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Title: Amabel Channice
Author: Sedgwick, Anne Douglas, 1873-1935
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Amabel Channice


BY

Anne Douglas Sedgwick

AUTHOR OF "THE RESCUE," "PATHS OF JUDGEMENT," "A FOUNTAIN
SEALED," ETC.



NEW YORK The Century Co. 1908



Copyright, 1908, by THE CENTURY CO.

_Published October, 1908_


THE DE VINNE PRESS



AMABEL CHANNICE



I


Lady Channice was waiting for her son to come in from the garden. The
afternoon was growing late, but she had not sat down to the table,
though tea was ready and the kettle sent out a narrow banner of steam.
Walking up and down the long room she paused now and then to look at the
bowls and vases of roses placed about it, now and then to look out of
the windows, and finally at the last window she stopped to watch
Augustine advancing over the lawn towards the house. It was a grey stone
house, low and solid, its bareness unalleviated by any grace of ornament
or structure, and its two long rows of windows gazed out resignedly at a
tame prospect. The stretch of lawn sloped to a sunken stone wall; beyond
the wall a stream ran sluggishly in a ditch-like channel; on the left
the grounds were shut in by a sycamore wood, and beyond were flat
meadows crossed in the distance by lines of tree-bordered roads. It was
a peaceful, if not a cheering prospect. Lady Channice was fond of it.
Cheerfulness was not a thing she looked for; but she looked for peace,
and it was peace she found in the flat green distance, the far, reticent
ripple of hill on the horizon, the dark forms of the sycamores. Her only
regret for the view was that it should miss the sunrise and sunset; in
the evenings, beyond the silhouetted woods, one saw the golden sky; but
the house faced north, and it was for this that the green of the lawn
was so dank, and the grey of the walls so cold, and the light in the
drawing-room where Lady Channice stood so white and so monotonous.

She was fond of the drawing-room, also, unbeautiful and grave to sadness
though it was. The walls were wainscotted to the ceiling with ancient
oak, so that though the north light entered at four high windows the
room seemed dark. The furniture was ugly, miscellaneous and
inappropriate. The room had been dismantled, and in place of the former
drawing-room suite were gathered together incongruous waifs and strays
from dining- and smoking-room and boudoir. A number of heavy chairs
predominated covered in a maroon leather which had cracked in places;
and there were three lugubrious sofas to match.

By degrees, during her long and lonely years at Charlock House, Lady
Channice had, at first tentatively, then with a growing assurance in her
limited sphere of action, moved away all the ugliest, most trivial
things: tattered brocade and gilt footstools, faded antimacassars,
dismal groups of birds and butterflies under glass cases. When she sat
alone in the evening, after Augustine, as child or boy, had gone to bed,
the ghostly glimmer of the birds, the furtive glitter of a glass eye
here and there, had seemed to her quite dreadful. The removal of the
cases (they were large and heavy, and Mrs. Bray, the housekeeper, had
looked grimly disapproving)--was her crowning act of courage, and ever
since their departure she had breathed more freely. It had been easier
to dispose of all the little colonies of faded photographs that stood on
cabinets and tables; they were photographs of her husband's family and
of his family's friends, people most of whom were quite unknown to her,
and their continued presence in the abandoned house was due to
indifference, not affection: no one had cared enough about them to put
them away, far less to look at them. After looking at them for some
years,--these girls in court dress of a bygone fashion, huntsmen holding
crops, sashed babies and matrons in caps or tiaras,--Lady Channice had
cared enough to put them away. She had not, either, to ask for Mrs.
Bray's assistance or advice for this, a fact which was a relief, for
Mrs. Bray was a rather dismal being and reminded her, indeed, of the
stuffed birds in the removed glass cases. With her own hands she
incarcerated the photographs in the drawers of a heavily carved bureau
and turned the keys upon them.

The only ornaments now, were the pale roses, the books, and, above her
writing-desk, a little picture that she had brought with her, a
water-colour sketch of her old home painted by her mother many years
ago.

So the room looked very bare. It almost looked like the parlour of a
convent; with a little more austerity, whitened walls and a few thick
velvet and gilt lives of the saints on the tables, the likeness would
have been complete. The house itself was conventual in aspect, and Lady
Channice, as she stood there in the quiet light at the window, looked
not unlike a nun, were it not for her crown of pale gold hair that shone
in the dark room and seemed, like the roses, to bring into it the
brightness of an outer, happier world.

She was a tall woman of forty, her ample form, her wide bosom, the
falling folds of her black dress, her loosely girdled waist, suggesting,
with the cloistral analogies, the mournful benignity of a bereaved
Madonna. Seen as she stood there, leaning her head to watch her son's
approach, she was an almost intimidating presence, black, still, and
stately. But when the door opened and the young man came in, when, not
moving to meet him, she turned her head with a slight smile of welcome,
all intimidating impressions passed away. Her face, rather, as it
turned, under its crown of gold, was the intimidated face. It was
curiously young, pure, flawless, as though its youth and innocence had
been preserved in some crystal medium of prayer and silence; and if the
nun-like analogies failed in their awe-inspiring associations, they
remained in the associations of unconscious pathos and unconscious
appeal. Amabel Channice's face, like her form, was long and delicately
ample; its pallor that of a flower grown in shadow; the mask a little
over-large for the features. Her eyes were small, beautifully shaped,
slightly slanting upwards, their light grey darkened under golden
lashes, the brows definitely though palely marked. Her mouth was pale
coral-colour, and the small upper lip, lifting when she smiled as she
was smiling now, showed teeth of an infantile, milky whiteness. The
smile was charming, timid, tentative, ingratiating, like a young girl's,
and her eyes were timid, too, and a little wild.

"Have you had a good read?" she asked her son. He had a book in his
hand.

"Very, thanks. But it is getting chilly, down there in the meadow. And
what a lot of frogs there are in the ditch," said Augustine smiling,
"they were jumping all over the place."

"Oh, as long as they weren't toads!" said Lady Channice, her smile
lighting in response. "When I came here first to live there were so many
toads, in the stone areas, you know, under the gratings in front of the
cellar windows. You can't imagine how many! It used quite to terrify me
to look at them and I went to the front of the house as seldom as
possible. I had them all taken away, finally, in baskets,--not killed,
you know, poor things,--but just taken and put down in a field a mile
off. I hope they didn't starve;--but toads are very intelligent, aren't
they; one always associates them with fairy-tales and princes."

She had gone to the tea-table while she spoke and was pouring the
boiling water into the teapot. Her voice had pretty, flute-like ups and
downs in it and a questioning, upward cadence at the end of sentences.
Her upper lip, her smile, the run of her speech, all would have made one
think her humorous, were it not for the strain of nervousness that one
felt in her very volubility.

Her son lent her a kindly but rather vague attention while she talked to
him about the toads, and his eye as he stood watching her make the tea
was also vague. He sat down presently, as if suddenly remembering why he
had come in, and it was only after a little interval of silence, in
which he took his cup from his mother's hands, that something else
seemed to occur to him as suddenly, a late arriving suggestion from her
speech.

"What a horribly gloomy place you must have found it."

Her eyes, turning on him quickly, lost, in an instant, their uncertain
gaiety.

"Gloomy? Is it gloomy? Do you feel it gloomy here, Augustine?"

"Oh, well, no, not exactly," he answered easily. "You see I've always
been used to it. You weren't."

As she said nothing to this, seeming at a loss for any reply, he went on
presently to talk of other things, of the book he had been reading, a
heavy metaphysical tome; of books that he intended to read; of a letter
that he had received that morning from the Eton friend with whom he was
going up to Oxford for his first term. His mother listened, showing a
careful interest usual with her, but after another little silence she
said suddenly:

"I think it's a very nice place, Charlock House, Augustine. Your father
wouldn't have wanted me to live here if he'd imagined that I could find
it gloomy, you know."

"Oh, of course not," said the young man, in an impassive, pleasant
voice.

"He has always, in everything, been so thoughtful for my comfort and
happiness," said Lady Channice.

Augustine did not look at her: his eyes were fixed on the sky outside
and he seemed to be reflecting--though not over her words.

"So that I couldn't bear him ever to hear anything of that sort," Lady
Channice went on, "that either of us could find it gloomy, I mean. You
wouldn't ever say it to him, would you, Augustine." There was a note at
once of urgency and appeal in her voice.

"Of course not, since you don't wish it," her son replied.

"I ask you just because it happens that your father is coming," Lady
Channice said, "tomorrow;--and, you see, if you had this in your mind,
you might have said something. He is coming to spend the afternoon."

He looked at her now, steadily, still pleasantly; but his colour rose.

"Really," he said.

"Isn't it nice. I do hope that it will be fine; these Autumn days are so
uncertain; if only the weather holds up we can have a walk perhaps."

"Oh, I think it will hold up. Will there be time for a walk?"

"He will be here soon after lunch, and, I think, stay on to tea."

"He didn't stay on to tea the last time, did he."

"No, not last time; he is so very busy; it's quite three years since we
have had that nice walk over the meadows, and he likes that so much."

She was trying to speak lightly and easily. "And it must be quite a year
since you have seen him."

"Quite," said Augustine. "I never see him, hardly, but here, you know."

He was still making his attempt at pleasantness, but something hard and
strained had come into his voice, and as, with a sort of helplessness,
her resources exhausted, his mother sat silent, he went on, glancing at
her, as if with the sudden resolution, he also wanted to make very sure
of his way;--

"You like seeing him more than anything, don't you; though you are
separated."

Augustine Channice talked a great deal to his mother about outside
things, such as philosophy; but of personal things, of their relation to
the world, to each other, to his father, he never spoke. So that his
speaking now was arresting.

His mother gazed at him. "Separated? We have always been the best of
friends."

"Of course. I mean--that you've never cared to live
together.--Incompatibility, I suppose. Only," Augustine did not smile,
he looked steadily at his mother, "I should think that since you are so
fond of him you'd like seeing him oftener. I should think that since he
is the best of friends he would want to come oftener, you know."

When he had said these words he flushed violently. It was an echo of his
mother's flush. And she sat silent, finding no words.

"Mother," said Augustine, "forgive me. That was impertinent of me. It's
no affair of mine."

She thought so, too, apparently, for she found no words in which to tell
him that it was his affair. Her hands clasped tightly in her lap, her
eyes downcast, she seemed shrunken together, overcome by his tactless
intrusion.

"Forgive me," Augustine repeated.

The supplication brought her the resource of words again. "Of course,
dear. It is only--I can't explain it to you. It is very complicated.
But, though it seems so strange to you,--to everybody, I know--it is
just that: though we don't live together, and though I see so little of
your father, I do care for him very, very much. More than for anybody in
the world,--except you, of course, dear Augustine."

"Oh, don't be polite to me," he said, and smiled. "More than for anybody
in the world; stick to it."

She could but accept the amendment, so kindly and, apparently, so
lightly pressed upon her, and she answered him with a faint, a grateful
smile, saying, in a low voice:--"You see, dear, he is the noblest person
I have ever known." Tears were in her eyes. Augustine turned away his
own.

They sat then for a little while in silence, the mother and son.

Her eyes downcast, her hands folded in an attitude that suggested some
inner dedication, Amabel Channice seemed to stay her thoughts on the
vision of that nobility. And though her son was near her, the thoughts
were far from him.

It was characteristic of Augustine Channice, when he mused, to gaze
straight before him, whatever the object might be that met his unseeing
eyes. The object now was the high Autumnal sky outside, crossed only
here and there by a drifting fleet of clouds.

The light fell calmly upon the mother and son and, in their stillness,
their contemplation, the two faces were like those on an old canvas,
preserved from time and change in the trance-like immutability of art.
In colour, the two heads chimed, though Augustine's hair was vehemently
gold and there were under-tones of brown and amber in his skin. But the
oval of Lady Channice's face grew angular in her son's, broader and more
defiant; so that, palely, darkly white and gold, on their deep
background, the two heads emphasized each other's character by contrast.
Augustine's lips were square and scornful; his nose ruggedly bridged;
his eyes, under broad eyebrows, ringed round the iris with a line of
vivid hazel; and as his lips, though mild in expression, were scornful
in form, so these eyes, even in their contemplation, seemed fierce.
Calm, controlled face as it was, its meaning for the spectator was of
something passionate and implacable. In mother and son alike one felt a
capacity for endurance almost tragic; but while Augustine's would be the
endurance of the rock, to be moved only by shattering, his mother's was
the endurance of the flower, that bends before the tempest, unresisting,
beaten down into the earth, but lying, even there, unbroken.



II


The noise and movement of an outer world seemed to break in upon the
recorded vision of arrested life.

The door opened, a quick, decisive step approached down the hall, and,
closely following the announcing maid, Mrs. Grey, the local squiress,
entered the room. In the normal run of rural conventions, Lady Channice
should have held the place; but Charlock House no longer stood for what
it had used to stand in the days of Sir Hugh Channice's forbears. Mrs.
Grey, of Pangley Hall, had never held any but the first place and a
consciousness of this fact seemed to radiate from her competent
personality. She was a vast middle-aged woman clad in tweed and leather,
but her abundance of firm, hard flesh could lend itself to the roughest
exigences of a sporting outdoor life. Her broad face shone like a ripe
apple, and her sharp eyes, her tight lips, the cheerful creases of her
face, expressed an observant and rather tyrannous good-temper.

"Tea? No, thanks; no tea for me," she almost shouted; "I've just had tea
with Mrs. Grier. How are you, Lady Channice? and you, Augustine? What a
man you are getting to be; a good inch taller than my Tom. Reading as
usual, I see. I can't get my boys to look at a book in vacation time.
What's the book? Ah, fuddling your brains with that stuff, still, are
you? Still determined to be a philosopher? Do you really want him to be
a philosopher, my dear?"

"Indeed I think it would be very nice if he could be a philosopher,"
said Lady Channice, smiling, for though she had often to evade Mrs.
Grey's tyranny she liked her good temper. She seemed in her reply to
float, lightly and almost gaily above Mrs. Grey, and away from her. Mrs.
Grey was accustomed to these tactics and it was characteristic of her
not to let people float away if she could possibly help it. This matter
of Augustine's future was frequently in dispute between them. Her feet
planted firmly, her rifle at her shoulder, she seemed now to take aim at
a bird that flew from her.

"And of course you encourage him! You read with him and study with him!
And you won't see that you let him drift more and more out of practical
life and into moonshine. What does it do for him, that's what I ask?
Where does it lead him? What's the good of it? Why he'll finish as a
fusty old don. Does it make you a better man, Augustine, or a happier
one, to spend all your time reading philosophy?"

"Very much better, very much happier, I find:--but I don't give it all
my time, you know," Augustine answered, with much his mother's manner of
light evasion. He let Mrs. Grey see that he found her funny; perhaps he
wished to let her see that philosophy helped him to. Mrs. Grey gave up
the fantastic bird and turned on her heel.

"Well, I've not come to dispute, as usual, with you, Augustine. I've
come to ask you, Lady Channice, if you won't, for once, break through
your rules and come to tea on Sunday. I've a surprise for you. An old
friend of yours is to be of our party for this week-end. Lady Elliston;
she comes tomorrow, and she writes that she hopes to see something of
you."

Mrs. Grey had her eye rather sharply on Lady Channice; she expected to
see her colour rise, and it did rise.

"Lady Elliston?" she repeated, vaguely, or, perhaps, faintly.

"Yes; you did know her; well, she told me."

"It was years ago," said Lady Channice, looking down; "Yes, I knew her
quite well. It would be very nice to see her again. But I don't think I
will break my rule; thank you so much."

Mrs. Grey looked a little disconcerted and a little displeased. "Now
that you are growing up, Augustine," she said, "you must shake your
mother out of her way of life. It's bad for her. She lives here, quite
alone, and, when you are away--as you will have to be more and more, for
some time now,--she sees nobody but her village girls, Mrs. Grier and me
from one month's end to the other. I can't think what she's made of. I
should go mad. And so many of us would be delighted if she would drop in
to tea with us now and then."

"Oh, well, you can drop in to tea with her instead," said Augustine. His
mother sat silent, with her faint smile.

"Well, I do. But I'm not enough, though I flatter myself that I'm a good
deal. It's unwholesome, such a life, downright morbid and unwholesome.
One should mingle with one's kind. I shall wonder at you, Augustine, if
you allow it, just as, for years, I've wondered at your father."

It may have been her own slight confusion, or it may have been something
exasperating in Lady Channice's silence, that had precipitated Mrs. Grey
upon this speech, but, when she had made it, she became very red and
wondered whether she had gone too far. Mrs. Grey was prepared to go far.
If people evaded her, and showed an unwillingness to let her be kind to
them--on her own terms,--terms which, in regard to Lady Channice, were
very strictly defined;--if people would behave in this unbecoming and
ungrateful fashion, they only got, so Mrs. Grey would have put it, what
they jolly well deserved if she gave them a "stinger." But Mrs. Grey did
not like to give Lady Channice "stingers"; therefore she now became red
and wondered at herself.

Lady Channice had lifted her eyes and it was as if Mrs. Grey saw walls
and moats and impenetrable thickets glooming in them. She answered for
Augustine: "My husband and I have always been in perfect agreement on
the matter."

Mrs. Grey tried a cheerful laugh;--"You won him over, too, no doubt."

"Entirely."

"Well, Augustine," Mrs. Grey turned to the young man again, "I don't
succeed with your mother, but I hope for better luck with you. You're a
man, now, and not yet, at all events, a monk. Won't you dine with us on
Saturday night?"

Now Mrs. Grey was kind; but she had never asked Lady Channice to dinner.
The line had been drawn, firmly drawn years ago--and by Mrs. Grey
herself--at tea. And it was not until Lady Channice had lived for
several years at Charlock House, when it became evident that, in spite
of all that was suspicious, not to say sinister, in her situation, she
was not exactly cast off and that her husband, so to speak, admitted her
to tea if not to dinner,--it was not until then that Mrs. Grey voiced at
once the tolerance and the discretion of the neighbourhood and said:
"They are on friendly terms; he comes to see her twice a year. We can
call; she need not be asked to anything but tea. There can be no harm in
that."

There was, indeed, no harm, for though, when they did call in Mrs.
Grey's broad wake, they were received with gentle courtesy, they were
made to feel that social contacts would go no further. Lady Channice had
been either too much offended or too much frightened by the years of
ostracism, or perhaps it was really by her own choice that she adopted
the attitude of a person who saw people when they came to her but who
never went to see them. This attitude, accepted by the few, was resented
by the many, so that hardly anybody ever called upon Lady Channice. And
so it was that Mrs. Grey satisfied at once benevolence and curiosity in
her staunch visits to the recluse of Charlock House, and could feel
herself as Lady Channice's one wholesome link with the world that she
had rejected or--here lay all the ambiguity, all the mystery that, for
years, had whetted Mrs. Grey's curiosity to fever-point--that had
rejected her.

As Augustine grew up the situation became more complicated. It was felt
that as the future owner of Charlock House and inheritor of his mother's
fortune Augustine was not to be tentatively taken up but decisively
seized. People had resented Sir Hugh's indifference to Charlock House,
the fact that he had never lived there and had tried, just before his
marriage, to sell it. But Augustine was yet blameless, and Augustine
would one day be a wealthy not an impecunious squire, and Mrs. Grey had
said that she would see to it that Augustine had his chance. "Apparently
there's no one to bring him out, unless I do," she said. "His father, it
seems, won't, and his mother can't. One doesn't know what to think, or,
at all events, one keeps what one thinks to oneself, for she is a good,
sweet creature, whatever her faults may have been. But Augustine shall
be asked to dinner one day."

Augustine's "chance," in Mrs. Grey's eye, was her sixth daughter,
Marjory.

So now the first step up the ladder was being given to Augustine.

He kept his vagueness, his lightness, his coolly pleasant smile, looking
at Mrs. Grey and not at his mother as he answered: "Thanks so much, but
I'm monastic, too, you know. I don't go to dinners. I'll ride over some
afternoon and see you all."

Mrs. Grey compressed her lips. She was hurt and she had, also, some
difficulty in restraining her temper before this rebuff. "But you go to
dinners in London. You stay with people."

"Ah, yes; but I'm alone then. When I'm with my mother I share her life."
He spoke so lightly, yet so decisively, with a tact and firmness beyond
his years, that Mrs. Grey rose, accepting her defeat.

"Then Lady Elliston and I will come over, some day," she said. "I wish
we saw more of her. John and I met her while we were staying with the
Bishop this Spring. The Bishop has the highest opinion of her. He said
that she was a most unusual woman,--in the world, yet not of it. One
feels that. Her eldest girl married young Lord Catesby, you know; a very
brilliant match; she presents her second girl next Spring, when I do
Marjory. You must come over for a ride with Marjory, soon, Augustine."

"I will, very soon," said Augustine.

When their visitor at last went, when the tramp of her heavy boots had
receded down the hall, Lady Channice and her son again sat in silence;
but it was now another silence from that into which Mrs. Grey's shots
had broken. It was like the stillness of the copse or hedgerow when the
sportsmen are gone and a vague stir and rustle in ditch or underbrush
tells of broken wings or limbs, of a wounded thing hiding.

Lady Channice spoke at last. "I wish you had accepted for the dinner,
Augustine. I don't want you to identify yourself with my peculiarities."

"I didn't want to dine with Mrs. Grey, mother."

"You hurt her. She is a kind neighbour. You will see her more or less
for all of your life, probably. You must take your place, here,
Augustine."

"My place is taken. I like it just as it is. I'll see the Greys as I
always have seen them; I'll go over to tea now and then and I'll ride
and hunt with the children."

"But that was when you were a child. You are almost a man now; you are a
man, Augustine; and your place isn't a child's place."

"My place is by you." For the second time that day there was a new note
in Augustine's voice. It was as if, clearly and definitely, for the
first time, he was feeling something and seeing something and as if,
though very resolutely keeping from her what he felt, he was, when
pushed to it, as resolutely determined to let her see what he saw.

"By me, dear," she said faintly. "What do you mean?"

"She ought to have asked you to dinner, too."

"But I would not have accepted; I don't go out. She knows that. She
knows that I am a real recluse."

"She ought to have asked knowing that you would not accept."

"Augustine dear, you are foolish. You know nothing of these little
feminine social compacts."

"Are they only feminine?"

"Only. Mere crystallised conveniences. It would be absurd for Mrs. Grey,
after all these years, to ask me in order to be refused."

There was a moment's silence and then Augustine said: "Did she ever ask
you?"

The candles had been lighted and the lamp brought in, making the corners
of the room look darker. There was only a vague radiance about the
chimney piece, the little candle-flames doubled in the mirror, and the
bright circle where Lady Channice and her son sat on either side of the
large, round table. The lamp had a green shade, and their faces were in
shadow. Augustine had turned away his eyes.

And now a strange and painful thing happened, stranger and more painful
than he could have foreseen; for his mother did not answer him. The
silence grew long and she did not speak. Augustine looked at her at last
and saw that she was gazing at him, and, it seemed to him, with helpless
fear. His own eyes did not echo it; anger, rather, rose in them, cold
fierceness, against himself, it was apparent, as well as against the
world that he suspected. He was not impulsive; he was not demonstrative;
but he got up and put his hand on her shoulder. "I don't mean to torment
you, like the rest of them," he said. "I don't mean to ask--and be
refused. Forget what I said. It's only--only--that it infuriates me.--To
see them all.--And you!--cut off, wasted, in prison here. I've been
seeing it for a long time; I won't speak of it again. I know that there
are sad things in your life. All I want to say, all I wanted to say
was--that I'm with you, and against them."

She sat, her face in shadow beneath him, her hands tightly clasped
together and pressed down upon her lap. And, in a faltering voice that
strove in vain for firmness, she said: "Dear Augustine--thank you. I
know you wouldn't want to hurt me. You see, when I came here to live, I
had parted--from your father, and I wanted to be quite alone; I wanted
to see no one. And they felt that: they felt that I wouldn't lead the
usual life. So it grew most naturally. Don't be angry with people, or
with the world. That would warp you, from the beginning. It's a good
world, Augustine. I've found it so. It is sad, but there is such
beauty.--I'm not cut off, or wasted;--I'm not in prison.--How can you
say it, dear, of me, who have you--and _him_."

Augustine's hand rested on her shoulder for some moments more. Lifting
it he stood looking before him. "I'm not going to quarrel with the
world," he then said. "I know what I like in it."

"Dear--thanks--" she murmured.

Augustine picked up his book again. "I'll study for a bit, now, in my
room," he said. "Will you rest before dinner? Do; I shall feel more easy
in my conscience if I inflict Hegel on you afterwards."



III


Lady Channice did not go and rest. She sat on in the shadowy room gazing
before her, her hands still clasped, her face wearing still its look of
fear. For twenty years she had not known what it was to be without fear.
It had become as much a part of her life as the air she breathed and any
peace or gladness had blossomed for her only in that air: sometimes she
was almost unconscious of it. This afternoon she had become conscious.
It was as if the air were heavy and oppressive and as if she breathed
with difficulty. And sitting there she asked herself if the time was
coming when she must tell Augustine.

What she might have to tell was a story that seemed strangely
disproportionate: it was the story of her life; but all of it that
mattered, all of it that made the story, was pressed into one year long
ago. Before that year was sunny, uneventful girlhood, after it grey,
uneventful womanhood; the incident, the drama, was all knotted into one
year, and it seemed to belong to herself no longer; she seemed a
spectator, looking back in wonder at the disaster of another woman's
life. A long flat road stretched out behind her; she had journeyed over
it for years; and on the far horizon she saw, if she looked back, the
smoke and flames of a burning city--miles and miles away.

Amabel Freer was the daughter of a rural Dean, a scholarly, sceptical
man. The forms of religion were his without its heart; its heart was her
mother's, who was saintly and whose orthodoxy was the vaguest symbolic
system. From her father Amabel had the scholar's love of beauty in
thought, from her mother the love of beauty in life; but her loves had
been dreamy: she had thought and lived little. Happy compliance, happy
confidence, a dawn-like sense of sweetness and purity, had filled her
girlhood.

When she was sixteen her father had died, and her mother in the
following year. Amabel and her brother Bertram were well dowered.
Bertram was in the Foreign Office, neither saintly nor scholarly, like
his parents, nor undeveloped like his young sister. He was a capable,
conventional man of the world, sure of himself and rather suspicious of
others. Amabel imagined him a model of all that was good and lovely. The
sudden bereavement of her youth bewildered and overwhelmed her; her
capacity for dependent, self-devoting love sought for an object and
lavished itself upon her brother. She went to live with an aunt, her
father's sister, and when she was eighteen her aunt brought her to
London, a tall, heavy and rather clumsy country girl, arrested rather
than developed by grief. Her aunt was a world-worn, harassed woman; she
had married off her four daughters with difficulty and felt the need of
a change of occupation; but she accepted as a matter of course the duty
of marrying off Amabel. That task accomplished she would go to bed every
night at half past ten and devote her days to collecting coins and
enamels. Her respite came far more quickly than she could have imagined
possible. Amabel had promise of great beauty, but two or three years
were needed to fulfill it; Mrs. Compton could but be surprised when Sir
Hugh Channice, an older colleague of Bertram's, a fashionable and
charming man, asked for the hand of her unformed young charge. Sir Hugh
was fourteen years Amabel's senior and her very guilelessness no doubt
attracted him; then there was the money; he was not well off and he
lived a life rather hazardously full. Still, Mrs. Compton could hardly
believe in her good-fortune. Amabel accepted her own very simply; her
compliance and confidence were even deeper than before. Sir Hugh was the
most graceful of lovers. His quizzical tenderness reminded her of her
father, his quasi-paternal courtship emphasized her instinctive trust in
the beauty and goodness of life.

So at eighteen she was married at St. George's Hanover Square and wore a
wonderful long satin train and her mothers lace veil and her mother's
pearls around her neck and hair. A bridesmaid had said that pearls were
unlucky, but Mrs. Compton tersely answered:--"Not if they are such good
ones as these." Amabel had bowed her head to the pearls, seeing them,
with the train, and the veil, and her own snowy figure, vaguely, still
in the dreamlike haze. Memories of her father and mother, and of the
dear deanery among its meadows, floating fragments of the poetry her
father had loved, of the prayers her mother had taught her in childhood,
hovered in her mind. She seemed to see the primrose woods where she had
wandered, and to hear the sound of brooks and birds in Spring. A vague
smile was on her lips. She thought of Sir Hugh as of a radiance lighting
all. She was the happiest of girls.

Shortly after her marriage, all the radiance, all the haze was gone. It
had been difficult then to know why. Now, as she looked back, she
thought that she could understand.

She had been curiously young, curiously inexperienced. She had expected
life to go on as dawn for ever. Everyday light had filled her with
bleakness and disillusion. She had had childish fancies; that her
husband did not really love her; that she counted for nothing in his
life. Yet Sir Hugh had never changed, except that he very seldom made
love to her and that she saw less of him than during their engagement.
Sir Hugh was still quizzically tender, still all grace, all deference,
when he was there. And what wonder that he was little there; he had a
wide life; he was a brilliant man; she was a stupid young girl; in
looking back, no longer young, no longer stupid, Lady Channice thought
that she could see it all quite clearly. She had seemed to him a sweet,
good girl, and he cared for her and wanted a wife. He had hoped that by
degrees she would grow into a wise and capable woman, fit to help and
ornament his life. But she had not been wise or capable. She had been
lonely and unhappy, and that wide life of his had wearied and confused
her; the silence, the watching attitude of the girl were inadequate to
her married state, and yet she had nothing else to meet it with. She had
never before felt her youth and inexperience as oppressive, but they
oppressed her now. She had nothing to ask of the world and nothing to
give to it. What she did ask of life was not given to her, what she had
to give was not wanted. She was very unhappy.

Yet people were kind. In especial Lady Elliston was kind, the loveliest,
most sheltering, most understanding of all her guests or hostesses. Lady
Elliston and her cheerful, jocose husband, were Sir Hugh's nearest
friends and they took her in and made much of her. And one day when, in
a fit of silly wretchedness, Lady Elliston found her crying, she had put
her arms around her and kissed her and begged to know her grief and to
comfort it. Even thus taken by surprise, and even to one so kind, Amabel
could not tell that grief: deep in her was a reticence, a sense of
values austere and immaculate: she could not discuss her husband, even
with the kindest of friends. And she had nothing to tell, really, but of
herself, her own helplessness and deficiency. Yet, without her telling,
for all her wish that no one should guess, Lady Elliston did guess. Her
comfort had such wise meaning in it. She was ten years older than
Amabel. She knew all about the world; she knew all about girls and their
husbands. Amabel was only a girl, and that was the trouble, she seemed
to say. When she grew older she would see that it would come right;
husbands were always so; the wider life reached by marriage would atone
in many ways. And Lady Elliston, all with sweetest discretion, had asked
gentle questions. Some of them Amabel had not understood; some she had.
She remembered now that her own silence or dull negation might have
seemed very rude and ungrateful; yet Lady Elliston had taken no offence.
All her memories of Lady Elliston were of this tact and sweetness, this
penetrating, tentative tact and sweetness that sought to understand and
help and that drew back, unflurried and unprotesting before rebuff,
ready to emerge again at any hint of need,--of these, and of her great
beauty, the light of her large clear eyes, the whiteness of her throat,
the glitter of diamonds about and above: for it was always in her most
festal aspect, at night, under chandeliers and in ball-rooms, that she
best remembered her. Amabel knew, with the deep, instinctive sense of
values which was part of her inheritance and hardly, at that time, part
of her thought, that her mother would not have liked Lady Elliston,
would have thought her worldly; yet, and this showed that Amabel was
developing, she had already learned that worldliness was compatible with
many things that her mother would have excluded from it; she could see
Lady Elliston with her own and with her mother's eyes, and it was
puzzling, part of the pain of growth, to feel that her own was already
the wider vision.

Soon after that the real story came. The city began to burn and smoke
and flames to blind and scorch her.

It was at Lady Elliston's country house that Amabel first met Paul
Quentin. He was a daring young novelist who was being made much of
during those years; for at that still somewhat guileless time to be
daring had been to be original. His books had power and beauty, and he
had power and beauty, fierce, dreaming eyes and an intuitive, sudden
smile. Under his aspect of careless artist, his head was a little turned
by his worldly success, by great country-houses and flattering great
ladies; he did not take the world as indifferently as he seemed to.
Success edged his self-confidence with a reckless assurance. He was an
ardent student of Nietzsche, at a time when that, too, was to be
original. Amabel met this young man constantly at the dances and country
parties of a season. And, suddenly, the world changed. It was not dawn
and it was not daylight; it was a wild and beautiful illumination like
torches at night. She knew herself loved and her own being became
precious and enchanting to her. The presence of the man who loved her
filled her with rapture and fear. Their recognition was swift. He told
her things about herself that she had never dreamed of and as he told
them she felt them to be true.

To other people Paul Quentin did not speak much of Lady Channice. He
early saw that he would need to be discreet. One day at Lady Elliston's
her beauty was in question and someone said that she was too pale and
too impassive; and at that Quentin, smiling a little fiercely, remarked
that she was as pale as a cowslip and as impassive as a young Madonna;
the words pictured her; her fresh Spring-like quality, and the peace, as
of some noble power not yet roused.

In looking back, it was strange and terrible to Lady Channice to see how
little she had really known this man. Their meetings, their talks
together, were like the torchlight that flashed and wavered and only
fitfully revealed. From the first she had listened, had assented, to
everything he said, hanging upon his words and his looks and living
afterward in the memory of them. And in memory their significance seemed
so to grow that when they next met they found themselves far nearer than
the words had left them.

All her young reserves and dignities had been penetrated and dissolved.
It was always themselves he talked of, but, from that centre, he waved
the torch about a transformed earth and showed her a world of thought
and of art that she had never seen before. No murmur of it had reached
the deanery; to her husband and the people he lived among it was a mere
spectacle; Quentin made that bright, ardent world real to her, and
serious. He gave her books to read; he took her to hear music; he showed
her the pictures, the statues, the gems and porcelains that she had
before accepted as part of the background of life hardly seeing them.
From being the background of life they became, in a sense, suddenly its
object. But not their object--not his and hers,--though they talked of
them, looked, listened and understood. To Quentin and Amabel this beauty
was still background, and in the centre, at the core of things, were
their two selves and the ecstasy of feeling that exalted and terrified.
All else in life became shackles. It was hardly shock, it was more like
some immense relief, when, in each other's arms, the words of love, so
long implied, were spoken. He said that she must come with him; that she
must leave it all and come. She fought against herself and against him
in refusing, grasping at pale memories of duty, honour, self-sacrifice;
he knew too well the inner treachery that denied her words. But, looking
back, trying not to flinch before the scorching memory, she did not know
how he had won her. The dreadful jostle of opportune circumstance; her
husband's absence, her brother's;--the chance pause in the empty London
house between country visits;--Paul Quentin following, finding her
there; the hot, dusty, enervating July day, all seemed to have pushed
her to the act of madness and made of it a willess yielding rather than
a decision. For she had yielded; she had left her husband's house and
gone with him.

They went abroad at once, to France, to the forest of Fontainebleau. How
she hated ever after the sound of the lovely syllables, hated the memory
of the rocks and woods, the green shadows and the golden lights where
she had walked with him and known horror and despair deepening in her
heart with every day. She judged herself, not him, in looking back; even
then it had been herself she had judged. Though unwilling, she had been
as much tempted by herself as by him; he had had to break down barriers,
but though they were the barriers of her very soul, her longing heart
had pressed, had beaten against them, crying out for deliverance. She
did not judge him, but, alone with him in the forest, alone with him in
the bland, sunny hotel, alone with him through the long nights when she
lay awake and wondered, in a stupor of despair, she saw that he was
different. So different; there was the horror. She was the sinner; not
he. He belonged to the bright, ardent life, the life without social bond
or scruple, the life of sunny, tolerant hotels and pagan forests; but
she did not belong to it. The things that had seemed external things,
barriers and shackles, were the realest things, were in fact the inner
things, were her very self. In yielding to her heart she had destroyed
herself, there was no life to be lived henceforth with this man, for
there was no self left to live it with. She saw that she had cut herself
off from her future as well as from her past. The sacred past judged her
and the future was dead. Years of experience concentrated themselves
into that lawless week. She saw that laws were not outside things; that
they were one's very self at its wisest. She saw that if laws were to be
broken it could only be by a self wiser than the self that had made the
law. And the self that had fled with Paul Quentin was only a passionate,
blinded fragment, a heart without a brain, a fragment judged and
rejected by the whole.

To both lovers the week was one of bitter disillusion, though for
Quentin no such despair was possible. For him it was an attempt at joy
and beauty that had failed. This dulled, drugged looking girl was not
the radiant woman he had hoped to find. Vain and sensitive as he was, he
felt, almost immediately, that he had lost his charm for her; that she
had ceased to love him. That was the ugly, the humiliating side of the
truth, the side that so filled Amabel Channice's soul with sickness as
she looked back at it. She had ceased to love him, almost at once.

And it was not guilt only, and fear, that had risen between them and
separated them; there were other, smaller, subtler reasons, little
snakes that hissed in her memory. He was different from her in other
ways.

She hardly saw that one of the ways was that of breeding; but she felt
that he jarred upon her constantly, in their intimacy, their helpless,
dreadful intimacy. In contrast, the thought of her husband had been with
her, burningly. She did not say to herself, for she did not know it, her
experience of life was too narrow to give her the knowledge,--that her
husband was a gentleman and her lover, a man of genius though he were,
was not; but she compared them, incessantly, when Quentin's words and
actions, his instinctive judgments of men and things, made her shrink
and flush. He was so clever, cleverer far than Hugh; but he did not
know, as Sir Hugh would have known, what the slight things were that
would make her shrink. He took little liberties when he should have been
reticent and he was humble when he should have been assured. For he was
often humble; he was, oddly, pathetically--and the pity for him added to
the sickness--afraid of her and then, because he was afraid, he grew
angry with her.

He was clever; but there are some things cleverness cannot reach. What
he failed to feel by instinct, he tried to scorn. It was not the
patrician scorn, stupid yet not ignoble, for something hardly seen,
hardly judged, merely felt as dull and insignificant; it was the
corroding plebeian scorn for a suspected superiority.

He quarrelled with her, and she sat silent, knowing that her silence,
her passivity, was an affront the more, but helpless, having no word to
say. What could she say?--I do love you: I am wretched: utterly wretched
and utterly destroyed.--That was all there was to say. So she sat, dully
listening, as if drugged. And she only winced when he so far forgot
himself as to cry out that it was her silly pride of blood, the
aristocratic illusion, that had infected her; she belonged to the caste
that could not think and that picked up the artist and thinker to amuse
and fill its vacancy.--"We may be lovers, or we may be performing
poodles, but we are never equals," he had cried. It was for him Amabel
had winced, knowing, without raising her eyes to see it, how his face
would burn with humiliation for having so betrayed his consciousness of
difference. Nothing that he could say could hurt her for herself.

But there was worse to bear: after the violence of his anger came the
violence of his love. She had borne at first, dully, like the slave she
felt herself; for she had sold herself to him, given herself over bound
hand and foot. But now it became intolerable. She could not
protest,--what was there to protest against, or to appeal to?--but she
could fly. The thought of flight rose in her after the torpor of despair
and, with its sense of wings, it felt almost like a joy. She could fly
back, back, to be scourged and purified, and then--oh far away she saw
it now--was something beyond despair; life once more; life hidden,
crippled, but life. A prayer rose like a sob with the thought.

So one night in London her brother Bertram, coming back late to his
rooms, found her sitting there.

Bertram was hard, but not unkind. The sight of her white, fixed face
touched him. He did not upbraid her, though for the past week he had
rehearsed the bitterest of upbraidings. He even spoke soothingly to her
when, speechless, she broke into wild sobs. "There, Amabel, there.--Yes,
it's a frightful mess you've made of things.--When I think of
mother!--Well, I'll say nothing now. You have come back; that is
something. You _have_ left him, Amabel?"

She nodded, her face hidden.

"The brute, the scoundrel," said Bertram, at which she moaned a
negation.--"You don't still care about him?--Well, I won't question you
now.--Perhaps it's not so desperate. Hugh has been very good about it;
he's helped me to keep the thing hushed up until we could make sure. I
hope we've succeeded; I hope so indeed. Hugh will see you soon, I know;
and it can be patched up, no doubt, after a fashion."

But at this Amabel cried:--"I can't.--I can't.--Oh--take me away.--Let
me hide until he divorces me. I can't see him."

"Divorces you?" Bertram's voice was sharp. "Have you disgraced
publicly--you and us? It's not you I'm thinking of so much as the family
name, father and mother. Hugh won't divorce you; he can't; he shan't.
After all you're a mere child and he didn't look after you." But this
was said rather in threat to Hugh than in leniency to Amabel.

She lay back in the chair, helpless, almost lifeless: let them do with
her what they would.

Bertram said that she should spend the night there and that he would see
Hugh in the morning. And:--"No; you needn't see him yet, if you feel you
can't. It may be arranged without that. Hugh will understand." And this
was the first ray of the light that was to grow and grow. Hugh would
understand.

She did not see him for two years.

All that had happened after her return to Bertram was a blur now. There
were hasty talks, Bertram defining for her her future position, one of
dignity it must be--he insisted on that; Hugh perfectly understood her
wish for the present, quite fell in with it; but, eventually, she must
take her place in her husband's home again. Even Bertram, intent as he
was on the family honour, could not force the unwilling wife upon the
merely magnanimous husband.

Her husband's magnanimity was the radiance that grew for Amabel during
these black days, the days of hasty talks and of her journey down to
Charlock House.

She had never seen Charlock House before; Sir Hugh had spoken of the
family seat as "a dismal hole," but, on that hot July evening of her
arrival, it looked peaceful to her, a dark haven of refuge, like the
promise of sleep after nightmare.

Mrs. Bray stood in the door, a grim but not a hostile warder: Amabel
felt anyone who was not hostile to be almost kind.

The house had been hastily prepared for her, dining-room and
drawing-room and the large bedroom upstairs, having the same outlook
over the lawn, the sycamores, the flat meadows. She could see herself
standing there now, looking about her at the bedroom where gaiety and
gauntness were oddly mingled in the faded carnations and birds of
paradise on the chintzes and in the vastness of the four-poster, the
towering wardrobes, the capacious, creaking chairs and sofas. Everything
was very clean and old; the dressing-table was stiffly skirted in darned
muslins and near the pin-cushion stood a small, tight nosegay, Mrs.
Bray's cautious welcome to this ambiguous mistress.

"A comfortable old place, isn't it," Bertram had said, looking about,
too; "You'll soon get well and strong here, Amabel." This, Amabel knew,
was said for the benefit of Mrs. Bray who stood, non-committal and
observant just inside the door. She knew, too, that Bertram was
depressed by the gauntness and gaiety of the bedroom and even more
depressed by the maroon leather furniture and the cases of stuffed birds
below, and that he was at once glad to get away from Charlock House and
sorry for her that she should have to be left there, alone with Mrs.
Bray. But to Amabel it was a dream after a nightmare. A strange,
desolate dream, all through those sultry summer days; but a dream shot
through with radiance in the thought of the magnanimity that had spared
and saved her.

And with the coming of the final horror, came the final revelation of
this radiance. She had been at Charlock House for many weeks, and it was
mid-Autumn, when that horror came. She knew that she was to have a child
and that it could not be her husband's child.

With the knowledge her mind seemed unmoored at last; it wavered and
swung in a nightmare blackness deeper than any she had known. In her
physical prostration and mental disarray the thought of suicide was with
her. How face Bertram now,--Bertram with his tenacious hopes? How face
her husband--ever--ever--in the far future? Her disgrace lived and she
was to see it. But, in the swinging chaos, it was that thought that kept
her from frenzy; the thought that it did live; that its life claimed
her; that to it she must atone. She did not love this child that was to
come; she dreaded it; yet the dread was sacred, a burden that she must
bear for its unhappy sake. What did she not owe to it--unfortunate
one--of atonement and devotion?

She gathered all her courage, armed her physical weakness, her wandering
mind, to summon Bertram and to tell him.

She told him in the long drawing-room on a sultry September day, leaning
her arms on the table by which she sat and covering her face.

Bertram said nothing for a long time. He was still boyish enough to feel
any such announcement as embarrassing; and that it should be told him
now, in such circumstances, by his sister, by Amabel, was nearly
incredible. How associate such savage natural facts, lawless and
unappeasable, with that young figure, dressed in its trousseau white
muslin and with its crown of innocent gold. It made her suddenly seem
older than himself and at once more piteous and more sinister. For a
moment, after the sheer stupor, he was horribly angry with her; then
came dismay at his own cruelty.

"This does change things, Amabel," he said at last.

"Yes," she answered from behind her hands.

"I don't know how Hugh will take it," said Bertram.

"He must divorce me now," she said. "It can be done very quietly, can't
it. And I have money. I can go away, somewhere, out of England--I've
thought of America--or New Zealand--some distant country where I shall
never be heard of; I can bring up the child there."

Bertram stared at her. She sat at the table, her hands before her face,
in the light, girlish dress that hung loosely about her. She was fragile
and wasted. Her voice seemed dead. And he wondered at the unhappy
creature's courage.

"Divorce!" he then said violently; "No; he can't do that;--and he had
forgiven already; I don't know how the law stands; but of course you
won't go away. What an idea; you might as well kill yourself outright.
It's only--. I don't know how the law stands. I don't know what Hugh
will say."

Bertram walked up and down biting his nails. He stopped presently before
a window, his back turned to his sister, and, flushing over the words,
he said: "You are sure--you are quite sure, Amabel, that it isn't Hugh's
child. You are such a girl. You can know nothing.--I mean--it may be a
mistake."

"I am quite sure," the unmoved voice answered him. "I do know."

Bertram again stood silent. "Well," he said at last, turning to her
though he did not look at her, "all I can do is to see how Hugh takes
it. You know, Amabel, that you can count on me. I'll see after you, and
after the child. Hugh may, of course, insist on your parting from it;
that will probably be the condition he'll make;--naturally. In that case
I'll take you abroad soon. It can be got through, I suppose, without
anybody knowing; assumed names; some Swiss or Italian village--" Bertram
muttered, rather to himself than to her. "Good God, what an odious
business!--But, as you say, we have money; that simplifies everything.
You mustn't worry about the child. I will see that it is put into safe
hands and I'll keep an eye on its future--." He stopped, for his
sister's hands had fallen. She was gazing at him, still dully--for it
seemed that nothing could strike any excitement from her--but with a
curious look, a look that again made him feel as if she were much older
than he.

"Never," she said.

"Never what?" Bertram asked. "You mean you won't part from the child?"

"Never; never," she repeated.

"But Amabel," with cold patience he urged; "if Hugh insists.--My poor
girl, you have made your bed and you must lie on it. You can't expect
your husband to give this child--this illegitimate child--his name. You
can't expect him to accept it as his child."

"No; I don't expect it," she said.

"Well, what then? What's your alternative?"

"I must go away with the child."

"I tell you, Amabel, it's impossible," Bertram in his painful anxiety
spoke with irritation. "You've got to consider our name--my name, my
position, and your husband's. Heaven knows I want to be kind to you--do
all I can for you; I've not once reproached you, have I? But you must be
reasonable. Some things you must accept as your punishment. Unless Hugh
is the most fantastically generous of men you'll have to part from the
child."

She sat silent.

"You do consent to that?" Bertram insisted.

She looked before her with that dull, that stupid look. "No," she
replied.

Bertram's patience gave way, "You are mad," he said. "Have you no
consideration for me--for us? You behave like this--incredibly, in my
mother's daughter--never a girl better brought up; you go off with
that--that bounder;--you stay with him for a week--good
heavens!--there'd have been more dignity if you'd stuck to him;--you
chuck him, in one week, and then you come back and expect us to do as
you think fit, to let you disappear and everyone know that you've
betrayed your husband and had a child by another man. It's mad, I tell
you, and it's impossible, and you've got to submit. Do you hear? Will
you answer me, I say? Will you promise that if Hugh won't consent to
fathering the child--won't consent to giving it his name--won't consent
to having it, as his heir, disinherit the lawful children he may have by
you--good heavens, I wonder if you realize what you are asking!--will
you promise, I say, if he doesn't consent, to part from the child?"

She did look rather mad, her brother thought, and he remembered, with
discomfort, that women, at such times, did sometimes lose their reason.
Her eyes with their dead gaze nearly frightened him, when, after all his
violence, his entreaty, his abuse of her, she only, in an unchanged
voice, said "No."

He felt then the uselessness of protestation or threat; she must be
treated as if she were mad; humored, cajoled. He was silent for a little
while, walking up and down. "Well, I'll say no more, then. Forgive me
for my harshness," he said. "You give me a great deal to bear, Amabel;
but I'll say nothing now. I have your word, at all events," he looked
sharply at her as the sudden suspicion crossed him, "I have your word
that you'll stay quietly here--until you hear from me what Hugh says?
You promise me that?"

"Yes," his sister answered. He gave a sigh for the sorry relief.

That night Amabel's mind wandered wildly. She heard herself, in the
lonely room where she lay, calling out meaningless things. She tried to
control the horror of fear that rose in her and peopled the room with
phantoms; but the fear ran curdling in her veins and flowed about her,
shaping itself in forms of misery and disaster. "No--no--poor
child.--Oh--don't--don't.--I will come to you. I am your mother.--They
can't take you from me."--this was the most frequent cry.

The poor child hovered, wailing, delivered over to vague, unseen sorrow,
and, though a tiny infant, it seemed to be Paul Quentin, too, in some
dreadful plight, appealing to her in the name of their dead love to save
him. She did not love him; she did not love the child; but her heart
seemed broken with impotent pity.

In the intervals of nightmare she could look, furtively, fixedly, about
the room. The moon was bright outside, and through the curtains a pallid
light showed the menacing forms of the two great wardrobes. The four
posts of her bed seemed like the pillars of some vast, alien temple, and
the canopy, far above her, floated like a threatening cloud. Opposite
her bed, above the chimney-piece, was a deeply glimmering mirror: if she
were to raise herself she would see her own white reflection, rising,
ghastly.--She hid her face on her pillows and sank again into the abyss.

Next morning she could not get up. Her pulses were beating at fever
speed; but, with the daylight, her mind was clearer. She could summon
her quiet look when Mrs. Bray came in to ask her mournfully how she was.
And a little later a telegram came, from Bertram.

Her trembling hands could hardly open it. She read the words. "All is
well." Mrs. Bray stood beside her bed. She meant to keep that quiet look
for Mrs. Bray; but she fainted. Mrs. Bray, while she lay tumbled among
the pillows, and before lifting her, read the message hastily.

From the night of torment and the shock of joy, Amabel brought an
extreme susceptibility to emotion that showed itself through all her
life in a trembling of her hands and frame when any stress of feeling
was laid upon her.

After that torment and that shock she saw Bertram once, and only once,
again;--ah, strange and sad in her memory that final meeting of their
lives, though this miraculous news was the theme of it. She was still in
bed when he came, the bed she did not leave for months, and, though so
weak and dizzy, she understood all that he told her, knew the one
supreme fact of her husband's goodness. He sent her word that she was to
be troubled about nothing; she was to take everything easily and
naturally. She should always have her child with her and it should bear
his name. He would see after it like a father; it should never know that
he was not its father. And, as soon as she would let him, he would come
and see her--and it. Amabel, lying on her pillows, gazed and gazed: her
eyes, in their shadowy hollows, were two dark wells of sacred wonder.
Even Bertram felt something of the wonder of them. In his new gladness
and relief, he was very kind to her. He came and kissed her. She seemed,
once more, a person whom one could kiss. "Poor dear," he said, "you have
had a lot to bear. You do look dreadfully ill. You must get well and
strong, now, Amabel, and not worry any more, about anything. Everything
is all right. We will call the child Augustine, if it's a boy, after
mother's father you know, and Katherine, if it's a girl, after her
mother: I feel, don't you, that we have no right to use their own names.
But the further away ones seem right, now. Hugh is a trump, isn't he?
And, I'm sure of it, Amabel, when time has passed a little, and you feel
you can, he'll have you back; I do really believe it may be managed.
This can all be explained. I'm saying that you are ill, a nervous
breakdown, and are having a complete rest."

She heard him dimly, feeling these words irrelevant. She knew that Hugh
must never have her back; that she could never go back to Hugh; that her
life henceforth was dedicated. And yet Bertram was kind, she felt that,
though dimly feeling, too, that her old image of him had grown
tarnished. But her mind was far from Bertram and the mitigations he
offered. She was fixed on that radiant figure, her husband, her knight,
who had stooped to her in her abasement, her agony, and had lifted her
from dust and darkness to the air where she could breathe,--and bless
him.

"Tell him--I bless him,"--she said to Bertram. She could say nothing
more. There were other memories of that day, too, but even more dim,
more irrelevant. Bertram had brought papers for her to sign, saying: "I
know you'll want to be very generous with Hugh now," and she had raised
herself on her elbow to trace with the fingers that trembled the words
he dictated to her.

There was sorrow, indeed, to look back on after that. Poor Bertram died
only a month later, struck down by an infectious illness. He was not to
see or supervise the rebuilding of his sister's shattered life, and the
anguish in her sorrow was the thought of all the pain that she had
brought to his last months of life: but this sorrow, after the phantoms,
the nightmares, was like the weeping of tears after a dreadful weeping
of blood. Her tears fell as she lay there, propped on her pillows--for
she was very ill--and looking out over the Autumn fields; she wept for
poor Bertram and all the pain; life was sad. But life was good and
beautiful. After the flames, the suffocation, it had brought her here,
and it showed her that radiant figure, that goodness and beauty embodied
in human form. And she had more to help her, for he wrote to her, a few
delicately chosen words, hardly touching on their own case, his and
hers, but about her brother's death and of how he felt for her in her
bereavement, and of what a friend dear Bertram had been to himself.
"Some day, dear Amabel, you must let me come and see you" it ended; and
"Your affectionate husband."

It was almost too wonderful to be borne. She had to close her eyes in
thinking of it and to lie very still, holding the blessed letter in her
hand and smiling faintly while she drew long soft breaths. He was always
in her thoughts, her husband; more, far more, than her coming child. It
was her husband who had made that coming a thing possible to look
forward to with resignation; it was no longer the nightmare of desolate
flights and hidings.

And even after the child was born, after she had seen its strange little
face, even then, though it was all her life, all her future, it held the
second place in her heart. It was her life, but it was from her husband
that the gift of life had come to her.

She was a gentle, a solicitous, a devoted mother. She never looked at
her baby without a sense of tears. Unfortunate one, was her thought, and
the pulse of her life was the yearning to atone.

She must be strong and wise for her child and out of her knowledge of
sin and weakness in herself must guide and guard it. But in her
yearning, in her brooding thought, was none of the mother's rapturous
folly and gladness. She never kissed her baby. Some dark association
made the thought of kisses an unholy thing and when, forgetting, she
leaned to it sometimes, thoughtless, and delighting in littleness and
sweetness, the dark memory of guilt would rise between its lips and
hers, so that she would grow pale and draw back.

When first she saw her husband, Augustine was over a year old. Sir Hugh
had written and asked if he might not come down one day and spend an
hour with her. "And let all the old fogies see that we are friends," he
said, in his remembered playful vein.

It was in the long dark drawing-room that she had seen him for the first
time since her flight into the wilderness.

He had come in, grave, yet with something blithe and unperturbed in his
bearing that, as she stood waiting for what he might say to her, seemed
the very nimbus of chivalry. He was splendid to look at, too, tall and
strong with clear kind eyes and clear kind smile.

She could not speak, not even when he came and took her hand, and said:
"Well Amabel." And then, seeing how white she was and how she trembled,
he had bent his head and kissed her hand. And at that she had broken
into tears; but they were tears of joy.

He stood beside her while she wept, her hands before her face, just
touching her shoulder with a paternal hand, and she heard him saying:
"Poor little Amabel: poor little girl."

She took her chair beside the table and for a long time she kept her
face hidden: "Thank you; thank you;" was all that she could say.

"My dear, what for?--There, don't cry.--You have stopped crying? There,
poor child. I've been awfully sorry for you."

He would not let her try to say how good he was, and this was a relief,
for she knew that she could not put it into words and that, without
words, he understood. He even laughed a little, with a graceful
embarrassment, at her speechless gratitude. And presently, when they
talked, she could put down her hand, could look round at him, while she
answered that, yes, she was very comfortable at Charlock House; yes, no
place could suit her more perfectly; yes, Mrs. Bray was very kind.

And he talked a little about business with her, explaining that
Bertram's death had left him with a great deal of management on his
hands; he must have her signature to papers, and all this was done with
the easiest tact so that naturalness and simplicity should grow between
them; so that, in finding pen and papers in her desk, in asking where
she was to sign, in obeying the pointing of his finger here and there,
she should recover something of her quiet, and be able to smile, even, a
little answering smile, when he said that he should make a business
woman of her. And--"Rather a shame that I should take your money like
this, Amabel, but, with all Bertram's money, you are quite a bloated
capitalist. I'm rather hard up, and you don't grudge it, I know."

She flushed all over at the idea, even said in jest:--"All that I have
is yours."

"Ah, well, not all," said Sir Hugh. "You must remember--other claims."
And he, too, flushed a little now in saying, gently, tentatively;--"May
I see the little boy?"

"I will bring him," said Amabel.

How she remembered, all her life long, that meeting of her husband and
her son. It was the late afternoon of a bright June day and the warm
smell of flowers floated in at the open windows of the drawing-room. She
did not let the nurse bring Augustine, she carried him down herself. He
was a large, robust baby with thick, corn-coloured hair and a solemn,
beautiful little face. Amabel came in with him and stood before her
husband holding him and looking down. Confusion was in her mind, a
mingling of pride and shame.

Sir Hugh and the baby eyed each other, with some intentness. And, as the
silence grew a little long, Sir Hugh touched the child's cheek with his
finger and said: "Nice little fellow: splendid little fellow. How old is
he, Amabel? Isn't he very big?"

"A year and two months. Yes, he is very big."

"He looks like you, doesn't he?"

"Does he?" she said faintly.

"Just your colour," Sir Hugh assured her. "As grave as a little king,
isn't he. How firmly he looks at me."

"He is grave, but he never cries; he is very cheerful, too, and well and
strong."

"He looks it. He does you credit. Well, my little man, shall we be
friends?" Sir Hugh held out his hand. Augustine continued to gaze at
him, unmoving. "He won't shake hands," said Sir Hugh.

Amabel took the child's hand and placed it in her husband's; her own
fingers shook. But Augustine drew back sharply, doubling his arm against
his breast, though not wavering in his gaze at the stranger.

Sir Hugh laughed at the decisive rejection. "Friendship's on one side,
till later," he said.

       *     *     *     *     *

When her husband had gone Amabel went out into the sycamore wood. It was
a pale, cool evening. The sun had set and the sky beyond the sycamores
was golden. Above, in a sky of liquid green, the evening star shone
softly.

A joy, sweet, cold, pure, like the evening, was in her heart. She
stopped in the midst of the little wood among the trees, and stood
still, closing her eyes.

Something old was coming back to her; something new was being given. The
memory of her mother's eyes was in it, of the simple prayers taught her
by her mother in childhood, and the few words, rare and simple, of the
presence of God in the soul. But her girlish prayer, her girlish thought
of God, had been like a thread-like, singing brook. What came to her now
grew from the brook-like running of trust and innocence to a widening
river, to a sea that filled her, over-flowed her, encompassed her, in
whose power she was weak, through whose power her weakness was uplifted
and made strong.

It was as if a dark curtain of fear and pain lifted from her soul,
showing vastness, and deep upon deep of stars. Yet, though this that
came to her was so vast, it made itself small and tender, too, like the
flowers glimmering about her feet, the breeze fanning her hair and
garments, the birds asleep in the branches above her. She held out her
hands, for it seemed to fall like dew, and she smiled, her face
uplifted.

       *     *     *     *     *

She did not often see her husband in the quiet years that followed. She
did not feel that she needed to see him. It was enough to know that he
was there, good and beautiful.

She knew that she idealised him, that in ordinary aspects he was a
happy, easy man-of-the-world; but that was not the essential; the
essential in him was the pity, the tenderness, the comprehension that
had responded to her great need. He was very unconscious of aims or
ideals; but when the time for greatness came he showed it as naturally
and simply as a flower expands to light. The thought of him henceforth
was bound up with the thought of her religion; nothing of rapture or
ecstasy was in it; it was quiet and grave, a revelation of holiness.

It was as if she had been kneeling to pray, alone, in a dark, devastated
church, trembling, and fearing the darkness, not daring to approach the
unseen altar; and that then her husband's hand had lighted all the high
tapers one by one, so that the church was filled with radiance and the
divine made manifest to her again.

Light and quietness were to go with her, but they were not to banish
fear. They could only help her to live with fear and to find life
beautiful in spite of it.

For if her husband stood for the joy of life, her child stood for its
sorrow. He was the dark past and the unknown future. What she should
find in him was unrevealed; and though she steadied her soul to the
acceptance of whatever the future might bring of pain for her, the sense
of trembling was with her always in the thought of what it might bring
of pain for Augustine.



IV


Lady Channice woke on the morning after her long retrospect bringing
from her dreams a heavy heart.

She lay for some moments after the maid had drawn her curtains, looking
out at the fields as she had so often looked, and wondering why her
heart was heavy. Throb by throb, like a leaden shuttle, it seemed to
weave together the old and new memories, so that she saw the pattern of
yesterday and of today, Lady Elliston's coming, the pain that Augustine
had given her in his strange questionings, the meeting of her husband
and her son. And the ominous rhythm of the shuttle was like the footfall
of the past creeping upon her.

It was more difficult than it had been for years, this morning, to quiet
the throb, to stay her thoughts on strength. She could not pray, for her
thoughts, like her heart, were leaden; the whispered words carried no
message as they left her lips; she could not lift her thought to follow
them. It was upon a lesser, a merely human strength, that she found
herself dwelling. She was too weak, too troubled, to find the swiftness
of soul that could soar with its appeal, the stillness of soul where the
divine response could enter; and weakness turned to human help. The
thought of her husband's coming was like a glow of firelight seen at
evening on a misty moor. She could hasten towards it, quelling fear.
There she would be safe. By his mere presence he would help and sustain
her. He would be kind and tactful with Augustine, as he had always been;
he would make a shield between her and Lady Elliston. She could see no
sky above, and the misty moor loomed with uncertain shapes; but she
could look before her and feel that she went towards security and
brightness.

Augustine and his mother both studied during the day, the same studies,
for Lady Channice, to a great extent, shared her son's scholarly
pursuits. From his boyhood--a studious, grave, yet violent little boy he
had been, his fits of passionate outbreak quelled, as he grew older, by
the mere example of her imperturbability beside him--she had thus shared
everything. She had made herself his tutor as well as his guardian
angel. She was more tutor, more guardian angel, than mother.

Their mental comradeship was full of mutual respect. And though
Augustine was not of the religious temperament, though his mother's
instinct told her that in her lighted church he would be a respectful
looker-on rather than a fellow-worshipper, though they never spoke of
religion, just as they seldom kissed, Augustine's growing absorption in
metaphysics tinged their friendship with a religious gravity and
comprehension.

On three mornings in the week Lady Channice had a class for the older
village girls; she sewed, read and talked with them, and was fond of
them all. These girls, their placing in life, their marriages and
babies, were her most real interest in the outer world. During the rest
of the day she gardened, and read whatever books Augustine might be
reading. It was the mother and son's habit thus to work apart and to
discuss work in the evenings.

Today, when her girls were gone, she found herself very lonely.
Augustine was out riding and in her room she tried to occupy herself,
fearing her own thoughts. It was past twelve when she heard the sound of
his horse's hoofs on the gravel before the door and, throwing a scarf
over her hair, she ran down to meet him.

The hall door at Charlock House, under a heavy portico, looked out upon
a circular gravel drive bordered by shrubberies and enclosed by high
walls; beyond the walls and gates was the high-road. An interval of
sunlight had broken into the chill Autumn day: Augustine had ridden
bareheaded and his gold hair shone as the sun fell upon it. He looked,
in his stately grace, like an equestrian youth on a Greek frieze. And,
as was usual with his mother, her appreciation of Augustine's nobility
and fineness passed at once into a pang: so beautiful; so noble; and so
shadowed. She stood, her black scarf about her face and shoulders, and
smiled at him while he threw the reins to the old groom and dismounted.

"Nice to find you waiting for me," he said. "I'm late this morning. Too
late for any work before lunch. Don't you want a little walk? You look
pale."

"I should like it very much. I may miss my afternoon walk--your father
may have business to talk over."

They went through the broad stone hall-way that traversed the house and
stepped out on the gravel walk at the back. This path, running below the
drawing-room and dining-room windows, led down on one side to the woods,
on the other to Lady Channice's garden, and was a favourite place of
theirs for quiet saunterings. Today the sunlight fell mildly on it. A
rift of pale blue showed in the still grey sky.

"I met Marjory," said Augustine, "and we had a gallop over Pangley
Common. She rides well, that child. We jumped the hedge and ditch at the
foot of the common, you know--the high hedge--for practice. She goes
over like a bird."

Amabel's mind was dwelling on the thought of shadowed brightness and
Marjory, fresh, young, deeply rooted in respectability, seemed suddenly
more significant than she had ever been before. In no way Augustine's
equal, of course, except in that impersonal, yet so important matter of
roots; Amabel had known a little irritation over Mrs. Grey's open
manoeuvreings; but on this morning of rudderless tossing, Marjory
appeared in a new aspect. How sound; how safe. It was of Augustine's
insecurity rather than of Augustine himself that she was thinking as she
said: "She is such a nice girl."

"Yes, she is," said Augustine.

"What did you talk about?"

"Oh, the things we saw; birds and trees and clouds.--I pour information
upon her."

"She likes that, one can see it."

"Yes, she is so nice and guileless that she doesn't resent my pedantry.
I love giving information, you know," Augustine smiled. He looked about
him as he spoke, at birds and trees and clouds, happy, humorous,
clasping his riding crop behind his back so that his mother heard it
make a pleasant little click against his gaiter as he walked.

"It's delightful for both of you, such a comradeship."

"Yes; a comradeship after a fashion; Marjory is just like a nice little
boy."

"Ah, well, she is growing up; she is seventeen, you know. She is more
than a little boy."

"Not much; she never will be much more."

"She will make a very nice woman."

Augustine continued to smile, partly at the thought of Marjory, and
partly at another thought. "You mustn't make plans, for me and Marjory,
like Mrs. Grey," he said presently. "It's mothers like Mrs. Grey who
spoil comradeships. You know, I'll never marry Marjory. She is a nice
little boy, and we are friends; but she doesn't interest me."

"She may grow more interesting: she is so young. I don't make plans,
dear,--yet I think that it might be a happy thing for you."

"She'll never interest me," said Augustine.

"Must you have a very interesting wife?"

"Of course I must:--she must be as interesting as you are!" he turned
his head to smile at her.

"You are not exacting, dear!"

"Yes, I am, though. She must be as interesting as you--and as good; else
why should I leave you and go and live with someone else.--Though for
that matter, I shouldn't leave you. You'd have to live with us, you
know, if I ever married."

"Ah, my dear boy," Lady Channice murmured. She managed a smile presently
and added: "You might fall in love with someone not so interesting. You
can't be sure of your feelings and your mind going together."

"My feelings will have to submit themselves to my mind. I don't know
about 'falling'; I rather dislike the expression: one might 'fall' in
love with lots of people one would never dream of marrying. It would
have to be real love. I'd have to love a woman very deeply before I
wanted her to share my life, to be a part of me; to be the mother of my
children." He spoke with his cheerful gravity.

"You have an old head on very young shoulders, Augustine."

"I really believe I have!" he accepted her somewhat sadly humorous
statement; "and that's why I don't believe I'll ever make a mistake. I'd
rather never marry than make a mistake. I know I sound priggish; but
I've thought a good deal about it: I've had to." He paused for a moment,
and then, in the tone of quiet, unconfused confidence that always filled
her with a sense of mingled pride and humility, he added:--"I have
strong passions, and I've already seen what happens to people who allow
feeling to govern them."

Amabel was suddenly afraid. "I know that you would always be--good
Augustine; I can trust you for that." She spoke faintly.

They had now walked down to the little garden with its box borders and
were wandering vaguely among the late roses. She paused to look at the
roses, stooping to breathe in the fragrance of a tall white cluster: it
was an instinctive impulse of hiding: she hoped in another moment to
find an escape in some casual gardening remark. But Augustine,
unsuspecting, was interested in their theme.

"Good? I don't know," he said. "I don't think it's goodness, exactly.
It's that I so loathe the other thing, so loathe the animal I know in
myself, so loathe the idea of life at the mercy of emotion."

She had to leave the roses and walk on again beside him, steeling
herself to bear whatever might be coming. And, feeling that unconscious
accusation loomed, she tried, as unconsciously, to mollify and evade it.

"It isn't always the animal, exactly, is it?--or emotion only? It is
romance and blind love for a person that leads people astray."

"Isn't that the animal?" Augustine inquired. "I don't think the animal
base, you know, or shameful, if he is properly harnessed and kept in his
place. It's only when I see him dominating that I hate and fear him so.
And," he went on after a little pause of reflection, "I especially hate
him in that form;--romance and blind love: because what is that, really,
but the animal at its craftiest and most dangerous? what is romance--I
mean romance of the kind that jeopardizes 'goodness'--what is it but the
most subtle self-deception? You don't love the person in the true sense
of love; you don't want their good; you don't want to see them put in
the right relation to their life as a whole:--what you want is sensation
through them; what you want is yourself in them, and their absorption in
you. I don't think that wicked, you know--I'm not a monk or even a
puritan--if it's the mere result of the right sort of love, a happy
glamour that accompanies, the right sort; it's in its place, then, and
can endanger nothing. But people are so extraordinarily blind about
love; they don't seem able to distinguish between the real and the
false. People usually, though they don't know it, mean only desire when
they talk of love."

There was another pause in which she wondered that he did not hear the
heavy throbbing of her heart. But now there was no retreat; she must go
on; she must understand her son. "Desire must enter in," she said.

"In its place, yes; it's all a question of that;" Augustine replied,
smiling a little at her, aware of the dogmatic flavour of his own
utterances, the humorous aspect of their announcement, to her, by
him;--"You love a woman enough and respect her enough to wish her to be
the mother of your children--assuming, of course, that you consider
yourself worthy to carry on the race; and to think of a woman in such a
way is to feel a rightful emotion and a rightful desire; anything else
makes emotion the end instead of the result and is corrupting, I'm sure
of it."

"You have thought it all out, haven't you"; Lady Channice steadied her
voice to say. There was panic rising in her, and a strange anger made
part of it.

"I've had to, as I said," he replied. "I'm anything but self-controlled
by nature; already," and Augustine looked calmly at his mother, "I'd
have let myself go and been very dissolute unless I'd had this ideal of
my own honour to help me. I'm of anything but a saintly disposition."

"My dear Augustine!" His mother had coloured faintly. Absurd as it was,
when the reality of her own life was there mocking her, the bald words
were strange to her.

"Do I shock you?" he asked. "You know I always feel that you _are_ a
saint, who can hear and understand everything."

She blushed deeply, painfully, now. "No, you don't shock me;--I am only
a little startled."

"To hear that I'm sensual? The whole human race is far too sensual in my
opinion. They think a great deal too much about their sexual
appetites;--only they don't think about them in those terms
unfortunately; they think about them veiled and wreathed; that's why we
are sunk in such a bog of sentimentality and sin."

Lady Channice was silent for a long time. They had left the garden, and
walked along the little path near the sunken wall at the foot of the
lawn, and, skirting the wood of sycamores, had come back to the broad
gravel terrace. A turmoil was in her mind; a longing to know and see; a
terror of what he would show her.

"Do you call it sin, that blinded love? Do you think that the famous
lovers of romance were sinners?" she asked at last; "Tristan and
Iseult?--Abélard and Héloise?--Paolo and Francesca?"

"Of course they were sinners," said Augustine cheerfully. "What did they
want?--a present joy: purely and simply that: they sacrificed everything
to it--their own and other people's futures: what's that but sin? There
is so much mawkish rubbish talked and written about such persons. They
were pathetic, of course, most sinners are; that particular sin, of
course, may be so associated and bound up with beautiful
things;--fidelity, and real love may make such a part of it, that people
get confused about it."

"Fidelity and real love?" Lady Channice repeated: "you think that they
atone--if they make part of an illicit passion?"

"I don't think that they atone; but they may redeem it, mayn't they? Why
do you ask me?" Augustine smiled;--"You know far more about these things
than I do."

She could not look at him. His words in their beautiful unconsciousness
appalled her. Yet she had to go on, to profit by her own trance-like
strength. She was walking on the verge of a precipice but she knew that
with steady footsteps she could go towards her appointed place. She must
see just where Augustine put her, just how he judged her.

"You seem to know more than I do, Augustine," she said: "I've not
thought it out as you have. And it seems to me that any great emotion is
more of an end in itself than you would grant. But if the illicit
passion thinks itself real and thinks itself enduring, and proves
neither, what of it then? What do you think of lovers to whom that
happens? It so often happens, you know."

Augustine had his cheerful answer ready. "Then they are stupid as well
as sinful. Of course it is sinful to be stupid. We've learned that from
Plato and Hegel, haven't we?"

The parlour-maid came out to announce lunch. Lady Channice was spared an
answer. She went to her room feeling shattered, as if great stones had
been hurled upon her.

Yes, she thought, gazing at herself in the mirror, while she untied her
scarf and smoothed her hair, yes, she had never yet, with all her
agonies of penitence, seen so clearly what she had been: a sinner: a
stupid sinner. Augustine's rigorous young theories might set too inhuman
an ideal, but that aspect of them stood out clear: he had put, in bald,
ugly words, what, in essence, her love for Paul Quentin had been: he had
stripped all the veils and wreaths away. It had been self; self, blind
in desire, cruel when blindness left it: there had been no real love and
no fidelity to redeem the baseness. A stupid sinner; that, her son had
told her, was what she had been. The horror of it smote back upon her
from her widened, mirrored eyes, and she sat for a moment thinking that
she must faint.

Then she remembered that Augustine was waiting for her downstairs and
that in little more than an hour her husband would be with her. And
suddenly the agony lightened. A giddiness of relief came over her. He
was kind: he did not judge her: he knew all, yet he respected her.
Augustine was like the bleak, stony moor; she must shut her eyes and
stumble on towards the firelight. And as she thought of that nearing
brightness, of her husband's eyes, that never judged, never grew hard or
fierce or remote from human tolerance, a strange repulsion from her son
rose in her. Cold, fierce, righteous boy; cold, heartless theories that
one throb of human emotion would rightly shatter;--the thought was
almost like an echo of Paul Quentin speaking in her heart to comfort
her. She sprang up: that was indeed the last turn of horror. If she was
not to faint she must not think. Action alone could dispel the whirling
mist where she did not know herself.

She went down to the dining-room. Augustine stood looking out of the
window. "Do come and see this delightful swallow," he said: "he's
skimming over and over the lawn."

She felt that she could not look at the swallow. She could only walk to
her chair and sink down on it. Augustine repelled her with his
cheerfulness, his trivial satisfactions. How could he not know that she
was in torment and that he had plunged her there. This involuntary
injustice to him was, she saw again, veritably crazed.

She poured herself out water and said in a voice that surprised
herself:--"Very delightful, I am sure; but come and have your lunch. I
am hungry."

"And how pale you are," said Augustine, going to his place. "We stayed
out too long. You got chilled." He looked at her with the solicitude
that was like a brother's--or a doctor's. That jarred upon her racked
nerves, too.

"Yes; I am cold," she said.

She took food upon her plate and pretended to eat. Augustine, she
guessed, must already feel the change in her. He must see that she only
pretended. But he said nothing more. His tact was a further turn to the
knot of her sudden misery.

       *     *     *     *     *

Augustine was with her in the drawing-room when she heard the wheels of
the station-fly grinding on the gravel drive; they sounded very faintly
in the drawing-room, but, from years of listening, her hearing had grown
very acute.

She could never meet her husband without an emotion that betrayed itself
in pallor and trembling and today the emotion was so marked that
Augustine's presence was at once a safeguard and an anxiety; before
Augustine she could be sure of not breaking down, not bursting into
tears of mingled gladness and wretchedness, but though he would keep her
from betraying too much to Sir Hugh, would she not betray too much to
him? He was reading a review and laid it down as the door opened: she
could only hope that he noticed nothing.

Sir Hugh came in quickly. At fifty-four he was still a very handsome man
of a chivalrous and soldierly bearing. He had long limbs, broad
shoulders and a not yet expanded waist. His nose and chin were clearly
and strongly cut, his eyes brightly blue; his moustache ran to decisive
little points twisted up from the lip and was as decorative as an
epaulette upon a martial shoulder. Pleasantness radiated from him, and
though, with years, this pleasantness was significant rather of his
general attitude than of his individual interest, though his movements
had become a little indolent and his features a little heavy, these
changes, to affectionate eyes, were merely towards a more pronounced
geniality and contentedness.

Today, however, geniality and contentment were less apparent. He looked
slightly nipped and hardened, and, seeming pleased to find a fire, he
stood before it, after he had shaken hands with his wife and with
Augustine, and said that it had been awfully cold in the train.

"We will have tea at half past four instead of five today, then," said
Amabel.

But no, he replied, he couldn't stop for tea: he must catch the
four-four back to town: he had a dinner and should only just make it.

His eye wandered a little vaguely about the room, but he brought it back
to Amabel to say with a smile that the fire made up for the loss of tea.
There was then a little silence during which it might have been inferred
that Sir Hugh expected Augustine to leave the room. Amabel, too,
expected it; but Augustine had taken up his review and was reading
again. She felt her fear of him, her anger against him, grow.

Very pleasantly, Sir Hugh at last suggested that he had a little
business to talk over. "I think I'll ask Augustine to let us have a half
hour's talk."

"Oh, I'll not interfere with business," said Augustine, not lifting his
eyes.

The silence, now, was more than uncomfortable; to Amabel it was
suffocating. She could guess too well that some latent enmity was
expressed in Augustine's assumed unconsciousness. That Sir Hugh was
surprised, displeased, was evident; but, when he spoke again, after a
little pause, it was still pleasantly:--"Not with business, but with
talk you will interfere. I'm afraid I must ask you.--I don't often have
a chance to talk with your mother.--I'll see you later, eh?"

Augustine made no reply. He rose and walked out of the room.

Sir Hugh still stood before the fire, lifting first the sole of one boot
and then the other to the blaze. "Hasn't always quite nice manners, has
he, the boy"; he observed. "I didn't want to have to send him out, you
know."

"He didn't realize that you wanted to talk to me alone." Amabel felt
herself offering the excuse from a heart turned to stone.

"Didn't he, do you think? Perhaps not. We always do talk alone, you
know. He's just a trifle tactless, shows a bit of temper sometimes. I've
noticed it. I hope he doesn't bother you with it."

"No. I never saw him like that, before," said Amabel, looking down as
she sat in her chair.

"Well, that's all that matters," said Sir Hugh, as if satisfied.

His boots were quite hot now and he went to the writing-desk drawing a
case of papers from his breast-pocket.

"Here are some of your securities, Amabel," he said: "I want a few more
signatures. Things haven't been going very well with me lately. I'd be
awfully obliged if you'd help me out."

"Oh--gladly--" she murmured. She rose and came to the desk. She hardly
saw the papers through a blur of miserable tears while she wrote her
name here and there. She was shut out in the mist and dark; he wasn't
thinking of her at all; he was chill, preoccupied; something was
displeasing him; decisively, almost sharply, he told her where to write.
"You mustn't be worried, you know," he observed as he pointed out the
last place; "I'm arranging here, you see, to pass Charlock House over to
you for good. That is a little return for all you've done. It's not a
valueless property. And then Bertram tied up a good sum for the child,
you know."

His speaking of "the child," made her heart stop beating, it brought the
past so near.--And was Charlock House to be her very own? "Oh," she
murmured, "that is too good of you.--You mustn't do that.--Apart from
Augustine's share, all that I have is yours; I want no return."

"Ah, but I want you to have it"; said Sir Hugh; "it will ease my
conscience a little. And you really do care for the grim old place,
don't you."

"I love it."

"Well, sign here, and here, and it's yours. There. Now you are mistress
in your own home. You don't know how good you've been to me, Amabel."

The voice was the old, kind voice, touched even, it seemed, with an
unwonted feeling, and, suddenly, the tears ran down her cheeks as,
looking at the papers that gave her her home, she said, faltering:--"You
are not displeased with me?--Nothing is the matter?"

He looked at her, startled, a little confused. "Why my dear
girl,--displeased with you?--How could I be?--No. It's only these
confounded affairs of mine that are in a bit of a mess just now."

"And can't I be of even more help--without any returns? I can be so
economical for myself, here. I need almost nothing in my quiet life."

Sir Hugh flushed. "Oh, you've not much more to give, my dear. I've taken
you at your word."

"Take me completely at my word. Take everything."

"You dear little saint," he said. He patted her shoulder. The door was
wide; the fire shone upon her. She felt herself falling on her knees
before it, with happy tears. He, who knew all, could say that to her,
with sincerity. The day of lowering fear and bewilderment opened to
sudden joy. His hand was on her shoulder; she lifted it and kissed it.

"Oh! Don't!"--said Sir Hugh. He drew his hand sharply away. There was
confusion, irritation, in his little laugh.

Amabel's tears stood on scarlet cheeks. Did he not understand?--Did he
think?--And was he right in thinking?--Shame flooded her. What girlish
impulse had mingled incredibly with her gratitude, her devotion?

Sir Hugh had turned away, and as she sat there, amazed with her sudden
suspicion, the door opened and Augustine came in saying:--"Here is Lady
Elliston, Mother."



V


Lady Elliston helped her. How that, too, brought back the past to Amabel
as she rose and moved forward, before her husband and her son, to greet
the friend of twenty years ago.

Lady Elliston, at difficult moments, had always helped her, and this was
one of the most difficult that she had ever known. Amabel forgot her
tears, forgot her shame, in her intense desire that Augustine should
guess nothing.

"My very dear Amabel," said Lady Elliston. She swept forward and took
both Lady Channice's hands, holding them firmly, looking at her
intently, intently smiling, as if, with her own mastery of the
situation, to give her old friend strength. "My dear, dear Amabel," she
repeated: "How good it is to see you again.--And how lovely you are."

She was silken, she was scarfed, she was soft and steady; as in the
past, sweetness and strength breathed from her. She was competent to
deal with most calamitous situations and to make them bearable, to make
them even graceful. She could do what she would with situations: Amabel
felt that of her now as she had felt it years ago.

Her eyes continued to gaze for a long moment into Amabel's eyes before,
as softly and as steadily, they passed to Sir Hugh who was again
standing before the fire behind his wife. "How do you do," she then said
with a little nod.

"How d'ye do," Sir Hugh replied. His voice was neither soft nor steady;
the sharpness, the irritation was in it. "I didn't know you were down
here," he said.

Over Amabel's shoulder, while she still held Amabel's hands, Lady
Elliston looked at him, all sweetness. "Yes: I arrived this morning. I
am staying with the Greys."

"The Greys? How in the dickens did you run across them?" Sir Hugh asked
with a slight laugh.

"I met them at Jack's cousin's--the nice old bishop, you know. They are
tiresome people; but kind. And there is a Grey _fils_--the oldest--whom
Peggy took rather a fancy to last winter,--they were hunting together in
Yorkshire;--and I wanted to look at him--and at the place!--"--Lady
Elliston's smile was all candour. "They are very solid; it's not a bad
place. If the young people are really serious Jack and I might consider
it; with three girls still to marry, one must be very wise and
reasonable. But, of course, I came really to see you, Amabel."

She had released Amabel's hands at last with a final soft pressure, and,
as Amabel took her accustomed chair near the table, she sat down near
her and loosened her cloak and unwound her scarf, and threw back her
laces.

"And I've been making friends with your boy," she went on, looking up at
Augustine:--"he's been walking me about the garden, saying that you
mustn't be disturbed. Why haven't I been able to make friends before?
Why hasn't he been to see me in London?"

"I'll bring him someday," said Sir Hugh. "He is only just grown up, you
see."

"I see: do bring him soon. He is charming," said Lady Elliston, smiling
at Augustine.

Amabel remembered her pretty, assured manner of saying any
pleasantness--or unpleasantness for that matter--that she chose to say;
but it struck her, from this remark, that the gift had grown a little
mechanical. Augustine received it without embarrassment. Augustine
already seemed to know that this smiling guest was in the habit of
saying that young men were charming before their faces when she wanted
to be pleasant to them. Amabel seemed to see her son from across the
wide chasm that had opened between them; but, looking at his figure,
suddenly grown strange, she felt that Augustine's manners were 'nice.'
The fact of their niceness, of his competence--really it matched Lady
Elliston's--made him the more mature; and this moment of motherly
appreciation led her back to the stony wilderness where her son judged
her, with a man's, not a boy's judgment. There was no uncertainty in
Augustine; his theories might be young; his character was formed; his
judgments would not change. She forced herself not to think; but to look
and listen.

Lady Elliston continued to talk: indeed it was she and Augustine who did
most of the talking. Sir Hugh only interjected a remark now and then
from his place before the fire. Amabel was able to feel a further change
in him; he was displeased today, and displeased in particular, now, with
Lady Elliston. She thought that she could understand the vexation for
him of this irruption of his real life into the sad little corner of
kindness and duty that Charlock House and its occupants must represent
to him. He had seldom spoken to her about Lady Elliston; he had seldom
spoken to her about any of the life that she had abandoned in abandoning
him: but she knew that Lord and Lady Elliston were near friends still,
and with this knowledge she could imagine how on edge her husband must
be when to the near friend of the real life he could allow an even
sharper note to alter all his voice. Amabel heard it sadly, with a sense
of confused values: nothing today was as she had expected it to be: and
if she heard she was sure that Lady Elliston must hear it too, and
perhaps the symptom of Lady Elliston's displeasure was that she talked
rather pointedly to Augustine and talked hardly at all to Sir Hugh: her
eyes, in speaking, passed sometimes over his figure, rested sometimes,
with a bland courtesy, on his face when he spoke; but Augustine was
their object: on him they dwelt and smiled.

The years had wrought few changes in Lady Elliston. Silken, soft,
smiling, these were, still, as in the past, the words that described
her. She had triumphantly kept her lovely figure: the bright brown hair,
too, had been kept, but at some little sacrifice of sincerity: Lady
Elliston must be nearly fifty and her shining locks showed no sign of
fading. Perhaps, in the perfection of her appearance and manner, there
was a hint of some sacrifice everywhere. How much she has kept, was the
first thought; but the second came:--How much she has given up. Yes;
there was the only real change: Amabel, gazing at her, somewhat as a nun
gazes from behind convent gratings at some bright denizen of the outer
world, felt it more and more. She was sweet, but was she not too
skilful? She was strong, but was not her strength unscrupulous? As she
listened to her, Amabel remembered old wonders, old glimpses of motives
that stole forth reconnoitring and then retreated at the hint of rebuff,
graceful and unconfused.

There were motives now, behind that smile, that softness; motives behind
the flattery of Augustine, the blandness towards Sir Hugh, the visit to
herself. Some of the motives were, perhaps, all kindness: Lady Elliston
had always been kind; she had always been a binder of wounds, a
dispenser of punctual sunlight; she was one of the world's powerfully
benignant great ladies; committees clustered round her; her words of
assured wisdom sustained and guided ecclesiastical and political
organisations; one must be benignant, in an altruistic modern world, if
one wanted to rule. It was not a cynical nun who gazed; Lady Elliston
was kind and Lady Elliston loved power; simply, without a sense of
blame, Amabel drew her conclusions.

There were now lapses in Lady Elliston's fluency. Her eyes rested
contemplatively on Amabel; it was evident that she wanted to see Amabel
alone. This motive was so natural a one that, although Sir Hugh seemed
determined, at the risk of losing his train, to stay till the last
minute, he, too, felt, at last, its pressure.

His wife saw him go with a sense of closing mists. Augustine, now more
considerate, followed him. She was left facing her guest.

Only Lady Elliston could have kept the moment from being openly painful
and even Lady Elliston could not pretend to find it an easy one; but she
did not err on the side of too much tact. It was so sweetly, so gravely
that her eyes rested for a long moment of silence on her old friend, so
quietly that they turned away from her rising flush, that Amabel felt
old gratitudes mingling with old distrusts.

"What a sad room this is," said Lady Elliston, looking about it. "Is it
just as you found it, Amabel?"

"Yes, almost. I have taken away some things."

"I wish you would take them all away and put in new ones. It might be
made into a very nice room; the panelling is good. What it needs is
Jacobean furniture, fine old hangings, and some bits of glass and
porcelain here and there."

"I suppose so." Amabel's eyes followed Lady Elliston's. "I never thought
of changing anything."

Lady Elliston's eyes turned on hers again. "No: I suppose not," she
said.

She seemed to find further meanings in the speech and took it up again
with: "I suppose not. It's strange that we should never have met in all
these years, isn't it."

"Is it strange?"

"I've often felt it so: if you haven't, that is just part of your
acceptance. You have accepted everything. It has often made me indignant
to think of it."

Amabel sat in her high-backed chair near the table. Her hands were
tightly clasped together in her lap and her face, with the light from
the windows falling upon it, was very pale. But she knew that she was
calm; that she could meet Lady Elliston's kindness with an answering
kindness; that she was ready, even, to hear Lady Elliston's questions.
This, however, was not a question, and she hesitated for a moment before
saying: "I don't understand you."

"How well I remember that voice," Lady Elliston smiled a little sadly:
"It's the girl's voice of twenty years ago--holding me away. Can't we be
frank together, now, Amabel, when we are both middle-aged women?--at
least I am middle-aged.--How it has kept you young, this strange life
you've led."

"But, really, I do not understand," Amabel murmured, confused; "I didn't
understand you then, sometimes."

"Then I may be frank?"

"Yes; be frank, of course."

"It is only that indignation that I want to express," said Lady
Elliston, tentative no longer and firmly advancing. "Why are you here,
in this dismal room, this dismal house? Why have you let yourself be
cloistered like this? Why haven't you come out and claimed things?"

Amabel's grey eyes, even in their serenity always a little wild, widened
with astonishment. "Claimed?" she repeated. "What do you mean? What
could I have claimed? I have been given everything."

"My dear Amabel, you speak as if you had deserved this imprisonment."

There was another and a longer silence in which Amabel seemed slowly to
find meanings incredible to her before. And her reception of them was
expressed in the changed, the hardened voice with which she said: "You
know everything. I've always been sure you knew. How can you say such
things to me?"

"Do not be angry with me, dear Amabel. I do not mean to offend."

"You spoke as though you were sorry for me, as though I had been
injured.--It touches him."

"But," Lady Elliston had flushed very slightly, "it does touch him. I
blame Hugh for this. He ought not to have allowed it. He ought not to
have accepted such misplaced penitence. You were a mere child, and Hugh
neglected you shamefully."

"I was not a mere child," said Amabel. "I was a sinful woman."

Lady Elliston sat still, as if arrested and spell-bound by the
unexpected words. She seemed to find no answer. And as the silence grew
long, Amabel went on, slowly, with difficulty, yet determinedly opposing
and exposing the folly of the implied accusation. "You don't seem to
remember the facts. I betrayed my husband. He might have cast me off. He
might have disgraced me and my child. And he lifted me up; he sheltered
me; he gave his name to the child. He has given me everything I have.
You see--you must not speak of him like that to me."

Lady Elliston had gathered herself together though still, it was
evident, bewildered. "I don't mean to blame Hugh so much. It was your
fault, too, I suppose. You asked for the cloister, I know."

"No; I didn't ask for it. I asked to be allowed to go away and hide
myself. The cloister, too, was a gift,--like my name, my undishonoured
child."

"Dear, dear Amabel," said Lady Elliston, gazing at her, "how beautiful
of you to be able to feel like that."

"It isn't I who am beautiful"; Amabel's lips trembled a little now and
her eyes filled suddenly with tears. Tears and trembling seemed to bring
hardness rather than softening to her face; they were like a chill
breeze, like an icy veil, and the face, with its sorrow, was like a
winter's landscape.

"He is so beautiful that he would never let anyone know or understand
what I owe him: he would never know it himself: there is something
simple and innocent about such men: they do beautiful things
unconsciously. You know him well: you are far nearer him than I am: but
you can't know what the beauty is, for you have never been helpless and
disgraced and desperate nor needed anyone to lift you up. No one can
know as I do the angel in my husband."

Lady Elliston sat silent. She received Amabel's statements steadily yet
with a little wincing, as though they had been bullets whistling past
her head; they would not pierce, if one did not move; yet an involuntary
compression of the lips and flutter of the eyelids revealed a rather
rigid self-mastery. Only after the silence had grown long did she
slightly stir, move her hand, turn her head with a deep, careful breath,
and then say, almost timidly; "Then, he has lifted you up, Amabel?--You
are happy, really happy, in your strange life?"

Amabel looked down. The force of her vindicating ardour had passed from
her. With the question the hunted, haunted present flooded in. Happy?
Yesterday she might have answered "yes," so far away had the past
seemed, so forgotten the fear in which she had learned to breathe. Today
the past was with her and the fear pressed heavily upon her heart. She
answered in a sombre voice: "With my past what woman could be happy. It
blights everything."

"Oh--but Amabel--" Lady Elliston breathed forth. She leaned forward,
then moved back, withdrawing the hand impulsively put out.--"Why?--Why?--"
she gently urged. "It is all over: all passed: all forgotten. Don't--ah
don't let it blight anything."

"Oh no," said Amabel, shaking her head. "It isn't over; it isn't
forgotten; it never will be. Hugh cannot forget--though he has
forgiven. And someday, I feel it, Augustine will know. Then I shall
drink the cup of shame to the last drop."

"Oh!--" said Lady Elliston, as if with impatience. She checked herself.
"What can I say?--if you will think of yourself in this preposterous
way.--As for Augustine, he does not know and how should he ever know?
How could he, when no one in the world knows but you and I and Hugh."

She paused at that, looking at Amabel's downcast face. "You notice what
I say, Amabel?"

"Yes; that isn't it. He will guess."

"You are morbid, my poor child.--But do you notice nothing when I say
that only we three know?"

Amabel looked up. Lady Elliston met her eyes. "I came today to tell you,
Amabel. I felt sure you did not know. There is no reason at all, now,
why you should dread coming out into the world--with Augustine. You need
fear no meetings. You did not know that he was dead."

"He?"

"Yes. He. Paul Quentin."

Amabel, gazing at her, said nothing.

"He died in Italy, last week. He was married, you know, quite happily;
an ordinary sort of person; she had money; he rather let his work go.
But they were happy; a large family; a villa on a hill somewhere;
pictures, bric-à-brac and bohemian intellectualism. You knew of his
marriage?"

"Yes; I knew."

The tears had risen to Lady Elliston's eyes before that stricken, ashen
face; she looked away, murmuring: "I wanted to tell you, when we were
alone. It might have come as such an ugly shock, if you were unprepared.
But, now, there is no danger anymore. And you will come out, Amabel?"

"No;--never.--It was never that."

"But what was it then?"

Amabel had risen and was looking around her blindly.

"It was.--I have no place but here.--Forgive me--I must go. I can't talk
any more."

"Yes; go; do go and lie down." Lady Elliston, rising too, put an arm
around her shoulders and took her hand. "I'll come again and see you. I
am going up to town for a night or so on Tuesday, but I bring Peggy down
here for the next week-end. I'll see you then.--Ah, here is Augustine,
and tea. He will give me my tea and you must sleep off your headache.
Your poor mother has a very bad headache, Augustine. I have tried her.
Goodbye, dear, go and rest."



VI


An hour ago Augustine had found his mother in tears; now he found her
beyond them. He gave her his arm, and, outside in the hall, prepared to
mount the stairs with her; but, shaking her head, trying, with miserable
unsuccess, to smile, she pointed him back to the drawing-room and to his
duties of host.

"Ah, she is very tired. She does not look well," said Lady Elliston. "I
am glad to see that you take good care of her."

"She is usually very well," said Augustine, standing over the tea-tray
that had been put on the table between him and Lady Elliston. "Let's
see: what do you have? Sugar? milk?"

"No sugar; milk, please. It's such a great pleasure to me to meet your
mother again."

Augustine made no reply to this, handing her her cup and the plate of
bread and butter.

"She was one of the loveliest girls I have ever seen," Lady Elliston
went on, helping herself. "She looked like a Madonna--and a
cowslip.--And she looks like that more than ever." She had paused for a
moment as an uncomfortable recollection came to her. It was Paul Quentin
who had said that: at her house.

"Yes," Augustine assented, pleased, "she does look like a cowslip; she
is so pale and golden and tranquil. It's funny you should say so," he
went on, "for I've often thought it; but with me it's an association of
ideas, too. Those meadows over there, beyond our lawn, are full of
cowslips in Spring and ever since I can remember we have picked them
there together."

"How sweet"; Lady Elliston was still a little confused, by her blunder,
and by his words. "What a happy life you and your mother must have had,
cloistered here. I've been telling your mother that it's like a
cloister. I've been scolding her a little for shutting herself up in it.
And now that I have this chance of talking to you I do very much want to
say that I hope you will bring her out a little more."

"Bring her out? Where?" Augustine inquired.

"Into the world--the world she is so fitted to adorn. It's ridiculous
this--this fad of hers," said Lady Elliston.

"Is it a fad?" Augustine asked, but with at once a lightness and
distance of manner.

"Of course. And it is bad for anyone to be immured."

"I don't think it has been bad for her. Perhaps this is more the world
than you think."

"I only mean bad in the sense of sad."

"Isn't the world sad?"

"What a strange young man you are. Do you really mean to say that you
like to see your mother--your beautiful, lovely mother--imprisoned in
this gloomy place and meeting nobody from one year's end to the other?"

"I have said nothing at all about my likes," said Augustine, smiling.

Lady Elliston gazed at him. He startled her almost as much as his mother
had done. What a strange young man, indeed; what strange echoes of his
father and mother in him. But she had to grope for the resemblances to
Paul Quentin; they were there; she felt them; but they were difficult to
see; while it was easy to see the resemblances to Amabel. His father was
like a force, a fierceness in him, controlled and guided by an influence
that was his mother. And where had he found, at nineteen, that
assurance, an assurance without his father's vanity or his mother's
selflessness? Paul Quentin had been assured because he was so absolutely
sure of his own value; Amabel was assured because, in her own eyes, she
was valueless; this young man seemed to be without self-reference or
self-effacement; but he was quite self-assured. Had he some mental
talisman by which he accurately gauged all values, his own included? He
seemed at once so oddly above yet of the world. She pulled herself
together to remember that he was, only, nineteen, and that she had had
motives in coming, and that if these motives had been good they were now
better.

"You have said nothing; but I am going to ask you to say something"; she
smiled back at him. "I am going to ask you to say that you will take me
on trust. I am your friend and your mother's friend."

"Since when, my mother's?" Augustine asked. His amiability of aspect
remained constant.

"Since twenty years."

"Twenty years in which you have not seen your friend."

"I know that that looks strange. But when one shuts oneself away into a
cloister one shuts out friends."

"Does one?"

"You won't trust me?"

"I don't know anything about you, except that you have made my mother
ill and that you want something of me."

"My dear young man I, at all events, know one thing about you very
clearly, and that is that I trust you."

"I want nothing of you," said Augustine, but he still smiled, so that
his words did not seem discourteous.

"Nothing? Really nothing? I am your mother's friend, and you want
nothing of me? I have sought her out; I came today to see and
understand; I have not made her ill; she was nearly crying when we came
into the room, you and I, a little while ago. What I see and understand
makes me sad and angry. And I believe that you, too, see and understand;
I believe that you, too, are sad and angry. And I want to help you. I
want you, when you come into the world, as you must, to bring your
mother. I'll be waiting there for you both. I am a sort of
fairy-godmother. I want to see justice done."

"I suppose you mean that you are angry with my father and want to see
justice done on him," said Augustine after a pause.

Again Lady Elliston sat suddenly still, as if another, an unexpected
bullet, had whizzed past her. "What makes you say that?" she asked after
a moment.

"What you have said and what you have seen. He had been making her cry,"
said Augustine. He was still calm, but now, under the calm, she heard,
like the thunder of the sea in caverns deep beneath a placid headland,
the muffled sound of a hidden, a dark indignation.

"Yes," she said, looking into his eyes; "that made me angry; and that he
should take all her money from her, as I am sure he does, and leave her
to live like this."

Augustine's colour rose. He turned away his eyes and seemed to ponder.

"I do want something of you, after all; the answer to one question," he
said at last. "Is it because of him that she is cloistered here?"

In a flash Lady Elliston had risen to her emergency, her opportunity.
She was grave, she was ready, and she was very careful.

"It was her own choice," she said.

Augustine pondered again. He, too, was grave and careful She saw how,
making use of her proffered help, he yet held her at a distance. "That
does not answer my question," he said. "I will put it in another way. Is
it because of some evil in his life that she is cloistered?"

Lady Elliston sat before him in one of the high-backed chairs; the light
was behind her: the delicate oval of her face maintained its steady
attitude: in the twilit room Augustine could see her eyes fixed very
strangely upon him. She, too, was perhaps pondering. When at last she
spoke, she rose in speaking, as if her answer must put an end to their
encounter, as if he must feel, as well as she, that after her answer
there could be no further question.

"Not altogether, for that," she said; "but, yes, in part it is because
of what you would call an evil in his life that she is cloistered."

Augustine walked with her to the door and down the stone passage
outside, where a strip of faded carpet hardly kept one's feet from the
cold. He was nearer to her in this curious moment of their parting than
he had been at all. He liked Lady Elliston in her last response; it was
not the wish to see justice wreaked that had made it; it was mere truth.

When they had reached the hall door, he opened it for her and in the
fading light he saw that she was very pale. The Grey's dog-cart was
going slowly round and round the gravel drive. Lady Elliston did not
look at him. She stood waiting for the groom to see her.

"What you asked me was asked in confidence," she said; "and what I have
told you is told in confidence."

"It wasn't new to me; I had guessed it," said Augustine. "But your
confirmation of what I guessed is in confidence."

"I have been your father's life-long friend," said Lady Elliston; "He is
not an evil man."

"I understand. I don't misjudge him."

"I don't want to see justice done on him," said Lady Elliston. The groom
had seen her and the dog-cart, with a brisk rattle of wheels, drew up to
the door. "It isn't a question of that; I only want to see justice done
_for_ her."

All through she had been steady; now she was sweet again. "I want to
free her. I want you to free her. And--whenever you do--I shall be
waiting to give her to the world again."

They looked at each other now and Augustine could answer, with another
smile; "You are the world, I suppose."

"Yes; I am the world," she accepted. "The actual fairy-godmother, with a
magic wand that can turn pumpkins into coaches and put Cinderellas into
their proper places."

Augustine had handed her up to her seat beside the groom. He tucked her
rug about her. If he had laid aside anything to meet her on her own
ground, he, too, had regained it now.

"But does the world always know what _is_ the proper place?" was his
final remark as she drove off.

She did not know that she could have found an answer to it.



VII


Amabel was sitting beside her window when her son came in and the face
she turned on him was white and rigid.

"My dear mother," said Augustine, coming up to her, "how pale you are."

She had been sitting there for all that time, tearless, in a stupor of
misery. Yes, she answered him, she was very tired.

Augustine stood over her looking out of the window. "A little walk
wouldn't do you good?" he asked.

No, she answered, her head ached too badly.

She could find nothing to say to him: the truth that lay so icily upon
her heart was all that she could have said: "I am your guilty mother. I
robbed you of your father. And your father is dead, unmourned, unloved,
almost forgotten by me." For that was the poison in her misery, to know
that for Paul Quentin she felt almost nothing. To hear that he had died
was to hear that a ghost had died.

What would Augustine say to her if the truth were spoken? It was now a
looming horror between them. It shut her from him and it shut him away.

"Oh, do come out," said Augustine after a moment: "the evening's so
fine: it will do you good; and there's still a bit of sunset to be
seen."

She shook her head, looking away from him.

"Is it really so bad as that?"

"Yes; very bad."

"Can't I do anything? Get you anything?"

"No, thank you."

"I'm so sorry," said Augustine, and, suddenly, but gravely,
deliberately, he stooped and kissed her.

"Oh--don't!--don't!" she gasped. She thrust him away, turning her face
against the chair. "Don't: you must leave me.--I am so unhappy."

The words sprang forth: she could not repress them, nor the gush of
miserable tears.

If Augustine was horrified he was silent. He stood leaning over her for
a moment and then went out of the room.

She lay fallen in her chair, weeping convulsively. The past was with
her; it had seized her and, in her panic-stricken words, it had thrust
her child away. What would happen now? What would Augustine say? What
would he ask? If he said nothing and asked nothing, what would he think?

She tried to gather her thoughts together, to pray for light and
guidance; but, like a mob of blind men locked out from sanctuary, the
poor, wild thoughts only fled about outside the church and fumbled at
the church door. Her very soul seemed shut against her.

She roused herself at last, mechanically telling herself that she must
go through with it; she must dress and go down to dinner and she must
find something to say to Augustine, something that would make what had
happened to them less sinister and inexplicable.

--Unless--it seemed like a mad cry raised by one of the blind men in the
dark,--unless she told him all, confessed all; her guilt, her shame, the
truths of her blighted life. She shuddered; she cowered as the cry came
to her, covering her ears and shutting it out. It was mad, mad. She had
not strength for such a task, and if that were weakness--oh, with a long
breath she drew in the mitigation--if it were weakness, would it not be
a cruel, a heartless strength that could blight her child's life too, in
the name of truth. She must not listen to the cry. Yet strangely it had
echoed in her, almost as if from within, not from without, the dark,
deserted church; almost as if her soul, shut in there in the darkness,
were crying out to her. She turned her mind from the sick fancy.

Augustine met her at dinner. He was pale but he seemed composed. They
spoke little. He said, in answer to her questioning, that he had quite
liked Lady Elliston; yes, they had had a nice talk; she seemed very
friendly; he should go and see her when he next went up to London.

Amabel felt the crispness in his voice but, centered as she was in her
own self-mastery, she could not guess at the degree of his.

After dinner they went into the drawing-room, where the old, ugly lamp
added its light to the candles on the mantel-piece.

Augustine took his book and sat down at one side of the table. Amabel
sat at the other. She, too, took a book and tried to read; a little time
passed and then she found that her hands were trembling so much that she
could not. She slid the book softly back upon the table, reaching out
for her work-bag. She hoped Augustine had not seen, but, glancing up at
him, she saw his eyes upon her.

Augustine's eyes looked strange tonight. The dark rims around the iris
seemed to have expanded. Suddenly she felt horribly afraid of him.

They gazed at each other, and she forced herself to a trembling,
meaningless smile. And when she smiled at him he sprang up and came to
her. He leaned over her, and she shrank back into her chair, shutting
her eyes.

"You must tell me the truth," said Augustine. "I can't bear this. _He_
has made you unhappy.--_He_ comes between us."

She lay back in the darkness, hearing the incredible words.

"He?--What do you mean?"

"He is a bad man. And he makes you miserable. And you love him."

She heard the nightmare: she could not look at it.

"My husband bad? He is good, more good than you can guess. What do you
mean by speaking so?"

With closed eyes, shutting him out, she spoke, anger and terror in her
voice.

Augustine lifted himself and stood with his hands clenched looking at
her.

"You say that because you love him. You love him more than anything or
anyone in the world."

"I do. I love him more than anyone or anything in the world. How have
you dared--in silence--in secret--to nourish these thoughts against the
man who has given you all you have."

"He hasn't given me all I have. You are everything in my life and he is
nothing. He is selfish. He is sensual. He is stupid. He doesn't know
what beauty or goodness is. I hate him," said Augustine.

Her eyes at last opened on him. She grasped her chair and raised
herself. Whose hands were these, desecrating her holy of holies. Her
son's? Was it her son who spoke these words? An enemy stood before her.

"Then you do not love me. If you hate him you do not love me,"--her
anger had blotted out her fear, but she could find no other than these
childish words and the tears ran down her face.

"And if you love him you cannot love me," Augustine answered. His
self-mastery was gone. It was a fierce, wild anger that stared back at
her. His young face was convulsed and livid.

"It is you who are bad to have such false, base thoughts!" his mother
cried, and her eyes in their indignation, their horror, struck at him,
accused him, thrust him forth. "You are cruel--and hard--and
self-righteous.--You do not love me.--There is no tenderness in your
heart!"--

Augustine burst into tears. "There is no room in your heart for me!--"
he gasped. He turned from her and rushed out of the room.

       *     *     *     *     *

A long time passed before she leaned forward in the chair where she had
sat rigidly, rested her elbows on her knees, buried her face in her
hands.

Her heart ached and her mind was empty: that was all she knew. It had
been too much. This torpor of sudden weakness was merciful. Now she
would go to bed and sleep.

It took her a long time to go upstairs; her head whirled, and if she had
not clung to the baluster she would have fallen.

In the passage above she paused outside Augustine's door and listened.
She heard him move inside, walking to his window, to lean out into the
night, probably, as was his wont. That was well. He, too, would sleep
presently.

In her room she said to her maid that she did not need her. It took her
but a few minutes tonight to prepare for bed. She could not even braid
her uncoiled hair. She tossed it, all loosened, above her head as she
fell upon the pillow.

She heard, for a little while, the dull thumping of her heart. Her
breath was warm in a mesh of hair beneath her cheek; she was too sleepy
to put it away. She was wakened next morning by the maid. Her curtains
were drawn and a dull light from a rain-blotted world was in the room.

The maid brought a note to her bedside. From Mr. Augustine, she said.

Amabel raised herself to hold the sheet to the light and read:--

"Dear mother," it said. "I think that I shall go and stay with Wallace
for a week or so. I shall see you before I go up to Oxford. Try to
forgive me for my violence last night. I am sorry to have added to your
unhappiness. Your affectionate son--Augustine."

Her mind was still empty. "Has Mr. Augustine gone?" she asked the maid.

"Yes, ma'am; he left quite early, to catch the eight-forty train."

"Ah, yes," said Amabel. She sank back on her pillow. "I will have my
breakfast in bed. Tea, please, only, and toast."--Then, the long habit
of self-discipline asserting itself, the necessity for keeping strength,
if it were only to be spent in suffering:--"No, coffee, and an egg,
too."

She found, indeed, that she was very hungry; she had eaten nothing
yesterday. After her bath and the brushing and braiding of her hair, it
was pleasant to lie propped high on her pillows and to drink her hot
coffee. The morning papers, too, were nice to look at, folded on her
tray. She did not wish to read them; but they spoke of a firmly
established order, sustaining her life and assuring her of ample pillows
to lie on and hot coffee to drink, assuring her that bodily comforts
were pleasant whatever else was painful. It was a childish, a still
stupefied mood, she knew, but it supported her; an oasis of the
familiar, the safe, in the midst of whirling, engulfing storms.

It supported her through the hours when she lay, with closed eyes,
listening to the pour and drip of the rain, when, finally deciding to
get up, she rose and dressed very carefully, taking all her time.

Below, in the drawing-room, when she entered, it was very dark. The fire
was unlit, the bowls of roses were faded; and sudden, childish tears
filled her eyes at the desolateness. On such a day as this Augustine
would have seen that the fire was burning, awaiting her. She found
matches and lighted it herself and the reluctantly creeping brightness
made the day feel the drearier; it took a long time even to warm her
foot as she stood before it, leaning her arm on the mantel-piece.

It was Saturday; she should not see her girls today; there was relief in
that, for she did not think that she could have found anything to say to
them this morning.

Looking at the roses again, she felt vexed with the maid for having left
them there in their melancholy. She rang and spoke to her almost sharply
telling her to take them away, and when she had gone felt the tears rise
with surprise and compunction for the sharpness.

There would be no fresh flowers in the room today, it was raining too
hard. If Augustine had been here he would have gone out and found her
some wet branches of beech or sycamore to put in the vases: he knew how
she disliked a flowerless, leafless room, a dislike he shared.

How the rain beat down. She stood looking out of the window at the
sodden earth, the blotted shapes of the trees. Beyond the nearest
meadows it was like a grey sheet drawn down, confusing earth and sky and
shutting vision into an islet.

She hoped that Augustine had taken his mackintosh. He was very forgetful
about such things. She went out to look into the bleak, stone hall hung
with old hunting prints that were dimmed and spotted with age and damp.
Yes, it was gone from its place, and his ulster, too. It had been a
considered, not a hasty departure. A tweed cloak that he often wore on
their walks hung there still and, vaguely, as though she sought
something, she turned it, looked at it, put her hands into the worn,
capacious pockets. All were empty except one where she found some
withered gorse flowers. Augustine was fond of stripping off the golden
blossoms as they passed a bush, of putting his nose into the handful of
fragrance, and then holding it out for her to smell it, too:--"Is it
apricots, or is it peaches?" she could hear him say.

She went back into the drawing-room holding the withered flowers. Their
fragrance was all gone, but she did not like to burn them. She held them
and bent her face to them as she stood again looking out. He would by
now have reached his destination. Wallace was an Eton friend, a nice
boy, who had sometimes stayed at Charlock House. He and Augustine were
perhaps already arguing about Nietzsche.

Strange that her numbed thoughts should creep along this path of custom,
of maternal associations and solicitudes, forgetful of fear and sorrow.
The recognition came with a sinking pang. Reluctantly, unwillingly, her
mind was forced back to contemplate the catastrophe that had befallen
her. He was her judge, her enemy: yet, on this dismal day, how she
missed him. She leaned her head against the window-frame and the tears
fell and fell.

If he were there, could she not go to him and take his hand and say
that, whatever the deep wounds they had dealt each other, they needed
each other too much to be apart. Could she not ask him to take her back,
to forgive her, to love her? Ah--there full memory rushed in. Her heart
seemed to pant and gasp in the sudden coil. Take him back? When it was
her steady fear as well as her sudden anger that had banished him, he
thought he loved her, but that was because he did not know and it was
the anger rather than the love of Augustine's last words that came to
her. He loved her because he believed her good, and that imaginary
goodness cast a shadow on her husband. To believe her good Augustine had
been forced to believe evil of the man she loved and to whom they both
owed everything.

He had said that he was shut out from her heart, and it was true, and
her heart broke in seeing it. But it was by more than the sacred love
for her husband that her child was shut out. Her past, her guilt, was
with her and stood as a barrier between them. She was separated from him
for ever. And, looking round the room, suddenly terrified, it seemed to
her that Augustine was dead and that she was utterly alone.



VIII


She did not write to Augustine for some days. There seemed nothing that
she could say. To say that she forgave him might seem to put aside too
easily the deep wrong he had done her and her husband; to say that she
longed to see him and that, in spite of all, her heart was his, seemed
to make deeper the chasm of falseness between them.

The rain fell during all these days. Sometimes a pale evening sunset
would light the western horizon under lifted clouds and she could walk
out and up and down the paths, among her sodden rose-trees, or down into
the wet, dark woods. Sometimes at night she saw a melancholy star
shining here and there in the vaporous sky. But in the morning the grey
sheet dropped once more between her and the outer world, and the sound
of the steady drip and beat was like an outer echo to her inner
wretchedness.

It was on the fourth day that wretchedness turned to bitter
restlessness, and that to a sudden resolve. Not to write, not even to
say she forgave, might make him think that her heart was still hardened
against him. Her fear had blunted her imagination. Clearly now she saw,
and with an anguish in the vision, that Augustine must be suffering too.
Clearly she heard the love in his parting words. And she longed so to
see, to hear that love again, that the longing, as if with sudden
impatience of the hampering sense of sin, rushed into words that might
bring him.

She wrote:--"My dear Augustine. I miss you very much. Isn't this dismal
weather. I am feeling better. I need not tell you that I do forgive you
for the mistake that hurts us both." Then she paused, for her heart
cried out "Oh--come back soon"; but she did not dare yield to that cry.
She hardly knew that, with uncertain fingers, she only repeated
again:--"I miss you very much. Your affectionate mother."

This was on the fourth day.

On the afternoon of the fifth she stood, as she so often stood, looking
out at the drawing-room window. She was looking and listening, detached
from what she saw, yet absorbed, too, for, as with her son, this
watchfulness of natural things was habitual to her.

It was still raining, but more fitfully: a wind had risen and against a
scudding sky the sycamores tossed their foliage, dark or pale by turns
as the wind passed over them. A broad pool of water, dappling
incessantly with rain-drops, had formed along the farther edge of the
walk where it slanted to the lawn: it was this pool that Amabel was
watching and the bobbin-like dance of drops that looked like little
glass thimbles. The old leaden pipes, curiously moulded, that ran down
the house beside the windows, splashed and gurgled loudly. The noise of
the rushing, falling water shut out other sounds. Gazing at the dancing
thimbles she was unaware that someone had entered the room behind her.

Suddenly two hands were laid upon her shoulders.

The shock, going through her, was like a violent electric discharge. She
tingled from head to foot, and almost with terror. "Augustine!" she
gasped. But the shock was to change, yet grow, as if some alien force
had penetrated her and were disintegrating every atom of her blood.

"No, not Augustine," said her husband's voice: "But you can be glad to
see me, can't you, Amabel?"

He had taken off his hands now and she could turn to him, could see his
bright, smiling face looking at her, could feel him as something
wonderful and radiant filling the dismal day, filling her dismal heart,
with its presence. But the shock still so trembled in her that she did
not move from her place or speak, leaning back upon the window as she
looked at him,--for he was very near,--and putting her hands upon the
window-sill on either side. "You didn't expect to see me, did you," Sir
Hugh said.

She shook her head. Never, never, in all these years, had he come again,
so soon. Months, always, sometimes years, had elapsed between his
visits.

"The last time didn't count, did it," he went on, in speech vague and
desultory yet, at the same time, intent and bright in look. "I was so
bothered; I behaved like a selfish brute; I'm sure you felt it. And you
were so particularly kind and good--and dear to me, Amabel."

She felt herself flushing. He stood so near that she could not move
forward and he must read the face, amazed, perplexed, incredulous of its
joy, yet all lighted from his presence, that she kept fixed on him. For
ah, what joy to see him, to feel that here, here alone of all the world,
was she safe, consoled, known yet cared for. He who understood all as no
one else in the world understood, could stand and smile at her like
that.

"You look thin, and pale, and tired," were his next words. "What have
you been doing to yourself? Isn't Augustine here? You're not alone?"

"Yes; I am alone. Augustine is staying with the Wallace boy."

With the mention of Augustine the dark memory came, but it was now of
something dangerous and hostile shut away, yes, safely shut away, by
this encompassing brightness, this sweetness of intent solicitude. She
no longer yearned to see Augustine.

Sir Hugh looked at her for some moments, when, she said that she was
alone, without speaking. "That is nice for me," he then said. "But how
miserable,--for you,--it must have been. What a shame that you should
have been left alone in this dull place,--and this wretched weather,
too!--Did you ever see such weather." He looked past her at the rain.

"It has been wretched," said Amabel; but she spoke, as she felt, in the
past: nothing seemed wretched now.

"And you were staring out so hard, that you never heard me," He came
beside her now, as if to look out, too, and, making room for him, she
also turned and they looked out at the rain together.

"A filthy day," said Sir Hugh, "I can't bear to think that this is what
you have been doing, all alone."

"I don't mind it, I have the girls, on three mornings, you know."

"You mean that you don't mind it because you are so used to it?"

She had regained some of her composure:--for one thing he was beside
her, no longer blocking her way back into the room. "I like solitude,
you know," she was able to smile.

"Really like it?"

"Sometimes."

"Better than the company of some people, you mean?"

"Yes."

"But not better than mine," he smiled back. "Come, do encourage me, and
say that you are glad to see me."

In her joy the bewilderment was growing, but she said that, of course,
she was glad to see him.

"I've been so bored, so badgered," said Sir Hugh, stretching himself a
little as though to throw off the incubus of tiresome memories; "and
this morning when I left a dull country house, I said to myself: Why not
go down and see Amabel?--I don't believe she will mind.--I believe that,
perhaps, she'll be pleased.--I know that I want to go very much.--So
here I am:--very glad to be here--with dear Amabel."

She looked out, silent, blissful, and perplexed.

He was not hard; he was not irritated; all trace of vexed preoccupation
was gone; but he was not the Sir Hugh that she had seen for all these
twenty years. He was new, and yet he reminded her of something, and the
memory moved towards her through a thick mist of years, moved like a
light through mist. Far, sweet, early things came to her as its heralds;
the sound of brooks running; the primrose woods where she had wandered
as a girl; the singing of prophetic birds in Spring. The past had never
come so near as now when Sir Hugh--yes, there it was, the fair, far
light--was making her remember their long past courtship. And a shudder
of sweetness went through her as she remembered, of sweetness yet of
unutterable sadness, as though something beautiful and dead had been
shown to her. She seemed to lean, trembling, to kiss the lips of a
beautiful dead face, before drawing over it the shroud that must cover
it for ever.

Sir Hugh was silent also. Her silence, perhaps, made him conscious of
memories. Presently, looking behind them, he said:--"I'm keeping you
standing. Shall we go to the fire?"

She followed him, bending a little to the fire, her arm on the
mantel-shelf, a hand held out to the blaze. Sir Hugh stood on the other
side. She was not thinking of herself, hardly of him. Suddenly he took
the dreaming hand, stooped to it, and kissed it. He had released it
before she had time to know her own astonishment.

"You did kiss mine, you know," he smiled, leaning his arm, too, on the
mantel-shelf and looking at her with gaily supplicating eyes. "Don't be
angry."

The shroud had dropped: the past was gone: she was once more in the
present of oppressive, of painful joy.

She would have liked to move away and take her chair at some distance;
but that would have looked like flight; foolish indeed. She summoned her
common-sense, her maturity, her sorrow, to smile back, to say in a voice
she strove to make merely light: "Unusual circumstances excused me."

"Unusual circumstances?"

"You had been very kind. I was very grateful."

Sir Hugh for a moment was silent, looking at her with his intent,
interrogatory gaze. "You are always kind to me," he then said. "I am
always grateful. So may I always kiss your hand?"

Her eyes fell before his. "If you wish to," she answered gravely.

"You frighten me a little, do you know," said Sir Hugh. "Please don't
frighten me.--Are you really angry?--_I_ don't frighten you?"

"You bewilder me a little," Amabel murmured. She looked into the fire,
near tears, indeed, in her bewilderment; and Sir Hugh looked at her,
looked hard and carefully, at her noble figure, her white hands, the
gold and white of her leaning head. He looked, as if measuring the
degree of his own good fortune.

"You are so lovely," he then said quietly.

She blushed like a girl.

"You are the most beautiful woman I know," said Sir Hugh. "There is no
one like you," He put his hand out to hers, and, helplessly, she yielded
it. "Amabel, do you know, I have fallen in love with you."

She stood looking at him, stupefied; her eyes ecstatic and appalled.

"Do I displease you?" asked Sir Hugh.

She did not answer.

"Do I please you?" Still she gazed at him, speechless.

"Do you care at all for me?" he asked, and, though grave, he smiled a
little at her in asking the question. How could he not know that, for
years, she had cared for him more than for anything, anyone?

And when he asked her this last question, the oppression was too great.
She drew her hand from his, and laid her arms upon the mantel-shelf and
hid her face upon them. It was a helpless confession. It was a helpless
appeal.

But the appeal was not understood, or was disregarded. In a moment her
husband's arms were about her.

This was new. This was not like their courtship.--Yet, it reminded
her,--of what did it remind her as he murmured words of victory, clasped
her and kissed her? It reminded her of Paul Quentin. In the midst of the
amazing joy she knew that the horror was as great.

"Ah don't!--how can you!--how can you!" she said.

She drew away from him but he would not let her go.

"How can I? How can I do anything else?" he laughed, in easy yet excited
triumph. "You do love me--you darling nun!"

She had freed her hands and covered her face: "I beg of you," she
prayed.

The agony of her sincerity was too apparent. Sir Hugh unclasped his
arms. She went to her chair, sat down, leaned on the table, still
covering her eyes. So she had leaned, years ago, with hidden face, in
telling Bertram of the coming of the child. It seemed to her now that
her shame was more complete, more overwhelming. And, though it
overwhelmed her, her bliss was there; the golden and the black streams
ran together.

"Dearest,--should I have been less sudden?" Sir Hugh was beside her,
leaning over her, reasoning, questioning, only just not caressing her.
"It's not as if we didn't know each other, Amabel: we have been
strangers, in a sense;--yet, through it all--all these years--haven't we
felt near?--Ah darling, you can't deny it;--you can't deny you love me."
His arm was pressing her.

"Please--" she prayed again, and he moved his hand further away, beyond
her crouching shoulder.

"You are such a little nun that you can't bear to be loved?--Is that it?
But you'll have to learn again. You are more than a nun: you are a
beautiful woman: young; wonderfully young. It's astonishing how like a
girl you are."--Sir Hugh seemed to muse over a fact that allured. "And
however like a nun you've lived--you can't deny that you love me."

"You haven't loved me," Amabel at last could say.

He paused, but only for a moment. "Perhaps not: but," his voice had now
the delicate aptness that she remembered, "how could I believe that
there was a chance for me? How could I think you could ever come to
care, like this, when you had left me--you know--Amabel."

She was silent, her mind whirling. And his nearness, as he leaned over
her, was less ecstasy than terror. It was as if she only knew her love,
her sacred love again, when he was not near.

"It's quite of late that I've begun to wonder," said Sir Hugh. "Stupid
ass of course, not to have seen the jewel I held in my hand. But you've
only showed me the nun, you darling. I knew you cared, but I never knew
how much.--I ought to have had more self-conceit, oughtn't I?"

"I have cared. You have been all that is beautiful.--I have cared more
than for anything.--But--oh, it could not have been this.--This would
have killed me with shame," said Amabel.

"With shame? Why, you strange angel?"

"Can you ask?" she said in a trembling voice.

His hand caressed her hair, slipped around her neck. "You nun; you
saint.--Does that girlish peccadillo still haunt you?"

"Don't--oh don't--call it that--call me that!--"

"Call you a saint? But what else are you?--a beautiful saint. What other
woman could have lived the life you've lived? It's wonderful."

"Don't. I cannot bear it."

"Can't bear to be called a saint? Ah, but, you see, that's just why you
are one."

She could not speak. She could not even say the only answering word: a
sinner. Her hands were like leaden weights upon her brows. In the
darkness she heard her heart beating heavily, and tried and tried to
catch some fragment of meaning from her whirling thoughts.

And as if her self-condemnation were a further enchantment, her husband
murmured: "It makes you all the lovelier that you should feel like that.
It makes me more in love with you than ever: but forget it now. Let me
make you forget it. I can.--Darling, your beautiful hair. I remember
it;--it is as beautiful as ever.--I remember it;--it fell to your
knees.--Let me see your face, Amabel."

She was shuddering, shrinking from him.--"Oh--no--no.--Do you not
see--not feel--that it is impossible--"

"Impossible! Why?--My darling, you are my wife;--and if you love me?--"

They were whirling impossibilities; she could see none clearly but one
that flashed out for her now in her extremity of need, bright, ominous,
accusing. She seized it:--"Augustine."

"Augustine? What of him?" Sir Hugh's voice had an edge to it.

"He could not bear it. It would break his heart."

"What has he to do with it? He isn't all your life:--you've given him
most of it already."

"He is, he must be, all my life, except that beautiful part that you
were:--that you are:--oh you will stay my friend!"--

"I'll stay your lover, your determined lover and husband, Amabel.
Darling, you are ridiculous, enchanting--with your barriers, your
scruples." The fear, the austerity, he felt in her fanned his ardour to
flame. His arms once more went round her; he murmured words of
lover-like pleading, rapturous, wild and foolish. And, though her love,
her sacred love for him was there, his love for her was a nightmare to
her now. She had lost herself, and it was as though she lost him, while
he pleaded thus. And again and again she answered, resolute and
tormented:--"No: no: never--never. Do not speak so to me.--Do not--I beg
of you."

Suddenly he released her. He straightened himself, and moved away from
her a little. Someone had entered.

Amabel dropped her hands and raised her eyes at last. Augustine stood
before them.

Augustine had on still his long travelling coat; his cap, beaded with
raindrops, was in his hand; his yellow hair was ruffled. He had entered
hastily. He stood there looking at them, transfixed, yet not astonished.
He was very pale.

For some moments no one of them spoke. Sir Hugh did not move further
from his wife's side: he was neither anxious nor confused; but his face
wore an involuntary scowl.

The deep confusion was Amabel's. But her husband had released her; no
longer pleaded; and with the lifting of that dire oppression the
realities of her life flooded her almost with relief. It was impossible,
this gay, this facile, this unseemly love, but, as she rejected and put
it from her, the old love was the stronger, cherished the more closely,
in atonement and solicitude, the man shrunk from and repulsed. And in
all the deep confusion, before her son,--that he should find her so,
almost in her husband's arms,--a flash of clarity went through her mind
as she saw them thus confronted. Deeper than ever between her and
Augustine was the challenge of her love and his hatred; but it was that
sacred love that now needed safeguards; she could not feel it when her
husband was near and pleading; Augustine was her refuge from oppression.

She rose and went to him and timidly clasped his arm. "Dear Augustine, I
am so glad you have come back. I have missed you so."

He stood still, not responding to her touch: but, as she held him, he
looked across the room at Sir Hugh. "You wrote you missed me. That's why
I came."

Sir Hugh now strolled to the fire and stood before it, turning to face
Augustine's gaze; unperturbed; quite at ease.

"How wet you are dear," said Amabel. "Take off this coat."

Augustine stripped it off and flung it on a chair. She could hear his
quick breathing: he did not look at her. And still it seemed to her that
it was his anger rather than his love that protected her.

"He will want to change, dearest," said Sir Hugh from before the fire.
"And,--I want to finish my talk with you."

Augustine now looked at his mother, at the blush that overwhelmed her as
that possessive word was spoken. "Do you want me to go?"

"No, dear, no.--It is only the coat that is wet, isn't it. Don't go: I
want to see you, of course, after your absence.--Hugh, you will excuse
us; it seems such a long time since I saw him. You and I will finish our
talk on another day.--Or I will write to you."

She knew what it must look like to her husband, this weak recourse to
the protection of Augustine's presence; it looked like bashfulness, a
further feminine wile, made up of self-deception and allurement, a
putting off of final surrender for the greater sweetness of delay. And
as the reading of him flashed through her it brought a strange pang of
shame, for him; of regret, for something spoiled.

Sir Hugh took out his watch and looked at it. "Five o'clock. I told the
station fly to come back for me at five fifteen. You'll give me some
tea, dearest?"

"Of course;--it is time now.--Augustine, will you ring?"

The miserable blush covered her again.

The tea came and they were silent while the maid set it out. Augustine
had thrown himself into a chair and stared before him. Sir Hugh, very
much in possession, kept his place before the fire. Catching Amabel's
eye he smiled at her. He was completely assured. How should he not be?
What, for his seeing, could stand between them now?

When the maid was gone and Amabel was making tea, he came and stood over
her, his hands in his pockets, his handsome head bent to her, talking
lightly, slightly jesting, his voice pitched intimately for her ear, yet
not so intimately that any unkindness of exclusion should appear.
Augustine could hear all he said and gauge how deep was an intimacy that
could wear such lightness, such slightness, as its mask.

Augustine, meanwhile, looked at neither his mother nor Sir Hugh. Turned
from them in his chair he put out his hand for his tea and stared before
him, as if unseeing and unhearing, while he drank it.

It was for her sake, Amabel knew, that Sir Hugh, raising his voice
presently, as though aware of the sullen presence, made a little effort
to lift the gloom. "What sort of a time have you had, Augustine?" he
asked. "Was the weather at Haversham as bad as everywhere else?"

Augustine did not turn his head in replying:--"Quite as bad, I fancy."

"You and young Wallace hammered at metaphysics, I suppose."

"We did."

"Nice lad."

To this Augustine said nothing.

"They're such a solemn lot, the youths of this generation," said Sir
Hugh, addressing Amabel as well as Augustine: "In my day we never
bothered ourselves much about things: at least the ones I knew didn't.
Awfully empty and frivolous. Augustine and his friends would have
thought us. Where we used to talk about race horses they talk about the
Absolute,--eh, Augustine? We used to go and hear comic-operas and they
go and hear Brahms. I suppose you do go and hear Brahms, Augustine?"

Augustine maintained his silence as though not conceiving that the
sportive question required an answer and Amabel said for him that he was
very fond of Brahms.

"Well, I must be off," said Sir Hugh. "I hope your heart will ache ever
so little for me, Amabel, when you think of the night you've turned me
out into."

"Oh--but--I don't turn, you out,"--she stammered, rising, as, in a gay
farewell, he looked at her.

"No? Well, I'm only teasing. I could hardly have managed to stay this
time--though,--I might have managed, Amabel--. I'll come again soon,
very soon," said Sir Hugh.

"No," her hand was in his and she knew that Augustine had turned his
head and was looking at them:--"No, dear Hugh. Not soon, please. I will
write." Sir Hugh looked at her smiling. He glanced at Augustine; then
back at her, rallying her, affectionately, threateningly, determinedly,
for her foolish feints. He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.
"Write, if you want to; but I'm coming," he said. He nodded to Augustine
and left the room.



IX


It was, curiously enough, a crippling awkwardness and embarrassment that
Amabel felt rather than fear or antagonism, during that evening and the
morning that followed. Augustine had left the room directly after Sir
Hugh's departure. When she saw him again he showed her a face resolutely
mute. It was impossible to speak to him; to explain. The main facts he
must see; that her husband was making love to her and that, however deep
her love for him, she rejected him.

Augustine might believe that rejection to be for his own sake, might
believe that she renounced love and sacrificed herself from a maternal
sense of duty; and, indeed, the impossibility of bringing that love into
her life with Augustine had been the clear impossibility that had
flashed for her in her need; she had seized upon it and it had armed her
in her reiterated refusal. But how tell Augustine that there had been
more than the clear impossibility; how tell him that deeper than
renouncement was recoil? To tell that would be a disloyalty to her
husband; it would be almost to accuse him; it would be to show Augustine
that something in her life was spoiled and that her husband had spoiled
it. So perplexed, so jaded, was she, so tossed by the conflicting
currents of her lesser plight, that the deeper fears were forgotten: she
was not conscious of being afraid of Augustine.

The rain had ceased next morning. The sky was crystalline; the wet earth
glittered in Autumnal sunshine.

Augustine went out for his ride and Amabel had her girls to read with.
There was a sense of peace for her in finding these threads of her life
unknotted, smooth and simple, lying ready to her hand.

When she saw Augustine at lunch he said that he had met Lady Elliston.

"She was riding with Marjory and her girl."

"Oh, she is back, then." Amabel was grateful to him for his everyday
tone.

"What is Lady Elliston's girl like?"

"Pretty; very; foolish manners I thought; Marjory looked bewildered by
her."

"The manners of girls have changed, I fancy, since my day; and she isn't
a boy-girl, like our nice Marjory, either?"

"No; she is a girl-girl; a pretty, forward, conceited girl-girl," said
the ruthless Augustine. "Lady Elliston is coming to see you this
afternoon; she asked me to tell you; she says she wants a long talk."

Amabel's weary heart sank at the news.

"She is coming soon after lunch," said Augustine.

"Oh--dear--"--. She could not conceal her dismay.

"But you knew that you were to see her again;--do you mind so much?"
said Augustine.

"I don't mind.--It is only;--I have got so out of the way of seeing
people that it is something of a strain."

"Would you like me to come in and interrupt your talk?" asked Augustine
after a moment.

She looked across the table at him. Still, in her memory, preoccupied
with the cruelty of his accusation, it was the anger rather than the
love of his parting words the other day that was the more real. He had
been hard in kindness, relentless in judgment, only not accusing her,
not condemning her, because his condemnation had fixed on the innocent
and not on the guilty--the horror of that, as well as the other horror,
was between them now, and her guilt was deepened by it. But, as she
looked, his eyes reminded her of something; was it of that fancied cry
within the church, imprisoned and supplicating? They were like that cry
of pain, those eyes, the dark rims of the iris strangely expanding, and
her heart answered them, ignorant of what they said.

"You are thoughtful for me, dear; but no," she replied, "it isn't
necessary for you to interrupt."

He looked away from her: "I don't know that it's not necessary," he
said. After lunch they went into the garden and walked for a little in
the sunlight, in almost perfect silence. Once or twice, as though from
the very pressure of his absorption in her he created some intention of
speech and fancied that her lips had parted with the words, Augustine
turned his head quickly towards her, and at this, their eyes meeting, as
it were over emptiness, both he and she would flush and look away again.
The stress between them was painful. She was glad when he said that he
had work to do and left her alone.

Amabel went to the drawing-room and took her chair near the table. A
sense of solitude deeper than she had known for years pressed upon her.
She closed her eyes and leaned back her head, thinking, dimly, that now,
in such solitude as this, she must find her way to prayer again. But
still the door was closed. It was as if she could not enter without a
human hand in hers. Augustine's hand had never led her in; and she could
not take her husband's now.

But her longing itself became almost a prayer as she sat with closed
eyes. This would pass, this cloud of her husband's lesser love. When he
knew her so unalterably firm, when he saw how inflexibly the old love
shut out the new, he would, once more, be her friend. Then, feeling him
near again, she might find peace. The thought of it was almost peace.
Even in the midst of yesterday's bewildered pain she had caught glimpses
of the old beauty; his kindly speech to Augustine, his making of ease
for her; gratitude welled up in her and she sighed with the relief of
her deep hope. To feel this gratitude was to see still further beyond
the cloud. It was even beautiful for him to be able to "fall in love"
with her--as he had put it: that the manifestations of his love should
have made her shrink was not his fault but hers; she was a nun; because
she had been a sinner. She almost smiled now, in seeing so clearly that
it was on her the shadow rested. She could not be at peace, she could
not pray, she could not live, it seemed to her, if he were really
shadowed. And after the smile it was almost with the sense of dew
falling upon her soul that she remembered the kindness, the chivalrous
protection that had encompassed her through the long years. He was her
friend, her knight; she would forget, and he, too, would forget that he
had thought himself her lover.

She did not know how tired she was, but her exhaustion must have been
great, for the thoughts faded into a vague sweetness, then were gone,
and, suddenly opening her eyes, she knew that she had fallen asleep,
sitting straightly in her chair, and that Lady Elliston was looking at
her.

She started up, smiling and confused. "How absurd of me:--I have been
sleeping.--Have you just come?"

Lady Elliston did not smile and was silent. She took Amabel's hand and
looked at her; she had to recover herself from something; it may have
been the sleeping face, wasted and innocent, that had touched her too
deeply. And her gravity, as of repressed tears, frightened Amabel. She
had never seen Lady Elliston look so grave. "Is anything the matter?"
she asked. For a moment longer Lady Elliston was silent, as though
reflecting. Then releasing Amabel's hand, she said: "Yes: I think
something is the matter."

"You have come to tell me?"

"I didn't come for that. Sit down, Amabel. You are very tired, more
tired than the other day. I have been looking at you for a long time.--I
didn't come to tell you anything; but now, perhaps, I shall have
something to tell. I must think."

She took a chair beside the table and leaned her head on her hand
shading her eyes. Amabel had obeyed her and sat looking at her guest.

"Tell me," Lady Elliston said abruptly, and Amabel today, more than of
sweetness and softness, was conscious of her strength, "have you been
having a bad time since I saw you? Has anything happened? Has anything
come between you and Augustine? I saw him this morning, and he's been
suffering, too: I guessed it. You must be frank with me, Amabel; you
must trust me: perhaps I am going to be franker with you, to trust you
more, than you can dream."

She inspired the confidence her words laid claim to; for the first time
in their lives Amabel trusted her unreservedly.

"I have had a very bad time," she said: "And Augustine has had a bad
time. Yes; something has come between Augustine and me,--many things."

"He hates Hugh," said Lady Elliston.

"How can you know that?"

"I guessed it. He is a clever boy: he sees you absorbed; he sees your
devotion robbing him; perhaps he sees even more, Amabel; I heard this
morning, from Mrs. Grey, that Hugh had been with you, again, yesterday.
Amabel, is it possible; has Hugh been making love to you?"

Amabel had become very pale. Looking down, she said in a hardly audible
voice; "It is a mistake.--He will see that it is impossible."

Lady Elliston for a moment was silent: the confirming of her own
suspicion seemed to have stupefied her. "Is it impossible?" she then
asked.

"Quite, quite impossible."

"Does Hugh know that it is impossible?"

"He will.--Yesterday, Augustine came in while he was here;--I could not
say any more."

"I see: I see"; said Lady Elliston. Her hand fell to the table now and
she slightly tapped her finger-tips upon it. There was an ominous rhythm
in the little raps. "And this adds to Augustine's hatred," she said.

"I am afraid it is true. I am afraid he does hate him, and how terrible
that is," said Amabel, "for he believes him to be his father."

"By instinct he must feel the tie unreal."

"Yet he has had a father's kindness, almost, from Hugh."

"Almost. It isn't enough you know. He suspects nothing, you think?"

"It is that that is so terrible. He doesn't suspect me: he suspects him.
He couldn't suspect evil of me. It is my guilt, and his ignorant hatred
that is parting us." Amabel was trembling; she leaned forward and
covered her face with her hands.

The very air about her seemed to tremble; so strange, so incredibly
strange was it to hear her own words of helpless avowal; so strange to
feel that she must tell Lady Elliston all she wished to know.

"Parting you? What do you mean? What folly!--what impossible folly! A
mother and a son, loving each other as you and Augustine love, parted
for that. Oh, no," said Lady Elliston, and her own voice shook a little:
"that can't be. I won't have that."

"He would not love me, if he knew."

"Knew? What is there for him to know? And how should he know? You won't
be so mad as to tell him?"

"It's my punishment not to dare to tell him--and to see my cowardice
cast a shadow on Hugh."

"Punishment? haven't you been punished enough, good heavens! Cowardice?
it is reason, maturity; the child has no right to your secret--it is
yours and only yours, Amabel. And if he did know all, he could not judge
you as you judge yourself."

"Ah, you don't understand," Amabel murmured: "I had forgotten to judge
myself; I had forgotten my sin; it was Augustine who made me remember; I
know now what he feels about people like me."

Again Lady Elliston controlled herself to a momentary silence and again
her fingers sharply beat out her uncontrollable impatience. "I live in a
world, Amabel," she said at last, "where people when they use the word
'sin,' in that connection, know that it's obsolete, a mere decorative
symbol for unconventionality. In my world we don't have your cloistered
black and white view of life nor see sin where only youth and trust and
impulse were. If one takes risks, one may have to pay for them, of
course; one plays the game, if one is in the ring, and, of course, you
may be put out of the ring if you break the rules; but the rules are
those of wisdom, not of morality, and the rule that heads the list is:
Don't be found out. To imagine that the rules are anything more than
matters of social convenience is to dignify the foolish game. It is a
foolish game, Amabel, this of life: but one or two things in it are
worth having; power to direct the game; freedom to break its rules; and
love, passionate love, between a man and woman: and if one is strong
enough one can have them all."

Lady Elliston had again put her hand to her brow, shielding her eyes and
leaning her elbow on the table, and Amabel had raised her head and sat
still, gazing at her.

"You weren't strong enough," Lady Elliston went on after a little pause:
"You made frightful mistakes: the greatest, of course, was in running
away with Paul Quentin: that was foolish, and it was, if you like to
call foolishness by its obsolete name, a sin. You shouldn't have gone:
you should have stayed: you should have kept your lover--as long as you
wanted to."

Again she paused. "Do I horrify you?"

"No: you don't horrify me," Amabel replied. Her voice was gentle, almost
musing; she was absorbed in her contemplation.

"You see," said Lady Elliston, "you didn't play the game: you made a
mess of things and put the other players out. If you had stayed, and
kept your lover, you would have been, in my eyes, a less loveable but a
wiser woman. I believe in the game being kept up; I believe in the
social structure: I am one of its accredited upholders"; in the shadow
of her hand, Lady Elliston slightly smiled. "I believe in the family,
the group of shared interests, shared responsibilities, shared
opportunities it means: I don't care how many lovers a woman has if she
doesn't break up the family, if she plays the game. Marriage is a social
compact and it's the woman's part to keep the home together. If she
seeks love outside marriage she must play fair, she mustn't be an
embezzling partner; she mustn't give her husband another man's children
to support and so take away from his own children;--that's thieving. The
social structure, the family, are unharmed, if one is brave and wise.
Love and marriage can rarely be combined and to renounce love is to
cripple one's life, to miss the best thing it has to give. You, at all
events, Amabel, may be glad that you haven't missed it. What, after all,
does our life mean but just that,--the power and feeling that one gets
into it. Be glad that you've had something."

Amabel, answering nothing, contemplated her guest.

"So, as these are my views, imagine what I feel when I find you here,
like this"; Lady Elliston dropped her hand at last and looked about her,
not at Amabel: "when I find you, in prison, locked up for life, by
yourself, because you were lovably unwise. It's abominable, it's
shameful, your position, isolated here, and tolerated, looked askance at
by these nobodies.--Ah--I don't say that other women haven't paid even
more heavily than you've done; I own that, to a certain extent, you've
escaped the rigours that the game exacts from its victims. But there was
no reason why you should pay anything: it wasn't known, never really
known--your brother and Hugh saw to that;--you could have escaped
scot-free."

Amabel spoke at last: "How, scot-free?" she asked.

Lady Elliston looked hard at her: "Your husband would have taken you
back, had you insisted.--You shouldn't have fallen in with his plans."

"His plans? They were mine; my brother's."

"And his. Hugh was glad to be rid of the young wife he didn't love."

Again Amabel was trembling. "He might have been rid of her, altogether
rid of her, if he had cared more for power and freedom than for pity."

"Power? With not nearly enough money? He was glad to keep her money and
be rid of her. If you had pulled the purse-strings tight you might have
made your own conditions."

"I do not believe you," said Amabel; "What you say is not true. My
husband is noble."

Lady Elliston looked at her steadily and unflinchingly. "He is not
noble," she said.

"What have you meant by coming here today? You have meant something! I
will not listen to you! You are my husband's enemy;"--Amabel half
started from her chair, but Lady Elliston laid her hand on her arm,
looking at her so fixedly that she sank down again, panic-stricken.

"He is not noble," Lady Elliston repeated. "I will not have you waste
your love as you have wasted your life. I will not have this illusion of
his nobility come between you and your son. I will not have him come
near you with his love. He is not noble, he is not generous, he is not
beautiful. He could not have got rid of you. And he came to you with his
love yesterday because his last mistress has thrown him over--and he
must have a mistress. I know him: I know all about him: and you don't
know him at all. Your husband was my lover for over twenty years."

A long silence followed her words. It was again a strange picture of
arrested life in the dark room. The light fell quietly upon the two
faces, their stillness, their contemplation--it seemed hardly more
intent than contemplation, that drinking gaze of Amabel's; the draught
of wonder was too deep for pain or passion, and Lady Elliston's eyes
yielded, offered, held firm the cup the other drank. And the silence
grew so long that it was as if the twenty years flowed by while they
gazed upon each other.

It was Lady Elliston's face that first showed change. She might have
been the cup-bearer tossing aside the emptied cup, seeing in the slow
dilation of the victim's eyes, the constriction of lips and nostrils,
that it had held poison. All--all had been drunk to the last drop. Death
seemed to gaze from the dilated eyes.

"Oh--my poor Amabel--" Lady Elliston murmured; her face was stricken
with pity.

Amabel spoke in the cramped voice of mortal anguish.--"Before he married
me."

"Yes," Lady Elliston nodded, pitiful, but unflinching. "He married you
for your money, and because you were a sweet, good, simple child who
would not interfere."

"And he could not have divorced me, because of you."

"Because of me. You know the law; one guilty person can't divorce
another. No one knew: no one has ever known: he and Jack have remained
the best of friends:--but, of course, with all our care, it's been
suspected, whispered. If I'd been less powerful the whispers might have
blighted me: as it was, we thought that Bertram wasn't altogether
unsuspecting. Hugh knew that it would be fatal to bring the matter into
court;--I will say for Hugh that, in spite of the money, he wanted to.
He could have married money again. He has always been extremely
captivating. When he found that he would have to keep you, the money, of
course, did atone. I suppose he has had most of your money by now," said
Lady Elliston.

Amabel shut her eyes. "Wasn't he even sorry for me?" she asked.

Lady Elliston reflected and a glitter was in her eye; vengeance as well
as justice armed her. "He is not unkind," she conceded: "and he was
sorry after a fashion: 'Poor little girl,' I remember he said. Yes, he
was very tolerant. But he didn't think of you at all, unless he wanted
money. He is always graceful in his direct relations with people; he is
tactful and sympathetic and likes things to be pleasant. But he doesn't
mind breaking your heart if he doesn't have to see you while he is doing
it. He is kind, but he is as hard as steel," said Lady Elliston.

"Then you do not love him any longer," said Amabel. It was not a
question, only a farther acceptance.

And now, after only the slightest pause, Lady Elliston proved how deep,
how unflinching was her courage. She had guarded her illicit passion all
her life; she revealed it now. "I do love him," she said. "I have never
loved another man. It is he who doesn't love me."

From the black depths where she seemed to swoon and float, like a
drowsy, drowning thing, the hard note of misery struck on Amabel's ear.
She opened her eyes and looked at Lady Elliston. Power, freedom,
passion: it was not these that looked back at her from the bereft and
haggard eyes. "After twenty years he has grown tired," Lady Elliston
said; and her candour seemed as inevitable as Amabel's had been: each
must tell the other everything; a common bond of suffering was between
them and a common bond of love, though love so differing. "I knew, of
course, that he was often unfaithful to me; he is a libertine; but I was
the centre; he always came back to me.--I saw the end approaching about
five years ago. I fought--oh how warily--so that he shouldn't dream I
was afraid;--it is fatal for a woman to let a man know she is
afraid,--the brutes, the cruel brutes,"--said Lady Elliston;--"how we
love them for their fear and pleading; how our fear and pleading hardens
them against us." Her lips trembled and the tears ran down her cheeks.
"I never pleaded; I never showed that I saw the change. I kept him, for
years, by my skill. But the odds were too great at last. It was a year
ago that he told me he didn't care any more. He was troubled, a little
embarrassed, but quite determined that I shouldn't bother him. Since
then it has been another woman. I know her; I meet her everywhere; very
beautiful; very young; only married for three years; a heartless,
rapacious creature. Hugh has nearly ruined himself in paying her
jeweller's bills and her debts at bridge. And already she has thrown him
over. It happened only the other day. I knew it was happening when I saw
him here. I was glad, Amabel; I longed for him to suffer; and he will.
He is a libertine of most fastidious tastes and he will not find many
more young and beautiful women, of his world, to run risks for him. He,
too, is getting old. And he has gone through nearly all his own
money--and yours. Things will soon be over for him.--Oh--but--I love
him--I love him--and everything is over for me.--How can I bear it!"

She bent forward on her knees and convulsive sobs shook her.

Her words seemed to Amabel to come to her from a far distance; they
echoed in her, yet they were not the words she could have used. How dim
was her own love-dream beside this torment of dispossession.
What--who--had she loved for all these years? She could not touch or see
her own grief; but Lady Elliston's grief pierced through her. She leaned
towards her and softly touched her shoulder, her arm, her hand; she held
the hand in hers. The sight of this loss of strength and dignity was an
actual pain; her own pain was something elusive and unsubstantial; it
wandered like a ghost vainly seeking an embodiment.

"Oh, you angel--you poor angel!" moaned Lady Elliston. "There: that's
enough of crying; it can't bring back my youth.--What a fool I am. If
only I could learn to think of myself as free instead of maimed and left
by the wayside. It is hard to live without love if one has always had
it.--But I have freed you, Amabel. I am glad of that. It has been a
cruel, but a right thing to do. He shall not come to you with his
shameless love; he shall not come between you and your boy. You shan't
misplace your worship so. It is Augustine who is beautiful and noble; it
is Augustine who loves you. You aren't maimed and forsaken; thank heaven
for that, dear."

Lady Elliston had risen. Strong again, she faced her life, took up the
reins, not a trace of scruple or of shame about her. It did not enter
her mind to ask Amabel for forgiveness, to ask if she were despised or
shrunk from: it did not enter Amabel's mind to wonder at the omission.
She looked up at her guest and her lifted face seemed that of the
drowned creature floating to the surface of the water.

"Tell me, Amabel," Lady Elliston suddenly pleaded, "this is not going to
blacken things for you; you won't let it blacken things. You will live;
you will leave your prison and come out into the world, with your
splendid boy, and live."

Amabel slightly shook her head.

"Oh, why do you say that? Has it hurt so horribly?"

Amabel seemed to make the effort to think what it had done. She did not
know. The ghost wailed; but she could not see its form.

"Did you care--so tremendously--about him?"--Lady Elliston asked, and
her voice trembled. And, for answer, the drowned eyes looked up at her
through strange, cold tears.

"Oh, my dear, my dear," Lady Elliston murmured. Her hand was still in
Amabel's and she stood there beside her, her hand so held, for a long,
silent moment. They had looked away from each other.

And in the silence each knew that it was the end and that they would see
each other no more. They lived in different planets, under different
laws; they could understand, they could trust; but a deep, transparent
chasm, like that of the ether flowing between two divided worlds, made
them immeasurably apart.

Yet, when she at last gently released Amabel's hand, drawing her own
away. Lady Elliston said: "But,--won't you come out now?"

"Out? Where?" Amabel asked, in the voice of that far distance.

"Into the world, the great, splendid world."

"Splendid?"

"Splendid, if you choose to seize it and take what it has to give."

After a moment Amabel asked: "Has it given you so much?"

Lady Elliston looked at her from across the chasm; it was not dark, it
held no precipices; it was made up only of distance. Lady Elliston saw;
but she was loyal to her own world. "Yes, it has," she said. "I've
lived; you have dreamed your life away. You haven't even a reality to
mourn the loss of."

"No," Amabel said; she closed her eyes and turned her head away against
the chair; "No; I have lived too. Don't pity me."



X


It was past five when Augustine came into the empty drawing-room. Tea
was standing waiting, and had been there, he saw, for some time. He rang
and asked the maid to tell Lady Channice. Lady Channice, he heard, was
lying down and wanted no tea. Lady Elliston had gone half an hour
before. After a moment or two of deliberation, Augustine sat down and
made tea for himself. That was soon over. He ate nothing, looking with a
vague gaze of repudiation at the plate of bread and butter and the
cooling scones.

When tea had been taken away he walked up and down the room quickly,
pausing now and then for further deliberation. But he decided that he
would not go up to his mother. He went on walking for a long time. Then
he took a book and read until the dressing-bell for dinner rang.

When he went upstairs to dress he paused outside his mother's door, as
she had paused outside his, and listened. He heard no sound. He stood
still there for some moments before lightly rapping on the door. "Who is
it?" came his mother's voice. "I; Augustine. How are you? You are coming
down?"

"Not tonight," she answered; "I have a very bad headache."

"But let me have something sent up." After a moment his mother's voice
said very sweetly; "Of course, dear." And she added "I shall be all
right tomorrow."

The voice sounded natural--yet not quite natural; too natural, perhaps,
Augustine reflected. Its tone remained with him as something disturbing
and prolonged itself in memory like a familiar note strung to a queer,
forced pitch, that vibrated on and on until it hurt.

After his solitary meal he took up his book again in the drawing-room.
He read with effort and concentration, his brows knotted; his young
face, thus controlled to stern attention, was at once vigilant for outer
impressions and absorbed in the inner interest. Once or twice he looked
up, as a coal fell with a soft crash from the fire, as a thin creeper
tapped sharply on the window pane. His mother's room was above the
drawing-room and while he read he was listening; but he heard no
footsteps.

Suddenly, dim, yet clear, came another sound, a sound familiar, though
so rare; wheels grinding on the gravel drive at the other side of the
house. Then, loud and startling at that unaccustomed hour, the old hall
bell clanged through the house.

Augustine found himself leaning forward, breathing quickly, his book
half-closed. At first he did not know what he was listening for or why
his body should be tingling with excitement and anger. He knew a moment
later. There was a step in the hall, a voice. All his life Augustine had
known them, had waited for them, had hated them. Sir Hugh was back
again.

Of course he was back again, soon,--as he had promised in the tone of
mastery. But his mother had told him not to come; she had told him not
to come, and in a tone that meant more than his. Did he not know?--Did
he not understand?

"No, dear Hugh, not soon.--I will write."--Augustine sprang to his feet
as he entered the room.

Sir Hugh had been told that he would not find his wife. His face wore
its usual look of good-temper, but it wore more than its usual look of
indifference for his wife's son. "Ah, tell Lady Channice, will you," he
said over his shoulder to the maid. "How d'ye do, Augustine:" and, as
usual, he strolled up to the fire.

Augustine watched him as he crossed the room and said nothing. The maid
had closed the door. From his wonted place Sir Hugh surveyed the young
man and Augustine surveyed him.

"You know, my dear fellow," said Sir Hugh presently, lifting the sole of
his boot to the fire, "you've got devilish bad manners. You are
devilishly impertinent, I may tell you."

Augustine received the reproof without comment.

"You seem to imagine," Sir Hugh went on, "that you have some particular
right to bad manners and impertinence here, in this house; but you're
mistaken; I belong here as well as you do; and you'll have to accept the
fact."

A convulsive trembling, like his mother's, passed over the young man's
face; but whereas only Amabel's hands and body trembled, it was the
muscles of Augustine's lips, nostrils and brows that were affected, and
to see the strength of his face so shaken was disconcerting, painful.

"You don't belong here while I'm here," he said, jerking the words out
suddenly. "This is my mother's home--and mine;--but as soon as you make
it insufferable for us we can leave it."

"_You_ can; that's quite true," Sir Hugh nodded.

Augustine stood clenching his hands on his book. Now, unconscious of
what he did, he grasped the leaves and wrenched them back and forth as
he stood silent, helpless, desperate, before the other's intimation. Sir
Hugh watched the unconscious violence with interest.

"Yes," he went on presently, and still with good temper; "if you make
yourself insufferable--to your mother and me--you can go. Not that I
want to turn you out. It rests with you. Only, you must see that you
behave. I won't have you making her wretched."

Augustine glanced dangerously at him.

"Your mother and I have come to an understanding--after a great many
years of misunderstanding," said Sir Hugh, putting up the other sole.
"I'm--very fond of your mother,--and she is,--very fond of me."

"She doesn't know you," said Augustine, who had become livid while the
other made his gracefully hesitant statement.

"Doesn't know me?" Sir Hugh lifted his brows in amused inquiry; "My dear
boy, what do you know about that, pray? You are not in all your mother's
secrets."

Augustine was again silent for a moment, and he strove for self-mastery.
"If I am not in my mother's secrets," he said, "she is not in yours. She
does not know you. She doesn't know what sort of a man you are. You have
deceived her. You have made her think that you are reformed and that the
things in your life that made her leave you won't come again. But
whether you are reformed or not a man like you has no right to come near
a woman like my mother. I know that you are an evil man," said
Augustine, his face trembling more and more uncontrollably; "And my
mother is a saint."

Sir Hugh stared at him. Then he burst into a shout of laughter. "You
young fool!" he said.

Augustine's eyes were lightnings in a storm-swept sky.

"You young fool," Sir Hugh repeated, not laughing, a heavier stress
weighting each repeated word.

"Can you deny," said Augustine, "that you have always led a dissolute
life? If you do deny it it won't help you. I know it: and I've not
needed the echoes to tell me. I've always felt it in you. I've always
known you were evil."

"What if I don't deny it?" Sir Hugh inquired.

Augustine was silent, biting his quivering lips.

"What if I don't deny it?" Sir Hugh repeated. His assumption of
good-humour was gone. He, too, was scowling now. "What have you to say
then?"

"By heaven,--I say that you shall not come near my mother."

"And what if it was not because of my dissolute life she left me? What
if you've built up a cock-and-bull romance that has no relation to
reality in your empty young head? What then? Ask your mother if she left
me because of my dissolute life," said Sir Hugh.

The book in Augustine's wrenching hands had come apart with a crack and
crash. He looked down at it stupidly.

"You really should learn to control yourself--in every direction, my
dear boy," Sir Hugh remarked. "Now, unless you would like to wreak your
temper on the furniture, I think you had better sit down and be still. I
should advise you to think over the fact that saints have been known
before now to forgive sinners. And sinners may not be so bad as your
innocence imagines. Goodbye. I am going up to see your mother. I am
going to spend the night here."

Augustine stood holding the shattered book. He gazed as stupidly at Sir
Hugh as he had gazed at it. He gazed while Sir Hugh, who kept a rather
wary eye fixed on him, left the fire and proceeded with a leisurely pace
to cross the room: the door was reached and the handle turned, before
the stupor broke. Sir Hugh, his eyes still fixed on his antagonist, saw
the blanched fury, the start, as if the dazed body were awakening to
some insufferable torture, saw the gathering together, the leap:--"You
fool--you young fool!" he ground between his teeth as, with a clash of
the half-opened door, Augustine pinned him upon it. "Let me go. Do you
hear. Let me go." His voice was the voice of the lion-tamer, hushed
before danger to a quelling depth of quiet.

And like the young lion, drawing long breaths through dilated-nostrils,
Augustine growled back:--"I will not--I will not.--You shall not go to
her. I would rather kill you."

"Kill me?" Sir Hugh smiled. "It would be a fight first, you know."

"Then let it be a fight. You shall not go to her."

"And what if she wants me to go to her.--Will you kill her first,
too--"--The words broke. Augustine's hand was on his throat. Sir Hugh
seized him. They writhed together against the door. "You mad-man!--You
damned mad-man!--Your mother is in love with me.--I'll put you out of
her life--"--Sir Hugh grated forth from the strangling clutch.

Suddenly, as they writhed, panting, glaring their hatred at each other,
the door they leaned on pushed against them. Someone outside was turning
the handle, was forcing it open. And, as if through the shocks and
flashes of a blinding, deafening tempest, Augustine heard his mother's
voice, very still, saying: "Let me come in."



XI


They fell apart and moved back into the room. Amabel entered. She wore a
long white dressing-gown that, to her son's eyes, made her more than
ever look her sainted self; she had dressed hastily, and, on hearing the
crash below, she had wrapped a white scarf about her head and shoulders,
covering her unbound hair. So framed and narrowed her face was that of a
shrouded corpse: the same strange patience stamped it; her eyes, only,
seemed to live, and they, too, were patient and ready for any doom.

Quietly she had closed the door, and standing near it now she looked at
them; her eyes fell for a moment upon Sir Hugh; then they rested on
Augustine and did not leave him.

Sir Hugh spoke first. He laughed a little, adjusting his collar and tie.

"My dear,--you've saved my life. Augustine was going to batter my brains
out on the door, I fancy."

She did not look at him, but at Augustine.

"He's really dangerous, your son, you know. Please don't leave me alone
with him again," Sir Hugh smiled and pleaded; it was with almost his own
lightness, but his face still twitched with anger.

"What have you said to him?" Amabel asked.

Augustine's eyes were drawing her down into their torment.--Unfortunate
one.--That presage of her maternity echoed in her now. His stern young
face seemed to have been framed, destined from the first for this
foreseen misery.

Sir Hugh had pulled himself together. He looked at the mother and son.
And he understood her fear.

He went to her, leaned over her, a hand above her shoulder on the door.
He reassured and protected her; and, truly, in all their story, it had
never been with such sincerity and grace.

"Dearest, it's nothing. I've merely had to defend my rights. Will you
assure this young firebrand that my misdemeanours didn't force you to
leave me. That there were misdemeanours I don't deny; and of course you
are too good for the likes of me; but your coming away wasn't my fault,
was it.--That's what I've said.--And that saints forgive sinners,
sometimes.--That's all I want you to tell him."

Amabel still gazed into her son's eyes. It seemed to her, now that she
must shut herself out from it for ever, that for the first time in all
her life she saw his love.

It broke over her; it threatened and commanded her; it implored and
supplicated--ah the supplication beyond words or tears!--Selflessness
made it stern. It was for her it threatened; for her it prayed.

All these years the true treasure had been there beside her, while she
worshipped at the spurious shrine. Only her sorrow, her solicitude had
gone out to her son; the answering love that should have cherished and
encompassed him flowed towards its true goal only when it was too late.
He could not love her when he knew.

And he was to know. That had come to her clearly and unalterably while
she had leaned, half fallen, half kneeling, against her bed, dying, it
seemed to her, to all that she had known of life or hope.

But all was not death within her. In the long, the deadly stupor, her
power to love still lived. It had been thrown back from its deep channel
and, wave upon wave, it seemed heaped upon itself in some narrow abyss,
tormented and shuddering; and at last by its own strength, rather than
by thought or prayer of hers, it had forced an outlet.

It was then as if she found herself once more within the church.
Darkness, utter darkness was about her; but she was prostrated before
the unseen altar. She knew herself once more, and with herself she knew
her power to love.

Her life and all its illusions passed before her; by the truth that
irradiated the illusions, she judged them and herself and saw what must
be the atonement. All that she had believed to be the treasure of her
life had been taken from her; but there was one thing left to her that
she could give:--her truth to her son. When that price was paid, he
would be hers to love; he was no longer hers to live for. He should
found his life on no illusions, as she had founded hers. She must set
him free to turn away from her; but when he turned away it would not be
to leave her in the loneliness and the terror of heart that she had
known; it would be to leave her in the church where she could pray for
him.

She answered her husband after her long silence, looking at her son.

"It is true, Augustine," she said. "You have been mistaken. I did not
leave him for that."

Sir Hugh drew a breath of satisfaction. He glanced round at Augustine.
It was not a venomous glance, but, with its dart of steely intention, it
paid a debt of vengeance. "So,--we needn't say anything more about it,"
he said. "And--dearest--perhaps now you'll tell Augustine that he may go
and leave us together."

Amabel left her husband's side and went to her chair near the table. A
strange calmness breathed from her. She sat with folded hands and
downcast eyes.

"Augustine, come here," she said.

The young man came and stood before her.

"Give me your hand."

He gave it to her. She did not look at him but kept her eyes fixed on
the ground while she clasped it.

"Augustine," she said, "I want you to leave me with my husband. I must
talk with him. He is going away soon. Tomorrow--tomorrow morning early,
I will see you, here. I will have a great deal to say to you, my dear
son."

But Augustine, clutching her hand and trembling, looked down at her so
that she raised her eyes to his.

"I can't go, till you say something, now, Mother;"--his voice shook as
it had shaken on that day of their parting, his face was livid and
convulsed, as then;--"I will go away tonight--I don't know that I can
ever return--unless you tell me that you are not going to take him
back." He gazed down into his mother's eyes.

She did not answer him; she did not speak. But, as he looked into them,
he, too, for the first time, saw in them what she had seen in his.

They dwelt on him; they widened; they almost smiled; they deeply
promised him all--all--that he most longed for. She was his, her son's;
she was not her husband's. What he had feared had never threatened him
or her. This was a gift she had won the right to give. The depth of her
repudiation yesterday gave her her warrant.

And to Amabel, while they looked into each other's eyes, it was as if,
in the darkness, some arching loveliness of dawn vaguely shaped itself
above the altar.

"Kiss me, dear Augustine," she said. She held up her forehead, closing
her eyes, for the kiss that was her own.

Augustine was gone. And now, before her, was the ugly breaking. But must
it be so ugly? Opening her eyes, she looked at her husband as he stood
before the fire, his wondering eyes upon her. Must it be ugly? Why could
it not be quiet and even kind?

Strangely there had gathered in her, during the long hours, the garnered
strength of her life of discipline and submission. It had sustained her
through the shudder that glanced back at yesterday--at the corruption
that had come so near; it had given sanity to see with eyes of
compassion the forsaken woman who had come with her courageous,
revengeful story; it gave sanity now, as she looked over at her husband,
to see him also, with those eyes of compassionate understanding; he was
not blackened, to her vision, by the shadowing corruption, but, in his
way, pitiful, too; all the worth of life lost to him.

And it seemed swiftest, simplest, and kindest, as she looked over at
him, to say:--"You see--Lady Elliston came this afternoon, and told me
everything."

Sir Hugh kept his face remarkably unmoved. He continued to gaze at his
wife with an unabashed, unstartled steadiness. "I might have guessed
that," he said after a short silence. "Confound her."

Amabel made no reply.

"So I suppose," Sir Hugh went on, "you feel you can't forgive me."

She hesitated, not quite understanding. "You mean--for having married
me--when you loved her?"

"Well, yes; but more for not having, long ago, in all these years, found
out that you were the woman that any man with eyes to see, any man not
blinded and fatuous, ought to have been in love with from the
beginning."

Amabel flushed. Her vision was untroubled; but the shadow hovered. She
was ashamed for him.

"No"; she said, "I did not think of that. I don't know that I have
anything to forgive you. It is Lady Elliston, I think, who must try and
forgive you, if she can."

Sir Hugh was again silent for a moment; then he laughed. "You dear
innocent!--Well--I won't defend myself at her expense."

"Don't," said Amabel, looking now away from him.

Sir Hugh eyed her and seemed to weigh the meaning of her voice.

He crossed the room suddenly and leaned over her:--"Amabel darling,--what
must I do to atone? I'll be patient. Don't be cruel and punish me for too
long a time."

"Sit there--will you please." She pointed to the chair at the other side
of the table.

He hesitated, still leaning above her; then obeyed; folding his arms;
frowning.

"You don't understand," said Amabel. "I loved you for what you never
were. I do not love you now. And I would never have loved you as you
asked me to do yesterday."

He gazed at her, trying to read the difficult riddle of a woman's
perversity. "You were in love with me yesterday," he said at last.

She answered nothing.

"I'll make you love me again."

"No: never," she answered, looking quietly at him. "What is there in you
to love?"

Sir Hugh flushed. "I say! You are hard on me!"

"I see nothing loveable in you," said Amabel with her inflexible
gentleness. "I loved you because I thought you noble and magnanimous;
but you were neither. You only did not cast me off, as I deserved,
because you could not; and you were kind partly because you are kind by
nature, but partly because my money was convenient to you. I do not say
that you were ignoble; you were in a very false position. And I had
wronged you; I had committed the greater social crime; but there was
nothing noble; you must see that; and it was for that I loved you."

Sir Hugh now got up and paced up and down near her.

"So you are going to cast me off because I had no opportunity for
showing nobility. How do you know I couldn't have behaved as you
believed I did behave, if only I'd had the chance? You know--you are
hard on me."

"I see no sign of nobility--towards anyone--in your life," Amabel
answered as dispassionately as before.

Sir Hugh walked up and down.

"I did feel like a brute about the money sometimes," he
remarked;--"especially that last time; I wanted you to have the house as
a sort of salve to my conscience; I've taken almost all your money, you
know; it's quite true. As to the rest--what Augustine calls my
dissoluteness--I can't pretend to take your view; a nun's view." He
looked at her. "How beautiful you are with that white round your face,"
he said. "You are like a woman of snow."

She looked back at him as though, from the unhesitating steadiness of
her gaze, to lend him some of her own clearness.

"Don't you see that it's not real? Don't you see that it's because you
suddenly find me beautiful, and because, as a woman of snow, I allure
you, that you think you love me? Do you really deceive yourself?"

He stared at her; but the ray only illumined the bewilderment of his
dispossession. "I don't pretend to be an idealist," he said, stopping
still before her; "I don't pretend that it's not because I suddenly find
you beautiful; that's one reason; and a very essential one, I think; but
there are other reasons, lots of them. Amabel--you must see that my love
for you is an entirely different sort of thing from what my love for her
ever was."

She said nothing. She could not argue with him, nor ask, as if for a
cheap triumph, if it were different from his love for the later
mistress. She saw, indeed, that it was different now, whatever it had
been yesterday. Clearly she saw, glancing at herself as at an object in
the drama, that she offered quite other interests and charms, that her
attractions, indeed, might be of a quality to elicit quite new
sentiments from Sir Hugh, sentiments less shadowing than those of
yesterday had been. And so she accepted his interpretation in silence,
unmoved by it though doing it full justice, and for a little while Sir
Hugh said nothing either. He still stood before her and she no longer
looked at him, but down at her folded hands that did not tremble at all
tonight, and she wondered if now, perhaps, he would understand her
silence and leave her. But when, in an altered voice, he said: "Amabel;"
she looked at him.

She seemed to see everything tonight as a disembodied spirit might see
it, aware of what the impeding flesh could only dimly manifest; and she
saw now that her husband's face had never been so near beauty.

It did not attain it; it was, rather, as if the shadow, lifting entirely
for a flickering moment, revealed something unconscious, something
almost innocent, almost pitiful: it was as if, liberated, he saw beauty
for a moment and put out his hands to it, like a child putting out its
hands to touch the moon, believing that it was as near to him, and as
easily to be attained, as pleasure always had been.

"Try to forgive me," he said, and his voice had the broken note of a sad
child's voice, the note of ultimate appeal from man to woman. "I'm a
poor creature; I know that. It's always made me ashamed--to see how you
idealise me.--The other day, you know,--when you kissed my hand--I was
horribly ashamed.--But, upon my honour Amabel, I'm not a bad fellow at
bottom,--not the devil incarnate your son seems to think me. Something
could be made of me, you know;--and, if you'll forgive me, and let me
try to win your love again;--ah Amabel--"--he pleaded, almost with
tears, before her unchangingly gentle face. And, the longing to touch
her, hold her, receive comfort and love, mingling with the new
reverential fear, he knelt beside her, putting his head on her knees and
murmuring: "I do so desperately love you."

Amabel sat looking down upon him. Her face was unchanged, but in her
heart was a trembling of astonished sadness.

It was too late. It had been too late--from the very first;--yet, if
they could have met before each was spoiled for each;--before life had
set them unalterably apart--? The great love of her life was perhaps not
all illusion.

And she seemed to sit for a moment in the dark church, dreaming of the
distant Spring-time, of brooks and primroses and prophetic birds, and of
love, young, untried and beautiful. But she did not lay her hand on Sir
Hugh's head nor move at all towards him. She sat quite still, looking
down at him, like a Madonna above a passionate supplicant, pitiful but
serene.

And as he knelt, with his face hidden, and did not hear her voice nor
feel her touch, with an unaccustomed awe the realisation of her
remoteness from him stole upon Sir Hugh.

Passion faded from his heart, even self-pity and longing faded. He
entered her visionary retrospect and knew, like her, that it was too
late; that everything was too late; that everything was really over.
And, as he realised it, a chill went over him. He felt like a strayed
reveller waking suddenly from long slumber and finding himself alone in
darkness.

He lifted his face and looked at her, needing the reassurance of her
human eyes; and they met his with their remote gentleness. For a long
moment they gazed at each other.

Then Sir Hugh, stumbling a little, got upon his feet and stood, half
turned from her, looking away into the room.

When he spoke it was in quite a different voice, it was almost the old,
usual voice, the familiar voice of their friendly encounters.

"And what are you going to do with yourself, now, Amabel?"

"I am going to tell Augustine," she said.

"Tell him!" Sir Hugh looked round at her. "Why?"

"I must."

He seemed, after a long silence, to accept her sense of necessity as
sufficient reason. "Will it cut him up very much, do you think?" he
asked.

"It will change everything very much, I think," said Amabel.

"Do you mean--that he will blame you?--"

"I don't think that he can love me any longer."

There was no hint of self-pity in her calm tones and Sir Hugh could only
formulate his resentment and his protest--and they were bitter,--by a
muttered--"Oh--I say!--I say!--"

He went on presently; "And will you go on living here, perhaps alone?"

"Alone, I think; yes, I shall live here; I do not find it dismal, you
know."

Sir Hugh felt himself again looking reluctantly into darkness. "But--how
will you manage it, Amabel?" he asked.

And her voice seemed to come, in all serenity, from the darkness; "I
shall manage it."

Yes, the awe hovered near him as he realised that what, to him, meant
darkness, to her meant life. She would manage it. She had managed to
live through everything.

A painful analogy came to increase his sadness;--it was like having
before one a martyr who had been bound to rack after rack and still
maintained that strange air of keeping something it was worth while
being racked for. Glancing at her it seemed to him, still more
painfully, that in spite of her beauty she was very like a martyr; that
queer touch of wildness in her eyes; they were serene, they were even
sweet, yet they seemed to have looked on horrid torments; and those
white wrappings might have concealed dreadful scars.

He took out his watch, nervously and automatically, and looked at it. He
would have to walk to the station; he could catch a train.

"And may I come, sometimes, and see you?" he asked. "I'll not bother
you, you know. I understand, at last. I see what a blunder--an ugly
blunder--this has been on my part. But perhaps you'll let me be your
friend--more really your friend than I have ever been."

And now, as he glanced at her again, he saw that the gentleness was
remote no longer. It had come near like a light that, in approaching,
diffused itself and made a sudden comfort and sweetness. She was too
weary to smile, but her eyes, dwelling gently on him, promised him
something, as, when they had dwelt with their passion of exiled love on
her son, they had promised something to Augustine. She held out her
hand. "We are friends," she said.

Sir Hugh flushed darkly. He stood holding her hand, looking at it and
not at her. He could not tell what were the confused emotions that
struggled within him; shame and changed love; awe, and broken memories
of prayers that called down blessings. It was "God bless you," that he
felt, yet he did not feel that it was for him to say these words to her.
And no words came; but tears were in his eyes as, in farewell, he bent
over her hand and kissed it.



XII


When Amabel waked next morning a bright dawn filled her room. She
remembered, finding it so light, that before lying down to sleep she had
drawn all her curtains so that, through the open windows, she might see,
until she fell asleep, a wonderful sky of stars. She had not looked at
them for long. She had gone to sleep quickly and quietly, lying on her
side, her face turned to the sky, her arms cast out before her, just as
she had first lain down; and so she found herself lying when she waked.

It was very early. The sun gilded the dark summits of the sycamores that
she could see from her window. The sky was very high and clear, and long,
thin strips of cloud curved in lessening bars across it. The confused
chirpings of the waking birds filled the air. And before any thought had
come to her she smiled as she lay there, looking at and listening to the
wakening life.

Then the remembrance of the dark ordeal that lay before her came. It was
like waking to the morning that was to see one on the scaffold: but,
with something of the light detachment that a condemned prisoner might
feel--nothing being left to hope for and the only strength demanded
being the passive strength to endure--she found that she was thinking
more of the sky and of the birds than of the ordeal. Some hours lay
between her and that; bright, beautiful hours.

She put out her hand and took her watch which lay near. Only six.
Augustine would not expect to see her until ten. Four long hours: she
must get up and spend them out of doors.

It was too early for hot water or maids; she enjoyed the flowing shocks
of the cold and her own rapidity and skill in dressing and coiling up
her hair. She put on her black dress and took her black scarf as a
covering for her head. Slipping out noiselessly, like a truant
school-girl, she made her way to the pantry, found milk and bread, and
ate and drank standing, then, cautiously pushing bolts and bars, stepped
from the door into the dew, the sunlight, the keen young air.

She took the path to the left that led through the sycamore wood, and
crossing the narrow brook by a little plank and hand rail, passed into
the meadows where, in Spring, she and Augustine used to pick cowslips.

She thought of Augustine, but only in that distant past, as a little
child, and her mind dwelt on sweet, trivial memories, on the toys he had
played with and the pair of baby-shoes, bright red shoes, square-toed,
with rosettes on them, that she had loved to see him wear with his
little white frocks. And in remembering the shoes she smiled again, as
she had smiled in hearing the noisy chirpings of the waking birds.

The little path ran on through meadow after meadow, stiles at the
hedges, planks over the brooks and ditches that intersected this flat,
pastoral country. She paused for a long time to watch the birds hopping
and fluttering in a line of sapling willows that bordered one of these
brooks and at another stood and watched a water-rat, unconscious of her
nearness, making his morning toilette on the bank; he rubbed his ears
and muzzle hastily, with the most amusing gesture. Once she left the
path to go close to some cows that were grazing peacefully; their
beautiful eyes, reflecting the green pastures, looked up at her with
serenity, and she delighted in the fragrance that exhaled from their
broad, wet nostrils.

"Darlings," she found herself saying.

She went very far. She crossed the road that, seen from Charlock House,
was, with its bordering elm-trees, only a line of blotted blue. And all
the time the light grew more splendid and the sun rose higher in the
vast dome of the sky.

She returned more slowly than she had gone. It was like a dream this
walk, as though her spirit, awake, alive to sight and sound, smiling and
childish, were out under the sky, while in the dark, sad house the
heavily throbbing heart waited for its return.

This waiting heart seemed to come out to meet her as once more she saw
the sycamores dark on the sky and saw beyond them the low stone house.
The pearly, the crystalline interlude, drew to a close. She knew that in
passing from it she passed into deep, accepted tragedy.

The sycamores had grown so tall since she first came to live at Charlock
House that the foliage made a high roof and only sparkling chinks of sky
showed through. The path before her was like the narrow aisle of a
cathedral. It was very dark and silent.

She stood still, remembering the day when, after her husband's first
visit to her, she had come here in the late afternoon and had known the
mingled revelation of divine and human holiness. She stood still,
thinking of it, and wondered intently, looking down.

It was gone, that radiant human image, gone for ever. The son, to whom
her heart now clung, was stern. She was alone. Every prop, every symbol
of the divine love had been taken from her. But, so bereft, it was not,
after the long pause of wonder, in weakness and abandonment that she
stood still in the darkness and closed her eyes.

It was suffering, but it was not fear; it was longing, but it was not
loneliness. And as, in her wrecked girlhood, she had held out her
hands, blessed and receiving, she held them out now, blessed, though
sacrificing all she had. But her uplifted face, white and rapt, was now
without a smile.

Suddenly she knew that someone was near her.

She opened her eyes and saw Augustine standing at some little distance
looking at her. It seemed natural to see him there, waiting to lead her
into the ordeal. She went towards him at once.

"Is it time?" she said. "Am I late?"

Augustine was looking intently at her. "It isn't half-past nine yet," he
said. "I've had my breakfast. I didn't know you had gone out till just
now when I went to your room and found it empty."

She saw then in his eyes that he had been frightened. He took her hand
and she yielded it to him and they went up towards the house.

"I have had such a long walk," she said. "Isn't it a beautiful morning."

"Yes; I suppose so," said Augustine. As they walked he did not take his
eyes off his mother's face.

"Aren't you tired?" he asked.

"Not at all. I slept well."

"Your shoes are quite wet," said Augustine, looking down at them.

"Yes; the meadows were thick with dew."

"You didn't keep to the path?"

"Yes;--no, I remember."--she looked down at her shoes, trying,
obediently, to satisfy him, "I turned aside to look at the cows."

"Will you please change your shoes at once?"

"I'll go up now and change them. And will you wait for me in the
drawing-room, Augustine."

"Yes." She saw that he was still frightened, and remembering how strange
she must have looked to him, standing still, with upturned face and
outstretched hands, in the sycamore wood, she smiled at him:--"I am
well, dear, don't be troubled," she said.

In her room, before she went downstairs, she looked at herself in the
glass. The pale, calm face was strange to her, or was it the story, now
on her lips, that was the strange thing, looking at that face. She saw
them both with Augustine's eyes; how could he believe it of that face.
She did not see the mirrored holiness, but the innocent eyes looked back
at her marvelling at what she was to tell of them.

In the drawing-room Augustine was walking up and down. The fire was
burning cheerfully and all the windows were wide open. The room looked
its lightest. Augustine's intent eyes were on her as she entered. "You
won't find the air too much?" he questioned; his voice trembled.

She murmured that she liked it. But the agitation that she saw
controlled in him affected her so that she, too, began to tremble.

She went to her chair at one side of the large round table. "Will you
sit there, Augustine," she said.

He sat down, opposite to her, where Sir Hugh had sat the night before.
Amabel put her elbows on the table and covered her face with her hands.
She could not look at her child; she could not see his pain.

"Augustine," she said, "I am going to tell you a long story; it is about
myself, and about you. And you will be brave, for my sake, and try to
help me to tell it as quickly as I can."

His silence promised what she asked.

"Before the story," she said, "I will tell you the central thing, the
thing you must be brave to hear.--You are an illegitimate child,
Augustine." At that she stopped. She listened and heard nothing. Then
came long breaths.

She opened her eyes to see that his head had fallen forward and was
buried in his arms. "I can't bear it.--I can't bear it--" came in gasps.

She could say nothing. She had no word of alleviation for his agony.
Only she felt it turning like a sword in her heart.

"Say something to me"--Augustine gasped on.--"You did that for him,
too.--I am his child.--You are not my mother.--" He could not sob.

Amabel gazed at him. With the unimaginable revelation of his love came
the unimaginable turning of the sword; it was this that she must
destroy. She commanded herself to inflict, swiftly, the further blow.

"Augustine," she said.

He lifted a blind face, hearing her voice. He opened his eyes. They
looked at each other.

"I am your mother," said Amabel.

He gazed at her. He gazed and gazed; and she offered herself to the
crucifixion of his transfixing eyes.

The silence grew long. It had done its work. Once more she put her hands
before her face. "Listen," she said. "I will tell you."

He did not stir nor move his eyes from her hidden face while she spoke.
Swiftly, clearly, monotonously, she told him all. She paused at nothing;
she slurred nothing. She read him the story of the stupid sinner from
the long closed book of the past. There was no hesitation for a word; no
uncertainty for an interpretation. Everything was written clearly and
she had only to read it out. And while she spoke, of her girlhood, her
marriage, of the man with the unknown name--his father--of her flight
with him, her flight from him, here, to this house, Augustine sat
motionless. His eyes considered her, fixed in their contemplation.

She told him of his own coming, of her brother's anger and dismay, of
Sir Hugh's magnanimity, and of how he had been born to her, her child,
the unfortunate one, whom she had felt unworthy to love as a child
should be loved. She told him how her sin had shut him away and made
strangeness grow between them.

And when all this was told Amabel put down her hands. His stillness had
grown uncanny: he might not have been there; she might have been talking
in an empty room. But he was there, sitting opposite her, as she had
last seen him, half turned in his seat, fallen together a little as
though his breathing were very slight and shallow; and his dilated eyes,
strange, deep, fierce, were fixed on her. She shut the sight out with
her hands.

She stumbled a little now in speaking on, and spoke more slowly. She
knew herself condemned and the rest seemed unnecessary. It only remained
to tell him how her mistaken love had also shut him out; to tell,
slightly, not touching Lady Elliston's name, of how the mistake had come
to pass; to say, finally, on long, failing breaths, that her sin had
always been between them but that, until the other day, when he had told
her of his ideals, she had not seen how impassable was the division.
"And now," she said, and the convulsive trembling shook her as she
spoke, "now you must say what you will do. I am a different woman from
the mother you have loved and reverenced. You will not care to be with
the stranger you must feel me to be. You are free, and you must leave
me. Only," she said, but her voice now shook so that she could hardly
say the words--"only--I will always be here--loving you, Augustine;
loving you and perhaps,--forgive me if I have no right to that,
even--hoping;--hoping that some day, in some degree, you may care for me
again."

She stopped. She could say no more. And she could only hear her own
shuddering breaths.

Then Augustine moved. He pushed back his chair and rose. She waited to
hear him leave the room, and leave her, to her doom, in silence.

But he was standing still.

Then he came near to her. And now she waited for the words that would be
worse than silence.

But at first there were no words. He had fallen on his knees before
her; he had put his arms around her; he was pressing his head
against her breast while, trembling as she trembled, he
said:--"Mother--Mother--Mother."

All barriers had fallen at the cry. It was the cry of the exile, the
banished thing, returning to its home. He pressed against the heart to
which she had never herself dared to draw him.

But, incredulous, she parted her hands and looked down at him; and still
she did not dare enfold him.

"Augustine--do you understand?--Do you still love me?--"

"Oh Mother," he gasped,--"what have I been to you that you can ask me!"

"You can forgive me?" Amabel said, weeping, and hiding her face against
his hair.

They were locked in each other's arms.

And, his head upon her breast, as if it were her own heart that spoke to
her, he said:--"I will atone to you.--I will make up to you--for
everything.--You shall be glad that I was born."





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