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Title: Harvest
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 "Harvest" ***

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



HARVEST

by

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

Author of _Robert Elsmere_, _Lady Rose's Daughter_, _Missing_,
_Helena_, etc.

1920



I


Two old labourers came out of the lane leading to Great End Farm. Both
carried bags slung on sticks over their shoulders. One, the eldest and
tallest, was a handsome fellow, with regular features and a delicately
humorous mouth. His stoop and his slouching gait, the gray locks also,
which straggled from under his broad hat, showed him an old man--probably
very near his old-age pension. But he carried still with him a look
of youth, and he had been a splendid creature in his time. The other
was short of stature and of neck, bent besides by field work. A
broadly-built, clumsy man, with something gnome-like about him, and the
cheerful look of one whose country nerves had never known the touch of
worry or long sickness. The name of the taller man was Peter Halsey, and
Joseph Batts was his companion.

It was a fine July evening, with a cold north wind blowing from the plain
which lay stretched to their right. Under the unclouded sun, which by its
own "sun-time" had only reached half-past four in the afternoon, though
the clock in the village church had already struck half-past five, the
air was dry and parching, and the fields all round, the road itself, and
the dusty hedges showed signs of long drought.

"It du want rain," said Peter Halsey, looking at a crop of oats through
an open gate, "it du want rain--_bad_."

"Aye!" said the other, "that it du. Muster Shenstone had better 'a read
the prayer for rain lasst Sunday, I'm thinkin', than all them long ones
as ee _did_ read."

Halsey was silent a moment, his half-smiling eyes glancing from side to
side. At last he said slowly,--

"We du be prayin' a lot about ower sins, and Muster Shenstone is allus
preachin' about 'em. But it's the sins o' the _Garmins_ I be thinkin' of.
If it hadn't a bin for the sins o' the Garmins my Tom wouldn't ha' lost
'is right hand."

"An' ower Jim wouldn't be goin' into them trenches next November as ever
is," put in Batts. "It's the sins o' the Garmins as ha' done _that_, an'
nothin' as you or I ha' done, Peter."

Halsey shook his head assentingly.

"Noa--for all that pratin', pacifist chap was sayin' lasst week. I
didn't believe a word ee said. 'Yis,' I says, 'if you want this war to
stop, I'm o' your mind,' I says, 'but when you tells me as _England_
done it--you'm--'"

The short man burst into a cackling laugh.

"'You'm a liar!' Did you say that, Peter?"

Peter fenced a little.

"There be more ways nor one o' speakin' your mind," he said at last. "But
I stood up to un. Did you hear, Batts, as Great End Farm is let?"

The old man turned an animated look on his companion.

"Well, for sure!" said Batts, astonished. "An' who's the man?"

"It's not a man. It's a woman."

"A woman!" repeated Batts, wondering. "Well, these be funny times to live
in, when the women go ridin' astride an' hay-balin', an' steam-ploughin',
an' the Lord knows what. And now they must be takin' the farms, and
turnin' out the men. Well, for sure."

A mild and puzzled laughter crossed the speaker's face.

Halsey nodded.

"An' now they've got the vote. That's the top on't! My old missis, she
talks poltiks now to me of a night. I don't mind her, now the childer be
all gone. But I'd ha' bid her mind her own business when they was yoong
an' wanted seein' to."

"Now, what can a woman knoa about poltiks?" said Batts, still in the same
tone of pleasant rumination. "It isn't in natur. _We_ warn't given the
producin' o' the babies--we'd ha' cried out if we 'ad been!"

A chuckle passed from one old man to the other.

"Well, onyways the women is all in a flutter about the votin'," said
Halsey, lighting his pipe with old hands that shook. "An' there's chaps
already coomin' round lookin' out for it."

"You bet there is!" was Batts's amused reply. "But they'll take their
toime, will the women. 'Don't you try to hustle-bustle me like you're
doin',' say my missus sharp-like to a Labour chap as coom round lasst
week, 'cos yo' won't get nothin' by it.' And she worn't no more
forthcomin' to the Conservative man when ee called."

"Will she do what _you_ tell her, Batts?" asked Halsey, with an evident
interest in the question.

"Oh, Lord, no!" said Batts placidly, "shan't try. But now about this
yoong woman an' Great End?--"

"Well, I ain't heared much about her--not yet awhile. But they say as
she's nice-lookin', an' Muster Shentsone ee said as she'd been to college
somewhere, where they'd larn't her farmin'."

Batts made a sound of contempt.

"College!" he said, with a twitching of the broad nostrils which seemed
to spread over half his face. "_They_ can't larn yer farmin'!"

"She's been on a farm too somewhere near Brighton, Muster Shenstone says,
since she was at college; and ee told me she do seem to be terr'ble
full o' new notions."

"She'd better be full o' money," said the other, cuttingly. "Notions is
no good without money to 'em."

"Aye, they're wunnerfull costly things is notions. Yo'd better by a long
way go by the folk as know. But they do say she'll be payin' good wages."

"I dessay she will! She'll be obleeged. It's Hobson's choice, as you
might say!" said Batts, chuckling again.

Halsey was silent, and the two old men trudged on with cheerful
countenances. Through the minds of both there ran pleasant thoughts
of the contrast between the days before the war and the days now
prevailing. Both of them could remember a wage of fifteen and sixteen
shillings a week. Then just before the war, it had risen to eighteen
shillings and a pound. And now--why the Wages Board for Brookshire had
fixed thirty-three shillings as a weekly minimum, and a nine-hours' day!
Prices were high, but they would go down some day; and wages would not go
down. The old men could not have told exactly why this confidence lay so
deep in them; but there it was, and it seemed to give a strange new
stability and even dignity to life. Their sons were fighting; and they
had the normal human affection for their sons. They wished the war to
end. But, after all, there was something to be said for the war.
They--old Peter Halsey and old Joe Batts--were more considered and more
comfortable than they would have been before the war. And it was the
consideration more even than the comfort that warmed their hearts.

The evening grew hotter, and the way to the village seemed long. The old
men were now too tired to talk; till just as they came in sight of the
first houses, they perceived the village wagonette coming towards them.

"There she be! I did hear as Webb wor to meet her at the station. He's
took her over once before," said old Halsey, raising his eyes for a
moment and then dropping them again. Batts did the same. The glance was
momentary. But both men had the same impression of a pleasant-faced young
woman sitting erect behind Jonathan Webb, the decrepit driver of the
wagonette, and looking straight at them as they passed her. There was a
general effect of youth and bright colour; of pale brown hair, too,
over very dark eyes.

"Aye, she be quite nice-lookin'," said Batts, with unction, "rayther
uncommon. She minds me summat o' my missis when she wor a young 'un."
Halsey's mouth twitched a little, but though his thoughts were ironical,
he said nothing. It was generally admitted by the older people that Mrs.
Batts had been through many years the village beauty, but her fall from
that high place was now of such ancient date that it seemed foolish of
Batts to be so fond of referring to it.

The wagonette passed on. The woman sitting in it carefully took note of
the scene around her, in a mood of mingled hope and curiosity. She was to
live in this valley without a stream, under these high chalk downs with
their hanging woods, and within a mile or so of the straggling village
she had just driven through. At last, after much wandering, she was to
find a home--a real home of her own. The word "home" had not meant
much--or much at least that was agreeable--to her, till now. Her large
but handsome mouth took a bitter fold as she thought over various past
events.

Now they had left the village behind, and were passing through fields
that were soon to be her fields. Her keen eyes appraised the crops
standing in them. She had paid the family of her predecessor a good
price for them, but they were worth it. And just ahead, on her left, was
a wide stretch of newly-ploughed land rising towards a bluff of grassy
down-land on the horizon. The ploughed land itself had been down up to a
few months before this date; thin pasture for a few sheep, through many
generations. She thought with eagerness of the crops she was going to
make it bear, in the coming year. Wheat, or course. The wheat crops all
round the village were really magnificent. This was going to be the
resurrection year for English farming, after fifty years of "death and
damnation"--comparatively. And there would be many good years to come
after.

Yes, Mr. Thomas Wellin, whose death had thrown the farm which she had now
taken on the market, had done well for the land. And it was not his fault
but the landlord's that the farmhouse and buildings had been allowed to
fall into such a state. Mr. Wellin had not wanted the house, since he was
only working the land temporarily in addition to his own farm half a mile
away. But the owner, Colonel Shepherd, ought to have looked after the
farmhouse and buildings better. Still, they were making her a fair
allowance for repairs.

She was longing to know how the workmen from Millsboro had been getting
on. Hastings, the Wellins' former bailiff, now temporarily hers, had
promised to stay behind that evening to meet her at the farm. She only
meant to insist on what was absolutely necessary. Even if she had wished
for anything more, the lack of labour would have prevented it.

The old horse jogged on, and presently from a row of limes beside the
road, a wave of fragrance, evanescent and delicious, passed over the
carriage. Miss Henderson sniffed it with delight. "But one has never
_enough_ of it!" she thought discontentedly. And then she remembered how
as a child--in far-away Sussex--she used to press her face into the
lime-blossom in her uncle's garden--passionately, greedily, trying to get
from it a greater pleasure than it would ever yield. For the more she
tried to compel it, by a kind of violence, the more it escaped her. She
used to envy the bees lying drunk among the blooms. They at least were
surfeited and satisfied.

It struck her that there was a kind of parable in it of her whole
life--so far.

But now there was a new world opening. The past was behind her. She drew
herself stiffly erect, conscious through every limb of youth and
strength, and filled with a multitude of vague hopes. Conscious, too, of
the three thousand pounds that Uncle Robert had so opportunely left her.
She had never realized that money could make so much difference; and she
thought gratefully of the elderly bachelor, her mother's brother, who had
unexpectedly remembered her. It had enabled her to get her year's
training, and to take this farm with a proper margin of capital. She
wished she had been able to tell Uncle Robert before he died what it
meant to her.

They passed one or two pairs of labourers going home, then a group of
girls in overalls, then a spring cart containing four workmen behind a
ragged pony, no doubt the builder's men who had been at work on the Great
End repairs. They all looked at her curiously, and Rachel Henderson
looked back at them--steadily, without shyness. They were evidently aware
of who she was and where she was going. Some of them perhaps would soon
be in her employ. She would be settling all that in a week or two.

Ah, there was the house. She leant forward and saw it lying under the
hill, the woods on the slope coming down to the back of it. Yes, it was
certainly a lonely situation. That was why the house, the farm lands,
too, had been so long unlet, till old Wellin, the farm's nearest
neighbour, having made a good deal of money, had rented the land from
Colonel Shepherd, to add to his own. The farm buildings, too, he had made
some use of, keeping carts and machines, and certain stores there. But
the house he had refused to have any concern with. It had remained empty
and locked up for a good many years.

The wagonette turned into the rough road leading through the middle of a
fine field of oats to the house. The field was gaily splashed with
poppies, which ran, too, along the edges of the crop, swayed by the
evening breeze, and flaming in the level sun. Though lonesome and
neglected, the farm in July was a pleasant and picturesque object. It
stood high and the air about it blew keen and fresh. The chalk hill
curved picturesquely round it, and the friendly woods ran down behind to
keep it company. Rachel Henderson, in pursuit of that campaign she was
always now waging against a natural optimism, tried to make herself
imagine it in winter--the leafless trees, the solitary road, the treeless
pasture or arable fields, that stretched westward in front of the farm,
covered perhaps with snow; and the distant stretches of the plain. There
was not another house, not even a cottage, anywhere in sight. The
village had disappeared. She herself, in the old wagonette, seemed the
only living thing.

No, there was a man emerging from the farm-gate, and coming to meet
her--the bailiff, George Hastings. She had only seen him once before, on
her first hurried visit, when, after getting a rough estimate from him of
the repairs necessary to the house and buildings, she had made up her
mind to take the farm, if the landlord would agree to do them.

"Yon's Muster Hastings," said Jonathan Webb, turning on her a benevolent
and wrinkled countenance, with two bright red spots in the midst of each
weather-beaten cheek. Miss Henderson again noticed the observant
curiosity in the old man's eyes. Everybody, indeed, seemed to look at her
with the same expression. As a woman farmer she was no doubt just a
freak, a sport, in the eyes of the village. Well, she prophesied they
would take her seriously before long.

"I'm afraid I haven't as much to show you, miss, as I'd like," said
Hastings, as he helped her to alight. "It's cruel work nowadays trying to
do anything of this kind. Two of the men that began work last week have
been called up, and there's another been just 'ticed away from me this
week. The wages that some people about will give are just mad!" He threw
up his hands. "Colonel Shepherd says he can't compete."

Miss Henderson replied civilly but decidedly that somehow or other the
work would have to be done. If Colonel Shepherd couldn't find the wages,
she must pay the difference. Get in some time, during August, she must.

The bailiff looked at her with a little sluggish surprise. He was not
used to being hustled, still less to persons who were ready to pay rather
than be kept waiting. He murmured that he dared say it would be all
right, and she must come and look.

They turned to the right up a stony pitch, through a dilapidated gate,
and so into the quadrangle of the farm. To the left was a long row of
open cow-sheds, then cow-houses and barns, the stables, a large shed in
which stood an old and broken farm cart, and finally the house, fronting
the barns.

The house was little more than a large cottage built in the shabbiest way
forty years ago, and of far less dignity than the fine old barn on which
it looked. It abutted at one end on the cart-shed, and between it and the
line of cow-sheds was the gate into the farmyard.

Miss Henderson stepped up to the house and looked at it.

"It is a poor place!" she said discontentedly; "and those men don't seem
to have done much to it yet."

Hastings admitted it. But they had done a little, he said, shamefacedly,
and he unlocked the door. Miss Henderson lingered outside a moment.

"I never noticed," she said, "that the living room goes right through.
What draughts there'll be in the winter!"

For as she stood looking into the curtainless window that fronted the
farm-yard, she saw through it a further window at the back of the room,
and beyond that a tree. Both windows were large and seemed to take up
most of the wall on either side of the small room. The effect was
peculiarly comfortless, as though no one living in the room could
possibly enjoy any shred of privacy. There were no cosy corners in it
anywhere, and Miss Henderson's fancy imagined rows of faces looking in.

Inside a little papering and whitewashing had been done, but certainly
the place looked remarkably unviting. A narrow passage ran from front
to back, on one side of which was the living room with the two windows,
while on the other were the kitchen and scullery. Upstairs there were two
good-sized bedrooms with a small third room in a lean-to at the back, the
lower part of which was occupied by a wash-house. Through the windows
could be seen a neglected bit of garden, and an untidy orchard.

But when she had wandered about the rooms a little, Rachel Henderson's
naturally buoyant temperament reasserted itself. She had brought some
bright patterns of distemper with her which she gave to Hastings with
precise instructions. She had visions of casement curtains to hide the
nakedness of the big windows with warm serge curtains to draw over them
in the winter. The floors must be stained. There should be a deep
Indian-red drugget in the sitting-room, with pigeon-blue walls, and she
thought complacently of the bits of old furniture she had been
collecting, which were stored in a friend's flat in town. An old dresser,
a grandfather's clock, some bits of brass, two arm-chairs, an old oak
table--it would all look very nice when it was done, and would cost
little. Then the bedrooms. She had brought with her some rolls of flowery
paper. She ran to fetch them from the wagonette, and pinned some pieces
against the wall. The larger room with the south aspect should be
Janet's. She would take the north room for herself. She saw them both in
her mind's eye already comfortably furnished; above all fresh and bright.
There should be no dirt or dinginess in the house, if she could help it.
In the country whitewash and distemper are cheap.

Then Hastings followed her about through the farm buildings, where her
quick eye, trained in modern ways, perceived a number of small
improvements to be made that he would never have noticed. She was always
ready, he saw, to spend money on things that would save labour or lessen
dirt. But she was not extravagant, and looking through the list of her
directions and commissions, as he hastily jotted them down, he admitted
to himself that she seemed to know what she was about. And being an
honest man himself, and good-tempered, though rather shy and dull, he
presently recognized the same qualities of honesty and good temper in
her; and took to her. Insensibly their tone to each other grew friendly.
Though he was temporarily in the landlord's employ, he had been for some
years in the service of the Wellin family. Half-consciously he contrasted
Miss Henderson's manner to him with theirs. In his own view he had been
worse treated than an ordinary farm labourer throughout his farming life,
though he had more education, and was expected naturally to have more
brains and foresight than the labourer. He was a little better paid; but
his work and that of his wife was never done. He had got little credit
for success and all the blame for failure. And the Wellin women-folk had
looked down on his wife and himself. A little patronage sometimes, and
worthless gifts, that burnt in the taking; but no common feeling, no real
respect. But Miss Henderson was different. His rather downtrodden
personality felt a stimulus. He began to hope that when she came into
possession she would take him on. A woman could not possibly make
anything of Great End without a bailiff!

Her "nice" looks, no doubt, counted for something. Her face was, perhaps,
a little too full for beauty--the delicately coloured cheeks and the
large smiling mouth. But her brown eyes were very fine, with very dark
pupils, and marked eyebrows; and her nose and chin, with their soft,
blunted lines, seemed to promise laughter and easy ways. She was very
lightly and roundly made; and everything about her, her step, her
sunburn, her freckles, her evident muscular strength, spoke of open-air
life and physical exercise. Yet, for all this general aspect of a comely
country-woman, there was much that was sharply sensitive and individual
in the face. Even a stranger might well feel that its tragic, as well as
its humorous or tender possibilities, would have to be reckoned with.

"All right!" said Miss Henderson at last, closing her little notebook
with a snap, "now I think we've been through everything. I'll take
over one cart, and Mrs. Wellin must remove the other. I'll buy the
chaff-cutter and the dairy things, but not the reaping machine--"

"I'm afraid that'll put Mrs. Wellin out considerably!" threw in Hastings.

"Can't help it. I can't have the place cluttered up with old iron like
that. It's worth nothing. I'm sure _you_ wouldn't advise me to buy it!"

She looked with bright decision at her companion, who smiled a little
awkwardly, and said nothing. The old long habit of considering the Wellin
interest first, before any other in the world, held him still, though he
was no longer their servant.

Miss Henderson moved back towards the house.

"And you'll hurry these men up?--as much as you can? They _are_
slow-coaches! I must get in the week after next. Miss Leighton and I
intend to come, whatever happens."

Hastings understood that "Miss Leighton" was to be Miss Henderson's
partner in the farm, specially to look after the dairy work. Miss
Henderson seemed to think a lot of her.

"And you must please engage those two men you spoke of. Neither of them,
you say, under sixty! Well, there's no picking and choosing now. If they
were eighty I should have to take them! till the harvest's got in. There
are two girls coming from the Land Army, and you've clinched that other
girl from the village?"

Hastings nodded.

"Well, I dare say we shall get the harvest in somehow," she said,
standing at the gate, and looking over the fields. "Miss Leighton and I
mean to put our backs into it. But Miss Leighton isn't as strong as I
am."

Her eyes wandered thoughtfully over the wheat-field, ablaze under the
level gold of the sun. Then she suddenly smiled.

"I expect you think it a queer business, Mr. Hastings, women taking to
farming?"

"Well, it's new, you see, Miss Henderson."

"I believe it's going to be very common. Why shouldn't the women do it!"
She frowned a little.

"Oh, no reason at all," said Hastings hurriedly, thinking he had offended
her. "I've nothing against it myself. And there won't be men enough to go
round, after the war."

She looked at him sharply.

"You've got a son in the war?"

"Two, and one's been killed."

"Last year?"

"No, last month."

Miss Henderson said nothing, but her look was full of softness. "He was
to have been allowed home directly," Hastings went on, "for two or three
months. He was head woodman before the war on Lord Radley's property." He
pointed to the wooded slopes of the hill. "And they were to have given
him leave to see to the cutting of these woods."

"These woods!" Miss Henderson turned a startled face upon him. "You don't
mean to say they're coming down!"

"Half of them commandeered," said Hastings, with a shrug. "The Government
valuers have been all over them these last weeks. They're splendid
timber, you know. There's been a timber camp the other side of the hills
a long while. They've got Canadians, and no doubt they'll move on here."

Miss Henderson made another quick movement. She said nothing, however.
She was staring at the woods, which shone in the glow now steadily
creeping up the hill, and Hastings thought she was protesting from the
scenery point of view.

"Well, the Government must have the wood," he said, with resignation.
"We've got to win the war. But it does seem a pity."

"I don't know that I should have taken the farm," she said, under her
breath--

"If you had known? I wish I'd thought to tell you. But it was really only
settled a few days ago."

"I don't like having a lot of strange men about the farm," she said
abruptly, "especially when I have girls to look after."

"Oh, the camp's a long way from the farm," he said consolingly. "And
these woods will come last."

Still Miss Henderson's face did not quite recover its cheerfulness. She
looked at her watch.

"Don't let me keep you, Mr. Hastings. I'll lock up the house, if you'll
tell me where to leave the key."

He showed her where to put it, in a corner of the stable, for him to find
on the morrow. Then, in her rapid way, Miss Henderson offered him the
post of bailiff on the farm, from the date of her entry. He agreed at
once; his salary was settled, and he departed with a more cheerful aspect
than when he arrived. The hopefulness and spring of youth had long since
left him, and he had dreaded the new experience of this first meeting
with a woman-farmer, from whom he desired employment simply because he
was very badly off, he was getting old, and Mr. Wellin's widow had
treated him shabbily. He had lost his nerve for new ventures. But Miss
Henderson had made things easy. She had struck him as considerate and
sensible--a "good sort." He would do his best for her.

Rachel Henderson, left to herself, did not immediately re-enter the
house. She went with a face on which the cloud still rested to look at
the well which was to be found under the cart-shed, at the eastern end of
the house.

It was covered with a wooden lid which she removed. Under the shed roof
there was but little light left. A faint gleam showed the level of the
water, which, owing to the long drought, was very low. Hastings had told
her that the well was extremely deep---150 feet at least, and
inexhaustible. The water was chalky but good. It would have to be pumped
up every morning for the supply of the house and stables.

The well had a brick margin. Rachel sat down upon it, her eyes upon that
distant gleam below. The dusk was fast possessing itself of all the farm,
and an evening wind was gustily blowing through the cart-shed, playing
with some old guano sacks that had been left there, and whistling round
the corners of the house. Outside, Rachel could hear the horse fidgeting,
and old Jonathan coughing--no doubt as a signal to her that she had kept
him long enough.

Still, she sat bent together on the margin of the well. Then she drew off
her glove, and felt for something in the leather bag she carried on her
wrist. She took it out, and the small object sparkled a little as she
held it poised for a moment--as though considering. Then with a rapid
movement, she bent over the well, and dropped it into the water. There
was a slight splash.

Rachel Henderson raised herself and stood up.

"That's done with!" she said to herself, with a straightening of all her
young frame.

Yet all the way back to London she was tormented by thoughts of what she
had declared was "done with"; of scenes and persons, that is, which she
was determined to forget, and had just formally renounced for ever by her
symbolic action at the well.



II


"You do seem to have hit on a rather nice spot, Rachel, though lonesome,"
said Miss Henderson's friend and partner, Janet Leighton, as they stood
on the front steps of Great End Farm, surveying the scene outside, on an
August evening, about a week after she and Rachel had arrived with their
furniture and personal belongings to take possession of the farm.

During that week they had both worked hard--from dawn till dark, both
outside and in. The harvest was in full swing, and as the dusk was
filling, Janet Leighton, who had just returned herself from the fields,
could watch the scene going on in the wheat-field beyond the farm-yard,
where, as the reaping machine steadily pared away the remaining square of
wheat, two or three men and boys with guns lay in wait outside the square
for the rabbits as they bolted from their fast lessening shelter. The
gold and glow of harvest was on the fields and in the air. At last the
sun had come back to a sodden land, after weeks of cold and drenching
showers which, welcomed in June, had by the middle of August made all
England tremble for the final fate of the gorgeous crops then filling the
largest area ever tilled on British soil with their fat promise. Wheat,
oats, and barley stood once more erect, roots were saved, and the young
vicar of Ipscombe was reflecting as he walked towards Great End Farm that
his harvest festival sermon might now after all be rather easier to write
than had seemed probable during the foregoing anxious weeks of chill and
storm.

Rachel Henderson, who had thrown herself--tired out--into a chair in the
sitting-room window, which was wide open, nodded as she caught her
friend's remark and smiled. But she did not want to talk. She was in that
state of physical fatigue when mere rest is a positive delight. The sun,
the warm air, the busy harvest scene, and all the long hours of hard but
pleasant work seemed to be still somehow in her pulses, thrilling through
her blood. It was long since she had known the acute physical pleasure of
such a day; but her sense of it had conjured up involuntarily
recollections of many similar days in a distant scene--great golden
spaces, blinding sun, and huge reaping machines, twice the size of that
at work in the field yonder. The recollections were unwelcome. Thought
was unwelcome. She wanted only food and sleep--deep sleep--renewing
her tired muscles, till the delicious early morning came round again, and
she was once more in the fields directing her team of workers.

"Why, there's the vicar!" said Janet Leighton, perceiving the tall and
willowy figure of Mr. Shenstone, as its owner stopped to speak to one of
the boys with the guns who were watching the game.

Rachel looked round with a look of annoyance.

"Oh, dear, what a bore," she said wearily. "I suppose I must go and tidy
up. Nobody ought to be allowed to pay visits after five o'clock."

"You asked him something about a village woman to help, didn't you?"

"I did, worse luck!" sighed Rachel, gathering up her sunbonnet and
disappearing from the window. Janet heard her go upstairs, and a hasty
opening of cupboards overhead. She herself had come back an hour earlier
from the fields than Rachel in order to get supper ready, and had slipped
a skirt over the khaki tunic and knickerbockers which were her dress--and
her partner's--when at work on the farm. She wondered mischievously what
Rachel would put on. That her character included an average dose of
vanity, the natural vanity of a handsome woman, Rachel's new friend was
well aware. But Janet, Rachel's elder by five years, was only tenderly
amused by it. All Rachel's foibles, as far as she knew them, were
pleasant to her. They were in that early stage of a new friendship when
all is glamour.

Yet Janet did sometimes reflect, "How little I really know about her. She
is a darling--but a mystery!"

They had met at college, taken their farm training together, and fallen
in love with each other. Janet had scarcely a relation in the world.
Rachel possessed, it seemed, a brother in Canada, another in South
Africa, and some cousins whom she scarcely knew, children of the uncle
who had left her three thousand pounds. Each had been attracted by the
loneliness of the other, and on leaving college nothing was more natural
than they should agree to set up together. Rachel, as the capitalist, was
to choose the farm and take command. Janet went to a Cheshire dairy farm
for a time to get some further training in practical work; and she was
now responsible for the dairy at Great End, with the housekeeping and the
poultry thrown in. She was a thin, tall woman with spectacles, and had
just seen her thirty-second birthday. Her eyes were honest and clear, her
mouth humorous. She never grudged other women their beauty or their
success. It always seemed to her she had what she deserved.

Meanwhile the vicar approached, and Miss Leighton descended the steps and
went to meet him at the gate. His aspect showed him apologetic.

"I have come at an unearthly hour, Miss Leighton. But I thought I should
have no chance of finding Miss Henderson free till the evening, and I
came to tell you that I think I have found a woman to do your work."

Janet bade him come in, and assured him that Rachel would soon be
visible. She ushered him into the sitting-room, which he entered on a
note of wonderment.

"How nice you have made it all," he said, looking round him. "When I
think what a deserted hole this has been for years. You know, the village
people firmly believe it is haunted? Old Wellin never could get anybody
to sleep here. But tramps often used it, I'm certain. They got in through
the windows. Hastings told me he had several times found a smouldering
fire in the kitchen."

"What sort is the ghost?" Janet inquired, as she pointed him to a chair,
devoutly hoping that Rachel would hurry herself.

"Well, there's a story--but I wonder whether I ought to tell you--"

"I assure you as to ghosts--I have no nerves!" said Janet with a
confident laugh, "and I don't think Rachel has either. We are more
frightened of rats. This farm-yard contains the biggest I've ever seen.
I dream of them at night."

"It's not exactly the ghost--" said the vicar, hesitating.

"But the story that produced the ghost? What--a murder?"

"Half a century ago," said the vicar reassuringly; "you won't mind that?"

"Not the least. A century ago would be romantic. If it was just the other
day, we should feel we ought to have got the farm cheaper. But half a
century doesn't matter. It's a mid-Victorian, just a plain, old-fashioned
murder. Who did it?"

The vicar opened his eyes a little. Miss Leighton was, he saw, a lady,
and perhaps clever. Her spectacles looked like it. No doubt she had been
at Oxford or Cambridge before going to Swanley? These educated women in
new professions were becoming a very pressing and common fact! As to the
murder, he explained that it had been just an ordinary poaching affair.
An old gamekeeper on the Shepherd estate had been attacked by a gang of
poachers in the winter of 1866. He had been shot in one of the woods, and
though mortally wounded had been able to drag himself to the outskirts of
the farm where his strength had failed him. He was found dead under the
cart-shed which backed on the stables, and the traces of blood on the
hill marked the stages of his struggle for life. Two men were suspected,
one of them a labourer on the Great End Farm; but there was no evidence.
The suspected labourer had gone to Canada the year after the murder, and
no one knew what had happened to him.

But having told the tale the vicar was again seized with compunction.

"I oughtn't to have told you--I really oughtn't; just on your settling
in--I hope you won't tell Miss Henderson?"

Janet's amused reply was interrupted by Rachel's entrance. The vicar
arose with eagerness to receive her. He was evidently attracted by his
new parishioners and anxious to make a good impression on them. Miss
Henderson's reception of the vicar, however, was far more guarded. The
easy friendliness of manner which had attracted the bailiff Hastings was,
at first at any rate, entirely absent. Her attitude was almost that of a
woman defending herself against possible intrusion, and Janet Leighton,
looking on, and occasionally sharing in the conversation, was surprised
by it, as indeed she was by so many things concerning Rachel now that
their acquaintance was deepening; surprised also, as though it were a new
thing, by her friend's good looks as she sat languidly chatting with the
vicar. Rachel had merely put on a blue overall above her land-worker's
dress. But her beautiful head, with its wealth of brown hair, and her
face, with its sensuous fulness of cheek and lip, its rounded lines, and
lovely colour--like a slightly overblown rose--were greatly set off by
the simple folds of blue linen; and her feet and legs, shapely but not
small, in their khaki stockings and shoes, completed the general effect
of lissom youth. The flush and heat of hard bodily work had passed away.
She had had time to plunge her face into cold water and smooth her hair.
But the atmosphere of the harvest field, its ripeness and glow, seemed to
be still about her. A classically minded man might have thought of some
nymph in the train of Demeter, might have fancied a horn of plenty, or a
bow, slung from the sunburnt neck.

But the vicar had forgotten his classics. _En revanche_, however, he was
doing his best to show himself sympathetic and up-to-date with regard to
women and their new spheres of work--especially on the land. He had
noticed three girls, he said, working in the harvest field. Two of them
he recognized as from the village; the third he supposed was a stranger?

"She comes from Ralstone," said Rachel.

"Ah, that's the village where the new timber camp is. You really must see
that camp, Miss Henderson."

"I hate to think of the woods coming down," she said, frowning a little.

"We all do. But that's the war. It can't be helped, alack! But it's
wonderful to see the women at work, measuring and checking, doing the
brain work, in fact, while the men do the felling and loading. It makes
one envious."

The vicar sighed. A flush appeared on his young but slightly cadaverous
face.

"Of the men--or the women?"

"Oh, their work, I mean. They're doing something for the war. I've done
my best. But the Bishop won't hear of it."

And he rather emphatically explained how he had applied in vain for an
army chaplaincy. Health and the shortage of clergy had been against him.
"I suppose there must be some left at home," he said with a shrug, "and
the doctors seem to have a down on me."

Janet was quite sorry for the young man--he was so eagerly apologetic, so
anxious to propitiate what he imagined ought to be their feelings about
him. And Rachel all the time sat so silent and unresponsive.

Miss Leighton drew the conversation back to the timber camp; she would
like to go and see it, she said. Every one knew the Canadians were
wonderful lumbermen.

The Vicar's eyes had travelled back to Rachel.

"Were you ever in Canada, Miss Henderson?" The question was evidently
thrown out nervously at a venture, just to evoke a word or a smile from
the new mistress of the farm.

Rachel Henderson frowned slightly before replying.

"Yes, I have been in Canada."

"You have? Oh, then, you know all about it."

"I know nothing about Canadian lumbering."

"You were on the prairies?"

"I lived some time on a prairie farm."

"Everything here must seem very small to you," said the vicar
sympathetically. But this amiable tone fell flat. Miss Henderson still
sat silent. The vicar began to feel matters awkward and took his hat from
the floor.

"I trust you will call upon me for any help I can possibly be to you," he
said, turning to Janet Leighton. "I should be delighted to help in the
harvest if you want it. I have a pair of hands anyway, as you see!" He
held them out.

He expatiated a little more on his disappointment as to the front. Janet
threw in a few civil words. Rachel Henderson had moved to the window, and
was apparently looking at the farm-girls carrying straw across the yard.

"Good-night, Miss Henderson," said the young man at last, conscious of
rebuff, but irrepressibly effusive and friendly all the time. "I hope you
will let your Ralstone girl come sometimes to the clubroom my sister and
I have in the village? We feel young people ought to be amused,
especially when they work hard."

"Thank you, but it's so far away. We don't like them to be out late."

"Certainly not. But in the long evenings--don't you know?" The vicar
smiled persuasively. "However, there it is--whenever she comes she will
be welcome. And then, as to your seat in church. There is a pew that has
always belonged to the farm. It is about half-way up."

"We don't go to church," said Rachel, facing him. "At least, I don't."
She looked at her companion.

"And I can't be counted on," said Janet, smiling.

The vicar flushed a little.

"Then you're not Church of England?"

"I am," said Rachel indifferently; "at least I'm not anything else. Miss
Leighton is a Unitarian." Then her eyes lit up with a touch of fun, and
for the first time she smiled. "I'm afraid you'll think us dreadful
heathens, Mr. Shenstone!"

What the vicar did think was that he had never seen a smile transform a
face so agreeably. And having begun to smile, Rachel perversely continued
it. She walked to the gate with her visitor, talking with irrelevant
animation, inviting him to come the following day to help in the
"carrying," asking questions about the village and its people, and
graciously consenting to fix a day when she and her friend would go to
tea with Miss Shenstone at the vicarage. The young man fairly beamed
under the unexpected change, and lingered at the gate as though unable to
tear himself away; till with a little peremptory nod, though still
smiling, Rachel dismissed him.

Janet Leighton meanwhile watched it all. She had seen Rachel treat a new
male acquaintance before as she had just treated the vicar. To begin
with, the manners of an icicle; then a sudden thaw, just in time to save
the situation. She had come with amusement to the conclusion that,
however really indifferent or capricious, her new friend could not in the
long run resign herself to be disliked, even by a woman, and much more in
the case of a man. Was it vanity, or sex, or both? Temperament perhaps;
the modern word which covers so much. Janet remembered a little niece of
her own who in her mother's absence entertained a gentleman visitor with
great success. When asked for his name, she shook her pretty head. "Just
a man, mummy," she said, bridling. Janet Leighton suspected that similar
tales might have been told of Miss Henderson in her babyhood.

And yet impressions recurred to her of another kind--of a sensitive,
almost fierce delicacy--a shrinking from the ugly or merely physical
facts of life, as of one who had suffered some torment in connection with
them.

Janet's eyes followed the curly brown head as its possessor came slowly
back from the gate. She was thinking of a moment when, one evening, while
they were both still at college, they had realized their liking for each
other, and had agreed to set up in partnership. Then Rachel, springing to
her feet, with her hands behind her, and head thrown back, had said
suddenly: "I warn you, I have a story. I don't want to tell you, to tell
anybody. I shan't tell you. It's done with. I give you my word that I'm
not a bad woman. But if you don't want to be my partner on these terms,
say so!"

And Janet had felt no difficulty whatever in becoming Rachel Henderson's
partner on these terms. Nor had she ever yet regretted it.

The light farm cart which had been sent to the station for stores drove
up to the yard gate as Rachel left it. She turned back to receive some
parcels handed out by the "exempted" man who drove it, together with some
letters which had been found lying at the village post office. Two of the
letters were for Janet. She sent them up to the house, and went herself
towards the harvest field.

There they stood--the rows of golden "shocks" or stooks. The "shockers"
had just finished their day's work. She could hear the footsteps of the
last batch, a cheerful chatter, while talk and laughter came softened
through the evening air. The man who had been driving the reaping machine
was doing some rough repairs to it in a far corner of the field, with a
view to the morrow, and she caught sight of her new bailiff, Hastings,
who had waited to see everybody off, disappearing towards his own
cottage, which stood on a lonely spur of the down. The light was fast
going, but the deep glow of the western sky answered the paler gold of
the new-made stubble and the ranged stooks, while between rose the dark
and splendid masses of the woods.

Rachel stood looking at the scene, possessed by a pleasure which in her
was always an ardour. She felt nothing by halves. The pulse of life beat
in her still with an energy, a passion, that astonished herself. She was
full of eagerness for her new work and for success in it, full of
desires, too, for vague, half-seen things, things she had missed so
Far--her own fault. But somewhere in the long, hidden years, they must,
they should be waiting for her.

The harvest was magnificent. She had paid the Wellins a high price for
the standing crops, but there was going to be a profit on her bargain.
Her mind was full of schemes, if only she could get the labour to carry
them out. Farming was now on the up-grade. She had come into it at the
very best moment, and England would never let farming go down again,
after the war, for her own safety's sake.

_The War_! She felt towards it as to some distant force, which, so far as
she personally was concerned, was a force for good. Owing to the war,
farming was booming all over England, and she was in the boom, taking
advantage of it. Yet she was ashamed to think of the war only in that
way. She tried to tame the strange ferment in her blood, and could only
do it by reminding herself of Hastings's wounded son, whose letter he had
showed her. And then--in imagination--she began to see thousands of
others like him, in hospital beds, or lying dead in trampled fields. Her
mood softened, the tears came into her eyes.

Suddenly--a slight whimper--a child's whimper--close beside her. She
paused in amazement, looking round her, till the whimper was renewed; and
there, almost at her feet, cradled in the fragrant hollow of a wheat
stook, she saw a tiny child--a baby about a year old, a fair, plump
thing, just waking from sleep.

At sight of the face bending over her, the child set up a louder cry,
which was not angry, however, only forlorn. The tears welled fast into
her blue eyes. She looked piteously at Rachel.

"Mummy, mummy!"

"You poor little thing!" said Rachel. "Whose are you?"

One of the village women who had been helping in the "shocking," she
supposed, had brought the child. She had noticed a little girl playing
about the reapers in the afternoon--no doubt an elder sister brought to
look after the baby. Between the mother and the sister there must have
been some confusion, and one or other would come running back directly.

But meanwhile she took up the child, who at first resisted passionately,
fighting with all its chubby strength against the strange arms. But
Rachel seemed to have a way with her--a spell, which worked. She bent
over the little thing, soothing and cooing to her, and then finding a few
crumbs of cake in the pocket of her overall, the remains of her own lunch
in the field, she daintily fed the rosy mouth, till the sobs ceased and
the child stared upwards in a sleep wonder, her blue eyes held by the
brown ones above her.

"Mummy!" she repeated, still whimpering slightly.

"Mummy's coming," said Rachel tenderly. "What a duck it is!"

And bending, she kissed the soft, downy cheek greedily, with the same
ardour she had just been throwing into her own dreams of success.

She carried the child, now quiet and comforted, towards the house. The
warm weight upon her arms was delicious to her. Only as she neared the
gate in the now moonlit dusk, her lips quivered suddenly, and two tears
rolled down her cheeks.

"I haven't carried a child," she thought, "since--"

Suddenly there was a shout from the farther gate of the harvest field,
and a girl came running at top speed. It was the little one's elder
sister, and with a proper scolding, Rachel gave up her prize.

The two land-girls had finished giving food and water to the cattle and a
special mush to new-born calves. Everything was now in order for the
night, and Janet, standing on the steps of the farm-house, rang a bell,
which meant that supper would be ready in a few minutes. The two partners
and their employees were soon gathered round the table in the kitchen,
which was also the dining-room. It was a cold meal of bacon, with
lettuce, bread and jam, some tea made on a "Tommy's cooker," and potatoes
which Janet, who was for the present housekeeper and cook, produced hot
and steaming from the hay-box to which she had consigned them after the
midday dinner. A small oil-lamp had been lit, and through the open
windows afterglow and moonrise streamed in to mingle with its light.
There was a pot of flowers on the table--purple scabious, and tall
cow-parsley, gathered from the orchard, where no one had yet had time to
cut the ragged hay beneath the trees.

The scene was typical of a new England. Women governing--and women
serving--they were all alike making their way through new paths to new
ends. It was no household in the ordinary sense. The man was wanting. The
two elder women were bound to the two younger by a purely business tie,
which might or might not develop into something more personal. The two
land-lasses had come to supper in their tunics and breeches, while Rachel
Henderson and Janet had now both put on the coloured overalls which
disguised the masculine garb beneath, and gave them something of the
usual feminine air. Rachel's overall, indeed, was both pretty and
artistic, embroidered a little here and there, and showing a sunburnt
throat beneath the rounded chin.

The talk turned on the day's work, the weather prospects, the vagaries of
the cows at milking time, and those horrid little pests the "harvesters,"
which haunt the chalk soils. The two "hands" were clear by now that they
liked Miss Leighton the best of the two ladies, they hardly knew why.
Betty Rolfe, the younger of them, who came from Ralstone, was a taking
creature, with deep black, or rather violet, eyes, small features framed
in curly hair, and the bloom of ripe fruit. She was naturally full of
laughter and talk, and only spoilt by her discoloured and uneven teeth,
which showed the usual English neglect of such things in childhood.

Her companion, Jenny Harberton, was a much more ordinary type, with broad
cheeks, sandy hair, and a perpetual friendly grin, which generally served
her instead of speech, at least in her employer's presence. She was a
capital milker, and a good honest child. Her people lived in the village,
and her forebears had always lived there. They were absolutely indigenous
and autochthonous--a far older Brookshire family than any of the dwellers
in the big houses about.

Then in the midst of a loving report by Betty on the virtues and docility
of a beautiful Jersey cow who was the pride of Miss Henderson's new herd,
Janet Leighton remembered one of her letters of the evening and drew it
out of her pocket.

"Who do you think is going to be--is already--the commandant of the
timber girls in the new camp?"

Rachel couldn't guess.

"You remember Mrs. Fergusson--at College?"

Rachel raised her eyebrows.

"The Irish lady? Perfectly."

"Well, it's she. She writes to me to say she is quite settled, with
thirty girls, that the work is fascinating, and they all love it, and you
and I _must_ go over to see her."

Rachel looked irresponsive.

"It's a long way."

"Oh, Miss," said Jenny Harberton timidly, "it's not so very far. An' it's
lovely when you get there. Father was there last week, drivin' some
officers. He says it _is_ interestin'!"

Jenny's father, a plumber in the village, owned a humble open car which
was in perpetual request.

"There are a hundred Canadians apparently," said Janet Leighton, looking
at her letter, "and German prisoners, quite a good few, and these thirty
girls. Mrs. Fergusson begs us to come. Sunday's no good because we
couldn't see the work, but--after the harvest? We could get there with
the pony quite well."

Rachel said nothing.

Janet Leighton dropped the subject for the moment, but after supper, with
her writing-desk on her knee, she returned to it.

"Can't you go without me?" said Rachel, who was standing with her back to
the room, looking out of the window.

"Well, I could," said Janet, feeling rather puzzled, "but I thought you
were curious to see these new kinds of work for women?"

"So I am. It isn't the women."

"The German prisoners, then?" laughed Janet.

"Heavens, no!"

"The Canadians?" asked Janet--in wonder--after a moment. Rachel turned
abruptly towards her.

"Well, I didn't have exactly a good time in Canada," she said, as though
the admission was dragged out of her; adding immediately, "but of course
I'll go--sometime--after the harvest."

On which she left the room, and presently Janet saw her wandering among
the stooks in the gloaming, her hands behind her back. She seemed in her
ripe and comely youth to be somehow the very spirit of the harvest.

A little later, just before ten o'clock, while the sunset glow was still
brooding on the harvest fields, the two farm-girls, after a last visit to
the cows, slipped into the little sitting-room. Janet, who was mending
her Sunday dress, greeted them with a smile and a kind word. Then she
moved to the table and took up a New Testament that was lying there. She
was an ardent and mystically-minded Unitarian, and her mind was much set
towards religion.

"Shall we have prayers at night?" she had said quite simply to the f
arm-girls on their arrival. "Don't if you don't want to." And they had
shyly said "yes"--not particularly attracted by the proposal, but willing
to please Miss Leighton, who was always nice to them.

So Janet read some verses from the sixth chapter of St. John: "Verily,
verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting
life ... I am the Bread of Life ... I am the living Bread which came down
from Heaven ... The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they
are life."

Closing the book, while her quiet eyes shone in the gleaming dusk, she
said a few simple things about the Words of Christ, and how the human
soul may feed on them--the Word of Love--the Word of Purity--the Word of
Service. While she was still speaking, the door opened and Rachel came
in. It had been agreed between her and Janet that although she had no
objection to the prayers, she was not to be asked to take part in them.
So that Janet's pulses fluttered a little when she appeared. But there
was no outward sign of it. The speaker finished what she had to say,
while the eyes of her three hearers were sometimes on her face and
sometimes on the wide cornfield beyond the open window, where the harvest
moon, as yet only a brilliant sickle, was rising. The Earth Bread
without--the "Bread of Life" within; even in Jenny's primitive mind,
there was a mingling of the two ideas, which brought a quiet joy. She sat
with parted lips, feeling that she liked Miss Leighton very much, and
would try to please her with the cows.

Betty, meanwhile, beside her, passed into a waking dream. She was
thinking of a soldier in the village: the blacksmith's son, a tall,
handsome fellow, who had just arrived on leave for ten days. She had
spent Sunday evening wandering in the lanes with him. She felt
passionately that she must see him again--soon.

The little reading passed into the Lord's Prayer. Then it was over and
the two girls disappeared to bed. Janet felt a little awkward when she
was left alone with Rachel, but she went back to her sewing and began to
talk of the day's news of the war. Rachel answered at random, and very
soon said good-night.

But long after everybody else in the solitary farmhouse was asleep,
Rachel Henderson was sitting up in bed, broad awake, her hands round her
knees. The window beside her was open. She saw the side of the hill and
the bare down in which it ended, with the moonlight bright upon it, and
the dark woods crowning it. There were owls calling from the hill, and
every now and then a light wind rustled through the branches of an oak
that stood in the farm-yard.

She was thinking of what Janet had said about the "Words" of Christ--the
Word of Purity--and the Word of Love. How often she had heard her
father read and expound that chapter! very differently as far as
phraseology--perhaps even as far as meaning--went, yet with all his
heart, like Janet. He was an Anglican clergyman who had done missionary
service in the Canadian West. He had been dead now three years, and her
mother five. She had bitterly missed them both when she was in her worst
need; yet now she was thankful they had died--before--

What would her father think of her now? Would he grant that she was free,
or would he still hold to those rigid, those cruel views of his? Oh, he
must grant it! She _was_ free! Her breast shook with the fervour of her
protest. She had been through passion and wrong, through things that
seared and defiled. She knew well that she had been no mere innocent
sufferer. Yet now she had her life before her again; and both heart and
senses were hungry for the happiness she had so abominably missed. And
her starved conscience--that, too, was eagerly awake. She had her
self-respect to recover--the past to forget.

_Work_! that was the receipt--hard work! And this dear woman, Janet
Leighton, to help her; Janet, with her pure, modest life and her high
aims. So, at last, clinging to the thought of her new friend like a
wearied child, Rachel Henderson fell asleep.



III


"A jolly view!"

Janet assented. She was sitting behind the pony, while Rachel had walked
up the hill beside the carriage, to the high point where both she and the
pony--a lethargic specimen of the race--had paused to take breath.

They were on a ridge whence there was a broad bit of the world to see. To
the north, a plain rich in all the diversities of English land--field and
wood, hamlet and church, the rising grounds and shallow depressions, the
small enclosures and the hedgerow timber, that make all the difference
between the English midlands and, say, the plain of Champagne, or a
Russian steppe. Across the wide, many-coloured scene, great clouds from
the west were sweeping, with fringes of rain and sudden bursts of light
or shadow, which in their perpetual movement--suggesting attack from the
sky and response from the earth--gave drama and symbol to the landscape.

On the south--things very different! First, an interlocked range of
hills, forest-clothed, stretching east and west, and, at the very feet of
the two women, a forest valley offering much that was strange to English
eyes. Two years before it had been known only to the gamekeeper and the
shooting guests of a neighbouring landowner. Now a great timber camp
filled it. The gully ran far and deep into the heart of the forest
country, with a light railway winding along the bottom, towards an unseen
road. The steep sides of the valley--Rachel and Janet stood on the edge
of one of them--were covered with felled trees, cut the preceding winter,
and left as they fell. The dead branch and leaf of the trees had turned
to a rich purple, and dyed all the inside of the long deep cup. But along
its edges stretched the forest, still untouched, and everywhere, in the
bare spaces left here and there by the felling among the "rubble and
woody wreck," green and gold mosses and delicate grasses had sprung up,
a brilliant enamel, inlaid with a multitude of wild flowers.

"Look!" cried Rachel.

For suddenly, down below them, a huge trunk began to move as though of
its own accord. Hissing and crashing like some gray serpent, it glided
down the hill-side, till it approached a group of figures and horses
congregated at the head of the valley, near an engine puffing smoke. Then
something invisible happened, and presently a trolley piled high with
logs detached itself from the group, and set out on a solitary journey
down the railway, watched here and there by men in queer uniforms with
patches on their backs.

"German prisoners!" said Janet, and strained her eyes to see, thinking
all the time of a letter she had received that morning from her soldier
brother fighting with the English troops to the west of Rheims:--

"The beggars are on the run! Foch has got them this time. But, oh, Lord,
the sight they've made of all this beautiful country! Trampled, and
ruined, and smashed! all of it. Deliberate loot and malice everywhere,
and tales of things done in the villages that make one see red. We
captured a letter to his wife on a dead German this morning: 'Well, the
offensive is a failure, but we've done one thing--we've smashed up
another bit of France!' How are we ever going to live with this people in
the same world after the war?"

And there below, in the heart of this remote English woodland, now being
sacrificed to the war, moved the sons of this very people, cast up here
by the tide of battle. Janet had heard that nobody spoke to them during
the work, except to give directions; after work they had their own wired
camp, and all intercourse between them and the Canadian woodmen, or the
English timber girls, was forbidden. But what were they saying among
themselves--what were they thinking--these peasants, some perhaps from
the Rhineland, or the beautiful Bavarian country, or the Prussian plains?
Janet had travelled a good deal in Germany before the war, using her
holidays as a mistress in a secondary school, and her small savings, in a
kind of wandering which had been a passion with her. She had known
Bavarians and Prussians at home. But here, in this corner of rural
England, with this veil of silence drawn between them and the nation
which at last, in this summer of 1918, was grimly certain, after four
years of vengeance and victory, what ferments were, perhaps, working in
the German mind?

Yes, there was the German camp, and beyond it under the hill the Canadian
forestry camp; whilst just beneath them could be seen the roof of the
large women's hostel.

Another exclamation from Rachel, as, on their left, another great tree
started for the bottom of the hollow.

"But haven't you seen all this before?" asked Janet.

"No, I never saw anything of lumbering."

The tone showed the sudden cooling and reserve that were always apparent
in Rachel's manner when any subject connected with Canada came into
conversation. Yet Janet had noticed with surprise that it was Rachel
herself who, when the harvest was nearly over, had revived the subject of
the camp, and planned the drive for this Saturday afternoon. It had
seemed to Janet once or twice that she was forcing herself to do it, as
though braving some nervousness of which she was ashamed.

The rough road on which they were driving wound gradually downward
through the felled timber. Soon they could hear the clatter of the
engine, and the hissing of the saws which seized the trees on their
landing, and cut and stripped them in a trice, ready for loading. Round
the engine and at the starting-place of the trolleys was a busy crowd:
lean and bronzed Canadians; women in leather breeches and coats, busily
measuring and marking; a team of horses showing silvery white against the
purple of the hill; and everywhere the German prisoner lads, mostly quite
young and of short stature. The pony carriage passed a group of them, and
they stared with cheerful, furtive looks at the two women.

Then the group of timber girls below perceived the approaching visitors,
and a figure, detaching itself from the rest, came to meet the carriage.
A stately woman, black-haired, in coat and breeches like the rest, with a
felt hat, and a badge of authority, touches of green besides on the khaki
uniform. Janet recognized her at once as Mrs. Fergusson, their comrade
for a time at college, and much liked both by her and Rachel.

She came laughing, with hands outstretched.

"Well, here we meet again! Jolly to see you! A new scene, isn't it? Life
doesn't stand still nowadays! One of my girls will take the carriage for
you."

A stalwart maiden unharnessed the pony and let him graze.

Mrs. Fergusson took possession of her visitors, and walked on beside
them, describing the different stages of the work, and sections of the
workers.

"You see those tall fellows farthest off? Those work the saws and cut up
the trees as they come down. Then the horses bring them to the rollers,
and the Canadians guide them with those hooks till the crane seizes hold
of them and lifts them on to the trolley. But before the hooks get
them--you see the girls there?--they do all the measuring; they note
everything in their books and they mark every log. All the payments of
the camp, the wages paid, the sums earned by the trolley contractor who
takes them to the station, the whole finance in fact, depends on the
_women_. I've trained scores besides and sent them out to other camps!
But now come, I must introduce you to the commandant of the camp."

"A Canadian?" asked Janet.

"No, an American! He comes from Maine, but he had been lumbering in
Canada, with several mills and, camps under him. So he volunteered a year
ago to bring over a large Forestry battalion--mostly the men he had been
working with in Quebec. Splendid fellows! But he's the king!"

Then she raised her voice,--

"Captain Ellesborough!"

A young man in uniform, with a slouch hat, came forward, leaping over the
logs in his path. He gave a military salute to the two visitors, and a
swift scrutinizing look to each of them. Rachel was aware of a thin,
handsome face bronzed by exposure, a pair of blue eyes, rather pale in
colour, to which the sunburn of brow and cheek gave a singular
brilliance, and a well-cut, determined mouth. The shoulders were those of
an athlete, but on the whole the figure was lightly and slenderly built,
making an impression rather of grace and elasticity than of exceptional
strength.

"You would like to see the camp?" he said, looking at Rachel.

"Aren't you too busy to show it?"

"Not at all. I am not wanted just now. Let me help you over those logs."
He held out his hand.

"Oh, thank you, I don't want any help," said Rachel a little scornfully.
He smiled in approving silence, and she followed his lead, leaping and
scrambling over the piles of wood, with a deer's sureness of foot, till
he invited her to stop and watch the timber girls at their measuring. As
the two visitors approached, land-women and forest-women eyed each other
with friendly looks, but without speech. For talk, indeed, the business
in hand was far too strenuous. The logs were coming in fast; there must
be no slip in measurement or note. The work was hard, and the women doing
it had been at it all day. But on the whole, what a comely and energetic
group, with the bright eyes, the clear skins, the animation born of open
air and exercise.

"They can't talk to you now!" said Mrs. Fergusson in Janet's ear, amid
the din of the engines, "but they'll talk at tea. And there's a dance
to-night."

Janet looked round the wild glen in wonder.

"Who come?"

"Oh, there's an Air Force camp half a mile away--an Army Service camp on
the other side. The officers come--some of them--every Saturday. We take
down the partitions in our huts. You can't think what pretty frocks the
girls put on! And we dance till midnight."

"And you've no difficulty with the men working in the camp?"

"You mean--how do they treat the girls?" laughed Mrs. Fergusson. "They're
_charming_ to the girls! Chivalrous, kind, everything they should be. But
then," she added proudly, "my girls are the pick--educated women all of
them. I could trust them anywhere. And Captain Ellesborough--you won't
get any mischief going on where he is."

Meanwhile the captain, well out of earshot of Mrs. Fergusson's praise,
was explaining the organization of the camp to Rachel as they slowly
climbed the hill, on the opposite side from that by which she and Janet
had descended.

"Which works hardest, I wonder?" she said at last, as they paused to look
down on the scene below. "We on our farm, or you here? I've never had
more than five hours' sleep through the harvest? But now things are
slacker."

He threw his head back with a laugh.

"Why, this seems to me like playing at lumbering! It's all so tiny--so
babyish. Oh, yes, there's plenty of work--for the moment. But it'll be
all done, in one more season; not a stick left. England can't grow a real
forest."

"Compared to America?"

"Well, I was thinking of Canada. Do you know Canada?"

"A little." Then she added hastily: "But I never saw any lumbering."

"What a pity! It's a gorgeous life. Oh, not for women. These women
here--awfully nice girls, and awfully clever too--couldn't make anything
of it in Canada. I had a couple of square miles of forest to look
after--magnificent stuff!--Douglas fir most of it--and two pulping mills,
and about two hundred men--a rough lot."

"But you're not Canadian?"

"Oh, Lord, no! My people live in Maine. I was at Yale. I got trained
at the forest school there, and after a bit went over the Canadian
frontier with my brother to work a big concession in Quebec. We did very
well--made a lot of money. Then came the war. My brother joined up with
the Canadian army. I stayed behind to try and settle up the business,
till the States went in, too. Then they set me and some other fellows to
raise a Forestry battalion--picked men. We went to France first, and last
winter I was sent here--to boss this little show! But I shan't stay here
long! It isn't good enough. Besides, I want to fight! They've promised me
a commission in our own army."

He looked at her with sparkling eyes, and her face involuntarily answered
the challenge of his; so much so that his look prolonged itself. She was
wonderfully pleasant to look upon, this friend of Mrs. Fergusson's. And
she was farming on her own? A jolly plucky thing to do! He decided that
he liked her; and his talk flowed on. He was frank about himself, and
full of self-confidence; but there was a winning human note in it, and
Rachel listened eagerly, talking readily, too, whenever there was an
opening. They climbed to the top of the hill where they stood on the
northern edge of the forest, looking across the basin and the busy throng
below. He pointed out to her a timber-slide to their right, and they
watched the trees rushing down it, dragged, as he now saw plainly, by the
wire cable which was worked by the engine in the hollow. A group of
German prisoners, half-way down, were on the edge of the slide, guiding
the logs.

"We don't have any trouble with them," said the captain carelessly.
"They're only too thankful to be here. They've two corporals of their own
who keep order. Oh, of course we have our eyes open. There are some sly
beggars among them. Our men have no truck with them. I shouldn't advise
you to employ them. It wouldn't do for women alone."

His smile was friendly, and Rachel found it pleasant to be advised by
him. As to employing prisoners, she said, even were it allowed, nothing
would induce her to risk it. There were a good many on Colonel Shepherd's
estate, and she sometimes met them, bicycling to and from their billets
in the village, in the evening after work. "Once or twice they've jeered
at me," she said, flushing.

"Jeered at you!" he repeated in surprise.

"At my dress, I mean. It seems to amuse them."

"I see. You wear the land army dress like these girls?"

"When I'm at work."

"Well, I'm glad you don't wear it always," he said candidly. "These girls
here look awfully nice of an evening. They always change."

He glanced at her curiously. Her dress of dark blue linen, her pretty hat
to match, with its bunch of flowers, not to speak of the slender ankles
and feet in their blue stockings and khaki shoes, seemed to him
extraordinarily becoming. But she puzzled him. There was something about
her quite different from the girls of the hostel. She appeared to be
older and riper than they; yet he did not believe she was a day more than
five-and-twenty, and some of them were older than that. Unmarried, he
supposed. "Miss Henderson?" Yes, he was sure that was the name Mrs.
Fergusson had mentioned. His eyes travelled discreetly to her bare, left
hand. That settled it.

"Well, if I came across these fellows jeering at an Englishwoman, I'd
know the reason why!" he resumed hotly. "You should have complained."

She shook her head, smiling. "One doesn't want to be a nuisance in war
time. One can always protect oneself."

He smiled.

"That's what women always say, and--excuse me--they can't!"

She laughed.

"Oh, yes, we can--the modern woman."

"I don't see much difference between the modern woman and the
old-fashioned woman," he said obstinately. "It isn't dress or working at
munitions that makes the difference."

"No, but--what they signify."

"What?--a freer life, getting your own way, seeing more of the world?"
The tone was a trifle antagonistic.

"_Knowing_ more of the world," she said, quietly. "We're not the ignorant
babes our grandmothers were at our age. That's why we can protect
ourselves."

And again he was aware of something sharp or bitter in her--some note of
disillusionment--that jarred with the soft, rather broad face and dreamy
eyes. It stirred him, and they presently found themselves plunged in a
free and exciting discussion of the new place and opportunities of women
in the world, the man from the more conservative, the women from the more
revolutionary point of view. Secretly, he was a good deal repelled by
some of his companion's opinions, and her expression of them. She quoted
Wells and Shaw, and he hated both. He was an idealist and a romantic,
with a volume of poems in his pocket. She, it seemed, was still on a
rising wave of rebellion, moral and social, like so many women; while his
wave had passed, and he was drifting in the trough of it. He supposed she
had dropped religion, like everything else. Well, the type didn't attract
him. He believed the world was coming back to the old things. The war had
done it--made people think. No doubt this girl had rushed through a lot
of things already, and thought she knew everything. But she didn't.

Then, as their talk went on, this first opinion dropped in confusion. For
instead of presenting him with a consistent revolutionist, his companion
was, it appeared, full of the most unexpected veins and pockets of
something much softer and more appealing. She had astonishing returns
upon herself; and after some sentiment that had seemed to him silly or
even outrageous, a hurried "Oh, I dare say that's all nonsense!" would
suddenly bewilder or appease a marked trenchancy of judgment in himself
which was not accustomed to be so tripped up.

The upshot of it was that both Rachel and her new acquaintance enjoyed
an agreeable, an adventurous half hour. They got rapidly beyond
conventionalities. One moment she thought him rude, the next delightful;
just as she alternately appeared to him feminist and feminine. Above them
the doomed beech trees, still green in the late August afternoon, spread
their canopy of leaf, and through their close stems ran dark aisles of
shadow. Below them was the tree-strewn hill-side. In the hollow Rachel
could see Janet Leighton and Mrs. Fergusson among the measuring girls;
the horses moving to and fro; the Canadian lumber-men catching at and
guiding the logs; the trolleys descending the valley; while just opposite
to them trunk after trunk was crashing down the hill, the line of the
steel cable gleaming now and then in a fitful sunshine which had begun
to slip out below a roof of purple cloud. Only one prisoner was left to
look after the slide. The others had just gone down the hill, at a
summons from below. Suddenly Ellesborough sprang to his feet.

"Good Heavens! what's that?" For a loud cry had rung out, accompanied by
what sounded like a report. The man who had been standing among the dead
brushwood on the other side of the descending timber, about a hundred
yards away, had disappeared; and the huge beech just launched from above
had ceased to move.

Another cry for help.

"The cable's broken!" said Ellesborough, starting at full speed for the
slide. Rachel rushed after him, and presently caught him up where he
knelt beside a man lying on the ground, and writhing in great pain. The
prisoner's cap had fallen off, and revealed a young German lad of
nineteen or twenty, hardly conscious, and groaning pitifully at
intervals. As he lay crouched on his face, the red patches on his back,
intended to guide the aim of an armed guard in case of any attempt to
escape, showed with a sinister plainness.

"The cable snapped, and has caught him round the body," Ellesborough
explained. "Give him this brandy, please, while I try and make out--"

With skilled and gentle fingers he began to explore the injury.

"A rib broken, I think." He looked with anxiety at some blood that had
begun to appear on the lips. "I must go down and get some men and a
stretcher. They won't know what to do without me. My second in command is
off duty for the day. Can you look after him while I go? Awfully sorry
to--"

He gave her a swift, investigating glance.

She interrupted him.

"Tell me what to do, and I'll do it."

He loosened the boy's collar and very gently tried to ease his position.

"Mamma!" murmured the boy, with the accent of a miserable child in a bad
dream. Ellesborough's face softened. He bent over him and said something
in German. Rachel did not understand it--only the compassionate look in
the man's blue eyes.

"Give him more brandy if you can, and try and keep him still," said
Ellesborough as he rose to his feet. "I shall be back directly."

Her glance answered. By this time there was commotion below, the engine
had stopped working and men were running up the hill. Ellesborough went
bounding down the steep slope to meet them. They turned back with him,
and Rachel supposed they had gone to fetch a stretcher, and if possible a
doctor, from the small camp hospital which Mrs. Fergusson had pointed out
to her near the gate. Meanwhile, for a few minutes, she was alone with
this suffering lad. Was he fatally hurt--dying? She managed to get some
brandy down, and then he lay groaning and unconscious, murmuring
incoherent words. She caught "Mamma" again, then "Lisa," "Hans," and
broken phrases that meant nothing to her. Was his mind back in some
German home, which, perhaps, he would never see again?

All sorts of thoughts passed through her: vague memories gathered
from the newspapers, of what the Germans had done in Belgium and
France--horrible, indescribable things! Oh, not this boy, surely!
He could not be more than nineteen. He must have been captured in the
fighting of July, perhaps in his first action. Captain Ellesborough had
said to her that there was no fighting spirit among any of the prisoners.
They were thankful to find themselves out of it, "safely captured," as
one of them had had the bravado to say, and with enough to eat. No doubt
this boy had dreamt day and night of peace, and getting back to Germany,
to "Mamma" and "Lisa" and "Hans." To die, if he was to die, by this
clumsy accident, in an enemy country, was hard!

Pity, passionate pity sprang up in her, and it warmed her heart to
remember the pity in the face of Captain Ellesborough. She would have
hated him if he had shown any touch of a callous or cruel spirit towards
this helpless creature. But there had been none.

In a few more minutes she was aware of Mrs. Fergusson and Janet climbing
rapidly towards her. And behind them came stretcher-bearers, the captain,
and possibly a doctor.

       *       *       *       *       *

The accident broke up the working afternoon. The injured lad was carried
to hospital, where the surgeon shook his head, and refused to prophesy
till twenty-four hours were over.

Captain Ellesborough disappeared, while Rachel and Janet were given tea
at the woman's hostel and shown the camp. Rachel took an absorbed
interest in it all. This world of the new woman, with its widening
horizons, its atmosphere of change and discovery, its independence of
men, soothed some deep smart in her that Janet was only now beginning
to realize. And yet, Janet remembered the vicar, and had watched the talk
with Ellesborough. Clearly to be the professed enemy of man did not
altogether disincline you for his company!

At any rate it seemed quite natural to Janet Leighton that, when it was
time to go, and a charming girl in khaki with green facings caught the
pony, and harnessed it for Mrs. Fergusson's parting guests, Ellesborough
should turn up, as soon as the farewells were over; and that she should
find herself driving the pony-carriage up the hill, while Ellesborough
and Rachel walked behind, and at a lengthening distance. Once or twice
she looked back, and saw that the captain was gathering some of the
abounding wild flowers which had sprung up on the heels of the retreating
forest, and that Rachel had fastened a bunch of them into her hat. She
smiled to herself, and drove steadily on. Rachel was young and pretty.
Marriage with some man--some day--was certainly her fate. The kind,
unselfish Janet intended to "play up."

Then, with a jerk, she remembered there was a story. Nonsense! An unhappy
love affair, no doubt, which had happened in her first youth, and in
Canada. Well, such things, in the case of a girl with the temperament of
Rachel, are only meant to be absorbed in another love affair. They are
the leaf mould that feeds the final growth. Janet cheerfully said to
herself that, probably, her partnership with Rachel would only be a short
one.

The pair behind were, indeed, much occupied with each other. The tragic
incident of the afternoon seemed to have carried them rapidly through the
preliminary stages of acquaintance. At least, it led naturally to talk
about things and feelings more real and intimate than generally haunt the
first steps. And in this talk each found the other more and more
congenial. Ellesborough was now half amused, half touched, by the mixture
of childishness and maturity in Rachel. One moment her ignorance
surprised him, and the next, some shrewd or cynical note in what she was
saying scattered the _ingénue_ impression, and piqued his curiosity
afresh. She was indeed crassly ignorant about many current affairs in
which he himself was keenly interested, and of which he supposed all
educated women must by now have learnt the ABC. She could not have given
him the simplest historical outline of the great war; he saw that she was
quite uncertain whether Lloyd George or Asquith were Prime Minister; and
as to politics and public persons in Canada, where she had clearly lived
some time, her mind seemed to be a complete blank. None the less she had
read a good deal--novels and poetry at least--and she took a queerly
pessimistic view of life. She liked her farm work; she said so frankly.
But on a sympathetic reply from him to the effect that he knew several
other women who had taken to it, and they all seemed to be "happy" in it,
she made a scornful mouth.

"Oh, well--'happy'?--that's a different thing. But it does as well as
anything else."

The last thing she wanted, apparently, was to talk about Canada. He,
himself, as a temporary settler in the Great Dominion, cherished an
enthusiasm for Canada and a belief in the Canadian future, not, perhaps,
very general among Americans; but although her knowledge of the country
gave them inevitably some common ground, she continually held back from
it, she entered on it as little as she could. She had been in the
Dominion, he presently calculated, about seven or eight years; but she
avoided names and dates, how adroitly, he did not perceive till they had
parted, and he was thinking over their walk. She must have gone out to
Canada immediately after leaving school. He gathered that her father had
been a clergyman, and was dead; that she knew the prairie life, but had
never been in British Columbia, and only a few days in Montreal and
Toronto. That was all that, at the end of their walk, he knew; and all
apparently she meant him to know. Whereas she on her side showed a
beguiling power of listening to all he had to say about the mysterious
infinity of the Canadian forest-lands and the wild life that, winter or
spring, a man may live among them, which flattered the very human conceit
of a strong and sensitive nature.

But at last they had climbed the tree-strewn slope, and were on the open
ridge with the northern plain in view. The sun was now triumphantly out,
just before his setting; the clouds had been flung aside, and he shone
full upon the harvest world--such a harvest world as England had not seen
for a century. There they lay, the new and golden fields, where, to north
and south, to east and west, the soil of England, so long unturned, had
joyously answered once more to its old comrade the plough.

"'An enemy hath done this,'" quoted Ellesborough, with an approving
smile, as he pointed towards the plain. "But there was a God behind him!"

Rachel laughed. "Well, I've got three fields still to get in," she said.
"And they're the best. Goodnight."

She gave him her hand, standing transfigured in the light, the wind
blowing her beautiful hair about her.

"May I come and see you?" he asked, rather formally.

She smiled assent.

"Next week _everything_ will be in, and some of it threshed. I shall be
freer then. You'll like our place."

He pressed her hand, and she was off, running like a fawn after the
retreating pony carriage.

He turned away, a little dazzled and shaken. The image of her on the
ridge remained; but what perhaps had struck deepest had been the
sweetness of her as she hung above the injured boy. He went slowly
towards the camp, conscious that the day now departing had opened a new
door in the House of Life.



IV


Ellesborough allowed a week to pass before making the call at Great End
he had arranged with Rachel. But at last, when he thought that her
harvesting would be really over, he set out on his motor bicycle, one
fine evening, as soon as work at the camp was over. According to summer
time it was about seven o'clock, and the sun was still sailing clear
above the western woods.

Part of his way lay over a broad common chequered with fine trees and
groups of trees, some of them of great age; for the rest he ran through a
world where harvest in its latest stages was still the governing fact. In
some fields the corn was being threshed on the spot, without waiting for
the stacks; in others, the last loads were being led; and everywhere in
the cleared fields there were scattered figures of gleaners, casting long
shadows on the gold and purple carpet of the stubble. For Ellesborough
the novelty of this garden England, so elaborately combed and finished in
comparison with his own country, was by no means exhausted. There were
times when the cottage gardens, the endless hedge-rows, and miniature
plantations pleased him like the detail in those early Florentine
pictures in the Metropolitan Museum, for which, business man as he was,
and accustomed to the wilds, he had once or twice, on visits to New York,
discovered in himself a considerable taste. He was a man, indeed, of many
aptitudes, and of a loyal and affectionate temper. His father, a country
doctor, now growing old, his mother, still pretty at sixty, and his two
unmarried sisters were all very dear to him. He wrote to them constantly,
and received many letters from them. They belonged to one of the old
Unitarian stocks still common in New England; and such stocks are
generally conspicuous for high standards and clean living. "Discipline"
was among the chief marks of the older generation. A father or mother
dreaded an "undisciplined" child, and the word was often on their lips,
though in no Pharisaical way; while the fact was evident in their lives,
and in those private diaries which they were apt to keep, wherein, up to
old age, they jealously watched their own daily thoughts and actions from
the same point of view.

And though the younger generation, like the younger generation of
Quakers, shows change and some disintegration, the old Puritan
traditions and standards are still, as we all know, of great effect
among them. Especially with regard to women, and all that concerns them.
Among the Ellesborough clan, which was a large one, there prevailed,
along with the traditional American consideration for women, and
especially among the women of the family themselves--a strict and even
severe standard of sexual morals. There was no hypocrisy in it; they
talked of it but little, but they lived by it; and their men were brought
up in the atmosphere created by it. And as affection and tenderness and
self-sacrifice were freely mixed with the asceticism, there was
no rebellion--at any rate no open rebellion--among their men folk. The
atmosphere created led, no doubt, to certain evasions of the hard
problems of life; and to some quiet revaluations of things and persons
when the sons of the family came to men's estate. But in general the "ape
and tiger," still surviving in the normal human being, had been really
and effectively tamed in the Ellesborough race. There was also a
sensitive delicacy both of thought and speech among them; answering to
more important and tested realities. Their marriages were a success;
their children were well brought up, under light but effective control;
and, if it be true, as Americans are ready to say, that the old
conception of marriage is being slowly but profoundly modified over large
sections of their great Commonwealth, towards a laxity undreamt of half a
century ago, the Ellesboroughs could neither be taxed nor applauded in
the matter. They stood by the old ways, and they stood by them
whole-heartedly.

Ellesborough himself, no doubt, had knocked about the world more than
most of his kindred, and had learnt to look at many things differently.
But essentially, he was the son of his race. His attitude towards women
was at once reverential and protective. He believed women were better
than men, because practically he had found it so in his own circle; but
he held also very strong beliefs, seldom expressed, as to their social
disadvantages and their physical weakness. The record of the Germans
towards women in France and Flanders, a record he had verified for
himself, had perhaps done more than anything else to feed the stern flame
of war in his own soul. At thirty-two, he would probably have already
been a married man, but for the war. He rather fiercely held that it was
a man's duty to marry and have children. But beyond a few passing fancies
he had never been in love; and since the American declaration of war, he
had been, like his President, out to "make the world safe for democracy";
and the ardour of the struggle had swept his private interests out of
sight.

All the same here he was, walking his motor cycle up the field road
leading to Great End Farm, and looking eagerly about him. A lonely
position, but beautiful! On the woods behind the house he turned a
professional eye. Fine timber! The man who was to succeed him at Ralstone
would no doubt have the cutting of it. The farm quadrangle, with its
sixteenth century barn, out of which the corn seemed to be actually
bursting from various open doors and windows, appeared to him through
that glamour which, for the intelligent American, belongs to everything
that medieval and Elizabethan England has bequeathed to the England of
the present. He will back himself, he thinks, to plan and build a modern
town better than the Britisher--in any case quicker. But the mosses and
tiles of an old Brookshire barn beat him.

Ellesborough paused at the gate to watch two land lassies carrying
pails of milk across the yard towards a prolongation of the farm-house,
which he supposed was the dairy. Just beyond the farm-yard, two great
wheat-stacks were visible; while in the hayfields running up to the
woods, large hay-stacks, already nearly thatched, showed dimly in the
evening light. And all this was run by women, worked by Women! Well,
American women, so he heard from home, were doing the same in the fields
and farms of the States. It was all part, he supposed, of a world
movement, by which, no less than by the war itself, these great years
would be for ever remembered.

The farm-house itself, however, seemed to him from the outside a poor,
flimsy thing, unworthy of the old farm buildings. He could see that the
walls of it were only a brick thick, and in spite of the pretty curtains,
he was struck by the odd feature of the two large windows exactly
opposite each other, so that a spectator on either side of the house
might look right through it.

"Seems like being in the street. However, if there's nobody to look at
you, I suppose it don't matter."

Then he laughed, for just as he led his motor cycle into the yard, and
passed the sitting-room window, he was struck by the appearance of two
large sheep, who seemed to be actually in the sitting-room, at its
farther end. They were standing, he presently perceived, upon the steep
down beyond the house, on the slope of which the farm was built; which on
the southern side of the farm quadrangle came right up to the house wall.
At the same moment he saw a woman inside get up and shoo them from the
open window, so that they ran away.

But when Jenny Harberton had admitted him, and he was waiting in the
sitting-room, from which the woman he had seen had disappeared, he was in
the mood to admire everything. How nice the two women had made it! His
own rough life, both before and since the war, had only increased a
natural instinct for order and seemliness. The pretty blue paper, the
fresh drugget, the photographs on the wall, the flowers, and the delicate
neatness of everything delighted him. He went round looking at the
pictures and the few books, perfectly conscious that everything which he
saw had a more than common interest for him. The room seemed to be
telling a story--opening points of view.

"Ah!"

He paused, a broad smile overspreading his bronzed face.

For he had perceived a popular History of the War lying open and face
downwards on the table, one that he had recommended to the mistress of
the farm. So she had followed his advice. It pleased him particularly! He
had gathered that she was never a great reader; still, she was an
educated woman, she ought to know something of what her country had done.

And there was actually a piano! He wondered whether she played, or her
friend.

Meanwhile Rachel was changing her dress upstairs--rather deliberately.
She did not want to look too glad to see her visitor, to flatter him by
too much hurry. When he arrived she had just come in from the fields
where she had been at the threshing machine all day. It had covered her
with dirt and chaff; and the process of changing was only half through
when she heard the rattle of Ellesborough's cycle outside. She stood now
before the glass, a radiant daughter of air and earth; her veins, as it
were, still full of the sheer pleasure of her long day among the stubbles
and the young stock. She was tired, of course; and she knew very well
that the winter, when it came, would make a great difference, and that
much of the work before her would be hard and disagreeable. But for the
moment, her deep satisfaction with the life she had chosen, the congruity
between it and her, gave her a peculiar charm. She breathed content, and
there is no more beautifying thing.

She had thought a good deal about Ellesborough since their meeting; yet
not absorbingly, for she had her work to do. She was rather inclined to
quarrel with him for having been so long in making his call; and this
feeling, perhaps, induced her to dawdle a little over the last touches of
her toilet. She had put on a thin, black dress, which tamed the
exuberance of her face and hair, and set off the brilliance and fineness
of her skin where the open blouse displayed it. The beautiful throat was
sunburnt, indeed, but not unbecomingly so; and she was about to fasten
round it a slender gold chain, when she suddenly dropped the chain. Some
association had passed through her mind which made her shrink from it.

She chose instead a necklace of bluish-green beads, long, and curiously
interwoven, which gave a touch of dignity to the plain dress. Then she
paused to consider the whole effect, in a spirit of meditation rather
than mere vanity. "_I wish he knew_!" she thought, and the glass
reflected a frown of perplexity. Had she been wise, after all, to make
such a complete mystery of the past? People in and about Ipscombe would
probably know some time--what all her Canadian friends knew. And then,
the thought of the endless explanations and gossip, of the horrid
humiliation involved in any renewed contact whatever with the ugly things
she had put behind her, roused a sudden, surging disgust.

"Yes, I was quite right," she thought vehemently. "I was quite right!"

Voices in the room downstairs! That meant that Janet had gone in to greet
the visitor. Should they ask him to stay for supper? The vicar was
coming, and his pious little sister. There would be quite enough to eat.
Cold ham, potatoes and salad, with their own butter and bread--Janet made
beautiful bread--was enough for anybody in war time. Rachel was in the
mood to feel a certain childish exultation in the plenty of the farm,
amid the general rationing. The possession of her seven milch cows, the
daily pleasure of the milk, morning and evening, the sight of the rich
separated cream, and of the butter as it came fresh from the churn, the
growing weight and sleekness of the calves; all these things gave her a
warm sense of protection against the difficulties and restrictions of the
war. She and Janet were "self-suppliers." No need to bother about ounces
of butter, or spoonfuls of cream. Of course they sold all they could, but
they could still feed their few guests well--better, perhaps, than any of
the folk in the villa houses round Millsborough.

"Yes! and no one's leave to ask!"

She threw out her arms in a vehement gesture as she turned away from the
glass. It was the gesture of a wild bird taking flight.

By which, however, she was not hurling defiance at the gentle but most
efficient little lady who represented the Food Control of the
neighbourhood, and the mere sight of whom was enough to jog uneasy
consciences in the matter of rations. Rachel was long since on the best
of terms with her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Ellesborough was asked to stay to supper, and gladly accepted.
The vicar and his young sister arrived and were introduced to the
American. Betty and Jenny, alarmed at so much company and the quality of
it, hurriedly asked to be allowed to take their meal in the tiny scullery
behind the living room. But the democratic and dissenting Janet would not
hear of it. There was room for everybody, she said, and while she lived
in it there should only be one table for all who worked on the farm. If
the vicar and Miss Shenstone objected, she was sorry for them. But they
wouldn't object.

So the small living room of the farm was soon full of a merry company:
the two mistresses, in their Sunday frocks, the land girls in their
uniforms, the young vicar in a short coat and round collar, his little
sister of nineteen, who was training to be a missionary, and carried
about with her already the sweet and dedicated look of her calling; and
Ellesborough, a striking and manly figure in full khaki. Ellesborough was
on Rachel's right, the vicar on Janet's; Miss Shenstone sat between the
two girls, and was so far from objecting to their company that she no
sooner found she was to sit next the daughter of her brother's handy-man
than her childish face flushed with pleasure. She had seen Jenny already
at her brother's Bible-class, and she had been drawn to her. Something in
the character of the labourer's daughter seemed to make a special appeal
to the delicate and mystical temper of the vicar's sister, in whom the
ardour of the "watcher for souls" was a natural gift. Jenny seemed to be
aware of it. She was flushed and a little excited, alternately shy and
communicative--like the bird under fascination, already alive to the
signal of its captor. At any rate, Margaret Shenstone kept both her
companions happy through the meal.

The vicar employed himself in vigorously making friends with Janet
Leighton, keenly alive all the time to that vivid and flower-like vision
of Miss Henderson at the farther end of the table. But some instinct
warned him that beside the splendid fellow in khaki his own claim on her
could be but a modest one. He must watch his opportunity. It was natural
that certain misgivings had already begun to rise in the mind of his
elder sister, Eleanor, who was his permanent companion and housekeeper at
the vicarage. For why should her brother be so specially assiduous in the
harvest operations at Great End? She was well aware that it was the right
and popular thing for the young clergy who were refused service at the
front to be seen in their shirt sleeves as agricultural volunteers, or in
some form of war work. A neighbouring curate in whom she was greatly
interested spent the greater part of his week, for instance, on munition
work at a national factory. She thought him a hero. But if it was to be
harvesting, then it seemed to her that her brother should have divided
his help more evenly among the farms of the village. She was afraid of
"talk." And it troubled her greatly that neither Miss Henderson nor Miss
Leighton came to church.

Meanwhile, the vicar, like a wise man, was securing the position with
Janet. What he wished, what he was really driving at, he would not let
himself inquire. What he _knew_ was that no woman had ever fluttered his
quiet mind as Miss Henderson had fluttered it during these summer weeks.
To watch her, erect and graceful, "pitching" the sheaves on to the
harvest cart, where he and a labourer received and packed them; to be
privileged to lead the full cart home, with her smile and thanks at the
barn door for reward, or to stand with her while she proudly watched her
new reaping machine, with the three fine horses abreast, sweeping round
her biggest field, while the ripe sheaves fell beside it, as of old they
fell beside the reapers that Hoephoestus wrought in gleaming gold on the
shield of Achilles; and then perhaps to pay a last visit with her to the
farm buildings in the warm dusk and watch the cattle coming in from the
fields and the evening feed, and all the shutting up for the night after
the long, hot, busy day: these things had lately made a veritable idyll
of the vicar's life. He felt as though a hundred primitive sensations and
emotions, that he had only talked of or read about before, had at last
become real to him. Oxford memories revived. He actually felt a wish to
look at his Virgil or Theocritus again, such as had never stirred in him
since he had packed his Oxford books to send home, after the sobering
announcement of his third class. After all, it seemed these old fellows
knew something about the earth and its joys!

So that a golden light lay over these past weeks. And in the midst of it
stood the figure of a silent and--as far as he was concerned--rather
difficult woman, without which there would have been no transfiguring
light at all. He confessed to himself that she had never had much to say
to him. But wherever she was she drew the male creature after her. There
was no doubt as to that. She was a good employer--fair, considerate,
intelligent; but it was the _woman_--so the vicar believed--who got her
way.

From which it will be seen that Miss Eleanor Shenstone had some reason
for misgiving, and that the vicar's own peace of mind was in danger. His
standards also were no longer what they were. He had really ceased to
care that Miss Leighton was a Unitarian!

"I suppose you have been horribly busy?" said Rachel to Ellesborough,
when, thanks to the exertions of Janet and the two girls, everybody had
been provided with a first course.

"Not more than usual. Do you mean--" He looked at her, smiling, and
Rachel's eyebrows went up slightly. "Ah, I see--you thought I had
forgotten?"

"Oh, no," she said indifferently. "It is a long way to come."

He flushed a little.

"That never occurred to me for a moment!" he said with emphasis. "But you
said you would have finished with the harvest in a week. So I waited. I
didn't want to be a nuisance."

At which she smiled, a smile that overflowed eyes and lips, and stirred
the senses of the man beside her.

"How is the prisoner?"

"Poor boy! He died the day before yesterday. We did everything we could,
but he had no chance from the first. Hard lines!"

"Why, he might have been home next year!"

"He might, indeed. Yes, Miss Henderson, it'll be peace next year--perhaps
this year! Who knows! But I hope I'll have a look in first. I've got my
orders. As soon as they've appointed my successor here, I'm off. About a
month, I suppose. They've accepted me for the Air Force."

His eyes glowed. Rachel said nothing. She felt hurt that he expressed no
regret at going. Then the vicar struck into the conversation with some
enthusiastic remarks about the steady flowing in of the American army.
That, indeed, was the great, the overpowering fact of these August days.
Ellesborough responded eagerly, describing the huge convoy with which he
himself had come over; and that amazing, that incredible march across
three thousand miles of sea and land, which every day was pouring into
the British Isles, and so into France, some 15,000 men--the flower of
American manhood, come to the rescue of the world. He told the great
story well, with the graphic phrases of a quick mind, well fed on facts,
yet not choked by them. The table hung on him. Even little Jenny, with
parted lips, would not have missed a word.

He meanwhile was led on--for he was not a man of facile or boastful
speech--by the eyes of Rachel Henderson, and those slight gestures or
movements by which from time to time when the talk flagged she would set
it going again.

Margaret Shenstone was particularly stirred.

"What friends we shall be!" she said presently, with a long, quivering
breath--"I mean America and England. Friends for ever! And we quarrelled
once. That's so wonderful. That shows good does come out of evil!"

"I should jolly well think so," said Ellesborough, looking kindly at the
young girl. "Why, if it hadn't been for this war, millions of these boys
who are coming over now would never have seen England or Europe at all.
It'll change the face of everything!"

"Only we must play up," said the vicar anxiously. "We must get rid of our
abominable shyness, and let your people really see how we really welcome
them."

Rachel gave a little defiant shake of the head.

"America's got to thank us, too!" she said, with a challenging look at
Ellesborough. "We've borne it for four years. Now it's your turn!"

"Well, here we are," said Ellesborough quietly, "up to the neck. But--of
course--don't thank us. It's our business just as much as yours."

The talk dropped a moment, and Janet took advantage of it to bring in
coffee as a finish to the meal. Under cover of the slight bustle,
Ellesborough said to Rachel, in a voice no longer meant for the table,--

"Could you spare me a letter sometimes, Miss Henderson--at the front?"

He had both elbows on the table, and was playing with a cigarette. There
was nothing the least patronizing or arrogant in his manner. But there
was a male note in it--perhaps a touch of self-confidence--which
ruffled her.

"Oh, I am a bad letter-writer," she said, as she got up from the table.
"Shall we go and look at the cows?"

They all went out into the warm September night. Ellesborough followed
Rachel, cigarette in hand, his strong mouth twisting a little. The night
was almost cloudless. The pale encircling down, patched at intervals with
dark hanging woods, lay quiet under a sky full of faint stars. The scent
of the stubblefields, of the great corn-stack just beyond the farmyard,
of the big barn so full that the wide wooden doors could not be closed,
was mingled with the strong ammonia smells of the farm-yard, and here
and there with the sweetness left in the evening air by the chewing cows
on their passage to the cow-house on the farther side of the yard.

Rachel led the way to the cow-house--a vast fifteenth-century barn, with
an interlacing forest of timber in its roof, where the six cows stood
ranged, while Janet and the two land lassies, with Hastings the bailiff
to help them, were changing the litter and filling up the racks with hay.
Rachel went along the line pointing out the beauties of each separate
beast to Ellesborough, and caressing two little calves whom Jenny was
feeding by hand. Ellesborough was amused by her technical talk and her
proprietor's airs. It seemed to him a kind of play-acting, but it
fascinated him. Janet had brought in a lantern, and the light and shade
of it seemed to have been specially devised to bring into relief Rachel's
round and tempting beauty, the bright brown of her hair where it curled
on the temples, and the lovely oval of the cheeks. Ellesborough watched
her, now passing into deep shadow, and now brilliantly lit up, as the
light of the lantern caught her; overhead, the criss-cross of the arching
beams as of some primitive cathedral, centuries old; and on either side
the dim forms of the munching cattle, and the pretty movements of the
girls busy with their work.

"Take care," laughed Rachel as she passed him. "There are horrid holes in
this floor. I haven't had time to mend them."

As she spoke, she slipped and almost fell. Ellesborough threw out a quick
hand and caught her by the arm. She smiled into his face.

"Neatly done!" she said composedly, submitting to be led by him over a
very broken bit of pavement near the door. His hand held her firmly. Nor
did she make any effort to release herself till they were outside. Here
were the vicar and his sister waiting to say good-night--the vicar much
chagrined that he had seen so little of his chief hostess, and inclined
to feel that his self-sacrificing attention to Miss Leighton at supper
had been but poorly rewarded. Rachel, however, saw that he was out of
humour, and at once set herself to appease him. And in the few minutes
which elapsed before she parted with him at the gate she had quite
succeeded.

Then she turned to Ellesborough.

"Shall we go up the hill a little?"

They slipped through a side gate of the farmyard, crossed a field, and
found themselves on an old grass road leading gently upward along the
side of the down into the shadow of the woods. The still, warm night held
them enwrapped. Rachel had thrown a white scarf over her head and throat,
which gave a mysterious charm to the face within it. As she strolled
beside her hew friend she played him with all the arts of a woman
resolved to please. And he allowed himself to be handled at her will.
He told her about his people, and his friends, about the ideas and
ambitions, also, with which he had come to Europe, which were now in
abeyance, but were to spring to active life after the war. Forestry on a
great scale; a part to be played in the preservation and development of
the vast forest areas of America which had been so wilfully wasted;
business and patriotism combined; fortune possible; but in any case the
public interest served. He talked shrewdly, but also with ardour and
imagination; she was stirred, excited even; and all the time she liked
the foreignness of his voice, the outline of his profile against the sky,
and all the other elements of his physical presence.

But in the midst of his castle-building he broke off.

"However, I'm a silly fool to talk like this. I'm going out to the front
directly. Perhaps my bullet's waiting for me."

"Oh, no!" she said involuntarily--"no!"

"I hope not. I don't want to die just yet. I want to get married, for one
thing."

He spoke lightly, and she laughed.

"Well, that's easy enough."

He shook his head, but said nothing. They walked on till they reached the
edge of the hill, when Rachel, out of breath, sat down on a fallen log to
rest a little. Below them stretched the hollow upland, with its
encircling woods and its white stubble fields. Far below lay the dark
square of the farm, with a light in one of its windows.

Rachel pointed to the grass road by which they had come.

"We haven't seen the ghost!"

He asked her for the story, and she told it. By now she had pieced it all
together; and it seemed to Ellesborough that it had a morbid fascination
for her.

"He dragged himself down this very path," she said. "They tracked him by
the blood stains; his wounds dripped all along it. And then he fell, just
under my cart-shed. It was a horrible, bitter night. Of course the silly
people here say they hear groans and dragging steps: That's all nonsense,
but I sometimes wish it hadn't happened at my farm."

He couldn't help laughing gently at her foolishness.

"Why, it's a great distinction to have a ghost!"

She disagreed--decidedly.

"Any one can have my ghost that wants. I'm awfully easily scared."

"Are you?" There was a deep note in his voice. "No, I don't believe that.
I'm sure you're a plucky woman. I know you are!"

She laughed out.

"How do you know?"

"Why, no one but a plucky woman could have taken this farm and be working
it as you're doing."

"That's not pluck," she said, half scornfully. "But if it is--well, I've
got plenty of pluck of that kind. But I am often scared, downright
scared, about nothing. It's just fear, that's what it is."

"Fear of what?"

"I don't know."

She spoke in a sombre, shrinking tone, which struck him uncomfortably.
But when he tried further to discover what she meant, she would say
nothing more. He noticed, indeed, that she would often seem to turn the
talk upon herself, only to cut it short again immediately. She offered
him openings, and then he could make nothing of them; so that when they
reached the outskirts of the farm on their return, he had given her all
the main outlines of his own history, and she had said almost nothing of
hers.

But all the same the walk had drawn them much nearer.

He stopped her at the little gate to say,--

"I'm going to ask you again--I want you to write to me when I'm in
France."

And this time she said almost eagerly,--

"Yes, I'll write; indeed I'll write! But you'll come over again before
you go?"

"Rather," he said joyously; "rather! Why, there's a month. You'll be
tired of me before you've done."

A few minutes later she was standing in her own little room, listening to
the retreating rush of his motor-cycle down the road. There was a great
tumult in her mind.

"Am I falling in love with him? Am I--am I?"

But in the dark, when she had put out her light, the cry that shaped
itself in her mind was identical with that sudden misgiving of the
afternoon, when on Ellesborough's arrival she had first heard his voice
downstairs talking to Janet.

"_I wish he knew_!" But this time it was no mere passing qualm. It had
grown into something intense and haunting.

       *       *       *       *       *

On this same September afternoon, a dark-eyed, shabby woman, with a
little girl, alighted at Millsborough Station. They were met by a man who
had been lounging about the station for some time and whose appearance
had attracted some attention. "See him at a distance, and you might take
him for a lord; but get him close, my word!--" said the station-master to
the booking-clerk, with a shrug, implying many things.

"Wouldn't give a bob for his whole blessed turn-out," said the
booking-clerk. "But right you are, when you sort of get the hang of him,
far enough away on the other platform, might be a dook!"

Meanwhile, the man had shouldered some of the bags and parcels brought by
the woman and the child, though hardly his fair share of them; and they
finally reached the exit from the station.

"If you're going into the town, the bus will be here in a few minutes,"
said a porter civilly to the woman. "It'll help you with all those
things."

The man gruffly answered for her that they preferred to walk, and they
started, the woman and the child dragging wearily beside him.

"Now, you've got to be content with what I've found for you," he said to
her roughly as they reached the first houses of the town. "There isn't
scarcely a lodging or a cottage to be had. Partly it's the holidays
still, and partly it's silly folk like you--scared of raids."

"I couldn't go through another winter like last, for Nina's sake," said
the woman plaintively.

"Why, you silly goose, there won't be any raids this winter. I've told
you so scores of times. We've got the upper hand now, and the Boche will
keep his planes at home. But as you won't listen to me, you've got to
have your way, I suppose. Well, I've got you rooms of a sort. They'll
have to do. I haven't got money enough for anything decent."

The woman made no reply, and to the porter idly looking after them they
were soon lost from sight in the gathering dusk of the road.



V


The little town of Millsborough was _en fête_. There was a harvest
festival going on, and the County Agricultural Committee had taken the
opportunity to celebrate the successful gathering of the crops, and the
part taken in it by the woman land-workers under their care. They had
summoned the land lasses from far and wide; in a field on the outskirts
of the town competitions had been in full swing all the morning, and now
there were to be speeches in the market-place, and a final march of land
girls, boy scouts, and decorated wagons to the old Parish Church, where a
service was to be held.

All Millsborough, indeed, was in the streets to look at the procession,
and the crowd was swelled by scores of cadets from a neighbouring camp,
who were good-heartedly keeping the route, and giving a military air to
the show. But the flower-decked wagons were the centre of interest. The
first in the line was really a brilliant performance. It was an old wagon
of Napoleonic days, lent by a farmer, whose forebears had rented the same
farm since William and Mary. Every spoke of the wheels blazed with red
geraniums; there was a fringe of heather along the edge of the cart,
while vegetables, huge marrows, turnips, carrots, and onions dangled from
its sides, and the people inside sat under a nodding canopy of tall and
splendid wheat, mixed with feathery barley. But the passengers were
perhaps the most attractive thing about it. They were four old women in
lilac sunbonnets. They were all over seventy, and they had all worked
bravely in the harvest. The crowd cheered them vociferously, and they
sat, looking timidly out on the scene with smiling eyes and tremulous
lips, their grey hair blowing about their wrinkled, wholesome faces.

Beside the wagon walked a detachment of land girls. One of them was the
granddaughter of one of the old women, and occasionally a word would
pass between them.

"Eh, Bessie, but I'd like to git down! They mun think us old fools,
dizened up this way."

"No, gran; you must ride. You're the very best bit of the show. Why, just
listen how the folk cheer you!"

The old woman sighed.

"I'd like to look at it mysel'," she said with a childish plaintiveness.
But her tall granddaughter, in full uniform, with a rake over her
shoulder, thought this a foolish remark, and made no reply.

In the second wagon, Rachel Henderson in full land-dress--tunic,
knee-breeches, and leggings--stood in the front of the cart, guiding two
white horses, their manes and tails gaily plaited with ribbons, and
scarlet badges on their snowy heads.

"Eh, but yon's a fine woman!" said an old farmer of the humbler sort to
his neighbour. "Yo'll not tell me she's a land lassie?"

"Noa, noa; she's the new farmer at Great End--a proud body, they say, an'
a great hustler! The men say she's allus at 'em. But they don't mind
her neither. She treats 'em well. Them's her two land girls walking
beside."

For Betty and Jenny mounted guard, their harvest rakes on their
shoulders, beside their mistress, who attracted all eyes as she passed,
and knew it. Behind her in the cart sat Janet Leighton; and the two
remaining seats were filled by the Vicar of Ipscombe and Lady Alicia
Shepherd, the wife of the owner of Great End Farm and of the middle-sized
estate to which the farm belonged.

Lady Alicia was a thin woman, with an excitable temperament, to judge
from her restless mouth and eyes, which were never still for a moment.
She was very fashionably dressed and held a lace parasol. The crowd
scarcely recognized her, which annoyed her, for in her own estimation she
was an important member of the Women's Committee which looked after the
land girls. The war had done a great deal for Lady Alicia. It had dragged
her from a sofa, where she was rapidly becoming a neurasthenic invalid,
and had gradually drilled her into something like a working day. She
lived in a flurry of committees; but as committees must exist, and Lady
Alicias must apparently be on them; she had found a sort of vocation, and
with the help of other persons of more weight she had not done badly.

She did not quite understand how it was that she found herself in Miss
Henderson's wagon. The committee had refused to have a wagon of its own,
and the good-natured vicar had arranged it for her. She did not herself
much like Miss Henderson. Her husband had sent her to call upon the new
tenants, and she had been much puzzled. They were ladies, she supposed.
They spoke quite nicely, and Miss Henderson seemed to be the daughter of
a clergyman. But she was afraid they were dreadful Socialists! She had
talked to Miss Henderson about the awful--the _wicked_--wages that the
Brookshire board had just fixed for the labourer.

"My husband says they'll simply crush the life out of farming. We shall
all be ruined, and where will the labourer be then?"

And Miss Henderson had looked quite unpleasant. It was high time, she
said, that the labourer should have enough to live on--_decently_; really
thrown the word at you. And Colonel Shepherd had told his wife that he
understood from Hastings Miss Henderson had raised her wages before the
award of the Wages Board. Well, he only hoped the young woman had got
some money behind her, otherwise she would be finding herself in Queer
Street and he would be whistling for his rent.

The wagons drew up in the centre of the market-place, and the band which
the cadets had brought with them struck up "God Save the King." Lady
Alicia rose at once and nudged her little boy, whom she had brought with
her, to take off his cap. She looked approvingly over the crowd, which
was growing denser and denser every moment. It was so that she really
enjoyed the populace--at a safe distance--and ready to lend itself to the
blandishments of its natural leaders. Where was her husband, Colonel
Shepherd? Of course they would want him to speak at some time in the
proceedings. But she looked for him in vain.

Meanwhile, the speaking was beginning from the first cart. A land girl
who had played a rousing part in the recruiting campaign of the early
summer was speaking in a high voice, clearly heard by the crowd. She
was tall and pretty, and spoke without a sign of hesitation or
self-consciousness. She gloried in the harvest, in the splendid news from
the war, in the growth of the Woman's Land Army. "We've just been proud
to do our bit at home while our boys have been fighting over there.
They'll be home soon, perhaps, and won't we give them a welcome! And
we'll show them the harvest that we've helped to reap--the biggest
harvest that England's ever known!--the harvest that's going to beat the
Boche." The young simple voice flowed on, with its simple story and its
note of enthusiasm, and sometimes of humour. "It's hard work, but we love
it! It's cold work often, but we love it! The horses and the cows and the
pigs--they're naughty often, but they're nice!---yes, the pigs, too. It's
the beasts and the fields and the open air we love!"

Betty looked at Jenny with a grin.

"Jenny!--them pigsties yesterday; d'ye think she's ever cleaned one out?"

"I know she has," said Jenny confidentially. "She's Farmer Green's girl,
out Ralstone way. Ee says there ain't nothing she can't do. Ee don't
want no men while he's got 'er. They offered him soldiers, and ee
wouldn't have 'em."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Silly, sentimental young woman," said a tall man, with a pipe in his
mouth, who had just lounged up to the outskirts of the crowd, from a side
street. "Who's she going to take in here? What's the good of talking
poetry about farming to a lot of country people? A London shop-girl, I
guess. What does she know about it?"

"You bets she knows a lot," said a young man beside him, who, to judge
from his uniform, was one of the Canadians employed at Ralstone camp.
He had been taken with the "sentimental young woman," and was annoyed by
the uncivil remarks of his neighbour. "Wonder what farm she's on?"

"Oh, you know these parts?" said the other, removing his pipe for a
moment and looking down on his companion.

"Well, not exactly." The reply was hesitating. "My grandfather went out
to Canada from a place near here sixty years ago. I used to hear him and
my mother talk about Millsborough."

"Beastly hole!" said the other, replacing his pipe.

"I don't agree with you at all," said the other angrily. "It's as nice a
little town of its size as you'd find anywhere."

The other shrugged his shoulders. A man a few yards off in the crowd
happened at that moment to be looking in the direction of the two
speakers. It was the ticket-collector at the station, enjoying an
afternoon off. He recognized the taller of the two men as the "dook" he
had seen at Millsborough station about a week ago. The man's splendid
carriage and iron-grey head were not to be mistaken--also his cadaverous
and sickly look, and his shabby clothes. The ticket-collector saw that
the man was holding the dark-eyed, "furrin-looking" child by the hand,
which the woman he met had brought down with her. "Furriners," he
supposed, all of them; part of that stream of fugitives from air raids
that had been flowing out of London during the preceding winter, and was
now flowing out again, as the next winter approached, though in less
volume. Every house and lodging in Millsborough was full, prices had gone
up badly, and life in Millsborough was becoming extremely uncomfortable
for its normal inhabitants--"all along o' these panicky aliens!" thought
the ticket-collector, resentfully, as he looked at the tall man.

The tall man, however, was behaving as though the market-place belonged
to him, talking to his neighbours, who mostly looked at him askance, and
every now and then breaking into a contemptuous laugh, provoked
apparently by the eloquence of the young woman in the wagon. Meanwhile
the little girl whose hand he held was trying to pull him into a better
place for seeing the rest of the procession. For from the place where
they stood on the outskirts of the crowd, the foremost wagon with its
nodding wheat and sheaves, its speaker, its old women, and its bodyguard
of girls entirely hid the cart behind it.

"Dis way, pappa, dis way," said the child, dragging him. He let her draw
him, and suddenly from behind the speaker's cart there emerged the second
wagon with its white horses; Rachel Henderson, the observed of all
beholders, standing flushed and smiling, with the reins in her hands, the
vicar just behind her, and Lady Alicia's lace parasol.

"My God!" said the man.

His sudden start, and clutch at the child's hand made the child cry out.
He checked her with a savage word, and while she whimpered unheeded, he
stood motionless, sheltering himself behind a girl with a large hat who
stood in front of him, his eyes fixed on the Great End wagon. A ghastly
white had replaced the patchy red on his cheeks, and had any careful
observer chanced to notice him at the moment, he or she would have been
struck by the expression of his face--as of some evil, startled beast
aware of its enemy, and making ready to spring.

But the expression passed. With a long breath, Roger Delane pulled
himself together.

"Hold your noise, Nina," he said roughly to the child. "If you'll be a
good girl, I'll put you on my shoulder."

The child stopped crying at once, and Delane, raising her on to his
shoulder, pulling his own soft hat over his eyes and placing the child so
that her dress concealed his own features. Then he resumed an excited
scrutiny of the Great End wagon. At the same moment he saw a man in
uniform making his way through the crowd towards Miss Henderson who was
waving to him. An officer--an American officer. Delane recognized at once
the high collar and the leathern peak to the cap.

The crowd had already begun to cheer him. He reached the Great End wagon,
and its mistress, all smiles, bent over to speak to him. She and the
vicar seemed to be giving directions, to which the American with a
laughing shrug assented, going off to the front wagon, evidently in
obedience to orders. There the girl speaker had just sat down amid a
hearty cheer from the crowd; and the chairman of the meeting, a burly
farmer, eagerly came to the side of the wagon, and helped the American
officer into the cart. Then with a stentorian voice the chairman
announced that Captain Ellesborough from Ralstone camp had come "to tell
us what America is doing!" A roar from the crowd. Ellesborough saluted
gaily, and then his hands in his pockets began to talk to them. His
speech, which was a racy summary of all that America was doing to help
the Allies, was delivered to a ringing accompaniment of cheers from the
thronged market-place, rising to special thunder when the captain dwelt
on the wheat and bacon that America was pouring across the Atlantic
to feed a hungry Europe.

"We've tightened our own belts already; we can tighten them, I dare say,
a few holes more. Everybody in America's growing something, and making
something. When a man thinks he's done enough, and wants to rest a bit,
the man next him gets behind him with a bradawl. There's no rest for
anybody. We've just registered _thirteen million_ men. That sounds like
business, doesn't it? No slacking there! Well, we mean business. And you
mean business. And the women mean business."

Then a passage about the women, which set the land girls grinning at each
other, and at the men in the crowd, ending in three cheers for Marshal
Foch and Sir Douglas Haig, which came echoing back from the Fourteenth
Century church and the old houses which ringed the market-place.

All eyes were on the speaker, no one noticed the tall man with the
olive-skinned child on his shoulder. He himself, with thumping pulses,
never ceased to watch the figures and movements in the second wagon. He
saw Miss Henderson sit down and another woman also in tunic and knickers
take her place. He watched her applauding the speaker, or talking with
the clergyman behind her, or the lady with the lace parasol. And when the
speech was over, amid a hurricane of enthusiasm, when the resolution had
been put and carried, and the bells in the old church-tower began to ring
out a deafening joy-peal above the dispersing crowd, he saw the American
officer jump down from the speaker's wagon and return to Miss Henderson.
Steps were brought, and Captain Ellesborough handed out the ladies. Then
he and Rachel Henderson went away side by side, laughing and talking,
towards the porch of the church, where Delane lost them from sight.

The market-place emptied rapidly. The decorated wagons moved off to the
field where the competitions had been held in the morning, and some
of the crowd with them. Another portion streamed into the church, and
soon only a few scattered groups were left.

The tall man put down the child, and was seized with a fit of coughing,
which left him more pallid and sunken-eyed than before. When it was over,
he noticed a group of elderly labourers. They had come late into the
meeting, and were making for the bar of the Cow-roast Inn, but before
they entered it Delane went up to one of them.

"I'm a stranger here," he said carelessly. "Can you tell me who all these
people were in the wagons?"

The man addressed--who was old Halsey--gave the speaker a reconnoitring
look.

"Well, I dunno neither," he said cautiously, "leastways, many of 'em.
There was my old missus, in the first one. She didn't want to go, dressed
up in them sunbonnets. But they made such a fuss of her, she had to.
There was Farmer Broughton I seed, an' I don't know nobody else."

"Well, but the second wagon?" said Delane impatiently.

"Oh, the second wagon. Why, that was Miss Henderson. Don't ye know 'er? I
works for 'er?"

"Is she on the land?"

The old man laughed.

"That she be! She's a farmer, is Miss Henderson, an' she frames pretty
fair. She don't know much yet, but what she don't know Hastings tells,
her."

"Who's Hastings?"

"Why, her bailiff, to be sure. You do be a stranger, not knowin' Muster
Hastings?"

"I'm just here for a few weeks. It's a rum business, isn't it, this of
women taking farms?"

Halsey nodded reflectively.

"Aye, it's a queer business. But they do be cleverer at it than ye'd
think. Miss Henderson's a good head-piece of her own."

"And some money, I suppose?"

"Well, that's not my look out, is it, so long as I gits my wages? I
dessay Colonel Shepherd, ee sees to that. Well, good-day to you. I'm
goin' in to get summat to drink. It's a dryin' wind to-day, and a good
bit walk from Ipscombe."

"Is that where you live?"

"Aye--an' Miss Henderson's place is just t'other side. A good mile to
Ipscombe, and near a mile beyont. I didn't want to come, but my old woman
she nagged me to come an' see her 'ome."

And with another nod, the old man turned into the public, where his mates
were already enjoying the small beer of the moment.

For a few minutes, Delane strolled down the main road in silence, the
child playing at his heels. Then he turned abruptly, called the child,
and went up the side street from which he had appeared when the
meeting began.

A quarter of an hour later he returned to the market-place alone. The
service in the church was still going on. He could hear them singing, the
harvest hymn: "We plough the fields and scatter--The good seed on the
land." But he did not stop to listen. He walked on rapidly in the
direction of Ipscombe.

Delane found the main line from Millsborough to Ipscombe dotted
at intervals with groups of persons returning from the harvest
festival--elderly women with children, a few old labourers, a few
soldiers on leave, with a lively fringe of noisy boys and girls
skirmishing round and about their elders, like so many young animals on
the loose. The evening light was failing. The pools left by a passing
shower, gleamed along the road, and the black elms and oaks, scarcely
touched as yet by autumn gold, stood straight and sharp against a rainy
sky.

The tall, slouching man scrutinized the various groups as he passed them,
as though making up his mind whether to address them or not. He wore a
shabby greatcoat, warmer than the day demanded, and closely buttoned
across the chest. The rest of his dress, felt hat, dark trousers, and tan
boots, had all of it come originally from expensive shops, but was now
only just presentable. The one thing in good condition about him was the
Malacca cane he carried, which had a carved jade handle, and was
altogether out of keeping with his general appearance.

All the same there was something striking in that appearance. Face,
figure and dress represented the wreck of more than one kind of
distinction. The face must once have been exceptionally handsome, before
an underlying commonness and coarseness had been brought out or
emphasized by developments of character and circumstance. The mouth was
now loose and heavy. The hazel eyes had lost their youth, and were
disfigured by the premature wrinkles of either ill-health or dissipation.
None the less, a certain carriage of the head and shoulders, a certain
magnificence in the whole general outline of the man, especially in the
defiant eyes and brow, marked him out from the crowd, and drew attention
of strangers.

Many persons looked at him, as he at them, while he swung slowly along
the road. At last he crossed over towards an elderly man in company with
a young soldier, who was walking lamely with a stick.

"Excuse me," he said, formally, addressing the elder man, "but am I right
for Ipscombe?"

"That you are, muster. The next turnin' to the right'll bring yer to it."
Peter Betts looked the stranger over as he spoke, with an inquisitive
eye.

"You've come from the meeting, I suppose?"

"Ay. We didn't go to the service. That worn't in our line. But we heerd
the speeches out o' doors."

"The carts were fine!--especially the second one."

"Ay--that's our missis. She and the two girls done the dressin' o' the
cart."

"What's her name?"

"Well, her name's Henderson," said the old man, speaking with an amiable,
half careless detachment, the manner rather of a philosopher than a
gossip.

"She's the farmer's wife?"

"Noa, she ain't. She's the farmer herself--'at's what she is. She's took
the farm from Colonel Shepherd--she did--all on her own. To be sure
there's Miss Leighton as lives with her. But it do seem to me as Miss
Henderson's--as you might say--the top 'un. And me an' James Halsey works
for her."

"_Miss_ Henderson? She's not married?"

"Not she!" said old Betts emphatically. "She's like a lot o' women
nowadays, I guess. They doan't want to be married."

"Perhaps nobody 'as wanted to marry 'em, dad!" said his elder son,
grinning at his own stale jest.

Betts shook a meditative head.

"Noa--yo'll not explain it that way," he said mildly. "Some of 'em's
good-looking--Miss Henderson 'ersel', by token. A very 'andsome
up-standin' young woman is Miss Henderson."

Delane followed all these remarks with close attention, and continued a
rather skilful examination. He learnt that Great End was a farm of about
two hundred and fifty acres, that Miss Henderson seemed to have "lots o'
money," and had sold her autumn crops very well, that Miss Leighton
managed the stock and the dairy with the help of two land-girls, and it
was thought by the village that the two ladies "was doin' fine."

Arrived at the village, Betts turned into his cottage, with a nod to his
companion, and Delane went on his way.

The lane on the farther side of the village was dark under branching
trees. Delane stumbled along it, coughing at intervals, and gripped by
the rising chill of the September evening. A little beyond the trees he
caught sight of the farm against the hill. Yes, it was lonesome, as the
old man said, but a big, substantial-looking place. Rachel's place! And
Rachel had "lots o' money"--and as to her health and well-being, why the
sight of her on that cart was enough. That vision of her indeed--of the
flushed, smiling face under the khaki hat, of the young form in the trim
tunic and leggings, and, not least, of the admiring crowd about her, kept
returning upon the man's furious sense as something not to be borne, a
recurrent blow from which he could not escape.

And that American chap--that Yankee officer who had walked off with her
to the church--what was the meaning of that? They were not strangers,
that was plain. She had beckoned to him from the cart. The manner of
their short conversation, indeed, showed them well acquainted. She told
him to go and speak--and he had gone--with alacrity--smiling back at her.
Courting, no doubt! Rachel could never let a man alone--or live, without
a man after her. A brutal phrase shaped itself--a vile epithet or
two--flung into the solitude of the lane.

When he emerged from the trees into a space of greater light between two
stubble fields, Delane suddenly drew a letter from his pocket. While
Rachel was flaunting with "lots of money"--this was how his affairs were
going.

"DEAR ROGER,--I can do nothing for you. Your demands are simply
insatiable. If you write me any more begging letters, or if you attempt
again to force your way into my house as you did last week, I shall tell
the bank to cancel your allowance, and wash my hands of you altogether.
My husband's determined to stop this kind of thing. Don't imagine you can
either threaten us, or come round us. We have tried again and again to
help and reform you. It is no good--and now we give you up. You have
worn us out. If you are wise, you will not answer this--and if you keep
quiet the allowance shall be continued. MARIANNE TILNEY."

That was a nice letter to get from a man's only sister! Allowance! What
was £100 a year to a woman as rich as Marianne? And what was the use
of £100 a year to him, with living at the price it was now? His wretched
pittance besides, doled out to him by his father's trustees under his
father's will, brought his whole income up to £300 a year. How was a man
to live on that, and support a woman and child?

And here was Rachel--free--bursting with health--and possessed of "lots
of money." She thought, no doubt, that she had done with him--thrust him
out of her life altogether. He'd let her see! Whose fault was it that he
had taken up with Anita? Nagging, impossible creature!--with her fine
ladyisms and her tempers, and her insolent superior ways!

He walked on, consumed with a bitterness which held him like a physical
anguish. By now he had reached the farm gate. The sunset had cleared and
deepened. Great rosy thunder-clouds topped the down, and strong lights
were climbing up the bronzed masses of wood behind the house. No one to
be seen. At Millsborough they could hardly be out of church yet. He had
time before him. He walked cautiously up the farm-lane, diverging to the
left as he reached the buildings so as to escape the notice of any one
who might be left in charge. As he slipped under the large cart-shed
which backed on the cow-house, he heard somebody whistling inside. It was
old Halsey, who had done the afternoon milking in the absence of the
girls. Delane could hear the movements of the labourer, and the munching
of the cows. A little farther on was the stable, and two horses' heads,
looking pensively out from the open half of the door. Delane peered into
the stable with the eye of one to whom all farming matters were familiar.
Three fine horses--d---d fine horses!--must have cost £100 a piece at
least. No doubt the cows were equally good stuff. And he had noticed
under the outer cart-shed a brand-new reaper and binder, and other farm
implements and machines of the best quality. Rachel was doing the thing
in style.

But where was the farm-house? Then as he crept round the third side of
the rough quadrangle, he became aware of a large window with white
curtains. Looking through it with his face against the glass, he was
startled to find that he was looking straight into the farm-yard through
another window of equal size on the other side of the room. And at the
moment Halsey came out of the cow-shed carrying a pail of milk in either
hand. Delane drew hastily back into the shelter of an old holly that grew
against the wall, till the old man had disappeared. Then he eagerly
examined the room, which was still suffused by the sunset. Its prettiness
and comfort were so many fresh exasperations. He contrasted it inwardly
with the wretched lodging from which he had just come. Why, he knew the
photographs on the walls--her father, the old parson, and her puritanical
mother, whom Rachel had always thrown in his teeth. Her eldest brother,
too, who had been drowned at sea. And that engraving--that sentimental
thing by Watts, "Love and Death," that Rachel had bought once on a visit
to Toronto, and he had scolded her for buying. There it was, as large as
life. How did it come there? Was it her property or his? He believed he
could claim it, if he chose. Gad!--what would she say if she knew where
he was at that moment, and what he was doing!

For eighteen months she had hidden herself so cleverly that he had
entirely lost sight of her. When her lawyers communicated with him in the
spring they had been careful to give no address. On the whole he had
believed her to be still in Canada. She, on the other hand, unless she
were a greater fool than he thought her, _must_ have guessed that he
would get back to England somehow. Why, the farm had ended in bankruptcy,
and what else was there to do but to come home and dun his relations!
Yet she had not been afraid to come home herself, and set up in this
conspicuous way. She supposed, of course, that she had done with him for
good--kicked him off like an old shoe! The rage in his blood set his
heart beating to suffocation. Then his cough seized him again. He stifled
it as best he could, flattened against the wall, in the shadow of a
yew-tree.

The sound, however, was apparently heard, for there were rapid steps
across the farm-yard, and a gate opened. "Hallo--who's there?" The voice
was, no doubt, that of the labourer he had seen. Delane slipped
noiselessly along the wall, and to the back of the stables, till all was
quiet again within the farm.

But outside in the road there were persons approaching. He mounted the
hill a little way into the shelter of the trees which covered the steep
face of the down, and ran up into the great woods along the crest.
Through the gathering dusk he saw the large farm-cart clattering up the
lane with several figures in it. The cart carried lamps, which sent
shafts of light over the stubbles. There was a sound of talk and
laughter, and alongside the cart he saw a man leading a motor-bicycle,
and apparently talking to the women in the cart. A man in uniform.
The American, no doubt!

The cart drew up at the farm-yard gates, and the old labourer came to
open them. Everybody dismounted, except one of the girls, who, standing
in the wagon, drove the horses. Then, for a time, Delane could see
nothing more. The farm quadrangle had absorbed the party. Occasionally a
light flashed, or a voice could be heard calling, or laughter came
floating up the hill through an open door or window. But in a little
while all was silence.

Delane sat down on a fallen trunk, and watched. All kinds of images were
rushing through his brain--wide wheat fields with a blazing sun on the
stooks--a small frame house set nakedly on the flat prairie with a bit of
untidy garden round it--its living room in winter, with a huge fire, and
a woman moving about--the creek behind it, and himself taking horses down
to water. They were images of something that had once meant happiness and
hope--a temporary break or interlude in a dismal tale which had closed
upon it before and after.

Darkness came down. The man on the hill said to himself, "Now they are
having supper," and he crept down again to the farm, and crouching and
wriggling along he made his way again to the big window, over which the
curtains had been drawn. There was no one in the sitting-room, however,
to judge from the silence, but from the kitchen across the passage came a
rush of voices, together with a clatter of plates. The kitchen looked out
on the front of the farm, and a wooden shutter had been fastened across
the window. But the wood of the shutter was old and full of chinks, and
Delane, pressing his face to the window, was able to get just a glimpse
of the scene within--Rachel at the head of the table, the man in uniform
beside her--three other women. A paraffin lamp threw the shadow of the
persons at the table sharply on the white distempered wall. There were
flowers on the table, and the meal wore a home-like and tempting air to
the crouching spy outside. Rachel smiled incessantly, and it seemed to
Delane that the handsome man beside her could not take his eyes from her.
Nor could Delane. Her brown head and white throat, her soft, rose-tinted
face emerging from the black dress, were youth itself--a vision of youth
and lusty-hood brilliantly painted on the white wall.

Delane looked his fill. Then he dropped down the bank on which the farm
stood, and avoiding the open track through the fields, he skirted a hedge
which led down to the road, and was lost in the shadows of advancing
night.



VI


Rain!--how it pelted the September fields day after day and week after
week, as though to remind a world still steeped in, still drunk with the
most wonderful of harvests, that the gods had not yet forgotten their old
jealousy of men, and men's prosperity. Whenever a fine day came the early
ploughing and seeding was in full swing, and Rachel on one side of the
largest field could watch the drill at work, and on the other the harrow
which covered in the seed. In the next field, perhaps, she would find
Betty and Jenny lifting potatoes, and would go to help with them, digging
and sorting, till every limb ached and she seemed to be a part herself of
the damp brown earth that she was robbing of its treasure. For a time
when the harvest was done, when the ricks were thatched ready for
threshing, there had been a moment of ease. But with the coming of
October, the pressure began again. The thought of the coming frost and of
all those greedy mouths of cattle, sheep, and horses to be filled through
the winter, drove and hunted the workers on Great End Farm, as they have
driven and hunted the children of earth since tilling and stock-keeping
began. Under the hedges near the house, the long potato caves had been
filled and covered in; the sheep were in the turnips, and every two or
three days, often under torrents of rain, Rachel and the two girls must
change the hurdles, and put the hungry, pushing creatures on to fresh
ground. On the top of the down, there was fern to be cut and carted for
the winter fodder, and fallen wood to be gathered for fuel, under the
daily threats of the coal-controller.

Rachel worked hard and long. How she loved the life that once under other
skies and other conditions she had loathed! Ownership and command had
given her a new dignity, in a sense a new beauty. Her labourers and her
land girls admired and obeyed her, while--perhaps!--Janet Leighton had
their hearts. Rachel's real self seemed to be something that no one knew;
her companions were never quite at ease with her; and yet her gay,
careless ways, the humanity and natural fairness of her mind, carried a
spell that made her rule sit light upon them.

Yes!--after all these weeks together, not even Janet knew her much
better. The sense of mystery remained; although the progress of the
relation between her and Ellesborough was becoming very evident, not only
indeed to Janet, but to everybody at the farm. His departure for France
had been delayed owing to the death in action of the officer who was to
have been sent home to replace him. It might be a month now before he
left. Meanwhile, every Sunday he spent some hours at the farm, and
generally on a couple of evenings in the week he would arrive just after
supper, help to put the animals to bed, and then stay talking with Rachel
in the sitting-room, while Janet tidied up in the kitchen. Janet, the
warm-hearted, had become much attached to him. He had been at no pains to
hide the state of his feelings from her. Indeed, though he had said
nothing explicit, his whole attitude to Rachel's friend and partner was
now one of tacit appeal for sympathy. And she was more than ready to
give it. Her uprightness, and the touch of austerity in her, reached
out to similar qualities in him; and the intellectual dissent which she
derived from her East Anglican forbears, from the circles which in
eighteenth-century Norwich gathered round Mrs. Opie, the Martineaus, and
the Aldersons, took kindly to the same forces in him; forces descended
from that New England Puritanism which produced half the great men--and
women--of an earlier America. Rachel laughed at them for 'talking
theology,' not suspecting that as the weeks went on they talked--whenever
they got a chance--less and less of theology, and more and more of
herself, through the many ingenious approaches that a lover invents and
the amused and sympathetic friend abets.

For clearly Ellesborough was in love. Janet read the signs of it in the
ease with which he had accepted the postponement of his release from the
camp, eager as he was to get to the fighting line. She heard it in his
voice, saw it in his eyes; and she was well aware that Rachel saw it.
What Rachel thought and felt was more obscure. She watched for
Ellesborough; she put on her best frocks for him; she was delighted to
laugh and talk with him. But she watched for Mr. Shenstone, too, and
would say something caustic or impatient if he were two or three days
without calling. And when he called, Rachel very seldom snubbed him, as
at first. She was all smiles; the best frocks came out for him, too; and
Janet, seeing the growing beatitude of the poor vicar, and the growing
nervousness of his sister, was often inclined to be really angry with
Rachel. But they were not yet on such terms as would allow her to
remonstrate with what seemed to her a rather unkind bit of flirtation;
seeing that she did not believe that Rachel had, or ever would have, a
serious thought to give the shallow, kindly little man.

But though she held her tongue, Janet showed her feeling sometimes by a
tone, or a lifted eyebrow, and then Rachel would look at her askance,
turning the vicar's head none the less on the next occasion. Was it that
she was deceiving herself, as well as trying, very unsuccessfully, to
deceive the lookers-on? The progress of the affair with Ellesborough made
on Janet a curious and rather sinister impression, which she could hardly
explain to herself. She seemed to see that Ellesborough's suit steadily
advanced; that Rachel made no real attempt to resist his power over her.
But all the same there was no happy, spontaneous growth in it. Rachel
seemed to take her increasing subjection hardly, to be fighting obscurely
against it all the time, as though she were hampered by thought and
motives unknown to the other two. Ellesborough, Janet thought, was often
puzzled by the cynical or bitter talk with which Rachel would sometimes
deliberately provoke him. And yet it was clear that he possessed the
self-confidence of a strong man, and did not really doubt his ultimate
power to win and hold the woman he was courting.

One bitterly cold evening at the very end of September, Ellesborough,
arriving at the farm, was welcomed by Janet, and told that all hands were
in the fields "clamping" potatoes. She herself left a vegetable stew
ready for supper, safely simmering in a hay-box, and walked towards the
potato field with Ellesborough. On the way they fell in with Hastings,
the bailiff, who was walking fast, and seemed to be in some excitement.

"Miss Leighton--that old fool Halsey has given notice!"

Janet stopped in dismay. Halsey was a valuable man, an old-fashioned
labourer of many aptitudes, equally good as a woodman, as an expert in
"fagging" or sickling beaten-down corn, as a thatcher of roofs or ricks,
as a setter of traps for moles, or snares for rabbits. Halsey was the
key-stone of the farm labour. Betts was well enough. But without Halsey's
intelligence to keep him straight--Janet groaned.

"What on earth's the matter, Hastings? We raised his wages last week--and
we did it before the county award was out!"

Hastings shook his head.

"It's not wages. He says he's seen the ghost!"

Janet exclaimed, and Ellesborough laughed.

"What, the defunct gamekeeper?"

Hastings nodded.

"Vows he's seen him twice--once on the hill--on the green path--and once
disappearing round the corner of the farm. He declares that he called to
the man--who was like nobody he had ever seen before--and the man took no
notice, but went along, all hunched up--as they say the ghost is--and
talking to himself--till all of a sudden he vanished. I've argued with
him. But nothing'll hold him--old idiot! He vows he'll go---and if he
talks to the others they'll all go."

"Has he gone home?" asked Janet.

"Long ago. He left the horses to Jenny, and just marched off. In the lane
he met me, and gave notice. Such a cock-and-bull story as you never
heard! But I couldn't do anything with him."

"I'll go and tackle him," said Janet at once. "We can't lose him. The
work will go to smash."

She waved a farewell to Ellesborough, and ran back to the house. The
others, watching, saw her emerge on her bicycle and disappear towards the
village.

"Well, if anybody can move the old fellow, I suppose it's Miss Leighton,"
said Hastings disconsolately. "She's always managed to get the right side
of him so far. But I'm nearly beat, captain! Things are getting too hard
for me. You can't say a word to these men--they're off in a moment. And
the wages!--it's sinful!"

"We're supposed only to be fighting a war, Hastings," said Ellesborough
with a smile as they walked on together. "But all the time there's
revolution going on beside it--all over the world!"

Hastings made a face.

"Right you are, captain. And how's it going to work out?"

"Don't ask me!" laughed Ellesborough--"we've all got to sit tight and
hope for the best. All I know is that the people who work with their
hands are going to get a bit of their own back from the people who work
with their heads--or their cheque-books. And I'm glad of it! But ghosts
are a silly nuisance. However, I dare say Miss Leighton will get round
the old man."

Hastings looked doubtful.

"I don't know. All the talk about the murder has come up again. They say
there's a grandson come home of the man that was suspected sixty years
ago--John Dempsey. And some people tell me that this lad had the whole
story of the murder from his grandfather--who confessed it--only last
year, when the man died."

"Well, if he's dead all right, and has owned up to it, why on earth does
the ghost make a fuss?"

Hastings shook his head.

"People get talking," he said gloomily. "And when they get talking,
they'll believe anything--and see anything. It'll be the girls next."

Ellesborough tried to cheer him, but without much success. The "poor
spirit" of the bailiff was a perpetual astonishment to the American, in
the prime of his own life and vigour. Existence for Hastings was always
either drab or a black business. If the weather was warm, "a bit of cold
would ha' been better": if a man recovered from an illness, he'd still
got the "bother o' dyin' before him." He was certain we should lose the
war, and the rush of the September victories did not affect him. And if
we didn't lose it, no matter--prices and wages would still be enough to
ruin us. Rachel grew impatient under the constant drench of pessimism.
Janet remembered that the man was a delicate man, nearing the sixties,
with, as she suspected, but small provision laid up for old age; with an
ailing wife; and bearing the marks in body and spirit of years of
overwork. She never missed an opportunity of doing him a kindness; and
the consequence was that Hastings, always faithful, even to his worst
employers, was passionately faithful to his new mistresses, defending
them and fighting for their interests, as they were sometimes hardly
inclined to fight for themselves.

After showing Ellesborough the way to the "clamps," Hastings left him. In
succession to the long days of rain there had been a sudden clearing in
the skies. The day had been fine, and now, towards sunset, there was a
grand massing of rosy cloud along the edge of the down, and windy lights
over the valley. Rachel, busy with the covering of the potato "clamps,"
laid down the bundle of bracken she had been handing to Peter Betts, and
came quickly to meet her visitor. Her working dress was splashed with
mire from neck to foot, and coils of brown hair had escaped from her
waterproof cap, and hung about her brilliant cheeks. She looked happy,
but tired.

"Such a day!" she said, panting, as they met. "The girls and I began at
six this morning--lifting and sorting. It was so important to get them
in. Now they're safe if the frost does come. It's a jolly crop!"

Ellesborough looked at her, and her eyes wavered before the ardour in
his.

"I say! You work too hard! Haven't you done enough? Come and rest."

She nodded. "I'll come!"

She ran to say a word to the others and rejoined him.

They went back to the farm, not talking much, but conscious through every
nerve of the other's nearness. Rachel ran upstairs to change her dress,
and Ellesborough put the fire together, and shut the windows. For the sun
had sunk behind the hill, and a bitter wind was rising. When Rachel came
down again, the wood-fire glowed and crackled, the curtains drawn, and
she stared in astonishment at a small tea-tray beside the fire.

Ellesborough hurriedly apologized.

"I found some boiling water in the kettle, and I know by now where Miss
Janet keeps her tea."

"Janet brought us tea to the field."

"I dare say she did. That was four--this is six. You felt cold just now.
You looked cold. Be good, and take it easy!" He pointed to the only
comfortable chair, which he had drawn up to the fire.

"Are you sure it boiled?" she said sceptically, as she sank into her
chair, her eyes dancing. "No man knows when a kettle boils."

"Try it! For five winters on the Saguenay, I made my own tea--and baked
my own bread. Men are better cooks than women when they give their minds
to it!" He brought her the cup, hot and fragrant, and she sipped it in
pure content while he stood smiling above her, leaning against the
mantelpiece.

"I wanted to see you," he said presently. "I've just got my marching
orders. Let's see. This is October. I shall have just a month. They've
found another man to take over this job, but he can't come till
November."

"And--peace?" said Rachel, looking up.

For Prince Max of Baden had just made his famous peace offer of October
5th, and even in rural Brookshire there was a thrilling sense of opening
skies, of some loosening of those iron bonds in which the world had lain
for four years.

"There will be no peace!" said Ellesborough with sudden energy, "so long
as there is a single German soldier left in Belgium or France!"

She saw him stiffen from head to foot--and thrilled to the flame of
avenging will that suddenly possessed him. The male looked out upon her,
kindling--by the old, old law--the woman in her.

"And if they don't accept that?"

"Then the war will go on," he said briefly, "and I shall be in for the
last lap!"

His colour changed a little. She put down her cup and bent over the fire,
warming her hands.

"If it does go on, it will be fiercer than ever."

"Very likely. If our fellows set the pace there'll be no dawdling.
America's white hot."

"And you'll be in it?"

"I hope so," he said quietly.

There was a pause. Then he, looking down upon her, felt a sudden and
passionate joy invade him--joy which was also longing--longing
irresistible. His mind had been wrestling with many scruples and
difficulties during the preceding days. Ought he to speak--on the eve of
departure--or not? Would she accept him? Or was all her manner and
attitude towards him merely the result of the new freedom of women?
Gradually but surely his mounting passion had idealized her. Not only
her personal ways and looks had become delightful to him, but the
honourable, independent self in him had come to feel a deep admiration
for and sympathy with her honourable independence, for these new powers
in women that made them so strong in spite of their weakness. She had
become to him not only a woman but a heroine. His whole heart approved
and admired her when he saw her so active, so competent, so human. And
none the less the man's natural instinct hungered to take her in his
arms, to work for her, to put her back in the shelter of love and
home--ith her children at her knee....

And how domestic was this little scene in which they stood--the
firelight, the curtained room, the tea-things, her soft, bending form,
with the signs of labour put away!...

The tears rushed to his eyes. He bent over her, and spoke her name,
almost unconsciously.

"Rachel!"

His soul was in the name!

She started, and looked up. While he had been thinking only of her, her
thoughts had gone wandering--far away. And they seemed to have brought
back--not the happy yielding of a woman to her lover--but distress and
fear. A shock ran through him.

"Rachel!--" He held out his hands to her. He could not find words, but
his eyes spoke, and the agitation in every feature.

But she drew back.

"Don't--don't say anything--till--"

His look held her--the surprise in it--the tender appeal. She could not
take hers from it. But the disturbance in him deepened. For in the face
she raised to him there was no flood of maidenly joy. Suddenly--her eyes
were those of a culprit examining her judge. A cry sprang to his lips.

"Wait!--wait!" she said piteously.

She fell back in her chair, covering her face, her breast heaving. He saw
that she was trying to command herself, to steady her voice. One of those
forebodings which are the children of our half-conscious observation shot
through him. But he would not admit it.

He stooped over her and tried again to take her hand. But she drew it
away, and sat up in her chair. She was very white, and there were tears
in her eyes.

"I've got something to say to you," she said, with evident difficulty,
"which--I'm afraid--will surprise you very much. Of course I ought to
have told you--long ago. But I'm a coward, and--and--it was all so
horrible. I am not what you suppose me. I'm--a married woman--at least I
was. I divorced my husband--eighteen months ago. I'm quite free now. I
thought if you really cared about me--I should of course have to tell you
some time--but I've been letting it go on. It was very wrong of me--I
know it was very wrong!"

And bowing her face on her knees, she burst into a passion of weeping,
the weeping of a child who was yet a woman. The mingled immaturity and
intensity of her nature found its expression in the very abandonment of
her tears.

Ellesborough, too, had turned pale. He was astounded by what
she said. His thoughts rushed back over the six weeks of their
friendship--recalling his first impressions of something mysterious
and unexplained.

But of late, he had entirely forgotten them. She had talked so frankly
and simply of her father and mother--of her father's missionary work in
Canada, and her early journeys with him; and of her brother in Ontario,
his children and his letters. Once she had handed him a letter from this
brother to read, and he had been struck by the refined and affectionate
tone of it. Here were the same family relations as his own. His heart,
his taste were satisfied. If Rachel Henderson accepted him he would be
bringing his mother a daughter she would find it easy to love.

And all the time--instead of an unmarried girl, with the experiences
of love and marriage before her--she had been already married--and
divorced! Another man had loved and possessed her--and even if she were
innocent--but of course she was innocent!--there must be some ugly story
involved.

He tried to collect his thoughts--but all his consciousness seemed to be
bruised and in pain. He could only put his hand on her hair, and say
incoherent things,--

"Don't cry so, dear--don't cry!"

And even as he spoke he felt with bewilderment how--in a moment--their
respective attitudes had changed. She checked her sobs.

"Sit there!" she said, pointing peremptorily to a seat opposite. Then she
looked round her.

"Where is Janet?"

"She went to the village."

Rachel dried her eyes, and with trembling hands smoothed her hair back
from her face.

"I'll try and tell it shortly. It's a horrible tale."

"Do you feel able to tell it?"

For he was aghast at her pallor--the alteration in her whole aspect.

"I must," she wailed. "Weren't you--weren't you just going to ask me to
marry you?"

Strange question!--strange frowning eyes!

"I was," he said gravely. "Didn't you know I should?"

"No, no, I didn't know!" she said piteously. "I was never _sure_--till
you looked at me then. I wouldn't be sure!"

He said nothing. Speech was ice-bound till he had heard what she had to
say.

"It all began to happen three years ago," she said hurriedly, hiding her
face from him with her hand while she hung over the fire. "I was living
with my brother, who was then near Winnipeg. He offered me a home after
my father died. But he was married, and I didn't get on with his wife. I
dare say it was my fault, but I wasn't happy, and I wanted to get away.
Then a man--an Englishman--bought the next section to us, and we began
to know him. He was a gentleman--he'd been to Cambridge--his father had
some land and a house in Lincolnshire. But he was the third son, and
he'd been taught land agency, he said, as a training for the colonies.
That was all we knew. He was very good-looking, and he began courting me.
I suppose I was proud of his being a University man--a public school boy,
and all that. He told me a lot of stories about his people, and his
money--most of which were lies. But I was a fool--and I believed them. My
brother tried to stop it. Well, you know from his letters what sort of
man he is," and again she brushed the sudden tears away. "But his wife
made mischief, and I was set on having a place of my own. So I stuck to
it--and married him."

She rose abruptly from her seat and began to move restlessly about the
room, taking up a book or her knitting from the table, and putting them
down again, evidently unconscious of what she was doing. Ellesborough
waited. His lean, sharply-cut face revealed a miserable, perhaps an
agonized suspense. This crisis into which she had plunged him so suddenly
was bringing home to him all that he had at stake. That she mattered to
him so vitally he had never known till this moment.

"What's the good of going into it!" she said at last desperately. "You
can guess--what it means"--a sudden crimson rushed to her cheeks--"to
be tied to a man--without honour--or principle--or refinement--who
presently seemed to me vile all through--in what he said--or what he did.
And I was at his mercy. I had married him in such a hurry he had a right
to despise me, and he used it! And when I resisted and turned against
him, then I found out what his temper meant." She raised her shoulders
with a gesture which needed no words. "Well--we got on somehow till my
little girl was born--"

Ellesborough started. Rachel turned on him her sad, swimming eyes. But
the mere mention of her child had given her back her dignity and strength
to go on. She became visibly more composed, as she stood opposite to him,
her beautiful dark head against the sunset clouds outside.

"She only lived a few weeks. Her death was largely owing to him. But
that's a long story. And after her death I couldn't stand it any more. I
ran away. And soon I heard that he had taken up with an Italian girl.
There was a large camp of Italians on the C.P.R., quite close to us. She
was the daughter of one of the foremen. So then my brother made me go to
his lawyers in Winnipeg. We collected evidence very easily. I got my
divorce eighteen months ago. The decree was made absolute last February.
So, of course, I'm quite free--quite--_quite_ free!"

She spoke the last words almost savagely, and after them she moved away
to the window looking on the down, and stood gazing through it, as though
she had forgotten Ellesborough's presence.

"The action was not defended?" he asked, in a low voice.

She shook her head without speaking. But after a minute she added,--

"I can show you the report."

There was silence. Ellesborough turned round, put his hands on the
mantelpiece, and buried his face on them. Presently she approached him,
looked at him with a quivering lip, and said in broken sentences,--

"It has all come so suddenly--hasn't it? I had been in such good
spirits to-day, not thinking of those horrible things at all. I don't
know what I meant to do, if you did ask me--for of course I knew you
_might_. I suppose I intended to put off telling you--so as to be sure
first--_certain_--that you loved me. And then--somehow--when you looked
down on me like that, I felt--that _I_ cared--much more than I had
thought I cared--too much to let you speak--before you knew--before I'd
told you. It's always been my way--to--put off disagreeable things. And
so I thought I could put this off. But every night I have been awake
thinking--'if only he knew!'--and I was wretched--for a while--because
you didn't know. But then it went away again--and I forgot it. One does
forget things--everything--when one is hard at work. But I'm awfully
sorry. And now--I think--we'd better say good-bye."

Her voice faltered against her will. He raised himself quickly.

"No--no," he said passionately, "we won't say good-bye. But you must let
me think--for you, as well as for myself."

"It would be better to say good-bye," she persisted. "I'm afraid--you
expect in me--what I haven't got. I see that now. Because I'm keen about
this work, and I can run this farm, you think--perhaps--I'm a strong
character. But I'm not. I've no judgment--not in moral things. I give
in--I'm weak--and then--I could kill myself!"

She had grown very white again--and her eyes were strangely fixed on him.
The words seemed to him incoherent, out of touch somehow even with their
tragic conversation. But his first passing bewilderment was lost in pity
and passion. He stopped, took her hand, and kissed it. He came nearer.

But again she drew back.

"There's Janet!" she said, "we can't talk any more."

For she had caught sight of Janet in the farm-yard, leading her bicycle.

"Can you meet me to-morrow evening--on the Common?" he said. "I could be
there about six."

She frowned a little.

"Is it worth while?"

"I beg you!" he said huskily.

"Very well--I'll come. We shall be just friends, please."

"But, of course, I'll tell you more--if you wish."

Janet's voice and step were heard in the passage. How Ellesborough got
through the next ten minutes he never remembered. When they were over, he
found himself rushing through the cool and silence of the autumn night,
thankful for this sheltering nature in which to hide his trouble, his
deep, deep distress.



VII


The October night rang stormily round Great End Farm. The northwest wind
rushing over the miniature pass just beyond the farm, where the road
dropped from the level of the upland in which Ipscombe lay, to the level
of the plain, was blowing fiercely on the square of buildings which stood
naked and undefended against weather from that quarter of the heaven,
while protected by the hills and the woods from the northeast. And
mingled with the noisy or wailing gusts came the shrieking from time to
time of one of the little brown owls that are now multiplying so fast in
the English midlands.

The noise of the storm and the clamour of the owl were not the cause of
Rachel's wakefulness; but they tended to make it more feverish and
irritable. Every now and then she would throw off the bed-clothes, and
sit up with her hands round her knees, a white and rigid figure lit by
the solitary candle beside her. Then again she would feel the chill of
the autumn night, and crouch down shivering among the bed-clothes, pining
for a sleep that would not come. Instead of sleep, she could do nothing
but rehearse the scene with Ellesborough again and again. She watched the
alterations in his face--she heard the changes in his voice--as she told
her story. She was now as sorry for him as for herself! The tears came
flooding into her eyes as she thought of him. In her selfish fears of his
anger she had forgotten his suffering. But the first true love of her
life was bringing understanding. She realized the shock to him, and wept
over it. She saw, too, that she had been unjust and cowardly in letting
the situation go so far without speaking; and that there was no real
excuse for her.

Would he give her up? She had told him that all was at an end between
them; but that was only pride--making a virtue of a necessity. Oh, no,
no, he must not give her up! It was only six weeks since their first
meeting, and though it would be untrue to say that since the meeting he
had wholly possessed her thoughts, she had been capable all through them
of that sort of dallying with the vicar which Janet thought unkind. She
had been able to find plenty of mind for her work, and for the ambitions
of her new profession, and had spent many a careless hour steeped in the
sheer physical pleasure of the harvest. Yet, from the beginning, his
personality had laid its grip on hers. She had never been able to forget
him for long. One visit from him was no sooner over than she was
calculating on and dreaming of the next. And as the consciousness
of some new birth in her had grown, and sudden glimpses had come to her
of some supreme joy, possibly within her grasp, so fear had grown, and
anxiety. She looked back upon her past, and knew it stained--knew that it
must at some point rise as an obstacle between her and him.

But how great an obstacle? She was going to tell him, faithfully,
frankly, all the story of her marriage--accuse her own rash self-will in
marrying Delane, confess her own failings as a wife; she would tell no
hypocritical tale. She would make it plain that Roger had found in her no
mere suffering saint, and that probably her intolerance and impatience
had contributed to send him to damnation. But, after all, when it was
told, what could Ellesborough do but pity her?--take her in his arms--and
comfort her--for those awful years--and her lost child?

The tears rained down her cheeks. He loved her! She was certain of that.
When he had once heard the story, he could not forsake her! She already
saw the pity in his deep grey eyes; she already felt his honest,
protecting arms about her.

Ah--_but then_? Beyond that imagined scene, which rose, as though
it were staged, before her, Rachel's shrinking eyes, in the windy
darkness, seemed to be penetrating to another--a phantom scene in a dim
distance--drawn not from the future, but the past. Two figures moved in
it. One was herself. The other was not Roger Delane.

The brown owl seemed to be shrieking just outside her window. Her
nerves quivered under the sound as though it were her own voice. Why was
life so cruel, so miserable? Why cannot even the gods themselves make
undone what is done? She was none the worse--permanently--for what had
happened in that distant scene--that play within a play? How was she the
worse? She was "not a bad woman!"--as she had said so passionately to
Janet, when they joined hands. There was no lasting taint left in mind
and soul--nothing to prevent her being a pure and faithful wife to George
Ellesborough, and a good mother to his children. It was another Rachel to
whom all that had happened, a Rachel she had a right to forget! She was
weak in will--she had confessed it. But George Ellesborough was strong.
Leaning on him, and on kind Janet, she could be all, she would be all,
that he still dreamed. The past--_that_ past--was dead. It had no
existence. Nothing--neither honour nor love--obliged her to disclose it.
Except in her own mind it was dead and buried--as though it had never
been. No human being shared her knowledge of it, or ever would.

And yet the Accuser came closer and closer, wrestling with her shrinking
heart. "You can't live a lie beside him all your life!" "It won't be a
lie. All that matters to him is what I am now--not what I was. And it
wasn't I!--it was another woman--a miserable, battered creature who
couldn't help herself." "It will rise up between you, and perhaps--after
all--in some way--he will discover it." "How can he? Dick and I--who in
all the world knew, but us two?--and Dick is dead." "Are you sure that no
one knew:--that no one saw you? Think!"

A pale face grew paler in the dim light, as thought hesitated:--

"There was that wagon--and the boy--in the storm." "Yes--what then?"
"Well--what then? The boy scarcely saw me." "He did see you." "And if he
did--it is the commonest thing in a Canadian winter to be caught by a
storm, to ask shelter from a neighbour." "Still--even if he drew no
malicious conclusion, he saw you--alone in that farm with Dick Tanner,
and he probably knew your name." "How should he know my name?" "He had
seen you before--you had seen him before." "I didn't know his name--I
don't know it now." "No--but in passing your farm once, he had dropped a
parcel for a neighbour--and you had seen him once--at a railway station."
"Is it the least likely that I shall ever see him again--or that he
remembers seeing me at Dick Tanner's door?" "Not likely, perhaps--but
possible--quite possible."

And while this question and answer passed through the brain, the woman
sitting up in bed seemed to be transported to a howling wintry scene of
whirling snow--a November twilight--and against that background, the hood
of a covered wagon, a boy holding the reins, the heavy cape on his
shoulders white with snow, the lamps of the wagon shining dimly on him,
and making a kind of luminous mist round the cart. She heard a parley,
saw a tall and slender man with fair hair go out to the boy with hot
milk and bread, caught directions as to the road, and saw herself as a
half-hidden figure in the partially open door.

And then afterwards--the warm farm kitchen shutting out the storm--a man
at her knees--his arms round her--his kisses on her cheek.

And again the irrevocableness of it closed down upon her. It could
_never_ be undone: that was the terrible commonplace which held her in
its grasp. It could never be wiped out from one human mind, which must
bear the burden of it as best it could, till gradually--steadily--the
life, had been killed out of the ugly, haunting thing, and it had been
buried--drowned, out of sight and memory.

But the piteous dialogue began again.

"How _could_ I have resisted? I was so miserable--so lonely--so weak!"
"You didn't love him!" "No--but I was alone in the world." "Well, then,
tell George Ellesborough--he is a reasonable man--he would understand."
"I can't--I _can't_! I have deceived him up till now by passing as
unmarried. If I confess this, too, there will be no chance for me. He'll
never trust me in anything!--he'll suspect everything I do or say--even
if he goes on loving me. And I couldn't bear it!--nor could he."

And so at last the inward debate wore itself out, and sleep, sudden and
deep, came down upon Rachel Henderson. When she woke in the morning it
was to cleared skies both in her own mind and in the physical world. The
nightmare through which she had passed seemed to her now unreal, even a
little absurd. Her nerves were quieted by sleep, and she saw plainly what
she had to do. That "old, unhappy, far-off thing" lurking in the
innermost depth of memory had nothing more to do with her. She would look
it calmly in the face, and put it finally--for ever--away. But of her
marriage she would tell everything--everything!--to George Ellesborough,
and he should deal with her as he pleased.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day was misty and still. October, the marvellous October of this
year, was marching on. Every day, Foch on the battlefield of France and
Belgium was bringing down the old Europe, and clearing the ground for the
new. In English villages and English farms, no less than in the big
towns, there was ferment and excitement, though it showed but little.
Would the boys be home by Christmas--the sons, the brothers, the
husbands? What would the change be like--the life after the war? If there
were those who yearned and prayed for it--there were those who feared it.
The war had done well for some, and hideously for others. And all through
the play of individual interests and desires, and even in the dullest
minds there ran the intoxicating sense of Victory, of an England greater
and more powerful than even her own sons and daughters had dared to
dream--an England which knew herself now, by the stern test of the four
years' struggle, to be possessed of powers and resources, spiritual,
mental, physical, which amazed herself. In all conscious minds, brooding
on the approaching time, there rose the question: "What are we going to
do with it?" and even in the unconscious, the same thought was present,
as a vague disturbing impulse.

Janet had just read the war telegrams to Rachel, who had come down late,
complaining of a headache; but when Janet--the reserved and equable
Janet--after going through the news of the recapture of Ostend,
Zeebrugge, and Bruges, broke into the passionate, low-spoken comment:
"The Lord is King--be the people never so unquiet!" or could not, for
tears, finish the account of the entry into recaptured Lille, and the joy
of its inhabitants, Rachel sat irresponsive--or apparently so.

How would it affect Ellesborough--this astounding news? Would it take him
from her the sooner, or delay his going? That was all she seemed capable
of feeling.

Janet was troubled by her look and attitude, and being well aware that
the two had had a long _tête-à-tête_ the day before, wondered how things
were going. But she said nothing; and after breakfast Rachel joined the
two girls in the potato-field, and worked as hard as they, hour after
hour. But her usual gaiety was gone, and the girls noticed at once the
dark rims under her eyes. They wondered secretly what Miss Henderson's
"friend" had been doing. For that the "Cap'n" was courting their employer
had long been plain to them. Betty, of course, had a "friend," the young
soldier whose sick leave was nearly up, and the child's deep velvety eyes
were looking nearly as tired as Miss Henderson's. While Jenny, too, the
timid, undeveloped Jenny had lately begun to take an interest in a
"friend," a young fellow belonging to Ellesborough's forestry camp whom
she had met in Millsborough the day of the Harvest Festival. They had
hardly exchanged half an hour's real conversation. But he had bought her
some sweets at Millsborough, and walked a bit of the way home with her.
Then she had seen him in the village once or twice. He had some relations
there--there was some talk of him, and that old murder at the farm--she
didn't know rightly what it was. But she felt somehow that Miss Henderson
wouldn't want to have him about--Miss Henderson didn't like talk of the
murder--so Jenny had never asked him to look her up. But her raw,
childish mind was full of him, and the ferments of sex were stirring.
In the secret opinion of both girls, "friends" were quite as much pain as
pleasure. No girl could do without them; but they were pretty certain to
cause heart-aches, to make a girl wish at some time or other that she had
never been born. A London factory-girl would have expressed it in the
Cockney way: "Blokes are no good--but you must have a bloke!"

The two girls then concluded that Captain Ellesborough had been causing
trouble, as all men did, at some point; and being sympathetic little
souls, they worked especially hard in the potato-field, and would not
allow Rachel to carry the heavier baskets to the "clamp."

Meanwhile Janet had been wrestling with old Halsey, till he had very
reluctantly yielded to her persuasion, and returned to work.

"I'm not the man I wor," he confided to Peter Betts, as they were eating
their dinner under a hedge in the damp October sunshine. "When I wor a
young man, I wouldn't ha' minded them things, not if it was iver so. But
now they do give me the shivers in my inside."

"What do?" said Peter Betts, with a mouthful of cold bacon. He was still
greatly in the dark as to why Halsey had left work so early in the
afternoon the day before, and why he was now in such a gruff and gloomy
mood. There was indeed a rumour in the village that old Halsey had seen
"summat," but as Halsey had gone to bed immediately after Miss Leighton
had had her say with him, and had refused to be "interviewed" even by
his wife, there was a good deal of uncertainty even in the mind of his
oldest pal, Peter Betts.

"Why--ghostisses!" said Halsey, with a frown, removing his pipe for a
moment to give emphasis to the word. "I don't see as a man can be
expected to deal with ghostisses. Anythin' else yer like in a small
way--mad dogs, or bulls, or snakes, where they keep 'em, which, thank the
Lord, they don't in these parts--but not _them_."

"What did yer see?" said Betts, after a few ruminating pulls.

"Well, I saw old Watson, the keeper, as was murdered sixty years since,
'at's what I saw," said Halsey with slow decisiveness.

"An' what might be like?" asked Betts, with equal deliberation. The day
was mild and sunny; the half-ploughed field on which they had been
working lay alternatively yellow in the stubbles and a rich brown purple
in the new turned furrows under the autumn noon. A sense of well-being
had been diffused in the two old men by food and rest. Halsey's tongue
grew looser.

"Well, I saw a man come creepin' an' crouchin' down yon grass road"--(it
was visible from where they sat, as a green streak on the side of the
hill)--"same as several people afore me 'as seen 'um--same as they allus
say old Watson must ha' come after Dempsey shot 'im. He wor shot in the
body. The doctors as come to look at 'im fust foun' that out. An' if
ye're shot in the body, I understan', yo naterally double up a bit if yo
try to walk. Well--that's jes' how I saw 'im--crouchin' along. Yo
remember it wor a dull evenin' yesterday--an' it wor gettin' dark, though
it worn't dark. It wor not much after fower, by my old watch--but I
couldn't see 'im at all plain. I wor in Top-End field--you know?--as
leads up to that road. An' I watched 'im come along making for that
outside cart-shed--that 'un that's back to back wi' the shippen, where
they foun' Watson lyin'. An' I wor much puzzled by the look on 'im. I
didn't think nothink about old Watson, fust of all--I didn't know what to
think. I was right under the hedge wi' the horses; 'ee couldna' ha' seen
me--an' I watched 'im. He stopped, onst or twice, as though he wor
restin' hisself--pullin' 'isself together--and onst I 'eered 'im cough--"

Halsey looked round suddenly on his companion as though daring him to
mock.

Betts, however, could not help himself. He gave an interrupting and
sceptical chuckle.

"Ghostisses don't cough, as ever I 'eered on."

"And why shouldn't they?" said Halsey testily. "If they can do them
other things they'd used to do when livin'--walkin' an' seein' an'
such-like--why not coughin'?"

Betts shook his head.

"Never 'eered on it," he said, with conviction.

"Well, anyways I seed him come down to that shed, an' then I lost 'im.
But I 'ad the creeps somehow and I called to Jenny to come an' take the
'orses. An' then I went after 'im. But there was all the field an' the
lane to cross, and when I come to the shed, there wasn't no one and
nothink to be seen--excep'--"

The old man paused, and again looked doubtfully at his companion.

"Well?" said Betts eagerly, his philosophic attitude giving way a little.

"Excep'--a large patch o' blood--_fresh blood_--I touched it--on one of
them ole sacks lyin' near the cart," said Halsey slowly. "An' it worn't
there in the afternoon, for I moved the sacks mysel'."

Betts whistled softly. Halsey resumed,--

"There was nothin' moved--or taken away--nothin' at all!--only that
patch. So then I went all round the farm, and there was nobody. I thought
'ee might ha' turned back by the grass road, p'raps, without my seein'
'im, so I went that way, and there was nothin'--until--a little way up
the road--there was blood again"--the old man's voice dropped--"every
couple o' yards or so--a drop or two here--an' a drop or two there--just
as they tracked old Watson by it, up the hill, and into yon wood--where
Dempsey set on him."

The two old men looked at each other. Betts was evidently impressed.

"Are you sure it was blood?"

"Sure. Last night, Hastings said it was sheep-dip! After I tole 'im, when
'ee went to look under the shed, it wor so dark 'ee couldn't see nothin'.
Well, 'ee knew better this mornin'. 'Ee fetched me, an' asst me if I'd
said anythin' to Miss Janet. And I said, no. So then he tole me I wasn't
to say nothin' to the ladies, nor the girls, nor anybody. An' 'ee'd done
summat wi' the sack--I dunno what. But 'ee might ha' held 'is tongue last
night about sheep-dip! Who's been dippin' sheep about here? 'As Miss
Henderson got any ruddle anywhere about the farm? I know she ain't!--an'
Muster Hastings knows she ain't."

"Why didn't yer tell Miss Janet?--about the bleedin'?"

"Well, I was a bit skeered. I thought I'd sleep on't, before I got
talkin' any more. But on the way 'ome, as I tellt yer, I met Hastings,
an' tole '_im_, an' then give 'im notice."

"That wor a bit hasty, worn't it?" said Betts after a moment, in a
judicial tone. But he had been clearly much exercised by his companion's
account, and his pipe hanging idly from his hands showed that his
thoughts were active.

"Well, it might ha' bin," Halsey admitted, "but as I said afore, I'm
gettin' an old man, and I don't want no truck wi' things as I don't
unnerstan'. It give me the wust night as I've had since I had that bad
turn wi' the influenza ten year ago."

"You didn't see his face?"

"No."

"An' 'ee didn't mind you of anybody?"

Halsey hesitated.

"Well, onst I did think I'd seen one o' the same build--soomwhere. But I
can't recolleck where."

"As for the blood," said Betts reflectively, "it's as curous as the
coughin'. Did you iver hear tell as ghosts could bleed?"

Hastings shook his head. Steeped in meditation, the two men smoked
silently for a while. Then Betts said, with the explosiveness of one who
catches an idea,--

"Have yer thought o' tellin' John Dempsey?"

"I hain't thought o' tellin' nobody. An' I shouldn't ha' told Miss
Leighton what I did tell her, if she 'adn't come naggin' about my givin'
notice."

"You might as well tell John Dempsey. Why, it's his business, is old
Watson! Haven't yer seen 'im at all?"

Halsey said "No," holding his handsome old head rather high. Had he
belonged to a higher station in life, his natural reticence, and a
fastidious personal dignity would have carried him far. To a modern
statesman they are at least as valuable as brains. In the small world
of Ipscombe they only meant that Halsey himself held rather scornfully
aloof from the current village gossip, and got mocked at for his pains.
The ordinary human instinct revenged itself, however, when he was
_tête-à-tête_ with his old chum Peter Betts. Betts divined at any rate
from the expression in the old man's eyes that _he_ might talk, and
welcome.

So he poured out what he knew about John Dempsey, a Canadian lad working
in the Forestry Corps at Ralstone, who turned out to be the grandson of
the Dempsey who had always been suspected of the murder of Richard Watson
in the year 1859. This young Dempsey, he said, had meant to come to
Ipscombe after the war, and put what he knew before the police. But
finding himself sent to Ralstone, which was only five miles from
Ipscombe, he saw no reason to wait, and he had already given all the
information he could to the superintendent of police at Millsborough. His
grandfather had signed a written confession before his death, and John
Dempsey had handed it over. The old man, it appeared, had "turned pious"
during a long illness before his death, and had wished to square matters
with his conscience and the Almighty. When his grandson had volunteered
for the war, and was about to sail for Europe, old Dempsey had sent for
him, had told him the story, and charged him, when he was able, to place
his confession in the proper hands. And having done that, he died "very
quiet and comfortable"--so John Dempsey reported.

"Which is more than poor Jem Watson did," growled Halsey. He felt neither
respect nor sympathy for a man who, having set up a secret, couldn't
keep it; and the confession itself, rather than the crime confessed,
confirmed the poor opinion he had always held of the elder Dempsey when
they were young men in the village together. But he agreed to let Betts
bring "young John" to see him. And thereupon they went back to the sowing
of one of Miss Henderson's big fields with winter wheat.

When the milking was done, and work was nearly over for the day, a note
brought by messenger arrived at the farm for Miss Henderson. It was from
Ellesborough--a few scribbled words. "I am prevented from coming this
evening. The Chief Forestry Officer of my district has just arrived, and
stays the night. I hope to come over to-morrow between six and seven.
Shall I find you?"

Rachel scribbled an answer, which a small boy on a bicycle carried off.
Then she went slowly back to the sitting-room, so disappointed and
unnerved that she was on the brink of tears. Janet who had just come in
from milking, was standing by the table, mending a rent in her
waterproof. She looked up as Rachel entered, and the needle paused in her
hand.

"I say, Rachel!--you do look overdone! You've been going at it too hard."

For all day long Rachel had been lifting, and sorting, and carrying, in
the potato-field, finding in the severe physical exertion the only relief
from restlessness. She shook her head irritably and came to stand by the
wood fire which Janet had just lit, a welcome brightness in the twilight
room.

"Suppose you knock up--" began Janet in a tone of remonstrance. Rachel
cut her short.

"I want to speak to you--please, Janet."

Janet looked round in astonishment and put down her work. Rachel was
standing by the fire, with her hands behind her back, her eyes fixed on
Janet. She was still in the graceful tunic and knee-breeches, in which
her young and splendid youth seemed always most at home. But she had
taken off her cap, and her brown hair was falling round a pale face.

"Janet--you know Captain Ellesborough and I had a long talk last night?"

Janet smiled.

"Of course I do. And of course I have my own thoughts about it!"

"I don't know what they are," said Rachel slowly. "But--I'd better tell
you--Captain Ellesborough asked me to marry him."

She paused.

"Did you think that would be news to any of us?" said Janet, laughing,
and then stopped. The sudden contraction of pain in Rachel's face, and
something like a sob startled her.

"Don't, Janet, please. I told him something--which made him
wonder--whether he did want to marry me after all."

Janet's heart gave an uncomfortable jump. A score of past conjectures and
misgivings rushed back upon her.

"What did you tell him?"

"What I see now I ought to have told you--as well as him--long ago.
Henderson is my maiden name. I was a married woman for three years. I
had a child which died. I divorced my husband, and he's still alive."

The colour had flamed back into her cheeks. Janet sat silent, her eyes
fixed on Rachel's.

"I did tell you I had a story, didn't I?" said Rachel insistently.

"You did. I took my chance. It was you who--who brought the action?"

"I brought the action. There was no defence. And the judge said--I'd been
awfully badly treated--it was no wonder I wanted--to get free. Well,
there it is. I'm sorry I deceived you. I'm sorry I deceived him."

"You didn't deceive me," said Janet. "I had practically guessed it."
She rose slowly, and going up to Rachel, she put her hands on her
shoulders,--

"Why didn't you tell me, you poor thing!" Her voice and eyes were full of
emotion--full of pity. But Rachel shrank away a little from her touch,
murmuring under her breath, "Because I wanted never to hear of it--or
think of it again." Then, after a pause, she added, "But if you want to
know more, I'll tell you. It's your right. My married name was Delane."

"Don't tell me any more!" said Janet peremptorily. "I don't want to hear
it. But you ought to be--quite frank--with _him_."

"I know that. Naturally--it was a great shock to him."

There was something very touching in her attitude. She stood there like a
shamefaced boy, in her quasi-male dress; and the contrast between her
strong young beauty, and the humility and depression of her manner
appealed with singular force to Janet's mind, so constantly and secretly
preoccupied with spiritual things. Rachel seemed to her so much cleverer
and more vigorous than herself in all matters of ordinary life. Only in
the region of religious experience did Janet know herself the superior.
But Rachel had never made any outward sign that she cared in the least to
know more of that region, whether in Janet or other people. She had held
entirely aloof from it. But self-reproach--moral suffering--are two of
the keys that lead to it. And both were evident here. Janet's heart went
out to her friend.

"When is he coming?"

"To-morrow evening. I dare say he'll give me up."

Janet marvelled at the absence of self-assertion--the touch of
despair--in words and tone. So it had gone as deep as this! She blamed
herself for lack of perception. An ordinary love-affair, about to end
in an ordinary way--that was how it had appeared to her. And suddenly it
seemed to her she had stumbled upon what might be tragedy.

No, no--there should be no tragedy! She put her arms round Rachel.

"My dear, he won't give you up! As if I hadn't seen! He worships the
ground you tread upon!"

Rachel said nothing. She let her face rest on Janet's shoulder. When she
raised it, it was wet. But she kissed Janet quietly, and went away
without another word.



VIII


Four grown-ups and a child were gathered in the living-room of Halsey's
cottage. The cottage was old like its tenant and had all the
inconveniences of age; but it was more spacious than the modern cottage
often is, since it and its neighbours represented a surviving fragment
from an old Jacobean house--a house of gentlefolks--which had once stood
on the site. Most of the house had been pulled down, but Colonel
Shepherd's grandfather had retained part of it, and turned it into two
cottages--known as 1 and 2 Ipscombe Place--which for all their drawbacks
were much in demand in the village, and conferred a certain distinction
on their occupants. Mrs. Halsey's living room possessed a Tudor
mantelpiece in moulded brick, into which a small modern kitchener had
been barbarously fitted; and three fine beams with a little incised
ornament ran across the ceiling.

Mrs. Halsey had not long cleared away the tea, and brought in a paraffin
lamp, small but cheerful. She was a middle-aged woman, much younger than
her husband--with an ironic half-dreamy eye, and a native intelligence
much superior to her surroundings. She was suffering from a chronic
abscess in the neck, which had strange periodic swellings and
subsidences, all of which were endlessly interesting to its possessor.
Mrs. Halsey, indeed, called the abscess "she," wrapped it lovingly in red
flannel, describing the evening dressing of it as "putting her to bed,"
and talked of "her" qualities and oddities as though, in the phrase of
her next-door neighbour, "it'd a been a christened child." She had
decided views on politics, and was a match for any political agent who
might approach her with an eye to her vote, a commodity which she kept,
so to speak, like a new shilling in her pocket, turning it from time
to time to make sure it was there.

But independent as she was, she rarely interfered with the talk of Halsey
and his male friends. And on this occasion when the three men--Halsey,
Peter Betts, and young Dempsey--had gathered smoking round the fire, she
settled herself with her knitting by the table and the lamp, throwing in
every now and then a muttered and generally sarcastic comment, of which
her husband took no notice--especially as he knew very well that the
sarcasms were never aimed at him, and that she was as proud of him as she
was generally contemptuous of the rest of the world.

Halsey had just finished a rather grudging description of his experiences
two days before for John Dempsey's benefit. He was conscious that each
time he repeated them, they sounded more incredible. He didn't want to
repeat them; he didn't mean to repeat them; after this, nobody should get
any more out of him at all.

Young Dempsey's attitude was certainly not encouraging. Attentive at
first, he allowed himself, as Halsey's talk developed, a mild,
progressive grin, which spread gradually over his ugly but honest face,
and remained there. In face of it, Halsey's speech became more and more
laconic, till at last he shut his mouth with a snap, and drawing himself
up in his chair, re-lit his pipe with the expression that meant, "All
right--I've done--you may take it or leave it."

"Well, I don't see that what you saw, Mr. Halsey, was so very uncommon!"
Dempsey began, still smiling, in spite of a warning look from Betts.
"You saw a man come down that road? Well, in the first place, why
shouldn't a man come down that road--it's a reg'lar right of way--"

"It's the way, mind ye, as the ghost of old Watson has allus come!" put
in Peter Betts, chivalrously anxious to support his friend Halsey, as far
as he could, against a sceptical stranger. "An' it's been seen twice on
that road already, as I can remember: once when I was a little boy, by
old Dan Holt, the postmaster, and once about ten years ago."

Dempsey looked at the speaker indulgently. To his sharpened transatlantic
sense, these old men, in this funny old village, seemed to him a
curiously dim and feeble folk. He could hardly prevent himself from
talking to them as though they were children. He supposed his grandfather
would have been like that if he'd stayed on at Ipscombe. He thanked
the stars he hadn't!

But since he had been summoned to consult, as a person who had a vested
interest, of a rather blood-curdling sort, in the Great End ghost, he had
to give his opinion; and he gave it, while Halsey listened and smoked in
a rather sulky silence. For it was soon evident that the murderer's
grandson had no use at all for the supposed ghost-story. He tore it
ruthlessly to pieces. In the first place, Halsey described the man seen
on the grass-road as tall and lanky. But according to his grandfather's
account, the murdered gamekeeper, on the contrary, was a broadly-built,
stumpy man. In the next place--the coughing and the bleeding!--he laughed
so long and loudly at these points in the story that Halsey's still black
bushy eyebrows met frowningly over a pair of angry eyes, and Betts tried
hurriedly to tame the young man's mirth.

"Well, if yer don't think that man as Halsey saw _was_ the ghost, what do
you s'pose 'ee was doin' there?" asked Betts, "and where did he go?
Halsey went right round the farm. The hill just there is as bare as my
hand. He must ha' seen the man--if it _wor_ a man--an' he saw nothin'.
There isn't a tree or a bush where that man could ha' hid hisself--if
he _wor_ a man."

Dempsey declared he should have to go and examine the ground himself
before he could answer the question. But of course there was an answer
to it--there must be. As to the man--why Millsborough, and Ipscombe too,
had been full of outlandish East Enders, flying from the raids, Poles
and Russians, and such like--thievin' fellows by all accounts. Why
couldn't it be one of them--prowling round the farm for anything he could
pick up--and frightened off, when he saw Halsey?

Betts, smoking with prodigious energy, inquired what he made of the
_blood_. Didn't he know the old story of how Watson was tracked down to
the cart-shed? Dempsey laughed again.

"Well, it's curious, grant ye. It's real funny! But where are you going
to get blood without a body? And if a thing's a body, it isn't a ghost!"

The two old men were silent. Halsey was lost in a hopeless confusion of
ideas, and Betts was determined not to give his pal away.

But here--say what you like!--was a strange man, seen, on the road, which
had been used, according to village tradition, on several previous
occasions, by the authentic ghost of Watson; his course was marked by
traces of blood, just as Watson's path of pain had been marked on the
night of the murder; and on reaching the spot where Watson had breathed
his last, the apparition, whatever it was, had vanished. Perplexity,
superstition, and common sense fought each other. Halsey who knew much of
his Bible by heart was inwardly comparing texts. "A spirit hath not flesh
and blood"--True--but on the other hand what about the "bodies of the
saints"--that "arose"? While, perhaps, the strongest motive of all in the
old man's mind was the obstinate desire to prove himself right, and so to
confound young scoffers like Dempsey.

Dempsey, however, having as he thought disposed of Halsey's foolish tale
was determined to tell his own, which had already made a great impression
in certain quarters of the village, and ranked indeed as the chief
sensation of the day. To be able to listen to the story of a murder told
by the grandson of the murderer, to whom the criminal himself had
confessed it, and that without any fear of unpleasant consequences to any
one, was a treat that Ipscombe had seldom enjoyed, especially as the
village was still rich in kinsfolk of both murdered and murderer.

Dempsey had already repeated the story so often that it was by now
perfect in every detail, and it produced the same effect in this lamplit
kitchen as in other. Halsey, forgetting his secret ill-humour, was
presently listening open-mouthed. Mrs. Halsey laid down her knitting, and
stared at the speaker over the top of her spectacles; while across
Betts's gnome-like countenance smiles went out and in, especially at the
more gruesome points of the tale. The light sparkled on the young
Canadian's belt, the Maple Leaf in the khaki hat which lay across his
knees, on the badge of the Forestry Corps on his shoulder. The old
English cottage, with its Tudor brick-work, and its overhanging beams,
the old English labourers with the stains of English soil upon them, made
the setting; and in the midst, sat the "new man," from the New World,
holding the stage, just as Ellesborough the New Englander was accustomed
to hold it, at Great End Farm. All over England, all over unravaged
France and northern Italy similar scenes at that moment were being
thrown on the magic sheet of life; and at any drop in the talk, the
observer could almost hear, in the stillness, the weaving of the Great
Loom on which the Ages come and go.

There was a pause, when Dempsey came to a dramatic end with the last
breath of his grandfather; till Mrs. Halsey said dryly, fixing the young
man with her small beady eyes,--

"And you don't mind telling on your own grandfather?"

"Why shouldn't I?" laughed Dempsey, "when it's sixty years ago. They've
lost their chance of hanging him anyhow."

Mrs. Halsey shook her head in inarticulate protest. Betts said
reflectively,--

"I wouldn't advise you to be tellin' that tale to Miss Henderson."

Dempsey's expression changed at the name. He bent forward eagerly.

"By the way, who is Miss Henderson? Do you know where she comes from?"

The others stared.

"Last winter," said Betts at last, "she wor on a farm down Devonshire
way. And before that she wor at college--with Miss Janet."

"Was she ever in Canada?"

"Yes!" said Halsey with sudden decision, "she wor--for she told me
one day when I wor mendin' the new reaper and binder, that we in this
country didn't know what harvest meant. 'Why, I've helped to reap a
field--in Canada,' she ses, 'fower miles square,' she ses, 'six teams o'
horses--an' six horses to the team,' she ses--'that's somethin' like.' So
I know she's been in Canada."

"Ah!" said Dempsey, staring at the carpet. "And she's not married? You're
sure she's not married?"

"Married?" said all the others, looking at him in disapproving
astonishment.

"Well, if she ain't, I saw her sister--or her double--twice--about
two-and-a-half year ago--at a place thirty miles from Winnipeg. I could
ha' sworn I'd seen her before!"

"Well, you can't ha' seen her before," said Betts positively; "cause
she's Miss, not Missis."

"Ah!" said Dempsey again in a non-committal voice, looking hard this time
into the fire.

"Where have you seen her--in these parts?" asked Mrs. Halsey.

"At the Harvest Festival, t'other day. But I must have been
mistaken--that's all. I think I'm going to call upon her some day."

"Whatever for?"

"Why--to tell her about my grandfather!" said Dempsey, looking round at
Mrs. Halsey, with an air of astonishment that any one should ask him the
question.

"You won't be welcome."

"Why not?"

"Because she don't want to hear nothin' about Watson's murder. And
whatever's the good on it, anyhow?" said Mrs. Halsey with sudden
emphasis. "You've told us a good tale, I'll grant ye. But yer might as
well be pullin' the old feller 'isself out of his grave, as goin' round
killin' 'im every night fresh, as you be doin'. Let 'im be. Skelintons is
skelintons."

Dempsey, feeling rather indignantly that his pains had been wasted, and
his audience was not worthy of him, rose to take his departure. Halsey's
face cleared. He turned to look at his wife, and she winked in return.
And when the young forester had taken his departure, Mrs. Halsey stroked
the red flannel round her swollen neck complacently.

"I 'ad to pike 'im out soomhow. It's 'igh time she wor put to bed!"

That same evening, Ellesborough left the Ralstone camp behind him about
six o'clock, and hurried through the late October evening towards Great
End Farm. During the forty-eight hours which had elapsed since his
interview with Rachel he had passed through much suffering, and agonies
of indecision. He had had to reconstruct all his ideas of the woman he
loved. Instead of the proud and virginal creature he had imagined himself
to be wooing, amid the beautiful setting of her harvest fields, he had to
think of her as a woman dimmed and besmirched by an unhappy marriage with
a bad man. For himself, he certainly resented the concealment which had
been practised on him. Yet at the same time he thought he understood the
state of exasperation, of invincible revolt which had led to it. And he
kept reminding himself that, after all, her confession had anticipated
his proposal.

Nevertheless such men as he have ideas of marriage, both romantic and
austere. They are inclined to claim what they give--a clean sheet, and
the first-fruits of body and soul. In Rachel's case the first-fruits
had been wasted on a marriage, of which the ugly and inevitable
incidents haunted Ellesborough's imagination. One moment he shrank from
the thought of them; the next he could not restrain the protesting rush
of passion--the vow that his love should put her back on that pinnacle of
honour and respect from which fate should never have allowed her to fall.

Well, she had promised to tell him her story in full. He awaited it.
As to his own people, they were dear, good women, his mother and
sisters--saints, but not Pharisees.

It was a dark and lowering evening, with tempest gusts of wind. But from
far away, after he had passed Ipscombe, a light from one of the windows
of the farm shone out, as though beckoning him to her. Suddenly from the
mouth of the farm, he saw a bicycle approaching. The rider was Janet
Leighton. She passed him with a wave and a smile.

"Going to a Food meeting! But Rachel's at home."

What a nice woman! Looking back over the couple of months since he had
known the inmates of the farm, he realized how much he had come to like
Janet Leighton. So unselfish, so full of thought for others, so modest
for herself! There couldn't be a better friend for Rachel; her friendship
itself was a testimonial; he reassured himself by the mere thought of
her.

When he drew up at the farm, Hastings with a lantern in his hand was just
disappearing towards the hill, and the two girls, Betty and Jenny, passed
him, each with a young man, two members, in fact, of his own Corps, John
Dempsey and another. They explained that they were off to a Red Cross
Concert in the village hall. Ellesborough's pulse beat quicker as he
parted from them, for he realized that he would find Rachel alone in the
farm.

Yes, there she was at the open door, greeting him with a quiet face--a
smile even. She led the way into the sitting-room, where she had just
drawn down the blinds and closed the curtains of the window looking on
the farm-yard. But his arrival had interrupted her before she could do
the same for the window looking on the Down. Neither of them thought of
it. Each was absorbed in the mere presence of the other.

Rachel was in her black Sunday dress of some silky stuff. Her throat was
uncovered, and her shapely arms showed through the thin sleeves. The
black and white softened and refined something overblown and sensuous in
her beauty. Her manner, too, had lost its confident, provocative note.
Ellesborough had never seen her so adorable, so desirable. But her
self-command dictated his. He took the seat to which she pointed him;
while she herself brought a chair to the other side of the fire, putting
on another log with a steady hand, and a remark about the wind that was
whistling outside. Then, one foot crossed over the other, her cheek
reddened by the fire, propped on her hand, and her eyes on the fresh
flame that was beginning to dance out of the wood, she asked him,--"You'd
like to hear it all?"

He made a sign of assent.

So in a quiet, even voice, she began with an account of her family and
early surroundings, more detailed than anything she had yet given him.
She described her father (the striking apostolic head of the old man hung
on the wall behind her) and his missionary journeys through the prairie
settlements in the early days of Alberta; how, when he was old and weary,
he would sometimes take her, his latest child, a small girl of ten or
twelve, on his pastoral rounds, for company, perched up beside him in his
buggy; and how her mother was killed by the mere hardships of the prairie
life, sinking into fretful invalidism for two years before her death.

"I nursed her for years. I never did anything else--I couldn't. I never
had any amusements like other girls. There was no money and no time. She
died when I was twenty-four. And three months after, my father died. He
didn't leave a penny. Then my brother asked me to go and live with him
and his wife. I was to have my board and a dress allowance, if I would
help her in the house. My brother's an awfully good sort--but I couldn't
get on with his wife. I just couldn't! I expect it was my fault, just as
much as hers. It was something we couldn't help. Very soon I hated the
sight of her, and she never missed a chance of making me feel a worm--a
useless, greedy creature, living on other people's work. If only there
had been some children, I dare say I could have borne it. But she and I
could never get away from each other. There were no distractions. Our
nerves got simply raw--at least mine did."

There was a pause. She lifted her brown eyes, and looked at Ellesborough
intently.

"I suppose my mother would have borne it. But girls nowadays can't. Not
girls like me, anyway. Mother was a Christian. I don't suppose I am. I
don't know what I am. I just _had_ to live my own life. I couldn't exist
without a bit of pleasure--and being admired--and seeing men--and all
that!"

Her cheeks had flushed. Her eyes were very bright and defiant.

Ellesborough came nearer to her, put out a strong hand and enclosed hers
in it.

"Well then--this man Delane--came to live near you?"

He spoke with the utmost gentleness, trying to help her out.

She nodded, drawing her hand away.

"I met him at a dance in Winnipeg first--the day after I'd had a horrid
row with my sister-in-law. He'd just taken a large farm, with a decent
house on it--not a shack--and everybody said his people were rich and
were backing him. And he was very good-looking--and a Cambridge man--and
all that. We danced together almost all the evening. Then he found out
where I lived, and used to be always coming to see me. My brother never
liked him. He said to me often, 'Why do you encourage that unprincipled
cad? I'm certain there's a screw loose about him!' And I wasn't in love
with Roger--not really--for one moment. But I _think_ he was in love with
me--yes, I'm sure he was--at first. And he excited and interested me. I
was proud, too, of taking him away from other girls, who were always
running after him. And my sister-in-law was just mad to get rid of me!
Don't you understand?"

"Of course I do!"

Her eyelids wavered a little under the emotion of his tone.

"Well, then, we got married. My brother tried to get out of him what his
money-affairs were. But he always evaded everything. He talked a great
deal about this rich sister, and she did send him a wedding present. But
he never showed me her letter, and that was the last we ever heard of
her while I knew him...."

Her voice dropped. She sat looking at the fire--a grey, pale woman, from
whom light and youth had momentarily gone out.

"Well, it's a hateful story--and as common!--as common as dirt. We began
to quarrel almost immediately. He was jealous and tyrannical, and I
always had a quick temper. I found that he drank, that he told me all
sorts of lies about his past life, that he presently only cared about me
as--well, as his mistress!"--and again she faced Ellesborough with hard,
insistent eyes--"that he was hopelessly in debt--a gambler--and
everything else. When the baby came, I could only get the wife of a
neighbouring settler to come and look after me. And Roger behaved so
abominably to her that she went home when the baby was a week old--and I
was left to manage for myself. Then when baby was three months old, she
caught whooping-cough, and had bronchitis on the top. I had a few pounds
of my own, and I gave them to Roger to go in to Winnipeg and bring out a
doctor and medicines. He drank all the money on the way--that I found out
afterwards--he was a week away instead of two days--and the baby died.
When he came back he told me a lie about having been ill. But I never
lived with him--as a wife--after that. Then, of course, he hated me, and
one night he nearly killed me. Next morning he apologized--said that he
loved me passionately--and that kind of stuff--that I was cruel to
him--and what could he do to make up? So then I suggested that he should
go away for a month--and we should both think things over. He was
rather frightened, because--well--he'd knocked me about a good deal in
the horrible scene between us--and he thought I should bring my brother
down on him. So he agreed to go, and I said I would have a girl friend to
stay with me. But, of course, as soon as he was gone, I just left the
house and departed. I had got evidence enough by then to set me
free--about the Italian girl. I met my brother in Winnipeg. We went to
his lawyers together, and I began proceedings--"

She stopped abruptly. "The rest I told you.--_No!_--I've told you the
horrible things--now I'll say something of the things which--have made
life worth living again. Till the divorce was settled I went back to my
brother in Toronto. I dropped my married name then and called myself
Henderson. And then I came home--because my mother's brother, who was a
manufacturer in Bradford, wrote to ask me. But when I arrived he was
dead, and he had left me three thousand pounds. Then I went to Swanley
and got trained for farm-work. And I found Janet Leighton, and we made
friends. And I love farm-work--and I love Janet--and the whole world
looks so different to me! Why, of course, I didn't want to be reminded of
that old horrible life! I didn't want people to say, 'Mrs. Delane? Who
and where is her husband? Is he dead?' 'No--she's divorced.' 'Why?'
There's!--don't you see?--all the old vile business over again! So I cut
it all!"

She paused--resuming in another voice--hesitating and uncertain,--

"And yet--it seems--you can't do a simple thing like that
without--hurting somebody--injuring somebody. I can't help it! I didn't
mean to deceive _you_. But I had a right to get free from the old life
if I could!"

She threw back her head proudly. Her eyes were full of tears. Then she
rose impetuously.

"There!--I've told you. I suppose you don't want to be friends with me
any more. It was rotten of me, I know, for, of course--I saw--you seemed
to be getting to care for me. I told Janet when we set up work together
that I wasn't a bad woman. And I'm not. But I'm weak. You'd better not
trust me. And besides--I fell into the mud--and I expect it sticks to me
still!"

She spoke with passionate animation--almost fierceness. While through her
inner mind there ran the thought, "I've told him!--I've told him! If he
doesn't understand, it's not my fault. I can always say, 'I _did_ tell
you--about Roger--_and the rest_!--as much as I was bound to tell you.'
Why should I make him miserable--and destroy my own chances with him for
_nothing_?"

They stood fronting each other. Over the fine bronzed face of the
forester there ran a ripple of profound emotion--nostril and lip--and
eye. Then she found herself in his arms--with no power to resist or free
herself. Two or three deep, involuntary sobs--sobs of excitement--shook
her, as she felt his kisses on her cheek.

"Darling!--I'll try and make up to you--for all you've suffered. Poor
child!--poor little Rachel!"

She clung to him, a great wave of passion sweeping through her also. She
thought, "Now I shall be happy!--and I shall make him happy, too. Of
course I shall!--I'm doing quite right."

Presently he put her back in her chair, and sat beside her on the low
fender stool, in front of the fire. His aspect was completely
transformed. The triumphant joy which filled him had swept away the
slightly stiff and reserved manner which was on the whole natural to him.
And it had swept away at the same time all the doubts and hesitations of
his inner mind. She had told her story, it seemed to him, with complete
frankness, and a humility which appealed to all that was chivalrous and
generous in a strong man. He was ready now to make more excuses for her,
in the matter of his own misleading, than she seemed to wish to make for
herself. How natural that she should act as she had acted! The thought of
her suffering, of her ill-treatment was intolerable to him--and of the
brute who had inflicted it.

"Do you know where that man is now?" he said to her presently. She had
fallen back in her chair--pale and shaken, but dressed, for his eyes, in
a loveliness, a pathos, that was every moment strengthening her hold upon
him.

"Roger? No, I have no idea. I always suppose he's in Canada still. He
never appeared when the case was tried. But the summons had to be served
on him, and my lawyers succeeded in tracking him to a lodging in Calgary,
where he was living--with the Italian girl. But after that we never heard
any more of him--except that I had a little pencil note--unsigned,
undated, delivered by hand--just before the trial came on. It said I
should repent casting him off--that I had treated him shamefully--that I
was a vile woman--and though I had got the better of him for the time, he
would have his revenge before long."

Ellesborough shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Threats are cheap! I hope you soon put that out of your mind?"

She made a little restless movement.

"Yes, I--I suppose so. But I did tell you once, didn't I, that--I often
had fears--about nothing?"

"Yes, you did tell me," he said, smiling. "Don't have any more fears,
darling! I'll see to that."

He took her hands again, and raised them to his lips and kissed them. It
astonished him to feel them so cold, and see her again so excited and
pale. Was she really afraid of the villain she had escaped from? The
dear, foolish woman! The man in his self-confident strength loved her the
more for the vague terrors he felt himself so well able to soothe.

For half an hour more they sat together, in that first intimacy of love,
which transfigures men and women, so that when they pass back from it
into ordinary life they scarcely recognize life or themselves again. They
talked much less of the past than of the future--and that in the light of
the glorious war news coming in day by day. Austria was on the point of
surrender--the German landslide might come at any moment--then
_peace_!--incredible word. Ellesborough would hardly now get to France.
They might be able to marry soon--within a few weeks. As to the farm, he
asked her, laughing, whether she would take him in as a junior partner
for a time, till they could settle their plans. "I've got a bit of money
of my own. But first you must let me go back, as soon as there are ships
to go in--to see after my own humble business. We could launch out--get
some fine stock--try experiments. It's a going concern, and I've got a
good share in it. Why shouldn't you go, too?"

He saw her shrink.

"To Canada? Oh, no!"

He scourged himself mentally for having taken her thoughts back to the
old unhappy times. But she soon recovered herself. Then it was time for
him to go, and he stood up.

"I should like to have seen Janet!" he said joyously. "She'll have to get
used to Christian names. How soon will you tell her? Directly she
comes in?"

"Certainly not. I shall wait--till to-morrow morning."

He laughed, whispering into her ear, as her soft, curly head lay against
his breast.

"You won't wait ten minutes--you couldn't! Well, I must be going, or
they'll shut me out of the camp."

"Why do you hurry so?"

"Hurry? Why, I shall be an hour late, anyway. I shall have to give myself
C.B. to-morrow."

She laughed--a sound of pure content. Then she suddenly drew herself
away, frowning at him.

"You do love me--you do--you will always!--whatever people may say?"

He was surprised at the note almost of violence in her voice. He answered
it by a passionate caress, which she bore with trembling. Then she
resolutely moved away.

"Do go!" she said to him, imploringly. "I'd like to be a few
minutes--alone--before they come back."

He saw her settle herself by the fire, her hands stretched out to the
blaze. Seeing that the fire was low, and remembering the chill of her
hands in his, he looked around for the wood-basket which was generally
kept in a corner behind the piano.

His movement was suddenly arrested. He was looking towards the
uncurtained window. The night had grown pitch dark outside, and there
were splashes of rain against the glass. But he distinctly saw as he
turned a man's face pressed against the glass--a strained, sallow, face,
framed in straggling black hair, a face with regular features, and eyes
deeply set in blackened orbits. It was a face of hatred; the lips tightly
drawn over the teeth, seemed to have a curse on them.

The vision lasted only a moment. Ellesborough's trained instinct, the
wary instinct of the man who had parsed days and nights with nature in
her wilder and lonelier places, checked the exclamation on his lips. And
before he could move again, the face had disappeared. The old holly bush
growing against the farm wall, from which the apparition seemed to have
sprung, was still there, some of its glossy leaves visible in the bright
light of the paraffin lamp which stood on the table near the window. And
there was nothing else.

Ellesborough quietly walked to the window, drew down the blind, and
pulled the curtains together. Rachel looked around at the sound.

"Didn't I do that?" she said, half dreamily.

"We forgot!" He smiled at her. "Now it's all cosy. Ah, there they are!
Perhaps I'll get Janet to come as far as the road with me." For voices
were approaching--Janet talking to the girls. Rachel looked up,
assenting. The colour had rushed back to her face. Ellesborough took in
the picture of her, sitting unconscious by the fire, while his own
pulse was thumping under the excitement of what he had seen.

With a last word to her, he closed the sitting-room door behind him, and
went out to meet Janet Leighton in the dark.



IX


It was a foggy October evening, and Berkeley Square, from which the
daylight had not yet departed, made a peculiarly dismal impression on
the passers-by, under the mingled illumination of its half-blinded lamps,
and of a sunset which in the country was clear and golden, and here in
west London could only give a lurid coppery tinge to the fog, to the
eastern house-fronts, and to the great plane-trees holding the Square
garden, like giants encamped. Landsowne House, in its lordly seclusion
from the rest of the Square, seemed specially to have gathered the fog to
itself, and was almost lost from sight. Not a ray of light escaped the
closely-shuttered windows. The events of the _mensis mirabilis_ were
rushing on. Bulgaria, Austria, Turkey, had laid down their arms--the
German cry for an armistice had rung through Europe. But still London lay
dark and muffled. Her peril was not yet over.

In the drawing-room of one of the houses on the eastern side, belonging
to a Warwickshire baronet and M.P.--Sir Richard Winton by name--a lady
was standing in front of a thrifty fire, which in view of the coal
restrictions of the moment, she had been very unwilling to light at all.
The restrictions irritated her; so did the inevitable cold of the room;
and most of all was she annoyed and harassed by the thought of a visitor
who might appear at any moment. She was tall, well-made, and plain. One
might have guessed her age at about thirty-five. She had been out in the
earlier afternoon, attending a war meeting on behalf of some charities in
which she was interested, and she had not yet removed a high and stately
hat with two outstanding wings and much jet ornament, which she had worn
at the meeting, to the huge indignation of her neighbours. The black of
her silk dress was lightened by a rope of pearls, and various diamond
trinkets. Her dress fitted her to perfection. Competence and will were
written in her small, shrewd eyes and in the play of a decided mouth.

There was a knock at the door. At Lady Winton's "Come in!" a stout,
elderly maid appeared. She came up to her mistress, and said in a lowered
voice,--

"You'll see Mr. Roger here?"

"Why, I told you so, Nannie!" was the impatient answer. "Is everybody out
of the way?"

The maid explained that all was ready. Jones the butler had been
sent with a note to the City, and the housemaid was sitting with the
kitchen-maid, who was recovering from the flu.

"I told them I'd answer the bell. And I'll keep an eye that no one comes
down before he's gone. There he is!"

For the bell had rung, and the maid hastened to the hall door to answer
it.

A tall man entered--coughing.

"Beastly night, Nannie!" he said, as soon as the cough would let him.
"Don't suit my style. Well?--how are you? Had the flu, like everybody
else?"

"Not yet, Mr. Roger--though it's been going through the house. Shall I
take your coat?"

"You'd better not. I'm too shabby underneath."

"Sir Richard's in the country, Mr. Roger."

"Oh, so her ladyship's alone? Well, that's how I generally find her,
isn't it?"

But Nannie--with her eye on the stairs--was not going to allow him any
lingering in the hall. She led him quickly to the drawing-room, opened
it, and closed it behind him. Then she herself retreated into a small
smoking-den at the farther end of the hall, and sat there, without a
light, with the door open--watching.

Roger Delane instinctively straightened himself to his full height as he
entered his sister's drawing-room. His overcoat, though much worn, was of
an expensive make and cut; he carried the Malacca cane which had been his
companion in the Brookshire roads; and the eyeglass that he adjusted as
he caught sight of his sister completed the general effect of shabby
fashion. His manner was jaunty and defiant.

"Well, Marianne," he said, pausing some yards from her. "You don't seem
particularly glad to see me. Hullo!--has Dick been buying some more
china?"

And before his sister could say anything, he had walked over to a table
covered with various bric-a-brac, where, taking up a fine Nankin vase, he
looked closely at the marks on its base.

Lady Winton flushed with anger.

"I think you had better leave the china alone, Roger. I have only got a
very few minutes. What do you want? Money, I suppose--as usual! And yet I
warned you in my last letter that you would do this kind of thing once
too often, and that we were _not_ going to put up with it!" She struck
the table beside her with her glove.

Delane put down the china and surveyed her.

"The vase is Ming all right--better stuff than Dick generally buys. I
congratulate him. Well, I'm sorry for you, my dear Marianne--but you
_are_ my sister--and you can't help yourself!"

He looked at her, half-smiling, with a quiet bravado which enraged her.

"Don't talk like that, Roger! Tell me directly what it is you want. You
seem to think you can force me to see you at any time, whatever I may be
doing. But--"

"Your last letter was 'a bit thick'--you see--it provoked me," said
Delane calmly. "Of course you can get the police to chuck me out if you
like. You would be quite in your rights. But I imagine the effect on the
aristocratic nerves of Berkeley Square would be amusing. However--"

He looked round him--

"As Carlyle said to the old Queen, 'I'm getting old, madam, and with your
leave I'll take a chair--'"

He pushed an arm-chair forward.

"And let me make up the fire. It's beginning to freeze outside."

Lady Winton moved quickly to the fireplace, holding out a prohibiting
hand.

"There is quite enough fire, thank you. I am going out presently."

Delane sat down, and extended a pair of still shapely feet to the slender
flame in the grate.

"Dick's boots!" he said, tapping them with his cane, and looking round at
his sister. "What a lot of wear I've got out of them since he threw them
away! His overcoat, too. And now that it's the thing to be shabby, Dick's
clothes are really a godsend. I defraud Jones. But I have no doubt that
Jones gets a good deal more than is good for him."

"Look here, Roger!--suppose you stop talking this nonsense and come to
business," said Marianne Winton, in pale exasperation. "I've sent Jones
out with a note--but he'll be back directly. And I've got an appointment.
What are you doing? Have you got any work to do?"

She took a seat not far from her brother, who perceived from her tone
that he had perhaps gone as far as was prudent.

"Oh, dear, no, I've got no work to do," he said, smiling. "That's not a
commodity that comes my way. But I must somehow manage to keep a roof
over Anita and the child. So what can I do but count on your assistance,
my dear? My father left you a great deal of money which in equity
belonged to me--and I am bound to remind you of it."

"You know very well why he left you so little!" said Lady Winton. "We
needn't go into that old story. I ask you again, what do you want?" She
took out her watch. "I have just ten minutes."

"What do I want?" He looked at her with a slow, whimsical laugh. "Money,
my dear, money! Money means everything that I must have--food, coals,
clothes, doctor, chemist, buses--decent houseroom for Anita and myself--"

A shiver of revulsion ran through his sister.

"Have you married that woman?"

He laughed.

"As you seemed to think it desirable, Anita and I did take a trip to a
Registry Office about a month ago. It's all lawful now--except for our
abominable English law that doesn't legitimize the children. But"--he
sprang to his feet with a movement which startled her--"whom do you think
I've seen lately?"

His sister stared at him, amazed at the change in him--the animation, the
rush of colour in the hollow, emaciated face.

"_Rachel_!--my wife--my former--precious--wife. I thought she was in
Canada. No doubt she thought the same of me. But I've stumbled upon her
quite by chance--living close to the place where I had taken lodgings for
Anita and the babe, in September, in case there were more raids this
winter. What do you think of that?"

"It doesn't interest me at all," said Lady Winton coldly.

"Then you have no dramatic sense, my dear. Just think! I stroll out, for
want of anything better to do, with Anita, into the market-place of a
beastly little country town, to see a silly sort of show--a mixture of a
Harvest Festival and a Land Girls' beano--when without a moment's
warning--standing up in a decorated wagon--I behold--_Rachel_!--handsomer
than ever!--in a kind of khaki dress--tunic, breeches, and
leggings--enormously becoming!--and, of course, the observed of all
observers. More than that!--I perceive a young man, in an American
uniform, dancing attendance upon her--taking her orders--walking her off
to church--Oh, a perfectly clear case!--no doubt about it at all. And
there I stood--within a few yards of her--and she never saw me!"

He broke off, staring at his sister--a wild, exultant look--which struck
her uncomfortably. Her face showed her arrested, against her will.

"Are you sure she didn't see you?"

"Sure. I put the child on my shoulder, and hid behind her. Besides--my
dear--even Rachel might find it difficult to recognize her discarded
husband--in this individual!"

He tapped his chest lightly. Lady Winton could not withdraw her
own eyes from him. Yes, it was quite true. The change in him was
shocking--ghastly. He had brought it entirely on himself. But she
could not help saying, in a somewhat milder tone,--

"Have you seen that doctor again?"

"To whom you so obligingly sent me? Yes, I saw him yesterday. One lung
seems to have finally struck work--_caput_! as the Germans say. The other
will last a bit longer yet."

A fit of coughing seized him. His sister instinctively moved farther away
from him, looking at him with frightened and hostile eyes.

"Don't be alarmed," he said, as soon as he had found his voice again,
"I'm drenched in disinfectant. I take all proper precautions--for the
child's sake. Now then"--he rose with an effort to his feet--"what are
you going to do for me?"

His aspect had altered, had assumed a sinister and passionate intensity.
His sister was conscious of the menace in it, and hastily taking up a
small hand-bag lying near her, she produced a purse from it.

"I have saved twenty pounds for you--out of my own money--with _great_
difficulty," she said, with indignant emphasis. "If I were to tell
Richard, he would be furious. And I cannot--do--_anything_--more for you,
beyond the allowance I give you. Everything you suffer from, you have
brought upon, yourself. It is hopeless to try and help you."

He laughed.

"Well, then, I must try Rachel!" he said carelessly, as he looked for his
hat.

"That I think would be the lowest depth!" said Lady Winton, breathing
quick, "to beg money from the wife who divorced you!"

"I am ready to beg for money--requisition is the better word--from
anybody in the world who has more of it than I. I am a Bolshevist. You
needn't talk to me about property, or rights. I don't acknowledge them.
I want something that you've got, and I haven't. I shall take it if I
find the opportunity--civilly if I can, uncivilly, if I must."

Lady Winton made no reply. She stood, a statue of angry patience waiting
for him to go. He slowly buttoned on his coat, and then stepped coolly
across the room to look at an enlarged photograph of a young soldier
standing on the piano.

"Handsome chap! You're in luck, Marianne. I suppose you managed to get
him into a staff job of some sort, out of harm's way?"

He turned to her with a sneer on his lips. His sister was still silent.

The man moving about the room was perhaps the thing she feared and
hated most in the world. Every scene of this kind--and he forced them
on her, in spite of her futile resistance, at fairly frequent
intervals--represented to her an hour of torture and humiliation. How to
hide the scenes and the being who caused them, from her husband, her
servants, her friends, was becoming almost her chief preoccupation.
She was beginning to be afraid of her brother. For some time she had
regarded him as incipiently insane, and as she watched him this evening
he seemed to her more than ever charged with sinister possibilities. It
appeared to be impossible to influence or frighten him; and she realized
that as he seemed not to care a fig whether she caused a scandal or not,
and she cared with every pulse of her being, she was really in his power,
and it was no good struggling.

"Well, good-night, Edith," he said at last, taking up his hat. "This'll
last for a bit--but not very long, I warn you--prices being what they
are. Oh, by the way, my name just now is Wilson--make a note of it!"

"What's that for?" she said disdainfully.

"Some Canadian creditors of mine got wind of me--worse luck. I had to
change my quarters, and drop the old name--for a bit. However--what's
in a name?" He laughed, and held out his hand.

"Going to shake hands, Edie? You used to be awfully fond of me, when you
were small."

She stood, apparently unmoved, her hands hanging. The pathetic note had
been tried on her too often.

"Good-night, Roger. Nannie will show you out."

The door closed on him, and Lady Winton dropped on a sofa by the fire,
her face showing white and middle-aged in the firelight. She was just
an ordinary woman, only with a stronger will than most; and as an
ordinary woman, amid all her anger and fear, she was not wholly proof
against such a spectacle as that now presented by her once favourite
brother. It was not his words that affected her--but a hundred little
personal facts which every time she saw him burnt a little more deeply
into her consciousness the irreparableness of his personal ruin--physical
and moral. Idleness, drink, disease--the loss of shame, of self-respect,
of manners--the sense of something vital gone for ever--all these fatal
things stared out upon her, from his slippery emaciated face, his
borrowed clothes, his bullying voice--the scent on him of the mews in
which he lived!

She covered her face with her hands and cried a little. She could
remember when he was the darling and pride of the family--especially of
his father. How had it happened? He had said to her once, "There must
have been a black drop somewhere in our forbears, Edie. It has reappeared
in me. We are none of us responsible, my dear, for our precious selves. I
may be a sinner and a loafer--but that benevolent Almighty of yours made
me."

That was wicked stuff, of course; but there had been a twist in him from
the beginning. Had _she_ done her best for him? There were times when her
conscience pricked her.

The clock struck seven. The sound brought her to her feet. She must go
and dress. Richard would be home directly, and they were dining out, to
meet a distinguished General, in London for a few days' leave from the
front. Dick must, of course, know nothing of Roger's visit; and she must
hurriedly go and look up the distinguished General's career in case she
had to sit next him. Vehemently she put the preceding hour out of her
mind. The dinner-party to which she was going flattered her vanity. It
turned her cold to think that Roger might some day do something which
would damage that "position" which she had built up for herself and her
husband, by ten years' careful piloting of their joint lives. She knew
she was called a "climber." She knew also that she had "climbed"
successfully, and that it was Roger's knowledge of the fact, combined
with a horrid recklessness which seemed to be growing in him, that made
the danger of the situation.

Meanwhile Delane stepped out into the fog, which, however, was lifting a
little. He made his way down into Piccadilly, which was crowded with
folk, men and women hurrying home from their offices, and besieging the
omnibuses--with hundreds of soldiers too, most of them with a girl beside
them, and smart young officers of every rank and service--while the whole
scene breathed an animation and excitement, which meant a common
consciousness, in the crowd, of great happenings. All along the street
were men with newspapers, showing the headlines to passers-by. "President
Wilson's answer to the German appeal expected to-morrow." "The British
entry into Lille."

Delane bought an _Evening News_, glanced at the headlines, and threw it
away. What did the war matter to him?--or the new world that fools
supposed to be coming after it? Consumptives had a way, no doubt, of
living longer than people expected--or hoped. Still, he believed that a
couple of years or so would see him out. And that being so, he felt
a kind of malignant indifference towards this pushing, chattering world,
aimlessly going about its silly business, as though there were any real
interest or importance in it.

Then, as he drifted with the crowd, he found himself caught in a
specially dense bit of it, which had gathered round some fallen horses. A
thin slip of a girl beside him, who was attempting to get through the
crush, was roughly elbowed by a burly artilleryman determined to see the
show. She protested angrily, and Delane suddenly felt angry, too. "You
brute, you,--let the lady pass!" he called to the soldier, who turned
with a grin, and was instantly out of reach and sight. "Take my arm,"
said Delane to the girl--"Where are you going?" The little thing looked
up--hesitated--and took his arm. "I'm going to get a bus at the Circus."
"All right. I'll see you there." She laughed and flushed, and they walked
on together. Delane looked at her with curiosity. High cheek-bones--a red
spot of colour on them--a sharp chin--small, emaciated features, and
beautiful deep eyes. Phthisical!--like himself--poor little wretch! He
found out that she was a waitress in a cheap eating-house, and had very
long hours. "Jolly good pay, though, compared to what it used to be! Why,
with tips, on a good day, I can make seven and eight shillings. That's
good, ain't it? And now the war's goin' to stop. Do you think I want it
to stop? I don't think! Me and my sister'll be starvin' again, I
suppose?"

He found out she was an orphan, living with her sister, who was a typist,
in Kentish town. But she refused to tell him her address, which he idly
asked her. "What did you want with it?" she said, with a sudden frown.
"I'm straight, I am. There's my bus! Night! night!--So long!" And with a
half-sarcastic wave of her tiny hand, she left him, and was soon engulfed
in the swirl round a north-bound bus.

He wandered on along Regent Street, and Waterloo Place, down the Duke of
York's steps into the Mall, where some captured guns were already in
position, with children swarming about them; and so through St. James's
Park to the Abbey. The fog was now all but clear, and there were frosty
stars overhead. The Abbey towers rose out of a purple haze, etherially
pale and moon-touched. The House of Commons was sitting, but there was
still no light on the Clock Tower, and no unmuffling of the lamps. London
was waiting, as the world was waiting, for the next step in the vast
drama which had three continents for its setting; and meanwhile, save for
the added movements in the streets, and a new something in the faces of
the crowds hurrying along the pavements, there was nothing to show that
all was in fact over, and the war won.

Delane followed a stream of people entering the Abbey through the north
transept. He was carried on by them, till a verger showed him into a seat
near the choir, and he mechanically obeyed, and dropped on his knees.

When he rose from them, the choir was filing in, and the vergers with
their pokers were escorting the officiating Canon to his seat. Delane had
not been inside a church for two or three years, and it was a good deal
more since he had stood last in Westminster Abbey. But as he watched the
once familiar spectacle there flowed back upon him, with startling force,
old impressions and traditions. He was in Cambridge again, a King's man,
attending King's Chapel. He was thinking of his approaching Schools, and
there rose in his mind a number of figures, moving or at rest, Cambridge
men like himself, long since dismissed from recollection. Suddenly memory
seemed to open out--to become full, and urgent, and emphatic. He appeared
to be living at a great rate, to be thinking and feeling with peculiar
force. Perhaps it was fever. His hands burnt.

"_My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my
Saviour!_"

As the chant rose, and he recognized the words, he felt extraordinarily
exalted, released, purified. Why not think away the past? It has no
existence, except in thought.

"I am what I conceive myself to be--who can prove me to be anything else?
What am I then! An educated man, with a mind--an intelligence. I have
damaged it, but there it is--still mine."

His eyes wandered, during the Lesson, to the line of sculptured Statesmen
in the north transept. He had taken History honours, and his thoughts
began to play with matter still stored in them: an essay on Dizzy and
Cobden he had written for a Cambridge club--or Gladstone's funeral, which
he had seen as a boy of seventeen. He had sat almost in this very place,
with his mother, who had taken pains to bring him to see it as an
historic spectacle which he might wish to remember. A quiet, dull woman,
his mother--taciturn, and something of a bookworm. She had never
understood him, nor he her. But she had occasionally shown moments of
expansion and emotion, when the soul within glowed a little through its
coverings; and he remembered the look in her eyes as the coffin
disappeared into the earth, amid the black-coated throng of Lords and
Commons. She had been for years a great though silent worshipper of Mr.
Gladstone, to the constant amusement of her Tory husband and sons.

Then, suddenly, a face, a woman's pretty face, in the benches of the
north transept, caught his eye, and with a leap, as of something
unchained, the beast within him awoke. It had reminded him of Rachel; and
therewith the decent memories of the distant past disappeared, engulfed
by the seething, ugly, mud-stained present. He was again crouching on the
hill-side, in the shelter of the holly, watching the scene within: Rachel
in that man's arms! Had the American seen him? He remembered his own
backward start of alarm, as Ellesborough suddenly turned and walked
towards the window. He had allowed himself, in his eagerness to see, to
press too near. He had exposed himself? He did not really believe that he
had been discovered--unless the American was an uncommonly cool hand! Any
way, his retreat to the wooded cover of the hill had been prompt. Once
arrived in the thick plantation on the crest, he had thrown himself down
exhausted. But as he sat panting there, on the fringe of the wood, he had
fancied voices and the flash of a light in the hollow beneath him. These
slight signs of movement, however, had quickly disappeared. Darkness and
silence resumed possession of the farm, and he had had no difficulty in
finding his way unmolested through the trees to the main road, and to the
little town, five miles nearer to London than Millsborough, at which he
had taken a room, under his present name of Wilson.

The wooded common, indeed, with its high, withered bracken, together with
the hills encircling the farm, had been the cover from which he had
carried out his prying campaign upon his former wife. As he sat or knelt,
mechanically, under the high and shadowy spaces of the Abbey, his mind
filled with excited recollections of that other evening when, after
tearing his hand badly on some barbed wire surrounding one of Colonel
Shepherd's game preserves, so that it bled profusely, and he had nothing
to bandage it with, he had suddenly become aware of voices behind him,
and of a large party of men in khaki--Canadian foresters, by the look
of them, from the Ralstone timber camp, advancing, at some distance, in a
long extended line through the trees; so that they were bound to come
upon him if he remained in the wood. He turned back at once, faced the
barbed wire again, with renewed damage both to clothes and hands, and
ran, crouching, down the green road leading to the farm, his wound
bleeding as he ran. Then he had perceived an old labourer making for him
with shouts. But under the shelter of the cart-shed, he had first
succeeded in tying his handkerchief so tightly round his wrist, with his
teeth and one hand, as to check the bleeding, which was beginning to make
him feel faint. Then, creeping round the back of the farm, he saw that
the upper half of the stable door was open, and leaping over it, he had
hidden among the horses, just as Halsey came past in pursuit. The old
man--confound him!--had made the circuit of the farm, and had then gone
up the grass road to the hill. Delane, looking out from the dark stable,
had been able to watch him through the dusk, keeping an eye the while to
the opposite door opening on the farm-yard. But the labourer disappeared,
and in the dark roomy stable, with its beamed roof, nothing could be
heard but the champing and slow tramping movements of the splendid
cart-horses. Rachel's horses! Delane passed his free hand over two of
them, and they turned their stately heads and nosed him in a quiet way.
Then he vaulted again over the half door, and hurried up the hill, in the
gathering darkness.

He was aware of the ghost-story. He had heard it and the story of the
murder from a man cutting bracken on the common; and he had already
formed some vague notions of making use of it for the blackmailing of
Rachel. It amused him to think that perhaps his sudden disappearance
would lead to a new chapter of the old tale.

Then at the recollection of Rachel's prosperity and peace, of her sleek
horses and cows, her huge hay and corn stacks, her comfortable home, and
her new lover, a fresh shudder of rage and hatred gripped him. She had
once been his thing--his chattel; he seemed to see her white neck and
breast, her unbound hair on the pillow beside him--and she had escaped
him, and danced on him.

Of course she had betrayed him--of course she had had a lover! What other
explanation was there of her turning against him?--of her flight from his
house? But she had been clever enough to hide all the traces of it. He
recalled his own lame and baffled attempts to get hold of some evidence
against her, with gnashing of teeth....

       *       *       *       *       *

"_For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are
not seen are eternal!_"

He caught the words staring at him from the page of the open prayer book
beside him, and automatically the Greek equivalent suggested itself. He
had always done well in "divinners"! Then he became aware that the
blessing had been given, that the organ was playing, and the congregation
was breaking up.

       *       *       *       *       *

Twenty-four hours later, Delane found himself on a road leading up from
the town where he was lodging to the summit of the wide stretch of common
land on the western side of which lay Great End Farm. Half way up a long
hill, he came upon a young man in uniform, disconsolately kneeling beside
a bicycle which he seemed to be vainly trying to mend. As Delane came up
with him, he looked up and asked for a light. Delane produced a match,
and the young man, by the help of it, inspected his broken machine.

"No go!" he said with a shrug, "I shall have to walk."

He rose from the ground, put up the tool he had been using, and buttoned
up his coat. Then he asked Delane where he was going. Delane named a
little village on the farther edge of the common.

"Oh, well, that's straight ahead. I turn off to the right," said the
young soldier, "at the cross road."

They walked on together, Delane rather unwillingly submitting to the
companionship thus sprung upon him. He saw from the badge on the man's
shoulder that he belonged to one of the Canadian Forestry Corps in the
district, and was at once on his guard. They started in silence, till
Delane, pulling his mind back with a jerk, asked his companion if he was
going to Ipscombe.

"No--only to Great End Farm."

Darkness hid the sudden change in Delane's countenance.

"You know some one there?"

"No, but I want to see one of the ladies about something. There's two of
them running the farm. But Miss Henderson's the boss."

Cautiously, with assumed indifference, Delane began to ask questions.

He discovered that his companion's name was Dempsey; and before many
minutes had passed the murderer's grandson was in the full swing of his
story. Delane, despising the young man for a chattering fool, listened,
nevertheless, with absorbed attention to every item of his tale.
Presently Dempsey said with a laugh,--

"There's been people in Ipscombe all these years as always would have it
old Watson walked. I know the names of three people at least as have
sworn to seein' 'im. And there's an old fellow in Ipscombe now that
declares he's seen him, only t'ther day."

Delane lit his pipe, and nonchalantly inquired particulars.

Dempsey gave a mocking account of Halsey's story.

"He's an old fool! Did you ever hear of a ghost bleedin' before!" The
speaker threw back his head and laughed. "That's all rot! Besides, I
don't believe in ghosts--never did. But as Miss Henderson's farmin' the
very land where old Watson was done in, I thought she'd like to have the
true story and first hand. And there's no one but me knows it--not first
hand. So I wrote to her, and said as I would call at six o'clock this
evening."

"You know her?"

"No--o," said the young man, hesitating. "But I somehow fancy as I may
have seen her before."

"Where?"

"Why, in Canada. I was living on a farm, not far from Winnipeg"--he named
the place. Delane suddenly dropped his pipe, and stooped to pick it up.

"All right," he said, "go on."

"And there was a man--a sort of gentleman--his name was Delane--on
another farm about ten miles from where I was working. People talked
of him no end--he was a precious bad lot! I never saw him that I know
of--but I saw his wife twice. They say he was a brute to her. And she was
awfully handsome. You couldn't forget her when you'd once come across
her. And when I saw Miss Henderson drivin' one of the wagons in the
Millsborough Harvest Festival, a fortnight ago, I could have sworn it was
Mrs. Delane. But, of course, it was my mistake."

"Where did you see Mrs. Delane?"

"Once at her own place. I was delivering some poultry food that Delane
had bought of my employer--and once at a place belongin' to a man
called Tanner."

"Tanner?"

"Tanner. He was somethin' the same sort as Delane. We've a lot of them in
Canada--remittance men, we call them--men as can't get on in the old
country--and their relations pay 'em to go--and pay 'em to keep away. But
Tanner was a nice sort of fellow--quite different from Delane. He painted
pictures. I remember his showin' some o' them in Winnipeg. But he was
always down on his luck. He couldn't make any money, and he couldn't
keep it."

"You saw Miss Henderson there?"

Dempsey gave a guffaw.

"Oh, Lor, no! I don't say that. Why, I'd get into trouble--shouldn't I?
But I saw Mrs. Delane. I was driving past Tanner's place, with two
horses, and a heavy load, November two years ago--just before we passed
our Military Service Act, and I joined up. And an awful storm came on--a
regular blizzard. Before I got to Tanner's I was nearly wore out, an' the
horses, too. So I stopped to ask for a hot drink or somethin'. You
couldn't see the horses' heads for the snow. And Tanner brought me out
some hot coffee--I'm a teetotaller, you see--an' a woman stood at the
door, and handed it to him. She was holdin' a lamp, so I saw her quite
plain. And I knew her at once, though she was only there a minute. It was
Mrs. Roger Delane."

He stopped to light a cigarette. No sound came from his companion. All
round them spread the great common, with its old thorns, its clumps of
fir, its hollows and girdling woods, faintly lit by a ghostly moonlight
that was just beginning to penetrate the misty November dusk. The
cheerful light of Dempsey's cigarette shone a moment in the gloom. Delane
was conscious of an excitement which it took all his will to master. But
he spoke carelessly.

"And what was Mrs. Delane doing there?"

Dempsey chuckled.

"How should I know? Tanner used to have a sister staying with him
sometimes. Perhaps she and Mrs. Delane were friends. But I saw that woman
quite plain. It was Mrs. Delane--that I'll swear. And Miss Henderson is
as like her as two peas. It might have been her sister. Miss Henderson's
very uncommon-looking. You don't often see that complexion and that hair.
And she has lived in Canada."

"How do you know?"

"She told old Halsey. Well, there's my road, just ahead. And if you're
going to Moor End, you keep straight on. The moon's coming up. It won't
be very dark." And with a careless good-night, the Canadian turned a
corner, and disappeared along a road which diverged at a right angle from
the main road, and led, as Delane knew, direct to Ipscombe.

He himself walked on, till he found a lane tunnelled through one of the
deep woods that on their western side ran down to Great End Farm. In the
heart of that wood there was a keeper's hut, disused entirely since the
war. Delane had discovered it, and was quite prepared to spend a night
there at a pinch. There was a rude fireplace in it, and some old sacks.
With some of the fallen wood lying about, a man could make a fire, and
pass a winter night in very tolerable comfort.

He made his way in, managed to prop a sack against the small cobwebbed
window, fastened the door with a rusty bolt, and brought out an electric
torch he always carried in his pocket.

There was not a house within a long distance. There were no keepers now
on Colonel Shepherd's estate. Darkness--the woods--and the wild creatures
in them--were his only companions. Half a mile away, no doubt, Rachel in
her smart new parlour was talking to the Canadian fellow.

_Tanner!_ Ye gods! At last he had the clue to it all.



X


Dempsey did not find Rachel Henderson at home when he called at Great End
Farm, after his meeting with his unknown companion on the common.

Ellesborough and Rachel had gone to London for the day. Ellesborough's
duties at the Ralstone camp were in a state of suspended animation,
since, in these expectant days before the signing of the armistice, there
had been a general slackening, as though by silent and general consent,
in the timber felling due to the war throughout the beautiful district
in which Millsborough lay. Enough damage had been done already to the
great wood-sanctuaries. On one pretext or another men held their hands.

Ellesborough then was free to take time off when he would, and to spend
it in love-making. The engagement had been announced, and Ellesborough
believed himself a very happy man--with the slight drawbacks that may be
imagined.

In the first place--although, as he became better acquainted with
Rachel's varying moods and aspects, he fell more and more deeply under
the charm of her temperament--a temperament at once passionate and
childish, crude, and subtle, with many signs, fugitive and surprising, of
a deep and tragic reflectiveness; he became also more and more conscious
of what seemed to him the lasting effects upon her of her miserable
marriage. The nervous effects above all; shown by the vague "fears" of
which she had spoken to him, on one of their early walks together; and by
the gulfs of depression and silence into which she would often fall,
after periods of high, even wild spirits.

It was this constant perception of a state of nervous suffering and
irritability in this splendid physical creature--a state explained, as he
thought, by her story, which had put him instantly on his guard, when
that sinister vision at the window had sprung for a moment out of the
darkness. Before almost he could move towards it, it had gone. And with a
farewell smile at the woman he had just been holding in his arms, a smile
which betrayed nothing, he had hurried away from her to investigate the
mystery. A hasty word to Janet Leighton in the kitchen, and he was making
a rapid circuit of the farm, and searching the farm-yard; with no results
whatever.

Then he, Janet, and Hastings had held a hurried and secret colloquy in a
corner of the great cow-shed, as far from Rachel's sight and hearing as
possible. Clearly some one was haunting the farm for some malicious
purpose. Hastings, for the first time, told the story of the blood-marks,
and of two or three other supposed visions of a man, tall and stooping,
with a dark sallow face, which persons working on the farm, or walking
near it on the hill, had either seen or imagined. Ellesborough finally
had jumped on his motor-bicycle and ridden off to the police depot at
Millsborough. Some wind of the happenings at Great End Farm had already
reached the police, but they could throw no light on them. They arranged,
however, with Ellesborough to patrol the farm and the neighbourhood after
dark as often as their diminished force would allow.

They were inclined to believe that some half-witted person was concerned,
drawn, perhaps, from the alien population which had been floating through
the district, and bent on mischief or robbery--or a mixture of both.

Rachel meanwhile knew nothing of these consultations. After her
engagement was made public, she began to look so white, so tired and
tremulous, that both Ellesborough and Janet were alarmed. Overwork,
according to Janet, with the threshing, and in the potato-fields. Never
had Rachel worked with such a feverish energy as in these autumn weeks.
Add the excitement of an engagement, said Janet, and you see the result.

She would have prescribed bed and rest; but Rachel scouted the advice.
The alternative was amusement--change of scene--in Ellesborough's
company. Here she was more docile, feverishly submissive and happy,
indeed, so long as Ellesborough made the plans, and Ellesborough watched
over her. Janet wondered at certain profound changes in her. It was, she
saw, the first real passion of Rachel's life.

       *       *       *       *       *

So Dempsey called in vain. Miss Henderson was in town for a theatre and
shopping. But he saw Janet Leighton, to whom with all the dramatic
additions and flourishes he had now bestowed upon it, he told his story.
Janet, who, on a hint from Hastings, had expected the visitation, was at
any rate glad that Rachel was out of the way, seeing what a strong and
curious dislike she had to the ghost-story, and also to any talk of the
murder from which it originated.

Janet, however, listened, and with a growing and fascinated attention, to
the old tale. Was there some real connection, she wondered, between it
and the creature who had been prowling round the farm? Was some one
personating the ghost, and for what reason? The same queries were
ardently in the mind of Dempsey. He reported Halsey's adventure,
commenting on it indignantly.

"It's some one as knows the story, and is playin' the fool with it. It's
a very impudent thing to do! It's not playing fair, that's what it isn't;
and I'd like to get hold of him."

Janet's mouth twitched. The young man's proprietorial interest in his
grandfather's crime, and annoyance that any one should interfere with it,
turned the whole thing to comedy. Moreover, his fatuous absorption in
that side of the matter made him useless for any other purpose: so that
she soon ceased from cross-examining him, and he rose to go.

"Well, I'm sorry not to have seen Miss Henderson," he said awkwardly,
twisting his cap. "I'd like to have had a talk with her about Canada. It
was old Halsey told me she'd lived in Canada."

"Yes," said Janet irresponsively.

Dempsey smiled broadly and seemed embarrassed. At last he said with a
jerk:--

"I wonder if Miss Henderson ever knew a man called Tanner--who lived near
Winnipeg?"

"I never heard her speak of him."

"Because"--he still twirled--"when I saw Miss Henderson at Millsborough
that day of the rally, I thought as I'd seen her before."

"Oh?" said Janet ardently. But some instinct put her on her guard.

"Dick Tanner, they called him, was a man--an artist chap--who lived not
far from the man I was with--and I once saw a lady there just like Miss
Henderson."

"Did you?"

Dempsey grew bolder.

"Only it couldn't have been Miss Henderson, you see--because this lady I
saw was a Mrs. Delane. But was Mrs. Delane perhaps a relation of Miss
Henderson? She was just like Miss Henderson."

"I'll ask Miss Henderson," said Janet, moving towards the door, as a
signal to him to take his leave. "But I expect you're confusing her with
some one else."

Dempsey, however, began rather eagerly to dot the i's. The picture of the
snowstorm, of the woman at the door, various points in his description
of her, and of the solitary--apparently bachelor--owner of the farm,
began to affect Janet uncomfortably. She got rid of the chatter-box as
soon as possible, and went slowly to the kitchen, to get supper ready. As
she fried the bacon, and took some vegetables out of the hay-box, she was
thinking fast.

Tanner? No--she had never heard Rachel mention the name. But it happened
that Dempsey had given a precise date. It was in the "November before
they Passed Conscription" in Canada, _i.e._ before he himself was called
up--that he saw Mrs. Delane, at night, in Dick Tanner's house. And Janet
remembered that, according to the story which as they two sat by the fire
alone at night, when the girls were gone to bed, Rachel had gradually
built up before her. It was in that same month that Rachel had been
deserted by Delane; who had gone off to British Columbia with the Italian
girl, as his wife afterwards knew, leaving Rachel alone on the farm--with
one Japanese servant.

Why shouldn't she have been staying on Mr. Tanner's farm? There was no
doubt some one else there--whom the boy didn't see. Perhaps she had
herself taken refuge there during the storm. But all the same Janet felt
vaguely troubled.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was nearly seven o'clock, and the moon, now at the full, was rising
over the eastern hill, and balancing the stubbles and the new-turned
plough-lands in the upland cup to a pearly whiteness as they lay under
the dark woods and a fleecy sky. There was a sound of a motor in the
lane--the village taxi bringing the travellers home.

In a few more minutes they were in the sitting-room, Rachel throwing off
her thick coat with Ellesborough's help, and declaring that she was not
the least tired.

"Don't believe her!" said Ellesborough, smiling at Janet. "She is not a
truthful woman!"

And his proud eyes returned to Rachel as though now that there was light
to see her by he had no other use for them.

Rachel, indeed, was in a radiant mood. Pallor and depression had
vanished; she was full of chatter about the streets, the crowds, the
shops.

"But it's hopeless to go shopping with a man! He can't make up his mind
one bit!"

"He hadn't a mind to make up!" murmured Ellesborough, looking up at her
as she perched above him on a corner of the table.

She laughed.

"That, I suppose, was what made him want to buy the whole place! If I'd
taken his advice, Janet, I should have been just cleaned out!"

"What's the good of being economical when one's going to be married!"
said Ellesborough, joyously. "Why--"

Rachel interrupted him--with a hand on his shoulder.

"And we've settled our plans, Janet--that is, if you're agreeable. Will
you mind looking after the farm for six months?"

"You see, if the armistice is signed--and we shall know to-morrow," said
Ellesborough, "I shall be free in a month or so, and then we propose to
marry and get a passage before Christmas. I must go home, and she says
she'll come with me!"

A shadow had fallen suddenly, it seemed to Janet, over Rachel's aspect,
but she at once endorsed what Ellesborough had said.

"We can't settle things--can we?--till we've seen his people. We've got
to decide whether I'll go to America, or he'll come here."

"But we want to say"--Ellesborough turned gravely to Janet--"that first
and foremost, we wish to do the best for you."

The sudden tears came into Janet's eyes. But they did not show.

"Oh, that'll be all right. Don't bother about me."

"We shall bother!" said Rachel with energy, "but I'll tell you all about
it presently. He won't stay to supper."

She descended from the table, and Ellesborough rose. After a little more
chat about the day and its doings, he said good-night to Janet.

"How do you get back?"

"Oh, I left my bike in the village. I shall walk and pick it up there."

Rachel took up her thick coat and slipped it on again. She would walk
with him to the road, she said--there were some more things to say.

Janet watched them go out into the wide frosty night, where the sky was
shedding its clouds, and the temperature was falling rapidly. She
realized that they were in that stage of passion when everything is
unreal outside the one supreme thing, and all other life passes like a
show half-seen. And all the while the name Tanner--Dick Tanner--echoed
in her mind. Such a simple thing to put a careless question to Rachel!
Yet perhaps--after all--not so simple.

Meanwhile the two lovers were together on the path through the stubbles,
walking hand-in-hand through the magic of the moonlight.

"Will you write a little line to my mother to-morrow?"

"Yes, of course. But--"

He caught her long breath.

"I have prepared the way, darling. I promise you--it will be all right."

"But why--why--didn't I see you first?" It was a stifled cry, which
seemed somehow to speak for them both. And she added, bitterly, "It's no
good talking--it can't ever be the same--to you, or to your people."

"It shall be the same! Or rather, we shall owe you a double share of love
to make up to you--for that horrible time. Forget it, dear--make yourself
forget it. My mother would tell you so at once."

"Isn't she--very strict about divorce?"

Ellesborough hesitated--just a moment.

"She couldn't have any doubts about your case--dearest--who could? You
fell among thieves, and--"

"And you're picking me up, and taking me to the inn?"

He pressed her hand passionately. They walked in silence till the gate
appeared.

"Go back, dearest. I shall be over on Sunday."

"Not till then?"

"I'm afraid not. If the peace news comes tomorrow, the camp'll go mad,
and I shall have to look after them."

They paused at the gate, and he kissed her. She lay passive in his arms,
the moonlight touched her brown hair, and the beautiful curves of her
cheek and throat.

"Wasn't it heavenly to-day?" she whispered.

"Heavenly! Go home!"

She turned back towards the farm, drawing her cloak and its fur collar
close round her, against the cold. And indeed Ellesborough was no sooner
gone, the rush of the motor cycle along the distant road had no sooner
died away, than a shiver ran through her which was more than physical. So
long as he was there, she was happy, excited, hopeful. And when he was
not there, the protecting screen had fallen, and she was exposed to all
the stress and terror of the storm raging in her own mind.

"Why can't I forget it all--_everything_! It's dead--_it's dead_!" she
said to herself again and again in an anguish, as she walked back through
the broad open field where the winter-sown corn was just springing in the
furrows--the moon was so bright that she could see the tiny green spears
of it.

And yet in reality she perfectly understood why it was that, instead of
forgetting, memory was becoming more and more poignant, more and more
persecuting. It was because the searching processes of love were going
deeper and deeper into her inmost soul. This good man who loved her, who
was going to take her injured life into his keeping, to devote to her all
his future, and all the harvest of his upright and hard-working past--she
was going to marry him with a lie between them, so that she could never
look him straight in the face, never be certain that, sometime or other,
something would not emerge like a drowned face from the dark, and ruin
all their happiness. It had seemed, at the beginning, so easy to keep
silence, to tell everything but the one miserable fact that she couldn't
tell! And now it was getting intolerably hard, just because she knew
for the first time what love really meant, with its ardour for
self-revelation, for an absolute union with the beloved. By marrying him
without confession, she would not only be wronging him, she would be
laying up probable misery for herself--and him--through the mere action
of her own temperament.

For she knew herself. Among the girls and women she had been thrown with
during the preceding year and a half, there were some moral anarchists,
with whose views she had become strikingly familiar. Why, they said, make
so much of these physical facts? Accept them, and the incidents that
spring from them. Why all this weeping and wailing over supposed shames
and disgraces? The sex-life of the present is making its own new codes.
Who knows what they will ultimately be? And as for the indelible traces
and effects of an act of weakness or passion that the sentimental and
goody-goody people talk of, in the majority of cases they don't exist.
After it, the human being concerned may be just the same as before.

Rachel was quite aware of this modern gospel. Only she was shut out from
adopting it in her own case by an invincible heredity, by the spirit of
her father in her, the saintly old preacher, whose uncompromising faith
she had witnessed and shared through all her young years. She might and
did protest that the faith was no longer hers. But it had stamped her.
She could never be wholly rid of its prejudices and repulsions. What
would her father have said to her divorce?--he with his mystical
conception of marriage? She dreaded to think. And as to that other
fact which weighed on her conscience, she seemed to hear herself
pleading--with tears!--"Father!--it wasn't my will--it was my
_weakness_!--Don't look at me so!"

And now, in addition, there was the pressure upon her of Ellesborough's
own high ideals and religious temper; of the ideals, also, of his family,
as he was tenderly and unconsciously revealing them. And, finally, there
was the daily influence of Janet's neighbourhood--Janet, so austere for
herself, so pitiful for others: Janet, so like Ellesborough in the
unconscious sternness of her moral outlook, so full, besides, of an
infinite sorrow for the sinner.

And between these two stood this variable, sensuous, woman's nature, so
capable both of good and evil. Rachel felt the burden of their virtues
too much for her, together with the sting of her own secret knowledge.

In some moments, even, she rebelled against her own passion. She had such
a moment of revolt, in this moonlit dark, as her eyes took in the farm,
the dim outlines of the farm buildings, the stacks, the new-ploughed
furrows. Two months earlier her life had been absorbed in simple, clear,
practical ambitions: how to improve her stock--how to grow another bushel
to the acre--how and when to build a silo--whether to try
electrification: a score of pleasant riddles that made the hours fly. And
now this old fever had crept again into her blood, and everything had
lost its savour. There were times when she bitterly, childishly,
regretted it. She could almost have hated Ellesborough, because she loved
him so well; and because of the terror, the ceaseless preoccupation that
her love had begun to impose upon her.

Janet, watching her come in, saw that the radiance had departed, and that
she crept about again like a tired woman. When, after nine o'clock, they
were alone by the fire, again and again it was on the tip of Janet's
tongue to say, "Tell me, who was Dick Tanner?" Then, in a sudden panic
fear, lest the words should slip out, and bring something irreparable,
she would get up, and make a restless pretence of some household work or
other, only to sit down and begin the same inward debate once more. But
she said nothing, and Rachel, too, was silent. She sat over the fire,
apparently half asleep. Neither of them moved to go to bed till nearly
midnight.

Then they kissed each other, and Janet raked out the fire.

"To-morrow!" she said, her eyes on the red glow of the embers,
"_to-morrow_!--Will it be peace?"

And then Rachel remembered that all the civilized world was waiting for
the words that would end the war. Somewhere in a French château there was
a group of men conferring, and on the issue of this night depended the
lives of thousands, and the peace of Europe.

Janet raised her clasped hands, and her plain, quiet face shone in the
candle-light. She murmured something. Rachel guessed it was a prayer. But
her own heart seemed dead and dumb. She could not free it from its load
of personal care; she could not feel the patriotic emotion which had
suddenly seized on Janet.

The morning broke grey and misty. The two labourers and the girls went
about their work--raising their heads now and then to listen. And at
eleven came the signal. Out rang the bells from Ipscombe Church tower.
Labourers and girls threw down what they were doing, and gathered in the
farm-yard round Janet and Rachel, who were waving flags on the steps of
the farm-house. Then Rachel gave them all a holiday for the rest of the
day, and very soon there was no one left on the farm premises but the two
women and the bailiff.

"Don't stay, Hastings," said Rachel. "I'll get the horse and cart
myself."

For it was market day at Millsborough, and peace or no peace, she had
some business that must be done there.

"Oh, I've no call to go, Miss," said Hastings. "I'd rather stay and look
after things."

His eyes met Janet's, and she nodded imperceptibly. She was relieved to
think of Hastings--good, faithful, unassuming creature!--remaining on
guard. The very desertion of the farm-houses on this great day might
tempt marauders--especially that thief or madman who had been haunting
their own premises. She hoped the police would not forget them either.
But Hastings' offer to stay till the girls came back from the
Millsborough crowds and bands at about nine o'clock quite eased her mind.
And meanwhile she and Hastings, as had been agreed, kept their anxieties
from Rachel.

Rachel went off at twelve o'clock in her khaki suit, driving a spirited
young horse in a high cart, which was filled with farm produce. She was
to take early dinner with some new friends, and then to go and look at a
Jersey cow which Janet coveted, in a farm on the other side of
Millsborough.

"Don't wait tea for me," she said to Janet, "I shall get some somewhere."
And then with a smile to them both she was off. Janet stood looking after
her, lost in a painful uncertainty. "Can't you let it alone?" Lord
Melbourne was accustomed to say suavely to those members of the Cabinet
who brought him grievances or scandals that wanted seeing to. One half of
Janet's mind was saying, "Can't you let it alone?" to the other half.



XI


The daylight had all gone when Rachel at last got into her cart in the
yard of the Rose and Thistle at Millsborough and took the reins. But
there was a faint moonrise struggling through the mist in which the
little town and countryside were shrouded. And in the town, with its
laughing and singing crowds, its bright shop windows, its moist,
straggling flags, the mist, lying gently over the old houses, the moving
people, the flashes and streamers of light, was extraordinarily romantic
and beautifying.

Rachel drove slowly through the streets, delighting in the noise and
excitement, in the sheer new pleasure of everything, the world--human
beings--living--the end of the war. And out among the fields, and in the
country road, the November sun was still beautiful; what with the pearly
mist, and the purple shapes of the forest-covered hills. She had been
much made of in Millsborough. People were anxious to talk to her, to
invite her, to do business with her. Her engagement, she perceived, had
made her doubly interesting. She was going to be prosperous, to
succeed--and all the world smiled upon her.

So that her pulses were running fast as she reached Ipscombe, where, in
the mild fog, a few groups were standing about, and a few doors were
open. And now--there was home!--in front of her. And--Heavens! what had
Janet done? Rachel pulled up the horse, and sat enchanted, looking at the
farm. For there it lay, pricked out in light, its old Georgian lines
against the background of the hill. Every window had a light in it--every
blind was drawn up--it was Janet's illumination for the peace. She had
made of the old house "an insubstantial faery place," and Rachel laughed
for pleasure.

Then she drove eagerly on into the dark tunnel of trees that lay between
her and the house.

Suddenly a shape rushed out of the hedge into the light of the lamps, and
a man laid a violent hand upon the horse's reins. The horse reared, and
Rachel cried out,--

"What are you doing? Let go!"

But the man held the struggling horse, at once coercing and taming
it, with an expert hand. A voice!--that sent a sudden horror through
Rachel,--

"Sit where you are--hold tight!--don't be a fool!--he'll quiet down."

She sat paralysed; and, still holding the reins, though the trembling
horse was now quiet, a man advanced into the light of the left-hand lamp.

"Well--do you know me?" he said quietly.

She struggled for breath and self-control.

"Let those reins alone!--what are you doing here?"

And snatching up her whip, she bent forward. But he made a spring at it,
snatched it easily with a laugh, and broke it.

"You know you never were strong enough to get the better of me. Why do
you try? Don't be an idiot. I want to make an appointment with you. You
can't escape me. I've watched you for weeks. And see you alone, too.
Without that fellow you're engaged to."

Her passion rose, in spite of her deadly fear.

"He'll take care of that," she said, "and the police. I'm not helpless
now--as I used to be."

"Ah, but you'd better see me. I've got a great deal to say that concerns
you. I suppose you've told that American chap a very pretty story about
our divorce? Well, it took me a long time to get to the bottom of it
myself. But now I'm--well, disillusioned!"

He came closer, close to the rail of the cart and the lamp, so that she
saw clearly the haggard wreck of what once had been Roger Delane, and the
evil triumph in his eyes.

"Who stayed the night alone, with Dick Tanner, on his place, when I was
safely got rid of?" he said, in a low but clear voice. "And then who
played the innocent--who did?"

"Liar!"

"Not at all. I've got some new evidence now--some quite fresh light on
the scene--which may be useful to me. I want money. You seem to have a
lot. And I want to be paid back a little of what I'm owed. Oh, I can hold
my tongue, if it's made worth my while. I don't suppose you've told your
American young man anything about Dick Tanner--eh?"

"Let go the horse!" she said fiercely, trying to recapture the reins.
"You've nothing to do with me any more."

"Haven't I? Oh, by all means tell your Yankee that I've waylaid you. I
shouldn't at all object to an interview with him. In fact, I rather think
of asking for it. But if you want to prevent it, you've got to do what
you're told."

He came closer, and spoke with slow emphasis. "You've got to arrange a
time--when I can see you--_alone?_ When shall it be?"

Silence. But far ahead there were sounds as of some one approaching.
Delane leapt on the step of the cart.

"This is Monday. Wednesday night--get rid of everybody! You can do it if
you like. I shall come at nine. You've got to let me in."

Her white, quivering face was all his answer.

"Don't forget," he said, jumping down. "Good-night!"

And in a second he was gone, where, she could not tell.

The reins fell from her grasp. She leant back in the cart, half fainting.
The horse, finding the reins on his neck, strayed to the grassy side of
the road, and began grazing. A short time passed. In another minute or
two the left wheel would have gone done into a deep ditch.

"Hallo!" cried a man's voice. "What the matter?"

Rachel tried to rouse herself, but could only murmur inarticulately. The
man jumped off his bicycle, propped it against a tree, and came running
to her.

He saw a woman, in a khaki felt hat and khaki dress, sitting hunched up
in a fainting state on the seat of a light cart. He was just in time to
catch the horse and turn it back to the road. Then in his astonishment
John Dempsey altogether forgot himself.

"Don't be frightened, Mrs. Delane! Why, you've had a faint. But never
mind. Cheer up! I'll get you home safe."

And Rachel, reviving, opened her heavy eyes to see stooping over her the
face of the lad in the hooded cart whom she had last seen in the night of
that November snowstorm, two years before.

"What did you say?" she asked stupidly. Then, raising herself, with an
instinctive gesture she smoothed back her hair from her face, and
straightened her hat. "Thank you, I'm all right."

Dempsey's mouth as he retreated from her shaped itself to an involuntary
grin.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am--but I think I've seen you in Canada. Didn't I
once come to your place, with a parcel from Mr. Grimes--that was my
employer--of Redminster? I remember you had a Jap servant. And there was
another time, I think"--the lad's eyes fixed her, contracted a little,
and sharp with curiosity--"when you and Mr. Dick Tanner gave me that
fizzling hot coffee--don't you remember?--in that awful blizzard two
years ago? And Mr. Tanner gave the horses a feed, too. Awfully good chap,
Mr. Tanner. I don't know what I should have done without that coffee."

Rachel was still deathly white, but she had recovered possession of
herself, and her mind was working madly through a score of possibilities.

"You're quite mistaken," she said coldly, "I never saw you before that I
am aware of. Please let go the reins. I can manage now quite well. I
don't know what made me feel ill. I'm all right now."

"You've got the reins twisted round the shaft, miss," said Dempsey
officiously. "You'd better let me put 'em right."

And without waiting for a reply, he began to disentangle them, not
without a good deal of fidgeting from the horse, which delayed him. His
mouth twitched with laughter as he bent over the shaft. Deny that she was
Mrs. Delane! That was a good one. Why, now that he had seen her close, he
could swear to her anywhere.

Rachel watched him, her senses sharpening rapidly. Only a few minutes
since Roger had been there--and now, this man. Had they met? Was there
collusion between them? There must be. How else could Roger know? No one
else in the world but this youth could have given him the information.
She recalled the utter solitude of the snow-bound farm--the heavy
drifts--no human being but Dick and herself--till that evening when the
new snow was all hard frozen, and they two had sleighed back under the
moon to her own door.

What to do? She seemed to see her course.

"What is your name?" she asked him, endeavouring to speak in her ordinary
voice, and bending over the front of the cart, she spoke to the horse,
"Quiet, Jack, quiet!"

"My name's John Dempsey, ma'am." He looked up, and then quickly withdrew
his eyes. She saw the twitching smile that he now could hardly restrain.
By this time he had straightened the reins, which she gathered up.

"It's curious," she said, "but you're not the first person who's mistaken
me for that Mrs. Delane. I knew something about her. I don't want to be
mistaken for her."

"I see," said Dempsey.

"I would rather you didn't speak about it in the village--or anywhere.
You see, one doesn't like to be confused with some people. I didn't like
Mrs. Delane."

The lad looked up grinning.

"She got divorced, didn't she?"

"I dare say. I knew very little about her. But, as I said, I don't want
to be mistaken for her."

Then, tying the reins to the cart, she jumped down and stood beside him.

His hand went instinctively to the horse's mouth, holding the restive
animal still.

"And I should be very much obliged to you if you would keep what you
thought about me to yourself. I don't want you to talk about it in the
village or anywhere. Come up and see me--at the farm--and I'll tell you
why I dislike being mixed up with that woman--why, in fact, I should mind
it dreadfully. I can't explain now, but--"

The young man was fairly dazzled by the beauty of the sudden flush on her
pale cheeks, of her large pleading eyes, her soft voice. And this--as old
Betts had only that afternoon told him--was the lady engaged to his own
superior officer, Captain Ellesborough, the Commandant of Ralstone Camp,
whom he heartily admired, and stood in considerable awe of! His vanity,
of which he possessed so large a share, was much tickled; but, also, his
feelings were touched.

"Why, of course, ma'am, won't say anything. I didn't mean any harm."

"All right," said Rachel, scrambling back to her seat. "If you like to
come up to-morrow morning, I shall be pleased to see you. It's a bargain,
mind!"

He saluted, smiling. She nodded to him, and drove off.

"Well, that's the rummiest go!" said the bewildered Dempsey to himself,
as he walked towards his bicycle. "Mistake be damned! She _was_ Mrs.
Delane, and what's she up to now with my captain? And what the deuce was
she doing at Tanner's?"

Never did a person feel himself more vastly important than Dempsey as he
bicycled back to the Ralstone camp, whence he had started in the morning,
after the peace news, to go and see a cousin living some distance beyond
Great End Farm. To be his grandfather's grandson was much--but _this_!

Rachel drove, with hands unconscious of the reins, along the road and up
the farm lane leading through her own fields. The world swam around her
in the mist, but there, still in front of her, lay the illuminated farm,
a house of light standing in air. As she neared it, the front door opened
and sounds of singing and laughter came out.

The "Marseillaise"! _Allons, enfants de la patrie!_--Janet was playing
it, singing vigorously herself, and trying to teach the two girls the
French words, a performance which broke down every other minute in
helpless laughter from all three. Meanwhile, Hastings, who had been
standing behind the singers, his hands in his pockets, a rare and
shamefaced pleasure shining from his care-worn face, thought he heard the
cart, and looked out. Yes, it was the Missis, as he liked to call Miss
Henderson, and he ran down to meet her.

"Well, I suppose there were fine doings at Millsborough, Miss," he said,
as he held the horse for her to get down.

"Yes--there were a lot of people. It was very noisy."

"We thought you'd hear our noise, Miss, as far as the road! Miss
Leighton, she's been keeping us all alive. She took the girls to
church--to the Thanksgiving Service, while I looked after things."

"All right, Hastings," said Miss Henderson, in a voice that struck his
ear strangely. "Thank you. Will you take the cart?"

He thought as he led the horse away, "She's been overdoin' it again. The
Cap'n will tell her so."

Rachel climbed the little slope to the front door. It seemed an Alp.
Presently she stood on the threshold of the sitting-room, in her thick
fur coat, looking at the group round the piano. Janet glanced round,
laughing. "Come and join in!" And they all struck up "God Save the
King"--a comely group in the lamplight, Jenny and Betty lifting their
voices lustily. But they seemed to Rachel to be playing some silly game
which she did not understand. She closed the door and went upstairs to
her own room. It was cold and dark. She lit a candle, and her own face,
transformed, looked at her from the glass on the dressing-table. She gave
a weary, half-reflective sigh. "Shall I be like that when I'm old?"

She took off her things, and changed mechanically into an afternoon
dress, her mind, like a hunted thing, running hither and thither all the
time.

Presently she got up and locked the door. She must think--_think_--by
herself.

It would be quite easy to defy Roger--quite easy to lie, and lie
successfully, if only she was sure of herself, and her own will to carry
things through. Roger could prove nothing--or that vulgar boy--or
anybody. She had only to say, "I went to find Lucy Tanner, who was my
friend--she wasn't there--I was overtaken by the storm--and Dick Tanner
looked after me till I could get home."

It was the most natural--the most plausible story. If Delane forced
himself on George with any vile tale, Ellesborough would probably give
him in charge for molesting his former wife. There was absolutely nothing
to fear, if she handled the thing in a bold, common-sense way, and told a
consistent and clever lie.

And yet, she had weakly made appointments with both her tormentors!--made
it plain to them that she was afraid! She called herself a coward, and a
fool--and then as she leant her head against the side of her bed, the
tears ran down her face, and her heart cried out for Ellesborough.

"How _can_ I go on lying to him--now--and all my life?" It was the same
cry as before, but more intense, more passionate with every day's living.
The need for lying had now doubled; yet her will could less and less
steel itself to it, because of sheer love and remorse towards the man who
loved her.

"He would forgive me. I know he would--I know he would!" she kept on
murmuring to herself, while her eyes rained in the semi-darkness.

Yes, but it would change everything! Their love--his feeling towards
her--could never be the same again. After Roger Delane--Dick Tanner. Why
not another--and another? Would he not always be watching her, dreading
some new discovery! Suspecting her, even while he loved her?

No. She must choke off Delane--with money--the only way. And invent some
story--some bribe, too--for that odious young man who had caught her
unawares.

So again she hardened herself, despairingly. It could not be allowed
her--the balm and luxury of confession! It was too dangerous. Her all
was in it.

Meanwhile, the singing continued below. Janet had struck up "Tipperary,"
and the small flute-like voices of the girls, supported by her harsher
one, mounted joyously through every crevice of the slightly-built house.

"It's a long, long way to Tipperary,
And my heart's right there."

The beautiful tune, interwoven for our generation with all that is most
poignant in its life, beat on Rachel's nerves. It was being sung all over
England that Armistice Day, as it had been sung in the first days of the
war, joyously, exultingly, yet with catching breath. There was in it more
than thousands of men and women dared to probe, whether of joy or sorrow.
They sang it, with a sob in the throat. To Rachel, also, sunk in her own
terrors, it was almost unbearable. The pure unspoilt passion of it--the
careless, confident joy--seemed to make an outcast of her, as she sat
there in the dark, dragged back by the shock and horror of Delane's
appearance into the slime and slough of old memories, and struggling with
them in vain. Yes, she was "damaged goods"--she was unfit to marry George
Ellesborough. But she would marry him! She set her teeth--clinging to him
with all the energy of a woman's deepening and maturing consciousness.
She had been a weak and self-willed child when she married Delane--when
she spent those half miserable, half wild days and nights with Dick
Tanner. Now she trusted a good man--now she looked up and adored. Her
weakness was safe in the care of George Ellesborough's strength. Well,
then, let her fight for her love.

Presently Janet knocked at the door. The singing downstairs had ceased.

"Are you tired, Rachel? Can't I help you?"

"Just a bit tired. I'm resting. I'll be down directly."

       *       *       *       *       *

But the interruption had started fresh anxieties in her mind. She had
paid the most perfunctory attention to the few words Janet had said about
Dempsey's call at the farm, two nights before. She understood at the time
that he had come to chatter about the murder, and was very glad that she
had been out of the way.

But now--what was it that he had said to Janet--and why had Janet said so
little about his visit?

Instead of resting she walked incessantly up and down. This uncertainty
about Janet teased her; but after all it was nothing to that other
mystery--how did Roger know?--and to the strange and bewildering effect
of the juxtaposition of the two men--their successive appearance in the
darkness within--what?--ten minutes?--a quarter of an hour?--while the
cloud was on her own brain--without apparently any connection between
them--and relevance to each other. There must have been some connection!
And yet there had been no sign of any personal knowledge of Roger Delane
in Dempsey's talk; and no reference whatever to Dempsey in Delane's.

She went down to supper, very flushed and on edge. Little Jenny eyed her
surreptitiously. For the first time the child's raw innocence was
disturbed or jealous. What did John Dempsey want with calling on Miss
Henderson--and why had he made a rather teasing mystery of it to her,
Jenny? "Wouldn't you like to know, Miss Inquisitive?" Yes, Jenny would
like to know. Of course Miss Henderson was engaged to Captain
Ellesborough, and all that. But that was no reason why she should carry
off Jenny's "friend," as well as her own. Jenny's heart swelled within
her as she watched Miss Henderson from the other end of the table. Yes,
of course, she was nice-looking, and her clothes were nice. Jenny thought
that she would get a new best dress soon, now that peace was come; and a
new hat with a high silk crown to match the dress. Dempsey had admired a
hat like that on a girl in the village. He had said it was "real smart."
And to be "smart" Jenny thought was to be happy.

After supper, Janet and the girls washed up and put all tidy for the
night. Rachel worked at accounts in the sitting-room. She had sold the
last hay she had to spare wonderfully well, and potatoes showed a good
profit. Threshing charges were very high, and wages--appalling! But on
the whole, they were doing very well. Janet's Jersey cow had been
expensive, but they could afford her.

They had never yet drawn out so good an interim balance sheet without
delight, and rosy dreams for the future. Now her mood was leaden, and she
pushed the papers aside impatiently. As she was sitting with her hands
round her knees, staring into the fire, or at the chair where
Ellesborough had sat while she told her story, Janet came into the room.
She paused at the door, and Rachel did not see her look of sudden alarm
as she perceived Rachel's attitude of depression. Then she came up to the
fire. The two girls could be heard laughing overhead.

"So my cow's a good one?" she said, with her pleasant voice and smile.

"A beauty," said Rachel, looking up, and recapitulating the points and
yield of the Jersey.

Janet gave a shrug--implying a proper scepticism.

"It doesn't seem to be quite as easy to tell lies about cows as about
horses," she said, laughing; "that's about all one can say. We'll hope
for the best." Then--after a moment,--

"I never told you much about that man Dempsey's visit. Of course he came
to see you. He thought when he saw you at Millsborough that you were a
Mrs. Delane he had seen in Canada. Were you perhaps a relation of hers? I
said I would ask you. Then I inquired how often he had seen Mrs. Delane.
He said twice--perhaps three times--at her home--at a railway
station--and at a farm belonging to a man called Tanner."

"Yes," said Rachel, indifferently. "I knew Lucy Tanner, his sister. She
was an artist like him. I liked them both."

There was silence. In Rachel's breast there was beating a painful tide of
speech that longed to find its way to freedom--but it was gripped and
thrust back by her will. There was something in Janet as in Ellesborough
that wooed her heart, that seemed to promise help.

But nothing more passed, of importance. Janet, possessed by vague, yet,
as they seemed to herself, quite unreasonable anxieties, gave some
further scornful account of Dempsey's murder talk, to which Rachel
scarcely listened; then she said, as she turned to take up her
knitting,--

"I'm going over to-morrow to a little service--a Thanksgiving service--at
Millsborough. I took the girls to church to-day--but I love my own
people!" Her face glowed a little.

"Unitarian service, you mean?"

"Yes--we've got a little 'cause' there, and a minister. The service will
be about six, I think. The girls will manage. The minister and his wife
want me to stay to supper--but I shall be back in good time."

"About ten?"

"Oh, yes--quite by then. I shall bicycle."

Through Rachel's mind there passed a thrill of relief. So Janet would be
out of the way. One difficulty removed. Now, to get rid of the girls?

       *       *       *       *       *

Rachel scarcely slept, and the November day broke grey and misty as
before. After breakfast she went out into the fields. Old Halsey was
mole-catching in one of them. But instead of going to inspect him and his
results, she slipped through a tall hedge, and paced the road under its
shelter, looking for Dempsey.

On the stroke of eleven she saw him in the distance. He came up with the
same look, half embarrassed, half inclining to laugh, that he had worn
the day before. Rachel, on the other hand, was entirely at her ease, and
the young man felt her at once his intellectual and social superior.

"You seem to have saved me and my horse from a tumble into that ditch
last night," she said, with a laugh, as she greeted him. "Why I turned
faint like that I can't imagine. I do sometimes when I'm tired. Well, now
then--let us walk up the road a little."

With her hands in her pockets she led the way. In her neat serge suit and
cap, she was the woman-farmer--prosperous and competent--all over.
Dempsey's thoughts threw back in bewilderment to the fainting figure of
the night before. He walked on beside her in silence.

"I wanted to tell you," said Miss Henderson calmly--"because I'm sure
you're a nice fellow, and don't want to hurt anybody's feelings--why
I asked you to hold your tongue about Mrs. Delane. In the first
place, you're quite mistaken about myself. I was never at Mr. Tanner's
farm--never in that part of Canada; and the person you saw there--Mrs.
Delane--was a very favourite cousin of mine, and extraordinarily like me.
When we were children everybody talked of the likeness. She had a very
sad story, and now--she's dead." The speaker's voice dropped. "I've been
confused with her before--and it's a great trouble to me. The confusion
has done me harm, more than once, and I'm very sensitive about it. So, as
I said last night, I should be greatly obliged if you would not only not
spread the story, but deny it, whenever you can."

She looked at him sharply, and he coloured crimson.

"Of course," he stammered, "I should like to do anything you wish."

"I do wish it, and--" she paused a moment, as though to think--"and
Captain Ellesborough wishes it. I would not advise you, however, to say
anything at all about it to him. But if you do what we ask you, you may
be sure we shall find some way--some substantial way--of showing that we
appreciate it."

They walked on, she with her eyes on the ground as though she were
thinking out some plan for his benefit--he puzzled and speechless.

"What do you want to do, now the war's over?" she said at last, with a
smile, looking up.

"I suppose I want to settle down--somewhere--on land, if I had the
money."

"Here?--or in Canada?"

"Oh, at home."

"I thought so. Well, Mr. Dempsey, Captain Ellesborough and I shall be
quite ready to help you in any scheme you take up. You understand?"

"That's awfully kind of you--but--"

"Quite ready," she repeated. "Let me know what your plans are when you've
worked them out--and I'll see what can be done." Then she stopped. There
was a gate near into one of her own fields. Their eyes met--hers
absolutely cool and smiling--his wavering and excited.

"You understand?" she repeated.

"Oh, yes--I understand."

"And you agree?" she added, emphasizing the words.

"Oh, yes, I--I--agree."

"Well, then, that's all right--that's understood. A letter will always
find me here. And now I must get back to my work. Good-morning."

And with a nod, she slipped through the gate, and was half way across the
fallow on the other side of it before he had realized that their strange
conversation was at an end.



XII


The vicar and his sister Eleanor were sitting at breakfast in the small
Georgian house, which, as the vicarage, played a still important
part in the village of Ipscombe. The Church may be in a bad way, as her
own children declare; revolution may be in sight, as our English
Bolshevists love to believe--not too seriously; but meanwhile, if a
stranger in any normal English village wants to lay his finger on the
central ganglion of its various activities, he will still look for the
church and the vicarage--or rectory, as the case may be. If the parson is
bad or feeble, the pulse of the village life will show it; and if he is
energetic and self-devoted, his position will give him a power in the
community--power, tempered of course by the necessary revolts and
reactions which keep the currents of life flowing--not to be easily
attained by other energetic and self-devoted persons. The parson may
still easily make himself a tyrant, but only to find, in the language of
the Greek poet, that it was "folly even to wish" to tyrannize.

The vicar had come downstairs that morning in a mood of depression,
irritable--almost snappish depression. His sister Eleanor had seldom seen
him so unlike himself. Being an affectionate sister, she was sorry for
him; though, as she rightly guessed, it was that very news which had
brought such great relief of mind to herself which was almost certainly
responsible for her brother's gloom. Miss Henderson was engaged to
Captain Ellesborough. There was therefore no question of her becoming
Mrs. Shenstone, and a weight was lifted from the spirits of the vicar's
sister. Towards Rachel, Eleanor Shenstone felt one of those instinctive
antipathies of life which are far more decisive than any of the ordinary
causes of quarrel. Miss Shenstone was thin, methodical, devoted; of small
speech and great virtue. Such persons so securely anchored and
self-determined can have but small sympathy for the drifters of this
world. And that Rachel Henderson was--at least as compared with herself
and her few cherished friends--morally and religiously adrift, Miss
Shenstone had decided after half an hour's conversation.

The vicar knew perfectly well that his sister was relieved. It was that
which had secretly affected a naturally sweet temper. He was suffering
besides from a haunting sense of contrast between these rainy November
days, and the glowing harvest weeks in which he had worked like a navvy
for and with Rachel Henderson. It was over, of course. None of the nice
things of life ever came his way for long. But he did feel rather sorely
that during his short spell of favour with her, Miss Henderson had
encouraged him a good deal. She had raised him up--only to cast him down.
He thought of her smiles, and her sudden softness, of the warm grip of
her hand, and the half mocking, half inviting look in her eyes, with the
feeling of a child shut out from a garden where he well knows the ripe
apples are hanging; only not for him. The atmosphere of sex which
environed her--was it not that which had beguiled the vicar, while it had
repelled his sister? And yet Eleanor Shenstone did most honestly wish
her brother to marry--only not--not anything so tempting, troubling, and
absorbing as Rachel Henderson.

"Haven't we a tiresome meeting to-night?" said the vicar with an
impatient sigh, as he sat languidly down to the couple of sardines which
were all his sister had allowed him for breakfast.

"Yes--Miss Hall is coming to speak."

Miss Hall was a lady who spoke prodigiously on infant welfare, and had a
way of producing a great, but merely temporary effect on the mothers of
the village. They would listen in a frightened silence while she showed
them on a blackboard the terrifying creatures that had their dwelling in
milk, and what a fly looks like when it is hideously--and in the mothers'
opinion most unnecessarily--magnified. But when she was gone came
reaction. "How can she know aught about it--havin' none of her own?"
said the village contemptuously. None the less the village ways were
yielding, insensibly, little by little; and the Miss Halls were after all
building better than they knew.

The vicar, however, always had to take the chair at Miss Hall's meetings,
and he was secretly sick and tired of babies, their weights, their foods,
their feeding-bottles, and everything concerned with them. His sister
considered him and like a wise woman, offered him something sweet to
make up for the bitter.

"Do you think you could possibly take a note for me to Miss Leighton this
morning--when you go to see old Frant?"

"Old Frant" was a labourer on the point of death to whom the vicar was
ministering.

He pricked up his ears.

"Great End's hardly in old Frant's direction."

_Camouflage_, of course. Miss Shenstone understood perfectly.

"It won't take you far out of your way. I want Miss Leighton to send
those two girls to the Armistice dance to-night if they'd like to come.
Lady Alicia writes that several of her maids are down with the flu, and
she asks me to give away two or three more tickets."

"Why doesn't Lady Alicia let the servants manage the thing themselves
when she gives them a party? _They_ ought to invite. I wouldn't be bossed
if I were they," said the vicar, with vivacity.

"She's so particular about character, dear."

"So would they be. She hasn't been so very successful in her own case."

For the Shepherds' eldest daughter had just been figuring in a divorce
case to the distress of the Shepherds' neighbours.

Miss Shenstone showed patience.

"I'll have the note ready directly."

And when it was ready, the vicar took it like a lamb. He walked first to
Great End, meditating as he went on Miss Henderson's engagement. He had
foreseen it, of course, since the day of the Millsborough "rally." A fine
fellow, no doubt--with the great advantage of khaki. But it was to be
hoped we were not going to be altogether overrun with Americans--carrying
off English women.

At the gate of the farm stood a cart into which two young calves had just
been packed. Hastings was driving it, and Rachel Henderson, who had just
adjusted the net over the fidgety frightened creatures, was talking to
him.

She greeted Shenstone rather shyly. It was quite true that in the early
stages of her acquaintance with Ellesborough she had amused herself a
good deal with the vicar. And in his note of congratulation to her on her
engagement, she had detected just the slightest touch of reproach.

"I wish I had guessed it sooner." That meant, perhaps--"Why did you make
a fool of me?"

Meanwhile Miss Shenstone's note was duly delivered, and Rachel, holding
it in her hand, opened the wicket gate.

"Won't you come in?"

"Oh, no, I mustn't waste your time," said the vicar, with dignity.
"Perhaps you'll give me a verbal answer."

Rachel opened the note, and the vicar was puzzled by the look which
crossed her face as she read it. It was a look of relief--as though
something fitted in.

"Very kind of Lady Alicia. Of course the girls shall come. They will be
delighted. You really won't come in? Then I'll walk to the road with
you."

What was the change in her? The vicar perceived something indefinable;
and before they had walked half the distance to the road he had forgotten
his own grievance. She looked ill. Janet Leighton, meeting him in the
village a few days before, had talked of her partner as "done up." Was it
the excitement of falling in love?--combined perhaps with the worry of
leaving her work and the career just begun?

He asked a few questions about her plans. She answered him very gently,
with a subtle note of apology in her voice; but yet, as it seemed to him,
from rather far away. And when they parted, he realized that he had never
known more of her than an outer self, which offered but little clue to
the self within.

Rachel walked back to the farm with Miss Shenstone's note in her pocket.
She had told the vicar that her land-girls should certainly come to the
Shepherds' servants' party--but she said nothing about it to them--till
Janet Leighton had safely bicycled away in the early afternoon. The
invitation, however, was a godsend. For Rachel had begun to realize that
there was a good deal of watching going on--watching of the farm, and
watching over herself. She understood that Halsey had been scared by some
tramp or other whom he took for the ghost; and she saw that Janet was
unwilling that any one should be alone after dark in the farm. Nobody
had talked to her--Rachel--about it--no doubt by Ellesborough's
wish--because she was supposed to be out of sorts--run down. She had
accepted the little conspiracy of silence as a proof of his tenderness,
and had obediently asked no questions.

And it had not yet occurred to her to connect the stories floating
about the farm with Delane's reappearance. The stunning fact of the
reappearance, with all that it might mean to her, absorbed her mind--for
a few hours yet.

But as soon as Janet was safely off the premises, she hurried across to
the shippen, where Betty and Jenny were milking.

"Girls!--would you like to go to the Shepherds' dance to-night? I've got
an invitation for you?"

Stupefaction--and delight! The invitations had been very sparing and
select, and the two little maidens had felt themselves Cinderellas
indeed, all the sorer in their minds seeing that Dempsey and Betty's
young man were both going.

But _frocks_! Jenny at least had nothing suitable. Rachel at once offered
a white frock. The milking and dairy work were hurried through, and then
came the dressing, as the dance began at seven. Betty, knowing herself to
be a beauty, except for her teeth, had soon finished. A white blouse, a
blue cotton skirt, a blue ribbon in her mop of brown hair--and she looked
at herself exultantly in Miss Henderson's glass. Jenny was much more
difficult to please. She was crimson with excitement, and the tip of her
little red tongue kept slipping in and out. But Rachel patted and
pinned--in a kind of dream. Jenny's red hair, generally worn in the
tightest wisps and plaits, was brushed out till it stood like a halo
round her face and neck, and she was secretly afraid that Dempsey
wouldn't know her.

Then Rachel wrapped them up in their land-army waterproofs, and saw them
off, carrying an electric torch to guide them safely through the bit of
lane under the trees. But there was a moon rising, and the fog was less.

"Ain't she just kind?--don't you just love her?" said Jenny ecstatically
to Betty, as they turned back to wave their farewells again to the figure
standing in the doorway.

Betty assented. But they were both greatly astonished. For Rachel did not
in general take much personal notice of them.

They were no sooner out of sight than Rachel went to look at the clock in
the kitchen. Ten minutes to seven. Two hours to wait. How were they
going to be got through?

She went out aimlessly into the farm-yard, where the farm buildings stood
in a faintly luminous mist, the hill-side behind them, and the climbing
woods. To her left, across the fields ran the road climbing to the
miniature pass, whence it descended steeply to the plain beyond. And on
the further side of the road lay her own fields, with alternating bands
of plough-land and stubble, and the hedge-row trees standing ghostly and
separate in the light haze.

She was alone in the farm, in all that landscape the only living thing at
the moment, except for the animals. A tense energy of will seemed to
possess her. She was defending herself--defending Ellesborough--and
their joint lives. How was she going to do it? She didn't know. But the
passion in her blood would give her strength--would see her through.

In the old barn, the cows were munching peacefully. The air was sweet
with their breath, and with the hay piled in their cribs. Rachel wandered
noiselessly amongst them, and they turned their large eyes slowly to look
at her, and the small lantern she carried. In the stables, too, not a
sound, but an occasional swishing and champing. Rachel hung up the
lantern, and sat down on a truss of hay, idly watching the rays of light
striking up into the cross-beams of the roof, and on the shining flanks
of the horses. Her mind was going at a great speed. And all in a
moment--without any clear consciousness of the strange thoughts that had
been running through her brain--an intuition struck through her.

_Roger_!--it was he who had been playing the ghost--he who had been seen
haunting the farm--who had scared Halsey--_Roger_! come to spy upon
her and her lover! Once the idea suggested itself, she was certain of
it--it must be true.

The appearance in the lane had been cleverly premeditated. She had been
watched for days, perhaps for weeks.

Ellesborough had been watched, too, no doubt.

She drew a shuddering breath. She was afraid of Roger Delane. From the
early days of her marriage she had been afraid of him. There was about
him the incalculable something which means moral insanity--abnormal
processes of mind working through uncontrolled will. You could never
reason with or influence him, where his appetites or his passions were
concerned. A mocking spirit looked out upon you, just before his blow
fell. He was a mere force--inhuman and sinister.

Well, she had got to fight it and tame it! She shut up the cow-house and
stable, and stood out awhile in the farm-yard, letting the mild wind play
on her bare head and hot cheeks. The moon was riding overhead. The night
seemed to her very silent and mysterious--yet penetrated by something
divine to which she lifted her heart. What would Ellesborough say over
there--in his forester's hut, five miles beyond the hills, if he knew
what she was doing--whom she was expecting? She shut her eyes, and saw
his lean, strong face, his look--

The church clock was striking, and surely--in the distance, the sound of
an opening gate? She hurried back to the house, and the sitting-room. The
lamp was low. She revived it. She made up the fire. She felt herself
shivering with excitement, and she stooped over the fire, warming her
hands.

She had purposely left the front door unlocked. A hand tried the handle,
turned it--a slow step entered.

She went to the sitting-room door and threw it open--

"Come in here."

Roger Delane came in and shut the door behind him. They confronted each
other.

"You've managed it uncommonly well," he said, at last. "You've dared it.
Aren't you afraid of me?"

"Not the least. What do you want?"

They surveyed each other--with hatred, yet not without a certain
passionate curiosity on both sides. When Delane had last seen Rachel she
was a pale and care-worn creature, her youth darkened by suffering and
struggle, her eyes still heavy with the tears she had shed for her lost
baby. He beheld her now rounded and full-blown, at the zenith of her
beauty, and breathing an energy, physical and mental, he had never yet
seen in her. She had escaped him, and her life had put out a new flower.
He was suddenly possessed as he looked at her, both by the poisonous
memory of old desire, and by an intolerable sense of his impotence, and
her triumph. And the physical fever in his veins made self-control
difficult.

On her side, she saw the ruin of a man. When she married him he had been
a moral wreck. But the physical envelope was still intact, still
splendid. Now his clothes seemed to hang upon a skeleton; the hollows in
the temples and cheeks, the emaciation of the face and neck, the scanty
grey hair, struck horror, but it was a horror in which there was not
a trace of sympathy or pity. He had destroyed himself, and he would, if
he could, destroy her. She read in him the thirst for revenge. She had to
baffle it, if she could.

As she defied him, indeed, she saw his hand steal to his coat-pocket, and
it occurred to her that the pocket might contain a revolver. But the
thought only nerved her--gave her an almost exultant courage.

"What do I want?" he repeated, at last with-drawing his eyes. "I'll tell
you. I've come--like Foch--to dictate to you certain terms, which you
have only to accept. We had better sit down. It will take time."

Rachel pointed to a chair. He took it, crossed one knee over the other,
rested his arm on the table near, and watched her with a sneering smile,
while she seated herself.

He broke the silence.

"I confess you were very clever about Dick Tanner--and I was a precious
fool! I never suspected."

"I have not the least idea what you mean."

"A lie!" he said, impetuously. "You were in Dick Tanner's house--staying
with him alone--at night--after I left you. You were seen there--by
a man--a Canadian--from whom I had the story--only two days ago. He
doesn't know my name, nor I his. We met on the common, two nights ago,
after dark. And by the merest chance he was coming to the farm, and he
began to talk of you. Then this came out. But of course I always knew
that it--or something like it--would come out. Your puritanical airs
never deceived me--for a moment."

"I suppose you are talking of John Dempsey?" The scorn in her voice
enraged him.

"I know nothing about John Dempsey. Of course I can track the man who
told me, if I want to--with the greatest ease. He was coming here to
call. He saw either you or your partner. And I shall track him--if you
force me."

She was silent--and he smiled.

"Assume, please, that I have my witness at hand. Well, then, he saw you
alone--at night--in Dick Tanner's charge, a few days apparently, after
you and I quarrelled. What were you doing there?"

"It was during that great snowstorm, I suppose," she said, in her most
ordinary voice, taking up her knitting. "I remember going over to the
Tanners' to ask for something--and being snow-bound. Lucy Tanner was
always ready to help me--and be sorry for me."

At this he laughed out, and the note of the laugh dismayed her.

"Lucy Tanner? Yes, that's good. I thought you'd play her! Now, I'll
tell you something. The day after I left you, I was on the train going
to Regina. We stopped a long time. I don't remember why--at Medicine
Hat--and walking up and down the platform was--_Lucy Tanner_! Does that
surprise you? She told me she couldn't stand the Manitoba climate, and
was going to a friend at Kamloops for the winter. Is that news to you?"

Rachel had turned white, but he saw no other sign of discomposure.

"Not at all. Naturally, I went over expecting to find her. But as you
say, she was gone, and Mr. Tanner drove me back, when the storm went
down."

Then she threw down her knitting and faced him.

"What's the use of talking like this, Roger? You won't make anything out
of this story you're so proud of. Hadn't you better come to business?
Why have you been spying on me, and dogging me like this? You know, of
course, I could give you in charge to-morrow, or I could get Captain
Ellesborough to do it. And I will--unless you give me your solemn promise
to leave this place, to go out of my life altogether, and stop molesting
me in this scandalous way. Now, of course, I understand who it is that
has been prowling about the farm all these weeks. And I warn you the
police too know all about it, and are on the watch. They may have
tracked you here to-night for all I know."

"Not they! I passed one bobby fellow on the hill, going safely away
north, as I came down. I was scarcely three yards from him, and he never
twigged. And the other's gone to Millsborough. You could hardly be more
alone, more entirely at my mercy--than you are at this moment, Miss
Henderson!" He laid an ironic emphasis on the name.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"All the same the people who live with me in this house will soon be
back. I recommend you to make haste. I ask you again--what is it you
want?"

She had stood up pluckily--he admitted it. But, as he observed her
closely it seemed to him that the strain on her nerves was telling. She
was beginning to look pinched, and her hand as it lay beside her
knitting shook.

"Well, I'll tell you," he said coolly. He took a half sheet of note-paper
out of the breast-pocket of his coat, drew the lamp on the table towards
him, and looked at certain figures and notes written on the paper.

"I went this morning in town to look up your uncle's will. Of course I
remember all about that old chap at Manchester. I often speculated on
what he was going to leave you. Unfortunately for me he lived just a
little too long. But I find from the copy of the will that he left
you--three--thousand--pounds. Not bad, considering that you were never at
all civil to him. But three thousand pounds is more than you require to
run this small farm on. You owe me damages for the injury you inflicted
on me by the loss of--first, your society; second, your financial
prospects. I assess it at five hundred pounds. Pay me that small sum,
and--well, I engage to leave you henceforth to the Captain,--and
your conscience."

He bent forward across the table, his mocking eyes fixed intently upon
her. There was silence a moment--till she said:--

"And if I refuse?"

"Oh, well, then--" he lifted a paper-knife and balanced it on his hand as
though considering--"I shall of course have to work up my case. What do
you call this man?--John Dempsey? A great fool--but I dare say I shall
get enough out of him. And then--well, then I propose to present the
story to Captain Ellesborough--for his future protection."

"He won't believe a word of it."

But her lips had blanched--her voice had begun to waver--and with a cruel
triumph he saw that he had won the day.

"I dare say not. That's for him to consider. But if I were you, I
wouldn't put him to the test."

Silence again. He saw the fluttering of her breath. With a complete
change of tone, he said, smiling, in a low voice:--

"Rachel!--when did you begin to prefer Dick Tanner to me? No doubt you
had a jolly time with him. I suppose I can't undo the divorce--but you
would never have got it, if I hadn't been such an innocent."

She sprang up, and he saw that he had gone too far.

"If you say any more such things to me, you will get nothing from me--and
you may either _go_--" she pointed passionately to the door--"or you may
sit there till my people come back--which you like."

He looked at her, under his eyebrows, smiling mechanically--weighing the
relative advantages of prudence or violence. Prudence carried the day.

"You are just the same spitfire, I see, as you used to be! All right. I
see you understand. Well, now, how am I to get my money--my damages?"
She turned away, and went quickly to an old bureau that had been her
uncle's. He watched her, exultant. It was all true, then. Dick Tanner had
been her lover, and Ellesborough knew nothing. He did not know whether to
be the more triumphant in her tacit avowal, or the more enraged by the
testimony borne by her acquiescence to her love for Ellesborough. He
hated her; yet he had never admired her so much, as his eyes followed her
stooping over the drawers of the bureau, her beautiful head and neck
in a warm glow of firelight.

Then, suddenly, he began to cough. She, hunting for her cheque-book, took
no notice at first. But the paroxysm grew; it shook the very life out of
him; till at last she stood arrested and staring-while he fell back in
his chair like a dead man, his eyes shut, his handkerchief to his lips.

"Shall I--shall I get you some brandy?" she said, coldly. He nodded
assent. She hurriedly looked for her keys, and went to a cupboard in the
kitchen, where Janet kept a half bottle of brandy for medical use if
needed.

He drank off what she brought--but it was some time before he recovered
speech. When he did it was in a low tone that made the words a curse:---

"That's your doing!"

Her only answer was a gesture.

"It is," he insisted, speaking in gasps. "You never showed me any real
love--any forbearance. You never cared for me--as you know I cared for
you. You told me so once. You married me for a home--and then you
deserted--and betrayed me."

There was a guilty answer in her consciousness which made her speak
without anger.

"I know my own faults very well. And now you must go--we can't either of
us stand this any more. Do you give me your solemn promise that you will
trouble me no more---or the man I am going to marry--if I do this for
you?"

"Give me a piece of paper--" he said, huskily.

He wrote the promise, signed it, and pushed it to her. Then he carefully
examined the self cheque "to bearer" which she had written.

"Well, I dare say that will see me out--and bury me decently. I shall
take my family down to the sea. You know I've got a little girl--about
three? Oh, I never told any lies about Anita. I've married her now."

Rachel stood like a stone, without a word. Her one consuming anxiety was
to see him gone, to be done with him.

He rose slowly--with difficulty. And the cough seized him again. Rachel
in a fevered exasperation watched him clinging to the table for support.
Would he die--or faint--then and there--and be found by Janet, who must
now be on her way home? She pressed brandy on him again. But he pushed
it away. "Let me be!" She could only wait.

When he could speak and move again, he put the cheque away in his pocket,
and buttoned his coat over it.

"Well, good-night." Then straightening himself, he fixed her with a pair
of burning eyes. "Good-night. Anita will be kind to me--when I die--Anita
will be a woman to me. You were never kind--you never thought of any one
but yourself. Good-bye. Good luck!"

And walking uncertainly to the door, he opened it and was gone. She heard
his slow steps in the farmyard, and the opening of the wicket gate. Then
all sounds died away.

For a few minutes she crouched sobbing over the fire, weeping for sheer
nervous exhaustion. Then the dread seized her of being caught in such a
state by Janet, and she went upstairs, locked her door, and threw herself
on her bed. The bruise of an intolerable humiliation seemed to spread
through soul and body. She knew that for the first time she had confessed
her wretched secret which she had thought so wholly her own--and
confessed it--horrible and degrading thought!--to Roger Delane. Not in
words indeed--but in act. No innocent woman would have paid the
blackmail. The dark room in which she lay seemed to be haunted by
Delane's exultant eyes.

And the silence was haunted too by his last words. There arose in her a
reluctant and torturing pity for the wretched man who had been her
husband; a pity, which passed on into a storm of moral anguish. Her whole
past life looked incredibly black to her as she lay there in the
dark--stained with unkindness, and selfishness, and sin.

Which saw her the more truly?--Roger, or Ellesborough?--the man who hated
and cursed her, or the man who adored her?

She was struggling, manoeuvring, fighting, to keep the truth from George
Ellesborough. It was quite uncertain whether she would succeed. Roger's
word was a poor safeguard! But if she did, the truth itself would only
the more certainly pursue and beat her down.

And again, the utter yearning for confession and an unburdened soul came
upon her intolerably. The religious psychologist describes such a crisis
as "conversion," or "conviction of sin," or the "working of grace." And
he knows from long experience that it is the result in the human soul not
so much of a sense of evil, as of a vision of good. Goodness had been
brought near to Rachel in the personality--the tender self-forgetting
trust--of George Ellesborough. It was goodness, not fear--goodness,
unconscious of any threatened wrong--that had pierced her heart. Then a
thought came to her. _Janet!_--Janet whose pure and loving life beside
her made yet another element in the spiritual forces that were pressing
upon her.

She sprang to her feet. She would tell Janet everything--put her poor
secret--her all--in Janet's hands.



XIII


It was again a very still and misty night,--extraordinarily mild for the
time of year. A singular brooding silence held all the woodlands above
Great End Farm. There was not a breath of wind. Every dead branch that
fell, every bird that moved, every mouse scratching among the fallen
beech leaves, produced sounds disproportionately clear and startling, and
for the moment there would be a rustle of disturbance, as though
something or some one, in the forest heart, took alarm. Then the deep
waters of quiet closed again, and everything--except that watching
presence--slept.

The hut in Denman Wood, which had formerly played a hospitable part as
the scene of many a Gargantuan luncheon to Colonel Shepherd's shooting
parties, had long been an abandoned spot. All the Colonel's keepers under
fifty had gone to fight; and there was left only an old head keeper, with
one decrepit helper, who shot the scanty game which still survived on
strict business principles, to eke out the household rations of the big
house. The Ipscombe woods were rarely visited. They were a long way from
the keeper's cottage, and the old man, depressed by the difference
between war and pre-war conditions, found it quite enough to potter round
the stubbles and turnips of the home farm when game had to be shot.

The paths leading through the underwood to the hut were now in these four
years largely over-grown. A place more hidden and forgotten it would
have been difficult to find. And for this reason, combined with its
neighbourhood to Rachel Henderson's farm, Roger Delane had chosen to
inhabit it.

It was the third night after his interview with his former wife. He
reached the hut after dark, by various by-paths over the wide commons
stretching between it and X--the station at which he now generally
alighted. He carried in his pocket some evening newspapers, a new
anthology, and a novel. Owing to an injection of morphia--a habit to
which he had only lately taken--he felt unusually fit, and his brain was
unusually alert. At the same time he had had a disagreeable interview
with a doctor that morning who had been insisting on Sanatorium treatment
if the remaining lung was to be preserved and his life prolonged. He did
not want to prolong his life, but only to avoid the beastliness of pain.
It seemed to him that morphia--good stuff!--was going to do that for him.
Why hadn't he begun it before? But his brain was queer--he was conscious
of that. He had asked the doctor about some curious mental symptoms. The
reply was that phthisis was often accompanied by them.

Obsession--fixed ideas--in the medical sense: half of him,
psychologically, was quite conscious that the other half was under their
influence. The sound self was observing the unsound self, but apparently
with no power over it. Otherwise how was it that he was here again,
hiding like a wild beast in a lair, less than a mile from Great End Farm,
and Rachel Henderson?

He had found his way to London in the small hours of the day following
his scene with Rachel, intending to keep his promise, and let his former
wife alone. The cashing of Rachel's cheque had given him and Anita some
agreeable moments; though Anita was growing disturbed that he would not
tell her where the money came from. They had found fresh lodgings in a
really respectable Bloomsbury street; they had both bought clothes, and
little Netta had been rigged out. Delane had magnificently compounded
with his most pressing creditors, and had taken Anita to a theatre. But
he had been discontented with her appearance there. She had really lost
all her good looks. If it hadn't been for the kid--

And now, after this interval, his obsession had swooped upon him again.
It was an obsession of hate--which simply could not endure, when it came
to the point, that Rachel Henderson should vanish unscathed into the
future of a happy marriage, while he remained the doomed failure and
outcast he knew himself to be. Rachel's implied confession rankled in him
like a burn. _Tanner!_--that wretched weakling, with his miserable daubs
that nobody wanted to buy. So Rachel had gone to him, as soon as she had
driven her husband away, no doubt to complain of her ill-treatment, to
air her woes. The fellow had philandered round her some time, and had
shown an insolent and interfering temper once or twice towards himself.
Yes!--he could imagine it all!--her flight, and Tanner's maudlin
sympathy--tears--caresses--the natural sequel. And then her pose of
complete innocence at the divorce proceedings--the Judge's remarks.
Revolting hypocrisy! If Tanner had been still alive, he would somehow
have exposed him--somehow have made him pay. Lucky for him he was drowned
in that boat accident on Lake Nipissing! And no doubt Rachel thought that
the accident had made everything safe for her.

Every incident now, every phase of his conversation with her was
assuming a monstrous and distorted significance in his mind. How easily
she had yielded on the subject of the money! He might have asked a great
deal more--and he would have got it. Very likely Ellesborough was well
off--Yankees generally were--and she knew that what she gave Delane as
hush money would make very little difference to her. Ellesborough no
doubt would not look very closely into her shekels, having sufficient of
his own. Otherwise it might occur to him to wonder how she had got rid of
that £500. Would it pinch her? Probably, if all she had for capital was
the old chap's legacy. Well--serve her right--serve her, damned, doubly
right! Ellesborough's kisses would make up.

These thoughts, after a momentary respite, held him in their grip as he
walked London streets. Suspicion of the past--ugly and venomous--flapped
its black wings about him. Had Rachel ever been faithful to him--even in
the early days? She had made acquaintance with the Tanners very soon
after their marriage. Looking back, a number of small incidents and
scenes poked their heads out of the dead level of the past. Rachel
and Tanner, discussing the Watts photograph when Rachel first acquired
it--Tanner's eager denunciatory talk--he called himself an
"impressionist"--the creature!--because he couldn't draw worth a
cent--Rachel all smiles and deference. She had never given _him_ that
sort of attention. Or Rachel at a housewarming in the next farm to
his--Rachel in a pale green dress, the handsomest woman there, dancing
with Tanner--Rachel quarrelling with him in the buggy on the way home,
because he called Tanner a milksop--"He cares for beautiful things, and
you don't!--but that's no reason why you should abuse him."

And what about those weeks not very long after that dance, when he had
gone off to the land-sale at Edmonton (that was the journey, by the way,
when he first saw Anita!), and Rachel had stayed at home, with a girl
friend, a girl they knew in Winnipeg? But that girl hadn't stayed all
the time. To do her justice, Rachel had made no secret of that. He
remembered her attacking him when he came home for having left her for
three or four days quite alone. Why had he been so long away? Probably a
mere bluff--though he had been taken in by it at the time, and being
still in love with her, had done his best to appease her. But what had
she been doing all the time she was alone? In the light of what he knew
now, she might have been doing anything. _Was the child his_?

So, piece by piece, with no auditor but his own brain, shut in upon
himself by the isolation which his own life had forged for him, he built
up a hideous indictment against the woman he had once loved. He wished he
had put off his interview with her till he had had time to think things
out more. As he came to realize how she had tricked and bested him, her
offence became incredibly viler than it seemed at first. He had let her
off far too cheaply that night at the farm. Scenes of past violence
returned upon him, and the memory of them seemed to satisfy a rising
thirst. Especially the recollection of the divorce proceedings maddened
him. His morbid brain took hold on them with a grip that his will could
not loosen. Her evidence--he had read it in the Winnipeg newspapers--the
remarks of the prating old judge--and of her cad of a lawyer--good God!
And all the time it was _she_ who ought to have been in the dock, and he
the accuser, if he had known--if he hadn't been a trusting idiot, a
bleating fool.

A brooding intensity of rage, as this inward process went on, gradually
drowned in him every other feeling and desire. The relief and amusement
of the money and its spending were soon over. He thought no more of it.
Anita, and his child even--the child for whom he really cared--passed out
of his mind. As he sat drinking whisky in the dull respectable lodging,
at night after Anita had gone to bed, he felt the sinister call of those
dark woods above Rachel's farm, and tasted the sweetness of his new power
to hurt her, now that she had paid him this blackmail, and damned herself
thereby--past help. She had threatened him. But what could she do--or the
Yankee fellow either? She had given the show away. As for his promise,
when he had no right to make it,--no right to allow such a woman to get
off scot-free, with plenty of money and a new lover.

So on the Thursday evening he took train for X. It was still the
Armistice week. The London streets were crowded with soldiers and young
women of every sort and kind. He bought a newspaper and read it in the
train. It gave him a queer satisfaction--for one half of him was still
always watching the other--to discover that he could feel patriotic
emotion like anybody else and could be thrilled by the elation of
Britain's victory--_his_ victory. He read the telegrams, the positions on
the Rhine assigned to the Second Army, and the Fourth,--General Plumer
General Rawlinson--General F.--Gad! he used to know the son of that last
old fellow at King's.

Then he fell to his old furtive watching of the people on the platform,
the men getting in and out of the train. At any moment he might fall in
with one of his old Cambridge acquaintances, in one of these smart
officers, with their decorations and their red tabs. But in the first
place they wouldn't travel in this third class where he was sitting--not
till the war was over. And in the next, he was so changed--had taken
indeed such pains to be--that it was long odds against his being
recognized. Eleven years, was it, since he left Cambridge? About.

At X. he got out. The ticket collector noticed him for that faint touch
of a past magnificence that still lingered in his carriage and gait; but
there were so many strangers about that he was soon forgotten.

He passed under a railway arch and climbed a hill, the hill on which he
had met Dempsey. At the top of the hill he left the high-road for a grass
track across the common. There was just enough light from a declining
moon to show him where he was. The common was full of dark shapes--old
twisted thorns, and junipers, and masses of tall grass--shapes which
often seemed to him to be strargely alive, the silent but conscious
witnesses of his passage.

The wood was very dark. He groped his way through it with difficulty
and found the hut. Once inside it, he fastened the door with a wooden
bar he had himself made, and turned on his electric torch. Bit by bit
in the course of his night visits he had accumulated a few necessary
stores--some firewood, a few groceries hidden in a corner, a couple
of brown blankets, and a small box of tools. A heap of dried bracken in a
corner, raised on a substratum of old sacks, had often served him for a
bed; and when he had kindled a wood fire in the rough grate of loose
bricks where Colonel Shepherd's keepers had been accustomed to warm the
hot meat stews sent up for the shooting luncheons, and had set out his
supper on the upturned fragment of an old box which had once held meal
for pheasants, he had provided at least what was necessary for his night
sojourn. This food he had brought with him; a thermos bottle full of hot
coffee, with slices of ham, cheese, and bread; and he ate it with
appetite, sitting on a log beside the fire, and pleasantly conscious as
he looked round him, like the Greek poet of long ago, of that "cuteness"
of men which conjures up housing, food, and fire in earth's loneliest
places. Outside that small firelit space lay the sheer silence of the
wood, broken once or twice by the call and flight of an owl past the one
carefully darkened window of the hut, or by the mysterious sighing
and shuddering which, from time to time, would run through the crowded
stems and leafless branches.

A queer "hotel" this, for mid-November! He might, if he had chosen, have
been amusing himself, _tant bien que mal_, in one or other of those
shabby haunts,--bars, night-clubs, dancing-rooms, to which his poverty
and his _moeurs_ condemned him, while his old comrades, the lads he had
been brought up with at school and college, guardsmen, Hussars, and the
rest, were holding high revel for the Peace at the Ritz or the Carlton;
he might even, as far as money was concerned, now that he had bagged his
great haul from Rachel, have been supping himself at the Ritz, if he had
only had time to exchange his brother-in-law's old dress suit, which
Marianne had passed on to him, for a new one, and if he could have made
up his mind to the possible recognitions and rebuffs such a step would
have entailed. As it was, he preferred his warm hiding-place in the heart
of the woods, coupled with this exultant sense of an unseen and
mysterious power which was running, like alcohol, through his nerves.

Real alcohol, however, was not wanting to his solitary meal. He drenched
his coffee in the cognac he always carried about with him, and then,
cigarette in hand, he fell back on the heap of bracken to read a while.
The novel he sampled and threw away; the anthology soon bored him; and he
spent the greater part of two hours lying on his back, smoking and
thinking--till it was safe to assume that the coast was clear round Great
End Farm. About ten o'clock, he slipped noiselessly out of the hut, after
covering up the fire to wait for his return, and hiding as far as he
could the other traces of his occupation. The damp mist outside held all
the wood stifled, and the darkness was profound. Stepping as lightly as
possible, and using his torch with the utmost precaution, he gradually
made his way to the edge of the wood, and the lip of the basin beyond it.
On the bare down was enough faint moonlight to see by, and he
extinguished his little lantern before leaving the wood. Below him were
the dim outlines of the farm, a shadowy line of road beyond, and, as it
were, a thicker fold of darkness, to mark the woods on the horizon. There
was not a light anywhere; the village was invisible, and he listened for
a long time without hearing anything but the rush of a distant train.

Ah!--Yes, there was a sound down there in the hollow--footsteps,
reverberating in the silence. He bent his head listening intently. The
footsteps seemed to approach the farm, then the sounds ceased, till
suddenly, on the down slope below him, he saw something moving. He threw
back his head with a quiet laugh.

The Ipscombe policeman, no doubt, on his round. Would he come up the
hill? Hardly, on such a misty night. If not, his retreating steps on the
farm lane would soon tell his departure.

In a few minutes, indeed, the click of an opening gate could be clearly
heard through the mist, and afterwards, steps. They grew fainter and
fainter. All clear!

Choosing a circuitous route, Delane crept down the hill, and reached a
spot on the down-side rather higher than the farm enclosure, from which
the windows of the farm-house could be seen. There was a faint light in
one of the upper two--in which he had some reason to think was that of
Rachel's bedroom. It seemed to him the window was open; he perceived
something like the swaying of a blind inside it. The night was
marvellously mild for mid-November; and he remembered Rachel's old
craving for air, winter and summer.

The light moved, there was a shadow behind the blind, and suddenly the
window was thrown up widely, and a pale figure--a woman's figure--stood
in the opening. Rachel, no doubt! Delane slipped behind a thorn growing
on the bare hill-side. His heart thumped. Instinctively his hand groped
for something in his pocket. If she had guessed that he was there--within
twenty yards of her!

Then, as he watched the faint apparition in the mist, it roused in
him a fresh gust of rage. Rachel, the sentimental Rachel, unable to
sleep--Rachel, happy and serene, thinking of her lover--the lies of her
divorce all forgotten--and the abominable Roger cut finally out of her
life!--

The figure disappeared; he heard the closing of the window, which was
soon dark. Then he crept down to the farm wall, and round the corner of
it to that outer cart-shed, where he had bound up his bleeding hand on
the night when Halsey--silly ass!--had seen the ghost. He did not dare to
smoke lest spark or smell might betray him. Sitting on a heap of sacks in
a sheltered corner, his hands hanging over his knees, he spent some long
time brooding and pondering--conscious all the while of the hidden and
silent life of the house and farm at his back. By now he fancied he
understood the evening ways of the place. The two girls went up to bed
first, about nine; the two ladies, about an hour later; and the farm
bailiff as a rule did not sleep on the premises, though there was a bed
in the loft over the stable which could be used on occasion. That window,
too, through which he had watched the pair of lovers, when the Yankee
discovered him--that also seemed to fit into a scheme.

Yes!--the Yankee had discovered him. His start, his sudden movement as
though to make a rush at the window, had shown it. Meanwhile Delane
had not waited for developments. Quick as thought he had made for one of
those sunken climbing lanes in which the chalk downs of the district
abound, a lane which lay to the south of the farm, while the green
terraced path connected with the ghost-story lay to the north of it. No
doubt there had been a hue and cry, a search of the farm and its
immediate neighbourhood. But the night was dark and the woods wide. Once
in their shelter, he had laughed at pursuit. What had the Yankee said to
Rachel? And since he had stopped her in the lane, what had Rachel been
saying to the Yankee? Had she yet explained that the face he had seen at
the window--supposing always that he had told her what he had seen--and
why shouldn't he?--was not the face of a casual tramp or lunatic, but the
face of a discarded husband, to whom all the various hauntings and
apparitions at the farm had been really due?

That was the question--the all-important question. Clearly some
one--Ellesborough probably--had given a warning to the police. On what
theory?--ghost?--tramp?--or husband?

Or had Rachel just held her tongue, and had the Yankee been led to
believe that the husband--for Rachel must have owned up about the husband
though she did call herself Miss Henderson!--was still some thousands of
miles away--in Canada--safely dead and buried, as far as Rachel was
concerned?

On the whole, he thought it most probable that Rachel had held her tongue
about his reappearance. If she had thought it worth while to bribe him so
heavily, it was not very likely that she would now herself have set the
American on the track of a secret which she so evidently did not want an
expectant bridegroom to know.

The American--d--n him! A furious and morbid jealousy rushed upon the man
crouching under the cart-shed. The world was rapidly reducing itself
for him to these two figures--figures of hate--figures against whom he
felt himself driven by a kind of headlong force, a force of destruction.

How still the farm was, except for the movements of the cows inside the
shippen at his back, or of the horses in the stable! Rachel, no doubt,
was now asleep. In the old days he had often--enviously--watched her
tumble asleep as soon as her bright head was on the pillow; while in his
own case sleep had been for years a difficult business.

Somebody else would watch her sleeping now.

Yes, if he, the outcast, allowed it. And again the frenzied sense of
power swept through him. _If he allowed it_! It rested with him.

The following day, Ellesborough set out in the early afternoon for Great
End Farm, the bearer of much news.

The day was dark and rainy, with almost a gale blowing, but his spirits
had never been higher. The exultation of the great victory, the
incredible Victory, seemed to breathe upon him from the gusty wind, to be
driving the westerly clouds, and crying in all the noises of the woods.
Was it really over?--over and done?--the agony of these four years--the
hourly sacrifice of irreplaceable life--the racking doubt as to the
end--the torturing question in every conscious mind--"Is there a God in
Heaven--a God who cares for men--or is there not?"

He could have shouted the answer aloud--"There is--there is a God! And He
is just."

Faith was natural to him, and nourished on his new happiness no less than
on the marvellous issue of the war, it set his heart singing on this dull
winter's day. How should he find her? Threshing, perhaps, in the big
barn, and he would turn to, and work with her and the girls till work was
done, and they could have the sitting-room to themselves, and he could
tell her all his news. Janet--the ever-kind and thoughtful Janet--would
see to that. The more he saw of the farm-life the more he admired Janet.
She was a little slow. She was not clever; and she had plenty of small
prejudices which amused him. But she was the salt of the earth. Trust
her--lean upon her--she would never let you down. And now he was going to
trust his beloved to her--for a while.

Yes--Rachel and the girls, they were all in the high barn, feeding the
greedy maw of the threshing machine; a business which strained muscles
and backs, and choked noses and throats with infinitesimal particles of
oil and the fine flying chaff. He watched Rachel a few minutes as she
lifted and pitched--a typical figure of a New Labour, which is also a New
Beauty, on this old earth. Then he drew her away, flung off his tunic,
and took her place, while she, smiling and panting, her hands on her
sides, leaned against the wall, and watched in her turn.

Then when the engine stopped, and the great hopper full of grain lay
ready for the miller, they found themselves alone in the barn for a
minute. The girls and Janet had gone to milk, and Hastings with them.
There was a lantern in the barn, which showed Rachel in the swirl of the
corn dust with which the barn was full, haloed and golden with it, like a
Homeric goddess in a luminous cloud. Her soft brown head, her smile,
showing the glint of her white teeth, her eyes, and all the beauty of her
young form, in its semi-male dress--they set his blood on fire. Just as
he was, in his khaki shirt-sleeves, he came to her, and took her in his
arms. She clung to him passionately.

"I thought you were never coming."

It was one of the reproaches that have no sting.

"I came at the first moment. I left a score of things undone."

"Have you been thinking of me?"

"Always--always. And you?"

"Nearly always," she said teasingly. "But I have been making up my
accounts."

"Avaricious woman!--thinking of nothing but money. Dear--I have several
bits of news for you. But let me wash!" He held out his hands--"I am
not fit to touch you!"

She disengaged herself quietly.

"What news?"

"Some letters first," he said, smiling. "A budget and a half--mostly for
you, from all my home people. Can you face it?"

"In reply to your cable?"

"My most extravagant cable! On the top of course of sacks of letters!"

"Before we were engaged?"

He laughed as he thrust his arms into his tunic.

"My mother seems to have guessed from my very first mention of you."

"But--she doesn't know yet?" said Rachel, slowly.

They had passed out of the range of the lantern. He could not see her
face, could only just hear her voice.

"No, not yet, dear. My last long letter should reach her next week."

Her hand lay close in his as they groped their way to the door. When he
unlatched it they came out into the light of a stormy sunset. The rain
had momentarily ceased, and there were fiery lines of crimson burning
their way through the black cloud masses in the western sky. The red
light caught Rachel's face and hair. But even so, it seemed to him that
she was pale.

"I say--you've done too much threshing!" he said with energy. "Don't do
any more--get an extra man."

"Can't find one," she said, laughing at him, but rather languidly. "I'll
go and get the tea ready."

He went off to wash, and when he entered the sitting-room a little
later, she too was fresh and neat again, in a new frock of some soft
bluish-green stuff, which pleased his eye amazingly. Outside, the sunset
was dying rapidly, and at a sign from her, he drew down the blinds over
the two windows, and pulled the curtains close. He stood at the window
looking at the hill-side for a moment with the blind in his hand. He was
recalling the face he had seen, of which neither he nor any one else had
yet said a word to Rachel; recalling also his talk with one of the
Millsborough police the day before. "Nothing more heard of him, Captain.
Oh, we get queer people about these hills sometimes. It's a very
lonely bit of country. Why, a year ago, we were hunting a couple of
German prisoners about these commons for days!"

"Any more ghosts?" he said lightly, glancing round at Rachel, as he drew
the curtains across.

"Not that I know of. Come and have your tea."

He took a cup from her hand, and leaning against the chimney surveyed the
room with a radiant face. Then he stooped over her and said:--

"I love this little room! Don't you?"

She made a restless movement.

"I don't know. Why do you love it?"

"As if you didn't know!" Their eyes met, his intense and
passionate,--hers, less easy to read. "Darling, I have some other news
for you. I think you'll like it--though it'll separate us for a little."

And drawing a letter from his pocket, he handed it to her. It was a
letter from the American Headquarters, offering him immediate work in the
American Intelligence Department at Coblentz.

"Some friends of mine there, seem to have been getting busy about me. You
see I know German pretty well."

And he explained to her that as a boy he had spent a year in Germany
before going to Yale. She scarcely listened, so absorbed was she in the
official letter.

"When must you go?" she said at last, looking up.

"At the end of next week, I'm afraid."

"And how long will it be?"

"That I don't know. But three or four months certainly. It will put off
our wedding, dearest, a bit. But you'd like me to go, wouldn't you? I
should be at the hub of things."

The colour rushed into her cheeks.

"_Must you go_?"

Her manner amazed him. He had expected that one so ambitious and
energetic in her own way of life would have greeted his news with
eagerness. The proposal was really a great compliment to him--and a great
chance.

"I don't see how I could refuse it," he said with an altered countenance.
"Indeed--I don't think I could."

She dropped her face into her hands, and stared into the fire. In some
trouble of mind, he knelt down beside her, and put his arm round her.

"I'll write every day. It won't be long, darling."

She shook her head, and he felt a shudder run through her.

"It's silly of me--I don't know why--but--I'm just afraid--"

"Afraid of what?"

She smiled at him tremulously--but he saw the tears in her eyes.

"I told you--I can't always help it. I'm a fool, I suppose--but--"

Then she threw her arms round his neck--murmuring in his ear: "You'll
have time to think--when you're away from me--that it was a great
pity--you ever asked me."

He kissed and scolded her, till she smiled again. Afterwards she made a
strong effort to discuss the thing reasonably. Of course he must go--it
would be a great opening--a great experience. And they would have all the
more time to consider their own affairs. But all the evening afterwards
he felt in some strange way that he had struck her a blow from which she
was trying in vain to rally. Was it all the effect of her suffering at
that brute's hands--aided by the emotion and strain of the recent scenes
between herself and him?

As for her, when she turned back from the gate where she had bid him
good-bye, she saw Janet in the doorway waiting for her almost with a
sense of exasperation. She had not yet said one word to Janet. That
plunge was all to take!



XIV


Rachel woke the following morning in that dreary mood when all the colour
and the glamour seem to have been washed out of life, and the hopes and
dreams which keep up a perpetual chatter in every normal mind are
suddenly dumb.

How was she going to face Ellesborough's long absence? It had been
recently assumed between them that he would be very soon released from
his forestry post, that the infantry commission he had been promised
would come to nothing, now the Armistice was signed, and that in a very
few weeks they would be free to think only of themselves and their own
future. This offer of Intelligence work at the American Headquarters had
changed everything.

In ten days, if nothing happened, he would be gone, and she would be left
behind to grapple alone with Roger--who might at any moment torment her
again; with the presence of Dempsey, who was thinking of settling in the
village, and for whom she would be called upon very soon to fulfil the
hopes she had raised in him; and finally, with the struggle and misery in
her own mind.

But something must happen. As she was dressing by candle-light in the
winter dawn, her thoughts were rushing forward--leaping some unexplored
obstacles lying in the foreground--to a possible marriage before
Ellesborough went to France; just a quiet walk to a registry office,
without any fuss or any witness but Janet. If she could reach that
haven, she would be safe; and this dumb fever of anxiety, this terrified
conviction that in the end Fate would somehow take him from her, would be
soothed away.

But how to reach it? For there was now between them, till they also were
revealed and confessed, a whole new series of events: not only the Tanner
episode, but Delane's reappearance, her interview with him, her rash
attempt to silence Dempsey. By what she had done in her bewilderment and
fear, in order to escape the penalty of frankness, she might only--as
she was now beginning to perceive--have stumbled into fresh dangers. It
was as though she stood on the friable edge of some great crater, some
gulf of destruction, on which her feet were perpetually slipping and
sinking, and only Ellesborough's hold could ultimately save her.

And Janet's--Janet's first. Rachel's thought clung to her, as the
shipwrecked Southern sailor turns to his local saint to intercede for him
with the greater spiritual lights. Janet's counsel and help--she knew she
must ask for them--that it was the next step. Yet she had been weakly
putting it off day by day. And through this mist of doubt and dread,
there kept striking all the time, as though quite independent of it, the
natural thoughts of a woman in love.

During the farm breakfast, hurried through by candle-light, with rain
beating on the windows, Rachel was thinking--"Why didn't _he_ propose
it?"--this scheme of marrying before he went. Wasn't it a most natural
thing to occur to him? She tormented herself all the morning with the
problem of his silence.

Then--as though in rebuke of her folly--at midday came a messenger, a boy
on a bicycle, with a letter. She took it up to her own room, and read it
with fluttering breath--laughing, yet with tears in her eyes.

"My Darling--What an idiot I was last night! This morning I have woke up
to a brilliant idea--why I didn't propose it to you yesterday I can't
imagine! Let us marry before I go. Meet me in London, a week to-day, and
let us go into the country, or to the sea, for a blessed forty-eight
hours, afterwards. Then you will see me off--and I shall know, wherever I
go, that you are my very, very own, and I am yours. I don't want to hurry
you. Take time to think, and write to me to-night, or wire me to-morrow
morning. But the very idea that you may say 'Yes' makes me the happiest
of men. Take time to think--but--all the same--don't keep me too long
waiting!

"Your own,

"G.E."

All day she kept the letter hidden in the loose front of her dress. "I'll
wire to-morrow morning," she thought. But before that--something had got
to happen. Every now and then she would pause in her own work to watch
Janet--Janet butter-making, Janet feeding the calves, Janet cooking--for
on that homely figure in white cap and apron everything seemed to depend.

The frost had come, and clear skies with it. The day passed in various
miscellaneous business, under shelter, in the big barn.

And at night, after supper, Rachel stood on the front steps looking into
a wide starry heaven, moonless, cold, and still. Betty and Jenny had just
gone up to bed. Janet was in the kitchen, putting the porridge for the
morrow's breakfast which she had just made into the hay-box, which would
keep it steaming all night. But she would soon have done work. The moment
seemed to have come.

Rachel walked into the kitchen and closed the door behind her. The supper
had been cleared away and the table on which they had eaten it shone
spotlessly clean and bare. The fire would soon be raked out for the
night, and Janet would lay the breakfast before she left the kitchen.
Everything was in the neatest possible order, and the brilliant polish of
a great stew-pan hanging on the wall particularly caught the eye. Janet
was humming to herself--one of the war tunes--when Rachel entered.

"Janet, I want to speak to you."

Janet looked up--startled. And yet something in her was not startled! She
had been strangely expectant all these days. It seemed to her she had
already seen Rachel come in like that--had already heard her say those
words.

She shut up the hay-box, and came gently forward.

"Here, Rachel?"

"You've nearly done?"

"In a few minutes. If you'll go into the sitting-room, I'll join you
directly."

And while she hurried through the rest of her work, her mind was really
running forward in prophecy. She more or less knew what she was going
to hear. And as she closed the kitchen door behind her there was in her a
tremulous sense as though of some sacred responsibility.

Rachel was crouching over the fire as usual, and Janet drew up a stool
beside her, and laid a hand on her knee.

"What is it?"

Rachel turned.

"I told you one secret, Janet, the other day. Now this is another. And
it's--" She flushed, and broke off, beginning again after a moment--"I
didn't mean to tell you, or any one. I can't make up my mind whether I'm
bound to or not. But I want you to advise me, Janet. I'm awfully
troubled."

And suddenly, she slipped to the floor, and laid her head against Janet's
knees, hiding her face.

Janet bent over her, instinctively caressing the brown hair. She was only
three or four years older than Rachel, but she looked much older, and the
close linen cap she wore on butter-making afternoons, and had not yet
removed, gave her a gently austere look, like that of a religious.

"Tell me--I'll do my best."

"In the first place," said Rachel, in a low voice, "who do you think was
the ghost?"

"What do you mean?"

"The ghost--was Roger Delane!"

Janet uttered an exclamation of surprise and horror--while fact after
fact rushed together in her mind, fitting into one explanatory whole. Why
had she never thought of that possibility, among all the others?

"Oh, Rachel, have you ever seen him?"

"Twice. He stopped me on the road, when I was coming back from
Millsborough on Armistice Day. And he came to see me the day after. You
remember you were astonished to find I had sent the girls to the
Shepherds' dance? I did it to get them out of the way--and if you hadn't
said you were going to that service I should have had to invent something
to send you away."

"I always thought he was in Canada?" said Janet, in bewilderment. "What
did he want? Have you told Captain Ellesborough?"

"No, I haven't told George. I don't know whether I shall. Roger wanted
money--as usual. I gave him some."

"_You gave him some! Rachel!_"

"I had to--I had to buy him off. And I've seen John Dempsey also without
your knowing. And I've had to bribe him too."

Rachel was now sitting up, very hard and erect, her hands round her
knees. Her first object seemed to be to avoid emotion, and to prevent
Janet from showing any. Janet had gone very pale. The name "Dick Tanner"
was drumming in her ear.

"I know you can't understand me, Janet," said Rachel, after a pause, "you
could never do what I've done. I dare say when you've let me tell you the
story you'll not be able to forgive me. You'll think I ought never to
have let you settle with me--that I told a lie when I said I wasn't a bad
woman--that I've disgraced you. I hope you won't. That--that would about
finish it." Her voice shook at last.

Janet was speechless. But instinctively she laid a hand on Rachel's
shoulder. And at the touch, in a moment, the story came out.

Confused and hardly intelligible! For Rachel herself could scarcely now
disentangle all the threads and motives of it. But certain things stood
out--the figure of a young artist, sensitive, pure-minded, sincere, with
certain fatal weaknesses of judgment and will, which had made him a
rolling stone, and the despair of his best friends, but, as compared with
Roger Delane after six months of marriage--Hyperion to a satyr; then the
attraction of such a man for his neighbour, a young wife, brought up in a
refined home, the child of a saint and dreamer, outraged since her
marriage in every fibre by the conduct and ways of her husband, and
smarting under the sense of her own folly; their friendship, so
blameless till its last moment, with nothing to hide, and little to
regret, a woman's only refuge indeed from hours of degradation and
misery; and finally the triumph of something which was not passion, at
least on Rachel's side, but of mere opportunity, strengthened, made
irresistible, by the woman's pain and despair: so the tale, the common
tale, ran.

"I didn't love him," said Rachel at last, her hands over her eyes--"I
don't pretend I did. I liked him--I was awfully sorry for him--as he was
for me. But--well, there it is! I went over to his house. I honestly
thought his sister was there; but, above all, I wanted him to sympathize
with me--and pity me--because he knew everything. And she wasn't
there--and I stayed three days and nights with him. _Voilà_!"

There was silence a little. Janet's thoughts were in a tumult. Rachel
began again:

"Now, why am I telling you all this? I need never have told anybody--at
least up to a few days ago. Poor Dick was drowned just before I got my
divorce, in a boat accident on Lake Nipissing. He had gone there to
paint, and was camping out. If he hadn't been drowned, perhaps, he would
have made me marry him. So there was no one in the world who knew I was
ever with him except--"

She turned sharply upon Janet--

"Except this man who turned up here in George's own camp--and in the
village, two months ago, but whom I never saw till this week--_this
week_--Armistice Day--John Dempsey. That was a queer chance, wasn't it?
The sort of thing nobody could have expected. I was coming back from
Millsborough. I was--well, just that evening, I was awfully happy. I
expected nothing. And then--within twenty minutes--"

She told the story to Janet's astounded ears, of the two apparitions in
the road, of her two interviews--first with Dempsey, and the following
evening with Delane--and of her own attempts to bribe them both.

And at that her composure broke down.

"Why did I do it?" she said wildly, springing to her feet. "It was
idiotic! Why didn't I just accept the boy's story, and say quietly, 'Yes,
I was staying with the Tanners'? And why didn't I defy Roger--go straight
to George, and hand him over to the police? Don't you see why? Because it
is true!--_it's true!_--and I'm terrified. If I lost George, I should
kill myself. I never thought I should be--I could be--in love with
anybody like this. But yet I suppose it was in me all the time. I was
always seeking--reaching out--to somebody I could love with every bit of
me, soul and body--somebody I could follow--for I can't manage for
myself--I'm not like you, Janet. And now I've found him--and--Do you know
what that is?"

She pulled a letter out of her pocket, and looked at Janet through a mist
of despairing tears.

"It's a letter from George. It came this morning. He wants me to marry
him at once--next week. He's got some new work in France, and he saw that
I was miserable because he was going away. And why shouldn't I? _Why
shouldn't I?_ I love him. There's nothing wrong with me, except that
wretched story. Well, there are two reasons. First"--she spoke with slow
and bitter emphasis--"I don't believe for a moment Roger will keep his
word. I know him. He is frightfully ill. He says he's dying. He may
die--before he's got through this money. That would be the best thing
that could happen to me--wouldn't it? But probably he won't die--and
certainly he'll get through the money! Then he'll come back--and I shall
begin bribing him again--and telling lies to hide it from George--and
in the end it'll be no use--for Roger's quite reckless--you can't appeal
to him through anything but money. He'll see George, whatever I do, and
try it on with him. And then--George will know how to deal with _him_, I
dare say--but when we are alone--and he asks _me_--"

She sank down again on the floor, kneeling, and put her hands on Janet's
knees.

"You see, Janet, don't you? You see?"

It was the cry of a soul in anguish.

"You poor, poor thing!"

Janet, trembling from head to foot, bowed her head on Rachel's, and the
two clung together, in silence, broken only by two deep sobs from Rachel.
Then Janet disengaged herself. She was pale, but no longer agitated, and
her blue eyes which were her only beauty were clear and shining.

"You'll let me say just what I feel, Rachel?"

"Of course."

"You can't marry him without telling him. No, no--you couldn't do that!"

Rachel said nothing. She was, sitting on the floor, her eyes turned away
from Janet.

"You couldn't do that, Rachel," Janet resumed, as though she were
urgently thinking her way; "you'd never have a happy moment."

"Oh, yes, of course," said Rachel, throwing up her head with a half
scornful gesture. "One says that--but how do you know? I might never
think of it again--if Roger and that man Dempsey were out of the way.
It's dead--it's _dead_! Why do we trouble about such things!"

"It would be dead," said Janet in a low voice, "if you'd told him--and
he'd forgiven!"

"What has he to do with it?" cried Rachel, stubbornly, "it was before he
knew me. I was a different being."

"No--it is always the same self, which we are making, all the time. Don't
you see--dear, dear Rachel!--it's your chance now to put it all behind
you--just by being true. Oh, I don't want to preach to you--but I see it
so clearly!"

"But it isn't as a man would see it--a man like George," said Rachel,
shaking her head. "Look there"--she pointed to a little bundle of letters
lying on the table--"there are letters from his people which he brought
me this morning. It's awful!--how they take me at his valuation--just
because he loves me. I must be everything that's good, because he says
so. And you can see what kind of people they are--what they think of
him--and what they imagine about me--what they think I _must_ be--for
him to love me. I don't mean they're prigs--they aren't a bit. It's just
their life coming out, quite naturally. You see what they are--quite
simply--what they can't help being, and what they expect from him and the
woman he marries. And he's got to take me home to them--some time--to
present me to them. The divorce is difficult enough. Even if they think
of me as quite innocent, it will be hard for them, that George should
marry a divorced woman."

"What have they to do with it?" interrupted Janet. "It's only George that
matters--no other person has any right whatever to know! You needn't
consider anybody else."

"Yes--but think of _him_. It's bad enough that I should know something he
doesn't know--but at least _he's_ spared. He can take me home to his
mother--whom he adores--and if _I_ know that I'm a cheat and a sham--he
doesn't--it will be all easy for him."

Janet was silenced for the moment by the sheer passion of the voice. She
sat, groping a little, under the stress of her own thought, and praying
inwardly--without words--for light and guidance.

"And think of _me_, please!" Rachel went on. "If I tell him, it's
done--for ever. He'll forgive me, I think. He may be everything
that's dear, and good, and kind"--her voice broke--"but it'd hit him
dreadfully hard. A man like that can't forget such a thing. When I've
once said it, I shall have changed everything between us. He must
think--some time--when he's alone--when I'm not there--'It was Dick
Tanner once--it will be some one else another time!' I shall have been
pulled down from the place where he puts me now--even after he knows
all about Roger and the divorce--pulled down for good and all--however
much he may pity me--however good he may be to me. It will be love
perhaps--but another kind of love. He can't trust me again. No one could.
And it's that I can't bear--I can't _bear_!"

She looked defiantly at Janet, and the little room with its simple
furnishings seemed too small a stage for such an energy of fear and
distress.

"Yes--that you could bear," said Janet quietly, "with him to help
you--and God. It would all straighten out in the end--because the first
step would be right."

Rachel turned upon her.

"Now that I've told you," she cried, "can _you_ ever think the same of me
again? You know you can't!"

Janet caught her cold hands, and held them close, looking up to her.

"Not the same--no, not the same! But if I cared for you before, Rachel--I
care for you ten thousand times more now. Don't you see?--it will be the
same with him?"

Rachel shook her head.

"No--a _man's_ different," she repeated, "a man's different!"

"Anyway, you _must_," said Janet resolutely, "you know you must. You
don't need me to tell you."

Rachel wrenched herself away with a little moan and hid her face in her
hands as she leaned against the mantelpiece. Janet, looking up, and
transfigured by that spiritual energy, that ultimate instinctive faith
which was the root force in her, went on, pleading.

"Dear Rachel, one goes on living side by side--doing one's daily
work--and thinking just one's ordinary thoughts--and all the time one
never speaks of the biggest things of all--the only things that matter,
really. Isn't it God that matters--and the law in our hearts? If we break
it--if we aren't true--if we wrong those that love us--if we injure and
deceive--how will it be when we grow old--when we come to die? Whatever
our gain--we shall have lost our souls?"

"You think I should injure him by marrying him?" cried Rachel.

"No--no! A thousand times, no! But by deceiving him--by not trusting
him--with all your heart, and all your life--that would be the worst
injury."

"How do you know all there may have been in his life?" said Rachel,
vehemently--"I don't ask."

"I think you do know."

Rachel considered the words, finally dropping her face again out of
sight.

"Well, I dare say I do!" she said wearily. "Of course he's a hundred
times too good for me."

"Don't turn it off like that! It's for oneself one has to think--one's
own fulfilling of the law. Love--_is_ the fulfilling of the law. And love
means trust--and truth."

Janet's voice sank. She had said her say. Rachel was silent for some
time, and Janet sat motionless. The clock and the fire were the only
sounds. At last Rachel moved. With a long sigh, she pressed back the
ruffled hair from her temples, and standing tiptoe before a small mirror
that hung over the mantelpiece, she began to pin up some coils that had
broken loose. When that was done, she turned slowly towards Janet.

"Very well. That's settled. How shall it be done? Shall I write it or say
it?"

Janet gasped a little between laughing and crying. Then she caught
Rachel's cold unresisting hand, and laid it tenderly against her own
cheek.

"Write it."

"All right." The voice was that of an automaton. "How shall I send it?"

"Would you--would you trust me to take it?"

"You mean--you'd talk to him?"

"If you gave me leave."

Rachel thought a little, and then made a scarcely perceptible sign of
assent. A few more words passed as to the best time at which to find
Ellesborough at leisure. It was decided that Janet should aim at catching
him in the midday dinner hour. "I should bicycle, and get home before
dark."

"And now let's talk of something else," said Rachel, imperiously.

She found some business letters that had to be answered, and set to work
on them. Janet wrote up her milk records and dairy accounts. The fire
sank gently to its end. Janet's cat came with tail outstretched, and
rubbed itself sociably, first against Janet's skirts, and then against
Rachel. No trace remained in the little room, where the two women sat at
their daily work, of the scene which had passed between them, except in
Rachel's pallor, and the occasional shaking of her hand as it passed over
the paper.

Then when Janet put up her papers with a look at the clock, which was
just going to strike ten o'clock, Rachel too cleared away, and with that
instinct for air and the open which was a relic of her Canadian life, and
made any closed room after a time an oppression to her, she threw a cloak
over her shoulders, and went out again to breathe the night. There was a
young horse who, on the previous day, had needed the vet. She went across
the yard to the stable to look at him.

All was well with the horse, whose swollen hock had been comfortably
bandaged by Hastings before he left. But as she stood beside him, close
to the divided door, opening on the hill, of which both the horizontal
halves were now shut, she was aware of certain movements on the other
side of the door--some one passing it--footsteps. Her nerves gave a
jump. Could it be?--_again_! Impetuously she went to the door, threw open
the upper half, and looked out. Nothing--but the faint starlight on the
hill, and the woods crowning it.

She called.

"Who's there?" But no one answered.

Fancy, of course. But with the knowledge she now had, she could not bring
herself to go round the farm. Instead she carefully closed the stable
shutter, and ran back across the yard into the shelter of the house,
locking the front door behind her, and going into the sitting-room and
the kitchen, to see that the windows were fastened.

Janet was waiting for her at the top of the stairs. They kissed each
other gravely, in silence, like those who feel that the time for speech
is done. Then Rachel went into her room, and Janet heard her turn the
key. Janet herself slept intermittently. But whenever she woke, it seemed
to her that there was some slight sound in the next room--a movement or
a rustle, which showed that Rachel was still awake--and up?

It was a night indeed which left Rachel with that sense of strange
illuminations, of life painfully enlarged and deepened, which love and
suffering may always bring to the woman who is capable of love and
suffering. She had spent the hours in writing to Ellesborough, and in
that letter she had unpacked her heart to its depths, Janet guessed. When
she received the letter from Rachel on the morrow, she handled it as a
sacred thing.



XV


The frost held. A sun of pearl and fire rose over the hill, as the stars
finally faded out in the winter morning, and a brilliant rime lay
sparkling on all the pastures and on the slopes of the down. The
brilliance had partly vanished from the lower grounds when Janet started
on her way; but on the high commons, winter was at its gayest and
loveliest. The distant woods were a mist of brown and azure, encircling
the broad frost-whitened spaces; the great single beeches and oaks under
which Spenser or Sidney--the great Will himself--might have walked, shot
up, magnificent, into a clear sky, proudly sheltering the gnarled thorns
and furze-bushes which marched beside and round them, like dwarfs in a
pageant.

Half way up the hill, Janet came across old Betts bringing down a small
cart-full of furze for fodder, and she stopped to speak to him. A little
later on, nearer to the camp she overtook Dempsey, who rather officiously
joined her, and assuming at once that she was in quest of the Camp
Commandant, directed her to a short cut leading straight to
Ellesborough's quarters. There was a slight something in the manner of
both men that jarred on Janet--as though their lips said one thing and
their eyes another--furtive in the case of Betts, a trifle insolent
in that of Dempsey. She with her tragic knowledge guessed uncomfortably
at what it meant. Dempsey--as she had made up her mind after ten minutes'
talk with him--was a vain gossip. It had been madness on Rachel's part to
give him the smallest hold on her. Very likely he had not yet actually
betrayed her--his hope of favours to come might have been sufficient to
prevent that. But his self-importance would certainly show itself
somehow--in a hint or a laugh. He had probably already roused in the
village mind a prying curiosity, a suspicion of something underhand,
which might alter Rachel's whole relation to her neighbours. For once
give an English country-side reason to suspect a scandal, and it will
pluck it bare in time, with a slow and secret persistence.

Well, after all, if the situation became disagreeable, Rachel would only
have to choose Ellesborough's country as her own, and begin her new life
there.

_Supposing that all went well!_ Janet's mind went through some painful
alterations of confidence and fear, as she walked her bicycle along the
rough forest-track leading to Ellesborough's hut. She believed him to be
deeply in love with Rachel, and the spiritual passion in her seemed to
realize in the man's inmost nature, behind all his practical ability,
and his short business manner, powers of pity and tenderness like her
own. But if she were wrong? If this second revelation put too great a
strain upon one brought up in an exceptionally strict school where
certain standards of conduct were simply taken for granted?

Mystic, and puritan as she was, there were moments when Janet felt
her responsibility almost unbearable. Rachel deserted--Rachel in
despair--Rachel turning on the woman who had advised her to her
undoing--all these images were beating on Janet's tremulous sense, as the
small military hut where Ellesborough and two of his junior officers
lived came into view, together with that wide hollow of the forestry camp
where he and Rachel had first met. The letter in her pocket seemed a
living and sinister thing. She had still power to retain it--to keep it
imprisoned.

A lady in the dress of the Women's Forestry Corps appeared on another
path leading to Ellesborough's hut. Janet recognized Mrs. Fergusson,
and was soon greeted by a shout of welcome.

"Well, so Miss Henderson's engaged to our Captain!" said Mrs. Fergusson,
with a smiling countenance, as they shook hands. "The girls here, and
I, are awfully interested. The camp began it! But do you want the
Captain? I'm afraid he isn't here."

Janet's countenance fell.

"I thought I should be sure to find him in the dinner hour."

"No, he went up to town by the first train this morning on some business
with the Ministry. We expect him back about three."

It was not one o'clock. Janet pondered what to do.

"You wanted to see him?" said Mrs. Fergusson, full of sympathy.

"I brought a letter for him. If I leave it, will he be sure to get it
directly he returns?"

"His servant's in the hut. Let's talk to him."

Mrs. Fergusson rapped at the door of the hut, and walked in. An elderly
batman appeared.

"I have a letter for Captain Ellesborough--an important letter--on
business," said Janet. "I was to wait for an answer. But as he isn't
here, where shall I leave it, so that he will be certain to get it?"

"On his table, if you please, ma'am," said the soldier, opening the door
of the Captain's small sitting-room--"I'll see that he gets it."

"It'll be quite safe?" said Janet anxiously, placing it herself in a
prominent place on the writing-table.

"Lor, yes, ma'am. Nobody comes in here but me, when the Captain's away.
I'll tell him of it directly he comes home."

"May I just write a little note myself? I expected to find Captain
Ellesborough in."

The servant handed her a sheet of paper. She wrote--"I brought Rachel's
letter, and am very disappointed not to see you. Come at once. Don't
delay. Janet Leighton."

She slipped it into an envelope, which she addressed and left beside the
other. Then she reluctantly left the hut with Mrs. Fergusson.

"I am so sorry you didn't find him," said that lady. "Was it something
about the wedding?" she added, smiling, her feminine curiosity getting
the better of her.

"Oh, no--not yet," said Janet, startled.

"Well, I suppose it won't be long," laughed Mrs. Fergusson. "He's
desperately in love, you know!"

Janet smiled in return, and Mrs. Fergusson, delighted to have the chance,
broke out into praises of her Commandant.

"You see, we women who are doing all this new work with men, we know a
jolly deal more about them than we ever did before. I can tell you, it
searches us out, this joint life--both women and men. In this camp you
can't hide what you are--the sort of man--or the sort of woman. And
there isn't a woman in this camp, if she's been here any time, who
wouldn't trust the Captain for all she's worth--who wouldn't tell him her
love-affairs, or her debts--or march up to a machine-gun, if he told her.
In a sense, they're in love with him, because--as you've no doubt found
out, he has a way with him! But they all know that he's never been
anything to them but the best of Commandants, and a good friend. Oh, I
could never have run this camp but for him. He and I'll go together! Of
course we're shutting up very soon."

So the pleasant Irishwoman ran on, as she walked beside Janet and her
bicycle to the top of the hill. Janet listened and smiled. Her own mind
said ditto to it all. But nevertheless, the more Ellesborough was set on
a pinnacle by this enthusiastic friend and spectator of his daily life,
the more Rachel's friend trembled for Rachel. A lover "not too bright and
good" to understand--and forgive--that was what was wanted.

She reached the farm-gate about two o'clock, and Rachel was there,
waiting for her. But before they met, Rachel watching her approach, saw
that there was no news for her.

"He wasn't there?" she said, drearily, as Janet reached her.

Janet explained, and they walked up the farm lane together.

"I would have waited if I could," she said in distress. "But it would
have looked strange. Mrs. Fergusson would have suspected something
wrong."

"Oh no, you couldn't have waited," said Rachel, decidedly. "Well!"--she
threw her arms out in a great stretch--"it's done. In half an hour he'll
be reading the letter. It's like waiting for one's execution, isn't it?
Nothing can stop it; I may be dead before tea!" She gave a wild laugh.

"Rachel!"

"Well, that's how I feel. If he gives me up, it will be death--though I
dare say I shall go on fussing round the farm, and people will still talk
to me as if I were alive. But!"--she shrugged her shoulders.

"He won't give you up--" said Janet, much troubled--"because--because
he's a good man."

"All the more reason. If I were he, I should give me up. Shall I tell you
a queer thing, Janet? I hate Roger, as much as I can hate anybody. It
would be a great relief to me if I heard he were dead. And yet at the
same time I see--oh yes, I see quite plainly--that I treated him badly.
He told me so the other night--and it is so--it's _true_. I never had the
least patience with him. And now he's dying--at least he says so--and
though I hate him--though I pray I may never, never see him again, yet
I'm sorry for him. Isn't that strange?"

She looked at Janet with a queer flickering defiance, which was also a
kind of remorse, in her eyes.

"No, it isn't strange."

"Why not?--when I hate him?"

"One can be sorry even for those one hates. I suppose God is," Janet
added, after a pause.

Rachel made a little face of scorn.

"Why should God hate any one? He made us. He's responsible. He must have
known what He was doing. If He really pitied us, would He have made us at
all?"

Janet made a little protesting sound--a sound of pain.

"Does it give you the shivers, old woman, when I talk like that?" Rachel
slipped her hand affectionately through Janet's arm. "Well, I won't,
then. But if--" she caught her breath a little--"if George casts me off,
don't expect me to sing psalms and take it piously. I don't know myself
just lately--I seem quite strange to myself."

And Janet, glancing at her sideways, wondered indeed where all that
rosy-cheeked, ripe bloom had gone, which so far had made the constant
charm of Rachel Henderson. Instead a bloodless face, with pinched lines,
and heavy-lidded eyes! What a formidable thing was this "love," that she
herself had never known, though she had had her quiet dreams of husband
and children, like her fellows.

Rachel, however, would not let herself be talked with or pitied. She
walked resolutely to the house, and went off to the fields to watch
Halsey cutting and trimming a hedge.

"If he doesn't come before dark," she said, under her breath, to Janet,
before setting off--"it will be finished. If he does--"

She hurried away without finishing the sentence, and was presently taking
a lesson from old Halsey, in what is fast becoming one of the rarest of
the rural arts. But in little more than half an hour, Janet bringing in
the cows, saw her return and go into the house. The afternoon was still
lovely--the sky, a pale gold, with thin bars of grey cloud lying across
it, and the woods, all delicate shades of brown and purple, with their
topmost branches clear against the gold. The old red walls and tiled
roofs of the farm, the fields, the great hay and straw stacks, were all
drenched in the soft winter light.

Rachel went up to her room, and sat down before the bare deal
dressing-table which held her looking-glass, and the very few articles of
personal luxury she possessed; a pair of silver-backed brushes and a
hand-glass that had belonged to an aunt, a small leather case in which
she kept some modest trinkets--a pearl brooch, a bracelet or two, and a
locket that had been her mother's--and, standing on either side of the
glass, two photographs of her father and mother.

There was a clock on the mantelpiece. "Nearly four o'clock--" she
thought--"I'll give it an hour. He'd send--if he couldn't come, and he
wanted to come--but if nothing happens--I shall know what to think."

As this passed through her mind, she opened one of the drawers of the
dressing-table, in which she kept her gloves and handkerchiefs. Suddenly
she perceived at the back of the drawer a small leathern case. The colour
rushed into her face. She took it out and ran quickly down the stairs to
the kitchen. Janet and the girls were busy milking. The coast was clear.

A bright fire which Janet had just made up was burning in the kitchen.
Rachel went up to it and thrust the leathern case into the red core of
it. Some crackling--a disagreeable smell--and the little thing had soon
vanished. Rachel went slowly upstairs again, and locked the door of her
room behind her. The drawer of the dressing-table was still open, and
there was visible in it the object she was really in search of, when the
little leathern case caught her eye--a small cloth-bound book marked
"Diary."

She took it out, and sat with it in her hand, thinking. How was it she
had never yet destroyed that case? The Greek cameo brooch it held--Dick
Tanner's gift to her--how vividly she recalled her first evening alone at
the farm, when she had dropped it into the old well, and had listened to
the splash of it in the summer silence. She remembered thinking vaguely,
and no doubt foolishly, that the cameo would drop more heavily and more
certainly without the case, which was wood, though covered with leather,
and she had therefore taken the brooch out, and had probably put back the
case absently into her pocket. And thence it had found its way back among
her things, how she did not know.

The little adventure had excited and unnerved her. It seemed somehow of
evil omen that she should have come across that particular thing at this
moment. Opening the diary with a rather trembling hand, she looked
through it. She was not orderly or systematic enough to keep a diary
regularly, and it only contained a few entries, at long intervals,
relating mostly to her married life--and to the death of her child. She
glanced through them with that strange sense of unreality--of standing
already outside her life, of which she had spoken to Janet. There were
some blank pages at the end of the book; and, in her restlessness, just
to pass the time and to find some outlet for the storm of feeling within,
she began to write, at first slowly, and then very rapidly.

"He must have got my letter by now. I sent it by Janet this morning. He
wasn't there--but by now he must have got home--he is probably reading
it at this moment. Whatever happens to me--I want just to say this--to
write it down now, while I can--I shall never blame George, and I shall
always love him--with all my heart, with all my soul. He has the right to
say he can't trust me--I told him so in my letter this morning--that I am
not fit to be his wife. He has the right--and very likely he will say it.
The terrible thing is that I don't trust myself. If I look forward and
ask myself--shall I always feel as I do now?--I can't honestly be sure.
There is something in me that wants change--always something new--some
fresh experience. I can't even imagine the time when I shouldn't love
George. The mere thought of losing him is awful--unspeakable. But yet--I
will write it down frankly!--nothing has ever lasted with me very long.
It is like the farm. I used to love every minute of the day, every bit of
the work, however dull and dirty it was; and now--I love it still--but I
seem already--sometimes--to be looking forward to the day when I shall be
tired of it.

"Why am I made like that? I don't know. But I can't feel that I am
responsible.

"Perhaps if George forgives me, I shall be so happy that everything will
change--my own character first of all. That is my hope. For though I
suppose I am vain--though I like people to admire me and make much of
me--I am not really in love with myself at all. If I were, I couldn't be
in love with George--we are so different.

"I don't feel yet that I know him. Perhaps now I never shall. I often
find myself wishing that he had something to confess to me. I would
hardly let him--he should never humble himself to me. But to feel that I
_could_ forgive him something, and that he would owe me something--would
be very sweet, very heavenly. I would make it so easy for him. Is he
feeling like that towards me? 'Poor child--she was very young--and so
miserable!'

"I mustn't write like this--it makes me cry. There is a beautiful yellow
sunset outside, and the world seems very still. He must be here soon--or
a messenger. Janet asked him not to wait.

"After all, I don't think I am so changeable. I have just been running
myself down--but I don't really believe I could ever change--towards him.
Oh, George!--George!--my George!--come to me!--don't give me up. George,
darling, you could do anything with me you liked--don't despair of me!
In the Gospel, it was the bad women who were forgiven because they loved
'much.' Now I understand why. Because love makes new. It is so terribly
_strong_. It is either a poison--or life--immortal life. I have never
been able to believe in the things Janet believes in. But I think I do
now believe in immortality--in something within you that can't die--when
once it has begun to live."

       *       *       *       *       *

And then she laid her pencil down--and sat with the book on her
knee--looking towards the gold and grey of the sky--the tears running
quietly down her cheeks.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Hastings had come hurriedly into the shippen, where Janet and
the two girls were milking. He came to stand beside her, silent, but
fidgeting so, that she presently looked up in astonishment.

"Did you want me?"

"I wanted to tell you something," he said in a low voice, stooping over
her--"Don't let the girls hear. But that man's been seen again. The
tramp."

Janet started. She jumped up, asked Betty, who had finished, to take her
place, and went with Hastings out of the barn.

"There are two or three people think they've seen him lately," he said
hurriedly. "A man from Dobson's farm"--(the farm which lay between
Great End and the village)--"who was on the hill yesterday evening, just
before dark, was certain he saw somebody hanging about the back of the
farm in a queer way--"

"Last night?" echoed Janet.

"Yes. And there are two people who remember meeting a man on the X--road
who said he was going to Walton End. And the police have been inquiring,
but nobody at Walton End knows anything about such a man. However, they
have a description of him at last. A tall, dark fellow--gentlemanly
manners--seems delicate. I don't like the look of it, Miss Janet. Seems
to me as though it weren't just a tramp, hanging about for what he can
steal. Do you know of anybody who has a down on Miss Henderson--who'd
like to frighten her, or put blackmail on her?"

Janet considered. She was tempted to take the faithful fellow to some
extent into her confidence, but she rapidly decided against it. She
suggested that he should himself sleep for a few nights at the
farm, and carefully examine the neighbourhood of it, last thing; and that
she should bicycle over to Millsborough at once, and have some further
talk with the Superintendent of Police there.

"Besides--I'd like to be out of the way," she thought. "They won't want
anybody hanging round!"

For there was steadily growing up in her a blissful confidence that all
would be once more settled and settled for good, before the night fell.
Spectators were entirely out of place! Nor would she disturb Rachel's
mind by any talk just then of what seemed to be a fresh attempt at
terrorism on the part of her wretched husband. Hastings would be in
charge for the moment, and Ellesborough would be on the spot for
consultation before darkness had really set in.

So as before, she told Hastings not to alarm Miss Henderson. But he was
not to leave the farm-buildings, and possibly the Superintendent of
Police would return with her. "And then--either Rachel or the Captain
will have to tell the police the truth!" Just as she was starting, Rachel
came downstairs in some surprise.

"Where are you off to?"

"I have forgotten something I wanted from Millsborough. I shall be back
in an hour or so."

Rachel abstractedly nodded assent. The golden light from the west
transfigured her, as she stood in the doorway. She was pale, but it
seemed to Janet that she was no longer excited--that there was in her
too something of the confidence which had sprung up in the heart of her
friend. She had the look of one for whom the Valley of the Shadow is
past, and her beauty had never struck Janet as it struck her at that
moment. Its grosser elements seemed all refined away. The girlish look
was quite gone; she seemed older and graver; but there breathed about
her "a diviner air."

Janet, who was much the shorter, mounted on the step to kiss her.
Caresses were not at all common between them, but Rachel returned it, and
their eyes met in a quiet look which said what her lips forbore. Then
Janet departed, and Rachel waved to her as she passed through the gate.

Hastings crossed the yard, and Rachel called to him.

"Are you off soon?"

"No, Miss. I shall sleep over the stable. That horse wants looking
after."

Rachel acquiesced, with a vague feeling of satisfaction, and Hastings
disappeared within the stable opposite.

She went back into the sitting-room, which was still flooded with the
last reflections from the western sky beyond the fields, though the light
was fading rapidly, and the stars were coming out. What a strange effect
it was--she suddenly noticed it afresh--that of the two large windows
exactly facing each other in so small a room! One had an odd sense of
being indoors and out, at the same time; the down on one side, the
farm-yard on the other, and in the midst, the fire, the table and chairs,
the pictures, and the red carpet, seemed all parts of the same scene.

She made up the fire. She brought in a few Xmas roses, from a border
under the kitchen window, and arranged them in a glass on the table. It
was then time to draw the blinds. But she could not make up her mind to
shut out the saffron sky, or the view of the road.

Something in the distance!--an approaching figure, and the noise of a
motor-bicycle. She caught at a chair a moment, as though to steady
herself; and then she went to the window, and stood there watching. He
saw her quite plainly in the level light, and leaving his bicycle at the
gate, he came towards her. There was no one in the yard, and before he
entered he stood a moment, bare-headed, gazing at her, as she stood
framed in the window. Everything that she wished to know was written in
his face. A little sob broke the silence of the sitting-room.

Then he opened the doors and closed them behind him. Without a word she
seemed to glide over the room towards him; and now, she was on his
breast, gathered close against the man's passionately beating heart.
Neither spoke--neither was able to speak.

Then--suddenly--a crash of breaking glass--a shot. The woman he was
holding fell from Ellesborough's arms; he only just caught her. Another
shot--which grazed his own coat.

"Rachel!"

It was a cry of horror. Her eyes were closing. But she still smiled at
him, as he laid her on the floor, imploring her to speak. There was a
stain of blood on the lips, and through them came a few shuddering
gasps.

Hastings rushed into the room--

"Good God, Sir!"

"A doctor!--Go for a doctor!" said Ellesborough hoarsely--"No--she's
gone!"

He sank down beside her, putting his ear to her lips. In vain. No sound
was there. The smiling mouth had settled and shut. Without a murmur or
a sigh, Rachel had passed for ever from this warm world and the arms of
her lover, at the bidding of the "fierce workman Death."

When Janet, a doctor, and the Superintendent of Police arrived, it was
to find Ellesborough sitting motionless beside the body, while the two
girls, a blanched and shivering pair, watched for Janet at
the door.

"Can you throw any light upon it, Sir?" said the Superintendent,
respectfully, at last, when the Doctor had finished his examination, and
still Ellesborough did not speak.

The Captain looked up.

"Her husband did it"--he said, quietly--"the man who was her husband."

A shudder of surprise ran through the room.

"Did I hear you right, Sir?" said the Superintendent. "Miss Henderson
passed for unmarried."

"She married a man called Roger Delane in Canada," said Ellesborough,
in the same monotonous voice. "She divorced him--for cruelty and
adultery--two years ago. A few days since he waylaid her in the dark, and
threatened her. I didn't know this till she wrote to me to-day. She said
that she was afraid of him--that she thought he was mad--and I came over
at once to see how I could protect her. We were engaged to be married."

The Superintendent drew a furtive hand across his eyes. Then he produced
his note-book, and took the evidence in order. Hastings came in from a
lantern search of the farm-buildings, the hill-side, and the nearest
fringes of wood, to report that he had found no trace of the murderer.
The news, however, had by this time spread through the village, and the
kitchen was full of persons who had hurried to the farm--Old Halsey and
John Dempsey among them--to tell what they knew, and had seen.
Ellesborough roused himself from his stupor, and came to assist the
police in the preliminary examination of witnesses and inspection of the
farm. Once he and Janet passed each other, but they did not attempt to
speak. Each indeed shrank from the other. A word of pity would have been
merely a deepened agony.

But the farm emptied at last. A body of police had been sent out to scout
the woods, to watch the roads and the railway stations. Ellesborough and
Hastings had lifted the dead woman upon a temporary bier which had been
raised in the sitting-room. Then Hastings had drawn Ellesborough
away, and Janet, with a village mother, had rendered the last offices.

When Ellesborough re-entered, he found a white vision, lying in a bare
room, from which all traces of ordinary living had been as far as
possible cleared away. Only the Christmas roses which Rachel had
gathered that afternoon were now on her breast. Her hands were folded
over them. Her beautiful hair lay unbound on the pillow--Janet's
trembling hands had refused to cut it.

At sight of Ellesborough, Janet rose from her kneeling posture beside the
dead, as white and frozen almost as Rachel herself--with something in her
hand--a small book. She held it out to Ellesborough.

"The Superintendent asked my leave to go into her room--in case there was
anything which could help them. He brought me this. She had been writing
in it--He asked me to look at it. I did--just enough to see--that no one
had any right to it--but you. She wrote it I think about an hour before
you came. It was her last word."

"I have her letters also"--said Ellesborough, almost inaudibly, as he
took the book--"You brought it--you kind woman! You were her good
angel--God reward you!"

Then at last a convulsion of weeping showed in Janet's face. She laid her
hand in his, and went noiselessly away.

Ellesborough sat beside his dead love all night. The farm was peaceful
again after that rush of the Furies through it, which had left this wreck
behind. Rachel's diary and letter lay before him. They were as her still
living voice in his ears, and as the words sank into memory they pierced
through all the rigidities of a noble nature, rending and kneading as
they went. He recalled his own solitary hour of bitterness after her
letter reached him. The story it contained had gone very hard with him,
though never for one moment had he even in thought forsaken her. There
was some comfort in that. But the memory which upheld him, which
alone kept him from despair, was the memory of her face at the window,
the sense still lingering in his own physical pulses of her young
clinging life in his arms, of the fluttering of her poor heart against
his breast, the exquisite happiness of her kiss--the kiss which death cut
short.

No--he had not failed her. That was all he had to live by. And without
it, it seemed to him, he could not have endured to live.

       *       *       *       *       *

The two girls had sobbed themselves to sleep at last. But Janet did not
sleep. Tears came naturally as the hours went by--tears and the agonized
relief of prayer to one for whom prayer was a daily need of the soul. And
in the early morning there flooded in upon her a strange consciousness of
Rachel's spirit in hers--a strange suspicion that after all the gods had
not wrought so hardly with Rachel. A few days before she had attended the
funeral in the village church, of a young wife just happily married, who
had died in three days, of virulent influenza. Never had the words of the
Anglican service pleased her so little. What mockery--what fulsome
mockery--to thank God because "it hath pleased Thee to deliver this our
sister, out of the miseries of this troublesome world." But the words
recurred to her now--mysteriously--with healing power. Had it been after
all "deliverance" for Rachel, from this "troublesome world," and the
temptations that surround those who are not strong enough for the
wrestle that Fate sets them--that a God appoints them? She had met her
lover--after fear and anguish; and had known him hers, utterly and wholly
hers, for one supreme moment. And from that height--that perfection--God
had called her. No lesser thing could ever touch her now.

Such are the moments of religious exaltation which cheat even the
sharpest griefs of men and women. Janet would decline from her Pisgah
height only too soon; but, for the time, thoughts like these gave her the
strength to bear.

When the house began to move again, she went down to Ellesborough. She
drew him into the kitchen--made a fire, and brought him food. Presently
she found calm enough to tell him many details of the previous days. And
the man's sound nature responded. Once he grasped her hand, and kissed
it--as though he thanked her dumbly again, for himself and Rachel. It
seemed to Janet indeed, as she sat by him, that Rachel had left her a
trust. She took it up instinctively--from this first desolate morning.
For there are women set apart for friendship--Janet was one of them--as
others are set apart for love.

       *       *       *       *       *

And with the first break of light on the new November day, the search
parties in the hills came upon what they sought. Some one remembered the
deserted hut--and from that moment the hunt was easy. Finally in the
dripping heart of the wood the pursuers found the murderer lying face
downwards in front of the dead fire, with the revolver beside him with
which he had taken first Rachel's life, and then his own. Some sheets of
paper were scattered near him, on which he had written an incoherent and
grandiloquent confession. But of such acts there is no real explanation.
They are the product of that black seed in human nature which is born
with a man, and flowers in due time, through devious stages, into such a
deed as that which destroyed Rachel Henderson.





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