetite for work. In spite of
     his oddities, Mr. Mannering is a most stimulating critic and
     companion. My work is interesting, and I find myself steeped
     once more in the most fascinating, the most wonderful of all
     literatures! What remains unsatisfied in me is the passion
     which you know I have always had for setting things
     straight--organizing, tidying up! Not to speak of other
     passions--for work directly connected with the war, for
     instance--which have had to be scrapped for a time. I can't
     bear the muddle and waste of this place. It gets on my nerves.
     Perhaps, if I stay, I may get a chance. I have made a small
     beginning--with the food. But I won't bother you with it.

     'Above all, I must try and make friends with the twins.
     Desmond would be easy, but he's going. Pamela will be more
     difficult. However, I shall do my best. As I have already said,
     if she would only set up a flirtation--a nice one--that I could
     aid and abet!

     'What will the married sisters be like? Desmond and Pamela say
     very little. All I know is that Alice--that's Mrs.
     Gaddesden--is to have a fire in her room all day, though the
     weather now is like July. To judge from her photographs, she is
     fair, rather pretty, stout and lethargic. Whereas Margaret is
     as thin almost as her father, and head-over-ears in war
     charities. She lives, says Pamela, on arrowroot and oatcake, to
     set an example, and her servants leave her regularly every
     month.

     'Well, we shall see. I run on like this, because you say you
     like to be gossipped to; and I am just a little lonely
     here--sometimes. Good-night, and good-bye.--Your devoted
     sister,

     'ELIZABETH.'



CHAPTER IV


'Come in!' said Alice Gaddesden in a languid tone. From the knock,
sharp and loud, on her bedroom door, she guessed that it was her
sister Margaret who wished to see her. She did not wish, however, to
see Margaret at all. Margaret, who was slightly the elder, tired and
coerced her. But she had no choice.

Mrs. Strang entered briskly.

'My dear Alice! what a time of day to be in bed! Are you really
ill?'

Mrs. Gaddesden grew red with annoyance.

'I thought I had told you, Margaret, that Dr. Crother advised me
more than a year ago not to come down till the middle of the
morning. It rests my heart.'

Mrs. Strang, who had come up to the bedside, looked down upon her
sister with amused eyes. She herself was curiously like the Squire,
even as to her hair, which was thick and fair, and already
whitening, though she was not yet thirty. Human thinness could
hardly have been carried further than she and the Squire achieved
it. She had her father's nose also. But the rest of her features
were delicately regular, and her quick blue eyes were those of a
woman who told no falsehoods herself, and had little patience with
other people's.

'My dear Alice, why do you believe doctors? They always tell you
what you want to hear. I am sure you told Dr. Crother exactly what
to say,' said Margaret, laughing, as she placed a chair by the
bedside.

'Oh, of course I know you think everybody's a sham who isn't as
strong as yourself!' said Mrs. Gaddesden, sinking back on her
pillows with a soft sigh of resignation. 'Though I think you _might_
have remembered the horribly hard work I've been doing lately.'

'Have you?' Mrs. Strang wrinkled her brow, as though in an effort to
recollect. 'Oh, yes, I know. I have always been getting notices
lately with your name on them, at the end of a long tail beginning
with a Duchess, and stuffed with Countesses. And I always
think--there's Alice doing the work, and the Countesses getting the
glory. Do you really do the work?'

And Margaret, who did not often see her sister, and was of a
genuinely inquiring turn of mind, turned upon her a penetrating
look.

'Well, of course,' said Mrs. Gaddesden, a little confused, 'there
are always the secretaries.'

'Ah-ha!' Mrs. Strang laughed--one might almost say crowed. 'Yes,
indeed, if it weren't for the secretaries! By the way, what do you
think about the specimen here?'

Mrs. Gaddesden lost her languid air at once. She sat up among her
pillows, a reasonably pretty woman, not without some likeness to
Pamela, in points that did not matter.

'My dear Margaret,' she said, with emphasis, 'this has got to be
watched!--_watched_, I tell you.'

Mrs. Strang opened her eyes wide.

'What on earth do you mean?'

Alice Gaddesden smiled.

'Well, of course, you're much cleverer than I am, but I really do
see further in practical matters than you do. Haven't you noticed,'
she bent forward, looking mysterious and intent, 'how _already_
father depends upon her, how she's beginning to run the whole
show--and she hasn't been here much more than six weeks? My dear
Margaret, with a secretary like that you _never_ can tell!'

'Well,' said Mrs. Strang coolly, 'and what then?'

'Oh, well, of course, if you're prepared to see a person like
that--in our mother's place!'

'"A person like that"--how dreadfully old-fashioned you are, Alice!
She's a lady; she's much more highly educated than you or I, and if
she gets her way, she'll perhaps keep father out of some of the
scrapes he seems bent on. You know this business of the park is
perfectly mad!'

For the first time in this conversation Margaret Strang's face was
grave. And when it was grave, some people would have called it fine.

'And just think what it'll cost,' said Mrs. Gaddesden despondently,
'even if he had a case--which he probably hasn't--and if he were to
win it. There'll be no money left for Aubrey or any of us soon.'

'But of course he hasn't a case, and of course he can't win!' cried
Margaret Strang. 'It's not that I care about--or the money--it's the
disgrace!'

'Yes,' murmured Alice doubtfully.

'When you think--'

Mrs. Strang paused; her bright blue eyes, alive with thoughts, were
fixed absently on her sister. She seemed to see a number of shabby
streets, where she was accustomed to work, with little shabby shops,
and placards on them--'No butter,' 'No milk,' and apples marked 4d.
each.

'Think what?' said Alice.

Mrs. Strang's mind returned to Alice, and Alice's very elaborate and
becoming _negligée_.

'Only that, in my opinion, it's the duty of every landowner to
produce every ounce of food he can, and to do what he's told! And
father not only sets a shocking example, but he picks this absurd
quarrel with the Chicksands. What on earth is Aubrey to do? Or poor
Beryl?'

'Well, he comes to-night,' said Alice, 'so I suppose we shall hear.
I can't make Aubrey out,' she added reflectively.

'Nobody can. I was talking to a brother-officer of his last week, a
man who's awfully fond of him. He told me Aubrey did his work very
well. He was complimented by Headquarters on his School only last
month. But he's like an automaton. Nobody really knows him, nobody
gets any forwarder with him. He hardly speaks to anybody except on
business. The mess regard him as a wet blanket, and his men don't
care about him, though he's a capital officer. Isn't it strange,
when one thinks of what Aubrey used to be five years ago?'

Alice agreed. Perhaps he was still suffering from the effects of his
wound in 1915.

'Anyway he can't give Beryl up,' said Margaret with energy, 'if he's
a man of honour!'

Alice shrugged her shoulders.

'Then he'll give up the estate, according to father.'

'Desmond would give it back to him, if there's anything left of it,
or if he wants it.'

'Margaret!'

'You think I don't care about the family--that there should always
be a Mannering of Mannering? Yes, I do care, but there are so many
other things now to care about,' added Mrs. Strang slowly.

'Who's making me late now?' said Alice, looking at her watch.

Margaret took the hint and departed.

       *       *       *       *       *

That same evening, in the September dusk, a dog-cart arrived at the
Hall, bringing Major Mannering and a Gladstone bag.

Pamela and Desmond rushed out to meet him. Their elder sisters were
dressing for dinner, and the Squire was in the library with
Elizabeth. The twins dragged the newcomer into their own den, and
shut the door upon him. There Desmond gave him a breathless survey
of the situation, while Pamela sat on a stool at his feet, and put
in explanatory words at intervals. Their father's extraordinary
preparations for waging war against the County Committee; his
violence on the subject of the Chicksands; Beryl's despairing
letters to Pamela; a letter from Arthur Chicksands to Desmond,--all
these various items were poured out on the newcomer, with an
eagerness and heat which showed the extreme interest which the twins
took in the situation.

Meanwhile Aubrey Mannering sat listening almost in silence. He was a
delicately built, distinguished-looking man, who carried a large
scar on his forehead, and had lost a finger of the left hand. The
ribbons on his breast showed that he was both an M.C. and a
D.S.O.--distinctions won at the second battle of Ypres and on the
Somme. While the twins talked, his eyes travelled from one to the
other, attentive, but curiously aloof.

He was saying to himself that Pamela was extremely pretty, and
Desmond a splendid fellow. Then--in a moment--while he looked at his
young brother, a vision, insistent, terrible, passed ghost-like
between him and the boy. Again and again he tried to shake it off,
and again and again it interposed.

'Oh, Aubrey, what will you do?' said Pamela despairingly, leaning
her head against her brother's knee.

Her voice recalled him. He laid his hand upon her beautiful hair.

'Well, dear, there's only one thing, of course, for me to do--to
stick to Beryl and let father do his worst.'

'Hurrah!' said Desmond. 'That's all right. And of course you know,
Aubrey, that if father tries any hankey-pankey with the estate, and
leaves it to me, I shall give it back to you next day.'

Aubrey smiled. 'Father'll live another twenty years, old man. Will
there be any England then, or any law, or any estates to leave?'

The twins looked at him in amazement. Again he recovered himself
quickly.

'I only meant that, in times like these, it's no good planning
anything twenty years ahead. We've got to win the war, haven't
we?--that's the first thing. Well, now, I must go and clean up.
Who's here?'

'Alice and Margaret,' said Pamela. 'And father's new secretary.'

'You never told me about him,' said Aubrey indifferently, as he
rose.

'"Him" indeed!' laughed Desmond. 'Nothing of the sort!'

Aubrey turned a puzzled look upon him.

'What! a lady?'

Desmond grinned.

'First Class in Mods, and an awful swell. Father can't let her out
of his sight. Says he never had anybody so good.'

'And she'll end by bossing us all,' put in Pamela. 'She's begun it
already. Now you really must go and dress.'

       *       *       *       *       *

When the eldest son of the house entered the drawing-room, he found
everybody gathered there but his father and the Rector, who was
coming to dine. He was at once seized on by his married sisters, who
saw him very rarely. Then Pamela led him up to a tall lady in pale
blue.

'My eldest brother--Miss Bremerton.'

He looked at her with curiosity, and was glad when, after the
arrival of his father and the Rector, it fell to him to take the new
secretary in to dinner. His father's greeting to him had been
decidedly cool--the greeting of a man who sees a fight impending and
wishes to give away nothing to his opponent. In fact the two men had
never been on really cordial terms since August 1914, when Aubrey
had thrown up his post in the Foreign Office to apply for one of the
first temporary commissions in the New Army. The news came at a
moment when the Squire was smarting under the breakdown of a
long-cherished scheme of exploration in the Greek islands, which was
to have been realized that very autumn--a scheme towards which his
whole narrow impetuous mind had been turned for years. No more
Hellenic or Asia Minor excavations! no more cosmopolitan
_Wissenschaft_! On that fatal August 4 a whole world went down
submerged beneath the waves of war, and the Squire cared for no
other. His personal chagrin showed itself in abuse of the bungling
diplomats and 'swashbuckler' politicians who, according to him, had
brought us into war. So that when Aubrey applied for a commission,
the Squire, mainly to relieve his own general irritation, had
quarrelled with him for some months, and was only outwardly
reconciled when his son came home invalided in 1915.

During the summer of 1917, Aubrey, after spending three days' leave
at Mannering, had gone on to stay at Chetworth with the Chicksands
for a week. The result of that visit was a letter to his father in
which he announced his engagement to Beryl. The Squire could make
then no open opposition, since he was still on friendly terms with
Sir Henry, who had indeed done him more than one good turn. But in
reply to his son's letter, he stood entirely on the defensive, lest
any claim should be made upon him which might further interfere with
the passion of his life. He was not, he said, in a position to
increase Aubrey's allowance--the Government robbers had seen to
that--and unless Beryl was prepared to be a poor man's wife he
advised them to wait till after the war. Then Sir Henry had ridden
over to Mannering with a statement of what he was prepared to do for
his daughter, and the Squire had given ungracious consent to a
marriage in the spring. Chicksands knew his man too well to take
offence at the Squire's manners, and Beryl was for a time too
timidly and blissfully happy to be troubled by them.

'You have been here a few weeks,' said the newcomer to Elizabeth,
when the party had settled down at table.

'About six weeks. It seems longer!' smiled Elizabeth.

'You are doing some work for my father?'

Elizabeth explained herself. Major Mannering listened attentively.

'So what you do for him is literary--and historical?'

'Oh no--I do accounts, and write letters too.'

'Accounts? I thought there was a housekeeper?'

'She went a month ago to the W.A.A.C.'s. Please!--do you mind?' And
to his amazement, as he was putting out his hand automatically to a
piece of bread lying on his left, Miss Bremerton's hand holding a
fork neatly intercepted him, and moved the bread away.

'It's our "Self-denying Ordinance,"' explained the lady, colouring a
little. 'The bread appears because--because your father doesn't
think rations necessary. But no one touches it, and Forest collects
it afterwards--for breakfast.'

A smile broke on Aubrey's grave and pensive face.

'I see. Mayn't I really have any?'

Elizabeth hesitated.

'Well, perhaps, as a guest, and a soldier. Yes, I think you may.'
And she would have restored her prey had not her neighbour stopped
her.

'Not at all. As a soldier I obey orders. My hat! how you've drilled
them all!' For, looking round the table, he saw that not a single
guest had touched the bread lying to their left.

'That's Pamela and Mr. Desmond! They've given everybody a _menu_ for
three days.'

'Good heavens--not my father!'

'Oh no, _no_! We don't think he suspects anything, and he has
everything he likes.'

'And my married sisters?' Elizabeth hesitated again.

'Well, Mrs. Gaddesden is rather afraid of being starved. Mrs.
Strang, on the other hand, thinks we're wickedly extravagant!'

Her neighbour was so much amused that conversation flowed on easily
thenceforward; and Desmond opposite whispered to Pamela:

'Just look at Broomie! She's actually making Aubrey talk.'

The Major's rôle, however, was on the whole that of listener. For
Elizabeth meant to talk--meant to explain herself to the son and
heir, and, if she could, to drive him to an interest in the family
affairs. To her trained, practical mind the whole clan seemed by now
criminally careless and happy-go-lucky. The gardens were neglected;
so was the house; so was the estate. The gardens ought to have been
made self-supporting; there were at least a third too many servants
in the house; and as for the estate, instead of being a
profit-making and food-producing concern, as it should have been, it
was a bye-word for bad management and neglected land. She did not
pretend to know much about it yet; but what she did know roused her.
England was at grips with a brutal foe. The only weapon that could
defeat her was famine--the sloth and waste of her own sons. This
woman, able, energetic, a lover of her country, could not conceal
her scorn for such a fatal incompetence. Naturally, in talking to
the eldest son, she made the agent her scapegoat for the sins of the
owner. The Squire's responsibility was carefully masked. But Aubrey
Mannering perfectly understood what she would be at. She was a
clever woman who wanted things improved. Well, let her improve
them. It did not matter to him.

But she appeared to him as a somewhat special type of the modern
woman, with her advanced education and her clear brain; and for a
time he observed her curiously. The graceful dress, pale blue with
touches of black, which exactly became her fair skin, the bright
gold of her hair, and the pleasant homeliness of her face--her
general aspect indeed--attracted him greatly. She might know Greek;
at heart, he believed, she was a good housewife; and when she
incidentally mentioned Dutch relations, he seemed to see her with a
background of bright pots and pans, mopping tiled floors.

But presently he ceased to pay much attention to her. His dreamy
sense became aware of the scene as a whole; the long table; his
father's fantastic figure at the head of it; Alice Gaddesden
elaborately dressed and much made up on the one side, his sister
Margaret in a high black gown, erect and honest, on the other;
Desmond and Pamela together, chatting and chaffing with the Rector.
It was the room so familiar to his childhood and youth, with the
family pictures, the Gainsborough full-length of his very plain
great-grandmother in white satin at the end, two or three Vandyck
school-portraits of seventeenth-century Mannerings, and the
beautiful Hogarth head--their best possession--that was so like
Pamela. The furniture of the room was of many different
dates--incongruous, shabby, and on the whole ugly. The Mannerings of
the past had not been an artistic lot.

Nor had the room--the house indeed--many tender associations for
him. His childhood had not been very happy. He had never got on with
his father, and his mother, who had been the victim of various long
illnesses during his boyhood, had never, unluckily, meant much to
him. He knew that he was of a very old stock, which had played a
long and considerable part in the world; but the fact brought him no
thrill. 'That kind of thing is played out,' he thought. Let his
father disinherit him--he was quite indifferent.

Then, as he fell silent beside his father's new secretary, the table
vanished. He saw instead the wide Picardy flats, a group of poplars,
a distant wood, and in front a certain hollow strewn with dead and
dying men--one figure, in front of the rest, lying face downwards.
The queer twisted forms, the blasted trees, the inexorable
horror--the whole vision swept over him again, as it had done in the
schoolroom. His nerves shrank and trembled under it.

Beryl--poor little Beryl! What a wretch he had been to propose to
her--in a moment of moral and physical weakness, when it had seemed
a simple thing to accept her affection and to pledge his own! But if
she stood by him, he must stand by her. And he had had the kindest
letter from Sir Henry, and some sweet tremulous words from her.
Suppose she offered to release him? His heart leapt guiltily at the
thought. What, indeed, had a man so haunted and paralysed to give to
a girl like Beryl? It was an outrage--it ought to cease.

But as to his father, that was simple enough.

The Squire and his eldest son retreated to the library after dinner,
and all the rest of the party waited uneasily to see what would
happen. Elizabeth did her best to keep things going. It might have
been noticed--it was noticed by at least two of the persons
present--that quite unobtrusively, she was already the mistress of
the house. She found a stool and a fire-screen for Mrs. Gaddesden;
she held some wool for Mrs. Strang to wind; and a backgammon board
was made ready for the Squire, in case he returned.

But he did not return. Aubrey came back alone, and found them all
hanging on his entrance. Pamela put down her knitting and looked at
him anxiously; so did the elder sisters. He went up absently to the
chimney-piece, and stood leaning against it.

'Well?' said Pamela in a low voice, as she came to sit on a stool
near him.

He smiled, but she saw that he was pale.

'Can you take me over to Chetworth to-morrow--early--in the
pony-cart?'

'Yes, certainly.'

'Half-past ten?'

'Right you are.'

No more was said. Aubrey turned at once to Alice Gaddesden and
proposed a round game. He played it with much more spirit than
usual, and Desmond's antics in 'Animal Grab' put all serious notions
to flight.

But when the game was over, and Forest brought in the candles,
Margaret tried to get some information.

'You found the father reasonable?' she said to her brother in an
undertone, as they stood together by the fire.

'Oh, yes,' was the indifferent answer, 'from his own point of view.'

And when he had lit their candles for his sisters, he excused
himself at once on the ground of being dog-tired after a long day.
The door closed upon him.

The family gathered together in a group, while the Rector and
Elizabeth talked about the village at the further end of the room.

'They've quarrelled!' said Margaret decisively.

Alice Gaddesden, because it was Margaret's opinion, disagreed. There
was nothing to show it, she said. Aubrey had been quite calm.
Desmond broke out, 'Did you ever see Aubrey anything else?' Pamela
said nothing, but she slipped out to tell Forest about the
pony-cart.

Meanwhile the Rector had looked at his watch, and came up to take
his leave.

'Has the Squire gone to bed?' he said cheerfully. 'I daresay. He
works so hard. Give him my fare-wells.'

And he went off, quite aware, both from his knowledge of the family
and of the Squire's recent actions, that there were storms brewing
in the old house, but on the whole thinking more of the new
secretary than of his old friends. A charming woman!--most capable!
For the first time he might get some attention paid to the village
people. That child with the shocking bow-legs. Poor little Pamela
had tried to do her best. But this woman would see to it; she knew
how to get things done.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the party dispersed, Forest brought a
message to Elizabeth. 'The Squire would be glad if you would spare
him a few minutes, Miss, in the library. He won't keep you long.'

Elizabeth went unwillingly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The library was in darkness, except for one small lamp at the
further end, and the Squire was walking up and down. He stopped
abruptly as he saw his secretary.

'I won't keep you, Miss Bremerton, but do you happen to know at all
where my will is?'

'Your will, Mr. Mannering?' said Elizabeth in amazement. 'No,
indeed! I have never seen it.'

'Well, it's somewhere here,' said the Squire impatiently. 'I should
have thought in all your rummagings lately you must have come across
it. I took it away from those robbers, my old solicitors, and I
wasn't going to give it to the new man--don't trust him particularly
not to talk. So I locked it up here--somewhere. And I can't find
it.' And he began restlessly to open drawer after drawer, which
already contained piles of letters and documents, neatly and
systematically arranged, with the proper dockets and sub-headings,
by Elizabeth.

'Oh, it can't be there!' cried Elizabeth. 'I know everything in
those drawers. Surely it must be in the office?' By which she meant
the small and hideously untidy room on the ground floor into which
masses of papers of all dates, still unsorted, had been carted down
from London.

'It isn't in the office!' He was, she saw, on the brink of an
outburst. 'I put it somewhere in this room my own self! And I should
have thought by now you knew the geography of this place as well as
I do!'

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. The big room indeed
was still full to her of unexplored territory, with _caches_ of all
kinds in it, new and ancient, waiting to be discovered. She looked
round her in perplexity, not knowing where to begin. A large part of
the room was walled with glass cases, holding vases, bronzes, and
other small antiquities, down to about a yard from the floor, and
the space below being filled by cupboards and drawers. Elizabeth
made a vague movement towards a particular set of cupboards which
she knew she had not yet touched, but the Squire irritably stopped
her.

'It's certainly not there. That bit of the room hasn't been
disturbed since the Flood! Now those drawers'--he pointed--'might be
worth looking at.'

She hurried towards them. But the Squire, instead of helping her in
her search, resumed his walk up and down, muttering to himself. As
for her, she was on the verge of laughter, the laughter that comes
from nerves and fatigue; for she had had a long day's work and was
really tired. The first drawer she opened was packed with papers, a
few arranged in something like order by her predecessor, the London
University B.A., but the greater part of them in confusion. They
mostly related to a violent controversy between the Squire and
various archæological experts with regard to some finds in the Troad
a year or two before the war, in which the Squire had only just
escaped a serious libel suit, whereof indeed all the preliminaries
were in the drawer.

On the very top of the drawer, however, was a conveyance of a small
outlying portion of the Mannering estate, which the Squire had sold
to a neighbour only a year before this date. Hopeless! If that was
there, anything might be anywhere!

Was she to spend the night searching for the needle in this bottle
of hay? Elizabeth's face began to twitch with uncomfortable
merriment. Should she go and knock up the housekeeper and instal her
as chaperon, or take a stand, and insist on going to bed like a
reasonable woman?

She hunted through three drawers. The Squire meanwhile paced
incessantly, sometimes muttering to himself. Every time he came
within the circle of lamplight his face was visible to Elizabeth,
wrinkled and set, with angry eyes; and she saw him as a person
possessed by a stubborn demon of self-will. Once, as he passed her,
she heard him say to himself, 'Of course I can write another at
once--half a sheet will do.'

She replaced the third drawer. Was the Squire to have a monopoly of
stubbornness? She thought not. Waves of indefinite but strong
indignation were beginning to sweep through her. Why was the Squire
hunting for his will? What had he been saying to his son--his son
who bore on his breast and on his body the marks of his country's
service?

She rose to her feet.

'I can't find anything, Mr. Mannering. And I think, if you will
allow me, I will go to bed.'

He looked at her darkly.

'I see. You are a person who stickles for your hours--you won't do
anything extra for me.' There was a sneer in his tone.

Elizabeth felt her cheeks suddenly burn. In the dim light she looked
amazingly tall, as she stood straightened to her full height,
confronting this man who really seemed to her to be only half sane.

'I think I have done a great deal for you, Mr. Mannering. But if you
don't think so we had better end my engagement!'

His countenance changed at once. He eagerly apologized. He was
perfectly aware of her extraordinary merits, and should be entirely
lost without her help. The fact was he had had a painful scene, and
was overdone.

Elizabeth received his explanation very coldly, only repeating, 'May
I go to bed?'

The Squire drew his hand across his eyes.

'It is not very late--not yet eleven.' He pointed to the grandfather
clock opposite. 'If you will only wait while I write something?'--he
pointed to a chair. 'Just take a book there, and give me a quarter
of an hour, no more--I want your signature, that's all. We won't
look any further for the will. I can do all I want by a fresh
document. I have been thinking it over, and can write it in ten
minutes. I know as much about it as the lawyers--more. Now do oblige
me. I am ashamed of my discourtesy. I need not say that I regard you
as indispensable--and--I think I have been able to do something for
your Greek.'

He smiled--a smile that was like a foam-flake on a stormy sea. But
he could put on the grand manner when he chose, and Elizabeth was to
some extent propitiated. After all he and his ways were no longer
strange to her. Very unwillingly she seated herself again, and he
went rapidly to his writing-table.

Then silence fell, except for the scratching of the Squire's pen.
Elizabeth sat pretending to read, but in truth becoming every moment
the prey of increasing disquiet. What was he going to ask her to
sign? She knew nothing of his threat to his eldest son--nothing,
that is, clear or direct, either from himself or from the others;
but she guessed a good deal. It was impossible to live even for a
few weeks in close contact with the Squire without guessing at most
things.

In the silence she became aware of the soft autumn wind--October
had just begun--playing with a blind on a distant window. And
through the window came another sound--Desmond and Pamela, no doubt,
still laughing and talking in the schoolroom.

The Squire rose from his seat.

'I shall be much obliged,' he said formally, 'if you will kindly
come here. We shall want another witness, of course. I will call
Forest.'

Elizabeth approached, but paused a yard or two from him. He saw her
in the light--her gold hair and brilliant dress illuminated against
the dark and splendid background of the Nikê in shadow.

She spoke with hesitation.

'I confess I should like to know, Mr. Mannering, what it is you are
asking me to sign.'

'That doesn't matter to a witness. It is nothing which will in any
way compromise you.'

'No--but'--she drew herself up--'I should blame myself if I made it
easier for you to do something you would afterwards regret.'

'What do you mean?'

She summoned all her courage.

'Of course I must know something. You have not kept your affairs
very secret. I guess that you are angry with your son, with Major
Mannering. If this thing you ask me to sign is to hurt--to injure
him--if it is--well, then--I refuse to sign it!'

And with a sudden movement she threw both her hands behind her back
and clasped them there.

'You refuse?'

'If you admit my description of that paper.' She motioned towards it
as it lay on the writing-table.

'I have no objection whatever to your knowing what it is--as you
seem determined to know,' he said sarcastically. 'It is a codicil
revoking my will in favour of my eldest son, and leaving all the
property of which I die possessed, and which is in my power to
bequeath, to my younger son Desmond. What have you to do with that?
What possible responsibility can you have?'

Elizabeth wavered, but held her ground, though in evident distress.

'Only that--if I don't sign it--you would have time to consider it
again. Mr. Mannering--isn't it--isn't it--very unjust?'

The Squire laughed.

'How do you know that in refusing you are not unjust to Desmond?'

'Oh no!' she said fervently. 'Mr. Desmond would never wish to
supplant his brother--and for such a reason. And especially--' she
paused.

There were tears rising in her throat.

'Especially--what? Upon my word, you claim a rather remarkable
knowledge of my family--in six weeks!'

'I do know something of Desmond!' Her voice showed her agitation.
'He is the dearest, the most generous boy. In a few months he will
be going out--he will be saying good-bye to you all.'

'And then?'

'Is this a time to make him unhappy--to send him out with something
on his mind?--something that might even--'

'Well, go on!'

'Might even make him wish'--her voice dropped--'not to come back.'

There was silence. Then the Squire violently threw down the pen he
was holding on the table beside him.

'Thank you, Miss Bremerton. That will do. I bid you good-night!'

Elizabeth did not wait to be told twice. She turned and fled down
the whole length of the library. The door at the further end closed
upon her.

'A masterful young woman!' said the Squire after a moment, drawing a
long breath. Then he took up the codicil, thrust it into a drawer of
his writing-table, lit a cigarette, and walked up and down smoking
it. After which he went to bed and slept remarkably well.

Elizabeth cried herself to sleep. No comforting sprite whispered to
her that she had won the first round in an arduous campaign. On the
contrary, she fully expected dismissal on the morrow.



CHAPTER V


It was a misty but warm October day, and a pleasant veiled light lay
on the pillared front of Chetworth House, designed in the best taste
of a fastidious school. The surroundings of the house, too, were as
perfect as those of Mannering were slatternly and neglected. All the
young men had long since gone from the gardens, but the old
labourers and the girls in overalls who had taken their places,
under the eye of a white-haired gardener, had been wonderfully
efficient so far. Sir Henry supposed he ought to have let the lawns
stand for hay, and the hedges go unclipped; but as a matter of fact
the lawns had never been smoother, or the creepers and yew hedges
more beautifully in order, so that even the greatest patriot fails
somewhere.

Beryl Chicksands was walking along a stone-flagged path under a yew
hedge, from which she commanded the drive and a bit of the road
outside. Every now and then she stopped to peer into the sunlit haze
that marked the lower slopes of the park, and the delicate hand that
shaded her eyes shook a little.

Aubrey was coming--and she was going seriously to offer to give him
up--to try to persuade him indeed to break it off. Since her first
agitated letter to him begging him not to think of her, but to
decide only what was best for his own future, she had received a few
words from him.

     'DEAREST BERYL--Nothing has happened to interfere with what we
     promised each other last summer--nothing at all! My poor father
     seems to be half out of his mind under the stress of war. If he
     does what he threatens, it will matter very little to me; but
     of course _you_ must consider it carefully, for I shall have
     uncommonly little in the worldly way to offer you. Your father
     has written very kindly, and your dear little note is just like
     you. But you must consider.

     'I sometimes doubt whether my father _will_ do what he
     threatens, but we should have to take the risk. Anyway we shall
     meet directly, and I am always, and unalterably, your devoted

     'AUBREY.'

That had been followed by a boyish note from Desmond--dear, jolly
fellow!

     'My father's clean daft! Don't bother, my dear Beryl. If he
     tries to leave me this funny old place, instead of Aubrey,
     well, there are two can play at that game. I wouldn't touch it
     with a barge-pole. You and A. have only got to stick it a
     little, and it'll be all right.

     'I've given him a bit of my mind about the park and the farm.
     He stands it from me and only chaffs. That's because he always
     treats me like a baby.

     'Very sorry I can't come on Tuesday with Aubrey, but there's
     some good-bye calls I must pay. Hope Arthur will be about. I
     want awfully to see him. Hard luck his being hit like that,
     after all the rest. Snipers are beasts!

     '_P.S._--You can't think what a brainy young woman father's got
     for his new secretary. And she's not half bad either. Pamela's
     rather silly about her, but she'll come round.'

Beryl paid small attention to the postscript. She had heard a good
deal from Pamela about the newcomer, but it did not concern her. As
to the business aspect of the Squire's behaviour, Beryl was well
aware that she was an heiress. Aubrey would lose nothing financially
by giving up the Mannering estate to marry her. Personally she cared
nothing about Mannering, and she had enough for both. But still
there was the old name and place. How much did he care about it? how
much would he regret it? Supposing his extraordinary father really
cut him off?

Beryl felt she did not know. And therewith came the recurrent
pang--how little she really knew about the man to whom she was
engaged! She adored him. Every fibre in her slight sensitive body
still remembered the moment when he first kissed her, when she first
felt his arm about her. But since--how often there had been moments
when she had been conscious of a great distance between them--of
something that did not fit--that jarred!

For herself, she could never remember a time since she was seventeen
when Aubrey Mannering had not meant more to her than any one else in
the world. On his first departure to France, she had said good-bye
to him with secret agonies of spirit, which no one guessed but her
mother, a colourless, silent woman, who had a way of knowing
unexpectedly much of the people about her. Then when he was badly
wounded in some fighting near Festubert, in May 1915, and came home
for two months' leave, he seemed like a stranger, and Beryl had not
known what to be at with him. She was told that he had suffered
very much--it had been a severe thigh wound implicating the sciatic
nerve--and that he had been once, at least, very near to death. But
when she tried to express sympathy with what he had gone through, or
timidly to question him about it, her courage fled, her voice died
in her throat. There was something unapproachable in her old
playfellow, something that held her, and indeed every one else, at
bay.

He was always courteous, and mostly cheerful. But his face in repose
had an absent, haunted look, the eyes alert but fixed on vacancy,
the brow overcast and frowning. In the old days Aubrey's smile had
been his best natural gift. To win a smile from him in her
childhood, Beryl would have done anything--have gone on her knees up
the drive, or offered up the only doll she cared for, or gone
without jam for a week. Now when he came home invalided, she had the
same craving; but what she craved for came her way very rarely. He
would laugh and talk with her as with other people. But that
exquisite brightness of eye and lip, which seemed to be for one
person only, and, when it came, to lift that person to the seventh
heaven, she waited for in vain.

Then he went back to France, and in due course came the Somme.
Aubrey Mannering went through the whole five months without a
scratch. He came back with a D.S.O. and a Staff appointment for a
short Christmas leave, everybody, except his father, turning out to
welcome him as the local hero. Then, for a time, he went to
Aldershot as the head of an Officers' School there, and was able to
come down occasionally to Chetworth or Mannering.

During that first Christmas leave he paid several visits to
Chetworth, and evidently felt at home there. To Lady Chicksands,
whom most people regarded as a tiresome nonentity, he was
particularly kind and courteous. It seemed to give him positive
pleasure to listen to her garrulous housekeeping talk, or to hold
her wool for her while she wound it. And as she, poor lady, was not
accustomed to such attention from brilliant young men, his three
days' visit was to her a red-letter time. With Sir Henry also he was
on excellent terms, and made just as good a listener to the details
of country business as to Lady Chicksands' domestic tales.

And yet to Beryl he was in some ways more of a riddle than ever. He
talked curiously little about the war--at least to her. He had a way
of finding out, both at Chicksands and Mannering, men who had lost
sons in France, and when he and Beryl took a walk, it seemed to
Beryl as though they were constantly followed by friendly furtive
looks from old labourers who passed them on the road, and nodded as
they went by. But when the daily war news was being discussed he had
a way of sitting quite silent, unless his opinion was definitely
asked. When it was, he would answer, generally in a rather
pessimistic spirit, and escape the conversation as soon as he could.
And the one thing that roused him and put him out of temper was the
easy complacent talk of people who were sure of speedy victory and
talked of 'knock-out' blows.

Then six months later, after the capture of the Messines Ridge, in
which he took part, he reappeared, and finding his father,
apparently, almost intolerable, and Pamela and Desmond away, he
migrated to Chetworth. And there he and Beryl were constantly
thrown together. He never talked to her with much intimacy; he
certainly never made love to her. But suddenly she became aware that
she had grown very necessary to him, that he missed her when she was
away, that his eyes lit up when she came back. A special relation
was growing up between them. Her father perceived it; so did her
brother Arthur; and they had both done their best to help it on.
They were both very fond of Aubrey; and nothing could be more
natural than that she should marry one who had been her neighbour
and playmate from childhood.

The thing drifted on, and one day, in the depths of a summer
beechwood, some look in the girl's eyes, some note of tremulous and
passionate sweetness, beyond her control, in her deep quiet voice,
touched something irrepressible in him, and he turned to her with a
face of intense, almost hungry yearning, and caught her
hands--'Dear--dearest Beryl, could you--?'

The words broke off, but her eyes spoke in reply to his, and her
sudden whiteness. He drew her to him, and folded her close.

'I don't think I ought'--the faltering, broken voice startled
her--'I don't know whether I can make you happy. Dear, dear little
Beryl!'

At that she put up her mouth instinctively, only to shrink back
under the energy of his kiss. Then they had walked on together, hand
in hand; but she remembered that, even before they left the wood,
something seemed to have dimmed the extraordinary bliss of the first
moment--some restlessness in him--some touch of absent-mindedness,
as though he grudged himself his own happiness.

And so it had been ever since. He had resumed his work at
Aldershot, and owing to certain consequences of the wound in 1915
was not likely, in spite of desperate efforts on his own part, to be
sent back to the front. His letters varied just as his presence did.
Something always seemed to be kept back from her--was always beyond
her reach. Sometimes she supposed she was not clever enough, that he
found her inadequate and irresponsive. Sometimes, with a sudden,
half-guilty sense of disloyalty to him, she vaguely wondered whether
there was some secret in his life--some past of which she knew
nothing. How could there be? A man of stainless and brilliant
reputation--modest, able, foolhardily brave, of whom all men spoke
warmly; of a sensitive refinement too, which made it impossible to
think of any ordinary vulgar skeleton in the background of his life.

Yet her misgivings had grown and grown upon her, till now they were
morbidly strong. She did not satisfy him; she was not making him
happy; it would be better for her to set him free. This action of
his father's offered the opportunity. But as she thought of doing
it--_how_ she would do it, and how he might possibly accept it--she
was torn with misery.

She and her girl-friend Pamela were very different. She was the
elder by a couple of years, and much more mature. But Pamela's
undeveloped powers, the flashes of daring, of romance, in the
awkward reserved girl, the suggestion in her of a big and splendid
flowering, fascinated Beryl, and in her humility she never dreamt
that she, with her delicate pensiveness, the mingled subtlety and
purity of her nature, was no less exceptional. She had been brought
up very much alone. Her mother was no companion for her, and the
brother nearest her own age and nearest her heart had been killed at
the opening of the war. Arthur and she were very good friends, but
not altogether congenial. She was rather afraid of him--of his
critical temper, and his abrupt intolerant way, with people or
opinions he disliked. Beryl was quite aware of his effect on Pamela
Mannering, and it made her anxious. For she saw little chance for
Pamela. Before the war, Arthur in London had been very much sought
after, in a world where women are generally good-looking, and
skilled besides in all the arts of pursuit. His standards were
ridiculously high. His women friends were many and of the best. Why
should he be attracted by anything so young and immature as Pamela?

       *       *       *       *       *

At last! A pony-cart coming up from the lodge, with two figures in
it--Aubrey and Pamela. So poor Pam had at last got hold of something
in the nature of an animal!

Beryl gripped the balustrading which bordered one side of the path,
and stood watching intently--a slender creature, in a broad purple
hat, shading her small, distinguished face.

Presently, as the visitors approached the house, she waved to them,
and they to her. They disappeared from view for a minute. Then a
man's figure emerged alone from a garden door opening on the flagged
path.

He came towards her with outstretched hands, looked round him
smiling to see that no one was in sight, and then kissed her. Beryl
knew she ought to have resisted the kiss; she had meant to do it;
but all the same she submitted.

'Your father met us at the door. Arthur has carried Pamela off
somewhere. Very sporting of them, wasn't it? So I've got you alone!
How nice you look! And what a jolly place this is!'

He first looked her up and down with admiring eyes, and then made a
gesture towards the beautiful modern house, and the equally
beautiful and modern gardens in which it stood, with their still
unspoilt autumn flowers, their cunning devices in steps and
fountains and pergolas.

'How on earth do you keep it so trim?' He put a hand through her
arm, and drew her on towards the wood-walk which opened beyond the
formal garden and the lawn.

'With two or three old men, and two girls from the village,' said
Beryl. 'Father doesn't mind what he gives up so long as it isn't the
garden.'

'It's his pet vice!' laughed Aubrey--'his public-house, like my
father's Greek pots. I say--you've heard of the secretary?'

It seemed to Beryl that he was fencing with her--delaying their real
talk. But she accepted his lead.

'Yes, Desmond seems to like her. I don't gather that Pamela cares
very much about her.'

'Oh, Pamela takes time. But what do you think the secretary did last
night?'

'What?' They had paused under a group of limes clad in a glory of
yellow leaf, and she was looking up in surprise at the unusual
animation playing over the features of the man beside her.

'She refused to sign a codicil to my father's will, disinheriting
me, and came to tell me so this morning! You should have heard her!
Very formal and ceremonious--very much on her dignity! But such a
brick!'

Mannering's deep-set eyes under his lined thinker's brow shone with
amusement. Beryl, with the instinctive jealousy of a girl in love,
was conscious of a sudden annoyance that Miss Bremerton should have
been mixed up in Aubrey's personal affairs.

'What _do_ you mean?'

Aubrey put an arm round her shoulder. She knew she ought to shake it
off, but the pressure of it was too welcome. They strolled on.

'I had my talk with father last night. I told him he was absurd, and
I was my own master. That you were perfectly free to give me
up--that I had begged you to consider it--but I didn't think you
would,' he smiled down upon her, but more gravely; 'and failing
dismissal from you, we should be married as soon as it was
reasonably possible. Was that right, darling?'

She evaded the question.

'Well--and then?'

'Then he broke out. Sir Henry of course was the _bête noire_. You
can imagine the kind of things he said, I needn't repeat them. He is
in a mood of perfectly mad opposition to all this war legislation,
and it is not the least good arguing with him. Finally he told me
that my allowance would be stopped, and Mannering would be left to
Desmond, if we married. "All right!" I said, "I daresay, if he and I
survive you, Desmond will let me look round sometimes." Not very
respectful, perhaps, but by that time I was fed up. So then I wished
him good-night, and went back to the drawing-room. In a few minutes
he sent for Miss Bremerton--nobody knew why. I was dog-tired, and
went to bed, and didn't I sleep!--nine good hours. Then this
morning, just after breakfast, when I was strolling in the garden
with a cigarette waiting for Pamela, who should come out but Miss
Bremerton! Have you seen her?'

'Only in the distance.'

'Well, she's really a very fine creature, not pretty exactly--oh,
not pretty at all--but wonderfully well set up, with beautiful hair,
and a general look of--what shall I say?--dignity, refinement,
knowing her own mind. You feel she would set you down in a moment if
you took the smallest liberty. I could not think what she wanted.
But she came up to me--of course we had made acquaintance the night
before--"May I speak to you, Major Mannering? I wish to say
something private. Shall we walk down to the kitchen garden?" So we
walked down to the kitchen garden, and then she told me what had
happened after dinner, when my father sent for her. She told it very
stiffly, rather curtly in fact, as though she were annoyed to have
to bother about such unprofessional things, and hated to waste her
time. "But I don't wish, I don't intend," she said, "to have the
smallest responsibility in the matter. So after thinking it over, I
decided to inform you--and Mr. Desmond too, if you will kindly tell
him--as to what I had done. That is all I have to say," with her
chin very much in the air! "I did it, of course, because I did not
care to be mixed up in _any_ private or family affairs. That is not
my business." I was taken aback, as you can imagine! But, of course,
I thanked her--'

'Why, she couldn't have done anything else!' said Beryl with
vivacity.

'I don't know that. Anybody may witness anything. But she seems to
have guessed. Of course my father never keeps anything to himself.
Anyway she didn't like being thanked at all. She turned back to the
house at once. So then I asked her if she knew what had happened to
the precious codicil. And she flushed up and said, with the manner
of an icicle, "Mr. Mannering sent me to the drawer this morning,
where he had put it away. It was lying on the top, and I saw it."
"Signed?" I said. "No, not signed." Then she began to hurry, and I
thought I had offended her in some way. But it dawned upon me,
presently, that she was really torn between her feeling of chivalry
towards me--she seems to have a kindness for soldiers! her brother
is fighting somewhere--and her professional obligations towards my
father. Wasn't it odd? She hated to be indiscreet, to give him away,
and yet she could not help it! I believe she had been awake half the
night. Her eyes looked like it. I must say I liked her very much. A
woman of a great deal of character! I expect she has a rough time of
it!'

'But of course,' said Beryl, 'it may be all signed and witnessed by
now!'

'Most probably!' The Major laughed. 'But _she_ did her best anyway,
and I shan't ask her any more questions. We had better take it for
granted. My father is as obstinate as they make 'em. Well now, dear
Beryl, have you--have you thought it over?'

He pointed to a seat, and sat down by her. The brightness of his
look had passed away. The thin, intellectual face and lined brow had
resumed the expression that was familiar to Beryl. It was an
expression of fatigue--not physical now, for he had clearly
recovered his health, but moral; as though the man behind it were
worn out by some hidden debate with his own mind, into which he fell
perpetually, when left to himself. It was the look which divided him
from her.

'Yes,' she said slowly, 'I've been thinking a great deal.' She
stopped; then lifting her eyes, which were grey and fringed with
dark lashes--beautiful eyes, timid yet passionately honest--she
said, 'You'd better give me up, Aubrey!'

He made a restless movement, then took her hands and raised them to
his lips.

'I don't feel like it!' he said, smiling. 'Tell me what you mean.'

She looked down, plucking at the fringed belt of her sports coat.
Her lips trembled a little.

'I don't think, Aubrey, I can make you happy! I've been feeling
often--that I don't seem to make much difference to you. And now
this is very serious--giving up Mannering. _You_ may mind it much
more than you think. And if--'

'If what? Go on!'

She raised her eyes again and looked at him straight.

'If I can't make up?'

The colour flooded into his face, as though, far within, something
stirred 'like a guilty thing surprised.' But he said tenderly:

'I don't care _that_, Beryl'--he snapped his fingers--'for Mannering
in comparison with you.'

Her breath fluttered a little, but she went on resolutely. 'But I
must say it--I must tell you what I feel. It seems the right
opportunity. So often, Aubrey, I don't seem to understand you! I say
the wrong thing. I'm not clever. I haven't any deep thoughts--like
you or Arthur. It would be terrible if you married me, and then--I
felt you were disappointed.'

He moved a little away from her and, propping his chin on his hands,
looked gravely through the thinning branches of the wood.

'I wonder why you say that--I wonder what I've done!'

'Oh, you've done nothing!' cried Beryl. 'It's only I
feel--sometimes--that--that you don't let me know things--share
things. You seem sometimes so sad--and I can't be any help--you
won't let me! That's what I mind so much--so dreadfully!'

He was silent a moment. Then without any attempt at caresses, he
said, 'I wonder, Beryl, whether you--whether you--ever realize--what
we soldiers have _seen_? No!--thank God!--you don't--you can't.'

She pressed her hands to her eyes, and shuddered.

'No, of course I can't--of course I can't!' she said passionately.

Then, while her eyes were still hidden, there passed through
his worn features a sharp spasm, as of some uncontrollable
anguish--passed and was gone.

He turned towards her, and she looked up. If ever love, all-giving,
self-forgetting, was written on a girl's face, it was written on
Beryl's then. Her wild-rose colour came and went; her eyes were full
of tears. She had honestly made her attempt, but she could not carry
it through, and he saw it. Some vague hope--of which he was
ashamed--died away. Profoundly touched, he put out his arms, and
making nothing of her slight resistance, gathered her close to him.

'Did you ever read _Sintram_, Beryl?'

'Yes, years ago.'

'Do you remember his black fits--how they came upon him
unexpectedly--and only Verena could help him? It's like that with me
sometimes. Things I've seen--horrible sufferings and death--come
back on me. I can't get over it--at least not yet. But I'll never
let it come really between us. And perhaps--some day'--he hesitated
and his voice dropped--'you shall help me--like Verena!'

She clung to him, not knowing what he meant, but fascinated by his
deep voice, and the warm shelter of his arms. He bent down to kiss
her, in the most passionate embrace he had ever given her.

Then he released her, and they both looked at each other with a new
shyness.

'So that's all right!' he said, smiling. 'You see you can't drop me
as easily as you think. I stick! Well, now, you take me as a
pauper--not exactly a pauper--but still--I've got to settle things
with your father, though!'

Beryl proposed that they should go and look for the others.

They went hand in hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Henry meanwhile was engaged in the congenial occupation of
inspecting and showing his kitchen gardens. His son Arthur and
Pamela Mannering were following him round the greenhouses, finding
more amusement in the perplexities of Sir Henry's conscience than
interest in the show itself.

'You see they've brought in the chrysanthemums. Just in time! There
was a frost last night,' said Sir Henry, throwing open a door, and
disclosing a greenhouse packed with chrysanthemums in bud.

'My hat--what a show!' said his son.

'Not at all, Arthur, not at all,' said his father, annoyed. 'Not a
third of what we had last year.'

Arthur raised his eyebrows, and behind his father's back he and
Pamela exchanged smiles. The next house showed a couple of elderly
men at work pruning roses intended to flower in February and March.

'This is almost my favourite house,' exclaimed Sir Henry. 'Such a
wonderful result for so little labour!' He strolled on complacently.

'How long does this take you, Grimes?' Arthur inquired discreetly of
one of the gardeners.

'Oh, a good while, Mr. Arthur--what with the pruning, and the
syringing, and the manuring,' said the man addressed, stopping to
wipe his brow, for the day was mild.

Arthur's look darkened a little. He fell into a reverie, while
Pamela was conscious at every step of his tall commanding presence,
of the Military Cross on his khaki breast, and the pleasant,
penetrating eyes under his staff cap. Arthur, she thought, must be
now over thirty. Before his recent wound he had been doing some
special artillery work on the Staff of an Army Corps, and was a very
rising soldier. He was now chafing hotly against the ruling of his
Medical Board, who were insisting that he was not yet fit to go back
to France.

Pamela meanwhile was going through moments of disillusion. After
these two years she had looked forward to the meeting with such
eagerness, such hidden emotion! And now--what was there to have been
eager about? They seemed to be talking almost as strangers. The
soreness of it bewildered her.

Presently, as they were walking back to the house, leaving Sir
Henry in anxious consultation over the mushroom-house with the
grey-haired head gardener, her companion turned to her abruptly.

'I suppose _that's_ all right!' He pointed to some distant figures
on the fringe of a wood.

'Beryl and Aubrey? Yes--if Aubrey can make her see that she isn't
doing him any harm by letting him go on.'

'Good heavens! how could she do him any harm?'

'Well, there's Mannering. As if that mattered!' said the girl
scornfully. 'And then--Beryl's too dreadfully humble!'

'Humble! About what? No girl ought to be humble--ever!'

Pamela's eyes recovered their natural brilliance under his
peremptory look. And he, who had begun the walk with no particular
consciousness at all about his companion, except that she was a
nice, good-looking child, whom he had known from a baby, with equal
suddenness became aware of her in a new way.

'Why shouldn't we be humble, please?' she said, with a laugh.

'Because it's monstrous that you should. Leave that to us!'

'There wouldn't be much of it about, if we did!' The red danced in
her cheek.

'Much humility? Oh, you're quite mistaken. Men are much more humble
than you think. But we're human, of course. If you tempt us, you
soon put the starch into us.'

'Well, you must starch Beryl!' said Pamela, with emphasis. 'She will
think and say that she's not worthy of Aubrey, that she knows
she'll disappoint him, that she wouldn't mind his giving up
Mannering if only she were sure she could make him happy--and heaps
of things like that! I'm sure she's saying them now!'

'I never heard such nonsense in my life!' The masculine face beside
her was all impatience. 'One can't exactly boast about one's sister,
but you and I know very well what Beryl is worth!'

Pamela agreed fervently. 'Besides, Desmond would give it back.'

'Hm--' her companion demurred. 'Giving back isn't always easy. As to
pounds, shillings, and pence, if one must talk of them, it's lucky
that Beryl has her "bit." But I shouldn't wonder if your father
thought better of it after all.'

Pamela flushed indignantly.

'He all but signed a codicil to his will last night! He's in a
tearing hurry about it. He called in Miss Bremerton and wanted her
to witness it. And she refused. So father threw it into a drawer,
and nobody knows what has happened.'

'Miss Bremerton? The new secretary?' The tone expressed both
amusement and curiosity. 'Ah! I hear all sorts of interesting things
about her.'

Pamela straightened her shoulders defiantly.

'Of course she's interesting. She's terribly clever and up to date,
and all the rest of it. She's beginning to boss father, and very
soon she'll boss all the rest of us.'

'Perhaps you wanted it!' said Captain Chicksands, smiling.

'Perhaps we did,' Pamela admitted. 'But one needn't like it all the
same. Well, she's rationed us--that's one good thing--and father
really doesn't guess! And now she's begun to take an interest in
the farms! I believe she's walked over to the Holme Wood farm
to-day, to see for herself what state it's in. Father's in town. And
she's trying hard to keep father out of a horrible row with the
County Committee.'

'About ploughing up the park?'

Pamela nodded.

'Plucky woman!' said Arthur Chicksands heartily. 'I'm sure you help
her, Pamela, all you can?'

'I don't like being managed,' said the girl stubbornly, rather
resenting his tone.

A slight shade of sternness crossed the soldier's face.

'You know it's no good playing with this war,' he said drily. 'It's
as much to be won here as it is over seas. _Food_!--that'll be the
last word for everybody. And it's women's work as much as men's.'

She saw that she had jarred on him. But an odd jealousy--or perhaps
her hidden disappointment--drove her on.

'Yes, but one doesn't like strangers interfering,' she said
childishly.

The soldier threw her a side-glance, while his lip twitched a
little. So this was Pamela--grown-up. She seemed to him rather
foolish--and very lovely. There was no doubt about that! She was
going to be a beauty, and of a remarkable type. He himself was a
strong, high-minded, capable fellow, with an instinctive interest in
women, and a natural aptitude for making friends with them. He was
inclined, always, to try and set them in the right way; to help them
to some of the mental training which men got in a hundred ways, and
women, as it seemed to him, were often so deplorably without. But
this schoolmaster function only attracted him when there was
opposition. He had been quite sincere in denouncing humility in
women. It never failed to warn him off.

'Do you think she really wants to interfere?' he asked, smiling. 'I
expect it's only that she's got a bit of an organizing gift--like
the women who have been doing such fine things in the war.'

'There's no chance for me to do fine things in the war,' said Pamela
bitterly.

'Take up the land, and see! Suppose you and Miss Bremerton could
pull the estate together!'

Pamela's eyes scoffed.

'Father would never let me. No, I think sometimes I shall run away!'

He lifted his eyebrows, and she was annoyed with him for taking her
remark as mere bluff.

'You'll see,' she insisted. 'I shall do something desperate.'

'I wouldn't,' he said, quietly. 'Make friends with Miss Bremerton
and help her.'

'I don't like her enough,' she said, drawing quick breath.

He saw now she was in a mood to quarrel with him outright. But he
didn't mean to let her. With those eyes--in such a fire--she was
really splendid. How she had come on!

'I'm sorry,' he said mildly. 'Because, you know--if you don't mind
my saying so--it'll really take the two of you to keep your father
out of gaol. The Government's absolutely determined about this
thing--they can't afford to be anything else. _We're_ being
hammered, and gassed, and blown to pieces over there'--he pointed
eastward. 'It's the least the people over here can do--to play
up--isn't it?' Then he laughed. 'But I mustn't be setting you
against your father. I didn't mean to.'

Pamela shrugged her shoulders, in silence. She really longed to ask
him about his wound, his staff work, a thousand things; but they
didn't seem, somehow, to be intimate enough, to be hitting it off
enough. This meeting, which had been to her a point of romance
in the distance, was turning out to be just nothing--only
disappointment. She was glad to see how quickly the other pair were
coming towards them, and at the same time bitterly vexed that her
_tête-à-tête_ with Arthur was at an end.



CHAPTER VI


Meanwhile Elizabeth Bremerton was sitting pensive on a hill-side
about mid-way between Mannering and Chetworth. She had a bunch of
autumn berries in her hands. Her tweed skirt and country boots
showed traces of mud much deeper than anything on the high road; her
dress was covered with bits of bramble, dead leaves, and
thistledown; and her bright gold hair had been pulled here and there
out of its neat coils, as though she had been pushing through hedges
or groping through woods.

'It's perfectly _monstrous_!' she was thinking. 'It oughtn't to be
allowed. And when we're properly civilized, it won't be allowed. No
one ought to be free to ruin his land as he pleases! It concerns the
_State_. "Manage your land decently--produce a proper amount of
food--or out you go!" And I wouldn't have waited for war to say it!
Ugh! that place!'

And she thought with disgust of the choked and derelict fields, the
ruined gates and fences, the deserted buildings she had just been
wandering through. After the death of an old miser, who, according
to the tale she had heard in a neighbouring village, had lived there
for forty years, with a decrepit wife, both of them horribly
neglected and dirty, and making latterly no attempt to work the
farm, a new tenant had appeared who would have taken the place, if
the Squire would have rebuilt the house and steadings, and allowed a
reasonable sum for the cleansing and recovering of the land. But
the Squire would do nothing of the kind. He 'hadn't a farthing to
spend on expensive repairs,' and if the new tenant wouldn't take the
farm on the old terms, well, he might leave it alone.

The place had just been investigated by the County Committee, and a
peremptory order had been issued. What was the Squire going to do?

Elizabeth fell to thinking what _ought_ to be done with the Squire's
twelve thousand acres, if the Squire were a reasonable man. It was
exasperating to her practical sense to see a piece of business in
such a muddle. As a child and growing girl she had spent long
summers in the country with a Dorsetshire uncle who farmed his own
land, and there had sprung up in her an instinctive sympathy with
the rich old earth and its kindly powers, with the animals and the
crops, with the labourers and their rural arts, with all the
interwoven country life, and its deep rooting in the soil of history
and poetry.

Country life is, above all, steeped in common sense--the old,
ancestral, simple wisdom of primitive men. And Elizabeth, in spite
of her classical degree, and her passion for Greek pots, believed
herself to be, before everything, a person of common sense. She had
always managed her own family's affairs. She had also been the paid
secretary of an important learned society in her twenties not long
after she left college, and knew well that she had been a
conspicuous success. She had a great love, indeed, for any sort of
organizing, large and small, for putting things straight, and
running them. She was burning to put Mannering straight--and run it.
She knew she could. Organizing means not doing things yourself, but
finding the right people to do them. And she had always been good
at finding the right people--putting the round pegs into the round
holes.

All very well, however, to talk of running the Squire's estate! What
was to be done with the Squire?

Take the codicil business. First thing that morning he had sent her
to that very drawer to look for something, and there lay the
precious document--unsigned and unwitnessed--for any one to see. He
made no comment, nor of course did she. He would probably forget it
till the date of his son's marriage was announced, and then complete
it in a hurry.

Take the farms and the park. As to the farms there were two
summonses now pending against him with regard to 'farms in
hand'--Holme Wood and another--besides the action in the case of the
three incompetent men, Gregson at their head, who were being turned
out. With regard to ploughing up the park, all his attempts so far
to put legal difficulties in the way of the County Committee had
been quite futile. The steam plough was coming in a week. Meanwhile
the gates were to be locked, and two old park-keepers, who were
dithering in their shoes, had been told to defend them.

At bottom, Elizabeth was tolerably convinced that the Squire would
not land himself in gaol, cut off from his books and his bronzes,
and reduced to the company of people who had never heard of
Pausanias. But she was alarmed lest he should 'try it on' a little
too far, in these days when the needs of war and the revolutionary
currents abroad make the setting down of squires especially
agreeable to the plebeians who sit on juries or county committees.
Of course he must--he certainly would--climb down.

But somebody would have to go through the process of persuading
him! That was due to his silly dignity! She supposed that somebody
would be herself. How absurd! She, who had just been six weeks on
the scene! But neither of the married daughters had the smallest
influence with him; Sir Henry Chicksands had been sent about his
business; Major Mannering was out of favour, and Desmond and Pamela
were but babes.

Then a recollection flashed across the contriving mind of Elizabeth
which brought a decided flush to her fair skin--a flush which was
half amusement, half wrath. That morning a rather curious incident
had happened. After her talk with Major Mannering, and because the
morning was fine and the Squire was away, she had dragged a small
table out into the garden, in front of the library, and set to work
there on a part of the new catalogue of the collections, which she
and Mr. Levasseur were making. She did not, however, like Mr.
Levasseur. Something in her, indeed, disapproved of him strongly.
She had already managed to dislodge him a good deal from his former
intimacy with the Squire. Luckily she was a much better scholar than
he, though she admitted that his artistic judgment was worth having.

As a shelter from a rather cold north wind, she was sitting in full
sun under the protection of a yew hedge of ancient growth, which ran
out at right angles to the library, and made one side of a
quadrangular rose-garden, planted by Mrs. Mannering long ago, and
now, like everything else, in confusion and neglect.

Presently she heard voices on the other side of the hedge--Mrs.
Strang, no doubt, and Mrs. Gaddesden. She did not take much to
either lady. Mrs. Strang seemed to her full of good intentions, but
without practical ability to fit them. For Mrs. Gaddesden's type she
had an instinctive contempt, the contempt of the clever woman of
small means who has had to earn her own living, and to watch in
silence the poses and pretences of rich women playing at
philanthropy. But, all the same, she and the servants between them
had made Mrs. Gaddesden extremely comfortable, while at the same
time rationing her strictly. 'I really can be civil to anybody!'
thought Elizabeth complacently.

Suddenly, her own name, and a rush of remarks on the other side of
this impenetrable hedge, made her raise her head, startled, from her
work, eyes and mouth wide open.

It was Mrs. Gaddesden speaking.

'Yes, she's gone out. I went into the library just now to ask her to
look out a train for me. She's wonderfully good at Bradshaw. Oh, of
course, I admit she's a very clever woman! But she wasn't there.
Forest thinks she's gone over to Holme Wood, to get father some
information he wants. She asked Forest how to get this this morning.
My dear Margaret,' with great emphasis, 'there's no question about
it! If she chooses, she'll be mistress here before long. She's
steadily getting father into her hands. She was never engaged, was
she, to look after accounts and farms? and yet here she is, taking
everything on. He'll grow more and more dependent upon her, and
you'll see!--I believe he's been inclined for some time to marry
again. He wants somebody to look after Pamela, and set him free for
his hobbies. He'll very soon find out that this woman fills the
part, and that, if he marries her, he'll get a classical secretary
besides.'

Mrs. Strang's voice--a deep husky voice--interposed.

'Miss Bremerton's not a woman to be married against her will, that
you may be sure of, Alice.'

'No, but, my dear,' said the other impatiently, 'every woman over
thirty wants a home--and a husband. She'd get that here anyway,
however bad father's affairs may be. And, of course, a _position_.'

The voices passed on out of hearing. Elizabeth remained transfixed.
Then with a contemptuous shake of the head, and a bright colour, she
returned to her work.

But now, as she sat meditating on the hill-side, this absurd
conversation recurred to her. Absurd, and not absurd! 'Most women of
my sort can do what they have a mind to do,' she thought to herself,
with perfect _sang-froid_. 'If I thought it worth while to marry
this elderly lunatic--he's an interesting lunatic, though!--I
suppose I could do it. But it isn't worth while--not the least. I've
done with being a woman! What interests me is the bit of
_work_--national work! Men find that kind of thing enough--a great
many of them. I mean to find it enough. A fig for marrying!'

All the same, as she returned to her schemes both for regenerating
the estate and managing the Squire--schemes which were beginning to
fascinate her, both by their difficulty and their scale--she found
her thoughts oddly interfered with, first by recollections of the
past--bitter, ineffaceable memories--and then by reflections on the
recent course of her relations with the Squire.

He had greeted her that morning without a single reference to the
incidents of the night before, had seemed in excellent spirits, and
before going up to town had given her in twenty minutes, _à propos_
of some difficulty in her work, one of the most brilliant lectures
on certain points of Homeric archaeology she had ever heard--and she
was a connoisseur in lectures.

Intellectually, as a scholar, she both admired and looked upon
him--with reverence, even with enthusiasm. She was eager for his
praise, distressed by his censure. Practically and morally,
patriotically, above all, she despised him, thought him 'a worm and
no man'! There was the paradox of the situation and as full of
tingling challenge and entertainment as paradoxes generally are.

At this point she became aware of a group on the high road far to
her right. A pony-cart--a girl driving it--a man in khaki beside
her; with a second girl-figure and another khaki-clad warrior,
walking near.

She presently thought she recognized Pamela's pony and Pamela
herself. Desmond, who was going off that very evening to his
artillery camp, had told her that 'Pam' was driving Aubrey over to
Chetworth, and that he, Desmond, was 'jolly well going to see to it
that neither old Aubrey nor Beryl were bullied out of their lives by
father,' if he could help it. So no doubt the second girl-figure was
that of Beryl Chicksands, and the other gentleman in khaki was
probably Captain Chicksands, for whom Desmond seemed to cherish a
boyish hero-worship. They had been all lunching together at
Chetworth, she supposed.

She watched them coming, with a curious mingling of interest in them
and detachment from them. She was to them merely the Squire's paid
secretary. Were they anything to her? A puckish thought crossed her
mind, sending a flash of slightly cynical laughter through her quiet
eyes. If Mrs. Gaddesden's terrors--for she supposed they were
terrors--were suddenly translated into fact, why, all these people
would become in a moment related to her!--their lives would be mixed
up with hers--she and they would matter intimately to each other!

She sat smiling and dreaming a few more minutes, the dimples playing
about her firm mouth and chin. Then, as the sound of wheels drew
nearer, she rose and went towards the party.

       *       *       *       *       *

The party from Chetworth soon perceived Elizabeth's approach. 'So
this is the learned lady?' said the Captain in Pamela's ear. She had
brought him in her pony-carriage so far, as he was not yet able for
much physical exertion, and he and Beryl were to walk back from
Holme Wood Hill.

He put up his eye-glass, and examined the figure as it came nearer.

'She's just come up, I suppose, from the farm,' said Pamela,
pointing to some red roofs among the trees, in the wide hollow below
the hill.

'"Athêne Ageleiê"!' murmured the Major, who had been proxime for the
Ireland, and a Balliol man. 'She holds herself well--beautiful
hair!'

'Beryl, this is Miss Bremerton,' said Aubrey Mannering, with a
cordial ring in his voice, as he introduced his fiancée to
Elizabeth. The two shook hands, and Elizabeth thought the girl's
manner a little stand-off, and wondered why.

The pony had soon been tied up, and the party spread themselves on
the grass of the hill-side; for Holme Wood Hill was a famous point
of view, and the sunny peace of the afternoon invited loitering.
For miles to the eastward spread an undulating chalk plain, its
pale grey or purplish soil showing in the arable fields where the
stubbles were just in process of ploughing, its monotony broken by a
vast wood of oak and beech into which the hill-side ran down--a wood
of historic fame, which had been there when Senlac was fought, had
furnished ship-timber for the Armada, and sheltered many a cavalier
fugitive of the Civil Wars.

The wood indeed, which belonged to the Squire, was a fragment of
things primeval. For generations the trees in it had sprung up,
flourished, and fallen as they pleased. There were corners of it
where the north-west wind sweeping over the bare down above it had
made pathways of death and ruin; sinister places where the fallen or
broken trunks of the great beech trees, as they had crashed
down-hill upon and against each other, had assumed all sorts of
grotesque and phantasmal attitudes, as in a trampled mêlée of
giants; there were other parts where slender plumed trees, rising
branchless to a great height above open spaces, took the shape from
a distance of Italian stone palms, and gave a touch of southern or
romantic grace to the English midland scene; while at their feet,
the tops of the more crowded sections of the wood lay in close,
billowy masses of leaf, the oaks vividly green, the beeches already
aflame.

'Who says there's a war?' said Captain Chicksands, sinking
luxuriously into a sunny bed of dry leaves, conveniently placed in
front of Elizabeth. 'Miss Bremerton, you and I were, I understand,
at the same University?'

Elizabeth assented.

'Is it your opinion that Universities are any good?--that after the
war there are going to be any Universities?'

'Only those that please the Labour Party!' put in Mannering.

'Oh, I'm not afraid of the Labour Party--awfully good fellows, many
of them. The sooner they make a Government the better. They've got
to learn their lessons like the rest of us. But I do want to know
whether Miss Bremerton thinks Oxford was any _use_--before the
war--and is going to be any use after the war? It's all right now,
of course, for the moment, with the Colleges full of cadets and
wounded men. But would you put the old Oxford back if you could?'

He lay on his elbows looking up at her. Elizabeth's eyes sparkled a
little. She realized that an able man was experimenting on her,
putting her through her paces. She asked what he meant by 'the old
Oxford,' and an amusing dialogue sprang up between them as to their
respective recollections of the great University--the dons, the
lectures, the games, the Eights, 'Commem.' and the like. The Captain
presently declared that Elizabeth had had a much nicer Oxford than
he, and he wished he had been a female student.

'Didn't you--didn't you,' he said, his keen eyes observing her, 'get
a prize once that somebody had given to the Women's Colleges for
some Greek iambics?'

'Oh,' cried Elizabeth, 'how did you hear of that?'

'I was rather a dab at them myself,' he said lazily, drawing his hat
over his eyes as he lay in the sun, 'and I perfectly remember
hearing of a young lady--yes, I believe it was you!--whose
translation of Browning's "Lost Leader" into Greek iambics was
better than mine. They set it in the Ireland. You admit it? Capital!
As to the superiority of yours, I was, of course, entirely
sceptical, though polite. Remind me, how did you translate "Just for
a ribbon to put on his coat"?'

With a laughing mouth, Elizabeth at once quoted the Greek.

The Captain made a wry face.

'It sounds plausible, I agree,' he said slowly, 'but I don't believe
a Greek would have understood a word of it. You remember that in the
dim Victorian ages, when one great Latin scholar gave, as he
thought, the neatest possible translation of "The path of glory
leads but to the grave," another great Latin scholar declared that
all a Roman could have understood by it would have been "The path of
a public office leads to the jaws of the hillock"?'

The old Oxford joke was new in the ears of this Georgian generation,
and when the laugh subsided, Elizabeth said mildly:

'Now, please, may I have yours?'

'What--my translation? Oh--horribly unfair!' said the Captain,
chewing a piece of grass. 'However, here it is!'

He gave it out--with unction.

Elizabeth fell upon it in a flash, dissected and quarrelled with
every word of it, turned it inside out in fact, while the Captain,
still chewing, followed her with eyes of growing enjoyment.

'Well, I'll take a vote when I get back to the front,' he said, when
she came to an end. 'Several firsts in Mods on our staff. I'll send
you the result.'

The talk dropped. The mention of the front reminded every one of the
war, and its bearing on their own personal lot. Desmond was going
into camp that evening. In a few months he would be a full-blown
gunner at the front. Beryl, watching Aubrey's thin face and nervous
frown, proved inwardly that the Aldershot appointment might go on.
And Elizabeth's thoughts had flown to her brother in Mesopotamia.

Pamela, sitting apart, and deeply shaded by a great beech with
drooping branches that rose behind the group, was sharply unhappy,
and filled with a burning jealousy of Elizabeth, who queened it
there in the middle of them--so self-possessed, agreeable, and
competent. How well Arthur had been getting on with her! What a
tiresome, tactless idiot she, Pamela, must seem in comparison! The
memory of her talk with him made her cheeks hot. So few chances of
seeing him!--and when they came, she threw them away. She felt for
the moment as though she hated Elizabeth. Why had her father saddled
her upon them? Life was difficult enough before. Passionately she
began to think of her threat to Arthur. It had been the merest 'idle
word.' But why shouldn't she realize it--why not 'run away'? There
was work to be done, and money to be earned, by any able-bodied
girl. And perhaps then, when she was on her own, and had proved that
she was not a child any longer, Arthur would respect her more, take
more interest in her.

'What do you prophesy?' said Elizabeth suddenly, addressing Arthur
Chicksands, who seemed to be asleep in the grass. 'Will it end--by
next summer?'

'What, the war?' he said, waking up. 'Oh dear, no. Next year will be
the worst of any--the test of us all--especially of you civilians at
home. If we stick it, we shall save ourselves and the world. If we
don't--'

He shrugged his shoulders. His voice was full and deep. It thrilled
the girl sitting in the shade--partly with fear. In three weeks or
so, the speaker would be back in the full inferno of the front, and
because of her father's behaviour she would probably not be able to
see him in the interval. Perhaps she might never see him again.
Perhaps this was the last time. And he would go away without giving
her a thought. Whereas, if she had played her cards differently,
this one last day, he might at least have asked her to write to him.
Many men did--even with girls they hardly knew at all.

Just then she noticed a movement of Beryl's, and saw her friend's
small bare hand creep out and slip itself into Aubrey Mannering's,
as he sat beside her on the grass. The man's hand enfolded the
girl's--he turned round to smile at her in silence. A pang of
passionate envy swept through Pamela. It was just so she wished to
be enfolded--to be loved.

It was Elizabeth--as the person who had business to do and hours to
keep--who gave the signal for the break-up of the party. She sprang
to her feet, with a light, decided movement, and all the others fell
into line. Arthur and Beryl still accompanied the Mannering
contingent a short distance, the Captain walking beside Elizabeth in
animated conversation. At last Beryl peremptorily recalled him to
the pony-carriage, and the group halted for good-byes.

Pamela stood rather stiffly apart. The Captain went up to her.

'Good-bye, Pamela. Do write to me sometimes! I shall be awfully
interested about the farms!'

With vexation she felt the colour rush to her cheeks.

'I shan't have much to say about them,' she said stiffly.

'I'm sure you will! You'll get keen! But write about anything. It's
awfully jolly to get letters at the front!'

His friendly, interrogating eyes were on her, as though she puzzled
him in this new phase, and he wanted to understand her. She said
hurriedly, 'If you like,' hating herself for the coolness in her
voice, and shook hands, only to hear him say, as he turned finally
to Elizabeth, 'Mind, you have promised me "The Battle of the
Plough"! I'm afraid you'll hardly have time to put it into iambics!'

So he had asked Miss Bremerton to write to him too! Pamela vowed
inwardly that in that case she would not write him a line. And it
seemed to her unseemly that her father's secretary should be making
mock of her father's proceedings with a man who was a complete
stranger to her. She walked impetuously ahead of Aubrey and
Elizabeth. Towards the west the beautiful day was dying, and the
light streamed on the girl's lithe young figure and caught her
golden-brown hair. Clouds of gnats rose in the mild air; and a light
seemed to come back from the bronzed and purple hedgerows, making a
gorgeous atmosphere, in which the quiet hill-top and the thinning
trees swam transfigured. A green woodpecker was pecking
industriously among some hedgerow oaks, and Pamela, who loved birds
and watched them, caught every now and then the glitter of his
flight. The world was dropping towards sleep. But she was burningly
awake and alive. Had she ever been really alive before?

Then--suddenly she remembered Desmond. He was to be home from some
farewell visits between five and six. She would be late; he might
want her for a hundred things. His last evening! Her heart smote
her. They had reached the park gates. Waving her hand to the two
behind, with the one word 'Desmond!' she began to run, and was soon
out of their sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

Elizabeth and Aubrey were not long behind her. They found the house
indeed pervaded with Desmond, and Desmond's going. Aubrey also was
going up to town, but of him nobody took any notice. Pamela and
Forest were in attendance on the young warrior, who was himself in
the wildest spirits, shouting and whistling up and downstairs,
singing the newest and most shocking of camp songs, chaffing Forest,
and looking with mischievous eyes at the various knitted 'comforts'
to which his married sisters were hastily putting the last stitches.

'I say, Pam--do you see me in mittens?' he said to her in the hall,
thrusting out his two splendid hands with a grin. 'And as for that
jersey of Alice's--why, I should stew to death in it. Oh, I know--I
can give it to my batman. The fellows tell me you can always get rid
of things to your batman. It's like sending your wedding-presents to
the pawn-shop. But where is father?' The boy looked discontentedly
at his watch. 'He vowed he'd be here by five. I must be off by a few
minutes after eight.'

'The train's late. He'll be here directly,' said Pamela confidently;
'and I say--don't you hurt Alice's feelings, old man.'

'Don't you preach, Pam!' said the boy, laughing. And a few minutes
afterwards Pamela, passing the open door of the drawing-room, heard
him handsomely thanking his elder sisters. He ran into her as he
emerged with his arms full of scarves, mittens, and the famous
jersey which had taken Alice Gaddesden a year to knit.

'Stuff 'em in somewhere, Pam!' he said in her ear. 'They can go up
to London anyway.' And having shovelled them all off on to her, he
raced along the passage to the library in search of Elizabeth.

'I say, Miss Bremerton, I want a book or two.'

Elizabeth looked up smiling from her table. She was already of the
same mind as everybody outside and inside Mannering--that Desmond
did you a kindness when he asked you to do him one.

'What kind of a book?'

'Oh, I've got some novels, and some Nat Goulds, and Pamela's given
me some war-books. Don't know if I shall read 'em!--Well, I'd like a
small Horace, if you can find one. "My tutor" was an awfully good
hand at Horace. He really did make me like the old chap! And have
you got such a thing as a Greek Anthology that wouldn't take up much
room?'

Elizabeth went to the shelves to look. Desmond as the possessor of
literary tastes was a novelty to her. But, after all, she understood
that he had been a half in the Sixth at Eton, before his cadet
training began. She found him two small pocket editions, and the boy
thanked her gratefully. He began to turn over the Anthology, as
though searching for something.

'Can I help you to find anything?' she asked him.

'No--it's something I remember,' he said absently, and presently
hit upon it, with a look of pleasure.

'They did know a thing or two, didn't they? That's fine anyway?' He
handed her the book. 'But I forget some of the words. Do you mind
giving me a construe?' he said humbly.

Elizabeth translated, feeling rather choky.

'"On the Spartans at Thermopylæ.

'"Him--"'

'That's Xerxes, of course,' put in Desmond.

'"Him, who changed the paths of earth and sea, who sailed upon the
mainland, and walked upon the deep--him did Spartan valour hold
back, with just three hundred spears. Shame on you, mountains and
seas!"'

'Well, that's all right, isn't it?' said the boy simply, looking up.
'Couldn't put it better if you tried, could you?' Then he said,
hesitating a little as he turned down the leaf, and put the book in
his pocket, 'Five of the fellows who were in the Sixth with me this
time last year are dead by now. It makes you think a bit, doesn't
it?--Hullo, there is father!'

He turned joyously, his young figure finely caught in the light of
Elizabeth's lamp against the background of the Nikê.

'Well, father you have been a time! I thought you'd forgotten
altogether I was off to-night.'

'The train was abominably late. Travelling is becoming a perfect
nuisance! I gave the station-master a piece of my mind,' said the
Squire angrily.

'And I expect he said that you civilians jolly well have to wait for
the munition trains!'

'He muttered some nonsense of that sort. I didn't listen to him.'
The Squire threw himself down in an arm-chair. Desmond perched on
the corner of a table near. Elizabeth discreetly took up her work
and disappeared.

'How much time have you got?' asked the Squire abruptly.

'Oh, a few minutes. Aubrey and I are to have some supper before I
go. But Forest'll come and tell me.'

'Everything ready? Got money enough?'

'Rather! I shan't want anything for an age. Why, I shall be buying
war-loan out of my pay!'

He laughed happily. Then his face grew suddenly serious.

'Look here, father--I want awfully to say something. Do you mind?'

'If you want to say it, I suppose you will say it.'

The Squire was sitting hunched up, looking old and tired, his thick
white hair piled fantastically above his eyes.

Desmond straightened his shoulders with the air of one going over
the parapet.

'Well, it's this, father. I do wish you'd give up that row about the
park!'

The Squire sat up impatiently.

'That's not your business, Desmond. It can't matter to you.'

'Yes, but it _does_ matter to me!' said the boy with energy. 'It'll
be in all the papers--the fellows will gas about it at mess--it's
awfully hard lines on me. It makes me feel rotten!'

The Squire laughed. He was reminded of a Fourth of June years
before, when Desmond had gone through agonies of shame because
his father was not, in his eyes, properly 'got-up' for the
occasion--how he had disappeared in the High Street, and only
joined his people again in the crowd at the fireworks.

'I recommend you to stick it, Desmond. It won't last long. I've got
my part to play, and you've got yours. You fight because they make
you.'

'I _don't!_' said the boy passionately. 'I fight because--'

Then his words broke down. He descended from the table.

'Well, all right, father. I suppose it's no good talking. Only if
you think I shan't mind if you get yourself put in quad, you're
jolly well mistaken. Hullo, Forest! I'm coming!'

He hurried off, the Squire moving slowly after him. In the hour
before the boy departed he was the spoilt darling of his sisters and
the servants, who hung round him, and could not do enough for him.
He endured it, on the whole, patiently dashing out at the very end
to say good-bye to an old gardener, once a keeper, with whom he used
to go ferreting in the park. To his father alone his manner was not
quite as usual. It was the manner of one who had been hurt. The
Squire felt it.

As to his elder son, he and Aubrey parted without any outward sign
of discord, and on the way to London Aubrey, with the dry detachment
that was natural to him in speaking of himself, told the story of
the preceding twenty-four hours to the eager Desmond's sympathetic
ears. 'Well done, Broomie!' was the boy's exultant comment on the
tale of the codicil.

The house after Desmond's departure settled dreamily down. Pamela,
with red eyes, retreated to the schoolroom, and began to clear up
the debris left by the packing; Alice Gaddesden went to sleep in
the drawing-room; Mrs. Strang wrote urgent letters to registry
offices, who now seldom answered her; the Squire was in the library,
and Elizabeth retreated early to her own room. She spent a good deal
of time in writing up a locked diary, and finishing up a letter to
her mother. Then she saw to her astonishment that it was nearly one
o'clock, and began to feel sleepy.

The night was warm, and before undressing she put out her light, and
threw up her window. There was a moon nearly at the full outside,
and across the misty stretches of the park the owls were calling.

Suddenly she heard a distant footstep, and drew back from the
window. A man was pacing slowly up and down an avenue of pollarded
limes which divided the rose-garden from the park. His figure could
only be intermittently seen; but it was certainly the Squire.

She drew the curtains again without shutting the window; and for
long after she was in bed she still heard the footstep. It awakened
many trains of thought in her--of her own position in this household
where she seemed to have become already mistress and indispensable;
of Desmond's last words with her; of the relations between father
and son; of Captain Chicksands and his most agreeable company; of
Pamela's evident dislike of her, and what she could do to mend it.

As to Pamela, Elizabeth's thoughts went oddly astray. She was vexed
with the girl for what had seemed to the elder woman her young
rudeness to a gallant and distinguished man. Why, she had scarcely
spoken a word to him during the sitting on the hill! In some way,
Elizabeth supposed, Captain Chicksands had offended her--had not
made enough of her perhaps? But girls must learn now to accept
simpler and blunter manners from their men friends. She guessed that
Pamela was in that self-conscious, _exalté_ mood of first youth
which she remembered so well in herself--fretting too, no doubt,
poor child! over the parting from Desmond. Anyway she seemed to have
no particular interest in Arthur Chicksands, nor he in her, though
his tone in speaking to her had been, naturally, familiar and
intimate. But probably he was one of those able men who have little
to say to the young girl, and keep their real minds for the older
and experienced woman.

At any rate, Elizabeth dismissed from her mind whatever vague notion
or curiosity as to a possible love-affair for Pamela in that
direction might have been lurking in it. And that being so, she
promptly, and without _arrière pensée_ of any sort, allowed herself
the pleasant recollection of half an hour's conversation which had
put her intellectually on her mettle, and quickened those infant
ambitions of a practical and patriotic kind which were beginning to
rise in her.

But the Squire's coming escapade! How to stop it?--for Desmond's
sake chiefly.

Dear boy! It was on a tender, almost maternal thought of him that
she at last turned to sleep. But the footstep pursued her ear. What
was the meaning of this long nocturnal pacing? Had the Squire, after
all, a heart, or some fragment of one? Was it the parting from
Desmond that thus kept him from his bed? She would have liked to
think it--but did not quite succeed!



CHAPTER VII


A week or two had passed.

The Squire was on his way to inspect his main preparations for the
battle at the park gates, which he expected on the morrow. He had
been out before breakfast that morning, on horseback, with one of
the gardeners, to see that all the gates on the estate, except the
Chetworth gate, were locked and padlocked. For the Chetworth gate,
which adjoined the land to be attacked, more serious defences were
in progress.

All his attempts to embarrass the action of the Committee had been
so far vain. The alternatives he had proposed had been refused.
Fifty acres at the Chetworth end of Mannering Park, besides goodly
slices elsewhere, the County Committee meant to have. As the Squire
would not plough them himself, and as the season was advancing, he
had been peremptorily informed that the motor plough belonging to
the County Committee would be sent over on such a day, with so many
men, to do the work; the land had been surveyed; no damage would be
done to the normal state of the property that could be avoided; et
cetera.

So the crisis was at hand. The Squire felt battle in his blood.

As he walked along through his domain, exhilarated by the bright
frosty morning, and swinging his stick like a boy, he was in the
true Quixotic mood, ready to tilt at any wind-mill in his path. The
state of the country, the state of the war, the state of his own
affairs, had produced in him a final ferment of resentment and
disgust which might explode in any folly.

Why not go to prison? He thought he could bear it. A man must stand
by his opinions--even through sacrifice. It would startle the public
into attention. Such outrages on the freedom, on the ancient rights
of Englishmen, must not pass without protest. Yes--he felt it in him
to be a martyr! They would hardly refuse him a pocket Homer in
prison.

What, a month? Three weeks, in actual practice. Luckily he cared
nothing at all about food--though he refused to be rationed by a
despotic Government. On a handful of dates and a bit of coarse bread
he had passed many a day of hard work when he was excavating in the
East. One can always starve--for a purpose! The Squire conceived
himself as out for Magna Charta--the root principles of British
liberty. As for those chattering fellows of the Labour Party, let
them conquer England if they could. While the Government ploughed up
his land without leave, the Socialists would strip him of it
altogether. Well, nothing for it but to _fight_! If one went down,
one went down--but at least honourably.

In the _Times_ that morning there was a report of a case in the
north, a landowner fined £100, for letting a farm go to waste for
the game's sake. And Miss Bremerton had been holding up the like
fate to him that morning--because of Holme Wood. A woman of parts
that!--too clever!--a disputatious creature, whom a man would like
to put down. But it wasn't easy; she slipped out of your grip--gave
you unexpected tits for tats. One would have thought after that
business with the will, she would be anxious to make up--to show
docility. In such a relation one expected docility. But not a bit of
it! She grew bolder. The Squire admitted uncomfortably that it was
his own fault--only, in fact, what he deserved for making a
land-agent, accountant, and legal adviser out of a poor lady who had
merely engaged herself to be his private secretary for classical
purposes.

All the same he confessed that she had never yet neglected the
classical side of her duties. His thoughts contrasted the library
and the collections as they were now, with what they had been a
couple of months before. Now he knew where books could be found; now
one could see the precious things he possessed. Her taste--her
neatness--her diligence--nothing could beat them. And she moved so
quietly--had so light a foot--and always a pleasant voice and smile.
Oh yes, she had been a great catch--an astonishing catch--no doubt
of that. All the same he was not going to be entirely governed by
her! And again he thought complacently of the weak places in her
scholarship--the very limited extent of her reading--compared to
his. 'By Zeus!--[Greek: ei pot' estin]--if it weren't for that, I
should never keep the whip-hand of her at all!'

She had made a forlorn attempt again, that morning, to dissuade him
from the park adventure. But there he drew the line. For there
really was a line, though he admitted it might be difficult to see,
considering all that he was shovelling upon her. He had been very
short--perhaps she would say, very rude--with her. Well, it couldn't
be helped! When she saw what he was really prepared to face, she
would at least respect him. And if he was shut up, she could get on
with the catalogue, and keep things going.

Altogether the Squire was above himself. The tonic air and scents
of the autumn, the crisp leaves underfoot, the slight frost on the
ruts, helped his general intoxication. He, the supposed scholar and
recluse, was about to play a part--a rattling part. The eye of
England would be upon him! He already tasted the prison fare, and
found it quite tolerable.

As to Desmond--

But the thought of him no sooner crossed the Squire's mind than he
dismissed it. Or rather it survived far within, as a volcanic force,
from which the outer froth and ferment drew half its strength. He
was being forcibly dispossessed of Desmond, just as he was being
forcibly dispossessed of his farms and his park; or of his money,
swallowed up in monstrous income tax.

Ah, there were Dodge and Perley, the two park-keepers, one of whom
lived in the White Lodge, now only a hundred yards away. Another man
who was standing by them, near the park wall, looked to the Squire
like Gregson, his ejected farmer. And who was that black-coated
fellow coming through the small wicket-gate beside the big one? What
the devil was he doing in the park? There was a permanent grievance
in the Squire's mind against the various rights-of-way through his
estate. Why shouldn't he be at liberty to shut out that man if he
wanted to? Of course by the mere locking and barricading of the
gates, as they would be locked and barricaded on the morrow, he was
flouting the law. But that was a trifle. The _gates_ were his own
anyway.

The black-coated man, however, instead of proceeding along the road,
had now approached the group of men standing under the wall, and
was talking with them. They themselves did not seem to be doing
anything, although a large coil of barbed wire and a number of
hurdles lay near them.

'Hullo, Dodge!'

At the Squire's voice the black-coated man withdrew a little
distance to the roadway, where he stood watching. Of the three
others the two old fellows, ex-keepers both of them, stood
sheepishly silent, as the Squire neared them.

'Well, my men, good-morning! What have you done?' said the Squire
peremptorily.

Dodge looked up.

'We've put a bit of wire on the gate, Squoire, an' fastened the
latch of it up--and we've put a length or two along the top of the
wall,' said the old man slowly--'an' then--' He paused.

'Then what?--what about the hurdles? I expected to find them all up
by now!'

Dodge looked at Perley. And Perley, a gaunt, ugly fellow, who had
been a famous hunter and trapper in his day, took off his hat and
mopped his brow, before he said, in a small, cautious voice,
entirely out of keeping with the rest of him:

'The treuth on it is, Squoire, we don't loike the job. We be afeard
of their havin' the law on us.'

'Oh, you're afraid, are you?' said the Squire angrily. '_You_ won't
stand up for your rights, anyway!'

Perley looked at his employer a little askance.

'They're not _our_ rights, if you please, Muster Mannering. We don't
have nothing to say to 'un.'

'They are your rights, you foolish fellow! If this abominable
Government tramples on me to-day, it'll trample on you to-morrow.'

'Mebbe, Squoire, mebbe,' said Perley mildly. 'But Dodge and I don't
feel loike standing up to 'un. We was engaged to mind the roads an'
the leaves, an' a bit rabbitin', an' sich like. But this sort of job
is somethin' out o' the common, Muster Mannering. We don't hold wi'
it. The County they've got a powerful big road-engine, Squoire.
They'll charge them gates to-morrow--there 'll be a terr'ble to do.
My wife, she's frightened to death. She's got a cart from Laycocks,
and she's takin' all our bit things over to her mother's. She won't
stay, she says, to be blowed up, not for no one. Them Governments is
terr'ble powerful, Squoire. If they was to loose a bit o' gas on
us--or some o' they stuffs they put into shells? Noa, Noa,
Squoire'--Perley shook his head resolutely, imitated exactly by
Dodge--'we'll do our dooty in them things we was engaged to do. But
we're not foightin' men!'

'You needn't tell me that!' said the Squire, exasperated. 'The look
of you's enough. So you refuse to barricade those gates?'

'Well, we do, Squoire,' said Perley, in a tone of forced
cheerfulness.

'Yes, we do,' said Dodge slowly, copying the manner of his leader.

All this time Gregson had been standing a little apart from the
rest. His face showed traces of recent drinking, his hands wandered
restlessly from his coat-collar to his pockets, his clothes were
shabby and torn. But when the Squire looked round him, as though
invoking some one or something to aid him against these deserters,
Gregson came forward.

'If you want any help, Mr. Mannering, I'm your man. I suppose these
fellows'll lend a hand with carrying these things up to the gates.
They'll not risk their precious skins much by doing that!'

Perley and Dodge replied with alacrity that so far they would gladly
oblige the Squire, and they began to shoulder the hurdles.

It was at that moment that the Squire caught the eye of the
black-coated man, who had been observing the whole proceedings from
about ten yards off. The expression of the eye roused in Mannering
an itching desire to lay immediate hands on its possessor. He strode
up to him.

'I don't know, sir, why you stand there, looking on at things that
are no business of yours,' he said angrily. 'If you want to know
your way anywhere, one of my men here will show you.'

'Oh, thank you,' said the other tranquilly. 'I know my way
perfectly.' He held up an ordnance map, which he carried in his
hand. 'I'm an engineer. I come from London, and I'm bound for a job
at Crewe. But I'm very fond of country walking when the weather's
good. I've walked about a good bit of England, in my time, but this
part is a bit I don't know. So, as I had two days' holiday, I
thought I'd have a look at your place on the road. And as you are
aware, Mr. Mannering'--he pointed to the map--'this is a
right-of-way, and you can't turn me out.'

'All the same, sir, you are on my property,' said the Squire hotly,
'and a right-of-way only means a right of passing through. I should
be much obliged if you would hurry yourself a little.'

The other laughed. He was a slim fellow, apparently about thirty, in
a fresh, well-cut, serge suit. A book was sticking out of one
pocket; he returned the map to the other. He had the sallow look of
one who has spent years in hot workshops, and a slight curvature of
the spine; but his eyes were singularly, audaciously bright, and all
his movements alert and decided.

'It's not often one sees such a typical bit of feudalism as this,'
he said, without the smallest embarrassment, pointing to the old
men, the gates, the hurdles, which Gregson was now placing in
position, and finally the Squire himself. 'I wouldn't have missed it
for worlds. It's as good as a play. You're fighting the County
Agricultural War Committee, I understand from these old fellows,
because they want a bit of your park to grow more food?'

'Well, sir, and how does it matter to you?'

'Oh, it matters a great deal,' said the other, smiling. 'I want to
be able to tell my grandchildren--when I get 'em--that I once saw
this kind of thing. They'll never believe me. For in their day, you
see, there'll be no squires, and no parks. The land 'll be the
people's, and all this kind of thing--_your_ gates, _your_ servants,
_your_ fine house, _your_ game-coverts, and all the rest of it--will
be like a bit of history out of Noah's Ark.'

The Squire looked at him attentively.

'You're a queer kind of chap,' he said, half contemptuously. 'I
suppose you're one of those revolutionary fellows the papers talk
about?'

'That's it. Only there are a good many of us. When the time comes,'
he nodded pleasantly, 'we shall know how to deal with you.'

'It'll take a good deal longer than you think,' said the Squire
coolly; 'unless indeed you borrow the chap from Russia who's
invented the machine for cutting off five hundred heads at once, by
electricity. That might hasten matters a little!'

He had by now entirely recovered his chaffing, reckless temper, and
was half enjoying the encounter.

'Oh, not so long,' said the other. 'You're just passing a Franchise
Bill that will astonish you when you see the results! You perhaps
may just live it out--yes, you may die peaceably in that house
yonder. But your son, if you have one--that'll be another pair of
boots!'

'You and your pals would be much better employed in stopping this
accursed war than in talking revolutionary drivel like that,' said
the Squire, with energy.

'Oh ho! so you want to stop the war?' said the other, lifting his
eyebrows. 'I should like to know why.'

The Squire went off at once into one of his usual tirades as to
'slavery' and 'liberty.' 'You're made to work, or fight!
willy-nilly. That man's turned out of his farm--willy-nilly. I'm
made to turn him out--willy-nilly. The common law of England's
trampled under foot. What's worth it? Nothing!'

The Squire's thin countenance glowed fanatically. With his arms
akimbo he stood towering over the younger man, his white hair
glistening in the sun.

The other smiled, as he looked his assailant up and down.

'Who's the revolutionist now?' he said quietly. 'What's the war cost
_you_, Mr. Mannering, compared to what it's cost me and my pals?
This is the first holiday I've had for three years. Twice I've
dropped like dead in the shop--strained heart, says the doctor. No
time to eat!--no time to sleep!--come out for an hour, wolf some
brandy down and go back again, and then they tell you you're a
drunken brute! "Shells and guns!" says the Government--"more
shells!--more guns!--deliver the goods!" And we've delivered 'em. My
two brothers are dead in France. I shall be "combed" out directly,
and a "sniper" will get me, perhaps, three days after I get to the
trenches, as he did my young brother. What then? Oh, I know, there's
some of us--the young lads mostly--who've got out of hand, and 'll
give the Government trouble perhaps before they've done. Who can
wonder, when you see the beastly towns they come out of, and the
life they were reared in! And _none of us_ are going to stand
profiteering, and broken pledges, and that kind of thing!'--a sudden
note of passion rushed into the man's voice. 'But after all, when
all's said and done, this is _England_!' he turned with a fine,
unconscious gesture to the woods and green spaces behind him, and
the blue distances of plain--'and we're _Englishmen_--and it's touch
and go whether England's going to come out or go under; and if we
can't pay the Huns for what they've done in Belgium--what they've
done in France!--what they've done to our men on the sea!--well,
it's a devil's world!--and I'd sooner be quit of it, it don't matter
how!'

The man's slight frame shook under the force of his testimony. His
eyes held the Squire, who was for the moment silenced. Then the
engineer turned on his heel with a laugh:

'Well, good-day to you, Mr. Mannering. Go and fasten up your gates!
If I'm for minding D.O.R.A. and winning the war, I'm a good
Socialist all the same. I shall be for making short work with you,
when our day comes.' And touching his hat, he walked rapidly away.

The Squire straightened his shoulders, and looked round to see
whether they had been overheard. But the labourers carrying the
hurdles, and Gregson burdened with the coil of wire, had not been
listening. They stood now in a group close to the main gate waiting
for their leader. The Squire walked up to them, picking his way
among various articles of furniture, a cradle, some bedding, a trunk
or two, which lay scattered in the road in front of the white
casemented lodge. The wife of old Perley, the lodge-keeper, was
standing on her doorstep.

'Well, no offence, Muster Mannering, but Perley and me's going over
to my sister's at Wood End to-night, afore the milingtary come.' The
black-browed elderly woman spoke respectfully but firmly.

'What silly nonsense have you got into your heads?' shouted the
Squire. 'You know very well all that's going to happen is that the
County Council are going to send their motor-plough over, and
they'll have to break down the gates to get in, so that the law can
settle it. What's come to you that you're all scuttling like a pack
of rabbits? It's not your skins that'll pay for it--it's mine!'

'We're told--Perley an' me--as there'll be miling_tary_,' said Mrs.
Perley, unmoved. 'Leastways, they'll bring a road-engine, Perley
says, as'll make short work o' them gates. And folks do say as they
might even bring a tank along; you know, sir, as there's plenty of
'em, and not fur off.' She nodded mysteriously towards a quarter,
never mentioned in the neighbourhood, where these Behemoths of war
had a training-ground. 'And Perley and me, we can't have nowt to do
wi' such things. We wasn't brought up to 'em.'

'Well, if you go, you don't come back!' said the Squire, shaking a
threatening hand.

'Thank you, sir. But there's work for all on us nowadays,' said the
woman placidly.

Then the Squire, with Gregson's help, set himself fiercely to the
business. In little more than an hour, and with the help of some
pieces of rope, the gate had been firmly barricaded with hurdles and
barbed wire, wicket-gate and all, and the Squire, taking a poster in
large letters from his pocket, affixed it to the outside of the
gate. It signified to all and sundry that the Chetworth gate of
Mannering Park could now only be opened by violence, and that those
offering such violence would be proceeded against according to law.

When it was done, the Squire first addressed a few scathing words to
the pair of park-keepers, who smoked imperturbably through them, and
then transferred a pound-note to the ready palm of Gregson, who was,
it seemed, on the point of accepting work as a stock-keeper from
another of the Squire's farmers--a brother culprit, only less
'hustled' than himself by the formidable County Committee, which was
rapidly putting the fear of God into every bad husbandman throughout
Brookshire. Then the Squire hurried off homewards.

His chief thought now was--what would that most opinionated young
woman at home say to him? He was at once burning to have it out with
her, and--though he would have scorned to confess it--nervous as to
how he might get through the encounter.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fate, however, ordained that his thoughts about the person who had
now grown so important to his household should be affected, before
he saw her again, from a new quarter. The Rector, Mr. Pennington,
quite unaware of the doughty deeds that had been done at the
Chetworth gate, and coming from his own house which stood within the
park enclosure, ran into the Squire at a cross-road.

The Squire looked at him askance, and kept his own counsel. The
Rector was a man of peace, and had once or twice tried to dissuade
the Squire from his proposed acts of war. The Squire, therefore, did
not mean to discuss them with him. But, in general, he and the
Rector were good friends. The Rector was a bit of a man of the
world, and never attempted to put a quart into a pint-pot. He took
the Squire as he found him, and would have missed the hospitalities
of the Hall--or rather the conversation they implied--if he had been
obliged to forgo them. The Squire on his side had observed with
approval that the Rector was a fair scholar, and a bad beggar. He
could take up quotations from Horace, and he was content with such
parish subscriptions as the Squire had given for twenty years, and
was firmly minded not to increase.

But here also the arrival of Elizabeth had stirred the waters. For
the Rector was actually on his way to try and get a new subscription
out of the Squire; and it was Elizabeth's doing.

'You remember that child of old Leonard the blacksmith?' said the
Rector eagerly; 'a shocking case of bow-legs, one of the worst I
ever saw. But Miss Bremerton's taken endless trouble. And now we've
got an admission for him to the Orthopaedic hospital. But there's a
few pounds to be raised for his maintenance--it will be a question
of months. I was just coming over to see if you would give me a
little,' he wound up, in a tone of apology.

The Squire, with a brow all clouds, observed that when children
were bow-legged it was entirely the fault of their mothers.

'Ah, yes,' said the Rector, with a sigh. 'Mrs. Leonard is a
slatternly woman--no doubt of that. But when you've said that you
haven't cured the child.'

The Squire ungraciously said he would consider it; and the Rector,
knowing well that he would get no more at a first assault, let the
child alone, and concentrated on the topic of Elizabeth.

'An extraordinarily capable creature,' he said warmly, 'and a good
heart besides. You were indeed lucky to find her, and you are very
wise to give her her head. The village folk can't say enough about
her.'

The Squire felt his mouth twitching. With some horses, is there any
choice--but Hobson's--as to 'giving' them their head?

'Yes, she's clever,' he said grudgingly.

'And it was only to-day,' pursued the Rector, 'that I heard her
story from a lady, a friend of my wife's, who's been spending Sunday
with us. She seems to have met Miss Bremerton and her family at
Richmond a year or so ago, where everybody who knew them had a great
respect for them. The mother was a nice, gentle body, but this elder
daughter had most of the wits--though there's a boy in a Worcester
regiment they're all very fond and proud of--and she always looked
after the others, since the father--who was a Civil servant--died,
six years ago. Then two years since, she engaged herself to a young
Yeomanry officer--'

'Eh--what?--what do you say?--a Yeomanry officer?' said the Squire,
looking round.

'Precisely--a Yeomanry officer. They were engaged and apparently
very happy. He was a handsome, upstanding fellow, very popular with
women. Then he went out to Egypt with his regiment, and it was
intended they should marry when he got his first leave. But
presently his letters began to change. Then they only came at long
intervals. And at last they stopped. He had complained once of an
attack of sunstroke, and she was wretched, thinking he was ill. At
last a letter reached her from a brother officer, who seems to have
behaved very kindly--with the explanation. Her fiance had got into
the clutches--no one exactly knew how--of a Greek family living in
Alexandria, and had compromised himself so badly with one of the
daughters, that the father, a cunning old Greek merchant, had
compelled him to marry her. Threats of exposure, and all the rest!
The brother officer hinted at a plot--that the poor fellow had been
trapped, and was more sinned against than sinning. However, there it
was. He was married to the Greek girl; Miss Bremerton's letters
were returned; and the thing was at an end. Our friend says she
behaved splendidly. She went on with her work in the War Trade
Department--shirked nothing and no one--till suddenly, about six
months ago, she had a bad breakdown--'

'What do you mean?' said the Squire abruptly. 'She was ill?'

'A combination of overwork and influenza, I should think; but no
doubt the tragedy had a good deal to do with it. She went down to
stay for a couple of months with an uncle in Dorsetshire, and got
better. Then the family lost some money, through a solicitor's
mismanagement--enough anyway to make a great deal of difference. The
mother too broke down in health. Miss Bremerton came home at once,
and took everything on her own shoulders. You remember, she heard of
your secretaryship from that Balliol man you wrote to--who had been
a tutor of hers when she was at Somerville? She determined to apply
for it. It was more money than she was getting in London, and she
had to provide for her mother and to educate her young sister.
Plucky woman! All this interested me very much, I confess. I have
formed such a high opinion of her! And I thought it would interest
you.'

'I don't know what we any of us have to do with it,' grumbled the
Squire.

The Rector drew himself up a little, resenting the implied rebuke.

'I hope I don't seem to you to be carrying gossip for gossip's
sake,' he said, rather indignantly. 'Nothing was further from my
intention. I like and admire Miss Bremerton a great deal too much.'

'Well, I don't know what we can do,' said the Squire testily. 'We
can't unmarry the man.'

The Rector pulled up short, and offered a chilly good-bye. As he
hurried on towards the village--little knowing the obstacles he
would encounter in his path--he said to himself that the Squire's
manners were really past endurance. One could hardly imagine that
Miss Bremerton would be long able to put up with them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Squire meanwhile pursued the rest of his way, wrapped in rather
disagreeable reflections. He was not at all grateful to the Rector
for telling him the story--quite the reverse. It altered his mental
attitude towards his secretary; introduced disturbing ideas, which
he had no use for. He had taken for granted that she was one of
those single women of the present day whose intellectual interests
are enough for them, who have never really felt the call of passion,
and can be trusted to look at life sensibly without taking love and
marriage into account. To think of Miss Bremerton as having suffered
severely from a love-affair--broken her heart, and injured her
health over it--was most distracting. If it had happened once--why,
of course, it might happen again. She was not immune; in spite of
all her gifts, she was susceptible, and it was a horrid nuisance.

He went home all on edge, what with the adventure of the gates, the
encounter with the engineer fellow, and now the revelations of the
Rector.

As he approached the house, he saw from the old clock in the gable
of the northern front that it was two o'clock. He was half-an-hour
late for lunch. Luncheon, in fact, must be over. And indeed, as he
passed along the library windows, he saw Elizabeth's figure at her
desk. It annoyed him that she should have gone back to work so soon
after her meal. He had constantly made it plain to her that she was
not expected to begin work of an afternoon till four o'clock. She
would overdo it: and then she would break down again as she had done
before. In his selfishness, his growing dependence on her
companionship and her help, he began to dread the mere chance.

How agreeable, and how fruitful, their days of work had been lately!
He had been, of course, annoyed sometimes by her preoccupation with
the war news of the morning. Actually, this Caporetto business, the
Italian disaster, had played the mischief with her for a day or
two--and the news from Russia. Any bad news, indeed, seemed to haunt
her; her colour faded away; and if he dictated notes to her, they
would be occasionally inaccurate. But that was seldom. In general,
he felt that he had made great strides during the preceding weeks;
that, thanks to her, the book he was attempting was actually coming
into shape. She had suggested so much--sometimes by her knowledge,
sometimes by her ignorance. And always so modest--so teachable--so
docile.

_Docile_? The word passing through his mind again, as it had in the
morning, roused in him mingled laughter and uneasiness. For outside
their classical work together, nothing indeed could be less docile
than Miss Bremerton. How she had withstood him in the matter of the
codicil! He could see her still, as she stood there with her hands
behind her, defying him. And that morning also, when she had spoken
her mind on the project of the gates.

Well, now, he had to go in and tell her that the deed was done, and
the park was closed.

He crept round to a side door, nervous lest she should perceive him
from the library, and made Forest get him some lunch. Then he hung
about the hall smoking. It was ridiculous--nonsensical--but he
admitted to himself that he shrank from facing her.

At last a third cigarette put the requisite courage into him, and he
walked slowly to the library. As he entered the room, Elizabeth rose
from her chair.

She stood there waiting for his orders, or his report--her quiet
eyes upon him.

He told himself not to be a fool, and throwing away his cigarette,
he walked up to her, and said in a tone of bravado:

'Well, the barricades are up!'



CHAPTER VIII


The Squire having shot his bolt, looked anxiously for the effect of
it.

Elizabeth, apparently, took it calmly. She was standing with one
hand on the table behind her, and the autumn sun streaming in
through the western windows caught the little golden curls on her
temples, and the one or two small adornments that she habitually
wore, especially a Greek coin--a gold stater--hanging on a slender
chain round her neck. In the Squire's eyes, the stately figure in
plain black, with the brilliant head and hands, had in some way
gathered into itself the significance of the library. All the
background of books, with its pale and yet rich harmony of tone, the
glass cases with their bronzes and terra-cottas, the statues, the
papers on the table, the few flowers that were never wanting to
Elizabeth's corner, the taste with which the furniture had been
re-arranged, the general elegance and refinement of the big room in
fact, since Elizabeth had reduced it from chaos to order, were now
related to her rather than to him. He could not now think of the
room without her. She had become in this short time so markedly its
presiding spirit. 'Let there be order and beauty!' she had said,
instead of dirt and confusion; and the order and beauty were there.

But the presiding spirit was now surveying him, with eyes that
seemed to have been watchfully withdrawn, under puckered brows.

'I don't understand,' said Elizabeth. 'You have fastened up the
gates?'

'I have,' said the Squire jocularly. 'Mrs. Perley believes the
Committee will bring a tank! That would be a sight worth seeing.'

'You really want to stop them from ploughing up that land?'

'I do. I have offered them other land.'

Elizabeth hesitated.

'Don't you believe what the Government say, Mr. Mannering?'

'What do they say?'

'That everything depends upon whether we shall have food enough to
hold out? That we can't win the war unless we can grow more food
ourselves?'

'That's the Government's affair.' The Squire sat down at his own
table and began to look out a pen.

'Well now, Miss Bremerton, I don't think we need spend any more time
over this tiresome business. I've already lost the morning. Suppose
we get on with the work we were doing yesterday?'

He turned an amicable countenance towards her. She on her side moved
a little towards a window near her table, and looked out of it, as
though reflecting. After a minute or two he asked himself with a
vague anxiety what was wrong with her. Her manner was certainly
unusual.

Suddenly she turned, and came half across the room towards him.

'May I speak to you, please, Mr. Mannering?'

'By all means. Is there anything amiss?'

'I think we agreed on a month's notice, on either side. I should be
glad if you would kindly accept my notice as from to-day.'

The Squire rose violently, and thrust back his chair.

'So that's what you have been cogitating in my absence?'

'Not at all,' said Elizabeth mildly. 'I have made a complete list of
the passages you asked for.'

She pointed to her table.

'Yet all the time you were planning this move--you were making up
your mind what to do?'

She hesitated.

'I was often afraid it would have to be done,' she said at last.

'And pray may I ask your reasons?' The Squire's tone was sarcastic.
'I should like to know in what I have failed to satisfy you. I
suppose you thought I was rude to you this morning?'

'Oh, that didn't matter,' she said hastily. 'The fact is, Mr.
Mannering,' she crossed her hands quietly in front of her, 'you put
responsibilities on me that I am not prepared to carry. I feel I
must give them up.'

'I thought you liked responsibility.'

Elizabeth coloured.

'It--it depends what sort. I begin to see now that my
principles--and opinions--are so different from yours that, if we go
further, I shall either be disappointing you or--doing what I think
wrong.'

'You can't conceive ever giving up your opinion to mine?'

'No!' Elizabeth shook her head with decision. 'No! that I really
can't conceive!'

'Upon my word!' said the Squire, fairly taken aback. They confronted
each other. Elizabeth began to look disturbed. Her eyelids flickered
once or twice.

'I think we ought to be quite serious,' she said hurriedly. 'I
don't want you to misunderstand me. If you knew how I valued this
opportunity of doing this classical work with you! It is
_wonderful_'--her voice wavered a little, or the Squire fancied
it--'what you have taught me even in this short time. I am proud to
have been your secretary--and your pupil. If it were only that'--she
paused--'but you have also been so kind as to--to take me into your
confidence--to let me do things for you, outside of what you engaged
me for. I see plainly that--if I go on with this--I shall become
your secretary--your agent in fact--for a great many things besides
Greek.'

Then she made an impetuous step forward.

'Mr. Mannering!--the atmosphere of this house chokes me!'

The Squire dropped back into his chair, watching her with eyes in
which he tried--not very successfully--to keep dignity alive.

'Your reasons?'

'I am with the _country_!' she said, not without signs of agitation;
'and you seem to me to care nothing about the country!'

Disputation was never unwelcome to the Squire. He riposted.

'Of course, we mean entirely different things by the word.'

She threw back her head slightly, with a gesture of scorn.

'We might argue that, if it were peace-time. But this is _war_! Your
country--my country--has the German grip at her throat. A few
months--and we are saved--or broken!--the country that gave us
birth--all we have--all we are!' Her words came short and thick,
and she had turned very white. 'And in this house there is never, in
your presence, a word of the war!--of the men who are dying by land
and sea--_dying_, that you and I may sit here in peace--that you may
talk to me about Greek poetry, and put spokes in the wheels of those
who are trying to feed us--and defend us--and beat off Germany.
Nothing for the wounded!--nothing for the hospitals! And you won't
let Pamela do anything! Not a farthing for the Red Cross! You made
me write a letter last week refusing a subscription. And then,
when they only ask you to let your land grow food--that the
German pirates and murderers mayn't starve us into a horrible
submission--_then_ you bar your gates--you make endless trouble,
when the country wants every hour of every man's time--you, in your
position, give the lead to every shirker and coward! No! I can't
bear it any more! I must go. I have had happy times here--I love the
work--I am very glad to earn the money, for my people want it. But I
must go. My heart--my conscience won't let me stay!'

She turned from him, with an unconscious gesture which seemed to the
Squire to be somewhat mingled with that of the great Victory
towering behind her, and went quickly back to her table, where she
began with trembling hands to put her papers together.

The Squire tried to laugh it off.

'And all this,' he said with a sneer, 'because I tied up a few
gates!'

She made no reply. He was conscious of mingled dismay and fury.

'You will stay your month?' he inquired at last, coldly. 'You don't
propose, I imagine, to leave me at a moment's notice?'

She was bending over her table, and did not look up.

'Oh yes, I will stay my month.'

He sat speechless, watching her. She very quickly finished what she
was doing, and taking up her note-book, and some half-written
letters, she left the room.

'A pretty state of things!' said the Squire, and thrusting his long
hands into his pockets he began to pace the library, in the kind of
temper that may be imagined--given the man and the circumstances.

The difference, however, between this occasion and others lay in the
fact that the penalties of temper had grown so unjustly heavy. The
Squire felt himself hideously aggrieved. Abominable!--that he should
be hindered in his just rights and opinions by this indirect
pressure from a woman, whom he couldn't wrestle with and floor, as
he would a man, because of her sex. That was always the way with
women. No real equality--no give and take--in spite of all the
suffrage talk. Their weakness was their tyranny. Weakness indeed!
They were much stronger than men. God help England when they got the
vote! The Greeks said it--Euripides said it. But, of course, the
Greeks have said everything! Hecuba to Agamemnon, for instance, when
she is planning the murder of the Thracian King:

'Leave it to me!--and my Trojan women!'

And Agamemnon's scoffing reply--poor idiot!--'How can _women_ get
the better of men?'

And Hecuba's ghastly low-voiced 'In a _crowd_ we are
terrible!'--[Greek: deinon to plêthos]--as she and her women turn
upon the Thracian, put out his eyes, and tear his children limb from
limb.

But _one_ woman might be quite enough to upset a quiet man's way of
living! The moral pressure of it was so iniquitous! Your convictions
or your life! It was the language of a footpad.

To pull down the hurdles, and tamely let in Chicksands and his
minions--how odious! To part with Elizabeth Bremerton and to be
reduced again to the old chaos and helplessness--how still more
odious! As to the war--so like a woman to suppose that any war was
ever fought with unanimity by any country! Look at the Crimea!--the
Boer War!--the Napoleonic Wars themselves, if it came to that! Why
was Fox a patriot, and he a traitor? Let her answer that!

And all the time, Elizabeth's light touch upon his will was like the
curb on a stubborn horse. Once as he passed her table angry
curiosity took him to look at some finished work that was lying
there. Perfection! Intelligence, accuracy, the clearest of scripts!
All his hints taken--and bettered in the taking. Beside it lay some
slovenly manuscripts of Levasseur's. He could see the corners of
Miss Bremerton's mouth go up as she looked it through. Well, now he
was to be left to Levasseur's tender mercies--after all he had
taught her! And the accounts, and the estate, and these infernal
rations, that no human being could understand!

The Squire's self-pity rose upon him like a flood. Just at the
worst, he heard a knock at the library door. Before he could say
'Come in,' it was hurriedly opened, and his two married daughters
confronted him--Pamela, too, behind them.

'Father!' cried Mrs. Gaddesden, 'you must please let us come and
speak to you!'

What on earth was wrong with them? Alice--for whom her father had
more contempt than affection--looked merely frightened; but
Margaret's eyes were angry, and Pamela's reproachful. The Squire
braced himself to endurance.

'What do you want with me?'

'_Father_!--we never thought you meant it seriously! And now Forest
says all the gates are closed, and that the village is up in arms.
The labourers declare that if the County plough is turned back
to-morrow, they'll break them down themselves. And when we're all
likely to be starving in six months!'

'You really can't expect working-folk to stand quietly by and see
such a thing!' said Margaret in her intensest voice. 'Do, father,
let me send Forest at once to tell the gardeners to open all the
gates.'

The Squire defied her to do any such thing. What was all the silly
fuss about? The County people could open the gates in half-an-hour
if they wanted. It was a demonstration--a protest--a case to go to
the Courts on. He had principles--if no one else had. And if they
weren't other people's principles, what did it matter? He was ready
to stand by them, to go to prison for them. He folded his arms
magnificently.

Pamela laughed excitedly, and shook her head.

'Oh, no, father, you won't be a hero--only a laughing-stock! That's
what Desmond minds so much. They won't send you to prison. Some
tiresome old Judge will give you a talking-to in Court, and you
won't be able to answer him back. And then they'll fine you--and we
shall be a little more boycotted than we were before! That's all
that'll happen!'

'"Boycotted"?--what do you mean?' said the Squire haughtily.

'Oh, father, can't you _feel_ it?' cried Pamela.

'As if one man could pit himself against a nation!' said Mrs.
Strang, in that manner of controlled emotion which the Squire
detested. He rarely felt emotion, but when he did, he let it go.

Peremptorily he turned them all out, giving strict orders that
nothing he had done should be interfered with. Then he attempted to
go on with some work of his own, but he could not bring his mind to
bear. Finally he seized his hat and went out into the park to see if
the populace were really rising. It was a cold October evening, with
a waxing moon, and a wind that was rapidly bringing the dead leaves
to earth. Not a soul was to be seen! Only once the Squire thought he
heard the sound of distant guns; and two aeroplanes crossed rapidly
overhead sailing into the western sky. Everywhere the war!--the
cursed, cursed obsession of it!

For the first time there was a breach in the Squire's defences,
which for three years he had kept up almost intact. He had put
literature, and art, and the joys of the connoisseur between himself
and the measureless human ill around him. It had spoilt his personal
life, had interfered with his travels, his diggings, his friendships
with foreign scholars. Well, then, as far as he could he would take
no account of it, would shut it out, and rail at the men and the
forces that made it. He barely looked at the newspapers; he never
touched a book dealing with the war. It seemed to him a triumph of
mind and intelligence when he succeeded in shutting out the
hurly-burly altogether. Only, when in the name of the war his
private freedom and property were interfered with, he had flamed out
into hysterical revolt. Old aristocratic instincts came to the aid
of passionate will, and, perhaps, of an uneasy conscience.

And now in the man's vain but not ignoble soul there stirred a first
passing terror of what the war might do with him, if he were
_forced_ to feel it--to let it in. He saw it as a veiled Presence at
the Door--and struggled with it blindly.

He was just turning back to the house, when he saw a figure
approaching in the distance which he recognized. It was that of a
man, once a farmer of his, and a decent fellow--oh, that he
confessed!--with whom he had had a long quarrel over a miserable sum
of money, claimed by the tenant when he left his farm, and disputed
by the landlord.

The dispute had gone on for two years. The Squire's law-costs had
long since swallowed up the original money in dispute.

Then Miss Bremerton, to whom the Squire had dictated some letters in
connection with the squabble, had quietly made a suggestion--had
asked leave to write a letter on approval. For sheer boredom with
the whole business, the Squire had approved and sent the letter.

Then, this very morning, a reply from the farmer. Grateful
astonishment! 'Of course I am ready to meet you, sir--I always have
been. I will get my solicitor to put what you proposed in your
letter of this morning into shape immediately, and will leave it
signed at your door to-night. I trust this trouble is now over. It
has been a great grief to me.'

And now there was the man bringing the letter. One worry done with!
How many more the same patient hand might have dealt with, if its
exacting owner hadn't thrown up her work--so preposterously!

The Squire gave an angry sigh, slipped out of the visitor's way
through a shrubbery, and returned to his library. Fires had begun,
and the glow of the burning logs shone through the room. The return
to this home of his chief studies and pursuits during many
delightful years was always, at any hour of the day or year, a
moment of pleasure to the Squire. Here was shelter, here was
escape--both from the troubles he had brought upon himself, and from
the world tumult outside, the work of crazy politicians and
incompetent diplomats. But if there was any season when the long
crowded room was more attractive than at any other, it was in these
autumn evenings when firelight and twilight mingled, and the natural
'homing' instinct of the Northerner, accustomed through long ages to
spend long winters mostly indoors, stirred in his blood.

His books, too, spoke to him; and the beautiful dim forms of bronzes
and terra-cottas, with all their suggestions of high poetry and
consummate art, breathing from the youth of the world. He
understood--passionately--the jealous and exclusive temper of the
artist. It was his own temper--though he was no practising
artist--and accounted largely for his actions. What are politics--or
social reform--or religion--or morals--compared to _art_? The true
artist, it has been pleaded again and again, has no country. He
follows Beauty wherever she pitches her tent--'an hourly neighbour.'
Woe to the interests that conflict with this interest! He simply
drives them out of doors, and turns the key upon them!

This, in fact, was the Squire's defence of himself, whenever he
troubled to defend himself. As to the pettinesses of a domineering
and irritable temper, cherished through long years, and flying out
on the smallest occasions--the Squire conveniently forgot them, in
those rare moments of self-vision which were all the gods allowed
him. Of course he was master in his own house and estate--why not?
Of course he fought those who would interfere with him, war or no
war--why not?

He sat down to his table, very sorry for himself, and hotly
indignant with an unreasonable woman. The absence of her figure from
the table on the further side of the room worked upon his nerves.
She had promised at least to stay her month. These were working
hours. What was she doing? She could hardly be packing already!

He tried to give his attention to the notes he had been working at
the day before. Presently he wanted a reference--a line from the
_Philoctetes_. 'The Lemnian fire'--where on earth was the passage?
He lifted his head instinctively. If only she had been there--it was
_monstrous_ that she wasn't there!--he would just have thrown the
question across the room, and got an answer. Her verbal memory was
astonishing--much better than his.

He must, of course, get up and look out the reference for himself.
And the same with others. In an hour's time he had accomplished
scarcely anything, and a settled gloom descended upon him. That was
the worst of accustoming yourself to crutches and helps. When they
were unscrupulously and unjustly taken away, a man was worse off
than if he had never had them.

The evening post came in. The Squire looked through it with disgust.
He perceived that several letters were answers to some he had
allowed his secretary to draft and send in his name--generally in
reply to exasperated correspondents who had been kept waiting for
months, and trampled on to boot.

_Now_ he supposed she would refuse to have anything to do with this
kind of thing! She would keep to the letter of her bargain, for the
few weeks that remained. Greek he might expect from her--but not
business.

He opened one or two. Yes, there was no doubt she was a clever
woman--unpardonably and detestably clever. Affairs which had been
mountains for years had suddenly become mole-hills. In this new
phase he felt himself more helpless than ever to deal with them.
She, on the contrary, might have put everything straight--she might
have done anything with him--almost--that she pleased. He would have
got rid of his old fool of an agent and put in another, that she
approved of, if she had wished.

But no!--she must try and dictate to him in public--on a matter of
public action. She must have _everything_ her own way. Opinionated,
self-conceited creature!

When tea-time came he rang for Forest, and demanded that a cup of
tea should be brought him to the library. But as the butler was
leaving the room, he recalled him.

'And tell Miss Bremerton that I shall be glad of her company when
she has finished her tea.'

Forest hesitated.

'I think, sir, Miss Bremerton is out.'

Out!--was she? Her own mistress already!

'Send Miss Pamela here at once,' he commanded.

In a minute or two a girl's quick step was heard, and Pamela ran in.

'Yes, father?'

'Where is Miss Bremerton?' The Squire was standing in front of the
fire, angrily erect. He had delivered his question in the tone of an
ultimatum.

'Why, father, you've forgotten! She arranged with you that she was
to go to tea at the Rectory, and I've just got a note from Mrs.
Pennington to ask if they may keep her for the evening. They'll send
her home.'

'I remember no such arrangement,' said the Squire, in a fury.

'Oh, father--why, I heard her speak to you! And I'm sure she wanted
a little break. She's been looking dead-tired lately, and she said
she had a headache at lunch.'

'Very well. That'll do,' said the Squire, and Pamela departed,
virtuously conscious of having stood by Elizabeth, though she
disliked her.

The Squire felt himself generally cornered. No doubt she was now
telling her story to the Penningtons, who, of course, would
disapprove the gates affair, in any case. The long hours before
dinner passed away. The Squire thought them interminable. Dinner was
a gloomy and embarrassed function. His daughters were afraid of
rousing a fresh whirlwind of temper, if the gates were mentioned;
and nothing else was interesting. The meal was short and spare, and
the Squire noticed for the first time that while meat was offered to
him, the others fed on fish and vegetables. All to put him in the
wrong, of course!

After dinner he went back to the library. Work was impossible. He
hung over the fire smoking, or turning over the pages of a fresh
section of the catalogue which Elizabeth had placed--complete--on
his desk that morning.

It seemed to him that all the powers of mischief had risen against
him. The recent investigation of his affairs made by Elizabeth at
his express wish, slight and preliminary though it was, had shown
him what he had long and obstinately refused to see--that the estate
had seriously gone down in value during the preceding five years;
that he had a dozen scraps and disputes on his hands, more than
enough to rasp the nerves of any ordinary man--and as far as nerves
were concerned, he knew very well that he was not an ordinary man;
that, in short, he was impoverished and embarrassed; his agent was a
scandal and must be dismissed, and his new lawyers, a grasping,
incompetent crew. For a moment, indeed, he had had a glimpse of a
clear sky. A woman, who seemed to have the same kind of business
faculty that many Frenchwomen possess, had laid hands on his skein
of troubles, and might have unravelled them. But she had thrown him
over. In a little while he would have to let Mannering--for who
would buy an estate in such a pickle?--sell his collections, and go
and live in a flat in West Kensington. Then he hoped his
enemies--Chicksands in particular--would be satisfied.

But these, to do him justice, were not the chief thoughts, not the
considerations in his mind that smarted most. Another woman
secretary or woman accountant--for, after all, clever women with
business training are now as thick as blackberries--might have
helped him to put his affairs straight; but she would not have been
a Miss Bremerton, with her scholarship, her taste, her love of the
beautiful things that he loved. He seemed to see her fair skin
flushing with pleasure as they went through a Greek chorus together,
or to watch her tenderly handling a bronze, or holding a Tanagra
figure to the light.

Of course some stupid creatures might think he was falling in love
with her--wanting to marry her. He laughed the charge to scorn. No!
but he confessed her comradeship, her friendship, had begun to mean
a good deal to him. For twenty years he had lived in loneliness.
Now, it seemed, he had found a friend, in these days when the new
independence of women opens a thousand fresh possibilities not only
to them, but to men also.

Well, well, it was all over! Better make up his mind to it.

He went to the window, as it was nearing ten o'clock, and looked
out. It was foggy still, the moon and stars scarcely visible. He
hoped they would have at least the sense at the Rectory to provide
her with a lantern, for under the trees the road was very dark.

Oh, far in the distance, a twinkling light! Good! The Squire hastily
shut the window, and resumed his pacing. Presently he thought he
heard the house door open and shut, and a little while after the
library clock struck ten.

Now it would be only the natural thing to go and say good-night to
his daughters, and, possibly, to inquire after a headache.

The Squire accordingly emerged. In the hall he found his three
daughters engaged in lighting their candles at the Chippendale
table, where for about a hundred and fifty years the ladies of
Mannering had been accustomed to perform that rite.

The master of the house inquired coldly whether Miss Bremerton had
returned safely. 'Oh yes,' said his daughter Margaret, 'but she went
up to bed at once. She hasn't got rid of her headache.'

Mrs. Strang's stiff manner, and the silence of the others showed the
Squire that he was deep in his daughters' black books. Was he also
charged with Miss Bremerton's headache? Did any of them guess what
had happened? He fancied from the puzzled look in Pamela's eyes as
she said good-night to him that she guessed something.

Well, he wasn't going to tell them anything. He went back to the
library, and presently Pamela, in her room upstairs, heard first the
library bell, then the steps of Forest crossing the hall, and
finally a conversation between the Squire and the butler which
seemed to last some time.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was in the very early morning--between four and five--that
Elizabeth was wakened, first by vague movements in the house, and
then by what seemed to be cautious voices outside. She drew a
curtain back and looked out--a misty morning, between darkness and
dawn, and trees standing on the grass in dim robes of amethyst and
gold. Two men in the middle distance were going away from the house.
She craned her neck. Yes--no doubt of it! The Squire and Forest.
What could they be about at that hour of the morning? They were
going, no doubt, to inspect the barricades! Yet Forest himself had
told her that nothing would induce _him_ to take a hand in the
'row.'

It was strange; but she was too weary and depressed to give it much
thought. What was she going to do now? The world seemed emptily open
before her once more, chill and lonely as the autumn morning.



CHAPTER IX


On the following morning the breakfast at Mannering was a very tame
and silent affair. Forest was not in attendance, and the under
housemaid, who commonly replaced him when absent, could not explain
his non-appearance. He and his wife lived in a cottage beyond the
stables, and all that could be said was that he 'had not come in.'

The Squire also was absent. But as his breakfast habits were
erratic, owing to the fact that he slept badly and was often up and
working at strange seasons of the night, neither of his daughters
took any notice. Elizabeth did not feel inclined to say anything of
her own observations in the small hours. If the Squire and Forest
had been working at the barricade together, they were perhaps
sleeping off their exertions. Or the Squire was already on the spot,
waiting for the fray? Meanwhile, out of doors, a thick grey mist
spread over the park.

So she sat silent like the other two--(Mrs. Gaddesden was of course
in bed)--wondering from time to time when and how she should
announce her departure.

Pamela meanwhile was thinking of the letter she would have to write
to Desmond about the day's proceedings, and was impatient to be off
as soon as possible for the scene of action. Once or twice it
occurred to her to notice that Miss Bremerton was looking rather
pale and depressed. But the fact only made Pamela feel prickly. 'If
father does get into a row, what does it really matter to her.
She's not responsible!--she's not one of us!'

Immediately after breakfast, Pamela disappeared. She made her way
quietly through the park, where the dank mist still clung to the
trees from which the leaf was dropping silently, continuously. The
grass was all cobwebs. Every now and then the head of a deer would
emerge from the dripping fern only to be swallowed up again in the
fog.

Could a motor-plough work in a fog?

Presently, she who knew every inch of the ground and every tree upon
it, became aware that she was close to the Chetworth gate. Suddenly
the rattle of an engine and some men's voices caught her ear. The
plough, sure enough! The sound of it was becoming common in the
country-side. Then as the mist thinned and drifted she saw the thing
plain--the puffing engine, one man driving and another following,
while in their wake ran the black glistening furrow, where the grass
had been.

And here was the gate. Pamela stood open-mouthed. Where were the
elaborate defences and barricades of which rumour had been full the
night before? The big gate swung idly on its hinges. And in front of
it stood two men placidly smoking, in company with the village
policeman. Not a trace of any obstruction--no hurdles, no barbed
wire, only a few ends of rope lying in the road.

Then, looking round, she perceived old Perley, with a bag of ferrets
in his hand, emerging from the mist, and she ran up to him
breathlessly.

'So they've come, Perley! Was it they forced the gate?'

Perley scratched his head with his free hand.

'Well, it's an uncommon queer thing, Miss--but I can't tell yer who
opened them gates! I come along here about seven o'clock this
mornin', and the fog was so thick yo couldn't see nothin' beyond a
yard or two. But when I got up to the gates, there they were open,
just as you see 'em now. At first I thought there was summat
wrong--that my eyes wasn't what they used to was. But they was all
right.'

'And you saw the gates shut last night?'

'Barred up, so as you couldn't move 'em, Miss!--not without a
crowbar or two, an' a couple of men. I thowt it was perhaps some
village chaps larkin' as had done it. But it ain't none o' them. It
beats me!'

Pamela looked at the two men smoking by the gate--representatives,
very likely, of the Inspection Sub-Committee. Should she go up and
question them? But some inherited instinct deterred her. She was
glad the country should have the land and the corn. She had no
sympathy with her father. And yet all the same when she actually saw
Demos the outsider forcibly in possession of Mannering land, the
Mannering spirit kicked a little. She would find out what had
happened from some of their own people.

So after watching the County Council plough for a while as it clove
its way up and down the park under the struggling sun which was
gradually scattering the fog--her young intelligence quite aware all
the time of the significance of the sight--she turned back towards
the house. And presently, advancing to meet her, she perceived the
figure of Elizabeth Bremerton--coming, no doubt, to get picturesque
details on the spot for the letter she had promised to write to a
certain artillery officer. A quick flame of jealousy ran through
the girl's mind.

Miss Bremerton quickened her step.

'So they're open!' she said eagerly, as she and Pamela met. 'And
there's nothing broken, or--or lying about!'

She looked in bewilderment at the unlittered road and swinging gate.

'They were open, Perley says, first thing this morning. He came by
about seven.'

'Before the plough arrived?'

'Yes.'

They stood still, trying to puzzle it out. Then a sudden laugh
crossed Elizabeth's face.

'Perhaps there were no barricades! Perhaps your father was taking us
all in!'

'Not at all,' said Pamela drily. 'Perley saw the gates firmly barred
with hurdles and barbed wire, and all tied up with rope, when he and
his wife left the Lodge late last night.'

Elizabeth suddenly coloured brightly. Why, Pamela could not imagine.
Her fair skin made it impossible for a flush to pass unnoticed. But
why should she flush?

Elizabeth walked on rapidly, her eyes on the ground. When she raised
them it was to look rather steadily at her companion.

'I think perhaps I had better tell you at once--I am very
sorry!--but I shall be leaving you in a month. I told your father so
last night.'

Pamela looked the astonishment she felt. For the moment she was
tongue-tied. Was she glad or sorry? She did not know. But the
instinct of good manners came to her aid.

'Can't you stand us?' she said bluntly. 'I expect you can't.'

Elizabeth laughed uncomfortably.

'Why, you've all been so kind to me. But I think perhaps'--she
paused, trying to find her words--'I didn't quite understand--when I
came--how much I still wanted to be doing things for the war--'

'Why, you might do heaps of things!' cried Pamela. 'You have been
doing them. Taking an interest in the farms, I mean--and all that.'

'Well, but--' Elizabeth's brow puckered.

Then she broke into a frank laugh--'After all, that wasn't what I
was engaged for, was it?'

'No--but you seemed to like to do it. And it's war-work,' said
Pamela, inexorably.

Elizabeth was dismally conscious of her own apparent
inconsistencies. It seemed best to be frank.

'The fact is--I think I'd better tell you--I tried yesterday to get
your father to give up his plans about the gates. And when he
wouldn't, and it seemed likely that there might be legal proceedings
and--and a great fuss--in which naturally he would want his
secretary to help him--'

'You just felt you couldn't? Well, of course I understand that,'
said Pamela fervently. 'But then, you see,' she laughed, 'there
isn't going to be a fuss. The plough just walked in, and the fifty
acres will be done in no time.'

Elizabeth looked as she felt--worried.

'It's very puzzling. I wonder what happened? But I am afraid there
will be other things where your father and I shall disagree--if,
that is, he wants me to do so much else for him than the Greek
work--'

'But you might say that you wouldn't do anything else but the Greek
work?'

'Yes, I might,' said Elizabeth smiling, 'but once I've begun--'

'You couldn't keep to it?--father couldn't keep to it?'

Elizabeth shook her head decidedly. A little smile played about her
lips, as much as to say, 'I am a managing woman and you must take me
at that. "Il ne faut pas sortir de son caractère."' Pamela, looking
at her, admired her for the first time. And now that there was to be
no more question--apparently--of correspondence with Arthur
Chicksands, her mood changed impulsively.

'Well, I'm very sorry!' she said--and then, sincerely, 'I don't know
how the place will get on.'

'Thank you,' said Elizabeth. Her look twinkled a little. 'But you
don't know what I might be after if I stayed!'

Pamela laughed out, and the two walked home, better friends than
they had been yet, Elizabeth asking that the news of her resignation
of her post might be regarded as confidential for a few days.

When they reached the house, Pamela went into the morning-room to
tell her sisters of the tame ending to all their alarms, while
Elizabeth hurried to the library. She was due there at half-past
ten, and she was only just in time. Would the Squire be there? She
remembered that she had to apologize for her absence of the day
before.

She felt her pulse thumping a little as she opened the library
door. There was undoubtedly something about the Squire--some
queer magnetism--born perhaps of his very restlessness and
unexpectedness--that made life in his neighbourhood seldom less
than interesting. His temper this morning would probably be of the
worst. Something, or some one, had defeated all his schemes for a
magnificent assertion of the rights of man. His park was in the
hands of the invaders. The public plough was impudently at work.
And at the same moment his secretary had given warning, and the
new catalogue--the darling of his heart--would be thrown on his
hands. It would not be surprising to find him rampant. Elizabeth
entered almost on tip-toe, prepared to be all that was meek and
conciliating, so far as was compatible with her month's notice.

       *       *       *       *       *

A tall figure rose from the Squire's table and made her a formal
bow.

'Good-morning, Miss Bremerton. I expected your assistance yesterday
afternoon, but you had, I understand, made an engagement?'

'I asked you--a few days ago,' said Elizabeth, mildly confronting
him. 'I am sorry if it inconvenienced you.'

'Oh, all right--all right,' said the Squire hastily. 'I had
forgotten all about it. Well, anyway, we have lost a great deal of
time.' His voice conveyed reproach. His greenish eyes were fierily
bent upon her.

Elizabeth sat down at her table without reply, and chose a pen. The
morning's work generally consisted of descriptions of vases and
bronzes in the Mannering collection, dictated by the Squire, and
illustrated often by a number of references to classical writers,
given both in Greek and English. The labour of looking out and
verifying the references was considerable, and the Squire's testy
temper was never more testy than when it was quarrelling with the
difficulties of translation.

'Kindly take down,' he said peremptorily.

Elizabeth began:

'"No. 190. Greek vase, from a tomb excavated at Mitylene in 1902.
Fine work of the fifth century B.C. Subject: Penelope's Web.
Penelope is seated at the loom. Beside her are the figures of a
young man and two females--probably Telemachus and two hand-maidens.
The three male figures in the background may represent the suitors.
Size, 23 inches high; diameter, 11 inches. Perfect, except for a
restoration in one of the handles."

'Have you got that?'

'Yes.'

'Go on please. "This vase is of course an illustration of the
well-known passage in the _Odyssey_, Book 21. 103. I take Mr. Samuel
Butler's translation, which is lively and modern and much to be
preferred to the heavy archaisms of the other fellows."'

Elizabeth gave a slight cough. The Squire looked at her sharply.

'Oh, you think that's not dignified? Well, have it as you like.'

Elizabeth altered the phrase to 'other translators.' The Squire
resumed. '"Antinous, one of the suitors, is speaking: 'We could see
her working on her great web all day long, but at night she would
unpick the stitches again by torchlight. She fooled us in this way
for three years, and we never found her out, but as time wore on,
and she was now in her fourth year, one of her maids, who knew what
she was doing, told us, and we caught her in the act of undoing her
work, so she had to finish it, whether she would or no....' I tell
you, we never heard of such a woman; we know all about Tyro,
Alcmena, Mycene, and the famous women of old, but they were nothing
to your mother--any one of them."--And yet she was only undoing her
own work!--she was not forcing a grown man to undo his!' said the
Squire, with a sudden rush of voice and speech.

Elizabeth looked up astonished.

'Am I to put that down?'

The Squire threw away the book he was holding. His shining white
hair seemed positively to bristle on his head, his long legs twined
and untwined themselves.

'Don't pretend, please, that you don't know what part you've been
playing in this affair!' he said with sarcasm. 'It took Forest and
me three good hours this morning to take down as fine a barricade as
ever I saw put up. I'm stiff with it still. British liberties have
been thrown to the dogs--[Greek: gynaikos houneka]--all because of a
woman! And there you sit, as though nothing had happened! Yet I
chanced to see you just now, coming back with Pamela!'

Elizabeth's flush this time dyed her all crimson. She sat, pen in
hand, staring at her employer.

'I don't understand what you mean, Mr. Mannering.' At which her
conscience whispered to her sharply, 'You guessed it already--in the
park!'

The Squire jumped to his feet, and came to stand excitedly in front
of her, his hands thrust into the high pockets of his waistcoat.

'I am _extremely_ sorry!' he said, with that _grand seigneur_
politeness he could put on when he chose--'but I am not able to
credit that statement. You make it honestly, of course, but that a
person of your intelligence, when you saw those gates, failed to put
two and two together, well!'--the Squire shook his head, and
shrugged his shoulders, became, in fact, one protesting gesture--'if
you ask me to believe it,' he continued, witheringly, 'I suppose I
must, but--'

'Mr. Mannering!' said Elizabeth earnestly, 'it would really be kind
of you to explain.'

Her blush had died away. She had fallen back in her chair, and was
meeting his attack with the steady, candid look that betrayed her
character. She was now entirely self-possessed--neither nervous nor
angry.

The Squire changed his tone. Folding his arms, he leant against a
pedestal which supported a bust of a Roman emperor.

'Very well, then--I _will_ explain. I told you yesterday of a step I
proposed to take by way of testing how far the invasion of personal
freedom had gone in this country. I was perfectly justified in
taking it. I was prepared to suffer for my action. I had thought it
all out. Then _you_ came in--and by _force majeure_ compelled me to
give it all up!'

Elizabeth could not help laughing.

'I never heard any account of an incident which fitted less with the
facts!' she said with vivacity.

'It exactly fits them!' the Squire insisted. 'When I told you what I
meant to do, instead of sympathy--instead of simple acquiescence,
for how the deuce were you responsible!--you threatened to throw up
the work I cannot now possibly accomplish without you--'

'Mr. Levasseur?' suggested Elizabeth.

'Levasseur be hanged!' said the Squire, taking an angry pace up and
down. 'Don't please interrupt me. I have given you a perfectly free
hand, and you have organized the work--your share of it--as you
please. Nobody else is the least likely to do it in the same way.
When you go, it drops. And when your share drops, mine drops.
That's what comes of employing a woman of ability, and trusting to
her--as I have trusted to you!'

Was there ever any attack so grotesque, so unfair? Elizabeth was for
one moment inclined to be angry--and the next, she was conscious of
yieldings and compunctions that were extremely embarrassing.

'You rate my help a great deal too high,' she said after a moment.
'It is you yourself who have taught me how to work in your way. I
don't think you will have any real difficulty with another
secretary. You are'--she ventured a smile--'you are a born teacher.'

Never was any compliment less successful. The Squire looked sombrely
down upon her.

'So you _still_ intend to leave us,' he said slowly, 'after what I
have done?'

'What have you done?' said Elizabeth faintly.

'Made myself a laughing-stock to the whole country-side!--and thrown
all my principles overboard--to content you--and save my book!' The
reply was given with an angry energy that shook her. 'I have humbled
myself to the dust to meet your sentimental ideas--and there you
sit--as stony and inaccessible as this fellow here!'--he brought his
hand down with vehemence on the Roman emperor's shoulder. 'Not a
word of gratitude--or concession--or sympathy! I was indeed a fool
to take any trouble to please you!'

Elizabeth was silent. They surveyed each other. 'No agitation!' said
Elizabeth's inner mind; 'keep cool!'

At last she withdrew her own eyes from the angry tension of
his--dropped them to the table where her right hand was
mechanically drawing nonsense figures on her blotting-paper.

'Did you really yourself take down that barricade?' she said gently.

'I did! And it was an infernal piece of work!'

'I'm awfully glad!' Her voice was very soft.

'I daresay you are. It suits your principles, and your ideas, of
course--not mine! And now, having driven me to it--having publicly
discredited and disgraced me--you can still sit there and talk of
throwing up your work.'

The growing passion in the irascible gentleman towering above her
warned her that it was time to bring the scene to an end.

'I am glad,' she repeated steadily, 'very glad--especially--for Mr.
Desmond.'

'Oh, Desmond!' the Squire threw out impatiently, beginning again to
walk up and down.

'He would have minded so dreadfully,' she said, still in a lower
key. 'It was really him I was thinking of. Of course I had no right
to interfere with your affairs--'

The Squire turned, the tyrant in him reviving fast.

'Well, you did interfere--and to some purpose! Now then--yes or
no--is your notice withdrawn?'

Elizabeth hesitated.

'I would willingly stay with you,' she said, 'if--'

'If what?'

She looked up with a sudden flash of laughter.

'If we can really get on!'

'Name your terms!' He returned, frowning and excited, to the
neighbourhood of the Roman emperor.

'Oh no--I have no terms,' she said hurriedly. 'Only--if you
ask me to help you with the land, I should want to obey the
Government--and--and do the best for the war.'

'Condition No. 1,' said the Squire grimly, checking it off. 'Go on!'

'And--I should--perhaps--beg you to let Pamela do some V.A.D. work,
if she wants to.'

'Pamela is your affair!' said the Squire impatiently. 'If you stay
here, you are her chaperon, and, for the present, head of the
household.'

'Only just for the present--till Pamela can do it!' put in Elizabeth
hastily. 'But she's nineteen--she ought to take a part.'

'Well, don't bother me about that. You are responsible. I wash my
hands of her. Anything else?'

It did not do to think of Pamela's feelings, should she ever become
aware of how she was being handed over. But the mention of her, on a
sudden impulse, had been pure sympathy on Elizabeth's part; a wish
to strike on the girl's behalf while the iron was so very hot. She
looked up quietly.

'No, indeed there is nothing else--except indeed--that you won't
expect me to hide what I feel about the war--and the little we at
home can do to help--'

Her voice failed a little. The Squire said nothing. She went on,
with a clearing countenance.

'So--if you really wish it--I will stay, Mr. Mannering--and try to
help you all I can. It was splendid of you--to give up your plans.
I'm sure you won't regret it.'

'I'm not sure at all--but it's done. Now, then, let us understand.
You take over my estate correspondence. You'll want a clerk--I'll
find one. You can appoint a new agent if you like. You can do what
you like, in fact. I was never meant to be a landowner, and I hate
the whole business. You can harry the farmers as you please--I
shan't interfere.'

'Allow me to point out,' said Elizabeth firmly, 'that at college I
was not trained in land-agency--but in Greek!'

'What does that matter? If women can build Dreadnoughts, as they say
they can, they can manage estates. Now, then, as to my conditions.
Do what you like--but my book and the catalogue come _first_!' He
looked at her with an exacting eye.

'Certainly,' said Elizabeth.

'But I know what you'll do--you'll go and break down! You are _not_
to break down.'

'Certainly!' said Elizabeth.

'But you have once broken down.'

Her start was perceptible, but she answered quietly.

'I was ill a year ago--partly from overwork. But I am normally quite
strong.'

The Squire observed her. It was very pleasant to him to see her
sitting there, in her trim serge dress, with its broad white collar
and cuffs--the sheen of her hair against the dark wall--her shapely
hands ready for work upon his table. He felt as if he had with
enormous difficulty captured--recaptured--something of exceptional
value; like one of those women 'skilled in beautiful arts' whom the
Greek slave-raiders used to carry off from a conquered city, and
sell for large sums to the wives of wealthy Greek chieftains. Till
now he had scarcely thought of her as a woman, but rather as a
fine-edged but most serviceable tool which he had had the
extraordinary good luck to find. Now, with his mere selfish feeling
of relief there mingled something rather warmer and more human. If
only she would stay, he would honestly try and make life agreeable
to her.

'Well now, that's settled,' he said, drawing a long
breath--'Oh--except one thing--you will of course want a larger
salary?'

'Not at all,' said Elizabeth decidedly. 'You pay me quite enough.'

'You are not offended with me for asking?' His tone had become
astonishingly deferential.

'Not the least. I am a business woman. If I thought myself entitled
to more I should say so. But it is extremely doubtful whether I can
really be of any use whatever to you.'

'All right,' said the Squire, returning to his own table. 'Now,
then, let us go on with No. 190.'

'Is it necessary now to put in--well, _quite_ so much about
Penelope?' asked Elizabeth, as she took up her pen.

'What do you think?'

'It seems a little long and dragged in.' Elizabeth looked critically
at the paragraph.

'And we have now unravelled the web?--we can do without her?
Yes--let her go!' said the Squire, in a tone of excessive
complaisance.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the morning's work was done, and luncheon over, Elizabeth
carried off Pamela to her room. When Pamela emerged, she went in
search of Forest, interviewed him in the gun-room, and then shutting
herself up in the 'den' she wrote to Desmond.

     'MY DEAR DEZZY--There are such queer things going on in this
     queer house! Yesterday Broomie gave warning, and father
     barricaded the park gates, and was perfectly mad, and
     determined not to listen to anybody. In the middle of the night
     he and Forest took the barricade down, and to-day, Broomie is
     to be not only secretary, but land-agent, and anything else she
     pleases--queen, in fact, of all she surveys--including me. But
     I am bound to say she had been very decent to me over it all.
     She _wants_ me to do some of the housekeeping--and she has
     actually made father consent to my helping at the hospital
     every afternoon. Of course I am awfully glad about that. I
     shall bicycle over.

     'But all the same it is very odd, and perhaps you and I had
     better consider what it _may_ mean. I know from Broomie herself
     that she gave notice yesterday--and now she is going to stay.
     And I know from Forest that father called him up when it was
     quite dark, between three and four in the morning--Mrs. Forest
     thought the Germans had come when she heard the knocking--and
     asked him to come with him and undo the gates. Forest told me
     that _he_ would have had nothing whatever to do with closing
     them, nor with anything 'agin the Government! He's a staunch
     old soul, is Forest. So when father told him what he wanted, he
     didn't know what to make of it. However, they both groped their
     way through the fog, which was thick on the other side of the
     park, and set to at the gates. Forest says it was an awful
     business to get everything cleared away. Father and Gregson had
     made an uncommonly good job of it. If Gregson had put in work
     like that on his own hedges and gates, Forest says he mightn't
     have been kicked out! It took them ages getting the barbed
     wire cleared away, because they hadn't any proper nippers.
     Father took off his coat, and worked like a navvy, and Forest
     hoisted him up to get at the wire along the wall. Forest says
     he was determined to leave nothing! "And I believe, Miss, the
     Squire was very glad of the fog--because there couldn't be any
     one prying around."

     'For it seems to be really true that the village has been in a
     state of ferment, and that they had determined to free the
     gates and let in the Council plough. Perley was seen talking to
     a lot of men on the green last night. I met him myself this
     morning after breakfast near the gates, and he confessed he had
     been there already--early. I expect he came to reconnoitre and
     take back the news. Rather calm, for one of father's own men!
     But that's the new spirit, Dezzy. We're not going to be allowed
     to have it all our own way any more. Well, thank goodness, I
     don't mind. At least, there is something in me that minds. I
     suppose it's one's forbears. But the greater part of me wants a
     _lot_ of change--and there are often and often times when I
     wish I'd been born in the working-class and was just struggling
     upwards with them, and sharing all their hopes and dreams for
     "after the war." Well, why shouldn't I? I'm going to set
     Broomie on to some of the cottages in the village--not that
     she'll want setting on--but after all, it's I who know the
     people.

     'But that's by the way. The point is why did father give in?
     Evidently because Broomie gave notice, and he couldn't bear the
     idea of parting with her. Of course Alice--and Margaret too, to
     some extent--are convinced it all means that father wants to
     marry her. Only Alice thinks that Miss Bremerton has been
     intriguing for it since the first week she set foot in the
     house; while Margaret is certain that she wouldn't marry father
     if he asked her. She thinks that Miss B. is just the new woman,
     who wants to _do_ things, and isn't always thinking about
     getting married. Well, Dezzy, old boy--_I_ don't know what to
     think. I'll keep my eyes open, and report to you. I
     _don't--altogether--like her_. No, I don't--that's flat. I
     wish, on the whole, she'd taken her departure! And yet I feel
     rather a toad for saying so. She is splendid in some
     things--yes, she is! And the Rectory people take the most
     rose-coloured view of her--it's too late to tell you why, for
     the postman is just coming.

     'Good-bye, Dezzy--dear Dezzy! I know how glad you'll be about
     the gates. Write to me as often as you can. By the way, Miss
     Bremerton has got a brother in the war--with General Maude.
     That ought to make me like her. But why did she leave us to
     find it out through the Rectory? She never says anything about
     herself that she can help. Do you think you'll really get to
     France in January? Ever your loving

     'PAM.'



CHAPTER X


It was a bright January day. Lunch was just over at Mannering, and
the luncheon-party had dispersed--attracted to the garden and the
park by the lure of the sunshine after dark days of storm and wind.
Mrs. Gaddesden alone was left sitting by the fire in the hall. There
was a cold wind, and she did not feel equal to facing it. She was
one of those women, rare in these days, who, though still young,
prefer to be prematurely old; in whom their great-grandmothers, and
the 'elegant' lackadaisical ways of a generation that knew nothing
of exercise, thick boots and short skirts, seem to become once more
incarnate. Though Mannering was not ill-warmed, Alice moved about it
in winter wrapped in a picturesque coat of black velvet trimmed with
chinchilla, her head wreathed in white lace. From this rather
pompous setting her fair hair, small person, and pinched pale face
looked out perhaps with greater dignity than they could have
achieved unadorned. Her chilliness, her small self-indulgences,
including an inordinate love of cakes and all sweet things, were the
standing joke of the twins when they discussed the family freely
behind the closed doors of the 'Den.' But no one disliked Alice
Gaddesden, though it was hard to be actively fond of her. She and
her husband were quite good friends; but they were no longer of any
real importance to each other. He was a good deal older than she;
and was often away from London on 'war work' in the Midlands. On
these occasions Alice generally invited herself to Mannering. She
thus got rid of housekeeping, which in these days of rations worried
her to death. Moreover, food at Mannering was much more plentiful
than food in town--especially since the advent of Elizabeth
Bremerton.

It was of Elizabeth that Mrs. Gaddesden was thinking as she sat
alone in the hall. From her seat she could perceive a shrubbery walk
in the garden outside, along which two figures were pacing--Miss
Bremerton and the new agent. Beyond, at some distance, she was aware
of another group disappearing among the trees of the park--Pamela
with Captain Chicksands and Beryl.

This was the first time that any member of the Chicksands family had
been a guest at Mannering since the quarrel in the autumn. The
Squire had not yet brought himself to shake hands with Sir Henry.
But Beryl on the one side, and Pamela on the other--aided and
abetted always by Elizabeth Bremerton--had been gradually breaking
down the embargo; and when, hearing from Beryl that her brother
Arthur was with them for a few days, Pamela had openly proposed in
her father's presence to ask them both to luncheon, the Squire had
pretended not to hear, but had at any rate raised no objection. And
when the brother and sister arrived, he had received them as though
nothing had happened. His manners were always brusque and
ungracious, except in the case of persons who specially mattered to
his own pursuits, such as archæologists and Greek professors. But
the Chetworth family were almost as well acquainted with his ways as
his own, and his visitors took them philosophically. Arthur
Chicksands had kept the table alive at luncheon with soldier
stories, and the Squire's sulky or sarcastic silence had passed
unnoticed.

Mrs. Gaddesden's mind was very full of the Captain's good looks and
distinction. He was now in London, at the War Office, it seemed, for
a short time, on a special mission; hence his occasional weekends
with his family. When the mission was over--so Beryl told Pamela--he
was probably going out to an important appointment in the
Intelligence Department at G.H.Q. 'Arthur's a great swell,' said
Beryl, 'though as to what he's done, or what people think of him,
you have to dig it out of him--if you can!'

Mrs. Gaddesden did not very much like him. His brusque sincerity
made people of her sort uncomfortable. But she would have liked very
much to know whether there was anything up between him and Pamela.
Really, Miss Bremerton's discretion about such things was too
tiresome--ridiculous--almost rude! It was no good trying, even, to
discuss them with her.

As to the disinheriting of Aubrey, no more had been heard of it.
Miss Bremerton had told Aubrey when he was at home for twenty-four
hours at Christmas that, as far as she knew, the codicil was still
unsigned. But Aubrey didn't seem to care the least whether it was or
no. If Beryl wished him to raise the question again with his father,
of course he would; otherwise he greatly preferred to leave it
alone. And as Beryl had no will or wishes but his, and was, in
Alice's opinion, only too absurdly and dependently in love, the
sleeping dogs were very much asleep; and the secret of Mannering's
future disposal lay hid impenetrably in the Squire's own breast.

At the same time, Mrs. Gaddesden was firmly persuaded that whatever
Elizabeth Bremerton wished or advised would ultimately be done.

What an extraordinary position that young woman now held among them!
Nearly three months had now elapsed since Mrs. Gaddesden's autumn
visit--since Desmond had gone into training at his artillery
camp--since a third of the park had been ploughed up, and since
Elizabeth Bremerton had thrown up her post only to come back next
day as dictator.

Yes--_dictator_! Mrs. Gaddesden was never tired of thinking about
it, and was excitedly conscious that all the neighbourhood, and all
their friends and kinsfolk were thinking and speculating with her.
At the beginning of November, before she and Margaret Strang went
back to town, the Squire had announced to all of them that Miss
Bremerton had become his 'business secretary,' as well as his
classical assistant. And now, after three months, the meaning of
this notice was becoming very clear. The old agent, Mr. Hull, had
been dismissed, and moderately--very moderately--pensioned. It was
said that Miss Bremerton, on looking into his accounts, saw no
reason at all for any special indulgence. For, in addition to
everything else, she turned out to be a trained accountant!--and
money matters connected with the estate were being probed to the
bottom that had never been probed before. Mrs. Gaddesden's own
allowance--for the Squire had always obstinately declined to settle
any capital on his married daughters--had been, for the first time,
paid at the proper date--by Elizabeth Bremerton! At least, if the
Squire had signed it, she had written the cheque. And she might
perfectly well have signed it. For, as Pamela had long since
reported to her sisters, Elizabeth paid all the house and estate
accounts over her own signature, and seemed to have much more
accurate knowledge than the Squire himself of the state of his bank
balance, and his money affairs generally.

Not that she ever paraded these things in the least. But neither did
she make any unnecessary mystery about it with the Squire's family.
And indeed they were quite evident to any one living in the house.
At times she would make little, laughing, apologetic remarks to one
of the daughters--'I hope you don't mind!--the Squire wants me to
get things straight.' But in general, her authority by now had
become a matter of course.

Her position in the Mannering household, however, was as nothing to
her position in the estate and the neighbourhood. That was the
amazing thing which had by now begun to set all tongues wagging. Sir
Henry Chicksands, meeting Mrs. Gaddesden at the station, had poured
himself out to her. 'That extraordinary young woman your father has
got hold of, is simply transforming the whole place. The farmers on
the whole like her very much. But if they don't like her, they're
_afraid of her_! For Heaven's sake don't let her kill herself with
over-work. She'll soon be leading the county.'

Yes. Work indeed! How on earth did she get through it? In
the mornings there she was in the library, absorbed in the
catalogue, writing to the Squire's dictation, transcribing or
translating Greek--his docile and obedient slave. Then in the
afternoon--bicycling all over the estate, and from dark onwards,
till late at night, busy with correspondence and office work, except
just for dinner and an hour afterwards.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door of the outer hall opened and shut. Elizabeth and a young
man--the new agent--entered the inner hall, where Mrs. Gaddesden was
sitting, Elizabeth acknowledging her presence with a pleasant nod
and smile. But they passed quickly through to the room at the
further end of the hall, which was now an estate office where
Elizabeth spent the latter part of her day. It was connected both
with the main living-rooms of the house, and with a side entrance
from the park, by which visitors on estate matters were admitted.

A man was sitting waiting for Miss Bremerton. He was the new tenant
of the derelict farm, on the Holme Wood side of the estate, and he
had come to report on the progress which had been made in clearing
and ploughing the land, and repairing the farm-buildings. He was a
youngish man, a sergeant in a Warwickshire regiment, who had been
twice wounded in the war, and was now discharged. As the son of an
intelligent farmer, he had had a good agricultural training, and it
was evident that his enthusiasms and those of the Squire's new
'business-secretary' were running in harness.

The new agent, Captain Dell, also a discharged Territorial, who had
lost an arm in the war, watched the scene between the incoming
tenant and Elizabeth, with a shrewd pair of eyes, through which
there passed occasional gleams of amusement or surprise. He was
every day making further acquaintance with the lady who was
apparently to be his chief, but he was well aware that he was only
at the beginning of his lesson. Astonishing, to see a woman taking
this kind of lead!--asking these technical questions--as to land,
crops, repairs, food production, and the rest--looking every now and
then at the note-book beside her, full of her own notes made on the
spot, or again, setting down with a quick hand something that was
said to her. And all through he was struck with her tone of quiet
authority--without a touch of boasting or 'side,' but also without a
touch of any mere feminine deference to the male. She was there in
the Squire's place, and she never let it be forgotten. Heavens,
women had come on during this war! Through the young man's mind
there ran a vague and whirling sense of change.

'Well, Mr. Denman, that all sounds splendid!' said Elizabeth, at
last, as she rose from her table. 'The country won't starve, if you
can help it! I shall tell the County Committee all about you on
Tuesday. You don't want another tractor?'

'Oh, no, thank you! The two at work are enough. I hope you'll be
over soon. I should like to show you what we've been after.' The
man's tone was one of eager good will.

'Oh yes, I shall be over before long,' said Elizabeth cheerfully.
'It's so tremendously interesting what you're doing. And if you want
anything I can help you in, you can always telephone.'

And she pointed smiling to the instrument on the table--the first
that had ever been allowed within the walls of Mannering. And that
the Squire might not be teased with it, Elizabeth had long since
fitted an extra inner door, covered with green baize, to the door of
the office.

The new tenant departed, and Elizabeth turned to the agent.

'I really think we've caught a good man there,' she said, with a
smile. 'Now will you tell me, please, about those timber proposals?
I hope to get a few words with the Squire to-night.'

And leaning back in her chair, she listened intently while Captain
Dell, bringing a roll of papers out of his pocket, read her the
draft proposals of a well-known firm of timber merchants, for the
purchase of some of the Squire's outlying woods of oak and beech.
Lights had been brought in, and Elizabeth sat shading her eyes from
the lamp before her,--a strong and yet agreeable figure. Was it the
consciousness of successful work--of opening horizons, and satisfied
ambitions, that had made a physical presence, always attractive, so
much more attractive than before--that had given it a magnetism and
fire it had never yet possessed? Pamela, who was developing fast,
and was acutely conscious of Elizabeth, asked herself the question,
or something like it, about once a week. And during a short
Christmas visit that Elizabeth had paid her own people, her gentle
mother, much puzzled and a little dazzled by her daughter, had
necessarily pondered the why and wherefore of a change she felt, but
could not analyse. One thing the mother's insight had been clear
about. Elizabeth was not in love. On the contrary, the one
love-affair of her life seemed to be at last forgotten and put
aside. Elizabeth was now in love with _efficiency_; with a great
task given into her hand. As to the Squire, the owner of Mannering,
who had provided her with the task, Mrs. Bremerton could not
imagine him or envisage him at all. Elizabeth's accounts of him
were so reticent and so contradictory.... 'Well, that's very
interesting'--said Elizabeth thoughtfully, when Captain Dell laid
down his papers--'I wonder what Mr. Mannering will say to it? As you
know, I got his express permission for you to make these enquiries.
But he hates cutting down a single tree, and this will mean a wide
clearance!'

'So it will--but the country wants every stick of it. And as to not
cutting, one sees that from the woods--the tragedy of the
woods!'--said the young man with emphasis. 'There has been no decent
forestry on this estate for half a century. I hope you will be able
to persuade him, Miss Bremerton. I expect, indeed, it's Hobson's
choice.'

'You mean the timber will be commandeered?'

'Probably. The Government have just come down on some of Lord
Radley's woods just beyond our borders--with scarcely a week's
warning. No "With your leave" or "By your leave"! The price fixed,
Canadians sent down to cut, and a light railway built from the woods
to the station to carry the timber, before you could say "Jack
Robinson."'

'You think the price these people offer is a fair one?' She pointed
to the draft contract.

'Excellent! The Squire won't get nearly as much from the
Government.'

'What one might do with some of it for the estate!' said Elizabeth,
looking up, her blue eyes dancing in the lamplight.

'Rebuild half the cottages?' said the other, smiling, as he rose. 'A
village club-house, a communal kitchen, a small holdings scheme--all
the things we've talked about? Oh yes, you could do all that and
more. The Squire doesn't know what he possesses.'

'Well, I'll take the papers to him,' said Elizabeth, holding out her
hands for them. 'I may perhaps catch him to-night'

A little more business talk, and the agent departed. Then Elizabeth
dreamily--still cogitating a hundred things--touched an electric
bell. A girl typist, who acted as her clerk, came in from an
adjoining room. Elizabeth rapidly dictated a number of letters,
stayed for a little friendly gossip with the girl about her father
in the Army Service Corps, who had been in hospital at Rouen, and
had just finished, when the gong rang for afternoon tea.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Elizabeth entered, the hall was crowded. It was the principal
sitting-room of the house, now that for reasons of economy fires
were seldom lit in the drawing-rooms. Before Elizabeth's advent it
had been a dingy, uncomfortable place, but she and Pamela had
entirely transformed it. As in the estate so in the house, the
Squire did not know what he possessed. In all old houses with a
continuous life, there are accumulations of furniture and stores,
discarded by the generation of one day, and brought back by the
fashion of the next. A little routing in attics and forgotten
cupboards and chests had produced astonishing results. Chippendale
chairs and settees had been brought down from the servants'
bedrooms; two fine Dutch cabinets had been discovered amid a mass of
lumber in an outhouse; a tall Japanese screen, dating from the end
of the eighteenth century, and many pairs of linen curtains
embroidered about the same time in branching oriental patterns by
the hands of Mannering ladies, had been unearthed, and Pamela--for
Elizabeth having started the search had interfered very little with
its results--had spent some of her now scanty leisure in making the
best of the finds. The hall was now a charming place, scented,
moreover, on this January evening by the freesias and narcissus that
Elizabeth had managed to rear in the house itself, and Pamela, who
had always been ashamed of her own ill-kept and out-at-elbows home,
as compared with the perfections of Chetworth, had been showing
Arthur and Beryl Chicksands what had been done to renovate the old
house since they were last in it--'and all without spending a
penny!'--with a girlish pleasure which in the Captain's opinion
became her greatly. Pamela needed indeed a good deal of animation to
be as handsome as she deserved to be! A very critical observer took
note that her stock of it was rapidly rising. It was the same with
the letters, too, which for a month or so past, she had condescended
to write him, after treating him most uncivilly in the autumn, and
never answering a long screed--'and a jolly good one!'--which he had
written her from Paris in November.

As Elizabeth came in, Pamela was reading aloud a telegram just
received, and Miss Bremerton was greeted with the news--'Desmond's
coming to-night, instead of to-morrow! They've given him forty-eight
hours' leave, and he goes to France on Thursday.'

'That's very short!' said Elizabeth, as she took her place beside
Pamela, who was making tea. 'Does your father know?'

Forest, it appeared, had gone to tell him. Meanwhile Captain
Chicksands was watching with a keen eye the relation between Miss
Bremerton and Pamela. He saw that the Squire's secretary was
scrupulously careful to give Pamela her place as daughter of the
house; but Pamela's manner hardly showed any real intimacy between
them. And it was easy to see where the real authority lay. As for
himself he had lately begun to ask himself seriously how much he was
interested in Pamela. For in truth, though he was no coxcomb, he
could not help seeing--all the more because of Pamela's variable
moods towards him--that she was at least incipiently interested in
him. If so, was it fair to her that they should correspond?--and
that he should come to Mannering whenever he was asked and military
duty allowed, now that the Squire's embargo was at least partially
removed?

He confessed to himself that he was glad to come, that Pamela
attracted him. At the same time there was in him a stern sense that
the time was no time for love-making. The German hosts were
gathering; the vast breakdown in Russia was freeing more and more of
them for the Western assault. He himself was for the moment doing
some important intelligence work, in close contact with the High
Command. No one outside a very small circle knew better than he what
lay in front of England--the fierce death-struggle over a thousand
miles of front. And were men and women to be kissing and marrying
while these storm-clouds of war--this rain of blood--were gathering
overhead?

Involuntarily he moved further from Pamela. His fine face with the
rather high cheek-bones, strong mouth, and lined brow, seemed to put
softness away. He approached Elizabeth.

'What is the Squire doing about his wood, Miss Bremerton? The
Government's desperately in want of ash!'

He spoke almost as one official might speak to another--comrade to
comrade. What he had heard about her doings from his father had
filled his soldier's mind with an eager admiration for her. That was
how women should bear themselves in this war--as the practical
helpers of men.

He fell into the chair beside her, and Elizabeth was soon deep in
conversation with him, a conversation that any one might overhear
who would. It turned partly on the armies abroad--partly on the
effort at home. There was warmth--even passion--in it, studiously
restrained. But it was the passion of two patriots, conscious
through every pulse of their country's strait.

The others listened. Pamela became silent and pale. All the old
jealousy and misery of the autumn were alive in her once more. She
had looked forward for weeks to this meeting with Arthur Chicksands.
And for the first part of his visit she had been happy--before
Elizabeth came on the scene. Why should Elizabeth have all the
homage and the attention? She, too, was doing her best! She was
drudging every day as a V.A.D., washing crockery and scrubbing
floors; and this was the first afternoon off she had had for weeks.
Her limbs were dog-tired. But Arthur Chicksands never talked to
_her_--Pamela--in this tone of freedom and equality--with the whole
and not the half of his mind. 'I could hold my own,' she thought
bitterly, 'but he never gives me the chance! I suppose he despises
girls.'

As the hall clock struck half-past five, however, Elizabeth rose
from her seat, gathering up the papers she had brought in from the
office, and disappeared.

Arthur Chicksands looked at his watch. Beryl exclaimed:

'Oh, no, Arthur, not yet! Let's wait for Desmond!'

Pamela said perfunctorily--'No, please don't go! He'll be here
directly.'

But as they gathered round the fire, expecting the young gunner, she
hardly opened her lips again. Arthur Chicksands was quite conscious
that he had wounded her. She appeared to him, as she sat there in
the firelight, in all the first fairness and freshness of her youth,
as an embodied temptation. Again he said to himself that other men
might love and marry on the threshold of battle; he could not bring
himself to think it justifiable--whether for the woman or the man.
In a few weeks' time he would be back in France and in the very
thick, perhaps, of the final struggle--of its preparatory stages, at
any rate. Could one make love to a beautiful creature like that at
such a moment, and then leave her, with a whole mind?--the mind and
the nerve that were the country's due?

All the same he had never been so aware of her before. And
simultaneously his mind was invaded by the mute, haunting certainty
that her life was reaching out towards his, and that he was
repelling and hurting her.

Suddenly--into the midst of them, while Mrs. Gaddesden was talking
endlessly in her small plaintive voice about rations and
queues--there dropped the sound of a car passing the windows, and a
boy's clear voice.

'Desmond!' cried Pamela, with almost a sob of relief, and like one
escaping from a nightmare she sprang up and ran to greet her
brother.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Elizabeth had found the Squire waiting for her, and, as
she saw at once, in a state of tension.

'What was that you were saying to me about timber last week?' he
demanded imperiously as she entered, without giving her time to
speak. 'I hear this intolerable Government are behaving like
madmen, cutting down everything they can lay hands on. They shan't
have my trees--I would burn them first!'

Elizabeth paused in some dismay.

'You remember--' she began.

'Remember what?' It was long since she had heard so snappish a tone.

'That you authorized me--'

'Oh, I daresay, I gave myself away--I'm always doing so. I don't
mean half I say. You're too full of business--you take me up too
quick. What are those papers you've got there?'

Elizabeth's red cheeks showed her taken aback. It was the first time
for weeks that her employer had turned upon her so. She had grown so
accustomed to managing him, to taming the irritable temper that no
one else but she could cope with, and, unconsciously, so proud of
her success, that she was not prepared for this attack. She met it
meekly.

'I have a proposal here to submit to you, from ---- & Co.' (she
named a firm of timber-merchants famous throughout the Midlands).
'There is nothing in it--Captain Dell is certain--that would injure
the estate. You have such masses of timber! And, if you don't sell,
you may find it commandeered. You know what's happened to Lord
Radley?'

The Squire sulkily demanded to be informed. Elizabeth told the
story, standing at his desk, like a clerk making a report. It seemed
to enrage her auditor.

'This _accursed_ war!' he broke out, when she had finished--'it
makes slaves and idiots of us all. It must--it shall end!' And
marching tempestuously up and down, he went off into one of the
pessimist and pacifist harangues to which she was more or less
accustomed. Who would rid the country of a Government that could
neither make peace nor make war?--that foresaw nothing--that was
making life unbearable at home, by a network of senseless
restrictions, while it wasted millions abroad, and in the military
camps! The Labour Party were the only people with a grain of sense.
They at least would try to make peace. Only, when they had made it,
to be governed by them would be even worse than to be governed by
Lloyd George. There was no possible life anywhere for decent quiet
people. And as for the ravaging and ruin of the woods that was going
on all over England--

'The submarine return is worse this week,' said Elizabeth in a low
voice.

She had gone to her own table and was sitting there till the
hurricane should pass over. There was in her a fresh and chafing
sense of the obstacles laid in her path--the path of the scientific
and successful organizer--by the Squire's perversities. It was not
as though he were a pacifist by conviction, religious or other. She
had seen him rout and trample on not a few genuine professors of the
faith. His whole opposition to the war rested on the limitations
and discomforts inflicted on his own life. It reminded her of
certain fragments of dialogue she had overheard in the winter, where
she had chanced to find herself alone in a railway carriage full of
a group of disaffected workmen returning from a strike meeting at
Leicester. 'If there are many like these, is the country worth
saving?' she was saying to herself all the time, in a dumb passion.

Yet, after all, those men had done months and years of labour for
the country. Saying 'I will not go!' they had yet gone. Without a
spark of high feeling or conscious self-sacrifice to ease their
toil, they had yet, week by week, made the guns and the shells which
had saved the armies of England. When this temporary outbreak was
over they would go back and make them again. And they were tired
men--sallow-faced, and bowed before their time.

But what had this whimsical, accomplished man before her ever done
for his country that he should rail like this? It was difficult
after a tiring day to keep scorn and dissent concealed. They
probably showed in her expression, for the Squire turned upon her as
she made her remark about the submarines, examining her with a pair
of keen eyes.

'Oh, I know very well what you and that fellow Chicksands think
about persons like me who endeavour to see things _as they
are_!'--he smote a chair before him--'and not as you and our
war-party _wish_ them to be. Well, well--now then to business. Who
wants to cut my woods--and what do they offer for them?'

Elizabeth put the papers in front of him. He turned them over.

'H'm--they want the Cross Wood--one of the most beautiful woods in
England. I have spent days there when I was young drawing the trees.
And who's the idiot'--he pointed to some marginal notes--'who is
always carping and girding? "Good forestry" would have done this and
not done that. "Mismanagement"--"neglect"! Upon my word, who made
this man a judge over me?'

And flushed with wrath, the Squire looked angrily at his secretary.
'Heavens!'--thought Elizabeth--'why didn't I edit the papers before
I showed them?' But aloud she said with her good-tempered smile--

'I am afraid I took all those remarks as applying to Mr. Hull. He
was responsible for the woods, wasn't he? He told me he was.'

'Nothing of the kind! In the end the owner is responsible. This
fellow is attacking _me_!'

Elizabeth said nothing. She could only wait in hope to see how the
large sums mentioned in the contract might work.

'"Maximum price"! What's this?--"Had Mr. Mannering been willing to
enter into negotiations with us last year,"'--the Squire began to
read a letter accompanying the draft contract--'"when we approached
him, we should probably have been able to offer him a better price.
But under the scale of prices now fixed by the Government--"'

The owner of Mannering bounded out of his seat.

'And you actually mean to say that I may not only be forced to sell
my woods--but whether I am forced or not, I can only sell them at
the Government price? Intolerable!--absolutely _intolerable_! Every
day that Englishmen put up with these tyrannies is a disgrace to the
country!'

'The country must have artillery waggons and aeroplanes,' said
Elizabeth, softly. 'Where are we to get the wood? There are not
ships enough to bring it overseas?'

'And suppose I grant you that--why am I not to get my fair
price--like anybody else? Just tell me that!'

'Why, everybody's "controlled"!' cried Elizabeth.

'Pshaw! I am sorry to be uncivil'--a sarcastic bow in her
direction--'but I really must point out that you talk nonsense.
Look at the money in the banks--look at the shops and the
advertisements--look at the money that people pay for pictures, and
old books, and autographs. _Somebody's_ making profits--that's
clear. But a wretched landowner--with a few woods to sell--it is
easy to victimize him!'

'It comes to a large sum,' said Elizabeth, looking down. At last she
was conscious of a real exasperation with the Squire. For four
months now she had been wrestling with him--for his own good and the
country's, and everything had always to be begun again. Suddenly her
spirits drooped.

The Squire observed her furtively out of the corners of his eyes.
Then he turned to the last page of the contract, with its final
figures. His eyebrows went up.

'The man's a _fool_!' he said vehemently. 'I know the value of my
own timber a great deal better than he. They're not worth a third of
what they put them at.'

'Even at the Government price?' Elizabeth ventured slyly. 'He'll be
very glad to give it!'

'Then it's blackmailing the country,' said the Squire obstinately.
'I loathe the war, but I'm not a profiteer.'

Elizabeth was silent. If the Squire persisted in rejecting this
deal, which he had himself invited in another mood, half her dreams
for the future, the dreams of a woman just beginning to feel the
intoxication of power, or, to put it better, the creative passion of
the reformer, were undone. She had already saved the Squire much
money. When all reasonable provision had been made for investment,
replanting, and the rest, this sale would still leave enough to
transform the estate and scores of human lives upon it. Her will
chafed hotly under the curb imposed upon it by the caprices of a
master for whom--save only as a Greek scholar--she had little
respect. After a while, as the Squire was still turning over the
contract with occasional grunts and mutterings, she asked--

'Will you please tell me what I am to reply?'

Her voice was cold and measured.

The Squire threw up his white head.

'What hurry is there?' he said testily.

'Oh, none--if you wish it delayed. Only--' she hesitated--'Captain
Dell tells me the Government inspectors are already in the
neighbourhood. He expects them here before long.'

'And if I make a stand--if I oppose you--well--it'll be the gates
over again?' She shrugged her shoulders.

'We must try to find the money some other way. It is badly wanted. I
thought--'

'You thought I had authorized this--and you've given all your work
for nothing? You think I'm an impossible person?'

Suddenly she found him sitting beside her. Perforce she looked him
in the face.

'Don't give notice again!' he said, almost with passion.

'It's not so easy now,' she said, with a rather uncertain voice.

'Because you've done so much for me?--because you've slaved and put
your heart into it? That's true. Well now, look here. We'll put that
beastly thing away to-night--perhaps I shall be in a better temper
in a few days.'

There was a note in his voice he seemed unable to keep out of it.
Elizabeth looking up caught the fire light on the sketch of Desmond.
Had the Squire's eyes been on it too? Impossible to say--for he had
already turned away.

'Oh, yes,--put it away!' she said hurriedly.

'And I'll go over the woods with you on--Friday,' said the Squire
after a pause. 'Oh, I don't deny that the money is tempting. I'm not
such a pauper as I once was, thanks to you. I seem to have some
money in the bank--astonishing situation! And--there's a jolly good
sale at Christie's coming on.'

He looked at her half-shamefaced, half-ready to resent it if she
laughed at him.

Her eyes laughed.

'I thought you'd forgotten that. I saw you mark the catalogue.'

'Beech and oak between two and three hundred years old--in exchange
for Greek gems, between two and three thousand. Well--I'll consider
it. Now then, are you feeling better?'

And to her amazement he approached her with an outstretched hand.
Elizabeth mechanically placed her own in it.

'I know what you want,' he said impetuously. 'You've got a head full
of dreams. They're not my dreams--but you've a right to them--so
long as you're kind to mine.'

'I try to be,' she said with a rather tremulous lip.

At that moment the library door opened. Neither perceived it.
Desmond came in softly, lest his father should be at work. A carved
oak screen round the door hid his entrance, and as he emerged into
the light his eyes caught the two distant figures standing hand in
hand.

Instinctively he stepped back a few paces and noisily opened the
door. The Squire walked away.

'Why, Desmond!' said his father, as the boy emerged into the light,
'your train's punctual for once. Thank you, Miss Bremerton--that'll
do. Kindly write to those people and say that I am considering the
matter. I needn't keep you any longer....'

That night a demon came to Elizabeth and offered her a Faust-like
bargain. Ambition--noble ambition on the one side--an 'elderly
lunatic' on the other. And she began to consider it!



CHAPTER XI


Everybody in Mannering had gone to bed but Desmond and Pamela. It
was not certain indeed that the Squire had gone to bed, but as there
was a staircase beside one of the doors of the library leading
direct to his room, it was not likely that he would cross the hall
again. The twins felt themselves alone.

'I daresay there'll be a raid to-night,' said Desmond, 'it's so
bright and still. Put down that lamp a moment, Pamela.'

She obeyed, and he threw away his cigarette, went to one of the
windows, and drew up the blinds.

'Listen!' he said, holding up his hand. Pamela came to his side, and
they both heard through the stillness that sound of distant guns
which no English ear had heard--till now--since the Civil War.

'And there are the searchlights!'

For over London, some forty miles away behind a low range of hills,
faint fingers of light were searching the sky.

'At this very moment, perhaps,'--said the boy between his
teeth--'those demons are blowing women and children to pieces--over
there!'

Pamela shivered and laid her cheek against his shoulder. But both he
and she were aware of that strange numbness which in the fourth year
of the war has been creeping over all the belligerent nations, so
that horror has lost its first edge, and the minds, whether of
soldiers in the field, or of civilians at home, have become hardened
to facts or ideas which would once have stirred in them wild
ferments of rage and terror.

'Shall we win, this year, Desmond?' said Pamela, as they stood
gazing out into the park, where, above a light silvery mist a young
moon was riding in a clear blue. Not a branch stirred in the great
leafless trees; only an owl's plaintive cry seemed to keep in rhythm
with that sinister murmur on the horizon.

'Win?--this year?' said the boy, with a shrug. 'Don't reckon on it,
Pam. Those Russian fools have dished it all for months!'

'But the Americans will make up?'

Desmond assented eagerly. And in the minds of the English boy and
girl there rose a kind of vague vision of an endless procession of
great ships, on a boundless ocean, carrying men, and men, and more
men--guns, and aeroplanes, and shining piles of shells--bringing the
New World to the help of the Old.

Desmond turned to his sister.

'Look here, Pam, this time next week I shall be in the line. Well, I
daresay I shan't be at the actual front for a week or two--but it
won't be long. We shall want every battery we've got. Now--suppose I
don't come back?'

'Desmond!'

'For goodness' sake, don't be silly, old girl. We've got to look at
it, you know. The death-rate of men of my age' (_men!--Desmond, a
man_!) 'has gone up to about four times what it was before the war.
I saw that in one of the papers this morning. I've only got a
precious small chance. And if I don't come back, I want to know what
you're going to do with yourself.'

'I don't care what happens to me if you don't come back!' said the
girl passionately. She was leaning with folded arms against the side
of the window, the moonlight, or something else, blanching the face
and her fair hair.

Desmond looked at her with a troubled expression. For two or three
years past he had felt a special responsibility towards this
twin-sister of his. Who was there to look after her but he? He saw
that his father never gave her a serious thought, and as to
Aubrey--well, he too seemed to have no room in his mind for
Pam--poor old Pam!

'How are you getting on with Broomie?' he asked suddenly.

'I don't like her!' said Pamela fiercely. 'I shall never like her!'

'Well, that's awkward,'--said the boy slowly, 'because--'

'Because what?'

'Because I believe she means to marry father!'

Pamela laughed angrily.

'Ah, you've found that out too!'

Desmond pulled down the blind again, and they went back to the fire,
sitting on the floor beside it, with their arms round each other, as
they had been used to do as children. And then in a low voice, lest
any ears in the sleeping house should be, after all, on the alert,
he told her what he had seen in the library. He was rather ashamed
of telling her; only there was this queer sense of last words--of
responsibility--for his sister, which excused it.

Pamela listened despondently.

'Perhaps they're engaged already! Well,--I can tell you this--if
father does marry her, she'll rule him, and me--if I give her the
chance--and everybody on the place, with a rod of iron.'

Desmond at first remonstrated. He had been taken aback by the sudden
vision in the library; and Pamela's letters for some time past had
tended to alter his first liking for 'Broomie' into a feeling more
distrustful and uncertain. But, after all, Broomie's record must be
remembered. 'She wouldn't sign that codicil thing--she made father
climb down about the gates--and Sir Henry says she's begun to pull
the estate together like anything, and if father will only let her
alone for a year or two she'll make him a rich man.'

'Oh, I know,' said Pamela gloomily, 'she's paid most of the bills
already. When I go into Fallerton now--everybody--all the tradesmen
are as sweet as sugar.'

'Well, that's something to the good, isn't it? Don't be unfair!'

'I'm not unfair!' cried Pamela. 'Don't you see how she just swallows
up everybody's attention--how nobody else matters when she's
there! How, can you expect _me_ to like that--if she were an
archangel--which she isn't!'

'But has she done anything nasty--anything to bother you?'

'Well, of course, I'm just a cypher when she's there. I'm afraid I
oughtn't to mind--but I do!'

And Pamela, with her hands round her knees, stared into the fire in
bitterness of spirit. She couldn't explain, even to Desmond, that
the inward eye all the time was tormented by two kindred
visions--Arthur in the hall that afternoon, talking war work with
Elizabeth with such warm and eager deference, and Arthur on Holme
Hill, stretched at Elizabeth's feet, and bandying classical chaff
with her. And there was a third, still more poignant, of a future in
which Elizabeth would be always there, the centre of the picture,
mistress of the house, the clever and charming woman, beside whom
girls in their teens had no chance.

She was startled out of these reflections by a remark from Desmond.

'You know, Pam, you ought to get married soon.'

The boy spoke shyly--but gravely and decidedly. Pam thought with a
sudden anguish--'He would never have said that, unless--'

She laid her head on his shoulder, clinging to him.

'I shan't get married, old boy.'

'Oh, that's nonsense! Look here, Pam--you mustn't mind my poking
my nose into things where I've no business. You see, it's
because--Well, I've sometimes thought--punch my head, if you
like!--that you had a fancy for Arthur Chicksands.'

Pamela laughed.

'Well, as he hasn't got any fancy for me, you needn't take that into
your dear old head!'

'Why, he was always very fond of you, Pam.'

'Oh, yes, he liked ragging me when I was a child. I'm not good
enough for him now.'

'What do you mean--not good enough?'

'Not clever enough, you silly old boy. He'll marry somebody much
older than me.'

Desmond ruminated.

'He seemed to be getting on with Broomie this afternoon?'

'Magnificently. He always does. She's his sort. She writes to him.'

'Oh, does she?' The boy's voice was dry and hostile. He began to
understand, or thought he did. Miss Bremerton was not only plotting
to marry his father--had perhaps been plotting for it from the
beginning--but was besides playing an unfair game with Pam--spoiling
Pam's chances--cutting in where she wasn't wanted--grabbing, in
fact. Anger was mounting in him. Why should his father be mopped up
like this?--and Pamela made unhappy?

'I'd jolly well like to stop it all!' he said, under his breath.

'Stop what? You dear, foolish old man! You can't stop it, Dezzy.'

'Well, if she'll only make him happy--!'

'Oh, she'll be quite decent to him,' said Pamela, with a shrug, 'but
she'll despise him!'

'What the deuce do you mean, Pam?'

Whereupon, quite conscious that she was obeying an evil and feverish
impulse, but unable to control it, Pamela went into a long and
passionate justification of what she had said. A number of small
incidents--trifling acts and sayings of Elizabeth's--misinterpreted
and twisted by the girl's jealous pain, were poured into Desmond's
ears.

'All the servants know that she treats father like a baby. She and
Forest manage him in little things--in the house--just as she runs
the estate. For instance, she does just what she likes with the
fruit and the flowers--'

'Why, _you_ ought to do all that, Pam!'

'I tried when I came home from school. Father wouldn't let me do a
thing. But _she_ does just what she pleases. You can hear her and
Forest laughing over it. Oh, it's all right, of course. She sends
things to hospitals every week.'

'That was what you used to want.'

'I do want it--but--'

'You ought to have the doing of it?'

'Oh, I don't know. I'm away all day. But she might at least
_pretend_ to refer to him--or me--sometimes. It's the same in
everything. She twists father round her little finger; and you can
see all the time what she thinks--that there never was such a bad
landlord, or such a miserable, feckless crew as the rest of us,
before she came to put us straight!'

Desmond listened--partly resisting--but finally carried away. By the
time their talk was over he felt that he too hated Elizabeth
Bremerton, and that it was horrid to have to leave Pamela with her.

When they said good-night Pamela threw herself on her bed face
downwards, more wretched than she had ever been--wretched because
Desmond was going, and might be killed, wretched, too, because her
conscience told her that she had spoilt his last evening, and made
him exceedingly unhappy, by a lot of exaggerated complaints. She was
degenerating--she knew it. 'I am a little beast, compared to what I
was when I left school,' she confessed to herself with tears, and
did not know how to get rid of this fiery plague that was eating at
her heart. She seemed to look back to a time--only yesterday!--when
poetry and high ideals, friendships and religion filled her mind;
and now nothing--nothing!--was of any importance, but the look, the
voice, the touch of a man.

The next day, Desmond's last day at home, for he was due in London
by the evening, was gloomy and embarrassed for all concerned.
Elizabeth, pre-occupied and shrinking from her own thoughts, could
not imagine what had happened. She had put off all her engagements
for the day, that she might help in any last arrangements that might
have to be made for Desmond.

But Desmond declined to be helped, not rudely, but with a decision,
which took Elizabeth aback.

'Mayn't I look out some books for you? I have found some more pocket
classics,' she had said to him with a smile, remembering his
application to her in the autumn.

'No, thank you. I shall have no time.' And with that, a prompt
retreat to Pamela and the Den. Elizabeth, indeed, who was all
eagerness to serve him, found herself rebuffed at every turn.

Nor were matters any better with Pamela, who had cried off her
hospital work in order to pack for Desmond. Elizabeth, seeing her
come downstairs with an armful of khaki shirts to be marked, offered
assistance--almost timidly. But Pamela's 'Thank you, but I'd rather
not trouble you--I can do it quite well'--was so frosty that
Elizabeth could only retire--bewildered--to the library, where she
and the Squire gave a morning's work to the catalogue, and never
said a word of farm or timber.

But the Squire worked irritably, finding fault with a number of
small matters, and often wandering away into the house to see what
Desmond was doing. During these intervals Elizabeth would sit, pen
in hand, staring absently into the dripping garden and the park
beaten by a cold rain. The future began to seem to her big with
events and perplexity.

Then with the evening came the boy's leave-taking; full of affection
towards his father and sister, and markedly chilly in the case of
Elizabeth. When the station taxi had driven off, Elizabeth--with
that cold touch of the boy's fingers still tingling on her
hand--turned from the front door to see Pamela disappearing to the
schoolroom, and the Squire fidgeting with an evening paper which the
taxi had brought him from the station.

Elizabeth suddenly noticed the shaking of the paper, over which only
the crest of white hair showed. Too bad of Pamela to have gone off
without a word to her father! Was it sympathy with the Squire, or
resentment on her own account, that made Elizabeth go up to
him?--though at a respectful distance.

'Shall we finish the bit of translation we began this morning, if
you're not busy?' she said gently. It was very rarely now that she
was able to do any classical work after the mornings.

The Squire threw down the newspaper, and strode on before her to the
library without a word. Elizabeth followed. Rain and darkness had
been shut out. The wood fire glowed on the hearth, and its ruddy
light was on the face of the Nikê, and its solemn outstretched
wings. All the apparatus of their common work was ready, the work
that both loved. Elizabeth felt a sudden, passionate drawing towards
this man twenty years older than herself, which seemed to correspond
to the new and smarting sense of alienation from the twins and their
raw, unjust youth. What had been the reason for their behaviour to
her that day?--what had she done? She was conscious of long weeks of
effort, in Pamela's case,--trying to please and win her; and of a
constant tender interest in Desmond, which had never missed an
opportunity of doing or suggesting something he might like--all for
this! She must have offended them she supposed in some way; how,
she could not imagine. But her mood was sore; and, self-controlled
as she was, her pulse raced.

Here, however, she was welcome, she was needed; she could distract
and soothe a bitterness of soul best measured by the Squire's most
unusual taciturnity. No railing at the Government or the war,
not a fling even at the 'd----d pedant, Chicksands!' or 'The
Bubbly-jocks,' as he liked to call the members of the County War
Committee. Elizabeth put a text of Aristophanes--the _Pax_--into his
hands, and drew her table near to him, waiting his pleasure. There
was a lamp behind him which fell on her broad, white brow, her
waiting eyes and hand, and all the friendly intelligence of her
face. The Squire began haltingly, lost his place, almost threw the
book away; but she cheered him on, admired this phrase, delicately
amended that, till the latent passion had gripped him, and he was
soon in full swing, revelling in all the jests and topicalities of
the play, where the strikers and pacifists, the profiteers, the
soldiers and munition workers of two thousand odd years ago, fight
and toil, prate and wrangle and scheme, as eager and as alive as
their descendants of to-day. Soon his high, tempestuous laugh rang
out; Elizabeth's gentler mirth answering. Sometimes there was a
dispute about a word or a rendering; she would put up her own view,
with obstinacy, so that he might have the pleasure of knocking it
down. And all through there was the growing sense of comradeship, of
mutual understanding, which, in their classical work at least, had
been always present for Elizabeth, since her first acquaintance with
her strange employer.

When she rose, reluctantly, at the sound of the dressing-bell, the
Squire paced up and down while she put her books and papers away.
Then as she was going, he turned abruptly--

'I told Forest to order the _Times_--will you see he does it?'

'Certainly.'

'I loathe all newspapers,' he said sombrely. 'If we must go to the
devil, I don't want to know too much about it. But still--'

She waited a moment, but as nothing more came she was leaving the
room, when he added--

'And don't forget the timber business to-morrow afternoon. Tell Dell
to meet us in Cross Wood.'

       *       *       *       *       *

When she had gone, the Squire still continued pacing, absorbed
in meeting the attack of new and strange ideas. He had
always been a man with a singularly small reflective gift.
Self-examination--introspection of any sort--were odious to him. He
lived on stimulus from outside, attracted or repelled, amused or
interested, bored or angry, as the succession of events or impressions
might dictate. To collect beautiful things was a passion with him, and
he was proud of the natural taste and instinct, which generally led
him right. But for 'aesthetics'--the philosophy of art--he had nothing
but contempt. The volatile, restless mind escaped at once from the
concentration asked of it; and fell back on what the Buddhist calls
'Maia,' the gay and changing appearances of things, which were all he
wanted. And it was because the war had interfered with this pleasant
and perpetual challenge to the senses of the outer world, because
it forced a man back on general ideas that he did not want to
consider--God, Country, Citizenship--that the Squire had hated the
war.

But this woman who had become an inmate of his house, while she
ministered to all the tastes that the Squire had built up as a
screen between himself and either the tragic facts of contemporary
life, or any troublesome philosophizing about them, was yet
gradually, imperceptibly, drawing the screen aside. Her humanity was
developing the feeble shoots of sympathy and conscience in himself.
What she felt, he was beginning to feel; and when she hated anything
he must at least uncomfortably consider why.

But all this she did and achieved through her mere fitness and
delightfulness as a companion. He had never imagined that life would
bring him anybody--least of all a woman--who would both give him so
much, and save him so much. Selfish, exacting, irritable--he knew
very well that he was all three. But it had not prevented this
capable, kind, clever creature from devoting herself to him, from
doing her utmost, not only to save his estate and his income, but to
make his life once more agreeable to him, in spite of the war and
all the rancour and resentments it had stirred up in him.

How patient she had been with these last! He was actually beginning
to be ashamed of some of them. And now to-night--what made her come
and give him the extra pleasure of her company these two hours?
Sympathy, he supposed, about Desmond.

Well, he was grateful; and for the first time his heart reached out
for pity--almost humbled itself--accepted the human lot. If Desmond
were killed, he would never choose to go on living. Did she know
that? Was it because she guessed at the feelings he had always done
his best to hide that she had been so good to him that evening?

What as to that love-story of hers--her family?--her brother in
Mesopotamia? He began to feel a hundred curiosities about her, and a
strong wish to make life easy for her, as she had been making it
easy for him. But she was excessively proud and scrupulous--that he
had long since found out. No use offering to double her salary, now
that she had saved him all this money! His first advance in that
direction had merely offended her. The Squire thought vaguely of the
brother--no doubt a young lieutenant. Could interest be made for
him?--with some of the bigwigs. Then his--very intermittent--sense
of humour asserted itself. He to make interest with anybody--for
anybody--in connection with the war! He, who had broken with every
soldier-friend he ever had, because of his opinions about the
war!--and was anathema throughout the country for the same reason.
Like all members of old families in this country he had a number of
aristocratic and wealthy kinsfolk, the result of Mannering marriages
in the past. But he had never cared for any of them, except to a
mild degree for his sister, Lady Cassiobury, who was ten years older
than himself, and still paid long visits to Mannering, which bored
him hugely. On the last occasion, he was quite aware that he had
behaved badly, and was now in her black-books.

No--there was nothing to be done, except to let this wonderful woman
have her own way! If she wanted to cut down the woods, let her!--if
she wanted to amuse herself by rebuilding the village, and could
find the money out of the estate, let her!--it would occupy her,
attach her to the place, and do him no harm.

Yes, attach her to the place; bind her! hold her!--that was what he
wanted. Otherwise, how hideously uncertain it all was! She might go
at any time. Her mother might be ill--old ladies have a way of being
ill. Her brother might be wounded--or killed. Either of those events
would carry her off--out of his ken. But if she were engaged deeply
enough in the estate affairs she would surely come back. He knew
her!--she hated to leave things unfinished. He was eager now to heap
all kinds of responsibilities upon her. He would be meek and
pliable; he would put no sort of obstacles in her way. She would
have no excuse for giving him notice again. He would put up with all
her silly Jingoism--if only she would stay!

But at this point the Squire suddenly pulled up short in his pacing
and excitedly asked himself the question, which half the people
about him were already beginning to ask.

'Why shouldn't I marry her?'

He stood transfixed--the colour rising in his thin cheeks.

Hitherto the notion, if it had ever knocked at the outer door of the
brain, had been chased away with mockery. And he had no sooner
admitted it now than he drove it out again. He was simply afraid of
it--in terror lest any suspicion of it should reach Elizabeth. Her
loyalty, her single-mindedness, her freedom from the smallest taint
of intrigue--he would have answered for them with all he possessed.
If, for a moment, she chose to think that he had misinterpreted her
kindness, her services in any vile and vulgar way, why, he might
lose her on the instant! Let him walk warily--do nothing at least to
destroy the friend in her, before he grasped at anything more.

Besides, how could she put up with him? 'I am the dried husk of a
man!' thought the Squire, with vehemence. 'I couldn't learn her ways
now, nor she mine. No; let us be as we are--only more so!'

But he was shaken through and through; first by that vanishing of
his boy into the furnace of the war, which had brought him at last
within the grip of the common grief, the common fear, and now by
this strange thought which had invaded him.

       *       *       *       *       *

After dinner, Elizabeth, who was rather pale, but as cheerful and
self-possessed as usual, put Mrs. Gaddesden's knitting to rights at
least three times, and held the wool for that lady to wind till her
arm ached. Then Mrs. Gaddesden retired to bed; the Squire, who with
only occasional mutterings and mumblings had been deep in
Elizabeth's copy of the _Times_, which she had at last ventured to
produce in public, went off to the library, and Elizabeth and Pamela
were left in the hall alone.

Elizabeth lingered over the fire; while Pamela wondered impatiently
why she did not go to her office work as she generally did about
nine o'clock. Pamela's mood was more thorny than ever. Had she not
seen a letter in Elizabeth's handwriting lying that very afternoon
on the hall-table for post--addressed to Captain Chicksands, D.S.O.,
War Office, Whitehall? Common sense told her that it probably
contained nothing but an answer to some questions Arthur had put to
the Squire's 'business secretary' as to the amount of ash in the
Squire's woods--Arthur's Intelligence appointment having something
to do with the Air Board. But the mere fact that Elizabeth should be
writing to him stirred intolerable resentment in the girl's
passionate heart. She knew very well that it was foolish,
unreasonable, but could no more help it than a love-smitten maiden
of old Sicily. It was her hour of possession, and she was struggling
with it blindly.

And Elizabeth, the shrewd and clever Elizabeth, saw nothing, and
knew nothing. If she had ever for a passing moment suspected the
possibility of 'an affair' between Arthur Chicksands and Pamela, she
had ceased to think of it. The eager projects with which her own
thoughts were teeming, had driven out the ordinary preoccupations of
womankind. Derelict farms, the food-production of the county,
timber, village reconstruction, war-work of various kinds, what time
was there left?--what room?--in a mind wrestling with a hundred new
experiences, for the guessing of a girl's riddle?

Yet all the same she remained her just and kindly self. She was
troubled--much troubled--by the twins' behaviour. She must somehow
get to the bottom of it.

So that when only she and Pamela were left in the hall she went up
to the girl, not without agitation.

'Pamela--won't you tell me?--have I done anything to offend you and
Desmond?'

She spoke very quietly, but her tone showed her wounded. Pamela
started and looked up.

'I don't know what you mean,' she said coldly. 'Did you think we had
been rude to you?'

It was the first hostile word they had ever exchanged.

Elizabeth grew pale.

'I didn't say anything about your being rude. I asked you if you
were cross with me.'

'Oh--cross!' said Pamela, suddenly conscious of a suffocating
excitement. 'What's the good of being cross? It's you who are
mistress here.'

Elizabeth fell back a step in dismay.

'I do think you ought to explain,' she said after a moment. 'If I
had done anything you didn't like--anything you thought unkind, I
should be very very sorry.'

Pamela rose from her seat. Elizabeth's tone seemed to her pure
hypocrisy. All the bitter, poisonous stuff she had poured out to
Desmond the night before was let loose again. Stammering and
panting, she broke into the vaguest and falsest accusations.

She was ignored--she was a nobody in her own home--everybody knew
it and talked of it. She wasn't jealous--oh no!--she was simply
miserable! 'Oh, I daresay you can no more help it than I can. You,
of course, are twenty times more use here than I am. I don't
dispute that. But I am the daughter of the house after all, and it
is a little hard to be so shelved--so absolutely put in the
background!--as I am--'

'Don't I consult you whenever I can? haven't I done my best to--'
interrupted Elizabeth, only to be interrupted in her turn.

--'to persuade father to let me do things? Yes, that's just
it!--_you_ persuade father, you manage everything. It's just that
that's intolerable!'

And flushed with passion, extraordinarily handsome, Pamela stood
tremulously silent, her eyes fixed on Elizabeth. Elizabeth, too, was
silent for a moment. Then she said with steady emphasis:

'Of course there can only be one end to this. I can't possibly stay
here.'

'Oh, very well, go!' cried Pamela. 'Go, and tell father that I've
made you. But if you do, neither you nor he will see me again for a
good while.'

'What do you mean?'

'What I say. If you suppose that _I'm_ going to stay on here to bear
the brunt of father's temper after he knows that I've made you throw
up, you're entirely mistaken.'

'Then what do you propose?'

'I don't know what I propose,' said Pamela, shaking from head to
foot, 'but if you say a word to father about it I shall simply
disappear. I shall be able to earn my own living somehow.'

The two confronted each other.

'And you really think I can go on after this as if nothing had
happened?' said Elizabeth, in a low voice.

Pangs of remorse were seizing on Pamela, but she stifled them.

'There's a way out!' she said presently, her colour coming and
going. 'I'll go and stay with Margaret in town for a bit. Why should
there be any fuss? She's asked me often to help with her
war-workroom and the canteen. Father won't mind. He doesn't care in
the least what I do! And nobody will think it a bit odd--if you and
I don't talk.'

Elizabeth turned away. The touch of scorn in her bearing was not
lost on Pamela.

'And if I refuse to stay on, without saying or doing anything--to
put myself right--you threaten to run away?'

'I do--I mean it,' said Pamela firmly. She had not only hardened
again under the sting of that contempt she detected in Elizabeth,
but there was rising up in her a sudden and rapturous vision of
London:--Arthur at the War Office--herself on open ground--no longer
interfered with and over-shadowed. He would come to see her--take
her out, perhaps, sometimes to an exhibition, or for a walk. The
suggestion of going to Margaret had been made on the spur of the
moment without after-thought. She was now wedded to it, divining in
it a hundred possibilities.

At the same moment she became more cautious, and more ashamed of
herself. It would be better to apologize. But before she could speak
Elizabeth said:

'Does Desmond agree with what you have been saying?'

Pamela staring at her adversary was a little frightened. She rushed
into a falsehood.

'Desmond knows nothing about it! I don't want him dragged in.'

Elizabeth's eyes, with their bitter, wounded look; seemed to search
the girl's inmost mind. Then she moved away.

'We had better go to bed. We shall both want to think it over.
Good-night.'

And from the darkness of the hall, where fire and lamp were dying,
Pamela half spell-bound, watched the tall figure of Elizabeth slowly
mounting the broad staircase at the further end, the candle-light
flickering on her bright hair, and on a bunch of snowdrops in her
breast.

Then, for an hour, while the house sank into silence, Pamela sat
crouched and shivering by the only log left in the grate. 'A little
while ago,' she was thinking miserably, 'I had good feelings and
ideas--I never hated anybody. I never told lies. I suppose--I shall
get worse and worse.'

And when she had gone wearily to bed, it was to cry herself to
sleep.

The following morning, an urgent telegram from her younger sister
recalled Elizabeth Bremerton to London, where her mother's invalid
condition had suddenly taken a disastrous turn for the worse.



CHAPTER XII


'Hullo, Aubrey! what brings you here?' And with the words Arthur
Chicksands, just emerging from the War Office, stopped to greet a
brother officer, who was just entering it.

'Nothing much. I shan't be long. Can you wait a bit?'

'Right you are. I've got to leave a note at the Ministry of
Munitions, but I'll be back in a few minutes.'

Arthur Chicksands went his way to Whitehall Gardens, while Major
Mannering disappeared into the inner regions of that vast building
where dwell the men on whom hang the fortunes of an Empire. Arthur
walking fast up Whitehall was very little aware of the scene about
him. His mind was occupied with the details of the interview in
which he had just been engaged. His promotion had lately been rapid,
and his work of extraordinary interest. He had been travelling a
great deal, backwards and forwards between London and Versailles,
charged with several special enquiries in which he had shown both
steadiness and _flair_. Things were known to him that he could not
share even with a friend so old and 'safe' as Aubrey Mannering. The
grip of the coming crisis was upon him, and he seemed 'to carry the
world in his breast'

'Next year--next February--where shall we all be?' The question was
automatically suggested to him by the sight of the green buds of the
lilac trees In front of Whitehall Terrace.

'Oh, my dear Susan!--do look at those trees!'

Chicksands, startled from his own meditations, looked up to see two
old ladies gazing with an eager interest at a couple of plane trees,
which had just shed a profusion of bark and stood white and almost
naked in the grey London air. They were dear old ladies from some
distant country-side, with bonnets and fronts, and reticules, as
though they had just walked out of _Cranford_, and after gazing with
close attention at the plane trees near them they turned and looked
at all the other plane trees in Whitehall, which presented an
equally plucked and peeled appearance.

Then the one addressed as Susan laughed out--a happy, chuckling
laugh.

'Oh, I see! My dear Ellen, how clever people are now! They're
_camouflaged_--that's what it is--can't you see?--all the way down,
because of the raids!'

The admiring fervour of the voice was too much for Chicksands. He
hurried past them, head down, and ran up the steps of the Ministry
of Munitions. From that point of vantage he turned, shaken with
amusement, to see the pair advancing slowly towards Westminster,
their old-fashioned skirts floating round them, still pointing
eagerly at the barkless trees. Had they come from some piny region
where the plane is not? Anyway the tension of the day was less.

He repeated the tale to Aubrey Mannering a few minutes later, when
they had turned together into Birdcage Walk. But Aubrey scarcely
gave it the ghost of a smile. As to his old friend's enquiries about
his own work and plans, he answered them quite readily, but shortly,
without any expansion; with the manner, indeed, of one for whom
talk about himself had no sort of attraction. And as they passed
along the front of the barracks, where a few men were drilling,
Chicksands, struck by his companion's silence, turned a sudden look
upon him. Mannering's eyes were absently and yet intently fixed on
the small squads of drilling men. And it was sharply borne in on
Chicksands that he was walking beside the mere image or phantom of a
man, a man whose mind was far away--'voyaging through strange seas
of thought alone.' Mannering's eyes were wide open; but they made
the weird impression on the spectator of a double seeing--of some
object of vision beyond and behind the actual scene of the barracks
and the recruits, and that an object producing terror or pain.
Chicksands made a remark and it was not answered.

It was not the first time that Arthur had observed this trance-like
state in the man who was to be his brother-in-law, and had been his
'chum' from childhood. Others had noticed it, and he had reason to
think that Beryl was often distressed by it. He had never himself
seen any signs of strangeness or depression in Aubrey before the
Easter of 1915, when they met in Paris, for the first time after the
battle of Neuve Chapelle, in which Mannering had lost his dearest
friend, one Freddy Vivian, of the Worcesters. During the winter they
had met fairly often in the neighbourhood of Ypres, and Aubrey was
then the same eager, impulsive fellow that Chicksands had known at
Eton and Cambridge, bubbling over with the exploits of his
battalion, and adored by his own men. In April, in a raid near
Festubert, Mannering was badly wounded. But the change in him was
already evident when they were in Paris together. Chicksands could
only suppose it represented the mental and nervous depression caused
by Vivian's death, and would pass away. On the contrary, it had
proved to be something permanent.

Yet it had never interfered with his efficiency as a soldier, nor
his record for a dare-devil courage. There were many tales current
of his exploits on the Somme, in which again and again he had singed
the beard of Death, with an absolute recklessness of his own
personal life, combined with the most anxious care for that of his
men. Since the battle of Messines he had been the head of a
remarkable Officers' School at Aldershot, mainly organized by
himself. But now, it seemed, he was moving heaven and earth to get
back to France and the front. Chicksands did not think he would
achieve it. He was invaluable where he was, and his superiors, to
Mannering's indignation, were inclined to regard him as a man who
was physically fit rather for home service than the front.

When they reached the Buckingham Palace end of the Walk, Mannering
paused.

'Where are you lunching?'

'At Brooks', with my father.'

'Oh, then I'll walk there with you.'

They struck across the park, and talk fell on a recent small
set-back which had happened to a regiment with which they were both
well acquainted.

Chicksands shrugged his shoulders.

'I've heard some details at the War Office. Just ten minutes' rot!
The Colonel stopped it with his revolver. Most of them splendid
fellows. Two young subs gave way under a terrific shelling and their
men with them. And in ten minutes they were all rushing forward
again, straight through the barrage--and the two lieutenants were
killed.'

'My God!--lucky fellows!' cried Mannering, under his breath, with a
passion and suddenness that struck astonishment into his companion.

'Well, yes,' said Arthur, 'in a sense--but--nothing would have
happened to them. They had wiped it out.'

Mannering shook his head. Then with a great and evident effort he
changed the conversation.

'You know Pamela's in town?'

'Yes, with Margaret Strang. I'm going to dine there to-night. How's
the new agent getting on?'

Aubrey smiled.

'Which?--the man--or the lady?'

'Miss Bremerton, of course. I got a most interesting letter from her
a fortnight ago. Do you know that she herself has discovered nearly
a thousand ash in the Squire's woods, after that old idiot Hull had
told her she wouldn't find half-a-dozen? A thousand ash is not to be
sneezed at in these days! I happen to know that the Air Board wrote
the Squire a very civil letter.'

'"All along of Eliza!"' mused Mannering. 'She's been away from
Mannering just lately. Her invalid mother became very seriously ill
about three weeks ago, and she had to go home for a time. My father,
of course, has been fussing and fuming to get her back.'

'Poor Squire! But how could Pamela be spared too?'

Mannering hesitated.

'Well, the fact is she and my father seem to have had a good
old-fashioned row. She tried to fill Miss Bremerton's place, and of
course it didn't answer. She's too young, and my father too
exacting. Then when it broke down, and he took things out of her
hands again, comparing her, of course, enormously to her
disadvantage with Miss Bremerton, Pamela lost her temper and said
foolish things of Miss Bremerton. Whereupon fury on my father's
part--and sudden departure on Pamela's. She actually bicycled off to
the railway station, sent a telegram for her things, and came up to
Margaret. Alice Gaddesden is looking after father. But of course he
and she don't get on a bit.'

The Captain looked much concerned.

'It's a pity Pamela takes that line--don't you think? I really don't
see the conspirator in Miss Bremerton. I hoped when I saw her first
she would make just all the difference to Pamela.'

'Yes, it's puzzling. I ran down to see my father, who was in a rabid
state of mind, not knowing what to do with all the schemes and
business this clever woman started--perfectly lost without her.'

'Ah, that's the worst of your Indispensable!' laughed Chicksands.

Mannering threw him a quick, scrutinizing look. Various items of
information picked up at Mannering, mostly from his sister Alice,
had made him wonder whether some jealousy of a more vital and
intimate kind than appeared might not be at the root of Pamela's
behaviour. He was not observant at this period of his life, except
of things relating to his engagement to Beryl, his work, or those
inner pre-occupations which held him. But it had once or twice
crossed his mind that Pamela might be interested in Arthur; and
there had been certain hints from Beryl, who was, however, he was
certain, scarcely better informed than he was. Pamela was a most
secretive and independent young woman. He doubted whether even
Desmond, whom she adored, knew much about her.

Well, supposing she was jealous--jealous of her father's secretary,
and on account of Arthur, was there the smallest cause for it? He
understood that Arthur and Miss Bremerton had met occasionally, and
he had himself heard Chicksands express the warmest admiration for
her as the right sort of new woman, 'as straight as you make
'em'--and with 'a brain like a man'--which, from one who was always
rather a critical spectator than a courtier of women, was high
praise. But as for any spark of sex in it--Mannering laughed at the
notion. No. If that really was Pamela's delusion, something must be
done to rid his little sister of it if possible. He would talk to
Beryl.

But--as always when any new responsibility presented itself to
him--a deep inner weariness rebelled. In small things as in great,
he was mentally like a man walking and working with a broken limb.

       *       *       *       *       *

Arthur Chicksands stood some time that evening waiting on the
doorstep of Mrs. Strang's small house, in one of the old streets of
Westminster. 'No servants, I suppose,' he said to himself with
resignation. But it was bitterly cold, and he was relieved to hear
at last the sound of a voice and a girl's laugh inside. Pamela
opened the door to him, pulling down the sleeves of a thin black
dress over her shapely arms.

'Oh, come in. Margaret's cooking the dinner, and I've laid the
table. Bernard's just bringing up some coals, and then we're ready.'

Mr. Bernard Strang, a distinguished Home Office official, appeared
at that moment in his shirt-sleeves at the head of the kitchen
stairs, bearing a scuttle of coal in each hand.

'Gracious! Give me one of them!' said the Captain, hurrying to the
rescue.

But Mr. Strang, putting down the right-hand scuttle, to take breath,
warned him off.

'Thank you, Chicksands--but no brass hats need apply! Many
thanks--but you're too smart!' He pointed, panting, to the red tabs
and to the bit of variegated ribbon on Chicksands' broad chest. 'Go
and help Pamela bring in the dinner.'

The Captain obeyed with alacrity.

'All the servants left on Monday,' said Pamela. 'We had a charwoman
this morning, but she's gone to-night, because there's a new moon.'

'What--raids?'

Pamela nodded as she gave him the soup, with instructions to carry
it carefully and put it by the fire. She seemed to be in her gayest
mood, and Chicksands' eyes followed her perpetually as she went
backwards and forwards on her household tasks. Presently Mrs. Strang
appeared, crimson from the fire, bearing the fishpie and vegetables
that were to provide the rationed meal.

'To think,' said Mr. Strang, when they were at last at table, 'that
there was a time when we were proud of our "little dinners," and
that I never made myself unpleasant unless Margaret spent more than
five pounds on the food alone. Shall I ever eat a good dinner
again?'

He looked wistfully at the bare table.

'Will you ever want to?' said Arthur, quietly.

A momentary silence fell upon the little party. Bernard Strang had
lost two brothers in the war, and Chicksands had no sooner spoken
than he reproached himself for a tactless brute. But, suddenly, the
bells of the Abbey rang: out above their heads, playing with every
stroke on the nerves of the listeners. For the voice of England was
in them, speaking to that under-consciousness which the war has
developed in us all.

'Any news?' said Strang, looking at Arthur.

'No. The Eastern business gets a little worse every day.'

'And the "Offensive"?

'Let them! Our men want nothing better.'

On which the dinner resolved itself into a device for making the
Captain talk. The War Office crisis, the men gathered in conclave at
Versailles, and that perpetual friction between the politician and
the soldier, which every war, big or little, brings to the front,
and which will only end when war ends--those were the topics of it,
with other talk such as women like to listen to of men about
individual men, shrewd, careless, critical, strangely damning here,
strangely indulgent there, constant only in one quality--that it is
the talk of men and even if one heard it behind a curtain and
strained through distance, could never by any chance be mistaken for
the talk of women.

At intervals Pamela got up to change the plates and the dishes,
quieting with a peremptory gesture the two males, who would spring
to their feet. 'Haven't I done parlour-work for six months?--no
amateurs, please!' And again, even while he talked on, Arthur's eyes
would stray after the young full figure, the white neck and throat,
the head with the soft hair folded close around it in wavy bands
that followed all its lines--as it might have been the head of one
of those terra-cottas that her father had stolen from the Greek
tombs in his youth.

But unfortunately, after dinner, in a corner of the dark
drawing-room, he must needs try and play the schoolmaster a little,
for her good of course; and then all went to pieces.

'I hear you ran away!'

The voice that threw out this sudden challenge was half ironical,
half affectionate; the grey eyes under their strong black brows
looked at her with amusement.

Pamela flushed at once.

'Aubrey told you, I suppose? What was the good of staying? I
couldn't do anything right. I was only making things worse.'

'I can hardly believe that! Couldn't you just have kept Miss
Bremerton's work going till she came back?'

'I tried,' said Pamela stiffly, 'and it didn't do.'

'Perhaps she attempts too much. But she seemed to me to be very
sensible and human. And--did you hear about the ash trees?'

'No,' said Pamela shortly, her foot nervously beating the ground.
'It doesn't matter. Of course I know she's the cleverest person
going. But I can't get on with her--that's all! I'm going to take up
nursing--properly. I'm making enquiries about the London Hospital. I
want to be a real Army nurse.'

'Will your father consent?'

'Fathers can't stop their daughters from doing things--as they used
to do!' said Pamela, with her chin in the air.

She had moved away from him; her soft gaiety had disappeared; he
felt her all thorns. Yet some perversity made him try to argue with
her. The war--pray the Lord!--might be over before her training as
an Army nurse was half done. Meanwhile, her V.A.D. work at Mannering
was just what was wanted at the moment from girls of her age--hadn't
she seen the appeals for V.A.D.'s? And also, if by anything she did
at home--or set others free for doing--she could help Captain Dell
and Miss Bremerton to pull the estate round, and get the maximum
amount of food out of it, she would be serving the country in the
best way possible.

'The last ounce of food, mind!--that's what it depends on,' he said,
smiling at her, 'which can stick it longest--they or we. You belong
to the land--ought you desert it?'

Pamela sat unmoved. She knew nothing about the land. Her father had
the new agent--and Miss Bremerton.

'Your sister there,' said Chicksands, nodding towards the front
drawing-room, where Strang and his wife were sitting Darby and Joan
over the fire discussing rations and food prices, 'thinks Miss
Bremerton already overdone.'

'I never saw the least sign of it!'

'But think!--your father never slackens his Greek work--and there is
all the rest.'

'I suppose if it's too much for her she'll give it up,' said Pamela
in her most obstinate voice.

But even then a normally tactful man still held on.

Never was anything more maladroit. It was the stupidity of a clever
fellow, deluding himself with the notion that having refused the
rôle of lover, he could at least play that of guardian and adviser;
whose conscience, moreover, was so absolutely clear on the subject
of Elizabeth Bremerton that he did not even begin to suspect what
was rankling In the girl's morbid sense.

The relation between them accordingly went from bad to worse; and
when Pamela rose and sharply put an end to their private
conversation, the evening would have practically ended in a quarrel
but for some final saving instinct on Chicksands' part, which made
him mention Desmond as he bade her good-night.

'I could tell you where he is,' he said gravely. 'Only I mustn't. I
had a note from him yesterday--the dear old boy! He wrote in the
highest spirits. His colonel was "ripping," and his men, of course,
the best in the whole battery.'

'If you get any news--ever--before we do,' said Pamela, suddenly
choking, 'you'll tell us at once?'

'Trust me. He's never out of my mind.'

On that her good-night was less cold than it would have been five
minutes before. But he walked home through the moonlit streets both
puzzled and distressed--till he reached his club in Pall Mall, where
the news coming through on the tape quickly drove everything out of
his soldier's mind but the war.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Gaddesden was sitting as usual in the hall at Mannering. A mild
February was nearly out. It would be the first of March on the
morrow.

Every moment she expected to hear the Fallerton taxi draw up at the
front door--bringing Elizabeth Bremerton back to Mannering. She had
been away more than a month. Mrs. Gaddesden went back in thought to
the morning when it had been announced to the Squire by his pale and
anxious secretary that she had had bad news of her invalid mother,
and must go home at once. The Squire--his daughter could not deny
it--had behaved abominably. But of all of his fume and fret, his
unreasonable complaints and selfish attempts to make her fix the
very day and hour of her return, Elizabeth had taken no notice. Go
she would, at once; and she would make no promises as to the exact
date of her return. But on the morning before she went she had
worked superhumanly to put things in order, whether for her typist,
or Captain Dell, or Pamela, who must at least take over the
housekeeping. The relations between her and Miss Bremerton that
morning had struck Mrs. Gaddesden as odd--certainly not cordial. But
there was nothing to complain of in Pamela's conduct. She would do
her best, she said, and sat listening while Elizabeth gave her
instructions about food cards, and servants, and the rest.

Then, when the taxi had driven away with the Dictator, what temper
on the Squire's part! Mrs. Gaddesden had very nearly gone home to
London--but for the fact of raids, and the fact that two of her most
necessary servants had joined the W.A.A.C.'s. Pamela, on the other
hand, had gone singing about the house. And really the child had
done her best. But how could any one expect her to manage her father
and the house, especially on the scraps of time left her by her
V.A.D. work? The Squire had been like a fractious child over the
compulsory rations. Nobody was less of a glutton--he pecked like a
bird; but the proper food to peck at must be always there, or his
temper was unbearable. Pamela made various blunders; the household
knew hunger for the first time; and the servants began to give
warning. Captain Dell could do nothing with his employer, and the
timber business was hung up.

Then came Pamela's outbreak after a tirade from the Squire bitterly
contrasting his lost secretary's performances, in every particular,
with those of his daughter. The child had disappeared, and a message
from the station was all that remained of her. Well, who could
wonder? Mrs. Gaddesden reflected, with some complacency, that even
she had spoken her mind to her father that night, conveniently
forgetting some annoying retorts of his about herself, and the
custom she had developed of sitting for hours over the fire
pretending to knit, but really doing nothing. After her enormous
exertions in the cause of the war--she was accustomed to say--of the
year before, she was in need of a rest. She was certainly taking it.
Since Pamela left, indeed, she had been obliged to do the
housekeeping, and considered it very hard work. She had never yet
been able to calculate the food coupons correctly.

So she, like all the rest, was looking eagerly for Elizabeth.

Yes!--that was the cracked horn of the village taxi. Mrs. Gaddesden
poked the fire with energy and rang for Forest. But his quick ears
had heard the signal before hers, and he was already hurrying
through the hall to the front door.

And there was the library door opening, so her father too had been
on the watch. Voices in the vestibule, and as the outer door of the
hall opened, the Squire appeared at the further end. Alice Gaddesden
had an odd feeling that something important--decisive--was going to
happen.

Yet nothing could have been more unassuming than Elizabeth's entry.
It was evident, indeed, that Forest was overjoyed to see her. He
shouldered her modest boxes and bags with a will, and a housemaid,
all smiles, came running half way downstairs to take some of his
burden from him. Elizabeth followed the butler and took Mrs.
Gaddesden's hand.

'My train was late. I hope you've not waited tea?'

'Why, of course we have,' said the Squire's voice. 'Forest!--tea at
once.'

Elizabeth, not having perceived his approach in the dimness of the
February twilight, turned with a start to greet the Squire. He
looked, to her eyes, lankier and thinner and queerer than ever. But
it was a distinguished queerness. Elizabeth had forgotten that the
brow and eyes were so fine, and the hair so glistening white. The
large nose and small captious chin passed unnoticed. She was
astonished at her own throb of pleasure in seeing her employer
again.

His pleasure was boisterously evident, though presently he showed it
in his usual way by attacking her. But first Mrs. Gaddesden made the
proper enquiries after Elizabeth's invalid mother.

Elizabeth, looking extremely tired as she sat by the fire, in the
chair which the Squire--most unwonted attention!--had drawn up for
her, said that her mother was better, and volunteered nothing
further. The Squire, meanwhile, had observed her looks, and was
chafing inwardly against invalid relations who made unjust claims
upon their kith and kin and monstrously insisted on being nursed by
them. But he had the sense to hold his tongue, and even to profess a
decent sympathy.

Then, without any further preamble, he plunged into his own affairs.

'Everything's gone to rack and ruin since you left,' he said
vehemently. 'Of course you knew it would!'

Elizabeth's eyebrows lifted. The look, half tolerant, half amused,
with which she greeted sallies of this kind was one of her
attractions for the Squire.

'What's Captain Dell been doing?' she inquired.

'Marking time!' was the testy reply. 'He's been no good by
himself--I knew he wouldn't be--no more use than old Hull.'

Elizabeth's expression showed her sceptical.

'And the timber?'

'Just where you left it. The rascally fellows want all sorts of
conditions. You may accept them if you like--I won't. But I told
them we'd meet them in the woods to-morrow--you, and Dell and I. And
Chicksands, who likes poking his nose into everything, is coming
too.'

'Sir Henry?' asked Elizabeth in astonishment.

'Well, I thought you might like the old boy's opinion, so I rang him
up on that horrid thing you've put into the office. I don't care
about his opinion in the least!'

A treat arranged for her return! Elizabeth felt as if she were being
offered Sir Henry's head on a charger.

'That will be a great help!' she said with rather artificial
enthusiasm, at which the Squire only shrugged his shoulders. 'Has
Sir Henry been over here--'

'While you've been away? Nothing of the sort. He's not crossed the
threshold since I turned him out six months ago. But he's coming all
the same--as mild as milk.'

'Very good of him!' said Elizabeth with spirit.

'That's as you choose to look at it. And as to everything else--'

'The catalogue?'

'Gone to the crows!' said the Squire gloomily. 'Levasseur took some
references to look out last week, and made twenty mistakes in as
many lines. He's off!'

Elizabeth removed her hat and pressed her hands to her eyes, half
laughing, half aghast. Never had anything been more welcome to the
Squire than the sheen of her hair in the semi-darkness. Mrs.
Gaddesden had once annoyed him by calling it red.

'And the farms?'

'Oh, that I leave you to find out. I shovelled all the letters on to
your table, just as Pamela left them.'

'Pamela!' said Elizabeth, looking up. 'But where is she?'

The Squire held his peace. Mrs. Gaddesden drily observed that she
was staying with Mrs. Strang in town. A bright colour spread in
Elizabeth's cheeks and she fell silent, staring into the fire.

'Hadn't you better take your things off?' said Mrs. Gaddesden.

Elizabeth rose. As she passed the Squire, he said gruffly:

'Of course you're not ready for any Greek before dinner?'

She smiled. 'But of course I am. I'll be down directly.'

In a few more minutes she was standing alone in her room. The
housemaid, of her own accord, had lit a fire, and had gathered some
snowdrops for the dressing table. Elizabeth's bags had been already
unpacked, and all her small possessions had been arranged just as
she liked them.

'They spoil me,' she thought, half pleased, half shrinking. 'But why
am I here? Why have I come back? And what do I mean to do?'



CHAPTER XIII


These questions--'Why did I come back?--What am I going to do?' were
still ringing through Elizabeth's mind when, on the evening of her
return, she entered the library to find the Squire eagerly waiting
for her.

But the spectacle presented by the room quickly drove out other
matters. She stood aghast at the disorder which three weeks of the
Squire's management had brought about. Books on the floor and piled
on the chairs--a dusty confusion of papers everywhere--drawers open
and untidy--her reign of law seemed to have been wiped out.

'Oh, what a _dreadful_ muddle!'

The Squire looked about him--abashed.

'Yes, it's awful--it's all that fellow Levasseur. I ought to have
turned him out sooner. He's the most helpless, incompetent idiot.
But it won't take you very long to get straight? I'll do anything
you tell me.'

He watched her face appealingly, like a boy in a scrape. Elizabeth
shook her head.

'It'll take me a full day. But never mind; we need not begin
to-night.'

'No, we won't begin to-night!' said the Squire emphatically.
'There!--I've found a chair for you. Is that fire as you like it?'

What astonishing amiability! The attack of nerves which had assailed
Elizabeth upstairs began to disappear. She took the chair the Squire
offered her, cleared a small table, and produced from the
despatch-box she had brought into the room with her a writing-block
and a fountain-pen.

'Do you want to dictate anything?'

'Not at all!' said the Squire. 'I've got nothing ready for
dictating. The work I have done during your absence I shall probably
tear up.'

'But I thought--'

'Well, I daresay--but can't a man change his mind? Greek be hanged!'
thundered the impatient voice. 'I want some conversation with
you--if you will allow me?'

The last words slipped awkwardly into another note. It was as though
a man should exchange the trombone for the flute. Elizabeth held her
peace; but her pulse was beginning to quicken.

'The fact is,' said the Squire, 'I have been thinking over a good
many things--in the last hour.' Then he turned upon her abruptly.
'What was that you were saying to Alice in the hall just now, about
moving your mother into better rooms?'

Elizabeth's parted lips showed her surprise.

'We do want better rooms for her,' she said hesitatingly, after a
moment. 'My sister Joan, who is at home just now, is looking out.
But they are not easy to find.'

'Don't look out!' said the Squire impetuously. 'I have a better plan
to propose to you. In these horrible days people must co-operate and
combine. I know many instances of families sharing a house--and
servants. Beastly, I admit, in the case of a small house. One runs
up against people--and then one hates them. I do! But in the case of
a large house it is different. Now, what do you say to this? Bring
your mother here!'

'Bring--my mother--here?' repeated Elizabeth stupidly. 'I don't
understand.'

'It's very simple.' The Squire stood over her, his thumbs in his
waistcoat pockets, his eyes all vivacity. 'This is a big house--an
old barn, if you like, but big enough. Your mother might have the
whole of the east wing--which looks south--if she pleased; and
neither she nor I need ever come in each other's way, any more than
people who have flats in the same building. I heard you say she had
a nurse. Well, there would be the nurse--and another servant
perhaps. And the housekeeping could be in common. Now do consider
it. Be reasonable! Don't mock at it, because it isn't your own
plan,' said the Squire severely, perceiving the smile, which she
could not repress, spreading over Elizabeth's countenance.

'It's awfully good of you!' she began warmly--'but--'

'But what?'

Then Elizabeth's smile vanished, and instead he saw a dimness in the
clear blue eyes.

'My poor little mother is too ill--much too ill--' she said in a low
voice. 'She may live a good while yet; but her mind is no longer
clear.'

The Squire was checked. This possible aspect of the case had not
occurred to him. But he was not to be defeated.

'If you can move her from one house to another, surely you could
move her here--in an invalid motor? It would only take an hour and a
half.'

Elizabeth shook her head quietly, but decidedly.

'Thank you, but I am afraid it is impossible. She couldn't take the
journey, and--no, indeed, it is out of the question!'

'Will you ask your doctor?' said the Squire obstinately.

'I know what he would say. Please don't think of it, Mr. Mannering.
It's very, very good of you.'

'It's not the least good,' said the Squire roughly. 'It's sheer,
naked self-interest. If you're not at ease about your mother, you'll
be throwing up your work here again some day, for good, and that'll
be death and damnation!'

He turned frowning away, and threw himself into a chair by the fire.

So the murder was out. Elizabeth must needs laugh. But this clumsy
way of showing her that she was indispensable not only touched her
feeling, but roused up the swarm of perplexities which had buzzed
around her ever since her summons to her mother's bedside on the
morning after her scene with Pamela. And again she asked herself,
'Why did I come back? And what am I going to do?'

She looked in doubt at the fuming gentleman by the fire, and
suddenly conscience bade her be frank.

'I would like to stay here, Mr. Mannering, and go on with my work. I
have told you so before. I will stay--as long as I can. But I
mustn't burn my boats. I mustn't stay indefinitely. I have come to
see that would not be fair--'

'To whom?' cried the Squire, raising himself--'to whom?'

'To Pamela,' said Elizabeth firmly.

'Pamela!' The Squire leapt from his seat. 'What on earth has Pamela
got to do with it!'

'A very great deal. She is the natural head of your house, and it
would be very difficult for me to go on living here--after--perhaps--I
have just put a few things straight for you, and catalogued the
pots--without getting in her way, and infringing her rights!'

Elizabeth was sitting very erect and bright-eyed. It seemed to her
that some subliminal self for which she was hardly responsible had
suddenly got the better of a hair-splitting casuistical self, which
had lately been in command of her, and that the subliminal self had
spoken words of truth and soberness.

But instead of storming, the Squire laughed contemptuously.

'Pamela's rights? Well, I'll discuss them when she remembers her
duties! I remonstrated with her one morning when the servants were
all giving warning--and there was nothing to eat--and she had made a
hideous mess of some instructions of mine about a letter to the
County Council--and I pointed out to her that none of these things
would have happened if you had been here.'

'Oh, poor Pamela!' exclaimed Elizabeth--'but still more, poor me!'

'"Poor me"?' said the Squire. 'What does that mean?'

'You see, I have a weakness for being liked!' said Elizabeth after a
moment. 'And how can Pamela like anybody that is being thrown at her
head like that?' She looked at her companion reproachfully. But the
Squire was not to be put down.

'Besides,' he continued, without noticing her interruption, 'Pamela
writes to me this morning that she wants my consent to her training
as an Army nurse.'

'Oh no,' cried Elizabeth--'not yet. She is too young!'

Her face showed her distress. So she was really driving this poor
child, whom she would so easily have loved had it been allowed her,
out of her home! No doubt Pamela had seized on the pretext of her
'row' with her father to carry out her threat to Elizabeth of
'running away,' and before Elizabeth's return to Mannering, so that
neither the Squire nor any one else should guess at the real reason.
But how could Elizabeth acquiesce?

Yet if she revealed the story of Pamela's attack upon her to the
Squire, what would happen? Only a widening of the breach between him
and his daughter. Elizabeth, of course, might depart, but Pamela
would be none the more likely to return to face her father's wrath.
And again for the hundredth time Elizabeth said to herself, in
mingled pain and exasperation--'What _did_ she mean?--and what have
I ever done that she should behave so?'

Then she raised her eyes. Something impelled her--as it were a
strong telepathic influence. The Squire was gazing at her. His
expression was extraordinarily animated. It seemed to her that words
were already on his lips, and that at all costs she must stop them
there.

But fortune favoured her. There was a knock at the library door. The
Squire irritably said, 'Come in!' and Forest announced, 'Captain
Dell.' The Squire, with some muttered remark, walked across to his
own table.

The agent entered with a beaming countenance. All that he knew was
that the only competent person in a rather crazy household had
returned to it, and that business was now likely to go forward. He
had brought some important letters, and he laid them nominally
before his employer, but really before Elizabeth. He and she talked;
the Squire smoked and listened, morosely aloof. Yet by the end of
the agent's visit a grudging but definite consent had been given to
the great timber deal; and Elizabeth hurried off as Captain Dell
departed--thankful for the distant sound of the first bell for
dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *

Sitting up in bed that night, with her hands behind her head, while
a westerly wind blew about the house, Elizabeth again did her best
to examine both her conscience and her situation.

The summons which had taken her home had been a peremptory one. Her
mother, who had been ill for a good many months, had suddenly
suffered some brain injury, which had reduced her to a childish
helplessness. She did not recognize Elizabeth, and though she was
very soon out of physical danger, the mental disaster remained. A
good nurse was now more to her than the daughter to whom she had
been devoted. A good nurse was in charge, and Elizabeth had
persuaded an elderly cousin, living on a small annuity, to come and
share her mother's rooms. Now what was more necessary than ever
was--money! Elizabeth's salary was indispensable.

Was she to allow fine feelings about Pamela to drive her out of her
post and her earnings--to the jeopardy not only of her mother's
comfort, but of the good--the national--work open to her at
Mannering?

But there was a much more agitating question behind. She had only
trifled with it till now. But on the night of her return it pressed.
And as a reasonable woman, thirty years of age, she proceeded to
look it in the face.

When Captain Dell so opportunely--or inconveniently--knocked at the
library door, Mr. Mannering was on the point of asking his secretary
to marry him. Of that Elizabeth was sure.

She had just escaped, but the siege would be renewed. How was she
going to meet it?

Why shouldn't she marry the Squire? She was poor, but she had
qualities much more valuable to the Squire than money. She could
rescue him from debt, put his estate on a paying footing, restore
Mannering, rebuild the village, and all the time keep him happy by
her sympathy with and understanding of his classical studies and
hobbies.

And thereby she would be doing not only a private but a public
service. The Mannering estate and its owner had been an offence to
the patriotism of a whole neighbourhood. Elizabeth could and would
put an end to that. She had already done much to modify it. In her
Greek scholarship, and her ready wits, she possessed all the spells
that were wanted for the taming of the Squire.

As to the Squire himself? She examined the matter dispassionately.
He was fifty-two--sound in wind and limb--a gentleman in spite of
all his oddities and tempers--and one of the best Greek scholars of
his day. She could make her own terms. 'I would take his name--give
him my time, my brains, my friendship--in time, no doubt, my
affection.' He would not ask for more. The modern woman, no longer
young, an intellectual, with a man's work to do, can make of
marriage what she pleases. The possibilities of the relations
between men and women in the future are many, and the psychology of
them unexplored. Elizabeth was beginning to think her own case out,
when, suddenly, she felt the tears running over her cheeks.

She was back in past days. Mannering had vanished. Oh--for
love!--for youth!--for the broken faith and the wounded trust!--for
the first fresh wine of life that, once dashed from the lips, the
gods offer no more! She found herself sobbing helplessly, not for
her actual lost lover, who had passed out of her life, but for those
beautiful ghosts at whose skirts she seemed to be clutching--youth
itself, love itself.

Had she done with them for good and all? That was what marrying the
Squire meant.

A business marriage--on her side, for an income, a home, a career;
on his, for a companion, a secretary, an agent. Well, she said to
herself as she calmed down, that she could face; but supposing,
after all, that the Squire was putting more into the scales than
she? A sudden fear grew strong in her--fear lest this man should
have more heart, more romance in him than she had imagined
possible--that while she was thinking of a business partnership, the
Squire was expecting, was about to offer, something quite different.

The thought scared and repelled her. If that were indeed the case,
she would bid Mannering a long and final farewell.

But no!--she reassured herself; she recalled the Squire's passionate
absorption in his archæological pursuits; how his dependence upon
her, his gratitude to her, his surprising fits of docility, were all
due to the fact that she helped him to pursue them--that his mind
sharpened itself against hers--that her hand and brain were the
slaves of his restless intelligence.

That was all--that must, that should be all. She thought vigorously
of the intellectual comradeships of history--beginning with Michael
Angelo and Vittoria Colonna. They were not certainly quite on all
fours with her own situation--but give modern life and the new woman
time!

Suppose, then, these anxieties set at rest, and that immediately,
within twenty-four hours, or a week, the Squire were to ask her to
marry him and were ready to understand the matter as she did--what
else stood in the way?

Then, slowly, in the darkness of the room, there rose before her the
young figures of the twins, with their arms round each other's
necks, as she had often seen them--Desmond and Pamela. And they
looked at her with hostile eyes!

'Cuckoo!--intriguer!--we don't want you!--we won't accept you!'

But after all, as Elizabeth reflected not without a natural
exasperation, she was _not_--consciously--a cuckoo; she was not an
intriguer; there was nothing of the Becky Sharp about her at all; it
would have been so very much simpler if there had been! To swallow
the Squire and Mannering at one gulp, to turn out the twins, to put
Mrs. Gaddesden--who, as Elizabeth had already discovered, was
constantly making rather greedy demands upon her father--on rations
according to her behaviour, to bring in her own poor mother and all
her needy relations--to reign supreme, in fact, over Mannering and
the county--nothing would be easier.

The only thing that stood in the way was that the Squire's secretary
happened to be a nice woman--and not an adventuress. Elizabeth's
sense of humour showed her the kind of lurid drama that Pamela no
doubt was concocting about her--perhaps with the help of Beryl--the
two little innocents! Elizabeth recalled the intriguing French
'companion' in _War and Peace_ who inveigles the old Squire. And as
for the mean and mercenary stepmothers of fiction, they can be
collected by the score. That, no doubt, was how Pamela thought of
her. So that, after her involuntary tears, Elizabeth ended in a
laughter that was half angry, half affectionate.

Poor children! She was not going to turn them out of their home. She
had written to Pamela during her absence with her mother, asking
again for an explanation of the wild and whirling things that Pamela
had said to her that night in the hall, and in return not a single
frank or penitent word!--only a few perfunctory enquiries after Mrs.
Bremerton, and half a page about an air-raid. It left Elizabeth
sorer and more puzzled than before.

Desmond too! She had written to him also from London a long chat
about all the things he cared about at Mannering--the animals,
Pamela's pony, the old keeper, the few pheasants still left in the
woods, and what Perley said of the promise of a fair partridge
season. And the boy had replied immediately. Desmond's Eton manners
were rarely caught napping; but the polite little note--stiff and
frosty--might have been written to a complete stranger.

What _was_ in their minds? How could she put it right? Well, anyhow,
Desmond could not at that moment be wasting time or thought on home
worries, or her own supposed misdemeanours. Where was the radiant
boy now? In some artillery camp, she supposed, behind the lines,
waiting for his ordeal of blood and fire. Waiting with the whole
Army--the whole Empire--for that leap of the German monster which
must be met and parried and struck down before England could breathe
again. And as she thought of him, her woman's soul, winged by its
passion of patriotism, seemed to pass out into the night across the
sea, till it stood beside the English hosts.

'Forces and Powers of the Universe, be with them!--strengthen the
strong, uphold the weak, comfort the dying!--for in them lies the
hope of the world.'

Her life hung on the prayer. The irresponsive quiet of the night
over the Mannering woods and park, with nothing but the wind for
voice, seemed to her unbearable. And it only answered to the apathy
within doors. Why, the Squire had scarcely mentioned the war since
her return! Neither he nor Mrs. Gaddesden had asked her for an
evening paper, though there had been a bad London raid the night
before. She had seen a letter 'on active service,' and addressed,
she thought, in Desmond's handwriting, lying on the library table;
and it seemed to her there was a French ordnance map near it. But in
answer to her enquiries about the boy, the Squire had vouchsafed
only a few irritable words, 'Well--he's not killed yet! The devil's
business over there seems to be working up to a greater hell than
ever!' Nothing more.

Well, she would see to that! Mannering should feel the war, if she
were to live in it. She straightened her shoulders, her will
stiffening to its task.

Yes, and while that dear boy was out there, in that grim fighting
line, no action of hers, if she could help it, should cause him a
moment's anger or trouble. Her resolution was taken. If the Squire
did mean to ask her to marry him she would try and stop him in
mid-career. If she couldn't stop him, well, then, she would give him
his choice--either to keep her, as secretary and friend, and hold
his peace, or to lose her. She felt certain of her power to contain
the Squire's 'offensive,' if it were really threatened.

But, on the other hand, she was not going to give up her post
because the twins had taken some unjust prejudice against her!
Nothing of the kind. She had those ash trees to look after! She was
tolerably sure that a thorough search would comb out a good many
more for the Air Board from the Squire's woods than had yet been
discovered. The Fallerton hospital wanted more accommodation. There
was an empty house belonging to the Squire, which she had already
begun, before her absence, with his grudging permission, to get
ready for the purpose. _That_ had to be finished. The war workroom
in the village, which she had started, must have another
Superintendent, the first having turned out a useless chatterbox.
Elizabeth had her successor already in mind. There were three or
four applications waiting for the two other neglected farms. Captain
Dell was hurrying on the repairs; but there was more money
wanted--she must get it out of the Squire. Then as to labour--German
prisoners?--or women?

Her brain began to teem with a score of projects. But after lying
awake another hour, she pulled herself up. 'This won't do. I must
have six hours' sleep.' And she resolutely set herself to repeat one
of the nursery poems of her childhood, till, wooed by its silly
monotony, sleep came.

It was a bright March day in the Mannering woods, where the Squire,
Elizabeth, and Captain Dell were hanging about waiting for Sir Henry
Chicksands. The astonishing warmth and sunshine of the month had
brought out a shimmer of spring everywhere, reddened the great heads
of the oaks, and set the sycamore buds shining like jewels in the
pale blue. There was an endless chatter and whirr of wood-pigeons in
the high tree-tops, and underfoot the anemones and violets were busy
pushing their gentle way through the dead leaves of autumn. The
Squire's beechwoods were famous in the neighbourhood, and he was
still proud of them; though for many years past they had gone
unnoticed to decay, and were in some places badly diseased.

To Elizabeth, in an artistic mood--the mood which took her in town
to see exhibitions of Brabazon or Steer--the woods were fairyland.
The high slender oak of the middle wood, the spreading oak that
lived on its borders, the tall columnar beech feathering into the
sky, its grey stem shining as though by some magic property in the
beautiful forest twilight--the gleams and the shadows, the sounds
and scents of the woodland world--she could talk or write about
these things as poetically, and as sincerely, as any other educated
person when put to it; but on this occasion, it has to be said
frankly, she was thinking of nothing but aeroplanes and artillery
waggons. And she had by now developed a kind of _flair_ in the
woods, which was the astonishment of Captain Dell, himself no mean
forester. As far as ash was concerned, she was a hunter on the
trail. She could distinguish an ash tree yards ahead through a mixed
or tangled wood, and track it unerringly. The thousand ash that she,
and the old park-keepers set on by her, had already found for the
Government, were nothing to what she meant to find. The Squire's
woods, some of which she had not yet explored at all, were as mines
to her in which she dug for treasure--for the timber that might save
her country.

Captain Dell delighted in her. He had already taught her a great
deal, and was now drilling her in the skilled arts of measurement
and valuation. The Squire, in stupefaction, watched her at work with
pole and tape, measuring, noting, comparing. Had it been any one
else he would have been bored and contemptuous. But the novelty of
the thing and the curious fact that the lady who looked up his Greek
references was also the lady who was measuring the trees, kept him a
half-unwilling but still fascinated spectator of her proceedings.

In the midst of them Sir Henry Chicksands appeared, making his way
through the thick undergrowth. Elizabeth threw a hasty look at the
Squire. This was the first time the two neighbours had met since the
quarrel. The Squire had actually written first--and to please her.
Very touching, and very embarrassing! She hoped for the best.

Sir Henry Chicksands advanced as though nothing had happened--solid,
ruddy, benevolent, and well dressed, as usual.

He bowed with marked deference to Elizabeth, and then offered a hand
to the Squire, which was limply accepted.

'Well, Mannering, very glad to see you. Like every one else, you
seem to be selling your woods.'

'Under threat of being shot if I don't!' said the Squire grimly.

'What? They're commandeered?'

'The Government spies are all about. I preferred to anticipate them.
Well, what about your ploughed-up grass-lands, Chicksands? I hear
they are full of wire-worms, and the crops a very poor show.'

'Ah, it was an enemy said that,' laughed Sir Henry, submitting with
a good grace to some more remarks of the same kind, and escaping
from them as soon as he could.

'I heard of your haul of ash,' he said. 'A man in the Air Board told
me. Magnificent!'

'You may thank her.' The Squire indicated his secretary. 'I knew
nothing about it.'

'And you're still hunting?' Sir Henry turned to Elizabeth. 'May I
join your walk if you're going through the woods?' Captain Dell was
introduced. 'You want my opinion on your deal? Well, I'm an old
forester, and I'll give it you with pleasure. I used to shoot here,
year after year, with the Squire, in our young days--isn't that so,
Mannering? I know this bit of country by heart, and I think I could
help you to bag a few more ash.'

Elizabeth's blue eyes appealed with all proper deference to the
Squire.

'Won't you come?'

He shook his head.

'I'm tired of timber. Do what you like. I'll sit here and read till
you come back.'

Sir Henry's shrug was perceptible, but he held his peace, and the
three walked away. The Squire, finding a seat on a fallen tree, took
a book out of his pocket and pretended to read it.

'Nobody can be as important as Chicksands looks!' he said to himself
angrily. Even the smiling manner which ignored their six months'
quarrel had annoyed him hugely. It was a piece of condescension--an
impertinence. Oh, of course Chicksands was the popular man, the
greatest power in the county, looked up to, and listened to by
everybody. The Squire knew very well that he himself was ostracized,
even hated; that there had been general chuckling in the
neighbourhood over his rough handling by the County Committee, and
that it would please a good many people to see all his woods
commandeered and 'cut clean.'

Six months before, his inborn pugnacity would only have amused
itself with the situation. He was a rebel and a litigant by nature.
Smooth waters had never attracted him.

Yet now--though he would never have admitted it--he was often
conscious of a flagging will and a depressed spirit. The loneliness
of his life, due entirely to himself, had, during Elizabeth
Bremerton's absence, begun sharply to find him out. He had no true
fatherly relation with any of his children. Desmond loved him--why,
he didn't know. He didn't believe any of the others cared anything
at all about him. Why should they?

The Squire's eyes followed the three distant walkers, Elizabeth,
graceful and vigorous, between the other two. And the conviction
gripped him that all the pleasure, the _liveableness_ of life--such
as still remained possible--depended for him on that central figure.
He looked back on his existence before her arrival at Mannering, and
on what it had been since. Why, she had transformed it!

How could he cage and keep her?--the clever, gracious creature! For
the first time in his life he was desperately, tremulously humble.
He placed no dependence at all on his name or his possessions.
Elizabeth was not to be bought.

But management--power--for the things she believed in--_they_ might
tempt her. He would give them to her with both hands, if only she
would settle down beside him, take a freehold of that chair and
table in the library, for life!

He looked back gloomily to his clumsy proposal about her mother, and
to her remarks about Pamela. It would be indeed intolerable if his
children got in his way! The very notion put him in a fever.

If that tiresome fellow, Dell, had not interrupted them the night
before, what would have happened?

He had all the consciousness of a man still in the prime of life, in
spite of his white hair; for he had married at twenty-one, and had
never--since they grew up--seemed to himself very much older than
his elder children. He had but a very dim memory of his wife.
Sometimes he felt as if, notwithstanding the heat of boyish passion
which had led him to marry her, he had never really known her. There
were moments when he had an uncomfortable suspicion that for some
years before her death she had silently but irrevocably passed
judgment upon him, and had withdrawn her inner life from him.
Friends of hers had written to him after her death of beautiful
traits and qualities in her of which he himself had known nothing.
In any case they were not traits and qualities which appealed in the
long run to a man of his pursuits and temperament. He was told that
Pamela had inherited some of them.

A light rustling sound in the wood. He looked up to see Elizabeth
coming back towards him unaccompanied. Captain Dell and Sir Henry
seemed to have left her.

A thrill of excitement ran through him. They were alone in the
depths of the spring woodland. What better opportunity would he ever
have?



CHAPTER XIV


Elizabeth was coming back in that flushed mood when an able man or
woman who begins to feel the tide of success or power rising beneath
them also begins to remind himself or herself of all the old
commonplaces about Fate or Chance. Elizabeth's Greek reading had
steeped her in them. 'Count no man happy till his death'; 'Count
nothing finished till the end'; tags of this kind were running
through her mind, while she smiled a little over the compliments
that Sir Henry had been paying her.

He could not express, he said, the relief with which he had heard of
her return to Mannering. 'Don't, please, go away again!' Everybody
in the county who was at all responsible for its war-work felt the
same. Her example, during the winter, had been invaluable, and the
skill with which she had brought the Squire into line, and set the
Squire's neglected estate on the road to food-production, had
been--in Sir Henry's view--nothing short of a miracle.

'Yes, a miracle, my dear lady!' repeated Sir Henry warmly. 'I know
the prickliness of our good friend there! I speak to you
confidentially, because I realize that you could not possibly have
done what you have done unless you had won the Squire's
confidence--his complete confidence. Well, that's an achievement, I
can tell you--as bad as storming a redoubt. Go on--don't let go!
What you are doing here--the kind of work you are doing--is of
national importance. God only knows what lies before us in the next
few months!'

And therewith a sudden sobering of the ruddy countenance and
self-important manner. For a few seconds, from his mind and
Elizabeth's there vanished all consciousness of the English woodland
scene, and they were looking over a flayed and ravaged country where
millions of men stood ranged for battle.

Sir Henry sighed.

'Thank God, Arthur is still at home--doing some splendid work, they
tell me, at the War Office, but, of course, pining to be off to
France again. I hear from him that Desmond is somewhere near
Armentières. Well, good-bye--I tied my horse to the gate, and must
get home. Stick to it! Say good-bye to the Squire for me--I shall be
over again before long. If there is anything I can do for you--count
upon me. But _we_ count upon you!'

Astonishing effusion!--from an elderly gentleman who, at the
beginning of things, had regarded her as elderly gentlemen of great
local position do regard young women secretaries who are earning
their own living. Sir Henry's tone was now the tone of one potentate
to another; and, as we have seen, it caused Elizabeth to tame her
soul with Greek, as she walked back through the wood to rejoin the
Squire.

When she perceived him waiting for her, she wished with some fervour
that she were not alone. She had tried to keep Captain Dell with
her, but he had pleaded an urgent engagement at a village near the
farther end of the wood. And then Sir Henry had deserted her. It was
annoying--and unforeseen.

The Squire observed her as she came up--the light, springing step,
the bunch of primroses in her belt. He closed the book, of which he
had not in truth read a word.

'You have been a long time?'

'But I assure you it was well worth while!' She paused in front of
him, a little out of breath, leaning on her measuring-pole. 'We
found ten or twelve more ash--some exactly of the size they want.'

'Who are "they"?'

'The Air Board,' said Elizabeth, smiling.

'The fellows that wrote me that letter? I didn't want their thanks.'

Elizabeth took no notice. She resumed--

'And Sir Henry went into the figures of that contract with Captain
Dell. He thinks the Captain has done very well, and that the prices
are very fair--very good, in fact.'

'All the same, I don't mean to accept their blessed contract.'

'Oh, but I thought it was settled!' cried Elizabeth in distress. She
sat down on a dry stump a little way off, and the Squire actually
enjoyed the sight of her discomfiture.

'Why on earth should I allow these people, not only to make a
hideous mess of my woods, and murder my trees, but to take three
years--_three years_--over the disgusting business, before they get
it all done and clear up the mess? One year is the utmost I will
allow.'

Elizabeth looked consternation.

'But think of the labour difficulties,' she pleaded. 'The contractor
can't get the men. Of course, he _wants_ to cut and move the trees
as soon as he can, so as to get his money back.'

'That's his affair,' said the Squire obstinately. 'I want to get my
woods in a decent state again, so that I mayn't be for ever reminded
that I sold them--betrayed them--for filthy lucre.'

'No!' said Elizabeth firmly, her colour rising, 'for the Army!'

The Squire shrugged his shoulders.

'So they say. Meanwhile the timber-man makes an unholy profit.'

There was silence for a moment, then Elizabeth said,

'Do you really mean to stick to that condition?'

'I should be glad if Dell would see to it.'

'Then'--said Elizabeth slowly--'the contract will drop. I understand
they cannot possibly pledge themselves to removal within the time
named.'

'Well, there are other timber-merchants.'

'The difficulty of labour is the same for everybody. And Captain
Dell thinks no one else would give the price--certainly not the
Government. You will remember that some of the money was to be spent
immediately.' Her tone was cold and restrained, but he thought it
trembled a little.

'I know,' he interrupted, 'on cottages and the hospital. Money oozes
away at every pore! I shall be a bare beggar after the war. Have you
the contract there? Or did Dell take it?'

Elizabeth drew a roll of blue paper out of her pocket. Her
indignation made her speechless. All the endless negotiations,
Captain Dell's work, her work--to go for nothing! What was the use
of trying to serve--to work with such a man?

The Squire took the roll from her and searched his pockets for a
fountain-pen.

'I will make some notes on it now for Dell's guidance. I might
forget it to-night.'

Elizabeth said nothing. He turned away, spread out the papers on the
smooth trunk of the fallen tree, and began to write.

Elizabeth sat very erect, her mouth proudly set, her eyes wandering
into the distance of the wood. What was she to do? The affront to
herself was gross--for the Squire had definitely promised her the
night before that the bargain should go through. And she felt hotly
for the hard-working agent. Should she put up with it? Her
meditations of the night recurred to her--and she seemed to herself
a very foolish woman!

'There you are!' said the Squire, as he handed the roll back to her.

She looked at it unwillingly. Then her face changed. She
stooped over the contract. Below the signature of the firm of
timber-merchants stood large and full that of 'Edmund Mannering.'

The Squire smiled.

'Now are you satisfied?'

She returned the contract to its envelope, and both to her pocket.
Then she looked at him uncertainly.

'May I ask what that meant?'

Her voice was still strained, and her eyes by no means meek.

'I am sorry,' said the Squire hurriedly. 'I don't know--it was a
whim. I wanted to have the pleasure--'

'Of seeing how a person looks under a sudden disappointment?' said
Elizabeth, with rather pinched lips.

'Not at all. It was a childish thing--I wanted to see you smile
when I gave you the thing back. There--that's the truth. It was you
disappointed me!'

Elizabeth's wrath vanished. She hid her face in her hands and
laughed. But there was agitation behind the laughter. These were not
the normal ways of a reasonable man.

When she looked up, the Squire had moved to a log close beside her.
The March sun was pouring down upon them, and there was a robin
singing, quite undisturbed by their presence, in a holly-bush near.
The Squire's wilful countenance had never seemed to Elizabeth more
full of an uncanny and even threatening energy. Involuntarily she
withdrew her seat.

'I wish to be allowed to make a very serious proposition to you,' he
said eagerly, 'one that I have been considering for weeks.'

Elizabeth--rather weakly--put up a protesting hand.

'I am afraid I must point out to you, Mr. Mannering, that Mrs.
Gaddesden will be waiting lunch.'

'If I know Alice, she will not wait lunch! And anyway there are
things more important than lunch. May I take it for granted, Miss
Bremerton, that you have not been altogether dissatisfied with your
life here during this six months?'

Elizabeth looked him gravely in the face. It was clear there was to
be no escape.

'How could I have been, Mr. Mannering? You have taught me a great,
great deal--and given me wonderful opportunities.'

The Squire nodded, with a look of satisfaction.

'I meant to. Of course Chicksands would say that it was only my
own laziness--that I have given you the work I ought to have done
myself. My reply would be that it was not my work. If a man
happens to be born to a job he is not in the least fitted for,
that's the affair of Providence. Providence bungled it when he,
she, or it--take which pronoun you like--[Greek: tychê], as you
and I know, is feminine--made me a landowner. My proper job was to
dig up and decipher what is left of the Greeks. And if any one
says that the two jobs are not _tanti_, and the landowning job is
more important than the other, I disagree with him entirely, and
it would be impossible for him to prove it. But there was a
vacuum--that I quite admit--and Nature--or Providence--disliked
it. So she sent you along, my dear lady!'--he turned upon her a
glowing countenance--'and you fitted it exactly. You laid hands on
what has proved to be your job, and Chicksands, I expect, has been
telling you how marvellously you're doing it, and begging you
not to let this duffer'--the Squire pointed to his leather
waistcoat--'get hold of it again. Hasn't he?'

He smiled triumphantly, as Elizabeth's sudden flush showed that his
shaft had hit. But he would not let her speak.

'No--please don't interrupt me! Of course Chicksands took that view.
Any sensible man would--not that Henry is really a sensible man.
Well, now, then--I want to ask you this. Don't these facts point to
a rather--remarkable--combination? You assist me in the job that I
was born for. I have been fortunate enough to be able to put into
your hands the job that you apparently were born for. And you will
forgive me for saying that it might have been difficult for you to
find it without my aid. Nature--that is--seems to have endowed you
not only with a remarkable head for Greek, but also with the
capacity for dealing with the kind of people who drive me
distracted--agents and timber-merchants, and stuck-up county
officials, whom I want to slay. And you combine your job with an
idealism--just as I do mine. You say "it's for the country" or "for
the army," as you did just now. And I scribble and collect--for
art's sake--for beauty's sake--for the honour of human genius--what
you like! What then could be more reasonable--more natural'--the
Squire drew himself up gravely--'than that you and I should join
forces--permanently? That I should serve your ideas--and you should
serve mine?'

The Squire broke off, observing her. Elizabeth had listened to this
extraordinary speech with growing bewilderment. She had dreaded lest
the Squire--in proposing to marry her--should make love to her. But
the coolness of the bargain actually suggested to her, the apparent
absence from it of any touch of sentiment, took her completely
aback. She was asked, in fact, to become his slave--his bailiff and
secretary for life--and the price was offered.

Her face spoke for her, before she could express her feeling in
words. The Squire, watching her, hurriedly resumed.

'I put it like an idiot! What I meant was this. If I could induce
you to marry me--and put up with me--I believe both our lives might
be much more interesting and agreeable!'

The intensity of the demand expressed in his pale hazel eyes and
frowning brow struck full upon her.

But Elizabeth slowly shook her head.

'I am very grateful to you, Mr. Mannering, but'--a rather ironical
smile showed itself--'I think you hardly understand me. We should
never get on.'

'Why?'

'Because our temperaments--our characters--are so different.'

'You can't forgive me about the war?'

'Well, that hurts me,' she said, after a moment, 'but I leave that
to Mr. Desmond. No! I am thinking of myself and you. What you
propose does not attract me at all. Marriage--in my view--wants
something--deeper--to build on than you suggest.'

'Inconsistent woman!' cried the inner voice, but Elizabeth silenced
it. She was not inconsistent. She would have resented love-making,
but _feeling_--something to gild the chain!--that she had certainly
expected. The absence of it humiliated her.

The Squire's countenance fell.

'Deeper?' he said, with a puzzled look. 'I wonder what you mean? I
haven't anything "deeper." There isn't anything "deep" about me.'

Was it true? Elizabeth suddenly recalled those midnight steps on the
night of Desmond's departure.

'You know,' he resumed, 'for you have worked with me now for six
months--you know at least what kind of a man I am. I assure you it's
at any rate no worse than that! And if I ever annoyed you too much,
why you could always keep me in order--by the mere threat of going
away! I could have cut my throat any day with pleasure during those
weeks you were absent!'

Again Elizabeth hid her face in her hands and laughed--rather
hysterically. There _was_ something in this last appeal that touched
her--some note of 'the imperishable child,' which indeed she had
always recognized in the Squire's strange personality.

The Squire waited--frowning. When she looked up at last she spoke in
her natural friendly voice.

'I don't think, Mr. Mannering, we had better go on talking like
this. I can't accept what you offer me--'

'Again I can't think why,' he interrupted vehemently; 'you have
given me no sort of explanation. Why must you refuse?'

'Because I don't feel like it,' she said, smiling. 'That's all I
need say. Please don't think me ungrateful. You've offered me now a
position and a home--and you've given me my head all this time. I
shall never forget it. But I'm afraid--'

'That now I've made such an ass of myself you'll have to go?'

She thought a moment.

'I don't know that I need say that--if--if I could be sure--'

'Of what? Name your conditions!'

His face suddenly lightened again. And again a quick compunction
struck her.

She looked at him gently.

'It's only--that I couldn't stay here--you will see of course that I
couldn't--unless I were quite sure that this was dead and buried
between us--that you would forget it entirely--and let me forget
it!'

Was it fancy, or did the long Don Quixotish countenance quiver a
little?

'Very well. I will never speak of it again. Will that do?' There was
a long pause. The Squire's stick attacked a root of primroses
closely, prized it out of the damp ground, and left it there. Then
he turned to his companion with a changed aspect. 'Well, now,
then--we are as we were--and'--with a long half-indignant
breath--'remember I have signed that contract!'

He rose from his seat as he spoke.

They walked home together through the great wood, and across the
park. They were mostly silent. The Squire's words 'we are as we
were' echoed in the ears of both. And yet both were secretly aware
that something irrevocable had happened.

Then, suddenly, beating down all the personal trouble and disquiet
in Elizabeth's mind, there rushed upon her afresh, as she walked
beside the Squire, that which seemed to shame all personal
feeling--the renewed consciousness of England's death-grapple with
her enemy--the horror of its approaching crisis. How could this
strange being at her elbow be still deaf and blind to it!

       *       *       *       *       *

They parted in the hall.

'Shall I expect you at six?' said the Squire formally. 'I have some
geographical notes I should like you to take down.'

She assented. He went to his study, and shut himself in. For a long
time he paced up and down, flinging himself finally into a chair in
front of Desmond's portrait. There his thoughts took shape.

'Well, my boy, I thought I'd won some trenches--but the
counter-attack has swept me out. Where are you? Are you still alive?
If not, I shan't be long after you. I'm getting old, my boy--and
this world, as the devil has made it, is not meant for me.'

He remained there for some time, his hands on his knees, staring
into the bright face of his son.

Elizabeth too went to her room. On her table lay the _Times_. She
took it up and read the telegrams again. Raid and counter-raid all
along the front--and in every letter and telegram the shudder of the
nearing event, ghastly hints of that incredible battlefield to come,
that hideous hurricane of death in which Europe was to see once more
her noblest and her youngest perish.

'Oh, why, why am I a woman?' she clasped her hands above her head in
a passion of revolt. 'What does one's own life matter? Why waste a
thought--an hour upon it!'

In a second she was at her table putting together the notes she had
made that morning in the wood. About a hundred and fifty more ash
marked in that wood alone!--thanks to Sir Henry. She rang up Captain
Dell, and made sure that they would be offered that night direct to
the Government timber department--the Squire's ash, for greater
haste, having been now expressly exempted from the general contract.
Canadians were coming down to fell them at once. They must be
housed. One of the vacant farms, not yet let, was to be got ready
for them. She made preliminary arrangements by telephone. Then,
after a hasty lunch, at which the Squire did not appear, and Mrs.
Gaddesden was more than usually languid and selfish, Elizabeth
rushed off to the village on her bicycle. The hospital Commandant
was waiting for her, with such workpeople as could be found, and the
preparation of the empty house for fifty more beds was well begun.
Elizabeth was frugal, but resolute, with the Squire's money. She had
leave to spend. But she would not abuse her power; and all through
her work she was conscious of a queer remorseful gratitude towards
the man in whose name she was acting.

Then she bicycled to the School, where a group of girls whom she
had captured for the land were waiting to see her. Their uniforms
were lying ready on one of the schoolroom tables. She helped the
girls to put them on, laughing, chatting, admiring--ready besides
with a dozen homely hints on how to keep well--how to fend for
themselves, perhaps in a lonely cottage--how to get on with the
farmer--above all, how to get on with the farmer's wife. Her
sympathy made everything worth while--put colour and pleasure into
this new and strange adventure, of women going out to break up and
plough and sow the ancient land of our fathers, which the fighting
men had handed over to them. Elizabeth decked the task with honour,
so that the girls in their khaki stood round her at last glowing,
though dumb!--and felt themselves--as she bade them feel--the
comrades-in-arms of their sweethearts and their brothers.

Then with the March twilight she was again at Mannering. She changed
her bicycling dress, and six o'clock found her at her desk,
obediently writing from the Squire's dictation.

He put her through a stiff series of geographical notes, including a
number of quotations from Homer and Herodotus, bearing on the spread
of Greek culture in the Aegean. During the course of them he broke
out once or twice into his characteristic sayings and illustrations,
racy or poetic, as usual, and Elizabeth would lift her blue eyes,
with the responsive look in them, on which he had begun to think all
his real power of work depended. But not a word passed between them
on any other subject; and when it was over she rose, said a quiet
good-night, and went away. After she had gone, the Squire sat over
the fire, brooding and motionless, for most of the evening.

One March afternoon, a few days later, the following letter reached
Pamela, who was still with her sister. It was addressed in Desmond
Mannering's large and boyish handwriting.

     'B.E.F., _March_.

     'MY DEAR PAMELA--I am kicking my heels here at an engineer's
     store, waiting for an engineer officer who is wanted to plan
     some new dug-outs for our battery, and as there is no one to
     talk to inside except the most inarticulate Hielander I ever
     struck, I shall at last make use of one of your little
     oddments, my dear, which are mostly too good to use out
     here--and write you a letter on a brand new pocket-pad, with a
     brand new stylo.

     'I expect you know from Arthur about where we are. It's a
     pretty nasty bit of the line. The snipers here are the
     cleverest beasts out. There isn't a night they don't get some
     of us, though our fellows are as sharp as needles too. I went
     over a sniping school last week with a jolly fellow who used to
     hunt lions in Africa. My hat!--we have learnt a thing or two
     from the Huns since we started. But you have to keep a steady
     look-out, I can tell you. There was a man here last night in a
     sniper's post, shooting through a trench loophole, you
     understand, which had an iron panel. Well, he actually went to
     sleep with his rifle in his hand, having had a dog's life for
     two or three nights. But for a mercy, he had pulled down his
     panel--didn't know he had!--and the next thing he knew was a
     bullet spattering on it--just where his eye should have been.
     He was jolly quick in backing out and into a dug-out, and an
     hour later he got the man.

     'But there was an awful thing here last night. An officer was
     directing one of our snipers--stooping down just behind him,
     when a Hun got him--right in the eyes. I was down at the
     dressing-station visiting one of our men who had been knocked
     over--and I saw him led in. He was quite blind,--and as calm as
     anything--telling people what to do, and dictating a post card
     to the padre, who was much more cut up than he was. I can tell
     you, Pamela, our Army is _fine_! Well, thank God, I'm in
     it--and not a year too late. That's what I keep saying to
     myself. And the great show can't be far off now. I wouldn't
     miss it for anything, so I don't give the Hun any more chances
     of knocking me over than I can help.

     'You always want to know what things look like, old Pam, so
     I'll try and tell you. In the first place, it's just a glorious
     spring day. At the back of the cranky bit of a ruined farm
     where we have our diggings (by the way, you may always go back
     at night and find half your bedroom shot away--that happened to
     me the other night--there was a tunic of mine still hanging on
     the door, and when you opened the door, nothing but a hole ten
     feet deep full of rubble--jolly luck, it didn't happen at
     night-time!) there are actually some lilac trees, and the buds
     on them are quite big. And somehow or other the birds manage to
     sing in spite of the hell the Huns have made of things.

     'I'm looking out now due east. There's a tangled mass of
     trenches not far off, where there's been some hot raiding
     lately. I see an engineer officer with a fatigue party working
     away at them--he's showing the men how to lay down a new
     trench with tapes and pegs. Just to my left some men are
     filling up a crater. Then there's a lorry full of bits of an
     old corduroy road they're going to lay down somewhere over a
     marshy place. There are two sausage balloons sitting up aloft,
     and some aeroplanes coming and going. Our front line is not
     more than a mile away, and the German line is about a mile and
     a quarter. Far off to my right I can just see a field with
     tanks in it. Ah--there goes a shell on the Hun line--another!
     Can't think why we're tuning up at this time of day. We shall
     be getting some of their heavy stuff over directly, if we don't
     look out. It's rot!

     'And the sun is shining like blazes on it all. As I came up I
     saw some of our men resting on the grass by the wayside. They
     were going up to the trenches--but it was too early--the sun
     was too high--they don't send them in till dusk. Awfully good
     fellows they looked! And I passed a company of Bantams, little
     Welsh chaps, as fit as mustard. Also a poor mad woman, with a
     basket of cakes and chocolate. She used to live in the village
     where I'm sitting now--on a few bricks of it, I mean. Then her
     farm was shelled to bits and her old husband and her daughter
     killed. And nothing will persuade her to go. Our people have
     moved her away several times--but she always comes back--and
     now they let her alone. Our soldiers indeed are awfully good to
     her, and she looks after the graves in the little cemetery. But
     when you speak to her, she never seems to understand, and her
     eyes--well, they haunt one.

     'I'm beginning to get quite used to the life--and lately I have
     been doing some observation work with an F.O.O. (that means
     Forward Observation Officer), which is awfully exciting. Your
     business on these occasions is to get as close to the Germans
     as you can, without being seen, and you take a telephonist with
     you to send back word to the guns, and, by Jove, we do get
     close sometimes!

     'Well, dear old Pam, there's my engineer coming across the
     fields, and I must shut up. Mind--if I don't come back to
     you--you're just to think, as I told you before, that it's _all
     right_. Nothing matters--_nothing_--but seeing this thing
     through. Any day we may be in the thick of such a fight as I
     suppose was never seen in the world before. Or any night--hard
     luck! one may be killed in a beastly little raid that nobody
     will ever hear of again. But anyway it's all one. It's worth
     it.

     '_Your_ letters don't sound to me as though you were
     particularly enjoying life. Why don't you ever give me news of
     Arthur? He writes me awfully jolly letters, and always says
     something nice about you. Father has written to me _three_
     times--decent, I call it,--though he always abuses Lloyd
     George, and generally puts some Greek in I can't read. I wonder
     if we were quite right about Broomie? You never say anything
     about her either. But I got a letter from Beryl the other day,
     and what Miss B. seems to be doing with Father and the estate
     is pretty marvellous.

     'All the same I don't hear any gossip as to what you and I were
     afraid of. I wonder if I was a brute to answer her as I
     did--and after her nice letter to me? Anyway, it's no wonder
     she doesn't write to me any more. And she _did_ tell me such a
     lot of news.

     'Good-bye. Your writing-pad is really ripping. Likewise pen.
     Hullo, there go some more shells. I really must get back and
     see what's up.--Your loving

     'DESMOND.'

Meanwhile in the seething world of London, where the war-effort of
an Empire was gathered up into one mighty organism, the hush of
expectancy grew ever deeper. Only a few weeks or days could now
divide us from the German rush on Paris and the coast. Behind the
German lines all was movement and vast preparation. Any day England
might rise to find the last fight begun.

Yet morning after morning all the news that came was of raids,
endless raids, on both sides--a perpetual mosquito fight, buzzing
now here, now there, as information was wanted by the different
Commands. Many lives were lost day by day, many deeds of battle
done. But it all seemed as nothing--less than nothing--to those
whose minds were fixed on the clash to come.

Then one evening, early in the second week in March, a telegram
reached Aubrey Mannering at Aldershot. He rushed up to town, and
went first to the War Office, where Chicksands was at work.

Chicksands sprang up to meet him.

'You've heard? I've just got this. I made his Colonel promise to
wire me if--'

He pointed to an open telegram on his table:

"Desmond badly hit in raid last night. Tell his people. Authorities
will probably give permission to come. Well looked after."

The two men stared at each other.

'I have wired to my father,' said Mannering, 'and am now going to
meet him at King's Cross. Can you go and tell Pamela to get
ready--or Margaret? But he'll want Pamela!'

Neither was able to speak for a moment, till Mannering said, 'I'll
bring my father to Margaret's, and then I'll go and see after the
permits.'

He lingered a moment.

'I--I think it means the worst.'

Chicksands' gesture was one of despair.

Then they hurried away from the War Office together.



CHAPTER XV


It was afternoon at Mannering.

Elizabeth was walking home from the village through the park. Still
the same dry east-wind weather--very cold in the wind, very warm in
the sun. If the German offensive began while these fine days held,
they would have the luck of weather as we had never had it. Think of
the drenching rains and winds of the Passchendaele attack! In the
popular mind the notion of 'a German God' was taking actual concrete
shape. A huge and monstrous form, sitting on a German hill, plotting
with the Kaiser, and ordering the weather precisely as the Kaiser
wished--it was thus that English superstition, aided by Imperial
speeches and telegrams, began to be haunted.

Yet the world was still beautiful--the silvery stems of the trees,
the flitting of the birds, the violet carpets underfoot. On the
fighting line itself there was probably a new crop of poets, hymning
the Spring with Death for listener, as Julian Grenfell and Rupert
Brooke had hymned it, in that first year of the war that seems now
an eternity behind us.

Moving along a path converging on her own, Elizabeth perceived the
Squire. For the first time that morning he had put off their joint
session, and she had not seen him all day. Her mind was now always
uneasily aware of him--aware, too, of some change in him, for which
in some painful way she felt herself responsible. He had grown
strangely tame and placable, and it was generally noticed that he
looked older. Yet he was more absorbed than ever in the details of
Greek research and the labour of his catalogue. Only, of an evening,
he read the _Times_ for a couple of hours, generally in complete
silence, while Elizabeth and Mrs. Gaddesden talked and knitted.

An extraordinary softness--an extraordinary compassion--was steadily
invading Elizabeth's mind in regard to him. Something suggested to
her that he had come into life maimed of some essential element of
being, possessed by his fellow-men, and that he was now conscious of
the lack, as a Greek Faun might be conscious of the difference
between his life and that of struggling and suffering men. Nothing,
indeed, could less suggest the blithe nature-life which Greek
imagination embodied in the Faun, than the bizarre and restless
aspect of the Squire. This spare white-haired man, with his tempers
and irritations, was far indeed from Greek joyousness. And yet the
Greek sense of beauty, half intellectual, half sensuous, had always
seemed to her the strongest force in him. Was it now besieged by
something else?--was the Faun in him, at last, after these three
years, beginning to feel the bitter grip of humanity?

'"Deeper"? I don't know what you mean. There is nothing "deep" in
me!' She often recalled that saying of his, and the look of
perplexity which had accompanied it.

To herself of late he had been always courteous and indulgent; she
had hardly had an uncivil word from him! But it seemed to her that
he had also begun to avoid her, and the suspicion hurt her
amazingly. If indeed it were true, then leave Mannering she must.

He came up with her at a cross-road, and threw her a look of
enquiry.

'You have been to the village?'

'To the hospital. Thirty fresh wounded arrived last night.'

'I have just seen Chicksands,' said the Squire abruptly. 'Arthur
tells him the German attack must be launched in a week or two, and
may come any day. A million men, probably, thrown against us.'

'So--the next few months will decide,' said Elizabeth, shuddering.

'My God!--why did we ever go into this war!' cried the man beside
her suddenly, in a low, stifled voice. She glanced at him in
astonishment. The new excuses, the new tenderness for him in her
heart made themselves heard.

'It was for honour,' she breathed--'for freedom!'

'Words--just words. They don't stop bombs!'

But there was nothing truculent in the tone.

'You had a line from Mr. Desmond this morning?'

'Yes--a post card. He was all right.'

Silence dropped between them. They walked on through the beautiful
wooded park. Carpets of primroses ran beside them, and masses of
wild cherry blossoms were beginning to show amid the beeches.
Elizabeth was vaguely conscious of beauty, of warm air, of heavenly
sun. But the veil upon the face of all nations was upon her eyes
also.

When they reached the house, the Squire said,

'I looked up the passage in the _Persae_ that occurred to me
yesterday. Will you come and take it down?'

They went into the library together. On a special table in front of
the Squire's desk there stood a magnificent Greek vase of the early
fifth century B.C. A king--Persian, from his dress--was sitting in a
chair of state, and before him stood a small man apparently
delivering a message. [Greek: Aggelos] was roughly written over his
head.

The Squire walked up and down with a text of the _Persae_ in his
hand.

'"This vase," he dictated, "may be compared with one signed by
Xenophantos, in the Paris collection, the subject of which is the
Persian king, hunting. Here we have a Persian king, identified by
his dress, apparently receiving a message from his army. We may
illustrate it by the passage in the _Persae_ of Æschylus, where
Atossa receives from a messenger the account of the battle of
Salamis--a passage which contains the famous lines describing the
Greek onslaught on the Persian fleet:

'"'Then might you hear a mighty shout arise--

'"'Go, ye sons of Hellas!--free your fathers, free your children and
your wives, the temples of your gods, and the tombs of your
ancestors. For now is all at stake!...'

'"We may recall also the final summing-up by the [Greek: aggelos] of
the Persian defeat--

'"'_Never, on a single day, was there so great a slaying of men._'"'

Elizabeth took down the words, first in Greek and then in English.
They rang in her ears, long after she had transcribed them. The
Squire moved up and down in silence, absorbed apparently in the play
which he went on reading.

Outside the light was failing. It was close on six o'clock, and
summer time had not yet begun.

Suddenly the Squire raised his head.

'That, I think, was the telephone?'

Elizabeth rose--

'May I go? It is probably Captain Dell.'

She hurried away to her office-room, where the call-bell was
insistently ringing.

'Yes--who is that?'

'A telegram please--for Mr. Mannering--from London.'

'Wait a moment--I will tell Mr. Mannering.'

But as she turned to go back to the library she saw the Squire had
followed her, and was standing at the door. He came forward at once
and took up the receiver.

Elizabeth watched him with a fast beating pulse. He heard the
message, took out a pencil and wrote it down on a piece of paper
lying near, put up the receiver, and turned to her.

'It is from Aubrey. "Desmond is severely wounded. Please come at
once. Permission will be given to you and Pamela to go to France. I
hope to go with you. Will meet you King's Cross 8.40. Aubrey."'

He steadied himself a moment by a hand on Elizabeth's table. She
went up to him, and took his other hand, which closed an instant on
hers.

'I thought so,' he said, under his breath. 'I knew it.... Telephone,
please, to Fallerton for the taxi, while I go and speak to Forest.'

She gave the order and then hastened into the hall where Mrs.
Gaddesden was busy trimming a hat. The Squire's eldest daughter
sprang up at sight of Elizabeth.

'Oh, what is it? I know it's bad news--it's Desmond!'

Elizabeth repeated the telegram. 'Your father is going off at once.
I have telephoned for the car.'

'Oh, but I must go too--of course I must!' said Alice, weeping.
'Where is my maid?'

Elizabeth pointed out gently that, in speaking of the permits for
France, Major Mannering had only referred to the Squire and Pamela.

'Oh, but he must have meant me too--of course he must! Where is my
maid?' She rang the upstairs' bell violently. 'Oh, father, how
_awful_!'--the Squire had just entered the hall--'of course I'm
going with you?'

'What does she mean?' said the Squire impatiently to Elizabeth.
'Tell her I'm going alone.'

'But, father, you must take me!' cried Alice, running forward with
clasped hands. 'He is my brother! I must see him again!'

'He asks for Pamela,' said the Squire grimly. 'Aubrey shall wire to
you. You'd better stay here--if Miss Bremerton will look after you.'

'I don't want to be looked after--I want to look after Desmond and
you,' said Alice, with sobs.

The Squire's eyes travelled over the soft elaboration of her dress
and hair--all her perfumed and fashionable person.

'It is impossible,' he said sharply. Then turning to Elizabeth he
gave her a few directions about his letters. 'I shall get money in
town. I will wire directly we arrive.'

Alice was silenced, and sat half sulky, half sobbing, by the fire,
while the preparations for departure went forward. She offered help
hysterically once or twice, but it was not needed.

The little car from the village arrived in half an hour. The Squire
stood at the hall door waiting for it. He had not spoken since the
news arrived except to give the most necessary orders. But as he saw
the car nearing the house, he turned to Elizabeth.

'I expect we shall cross to-night. I shall wire you to-morrow.' Then
to Forest--

'Do your best to help Miss Bremerton. She is in charge of
everything.'

'Aye, sir. You'll give our duty to Mr. Desmond, sir. I trust you'll
bring him home.'

The Squire made no reply. He stood motionless till the car arrived,
stepped into it, and was gone.

Elizabeth went back into the house, and to Alice Gaddesden, still
sobbing by the fire. At sight of Elizabeth she broke out into
complaints of her father's unkindness, mixed presently, to
Elizabeth's dismay, with jealousy of her father's secretary.

'I don't know why father didn't let me help him with his packing,
and it's I who should have been left in charge! I'm his eldest
daughter--it is natural that I should be. I can tell you it's very
hard--to see somebody--who's not a relation--doing--doing everything
for him!--so that he won't let anybody else advise him--or do
anything! It is very--very--wounding for us all. Pamela feels it--I
know she does--and Desmond too.'

Elizabeth, very white and distressed, knelt down by her and tried to
calm her. But the flood of angry self-pity could not be stayed.

'Oh, I daresay you don't mean it, but you have--yes, you have a way
of getting everybody's attention. Of course you're awfully
clever--much cleverer than I am--or Pamela. But still it--it isn't
pleasant. I know Pamela felt it dreadfully--being cut out with
people she likes--people she cares about--and who--who might
care for her--like Arthur Chicksands. I believe--yes, I do
believe--though she never told me--that's why she went to London.'

Elizabeth rose from her knees. For a moment she was struck dumb. And
when at last she spoke it was only to repeat the name Mrs. Gaddesden
had mentioned in utter bewilderment.

'Captain Chicksands! What can you mean?'

'Why, of course girls can't hold their own with older women when the
older women are so charming and clever--and all that'--cried Mrs.
Gaddesden, trying desperately to justify herself--'but I've been
awfully sorry for Pamela! Very likely it's not your fault--you
couldn't know, I daresay!'

'No, indeed, I didn't know!' said Elizabeth, in a low voice, 'and I
can't understand now what you mean.'

'Don't you remember the day Arthur Chicksands spent here just before
Desmond went? Don't you remember how he talked to you all the
afternoon about the woods? Well, _I_ saw Pamela's face as she was
sitting behind you.'

Mrs. Gaddesden raised a triumphant though tear-stained countenance.
She was avenging not only her father's latest slight, but a long
series of grievances--small and great--connected with Elizabeth's
position in the house. And the Squire's farewell to her had turned
even her grief to gall.

'If Pamela was hurt, I was a most innocent cause!' said Elizabeth at
last, indignantly. 'And if you or any one else had given me the
smallest hint--'

'How could we?' was the rather sulky reply. 'Pamela, of course,
never said a word--to me. But I rather think she did say something
to Desmond.'

'Desmond!' cried Elizabeth under her breath. She turned slowly, and
went away, leaving Mrs. Gaddesden panting and a little scared at
what she had done.

Elizabeth went back to the library, where there was much to put in
order. She forced herself to tidy the Squire's table, and to write a
business letter or two. But when that was done she dropped her face
in her hands, and shed a few very bitter tears.

She seemed to herself to have failed miserably. In truth, her heart
clung to all these people. She soon attached herself to those with
whom she lived, and was but little critical of them. The warm,
maternal temper which went with her shrewd brain seemed to need
perpetually objects on which to spend itself. She could have loved
the twins dearly had they let her, and day by day, in the absence of
the mother, she had been accustomed to nurse, she had even
positively enjoyed 'petting' Mrs. Gaddesden, holding her wool for
her, seeing to her hot-water bottles, and her breakfast in bed.

Pamela in love with Arthur Chicksands! And she remembered that a
faint idea of it had once crossed her mind, only to be entirely
dismissed and forgotten.

'But I ought to have seen--I ought to have known! Am I really a
vampire?'

And she remembered how she, in her first youth, had suffered from
the dominance and the accomplishment of older women; women who gave
a girl no chance, who must have all the admiration, and all the
opportunities, who would coolly and cruelly snatch a girl's lover
from her.

'And that's how I've appeared to Pamela!' thought Elizabeth between
laughing and crying. 'Yet all I did was to talk about ash for
aeroplanes! Oh, you poor child--you poor child!'

She seemed to feel Pamela's pain in her own heart--she who had had
love and lost it.

'Am I just an odious, clever woman?' She sat down and hated herself.
All the passing vanity that had been stirred in her by Sir Henry's
compliments, all the natural pleasure she had taken in the success
of her great adventure as a business woman, in the ease with which
she, the Squire's paid secretary, had lately begun to lead the
patriotic effort of an English county--how petty, how despicable
even, it seemed, in presence of a boy who had given his all!--even
beside a girl in love!

And the Squire--'Was I hard to him too?'

The night came down. All the strange or beautiful shapes in the
library wavered and flickered under the firelight--the glorious
Nikê--the Erôs--the noble sketch of the boy in his cricketing
dress....

       *       *       *       *       *

The following morning came a telegram from Aubrey Mannering to Mrs.
Gaddesden. Elizabeth had done her best to propitiate her but she
remained cold and thorny, and when the telegram came she was pleased
that the news came to her first, and--tragic as it was--that
Elizabeth had to ask her for it!

'Terrible wounds. Fear no hope. We shall bring him home as soon as
possible.'

But an hour later arrived another--from the Squire to Elizabeth.

'Have a bed got ready in the library. Desmond's wish. Also
accommodation near for surgeon and nurses. May be able to cross
to-morrow. Will wire.'

But it was nearly two days before the final message arrived--from
Pamela to her sister. 'Expect us 7.20 to-night.'

By that time the ground-floor of the west wing had been transformed
into a temporary ward with its adjuncts, under the direction of a
Fallerton doctor, who had brought Desmond into the world and pulled
him through his childish illnesses. Elizabeth had moved most of the
statues, transferred the Sargent sketch to the drawing-room, and put
all the small archæological litter out of sight. But the Nikê was
too big and heavy to be moved, and Elizabeth remembered that Desmond
had always admired 'the jolly old thing' with its eager outstretched
wings and splendid brow. Doctor Renshaw shook his head over the
library as a hospital ward, and ordered a vast amount of meticulous
cleaning and disinfection.

'No hope?' he said, frowning. 'How do we know? Anyway there shall be
no poison I can help.' But the boy's wish was law.

On the afternoon before the arrival, Elizabeth was seized with
restlessness. When there was nothing more to be done in the way of
hospital provision (for which a list of everything needed had been
sent ahead to Doctor Renshaw)--of flowers, of fair linen--and when,
in spite of the spring sun shining in through all the open windows
on the bare spotless boards, she could hardly bear the sight and
meaning of the transformation which had come over the room, she
found herself aimlessly wandering about the big house, filled with a
ghostly sense of past and future. What was to be the real meaning of
her life at Mannering? She could not have deserted the Squire in the
present crisis. She had indeed no false modesty as to what her help
would mean, practically, to this household under the shadow of
death. At least she could run the cook and the servants, wrestle
with the food difficulties, and keep the Squire's most essential
business going.

But afterwards? She shivered at the word. Yes, afterwards she would
go! And Pamela should reign.

Suddenly, in a back passage, leading from her office to the
housekeeper's room, she came upon a boy of fourteen, Forest's
hall-boy, really a drudge-of-all-work, on whom essential things
depended. He was sitting on a chair beside the luggage lift absorbed
in some work, over which his head was bent, while an eager tip of
tongue showed through his tightened lips.

'What are you doing, Jim?' Elizabeth paused beside the boy, who had
always appeared to her as a simple, docile creature, not very likely
to make much way in a jostling world.

'Please, Miss, I'm knitting,' said Jim, raising a flushed face.

'Knitting! Knitting what?'

'Knitting a sock for my big brother. He's in France, Miss. Mother
learnt me.'

Elizabeth was silent a moment, watching the clumsy fingers as they
struggled with the needles.

'Are you very fond of your brother, Jim?' she asked at last.

'Yes, Miss,' said the boy, stooping a little lower over his work.
Then he added, 'There's only him and me--and mother. Father was
killed last year.'

'Do you know where he is?'

'No, Miss. But Mr. Desmond told me when he was here he might perhaps
see him. And I had a letter from Mr. Desmond ten days ago. He'd come
across Bob, and he wrote me a letter.'

And out of his pocket he pulled a grimy envelope, and put it into
Elizabeth's hands.

'Do you want me to read it, Jim?'

'Please, Miss.' But she was hardly able to read the letters for the
dimness in her eyes. Just a boyish letter--from a boy to a boy. But
it had in it, quite unconsciously, the sacred touch that 'makes us
men.'

A little later she was in the village, where a woman she knew--one
Mary Wilson--was dying, a woman who had been used to come up to do
charing work at the Hall, before the last illness of a bed-ridden
father kept her at home. Mary was still under fifty, plain, clumsy,
and the hardest worker in the village. She lived at the outbreak of
war with her father and mother. Her brother had been killed at
Passchendaele, and Mary's interest in life had vanished with him.
But all through the winter she had nursed her father night and day
through a horrible illness. Often, as Elizabeth had now discovered,
in the bitterest cold of the winter, she had had no bed but the
flagstones of the kitchen. Not a word of complaint--and a few
shillings for both of them to live upon!

At last the father died. And the night he died Mary staggered across
to the wretched cottage of a couple of old-age pensioners opposite.
'I must rest a bit,' she said, and sitting down in a chair by the
fire she fainted. Influenza had been on her for some days, and now
pneumonia had set in. The old people would not hear of her being
taken back to her deserted cottage. They gave up their own room to
her; they did everything for her their feeble strength allowed. But
the fierce disease beat down her small remaining strength.
Elizabeth, since the story came to her knowledge, had done her best
to help. But it was too late.

She went now to kneel at the beside of the dying woman. Mary's weary
eyes lifted, and she smiled faintly at the lady who had been kind to
her. Then unconsciousness returned, and the village nurse gave it as
her opinion that the end was near.

Elizabeth looked round the room. Thank God the cottage did not
belong to the Squire! The bedroom was about ten feet by seven, with
a sloping thatched roof, supported by beams three centuries old. The
one window was about two feet square. The nurse pointed to it.

'The doctor said no pneumonia case could possibly recover in a room
like this. And there are dozens of them, Miss, in this village. Oh,
Mary is glad to go. She nursed her mother for years, and then her
father for years. She never had a day's pleasure, and she was as
good as gold.'

Elizabeth held the clammy, misshapen hand, pressing her lips to it
when she rose to go, as to the garment of a saint.

Then she walked quickly back through the fading spring day, her
heart torn with prayer and remorse--remorse that such a life as Mary
Wilson's should have been possible within reach of her own life and
she not know it; and passionate praying for a better world, through
and after the long anguish of the war.

'Else for what will these boys have given their lives!--what meaning
in the suffering and the agony!--or in the world which permits and
begets them?'

Then, at last, it was past seven o'clock. The dusk had fallen, and
the stars were coming out in a pure pale blue, over the leafless
trees. Elizabeth and Alice Gaddesden stood waiting at the open door
of the hall. A motor ambulance was meeting the train. They would
soon be here now.

Elizabeth turned to Mrs. Gaddesden.

'Won't you give a last look and see if it is all right?'

Alice's weak, pretty face cleared, as she went off to give a final
survey to Desmond's room. She admitted that Elizabeth had been
'nice' that day, and all the days before. Perhaps she had been
hasty.

Lights among the distant trees! Elizabeth thought of the boy who had
gone out from that door, two months before, in the charm and beauty
of his young manhood. What wreck was it they were bringing back?

Then the remembrance stabbed her of that curt note from France--of
what Mrs. Gaddesden had said. She withdrew into the background. With
all the rest to help, she would not be wanted. Yes, she had been too
masterful, too prominent.

Two motors appeared, the ambulance motor behind another. They drew
up at the side door leading direct through a small lobby to the
library, and the Squire, his eldest son, and Captain Chicksands
stepped out--then Pamela.

Pamela ran up to her sister. The girl's eyes were red with crying,
but she was composed.

'On the whole, he has borne the journey well. Where is Miss
Bremerton?'

Elizabeth, hearing her name, emerged from the shadow in which she
was standing. To her astonishment Pamela threw an arm round her neck
and kissed her.

'Is everything ready?'

'Everything. Will you come and see?'

'Yes. They won't want us here.'

For the lobby was small; and surgeon and nurses were already
standing beside the open door of the ambulance, the surgeon giving
directions to the stretcher-bearers of the estate who had been
waiting.

Pamela looked at the bed, the nurses' table, the bare boards, the
flowers. Her face worked pitifully. She turned to Elizabeth, who
caught her in her arms.

'Oh, I am glad you have put the picture away!'

One deep sob, and she recovered herself.

'He's not much disfigured,' she murmured, 'only a cut on the
forehead. Most of the journey he has been quite cheerful. That was
the morphia. But he's tired now. They're coming in.'

But it was the Squire who entered--asking peremptorily for Miss
Bremerton.

The well-known voice struck some profound response in Elizabeth. She
turned to him. How changed, how haggard, was the aspect!

'Martin--that's the surgeon we've brought with us--wants something
from Fallerton at once. Renshaw's here, but he can't be spared for
telephoning. Come, please!'

But before she could pass through the door, it was filled by a
procession. The stretcher came through, followed by the surgeon and
nurses who had come from France. Elizabeth caught a glimpse of a
white face and closed eyes. It was as though something royal and
sacred entered the hushed room. She could have fallen on her knees,
as in a Breton 'pardon' when the Host goes by.



CHAPTER XVI


The bustle of the arrival was over. The doctors had given their
orders, the nurses were at their posts for the night, and, under
morphia, Desmond was sleeping. In the shaded library there were only
hushed voices and movements. By the light of the one lamp, which was
screened from the bed, one saw dimly the fantastic shapes in the
glass cases which lined the walls--the little Tanagra figures with
their sun-hats and flowing dress--bronzes of Apollo or Hermes--a
bronze bull--an ibex--a cup wreathed with acanthus. And in the
shadow at the far end rose the great Nikê. She seemed to be asking
what the white bed and the shrouded figure upon it might
mean--protesting that these were not her symbols, or a language that
she knew.

Yet at times, as the light varied, she seemed to take another
aspect. To Aubrey, sitting beside his brother, the Nikê more than
once suggested the recollection of a broken Virgin hanging from a
fragment of a ruined church which he remembered on a bit of road
near Mametz, at which he had seen passing soldiers look stealthily
and long. Her piteous arms, empty of the babe, suggested motherhood
to boys fresh from home; and there were moments when this hovering
Nikê seemed to breathe a mysterious tenderness like hers--became a
proud and splendid angel of consolation--only, indeed, to resume,
with some fresh change in the shadows, its pagan indifference, its
exultant loneliness.

The Squire sat by the fire, staring into the redness of the logs.
Occasionally nurse or doctor would come and whisper to him. He
scarcely seemed to hear them. What was the good of talking? He
knew that Desmond was doomed--that his boy's noble body was
shattered--and the end could only be a question of days--possibly
a week. During the first nights of Desmond's sufferings, the
Squire had lived through what had seemed an eternity of torment.
Now there was no more agony. Morphia could be freely given--and
would be given till all was over. The boy's young strength was
resisting splendidly, a vitality so superb was hard to beat; but
beaten it would be, by the brutality of the bullet which had
inflicted an internal injury past repair, against which the energy
of the boy's youth might hold out for a few days--not more. That
was why he had been allowed to bring his son home--to die. If
there had been a ray, a possibility of hope, every resource of
science would have been brought to bear on saving him, there in
that casualty clearing-station, itself a large hospital, where the
Squire had found him.

All the scenes, incidents, persons of the preceding days were
flowing in one continuous medley through the Squire's mind--the
great spectacle of the back of the Army, with all its endless
movement, its crowded roads and marching men, the hovering
aeroplanes, the _camouflaged_ guns, the long trains of artillery
waggons and motor-lorries, strange faces of Kaffir boys and Chinese,
grey lines of German prisoners. And then, the hospital. Nothing very
much doing, so he was told. Yet hour after hour the wounded came in,
men shattered by bomb and shell and rifle-bullet, in the daily raids
that went on throughout the line. And scarcely a moan, scarcely a
word of complaint!--men giving up their turn with the surgeon to a
comrade--'Never mind me, sir--he's worse nor me!'--or the elder
cheering the younger--'Stick it, young'un--this'll get you to
Blighty right enough!'--or, in the midst of mortal pain, signing a
field postcard for the people at home, or giving a message to a
_padre_ for mother or wife. Like some monstrous hand, the grip of
the war had finally closed upon the Squire's volatile, recalcitrant
soul. It was now crushing the moral and intellectual energy in
himself, as it had crushed the physical life of his son. For it was
as though he were crouching on some bare space, naked and alone,
like a wounded man left behind in a shell-hole by his comrades'
advance. He was aware, indeed, of a mysterious current of spiritual
force--patriotism, or religion, or both in one--which seemed to be
the support of other men. He had seen incredible, superhuman proofs
of it in those few hospital days. But it was of no use to him.

There was only one dim glimmer in his mind--towards which at
intervals he seemed to be reaching out. A woman's face--a woman's
voice--in which there seemed to be some offer of help or comfort. He
had seen her--she was somewhere in the house. But there seemed to be
insuperable barriers--closed doors, impassable spaces--between
himself and her. It was a nightmare, partly the result of fatigue
and want of sleep.

When he had first seen his son, Desmond was unconscious, and the end
was hourly expected. He remembered telegraphing to a famous surgeon
at home to come over; he recalled the faces of the consultants round
Desmond's bed, and the bald man with the keen eyes, who had brought
him the final verdict:

'Awfully sorry!--but we can do nothing! He may live a little
while--and he has been begging and praying us to send him home.
Better take him--the authorities will give leave. I'll see to
that--it can't do much harm. The morphia will keep down the
pain--and the poor lad will die happy.' And then there was much talk
of plaster bandages, and some new mechanical appliance to prevent
jolting--of the surgeon going home on leave who would take charge of
the journey--of the nurses to be sent--and other matters of which he
only retained a blurred remembrance.

The journey had been one long and bitter endurance. And now Desmond
was here--his son Desmond--lying for a few days in that white
bed--under the old roof. And afterwards a fresh grave in Fallerton
churchyard--a flood of letters which would be burnt unread--and a
world without Desmond.

Meanwhile, in a corner of the hall, Chicksands and Pamela were
sitting together--hand in hand. From the moment when he had gone
down to Folkestone to meet them, and had seen Pamela's piteous and
beautiful face, as she followed the stretcher on which Desmond lay,
across the landing-stage of the boat, Chicksands' mind had been
suddenly clear. No words, indeed, except about the journey and
Desmond had passed between them. But she had seen in his dark eyes a
sweetness, a passion of protection and help which had thawed all the
ice in her heart, and freed the waters of life. She was ashamed of
herself, but only for a little while! For in Desmond's presence all
that concerned herself passed clean out of sight and mind. It was
not till she saw Elizabeth that remorse lifted its head again; and
whatever was delicate and sensitive in the girl's nature revived,
like scorched grass after rain.

Since the hurried, miserable meal, in which Elizabeth had watched
over them all, Pamela had followed Elizabeth about, humbly trying to
help her in the various household tasks. Then when at last Elizabeth
had gone off to telephone some final orders to Captain Dell at
Fallerton for the morning Pamela and Arthur were left alone.

He came over to where she sat, and drew a chair beside her.

'Poor child!' he said, under his breath--'poor child!'

She lifted her eyes, swimming in tears.

'Isn't it marvellous, how she's thought of everything--done
everything?'

Elizabeth had not been in his mind, but he understood the _amende_
offered and was deeply touched.

'Yes, she's a wonderful creature. Let her care for you, Pamela, dear
Pamela!'

He lifted her hand to his lips, and put his arm round her. She leant
against him, and he gently kissed her cheek. So Love came to them,
but in its most tragic dress, veiled and dumb, with haggard eyes of
grief.

Then Pamela tried to tell him all that she herself had understood of
the gallant deed, the bit of 'observation work' in the course of
which Desmond had received his wound. He had gone out with another
subaltern, a sergeant, and a telephonist, creeping by night over No
Man's Land to a large shell-hole, close upon an old crater where a
German outpost of some thirty men had found shelter. They had
remained there for forty-eight hours--unrelieved--listening and
telephoning. Then having given all necessary information to the
artillery Headquarters which had sent them out, they started on the
return journey. But they were seen and fired on. Desmond might have
escaped but for his determined endeavours to bring in the Sergeant,
who was the first of them to fall. A German sniper hidden in a
fragment of ruin caught the boy just outside the British line; he
fell actually upon the trench.

Desmond had been the leader all through, said Pamela; his Colonel
said he was 'the pluckiest, dearest fellow'--he failed 'in nothing
you ever asked him for.'

Just such a story as comes home, night after night, and week after
week, from the fighting line! Nothing remarkable in it, except,
perhaps, the personal quality of the boy who had sacrificed his
life. Arthur Chicksands, with three years of the war behind him,
felt that he knew it by heart--could have repeated it, almost in his
sleep, and each time with a different name.

'The other lieutenant who was with him,' said Pamela, 'told us he
was in splendid spirits the day before; and then at night, just
before they started, Desmond was very quiet, and they said to each
other that whatever happened that night they never expected to see
England again; and each promised the other that the one who
survived, if either did, would take messages home. Desmond told him
he was to tell me, if he was killed--that he'd "had a splendid
life"--and lived it "_all out_." "She's not to think of it as cut
short. I've had it _all_. One lives here a year in a day." And he'd
only been seven weeks at the front! He said it was the things he'd
seen--not the horrible things--but the glorious things that made
him feel like that. Now he did believe there was a God--and I must
believe it too.'

The tears ran down her face. Arthur held the quivering hands close
in his; and through his soldier's mind, alive with the latest and
innermost knowledge of the war, there flashed a terrible pre-vision
of the weeks to come, the weeks of the great offensive, the storm of
which might break any day--was certain, indeed, to break soon, and
would leave behind it, trampled like leaves into a mire of blood,
thousands of lives like Desmond's--Britain's best and rarest.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later the hall was deserted, except for Elizabeth, who,
after seeing Pamela to bed, came down to write some household
letters by the only fire. Presently the surgeon who was sitting up
with Desmond appeared, looking worried. His countenance brightened
at sight of Elizabeth, with whom he had already had much practical
consultation.

'Could you persuade Mr. Mannering to go to bed?'

Elizabeth rose with some hesitation and followed him into the
library. The great room, once so familiar, now so strange, the
nurses in their white uniforms, moving silently, one standing by the
bed, watch in hand--Major Mannering on the farther side,
motionless--the smell of antiseptics, the table by the bed with all
its paraphernalia of bandages, cups, glasses, medicine bottles--the
stillness of brooding death which held it all--seemed to dash from
her any last, blind, unreasonable hope that she might have
cherished.

The Squire standing by the fire, where he had been opposing a
silent but impatient opposition to the attempt of doctor and nurses
to make him take some rest, saw Elizabeth enter. His eyes clung to
her as she approached him. So she _was_ near him--and he was not cut
off from her.

Then the surgeon watched with astonishment the sudden docility of a
man who had already seemed to him one of the most unmanageable of
persons. What spell had this woman exercised? At any rate, after a
few whispered words from her, the Squire bowed his white head and
followed her out of the room.

In the hall Elizabeth offered him a candle, and begged him to go to
bed. He shook his head, and pointed to a chair by the dying fire.

'That will do. Then I shall hear--'

He threw himself into it. She brought him a rug, for the night was
chilly, and he submitted.

Then she was going away, for it was past midnight, but something in
his fixed look, his dull suffering, checked her. She took an old
stool and sat down near him. Neither spoke, but his eyes gradually
turned to hers, and a strange communion arose between them. Though
there were no words, he seemed to be saying to her--'My boy!--my
boy!'--over and over again--and then--'Stay there!--for God's sake,
stay!'

And she stayed. The failing lamp showed her upturned face, with its
silent intensity of pity, her hands clasped round her knees, and the
brightness of her hair. The long minutes passed. Then suddenly the
Squire's eyelids fell, and he slept the sleep of a man physically
and mentally undone.

Aubrey Mannering sat by his brother all night. With the first dawn
Desmond awoke, and there was an awful interval of pain. But a fresh
morphia injection eased it, and Aubrey presently saw a smile--a look
of the old Desmond. The nurse washed the boy's hands and face,
brought him a cup of tea, took pulse and temperature.

'He's no worse,' she said in a whisper to Aubrey, as she passed him.

Aubrey went up to the bed.

'Aubrey, old chap!' said the boy, and smiled at him. Then--'It's
daylight. Can't I look out?'

The nurse and Mannering wheeled his bed to the window, which opened
to the ground. A white frost was on the grass, and there was a clear
sky through which the sunrise was fast mounting. Along an eastern
wood ran a fiery rose of dawn, the fine leaf-work of the beeches
showing sharply upon it. There was a thrush singing, and a robin
came close to the window, hopped on the ledge, and looked in.

'Ripping!' said Desmond softly. 'There were jolly mornings in France
too.' Then his clear brow contracted. Aubrey stooped to him.

'Any news?' said the blanched lips.

'None yet, old man. We shan't get the papers till eight.'

'What's the date?'

'March 18th.'

Desmond gave a long sigh.

'I would have liked to be in it!'

'In the big battle?' Aubrey's lip trembled. 'You have done your bit,
old man.'

'But how is it going to _end_?' said the boy, moving his head
restlessly. 'Shall we win?--or they? I shall live as long as ever I
can--just to know. I feel quite jolly now--isn't it strange?--and
yet I made the doctors tell me--'

He turned a bright look on his brother, and his voice grew
stronger. 'I had such a queer dream last night, Aubrey,--about
you--and that friend of yours--do you remember?--you used to bring
him down--to stay here--when Pam and I were little--Freddy Vivian--'

The boy looking out into the woods and the morning did not see the
change--the spasm--in his brother's face. He continued--'We kids
liked him awfully. Well, I saw him! I actually did. He stood
there--by you. He was talking a lot--I didn't understand--but--'

A sudden movement. Aubrey fell on his knees beside the bed. His deep
haggard eyes stared at his brother. There was in them an anguish, an
eagerness, scarcely human.

'Desmond!--can't you remember?'

The words were just breathed--panted.

Desmond, whose eyes had closed again, smiled faintly.

'Why, of course I can't remember. He had his hand on your shoulder.
I just thought he was cheering you up--about something.'

'Desmond!--it was I that killed him--I could have saved him!'

The boy opened his eyes. His startled look expressed the question he
had not strength to put.

Aubrey bent over the bed, speaking hurriedly--under possession. 'It
was at Neuve Chapelle. I had gone back for help--he and ten or
twelve others who had moved on too fast were waiting in a bit of
shelter till I could get some more men from the Colonel. The Germans
were coming on thick. And I went back. There was a barrage on--and
on the way--I shirked--my nerve went. I sat down for twenty minutes
by my watch--I hid--in a shell-hole. Then I went to the Colonel, and
he gave me the men. And when we got up to the post, I was just a
quarter of an hour too late. Vivian was lying there dead--and the
others had been mopped up--prisoners--by a German bombing party. It
was I who killed Vivian. No one knows.'

Aubrey's eyes searched those of the boy.

The next moment Mannering was torn with poignant remorse that, under
the sudden shock of that name, he should have spoken at last--after
three years--to this dying lad. Crime added to crime!

'Don't think of it any more, Desmond,' he said hurriedly, raising
himself and laying his hand on his brother's. 'I oughtn't to have
told you.'

But Desmond showed no answering agitation.

'I did see him!' he whispered. 'He stood there--' His eyes turned
towards the window. He seemed to be trying to remember--but soon
gave up the effort. 'Poor old Aubrey!' His feeble hand gave a faint
pressure to his brother's. 'Why, it wasn't you, old fellow!--it was
your body.'

Aubrey could not reply. He hid his face in his hands. The effort of
his own words had shaken him from top to toe. To no human being had
he ever breathed what he had just told his young brother. Life
seemed broken--disorganized.

Desmond was apparently watching the passage of a flock of white
south-westerly clouds across the morning sky. But his brain was
working, and he said presently--

'After I was struck, I hated my body. I'd--I'd like to commit my
spirit to God--but not my body!'

Then again--very faintly--

'It was only your body, Aubrey--not your soul. Poor old Aubrey!'
Then he dozed off again, with intervals of pain.

At eight o'clock Pamela came in--a vision of girlish beauty in spite
of watching and tears, in her white dressing-gown, the masses of her
hair loosely tied.

She sat down by him, and the nurse allowed her to give him milk and
brandy. Paralysis in the lower limbs was increasing, but the brain
was clear, and the suffering less.

He smiled at her, after the painful swallowing was over.

'Why!--you're so like mother, Pamela!'

He was thinking of the picture in the 'den.' She raised his hand,
and kissed it--determined to be brave, not to break down.

'Where's Broomie?' he whispered.

'She'd like to come and see you, Dezzy. Dezzy, darling!--I was all
wrong. She's been so good--good to father--good to all of us.'

The boy's eyes shone.

'I thought so!' he said triumphantly. 'Is she up?'

'Long ago. Shall I tell her? I'll ask Nurse.'

And in a few more minutes Elizabeth was there.

Desmond had been raised a little on his pillows, and flushed at
sight of her. Timidly, he moved his hand, and she laid hers on it.
Then, stirred by an impulse that seemed outside her will, she
stooped over him, and kissed his forehead.

'That was nice!' he murmured, smiling, and lay for a little with his
eyes shut. When he opened them again, he said--

'May I call you Elizabeth?'

Elizabeth's tender look and gesture answered. He gazed at her in
silence, gathering strength for some effort that was evidently on
his mind.

'Father minds awfully,' he said at last, his look clouding. 'And
there's no one--to--to cheer him up.'

'He loves you so,' said Elizabeth, with difficulty, 'he always has
loved you so.'

The furrow on his brow grew a little deeper.

'But that doesn't matter now--nothing matters but--'

After a minute he resumed, in a rather stronger voice--'Tell me
about the woods--and the ash trees. I did laugh over that--old Hull
telling you there were none--and you--Why, I could have shown him
scores.'

She told him all the story of the woods, holding his hot hand in her
cool ones, damping his brow with the eau-de-cologne the nurses gave
her, and smiling at him. Her voice soothed him. It was so clear and
yet soft, like a song,--not a song of romance or passion, but like
the cheerful crooning songs that mothers sing. And her face reminded
him even more of his mother than Pamela's. She was not the least
like his mother, but there was something in her expression that
first youth cannot have--something comforting, profound, sustaining.

He wanted her always to sit there. But his mind wandered from what
she was saying after a little, and returned to his father.

'Is father there?' he asked, trying to turn his head, and failing.

'Not yet.'

'Poor father! Elizabeth!' he spoke the name with a boyish shyness.

'Yes!' She stooped over him.

'You won't go away?'

Elizabeth hesitated a moment, and he looked distressed.

'From Mannering, I mean. Do stay, Broomie!'--the name slipped out,
and in his weakness he did not notice it--'Pamela knows--that she
was horrid!'

'Dear Desmond, I will do everything I can for Pamela.'

'And for father?'

'Yes, indeed--I will be all the help I can,' repeated Elizabeth.

Desmond relapsed into silence and apparent sleep. But Elizabeth's
heart smote her. She felt she had not satisfied him.

       *       *       *       *       *

But before long by the mere natural force of her personality, she
seemed to be the leading spirit in the sick-room. Only she could
lead or influence the Squire, whose state of sullen despair
terrified the household. The nurses and doctors depended on her for
all those lesser aids that intelligence and love can bring to
hospital service. The servants of the house would have worked all
night and all day for her and Mr. Desmond. Yet all this was scarcely
seen--it was only felt--'a life, a presence like the air.' Most of
us have known the same experience--how, when human beings come to
the testing, the values of a house change, and how men and women,
who have been in it as those who serve, become naturally and
noiselessly its rulers, and those who once ruled, their dependents.
It was so at Mannering. A tender, unconscious sovereignty
established itself; and both the weak and the strong grouped
themselves round it.

Especially did Elizabeth seem to understand the tragic fact that as
death drew nearer the boy struggled more painfully to live, that he
might know what was happening on the battlefield. He would have the
telegrams read to him night and morning. And he would lie brooding
over them for long afterwards. The Rector came to see him, and
Desmond accepted gratefully his readings and his prayers. But they
were scarcely done before he would turn to Elizabeth, and his eager
feverish look would send her to the telephone to ask Arthur
Chicksands at the War Office if Haig's mid-day telegram was in--or
any fresh news.

On the 20th of March, Chicksands, who had been obliged to go back to
his work, came down again for the night. Desmond lay waiting for
him, and Arthur saw at once that death was much nearer. But the boy
had himself insisted on strychnine and morphia before the visit, and
talked a great deal.

The military news, however, that Chicksands brought him disappointed
him greatly.

'Not _yet_?'--he said miserably--'_not yet_?'--breathing his life
into the words, when Chicksands read him a letter from a staff
officer in the Intelligence Department describing the enormous
German preparations for the offensive, but expressing the view--'It
may be some days more before they risk it!'

'I shall be gone before they begin!' he said, and lay sombre and
frowning on his pillows, till Chicksands had beguiled him by some
letters from men in Desmond's own division which he had taken
special trouble to collect for him.

And when the boy's mood and look were calmer, Arthur bent over him
and gave him, with a voice that must shake, the news of his Military
Cross--for 'brilliant leadership and conspicuous courage' in the
bit of 'observation work' that had cost him his life.

Desmond listened with utter incredulity and astonishment.

'It's not me!'--he protested faintly--'it's a mistake!'

Chicksands produced the General's letter--the Cross itself. Desmond
looked at it with unwilling eyes.

'I call it silly--perfectly silly! Why, there were fellows that
deserved it ten times more than I did!'

And he asked that it should be put away, and did not speak of it
again.

In all his talk with him that night, the elder officer was
tragically struck by the boy's growth in intelligence. Just as death
was claiming it, the young mind had broadened and deepened--had
become the mind of a man. And in the vigil which he kept during part
of that night with Martin, the able young surgeon who had brought
Desmond home, and was spending his own hard-earned leave in easing
the boy's death, Chicksands found that Martin's impression was the
same as his own.

'It's wonderful how he's grown and _thought_ since he's been out
there. But do we ever consider--do we ever realize--enough!--what a
marvellous thing it is that young men--boys--like Desmond--should be
able to live, day after day, face to face with death--consciously
and voluntarily--and get quite used to it? Which of us before
the war had ever been in real physical danger--danger of
violent death?--and that not for a few minutes--but for days,
hours, weeks? It seems to make men over again--to create a
new type--by the hundred thousand. And to some men it is an
extraordinary intoxication--this conscious and deliberate
acceptance--defiance!--of death--for a cause--for their country. It
sets them free from themselves. It matures them, all in a moment--as
though the bud and the flower came together. Oh, of course, there
are those it brutalizes--and there are those it stuns. But Desmond
was one of the chosen.'

The night passed. The Squire came in after midnight, and took his
place by the bed.

Desmond was then restless and suffering, and the nurse in charge
whispered to the Squire that the pulse was growing weaker. But the
boy opened his eyes on his father, and tried to smile. The Squire
sat bowed and bent beside him, and nurses and doctors withdrew from
them a little--out of sight and hearing.

'Desmond!' said the Squire in a low voice.

'Yes.'

'Is there anything I could do--to please you?' It was a humble and a
piteous prayer. Desmond's eyes travelled over his father's face.

'Only--love me!' he said, with difficulty. The Squire grew very
white. Kneeling down he kissed his son--for the first time since
Desmond was a child.

Desmond's beautiful mouth smiled a little.

'Thank you,' he said, so feebly that it could scarcely be heard.
When the light began to come in he moved impatiently, asking for the
newspapers. Elizabeth told him that old Perley had gone to meet them
at the morning train at Fallerton, and would be out with them at the
earliest possible moment.

But when they came the boy turned almost angrily from them. 'The
Shipping Problem--Attacks on British Ports--Raids on the French
Front--Bombardment of German Towns--Curfew Regulations'--Pamela's
faltering voice read out the headings.

'Oh, what rot!' he said wearily--'what rot!'

After that his strength ebbed visibly through the morning.

Chicksands, who must return to town in the afternoon, sat with him,
Pamela and Elizabeth opposite--Alice and Margaret not far away. The
two doctors watched their patient, and Martin whispered to Aubrey
Mannering, who had come down by a night train, that the struggle for
life could not last much longer.

Presently about one o'clock, Aubrey, who had been called out of the
room, came back and whispered something to Chicksands, who at once
went away. Elizabeth, looking up, saw agitation and expectancy in
the Major's look. But he said nothing.

In a few minutes Chicksands reappeared. He went straight to Desmond,
and knelt down by him.

'Desmond!' he said in a clear voice, 'the offensive's begun. The
Chief in my room at the War Office has just been telephoning me. It
began at eight this morning--on a front of fifty miles. Can you hear
me?' The boy opened his eyes--straining them on Arthur.

'It's begun!' he said eagerly--'begun! What have they done?'

'The bombardment opened at dawn--about five--the German infantry
attacked about eight. It's been going on the whole morning--and down
the whole front from Arras to the Scarpe.'

'And we've held?--we've _held_?'

'So far magnificently. Our outpost troops have been withdrawn to the
battle-zone--that's all. The line has held everywhere. The Germans
have lost heavily.'

'Outpost troops!' whispered the boy--'why, that's nothing! We always
expected--to lose the first line. Good old Army!'

A pause, and then--so faintly breathed as to be scarcely audible,
and yet in ecstasy--'England!--England!'

His joy was wonderful--heart-breaking--while all those around him
wept.

He lay murmuring to himself a little while, his hand in Pamela's.
Then for a last time he looked at his father, but was now too weak
to speak. His eyes, intently fixed on the Squire, kept their
marvellous brightness--no one knew how long. Then gently, as though
an unseen hand put out a light, the brilliance died away--the lids
fell--and with a few breaths Desmond's young life was past.



CHAPTER XVII


It was three weeks after Desmond's death. Pamela was sitting in the
'den' writing a letter to Arthur Chicksands at Versailles. The first
onslaught on Amiens was over. The struggle between Bethune and Ypres
was in full swing.

     'DEAREST--This house is so strange--the world is so strange!
     Oh, if I hadn't my work to do!--how could one bear it? It seems
     wrong and hateful even, to let one's mind dwell on the
     wonderful, wonderful thing, that you love me! The British Army
     retreating--_retreating_--after these glorious years--that is
     what burns into me hour after hour! Thank God Desmond didn't
     know! And if I feel like this, who am just an ignorant,
     inexperienced girl, what must it be for you who are working
     there, at the very centre, the news streaming in on you all the
     time?--you who know how much there is to fear--but also how
     much there is to be certain of--to be confident of--that we
     can't know. Our splendid, _splendid_ men! Every day I watch for
     the names I know in the death list--and some of them seem to be
     always there. The boy--the other sub-lieutenant--who was with
     Desmond when he was wounded, was in the list yesterday.
     Forest's boy is badly wounded. The old gardener has lost
     another son. Perley's boy is "missing," and so is the poor
     Pennington boy. They are heroic--the Penningtons--but whenever
     I see them I want to cry.... Oh, I can't write this any more.
     I have been writing letters of sympathy all day.

     'Dearest, you would be astonished if you could see me at this
     moment. I am to-day a full blown group leader. Do you know what
     that means? I have had a long round among some of our farms
     to-day--bargaining with the farmers for the land-girls in my
     group, and looking after their billets. Yesterday I spent half
     the day in "docking" with six or eight village women to give
     them a "send off." I don't believe you know what docking means.
     It is pretty hard work, and at night I have a nightmare--of
     roots that never come to an end, and won't pull out!

     'You were quite right--it _is_ my work. I was born in the
     country. I know and love it. The farmers are very nice to
     me. They see I don't try to boss them as the Squire's
     daughter--that I'm just working as they are. And I can say a
     good deal to them about the war, because of Desmond. They all
     knew him and loved him. Some of them tell me stories about his
     pluck out hunting as a little chap, and though he had been such
     a short time out in France he had written to two or three of
     them about their sons in the Brookshires. He had a heavenly
     disposition--oh, I wish I had!

     'At the present moment I am in knee-breeches, gaiters, and
     tunic, and I have just come in. Six o'clock to five, please
     sir, with half-an-hour for breakfast and an hour for dinner (I
     eat it out of a red handkerchief under a hedge). It was wet and
     nasty, and I am pretty tired. But one does not want to
     stop--because when one stops one begins to think. And my
     thoughts, except for that shining centre where you are, are so
     dark and full of sorrow. I miss Desmond every hour, and some
     great monstrous demon seems to be clutching at me--at you--at
     England--everything one loves and would die for--all day long.
     But don't imagine that I ever _doubt_ for one moment. Not
     I--

          For right is right, since God is God,
          And right the day must win;
          To doubt would be disloyalty,
          To falter would be sin.

     I know that's not good poetry. But I just love it--because it's
     plain and commonplace, and expresses just what ordinary people
     feel and think.

     'Oh, why was I such a fool about Elizabeth! Now that you are at
     a safe distance--and of course on the understanding that you
     never, never say a word to me about it--I positively will and
     must confess that I was jealous of her about you--yes, about
     you, Arthur--because you talked to her about Greek--and about
     ash for aeroplanes--and I couldn't talk about them. There's a
     nice nature for you! Hadn't you better get rid of me while you
     can? But the thing that torments me is that I can never have it
     quite out with Desmond. I told him lies, simply. I didn't know
     they were lies, I suppose; but I was too angry and too unjust
     to care whether they were or not. On the journey from France I
     said a few little words to him--just enough, thank Heaven! He
     was so sweet to her in those last days--and she to him. You
     know one side of her _is_ the managing woman--and the other
     (I've only found it out since Desmond's death)--well, she seems
     to be just asking you to creep under her wings and be mothered!
     She mothered him, and she has mothered me since he shut his
     dear eyes for ever. Oh, why won't she mother us all--for good
     and all!--father first and foremost.

     'I told you something about him last time I wrote, but there is
     a great deal more to tell. The horrible thing is that he seems
     not to care any more for any of his old hobbies. He sits there
     in the library day after day, or walks about it for hours and
     hours, without ever opening a book or looking at a thing. Or
     else he walks about the woods--sometimes quite late at night.
     Forest believes he sleeps very little. I told you he never came
     to Desmond's funeral. All business he hands over to Elizabeth,
     and what she asks him he generally does. But we all have vague,
     black fears about him. I know Elizabeth has. Yet she is quite
     clear she can't stay here much longer. Dear Arthur, I don't
     know exactly what happened, but I _think_ father asked her to
     marry him, and she said no. And I am tolerably sure that I
     counted for a good deal in it--horrid wretch that I am!--that
     she thought it would make me unhappy.

     'Well, I am properly punished. For if or when she goes
     away--and you and I are married--if there is to be any marrying
     any more in this awful world!--what will become of my father?
     He has been a terrifying mystery to me all my life. Now it is
     not that any longer. I know at least that he worshipped
     Desmond. But I know also that I mean nothing to him. I don't
     honestly think it was much my fault--and it can't be helped.
     And nobody else in the family matters. The only person who does
     matter is Elizabeth. And I quite see that she can't stay here
     indefinitely. She told me she promised Desmond she would stay
     as long as she could. Just at present, of course, she is the
     mainspring of everything on the estate. And they have actually
     made her this last week Vice-Chairman of the County War
     Agricultural Committee. She refused, but they _made_ her. Think
     of that--a woman--with all those wise men! She asked father's
     leave. He just looked at her, and I saw the tears come into her
     eyes.

     'As to Beryl and Aubrey, he was here last Sunday, and she spent
     the day with us. He seems to lean upon her in a new way--and
     she looks different somehow--happier, I think. He told me, the
     day after Desmond died, that Dezzy had said something to him
     that had given him courage--"courage to go on," I think he
     said. I didn't ask him what he meant, and he didn't tell me.
     But I am sure he has told Beryl, and either that--or something
     else--has made her more confident in herself--and about him.
     They are to be married quite soon. Last week father sent him,
     without a word, a copy of his will. Aubrey says it is very
     fair. Mannering goes to him, of course. You know that Elizabeth
     refused to witness the codicil father wrote last October
     disinheriting Aubrey, when he was so mad with Sir Henry? It was
     the first thing that made father take real notice of her. She
     had only been six weeks here!

     'Good-night, my dearest, dearest Arthur! Don't be too much
     disappointed in me. I shall grow up some day.'

A few days later the Squire came back from Fallerton to find nobody
in the house, apparently, but himself. He went through the empty
hall and the library, and shut himself up there. He carried an
evening paper crumpled in his hand. It contained a detailed report
of the breaking of the Portuguese centre near Richebourg St. Vaast
on April 10, and the consequent retreat, over some seven miles,
since that day of the British line, together with the more recent
news of the capture of Armentières and Merville. Sitting down at his
own table he read the telegrams again, and then in the stop-press
Sir Douglas Haig's Order of the Day--

'_There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every
position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement.
With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our
cause, each one of us must fight to the end. The safety of our homes
and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon the conduct of each one
of us at this critical moment._'

The Squire read and re-read the words. He was sitting close to the
tall French window where through some fine spring days Desmond had
lain, his half-veiled eyes wandering over the woods and green spaces
which had been his childhood's companions. There--submissive for
himself, but, for England's sake, and so that his mind might receive
as long as possible the impress of her fate, an ardent wrestler with
Death through each disputed hour--he had waited; and there, with the
word _England_ on his lips, he had died. The Squire could still see
the marks made on the polished floor by the rolling backward of the
bed at night. And on the wall near there was a brown mark on the
wall-paper. He remembered that it had been made by a splash from a
bowl of disinfectant, and that he had stared at it one morning in a
dumb torment which seemed endless, because Desmond had woke in pain
and the morphia was slow to act.

_England_! His boy was dead--and his country had its back to the
wall. And he--what had he done for England, all these years of her
struggle? His carelessness, his indifference returned upon him--his
mad and selfish refusal, day by day, to give his mind, or his body,
or his goods, to the motherland that bore him.

'_Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?_'

No--it had been nothing to him. But Desmond, his boy, had given
everything. And the death-struggle was still going on. '_Each one of
us must fight on to the end._' Before his eyes there passed the
spectacle of the Army, as he had actually seen it--a division, for
instance, on the march near the Salient, rank after rank of young
faces, the brown cheeks and smiling eyes, the swing of the lithe
bodies. And while he sat there in the quiet of the April evening,
thousands of boys like Desmond were offering those same lithe bodies
to the Kaiser's guns without murmur or revolt because England asked
it. Now he knew what it meant--_now he knew_!

There was a knock at the door, and the sound of something heavy
descending. The Squire gave a dull 'Come in.' Forest entered,
dragging a large bale behind him. He looked nervously at his master.

'These things have just come from France, sir.'

The Squire started. He walked over in silence to look while Forest
opened the case. Desmond's kit, his clothes, his few books, a
stained uniform, a writing-case, with a number of other
miscellaneous things.

Forest spread them out on the floor, his lips trembling. On several
nights before the end Desmond had asked for him, and he had shared
the Squire's watch.

'That'll do,' said the Squire presently; 'I'll look over them
myself!'

Forest went away. After shutting the door he saw Elizabeth coming
along the library passage, and stopped to speak to her.

'The things have just come from France, Miss,' he said in a low
voice.

Elizabeth hesitated, and was turning back, when the library door
opened and the Squire called her.

'Yes, Mr. Mannering.'

'Will you come here, please, a moment?'

She entered the room, and the Squire closed the door behind her,
pointing mutely to the things on the floor.

The tears sprang to her eyes. She knelt down to look at them.

'Do you remember anything about this?' he said, holding out a little
book. It was the pocket Anthology she had found for Desmond on the
day of his going into camp. As she looked through it she saw a
turned-down leaf, and seemed still to hear the boy's voice, as he
hung over her shoulder translating the epigram--

'_Shame on you, mountains and seas!_'

With a swelling throat she told the story. The Squire listened, and
when afterwards she offered the book to him again, he put it back
into her hand, with some muttered words which she interpreted as
bidding her keep it.

She put it away in the drawer of her writing-table, which had been
brought back to its old place only that morning. The Squire himself
went to his own desk.

'Will you sit there?' He pointed to her chair. 'I want to speak to
you.'

Then after a pause he added slowly, 'Will you tell me--what you
think I can now do with my time?'

His voice had a curious monotony--unlike its usual tone. But
Elizabeth divined a coming crisis. She went very white.

'Dear Mr. Mannering--I don't know what to say--except that the
country seems to want everything that each one of us can do.'

'Have you read Haig's Order of the Day?'

'Yes, I have just read it.'

The Squire's eyes, fixed upon her, had a strange intensity.

'You and I have never known--never dreamt--of anything like this.'

'No--never. But England has had her back to the wall before!'

She sat proudly erect, her hands quietly crossed. But he seemed to
hear the beating of her heart.

'You mean when Pitt said, "Roll up the map of Europe"? Yes--that too
was vital. But the people at home scarcely knew it--and it was not a
war of machines.'

'No matter! England will never yield.'

'Till Germany is on her knees?' His long bony face, more lined, more
emaciated than ever, seemed to catch a sombre glow from hers.

'Yes--though it last ten years! But the Americans are hurrying.'

'Are all women like you?'

Her mouth trembled into scorn.

'Oh, think of the women whose shoe-strings I am not worthy to
unloose!--the nurses, the French peasant-women, the women who have
given their husbands--their sons.'

His look showed his agitation.

'So we are to be saved--by boys like Desmond--and women like you?'

'Oh, I am a cypher--a nothing!' There was a passionate humiliation
in her voice. 'I should be nursing in France--'

'If it weren't for your mother and your sister?'

She nodded. There was a pause. Then the Squire said, in a different
tone,

'But you have not answered my question. I should be obliged if you
would answer it. How am I, being I--how is a man of my kind to fill
his time--and live his life? If the country is in deadly peril--if
the ground is shaking beneath our feet--if we are to go on fighting
for years, with "our backs to the wall," even I can't go on
cataloguing Greek vases. I acknowledge that now. So much I grant
you. But what else am I good for?'

The colour flushed in her fair skin, and her eyes filled again with
tears.

'Come and help!' she said simply. 'There is so much to do. And for
you--a large landowner--there is everything to do.'

His face darkened.

'Yes, if I had the courage for it. But morally I am a weakling--you
know it. Do you remember that I once said to you if Desmond fell, I
should go with him--or after him?'

She waited a moment before replying, and then said with energy,
'That would be just desertion!--_he_ would tell you so.'

Their eyes met, and the passion in hers subdued him. It was a
strange dialogue, as though between two souls bared and stripped of
everything but the realities of feeling.

'Would it be? That might be argued. But anyway I should have done
it--the very night Desmond died--but for you!'

'For me?' she said, shading her eyes with a hand that trembled. 'No,
Mr. Mannering, you could not have done such a thing!--for your
honour's sake--for your children's sake.'

'Neither would have restrained me. I was held to life by one
thread--one hope only--'

She was silent.

'--the hope that if I was to put my whole life to school again--to
burn what I had adored, and adore what I had burned--the one human
being in the world who could teach me such a lesson--who had begun
to teach it me--would stand by me--would put her hand in mine--and
lead me.'

His voice broke down. Elizabeth, shaken from head to foot, could
only hide her face and wait. Even the strength to protest--'Not
now!--not yet!' seemed to have gone from her. He went on vehemently:

'Oh, don't imagine that I am making you an ordinary proposal--or
that I am going to repeat to you the things I said to you--like a
fool--in Cross Wood. Then I offered you a bargain--and I see now
that you despised me as a huckster! You were to help my hobby; I was
to help yours. That was all I could find to say. I didn't know how
to tell you that all the happiness of my life depended on your
staying at Mannering. I was unwilling to acknowledge it even to
myself. I have been accustomed to put sentiment aside--to try and
ignore it. To _feel_ as I did was itself so strange a thing to me,
that I struggled to express it as prosaically as possible. Well,
then, you were astonished--and repelled. That I saw--I realized it
indeed more and more. I saw that I had perhaps done a fatal thing,
and I spent much time brooding and thinking. I felt an acute
distress, such as I had never felt in my life before--so much so
that I began even to avoid you, because I used to say to
myself--"She will go away some day--perhaps soon--and I must
accustom myself to it." And yet--'

He lifted the hand that shaded his eyes, and gave her a long
touching look.

'Yet I felt sometimes that you knew what was happening in me--and
were sorry for me. Then came the news of Desmond. Of those days
while he lay here--of the days since--I seem to know now hardly
anything in detail. One of the officers at the front said to me that
on the Somme he often lost all count of time, of the days of the
week, of the sequence of things. It seemed to be all one
present--one awful and torturing _now_. So it is with me. Desmond is
always here'--he pointed to the vacant space by the window--'and you
are always sitting by him. And I know that if you go away--and I am
left alone with my poor boy--though I shall never cease to hear the
things he said to me--the things he asked me to do--I shall have no
strength to do them. I cannot rise and walk--unless you help me.'

Elizabeth could hardly speak. She was in presence of that tremendous
thing in human experience--the emergence of a man's inmost self.
That the Squire could speak so--could feel so--that the man whose
pupil and bond-slave she had been in those early weeks should be
making this piteous claim upon her, throwing upon her the weight of
his whole future life, of his sorrow, of his reaction against
himself, overwhelmed her. It appealed to that instinctive, that
boundless tenderness which lies so deep in the true woman.

But her will seemed paralysed. She did not know how to act--she
could find no words that pleased her. The Squire saw it, and began
to speak again in the same low measured voice, as though he groped
his way along, from point to point. He sat with his eyes on the
floor, his hands loosely clasped before him.

'I don't, of course, dare to ask you to say--at once--if you will be
my wife. I dread to ask it--for I am tolerably certain that you
would still say no. But if only now you would say, "I will go on
with my work here--I will help a man who is weak where I am
strong--I will show him new points of view--give him new reasons for
living--"'

Elizabeth could only just check the sobs in her throat. The sad
humility of the words pierced her heart.

The Squire raised himself a little, and spoke more firmly.

'Why should there be any change yet awhile? Only stay with us. Use
my land--use me and all I possess--for the country--for what Desmond
would have helped in--and done. Show me what to do. I shall do it
ill. But what matter? Every little helps. "We have our backs to the
wall." I have the power to give _you_ power. Teach me.'

Then reaching out, he took her hand in his. His voice deepened and
strengthened.

'Elizabeth!--be my friend--my children's friend. Bring your poor
mother here--and your sister--till Pamela goes. Then tell me--what
you decide. You shall give me no pledge--no promise. You shall be
absolutely free. But together let us do a bit of work, a bit of
service.'

She looked up. The emotion, the sweetness in her face dazzled him.

'Yes,' she said gravely--'I will stay.'

He drew a long breath, and stooping over the hands she had given
him, he kissed them.

Then he released her and, rising, walked away. The portrait of
Desmond had been brought back, but it stood with its face to the
wall. He went to it and turned it. It shone out into the room, under
the westering sun. He looked at it a little--while Elizabeth with
trembling fingers began to re-arrange her table in the old way.

Then he returned to her, speaking in the dry, slightly peremptory
voice she knew well.

'I hear the new buildings at the Holme Hill Farm are nearly ready.
Come and look at them to-morrow. And there are some woods over there
that would be worth examining. The Air Board is still clamouring for
more ash.'

Elizabeth agreed. Her smile was a gleam through the mist.

'And, on the way back, Pamela and I must go and talk to the
village--about pigs and potatoes!'

'Do you really know anything about either?' he asked, incredulously.

'Come and hear us!'

There was silence. The Squire threw the window open to the April
sunset. The low light was shining through the woods, and on the
reddening tops of the beeches. There was a sparkle of leaf here and
there, and already a 'livelier emerald' showed in the grass.
Suddenly a low booming sound--repeated--and repeated.

'Guns?' said the Squire, listening.

Elizabeth reminded him of the new artillery camp beyond Fallerton.

But the sounds had transformed the April evening. The woods, the
grass, the wood-pigeons in the park had disappeared. The thoughts of
both the on-lookers had gone across the sea to that hell of smoke
and fire, in which their race--in which England!--stood at bay. A
few days--or weeks--or months, would decide.

The vastness of the issue, as it came flooding in upon the soul of
Elizabeth, seemed to strain her very life--to make suspense
unbearable.

An anguish seized her, and unconsciously her lips framed the
passionate words of an older patriotism--

'Oh! pray--_pray for the peace of Jerusalem! They shall prosper that
love thee!_'





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Elizabeth's Campaign" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home